The Expositor's Bible

Epistle to the Galatians

Rev. Prof. G. G. Findlay, B.A.

The Doctrinal Polemic
Chapter 3:1 - 5:12

Chapter 16


"But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a bondservant, though he is lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the term appointed of the father. So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world: but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them which were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba Father. So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God."—Ga 4:1-7

THE main thesis of the Epistle is now established. Gentile Christians, Paul has shown, are in the true Abrahamic succession of faith. And this devolution of the Promise discloses the real intent of the Mosaic law, as an intermediate and disciplinary system. Christ was the heir of Abraham’s testament; He was therefore the end of Moses’ law. And those who are Christ’s inherit the blessings of the Promise, while they escape the curse and condemnation of the Law. The remainder of the Apostle’s polemic, down to Ga 5:12, is devoted to the illustration and enforcement of this position.

In this, as in the previous chapter, the pre-Christian state is assigned to the Jew, who was the chief subject of Divine teaching in the former dispensation; it is set forth under the first person (ver. 3), in the language of recollection. Describing the opposite condition of sonship, the Apostle reverts from the first to the second person, identifying his readers with himself. (comp. Ga 3:25,26) True, the Gentiles had been in bondage (vv. 7, 8). This goes without saying. Paul’s object is to show that Judaism is a bondage. Upon this he insists with all the emphasis he can command. Moreover, the legal system contained worldly, unspiritual elements, crude and childish conceptions of truth, marking it, in comparison with Christianity, as an inferior religion. Let the Galatians be convinced of this, and they will understand what Paul is going to say directly; they will perceive that Judaic conformity is for them a backsliding in the direction of their former heathenism (vv. 8-10). But the force of this latter warning is discounted and its effect weakened when he is supposed, as by some interpreters, to include Gentile along with Jewish "rudiments" already in ver. 3. His readers could not have suspected this. The "So we also" and the "held in bondage" of this verse carry them back to Ga 3:23. By calling the Mosaic ceremonies "rudiments of the world" he gives Jewish susceptibilities just such a shock as prepares for the declaration of ver. 9, which put them on a level with heathen rites.

The difference between Judaism and Christianity, historically unfolded in chap. 3., is here restated in graphic summary. We see, first, the heir of God in his minority; and again, the same heir in possession of his estate.

I One can fancy the Jew replying to Paul’s previous argument in some such style as this. "You pour contempt," he would say, "on the religion of your fathers. You make them out to have been no better than slaves. Abraham’s inheritance, you pretend, under the Mosaic dispensation lay dormant, and is revived in order to be taken from his children and conferred on aliens." No, Paul would answer: I admit that the saints of Israel were sons of God; I glory in the fact—"who are Israelites, whose is the adoption of sons and the glory and the covenants and the law-giving and the promises, whose are the fathers" (Ro 9:4,5) -But they were sons in their minority. "And I say that as long as the heir is [legally] an infant, he differs in nothing from a slave, though [by title] lord of all."

The man of the Old Covenant was a child of God in posse, not in esse, in right but not in fact. The "infant" is his father’s trueborn son. In time he will be full owner. Meanwhile he is as subject as any slave on the estate. There is nothing he can command for his own. He is treated and provided for as a bondman might be; put "under stewards" who manage his property, "and guardians" in charge of his person, "until, the day fore appointed of the father." This situation does not exclude, it implies fatherly affection and care on the one side, and heirship on the other. But it forbids the recognition of the heir, his investment with filial rights. It precludes the access to the father and acquaintance with him, which the boy will gain in after-years. He sees him at a distance and through others, under the aspect of authority rather than of love. In this position he does not yet possess the spirit of a son. Such was in truth the condition of Hebrew saints—heirs of God, but knowing it not.

This illustration raises in ver. 2 an interesting legal question, touching the latitude given by Roman or other current law to the father in dealing with his heirs. Paul’s language is good evidence for the existence of the power he refers to. In Roman and in Jewish law the date of civil majority was fixed. Local usage may have been more elastic. But the case supposed, we observe, is not that of a dead father, into whose place the son steps at the proper age. A grant is made by a father still living, who keeps his son in pupilage, till he sees fit to put him in possession of the promised estate. There is nothing to show that paternal discretion was limited in these circumstances, any more than it is in English law. The father might fix eighteen, or twenty-one, or thirty years as the age at which he would give his son a settlement, just as he thought best.

