Ktismatics

3 July 2007

Law as Servant

Filed under: Christianity, Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 10:27 am

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.

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32 Comments »

  1. But Jesus with his own words…somewhere, I don’t remember where…seems to indicate that the Law is servant to men in general. “The Law was made for man, not man for the Law.”

    …???

    Interesting post, BTW.

    Esp…”born of a woman, born under the Law,” as if they meant the same thing. “Elemental.” Interesting.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 July 2007 @ 11:34 am

  2. The more I read, the more I become convinced that Paul had thoroughly immersed himself in the Jesus tradition.

    Jesus has an ‘attitude’ towards the law and it is one of master to servant. It was this attitude that was at the heart of many if not most of Jesus controversies with his interlocutors.

    Gal 4:8 implies as much so I think you are very correct and this much Paul also says in Romans 2.

    Galatians 5:12 has to be one of my personal favourites!

    Jason, I think that’s ‘sabbath’, not law in that quote though the sense is not much altered.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  3. Sam,

    Yes, the Sabbath…thanks.

    And I like Gal. 1: 6-9.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 3 July 2007 @ 12:38 pm

  4. “Galatians 5:12 has to be one of my personal favourites!”

    Dude, that’s some harsh rhetoric.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  5. “Jesus has an ‘attitude’ towards the law and it is one of master to servant.”

    Lacan speaks of the Symbolic Order invoked in the name of the Father as the primal source of our subjection. It becomes necessary to recognize that the Big Other who holds the Symbolic Order in place doesn’t really exist. In a sense Jesus and Paul are saying the same thing: the Law as manifestation of the Symbolic Order is not what enslaves us, but rather our own reification and deification of the Law.

    I wonder how one might use the Law as a servant to oneself?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 1:00 pm

  6. We grant x or y authority, and that’s pretty irreversible! One interesting thing when one analyses ‘salvation’ it is ostensibly the replacement of one master (the Law, or idols) with another. Jesus is Lord. But then Jesus’ way is always the way of servanthood. When we too become servants then Lordship becomes redundant and we become sons.

    Hegel I think, got this a bit upside down, or was he deliberately contrasting the language of salvation (which sounds like slavery) with the language of the world (sounds like freedom but is really slavery)?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  7. “We grant x or y authority, and that’s pretty irreversible!”

    I’m not sure that’s true. If we believe that X has authority by virtue of superior power or wisdom or what have you, and then we come to realize that this belief is a delusion, then we come to the realization that we have GRANTED authority, that we are the real sourse of the other’s power. If we can grant, then can’t we also rescind?

    One way the Law can serve us is to ally with the Big Other, to use the Law to exert mastery over others. Presumably the father exerts mastery over the child in the name of the (Big) Father. So too do those who insert themselves into the Symbolic Order in positions of authority/respect/power/etc. But this perpetuates the self-deception and the illusory authority of the System.

    Another way to use the Law would be to set demands on oneself, to establish goals, to impose restrictions on one’s own freedom. Why do this? Isn’t this another way of tricking yourself? I’m not sure.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 1:32 pm

  8. Any ‘big other’ is trickery, and I think that that at it’s very heart is what the idea of salvation originally opposed. There is a way to freedom but it’s a paradoxical route that has to be followed.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  9. One way of using the Law as a servant is to force oneself not to dominate others. So a group of individuals can agree to subject themselves to Law even though there is no higher authority than themselves for establishing or enforcing the Law. Law without a Big Other; Law as mutual subjection to one another.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 3:12 pm

  10. You are back where Paul left the Galatians. “What is this self-imposed Law?. I thought I had successfully just got rid of all that. Don’t let them fool you, it’s a complete contradiction to what Jesus wanted or did.”

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 3:26 pm

  11. So would you say that democracy is a self-deception?

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 3:38 pm

  12. Practical fact, none of the choices are real good ones. Whichever way you turn is going to be a compromise. Tyranny of the majority ‘may’ be the mildest form of tyranny but it also makes a lot of assumptions as to how ‘the majority’ chooses to practically exercise its authority.

    GB enterring the Iraq war was a case in point. There was no question of honoring the majority opinion once Blair had the bit between his teeth.

    My dad was always a firm believer in benevolent empire.

