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 VII)

Andrew G. Roth translates verse three from the Aramaic text as follows: “Even so with us, when we were young, we acted as if subject to the elements of this world.[1] In the footnotes, we find comments from Professor Denis Baly (1913-1987) on what Paul was saying here about when the Israelites were “young” and under bondage to the “elements” of the world. As Baly sees it, the phrase “when we were young” is an apparent reference to Israel as a “child” in bondage to Egypt (out of Egypt have I called my son)[2] as well as the Ten “Lost” Tribes of Israel in bondage to the nations by whom they were carried away into captivity.[3] The Apostle Paul, in his own case, reminds the Galatians that he was once subject to the “elements of the world,” namely, the misinterpretation of the Torah by the School of Shammai.[4] Then, the children of Israel being under the yoke of slavery in Egypt and later by other Nations (Assyria, Babylon, etc.) were brought under bondage to the “elements of this world,” that is, were forced to obey the Laws, regulations and false religions of their host Nations.

Paul uses an interesting term to describe how minor children are treated differently than adults, which he says is based on the values of the cosmos. This word “principle” refers to the building blocks which make up a composite form. So, says Paul, just like we know that rules and cultural norms are principles that form societies’ expectations of rights and behavior for minors, so God’s spiritual rules and laws that classify us as under-aged children applies to God’s spiritual society. The Jews enjoyed no personal relationship with the Father or His thoughts, it all came through servants who received them, interpreted them, and propagated them. They lived according to God’s system but went beyond it. They were dependent on a system involving rudimentary religious teaching by rabbis.

I cannot imagine how the Apostle Paul might act if he saw the bondage to religious rituals and regulations the church developed within a few hundred years after his letter to the Galatians.  Even in our lifetime, we’ve witnessed how believers were put under bondage to church rules and teachings that require their obedience in order to accept them as being saved and children of God.  Even though I stand and put my hand over my heart when saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and take off my hat when singing the National Anthem, and have the greatest respect for the Flag of my country, I’d be very upset if our federal government passed a law saying we MUST do all of these things in order to remain a citizen. We do them because we are proud patriots, not to keep or justify our citizenship, to show our thankfulness for our great country.

Church laws and practical teachings may assist in controlling our carnal nature, but they do not deliver us from sin. These laws and restrictions do not justify, nor do they guarantee a person going to heaven. We do not obtain eternal life by refraining from murder, adultery, stealing, lying, etc. Such outward decency does not constitute real Christianity. The heathen may observe the same disciplines to avoid punishment or to secure the advantages of a good reputation. In the last analysis: using such constraints to assure salvation serve only to promote hypocrisy. Just being morally good is not a substitute for being born again. The writer of Hebrews said that the Old Way of worship was made up of Laws about what to eat and drink. These Laws told how to purify and other ceremonial cleansing things of the body. These things must be done until the Anointed One comes to bring a better way of worship.[5]

Perhaps we can now look back on all that Paul said about Israel being a minor child in the household of the Lord who were treated much like a servant. God was waiting for them to grow up so He could give them the Promised Land. So, He sent Moses the Law as a guide toward that goal. But at the same time said, when the Law finished its task, a new Savior would come replacing Moses as their Deliverer and Teacher, who would then lead them as adults into His kingdom. Unfortunately, when the Messiah arrived, they rejected His leadership and remained with Moses. That’s when the call went out to all the world to come into God’s kingdom. We might say that the Gospel served the same purpose. When the disciples became Apostles, they were given the revelation on how to grow up in the Anointed One in preparation for the time when He would return to take them into the heavenly promised land forever.

4:4-5 Likewise, when the time appointed by God arrived, He sent His Son. He was born of a woman through natural childbirth, and He became subject to all the Jewish religious and cultural laws in effect at the time in order for Him to qualify as our redeemer, and to set us free from the legal guardianship of Mosaic Law in becoming His rightful heirs as grown-up sons and daughters.

 Now Paul brings out the motivating factor behind his wanting the Galatian believers to know why God kept mankind in such an elementary state of faith. It all pointed toward a day of deliverance, a day of regeneration, a day of spiritual freedom from the slavery of Mosaic Law. Paul states explicitly that it didn’t happen until God’s appointed time. It couldn’t be brought on early by the Jew’s pious dedication of keeping every religious ritual and regulation. Furthermore, it couldn’t be prevented by the Gentiles turning further and further away from the One True God into heathenism and idolatry. It was God’s plan and God’s promise, and He intended to keep it on His schedule.

