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.

Learning Basic Principles

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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.

Paul’s analogy is similar to that of the pedagogue in Galatians 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. 4:3Gal. 4:8, 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. 3:102 Peter 3:12); 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. 4:1-3suggests 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?
Amen!(34)

Comments

Monday: Enslaved to Elementary Principles — 20 Comments

  1. I need to have childlike faith in every area of my life..if we are children of God,we wait in faith for Him to provide health and strength food and clothing hugs and kisses like our own children look towards us.Child like faith comes natural when you have a relationship with your parent.Even as we grow we have a better understanding of what is expected of us but we still have that child like respect for the parent which is maturity.Our relationship to God is no different.Love and reverence knowing that we are His how could we not have faith even childlike.

    Amen!(28)
  2. In commenting on "Elementary Principles" I wanted to stray a bit to Galatians 1. Some may wonder what are some of the characteristics that describe Paul? (1) Strong willed; (2) Out spoken; (3) He says what thinks, not always complimentary. (4) I and other commentaries see a streak of resentment of the 12 chosen Apostles. Galatians 1:1,12&13; a subject he would rather forget if possible. These are just some of my opinions that I mull over in my mind as we go over the different sections and verses of the lesson. Thus the title, "Elementary Principles", maybe not entirely applicable.

    Amen!(5)
    • Paul, considering your point #4, it's my understanding that Paul made his statement because those he was teaching were questioning his authority. I believe he got along well with the apostles. Yes, he was indeed outspoken.

      Amen!(3)
  3. Childlike faith would be to follow the law for the law's sake only. This is similar to my own childhood, when my parents set up rules in the house and I was never told the REASON why those laws were set up. In the same way, the Jewish clergy at the time of Jesus had the law so ingrained in their way of life that their faith was childlike; they followed without remembering the reason why the law existed.

    Spiritual maturity means realizing why we follow the law: they are meant to keep us closer to Christ.

    Amen!(14)
    • Usually we would call the kind of faith you describe as "immature" or "childish" rather than "childlike." That's because Jesus said that we cannot enter the kingdom innkeeper we become like little children--unless we trust him in the same way a little child trusts his parents. (See Matt 18:3)

      I believe that it is in that spirit that the author asks his questions at the bottom of this day's lesson.

      [For native English speakers, "childlike" has a positive connotation, and "childish" has a negative connotation, and "immature" also usually has a negative connotation.]

      Amen!(1)
  4. There should be no mystery concerning what Paul is saying in Gal 4:1-7. In the context of Gal 3 and 4, it is clear. He is actually repeating himself with further examples to emphasize the same point over and over.

    First statement - child - under guardians and stewards - until the time appointed by the father.

    Second statement - we, when we were children - were in bondage under the elements of the world (elementary principles) - until the fullness of time had come.

    Translation - we were under the law - the guardian and steward (Gal 3:23,24) - we were in bondage under the elementary principles (meaning the law). The time appointed, is the same as "the fullness of time", and is the same as Gal 3:19 - the law was added ... till the seed should come.

    Final statement in the section: "Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" - would have to mean that we, as sons, are no longer under the law, we are heirs with Christ who has given us His Holy Spirit as explained in Luke 11:13; John 7:39; Rom 5:5; 1 Thess 4:8. We can now enjoy and live in the inheritance, not of law but of promise. Gal 3:18. The Holy Spirit of promise, is the guarantee of that inheritance. Eph 1:14.

    If we let the bible interpret itself, there would be no need to insert our human suppositions.

    Amen!(17)
    • Hi Fred:
      I appreciate your thoughts on this passage. I wonder though if Paul had something deeper in mind when he wrote, "We were in bondage under the elementary principles." Gal. 4:3. If he had meant the "Law" would he have just said it directly? May I propose that what Paul was referring to was that gulf of separation?

      I think that sometimes Christians take for granted the freedom to, "come boldly to the throne of grace." Hebrews 4:16 With the power of hindsight, if we look back in time before the arrival of the "Lamb of God that taketh away the Sin of the world" and examine at the specific number of times that God directly interacted with humanity on a first name basis, and face-to-to face we have a few distinct examples: Moses at the burning bush, Moses in the mountain with God, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, Daniel while in vision. Perhaps a few more examples may come to mind?

