The Letter to the Galatians

Chapter 4

Blaine Robison, M.A.

23 May 2020 (in progress)

Chapter  1  |  2  |  3  |  5  |  6


Scripture Text: The Scripture text of used in this chapter commentary is prepared by Blaine Robison based the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament. The essentially literal translation seeks to reflect the Jewish character of the author and writing. Other Scripture quotations may be taken from different Bible versions. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Messianic Jewish versions are CJB, MW, OJB, & TLV. Quotations marked with the initials "BR" indicate the translation of the commentary author.

Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of this chapter commentary. Works without page numbers are cited ad loc. Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Links to other ancient Jewish literature may be found at The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here.

Syntax: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from F.W. Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (2009). The meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB," found online at Explanation of Greek grammatical forms and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance reference numbers are identified with "SH" for Hebrew and "SG" for Greek.

Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).

Methodology: For an explanation of abbreviations, acronyms, terminology, spelling conventions, and other information on organization of the commentary see my Commentary Writing Philosophy.

See the article Introduction to Galatians for background information on the letter.


Contrast of a Slave and a Son, 4:1-11

The Labors of Paul, 4:12-20

The Lesson of Torah, 4:21-31


Chapter Four continues Paul's rhetoric to expose the folly of legalism as a form of slavery. The apostle introduces two powerful parabolic contrasts to make his point, first, the legal and social differences between being a slave and being a son, and second, the difference between Sarah and Hagar as representative of freedom and slavery. Between these two contrasts Paul reminds the Galatians of his labors among them to accomplish spiritual transformation.

Contrast of a Slave and a Son, 4:1-11

1 Now I am saying, for as long as the heir is a child, he differs not of a slave being owner of all,

Now: Grk. de, conj. used to indicate (1) a contrast to a preceding statement or thought, "but;" (2) a transition in presentation of subject matter, "now, then;" or (3) a connecting particle to continue a thought, "and, also," sometimes with emphasis, "indeed," "moreover" (Thayer). The second meaning applies here. I am saying: Grk. legō, pres., to make a statement or utterance, whether mentally, orally or in writing, often used to introduce quoted material. The focus of the verb may be declarative, interrogative or imperative; answer, ask, declare, enjoin, order, say, speak, tell, told, refer to, talk about. In the LXX legō renders Heb. amar (SH-559), to utter, say, shew, command or think.

for: Grk. epi, prep., with the root meaning of "upon," used primarily as a marker of position or location; and in composition may be translated 'at, by, near, on, upon, or over.' The preposition serves to introduce the basis for an argument. as long as: Grk. hosos, correlative pronoun signifying maximum inclusion; how much, how great, how many, as many. the heir: Grk. klēronomos, inheritor in a legal sense. The Torah set forth how inheritance was to be distributed (Num 27:7-11). A son would be the heir if he was the only son. If there were other sons, the first-born received a double-portion (Deut 21:17). is: Grk. eimi, pres., to be, a function word used primarily to declare a state of existence, whether in the past ('was, were'), present ('are, is') or future ('will be'), often to unite a subject and predicate (BAG).

a child: Grk. nērios, a child in an early period of life, infant or child. In the Jewish context a child is younger than the bar/bat mitzvah age (13/12). he differs: Grk. diapherō (from dia, "through" and pherō, "to carry"), pres., has two kinds of meaning (1) to carry through as in carrying a bowl, spreading a teaching, or driving about of a ship; (2) to differ, be different, from someone or something; differ to one's advantage from someone or something. The second meaning applies here. not: Grk. ou, adv., a particle used in an unqualified denial or negation; not. of a slave: Grk. doulos can mean either slave or servant, and in Greek and Roman culture viewed as owned property totally and unquestioningly at the behest of the owner. In the LXX doulos translates the Heb. ebed, which did include the meaning of doulos but with a much broader application.

