by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



G. K. Barrett gives us an informative explanation of the Greek noun paidagogos (educator), a word for which there is no single English equivalent. Some English versions use teacher, schoolmaster, instructor, governor, governess, etc. But in everyday Greek, a pedagogue was not a schoolmaster or even a tutor. A pedagogue did no teaching (so that we are not to think of the Law as giving elementary religious instruction and then passing us on to the Anointed One for higher studies). A pedagogue was a top slave, employed by a well-to-do master to accompany his son to school. He might carry the boy’s books for him, but he was there to see that the boy did not run off and play truant. But while the picture changes says Barrett, nevertheless, the thought remains the same. To get into the kingdom of God, there are no by-passes, the only way open is through the Anointed One. This emphatic Christ-centered concept is another way of saying, faith. The Anointed One has no competition, so, as Christians, we have no more to do with the pedagogue.[1]

As Grant Osborne sees this “tutors” and “governors” subject is that the child in this analogy is likely the oldest child of a wealthy Roman, the one who will inherit both the estate and the exalted place in society the father possesses. In spite of the child’s promising future, as a minor, he is placed under overseers. They have absolute control, and the child must obey their every command. The typical practice, discussed in 3:23–24, entails the appointment of a top servant to function much like a full-time foster-parent, watching over the child and controlling his movements and development to adulthood, the “time set by his father” for him to receive his inheritance.

There, says Osborne, the analogy shifts. The “guardians and trustees” here in verse two are not really the custodians or pedagogues, as Paul mentions in 3:23–24 but probably the “managers of the estate.” It appears that Paul moved beyond the image of the maturation of a child to illustrate his point. The “time set” for the onset of adulthood was not determined by the father but by custom; a fourteen-year-old child officially reached adulthood. Many expositors think that the appointed time to which Paul refers, along with the mention of “guardians and trustees,” points back to the exodus of Israel from Egypt (see verse three) when God’s people awaited their inheritance in the Promised Land.

This fits Paul’s emphasis on redemption and adoption as God’s children. Osborne seems to feel that Paul’s point is that the Galatians experienced an exodus from slavery under the Law and now appear to be ready to throw it all away.[2] The only problem is there is no second exodus plan, there is no Moses to do it all over again. The goal is the Promised Land. Looks like the Jews, and some Gentiles, in Galatia are repeating the lament of the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai and are trading the Shekinah pillar of fire for the golden calf of idolatry.

Jewish Christian Rabbi Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy gives us his view of this minor child growing up until he reaches the age of maturity and is then given his rightful inheritance left by his father. First of all, he sees Paul’s teaching on sonship from a 1st-century perspective, conveniently written in terminology that the Galatians could easily identify with, that of Roman Law. From ben Layman’s view, the Jew is the child, an heir according to birth, yet a slave to sin and death; an heir of the estate promised by God as explained to the Fathers of the Faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, all Jews are currently under the supervision of guardians and trustees (the Law and the Prophets) until the moment of spiritual salvation set by the Father in Heaven, the moment of personal, trusting faith in the Promised Seed – Yeshua of Nazareth.

Now, once the child (the Jew) matured in their faith (placed trust in Yeshua), they gained a lasting covenant membership and thereby receive the promise of the Father. Just because they came into the world as a Jew, it did not secure the promises offered by the Father. Rather, they, being heirs, lived and labored as a slave, governed by the Torah (schoolmaster) until they meet and believe in the Teacher of Righteousness – Yeshua. In this passage, Paul reveals that the children of Israel do enjoy a covenant status on a limited basis due to being born into Abraham’s family. Yet, they do not fully understand this truth because the Rabbis of the past led the average Jewish person to an illogical conclusion, namely, suggesting their full and lasting covenant membership based on their position at physical birth without having arrived at the “time set by his Father” – the coming of the Messiah to be their Savior.

Ben Lyman then points out that since the Gentiles did not go through this same period as the Jews, they found themselves in the same position as heathens, subject as slaves to sin and death by the laws of their conscience by which they understood right from wrong. Therefore, at the “time set by the Father”, they arrived at the moment of conversion into believing that this same Yeshua also came to be their Lord and Savior. At that moment, they, too, found themselves counted among the heirs of the Father’s promises to Abraham as his spiritual children.[3] Unfortunately, just as the Jews had been misled by their Rabbis, so the Gentiles have been misled by their Reverends to believe that by simply being born into a Christian family, they can be counted as children of God, and this is sealed by their baptism as infants.

