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The discussion of this exegetical paper will explore Galatians 4:1-7. This passage is rather short; however, its contents are deep and meaningful. The paper will examine the words of Paul from the rhetoric and literary point of view, and consider the historical context and the background of the Galatians to whom the author speaks. Besides, the discussion will view the passage not as a separate statement, but in a combination with the ones around it. Finally, from the literary point of view, the passage will be characterized as a concluding part of the previous section. Overall, Galatians 4:1-7 has an explanatory and inspirational character; even though it is separated from the previous section as an individual statement, the themes of both parts are connected; this division might be made due to its powerful emotional content of the passage, so it serves as the link between two sections.
For the fuller understanding of the meaning of the passage, one is to consider its name as it presents the people to whom the author addresses his words, the Galatians, Paul’s converts from paganism in need of an explanation of what being a Christian stood for.1 The first words of the passage are “What I am saying is”, this indicates that Paul is addressing his audience to explain some very important tenets of Christianity; he continues, “as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father”.2 As pointed out by Martin Luther, the Apostle begins his explanation with a clear illustration.3 It is possible to theorize that Paul employed this kind of demonstration to make his point more accessible since he was speaking to simple people many of whom might have been uneducated.
The Meaning of Passage
The true depth of Paul’s comparison and its meaning can be revealed when the passage is viewed in the context of those that stand before it. Namely, in Galatians 3:26 the Apostle says, “So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”; this sentence makes it clear that Paul attempts to demonstrate the connection between people and God through the acceptance of Jesus. Besides, in Galatians 4:8 the author emphasizes, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods”; this passage also helps to understand the previous one. Paul’s choice of comparison is very precise as he uses the relationship between a lord and his heir to illustrate the place the Christians occupy embracing the legacy of Jesus. As pointed out by Fowler, before the arrival of Jesus, the people were to follow the legacy of Abraham and obey the law.4
In Galatians 4:5-6, Paul says, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship”. That way, before Jesus was sent, the people lived similarly to an underage heir; and after embracing the son of God, they can become God’s rightful sons as well. Moreover, the Apostle chooses the illustration of family relations between a father and a son to demonstrate the closeness and love between God and people.
The context of the passages around Galatians 4:1-7 explains the seeming juxtaposition of law and faith, Paul employs the concept of slavery as an illustration of the difference between the lives of believers before and after the accepted Christ to inspire their further spiritual paths. Discussing the relation between law and the promise of God, in Galatians 3:21, Paul deems it necessary to specify, “Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not!” The author might intend to point out that the appearance of Christ and the adoption of the Scripture as the set of values and rules to live by do not cancel the power and the rightness of the law.
That way, stating in Galatians 4:7 that these people are no longer slaves, Paul emphasizes that the true Christians are free-spirited. Besides, the laws may differ for people based on their status while the standards promoted in the Scripture and the same for all the true Christians regardless of their age, gender, or background.
The inspirational aspect of the passage also lies in the comparison Paul employs for the illustration of the relation between God and the Christians. Taking into consideration the assumption that the Apostle addresses a large number of individuals the vast majority of whom come from simple backgrounds and do not have a privileged social status, the usage of such words as “lord” and “heir” may carry a strong persuasive power as an appeal to emotion. In other words, convincing the simple people that they are heirs to God, Paul seems to attempt to demonstrate what a privilege and a reward it is to be a true Christian.
Also, the comparison of the people before they embrace the legacy of Jesus and the same individuals after they begin following the tenets of the Scripture to the underage child and an heir accordingly, Paul demonstrates that the guidance and tutelage a young child obtains from the supervisors is something an heir is released from due to his wisdom and maturity. Differently put, the words of Paul may express the idea that while law brings brutal restrictions, the Scripture provides wisdom enabling the believers to see the righteous paths without being controlled from the side.
From the composition, Galatians 4:1-7 looks like a final part of the previous passage called Children of God; however, its appeal to strong emotion and a powerful persuasive nature may be the features that resulted in its separation from the previous part. As a result, this passage works as a link between the Children of God and Paul’s Concern for the Galatians. The latter continues the explanation of the release of the Galatians from slavery through the provision of the spiritual freedom of Christianity and a chance to become the children of God.
To conclude, Galatians 4:1-7 carries a powerful emotional charge and facilitates the connection between the passages before and after it. The passage seems to have an explanatory and inspirational value represented by the clever comparison of the Galatians converted from paganism to Christianity as the children who have gained a source of wisdom that could help them become free and grow into heirs as sons of God.
Fowler, James A. A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Fallbrook: CIY Publishing, 2006.
Luther, Martin. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Translated by Theodore Graebner. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1999.
“The Letter to the Galatians.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Web.
- “The Letter to the Galatians,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Web.
- Gal. 4:2-3.
- Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. Theodore Graebner (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1999), 80.
- James A. Fowler, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians (Fallbrook: CIY Publishing, 2006), 141.