As chapter four begins Paul continued his argument. The Law's purpose is as a schoolmaster, convicting mankind of sin, which in turn leads to repentance and faith.
Galatians 4:1-3 (KJV)
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Paul started off by making a comparison. Verses 1 and 2 refer to the child of a wealthy landowner. Although he is the lord of the estate as heir to his father, he is yet a child and doesn't really differ from a servant. He is under tutors and governors until he reaches maturity at the time appointed by his father. Then in verse 3 Paul stated that the Galatian believers were like that child. He said that they were in bondage under the elements of the world.
Traditional Christianity has interpreted this bondage as bondage under the Law, but it is unlikely that Paul would have called the Law a bondage or an element of the world.
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Psalm 119:77 (KJV)
Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy law is my delight.
Psalm 119:113 (KJV)
I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.
1 John 5:2-3 (KJV)
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
It is also unlikely that the Galatians would have considered themselves in bondage under the Law. The assembly of the Galatians consisted primarily of Gentiles. In Galatia, at that time, the most important cult was that of the Great Goddess Mother (Roman Cybele). (The Condensation of Specificity: Paul's Use of "stoicheia" by Kevin von Duuglas-Ittu: http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/05/28/the-condensation-of-specificity-pauls-rhetorical-use/) However, Paul included any Jewish believers in Galatia by his statement of "we" being in bondage in verse 3. So the bondage includes both Jews and Gentiles.
So what are these elements of the world? The word translated "elements" is the Greek word "stoicheia." The basic meaning of the word refers to the four elements that the world was believed to be made of, fire, water, earth, and air. But Paul's usage went far beyond this. In Roman and Greek philosophy the term also included the occult, spiritual forces that were in control of the world. Paul's use of the word fits in very well with this idea. The Galatians believers had been in bondage to the occult, spiritual forces around them.
How can it be explained then that both Jews and Gentiles were in bondage to these "elements?" The Gentile's bondage to paganism and idolatry is evident, but the Jews were often involved in their own brand of idolatry, ranging from accepting idolatrous teachings of Greek philosophy to being bound by oral law that was placed on the same level as the written Law. This is not to say that the oral law was necessarily evil or idolatrous, since it defined how the Jews lived. It became idolatry when it led the Jews into violating the written Law or it was viewed as a necessary part of salvation.
Going back to verse 2, Paul stated that as children in bondage to these "elements," they were under tutors and governors until maturity. This is reminiscent of chapter 3's "schoolmaster." This again points to the purpose of the Law as a guardian or keeper that demonstrated how life was to be lived.
In verse 4 Paul went on to describe what occurred "at the fulness of time" and how this related to his parable of the child in verses 1 and 2. This will be covered next time.