Adam Clarke Commentary
The apostle shows that, as an heir in nonage is under tutors and guardians, so were the Galatians while under the law; and, as the heir when he comes of age is no longer under guardians, so they, when the Gospel came, arrived at full maturity, and were redeemed from the law, Galatians 4:1-3. He shows, farther, that when the fullness of the time came God sent forth his Son, that we might obtain the adoption of sons, and have the strongest evidence of that adoption, Galatians 4:4-6. Those who are children of God are heirs of heaven, Galatians 4:7. He compares their former and latter state, and shows the reason he had to fear that his labor on their behalf was in vain, Galatians 4:8-11. He mentions his trials among them, and their kindness to him, Galatians 4:12-16. Shows his tender affection for them, and exhorts them to return to the Gospel, Galatians 4:17-20. Shows the excellence of the Gospel beyond that of the law, by the allegory of Mount Sinai and Jerusalem, Galatians 4:21-27. Shows also that the believing Gentiles are children of the promise, as Isaac was; and have been elected in the place of the Jews, who have been cast out according to the Scriptures, Galatians 4:28-31.
The heir, as long as He is a child - Though he be appointed by his father‘s will heir of all his possessions yet till he arrive at the legal age he is master of nothing, and does not differ from one of the common domestics.
But is under tutors - Επιτροπους· Guardians and governors; οικονομους· those who have the charge of the family. These words are nearly similar; but we may consider the first as executor, the last as the person who superintends the concerns of the family and estate till the heir become of age; such as we call trustee.
Until the time appointed of the father - The time mentioned in the father‘s will or testament.
Even so we - The whole Jewish people were in a state of nonage while under the law.
The elements of the world - A mere Jewish phrase, יסודי עולם הזה (yesodey olam hazzeh), “the principles of this world;” that is, the rudiments or principles of the Jewish religion. The apostle intimates that the law was not the science of salvation, it was only the elements or alphabet of it; and in the Gospel this alphabet is composed into a most glorious system of Divine knowledge: but as the alphabet is nothing of itself, unless compounded into syllables, words, sentences, and discourses; so the law, taken by itself, gives no salvation; it contains indeed the outlines of the Gospel, but it is the Gospel alone that fills up these outlines.
When the fullness of the time was come - The time which God in his infinite wisdom counted best; in which all his counsels were filled up; and the time which his Spirit, by the prophets, had specified; and the time to which he intended the Mosaic institutions should extend, and beyond which they should be of no avail.
God sent forth his Son - Him who came immediately from God himself, made of a woman, according to the promise, Genesis 3:15; produced by the power of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary without any intervention of man; hence he was called the Son of God. See Luke, Luke 1:35, and the note there.
Made under the law - In subjection to it, that in him all its designs might be fulfilled, and by his death the whole might be abolished; the law dying when the Son of God expired upon the cross.
To redeem them - Εξαγορασῃ· To pay down a price for them, and thus buy them off from the necessity of observing circumcision, offering brute sacrifices, performing different ablutions, etc., etc.
That we might receive the adoption of sons - Which adoption we could not obtain by the law; for it is the Gospel only that puts us among the children, and gives us a place in the heavenly family. On the nature of adoption see the notes on Romans 8:15.
And because ye are sons - By faith in Christ Jesus, being redeemed both from the bondage and curse of the law; God - the Father, called generally the first person of the glorious Trinity, hath sent forth the Spirit - the Holy Ghost, the second person of that Trinity, of his Son - Jesus Christ, the third person of the Trinity - crying, Abba, Father! from the fullest and most satisfactory evidence that God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, had become their portion. For the explanation of the phrase, and why the Greek and Syriac terms are joined together here, see the notes on Mark 14:36, and on Romans 8:15 (note).
Thou art no more a servant - Thou who hast believed in Christ art no longer a slave, either under the dominion of sin or under obligation to the Mosaic ritual; but a son of God, adopted into the heavenly family.
And if a son, then an heir - Having a right to the inheritance, because one of the family, for none can inherit but the children; but this heirship is the most extraordinary of all: it is not an heirship of any tangible possession, either in heaven or earth; it is not to possess a part or even the whole of either, it is to possess Him who made all things; not God‘s works, but God himself: heirs of God through Christ.
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.
Now, after that ye have known God - After having been brought to the knowledge of God as your Savior.
Or rather are known of God - Are approved of him, having received the adoption of sons.