      Could it be that when we, "were in bondage under the elements of the world." Gal. 4:3 NKJV that what Paul has just described is that gulf, that separation between God and humanity? If we examine the process of receiving forgiveness of sin prior to the advent of the Saviour is it not a drawn out and elaborate affair? Finding a spotless lamb, making an arduous pilgrimage to the temple, confession of sin over the innocent creature, and the spilling of blood, and yet in all these things, it was the Divinely appointed measure to come to God and receive forgiveness.

      If we compare this manner of receiving forgiveness and the way that the women caught in adultery found forgiveness, it is completely different.
      "And Jesus said to her, 'Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." John 8:11

      What an amazing thought that the Creator of the universe, the Divine master of all created beings has just addressed a women caught in sin as a fellow human being. she didn't have to take of her shoes for the place whereon she lay was holy ground, (Exodus 3:5) She didn't bring a lamb, she didn't even really confess her sin did she? See? Before Jesus it was a completely different relationship between us and God, and in a large measure humanity was enslaved by it.

      Amen!(2)
      • Stephen

        Interesting concept, and quite possible. I like your thinking.

        Drawing from your examples, you are saying that "before Jesus it was a completely different relationship between us and God, and in a large measure humanity was enslaved by it." Could that be because of the Law - not the Ten Commandments, but the entire system of law from Exodus to Deuteronomy? We note that under that dispensation, if someone was caught breaking the Sabbath, he could be stoned - Num 15:32-36. Similarly the woman in adultery would have been put to death - Lev 20:10. Also other severe penalties for stealing - Exod 22:1; worshipping the golden calf - Exod 32:33-35, etc. Whereas, as you correctly point out, Jesus did not excuse sin, but He did not call for the execution of the prescribed sentence.

        So yes, it could be the bondage to those principles which are connected to the relationship before Christ came. Which therefore seems to come back to the law, and way it was executed, and the bondage to those operational principles.

        Could it be that the reason Paul did not plainly say "the law" in verse 3 was because he had already said that several times in the many preceding verses, and he then plainly said it in verses 4 and 5?

        Amen!(8)
        • Fred Roberts how did you come to the conclusion Paul means the law by elementary principles?

          If indeed he means the law, then the Sabbath falls away too. We can't pick and chose. Can we?

          Amen!(3)
          • I don't know how Fred Roberts could be clearer in that he has already demonstrated that, in context, it is clear that Paul is talking about the Law vs faith in this passage.

            Could you provide us with contextual evidence that suggests that Paul was not referring to the Law in this instance?

            Indeed, "the Sabbath falls away too" as a means of salvation. No one was ever saved by Sabbath keeping, nor will anyone ever be saved by Sabbath keeping. Sabbath keeping is the sign of a relationship with God, and it is meaningless without such a relationship.

            The lesson author acknowledges that there is some dispute regarding Paul's meaning re "elementary principles" and suggests this:

            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.

            However, the following sentence implies that the reference is to "ceremonial laws." However, Paul has not made such a distinction in his arguments before, and I believe it would be imposing a meaning on the text to suggest that he excludes the moral law in this instance.

            The perpetuity of the Law as a standard of holiness is not at question. (This was addressed in the lesson on "The Law and the Believer." What is at question is how we are saved.

            Amen!(2)
        • Good Morning Fred: Point well conceded.
          I imagine Paul thinking back on his life as Saul, a sort of District Attorney, with broad prosecutorial powers, and in love with the law, seeking to dissuade the Galatians from making the same mistake he made. He used the power of the law to imprison people physically even as he himself was enslaved to the laws of phariseeism.

          To be a pharisee, being a legalist is a requirement, but one cannot be a Christian and a legalist.
          The life of Christ is too infuriatingly compassionate for one enamored with law, crime, and punishment, too kind to one's enemies, too willing to forgive. The Saviour cuts through protocols, and requirements, and directly speaks and acts within the dictates of love and mercy. I think Paul is trying to make this contrast to the church.

          Amen!(4)
  5. Is there a problem in understanding what the roll of the law is in our lives? Have we not discussed the ten commandments excessively? It seems obvious that as Paul says in Romans 7:7, the law makes sin known.

