CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CRITICAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson II)

Early church scholar Chrysostom (349-407 AD) sees a spiritual application here. Paul wanted his fellow Jews to understand that the word “child” does not denote age but a level of understanding; meaning that from the beginning God designed these gifts for us, but, because we reasoned as children in our understanding, He taught us through the laws of nature, that is, new moons and Sabbaths, for these days are regulated by the course of sun and moon. If then, we return to become subordinate to the Law again, we go from being grownups to become children again. As a consequence of observing days and months, our Lord and Master, the Sovereign Ruler, our lives are reduced to the rank of being tutored minors.”[1] Again, we must remind ourselves that Paul’s use of the Law pertained to the Jewish converts in Galatia. However, Chrysostom sees how this can be applied to non-Jews when it comes to the laws of paganism.

One of Chrysostom’s contemporaries, Ambrosiaster, also shares his view on what Paul intends to say here. He notes that many of the laws they enforced in his day appear similar to those Paul speaks of here regarding the age at which a person is still considered a minor and when they reached adulthood.  In fact, we still see those laws on the books in most countries around the world today. As a minor, no child is allowed to exercise their rights and liberties as adults until they come of age, and as such lived under subjection to the authority of their parents. He then tells that by using this example, Paul shows that those who under the law seemed like children and did not enjoy their liberty because they found themselves subject to the law on account of their sin.[2] In other words, as we say today: they continued to act like children instead of growing up in the Anointed One, where they acted like adults with all the privileges that gave them the ability to walk by faith and not by sight.

Over the years of my pastoral, missionary, and teaching ministry, I found this also to be the case in many churches I pastored or visited, and schools where I taught. I encountered those who, after they became born again, members of God’s family and learned the rules provided by the church for them to live in accordance with church teaching, they never grew past that. They remained children and, from time to time, required correction and discipline as children when they broke the rules. For those of you who’ve raised children, what would you think if after your child became a legal adult, they still lived at home, remained unemployed because they never applied anywhere for employment? You still needed to tell them how to dress, how to act, scolded them when they did wrong, and restricted their movements?

Believe it or not, there are some parents who still want to manage their grown children already out of the house, have a job, are married, and raising their own families. This illustrates the case of the believers in Galatia. Paul is telling them that when he left them, he considered them adults in the Anointed One. Yet, these false teachers came along and convinced them they’re still children and must abide by the rules of the Law they obeyed before they became born again in the Anointed One.

Early church theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) shares his take on the designation of those whom Paul calls servants. He advises us it should be noted that among the Jewish people, some served as servants in the strict sense; those, namely, who observed the Law through fear of punishment and through a desire for the temporal things which the Law promised. But others only conducted themselves like servants but, in reality, stood as sons and heirs. Although outwardly, they lived as law-abiding citizens of Israel, worshiping in the Temple, making offerings and adherents to the Ten Commandments, they did not place their hope in the Law but used these things in a spiritual sense. So, while on the surface, they qualified as Jews inasmuch as they observed the ceremonies and other commandments of the Law, nevertheless, decided to freely live their lives according to the will of God. They saw in these things their spiritual meaning, whereas servants used them chiefly through fear of punishment and with a desire for earthly convenience.[3]

Reformer John Calvin sees this relationship of a child (denied any inheritance) growing into adulthood (where inheritance is guaranteed upon the death of the giver) in a unique way. Calvin notices that some say that what Paul is saying here applies to a father leaving his estate to his sons who still are minors. They feel that Paul is speaking of two nations: natural Israel and spiritual Israel. What they say is, without a doubt, very true, says Calvin, but does not apply to what Paul writes here in verses one and two. The elect, although they are the children of God from the womb, yet, until by faith, they come into the possession of freedom through the Anointed One remain as slaves under the Law. Consequently, from the time that they came to know the Anointed One as their Lord and Savior, they no longer needed this tutelage of the Law.

Then Calvin says, granting all this that others use to interpret these verses as plausible, he will not accept that Paul sees this as involving individuals, or draws a distinction between the time of unbelief and the calling by faith. The matters in dispute are these: Since God’s congregation is one body, how come then our condition is different from that of the Israelite congregation? Since we are free by faith, how come that they, who shared faith in common with ours, yet are not partakers with us of the same freedom? Since we are all equally the children of God, how come that we are exempt from a yoke which they were forced to carry?