At this point, it is reasonable for any Galatian to ask: What does all this being a minor and having a foster parent – the Law, to take care of me until I grow up and take over my life as an adult? Paul is simply laying the foundation for an even larger structure he will build in the coming verses. Knowing the fundamentals helps a person to better understand the complicated effects when presented to them. But as Christians today, it also is intended to show that when we are born again, we are like a child. We are already made heirs to the promises of God, but we must grow into adulthood to act like adults to our situation in the world. But instead of the Law or Church Rules to guide us, we have the Gospel of our Lord and the Epistles of the Apostles to teach us the truths we need to gain adulthood status.

4:3 The same was true of us Jews before. Under Mosaic Law, we were minors subject to all the rules and basic principles our culture applies to minors. 

Having used an illustration from secular life, Paul now transitions to how it affected the Galatians’ spiritual life. God’s relationship with people throughout the First Covenant period, says Paul, was like a Father to children not yet of age. No wonder He got upset with them so often, especially considering their temper tantrums with Moses. Just as in our own culture, children under a certain age cannot vote, cannot procure a driver’s license, cannot join the military, and cannot buy alcohol or cigarettes – thank God! However, Paul did not apply this to their physical age but their spiritual age. So, the Jewish people lived subject to the restrictions of religious rituals and regulations as underage children. Even though God put certain benefits in His promises to Abraham, He declared that His children must first come of age in order to enjoy them.

Since what Paul says here about those who were confused as physical adults but spiritually childish, laboring under the Law with no hope of relief, then the words of Jesus meant more to them than others when He invited those who were struggling and burdened down because of the many sacrifices, prayers, Temple visits, and laws they must comply with, to come to Him. He’d give them relief from their burdens.[4] And then the Apostle John points out that while Moses came down from the mountain with the Law to put them in a yoke of obedience, Jesus the Word came down from heaven to liberate them by grace to live in freedom.[5]

Paul also made reference to this when he met the Council in Jerusalem, who wanted to require the Gentiles to become adherents to the Jews’ ceremonial laws, so he asked them why do you test God by putting too heavy a load on the back of the followers? It was too heavy for our forefathers or for us to carry. We believe it is by the loving-favor of the Lord Jesus that we are saved.[6] And Paul brought up the same subject when writing to the church in Rome when told them to stop acting like people who were still under a tutor or guardian, they are always afraid. Instead, the Holy Spirit makes us His children, and we can call Him, “Our Father.”[7]

Marius Victorinus states that from his point of view, the elements of the world were thought to be of vital importance. Some concluded that the elements in themselves were responsible for their own motions and, as it were, inevitable, necessary consequences of those motions on other beings, such as stars, and human life being affected by their positions in the heavens at certain times of the month or year. Such thinking created the idea that humans served such elements as the sun, moon, and stars were ordained as guides to keep the planet on course; thus, they were required. Paul states that the real function of the occupants of the universe in the sky and on earth was explicitly designed by their Creator to testify of His existence.

Victorinus goes on to point out that the Anointed One was born of a woman, so it can be said He was made for this temporary purpose: to be subject to the law. The Galatians were to understand from this that they were now in error, for the Savior Himself, in whom they believed, was made subject to the Law as they were although He remained the Lord of the Law.[8] To put it another way, just as the letters of the alphabet are put together to make words and words make sentences and sentences make paragraphs, so basic elements of the earth and atmosphere when they are put together, help us understand our environment and what makes it work.[9]

Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) asks a question to determine a better understanding of what Paul is saying here. He wants to know how, according to this analogy, were the Jews under the physics of this world, since they were under the guardianship of the Law of Moses? Were they not being tutored to worship the one God who made heaven and earth? Earlier, Paul portrayed the Law as a disciplinarian whom the Jewish people were under, now he speaks of the world’s moral principles as guardians and trustees under whom the Gentiles were virtual slaves. That means, during their childhood the children – that is, the believers on account of their one faith belonging to the one Seed of Abraham, gathered from both the Jews and the Gentiles – was in part under the discipline of the Law, and in part under the elements of this world which they served as minors as if under guardians and trustees (namely, the part gathered from the Gentiles).[10] However, while not all scholars see the Gentiles included here, what Paul is saying became a good lesson for them to apply to their own pagan rules and customs.

[1] C. K. Barrett: On Galatians, op., cit. pp. 35-36

[2] Osborne, G. R. On Galatians: Verse by Verse, op. cit., p. 122

[3] Ibid. p. 138

[4] Matthew 11:28

[5] John 3:31

[6] Acts of the Apostles 15:10-11

[7] Romans 8:15

[8] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 53, 56

[9] See Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 103-104

[10] Augustine, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

About drbob76

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