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Wednesday, April 24th, 2024
the Fourth Week after Easter
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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

Abraham’s True Seed Are Redeemed
from the Law of Moses

Verse 1

1

Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

The word "heir" is first mentioned in the preceding verse. Paul continues with the word in this verse because he intends to emphasize the position of the child or heir. Beginning with Galatians 3:23, he begins emphasizing the law of Moses as being the law the children (the Jews) are under. In the first part of this chapter, he stresses the position of the children (again the Jews) under that law. He seems to be answering the anticipated question, "If we are no longer under the law, then for what purpose did God the Father give it and how did it benefit the Jews?" (see Romans 3:1-2).

Now I say: This expression does not mean the following statements are uninspired. A similar situation may be found in 1 Corinthians 7:10-12. All of the writings of Paul must be considered in light of the rule found in 1 Corinthians:

If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord (14:37).

Anything less than the teaching of this verse verges on rejecting the inspiration of the written word.

That the heir: The child represents the Jews under the first covenant. God is the Father. Of course, God cannot die as would an earthly father. This fact must be kept in mind because in the ordinary sense of an heir the father would die. So, in this analogy the father might still be living or he might have died.

as long as he is a child: A child is under age and without the maturity to handle the affairs of the estate.

differeth nothing from a servant: "A servant" occupies a position similar to a slave so far as liberty in handling the estate is concerned.

though he be lord of all: The "child" is the rightful heir and will one day rule over the estate. This time will be when he matures and has the proper training to depend on (compare what happened in real life in the parable of the lost son in Luke 15:11-32).

Verse 2

2

But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

But is under tutors and governors: See the comments on "tutors and governors" in Galatians 3:23.

until the time appointed of the father: The father might arbitrarily set the age for manumission for his child. It might be when the heir becomes 16, 18, 21, or any other age. That decision is up to the father to set the time. In verse 4, this matter will be explained in more detail. In real life a child would be looking forward to this time with great anticipation.

Verse 3

3

Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

Even so we: This expression means in the same manner or fashion. The "we" refers to Paul and the rest of the Jewish race.

when we were children, were in bondage: The Israelites were in bondage to the law of Moses much like children under the schoolmaster, tutor, or governor. In Galatians 5:1, being under the law is considered as "the yoke of bondage." Peter uses the same figure in Acts 15:10. The yoke couples things together. The Jews are requiring the Gentiles to couple or fasten themselves to the law of Moses in order to be saved. However, instead of being saved under the law, it brought them into spiritual slavery to sin without a deliverer. This same situation will be the condition of the Galatians if they maintain the relationship with the law of Moses that the Judaizing teachers insist on after Paul leaves. They will be in the same condition the Jews were in before Christ came.

under the elements of the world: Here the law of Moses is referred to as if it is a basic learning tool in religion much like the alphabet is a learning tool for the art of reading, which art would arise from learning the alphabet. Thayer defines the word "elements" as "any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole take their rise; an element, first principle" (588-2-4747). The Old Testament is God’s first revelation to man with the design of bringing Christ and the people together at an appointed time. When it accomplishes that purpose, it is to be used no longer in that way. The Galatians are being taught by the Judaizing teachers that they are to go to these "elements" for salvation. This practice would be like a speaker who could only say the alphabet over and over again. Nothing could be learned from such a speaker. Salvation could not be understood or obtained from the "elements" or, in other words, law of Moses. Anyone under that law could only repeat the words found in 1 Corinthians 2:9, which is a quotation from Isaiah 64:4. The word "elements" here and in verse 9 of this chapter is translated as "rudiments" in Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20. In Hebrews 5:12, "elements" is used to describe the first or beginning things a new Christian learns from the word of God. In 2 Peter 3:10, it is used to describe those basic things that make up the earth.

the world: This word does not mean the earth. It describes the orderly arrangement God the Father has during the time of the law of Moses for training His children until the Messiah comes. The idea of something temporary must be kept in mind in order to complement the analogy Paul is employing. Just as the world will not last forever, the Jewish system described as "the elements of the world" is not designed to last forever. This idea keeps the thought of a child’s being kept under tutors and governors for a set period of time, and then he would be granted liberty from them.

Verse 4

4

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

But when the fulness of the time was come: Beginning with Genesis 3:15, God promises man a deliverer. The deliverer is not to come immediately after Adam and Eve sinned but would come sometime in the future. That time is chosen by God the Father just as a father in a will can choose the time for his child to come of age and no longer be under tutors and governors. Whatever time God chooses, that time has to be completed. In other words, Jesus would come at just the right time to fulfill God’s purposes. The time would correspond to the statement about time in verse 2.

