Galatians 4:1
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
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(1-7) A further description, continued from the last chapter, of the state of wardship, with its restraints and servitude, compared with that Christian freedom—the freedom of sons—to which the Galatians had been admitted through their adoption into the Messianic family by adhesion to Christ.

It may be observed that the allusions to the condition of minors are not in strict accordance either with Jewish or Roman law. It has been suggested that they have reference to a special code current in Galatia. It is, however, far more probable that the Apostle is referring exclusively to neither, but has in his mind a sort of abstraction of the law of minority, such as would present itself to one who had not himself had a legal education.

(1) Now I say.—This phrase introduces a further and fuller explanation of what is involved in the state of nonage, as compared with that of adult freedom.

A childi.e., an infant, a minor; though the term is not technically chosen.

Differeth nothing from a servant.—Both the child and the slave were incapable of any valid act in a legal sense; the guardian was as entirely the representative of the one as the master of the other. Both the child and the slave were subject to the same restraint, discipline, correction.

Though he be lord of all.—Strictly speaking, the inference from this would be that the father was dead. This, however, is a point that does not really enter into the Apostle’s thoughts. The illustration does not hold good in all particulars, but in the chief particulars—viz., the state of constraint and subordination in which the minor is placed so long as he is a minor.

Galatians 4:1-3. The apostle, having established the consolatory doctrine that believers, in every age and country of the world, are heirs of the promises made to Abraham and to his seed, goes on in this chapter to answer an inquiry which he knew would naturally occur to his readers, but which, according to his manner, he does not formally state; namely, Since all believers, from the beginning, were heirs of the promises, as well as of the things promised, why were they not put in possession of the promises from the beginning, by sending Christ into the world, and introducing the gospel dispensation in the first age; that the promises, especially the promise of pardon and eternal life through faith, might have been published universally, and preserved for the benefit of the heirs in every age; and why were mankind left for so many ages to the direction of the laws of nature and of Moses, neither of which gave them any hope of pardon and eternal life? To this inquiry the apostle answers, that in not giving the heirs the knowledge of the promises, by introducing the gospel dispensation immediately after the fall, God treated them as a prudent father treats his son while under age. During his nonage, he does not allow him to possess the estate, of which he is the heir, because he has not discretion to use it aright; but keeps him in the condition of a bond-man. In the same manner, though believers from the beginning were heirs of the promises, God did not, in the early ages, put them in possession of them, by immediately setting up the gospel dispensation; because, in the first ages, the state of the world did not admit of either the universal publication of the gospel, or of its preservation. And that, as the heir of a great estate must be prepared by a proper education for managing and enjoying it, and is therefore in his childhood placed under persons who instruct him, manage his estate, and supply him with necessaries, till the time appointed in his father’s will for taking possession of his inheritance; so, to prepare believers for the actual inheritance of the gospel dispensation, God judged it proper to continue them for a long time under the bondage of the laws of nature, and of the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, that by experiencing the hardships of that bondage, they might be the more sensible of the happiness which they were to derive from the liberty of the gospel. This is the sense of the three first verses, as appears by the following short paraphrase.

