13/09/20 – Galatians 4:8-14


Last time we looked at the conditions under which an heir could finally come of age and inherit his property. This heir would have been referring to the spiritual heirs of Abraham according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). These spiritual heirs would have originally been the Hebrews (Israel) but now mainly referred to the Gentiles who had been called in place of Israel (who had been rejected for a season for her unbelief – Romans 11:19-21). Galatians 4:1-3 discusses Israel as the child-heir who is under the law until the time appointed by the father. This then may be related to the Church in general, many of whom would have been the once-despised Gentiles (who, as spiritual children of Abraham, would have also needed to have been partakers of that same law to some extent in order to bring them to Christ).


While the law as schoolmaster (Galatians 3:22-26) was primarily there to bring Israel to Christ, the Gentiles (by reason of Israel’s unbelief) had also been brought under this schoolmaster (the law) to bring them to Christ. For, not one would see the need to come to Christ unless he had already seen the hopelessness of achieving God’s perfect holiness any other way, and it was the law which defined God’s holy requirements and exposed their sin and its penalty. Thus Galatians 4:1-7 ended up applying to all, both Jew and Gentile.


Now today’s passage commences by looking at the Gentiles who, for most of their lives, had not known God and had been largely ignorant of His law.


Galatians 4:8Howbeit then, when ye knew (oida) not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.


Howbeitnevertheless; notwithstanding; rather; moreover; yea; an objection; an exception.


did servicedouleuo (to be a slave or servant; serve; do service; obey; submit to; in a good sense, to yield obedience; in a bad sense, of those who become slaves to some base power, to yield to, give one’s self up to)


no godsme theos (monstrous; unnatural; abnormal; perverse)

Elsewhere Paul referred to them as devils or demons.

1 Corinthians 10:20But I [say], that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils (daimonion), and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils (daimonion).


knew (not) – oida (to know; perceive with eyes or any of the senses; notice; discern; discover; to turn your attention to anything; get knowledge; be skilled in)

This word generally signifies a simple knowledge on its own, the acknowledgement of a fact. Another word translated “to know” is ginosko which is used in Vs 9 below. ginosko generally relates to more than just a mere acknowledgement of a fact; it usually includes some idea of understanding as well. Thus some measure of application of that knowledge is implied.


Paul is focusing more on the Gentiles here. They are the ones who didn’t originally “know” God (it also being assumed that Israel should have known God). These Gentiles had served false gods because they originally didn’t know any better. Thus once upon a time they hadn’t been aware of their offence against God, but now that they knew (ginosko) God (next Vs) they should have known better.


Galatians 4:9But now, after that ye have known (ginosko) God, or rather are known (ginosko) of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?


how turn ye again – How is it that you should return (to such bondage as that which you have already left?)


weak – or “feeble”, that is, without strength, impotent.


beggarlyptochos (reduced to begging; destitute of wealth, influence, position, honour; helpless; powerless to accomplish an end)


elementsstoicheion (first principals; rudiments; elements of religious training; ceremonial requirements of worship) The basic religious rituals of worship.

We looked at this word last time in Galatians 4:3Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:


That is, how could you return to the feeble and powerless (mindless?) rudimentary rituals that you used to be in bondage to? Especially now after knowing God and being known by Him?


have known ginosko (to learn to know; come to know; get knowledge of; perceive; understand) Also translated as “are known” in this verse.

This is a different word from the one translated “knew” in Vs 8 above. This isn’t just the knowing of a fact like in trivia quizzes. It requires being able to explain how that fact applies in a certain situation.

oida (to know) would be a knowledge of the existence of God, while ginosko (to know) would mean some understanding of the character of the God who exists.


There’s another word in the NT for “to know” that refers to an even deeper or greater understanding in that knowledge. That Greek word is epignosko which could be translated as “to fully know”. There’s a verse in which both ginosko and epignosko are used, 1 Corinthians 13:12, where ginosko represents what we know now, compared with epignosko which represents the complete or full knowledge that God has of us and that we will have in the future.

