“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
Paul develops and interweaves here two themes that he has set forth, the metaphor of the pedagogue and the Galatians’ memory of their baptism. He conjoins them through the slave-freeman antinomy of the baptismal formula by insisting that the child is alike in status to the slave. Further, the childhood image, which has until now only been used to explain the status of the Law, given 430 years after the promise and only temporary, is now used analogously to explain the situation of the Galatians under paganism. We, all of us, I as a Jew and you as pagans, we were all under the elemental spirits of the universe: You under the pagan gods and I under the Law. I wonder if Paul is thinking here of the verse in Deuteronomy 4:19, which seemingly ordains the stars as the proper worship of “The Nations.” Thielman has, once more, made an attractive and simple alternative suggestion. He argues philologically that τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου, “the elements of the world,” simply means the world itself, and the reason that Paul uses this “roundabout” term is that στοιχεῖα is also used metaphorically for the “elements” as that which a child learns first in school, thus effectively continuing Paul's figure of a child's education and maturity (1989, 82). But when we had grown up, then God the Father sent forth his son to redeem us born under the Law, that we—and you as well—might receive adoption as sons. Because you are also sons, at the baptismal ceremony God sent his spirit into our hearts, and we all cried out “Abba! Father!”
The explicit citation of the Aramaic usage alludes, I think, to two things: Jesus’ own crying out of “Abba” to God and the traditionary prePauline liturgy of the baptism. Therefore, through God, you (and we) have been recognized as a son, by entering into the spiritual body of the Son, and therefore no longer a slave but an heir. (See also Schweizer, in the TDNT VIII 391–92 and 399.) Paul's figure for the condition of Israel under the Law demonstrates beyond doubt, I think, that he does not hold the Law to be demonic or evil, or the commitment to keeping the Law to be contemnable in the way that the variations of the “Lutheran” interpretation would have it. This “slavery” is the benevolent and beneficial slavery of the child. It is for his own good. Only a fool, however—You foolish Galatians—would prefer to remain in such a state and not grow up into the status of heir. In an unpublished paper, David Henkin has analyzed this text brilliantly:
Significantly, the elevation of the Christian to the status of son is not an adoption in the ordinary sense of a superimposition of a natural title on someone who has no natural claim to the title. As the metaphor of the custodian (the paidagog;aaos) in the preceding verses implies, the apocalyptic moment is one in which sons (who were always by nature sons, though their contingent historical position obscured this fact) are recognized and redeemed by their rightful father. The reshuffling of the lines of genealogy is presented here as an act of restoration. The historical signifiers that Jewish law prescribed to represent a kind of paternal bond with God are peeled away and sons are recognized by their father by virtue of their faith, which is to say by virtue of the capacity to recognize him as their father. (Henkin 1991)
This, I think, provides the perfect summation of Paul's theology of Judaism and the Jews. They and their Law had literal value at a certain point in human history, in the childhood of humanity. However, now that maturity has come in the guise of the coming of Christ, his crucifixion, and his rising from the dead, the value of the signifier has been superseded. There is no more role for Israel as such in its concrete sense—except always for the promise of Romans 9–11 that in the end it will not be abandoned but redeemed by coming to faith in Christ. At stake is not Paul's love for Jews. I take very seriously his anguish in the beginning of Romans 9 over his brothers in the flesh. This very anguish, however, is precisely what signifies that as Jews—that is, as the historically understood concrete community of the flesh—Israel has no more role to play in history. A true parable may help make the point clearer. A Jewish friend of my family's was in the business of importing equipment for chicken farmers. As such, among his major customers were Anabaptists in Pennsylvania, with whom he became very friendly over a number of years. At one point, at a meal, the wife of his customer became distraught and began to cry. When asked why she was crying, she answered: Because Sidney is such a lovely person, and he is going to go to hell. I have no doubt that her love for Sidney was real—and specific, not merely abstract love for all human beings—just as was Paul's for his Jewish relatives. Nevertheless, it would be hard to claim that this woman valued Sidney, as a Jew, and this is my point about Paul. If the only value and promise afforded the Jews, even in Romans 11, is that in the end they will see the error of their ways, one cannot claim that there is a role for Jewish existence in Paul. It has been transcended by that which was its spiritual, allegorical referent always and forever: faith in Jesus Christ and the community of the faithful in which there is no Jew or Greek.
On my reading, then, it is totally inappropriate to think of Paul's thought as anti-Semitic, or even as anti-Judaic (except for perhaps the occasional outbursts of temper and frustration in 1 Thessalonians 2:14 [if genuine] and Philippians 3). Paul loves his relatives according to the flesh, anguishes over them, and is convinced that in the end they will be saved. This salvation, however, is precisely for those Jews a bitter gospel not a sweet one, because it is conditional precisely on abandoning that to which we hold so dearly, our separate cultural, religious identity, our own fleshy and historical practice, our existence according to the flesh, our Law, our difference. Paul has simply allegorized our difference quite out of existence.