Now — To illustrate, by a plain similitude, the pre-eminence of the Christian over the legal dispensation; I say that the heir — Of any estate, however large; as long as he is a child — Or is under age; differeth nothing from a servant — With respect to the free use and enjoyment of his estate; though he be lord of all — Proprietor of it all, by right of inheritance; but is placed under tutors — As to his person; and governorsΟικονομους, stewards, as to his substance; until the time appointed of the father — When he shall be deemed of age, and be at liberty to manage his affairs himself. So we — The church of God, heirs of the promises; when we were children — In our minority, were not put in possession of the promises, by the introduction of the gospel dispensation, but, to fit us for it, were placed in bondage — In a kind of servile state; under the elements of the world — Under the typical observances of the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, which were like the first elements of grammar, the ABC of children; and were of so gross a nature as hardly to carry men’s thoughts beyond this world. Seeing the apostle, in the close of the preceding chapter, declared that all who have put on Christ, (see on Galatians 4:27-29,) whether they be Jews or Gentiles, are Christ’s brethren, and heirs according to God’s promise, “it is evident that in this chapter, when he speaks concerning the heir, and describes the treatment which, by his father’s appointment, he receives during his minority, his discourse cannot be restricted to the Jews, as if they were the only heirs, but must comprehend the Gentiles also, describing their condition under the discipline of the law of nature, Galatians 4:8. In like manner the persons in bondage to the elements of the world, (Galatians 4:3,) and under the law, (Galatians 4:5,) who are said to be bought off by Christ, (Galatians 4:5,) must be the Gentiles as well as the Jews; because Jews and Gentiles equally were under the discipline [and curse] of law. And having been bought off by Christ, (Galatians 3:13,) they were both of them, after his death, placed under the gospel dispensation, which is the discipline of sons. See Galatians 4:5.” — Macknight.

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.Now I say - He had before said Galatians 3:24-25 that while they were under the Law they were in a state of minority. This sentiment he proceeds further to illustrate by showing the true condition of one who was a minor.

That the heir - Any heir to an estate, or one who has a prospect of an inheritance. No matter how great is the estate; no matter how wealthy his father; no matter to how elevated a rank he may be raised on the moment that he enters on his inheritance, yet until that time he is in the condition of a servant.

As long as he is a child - Until he arrives at the age. The word rendered "child" (νήπιοι nēpioi) properly means an infant; literally, "one not speaking" (νη nē insep. un, ἔπος epos), and hence, a child or babe, but without any definite limitation - Robinson. It is used as the word "infant" is with us in law, to denote "a minor."

Differeth nothing from a servant - That is, he has no more control of his property; he has it not at his command. This does not mean that he does not differ in any respect, but only that in the matter under consideration he does not differ. He differs in his prospects of inheriting the property, and in the affections of the father, and usually in the advantages of education, and in the respect and attention shown him. but in regard to property, he does not differ, and he is like a servant, under the control and direction of others.

Though he be lord of all - That is, in prospect. He has a prospective right to all the property, which no one else has. The word "lord" here (κύριος kurios), is used in the same sense in which it is often in the Scriptures, to denote master or owner. The idea which this is designed to illustrate is, that the condition of the Jews before the coming of the Messiah was inferior in many respects to what the condition of the friends of God would be under him - as inferior as the condition of an heir was before he was of age, to what it would be when he should enter on his inheritance. The Jews claimed, indeed, that they were the children or the sons of God, a title which the apostle would not withhold from the pious part of the nation; but it was a condition in which they had not entered on the full inheritance, and which was far inferior to that of those who had embraced the Messiah, and who were admitted to the full privileges of sonship. They were indeed heirs. They were interested in the promises. But still they were in a condition of comparative servitude, and could be made free only by the gospel.


Ga 4:1-31. The Same Subject Continued: Illustration of Our Subjection to the Law Only till Christ Came, from the Subjection of an Heir to His Guardian till He Is of Age. Peter's Good Will to the Galatians Should Lead Them to the Same Good Will to Him as They Had at First Shown. Their Desire to Be under the Law Shown by the Allegory of Isaac and Ishmael to Be Inconsistent with Their Gospel Liberty.

1-7. The fact of God's sending His Son to redeem us who were under the law (Ga 4:4), and sending the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Ga 4:6), confirms the conclusion (Ga 3:29) that we are "heirs according to the promise."

the heir—(Ga 3:29). It is not, as in earthly inheritances, the death of the father, but our Father's sovereign will simply that makes us heirs.

child—Greek, "one under age."

differeth nothing, &c.—that is, has no more freedom than a slave (so the Greek for "servant" means). He is not at his own disposal.

lord of all—by title and virtual ownership (compare 1Co 3:21, 22).Galatians 4:1-3 The Jews were for a while held under the law, as an

heir under his guardian till he be of age.