1 Corinthians 13:12For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know (ginosko) in part; but then shall I know (epignosko) even as also I am known (epignosko).


epignosis (the noun form of epignosko) is used to describe the knowledge of God that certain people refuse to accept; that is, they actively reject a knowledge (understanding) or God and thus God rejects them.

Romans 1:28And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge (epignosis), God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;


While neither epignosis (noun) nor epignosko (verb) are used in Galatians, it is useful to understand that the English “to know” or “knowledge” can have a wide range of meanings in the Greek. Thus, when the Gentiles “knew not God” (oida – Vs 8 above), it means that they knew nothing at all about Him, no facts at all. They served false gods because they knew no better than that.


But in Vs 9 above, they now know (ginosko) God, not just that He exists, but something of His character, and are similarly known in return by God. They are now His children.

Their knowledge of God, like 2 Corinthians 13:12, is still in part; it is ginosko, but not yet the full knowledge that epignosko would indicate.


Note the use of epignosis (translated “the knowledge”) in the following which was written to Christians.

2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and [in] the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him [be] glory both now and for ever.


The difference between epignosis and gnosis can be seen in how we differentiate between “epicentre” and “centre”.

For example, “centre” = the middle point of a circle, the main point of an argument. “epicentre” = the point on the earth’s surface directly above the focus of an earthquake. It also means “the absolute centre” as opposed to just “the centre”.


The Galatians were clearly no longer at that level of understanding about God which the gospel should have brought them to. Something had caused them to revert back to rituals which had been based upon no knowledge of God, which is why Paul is endeavouring to bring them back to the biblical gospel alone and away from any idea of salvation through the works of the law.


It’s hard for many people to accept that our salvation is not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). It feels too easy; there must be more to it than that, they reason. Such people often feel more comfortable doing something that they can point to and say, “Here is the evidence of my salvation. Here is what I’ve done to earn it.” They probably don’t really mean that they are saved by works, but those same works reassure them that they are saved. Without those works, many people feel as if it’s just too simple, too easy. “What’s the catch?” they ask. “What if I get to the judgment and find out that I needed to do something and I haven’t done it?” We can tend to think that if it’s so easy, then maybe we’ve missed out on something, perhaps something important or necessary. And so we look to serve God in a way that will make us feel more deserving of our salvation. This is especially true of people who have been brought up with “if any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)


It’s also why so many people (even non-Christians) do good works for others (such as volunteer work); it makes them feel more deserving of their supposed “salvation”. Calvinists teach that we cannot do good things unless we have been quickened by the Spirit, yet many clearly unsaved people still do good works for others, often more so than many Christians!


Galatians 4:10Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.


observeparatereo (to stand beside and watch; watch assiduously; observe carefully; keep requirements scrupulously; to neglect nothing requisite to the religious observance of)

In other words, they serve with scrupulous religious fervour. If they miss out on one requirement, what might that do to their options for the future? Or maybe not doing as much as possible might demonstrate that one is not actually saved? Such people can often feel that if they cannot keep up with their strict work ethic or regime, then they have to consider the possibility that they may not have been saved in the first place. Doubts and fears plague them. They are like the JWs who must assiduously do every possible outreach or else someone else might get in ahead of them.


days – such as the Day of Atonement and other special religious days. It would also refer to their weekly sabbath; just note how many rules orthodox Jews obey even today with regard to their sabbath.

Romans 14:5-65One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day [alike]. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6He that regardeth the day, regardeth [it] unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard [it]. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.

Colossians 2:16-1716Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: 17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.


monthsmen (can mean a month but more specifically the time of the new moon; the first day of each month, when the new moon appeared was a festival among the Hebrews)

Thus it referred not only to the duration of a month, but also the festivals and special times of worship. Not one could be missed out, for possibly God might not look as favourably upon those who were a little lax in their service. Many religions are like this, from having to visit certain holy shrines to pilgrimages to certain cities and so on. They have to cross every “t” and dot every “i”, as the saying goes.


timeskairos (due measure; measure of time; a fixed and definite time when things come to an end or fulfilment; opportune or seasonable time; the right time; the events of time)

Thus religious “seasons” or “events” such as the Passover and Pentecost.


