Galatians 4:8
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
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(8-11) The results of the foregoing argument are now turned against the Galatians. In their old heathen state they had been in bondage to gods that were no gods. From this bondage they had been delivered. They had been raised to a true knowledge of God, and received a Father’s recognition from Him. How then could they possibly think of returning to a system of mere ceremonialism. All this painful observance of times and seasons could only make the Apostle think that his labours on their behalf had been thrown away.

(8) Them which by nature are no gods.—The gods of the heathen are called by St. Paul “devils.” (See 1Corinthians 10:20 : “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God.”)

Galatians 4:8-11. Howbeit Αλλα, but, or however, that ye Gentiles may not foolishly reject, neglect, or forfeit your privileges, as the sons of God, you ought to remember what your condition was while under the elements of the world, and compare it with your present happy state: that then, when ye knew not the one living and true God, ye did service — Performed many degrading, burdensome, irrational, and abominable acts of worship and service, unto them which by nature are no gods — “This is a true description of the idols worshipped by the heathen, for either they had no existence, being mere creatures of the imagination; or, if any of them existed, they were dead men, or evil spirits, or the luminaries of the heavens, [or other creatures of God, as most of the idols of Egypt were,] deified by human folly: and being destitute of divine perfections, they were utterly incapable of bestowing any blessing whatever on their worshippers.” But now, after ye have known the only true God — And his mind and will; or rather are known of God — Are acknowledged, approved, and accepted, as his children; how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements Weak, utterly unable to purge your conscience from guilt, and to inspire you with filial confidence in God, or to change your nature, transform you into his likeness, and to enable you to do and suffer his will: beggarly, or poor; that is, incapable of enriching your souls with such wisdom, holiness, and happiness, as ye are heirs to, or to give you a hope of a blessed immortality after death; whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage — Though of another kind: now to these elements, as before to those idols; changing indeed the form and object of your ceremonies, but retaining many of the same low, perplexing, and unprofitable observances. Ye observe days — Jewish sabbaths; and months — New moons; and times — As that of the passover, pentecost, and the feast of tabernacles; and years — Annual solemnities. The word does not here mean sabbatic years: these were not to be observed out of the land of Canaan. This was addressed to such of the Galatians as had embraced Judaism. Some think this verse should be read interrogatively, Do ye observe? &c, because it seems to intimate a hope that it might be otherwise. As a question, it likewise expresses the apostle’s surprise that the Galatians observed these days. I am afraid of you — See on 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain — As will be the case if you continue the use of these ceremonies and think to be justified by them together with Christ, Galatians 5:2.

4:8-11 The happy change whereby the Galatians were turned from idols to the living God, and through Christ had received the adoption of sons, was the effect of his free and rich grace; they were laid under the greater obligation to keep to the liberty wherewith he had made them free. All our knowledge of God begins on his part; we know him because we are known of him. Though our religion forbids idolatry, yet many practise spiritual idolatry in their hearts. For what a man loves most, and cares most for, that is his god: some have their riches for their god, some their pleasures, and some their lusts. And many ignorantly worship a god of their own making; a god made all of mercy and no justice. For they persuade themselves that there is mercy for them with God, though they repent not, but go on in their sins. It is possible for those who have made great professions of religion, to be afterwards drawn aside from purity and simplicity. And the more mercy God has shown, in bringing any to know the gospel, and the liberties and privileges of it, the greater their sin and folly in suffering themselves to be deprived of them. Hence all who are members of the outward church should learn to fear and to suspect themselves. We must not be content because we have some good things in ourselves. Paul fears lest his labour is in vain, yet he still labours; and thus to do, whatever follows, is true wisdom and the fear of God. This every man must remember in his place and calling.Howbeit - But, ἀλλὰ alla. The address in this verse and the following is evidently to the portion of the Galatians who had been pagan. This is probably indicated by the particle ἀλλὰ alla, but denoting a transition. In the previous verses Paul had evidently had the Jewish converts more particularly in his eye, and had described their former condition as one of servitude to the Mosaic rites and customs, and had shown the inconveniences of that condition, compared with the freedom imparted by the gospel. To complete the description, he refers also to the Gentiles, as a condition of worse servitude still, and shows Galatians 4:9 the absurdity of their turning back to a state of bondage of any kind, after the glorious deliverance which they had obtained from the degrading servitude of pagan rites. The sense is, "If the Jews were in such a state of servitude, how much more galling and severe was that of those who had been pagans. Yet fron that servitude the gospel had delivered them, and made them freemen. How absurd now to go back to a state of vassalage, and to become servants under the oppressive rites of the Jewish law!"

