by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



English theologian and Bishop of Durham, J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), looked at both the Roman and Jewish laws on tutorship related to an underaged heir compared to what Paul describes here and finds that it fits neither one very well. Instead, it involved a procedure based on a special code in force in Galatia. But since there is no evidence to match either one, it appears that Paul simplified the process to make his point about coming-of-age.

Another point that Lightfoot makes is that this tutor assigned to mentor this child could not perform any act except that given to him by the dead father’s will and testament in compliance with the accepted laws of the land. It’s obvious that whoever the tutor might be, they came from the top tier of the servant roster because of the necessity for them to represent the heir to the State and whose sanction they needed to validate any contract given to them on his behalf. So, we are not to take the role of the tutor lightly, nor more than the Apostle Paul wanted to treat the Law, with little regard. We can only imagine where the Israelites might have ended up without the Law given to Moses. If they seemed prone to idolatry even as the chosen nation of God’s children, one can only guess what condition they might end up in.[1]

In contrast to what Meyer said earlier about not interpreting the Greek noun epitropos to mean “guardian, Presbyterian minister and word study expert Marvin Vincent (1834-1922), disagrees, pointing to Luke’s Gospel where he mentions Joanna, the wife of Chuza – whom he identifies as the epitropos (same Greek noun as used here) of King Herod.[2] Vincent calls this a general term, covering all to whom supervision of the child is entrusted, and should not be limited to paidagōgos  (as used in chapter three, verse twenty-four here in Galatians), where it is rendered by KJV as “schoolmaster.”[3] In other words, the tutor that Paul is talking about had no specific authority to do anything but what they were told to do. Such was the Law given to Moses.

G. G. Findlay (1849-1919) imagines one fancy Jew replying to Paul’s previous argument on how the children of Israel missed their opportunity to become part of the kingdom of God because they refused to grow up into spirit adults by accepting the Messiah, and how that left them in bondage under the Law which possesses no power to save or forgive. Here’s the imagined conversation between this egotistical Jew and Paul:

Rabbi Paul,You’ve poured contempt on the religion of our forefathers. You describe them as nothing more than a bunch of slaves. You’re pretending that Abraham’s inheritance has just been laying around untouched since the time of Moses. And now you claim that it was revived in order to be taken from Abraham’s children and given to the heathens.” Paul would calmly reply, “That’s not true. I admit that the saints of Israel are children of God. In fact, I’m thrilled for all those who are Israelites who are by their being descendants of Abraham are included in the covenants and the law-giving and the promises originally given to their forefathers.[4] But they and your children who never matured and are still considered minors. That’s why, as long as Abraham’s heirs remain as infants, (Even though they have the title as “Owners of the Estate”, there’s still no difference between them and the household servants.[5]

As long as we are imagining, we might imagine this Jew asking: Well, then, how do we grow up? Paul would answer: By growing up in Jesus, the Messiah! And since they refused to do that, even when Yeshua the Messiah came to them in the flesh, they still refused to pay homage to Him and pledge allegiance to their new King. So, God sent out His laborers to cut down these dead branches on the Holy Olive Tree – Israel, and get some branches from the wild olive trees – the Gentiles, and graft them in as adopted children of God. Now they are the ones who flourish, bearing much fruit to the glory and honor of God.

American theologian and professor at Yale University Benjamin W. Bacon (1860-1932) focuses not only on the young heir but on his inheritance that Paul talks about here. He states that according to many contemporary writings, Jewish and Christian alike, they leave no doubt whatsoever as to the assumed content of the “inheritance.” It must be literally understood, as Paul says, “that God made Abraham heir of the world.[6] Intended originally for Adam and Eve,[7] but when Adam proved his unfitness, God chose Abraham and his seed, including all faithful Israelites, to the exclusion of “sinners of the Gentiles” and “disloyal Jews.”

Bacon quotes from Esdras, who complains, “And after these, Adam also, whom You made lord of all your creatures: from whom all of us descended, and the people also whom You chose. All this have I’ve told You, O Lord, because You made the world for our sake. As for the rest of the nations which also came from Adam, You said that they are nothing more than spit and You likened all of them as a drop in the bucket.[8] But even the chosen stood in danger of losing everything because of Moses’ disobedience in obeying God’s command that he circumcise his son if it wasn’t for his wife Zipporah who did it for him.[9] So, if God made the world for our sake, the ones you called to be Your own, why do we still not possess the world as our inheritance?