years – Certain years would bring certain celebrations and remembrances. Every 7 years was a sabbath year, and every 50th year was a Jubilee year (when all property would return to the original owner and Hebrew slaves and prisoners would be set free. (Leviticus 25:8-17) Today many orthodox Jews still carry out much of these religious exercises, particularly as the Babylonian Talmud interpreted them. (Their rules of worship that they brought back from captivity in Babylon dictated how they obeyed the Mosaic law.) In Jesus’ day it was the domain of the pharisees to interpret and lay down these religious laws that had to be kept in order to serve God properly. (Note Matthew 15:1-9)


1 Chronicles 23:31And to offer all burnt sacrifices unto the Lord in the sabbaths, in the new moons, and on the set feasts, by number, according to the order commanded unto them, continually before the Lord:

2 Chronicles 8:13Even after a certain rate every day, offering according to the commandment of Moses, on the sabbaths, and on the new moons, and on the solemn feasts, three times in the year, [even] in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles.


This is still largely to do with the Gentiles regarding their previous false-god worship, but could also have applied equally well to the Jews who interpreted most of their daily living exercises according to the religious law of the pharisees.

Luke 18:11-1211The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.


Galatians 4:11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.


afraidphobeo (fear; be afraid; struck with fear; seized with alarm; put to flight; flee)

We get our word “phobia” from this Greek term.


have bestowed …. labourkopiao (grow weary; exhausted with toil, burdens or grief; labour with wearisome effort)


in vaineike (in vain; without just cause; without success; without effort)


“I am very much afraid that I might have wasted my efforts in my labours on your behalf. Your return to such bondage makes a mockery of my labour to bring the gospel to you.” Or, “I have fears that after all my labour for you, you end up in bondage as you were before my efforts, so what was the point of it all?”


Was it a fruitless effort of Paul’s? Was his preaching of the gospel to the Galatians a waste of time and effort? If they went back to the bondage of religious ritual, then what was the point of all his labours?

1 Thessalonians 3:5For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.


Paul earlier on had shown concern that interference by legalistic Jews might have ruined his preaching of the gospel.

Galatians 2:2And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.


However, we are assured that the faithful preaching of the word of God will achieve the purpose which God has ordained for it.

Isaiah 55:11So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper [in the thing] whereto I sent it.


Galatians 4:12Brethren, I beseech you, be as I [am]; for I [am] as ye [are]: ye have not injured me at all.


have (not) injuredadikeo (to act unjustly, wickedly; to sin; be a criminal; to have violated the laws in some way; do wrong; do hurt; damage; harm; to wrong someone or act wickedly toward him)


Here Paul seems to be trying to convince them that in spite of him being such a strict Jew, when it came to the gospel he was in the same boat as them, even the Gentiles.

“I plead with you, be as I am, for I am in the same situation as you. I was once a strict pure orthodox Jew and yet I have forsaken all my inheritance (of righteousness and holiness) as a pharisee and have embraced the gospel the same way as any of you Gentiles have done so (originally).”

This in spite of the fact that Paul could claim to be one of the purest and religious Jews living at that time. He had given all this up for the sake of the gospel.

Philippians 3:2-72Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. 3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. 4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

It could also relate to Paul telling them to be like him in giving up their past for the sake of the gospel just as he has done so.


“In any case, brethren, you have done me no wrong. You have not offended me.” In this it seems that Paul is trying to defuse the situation by putting aside any possible personal reasons for any conflict or difference of opinion concerning what he has been saying to them. It is possible that this then leads into the next verses where Paul then writes some more encouraging words concerning their attitude toward him when he first preached the gospel to them.


Galatians 4:13Ye know (oida) how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.


infirmityastheneia (want of strength; weakness; infirmity; of the body or of the soul)


preached the gospeleuaggelizo. That is, Paul evangelised them.


at the firstproteron (before, prior, relating to time; former)

It is the comparative form of pro (before), that is, it is comparing “before” to “now”. Thus “before this time” or “on the former occasion” or “when I saw you before this time”. Paul apparently visited Galatia on two separate occasions, as per Acts 16:6 & 18:23.


