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Returning to the Domain of the Powers: "Stoicheia" as Evil Spirits in Galatians 4:3,9

Author(s): Clinton E. Arnold


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38, Fasc. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 55-76
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RETURNING TO THE DOMAIN OF THE POWERS:


STOICHEIAAS EVIL SPIRITS IN GALATIANS 4:3,9
by

CLINTON E. ARNOLD
La Mirada, CA

The Apostle Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with an


uncharacteristicallylong greeting in which he emphasizes the work
of Christ in delivering his people from the present evil age (Gal.
1:4). Not surprisinglythen, the dangers and inadequacies of the old
aeon are highlighted throughout Galatians. Paul speaks about the
slavery that characterizeslife under Torah, flesh, and sin. In Paul's
view, the new age, however, has dawned in the revelation of Jesus
Christ and now there is the possibility of freedom if one is in Christ
living according to faith and the Spirit-key features of life under
the new covenant.
In Galatians 4:3 and 9, Paul employs the term stoicheiato provide
additional perspective on life in the old aeon. What these stoicheia
are has been a major issue in the interpretation of this passage.
Interpretershave suggested an array of possibilities which include:
the fundamental principles of all religions,' the regulations of the
Torah,2 and the domain of flesh, sin, and death.3 Some have sugF.J. Matera, Galatians(Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992) 149-50;

D.R. Bundrick, "TA STOICHEIA TOU KOSMOU (Gal. 4:3)," JETS 34 (1991)

353-64; D.R. Moore-Crispin, "Galatians 4:1-9: The Use and Abuse of


Parallels," EQ 60 (1989) 203-23; Linda Belleville, " 'Under Law': Structural
Analysis and the Pauline Concept of Law in Galatians 3.21-4.11," JSNT 26
(1986) 64-69; W. Wink, NamingthePowers(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 72; W.
Carr, Angelsand Principalities,SNTSMS 42 (Cambridge: University Press, 1981)
75-76; G. Delling, "toroXecov,"in TDNT 7.685 ("that whereon man's existence
rested before Christ even and precisely in pre-Christian religion").
2 R.N.
Longenecker, Galatians,WBC 41 (Dallas: Word, 1990) 165-66; R.Y.
Fung, TheEpistleto the Galatians,NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 181,
190.
3 P.
Vielhauer, "Gesetzesdienst und Stoicheiadienst im Galaterbrief," Rechtfer-

tigung. Festschriftfur Ernst Kdsemann zum 70. Geburtstag, Eds. J. Friedrich, W.

Pohlmann, and P. Stuhlmacher (Tubingen: Mohr, 1976) 553. Vielhauer


emphasizes that Paul chose the term because of the cosmic significance it normally
bore in reference to the four physical elements. Paul then applied it to the great
powers of the world: flesh, sin, and death which he characterized as in close
association with the law as characteristicof the old covenant. See also A.J. Band? E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1996

Novum Testamentum XXXVIII, 1

56

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

gested that they should be understood literally as the four physical


elements.4 Still others have suggested that they are personal supernatural forces. Among these are scholars who see the expression
reflecting a common Hellenistic and Jewish view that angels were
set over the four elements, the planets, and the stars; thus the
expression "elemental" spirits as in some translations.5
stra, The Law and the Elements of the World. An Exegetical Study in Aspects of Paul's

Teaching(Kampen: Kok, 1964) 57-69.


4R. DeMaris, "Element, Elemental Spirit," in ABD 2.445; D. Rusam, "Neue
Belege zu den aCTLXEia ou x6oXou," ZNW83 (1992) 119-25; E. Schweizer, "Slaves
of the Elements and Worshipersof Angels: Gal. 4:3, 9 and Col. 2:8, 18, 20,"JBL
107 (1988) 455-68 (reaffirming his previous conclusions in "Die 'Elemente der
Welt' Gal. 4, 3.9; Kol. 2, 8.20," Verborum
Veritas,FS. G. Stiihlin [Wuppertal:
Brockhaus, 1970] 245-59); F. Thielmann, From Plight to Solution,SupNovT 61
(Leiden: Brill, 1989) 80-83 ("The attested meaning of =otLXEtas the stuff of which
the world is composed suggests that the most probable meaning of its occurrence
in Galatians is simply 'the world' "). James Scott, Adoption as Sons of God, WUNT

2/48 (Tiibingen: Mohr, 1992) 159-60, says thatJ. Blinzler has shown convincingly
that the expression refers to the four physical elements, but Scott himself conseems
cludes: "neither this nor any other interpretation of the aTotxetca
to x6aopou
to satisfy the context."
5 The
interpreters who take this position come to a variety of nuanced conclusions but typically point to the background of the term in texts which illustrate its
usage in terms of spirits over the four elements, the planets, and the stars, thus
the expression, "elemental" or "elementary" spirits. Some representativesof this
position would be I.-G. Hong, TheLaw in Galatians,JSNTSS 81 (Sheffield:JSOT
Press, 1993) 165; J. Becker, Paul: Apostleto the Gentiles,tr. O.C. Dean, Jr.
(Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993; German original: Paulus. Der
Apostel der Volker[Tiibingen: Mohr, 1989]) 269-70; J. Rohde, Der Brief des Paulus

an die Galater,THKNT 9 (Berlin: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 1989) 131; C.K.


Barrett, Freedomand Obligation(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985) 39; E. Krentz,
Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, I Thessalonians, Augsburg Commentary on the New

Testament (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985) 59-60; H. Hiibner, "Paulusforschung


seit 1945. Ein kritischer Literaturbericht," ANRWII.25.4 (1987) 2691-94; C.B.
Cousar, Galatians,Interpretation(Louisville: John Knox Press, 1982) 92-93; F.F.
Bruce, TheEpistleto theGalatians,NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 204;
H.D. Betz, Galatians, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 204; E.P.
Sanders, Paul and PalestinianJudaism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977) 554-55; H.
Schlier, Der Briefan die Galater,12th ed., MeyerK 7 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1962) 190-91; P.L. Hammer, "Element (Elemental Spirit)," in IDB
(1962)

2.82;

W.

Bousset

& H.

