Monday: Enslaved to Elementary Principles
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Having just compared our relationship to God with that of sons and heirs, Paul now elaborates on this metaphor by including the theme of inheritance in Galatians 4:1–3. Paul’s terminology evokes a situation in which an owner of a large estate has died, leaving all his property to his oldest son. His son, however, is still a minor. As is often the case with wills even today, the father’s will stipulates that his son is to be under the supervision of guardians and managers until he reaches maturity. Though he is master of his father’s estate by title, as a minor he is little more than a slave in practice.1

Paul’s analogy is similar to that of the pedagogue in Galations 3:24, but in this case the power of the stewards and managers is far superior and much more important. They are responsible not only for the upbringing of the master’s son, but they are also in charge of all the financial and administrative affairs until the son is mature enough to assume those duties himself.

Read Galatians 4:1–3. What is Paul saying there that, again, should help clarify what the role of the law should be in our lives, now that we are in Christ?



Exactly what Paul means by the phrase “elementary principles” (Gal. 4:3, 8, ESV) is disputed. The Greek word stoicheia literally means “elements.” Some have seen it as a description of the basic elements that compose the universe (2 Pet. 3:10, 12); or as demonic powers that control this evil age (Col. 2:15); or as the rudimentary principles of religious life, the ABC’s of religion (Heb. 5:12). Paul’s emphasis on humanity’s status as “minors” before the coming of Christ (Gal. 4:1–3) suggests that he is referring here to the rudimentary principles of religious life. If so, Paul is saying that the Old Testament period, with its laws and sacrifices, was merely a gospel primer that outlined the basics of salvation. Thus, as important and instructional as the ceremonial laws were to Israel, they were only shadows of what was to come. They never were intended to take the place of Christ.

To regulate one’s life around these rules instead of Christ is like wanting to go back in time. For the Galatians to return to those basic elements after Christ had already come was like the adult son in Paul’s analogy wanting to be a minor again!

While a childlike faith can be positive (Matt. 18:3), is it necessarily the same thing as spiritual maturity? Or could you argue that the more you grow spiritually, the more childlike your faith will be? How childlike and “innocent” and trusting is your faith?

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Monday: Enslaved to Elementary Principles — 5 Comments

  1. What are the weak and beggarly elements?

    Back in 1888-1893 our church was engaged in a study on these issues we are now studying.

    I hope it's permisable to quote from these studies as they address this "weak and beggarly element" in a rather interesting way.

    An article by A.T. Jones in the Review
    and Herald, # 20, 1900

    The Galatians, having been Gentiles, knew not God, and, accordingly, were in bondage to them which by nature were no gods at all. To them the gospel had been preached. They had believed the gospel, and so were delivered from bondage, and had received the adoption of sons of God, and were, therefore, no more bondmen, but sons; and, being sons, were heirs of God, through Christ. But the Pharisees which believed, knowing nothing of true faith and the freedom which Christ gives, had, come among the Galatians, with their perverted gospel, which was not the gospel at all, had confused them, and turned them from faith to works: from the Spirit to the flesh, as the means of justification, and the hope of salvation. Galatians 3:1-3.

    But when the "Galatians were turned from faith to works, they did not stop with the works which the Pharisees recommended and urged. Having at first been heathen, and having now been driven back from faith to works, they took up their own heathen works, as well as the works which the Pharisees recommended. Having been turned from the Spirit to the flesh, it was only to be expected that they would do this: seeing that the ways of the heathen were more satisfying to their flesh than the ways of the Pharisees could be, because these were the things to which their flesh had formerly been accustomed.

    This is certain from the very words of the text, in the inquiry: "But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?" The apostle had just stated that before they knew God, they were in bondage unto them which by nature are no gods, and now, having been turned from God, they turned AGAIN to those things, and AGAIN to that bondage. And, as seen in the former lesson, these elements whereunto they were formerly in bondage, and to which they were now AGAIN in bondage, were "the elements of the world:" and the only elements of the world are "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life: " the works of the flesh - in a word - are only sin.

