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Read Introduction to Galatians


“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.”


Even so we,

Paul now applies the illustration of the first two verses to Christians.

when we were children [small children],

People subject to rules function like small children, who need strict boundaries to protect them from childhood mistakes. The Galatians were bound by the immaturity of legalism when they employed the regulations of the law to live the Christian life. 

were in bondage

The law enslaved those under it from Sinai to Christ. The Greek indicates that they were in a permanent state of bondage to the law.

under the elements of the world

“Elements” refers to any first thing from which others in a series take their cue. An element is a basic or fundamental principle. “Element” was used for letters of the alphabet, the building blocks for writing. The book of Colossians uses this term for those who revert to legalism (Colossians 2:8; 2:20). In Galatians 4:3,9, Paul uses this term for legalism as constituting a yoke of bondage.

We see the span of slavery by the term “elements of the world.” The Mosaic law is elementary compared to life under grace. The Mosaic law tied people to rules and regulations that kept them in slavery to the external compared to internal dynamics. People are always enamored with the external system of work. The externals of Israel’s laws had similarities to rules among Gentiles.


Life under grace has an internal dynamic.


Placing ourselves under the law as a way of life puts us into a state of bondage. It is like a Ph.D. candidate who goes back to grade school. He reverts to learning his ABCs while he knows many languages. To regress to the law after learning our rights in Christ is to relapse from liberty to legalism. This reversal is the same as going back to our childhood, spiritually speaking. The effect is like taking an adult and putting diapers on him. We spoon-feed believers if we encourage legalism.