When ye knew not God - In your state of paganism, when you had no knowledge of the true God and of his service. The object is not to apologize for what they did, because they did not know God; it is to state the fact that they were in a state of gross and galling servitude.

Ye did service - This does not express the force of the original. The meaning is, "Ye were "slaves" to (ἐδουλεύσατε edouleusate); you were in a condition of servitude, as opposed to the freedom of the gospel;" compare Galatians 4:3, where the same word is used to describe the state of the Jews. The drift of the apostle is, to show that the Jews and Gentiles, before their conversion to Christianity, were in a state of vassalage or servitude, and that it was absurd in the highest degree to return to that condition again.

Unto them which by nature are no gods - Idols, or false gods. The expression "by nature," φύσει phusei, according to Grotius, means, "in fact, re ipsa." The sense is, that they really had no pretensions to divinity. Many of them were imaginary beings; many were the objects of creation, as the sun, and winds, and streams; and many were departed heroes that had been exalted to be objects of worship. Yet the servitude was real. It fettered their faculties; controlled their powers; bound their imagination, and commanded their time and property, and made them slaves. Idolatry is always slavery; and the servitude of sinners to their passions and appetites, to lust and gold, and ambition, is not less galling and severe than was the servitude to the pagan gods or the Jewish rites, or than is the servitude of the African now to a harsh and cruel master. Of all Christians it may be said that before their conversion they "did service," or were slaves to harsh and cruel masters; and nothing but the gospel has made them free. It may be added, that the chains of idolatry all over the world are as fast riveted and as galling as they were in Galatia, and that nothing but the same gospel which Paul preached there can break those chains and restore man to freedom.

8-11. Appeal to them not to turn back from their privileges as free sons, to legal bondage again.

then—when ye were "servants" (Ga 4:7).

ye knew not God—not opposed to Ro 1:21. The heathen originally knew God, as Ro 1:21 states, but did not choose to retain God in their knowledge, and so corrupted the original truth. They might still have known Him, in a measure, from His works, but as a matter of fact they knew Him not, so far as His eternity, His power as the Creator, and His holiness, are concerned.

are no gods—that is, have no existence, such as their worshippers attribute to them, in the nature of things, but only in the corrupt imaginations of their worshippers (see on [2347]1Co 8:4; [2348]1Co 10:19, 20; 2Ch 13:9). Your "service" was a different bondage from that of the Jews, which was a true service. Yet theirs, like yours, was a burdensome yoke; how then is it ye wish to resume the yoke after that God has transferred both Jews and Gentiles to a free service?

When ye knew not God, as he is, or as ye ought to have known him, or as, since, you have known him; for even the heathen have some knowledge of God, Romans 1:21.

Ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods; you paid religious homages unto idols; which are gods, not by nature and essence, but only in the opinion of idolaters. Which was a more miserable bondage and servitude than the Jews were under, who knew the true God; though in the time when the church was like the heir under age, it was subject to the law contained in ordinances, and under the yoke of the law.

Howbeit then, when ye know not God,.... Whilst in Gentilism, and in a state of unregeneracy, they had no true knowledge of God; though they might know by the light of nature, and works of creation, that there was a God, yet they did not know who he was, but called either mortal men, or some one or other of the creatures, or stocks, and stones, and images of men's device, by this name; they knew not the God of Israel; they did not know God in Christ, and are therefore said to be without him; and a common description of them it is, that they knew not God: and whilst this was their case, what follows was true of them,

ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods; only by name, and in the opinion of men, but have no divinity in them, are only called gods, mere nominal, fictitious deities, who have nothing of the nature and essence of God in them; for there is but one God by nature and essence, the Father, Son, and Spirit; all others have only the name and appearance, but not the truth of deity; and these the Gentiles in their times of ignorance did "service" to, which is what the Jews call , "strange service"; that is, idolatry, concerning which there is a whole treatise in the Talmud, and which bears that name (o). This service lay in paying homage to them, worshipping of them, and performing various rites and ceremonies in a way of adoration, and which they reckoned religious service; and which, comparatively speaking, whilst in this state of blindness, was excusable in them; though it is a wonderful instance of grace that such idolaters should be the sons of God.

(o) Aveda Zara.

{4} Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

(4) He applies the former doctrine to the Galatians, with a special rebuke: for in comparison with them, the Jews might have pretended some excuse as men that were born and brought up in that service of the Law. But seeing that the Galatians were taken and called out of idolatry to Christian liberty, what pretence might they have to go back to those impotent and beggarly elements?

