16 August 2010

Galatians 4:4-7

"So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God." (v.7)


These verses with their reference to "born of a woman" in verse 4 are selected for today because in many Christian traditions this day is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

In Galatians chapters 3 and 4 Paul is arguing against those who insist that non-Jewish Christians (Gentiles) should be circumcised and keep all the requirements of the Law of Moses. Paul holds that the Law was a temporary provision and a kind of bondage, and that now that Christ has come believers are released from its discipline. It is not that they are released from all moral restraints, but that their relationship to God is on a different footing grounded in faith in Christ.

A number of themes are worth noting in the passage:

  • the contrast between natural 'sonship' and adopted 'sonship'. (Paul speaks of 'sons' here because he is using the analogy of Roman law, under which only male offspring inherited. But many translations rightly recognise that the point he is making applies to both men and women and translate 'sons' as "children".) Jesus is truly God's son, sent from God and born of a Jewish woman. We are God's children by God's gift, granted through God;
  • the contrast between a son who is free and a slave who is not;
  • the link between being a son and being heir to a fortune;
  • the comparison between God sending the son at a particular time and place and God sending the Spirit at any time to those who believe;
  • the echo in verse 6 of Jesus' own prayers (as in the Lord's Prayer - Luke 11:2). Abba is the Aramaic word for father that Jesus would have used. The point being made is not that God is exclusively male, but that we enter into the relationship with God that Jesus enjoyed.


To Ponder

What is the difference between serving God like a slave and serving God like a child?

What is the 'inheritance' that comes with faith in Jesus Christ (verse 7)?

How important is it to see God as Father?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..