It’s Bible study time again at Ktismatics. The pew slip Anne brought home from church on Sunday printed out the epistle reading, which was that well-known passage about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. It turns out there’s all sorts of very interesting stuff in Galatians 4-5.
Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7)
Awhile back we spent some time looking at Hegel’s master-servant discourse and its ramifications in Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Girard, etc. Hegel went to school at a Protestant seminary; clearly the Bible influenced his thinking significantly. So here in Galatians we have Paul, the foremost interpreter of the master-servant discourse as it plays out in Judaism and early Christianity. What’s his read on lordship and bondage?
Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything.
Everyone appears to be a slave, even the heir of the master. Even he who is “owner of everything” — the master himself — seems to be a slave. You might even say that the master is in bondage to himself.
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.
In speaking of “the elemental things” Paul clearly refers to the Law. The Law is the bond by which the lord holds the servant in thrall. But for the heir this same Law functions not as enforcer of servitude but as “guardian” or “manager.” This word “manager” in Greek refers to a steward, usually either a slave or freedman, to whom the master entrusts the day-to-day workings of his household. So for the heir the Law itself is a servant.
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
Now Paul seems to be backing off his introductory sentence: his readers didn’t just appear to be slaves; they really were slaves. Is he speaking only of the Gentiles, grafted in as sons of God through Jesus? I don’t think so.
God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
You could interpret this passage as saying that everyone born under the Law was a servant to the Law until God adopted Jesus. But it seems to me that Paul is saying that Jesus was already a son, that he merely appeared to be a servant “until the date set by the Father.” He was born under the Law, but because he was an heir of the Master the Law was his guardian, his servant.
So Paul seems to be saying that, before Jesus, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, was a servant under the Law. Now, through Jesus, the Law is servant of everyone.