Gressmann,

Die Religion des Judentums im

Zeitalter,HzNT 21, 3rd ed. (Tiibingen: Mohr, 1966) 323; L.E.


spathellenistischen
Scheu, Die "Weltelemente"beimApostel Paulus (Gal. 4,3.9 und Kol. 2,8.20),

Univer-

sitas Catholica Americae 37 (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1933);


W. Grundmann, Der Begriff der Kraft in der neutestamentlichenGedankenwelt,BWANT

4/8 (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1932) 48-49; M. Dibelius, Die Geisterwelt


im Glauben
des Paulus(G6ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1909) 78-85; 0. Everling, Die
PaulinischeAngelologieund Ddmonologie(G6ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1888)

66-76; et al.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4:3,9

57

I will contend that the passage is best explained if one interprets


the stoicheiaas demonic powers, equivalent to the expression "principalities and powers" in Paul's thought. This interpretation thus
finds Paul using an important apocalyptic category-precisely what
we might expect given the two-age emphasis in his letter
opening-to characterize life in the present evil age, especially life
under the Torah.6
The Issue of Date
Many do not give serious consideration to the spirit interpretation because of the alleged late date of the evidence attesting the use
of stoicheiaas angels or demons.7 True, we do not have any manuscripts or inscriptions that can be positively dated to the first century or earlier that illustrate this usage. But this does not force us
to abandon the possibility that the word was used in this sense at
that time.
We need to frame the question more in terms of whether we can
date any of the traditionsthat make use of the term stoicheiaas supernatural powers to the first century or before. To this question we
can give an overwhelming positive response. I will merely summarize here a few examples stemming from a more extensive study
of the interpretation of stoicheia.8
First, in the Greek Magical Papyri, the term stoicheiais used most
commonly in connection with the stars and/or the spirit entities, or
gods, they represent. In a related sense, stoicheiawas also used to
refer to the 36 astral decans that rule over every 10 degrees of the
6
In my opinion, the person who originally argued this case the best was Scheu
in "Weltelemente." Unfortunately, Scheu's work has seldom factored into the
discussion. Scheu concludes (p. 96): "der hl. Paulus habe in den 'Weltelementen'
bose Engelmichte,
Damonen
Trager damonischer Maichte, gottfeindliche,
gesehen, die hinter der Siinde und dem Gesetze stehen und diesen gegenwartigen
Aon (Gal. 1, 4) beherrschen." Hong, Law, 165, also concludes that the stoicheia
"represent demonicforces which dominate 'this present evil age,' " but does not
argue the case well.
7
Delling's article in TDNT ("oaotxtov," TDNT 7 [1971] 670-83) has been
highly influential in prompting many scholars to quickly dismiss the "spirit"
interpretation because of the allegedly late date of the sources. See also Vielhauer,
"Gesetzesdienst und Stoicheiadienst," 547, who stresses the post first-century
date of the sources.
8 See
Chapter 6 ("Hostile Powers: The Problem of the Stoicheia") in my forthcoming monograph titled, The Colossian Syncretism, WUNT (Tiibingen: Mohr).

58

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

heavens (PGM IV.440-41).9 Each of these astral decans could also


be represented by a magical letter.10 Given one of the common
usages of stoicheiaas letters of the alphabet, it is easy to see how this
usage could have arisen. The concept of "decans" is in the oldest
astrological handbooks. It is known in Greek inscriptions of the
third century B.C. and it was also used of astral gods in Rome
during the first century B.C. (see Manilius 4.298, 372)." These
decans could also be referred to as "angels" or "demons." Given
the scholarly consensus that most of the traditions in the magical
papyri are ancient'2 and the concept of astral decans as predating
the first century, it is quite probable that the term stoicheiawas used
of astral decans in the first century A.D. or prior.
Second, the term stoicheia appears twice in the Jewish magical
document called Testamentof Solomon.'3 Although the Testament
itself postdates the first century, it contains a patchwork of Jewish
magical traditions from much earlier. In particular, chapter 18 of
the Testament is an astrological document widely regarded to have
had an earlier independent circulation. Hans Gundel and others
have argued that the original form of this document probably dates
to the first or second century B.C.'4 The term stoicheia appears
twice in this document to refer to the 36 astral decans which it also
calls "demons."

9 For this text and other


magical documents recorded on papyrus, see H.D.
Betz, ed., The GreekMagical Papyri in Translation, Vol. 1: Text (Chicago: University
Press, 1986) for the English translations, and K. Preisendanz, Papyri Graecae
Magicae. Die GriechischenZauberpapyri,2 vols., 2nd rev. edn. by A. Heinrichs (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1973-74), for the Greek edition.
10 For a discussion of the 36-character
palindrome referring to the astral decans
that rule over every 10 degrees of the heavens, see Wilhelm Gundel, Dekane und
Dekansternbilder.Ein Beitrag zur Geschichteder Sternbilderder Kultervolker,2nd Edition
(Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1969) 27; see also pp. 68-70.
1 Gundel, Dekane, 28.
12 See, for instance; G. Luck, Arcana Mundi
(Baltimore and London: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1985) 16, 20.
13 The standard critical edition is
by C.C. McCown, The Testamentof Solomon,
zum Neuen Testament 9 (Leipzig: Heinrichs, 1922); an
Untersuchungen
English translation with an introduction and notes has been done by D.C. Duling
in volume two of The Old TestamentPseudepigrapha, ed. J.H. Charlesworth (New
York: Doubleday, 1983) 934-87.
14 Gundel, Dekane, 45, 56-57. Gundel thinks that a Greek-speaking Jewish
author took over an originally Hebrew text and transformed ('degenerated') many
of the Egyptian names for the decans into evil demons. See also D.C. Duling,
"Testament of Solomon," OTP, 1.977, note 18a.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4:3,9

59

Third, the longer recension of 2 Enoch 16:7 uses the term in succession with pneumata and angeloi: "Thus she [the sun] goes, day
and night, in accordance with the heavenly cycles, lower than all
the cycles, swifter than the heavenly winds, and spirits and
elements and flying angels, with 6 wings to each angel."'5
Although the text was written in Slavonic, it is most likely that the
Greek text standing behind this portion would have read: pneumata,
stoicheia, angeloi.16The dating of 2 Enoch is notoriously problematic.
Recent scholarship, however, is leaning toward an early date (as
early as the first century A.D.) for the original document17-thus
of the
partly confirming R.H. Charles's conclusion'8-because
in
of
the
recensions
we
the
traditions
contained
apparent antiquity
that
the
at
hand.19
C.
B6ttrich
have
currently
suggests
primitive
form of the text stood in the shadow of the more popular 1 Enoch
prior to A.D. 70 and afterward became widely used in the esoteric
circles of Jewish mysticism.20
Many additional texts could be discussed at this point,21 but this
is adequate to demonstrate my contention that there is at least a
probability that some of the traditions encapsulated in later manuscripts date to the first century A.D. and prior. The evidence is at
least sufficiently strong to warn interpreters against an a priori
dismissal of the spirit interpretation only on the basis of the date of
the evidence.
15 Translation by F.I. Anderson, "2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch," in OTP,
1.130.
16 See
Bousset-Gressmann, ReligiondesJudentums,323.
17 C. B6ttrich, Weltweisheit,Menschheitsethik,
Urkult: Studien zum slavischen
WUNT 2/50 (Tibingen: Mohr, 1992) 54, summarizes the consensus
Henochbuch,
of scholarship: "Grundlegende Bedeutung hat der Konsens der meisten Forscher,
dafi ganz allgemein von einem jiidischen Grundstock, Archetyp, Kern (oder auch
immer) des slHen gesprochen werden kann, der zeitlich dem 1. Jh. zuzuordnen
ist."

