From: Pete Williamson
When reading Paul’s letters, I’ve often found myself wondering “Wait, is the Law good or is it bad?”. Paul seems to speak in quite aggressive and negative language when talking about the Old Testament Law, yet he still seems to think of it as God’s Law.
Today’s passage in Galatians contains a concept which I’ve found immensely helpful in understanding how Paul is presenting the Law to us. It is the idea of a pedagogue. Pedagogue is translated as guardian or tutor, and can be found in Gal 3:24-25. Paul calls the Law a pedagogue.
What is a pedagogue? In Greek society, a pedagogue is a bondservant who teaches and instructs the children of a master. So, a wealthy father would command a servant to oversee the training and development of his children. Ultimately, this is an analogy for the Law which Paul employs, and as all analogies, it has its limits. However, it has a lot of descriptive power for how we ought to understand the Law. So what can we learn about the Law from this analogy?
- A good pedagogue carries out the will of the father for his children and is obedient, but is not the father. So too, the Law is perfectly subject to God’s will, but is not God.
- The purpose of a pedagogue would be to form the child into maturity within the father’s will; into a child who is in right relationship with their father. So too, the Law’s purpose is to lead God’s people into maturity and right relationship with him.
- A child would not have a pedagogue from birth, but would start a few years later. The relationship between child and father pre-exists the pedagogue. So too, the relationship between God and his people pre-exists the Law.
- When the child reaches maturity, the pedagogue’s time is done. It would be a great offense to the father if a child, once mature, preferred being under the instruction of the pedagogue than being in a direct adult relationship with their father. So too, once the cross has brought us into mature relationship with God, it is an offense to place yourself under the Law once again.
- The relationship between the child and the pedagogue is governed by obedience to rules. The relationship between the child and the father is governed by love and freedom. So too, those who live by the Law live by the letter, and those who live in the resurrection live by the spirit and in freedom and love.
So, why does Paul get such a fire in his belly when speaking about the Law? Because the Father is the source of life, and he has invited us into full intimacy with him. Yet, Paul saw many people rejecting God’s invitation and binding themselves to God’s retired bondservant who could not give life. Paul is calling on his readers to choose life!
I am one of two people in our church who is from New Zealand, was born in Southland there, married a girl from Indiana, have a son, studied theology in Boston, work in ministry, have been going through an ordination process in our diocese, have been on staff at Church of the Cross, went to the University of Otago, and have lived in Wellington.