God sent forth his Son: In Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is referred to as an Apostle. He is sent forth by His Father on a mission (see Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8). The salvation of man is His great mission, but here His mission also includes deliverance of the Jews from the law of Moses and its bondage.

made of a woman: The deliverer would come through the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Accordingly, Jesus is born of Mary, who is a virgin (Matthew 1:21-23), without the agency of man. His conception is of the Holy Spirit, identifying Him with Deity. Because He is identified with Deity, He is called Immanuel, which means "God with us," that is, with man. His actual birth is of a woman, identifying Him with the human race and giving Him that body that could be sacrificed for man’s salvation (Hebrews 2:14) (see Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).

made under the law: Jesus’ birth takes place while the law is still in effect. He is obliged to keep the law perfectly. For example, He goes to the synagogue on Saturday because the Sabbath is to be kept holy (Luke 4:16). He not only keeps the law He is under, He fulfills it (Matthew 5:17-18). In these last two phrases, "made" is used in the sense of born. A part of His mission is stated in the next verse.

Verse 5

5

To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

To redeem: See the comments on the subject of redemption in Galatians 1:4; Galatians 3:13. Jesus sheds His blood and pays the price necessary to deliver them from being under the law as explained in Hebrews 9:15 where "under the first testament" is equivalent to "under the law" in this passage. The value of the blood of Jesus flows backward, so God could remove the penalty for all those sins He has remembered every year (Hebrews 10:3-4).

them that were under the law: This statement includes all who have ever lived under that first testament--those who are "of faith" (Hebrews 11:39-40).

that we might receive the adoption of sons: The adoption process is described in Galatians 3:27. By being baptized, they put on Christ. Christ is a Son. When they put Him on, they also become a son and, therefore, an heir (see John 1:12).

Verse 6

6

And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

And because ye are sons: (See Romans 8:15.) One of the results of becoming a child of God is stated in this verse.

God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts: The capitalizing of the word "Spirit" hinders the correct understanding of this verse. The King James Version translators understood this word to refer to the Holy Spirit. Certain religious organizations take this position today (Hogg and Vine 192). However, it is not the Holy Spirit that cries "Abba, Father." It is the adopted sons of God. They conduct themselves like sons just as Jesus did (Mark 14:36). They have the same spirit of sonship that Jesus had. This understanding brings the meaning of the passage more in line with Romans 8:16 where the Holy Spirit is said to bear witness with our spirit (not to our spirit) that we are the children of God. The Holy Spirit indicates in the word that we are to have implicit trust in God as our Father in heaven.

crying, Abba, Father: This phrase, when uttered to God, evidently manifests that trust. "Abba" was the Syriac for father. The fact that two languages are employed here may signify that expressing the titles or names of God in all languages is scriptural. "Abba" also seems to indicate one’s dependency on God and belief that with Him all things are possible (Mark 10:27). It is like the faith of a child in his father’s capabilities to provide for him. The child does not have the intelligent information or the ability to comprehend such information about his father’s ability to care for him.

The word "father" seems to include the idea that the person using it has looked at the position of his father. He can see and understand that his father can care and provide all things that are necessary. By employing these two words, "Abba" and "Father," Paul conveys the broad spectrum of trust from that of a new child of God to that of a mature one (Hogg and Vine 194). This usage would certainly describe the spirit of sonship.

Verse 7

7

Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

In Romans 8:15, a similar thought is written. "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father." The last use of the word "spirit" is capitalized in this verse when it should not be. The contrast is between the spirit of bondage that a slave or servant would have with the spirit of a son that the newly adopted child would manifest by crying, Abba, Father.

Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son: Because the Christian has been adopted, he should not manifest the spirit of a slave in bondage as he would have to do if he lived under the law of Moses. He is a son who has come to the time chosen by the Father, so his trust should be in the gospel. His trust should not be in the men who are false teachers and in the Law of Moses.

and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ: Since Christians are sons of God, they stand as heirs to inherit all the blessings from their Father in heaven. However, this inheritance must come through Christ, the very one whom the Galatians are rejecting now. This statement is made to close out the argument of the apostle and to help the Galatians understand that Christ is necessary to them in order to maintain a correct relationship with God, and that relationship cannot be sustained by turning to the law of Moses.

Verse 8

8

Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

The Holy Spirit now directs Paul to approach the problem in another way. They were Gentiles, and under their system of religion they worshiped idols.