    In any case, ‘democracy’ is only a buzz word. the Americans have a 3 or 4 way split of authority and so do the Brits, tho differently. One could imagine any number of different ways to ‘make it work’, but ultimately there will be a rub and it won’t be so easy for some to voluntarily give up a few of those rights.

    The Palestinian and Syrian forms are also democracies but the U.S. government would be happy to let either or both starve to death!

    A question that almost arose when discussing waste, how much would folks voluntarily be willing to give up to force the economy into a waste-free mode?

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  13. That’s exactly the idea: imposing laws on yourself and subjecting yourself to them in order to restrain yourself from doing harm. You accept that there is no higher authority for such law — no “natural rights,” no “restoring God’s creation.” Just an acknowledgment that you’ll probably act selfishly and contrary to the common good unless you empower an authority to restrict your freedom.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2007 @ 4:51 pm

  14. The ‘majority’ in a democracy will act selfishly, so empowering the democracy may work against one’s own self interest. Contrast this with ‘subjecting oneself’ to one who always holds your own self interest foremost and this works out to be a completely subversive subjection.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 3 July 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  15. “Contrast this with ’subjecting oneself’ to one who always holds your own self interest foremost and this works out to be a completely subversive subjection.”

    In this particular passage from Galatians 4 we see no hierarchical distinction between Jesus and any of the adoptive sons. Everyone is a joint heir, with no subjection to the firstborn. “Subject yourselves to one another” is the ethos. When everyone is a servant there are no masters.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2007 @ 5:43 am

  16. Sam: The ‘majority’ in a democracy will act selfishly, so empowering the democracy may work against one’s own self interest.

    But then there are always idealists who seem to love the philosophy and idea of “democracy” and “freedom”. So, they are willing to sacrifice their own self-interests for the preservation of an idea: “democracy” or “freedom.” These are the dreamers and the “best of us.” They sacrifice to pass on “freedom” or “democracy” to others.

    This seems self-less. Nonetheless, if one’s highest self-interest is the preservation of romantic ideals (like “freedom” and “democracy”) then is the sacrifice really selfless?

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    Comment by Erdman — 4 July 2007 @ 10:50 am

  17. It looks like we are both ‘reading in’ to the text, things that are not there but that might reasonably be a part of Paul’s thinking here.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 4 July 2007 @ 10:52 am

  18. “This seems self-less. Nonetheless, if one’s highest self-interest is the preservation of romantic ideals (like “freedom” and “democracy”) then is the sacrifice really selfless?”

    The passage from Galatians 4 talks about the Law serving the heirs as a kind of self-management tool. In this vein, I was wondering whether an individual might voluntarily participate in a democracy not so much to serve the collective or to uphold any universal ideals but pragmatically, in order to keep himself from inadvertently exerting mastery over others. So I wasn’t looking at selflessness but rather an association of heirs who agree to keep themselves from getting to lordly.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2007 @ 11:50 am

  19. Jon, in a society of persons of high ideals where the good of the other is each person’s motto, one doesn’t need democracy, consensus would be the way to go. That of course also assumes that an ‘I Robot’ sort of ideal does not start to propagate.

    Paul certainly does here do away with the master-servant model in favour of mutual submission (an idea developed more perhaps in Ephesians). This I see as his thinking of who and what we are when ‘with Christ’.

    One important theme in Paul is the lack of individual ‘rights’, and it is interesting to trace this in Paul who believes that his own apostleship is the ultimate form of service. He has every right but foregoes all rights ‘for the sake of the gospel’. The gospel itself is the preaching of servanthood as the ideal, to always value others as more important than oneself and always based both on the life and the manner of death of Jesus. The circle thus completes itself ‘in Christ’.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 4 July 2007 @ 1:14 pm

  20. Sam: One important theme in Paul is the lack of individual ‘rights’…

    I take issue with this. I would say that….oh, wait a minute…looks like you beat me to it….

    Sam: He has every right but foregoes all rights ‘for the sake of the gospel’.

    Yea, that’s what I meant to say. Not that rights disappear, but that they are sacrificed and set aside in the name of Christ and on the basis of what he did. Or, didn’t you mention that???

    Sam: …to always value others as more important than oneself and always based both on the life and the manner of death of Jesus. The circle thus completes itself ‘in Christ’.

