Saturday, November 15, 2008

Galations 4:1-7

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Taking of Christ (1602)
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: But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Galatians 4:1-7

This text is a compelling confession encapsulating the entire cosmological account, creation, sin, slavery, and God’s incarnational offensive. The letter as a whole is personally intimate as Paul reveals the content of his heart and the marks of Jesus on his body, which testify to the scandalous nature of the cross. He rebukes the Judaizers with vicious rhetorical theological stabs for jeopardizing the reception of redemption in Christ by their teaching on the law. The power of the law is a cosmic and elementary power which can snatch those baptized back in the yoke of slavery. Therefore this letter has a place in reformation history for recovering a proper understanding of faith alone, as gift of Christ whereby the rectification of a sinful world is purified in the cross. The forensic character of justification of the individual sinner triumphs in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The Galatian letter, however emphasizes the unity of the human community which has universally been subject to the enslaving power of the law in sin. God’s incarnation in the world and under the law to redeem all whom are enslaved drains us of our Calvinist blood, and places us in a wholly new creation, which is in God Himself.

This text is one of several climatic addresses within the letter. It follows after a brief historical unfolding of the promise made to Abraham and to his offspring, in which Paul points out is indeed the Christ (3:16). A short commentary on the delivery of the law and its use is set forth, concluding that the scriptures imprisoned (sygkleio) everything under sin. The termination of slavery is marked not by a teaching, an idea, or state of mind but an aggressive act – a decisive and absolute physical incursion. The imprisonment and captivity of the law is binding until the (note definite article) faith came (v. 23). This invasion of faith is the incarnation of Christ. The word faith (pistiv) and Christ are used interchangeably. The faith which has been apocalyptically made public through Christ is received through Holy Baptism, in which Jew, Greek, slave, free, male or female is truly incorporated into man who is fully God - Jesus. In light of this advent of faith in Christ, the proper understanding of the promise given to Abraham is revealed, which is Christ and Christ only. Now that Paul has clarified Abraham’s role in salvation history, apart from law, circumcision, and race can he paint the broader portrait of the covenant promised. Only now can he speak of the radical nature of the promise and what it truly means to be sons and heirs.

1. I say that the heir so long as he is a child. The radical nature of the promise and sonship is to indeed receive it as a child (Mk 10:15). The use of heir (klnponomos) and child (vnpios) do not function as mere metaphors to describe the relation in Christ. The drama being described uses these words in the fullest and most real sense, anticipating and realizing the new creation as a fashioning and performing of these titles. Though he is no different from a slave, though he is Lord over all. The heir of the promise of faith is a slave. Paul uses doulos not simply referring to the piety of service based upon the reconciliation of God, though this does occur as a matter of course. The heir of God however, is killed and born into slavery in childlike innocence and unconditional trust, a true restoration of heaven. Being made a slave is the source of Christian freedom in which the baptized lacks nothing.

2. but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Paul believes the Christian is the Lord over all not in a purely eschatological way only in the future, but truly in the "here and now." The liberation by means of God’s act on the cross does not elevate the baptized into an omniscient body that is not subject to authority and guardians. The liberated son finds life in the absolute trust received only by faith given in Christ’s movement into the human heart. This divine slavery finds life not only in trust in the heavenly father but as a consequence also in all authority, pastors, parents, and neighbors. That the baptized awaits the time appointed by the Father’s mirrors Jesus’ passion in which he also awaited His father’s appointed time. Paul knowing the scriptures and the evangelist’s gospel sees the church’s life only in Christ’s passion. That Jesus preached that no one knew the appointed time except the Father has been an unresolved problem in theology (Mt. 24:36). Jesus’ apparent absence of divine omniscience is commonly understood as an act of humility. Though in God’s redemptive act, His own Son reestablishes, fulfills, models, and presents the majestic glory of the purest love and communion in, with, and of God. It seems Paul, in light of the epistles movement, sees the appointed time as crucifixion of the old cosmos in Christ’s cross. This appointed time (prothesmia tou patros) is itself the crucifixion, particular to a precise moment in history under Roman powers, yet also reverberating across the expanse of the heavens and earth. The community of the church, as Jesus himself embodies, is Lord over all not because he and she is manipulating and controlling future events but because God is love and so dearly desires our own love. And he claims it in Christ.

