Galatians 4:3
Parallel Verses
New International Version
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.

New Living Translation
And that's the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

English Standard Version
In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

New American Standard Bible
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.

King James Bible
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

Holman Christian Standard Bible
In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elemental forces of the world.

International Standard Version
It was the same way with us. While we were children, we were slaves to the basic principles of the world.

NET Bible
So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world.

Aramaic Bible in Plain English
In this way also when we were children, we were enslaved under the principles of the world.

GOD'S WORD® Translation
It was the same way with us. When we were children, we were slaves to the principles of this world.

Jubilee Bible 2000
Even so we, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world,

King James 2000 Bible
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

American King James Version
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

American Standard Version
So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world:

Douay-Rheims Bible
So we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world.

Darby Bible Translation
So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the principles of the world;

English Revised Version
So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world:

Webster's Bible Translation
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

Weymouth New Testament
So we also, when spiritually we were children, were subject to the world's rudimentary notions, and were enslaved.

World English Bible
So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental principles of the world.

Young's Literal Translation
so also we, when we were babes, under the elements of the world were in servitude,
Parallel Commentaries
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary

4:1-7 The apostle deals plainly with those who urged the law of Moses together with the gospel of Christ, and endeavoured to bring believers under its bondage. They could not fully understand the meaning of the law as given by Moses. And as that was a dispensation of darkness, so of bondage; they were tied to many burdensome rites and observances, by which they were taught and kept subject like a child under tutors and governors. We learn the happier state of Christians under the gospel dispensation. From these verses see the wonders of Divine love and mercy; particularly of God the Father, in sending his Son into the world to redeem and save us; of the Son of God, in submitting so low, and suffering so much for us; and of the Holy Spirit, in condescending to dwell in the hearts of believers, for such gracious purposes. Also, the advantages Christians enjoy under the gospel. Although by nature children of wrath and disobedience, they become by grace children of love, and partake of the nature of the children of God; for he will have all his children resemble him. Among men the eldest son is heir; but all God's children shall have the inheritance of eldest sons. May the temper and conduct of sons ever show our adoption; and may the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children and heirs of God.