In the Tanakh ebed is especially used of household servants, those who worked for the King and those who served God, especially service in the temple (DNTT 3:593). Slavery is the abrogation of personal autonomy and the subordination to the will of another. The economies of ancient empires were based on slave labor and slavery typically occurred as a result of being captured in war and then sold. Legally a slave had no rights. Hebrew culture was different from pagan nations in that slavery was most often a form of indentured servitude. Hebrew slaves were either purchased outright (Ex 12:44; 21:2, 7; Lev 19:20; 22:11; 25:44) or acquired as a result of having to pay a debt (Ex 21:7; Lev 25:39, 47; Matt 5:25-26). All slaves were considered property, but Hebrew slaves were treated more as trusted employees (Lev 25:40).

being: Grk. eimi, pres. part. owner: Grk. kurios may mean either (1) 'one in control through possession,' and therefore owner or master; or (2) 'one esteemed for authority or high status,' thus lord or master. The first meaning applies here. In the LXX kurios occurs over 9,000 times, primarily replacing Heb. YHVH (SH-3068; 'LORD' in Christian versions), but also translating the divine name Adonai (SH-136, 'Lord'), and Heb. words used of male authority, e.g., adôn (SH-113, master, lord; Gen 18:12). of all: pl. of Grk. pas, adj., comprehensive in scope, but without statistical emphasis; all, every. The adjective is used of the property subject to inheritance. Paul points out that just as a slave has no legal interest in the property of his master, so a son even though the heir cannot yet exercise control over the property he will inherit.

2 but he is under guardians and managers until the time appointed of the father.

but: Grk. alla, conj., adversative particle used adverbially to convey a different viewpoint for consideration; but, on the other hand. he is: Grk. eimi, pres. See the previous verse. under: Grk. hupo, prep. used to indicate a position that is relatively lower; below, under. guardians: pl. of Grk. epitropos may mean (1) a household manager or steward; or (2) a guardian or tutor, one responsible for the care and tutelage of children, whether the father is living or dead. The second meaning applies here. and: Grk. kai, conj. that marks a connection or addition. Kai has three basic uses: (1) continuative – and, also, even; (2) adversative – and yet, but, however; or (3) intensive – certainly, indeed, in fact, really, verily, yea (DM 250f). The first use applies here. Kai is used in the LXX to translate the vav (ו) character added to words for conjunctive effect.

managers: pl. of Grk. oikonomos, manager of a household or family, a steward. A child has no say in the running of a household and is effectively under the authority of the steward employed by the father. until: Grk. achri, prep., a function word signifying an interval between two points with focus on continuity, here of an extension in time; as far as, up to, until. the time appointed: Grk. prothesmia, appointed before; a previously-appointed time. The noun occurs only here in the Besekh. of the father: Grk. ho patēr, normally denotes of a male biological parent or ancestor. In the LXX patēr translates Heb. ab (SH-1; "av"), ancestor, biological parent, or head of a family or clan, as well as a term of respect and honor.

Ordinarily, inheritance passed to the son upon the death of the father. However, the father could determine a time for an adult son to assume management of the property he would inherit or bequeath a portion of inheritance to the son (cf. Luke 11:11-12).

3 So also we, when we were children, were enslaved under the elements of the world.

So: Grk. houtōs, adv. used to introduce the manner or way in which something has been done or to be done; thus, in this manner, way or fashion, so. also: Grk. kai, conj. See the previous verse. we: Grk. hēmeis, pl. pronoun of the first person. when: Grk. hote, temporal adv., when, at which time. we were: Grk. eimi, impf. See verse 1 above. children: pl. of Grk. nēpios. See verse 1 above. Paul may have referred to actual childhood, but more likely his spiritual condition before meeting Yeshua. were: Grk. eimi, impf. mid. enslaved: Grk. douloō, pl. perf. pass. part., to make a slave of someone, to hold in bondage, to subject. under: Grk. hupo, prep. See the previous verse.

the elements: pl. of Grk. ho stoicheion, part of a complex whole, element, part, which may refer to miscellaneous rules or basic instruction or cosmic powers. Mounce defines the word as an element or rudiment of any intellectual or religious system. In Classical Greek stoicheion had two categories of meanings; (I) in a form of sun-dial, the shadow of the gnomon, the length of which in feet indicated the time of day; (II) element, which may be (1) a simple sound of speech, as the first component of the syllable; (2) in Physics the components into which matter is ultimately divisible, reduced to four elements; (3) the elements of proof; (4) an elementary or fundamental principle; and (5) the stars (LSJ).

