1 Λέγω δέ, ἐφʼ ὅσον χρόνον ὁ κληρονόμος νήπιός ἐστιν, οὐδὲν διαφέρει δούλου κύριος πάντων ὤν, 2 ἀλλὰ ὑπὸ ἐπιτρόπους ἐστὶν καὶ οἰκονόμους ἄχρι τῆς προθεσμίας τοῦ πατρός. 3 οὕτως καὶ ἡμεῖς, ὅτε ἦμεν νήπιοι, ὑπὸ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου ἤμεθα δεδουλωμένοι· 4 ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον, 5 ἵνα τοὺς ὑπὸ νόμον ἐξαγοράσῃ, ἵνα τὴν υἱοθεσίαν ἀπολάβωμεν. 6 Ὅτι δέ ἐστε υἱοί, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς καρδίας ἡμῶν κρᾶζον· αββα ὁ πατήρ. 7 ὥστε οὐκέτι εἶ δοῦλος ἀλλὰ υἱός· εἰ δὲ υἱός, καὶ κληρονόμος διὰ θεοῦ.
8 Ἀλλὰ τότε μὲν οὐκ εἰδότες θεὸν ἐδουλεύσατε τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσιν θεοῖς· 9 νῦν δὲ γνόντες θεόν, μᾶλλον δὲ γνωσθέντες ὑπὸ θεοῦ, πῶς ἐπιστρέφετε πάλιν ἐπὶ τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα οἷς πάλιν ἄνωθεν δουλεύειν θέλετε; 10 ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς, 11 φοβοῦμαι ὑμᾶς μή πως εἰκῇ κεκοπίακα εἰς ὑμᾶς.
v6 ἡμῶν vs. ὑμῶν. The range of early and diverse witnesses supports the first person, rather than the second, which seems to have arisen from a desire to conform with ἐστε earlier in the verse.
v7 διὰ θεοῦ. Again, diverse and early witnesses support this reading, which readily explains a number of other variants.
1 So I say, for as long a time as the heir is a minor, though being lord of all he differs in no respect from a slave, 2 but he is under guardians and household-stewards until the father’s appointed day. 3 Thus also we, when we were minors, we were enslaved under the fundamental principles; 4 but when the fulness of time came, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 so that he might redeem those under the law, so that we might receive sonship. 6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father,’ 7 so that you[sg] are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, also an heir through God.
8 But at that time, not knowing God, you were enslaved to those that are not by nature gods; 9 but not knowing God, rather being known by God, how do you turn again to the weak and poor elements to which all over again you wish to serve-as-slaves? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years, 11 I fear for you lest somehow I have laboured in vain among you.
The section introduced following the climactic final elements of chapter three, with its emphasis on Sons of God through Christ, continues a number of the foci of chapter three, reconfigured around different nuances. In vv1-7 there is a strong attention paid to the Jewish situation, with temporal sequencing, that continues Paul’s expounding of the place of and apologia for the Law.
In vv1-2 Paul lays out the basis for his analogy, that in a son’s minority age, though he be ‘lord of all’ – i.e. implicitly the master and possessor of all the benefits that will accrue to him through inheritance, so long as he remains in infancy he differs in no respect from a slave. The condition of minority is marked by subordination under ‘guardians and household stewards’, and yet the condition is temporally limited, by the day appointed by the father.
As clear as Paul’s initial framing is, the application of this analogy in vv3-7 has been less clearly appropriated. Just as in 3:24-25 I have rejected the Lutheran reading of the Law as a schoolmaster, especially in regards to Gentiles, so too we should not attempt to read that in here. The first person language in the passage can be read consistently with regards to Jewish-background believers. And so in v3, when Paul speaks of ‘we’, he speaks of himself and other Jewish-background believers, who were (a) in a position of minority, (b) enslaved under the fundamental principles.
It begins to emerge why Paul sets up the analogy in vv1-2 by noting the absence of distinction between son and slave. Paul speaks of the sons of the household (Jews under the Sinai covenant), as being in their minority, and so they in no respect differed from slaves. This paves the way for Paul to speak of them as being enslaved. That Gentiles are/were enslaved goes without saying, and that they were enslaved to the fundamental principles, becomes more evident in v9. That the Jews were enslaved is a far more radical idea that Paul is introducing here. The ‘fundamental principles’ represent a challenging translation conundrum, since in v9 and a more clear Gentile context, it would be natural to read them as cosmological elements; v3 however refers them to the Law. Thus, a shift from ‘fundamental elements of learning’, to a more generic ‘fundamental principles that underlie the world and into which we are initiated and enslaved’ seems to be in view. The usage of the term by Paul in both the Jewish and Gentile contexts here creates a new sense of the phrase which distinctly relates Jewish and Gentile spiritual enslavement.
The term ‘fulness of time’ in v4 is then a kind of play, as it resonates both with the ‘fulness of time’ in which an heir in their minority will come into their majority as so differ from the slave, as well a redemptive-historical perspective in which the ‘fulness of time’ correspondends to the ‘Father’s appointed day’. Again we see that the fundamental shift in temporal economy is the coming of Christ, in the sending of the Son by the Father. There is rich Christological and soteriological material here, as the one who is Begotten from Eternity, is ‘born of a woman’, and ‘born under law’. He becomes what he is not by nature (born as a creature, in slavery under the law) so that we might become what we are not by nature (sons rather than slaves). The purpose of the incarnation is redemptive, explicitly so in v5, “that he might redeem those under the law”. Redemption is bound up in Adoption. Indeed, the purpose is two-fold, and arguably two (logical) steps: redemption for those under the law leads to adoption. Verse 6 suggests that the new status of sonship is applied to ‘you’, and we have earlier contended that this is a reference to Gentile believers, so on the basis of the adoption of Gentile believers, God sends the Spirit into “our hearts”, Jewish-background believers in Jesus. This concurs with 3:14, that the coming of the Spirit for the Mosaic-covenant sons of God is inextricably linked to the coming of the universal Messiah and the incoming of the Gentiles into the new covenant, not the old. And yet Paul is not arguing that the Jewish-background believers alone have the Spirit, indeed the way he connects, and individualises, the result in v7, implies the tight inter-weaving of the benefits of Redemption and Adoption for both Jews and Gentiles in Crhist. As a side-note, it seems scholarship has put to rest the notion that “Abba” = “Daddy”, and we can move on to a more mature relationship, though no less intimate and personal, with God who has revealed himself not only as Creator, but as Father. The impact of v7 should not be missed, recapitulating the analogy from v1, that sonship involves inheritance, and so the adoption from slaves to sons makes us heirs, as we have not moved into the minority (i.e. the temporal economy of the Law), but into sonship and majority.
And yet v8 takes a step back to remind the addressees that formerly, they did not know God, and so were enslaved “to those that are not by nature gods”. There is good cause to correlate ‘those’ ‘not-gods’ in v8 with the ‘weak and poor elements’ in v9. Paul’s argument here is that by their actions they are betraying their redemption and adoption, instead ‘serving’, indeed ‘slaving’, for idols. How do they do so? Verse 10 raises the issue in veiled terms, the observation of calendrical sanctities, whether Sabbath observance and/or feast-keeping, Judaising practices seem to be in view. For Gentiles this would be the move from redemption from pagan idols to a peculiarly Jewish form of self-enslavement, for Jews it would be a misunderstanding of the shift represented in the coming of the Messiah and the new covenant. In either case, Paul expresses his deep concern that his labour has ultimately been purposeless, fruitless, to no effect, since their actions deny the gospel he has proclaimed and in this epistle so fiercely defends.