But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Galatians 4:4-7)
When St. Paul wrote his epistles, he refers to Jesus as God’s son, and also refers to us Christians as “sons.” For our modern sensitivities and for the sake of political correctness, we might prefer to refer to Jesus as God’s child and to believers as God’s children so that women and daughters do not feel left out of the Church by the patriarchal language Paul uses. Yet the differences in our modern understanding and that of St. Paul about sons and daughters can also help us better understand the exact point Paul is trying to make.
St Paul is not making a point that women/daughters are less valued that males/sons, for it is this same St Paul who stresses in this same letter that in Christ “there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And our Lord Jesus Himself said, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30). Angels have no gender, and Christ seems to imply that in heaven, in the resurrection, gender no longer matters – an ideal which monasticism tried to live out in its celibacy, its desire to live the angelic life in the flesh, and in the stories of the women saints who strove to live as men.
What St Paul is doing with his emphasis on sonship is to take the assumed values of his time to show that the rights and privileges of the son are being extended to all believers. Sons, in the world that he knew, “sons” had special rights and privileges when it came to inheritance, that daughters did not have. He is saying the values of the Kingdom of God are different from the values of the world, because in the Kingdom, all those who believe are adopted with the same rights as a son has – all will receive their full inheritance in the Kingdom.
So though our cultural understanding of inheritance is different than his, and we think of sons and daughters both having rights of inheritance, in Paul’s world this was not the case. He knows what the rights and privileges of a son are in his world and he is making the clear connect that Jesus is the first-born son of the Father with all the rights and privileges that comes with that position, and we each and all, male and female, have been adopted by God with the full rights of sons of the Father.
In the ancient world, there were clear differences regarding inheritance for sons, daughters and slaves. St. Paul’s exact point is that within that understanding of inheritance, we are being adopted as sons with all the rights of inheritance of sons. We are not being adopted either as daughters or as slaves with the diminished rights they would have had in Paul’s world.
We can call to mind the parable Jesus tells of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) who wishes to return to his father’s house with nothing more than the status of a servant. The Prodigal knows he is not a son. He has not behaved like a son but disowned his father by claiming his inheritance before his father had died. However in the parable, his father welcomes him as a son (my son who was dead is alive!). The father treats the prodigal as a son, not a captured runaway slave. And this is made even more notable by the reaction of the older brother who wants nothing to do with his prodigal brother. The father claims the prodigal as a son, but the elder brother rejects him as a brother, though recognizing his brother is the son of his father [“this son of yours” (Luke 15:30)]. What the elder brother is not willing to accept is that his brother has any filial right of inheritance left. Note the Prodigal son demanded his inheritance as if the father was dead, but the father welcomes the son back as if the son had been dead! The Father shows how a son is treated and welcomed. This is what it is to be called God’s sons, even if adopted. This is Paul’s point in saying we are adopted as sons (and not as daughters of his day, who had few rights of inheritance). I think St Paul is trying to make this point clearly, he is not commenting on whether treating daughters and sons differently is proper or correct, he is noting clearly that all believers have the same rights as the sons of his culture had.
“As many of us as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” – this is quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:27, the same epistle that he speaks about us as being God’s “sons”. As many as – all of us, females and males have put on the Son of God in order to receive all the rights and blessings of inheritance of sons as understood by Paul’s culture, and also to be treated every bit as good as the Prodigal son was treated by his loving and merciful father. We sing those words at every baptism and at every feast which was a traditional baptismal feast (such as Christmas and Pascha). We sing the same words for males and females because all put on Christ, all put on Christ’s sonship. If we adopted the language of our modern times and said “children” instead of sons, we might miss the very point Paul is trying to make – we received our sonship from and through Christ the only-begotten son of the Father. We will be received by God, all of us, male and female and even prodigals, with the full rights of sons. The values of the Kingdom are not the values of this world.
Again we only have to think about the parable of the workers hired at various hours by the master of the house (Matthew 20:1-13). In the Kingdom, the last are first and all get the same wages, all inherit the full blessings of God, no matter when in their lives they agreed to serve the master. This is the Kingdom’s fairness. This is the master’s hospitality and generosity. This is what Paul wants to emphasize in his epistle.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
Christ prepares for us, male and female, all things which belong to the children of God. Our inheritance is the eternal abundance of the Kingdom. We don’t receive the blessedness of the Kingdom because we are sons (male), nor do we receive the blessings as sons (males). Rather, whether male or female, we each and all receive all the blessings the biblical culture sometimes limited to the son. The Son’s blessings are ours as well.