This blog continues my notes on translating Galatians
Galatians 4: 1
I’m saying that as long as the heir is an child he’s no different from a slave, although he’s the master of the whole estate; but he is under guardians and managers until the date set beforehand by the father. It’s just the same with us; when we were children, we were enslaved by the basic rules of the universe; but when the time for fulfilment was complete, God sent out his son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to buy back those under the Law, so that we might be legally recognised as adult children. And because you are children God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, dear Father. So you are no longer a slave but a child; and if a child, then an heir, through God.
Paul outlines a lengthy comparison between humanity and the son of a estate owner. The owner will protect the inheritance from bad management, in the event of his death or absence, by setting a date when his son can exercise authority, before which he will be subject to the decisions of trustees. He emphasises that before the date set for his maturity the son is “enslaved.” Paul thinks that until the coming of the joyful news, human beings have been both immature and enslaved.
This slavery is to the stoicheia tou kosmou, a phrase used a number of times by Paul, to describe forces which influence or control human lives, but are not divine. The word stoicheia points to anything which is the first of a aeries, or the basis of a development, such as the letters of the alphabet as the basis of composition. Paul may think of them as spiritual powers which try to control human lives, or as the basic elementary laws of life. I lean towards the latter and have translated accordingly. The Jewish Torah Law is perhaps seen by Paul as one of these basic rules of the universe.
Paul says that Jesus Messiah buys us back from slavery, just as benefactors might buy slaves from an owner in order to set them free. He already said that Messiah has bought us back from the curse of the Law; here it is from slavery to universal rules which may include the Law. Paul says that Messiah submitted to these rules, identifying with mortal beings so that we might identify with him, that is, as adult children of God.
The culmination of Messiah’s mission is beautifully described by Paul, ‘God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, dear father’. Abba is the word Jesus used in prayer to God, an affectionate term for father, which may have especially been associated in the Christian tradition with the story of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane. Here Paul characterises it as the bold and loving utterance of God’s human children. This trustful relationship is subject to the “already/ not yet” dichotomy of Paul’s understanding of messianic time: already we are children of God, already the gentiles are part of God’s family, already Messiah’s spirit is in our hearts; but we are not yet free from sin, not yet free from suffering, not yet free from struggle.