This post includes Father Callan’s brief summary of Galatians 4:1-7, followed by his notes on those verses. Text in red are my additions.
UNDER THE LAW THE JEWS WERE, LIKE MINORS, IN AN INFERIOR POSITION; BUT CHRIST’S COMING HAS MADE THEM ADOPTED SONS OF GOD WITH FULL RIGHTS TO THE INHERITANCE
A Summary of Galatians 4:1-7~St. Paul here returns to the discussion broken off at 3:25, namely, the opposition between the promise and the Law. Already he has likened the former to a testament and the latter to a pedagogue; and now he asks what was the condition of mankind during the period that intervened between the giving of the promise and its realization. The answer is that, until the coming of Christ, the Jews, although in reality sons and heirs to the inheritance, were like minors, under guardians and stewards, enslaved by the elementary rules that pertained to things merely external. And if such was the inferior state of the Jews, how much worse was that of the Gentiles! All, therefore, Jews and Gentiles, were, like children who had lost their father, waiting for the expiration of the time of their minority and the entrance upon the possession of their inheritance. And when the fulness of the time fixed by the Father arrived, God sent His Son, that He might redeem those in bondage, making through His grace all believers to become His adopted sons and thus heirs of the promised inheritance.
1. Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
As long as the Jews were under the tutelage of the Law they were like young children, minors, who were heirs indeed to the inheritance bequeathed them by their Father, but, so far as regarded the free use and disposition of their inheritance, differing nothing from servants who have no right to the property.
The figure supposes the father to be dead, but St. Paul is making only a comparison, and every comparison is imperfect. The figure need not suppose this, though it can be taken in this way. Note that in his comment on the word “tutors” in the next verse Fr. Callan defines them as guardians, adding the caveat “if the father is supposed to be dead.”
2. But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed by the father:
Tutors, i.e., guardians, if the father is supposed to be dead.
Governors (οικονομους) , i.e., administrators, as of property, whether material or spiritual; here, perhaps, the term simply means attendants. The plural, tutors and governors, is used to signify the various guardians and attendants appointed by the father at the same time, or, more probably, in succession.
Until the time, etc. In Roman Law ordinarily a minor was under a tutor till fourteen, and under a curator till twenty-five (cf. Ramsay, Gal., p. 392). See Lagrange, h. 1.
3. So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world.
Application of the foregoing comparison is now made. See on verse 1.
We, i.e., St. Paul and the Jewish Christians only (St. Chrys., Theod., St. Thomas, Cornely, etc.). Others say there is question here of Gentile, as well as Jewish converts, (a) because, instead of speaking of the Law, St. Paul here uses terms that apply to both Jews and Gentiles (“elements of the world”), and (b) because, according to the Apostle’s uniform teaching, carnal descent from Abraham gave no right to the inheritance which was promised to those who would have faith like Abraham (Lagr., Light., Bousset, etc.).
When . . . children, i.e., before the coming of Christ and the Gospel, when mankind were all in a state of infancy and helplessness described above.
Elements of the world. The meaning is the same as in Col 2:8, 20, namely, the elementary principles of natural conduct, such as the religious laws and rites of the Jews, and the various ceremonies of the heathen, all of which inspired fear and servitude, rather than love and a sense of freedom which have come with the Gospel (St. Jerome, Lagr., Light., etc.). The phrase does not mean (a) the four material elements of the ancients: water, fire, earth and air (against Zahn, Toussaint); nor (b) the celestial bodies (against Bousset, Lipsius); nor (c) spiritual beings, such as angels, directing heavenly bodies and physical elements (against Loisy).
4. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law:
With the coming of Christ all was changed regarding our relations with God.
The fulness of time, i.e., the time fixed from eternity by the Eternal Father when the servitude and fear of the Law should give way to the liberty and love of the Gospel. There is no hint here of what brought about this fulness of time.
God sent his son (εξαπεστειλεν) . The compound of the verb in Greek indicates close union between the Father and the Son, and consequently the eternal preexistence of the latter, one in nature with the Father (John 1:1 ff.; 10:30). The word “son” also implies the eternal procession of the Second Person from the Father (John 3:16; 8:42).
Made of a woman, i.e., born of a woman with our human nature, and under the Mosaic Law, like other Jews. St. Paul wishes to show here the abasement of the Son of God who took upon Himself our human nature and subjected Himself to the Law. There does not seem to be any proof in the present passage of our Lord’s virginal conception (Lagr.).
The reading “made of woman” is that of all the best MSS., (εκ γυναικος γενομενον).
5. That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Here we have stated the purpose of the Son’s supernatural mission in this world: He was born under the Law that he might redeem them, i.e., the Jews, who were under the law; He was born of a woman that, by assuming our nature, He might become our brother, and thus elevate us all to the dignity of adopted sons of God.
We refers to all believers, Jews and Gentiles.
Might receive (απολαβωμεν) , as a right conferred by God Himself.
6. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father.
Because you are, etc., i.e., as a proof that you Galatians, pagans as well as Jews, are now adopted sons of the Father God hath sent, etc. The connective on is probably demonstrative rather than causal.
The Spirit, etc., i.e., the Holy Ghost, who, as sent by the Father, is distinct from Him, and as the Spirit of the Son, is distinct also from the Son. This text affords a proof that the Holy Ghost proceeds alike from the Father and the Son.
Your hearts should be “our hearts,” as in the Greek.
Crying is attributed to the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful.
Abba, Father is expressive of deepest feeling. This was perhaps a consecrated formula handed down from our Lord’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemani (Mark 14:36). The Jews were a bilingual people in the time of Christ, and this would explain why our Lord should use the two synonymous terms (Abba, ο πατηρ) in His prayer. However, see on Rom 8:15. Here is what Fr. Callan wrote in Rom 8:15~Abba is an Aramaic word which the Apostle here tells us means Father, ο πατηρ (cf. Mark 14:36; Gal 4:6). Some think the term pertained to an official prayer, but more probably it was only an expression of tenderness toward God, the Father.
The vestra of the Vulgate should be nostra, in conformity with the Greek.
7. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. And if a son, an heir also through God.
The conclusion is now drawn that if, as has been proved above, the Galatians are adopted sons of God, they have the rights of sons, and so are heirs to the inheritance through God’s goodness and mercy.