What does Galatians 4:3 mean?
ESV: In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
NIV: So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world.
NASB: So we too, when we were children, were held in bondage under the elementary principles of the world.
CSB: In the same way we also, when we were children, were in slavery under the elements of the world.
NLT: And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.
KJV: Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
Verse Commentary:
Paul is making another point in his case that faith in Christ is all that is required to be right with God—to be "justified." He has described a common scenario in Greek family life. The child of a wealthy family continues to live like a slave, under the authority of guardians and managers, until the day arrives when he is old enough to receive his portion of the inheritance.

Now Paul continues that all of us have lived under a similar condition. Though the Jewish people are heirs to the promises of Abraham by birth, and Christians are heirs by faith in Christ, all of us lived as slaves to "the elementary principles of the world" until Christ came. What are the elementary principles of the world? They include, at least, sin and death.

Paul said in Galatians 3:22 that all of us, Israelites under the law and Gentiles without Christ, were imprisoned under sin. We could not escape our own sinfulness. We were slaves to sin. This included all those who lived under the law of Moses. In fact, they were likely even more aware of their own sinfulness and their inability to escape it.

The law provided guidance, protection, and discipline for Israel, but it could not set anyone free from slavery to sin. That would not happen until the date set by God the Father to send Christ and, with Him, freedom.
Verse Context:
Galatians 4:1–7 paints the picture of the heir of a wealthy son, who remains without freedom himself until he actually receives his inheritance. This corresponds to the customs of the time, when even wealthy children lived under the control of teachers and guardians. Paul insists that the crucial day has already come for all who trust in Christ. We are no longer under the supervision of the law of Moses. Christ has bought us out of slavery and into God's family. In Him, Christians are adopted as full children—we are God's heirs. We are given the Holy Spirit, making it possible to call Him our ''Abba,'' meaning ''Father.''
Chapter Summary:
In this chapter, Paul uses three new methods to teach his Galatian readers an important lesson. It is futile to follow the law of Moses in order to be made right before God, since justification comes only by faith in Christ. First, Paul shows that the arrival of Christ made it possible for all people to become God's children through faith in Him. Next, Paul makes a more personal appeal, asking what has changed to cause the Galatians to turn on Paul's teaching of the gospel. Finally, Paul builds an allegory from Scripture, illustrating the difference between being born into slavery and being born into the promise by faith in Christ.
Chapter Context:
Galatians 3 ends with Paul stating, once more, that those who are in Christ are Abraham's offspring, just as He is, making us heirs along with Him. Galatians 4 continues that idea, showing how Christ's arrival signaled the moment all people could receive the inheritance with Him and be adopted as God's children. Paul makes his appeal personal, asking why the Galatians moved from blessing him to rejecting the message of Christ. The chapter ends with Paul's allegory about the difference between being born into slavery under the law and being born into freedom by the power of the Spirit through faith in Christ. Chapter 5 will continue by expanding on the freedom we have in Christ.
Book Summary:
Galatians is sometimes called “a short Romans” for its similar themes of justification and sanctification through faith. A group of Christians known as “Judaizers” were preaching a gospel of legalism, rather than grace. Paul’s main purpose in writing the letter to the Galatians was to reiterate the true nature of the gospel: we are justified (made righteous) and sanctified (made more Christlike) through our faith in Jesus Christ alone. This letter was probably written shortly before the church elders in Jerusalem issued their official refutation of the Judaizers, commonly called the Jerusalem Council.
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