Galatians 4:8. Ἀλλά] Nevertheless, how fearfully at variance is your present retrograde attitude with the fact of this divine deliverance from your previous lost condition! This topic is dealt with down to Galatians 4:11. Observe that ἀλλά introduces the two corresponding relations τότε μέν and νῦν δέ in conjunction.[187]

τότε] then; reminds the readers of the past time, in which they were still δοῦλοι (Galatians 4:7).

οὐκ εἰδότες Θεόν] Cause of the ἐδουλεύσατε which follows. In the non-knowledge of God (for οὐκ εἰδότ. forms one idea) lies the fundamental essence of the heathenism, to which the apostle’s readers had mostly belonged. Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:5; Acts 17:23; Acts 17:30, et al. As to the relation of the thought to Romans 1:20 f., see on that passage.

ἐδουλεύσατε] The aorist simply designates the state of bondage then existing as now at an end, without looking at its duration or development. See Kühner, II. p. 73 f.

τοῖς φύσει μὴ οὖσι θεοῖς] to the gods, who by nature however are not so! For, in the apostle’s view, the realities which were worshipped by the heathen as gods, were not gods, but demons. See on 1 Corinthians 10:20. In his view, therefore, their nature was not divine, but at the same time not of mere mundane matter (Ewald) (comp. Wis 13:1 ff.); it was demoniac,—a point which must have been well known to the Galatians from his oral instruction.

The negation denies subjectively, from the apostle’s view. Comp. 2 Chronicles 13:9 : ἐγένετο εἰς ἱερέα τῷ μὴ ὄντι Θεῷ.

[187] But so, that the thought introduced by δέ (ver. 9) is the main thought. Comp. Baeumlein, Partikell. p. 168.

Galatians 4:8-10. BUT THOUGH IN TIME PAST WHEN YOU KNEW NOT GOD YOU WERE SLAVES TO FALSE GODS, HOW CAN YOU, NOW THAT YOU HAVE LEARNT TO KNOW HIM, OR RATHER HAVE BEEN RECOGNISED BY HIM, TURN BACK TO THE LESSONS OF CHILDHOOD AND CRAVE A BONDAGE TO TIMES AND SEASONS?—The guilt of past idolatry is palliated on the score of ignorance, in the same spirit as in Acts 17:30, in order to press home the responsibility of those who have learnt to know God (γνόντες Θεόν) in Christ. There was some excuse for their former bondage to imaginary gods who had no real existence: but how can they now turn back in heart to the weak and beggarly lessons of their spiritual childhood after they have received the spirit of sonship? Instead of ruling their own lives by reason and conscience under the guidance of the Spirit like men in Christ, they are bent on subjecting themselves like children to elementary rules of formal service.

Danger of going back to the observance of the legal ceremonial. 8–11

8. Notwithstanding, is it so that you who once were idolaters and ignorant of God, yet after having been brought to the knowledge of the true God, are turning back to a system of ceremonial observances? If this be so, I fear the labour I have bestowed on you is thrown away.

The emphatic words in Galatians 4:8-9 are ‘did service’, ‘to be in bondage’. The verb is the same in the original. The tense is different. ‘Before your conversion you were in slavery—will you go back to a state of slavery? Then you served demons—will you now submit to the bondage of weak and beggarly elements?’

knew not God] Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:5 ‘The Gentiles, which know not God’. They might have known something of Him from the universe or from tradition or intuitively, but ‘they did not like to retain God in their knowledge’, Romans 1:28.

them which by nature are no gods] The order of these words, so far as the position of the negative particle is concerned, is uncertain in the original. Adopting the A.V. we explain, ‘which by nature (in reality) are not gods, but demons’. If however the negative stand earlier in the sentence, the rendering will be, ‘which are not by nature, (not really, but only by repute) gods’. If the former be retained, comp. 1 Corinthians 10:20, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.” If the latter order be adopted, we may compare 1 Corinthians 8:5, “there be that are called gods.”

Galatians 4:8. Τότε, then) when we were children [Galatians 4:1].—οὐκ εἰδότες Θεὸν, not knowing God) The very wretched state of the Gentiles.—ἐδουλεύσατε, ye did service) being under a different bondage from that of the Jews, Galatians 4:3. You worshipped gods not true with a worship not true. You had not been accustomed to the Mosaic worship; and therefore it is more a matter of wonder, that you now desire [affect] it. You attained to the truth without those elements, and now at length [for the first time] you follow them.—τοῖς μὴ φύσει οὖσι θεοῖς) So the LXX., τῷ μὴ ὄντι θεῷ, 2 Chronicles 13:9.

