Whereas many of Paul’s letters were written to churches in a particular city, such as Rome or Corinth, this letter was written to “the assemblies of Galatia”—a region in the central part of what we know today as Turkey. Cities in Galatia included Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch—all of which are mentioned numerous times in the book of Acts, and to some extent elsewhere in the New Testament as well.
Paul established the church in Galatia (4:13-14), but had moved on. Then he received word that certain Jewish-Christians were trying to persuade Galatian Christians to observe Jewish laws and rituals, including circumcision (5:2-12; 6:12-13) and the observance of “days, months, seasons, and years” (4:10). He is writing this letter to persuade the Galatian Christians not to adopt these unnecessary practices (3:10-14). Their righteousness depends not on observance of Jewish law, but upon the grace of God, made manifest through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (2:21; 3:13-14).
The last part of chapter 3 and the first part of chapter 4 emphasize that Christians are children of God (3:26-29; 4:6-7), Abraham’s seed (3:29), and “heirs according to promise” (3:29; see also 4:7).
Paul noted that minor children, even though they might be heirs, are subject to the governance of guardians and trustees “until the day appointed by the father” (4:1-2). “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (3:25).
GALATIANS 4:4-5. GOD SENT HIS SON
4But when the fullness (Greek: pleroma) of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 5that he might (hina) redeem those who were under the law, that (hina) we might receive the adoption (huiothesia) of children.
“But when the fullness (pleroma) of the time came“ (v. 4a). The word pleroma can be used for a basket that is full, but here it has the sense of completeness or the right time.
Christians have often noted that Jesus came during the Pax Romana—a period of relative peace brought about by the fact that the Romans had conquered most of the known world. Greek was a common language. Roman roads made travel much easier than it had been in the past.
However, we shouldn’t make too much of the special circumstances of the first century—circumstances that facilitated the spread of the Gospel. If God had been concerned about such things, wouldn’t he have waited until we had jet planes and email? More to the point, it was the right time in the lives of the Jewish people. They had moved past the idolatry that had plagued them in earlier years. They had access to the Torah and the writing of the prophets. They had had plenty of time to test their ability to keep the Jewish law, and were thus in a position to understand their need of God’s grace.
“God sent out his Son” (v. 4b). The Son was God’s Son from the beginning. He “was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him was not anything made that has been made…. (And) the Word became flesh and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth…. From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:2-3, 14, 16).
Paul’s most explicit picture of God’s sending his Son is found in his letter to the Philippians. “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).
“born to a woman“ (v. 4b). Christ’s full humanity was manifested in his birth. He was “born of a woman”—not a princess or a queen, but an ordinary young woman. He was born, not in a palace, but in stable. His crib was a manger—a feeding trough for animals. He was raised, not in Jerusalem, the home of the temple, but in a small town in Galilee. The man who was to be known as his father was not a ruler, but a carpenter. Jesus could not have done more to identify with us in our humanity.
Luke had been Paul’s traveling companion, so Paul surely knew of the virgin birth. However, he doesn’t mention the virgin birth explicitly in any of his letters. We should not imagine that he rejected the idea of the virgin birth. More likely, that concept was so widely accepted that he felt no need to emphasize it.
“born under the law“ (v. 4b). As a child born in a Jewish home, Jesus grew up subject to the same religious law that governed his parents and their community.
“that he might (hina) redeem those who were under the law” (v. 5a). The little word, hina, establishes purpose. The reason that God sent his Son into the world was to accomplish two things. The first was “that he might redeem those who were under the law”—i.e., the Jewish people. The second was that “we might receive the adoption as children.”
“that (hina) we might receive the adoption (huiothesia) as children“ (v. 5b). The word huiothesia is found four times in the New Testament (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). It is a compound word—a combination of huios (son) and tithemi (to place).
“Paul…is alluding to a Greek and Roman custom rather than a Hebrew one. Since huiothesia was a technical term in Roman law for an act that had specific legal and social effects, there is much probability that Paul had some reference to that in his use of the word. Adoption, when thus legally performed, put a man in every respect in the position of a son by birth to him to had adopted him, so that he possessed the same rights and owed the same obligations. Being a huios, a son, involves the conformity of the child that has the life of God in him to the image, purposes, and interests of God and that spiritual family into which he is born” (Zodhiates, 1404).