    Amen!(12)
    • I agree that the law makes sin known. That is why although we are heirs we are still under the guardianship of the law until we become heirs of salvation. As I understand Paul, although the child is heir to his father's possessions he is still placed under guardianship until he shall have reached the age of maturity. Thus until Jesus comes, the law will be present to guard us from going off the track.

      Amen!(4)
  6. the fullness of time is at hand the law was added until the seed should come we are no longer slaves but sons and daugthers of christ.to know GOD is to love and serve him.

    Amen!(4)
  7. If we could have a deeper conversation with the Apostle Paul about this passage, Galatians 4:1-6 , I think that he would explain that he is making a distinction in a moment of time, before and after Matthew 27:50,51.

    There is a fundamental change that has just taken place in the relationship between the Divine and human. There is a hint of that change recorded in the brief conversation between Jesus and Mary on Resurrection Morning, John 20:13-17

    When Jesus called to her, "Mary!" (John 20:16) Never can humanity go back to the formal distant relationship of that of a lost humanity seeking approval from an Almighty God by rituals, and formalities. The entire nature of the relationship has become intimate, personal, one-on-one, and natural. In quiet communion with God I can by faith here the Saviour himself calling my name, "Steven!" in His voice of compassion, love and forgiveness.

    "And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" Galatians 4:6

    Amen!(4)
  8. Delly

    I appreciate your thoughts.

    You said:
    “although we are heirs we are still under the guardianship of the law until we become heirs of salvation.”

    We ARE heirs of salvation. We HAVE received His salvation. We HAVE eternal life. Our salvation has already occurred. Eternal life is assured. There are too many scriptural texts in the New Testament that assure us that having accepted the salvation God has offered us, we HAVE eternal life, now. It is not a future event, but a present reality.

    1 John 5:13 - These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you HAVE eternal life.

    Eph 2:8 - For by grace you HAVE BEEN saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.

    Rom 8:17 - Now if we ARE children, then we ARE heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

    Gal 3:29 - If you belong to Christ, then you ARE Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    Gal 4:7 - Therefore you ARE no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

    Notice the present tense in all those pronouncements.

    You said:
    “although the child is heir to his father's possessions he is still placed under guardianship until he shall have reached the age of maturity.”

    Paul is saying something different. The child was under the guardian UNTIL the appointed time; UNTIL the fullness of time had come. Then in Gal 4:4, Paul says that when the fullness of time HAD come, God sent forth His son. Therefore, this is a past event. Christ HAS come.

    I do not think we can push into the future what God has already brought to past.

    You said:
    “Thus until Jesus comes, the law will be present to guard us from going off the track.”

    The law can guard us until we come to Christ. Thereafter, it is the Spirit of the Living God, that effectuates His principles and requirements within us. As several comments have pointed out, the law shows us our sinful condition. The law shows us where we have strayed. However, it has no power to “keep us from going off the track.” That is the work of God, through His Holy Spirit. Jude 24 - Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless. See also 1 Cor 10:13, John 17:15, Isa 26:3.

    All this we can have NOW. Our Almighty God through His Holy Spirit is waiting and willing to do mighty things in and through us, if we would only let Him.

    Let us grab a hold of our inheritance through faith. We ARE heirs NOW!

    Amen!(7)
  9. Paul’s usage of the phrase ‘basic spiritual principles of this world is found in Gal. 4:3,9 and Col. 2:8,20.
    So we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elementary principles of the world . . . But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. (Gal. 4:3,9,10)7
    See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. . .If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!". . . (Col. 2:8,20,21)
    In Gal 4:3,9-10, Paul references the pagan religious practices of the world by the gentiles, he questions why they would want to go back and again become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?
    Maybe Paul associated “spiritual principles of this world” as originating from this world and unlikely the Law (originating of God).
    However, some authors on this subject share different views as to the Pauline usage of the term “ta stoicheia tou kosmou” as implying: (1) The Mosaic Law, (2) Demonic Spirits, (3) Religious principles, (4) The perversion of the Law, (5) the outdated Law. An interesting argument by author Gary DeLashmutt, presents Paul's usage of "the elementary principles of the world" warning against syncretism of the gospel with any other human philosophic or religious system, pertaining to all religion (including the Old Testament Law and especially its ritual system) before and outside of Christ.

