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31 October 2018

Social Implications of the Law

SynopsisTo pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle is to re-erect the old social barriers. - Galatians 3:26-4:7. 

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The paragraph recorded at the end of the third chapter of his letter to the Galatians is pivotal to the purpose of the Apostle Paul. It stresses the oneness of the people of God established by and in Jesus Christ. In this new order, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate, especially now that the promised “seed” of Abraham has arrived.

To pursue a Torah-observant lifestyle is to re-erect the old social barriers, especially divisions between Jews and Gentiles. The Law was intended to keep Jews distinct from the Gentile nations. Paul presents an alternative to the Law to define and delimit God’s people, the “faith of Jesus Christ.”

(Galatians 3:26-29) - “For ye all are sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus; For ye, as many as into Christ have been immersed, have put Christ on: There cannot be Jew or Greek, there cannot be bond or free, there cannot be male and female, for all ye are one in Christ Jesus: Now, if ye are of Christ, by consequence ye are Abraham’s seed, according to promise, heirs.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

By definition, uncircumcised Gentiles were outside the covenant of Israel and not “sons of God.” They could only become members of the covenant community by undergoing circumcision, in the case of males, and, otherwise, adopting a Torah-observant lifestyle.

But the Law also distinguished between slaves and freemen, and males and females. Women could not fulfill certain requirements of the Law because of periodic uncleanness due to menstruation. They could not fully participate in the worship rites of the Temple and were restricted to the Court of Women at some distance from the presence of Yahweh. Religiously speaking, under the Law, women were second-class citizens of the people of God. To embrace a Torah-observant lifestyle is to restore this inequity. 

The “all” in Verse 25 refers to Gentile and to Jewish believers in Jesus (“Ye are allthat the promise should be given to those who believe”). The Scripture declared all things under confinement, both Jew and Gentile, before the coming of the “seed.” Now, neither group is under confinement to sin nor to the Law; both are sons of God “through the faith of Christ Jesus.” And if adoption into the family of Abraham is through the faith of Jesus, then believers do not enter this community through the deeds required by the Torah

Paul stresses the word “all.” Both Jewish and Gentile believers have become “sons of God” through their attachment to Jesus. It is now, “in Christ,” that believers become true sons of God and “Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise.” This does not mean that ethnicity, gender and the like have ceased to play roles in the daily lives of believers; however, such distinctions are no longer relevant to right standing before God or membership in the covenant community.

Redeemed from under the Law (4:1-7)

(Galatians 4:1-7) - “But I say:—for as long a time as the heir is an infant, he differeth nothing from a servant, though lord of all, But is under guardians and stewards until the [day] fore-appointed of the father: So also we, when we were infants, under the elementary principles of the world were held in servitude; But, when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, who came to be of a woman, who came to be under law—That them who were under law he might redeem, that the sonship we might duly receive;—And, because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, exclaiming, Abba! Oh Father! So that, no longer art thou a servant, but a son; and if a son, an heir also, through God.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Paul compared the Mosaic Law to a supervisor or custodian assigned to guard a minor child and declared believers, “heirs” of the promise of Abraham. He now presents a similar analogy: The Law as guardian and steward of a minor child until the time fixed by a father’s will.

In Greco-Roman society, a minor did not enjoy full liberty and civil rights until he came of proper age. Thus, though by right destined to be master of the household, until the child reached the age of majority, he was effectively no freer than a household slave; he was not free to do as he pleased.

Guardians and stewards” refer to two different functions: the person in charge of the heir (“guardian”) and another assigned to manage the heir’s estate. This status continued until the “time appointed by his father,” which corresponds to the “fullness of time” in Verse 4.

"Elemental principles” translates the Greek noun stoicheion (Strong’s #G4747), a term that refers to the basic components that comprise something larger, thus, “element, first principal, rudiments.” It often referred to the elemental principles of an art, science or discipline. From this came the idea of “elemental principles.” It commonly was applied to a letter in the alphabet or a part of a word (compare Hebrews 5:12).
To adopt circumcision is to regress to something rudimentary, to return to an earlier stage in God’s redemptive plan. To do so is comparable to an adult who chooses to return to the custodianship of the Pedagogue and the status of a minor child, though he possesses his inheritance. 

In this context, “elemental principles” has in view the regulations of Torah. This is borne out by Paul’s usage of stoicheion in verses 9-10 with its list of Jewish calendrical observances:

But now that ye have come to know God…how turn you back again to the weak and beggarly elemental principles (stoicheion), to which you desire to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.”

God sent forth his Son, having come to be from woman, having come to be under law.” The New Testament elsewhere states that Jesus was sent from God, as well as others, including John the Baptist (Matthew 10:40, Mark 9:37, Luke 4:18, John 1:6, 3:17, 17:3, 17:18).

Having come to be from woman.” This clause points to the genuine humanity of Jesus. “Having come to be under the law” stresses he was born a Jew under the covenant obligations of Torah; that is, until the fullness of time came. As in Chapter 3, Paul applies temporal limits to the jurisdiction of the Law.

Christ came in order to redeem them who were under the Law, so that they could receive the adoption of sons. This refers, firstly, to Jews, especially Jewish Christians. The need to redeem or ransom implies that being “under the Law” was a form of bondage. Paul’s previous statement is conceptually parallel:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash
Andrew Seaman on Unsplash
The result of this redemption is “adoption.” Men and women are not “sons” or “children” of God through physical birth but by adoption. All humans are God’s creation but not all are His children. An implication of this proposition is that Jews, likewise, become sons by adoption; they do not automatically attain that position because of their Hebrew ancestry. Adoption into God’s family is based on grace, faith and the work of Jesus Christ, not Hebrew DNA or the requirements of Torah (compare Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).

Precisely because the Galatians became God’s sons, He sent the “Spirit of his Son into your hearts”. The reference to the Spirit rounds off the long argument that began in Galatians 3:1 when Paul reminded believers that they received the Spirit from a hearing of faith, not from the “works of the Law.”

Spirit of his Son” most likely refers to the work of the Holy Spirit to conform believers to the image of Jesus; the same Spirit that prompted believers to cry out, “Abba, Father!” What greater proof of their acceptance into God’s covenant community could the Galatians have than the presence of His Spirit?

Paul concludes his entire argument in the statement: “So that you are no longer a bondservant but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Believers who are “in Christ” are “heirs.” Since already they are “sons,” filled with the Spirit and heirs of Abraham, why attempt to seek what the Law could never deliver by subjecting themselves to the requirements of the Torah?

Summary Points

To adopt the requirements of the Mosaic legislation means disunity between Jewish and Gentile believers in the covenant community, because one purpose of the Law was to keep the Hebrew people distinct from Gentiles, the Levitical food regulations being a prime example.

It also assigned women and slaves to lesser positions within the nation of Israel, especially in the worship life of the nation. But the main issue is whether Gentiles are acceptable members of the covenant community AS GENTILES.

The Law’s function as “custodian” was to continue until the promised “seed” arrived, a temporary function. Since the promised “seed” has arrived, the jurisdiction of the “custodian” has come to an end and, therefore, the old social divisions are wholly inappropriate. All stand before God from faith, not ethnicity, gender or social status; all are now “sons of God” and “heirs of Abraham.”

Jesus came “in the fullness of time” to redeem those “under the Law,” that they might receive the adoption. “Adoption” occurs after redemption from the Law, which demonstrates the imperfection and temporal jurisdiction of the Torah.

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