Verse 8. - Howbeit (ἀλλά); a strongly adversative conjunction, belonging to the whole sentence comprised in this and the next verse, which are closely welded together by the particles μὲν and δέ. In contravention of God's work of grace just described, they were renouncing their sonship and making themselves slaves afresh. Then (τότε μέν). The μέν, with its balancing δέ, here, as often is the case, unites together sentences not in their main substance strictly adverse to each other, but only in subordinate details contrasted, of which we have an exemplary instance in Romans 8:17, Κληρονόμους μὲν Θεοῦ συγκληρονόμους δὲ Ξριστοῦ. In such cases we have often no resource in English but to leave the μὲν untranslated, as our Authorized Version commonly does; "indeed" or "truly," for example, would be more or less misleading. The truth is, the apostle in these two verses is heaping reproach upon the Galatian Judaizers; first, in this verse, for their former (guilty) ignorance of God and their idolatries, and then, in the next verse, for their slighting that blessed friendship with God which they owed only to his preventing grace. In dealing with Gentile Christians the apostle repeatedly is found referring to their former heathenism, for the purpose of enforcing humility or abashing presumption, as for example in Romans 11:17-25; Romans 15:8, 9; 1 Corinthians 12:2; Ephesians 2:11-13, 17. In the case of the Galatians his indignation prompts him to use a degree of outspoken severity which he was generally disposed to forbear employing. The "then" is not defined, as English readers might perhaps misconstrue the Authorized Version as intending, by the following clause, "not knowing God," which in that version is "when ye knew not God" - a construction of the words which the use of the participle would hardly warrant; rather the time referred to by the adverb is the time of which he has before been speaking, when God's people were under the pedagogy of the Law. This, though when compared with Christ's liberty a state of bondage, was, however (the apostle feels), a position of high advancement as compared with that of heathen idolaters. These last were "far off," while the Israelites were "nigh" (compare the passages just now referred to). During that time of legal pedagogy the Galatians and their forefathers, all in the apostle's view forming one class, were wallowing in the mire of heathenism. When ye knew not God (ou)k ei)do/te Qeo/n); ye knew not God and, etc. "Knowing not God" describes the condition of heathens also in 1 Thessalonians 4:5," Not in the passion of lust, even as the Gentiles which know not (τὰ μὴ εἰδότα) God;" 2 Thessalonians 1:8, "Rendering vengeance to them that know not (τοῖς μὴ εἰδόσιν) God." Both of these passages favour the view that the apostle does not in the least intend in the present clause to excuse the idolatries which he goes on to speak of, but rather to describe a condition of godlessness which, as being positive rather than merely negative, inferred utter pravity and guiltiness. He uses οὐκ with the participle here, in place of the μὴ in the two passages cited from the Thessalonians, as intending to state an historical fact viewed absolutely - a sense which is made clear in English by substituting an indicative verb for the participle. Ye did service unto (ἐδουλεύσατε); served; devoted yourselves to. The verb is, perhaps, used here in that milder sense in which it frequently occurs; as in Matthew 6:24; Luke 15:29; Luke 16:13; Acts 20:19; Romans 7:6, 25; Romans 14:18; 1 Thessalonians 1:9. The Revised Version, however, gives "were in bondage to" in the present instance, but "serve" in the passages now cited. The aorist, instead of an imperfect, describes the form of religious life which they then led as a whole. Them which by nature are no gods (toi = fu/sei mh\ ou = si θεοῖς). The Textus Receptus has τοῖς μὴ φύσει οϋσι θεοῖς, which would apparently mean "which arc not gods by nature, but only in your imagination;" like "There be that are called gods," in 1 Corinthians 8:5 - Zeus, Apollo, Here, etc., mere figments of imagination (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:4). The more approved reading suggests rather the idea that the objects they worshipped might not be non-existent, but were certainly not of a Divine nature; "by nature," that is, in the kind of being to which they belong (Ephesians 2:3; Wisd. 13:1, μάταιοι φύσει). The question may be asked - If they were not gods, what then were they? The apostle would probably have answered, "Demons;" for thus he writes to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:20): "The things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils (δαιμονίοις), and not to God." Alford renders, "to gods which by nature exist not," etc.; but the more obvious sense of οϋσιν is that of a copula merely (comp. 2 Chronicles 13:9, Septuagint, "He became a priest (τῷ μὴ ὄντι θεῷ)"). Galatians 4:8Over against their filial freedom in Christ, Paul sets their lapse into subjection to the elements of the world (Galatians 4:3).

Knew not God

See on 2 Thessalonians 1:8.

Ye did service (ἐδουλεύσατε)

Better, were in bondage or were slaves.

By nature (φύσει)

Not denying their existence (comp. 1 Corinthians 8:5) but their deity. Emphasis on by nature. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:20.

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