18 R.H. Charles and W.R. Morfill, The Books theSecrets Henoch


of
of
(Oxford:
Clarendon, 1896) xxvi.
19 See F.I. Andersen, "2
(Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch," OTP, 1.92-97.
Anderson sees the divergence in the two recensions as the result of transmission
in Slavonic.
20 Bottrich,
Weltweisheit,143. He argues that the text originated in Alexandria
in the first century A.D. and subsequently made its way to Palestine and Asia
Minor (see also pp. 213-15).
21
E.g. I Enoch(60:11-25; 75:1-3; 80:1, 6, 7) andJubilees(2:2, 8) clearly contain
the concept of angels set over the stars and heavenly bodies (with a Greek fragment
ofJubilees2:2 actually using the term stoicheia).A more complete discussion of these
and other texts will appear in my forthcoming monograph, TheColossianSyncretism.

60

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

The Stoicheia as Angelic Beings


In my analysis, the contextual evidence points strongly in favor
of the view that the stoicheiaare angelic beings. In Gal. 4:8, Paul
compares the stoicheiawith beings that the pagans regard as gods.
In denying that these beings are gods, Paul is not denying that they
have a real existence, only their claim to be gods.22 Paul expressed
a similar idea to the Corinthians when he noted that there are many
entities "called gods" (Xey6levoLt Oso) to whom sacrifices are made
(1 Cor. 8:5) whom he subsequently identifies as evil demons (1
Cor. 10:19-20). We may therefore suggest the following equation
that seems to reflect Paul's thinking on this matter: the aToLXEa =
"those called gods"/"those who by nature are not gods" =
0at.LOvta.

In his analogy of the child (virtog) at the beginning of Galatians


4, Paul describes the minor as subject to "guardians and trustees."
In his application of this analogy to Jewish Christians ("we"),23 he
claims that in the period of time before they came to know Christ
they were all subject to the stoicheia. His comparison of the stoicheia
with "guardians" and "trustees" can be depicted as follows:
[the child is]

U6o r7ClTpo7ou
(g Eiv

xat oixov6.Lous

[we were children] Ur6o-a otrolXta ToUxo6aou

The noted parallelism is not forced since Paul makes the application
the repetition of 6UTrand
clear with the expression oUiT0CxOa jLt-ELq,
of
both
and
the
vITLtoc,
expressions. The plural suggests that
plural
Paul is not explicitly identifying either the "guardians and
trustees" or the stoicheia with the law (in contrast to what he has
done with the Tcaltaycoy6 in 3:24-25), but he is now introducing
something new that presumably has some kind of association with
the law. In other words, Paul does not say that the child is under
oneguardian (viz. the law), but that he is under many. The personal
terms TrciponOt and otxov6oiot hint at a personal interpretation of

22

HTKNT 9 (Freiburg: Herder, 1974)


So also F. MutIner, Der Galaterbrief,

291.
23
Although the first person plural pronoun here may refer inclusively to all
Christians, the content of Gal. 4:3-5 speaks primarily to the situation of Jewish
Christians. This follows naturally in seeing 4:3-5 as a development of 3:23-25
which also had primary reference to Jewish concerns of life under Torah. See further, Dunn, Galatians,212, and Longenecker, Galatians,164.

STOICHEIA IN GAL. 4:3,9

61

stoicheia.24This reading is then confirmed by the second occurrence


of stoicheia in 4:9.
Paul also implies that the stoicheiaare masters (xuptot) since they
enslave (Gal. 4:3). Both unredeemed Jews and Gentiles stand as
slaves (`itejOa g[eouoXwxEvot) in their service.25 E. Krentz has rightly

observed that Paul represents the potential appropriation of the


Torah by the Galatians as a relapse into a condition comparable to
when they "did not know God" (4:8). This is therefore a much
more serious matter than simply reverting back to elementary
teachings; it is tantamount to allowing the former lords to reassert
their control.26
Convinced that the stoicheia are here represented as personal
beings, B. Reicke (followed by E. Percy, G. Bornkamm, et al.)
reached the conclusion that they are the angels mentioned in 3:19
who were the agents of giving the law.27 He claims that his
intepretation has the advantage of explaining the stoicheia as a
natural elaboration of a motif (the relationship of the law & angels)
already presented. He can only make this connection by further
suggesting that (1) Paul now gives the angels a negative instead of
a positive significance,28 and (2) the angels function as guardians of
the law, supervisors over its continuation.

24
G. Bornkamm, "The Heresy of Colossians," in Conflictat Colossae, eds. F.O.
Francis and W.A. Meeks, SBLSBS 4 (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1973
[reprint of 1946 edition]) 124, correctly notes: "Paul could hardly have compared

them (the axolXEta) in Gal. 4:2 with the 7iirTpotrotand o1xovAotL [guardians and

trustees] to whom minor children are subject, and designated them as puw6a 1L
EO [beings not gods by nature], whom the Galatians served, unless the latter
OvTE;S
had regarded the cnotxar
a TcoU
x6aoJouas personal, divine beings." Vielhauer,
"Gesetzesdients und Stoicheiadienst," 548, objects to this line of thinking by contending that this verse does not refer to personal beings but rather a personification of other entities. Vielhauer is correct in what he affirms but wrong in what
he denies. This verse is not decisive for the personal interpretation but needs to
be seen in the larger context of thought.
25
See Schlier, Galater, 191, and Betz, Galatians, 205.
26

27

Krentz, Galatians, 59-60.