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    Comment by Erdman — 4 July 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  21. Sorry, I know i’m being circular and contradictory. I GET CONFUSED. The Lordship of Christ’s hallmark is that there is no mastery but yet servanthood is successfully having Jesus as Lord. The more of the Lord, the more of the servant. So what was the sound of one hand clapping?

    Behold, I stand at the door and knock…

    In Acts we see the earliest congregation of believers living in and for mutuality, voluntarily selling their possessions and placing the proceeds at the feet of the apostles to be shared out to whomever had the greatest need. It’s a situation where the balance sheet reads ‘0’ and there is no surplus!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 4 July 2007 @ 1:49 pm

  22. The societal model from Acts is consistent with Paul’s position regarding the law. Everyone serves everyone else not through submission to mutually-imposed self-restrictive laws but freely and from the heart. This is more the spirit of anarchism rather than democracy.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  23. Readers of Acts often seem to fear that it is communist in emphasis, but you are absolutely right, this is definitely a form of anarchy. It works as long as the leaders really o more serving, but again it is very vulnerable to mutations and to viral attacks!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 3:20 pm

  24. I suppose any societal scheme can work if the people don’t screw it up. They always seem to, though. Still, the principles of anarchy seem more consistent with the New Testament than, say, the Holy Roman Empire or any of the other governments premised on the “divine right of kings.” Though Jesus did talk about the Kingdom…

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    Comment by ktismatics — 5 July 2007 @ 8:17 pm

  25. Yes, the kingdom is one of those fascinating concepts that despite much scholarly attention seems to have escaped definition or even a proper workup of what it could mean. I think part of the problem is that it is heavily analogous and the language is stretched by extrapolations which we find difficult to comprehend.

    I ‘know’ that all of Jesus’ talk about reward, “treasures in heaven”, and stuff like that certainly meant something totally ‘other’ than whatever I can conceive but beyond that conviction I can’t reasonably ‘flesh it out’.

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    Comment by samlcarr — 5 July 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  26. In keeping with Paul’s language in Galatians 4 and elsewhere, the Kingdom has many heirs. Through Christ the heirs have all inherited the Kingdom, with the guardianship function previously served by the Law no longer necessary. Therefore you could regard the Kingdom as an anarchy comprised of all masters who voluntarily serve one another, rather than a Kingdom with one master and a whole bunch of servants.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 July 2007 @ 4:56 am

  27. I’d agree, given that the ‘sons’ are committed to following Jesus in mutual servanthood and suffering with, though Andrew Perriman would strongly disagree!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 6 July 2007 @ 8:40 am

  28. Andrew would disagree with the suffering part for sure; I don’t know about the rest. Andrew seems to hint at an adoptionist view of Jesus — that Jesus was a human prophet whom God adopted as son during his earthly lifetime. NT Wright seems to lean in this direction too, but inasmuch as I’ve read Wright only in Andrew’s online summary I can’t really say.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 6 July 2007 @ 9:49 am

  29. No, Wright is very traditional except for his unerstanding of the new covenant and stressing Christus Victor while not saying much about penal substitution. He is a very middle-of-the-road conservative and gets shellings from both sides!

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    Comment by samlcarr — 6 July 2007 @ 10:42 am

  30. I think I’m with Sam on that reading of Wright. Except I’m not expert on spotting whose more with Christus Victor and whose more with Penal Substitution. Penal Substitution…that just doesn’t sound right. Anyway…yeah, Wright himself complains about getting it from both sides.

    BTW…I really like this NT Wright character, who happens to be very “middle of the road.” But his middle of the roadness seems to constitute an actual position, an actual framework to look upon and make a world appear…rather than simply to analytically react to the world using the to options out there for…daahh..waht is obviously the only option for engaging with the world, that being “analysis”…from one of two places by which it is possible to analyze (conservative or liberal).

    I think it takes a lot of work to build said framework. That’s an interesting thought. Wright says that the “work” of a priest is to study, console and speak, not to manage and run a bunch of programs.

    Where have you guys come across this Andrew Perriman character?

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 July 2007 @ 2:07 am

  31. Andrew Perriman runs the blog Open Source Theology. As i recall OST is the first blog I ever posted a comment and the first place I encountered Sam. It’s an interesting format: anyone who registers can put up a post on the blog.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 7 July 2007 @ 5:04 am

  32. Interesting…thanks. You’ve talked about that before. I checed it out. I will keep my eye on it.

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    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 7 July 2007 @ 11:56 am


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