This analogy, like that of the "testament" in chap. 3., is not complete at all points; nor could any human figure of these Divine things be made so. The essential particulars involved in it are first, the childishness of the infant heir; secondly, the subordinate position in which he is placed for the time; and thirdly, the right of the father to determine the expiry of his infancy.

1. "When we were children," says the Apostle. This implies, not a merely formal and legal bar, but an intrinsic disqualification. To treat the child as a man is preposterous. The responsibilities of property are beyond his strength and his understanding. Such powers in his hands could only be instruments of mischief, to himself most of all. In the Divine order, calling is suited to capacity, privilege to age. The coming of Christ was timed to the hour. The world of the Old Testament, at its wisest and highest, was unripe for His gospel. The revelation made to Paul could not have been received by Moses, or David, or Isaiah. His doctrine was only possible after-and in consequence of theirs. There was a training of faculty, a deepening of conscience, a patient course of instruction and chastening to be carried out, before the heirs of the promise were fit for their heritage. Looking back to his own youthful days, the Apostle sees in them a reflex of the discipline which the people of God had required. The views he then held of Divine truth appear to him low and childish, in comparison with the manly freedom of spirit, the breadth of knowledge, the fulness of joy which he has attained as a son of God through Christ.

2. But what is meant by the "stewards and guardians" of this Jewish period of infancy? Ver. 3 tells us this, in language, however, somewhat obscure: "We were held in bondage under the rudiments (or elements) of the world" — a phrase synonymous with the foregoing "under law". (Ga 3:23) The "guard" and "tutor" of the previous section reappears, with these "rudiments of the world" in his hand. They form the system under which the young heir was schooled, up to the time of his majority. They belonged to "the world"112 inasmuch as they were, in comparison with Christianity, unspiritual in their nature, uninformed by "the Spirit of God’s Son" (ver. 6). The language of Heb 9:1,10 explains this phrase: "The first covenant had a worldly sanctuary," with "ordinances of flesh, imposed-till the time of rectification." The sensuous factor that entered into the Jewish revelation formed the point of contact with Paganism which Paul brings into view in the next paragraph. Yet, rude and earthly as the Mosaic system was in some of its features, it was Divinely ordained and served an essential purpose in the progress of revelation. It shielded the Church’s infancy. It acted the part of a prudent steward, a watchful guardian. The heritage of Abraham came into possession of his heirs enriched by their long minority. Mosaism therefore, while spiritually inferior to the Covenant of grace in Christ, has rendered invaluable service to it (comp. ver. 24: chapter 14. p. 868).

3. The will of the Father determined the period of this guardianship. However it may be in human law, this right of fore-ordination resides in the Divine Fatherhood. In His unerring foresight He fixed the hour when His sons should step into their filial place. All such "times and seasons," Christ declared, "the Father hath appointed on His own authority". (Ac 1:7) He imposed the law of Moses, and annulled it, when He would. He kept the Jewish people, for their own and the world’s benefit, tied to the legal "rudiments," held in the leading-strings of Judaism. It was His to say when this subjection should cease, when the Church might receive the Spirit of His Son. If this decree appeared to be arbitrary, if it was strange that the Jewish fathers—men so noble in faith and character—were kept in bondage and fear, we must remind ourselves that "so it seemed good in the Father’s sight." Hebrew pride found this hard to brook. To think that God had denied this privilege in time past to His chosen people to bestow it all at once and by mere grace on Gentile sinners, making them at "the eleventh hour" equal to those who had borne for so long the burden and heat of the day! that the children of Abraham had been, as Paul maintains, for centuries treated as slaves, and now these heathen aliens are made sons just as much as they! But this was God’s plan; and it must be right. "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?"

II However, the nonage of the Church has passed. God’s sons are now to be owned for such. It is Christ’s mission to constitute men sons of God (vv. 4, 5).