What infirmity is he talking about? We don’t know. Some say it was referring to the thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) but this isn’t certain. All we know is that Paul is claiming a weakness of the flesh. It could have been simply that Paul was not a forceful speaker (see 1 Corinthians 2:3-5), or that he had a physical weakness (which is given as a possible reason for Luke, a physician, travelling with him). Some suggest that his weakness was having poor eyesight.

It is possible, though not certain, that Paul may not have always had this particular infirmity alluded to here.


Paul is emphasising that the gospel that was preached did not weaken its power, noting what he said to the Romans in Romans 1:16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

It does not require powerful oratory nor enthusiastic delivery to preach the gospel effectively. It is not the delivery that saves but that which is delivered.

(Note: “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek “en” (in) “theos” (God).)


Galatians 4:14And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, [even] as Christ Jesus.


temptationpeirasmos (experiment; attempt; trial; a proving; enticement to sin; adversity; affliction; trouble; trial of one’s faith)

It doesn’t necessarily mean being tempted to sin. It can mean a trial of faith. It is translated “temptation” in Revelation 3:10Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation (peirasmos), which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.

and also in 1 Corinthians 10:13There hath no temptation (peirasmos) taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted (peirazo) above that ye are able; but will with the temptation (peirasmos) also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].


Some say that Galatians 4:14 above should read “your temptation (or trial)”, that is, the Galatians were the ones troubled here, not Paul. Others say that this trial was what Paul experienced (as per the “thorn in the flesh” – 2 Corinthians 12:7) and that he experienced this on his first visit to Galatia, based on Galatians 4:13 above.

I will assume that this “temptation” (or trial) is Paul’s, as it does appear to be more consistent with other biblical passages, but it is not necessarily the thorn in the flesh mentioned (though possible).


receiveddechomai (take with the hand; take hold of; receive; receive or grant access to a visitor; receive hospitality; receive favourably and not reject; endure)


an angelaggelos (angel; messenger; one who is sent)

It is interesting that this is one place where “messenger” would have been more appropriate, while in 2 Corinthians 12:7 it should have been translated “angel”. (And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger (aggelos) of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.)


aggelos (angel) is not reserved only for God’s angels, either, but also includes those angels who followed satan into sin.

2 Peter 2:4For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast [them] down to hell, and delivered [them] into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;


Jesus called demons the angels of the devil.

Matthew 25:41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (aggelos):


aggelos is the Greek word for “messenger”; thus angels are literally “messengers”.

aggelos is used in the NT 186 times (angel/angels 179; messenger/messengers 7 times)

John the Baptist was called a messenger (aggelos).

Mark 1:2As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger (aggelos) before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.


There is another word in the NT translated twice as “messenger/s” (Philippians 2:25; 2 Corinthians 8:23): it is “apostolos” (from which we get the word “apostle”), or “one who is sent with orders”.


Therefore, while it might have been more appropriate to have had “messenger” in Galatians 4:14, in the Greek aggelos literally means “messenger” anyway. But therefore why not just name angels as “messengers”. Why use the Greek word rather than translating it as “messenger” in all cases? So if Paul is “an angel”, why is John the Baptist a “messenger”?


It is possible that this temptation or trial of Paul’s related to his statement (“thorn in the flesh”) in 2 Corinthians 12:7, and that this trial had some measure of physical manifestation (which may have been evident while he was first preaching the gospel to the Galatians). However, it is also possible that this trial was simply Paul’s acknowledgment of his unimposing physical appearance and perhaps a lack of oratory skills, and that it was in God’s power and not his own that he preached.

2 Corinthians 10:10For [his] letters, say they, [are] weighty and powerful; but [his] bodily presence [is] weak, and [his] speech contemptible.


After all, Paul did make it very clear that it was the preaching of the gospel that had power and that any weakness of preaching would not take away that power from the gospel.

1 Corinthians 2:3-53And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4And my speech and my preaching [was] not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: 5That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.


Religious fervour may well be the consequence of our salvation, but it can never be the cause of our salvation. We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we work, yet once we have called upon the name of the Lord to be saved, it is our works which will demonstrate the truth of (justify) our salvation. (James 2:17)


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