To the weak and beggarly elements - After receiving all this, will ye turn again to the ineffectual rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law - rites too weak to counteract your sinful habits, and too poor to purchase pardon and eternal life for you? If the Galatians were turning again to them, it is evident that they had been once addicted to them. And this they might have been, allowing that they had become converts from heathenism to Judaism, and from Judaism to Christianity. This makes the sense consistent between the 8th and 9th verses.
Ye observe days - Ye superstitiously regard the Sabbaths and particular days of your own appointment;
And months - New moons; times - festivals, such as those of tabernacles, dedication, passover, etc.
Years - Annual atonements, sabbatical years, and jubilees.
I am afraid of you - I begin now to be seriously alarmed for you, and think you are so thoroughly perverted from the Gospel of Christ, that all my pains and labor in your conversion have been thrown away.
Be as I am - Thoroughly addicted to the Christian faith and worship, from the deepest conviction of its truth.
For I am as ye are - I was formerly a Jew, and as zealously addicted to the rites and ceremonies of Judaism as ye are, but I am saved from that mean and unprofitable dependence: “Be therefore as I am now; who was once as you now are.” Others think the sense to be this: “Be as affectionate to me as I am to you; for ye were once as loving to me as I am now to you.”
Ye have not injured me at all - I do not thus earnestly entreat you to return to your Christian profession because your perversion has been any loss to me, nor because your conversion can be to me any gain: ye have not injured me at all, ye only injure yourselves; and I entreat you, through the intense love I bear to you, as my once beloved brethren in Christ Jesus, to return to him from whom ye have revolted.
Ye know how through infirmity - The apostle seems to say that he was much afflicted in body when he first preached the Gospel to them. And is this any strange thing, that a minister, so laborious as St. Paul was, should be sometimes overdone and overcome by the severity of his labors? Surely not. This might have been only an occasional affliction, while laboring in that part of Asia Minor; and not a continual and incurable infirmity, as some have too hastily conjectured.
And my temptation which was in my flesh - On this verse there are a great many various readings, as there are various opinions.
Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? - Ye spake of should be in italics, there being no corresponding word in the Greek text. Perhaps there is not a sentence in the New Testament more variously translated than this. I shall give the original: τις ουν ην ὁ μακαρισμος ὑμων· What was then your blessedness! Or, How great was your happiness at that time! Or, What blessings did ye then pour on me! It is worthy of remark, that, instead of τις , what, ABCFG, several others, the older Syriac, the later Syriac in the margin, the Armenian, Vulgate, one copy of the Itala, and some of the fathers, have που , where; and ην , was, is omitted by ACD, several others, also the Vulgate, Itala, and the Latin fathers. According to these authorities the text should be read thus: Where then is your blessedness? Having renounced the Gospel, you have lost your happiness. What have your false teachers given you to compensate the loss of communion with God, or that Spirit of adoption, that Spirit of Christ, by which you cried Abba, Father! If, however, we understand the words as implying the benedictions they then heaped on the apostle, the sense will be sufficiently natural, and agree well with the concluding part of the verse; for I bear you record, that, if possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me. You had then the strongest affection for me; you loved God, and you loved me for God‘s sake, and were ready to give me the most unequivocal proof of your love.
Am I therefore become your enemy - How is it that you are so much altered towards me, that you now treat me as an enemy, who formerly loved me with the most fervent affection? Is it because I tell you the truth; that very truth for which you at first so ardently loved me?
They zealously affect you, but not well - It is difficult for common readers to understand the meaning of these words: perhaps it would be better to translate Ζηλουσιν ὑμας ου καλως , these false teachers endeavor to conciliate your esteem, but not in honest or true principles; they work themselves into your good graces; they wish you to place all your affection upon themselves.
They would exclude you - They wish to shut you out from the affection of your apostle, that you might affect them, ἱνα αυτους ζηλουτε , that you might love them alone, hear them alone, abide by their directions only, and totally abandon him who called you into the grace of the Gospel of Christ. Some MSS. read ἡμας , us, instead of ὑμας , you; they wish to shut us entirely out from among you, that you may receive and believe them alone. The sense is nearly the same but the former appears to be the more authentic reading.
It is good to be zealously affected - It is well to have a determined mind and an ardent heart in reference to things which are laudable and good.