Pulpit Commentary

Verse 3. - Even so we (οὕτω καὶ ἡμεῖς); so we also. This "we" represents the same persons as before in Galatians 3:13, 24, 25 (see notes), namely, the people of God; a society preserving a continuous identity through successive stages of development, till now appearing as the Church of Christ. The plural pronoun recites, not individuals, but the community viewed as a whole, having the now subsisting "us" as its present representatives. Individually, Christians in general now, and many of those who then when the apostle wrote belonged to the Church, never were in the state of nonage or bondage here referred to. It is, however, notwithstanding this, quite supposable that St. Paul's account of the history of the whole society is in some degree tinted by the recollection of his own personal experiences. When we were children (ὅτε ῆμεν νήπιοι); that is, when we were in our nonage. The phrase is not meant to point to a state of immaturity in personal development, but simply to the period of our being withheld from the full possession of our inheritance. This is all that the course of thought now pursued requires; and we only create for ourselves superfluous embarrassment by carrying further the parallel between the figuring persons and the figured. The spiritual illumination enjoyed by the Christian Church, compared with that of the pre-Christian society, presents as great a contrast as that of a man's knowledge compared with a child's; but that is not the point here. Were in bondage under the elements (or, rudiments) of the world (ὑπὸ τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου η΅μεν δεδουλωμένοι); were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world; or, were under the rudiments of the world brought into bond-service. This latter way of construing, separating η΅μεν from the participle δεδουλωμένοι to connect it with the words which precede, is recommended by the parallel, which the words, "were under the rudiments of the world," then present to the words," is under guardians and stewards," in ver. 2; while the participle "brought into bond-service" reproduces the notion expressed by the words, "is no better than a bond-servant," of ver. 1. The participle "brought into bond-service," then, stands apart, in the same way as the participle "shut up "does in Galatians 3:23. This, however, is only a question of style; the substantial elements of thought remain the same in either way of construing. The Greek word στοιχεῖα calls for a few remarks, founded upon the illustration of its use given by Schneider in his 'Greek Lexicon.' From the primary sense of "stakes placed in a row," for example, to fasten nets upon, the term was applied to the letters of the alphabet as placed in rows, and thence to the primary constituents of speech; then to the primary constituents of all objects in nature, as, for example, the four "elements" (see 2 Peter 3:10, 12 ); and to the "rudiments" or first "elements" of any branch of knowledge. It is in this last sense that it occurs in Hebrews 5:12, "What are the (στοιχεῖα) rudiments (of the beginning, or) of the first principles of the oracles of God" (on which compare the passage from Galen quoted by Alford at the place). This must be the meaning of the word here; it recites the rudimental instruction of children, as if the apostle had said "under the A, B, C, of the world." This is evidently intended to describe the ceremonial Law; for in ver. 5 the phrase, "those under the Law," recites the same persons as are here described as "under the rudiments of the world;" as again the "weak and beggarly rudiments," in ver. 9, are surely the same sort of" rudiments" as are illustrated in ver. 10 by the words, "Ye observe days, and months, and seasons, and years." Since the Law under which the people of God were placed was God's own ordinance, we must infer that, when it is here designated as "the A, B, C, of the world," the genitive can neither denote the origin of these rudiments nor yet any qualification of moral pravity, but only the qualification of imperfection and inferiority; that is, it denotes the ceremonial institution s of the Law as appertaining to this earthly material sphere of existence, as contrasted with a higher spiritual sphere. Thus "the A, B, C, of the world" is an expression as nearly as possible identical with that of "carnal ordinances" (literally, ordinances of the flesh), used to describe the external ceremonialism of the Law in Hebrews 9:10; which phrase, like the one before us, is used with a full recognition, in the word "ordinances" (δικαιώματα), of the Law as of Divine appointment, while the genitive "of the flesh" marks its comparative imperfection. They were, as Conybeare paraphrases, "their childhood's elementary lessons of outward things." This designation of Levitical ceremonies as being an "A, B, C," or "rudiments, of the world," appears to have become a set phrase with the apostle, who uses it again twice in the Colossians (Colossians 2:8, 20), where he appears, if we may judge from the context, to have in view a (perhaps mongrel) form of Jewish ceremonialism which, with circumcision (mentioned in ver. 11), conjoined other "ordinances" (δόγματα) mentioned in vers. 14, 20, relating to meats and drinks and observance of times, illustrated in vers. 16, 21. This, he tells the Colossians, might have been all very well if they were still "living in the world" (ver. 20); but now they were risen with Christ! - with Christ, who had taken that "bond" (χειρόγραφον, ver. 14) out of the way; and therefore were called to care for higher things than such merely earthly ones as these. Some suppose that the apostle has reference to the religious ceremonialisms of the idolatrous Gentiles, as well as those of the Mosaic Law. These former ceremonialisms belonged, indeed, to "the world," both in the sense above pointed out and as tinged with the moral pravity characterizing the "present evil world" in general. But these cannot be here intended, forasmuch as it was not to such that God's people were by his ordinance subjected. The other rendering of στοιχεῖα - "elements" - which the Authorized Version puts into the text, but the Revised Version into the margin, was probably selected in deference to the view of most of the Fathers, who, as Meyer observes, took the Greek word in its physical sense: Augustine referring it to the heathen worship of the heavenly bodies and the other cults of nature; Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Ambrose to the new moons and sabbaths of the Jews, viewed as determined by the motions of the sun and moon; Jerome, however, interpreting it rudimenta discipliner. On the other hand, in Colossians 2:8, 20, both of our Versions have "rudiments" in the text and "elements" in the margin; in 2 Peter 3:10, 12, "elements" only. "Brought into bend-service" (δεδουλωμένοι), namely, by the act of the supreme Father imposing upon us the yoke of his Law.

