Comment Here



Reflections on Galatians

Saint Paul

Galatians 4

I know this may seem obvious, but it must be said: Christianity and Judaism are two very different religions. I think Jews know this better than Christians. We speak of things "Judeo-Christian" as though they were two denominations of the same faith. Jews and Christians share one thing: that book we call the Old Testament. At some level of understanding, we may share a belief in the same supreme being, but there are some who would even dispute that: Christianity believes that Jesus is God, and Judaism most certainly does not.

Christianity believes that salvation is by grace, through faith, and not of ourselves. We believe we are made righteous and saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. Judaism believes that salvation, whatever that may mean, is something achieved through the study and application of the law to our lives. In a sense, they believe that through the study and application of the law, we save ourselves. To that end, they believe in obedience, not only to the written law of the Old Testament, but to the traditions of the Fathers as well.

Christianity sees the law as defining sin. Judaism sees the law as defining righteousness. Both are correct, but in Judaism, one pursues righteousness by works of law. In Christianity, one pursues righteousness by faith in Christ. It is in this fundamental conflict that a great deal of misunderstanding arises when people read the NT. They assume that there is a conflict between Law and grace, when in fact, the conflict is between Judaism and Grace.

The NT writers do not make this easy for us. They can’t, because they are writing to their own world–there is no way they could have anticipated our difficulties with their writings. Nevertheless, if we can just understand the nature of the real conflict, then most of it will fall easily in line. In the first century Christian church, there were those who held to the tenets of Judaism while embracing Jesus as the Messiah. They taught, as Rabbinic Judaism still does, salvation by works of law. And since laws are good, we need to create more of them, which Judaism had done.

Not long after Paul had passed through Galatia, members of the circumcision party from Jerusalem followed him into the area, seriously confusing the issue of salvation. Paul does his best to clarify the issues.

(Galatians 4) Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; {2} But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. {3} Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

What on earth does Paul mean by "the elements of the world"? There is a theology that calls the Law of God a yoke of bondage and makes this passage address an assumed conflict between the law of God and the Grace of Christ. The misunderstanding grows out of a failure to understand that the conflict is with Judaism, not with the Old Testament. Take the expression "elements of the world." Paul is the only NT writer to use the expression, and he uses it with a very specific meaning. [the word translated elements means "rudiments" i.e. the basic things.]

In his letter to the Colossians, for example, Paul makes it clear that he is not talking about the basics of the law of God, but the rudiments of the world–which he equates with the traditions of men (Colossians 2:8). Again and again, the law of God is distinguished from the traditions of men.

The meaning is clear. He is not talking about the basics of the law of God, but the rudiments of the world–which he equates with the traditions of men. These are not the Laws of the OT which, for example, forbade the touching of a dead carcase of an animal. Many Old Testament laws were laws of public health. The laws Paul is talking about were laws of asceticism, the assumption that spiritual value was obtained by abstinence from good things. See later in Colossians 2:20. In any case, what Paul describes as "rudiments of the world" are elsewhere described as "the commandments and doctrines of men."

{4} But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, {5} To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

What does Paul mean here when he speaks of being "under the law." We spoke of that in Chapter 3. Consider an important concept here that is easily overlooked: the word "redeem." We know what it is to redeem coupons in the grocery store, but this is not exactly the same thing. In the Old Testament, the law presumed a society with no prisons. If you were a thief and were caught, you had to make restitution with penalties, say, four sheep to replace the one you stole. If you could not replace the sheep, you were put on the auction block and sold as a slave. The money from the sale made restitution for your crime.

But the law provided that if your kinfolk wanted to, they could redeem you by paying back what you owed. They could buy you back from slavery, from bondage. Paul’s explanation sees us as having sold ourselves into sin and being redeemed by Jesus Christ–bought back from self induced bondage.

Now how are we to take this passage? Jesus was made under the law? But doesn’t that mean he was under sin? Well, yes, in a way. He never committed sin himself, but he surely came under our sins. And he redeemed us from the self induced bondage of sin. We were under sin, under the law, and had to be bought back. We were freed from the bondage so we could take our place as rightful heirs.

{6} And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. {7} Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Now Paul shifts his perspective. Remember, these were Gentile Christians he was writing to. 

{8} Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. {9} But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? {10} Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

You have to parse this paragraph very carefully. In the past, these Gentiles served pagan Gods. Now, after they have known God, they are turning back again to "Weak and beggarly rudiments" that they would be in bondage to. There is a doctrine that these days, months, times and years were somehow the Old Testament law. But these were Gentiles who had never in their lives observed the Old Testament laws. How could they possibly go back to them?

Moreover, there is no way that Paul would have described the law of God as "weak and beggarly," that is to say, poverty stricken. It is these weak and beggarly elements (rudiments) that Paul describes as a yoke of bondage.

There is a theology that considers the law of God as a yoke of bondage, but there is something here that is very important to understand. Consider the Sabbath day as an example. The Sabbath commandment was intended to be liberating. These people had been slaves–they worked hard, seven days a week. The Sabbath day was intended to be liberating. Take the day off, you, your wife, your kids, everybody. How could the Sabbath be a yoke of bondage?

There is a way. By making a lot of rules that told you what you could not do on the Sabbath day. Judaism had built an hedge of rules around the Sabbath day that turned a law of release into a yoke of bondage. Jesus challenged the bondage Judaism had placed on the Sabbath by healing on the Sabbath day repeatedly, contrary to Jewish law. Bear in mind that it was the commandments and traditions of men –Judaism, for example–that created the bondage, not the Law of God.

{11} I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. {12} Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all. {13} Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first. {14} And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. {15} Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. {16} Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? {17} They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.


{18} But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you. {19} My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you, {20} I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you. {21} Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? {22} For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. {23} But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

If you recall your Bible history, you will know that God promised Abraham that he would have a son, that a great nation would come from this son. But Abraham and Sarah were getting older and had no children. They began to wonder if there wasn’t something they could do that they weren’t doing. Sarah proposed a solution: a surrogate mother. She gave Abraham her handmaid as a concubine to have the promised child.

Unfortunately, that was their solution, not God’s, and the child born of this effort is said to have been born after the flesh. That is, it was their efforts that produced the child, not God’s promise. The first child and his mother were sent way after Sarah had her own son, Isaac, the one promised by God.

{24} Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. {25} For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

Jerusalem was in bondage to the Romans at this time, but also strangely in bondage to her own religion of her own making.

 {26} But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. {27} For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. {28} Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. {29} But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Judaism persecuted Christianity. And later Christianity would shamefully persecute the Jews. The son of the bondwoman in this allegory is Judaism, legalism, the attempts to work out, by your own efforts, your own salvation.

{30} Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. {31} So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

For Paul, it is the practitioner of Judaism who is  the son of the bondwoman. But not just that, he is talking about the hybrid religion that tried to merge legalistic Judaism with Christianity.

Hit Counter








The Sinless Life
Have you ever considered what it would mean  if you could just live a sinless life?





































Youth in Action
Never in our history have young people needed Bible learning and Christian youth programs more than they do today.

Contact us              Copyright 2009 Ronald L Dart, all rights reserved.