Not only when I am present - You were thus attached to me when I was among you, but now ye have lost both your reverence and affection for me. Your false teachers pretended great concern for you, that you might put all your confidence in them; they have gained their end; they have estranged you from me, and got you to renounce the Gospel, and have brought you again into your former bondage.
My little children - Τεκνια μου· My beloved children. As their conversion to God had been the fruit of much labor, prayers, and tears, so he felt them as his children, and peculiarly dear to him, because he had been the means of bringing them to the knowledge of the truth; therefore he represents himself as suffering the same anxiety and distress which he endured at first when he preached the Gospel to them, when their conversion to Christianity was a matter of great doubt and uncertainty. The metaphor which he uses needs no explanation.
Until Christ be formed in you - Till you once more receive the Spirit and unction of Christ in your hearts, from which you are fallen, by your rejection of the spirit of the Gospel.
I desire to be present with you - I wish to accommodate my doctrine to your state; I know not whether you need stronger reprehension, or to be dealt with more leniently.
I stand in doubt of you - I have doubts concerning your state; the progress of error and conviction among you, which I cannot fully know without being among you, This appears to be the apostle‘s meaning, and tends much to soften and render palatable the severity of his reproofs.
Ye that desire to be under the law - Ye who desire to incorporate the Mosaic institutions with Christianity, and thus bring yourselves into bondage to circumcision, and a great variety of oppressive rites.
Do ye not hear the law? - Do ye not understand what is written in the Pentateuch relative to Abraham and his children. It is evident that the word law is used in two senses in this verse. It first means the Mosaic institutions; secondly, the Pentateuch, where the history is recorded to which the apostle refers.
For it is written - Viz. in Genesis 16:15; Genesis 22:1, etc., that Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac; the one; Ishmael, by a bond maid, Hagar; the other, Isaac, by a free woman, Sarah.
Was born after the flesh - Ishmael was born according to the course of nature, his parents being both of a proper age, so that there was nothing uncommon or supernatural in his birth: this is the proper meaning of the apostle‘s κατα σαρκα , after or according to the flesh, and answers to the Hebrew phrase, על דרך בשר (al derec basar), according to the manner of the flesh, i.e. naturally, according to the common process of nature.
By promise - Both Abraham and Sarah had passed that age in which the procreation of children was possible on natural principles. The birth, therefore, of Isaac was supernatural; it was the effect of an especial promise of God; and it was only on the ground of that promise that it was either credible or possible.
Which things are an allegory - They are to be understood spiritually; more being intended in the account than meets the eye.
For these are the two covenants - These signify two different systems of religion; the one by Moses, the other by the Messiah.
The one from the Mount Sinai - On which the law was published; which was typified by Hagar, Abraham‘s bond maid.
Which gendereth to bondage - For as the bond maid or slave could only gender - bring forth her children, in a state of slavery, and subject also to become slaves, so all that are born and live under those Mosaic institutions are born and live in a state of bondage - a bondage to various rites and ceremonies; under the obligation to keep the whole law, yet, from its severity and their frailness, obliged to live in the habitual breach of it, and in consequence exposed to the curse which it pronounces.
For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia - Το γαρ Αγαρ Σινα ορος εστιν εν τη Αραβια . This is the common reading; but it is read differently in some of the most respectable MSS., versions, and fathers; thus: το γαρ Σινα ορος εστιν εν τῃ Αραβια , for this Sinai is a mountain of Arabia; the word Αγαρ , Agar, being omitted. This reading is supported by CFG, some others, the Ethiopic, Armenian, Vulgate, and one copy of the Itala; by Epiphanius, Damascenus, Ambrosiaster, Jerome, Augustine, Hilary, Sedulius, and Bede; and the word is sometimes, though not always, omitted by Cyril and Origen, which proves that in their time there were doubts concerning the common reading.
Answereth to Jerusalem - Hagar, the bond maid, bringing forth children in a state of slavery, answereth to Jerusalem that now is, συστοιχει , points out, or, bears a similitude to, Jerusalem in her present state of subjection; which, with her children - her citizens, is not only in bondage to the Romans, but in a worse bondage to the law, to its oppressive ordinances, and to the heavy curse which it has pronounced against all those who do not keep them.