Bible versions are divided over translation, some favoring a human activity, e.g. "elemental principles or things" or words to that effect (AMP, CEB, GW, KJV, MW, NASB, NKJV, NLV, OJB, TLB, TLV), and others render as "elemental or ruling spirits or spiritual ruling powers or forces" (CJB, GNB, LEB, NIRV, NIV, NRSV, TPT, RSV), implying demonic activity. This term may also be contrasted with Jewish traditions (Matt 15:2–6, Mark 7:3–13, Gal 1:14) and with Messianic tradition (Rom 6:17; 1Cor 11:2, 23; 2Th 2:15; 3:6). Given the following noun Paul likely did not intend "elemental spirits," which is not a logical combination of words. If Paul meant "spirits" (Grk. pneuma), he would have said so. Spirits are called a number of things in Scripture, but "elemental" is not one of them.

of the world: Grk. ho kosmos, "world," has a variety of uses in the Besekh, including (1) the orderly cosmic universe; (2) the earth in contrast to heaven; (3) the world as the habitation of mankind; (4) the world as mankind; (5) the world as the scene of earthly joys, possessions and sufferings; and (6) the world as that which is opposed to God and lost in sin (BAG). The first meaning dominated among Greek philosophers. The LXX of the Tanakh uses kosmos some ten times for words meaning ornaments, jewelry or decorations and five times for Heb. tsaba, of the arrangement of the stars, 'the heavenly hosts,' as the ornament of the heavens (Gen 2:1; Deut 4:19). The meaning of kosmos as the 'orderly universe' is only found in later Jewish writings (2Macc. 7:23; 8:18; 4Macc. 5:25; Sir. 6:30; 21:21; Wis. 7:17; 9:3; 11:18).

The "elements of the world" in this context really represents normal human reasoning. The elementary thinking of his Jewish world told Paul that Yeshua could not possibly be the Messiah. After all, Yeshua was too often a critic of Pharisee customs and traditions that Paul approved and practiced. However, after receiving the revelation of Yeshua and being filled with the Spirit, Paul realized that his previous life as a Pharisee was one of bondage to legalism.

4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, having been born from a woman, having been born under legalism,

But: Grk. de, conj. when: Grk. hote, adv. See the previous verse. the fullness: Grk. ho plērōma, that which is there as result of filling. In application the term may mean (1) that which fills up the contents; (2) that which is full of something; (3) that which is brought to fullness either as the full number or sum total; (4) fulfillment and (5) the state of being full. of the time: Grk. ho chronos may mean (1) a span or period of time, or (2) a point or definite moment in time. Both meanings can have application here. In the LXX chronos occurs about 100 times and primarily translates Heb. yom, 'day, days' (DNTT 3:841).

came: Grk. erchomai, aor., 'to come or arrive' with focus on a position from which action or movement takes place. The clause "the fullness of time came" depicts the completion of prophesied time, the time God had intended (cf. Rom 5:6). Paul probably alluded to the timeline of Daniel who was given a very specific prophecy of when the Messiah would appear, seventy weeks or 490 years (Dan 9:24-26). The appearance of the Magi in Jerusalem (Matt 2:1-7) occurred because they determined that the prophetic timeline had been fulfilled.

God: Grk. ho theos, God or god, as determined from the context. The presence of the definite article perhaps emphasizes "the only God in existence." In the LXX theos primarily renders the name of the Creator God Elohim (2568 times), but sometimes YHVH (300 times) (DNTT 2:67-70). Given the plural nature of Elohim the full triunity of God must be represented in theos. The only God in existence is the God who created the heavens and the earth out of nothing (Gen 1:1) and who chose Israel out of all the nations on the earth for a covenantal relationship (Ex 19:5; Isa 44:6; 45:5-6; 46:9). In the Besekh theos is used overwhelmingly for the God of Israel.

sent forth: Grk. exapostellō, aor., send, which may focus on (1) moving persons from one place to another, send out/away/forth; or (2) dismissal, send away. The first usage is intended here. The point of origin was heaven. His: Grk. autos, personal pronoun used to distinguish a person or thing from or contrast it with another, or to give him (it) emphatic prominence. The pronoun may mean (1) self, (2) he, she, it, or (3) the same. The second meaning applies here. Son: Grk. ho huios, a male offspring or descendant, whether by direct birth or by remote ancestry. The term is also used in the broader sense of having the characteristics of. In the LXX huios renders Heb. ben (SH-1121, "son," "son of"), which has the same range of meaning.