3. In the same way also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary spirits of the cosmos. Martyn finds the drama set forth in vv 3-5 to be "nothing less than the theological center of the entire letter (Martyn 388)." The enslavement is set in an imperfect tense, expounding on the horrid sustained oppression of the cosmos held in chaos by elementary spirits. This oppression as children, subject to the enslaving power of the cosmos is the nightmarish bondage into which one is born. This state of affairs as an enslaved child to the elementary spirits is contrasted to the brand new state of affairs where the child’s inheritance is of all things, given in the act of crucifixion.

4. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born from a woman, born under the law. The theological precision of this verse is remarkable for it provides a summation of the cosmological character of the Redemption that God sends. This is the answer to the enslavement. It is solely God’s act, not dependent upon the manners or movement of the helpless child of the prior stage of existence. Regarding God’s act of redemption Martyn perceptively notes its aggressive nature, "Paul does not think of a gradual maturation, but rather a punctiliar liberation enacted by God in his own sovereign time" (389). This rapid fire confession of this great redemptive act contains all the elements of a refined and polished creedal statement. It has the genus idiomaticum, the incarnatus, and Dei passio in that he is born of Mary and under the law. Paul’s understanding of the law in the Galatians letter is not limited to a neat litany of prohibitions in the Torah but expresses a more supernatural power, the very binding of the human race (5:1-2). The power of the law is a demonic force which can compromise the gospel and hurl one back into the bondage of slavery. Yet, Paul confesses that the Son of God is born under this law and the elementary principles of the prior captive age. This bold incursion of God into a cosmos governed by evil and enslaving elements presents a incalculable conflict that suggests an illustration of God’s action that only Christus Victor can address.

5. In order that he might redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. The hina clause illumines why God initiates his battle, born of the Virgin, subjecting himself to the enslaving cosmos. Paul’s theology confesses the very reception of God’s redemption as the very act of victory to reign in the new creation. With the hina and reception (apolambano) we can hear Jesus’ great uper umwv as a blessed and holy invitation to partake of adoption as God’s very own.

6. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" Paul can rightly declare his addressees as sons because of their baptisms into the church. He is speaking the liturgy and returns them to God’s act in them. In this way the liberation from the enslaving cosmos is a returning to baptism which is the beginning and ending of God’s act on the cross. Only through Holy Baptism which truly liberates, crucifies, recreates, and strengthens can the son truly be a son and cry out the Lord’s Prayer before the community of the faithful. The filioque is set forth as Jesus shares in the full deity the Father, sending His spirit into human hearts claiming them as his own. The full communicative union is now complete as the Father sees all humanity incorporated into his Son, whom he loves and finds pleasing. By the crucifixion in baptism, the new creation can come out from her hiding place, awaking from a long nightmare whose peaceful end had been promised since the beginning.

7. So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God. This is Paul’s magnum opus in which he tears apart the erroneous and limited promise likely espoused by the Judaizers for claming Abraham and following in the law. The false teachers have made a mockery of God’s work, stripped Christ of his glory, and pointed back to the enslaving principles of the supernatural and demonic power of the law. Paul is preaching the communion the Galatians already have in God through Jesus Christ. Though God has always been present among his people he has now performed the act which is the only act that matters. The crucifixion and resurrection given to the church is itself the incarnation in which God heals every wound and calms every terror. ‘God with us’ takes on a meaning that only Luther can rightly express that God is "with us in mud and in work, so that his skin smokes." This singular cosmic act rectifies everything that has gone awry and violently wages war against every enslaving power – law, flesh, and idolatry. Finding sonship in God and His inheritance for Paul is composed in the person of Jesus whose greatest invitation is love toward creation. Being an heir to God is receiving Him in such a way that orients humanity toward and organically into one another, as Jesus immerses himself into his church.

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