The Christian’s expectations, says Bacon, are not any less but even greater. Your “Son” must “inherit the earth.[10] And if we still do not see all the things made subject unto Him, the Messiah’s triumph over the demonic powers which now control the world proves that He still waits for the day when all His enemies, visible and invisible, are made subject to Him.[11] So we can say that the Gentiles vainly looked for the Creator in the objects which He made, and which Jews understand to be for their benefit, is, therefore, revealed in God’s Church, which takes Israel’s place as His heirs.

So, says Bacon, the Church’s conflict is not, like Israel’s, against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the world-rulers of darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places[12] who now struggle to keep hold of the dominion they have abused,[13] supplanting and subjecting the rightful heir. When the sons of God are manifested as God’s adoptive heirs, the creation, delivered from its bondage to “vanity,” will gladly revert to its intended owners, in spite of all that “death or life, angels or principalities, height or depth” can do to prevent it.[14] When this happens during the Millennial reign of the Messiah on earth, the “adoption of sons” will be made manifest “to every angel and spirit,” revealing the hidden purpose of the Creator.[15] [16]

Archibald Robertson (1863-1934), in his Greek word studies, tells us that under Roman law, the tutor was in charge of the child until he was fourteen when the curator took charge of him until he was twenty-five. Ramsay notes that in Græco-Phrygia cities, the same law existed except that the father in Syria appointed both tutor and curator, whereas the Roman father appointed only the tutor. Burton argues plausibly that no such legal distinction is meant by Paul, but that the terms here designate two functions of one person. The point does not disturb Paul’s illustration at all.[17] In other words, Paul was more interested in understanding his allegory in the spirit of its use here as an example instead of taking every little part of it as being literal and attempting to match it to each part of the illustration he was using.

Richard Longenecker notes that there is a number of commentators who disagree on whether or not the two Greek nouns: epitropos (“tutors” – KJV) and oikonomos (“governors” – KJV) are separate positions or whether they can be used interchangeably. He notes that Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes (BC 384-322) in one of his speeches used these as a “double title” for one man named Nausicrates. It involves a trial where Aristæchmus, one of the guardians of minor sons Nausimachus and Xenopithes, was sued by them after they attained adulthood, for rendering a false account and breach of their father’s trust. In his opening statement to the jury, he talked about the compromise of the guardians, who, after his death took over the management of their property.[18] Longenecker does not believe that Paul was all that worried about whether or not the terms were understood as a separate or as a double title.[19]

Tim Hegg presents a table that may help us understand the role of the Law as the Pedagogue in chapter three and the Guardian and Steward of Grace in chapter four. The Law is for a minor child, Grace is for an adult. Even though the benefactor is dead and the legal minor is the owner of the inheritance, it cannot be given to him until he grows up. But once the minor becomes an adult, then everything is given to him.


Chapter Three – Law and the Pedagogue Chapter Four – Grace the Guardians & Stewards
The son is under the charge of the Pedagogue in order to assure that he is taken to the teacher.


The son is under the charge of Guardians and Stewards in order to keep him until he is declared an heir.


The Torah is the Pedagogue.


The Torah acts like the Guardian or Steward.
The coming of faith (=exercise of faith) completes the task of the Pedagogue.


The coming of Yeshua was the decisive event that sealed the chosen son as an heir.
The trained (graduated) student no longer needs to be led to the teacher.


The son is fully adopted and thus becomes the rightful heir
The trained (graduated) student is given the privileges and responsibilities of his new position (=heir according to promise). The son is no longer in the legal status of a slave but enjoys all the privileges and responsibilities of a true heir.

[1] J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 264-264

[2] Cf. Matthew 20:8

[3] Marvin Vincent: On Galatians, Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit., pp., 132-133

[4] Romans 9:4-5

[5] Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Galatians by G. G. Findlay, op. cit., Ch. 16, p. 244

[6] Romans 4:13

[7] Genesis 1:28; Psalm 8:5–7

[8] 2 Esdras 6:54-56

[9] Exodus 4:24

[10] Matthew 5:5; 1 Corinthians 3:22; Revelation 21:1, 7

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:27; Hebrews 2:8, 9

[12] Ephesians 6:12

[13] 1 Corinthians 2:8

[14] Romans 8:19-22, 38-39

[15] Ephesians 3:9-11

[16] Bacon, B. W: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 85–86

[17] Archibald Robertson: Word Studies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 1460

[18] The Orations of Demosthenes: Against Nausimachus, translated by Charles Rann Kennedy, Published by George Bell & Sons, London, 1892, pp. 245-246

[19] Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians, op. cit., Vol. 41 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Kindle Location 10394-10406)

About drbob76

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