Galatians 4:4-7 But Christ came to redeem those that were under the

law, and to give both to Jew and Gentile the adoption,

and consequently the freedom, of sons.

Galatians 4:8-10 Paul therefore reproveth the Galatians, who from

serving idols had been received of God, for falling

back to the bondage of legal observances.

Galatians 4:11-20 He expresseth his fears and tender regard for them,

and calleth to mind their former respect and good will

to him, from which he admonisheth them not to be

seduced in his absence.

Galatians 4:21-31 He allegorically describeth the Jewish and Christian

churches under the types of Agar and Sara, and

inferreth that we, being children of the free-woman,

are free.

The apostle had before determined, that the whole body of such as believed in Jesus Christ, were that seed of Abraham to which the promise was made, and so heirs of the promises made to him; yet so, that, as it is among men, though a child be a great heir, and lord of a great estate, yet while he is under age he is used like a servant; so the time of the law being as it were the time of believers’ nonage, those who lived in that time were used like servants.

Now I say,.... To illustrate what he had said of the law's being a schoolmaster to the Jews until the coming of Christ, and then ceasing as such, he proposes the case of an heir during his minority, till he come to the proper time of enjoying his estate.

that the heir, as long as he is a child; anyone that is an heir to his father's estate, or another's, whilst under age, being reckoned as a child, as he is from his infancy to his manhood,

differeth nothing from a servant: he is not his own man, nor at his own dispose; he cannot do as he pleases; he is under restraint; he is kept to school or to business, and is liable to correction and chastisement according as he behaves; nor can he have the free use of his father's estate,

though he be Lord of all, of all the servants, according to the Arabic version; or of the whole estate his father left him, of which he is Lord in right, but not in possession; he is right heir to it, though as yet it is not in his hands, nor can he do with it as he will.

Now {1} I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

(1) He declares by another twofold similitude, that which he said before concerning the keeper and schoolmaster. For, he says, the Law (that is, the whole government of God's house according to the Law) was as it were a tutor or overseer appointed for a time. And when that protection and overseeing which was but for a time is ended, we would at length come to be at our own liberty, and would live as children, and not as servants. Moreover, he shows along the way, that the governance of the Law was as it were the basics, and as certain principles, in comparison with the doctrine of the Gospel.

Galatians 4:1. λέγω δέ] Comp. Galatians 3:17, Galatians 5:16; Romans 15:8; 1 Corinthians 1:12 : now I mean, in reference to this κληρονομία brought in through Christ, the idea of which I have now more exactly to illustrate to you as for the first time realized in Christ. This illustration is derived by Paul from a comparison of the pre-Christian period to the period of the non-free, slave-like childhood of the heir-apparent.

ἐφʼ ὅσον χρόνον] As in Romans 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:39.

ὁ κληρονόμος] The article as in ὁ μεσίτης, Galatians 3:20 : the heir in any given case. Κληρ. is, however, to be conceived here, as in Matthew 21:38, as the heir of the father’s goods, who is so not yet in actual personal possession, but de jure—the heir apparent, whose father is still alive. So Cameron, Neubour (Bibl. Brem. v. p. 40), Wolf, Baumgarten, Semler, Michaelis, and many others, including Winer, Schott, Wieseler, Reithmayr. But Rückert, Studer (in Usteri), Olshausen (undecided), Baumgarten-Crusius, de Wette, Hilgenfeld, Hofmann, following Chrysostom, Theodoret, and most of the older expositors, conceive the heir as one whose father is dead. Incorrectly, on account of Galatians 4:2; for the duration of the guardianship (in which sense ὑπὸ ἐπιτρόπους, Galatians 4:2, must then be understood) could not have been determined by the will of the father,[173] but would have depended on the law (Hermann, Staatsalterth. § 121). Hofmann thinks, indeed, that the point whether the father was bound by a law of majority is not taken into account, but only the fact, that it is the father himself who has made arrangements respecting his heir. But in this view the προθεσμία, as prescribed by the father, would be entirely illusory; the notice would be absurd, because the προθεσμία would be not τοῦ πατρός, but τοῦ νόμου.