B. Reicke, "The Law and This World According to Paul," JBL 70 (1951
[translation of 1943 edition]) 261-63; E. Percy, Die Problemeder Kolosser-und
Skrifter Utgivna av Kungl. Humanistisk Vetenskapssamfundet i
Epheserbriefe,
Lund 39 (Lund: Gleerup, 1964 [reprint of 1946 edition]) 163-66. So Bornkamm,
"Heresy," 124.
28 Reicke, "The
Law," 262, specifically says, "Paul gives the angels a negative
instead of a positive function," and "he therefore speaks contemptuously of T(
xaEOU."
aTotXat TOxo6

62

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

I would contend that Reicke is correct in viewing the stoicheiaangels in a negative light and by suggesting that these angels are
fulfilling a detrimental function in the behaviour they inspire in
relationship to the law. In my opinion, Reicke errs, however, by
identifying the referents of stoicheia with the law-giving angels of
3:19. These angels should be seen in a more positive light. The
tradition of the presence of the angels at the giving of the law (cf.
Deut. 33:2 [LXX];Josephus Ant. 15.5.3 ?136;Jub. 1:27-29) probably served to enhance the excellence, glory, and divine character of
the law.29 This was a point that was probably used by the Judaizers
to reinforce their argument about the necessity of the law.30 These
angels were not evil nor were they good angels that subsequently
went awry. Jewish tradition uniformly puts the fall of the angels
prior to the Sinai events. The angels represented by the expression
axotxitia ou6x6aoou do have an association with the law, but in a way
quite different from the function of the angels of the presence in
3:19; they are evil angels who have taken advantage of people by
exploiting the law, just as the principle of sin has used it.
Reicke's point would have carried more weight had he connected
the angels of 3:19, 4:3, and 9 with the Jewish concept of "guardian
angels" or "angels of the nations." This more general conception,
well established in Jewish thought (see Deut. 32:8-9; Dan. 10:1314, 20-21; Sir. 17:17; 1 Enoch 20:5; Jub. 15:31; Tg. Ps.-J on Gen.
11:7-8), takes into account both good and evil angels. This is the
direction that E. Percy takes Reicke's view when he says: "But
according to Jewish interpretation the angels were not only the
mediators of the law but also the guardians of the world and its
orders; as such they were for Paul the IctTporcoLand o&xov6Ltotto
whom the pre-Christian world was subject and in reality the agents
of this present age."31

L. Gaston makes this point as well, contending that the law was
administered to the Gentiles by the angels of the nations. He
argues, "The stoicheia seem to have exercised a certain positive
function in the administration of order in creation, but in a world

29
B. Martin, Christ and the Law in Paul, SupNovT 62 (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 35.
So also Longenecker, Galatians, 140.
30
So Longenecker, Galatians, 140.
31
Percy, Probleme, 165-66.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4:3,9

63

come of age their rule has come to be confining and oppressive."32


He contends, however, on the basis of Sirach 17:17 that the law was
administered directly by God himself for his people Israel. J.D.G.
Dunn takes this a step further and suggests that the law itself was
the guardian angel for Israel.33 This view contradicts the apocalyptic tradition-on which the Apostle Paul was dependent34-which
asserted that the angel Michael functioned as the guardian angel
over the nation Israel (Dan. 10:13, 21). Furthermore, the Qumran
and apocalyptic traditions had a strong concept of the ongoing
hostility of the angelic realm toward the people of God. The objective of Beliar/Mastema/Satan and his angels was to turn the people
away from God through deceiving influences. The point here is that
even though God gave the law to Israel (mediated by his angels),
even though Michael strongly contended for them as a heavenly
prince and warrior (see Daniel 10), there were still hostile angels
bent on leading Israel astray from her God.
If the judaizing opponents were appealing to the tradition of the
mediation of the law by angelic intermediaries to strengthen the
appeal of their case for Torah observance, Paul counters it in a
rhetorically powerful way. He agrees with the opponents about the
angelic mediation of the law, but he points out that there are other
angelic beings associated with the law-beings of a demonic character that belong to the present evil age! The appeal of Torah observance is thus diminished when one recognizes it as God's provision
for the old aeon that was exploited by demonic powers.
The Negative Evaluation of the Stoicheia
The stoicheiaare seen only in terms of their malevolence in Galatians 4. Nothing good is said about their influence. They are evil
demonic powers of the same category as the hostile "principalities
and powers."

32
L. Gaston, "Angels and Gentiles in Early Judaism and Paul," in Paul and
the Torah (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987 [originally published in SR 11 (1982) 65-75]) 42-43.
33
J.D.G. Dunn, "The Theology of Galatians," in Jesus, Paul and the Law
(Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990) 250.
34 On the
presence of apocalyptic themes in Galatians, see J.L. Martyn,
"Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul's Letter to the Galatians," NTS 31 (1985)
410-24.

64

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

We note first that the language of slavery abounds in the passage.


The stoicheia are initially presented as guardians who exerted an
enslaving influence (ij'sO9a sosouXcogivot;Gal. 4:3) over both Gentiles and Jews. In the analogy of the heir as a minor (v~trtoq),Paul
makes it clear that the minor is no different than a slave (4:1) until
the time set by the father arrives. Then, at the end of the section
(4:7), Paul repeats that their former status was that of slaves ("no
longer are you a slave"). Once again he uses slavery terminology
in his description of the condition of the Gentiles before they knew
who
the true God (4:8); their slavery was to their idols-beings
but
Now
Paul
is
were
not
at
demons.
fearful
that
all,
gods
really
by following the dictates of the contrary teachers in Galatia, these
Gentiles would lose their freedom and be enslaved to the stoicheiaall
over again (4:9).
J. Scott has recently suggested that the slavery terminology in the
passage is part of a "Second Exodus" motif that is central to the
passage (Gal. 4:1-7).35 The slavery terminology fits well into the
pattern of Second Exodus/redemption (4:5). Scott suggests that
v7l7tog is not a technical term for a "minor" but is a manner of
referring to Israel at the time of the Exodus (cf. Hos. 11:1), that 6
xXiTpov6oosrefers to the collective heir of the Abrahamic promise,
and that "lord of all" (xuptog 7cavtcov;4:1) refers to Israel's corporate eschatological expectation that they would one day rule the
world as heirs to the promise given to Abraham. Scott also
advances the novel thesis that the I.tCtpoxotand otxov6opot are official
titles that should be interpreted as the Egyptian taskmasters.
Ultimately, he explains "adoption" in terms of the Jewish expectation of divine adoptive sonship in the messianic time based on 2
Sam. 7:14. Although I do not think that all of the terminology of
the passage can (or needs to be) explained solely on the basis of
Second Exodus typology, he has presented a convincing case that
Exodus imagery is at least working alongside the legal metaphor.36
35 Scott,
Adoption,181-86.
36
B. Byrne (in his review of Scott's monograph inJTS 44 [1993] 288-94, esp.
292) objects to Scott's thesis by observing that in Galatians 3 Paul is not at all
interested in the Egyptianperiod of slavery, only in the period of slavery that began
with the coming of the law. Although his objection has some merit, it is possible
that Paul himself is intentionally comparing the post-Sinai period of slavery with
the Egyptian slavery. This would make his point against the law-advocating
opponents all the more powerful.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4: 3,9

