Tutored, Adopted, and Inheritors: Living Faith with Christ


This quarter’s lessons have been a helpful guide to the intricacies of Pauls’ discourse in Galatians and unfolding the gospel. Carl Cosaert has managed both, and I appreciate his work in these lessons.

The following thoughts explore listening to Galatians 3:26-4:11 from the audience perspective in its Greco-Roman social context. I would suggest having a Bible open before reading further.

This lesson continues an argument initiated in Galatians 3:15, an example of right relationship with God based upon the hearer’s faith in relation to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Paul’s counter to Mosaic Law, as the basis of right relationship, was the epitome of Abraham, who accepted God’s promises by faith. In 3:19-23, Paul intensified his argument that covenantal observance of the Mosaic Law does not result in right relationship with God, but illuminates the audience’s previous imprisonment under sin, since none were able to enter into right relationship with God through Mosaic Law (3:21-22).

Commencing in 3:24, Paul shifts to a different set of metaphors, drawn from the Roman legal and social constructs shaping the lives of his Galatian audience, largely inhabitants of Roman coloniae.[i] Paul portrays the Law as a paidagogos, in action until Christ’s death and resurrection. The lesson notes this role should be understood within a Roman social context (p. 60), yet terms the law a “schoolmaster,” following the KJV. However, this description is dependent on common explanations drawn from classical Greek literature by most commentators.[ii] Based upon these sources some scholars stretch the meaning of paidagogos as far as “babysitter” or an oppressive “jailor”.[iii] The problem is that none of these analogies capture the semantic domain of Roman understandings in the first century – which are substantially different than this Hellenistic interpretation.


The Greek term paidagogos, used in a Roman context, reflects not only a personal companion and role model, but also the legal obligations of tutela or tutor. The tutor was required to oversee the actions of the person under his care, including their property, judgments, legal rights, education, morality and their preparation for becoming an adult. The youth under a tutor’s authority could not enter into an inheritance. Acceptance of an inheritance could only be done by a person not under a tutor, since its acceptance involved duties as well as rights that would violate or exceed the tutor’s authority overseeing a person’s rights and obligations.[iv]

Thus, Paul’s analogy – that those “under the Law” are viewed as held in the custody of a “tutor” in 3:23-24 – fits the legal context typical of a Galatian Roman colonia. However, the tutor’s oversight was terminated when the person achieved adulthood, at a time typically stipulated by a Roman father.[v]

Paul’s discourse in 4:1-2 properly utilizes Roman social conventions – and a status that he likely lived as a Roman citizen, including use of guardians and household managers.[vi] Galatians 4:3 continues to maintain the model of children and by inference – a tutor, since it alludes to remaining under enslavement – a state which echoes the lack of rights or freedom of choice that a child had while under the tutor’s care, and as Paul has utilized the imagery – to illuminate life under the “tutelage” of the Law.

The metaphorical images of 4:4-5 lead to two types of freedom; first, freedom from slavery to sin, (1:3, 3:22), and second, freedom from tutelage “under the Law” (3:23-24).  Paul’s dual use enables his transition from rights withheld from a son while under a tutor, to use of manumission and adoption to illustrate the release from sin.

Manumission was the Roman legal process of granting a person freedom from slavery which required a price paid for this freedom.[vii] Thus, the mention of redemption from the Law through Christ in 4:5 fits the legal process of Paul’s illustration. Additionally, under Roman law, a slave could not receive an inheritance until they had been freed.[viii] Furthermore, a freed slave entered into a relationship with their former master, or the one who freed them, based upon fides – faith.[ix]

Additionally, Paul moves from imagery of freedom from slavery to that of adoption. Adoption of sons was a common practice in the Roman world, and through adoptio one added to the honor and the continuation of the adopting familia, or gens. In Roman adoption, one took the family name and the characteristics and greatness or “majesty” of the one who carried out the adoption.

The “Spirit of His Son” sent from God in 4:6 plays loosely upon the honoring of the divine spirit or genius of the one who had freed the slave – as an expression of faith, intimacy and thankfulness for freedom.[x] Galatians 4:7 summarizes this crescendo of changed relationship described in 4:1-6,

“Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son;

And if a son, then an heir through God.”