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Even so we,.... Jews, for of such the apostle is only speaking, and to whom he applies the above case of heirs in minority; it was to the Jews he had spoken of the law, as being a military guard, a prison, and a schoolmaster to them; and then having addressed the Gentiles, as being the children of God, baptized into Christ, one in him, interested in him, the spiritual seed of Abraham, and heirs of all the blessings of grace and glory; he returns to the Jews, and represents their estate and condition under the law by the above simile, which he here makes an application of:

when we were children; not in age, but in knowledge of divine, spiritual, and evangelical things; which must be understood not of every individual person among them, for there were some grown men, men of great faith, light, knowledge, and experience; but of the bulk and generality of the people of the Jews, and that also in comparison of the clear understanding of the saints under the Gospel dispensation. The Jews were like children, peevish, froward, and perverse, and often stood in need of correction and chastisement; and as children are pleased with pictures, shows, sights, and gaudy amusements, so they were taken with an external pompous form of worship, and which they had, and was suited to their infant state; and which infant state of the Jewish church commenced from the time of their coming up out of Egypt, and lasted until the times of the Messiah; see Hosea 11:1.

Were in bondage under the elements of the world; by which are meant, not the four elements of fire, water, earth, and air; nor the angels, who by some are thought to preside over them; nor the sun and moon, according to whose revolutions the festivals of the Jews were regulated; but the several institutions of the Mosaic economy, which were to the Jews what an A B C, or an alphabet of letters, is to one that is beginning to learn; or what an accidence and grammar be to such who are learning any language, and which contain the rudiments of it; as the physical elements are the first principles of nature, and the general rules of speech and language are the rudiments thereof, so the Mosaic institutions were the elements, rudiments, or first principles of the Jewish religion, taught them by the law, as their schoolmaster, and by which they were used as children: these are called "elements", in allusion to the first principles of nature and learning; and the elements "of the world", because they lay in outward worldly and earthly things, as meats, drinks, divers washings, &c. and because that hereby God instructed the world, at least a part of it, the world of the Jews: or as the word may be rendered "beauty", or "elegancy", these were elegant elements, which in a most beautiful manner taught the people of the Jews the first principles of the doctrine of Christ: but nevertheless, whilst they were under the instructions and discipline of the law as a schoolmaster, "they were in bondage"; referring not to their bondage in Egypt, nor in the several captivities into which they were carried by their neighbours; nor to the bondage of sin and Satan, common to all men in a state of nature; but to the bondage which the law naturally gendered, led them to, induced upon them, and kept them in, through its sanctions and penalties; for, through fear of death, they were under a servile disposition, and were all their lifetime subject to bondage; they carried a yoke of bondage upon their necks, and were under a spirit of bondage unto fear; they were like children closely kept to school to learn their letters, say their lessons, and perform their tasks; and, if not, receive due correction, which kept them in continual fear and bondage.

Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

3. we—the Jews primarily, and inclusively the Gentiles also. For the "we" in Ga 4:5 plainly refers to both Jew and Gentile believers. The Jews in their bondage to the law of Moses, as the representative people of the world, include all mankind virtually amenable to God's law (Ro 2:14, 15; compare Note, see on [2344]Ga 3:13; [2345]Ga 3:23). Even the Gentiles were under "bondage," and in a state of discipline suitable to nonage, till Christ came as the Emancipator.

were in bondage—as "servants" (Ga 4:1).

under the elements—or "rudiments"; rudimentary religion teaching of a non-Christian character: the elementary lessons of outward things (literally, "of the [outward] world"); such as the legal ordinances mentioned, Ga 4:10 (Col 2:8, 20). Our childhood's lessons [Conybeare and Howson]. Literally, The letters of the alphabet (Heb 5:12).

Galatians 4:3 Additional Commentaries
Sons and Heirs
2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law,…
Cross References
Romans 7:14
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.

2 Corinthians 11:20
In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face.

Galatians 2:4
This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Galatians 4:2
The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.

Galatians 4:8
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

Galatians 4:9
But now that you know God--or rather are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Galatians 4:24
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

Colossians 2:8
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:20
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:

Hebrews 5:12
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
Treasury of Scripture

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:


Galatians 3:19,24,25 Why then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, …


Galatians 4:9,25,31 But now, after that you have known God, or rather are known of God, …

Galatians 2:4 And that because of false brothers unawares brought in, who came …

Galatians 3:23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up to the …

Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us …

Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

John 8:31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue …

Acts 15:10 Now therefore why tempt you God, to put a yoke on the neck of the …

Romans 8:15 For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but …

elements. or, rudiments.

Galatians 4:9 But now, after that you have known God, or rather are known of God, …

Colossians 2:8,20 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, …

Hebrews 7:16 Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after …

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