Yeshua constantly referred to God as his Father (John 5:18). The phrase "His Son" occurs ten times in Paul's letters and alludes to Yeshua's title "Son of God." For Jews during this time "Son of God" was the title for the promised human descendant of King David (2Sam 7:12), the Messiah, who would establish and rule over the Kingdom of God on earth (cf. Luke 1:31-35; John 1:17, 41, 49; 11:27). "Son of God" was a title of the Davidic king inasmuch as the king functioned as God's regent on earth to rule with God's authority. Thus, after his transformation Paul declared to the Jews in Damascus that Yeshua was the Messiah and Davidic King of Israel (Acts 9:20-22). Christianity has traditionally restricted "Son of God" to mean deity, but the title embraces the fullness of the incarnation (Php 2:5-8).

having been born: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. part., to transfer from one state or condition to another, and is used here to mean coming into being by birth or natural process. from: Grk. ek, prep. used to denote exit or separation from something with which there has been a close association, lit. 'out of, from within.' a woman: Grk. gunē, an adult female person, without respect to age, marital or social status except as defined in the context. In the LXX gunē renders the Heb. ishshah (woman, wife). Paul affirms that Yeshua came from heaven, but he did not merely appear as human as pagans believed of their deities, but the "seed of deity" was implanted into a woman's body by the Holy Spirit to develop in the normal human manner (Luke 1:32-35).

The reader may note that Paul does not mention Miriam by name. Indeed, he may not mean "a woman," in the sense of a particular woman, but from "woman," the human vessel used to accomplish incarnation. having been born: Grk. ginomai, aor. mid. part. under: Grk. hupo, prep. See verse 2 above. The preposition indicates submission to an authority, but also an implication of oppression. legalism: Grk. nomos (from nemō, distribute; 'that which is generally recognized as customary') may mean either (1) a principle or standard relating to behavior or (2) codified legislation, i.e. law. In the LXX nomos translates torah, which means "direction," "teaching" or "instruction" (BDB 435f).

In the Tanakh torah not only refers to commandments, statutes and ordinances decreed by God and given to Moses, but also custom or manners of man, e.g. direction given by priests (Deut 24:8; 33:10). Torah sets forth the way to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God. In the apostolic narratives the term Torah could mean the commandments given to Israel at Sinai and Moab (Matt 12:5; John 8:5) or the entire Pentateuch (Matt 22:40; John 1:45). As a devout Pharisee Paul recognized the expansive interpretation given the term by orthodox Judaism.

Christian versions unanimously translate nomos here as "the law," although a few versions capitalize Law (AMP, CEB, CEV, DLNT, ISV, NASB, NLV, RGT), clearly meant to indicate the Law of Moses. Interpreting nomos to mean the Torah in this verse presents a conundrum, because Paul clearly uses nomos in a negative sense. However, this negative use of nomos is not an indictment of the commandments God gave to Israel through Moses. Paul held a very high view of the Torah and its continuing authority (Rom 7:12, 14; 8:4; 15:4; Gal 5:3; 1Tim 1:8; 2Tim 3:16-17).

Given the heresy that sparked the controversy in Galatia, Paul uses hupo nomos here to mean living in a culture governed by the laws and traditions of the Pharisees. The expression hupo nomos occurs eight times in the Besekh, only in the writings of Paul (Rom 6:14-15; 1Cor 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18). The expectations of the Pharisees, enforced by the Sanhedrin, created unreasonable burdens on people (Matt 23:4; Acts 15:10). A perfect example is the thirty-nine categories of work prohibited on the Sabbath (Shabbath 73a). Stern translates hupo nomos as "a culture in which legalistic perversion of the Torah was the norm." I have sought to simplify the meaning of hupo nomos here with "under legalism." For a detailed discussion of Pharisaic legalism see my article Law vs. Legalism.