What comes next reinforces the Roman legal context even further. Paul had reminded his readers in 4:3 that at one time they had not known God and were previously enslaved – not to the Law, but to the “elemental forces” of the world. This is perhaps an inference to worship of Roman, Galatian or Phrygian deities, such as Men Askaenos, whose temple crowned a large hill about two miles from Pisidian Antioch.In Gal 4:8, Paul again rhetorically reminds the readers that they had been enslaved to the things which by nature – are not gods, pointing back to prior lives of sacrifice and vows to other deities.[xi]

Galatians 4:9, Paul bluntly queries “How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?” The concept that a freed person unfaithful to the one who freed them could be returned to slavery was Roman law. Violation of the manumission oath was a desecration of fides – faith which could lead to revocation of freedom and return to slavery.[xii] The Emperor Augustus’ Lex Aelia Sentia of 4 CE permitted punishment for unfaithful freedmen. Claudius went further, legislating that unfaithful or ungrateful freedmen had their manumission revoked and returned to slavery.[xiii]

Many readings of 4:10, “You observe days and months and seasons and years,” draw a conclusion that this refers to the Galatian readers adopting Judean practices. Numerous commentators compare this list to Colossians 2:16, concluding that days, must parallel “Sabbaths” in that passage. [xiv] Moons and years are often assumed to be Mosaic festivals, as identified in Numbers 10:10 or 28:11, or perhaps the Judean New Year.  However, this may not be Paul’s intent whatsoever. Paul inference to Judean Law observance ended in 4:7.

Additionally, if Galatians is written in the late 40’s, it will be more than a decade until Paul pens Colossians from Rome in the 60’s. To read Colossians into Galatians misses the original audience’s frame of reference – its Galatian social and religious context which shapes the listeners’ perspective in 4:8-20.

The god Men was associated with the moon, and the months of the lunar calendar.[xv] His statuary often depicts him with the crescent moon. Certain days would have been celebrated with the god. Additionally, Men was asked for – and honored as – granting healing, safety, and prosperity.[xvi] In addition to Men, the Cult of Augustus and Roma’s temple and cult would have had a major impact on the readers. The imperial cult was also based upon sworn faith.

[i]See Acts 13:13-14:25 for a list of communities that were the intended audience of Galatians. Also see Justin K. Hardin, Galatians and the Imperial Cult, WUNT 237 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008), 49-79.

[ii]Typical is Matera’s interpretation based upon Plato and Socrates, drawing from Young’s work on the topic. See Frank J. Matera, Galatians, (Sacra Pagina Series) Volume 9, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 139; N. H. Young, “Paidagogos: The Social Setting of a Pauline Metaphor”,  NovT 29 (1987), 150-176.

[iii]See Richard N. Longnecker, “The Pedagogical Nature of the Law in Galatians in 3:19-4:7” in JETS 25/1 (March 1982), 53-61; Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians, ECNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 248; Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 240-241.

[iv]William C. Morey, Outlines of Roman Law: Comprising its Historical Growth and General Principles (New York, London: Putnam, 1884, 2nd printing, Buffalo, NY: William S. Hein & Co, 2003 ), 253-257. See also Rudolf Sohm, James Crawford Lidelie, Erwin Grueber, The Institutes of Roman Law(London: Oxford University Press, 1892, 2nd printing, Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2002), 395-407.

[v]Morey, Outlines of Roman Law, 257.

[vi]Acts 22:28, Paul was born a Roman.

[vii]See Jane F. Gardner and Thomas Wiedemann, The Roman Household (London: Routledge, 1991), 144-145, 158-159. Also A.N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship (Oxford: Clarendon, 2nd ed., 1973), 327-328.

[viii]W.W. Buckland, A Text-Book of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3rd ed, 1966), 86.

[ix]Susan M. Treggiari, Roman Freedmen During the Late Republic (Oxford: Clarendon, 1969), 80; 75.

[x]Ittai Gradel, Emperor Worship and the Roman Religion (Oxford: Clarendon, 2002), 37-39, 42-44; Zeba A. Crook, Reconceptualizing Conversion: Patronage, Loyalty and Conversion in the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, BZNW 130 (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2004), 228.

[xi]For a foray into the linkage of community leadership and religious life contemporaneous to Paul’s arrival see Robert L. Mowery, “Paul and Caristanius at Pisidian Antioch,” Biblical Studies, Vol 87 (2006), 223-242.

[xii]Cicero, Atticus 7.2.8.

[xiii]Suetonius, Claudius 25.

[xiv]For example, Matera, Galatians, 152-153.

[xv]Strabo, Geography 12.31.

[xvi]Emily Kearns, S.R.F. Price, The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), Men.


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Sat, 10/25/2014 | Los Angeles Adventist Forum
October Adventist Forum
Ronald E. Osborn, Ph.D., A 2014-2016 Mellon Postdoctoral Fell ow in the Peace and Justice Program at Wellesley College (Boston), and a 2 015 Fullbright Scholar to Burma/Myanmar, Formerly an Adjunct Faculty Membe r in the Dept. of International Relations at USC, and in the Honors Progra m at UCLA. Topic: "Death Before the Fall?: A Conversation with Ronald Osbor n."

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