    Here is E.J. Waggoner's comments on the "elements of the world."
    Taken from his book "The Glad Tidings; Studies in Galatians" p. 93-94

    “The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said, "Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led." 1Cor.12:2.

    Even so it was with the Galatians. To them he wrote, "Not knowing God, ye were in bondage to them which by nature are no gods." If this fact is borne in mind, it will save the reader from falling into some very common errors in opinion concerning this Epistle. The Galatians had been heathen, worshiping idols, and in bondage to the most degrading superstitions. Bear in mind that this bondage is the same as that which is spoken of in the preceding chapter -- they were "shut up" under the law.

    It was the very same bondage in which all unconverted persons are, for in the second and third chapters of Romans we are told that "there is no difference; for all have sinned." The Jews themselves, who did not know the Lord by personal experience, were in the same bondage,--the bondage of sin. "Every one that committeth sin is the bond-servant of sin." John 8:34, R.V. And "he that committeth sin is of the devil." 1Joh.3:8. "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God." 1Cor.10:20.

    If a man is not a Christian, he is a heathen; there is no middle ground. If the Christian apostatizes, he immediately becomes a heathen. We ourselves once walked "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), and we "were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another" (Titus 3:3, R.V.). So we also were "in bondage to them which by nature are no gods."

    The meaner the master, the worse the bondage. What language can depict the horror of being in bondage to corruption itself?

    So putting all these pieces together, it appears the Jewish teachers were directing the Galatians to a temple based system of ceremonies. The Galatians, not seeing too much difference in their former temple rituals and those of the Jews, took this a step further incorporating their heathen temple ceremonies.

    This is speaking of the Gentile converts not the Jews,
    ....when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods....how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements,

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  2. I think that Ulrike’s comment says a lot but rather than speaking just to Gentiles I believe that Paul was thinking in more general terms. In verse three he uses the phrase, “Even so we” (Gal 4:3 NKJV) which means that he was including himself. But Paul was never involved with pagan worship. Even so Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee, once worshiped things that “are no Gods” just as much as the Gentile was with all his ceremonies and rites. It doesn’t make any difference which camp you’re in as E. J. Waggoner said,

    • What is it the Christian is freed from?

      Romans 6:18 Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.
      Romans 6:22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God.

      I think that also answers what the "elements of the world" (Gal. 4:3) and the "weak and beggarly elements" (Gal. 4:9) are.

      To go back to those worldly elements is to go back to serving self -- which is basically the worldly concepts or elements for success, achievement and pleasure.

      As John describes it:

      1 John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
      2:17 And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he that does the will of God abides for ever.

      Christ came to free us from the dominion of sin. When we turn from Christ back to the "beggarly elements of the world" we go back into the bondage of sin.

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  • Linus, I am assuming that your question has to do with which group Paul referred to that “were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Gal 4:3 NKJV). My conclusion that I have arrived at is that it could refer to anyone who is not “in Christ” who gives us freedom. In Paul’s day there were two basic groups, the Gentiles who were enslaved to their gross religious practices and the Jews who were enslaved under a burden of rabbinical regulation and requirements in relation to all the laws and ordinances that God gave them which made worshiping God exasperating.

    As Ulrike stated in her comment it could be referring to the Gentiles but I maintain it could just as well be referring to the Judaizers and probably is dealing with both of them. If you will look ahead to verses 9-10 you will notice that Paul refers to certain practices. “But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years” (Gal 4:9-10 NKJV). Those verses are also strangely similar to what Paul addresses in Colossians, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” (Col 2:16 NKJV) which concerns the traditions of men that were tacked on to the laws and ordinances of God. It is these kinds of things that the Jews were trying to enforce.

    We do know that pagan worship was often closely linked to astronomical observations so when Paul mentions “days and months and seasons and years” he could be talking about paganism. But the sanctuary services were also tied to astronomical observations as well. The point seems to be that whatever those things were the Galatian believers were being told to closely observe those rituals to the extent that they ended up enslaving them.

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