Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Return to Bondage

2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)
17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

When we come to salvation in Yeshua, we truly become new creatures. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and the orientation of our lives turns God-ward. Those who have experienced this will testify that there is nothing like it in the entire world. Yet, we still live in the world and have battles to fight, both worldly and spiritual. It is in the spiritual battles where eternity is impacted, where Satan fights most fiercely, and where in some ways we are blinded. It is through the Bible that we receive our sight and our instructions for the battles ahead. Therefore, it is essential that we understand as best as we can those instructions.

We're going to again look at a passage in Scripture that has traditionally been interpreted as a warning to Christians not to attempt going back to Jewish ways. Yet, as we will see, this traditional interpretation does not fit the context of the passage.

Galatians 4:1-11 (KJV)
1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
8 Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

Verses 1-3 continues an analogy from chapter 3 of Galatians where it is learned that believers in Yeshua are children of Abraham. Prior to salvation, however, these children were in "bondage under the elements of the world." Traditionally, this has been interpreted as being in bondage to all the minutiae of the Laws of Judaism and/or the works based philosophies of paganism. There is a contrasting between law and grace. In other words, now that these Galatians are saved they are under grace and no longer subject to law.

However, this contrast of law and grace goes too far. The meaning of "elements of the world" is somewhat uncertain. While it could refer to aspects of the Oral Law (man made traditions) that the Jews observed that were burdensome and were not to be imposed on these new believers, it cannot refer to the Law of God, since the Law handed down to the Jews through Moses came directly from God, not the world. Also, the majority of believers in Galatia were not Jewish, but Gentile. They would not have been in bondage to any Jewish anything. So, it is likely that the "elements of the world" is referring to some pagan aspect of religion that they would have seen as foundational.

Verses 4-7 speaks about the salvation that these Galatians had experienced. Then in verse 8 Paul asked the question (my paraphrase), "How can you Galatians, who were once unbelievers who served false gods, want to return to those weak and beggarly elements, now that you've been saved?" The tie in between verse 3 and verse 9 are those "elements of the world." In verse 9 Paul called them "weak and beggarly." It should be obvious that these elements cannot refer to the the Law of God since Paul would never refer to the Law of God in that manner.

Romans 7:12 (KJV)
12 Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Verse 10 describes what the "elements of the world" caused the Galatians to do before they were saved and what things they wanted to either go back to or to continue in, i.e. the observing of "days, and months, and times, and years." Bible commentators have been quick again to say that this list is referring to the observance of the Sabbath, the New Moons, and the Feasts of the Lord. But since these are tied into the "elements of the world" Jewish practices cannot be the intended problem since they come directly from the commands of God and not the world. Also the observance of "times" was strictly forbidden in Scripture.

Deuteronomy 18:10 (KJV)
10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,

Although it is unclear about what these particular practices were, they were of obvious pagan origin. They have nothing to do with authentic Jewish practices commanded in the Bible.

Paul then remarked sadly in verse 11 that he was afraid that he had labored in vain over these believers.

When we are saved we are new creatures. This means that we should leave sin behind. Too often, however, we try to retain those sinful things that God hates. This really is the message of Galatians 4:1-11, the leaving behind of sin or the relying on those things that come from tradition, but are contrary to the Word of God. This is what the Galatians were doing. It has nothing to do with putting aside the Law of God in favor of lawlessness. Grace is not the opposite of Law, but its compliment. We are saved only by grace, the Law cannot save us, but God still expects us to be righteous and to follow His commands.

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