His advent was the turning-point of human affairs, "the fulness of time." Paul’s glance in these verses takes in a vast horizon. He views Christ in His relation both to God and to humanity, both to law and redemption. The appearance of "the Son of God, woman-born,’" completes the previous Course of time; it is the goal of antecedent revelation, unfolding "the mystery kept secret through times eternal," but now "made known to all the nations". (Ro 16:25,26) Promise and Law both looked forward to this hour. Sin has been "passed by" in prospect of it, receiving hitherto a partial and provisional forgiveness. The aspirations excited, the needs created by earlier religion demanded their satisfaction. The symbolism of type and ceremony, with their rude picture-writing, waited for their Interpreter. The prophetic soul of "the wide world, dreaming of things to come," watched for this day. They that looked-for Israel’s redemption, the Simeons and Annas of the time, the authentic heirs of the promise, knew by sure tokens that it was near. Their aged eyes in the sight of the infant Jesus descried its rising. The set time had come, to which all times looked since Adam’s fall and the first promise. At the moment when Israel seemed farthest from help and hope, the "horn of salvation was raised up in the house of David," — God sent forth His Son.

1. The sending of the Son brought the world’s servitude to an end. "Henceforth," said Jesus, "I call you not servants". (Joh 15:15) Till now "servants of God" had been the highest title men could wear. The heathen were enslaved to false gods (ver. 8). And Israel, knowing the true God, knew Him at a distance, serving too often in the spirit of the elder son of the parable, who said, "Lo these many years do I slave for thee." (Lu 15:29) None could with free soul lift his eyes to heaven and say, "Abba, Father." Men had great thoughts about God, high speculations. They had learnt imperishable truths concerning His unity, His holiness, His majesty as Creator and Lawgiver. They named him the "Lord," the "Almighty," the "I Am." But His Fatherhood, as Christ revealed it, they had scarcely guessed. They thought of Him as humble bondmen of a revered and august master, as sheep might of a good shepherd. The idea of a personal Sonship toward the Holy One of Israel was inconceivable, till Christ brought it with Him into the world, till God sent forth His Son.

He sent Him as "His Son." To speak of Christ, with the mystical Germans, as the ideal Urmensch— the ideal Son of man, the foretype of humanity — is to express a great truth. Mankind was created in Christ, who is "the image of God, firstborn of all creation." But this is not what Paul is saying here. The doubly compounded Greek verb at the head of this sentence (repeated with like emphasis in ver. 6) signifies "sent forth from" Himself: He came in the character of God’s Son, bringing His sonship with Him. He was the Son of God before He was sent out. He did not become so in virtue of His mission to mankind. His relations with men, in Paul’s conception, rested upon His pre-existing relationship to God. "The Word" who "became flesh, was with God, was God in the beginning." "He called God His own Father, making Himself equal with God": (Joh 5:18) so the Jews had gathered from His own declarations. Paul admitted the claim when "God revealed His Son" to him, and affirms it here unequivocally.

"The Son of God," arriving "in the fulness of time," enters human life. Like any other son of man, He is born of a woman, born under law. Here is the kenosis, the emptying of Divinity, of which the Apostle speaks in Php 2:5-8. The phrase "born of woman," does not refer specifically to the virgin-birth; this term describes human origin on the side of its weakness and dependence. (Job 14:1 Mt 11:11) Paul is thinking not of the difference, but of the identity of Christ’s birth and our own. We are carried back to Bethlehem. We see Jesus a babe lying in His mother’s arms—God’s Son a human infant, drawing His life from a weak woman!113

Nor is "born under law" a distinction intended to limit the previous term, as though it meant a born Jew, and not a mere woman’s son. This expression, to the mind of the reader of chap. 3., conveys the idea of subjection, of humiliation rather than eminence. "Though He was (God’s) Son," Christ must needs "learn His obedience". (Heb 5:8) The Jewish people experienced above all others the power of the law to chasten and humble. Their law was to them more sensibly what the moral law is in varying degree to the world everywhere, an instrument of condemnation. God’s Son was now put under its power. As a man He was "under law"; as a Jew He came under its most stringent application. He declined none of the burdens of His birth. He submitted not only to the general moral demands of the Divine law for men, but to all the duties and proprieties incident to His position as a man, even to those ritual ordinances which His coming was to abolish. He set a perfect example of loyalty. "Thus it becometh us," He said, "to fulfil all righteousness."