65

His explanation does have the advantage of clarifying why the two
terms IrtTponot and oixov6ototappear in the plural and are linked
(this is not explained well by recourse to the "legal" analogy). The
weakness of Scott's explanation is that he has remained noncommittal on the identity of the stoicheia. As we have already noted,
they should be seen as evil angels and associated with the "guardians and trustees" (indeed, the "taskmasters"!) of v. 2 who
enslave. This is consonant with the letter to the Colossians which
also makes use of Second Exodus typology to refer to the redemption of the people of God through the cross of Jesus Christ from the
tyranny of the authority of darkness and his powers of evil (Col.
1:13-14). The "god of this age" and his angels have blinded the
minds of the unbelieving-Jew
and Gentile-to prevent them from
seeing Christ (2 Cor. 4:4).
The stoicheiaare also integrally linked to "the world" (6 x6a[los),
that is, this present evil age. In 4:3, stoicheia is qualified by the
genitive Txo x6aopou.Because Paul can separate the term stoicheia
from its genitive qualifier (see 4:9), it is likely that IOUx6aOtou is his
own description of these angelic beings and that the whole phrase
is not a fixed title or expression. By the addition of xoUx6aoLouPaul
places the stoicheia into his two-age framework and makes them a
part of what he has described earlier as "the present evil age" (6
aixv 6 eiveaxCT7tovlip6o; 1:4).37 This accentuates the demonic character of these angels who will not have a share in the age to come. It
also brings these powers into close affiliation with the other forces
of this age: especially flesh (aapS; see Gal. 5:13, 16-17, 24; 6:8) and
sin (3:22).38 Later in the letter Paul says that the result of being
identified with the cross of Christ and thus experiencing his
redemption and adoption is, "the world has been crucified to me
and I to the world" (t?oil x6oAoS irxaupoat x&yo x60acpt; 6:14).
This anticipates what Paul says later to the Colossians, "you died
with Christ to the elemental spirits (stoicheia)" (Col. 2:20). The
x6oapoSis not solely the sphere of human activity, but is simultaneously the sphere of demonic activity which wields a powerful and
compelling influence on human behavior. This is most powerfully
illustrated by the term, xooCoxpXTop?g,used of evil spiritual
"powers" in Eph. 6:12 (cf. also Eph. 2:2).
37 See also Scheu, "Weltelemente," 81-83.
38

See also Hong, Law, 166.

66

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

These confluent concepts of slavery, demonic overlords, flesh,


and the influence of the present evil age are developed in different
terms in Ephesians 2:1-3. Although the term "slavery" is not used
in that context, the author uses the word "dead" (vexp6o) to describe the condition of the Jewish and Gentile readers of the letter
prior to their redemption by Christ. Their lives were influenced
x6aOou TOUTou)
and
deeply by the present evil age (xoacaTO'vaoiva TOUthe flesh (av?atparp71iJLv
Fur/p
xCOTev TaTx t7CUiLtouat
TJlq a0pxoq tlv).
thermore, their condition of being "dead" also resulted from being
under the control of evil angels (ept?exnilaTiaaTe ... xacxa T6v &pXovrx
ToU vuv V?pyOUVTOg
-v ToTso
utots
XTiSloua(oia TOUa&pog, 'rO 7rveUpotLTOg

tS &ga7t0e9Oeia).
Certainly one needs to proceed with caution in allowlater
theological developments to help interpret earlier
ing
theological constructions. It is significant, however, that the plight
of the unredeemed is described by the same conceptual framework
in Galatians and in Ephesians. The major difference is the lack of
emphasis on the problem of being under the law in Ephesians, but
this can be explained by the completely different polemical setting
(i.e. there are no Judaizers in view in Ephesians).
The negative portrayal of the stoicheia is continued in Galatians
4:9 with their characterization as "weak" (9aOevil) and "poor"
H.D. Betz contends that these expressions come from the
(Trxcox&).
context of demonology.39 He points especially to Plutarch where
there are many discussions about why the demons are inferior to
the gods (see Plut. De Is. et Os. 373D; 393F). It is possible that Paul
is reflecting some of the language of contemporary discussions
about the relative power of gods and demons, but Paul certainly has
his own reasons for highlighting the weakness and poverty of the
stoicheia. This would include an understanding from his Jewish
background that the gods of this age are empty and worthless (see
Deut. 4:28; Ps. 115:4-8; Isa. 44:9-20; Wis. 15:15-19; Bar. 6:3-72,
see, for example, v. 17 [LXX = v. 15]: "For just as one's dish is
when it is broken, so are the gods of the heathen,
useless [&aXpeov]
when they have been set up in the temples. ").40 We know that Paul
can also speak of idols as demons (1 Cor. 10:20). Thus, I would
conclude with Bruce that the phrase "weak and beggarly" further

39 Betz, Galatians, 216, n. 32.


40
See U. Borse, Der Brief an die Galater, RNT (Regensburg:

Pustet, 1984) 146.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL. 4:3,9

67

"suggests that the a-olXetoc are demonic forces which hold in thrall
the minds of men and women who follow their dictates."41
Part of the deception of the demonic stoicheiawas in persuading
the Gentiles to regard them as gods/goddesses and worship them as
such. Hence Paul says that before the Galatians came to know the
one true God, they "served those who were by nature not gods"
To 6puacefit Ou'otV
0eoTt; 4:8). This comment clearly
(IbouXeU6cat-To
makes the best sense when one interprets the stoicheiaas demonic
beings. These pre-Christian convictions of the Galatians were in no
sense rudimentary religious concepts of a preparatory nature in
anticipation of their coming to maturity by turning to Christ. The
Galatian Gentiles made a fundamental change in their allegiances
involving a renunciation of their former deities; in short, they
experienced "conversion."
Once again we may conclude that the stoicheiawere not the good
angels who gave the law, nor should the term be regarded as
expressing elementary principles of some kind. The negative
evaluation points much more in the direction of evil spirits working
their blinding, corrupting, and deceiving influence on Jew and
Gentile alike to enslave them and keep them from a knowledge of
God and the truth.
The Torah and the Old Aeon
In Gal. 3:23-25, Paul employs apocalyptic two-age language to
contrast life under Torah with faith in Christ (note especially, "the
'coming' of faith" and "the faith about to be revealed [T7lv
Torah was given to regulate
[eDXXouaocvracmtv&roxxaXuyOvvalt]").
Jewish life (as a otaiaryoTyo)in the old aeon. Regardless of how we
understand the precise function of the law in the old aeon, we can
affirm that Paul clearly presents it as having a temporal functionuntil Israel reaches maturity. The "fullness of time" (x6 X7cXilpxoa
Gal. 4:4) has arrived, that is, the eschatological age has
-zo Xpo6vou;
dawned in the act of God in sending his son. Now, faith in Christ
renders life under Torah obsolete-Jews no longer have to remain
under the paidagogue.
With his emphasis on Scripture confining everything('ca iavoca)
under sin in the present evil age (Gal. 3:22), Paul implies even life
41

Bruce, Galatians, 204.

