TODAY’S READING: GALATIANS 4-6
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5.1)
“For freedom Christ has set us free.”
Basically every English translation is translated this way. The word for is used to indicate purpose of the intended goal. Therefore, this statement is telling us the reason Jesus set us free. Translated this way, Paul is telling us why Jesus set us free. He set us free to be free for freedom.
But, is this what Paul said?
I don’t think so.
The word “for” is not in the Greek. It has been assumed by the translators because the Greek word for freedom, eleutheros, is in the dative case. The dative case can indicated a couple of different ways for nouns to be used.
On the one hand, the dative case can indicate the noun is the indirect object in the sentence. Christ set us free “to freedom.” This is how almost all the English translations interpret the dative case in this verse, probably because this use of the dative case is the most common. This translation stresses why Christ set us free.
On the other hand, the dative case can indicate the means by which something happens. In this case, the translation would be, “Christ has set us free by the free.” I included “the” before free because the Greek word for the is present in the original. This translation stresses how Christ us free.
So, which is it?
We only need to look at what Paul wrote in Galatians 4.21-4.31 to know which is correct.
In this passage, Paul allegorically interprets a portion of the law. Paul takes the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar along with their sons Isaac and Ishmael and gives it a meaning regarding the two covenants – the one of Moses and the other a new covenant.
On the hand, we have Hagar who is a slave woman. Hagar represents Mt. Sinai, the Mosaic covenant, the law. She bore a son, Ishmael, according to the flesh. Because she was a slave, her son came by slavery and therefore her son was a slave as well. So we see Paul lumping the words Sinai, law, flesh, and slave together. This is one way we can become a son. But, one who becomes a son this way should be cast out and receive no inheritance.
On the other hand, we have Sarah who is a free woman. Sarah represents the Jerusalem above, the new covenant, those that are free. She bore a son, Isaac, according to promise, or the Spirit. Because she was free, her son came by the free and therefore her son was free as well. So, we see Paul lumping together the words Jerusalem above, free, spirit, and promise. This is another way to become a son. One who becomes a son this way is a son of promise and allowed to receive the inheritance.
Paul concludes the argument by saying, “So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4.31) In other words, we can become children in one of two ways – by the slave woman or by the free woman. Paul is telling us how we become children that are cast out or children that can inherit.
Further, we should note the word translated “free woman” or “free” in Galatians 4.22, 23, 26, 30, and 31. It is the Greek word eleutheros, the same exact word used in Galatians 5.1. In the Greek, four of the five times in Galatians 4.21-31 it is ho eleutheros, or the free woman. And, this is just what Paul says in Galatians 5.1. Therefore, in Galatians 5.1, it seems clear that Paul is not talking freedom but the free woman.
Finally, the Greek word translated “set free” is in the aorist tense and indicative mood. This is typically translated as the past tense in English.
Therefore, what Paul said is, “Christ freed us by the free woman.” The free woman represents the new covenant, the promise. The free woman is most definitely not the law. Therefore, Christ freed us, not by the law, but by promise, by the Jerusalem above, by the Spirit, by grace.
That Paul is saying how Christ freed us would be more easily understood if the second half of Galatians 5.1 was better translated. The most common English translation gives two commands – stand and do not submit. In English, these two commands are in the active voice, meaning that we are doing the actions of standing and not submitting.
However, in the Greek, the command to stand is in the active voice but the command do not submit is in the passive voice. This means that we to actively do the command to stand but the the command to not submit is done to us.
Further, the English word submit is really not the best word to use for the Greek word Paul used. The Greek word most commonly translated submit is hypotasso. This word means to submit, to subject, to place under. Note in particular this last meaning. This is the word Paul uses when he says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5.21)
However, in Galatians 5.1, Paul uses the word enecho. which literally means to hold in or upon. Therefore, enecho means to ensnare, to entangle, or to keep a grudge. Putting this in the passive voice, Paul is saying “Do not be ensnared or entangled.” Submission is something we active do to one another, to our spouses, and to Christ. But, ensnarement and entanglement is something done to us.
How could we be ensnared or entangled that we need to avoid?
“By a yoke of slavery.” The Greek word for yoke is in the dative case just like the word for freedom above. And, just as the word “for” was not in the Greek, the word “to” is not in the Greek either. But, Paul just spent 10 verses talking about how, not why, we are children of one covenant or the other. Therefore, Paul is talking about how we can be ensnared or entangled again.
And, it is this that brings us right back to Paul’s question in Galatians 4.21. “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?”
What is Paul saying?
To those of you who wish to be under the law, you do not submit to the law to be free as you think. The law actually entangles you and puts you under a yoke of slavery that will prevent from receiving the inheritance.
Don’t you listen to the law? If you listened to the law, then you would know this. But, you can’t listen to the law literally. You have to listen to it by the Spirit and interpret it allegorically.
If you had listened to the law by the Spirit, then you would know that we receive the inheritance by the new covenant and not the old covenant of the law that we got from Mt. Sinai. We become sons of promise by the new covenant, the new Jerusalem above, the free woman.
“Christ freed us by the free woman. Therefore, stand firm and do not be ensnared again by a yoke of slavery.”
This is how Christ freed us.
Not by being born of the law, the old covenant, the slave woman.
But by being born of the Spirit, the new covenant, the free woman.
You’ll know this if you listen to the Bible allegorically and not literally.