νήπιος] still in boyhood. Comp. 1 Corinthians 13:11. “Imberbis juvenis tandem custode remoto gaudet equis,” etc., Virg. Aen. ix. 649. Quite in opposition to the context, Chrysostom and Oecumenius refer it to mental immaturity (Romans 2:20; Hom. Il. v. 406, xvi. 46, et al.).

οὐδὲν διαφέρει δούλου] because he is not sui juris. Comp. Liban. in Chiis, p. 11 D, in Wetstein.

κύριος πάντων ὤν] although he is lord of all, namely de jure, in eventum, as the heir-apparent of all the father’s goods. Consequently neither this nor the preceding point is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the father is still alive (as Hofmann and others have objected). Comp. Luke 16:31.

The κληρονόμος νήπιος represents, not the people of Israel (Wieseler); but, according to the connection with Galatians 3:29 (comp. Galatians 4:3), the Christians as a body, regarded in their earlier pre-Christian condition. In this condition, whether Jewish or Gentile, they were the heir-apparent, according to the idea of the divine predestination (Romans 8:28 ff.; Ephesians 1:11; John 11:52), in virtue of which they were ordained to be the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16), the true σπέρμα of Abraham.

[173] Baumgarten-Crusius, indeed, appeals to the proof adduced by Göttling (Gesch. d. Röm. Staatsverf. pp. 109, 517), that Gaius, I. 55. 65, 189, comp. Caes. Bell. Gall. vi. 19, mentions the existence of a higher grade of the patria potestas among the Galatians. But in this way it is by no means shown that the time of majority was, after the death of the father, dependent on the settlement which he had previously made.


In dealing with the relation of the Mosaic Law to the antecedent covenant and with its subsequent fulfilment in Christ, the Apostle necessarily limited his view of the seed of Abraham, who were covenanted heirs of salvation between Moses and the Advent, to Israel. He likened these accordingly to children growing up in their father’s house under domestic control. But as most of those to whom he wrote had been converts from heathenism, he now extends his view of the world before Christ so as to embrace Gentiles also within its scope. Amidst the heathen were other children of God, a faithful seed, potential heirs of salvation, who passed through a like stage of spiritual childhood under different conditions. They were like orphan children committed by the watchful care of an unseen and unknown father to the custody of others. For they were subject to human systems of religion, government and law, neither knowing their Heavenly Father nor comprehending His love for them. The conception of a dead father providing by his will for the due education of his orphan children serves admirably to illustrate the mutual relations between God and the Gentile world, and to set forth the combination of steadfast love on one side with utter ignorance on the other. The illustration is obviously borrowed from testamentary systems prevailing among Greeks and Romans (not among Hebrews) which enabled a father to appoint guardians for his orphan children during their minority. These testamentary powers differed considerably in different parts of the Roman world according to the municipal laws of various cities. Whereas Roman citizens became wards of the state at fourteen, so that the powers of testamentary guardians were strictly limited, the discretion of the father was allowed a wider range in Greek cities. At Athens, for instance, the guardians of Demosthenes retained control over his property till he became a full citizen after eighteen; and in Asiatic Greece the custody of property was sometimes prolonged to twenty-five, though the personal authority ceased at fourteen. The dependent position of an orphan is described in popular language without legal precision; νήπιος is not a legal term, but an appropriate description for a child of tender years, naturally subject to the control of guardians (ἐπιτρόπους) and subordinate agents whom they might employ for household management or care of property (οἰκονόμους). It can hardly be right to identify the latter with the Roman curatores, for the special function of these officers was custody of property and not personal.

1. The word ‘heirs’ at the end of the preceding chapter suggests another illustration. In human affairs the condition of a minor is antecedent to the enjoyment of the liberty and the civil rights which accrue to him on coming of age. He is a son and an heir, but during minority his position is that of a slave.