GALATIANS 4:6. ABBA! FATHER!
6And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!”
“And because you are children, God sent out the Spirit of his Son into your hearts“ (v. 6a). There are two things going on here. The first is our adoption into God’s family. The second is the gift of the Spirit. This verse sounds as if the sequence is that we first are adopted and then receive the Spirit. However, it seems likely that these two things would happen almost simultaneously in many instances.
In the last chapter, Paul reminded the Galatians that they have received the Spirit (3:1).
“crying, ‘Abba! Father!”‘ (v. 6b). Jesus prayed “Abba, Father” at Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). Now his Spirit teaches us to pray “Abba, Father.” Abba is an Aramaic word for father.
Some people would translate “Abba! Father!” as “daddy,” but most scholars dismiss that as trivialization or presumptuousness. However, “Abba! Father!” is the kind of phrase that a small child would use for his/her father. It is a sign of God’s love that he permits this kind of intimacy, not just from the great saints, but from all saints.
While the Old Testament includes references to God as Father (Psalm 68:5; 89:26; 103:13), the New Testament expands dramatically on that idea. Jesus teaches us to pray, saying, “Our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). References to God as Father abound in the Epistles (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; Philemon 1:3). Most of these references occur in the greetings portion of the Epistles.
GALATIANS 4:7. A CHILD AND ALSO AN HEIR
7So (Greek: hoste—so or therefore) you (Greek: ei—”you” singular) are no longer a bondservant, but a son (huios—a son); and if a son (huios), then an heir of God through Christ.
“So (hoste—so or therefore) you (ei—”you” singular) are no longer a bondservant but a son” (huios—a son) (v. 7a). The word hoste (so or therefore) links this verse to what has gone before. That includes such statements as:
• “For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26).
• “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise” (3:29).
• “God sent out his Son…that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children” (4:4b-5).
The use of ei (“you” singular) makes this a very personal statement. It applies to each of the Christians to whom this letter is addressed—and to each of us who reads it today in faith. We are brought into proper relationship with God as individuals—not en masse. Adoption is a very personal process. There might be more than one adopted child, but each child will have a name and an identity—and the adoptive parents will love each child personally. So it is with adoption into God’s household. The heavenly Father knows every hair on our heads (Matthew 10:30).
Through faith in Christ we have been transformed from slaves to sons and daughters—adopted into God’s family—engrafted into God’s family tree.
Because of its inclusive language agenda, the NRSV uses the word “child” rather than “son” in this verse. That is a particularly unfortunate translation, because it suggests that we are children—under-aged—still in the care of guardians. Paul has just said that minor children “are no better than slaves” because “they remain under guardians and trustees” until they reach the age at which they can assume responsibility for their own affairs (4:1-2). The point of verse 7 is not that we are children (“no better than slaves”), but that we are sons and daughters (“heirs”).
“and if a son (huios—a son) then an heir of God through Christ“ (v. 7b). Being sons and daughters confers on us the privileges associated with being an heir. Being an heir makes one eligible to receive an inheritance.
In the Old Testament, only sons were heirs—invested with the right of inheritance. The Torah specified that the firstborn son was to receive a double portion of the inheritance, and each of the other sons was to receive a single portion (Deuteronomy 21:17). In other words, if a father had three sons, the inheritance would be divided four ways. The firstborn son would receive two portions (one-half of the inheritance in this example), and the other two sons would receive one portion each (one fourth of the inheritance each in this example). Fathers were not permitted to alter this formula to favor a well-liked son or to punish a son (Deuteronomy 21:16).
However, the Torah creates exceptions for special cases. “‘If a man dies, and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his kinsman who is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it” (Numbers 27:8-10). These verses make it clear how seriously God (and the Jewish people) regarded inheritance.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul expanded the idea that we are heirs by saying that we are “joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17; see also Ephesians 3:6). That is especially significant, given that God has appointed his Son “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2). Ours is an “eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15)—a “city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10)—”a better country, that is, a heavenly one,” a city prepared for us by God” (Hebrews 11:16)—”the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2011, Richard Niell Donovan