We continue our discussion of the relationship of the old Israel and the new Israel. And in making the obvious comparisons, Paul changes the figure slightly.
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 fulness 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
In the last chapter, Paul said that Israel was under the care of the law, under the care of a pedagogue. Here he modifies the point slightly. The heir, when he is little, is bossed around just like a servant (v. 1). In fact, he might be bossed around more than a servant is. The servant might actually be the one doing the bossing. He is under the care of pedagogues, tutors, and governors during the time of his minority (v. 2). And Paul then refers to the infancy of the world. Even so, we were in bondage to the elements (stoichea) of the world (v. 3). But when the right time in history arrived, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law (v. 4). God did this to make it possible for us to leave our minority, and enter into our full adoption as sons (v. 5). And because you (Gentiles) are sons (also), God has given you His Spirit (v. 6). And so you Gentiles are no longer servants, but sons, and not only sons, but grown-up sons. This means you Gentiles are heirs (v. 7).
A billionaire in a high chair has a good deal of money, but has no real access to it. And a nanny whose net worth is a good deal less than his may be completely in charge of him. But this condition is temporary. The nanny and the schoolteacher and the tutor are all helping him to grow to maturity. Now what the Judaizers wanted, to continue with the illustration, was for a billionaire’s nanny of twenty years before marching into his corporate board room and insisting that he take a nap right now. But he has grown up now, and does not have to do these things. A servant who thought she had this kind of authority (because she had something like it once) is utterly confused about the nature of maturity and time.
But remember also that the billionaire, while he does not have to take his nap, does have to remember that 2 plus 2 equals 4, just like his childhood teacher taught him, and that a good night’s rest is important. The law does not go away, but the nanny forms of it do go away.
What is assumed in the illustration? This illustration of Paul’s does much the same thing that his illustration of the olive tree in Romans 11 does—it demonstrates the essential continuity of the Old Testament people of God and the New Testament people of God. The old Israel has become the new Israel. At the same time, the word new here refers to much more than a little touch-up paint. The new is the new of resurrection. The continuity is that the body that is raised is the body that was killed. Some of the continuity folks want to preserve continuity by denying death. Some of the discontinuity folks want to achieve newness through the fiat creation of a new entity, ex nihilo.
The apostle says here that the Jews were under bondage to the stoichea, the basic principles of the old world, the world that came to an end in Christ. The Gentiles were the servants in this old world. But when just the right time in world history came, God sent His Son into the world in order to accomplish the crucifixion and resurrection of that entire order. He did this in order to make all things new; He did this to redeem us from the curse of the law. He has included the Gentiles with His Spirit, and this means that we, together with the Jews, can cry out, “Abba.”
And notice Paul’s shift of pronouns here. Through the first part of this, he speaks of we, referring to we Jews. Up through v. 5, Paul is talking about the Jews, who were the under-age billionaire. The Gentiles were the servants. But now the sons have entered their majority (receiving the adoption as sons), and the servants have also been adopted as sons. And both kinds of sons have all grown up.
This was the situation when the conflict in Galatia erupted. Some of the billionaire Jews had now come to Galatia and were telling the newly-adopted billionaire Gentiles that they had an advantage as Jews. “Because we grew up in this house, we took naps every afternoon. If you really want to be a billionaire, you should start taking naps too.”