But Jerusalem which is above - The apostle still follows the Jewish allegory, showing not only how the story of Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, was allegorized, but pointing out also that even Jerusalem was the subject of allegory; for it was a maxim among the rabbins, that “whatsoever was in the earth, the same was also found in heaven for there is no matter, howsoever small, in this world, that has not something similar to it in the spiritual world.” On this maxim, the Jews imagine that every earthly thing has its representative in heaven; and especially whatever concerns Jerusalem, the law, and its ordinances. Rab. Kimchi, speaking of Melchizedec, king of Salem, says: זו ירושלם של מעלה (zu Yerushalem shel malah), “This is the Jerusalem that is from above.” This phrase frequently occurs among these writers, as may be seen in Schoettgen, who has written an express dissertation upon the subject. Hor. Hebr., vol. i. page 1205.
Is free, which is the mother of us all - There is a spiritual Jerusalem, of which this is the type; and this Jerusalem, in which the souls of all the righteous are, is free from all bondage and sin: or by this, probably, the kingdom of the Messiah was intended; and this certainly answers best to the apostle‘s meaning, as the subsequent verse shows. There is an earthly Jerusalem, but this earthly Jerusalem typifies a heavenly Jerusalem: the former, with all her citizens, is in bondage; the latter is a free city, and all her inhabitants are free also. And this Jerusalem is our mother; it signifies the Church of Christ, the metropolis of Christianity, or rather the state of liberty into which all true believers are brought. The word παντων , of all, is omitted by almost every MS. and version of antiquity and importance, and by the most eminent of the fathers who quote this place; it is undoubtedly spurious, and the text should be read thus: But Jerusalem, which is above, is free, which is our mother.
Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not - This quotation is taken from Isaiah 54:1, and is certainly a promise which relates to the conversion of the Gentiles, as the following clause proves; for the desolate - the Gentile world, hath many more children - is a much larger and more numerous Church, than she - Jerusalem, the Jewish state, which hath a husband - has been so long in covenant with God, living under his continual protection, and in possession of a great variety of spiritual advantages; and especially those offered to her by the Gospel, which she has rejected, and which the Gentiles have accepted.
Now we - Who believe in the Lord Jesus, are the children of promise - are the spiritual offspring of the Messiah, the seed of Abraham, in whom the promise stated that all the nations of the earth should be blessed.
But as then he - Ishmael, who was born after the flesh - whose birth had nothing supernatural in it, but was according to the ordinary course of nature,
Persecuted him - Isaac, who was born after the Spirit - who had a supernatural birth, according to the promise, and through the efficacy, of the Holy Spirit, giving effect to that promise - Sarah shall have a son, Genesis 17:16-21; Genesis 21:1, etc.
Even so it is now - So the Jews, in every place, persecute the Christians; and show thereby that they are rather of the posterity of Hagar than of Sarah.
What saith the Scripture? - (In Genesis 21:10): Cast out the bond woman and her son: and what does this imply in the present case? Why, that the present Jerusalem and her children shall be cast out of the favor of God, and shall not be heirs with the son of the free woman - shall not inherit the blessings promised to Abraham, because they believe not in the promised seed.
So then - We - Jews and Gentiles, who believe on the Lord Jesus, are not children of the bond woman - are not in subjection to the Jewish law, but of the free; and, consequently, are delivered from all its bondage, obligation, and curse.
1.We sometimes pity the Jews, who continue to reject the Gospel. Many who do so have no pity for themselves; for is not the state of a Jew, who systematically rejects Christ, because he does not believe him to be the promised Messiah, infinitely better than his, who, believing every thing that the Scripture teaches concerning Christ, lives under the power and guilt of sin? If the Jews be in a state of nonage, because they believe not the doctrines of Christianity, he is in a worse state than that of infancy who is not born again by the power of the Holy Ghost. Reader, whosoever thou art, lay this to heart.
2.The 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th verses of this chapter (Galatians 4:4-7) contain the sum and marrow of Christian divinity.
(1.)The determination of God to redeem the world by the incarnation of his Son.
3.While the Jews were rejecting the easy yoke of Christ, they were painfully observing days, and months, and times and years. Superstition has far more labor to perform than true religion has; and at last profits nothing! Most men, either from false views of religion, or through the power and prevalency of their own evil passions and habits, have ten thousand times more trouble to get to hell, than the followers of God have to get to heaven.
1.That which rhetoricians term a continued metaphor. See Solomon‘s portraiture of old age, Ecclesiastes 12:2-6.
For examples of all these kinds I must refer to the learned prelate above named.
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