Now I say] This is my meaning, comp. ch. Galatians 3:17.

a child] lit. ‘an infant’, the legal term to designate ‘a minor’.

differeth nothing from a servant] rather, from a slave. It is doubtful whether this description (continued in Galatians 4:2) applies to a minor under Roman or Jewish or Colonial (Galatian) law. Cæsar says that among the Gallic tribes a father had power of life and death over wife and children (B. G. vi. 9). It would seem from a passage in Gaius (Inst. 1. 55[28]) that by a local law a Galatian father had this exceptional power. We may however regard St Paul’s description as generally applicable to the condition of a minor without reference to any particular code.

[28] Bp Lightfoot considers that ‘this view seems to rest on a mistaken interpretation’ of the words of Gaius. It is however maintained by an eminent living jurist.

though he be lord of all] Though, unlike the slave, he is lord of all, lord, by right of ultimate succession, whether his father be living or dead. Our Lord uses a similar figure, John 8:35, ‘The slave abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’.

“He is the free man whom the truth makes free,

And all are slaves besides.”   Cowper.

Galatians 4:1. Λέγω δὲ, Now I say) He explains what he said, Galatians 3:24, concerning the schoolmaster.—ὁ κληρονόμος, the heir) This term is brought from ch. Galatians 3:29.—νήπιος) a child, under age.—οὐδὲν διαφέρει δούλου, differs nothing from a servant) Because he is not at his own disposal, regarding deeds and contracts.—πάντων, of all) Those things which relate to the inheritance.

Verse 1. - Now I say (λέγω δέ). A form of expression usual with the apostle when introducing a new statement designed either to explain or elucidate something before said (cf. Galatians 3:17; Galatians 5:16; Romans 15:8, according to the Received Text; 1 Corinthians 1:12. So τοῦτο δέ φημι, 1 Corinthians 7:29; 1 Corinthians 15:50). It is intended apparently to quicken attention: "Now I wish to say this." In the present case the apostle designs to throw further light upon the position taken in Galatians 3:24, that God's people, while under the Law, were under a bondage from which they have now been emancipated. Compare the somewhat similar process of illustration adopted in Romans 7:2-4. In both passages it is not a logical demonstration that is put forward, but an illustratively analogous case in human experience. A metaphor, though not strictly an argument, yet frequently helps the reader to an intuitive perception of the justness of the position laid down. That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all (ἐφ ὅσον χρόνονὁ κληρονόμος νήπιός ἐστιν οὐδὲν διαφέερει δόλου κύριος πάντων ὤν); so long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a bondservant, though he is lord of all. The article before κληρονόμος, heir, is the class article, as before μεσίτης, mediator (Galatians 3:20) - "an heir." In the word νήπιος the apostle evidently has in view one who as yet is in his nonage - as in English law phrase, "an infant." In Roman law language, infans is a child under seven, the period of minority reaching to twenty-five. In Attic Greek, the correlate to one registered amongst "men" was a παῖς. It does not appear that the apostle means to use a technical legal expression. He contrasts νήπιος with ἀνὴρ in 1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:13, 14. "Differeth nothing from a bond-servant;" i.e. is nothing better than a bond-servant, as Matthew 6:26; Matthew 10:31; Matthew 12:12. The verb διαφέρειν seems used only in the sense of your differing from another to your advantage, so that τὰ διαφέροντα are things that are more excellent. "Lord," "proprietor;" the title to the property inheres in him, though he is not yet fit to handle it. Galatians 4:1Now I say (λέγω δὲ)

Introducing a continued, explanatory discussion. Comp. Galatians 3:17; Galatians 5:16; 1 Corinthians 1:12.

The heir (ὁ κληρονόμος)

See on inheritance, 1 Peter 1:4. The article is generic as in the mediator, Galatians 3:20.

A child (νήπιος)

A minor. See on 1 Corinthians 3:1. Used by Paul in contrast with τέλειος full grown. See Ephesians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 3:15. The Jews called proselytes or novices babes. See Romans 2:20.

Lord of all

Legally, by right of birth, though not actually.

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