“Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all. But now that you have come to know God (or rather to be known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?” (Galatians 4:8-9 NET).
The members of the first-century Galatian churches faced a spiritual crossroad. One direction led to a warm and loving relationship with God through faith in Christ. The other led to a works-based relationship that was predicated upon “…the same kind of weak and useless rules you followed before” (ERV). Unfortunately, it appears that the Galatians had already started down the wrong path.
That choice meant exchanging one set of spiritual regulations (the pagan observances they followed before coming to Christ) for a different set of regulations (the Mosaic Law they had started to observe under the influence of the Judaizers). So what made those rules and regulations “powerless and bankrupt” (GW)? Well, one source offers an explanation…
“Before conversion, Paul’s readers (mainly Gentiles but some Jews) ‘were slaves’ to religious traditions that, in the case of Gentiles, included counterfeit gods. Now at liberty, they were in danger of turning back to the same slavery. They might return to a system that was ‘weak’ (with no power to justify or sanctify), ‘worthless’ (providing no inheritance), and elementary (‘elemental’) …Both Jewish and Gentile converts had lived bound to worldly elemental forces until Christ released them. These forces, even today, include everything in which people place their trust apart from God: their gods to which they become slaves.” (1)
However, there is another aspect to consider. You see, much like the false teachers of first-century Galatia, there are some who seek to create a similar sense of dependency today. The difference is that one type of dependency is based upon a set of rules. The other is built upon a person or organization.
You see, some individuals and organizations teach that others cannot understand the Scriptures without the aid of their study materials. Others profess to offer Scriptural enlightenment by way of a special revelation. Or perhaps a charismatic leader may seek to establish a following by claiming to serve as the personal conduit of Biblical truth.
This makes it important to distinguish between those who teach the Scriptures and those who say that we cannot understand the Bible without their assistance. There is a considerable difference between those who seek to communicate God’s Word and those who seek to create a sense of dependency by teaching (or implying) that others cannot understand the Bible without their help.
(1) Bruce, F. F. The Epistle to the Galatians. New International Greek Testament Commentary series (pp. 202-3) Exeter, England: Paternoster Press, 1982; reprint ed., Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983 and Fung, Ronald Y. K. The Epistle to the Galatians (p. 191) quoted in Constable, Thomas. DD. “Commentary on Galatians 4:4”. “Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-4.html. 2012.