5 so that He might redeem those under legalism, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.

so that: Grk. hina, conj. He might redeem: Grk. exagorazō, aor. subj., to buy up, ransom, to rescue from loss. The verb expresses the Messianic priority of salvation (cf. Matt 10:5-6; 15:24). those: pl. of Grk. ho, definite article but used here as a demonstrative pronoun. under: Grk. hupo, prep. See verse 2 above. legalism: Grk. nomos. See the previous verse. "Those under legalism" would be Gentiles who submitted to Judaizer teaching. so that: Grk. hina. we might receive: Grk. apolambanō, aor. subj., 1p-pl., to receive from, receive as one's due. the adoption as sons: Grk. ho huiothesia, condition of one who is legally adopted as a son, with a nuance of special status, here with the focus on the gift of special relationship with God. The word indicates a new family relation with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities.

The terminology of adoption would have vivid meaning for Roman citizens. Roman law provided a process by which a man could create between himself and a person not his biological child the kind of relation that properly belongs only to father and child. In Roman law "adoption," which actually referred to the ceremony, took two forms. One called adoptio meant that the adopted person passed from the power of his biological parent to the power of the person adopting him. When a person was not in the power of his parent, the ceremony of adoption was called adrogatio. A woman could not adopt a person, for even her own children were not in her power. (See Adoption in William Smith, A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 1875).

Such a process is unknown to both biblical and Talmudic law. However, the Torah does have the requirement of Levirate Marriage by which a man is enjoined to marry his brother's widow in order to give him a male heir (Deut 25:5-6). Also, the Tanakh records a number of individuals who exercised a surrogate ("legal") parental role: Sarah for Ishmael (Gen 16:2), Rachel for the children of Bilhah (Gen 30:1-8), Leah for the children of Zilpah (Gen 30:9-13), Pharaoh's daughter for Moses (Ex 2:5-10; 1Chr 4:18), Elijah for Elisha (1Kgs 19:19-21; 2Kgs 2:12), and Mordecai for Esther (Esth 2:7). Jews strongly felt that someone who acts as a parent in place of another, and more especially those who teach the child virtue and the fear of God, should be honored as parents (Sanh. 19b).

Works Cited

BAG: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich. The University of Chicago Press, 1957.

BBMS: Henry Morris, Biblical Basis for Modern Science. Baker Book House, 1984.

BDB: The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Oxford University Press, 1907. Reprinted by Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981.

Danker: Frederick William Danker, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. The University of Chicago Press, 2009.

DM: H.E. Dana & Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament. The Macmillan Co., 1955.

DHE: The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels: A Hebrew/English Translation. Heb. trans. Franz Delitzsch; English trans. Aaron Eby & Robert Morris. Vine of David Publishers, 2011.

DNTT: Dictionary of New Testament Theology, 3 vols., ed. Colin Brown. Zondervan Pub. House, 1975.

Gill: John Gill (1697-1771), Exposition of the Entire Bible. Online.

HELPS: Gleason L. Archer and Gary Hill, eds., The Discovery Bible New Testament: HELPS Word Studies. Moody Press, 1987, 2011. (Online at

Jeremias: Joichim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. Fortress Press, 1975.

Kohlenberger: John R. Kohlenberger III, The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament. Zondervan Publishing House, 1987.

Le Cornu: Hillary Le Cornu and Joseph Shulam, A Commentary on the Jewish Roots of Galatians. Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry (Israel), 2005.

LSJ: Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (1889). rev. by Sir Henry Stuart Jones. Clarendon Press, 1940. Online

Metzger: Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. 2nd ed. United Bible Societies, 1994.

Mounce: William D. Mounce, Mounce Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament. 2011. Online.

Neil: James Neil, Palestine Explored. James Nisbet & Co., 1882.

Nicoll: W. Robertson Nicoll (1851–1923), The Expositor's Greek Testament (1897), 5 vols. Online.

Owens: John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, 4 vols. Baker Book House, 1989.

Polhill: John B. Polhill, Paul and His Letters. B & H Academic, 1999.

Ridderbos: Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia. William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1953. (New International Commentary on the New Testament)

Rienecker: Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament. 2 Vol. Zondervan Pub. House, 1980.

Siddur: Rabbi Nosson Scherman, The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, Mesorah Publications, 2001.

Skarsaune: Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Stern: David Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996.

Tarn & Griffith: Sir William Tarn & G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilization. 3rd Edition. Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1952.

Thayer: Joseph Henry Thayer (1828-1901), Greek–English Lexicon of the New Testament. Harper Brothers, 1889.

TDSS: The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Rev. ed. Trans. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr. and Edward Cook. HarperOne, 2005.

Copyright © 2019 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.