Believers No Longer in Protective Custody
Originally published May 31, 2016
The ancient Greek cultural practice of “pederasty” was the homosexual relationship between an adult male (the “erastes”) and an early-adolescent male. In the city of Athens particularly, pederasty entailed a formal bond between an adult man and an adolescent boy outside his immediate family, consisting of loving and often sexual relations. As an erotic and educational custom it was initially employed by the upper class as a means of teaching the young and conveying to them important cultural values, such as bravery and restraint.
Athenian society generally encouraged the “erastes” to pursue a boy to love, tolerating behavior such as sleeping on the stoop of the youth’s home and otherwise going to great lengths to make himself noticed. At the same time, the boy and his family were expected to put up resistance and not give in too easily, and boys who succumbed too readily were looked down upon. As a result, the quest for a “desirable boy” was fiercely competitive. (source: wikipedia – Athenian Pederasty)
Often, fathers who wished to protect their sons from such unwanted advances, as described above, would send a household slave to accompany the boy wherever he went, particularly on his way to school. These slaves were known as “pedegogos”. The word literally means a “boy leader”. The pedegogos acted as a “guardian” for the young boy, to protect him.
It is important to understand the cultural use of this word “pedegogos” in the first century, because this is the word that the apostle Paul uses in describing the relationship between Old Testament believers and the Law.
“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” ~ Galatians 3:22-25
The King James uses the word “schoolmaster”, but it is this Greek word παιδαγωγος “pedegogos”. It is better translated as “guardian”.
But before we examine that word some more, we need to take some time to clear up a reformed miss-conception about this passage. It has to do with this expression “concluded all under sin”. Traditionally this has been taught to mean that the logical conclusion of scripture’s teaching is that all are under sin. We simply need to look at the grammar to see that this is not what Paul is saying. “All under sin” is a group of people that are the focus of his argument. The word translated “concluded” is the Greek word συνκλειω (soonk-lee-oh). It is a compound word made up of the prefix “soon” meaning “together with” and the word “kleio” meaning “to shut up” or “to enclose”. It has the idea of taking something into custody for the purpose of protection.
What Paul is teaching in this passage is that in the Old Testament, the role of scripture (or Law) was to take all of those “under sin” into custody for the purpose of protecting them. (Please note, that “under sin” is not the same as “under law”.) This is important to understand, and this protection was the “atoning” aspect of the Law. Because Jesus, “the Promise”, had not yet come to end the law and its condemnation, Old Testament believers were actually protected by the law, because sin was imputed to the law and not to the believer. The law took them into protective custody.
Paul repeats this idea in the very next verse:
“…before faith came, we were kept under the law…”
The word “kept” is the Greek word φρουρεω (froo-reh-oh). It means to be a watcher in advance, or to mount a guard or a sentinel, like a guard in a watchtower. Again, the idea is one of offering protection. Notice carefully that the phrase is “kept under the law” and not kept “under law”. To be kept under the law means that it is the law that is performing the “keeping” or “protecting”. This in no way whatsoever means that believers are still “kept (remain) under law” as reformed doctrine would have us believe. It means that the Old Testament believers were protected by the law.
Why was this protection necessary? Because “the Promise” had not yet come. The law, while it did not impart righteousness, in this manner it served as a protection from condemnation. And the law’s ability to condemn would not be ended until Jesus’ crucifixion. Therefore, this protection, this “atonement” was available until that time would come. Paul makes this very point in verse 24.
“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ…”
Notice that he is NOT saying that the law leads us TO Christ. The reformed interpretation of this is that the purpose of the law is to lead us to Christ to show us how much we are in need of salvation, but that is not the case. In the context of the passage, the law WAS (past tense) a guardian (pedegogos) until the time when Christ came. “Pedegogos” is a very provocative word, knowing what we know about its meaning. Paul could have used any other word do express the idea of a guardian or protector. But he specifically chose to use “pedegogos” knowing full well that his audience would have understood the cultural implications behind it. He was obviously wanting to make a very powerful point on the matter!
But what has happened since Christ died? What happened once “the Promise” came? There is no longer any need of a guardian. Why? Because the law is ended. The law can no longer condemn. Believers are not under law, they are under grace. This is a joyous reality! But there is also a sense of foreboding as revealed by the writer of Hebrews.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin…For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” ~ Hebrews 10:16-18, 26-27
When Christ died to end the law, He also ended its atoning work. Not only are believers no longer in need of a guardian, but there IS no guardian, period. That results in fear. If one is still under law the natural response is fear which comes from the reality of condemnation. No more protection from condemnation is available. Also, the only ones who CAN sin are those still “under law”. Those under grace CANNOT sin because they have been born again, and the law is ended. (1 John 3:8-9) A guardian is not necessary because they cannot be condemned.
I think people intuitively know this. I daresay that the reason so many “christians” are in constant fear of losing their salvation (or just fear in general) is because their theology keeps them “under law”. It is the cognitive dissonance produced when they know in their hearts that the law cannot save them, and they know that it can no longer protect them. This is why a proper understanding of the role of the law is so vital to the true gospel. Any gospel that makes law the standard for righteousness is a false one.