68

CLINTON

E. ARNOLD

under the Torah. To be "under law" is to be "under sin" in Paul's


thinking.42 This was one of the realities of the present evil age. The
law was severely limited in what it could accomplish. As Dunn suggests, "it was not so ultimate or important a factor in the divine
purpose as grace and Spirit, as promise and inheritance received
through faith; nor so ultimate and powerful as sin."43
Paul does not go so far as to argue in Gal. 4:3 that the Torah was
demonic or in some way equivalent to the principle of sin. Although
Paul specifically says that the Jews were "under law" (urno v6opov;
Gal. 3:23; cf. also 3:13) and that the function of redemption was
to rescue those who were "under law" (u7i6 v6oov; Gal. 4:5), he
does not equatebeing under the law with being under the stoicheia.4
It is doubtful Paul would have made the Torah coextensive with
demonic powers. This is not, however, to deny a conceptual relationship between "law" and stoicheia. It is more appropriate to
speak in terms of a close association.
The nature of the association may partly be explained by appealing to 2 Cor. 4:4 which represents Satan as the god of this present
evil age.45 Although Torah does not explicitly figure into that context, the passage demonstrates that Paul's view of the present evil
age was consistent with apocalyptic thought in maintaining the
reality of demonic hostility. Paul, however, interprets the nature of
the demonic hostility more in terms of promoting a spiritual blindness, that is, preventingJews and Gentiles from seeing God at work
in Jesus Christ. Paul clearly envisions demonic hostility until the
very end of the present age (1 Cor. 15:24). One must be cautious
of seeing Paul as engaging in a process of demythologizing his
apocalyptic inheritance. Although he is not enamored with
speculating about the demonic realm, he does maintain a firm
belief in the reality of hostile powers that are integral to the present
evil age. Thus, since in Paul's view Torah was given only for the
present age ("until faith comes"; Gal. 3:23), it belonged to an age
that was dominated by demonic powers.46
T. Schreiner, The Law and Its Fulfillment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993) 77-81.
Dunn, Galatians, 195.
44 So also
Hong, Law, 164.
45 See
Scheu, "Weltelemente," 82.
46
Similarly, Scheu, " Weltelemente," 99, comments, "In dieser Hinsicht stand
das Gesetz auf der Seite der Sarx, es gehorte diesem Aon an, in dem der Teufel
und die damonische Machte ihre Herrschaft ausiiben."
42
43

STOICHEIA

IN GAL. 4:3,9

69

The images of the paidagogueand the minority of Israel (vTrLog)


emphasize the temporality of the Torah. Now that Christ has come,
the period of spiritual minority is over. Foremost in Paul's thought
is the work of God in sending his son (Gal. 4:4). Through him God
has provided redemption, adoption, and his Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:45) to all people who put their faith in Jesus Christ, including the
Jews "under the law."
In his later formulations in Romans, Paul characterizers the law
as essentially holy, good, and deriving from the Spirit (Rom. 7:12,
14). Yet, at the same time he depicts the law in rather negative
terms as he does in the contrast between law and grace: "you are
not under law (6iCOV6O'ov)but under grace (U6n xaptv)" (Rom.
6:14). Although the law was holy and good, it was given by God
for a limited time. The expression Ut6 vo6[ovthus becomes another
way of characterizing "the old era."47
Because the law belongs to the old aeon and because it is not a
power for enabling the people of God to live (Gal. 3:21; cf. also
Rom. 8:2), it has been manipulated and exploited by the powers of
this present evil age-sin and the flesh (see esp. Rom. 7:9-13; 8:26). In Galatians 4, Paul expands the scope of the exploitation of the
law to include the personal evil forces of the present age-the principalities and powers, viz. the aTotxETaToux6aotou.The exploitation,
however, does not occur in direct relation to the law, but rather in
the hearts and minds of people. Just as sin and the flesh use the law
as a base of operations, so do the evil principalities and powers.
Thus, the law itself is not evil even though Paul says that Christ has
provided redemption for those "under Torah" (Ux6ov6tiov); it was
a divinely instituted, but temporary, expedient which has now
reached its obsolescence (cf. Rom. 10:4).
In essence, Gal. 4:1-11 contrasts two lordships-the one good
and the other not only obsolete, but now dangerous and evil.
Believers are no longer slaves (1, 3, 7, 8, 9), but sons (7) and heirs
(1, 7); no longer under the cosmic "powers" (3, 8), but indwelt by
the Spirit of God (6); no longer in a state of not knowing God (8),
but now they know God and are known by God (9); no longer
under those who are not gods (8), but have now entered into a relationship with God (9), who is their Father (6). Within this overarching framework falls the discussion of the law (5) and nomistic
47

See D. Moo, Romans 1-8 (Chicago: Moody,

1991) 406-07.

70

CLINTONE. ARNOLD

observances (10). The "renewed" return of Gentiles to the cosmic


"powers" (3,9) is compared with a return to the domain of the law,
from which Christ had redeemed them (5).48
We cannot underestimate the value and importance Paul placed
on being in Christ and recognizing him as Messiah and Son of
God. For Paul, the coming of Christ marked the beginning of the
eschatological age and the bestowal of the Spirit of God.
Gentile Idols, Evil Spirits, and the PresentAge
In Gal. 4:8-9 Paul says that for the Galatians to accept the tenets
of the Judaizers is tantamount to a return to the slavery they faced
when they did not know the true God. He refers to this as reversion
to life under the "weak and beggarly stoicheia" (Gal. 4:9), that is,
a servitude to "beings which by nature are not gods (roZtqpuaoet?L
Gal. 4:8)." In these two verses, Paul not only makes a
OUatvOeoZq;
the dangers of the false teaching, but also on their
on
comment
situation as pagans.
In 1 Cor. 10:20 Paul speaks of the sacrifices that pagans make
as actually offered to demons (8at[oviotq xaoro0ue0a). Earlier in the
same letter (1 Cor. 8:5) he refers to these beings as "so-called
gods" (Xey6[Xuvot
0eot). Similar polemic from Judaism against Gentile worship of idols as "not really gods" is especially prominent in
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the entirety of the Epistle of Jeremiah (=
Baruch 6).49
The attitude toward pagan religion as animated by demonic
forces, which we also find here, is dependent on the Torah (Deut.
32:16-17: "They made him jealous with their foreign gods and
angered him with their detestable idols. They sacrificed to demons,
which are not God [u'Ouaava0t(lovtotqxca ou 09OC]")and secondtemple Judaism (see, for example, Jub. 11:4-5; T. Jud. 23:1; T.
Naph. 3:1).50 Also significant for this context is the fact that Jews

48

Cf. J.C. Beker, Paul theApostle(Edinburgh: Clark, 1980) 49.