The coming of the Messiah was no accident, no happenstance, and no coincidence. This suggests something being filled like a glass of water. It also carries with it the concept of completeness. Medieval commentator Robert of Melun reminds us that the time of the Lord’s return is called “the fullness of time” since we are waiting for nothing else to secure our salvation. In fact, the Anointed One is all-sufficient to offer salvation. That means, the passing of time will not be altered prior to the Day of judgment, so it is called the fullness of time and the end of the age. By “fullness,” the Apostle does not mean that time itself ceases to exist, for the state of time ought to remain unchangeable because God is unchangeable.[6] Robert then asks: What does it mean to say that God the Father, sent forth His Son? It is because this is the very Son whose existence is from the Father and appeared to us in the form of human flesh.[7]

So, what was completed that needed to be filled? What appointed time is Paul talking about? It concerned that point in time that all the prophets pointed to, a time when the Law accomplished all it was able to do in bringing people close to God. But it needed a personal touch. It was time for the son of David to be revealed, from the tribe of Judah; born in the city of Bethlehem; before the destruction of the second Temple, and the completion of the seventy weeks spoken of by Daniel. Again, Paul wants the Galatian believers to know this is God’s design, a plan made in advance. Furthermore, since God made such arrangements for the coming of the Messiah long before it occurred, then how much more should we believe that He included, in those plans, what happens after the Messiah’s time came and then returned to His Father’s side in eternity?

Paul certainly was aware of what Jacob told his sons down in Egypt just before his death about how neither the king’s ornamental wand nor royal staff would be removed from the family of Judah until the One to whom the people’s obedience belongs arrives.[8] That, One, was Yeshua of Nazareth, the Messiah. This is the same One that the prophet Malachi spoke about whom everyone expected God to send with good news. He will show up in God’s House, bearing a new covenant. He is coming, says the LORD of Hosts.[9]

This was one of our Lord’s answers when His disciples asked Him about the date of His return that such a time is known only by the Father in Heaven.[10] So while even today there may be questions about the time, there should be no question about His return. That was also the Apostle Paul’s answer to the Ephesians about Jesus’ first coming and his second coming that it will occur at the right time. That means, God’s time.[11]

And the idea of the Messiah being born naturally like other babies was no secret. Isaiah made it very plain when he prophesied that He will arrive as a newborn child, born of a virgin. He will be the Son of God. And the rule of the nations will be on His shoulders. His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father of Eternity, and Prince of Peace. There will be no end to His rule and His peace, upon the throne of David and over His nation. He will build it to last and keep it strong with what is right and fair and good from that time and forever. All this will be the work of the Lord of All.[12]

Not only that, but the Prophet Micah revealed where this Messiah would be born, in Bethlehem, and that it was planned long, long ago.[13] And the Prophet Zechariah speaks of Him as being the One they called “the Branch.”[14] [15] Paul reiterated all this to the Romans as well,[16] letting them know that this was no last-minute decision, that the early prophets came from the family of Judah. The Anointed One Himself was born of flesh from this family, and He is over all things. May God be honored and thanked forever. Let it be so.[17]

But when writing to the Philippians, Paul added another dimension to this story of the coming of the Messiah. He told them that Jesus existed as God is. But did not hold to His rights as God. He put aside everything that belonged to Him and made Himself the same as a servant who is owned by someone. He became human by being born as a human. After He became a human, He gave up His important place and obeyed by dying on a cross.[18] And Paul reassured young Timothy that this was not a myth, that it is important to know the secret of God-like living, which is: The Anointed One came to earth as a human. He was pure in His Spirit. He was seen by angels. The nations heard about Him. Men everywhere put their trust in Him while He was here, and then He was taken up into heaven.[19]

[1] Andrew G. Roth: Aramaic Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Hosea 11:1

[3] See 2 Kings, Chapter 17

[4] Rabbi Hillel the Elder’s friendly adversary was Rabbi Shammai, a native of the Land of Israel about whom little is known except that he was a builder, known for the strictness of his views. He was reputed to be stern, quick-tempered, and impatient. Both lived during the reign of King Herod (BC 37-4), an oppressive period in Jewish history because of the Roman occupation of the Land of Israel. Shammai was concerned that if Jews made too much contact with the Romans, the Jewish community would be weakened, and this attitude reflected in his strict interpretation of Jewish law. Hillel did not share Shammai’s fear and, therefore, was more liberal in his view of the Law.

[5] Hebrews 9:10

[6] Robert of Melun: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[7] Ibid., verse 4

[8] Genesis 49:10

[9] Malachi 3:1

[10] Acts of the Apostles 1:7

[11] Ephesians 1:10

[12] Isaiah 9:6-7

[13] Micah 5:2

[14] See Isaiah 11:1-3

[15] Zechariah 6:12

[16] Romans 1:3

[17] Ibid. 9:5

[18] Philippians 2:5-6

[19] 1 Timothy 3:10; See Hebrews 2:14; 10:5-7; 1 John 4:2

About drbob76

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