A Study of Galatians 4:1-7
Now I say, [That] the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. [Gal 4:1-7]
In a previous study, we talked about the terms translated “children”, “child”, and “son”, and discussed briefly the differences in meaning. It was mentioned that both seemed to be terms of endearment and parentage. Here, we have another term translated “child” which is the term νήπιος (nḗpios). To expound on the meaning of this word, I will quote the scripture where it is used most extensively:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. [1Co 13:11]
See below for Vine’s entry:
lit., “without the power of speech,” denotes “a little child,” the literal meaning having been lost in the general use of the word. It is used
(a) of “infants,” Mat 21:16;
(b) metaphorically, of the unsophisticated in mind and trustful in disposition, Mat 11:25 and Luk 10:21, where it stands in contrast to the wise; of those who are possessed merely of natural knowledge, Rom 2:20; of those who are carnal, and have not grown, as they should have done, in spiritual understanding and power, the spiritually immature, 1Cor 3:1, those who are so to speak partakers of milk, and “without experience of the word of righteousness,” Hbr 5:13; of the Jews, who, while the Law was in force, were in state corresponding to that of childhood, or minority, just as the word “infant” is used of a minor, in English law, Gal 4:3, “children;” of believers in an immature condition, impressionable and liable to be imposed upon instead of being in a state of spiritual maturity, Eph 4:14, “children.” “Immaturity” is always associated with this word.
This is like when we say that something is “child’s play”, meaning that something is so simple that even a child can do it.
Paul is here furthering the point of difference between the law relationship and the grace relationship. Those under the law were in the place of immaturity. As such, those under law were under tutors and governors. “Governors” is the same term translated “stewards” elsewhere. It is the Greek word οἰκονόμος (oikonomos). A steward is in charge of a stewardship. Stewardship and administration are the terms that most often replace the word dispensation in most modern English translations. Here we have a steward being one who is understood to be a “governor”, the one who is in charge of the “government” of the child.
Notice here that we have the “heir”, the one who is to receive the inheritance of everything from the father in which sense he is “lord of all”, under this authority delegated by the father. The tutors and governors are employed by the father to rule over the child who will one day inherit the means of employing the tutors and governors. And any wise father will never allow the child to usurp authority over the tutors and governors while he is a child. That would result in a disaster, both now and when the child became an adult. (Would the child ever actually become an adult in that case?) So the father employs a “schoolmaster”. In our day, that would be a school, but we get the picture. The schoolmaster takes authority over the child under the father’s authority to properly raise the child.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. [Gal 3:24]
Such was the position of the Israelites under the law, being taught time and time again that they were in need of the Savior. All mankind was given up (Rom 1:24,26) and given over (Rom 1:28) to the slavery of sin, while Israel was called out and separated to be a peculiar treasure above all people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. (Exo 19:5-6) God called them out of slavery as His “son” (Hos 11:1) and separated them, putting a difference between them and the rest of the nations (gentiles). This difference showed there to be no difference, because every son of Israel was also a son of Adam. The Israelites who were under the law are concluded all under sin:
What then? are we [Jews] better [than they] [gentiles]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; [Rom 3:9]
…for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; [Rom 3:22-23]
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all. [Rom 11:32]
But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. [Gal 3:22]
So our passage picks up:
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
I would take the “we” here to be Jews, those under the law who were in bondage under the elements of the world, although it could apply to gentiles as well, not as under the law, but as under sin and in bondage to it. I take it to mean Jews because of the context of being under the tutors and governors. In any case, before the “fullness of time”, all mankind was in bondage. Both under sin and under law are both bondage. But there is good news:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
It was the right time for God to send forth His Son. Why did He not send Him forth sooner? We could make some assumptions in this regard, but lets just leave it that it was the right time as God decided. It was the fullness of time, and it was exactly at the moment that God wanted it to be.
This is where Paul speaks to the fact of the virgin birth. He was made of a woman. This hearkens back to Genesis 3, to what is called the protoevangel:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. [Gen 3:15]
Now, I would not add any more to the understanding that Adam and Eve had of that prophecy than what is written. I do not see any indication in scripture of anyone understanding all that this meant. We see 20/20 in hindsight. Such is the case with all of prophecy.
The Lord Jesus as He ministered on the earth did so under law. He ministered to fulfill the law:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. [Mat 5:17-18]
Putting all preconceived notions of understandings aside, this does help to clear up many seeming inconsistencies between the Lord’s earthly ministry in His Humiliation and His ministry from heaven in glory as He revealed to His apostle. In His heavenly ministry, the law is taken out of the way, and nailed to His cross (Col 2:14). In His heavenly ministry, the Jew is redeemed from under the law, and both Jew and Gentile are reconciled and redeemed in one body by the cross.
In whom we have redemption through His blood, [even] the forgiveness of sins: … And, having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself; by Him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight: [Col 1:14, 20-22]
For He is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition [between us]; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, [even] the law of commandments [contained] in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, [so] making peace; And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: [Eph 2:14-16]
Now having been redeemed, we now received the adoption of sons, the sonship. It is a kind of graduation, if you will, from a state of bondage under the law to freedom as a son in the Father’s house. What great grace our God has shown to the sons of Adam to redeem us by the blood of Christ and to place us in the position of His sons! And this is only by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
God has not only saved us, He has put the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, into the very depths of our beings, and this is why we can approach Him as Father.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [Him], that we may be also glorified together. [Rom 8:15-17]
Now it is an interesting distinction that in Romans, we are called heirs because we are the children (teknon, “born ones”) of God. The emphasis in Galatians is that we are heirs because we are in the position of being sons (huios). There are sure blessings distinct to both positions. His grace grants those who have placed their faith in Christ as their Savior Who died for their sins and rose from the dead the inheritance of both positions. We are in no way in bondage to the flesh, to sin, or to the law.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Let us continue to believe what God has said about our position in Christ as sons and heirs of God, and not allow anyone to tell us otherwise. It may not always or ever feel like it, but that is the word of God, and it is not our concern to feel that it is true, but to believe that it is true.