49 See especially Isa. 37:19;Jer.

2:11; 5:7; 16:20; Bar. 14-16, 17, 23, 29, 49-52,


ont ELa'tv
OEOi).
ia lv rl[iv cpoVEpOV
64-65, 68 (xao' ouivox ouv p6pocov

50 For additional references to the


many texts illustrating this widespread
zumNeuenTestament
aus
Jewish belief, see J.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar
Talmudund Midrasch,6th ed. (Munich: Beck, 1975) 3.47-60. See also Hengel,
JudaismandHellenism,1.266; 2.177 (n. 58); Bousset-Gressmann, ReligiondesJudentums, 305-307.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL. 4:3,9

71

often accused the Gentiles of worshipping the elements as gods


(Wis. 7:17; 13:2; Philo, Vit. Cont. 3-4).
One of the crucial questions that still remains to be answered is:
why did Paul choose to use the term stoicheiain his polemic with the
Galatians? Is it possible that he chose it because he knew that these
Gentiles would be familiar with it because of their former involvement in pagan religion, magical practices, and astrology? Or, does
the term only reflect Paul's Jewish heritage and his theology and
nothing of the religious vocabulary of the readers?
Our suspicion that it may have something to do with the
background of the readers is raised immediately because the only
time Paul uses the term is in two letters addressed to the interior
of Asia Minor, the respective readerships being separated by only
a relatively small distance. Furthermore, the only concrete
reference to the readers pre-Christian past in the passage is the
polemical expression that they formerly served beings that were in
reality not gods (Gal. 4:8), i.e. the stoicheia. The implication is that
they once were involved in pagan religion and turned (rnXtTxpE9o)
away from their idols to serve (8ouXe6o) the true God (Gal. 4:9; cf.
1 Thess. 1:9).
The term "elements" was prominent in mystery initiation
ritual,5' magical recipes, and astrology-all of which would have
been an integral part of the Galatians' pre-Christian past. It is,
therefore, quite likely that the Gentile readers would have been
familiar with the term and would probably have associated it with
deities or divine intermediaries. It makes little difference for our
purposes to determine whether they would have associated the
stoicheiawith the physical elements, the planets, or the stars.52
It is doubtful that the magical/mystery/astrological tradition is
what influenced Paul's thought regarding the stoicheia, however,
although he was probably familiar with the use of the term in those
contexts. In other words, he was not thinking about astral deities
or decans but evil angels and demonic spirits. Paul himself would
have been influenced more by the Jewish apocalyptic tradition
regarding the nature of the stoicheia, viz. the terminological
51

See the use of elementain Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 11.5 (=

269); 11.23 (=

284-85); 11.25 (= 286-87). For the text, translation, and commentary, see J.G.

Griffiths, The Isis-Book (Metamorphoses,Book XI), EPRO 39 (Leiden: Brill, 1975)


ad loc. R.E. Witt, Isis in the Greco-Roman World (London: 1971) 263.
52

So also A. Lumpe, "Elemente," RAC 4 (1959) 1091.

72

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

precedence set by 2 Enoch which links stoicheia and angels and the
conceptual framework of evil angels deceiving the Gentiles through
idolatry exhibited in the apocalyptic tradition and the Qumran
documents.53 Such a dual tradition with regard to a key term in
Paul's thought is not unusual; for example, he still chose to fill the
with his Jewish content in spite of the fact that
Greek term Luariplpov
it was a term in common use as a description of the initiation rite
of certain pagan religions.
Therefore, as G. Howard correctly notes, the problem for the
Galatian Gentiles before they turned to Christ, "was that they were
enslaved to evil spirits who darkened their minds and led them into
54
idolatry.
The Danger Facing the Galatian Christians: Embracing Torah Means
Returning to the Domain of the Powers
Paul's burden in writing Galatians 4 was to prevent the Galatian
believers from returning to the dominion of the stoicheia. For Paul,
taking up the Torah was tantamount to being reenslaved by the
same powers that
demonic powers of the present evil age-the
enslaved them when they worshipped idols.
The precise nature of the Torah observance advocated by the
judaizing opposition has been a matter of debate. Although it is far
beyond the scope of the present work to enter into a full discussion
of all the issues related to this problem, the basic contours of the
issue are clear. The opponents were insisting that the Galatian
Gentiles abide by the laws of the Torah. This included, above all,
a demand that the Galatians submit themselves to the rite of circumcision. It is likely that they also enjoined the Galatians to abide
by the food laws of the Torah as well as observe the festivals and
sacred days.
53
Thus, it is morelikelythat Paul is reflectinga traditionalJewishuse of the
termthan creativelycoininga freshuse of the word;PaceLongenecker,Galatians,

166 ("Such a use of -raorotXta TOU


x6iWou might well have been coined by Paul

204 ("the phrase... seemsto be Paul'sowncontribuhimself.");Bruce,Galatians,


tion to religiousvocabulary");Delling, "aCotxetov,"
685; Vielhauer,"Gesetzesdienst," 550-53;Fung,Galatians,
190-91;Borse,Galater,
142;H. Hegermann,Die
vomSchopfungsmittler
imhellenistischen
undUrchristentum,
TU 82
Vorstellung
Judentum
Akademie,1961) 161.
(Berlin:
54 G. Howard,Paul:Crisisin
Galatia,SNTSMS 35 (Cambridge:University
Press, 1979) 76.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4:3,9