The Son of God who was to end the legal bondage was sent into it Himself. He wore the legal yoke that He might break it. He took "the form of a servant," to win our enfranchisement. "God sent forth His son, human, law-bound—that He might redeem those under law."

Redemption was Christ’s errand. We have learned already how "He redeemed us from the curse of the law," by the sacrifice of the cross. (Ga 3:13) This was the primary object of His mission: to ransom men from the guilt of past sin. Now we discern its further purpose—the positive and constructive side of the Divine counsel. Justification, is the preface to adoption. The man under law is not only cursed by his failure to keep it; he lives in a servile state, debarred from filial rights. Christ "bought us out" of this condition. While the expiation rendered in His death clears off the entail of human guilt, His incarnate life and spiritual union with believing men sustain that action, making the redemption complete and permanent. As enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son; now "reconciled, we shall be saved by His life". (Ro 5:10) Salvation is not through the death of Christ alone. The Babe of Bethlehem, the crowned Lord of glory, is our Redeemer, as well as the Man of Calvary. The cross is indeed the centre of His redemption; but it has a vast circumference. All that Christ is, all that He has done and is doing as the Incarnate Son, the God-man, helps to make men sons of God. The purpose of His mission is therefore stated a second time and made complete in the words of ver. 5b: "that we might receive the adoption of sons." The sonship carries everything else with it—"if children, then heirs" (ver. 7). There is no room for any supplementary office of Jewish ritual. That is left behind with our babyhood.

2. So much for the ground of sonship. Its proof lay in the sending forth of the Spirit of the Son.

The mission of the Son and that of the Spirit are spoken of in vv. 3-6 in parallel terms: "God sent forth His Son—sent forth the Spirit of His Son," the former into the world of men, the latter "into" their individual "hearts." The second act matches the first, and crowns it. Pentecost is the sequel of the Incarnation. (Joh 2:21 1Co 6:19,20) And Pentecost is repeated in the heart of every child of God. The Apostle addresses himself to his readers’ experience ("because ye are sons") as in Ga 3:3-6, and on the same point. They had "received the Spirit": this marked them indubitably as heirs of Abraham (Ga 3:14) -and what is more, sons of God. Had not the mystic cry, Abba, Father, sounded in their hearts? The filial consciousness was born within them, supernaturally inspired. When they believed in Christ, when they saw in Him the Son of God, their Redeemer, they were stirred with a new, ecstatic impulse; a Divine glow of love and joy kindled in their breasts; a voice not their own spoke to their Spirit—their soul leaped forth upon their lips, crying to God, "Father, Father!" They were children of God, and knew it. "The Spirit Himself bore them witness". (Ro 8:15)

This sentiment was not due to their own reflection, not the mere opening of a buried spring of feeling in their nature. God sent it into their hearts. The outward miracles which attended the first bestowment of this gift, showed from what source it came. (Ga 3:5) Nor did Christ personally impart the assurance. He had gone, that the Paraclete might come. Here was another Witness, sent by a second mission from the Father. (Joh 16:7) His advent is signalised in clear distinction from that of the Son. He comes in the joint name of Father and of Son. Jesus called Him "the Spirit of the Father";114 the Apostle, "the Spirit of God’s Son."

To us He is "the Spirit of adoption," replacing the former "spirit of bondage unto fear." For by His indwelling we are "joined to the Lord" and made "one spirit" with Him, so that Christ lives in us. (Ga 2:20) And since Christ is above all things the Son, His Spirit is a spirit of sonship; those who receive Him are sons of God. Our sonship is through the Holy Spirit derived from His. Till Christ’s redemption was effected, such adoption was in the nature of things impossible. This filial cry of Gentile hearts attested the entrance of a Divine life into the world. The Spirit of God’s Son had become the new spirit of mankind.

