on Galatians 4 :8
When ye knew not God - Though it is evident, from the complexion of the whole of this epistle, that the great body of the Christians in the Churches of Galatia were converts from among the Jews or proselytes to Judaism; yet from this verse it appears that there were some who had been converted from heathenism; unless we suppose that the apostle here particularly addresses those who had been proselytes to Judaism and thence converted to Christianity; which appears to be most likely from the following verses.
on Galatians 4 :8
Howbeit - But, ἀλλὰ alla. The address in this verse and the following is evidently to the portion of the Galatians who had been pagan. This is probably indicated by the particle ἀλλὰ alla, but denoting a transition. In the previous verses Paul had evidently had the Jewish converts more particularly in his eye, and had described their former condition as one of servitude to the Mosaic rites and customs, and had shown the inconveniences of that condition, compared with the freedom imparted by the gospel. To complete the description, he refers also to the Gentiles, as a condition of worse servitude still, and shows Galatians 4:9 the absurdity of their turning back to a state of bondage of any kind, after the glorious deliverance which they had obtained from the degrading servitude of pagan rites. The sense is, "If the Jews were in such a state of servitude, how much more galling and severe was that of those who had been pagans. Yet fron that servitude the gospel had delivered them, and made them freemen. How absurd now to go back to a state of vassalage, and to become servants under the oppressive rites of the Jewish law!"
When ye knew not God - In your state of paganism, when you had no knowledge of the true God and of his service. The object is not to apologize for what they did, because they did not know God; it is to state the fact that they were in a state of gross and galling servitude.
Ye did service - This does not express the force of the original. The meaning is, "Ye were "slaves" to (ἐδουλεύσατε edouleusate); you were in a condition of servitude, as opposed to the freedom of the gospel;" compare Galatians 4:3, where the same word is used to describe the state of the Jews. The drift of the apostle is, to show that the Jews and Gentiles, before their conversion to Christianity, were in a state of vassalage or servitude, and that it was absurd in the highest degree to return to that condition again.
Unto them which by nature are no gods - Idols, or false gods. The expression "by nature," φύσει phusei, according to Grotius, means, "in fact, re ipsa." The sense is, that they really had no pretensions to divinity. Many of them were imaginary beings; many were the objects of creation, as the sun, and winds, and streams; and many were departed heroes that had been exalted to be objects of worship. Yet the servitude was real. It fettered their faculties; controlled their powers; bound their imagination, and commanded their time and property, and made them slaves. Idolatry is always slavery; and the servitude of sinners to their passions and appetites, to lust and gold, and ambition, is not less galling and severe than was the servitude to the pagan gods or the Jewish rites, or than is the servitude of the African now to a harsh and cruel master. Of all Christians it may be said that before their conversion they "did service," or were slaves to harsh and cruel masters; and nothing but the gospel has made them free. It may be added, that the chains of idolatry all over the world are as fast riveted and as galling as they were in Galatia, and that nothing but the same gospel which Paul preached there can break those chains and restore man to freedom.
on Galatians 4 :8
4:8 Indeed then when ye knew not God, ye served them that by nature - That is, in reality. Are no gods - And so were under a far worse bondage than even that of the Jews. For they did serve the true God, though in a low, slavish manner.