73

Paul does call attention to one particular practice the Galatians


were performing that for him was evidence of their embracing of
the Torah. Paul says, "You are observing days, months, seasons,
and years" (,7utpaS7raparxip6eaoe
xal L7jvax
xao xatpouSxat ivLtauo6Ug;
Gal. 4:10). Most interpreters see the series of the four nouns here
as referring to festivals and observances prescribed in the Torah.55
This would include most assuredly Sabbath observance, but
perhaps also the Day of Atonement, the new-moon festival (Num.
10:10; 28:11), and the "appointed feasts" (1 Chron. 23:31; 2
Chron. 2:4, et al.).
F. Mufner, however, emphasizes that one needs to look
primarily at the practices of early Judaism, especially in Jewish
apocalyptic and Qumran Essenism.56 He contends that the various
times appear to be tied to the astronomical ordering of the world
(see e.g. 1 Enoch 82:4, 7-10; 73:1; 74:1; 79:lff;Jub. 2:9; 1 QS 9:2610:8; 1 QM 14:12-14). He therefore argues that a "calendar piety"
stands in the center of the religious convictions
(Kalendarfrommigkeit)
of this judaizing faction.57 Next to the Torah, he points out, stands
the law of the order of creation, and to forsake the latter as well as
the former is sin.58 He suggests that since such a strong affinity
existed between Torah piety and "calendar piety" in Judaism that
the opponents must have emphasized fidelity to the law in terms of
"calendar piety." Paul's concern, therefore, was that for the Gentile believers in Galatia it was only a short step to worship these
calendar-regulating stars as gods (cf. 1 Enoch 80:7: "Then they
shall err and take them [the stars] to be gods"), something they
were already accustomed to doing in their pagan past (especially in
the observances of the fertility cults). Thus, for Mufner, the Galatians were not far from worshipping the stoicheia(astral spirits) as
gods.59 In response to this conception, I would observe that
55 See Longenecker, Galatians, 182; Dunn, "Theology of Galatians," 246;
idem, Galatians,227-29; E.P. Sanders, Paul, theLaw, and theJewish People(Minneapolis: Fortress, 1983) 20, 69, 101; Bruce, Galatians,205-207; Fung, Galatians,

andExegetical
ontheEpistletotheGala193;E. de WittBurton,A Critical
Commentary

tians, ICC (Edinburgh: Clark, 1921) 232-34.


56 Muigner,
298-303. Similarly, see Schlier, Galaterbrief,
204-207,
Galaterbrief,
Becker, Paul, 269, idem, Galater,NTD 8 (G6ttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht,
1976) 51. Vielhauer, "Gesetzesdienst und Stoicheiadienst," 548-49, denies the
relevance of this material.
57 Muigner,
299.
Galaterbrief,
58 Muigner,
299-300
Galaterbrief,
59 Mufiner,
302.
Galaterbrief,

74

CLINTON E. ARNOLD

is correct to emphasize the significant role astral


phenomena play in the apocalyptic and Qumran traditions and the
connection to the festal calendar. On the other hand, Mufner
seems to depend too heavily on an interpretation of stoicheiaas astral
spirits. If, as I have argued above, there is adequate lexical and
contextual evidence to interpret stoicheia as "evil angels" or
"demons," then it is more appropriate to interpret Gal. 4:9 as an
indictment of every aspect of the Judaizers' improper attitude
toward and response to the law as "demonic" (especially the
demand for circumcision as essential for salvation), rather than to
focus only on the "calendar piety."
H.D. Betz contends that the observances of v. 10 need to be seen
in the argumentative context of the letter as a sarcastic description
of the typical behavior of religiously scrupulous and superstitious
people.60 As such, the "days, months, seasons, and years" do not
describe activities in which the Galatians were presently engaged,
but observances which they would practice once they took up Torah
and circumcision. These observances were a part of the overall
teaching of the opponents since, according to Betz, they understood
their religion as a cultic-ritualistic system of protection against the
evil forces of the "elements of the world (&r aTrotxeTaToU
xo 'uou)'"61-"demonic entities of cosmic proportions and astral
powers which were hostile to man."62 One of the major difficulties
of Betz's view is that there are few other descriptions of the
opponents in Galatians (in addition to the calendar observances)
that indicate that we are dealing with a more magical-mystical form
of Judaism. In addition, we have already seen that it is possible to
understand the Gentiles' acceptance of a Jewish law-centered form
of Christianity as a reversion to the influence of demonic powers
without positing a more direct form of angelic/demonic veneration.
Nevertheless, there is a slight possibility that the Judaizing
opponents did have some form of angelic/astral speculation in their
system of teaching. Paul was not necessarily confronting a uniform
Jewish opinion on these matters.63 Schlier, Mufiner, Betz, and
others are correct in highlighting the role this kind of belief had in
Mufiner

60
61
62
63

Betz, Galatians,217-18.
Betz, Galatians,216-17.
Betz, Galatians,205.
Dunn, Galatians,229.

STOICHEIA

IN GAL.

4:3,9

75

many streams of Judaism contemporary with Paul even in


Palestine. There may be an allusion to this in the beginning of the
letter when Paul tells the Galatians to refuse any variant gospel
"even if an angel from heaven should preach [it]" (Gal. 1:8). This
might be a clue that the opponents were claiming that they received
their unique brand of Christianity by revelation through angelic
certainly not out of the ordinary for the
mediation-something
the
of
time.64
Judaism
However one interprets these observances in the context of the
competing teaching, Paul is deeply concerned that by accepting the
teaching of the opponents, the Galatians would once again come
under the compelling influence of demonic powers (stoicheia). Paul
describes the powers as "weak and beggarly" (4:9) in comparison
to a knowledge of the one true God through Jesus Christ who has
subjected all these powers to himself (cf. Phil. 2:11; and so also Col.
2:10, 15; Eph. 1:21-23). What Paul wants to emphasize more than
anything else is the preeminence and sufficiency of the son of God.
How will the stoicheiareassert their dominion over the Galatians?
Just as the powers once blinded the Galatians to a true knowledge
of God through exerting their deceiving influence in pagan
religions, astrology, and magic, they now threaten once again to
deter these Galatians from a full knowledge of God at work in
Christ through inspiring them to embrace the law and a variety of
Jewish sectarian observances that go along with the law in the
teaching of the opponents.
Conclusion
In conclusion, the stoicheiain Galatians 4:3 and 9 are best interpreted as evil spirits equivalent to the "principalities and powers"
that Paul speaks about elsewhere. For Paul, the stoicheia were an
integral part of the present evil age and used a variety of means to
hold humanity in bondage and blind people to the revelation of
Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the gospel. For Gentiles, they accomplished their objective through posing as gods and goddesses and
soliciting cultic worship. For Jews, they were associated with the
law in the same way as the power of sin and were agents of slavery
under the old covenant. Now, in spite of the fact that the Galatian
64

Betz, Galatians, 53, cautiously reaches this conclusion.

76

CLINTON

E. ARNOLD

Gentiles know Christ, Paul fears that by acceding to the demands


of the Judaizing opponents they would return to the domain of the
powers. By embracing Torah, the Galatians were returning to the
powers of the old aeon which would bring them under a yoke of
slavery once again and cause them to forfeit their freedom in
Christ.