Abba, the Syrian vocative for father, was a word familiar to the lips of Jesus. The instance of its use recorded in Mr 14:36, was but one of many such. No one had hitherto approached God as He did. His utterance of this word, expressing the attitude of His life of prayer and breathing the whole spirit of His religion, profoundly affected His disciples. So that the Abba of Jesus became a watchword of His Church, being the proper name of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Gentile believers pronounced it, conscious that in doing so they were joined in spirit to the Lord who said, "My Father, and your Father!" Greek-speaking Christians supplemented it by their own equivalent, as we by the English Father. This precious vocable is carried down the ages and round the whole world in the mother-tongue of Jesus, a memorial of the hour when through Him men learned to call God Father.

"Because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit," with this cry. The witness of sonship follows on the adoption, and seals it. The child is born, then cries; the cry is the evidence of life. But this is not the first office of the Holy Spirit to the regenerate soul. Many a silent impulse has He given, frequent and long-continued may have been His visitations, before His presence reveals itself audibly. From the first the new life of grace is implanted by His influence. "That which is born of the Spirit, is spirit." "He dwelleth with you, and is in you,"115 said Jesus to His disciples, before the Pentecostal effusion. Important and decisive as the witness of the Holy Spirit to our sonship is, we must not limit His operation to this event. Deeply has He wrought already on the soul in which His work reaches this issue; and when it is reached, He has still much to bestow, much to accomplish in us. All truth, all holiness, all comfort are His; and into these He leads the children of God. Living by the Spirit, in Him we proceed to Ga 5:25.

The interchange of person in the subject in vv. 5-8 is very noticeable. This agitated style betrays high strung emotion. Writing first, in ver. 3 in the language of Jewish experience, in ver. 6 Paul turns upon his readers and claims them for witnesses to the same adoption which Jewish believers in Christ (ver. 5) had received. Instantly he falls back into the first person; it is his own joyous consciousness that breaks forth in the filial cry of ver. 6b. In the more calm concluding sentence the second person is resumed; and now in the individualising singular, as though he would lay hold of his readers one by one, and bid them look each into his own heart to find the proof of sonship, as he writes: "So that thou art no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God."

An heir through God— this is the true reading. and is greatly to the point. It carries to a climax the emphatic repetition of "God" observed in vv. 4 and 6. "God sent His Son" into the world; "God sent" in turn "His Son’s Spirit into your hearts." God then, and no other, has bestowed your inheritance. It is yours by His fiat. Who dares challenge it?116 Words how suitable to reassure Gentile Christians, browbeaten by arrogant Judaism! Our reply is the same to those who at this day deny our Christian and churchly standing, because we reject their sacerdotal claims.

What this inheritance includes in its final attainment, "doth not yet appear." Enough to know that "now are we children of God." The redemption of the body, the deliverance of nature from its sentence of dissolution, the abolishment of death—these are amongst its certainties. Its supreme joy lies in the promise of being with Christ, to witness and share His glory.117 "Heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ"—a destiny like this overwhelms thought and makes hope a rapture. God’s sons may be content to wait and see how their heritage will turn out. Only let us be sure that we are His sons. Doctrinal orthodoxy, ritual observance, moral propriety do not impart, and do not supersede, "the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts." The religion of Jesus the Son of God is the religion of the filial consciousness.   


[112] Surely the world of men, not the cosmical elements; comp. Col. ii. 820 (where rudiments of the world is parallel to tradition of men); also Gal. vi. 14Heb. ix. 11 Cor. iii. 1-3supplies an interesting parallel: those who are babes in Christ, are so far carnal and walk according to man, animated by the spirit of this world (1 Cor. ii. 12).

[113] Comp. Rom. i. 3, 4; ix. 5; 2 Cor. xiii. 4; Eph. iv. 9, 10; Ph. ii. 6-8; Col. i. 15, 18; ii. 9; 1 Tim. iii. 16.

[114] Matt. x. 20; Luke xi. 13; John xiv. 16; Acts i. 4, 5.

[115] John xiv. 17; the present (ἐστίν) is the preferable reading. See Westcott ad loc.

[116] Comp. Rom. viii. 31-35Acts xi. 17.

[117] John xii. 26; xvii. 24; Rev. iii. 21; Phil. i. 23; Col. iii. 4; 1 Pet. v. 1.