So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Galatians 3:24 (ESV)
For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
1 Corinthians 4:15 (ESV)
No doubt many have heard of the Law described as our guardian, guide and schoolmaster, among other names. It's easy to quickly read over the English gloss and not garner too much meaning, so instead, let's check out the Greek and see what this really meant for Paul and his contemporaries.
The Greek word behind the two bolded words above is actually the very same word in Greek. Transliterated, the word is "Paidagogos" [pie-duh-go-gos]. It is most commonly heard as “pedagogue” in English.
With this short background, let's jump into the muck and figure out exactly what Paul meant by this:
A pedagogue was a person who had oversight over another person's children. Usually, a pedagogue was a well trusted household slave or worker that was either purchased or hired. The practice can be traced from the fifth century B.C. until late into Roman imperial times (149).
The (Sometimes Grumpy) Guide
Though there are examples of some pedagogues being young, a pedagogue often had the reputation of being “old, sour, grumpy and bibulous.” One ancient writer even described his own pedagogue as a “lover of wrangling.” An early second century papyrus refers in a proverbial way to the pedagogue as a "lover of fault-finding." Keep in mind, Paul is comparing the Law to a pedagogue.
The pedagogue led, taught, admonished, ruled, and guarded the child in his care. More importantly, he a moral guide to be obeyed (159). The pedagogue guarded the child wherever he went, ensuring he did not stray or get into trouble. Protagoras lists a paidagogos alongside the mother, father, and nurse as a child’s moral instructors (157). Simply, a pedagogue’s task was preventative and protective. “A fragment attributed to Epictetus states that a pedagogue is appointed to take care on all occasions that the children suffer no harm” (157).
Speaking directly to 1 Cor. 4:15 above, Norman H. Young has this significant comment: “The father's bond with the child was obviously deeper—genetically if in no other way—than a mere pedagogue's. The sources reflect this difference in relationship, and this is Paul's point too. His affinity with the Corinthians was as their progenitor into the gospel, not as a postnatal appointee. A child had only one father, but he could have, theoretically at least, countless pedagogues” (170).
The Law is, therefore, our leader to Christ, our moral schoolmaster who corrected, commanded, and kept us safe along the way. It was never an easy taskmaster – sometimes grumpy, sometimes corrective, the Law was never without difficulty. Still, as the pedagogue was among a child's chief leaders - ranked next to mother and father - so too the law led us as children and prepared us for the New Covenant with the purpose of escorting us into spiritual adulthood.
The above was cited from:
Paidagogos: The Social Setting of a Pauline Metaphor Author(s): Norman H. Young Source: Novum Testamentum, Vol. 29, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1987), pp. 150-176 Published by: BRILL Stable