    Amen!(2)
  10. It seems there is a lot of overgeneralization here. It does not mean because there was a lesson on faith and law then all the following lesson are about law. The lesson on faith and law showed that these two are compatible The law was not the only issue Paul addressed to the Galatians. The gentiles had not give up all of their traditional religious beliefs. They tried to incorporate them into the religion of Christ. ["The Gentiles, and especially the Greeks, were extremely licentious; and many, in accepting Christianity, had united the truth to their unsanctified natures..." LP 66.2.]
    Paul didn't use this phrase only in his address to the Galatians. In Hebrews 5:12 For ". . . the first principles of the oracles of God. . ." Here he is talking about basic principles of the gospel of Christ which are foundational in understanding the true religion of Christ. The basic principles of salvation by faith . But in Galatians he is talking about those basic principles that do not enhance the spirituality of man. Traditions of men. Lest we not forget these new believers were surrounded by influence of heathenism. The Galatians according to Ellen White the Galatians had maintained their traditional understanding of God and attempted to infuse them into their newly found religion. Paul wanted to impress upon these new believers the need to be steadfast in the faith he introduced to them. No longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine. He implores them to hold fast to the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.

    In the lesson it is written "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." These basic principles of religious life do not necessarily mean the true religion of Christ. One way or the other people in pagan world had and still maintain their own ideas about God outside the bible. These basic principles of religious life refers to traditional beliefs about God.

    Amen!(3)
  11. I`d like to share some thoughts on this week`s lesson.

    (1) What is the difference between the paidagogos leading men in their sinful state to Christ on one hand, (Galatians 3:22-25) and the heir, being a child, appointed unter the care of the householders until the predetermined date set by the father? (Galatians 4:1-4)

    The former is salvation history in a horizontal direction and movement from Sinai to Christ with mankind confined within the prison house of sin until Christ has led those who believe in him to the point of no condemnation. (Romans 8:1) Salvation comes only from without, as only the risen Christ has the key to open the prison house of sin and death (Revelation 1:18; 3:8)

    The latter is salvation history in a vertical direction and movement from heaven down to earth including a universal dimension, inasmuch as God, at the fullness of time, sent forth his son...under the law in order to redeem those unter the law. (Galatians 4:4-5) Redemption comes from above and from nowhere else. The preposition hupo renders the position of mankind transgressing that law they are under. Salvation is not from the law, or else there would be the preposition either apo (from) or ex (away from), which denotes separation from the object. The object of redemption is sin as the angel of the Lord proclaimed. (Matthew 1:21) Please compare also the similarity of Pauline language: "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law being made a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13) and: "For he has made him sin for us...(2 Corinthians 5:21) This identifies the curse with sin we are redeemed of.

    (2) What does Paul mean when he says: "When we were children we were enslaved by the elements of the world?" (Galatians 4:3) Paul is writing in the same letter: "Christ gave himself for our sins, hat he might deliver us from this present evil world." (Galatians 1:4) This identifies the elements of the world as evil elements, which falls into line with sin as transgression of the law. And transgression is evil, not the law.

    Also the term "being enslaved under the elements of the world" is very strong Pauline language in connection with sin (Romans 6:17-18.20) Peter uses the same language. (2 Peter 2:19) The passage in Galatians 4:8-10 is a very tragic one for the Galatians. Paul says: "You were enslaved to those who by nature were no gods." (Galatians 4:8). He is pointing out the sin of idolatry and at the same time identifying this with intensely watching for days, month, times and years (Galatians 4:10) (Parataereo means watching very intensely: Mark 3:2; Acts 9:24; Psalm 36:12).
    What are they doing? They are using these items as a means of salvation by works. In trying this impossibility they are destroying the apostolic preaching of the cross as the only means of salvation thus driving into sin. (Galatians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 1:18) They have exchanged the spotless robe of Christ`s righteousness with filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6; 61:10).

    The issue, als all agree, is the modus of salvation and without the cross, there is no salvation. Please excuse spelling mistakes or rough language as English is not my mother tongue.

    Winfried Stolpmann

    Amen!(2)

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