19 June 2014

Galatians 4:1-7

"God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children." (vv. 4-5)


Paul's letter to the Christians in Galatia wrestles with a number of ideas simultaneously, not all of them very accessible to contemporary readers. But this is a passage that has been dwelt on and interpreted by countless Christian commentators over the centuries.

In a way it is like an early form of the creed, and among other things this statement highlights the role of Mary, Jesus' mother ("born of a woman").

But the heart of this passage is about how we ourselves are utterly transformed by the grace of God; Jesus was "born under the law" in order to redeem us from the discipline of the law. Paul uses a controlling image about inheritance and adoption to try and explain what has happened to us through the intervention of God through Jesus in time and history. He says (verse 7) that we were previously 'slaves' but now are 'children' who inherit all that belongs to God.

In the ancient world, where the practice of keeping household slaves was seen as completely normal, the system was not without some humane limits. Sometimes masters or mistresses would set free (redeem) their loyal slaves after a period of time, and often they would provide for them to be set free as a condition of their will, so that they literally inherited their freedom. This would go along with a financial package enabling some freed slaves to live as comparatively rich people. They would take the surname of the family they had served at this point, thereby becoming almost like a child of that family. Another practice that seems strange to contemporary readers is that 'adoption' of adults sometimes took place, where a wealthy family without heirs would choose to 'adopt' a young man as their heir. In this case he again took the new family surname and inherited the family's status and wealth.

So Paul is saying that each of us is redeemed from slavery, whether from the law (the Jews) or from devotion to pagan gods or "elemental spirits" (Galatians 4:9), and made full heirs of a loving God whom we can now call "Abba! Father!" (v. 6).

To Ponder

  • Do you feel there is anything that you are currently a 'slave' to? This does not have to be a habit that is traditionally seen as an evil temptation; it could be - like the law - something good or neutral in itself, or it could be a legacy of painful memories. Pray to be given a sense of the utter freedom of God's grace, available for you.

Bible notes author

Janet Morley

Janet Morley is currently the Commissioning Editor for HOLINESS, the journal of Wesley House, Cambridge ( She worked for ten years in the Connexional Team, with the training and development officers, and latterly, as Head of Christian Communication, Evangelism and Advocacy.