On these points, the controversy turns and not on the manner in which the Law reigns over each of us before we are freed by faith from its slavery. Let this point be first of all settled, that Paul here compares the Israelite congregation, which existed under the First Covenant, with the Christian congregation under the Final Covenant, that we may thereby perceive what points we agree on and where we differ. This comparison furnishes the most abundant and most profitable instruction.[4] To give some clarity here, in referring to the Israelite congregation he focuses on those who believed and obeyed God before the Law came into existence, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and after the giving of the Law: Elijah, Elisha, the faithful remnant, Isaiah, Jeremiah, et. al.

For Matthew Poole, the Apostle already determined that the whole body of those who believed in Jesus the Anointed One, where that seed of Abraham to which the promise was made, and so heirs of the promises made to Him; yet so, that, as it is among men, though a child be a great heir and lord of a great estate, yet while they are under age and seen as a servant; so the time of the Law is as it were the time of underaged believers’ lived in that time were used as servants.[5] In other words, the Jews were still children under the tutelage of the Law when Jesus the Messiah came. But they refused to grow up in Him while the Gentiles, who knew nothing of the Law as their schoolmaster, were accepted into the same fold but as adults, because they now followed the Master Teacher.

Nineteenth-Century Roman Catholic writer George Haydock (1774-1849) gives us his understanding of the church’s interpretation of what Paul is saying here. For him, by using the term “child,” in this instance, the Apostle includes all the Jewish people, who, as long as they stayed children under the Law, remained subject to numerous restrictions, although God chose them as His favorite children. But when the fullness of time came, they received the adoption of children in possession of the liberty of the law of grace.  They no longer felt obliged to observe the legal rites. That’s why the Apostle Paul wishes the conclusion to be drawn that if persons once subject to the Law are now exempt from it, how much more will those excused from its yoke and never under its control be free.[6] Most reformed scholars do not see the Jews as being part of the adoption process since God already considers them His chosen people. So, it seems that Haydock blurred the line here between the Jews and non-Jews.

German Protestant theologian Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1873), does not believe we should interpret the Greek noun epitropos to mean “guardian” since the father of the child is assumed dead as it says in verse one. A better term would be “overseer” or “governor” without any more specificity. The term, says Meyer, denotes anyone, to whose governorship the child is assigned by the father in the arrangement, which was made as part of the family estate. It relates to the fact that in most households in those days, superior slaves were appointed as managers of the household and property,[7] on whom the young heirs depended for money and other needs. This lasted until the time appointed by the father to release his heir from this state of dependence.[8] So it should have been easy for the Galatians to see how this represented the placing of the children of Israel under the management of the Law until the appointed time when they were released to freedom by God through His Son, the Messiah.

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) makes a rather informative comment here on verse one that builds on Paul’s example of an heir who must wait until the fullness of time came for their release. He says that when we who once fell under the Law’s authority look back on the period of time when we fell under the tutelage of the legal and ceremonial laws of religion when we labored as servants in our own house when we owned nothing and were yet considered lords of all. Then we compare it with what Jesus said: “A slave does not stay with a family forever. But a son belongs to the family forever.[9] In other words, servants are not considered permanent members of the family; they come and go. But Jesus is not finished, He goes on to say: “But if the Son makes you free, you are really free.[10] [11] It’s obvious that Paul is trying to tell these misguided Galatians that it seems senseless than that those chosen as sons and daughters in the family of God, now want to go back to being servants.

To those of us in the Final Covenant era who live in the freedom of God’s grace by faith, taking what Paul is saying here about the Jews being minor children of God under the Law, who can only become heirs when they accept Jesus the Anointed One, it is hard to apply this to our situation today. The one concept that does bear consideration is when a Christian who is still being tutored by the laws of the church they belong to, instead of God’s Word, can be considered as a minor. The Apostle Peter spells this out clearly when he says: but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One.[12] And the Apostle Paul states: For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.[13]

[1]Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, loc. cit.

[2]Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 21

[3] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[4] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 95

[5] Matthew Poole: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] George Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary, loc. cit.

[7] See Luke 16:1

[8] Heinrich A. W. Meyer: Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book, op. cit. loc. cit., p. 166

[9] John 8:35 – Easy-to-Read Version

[10] Ibid. 8:36

[11] Benjamin Jowett: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 335

[12] 2 Peter 3:18

[13] Colossians 1:9-10

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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