Howbeit then, when ye knew not God: When Paul first brings the gospel to the Galatians, they are in a state of idolatry. Romans 1 describes a people in similar circumstances (21-25). Verse 21 indicates the possibility of knowing God through the things that are created (compare Psalms 19:1-4). In their heathen state, the Galatians have not even come to this knowledge of God. Ephesians two adds that, under such a condition, they are without "hope, and without God in the world" (11-12). The Galatians are not aware of God; and, therefore, they do not see or understand His ways. (See 2 Corinthians 12:1-2 where "knew" is used in the same sense of awareness.) The Galatians have not had their attention directed toward God.

ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods: The Galatians’ service indicates their bondage to their idols (see Romans 6:16). They are slaves to them. The Jews are in bondage to the law of Moses that could not deliver from that bondage and could not save. In a similar fashion, the Gentiles are in bondage to paganism, serving idols that could not really be said to be gods, though they call them such. (See Acts 17:29-30; also compare 1 Kings 18:26-29 where the pagan god Baal is revealed by Elijah for what it really is.) They not only had their idols made of metals, stone, and wood but also that which they considered as demons, men, angels, rivers, heavenly bodies, animals, insects, and anything else their evil minds could imagine as gods. Nature itself teaches they could not be gods or ever attain that position.

Verse 9

9

But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?

The Galatians have been converted from paganism as is evident from the first part of the verse.

But now, after that ye have known God: Their attention has been directed toward the true God when Paul preaches the gospel to them (compare Acts 17:22-31 for what Paul may have first said to them). Acts fourteen tells us some of the things he says to the Galatians when he first preaches to them (11-20). These verses also reveal the extent of their idolatry.

or rather are known of God: It is important for each person to know of God and His will. It is more important for God to know that person. God manifests His knowledge of them by sending them the gospel through Paul. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus sets one of the judgment scenes with a group of people who knew of the Lord and actually worked in His name. But that does not mean that the Lord knew them as indicated by verse 23. In John, those who would persecute the apostles would think they are doing God a service. However, verse 3 indicates they would do so because they had "not known the father" (John 16:2-3). Hebrews 3:10 clearly shows that not knowing the Father means not to know His ways. Properly knowing God includes being introduced to Him, acknowledging Him, understanding His ways, obeying Him, and, therefore, standing in the right relationship with Him (see 1 John 2:13-14). God’s knowing a person in this sense indicates He has provided that person with the spiritual blessings that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). God has saved the Galatians, freed them from their bondage, and even provided them with miraculous powers, all of which are proof that God knows them.

how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements: (See comments on verse 3 where the Jewish law is referred to in this manner. However, verse 8 indicates he is now writing to the Gentile portion of the church.)

The word "again" in this verse suggests "the weak and beggarly elements" may also be applied to their idolatrous beliefs and practices. Probably, in a sense, the idea of having gods taught them there is a higher power and they are to be worshiped. They need their intellects and energies channeled in the right direction. They now know the true God and worship Him because they have heard the gospel and are greatly blessed by it. Now they are being led by false teachers, not to the same elements, which would have been their former idolatry, but to the law of Moses.

whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? They are in a willing state and even purposing to go back into slavery. (See 2 Peter 2:19-22 where it is stated that if they do this thing, their spiritual condition will be worse than when they were in idolatry.)

Verse 10

0

Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.

Ye observe: It is not stated in this passage whether this is a list of the pagan holidays or the ones the Jews celebrated. It may refer to both. However, since each one of these describes a Jewish celebration and the Judaizing teachers are leading them to observe the rituals under the law of Moses, we know, at least, they refer to the holy days and feasts of the old Jewish religion (compare this list with the one in Colossians 2:14-16).

days: These "days" would correspond to the sabbaths.

months: "Months" refers to their monthly or new moon celebrations (1 Chronicles 23:31).

times: "Times" means seasons (2 Chronicles 8:13 lists three of these).

years: "Years" refers to the Jubilee and Sabbatical years (see Leviticus 25). They have begun observing these holy days with the idea that this observance will make them righteous and thus maintain the correct relationship with God. Paul censures them in the next verse.

Verse 11

1

I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.

I am afraid of you: Paul is apprehensive and alarmed because of this observance of days and what they think it will accomplish for them.

lest I have bestowed upon you: Paul has not just spoken the gospel to them; he has toiled with them (see Acts 14).

labour in vain: Paul suggests his labor among them is to the extent that he has become weary. It is not just a task he performs and then forgets about them--his work would have then been in vain. That kind of labor would have accomplished nothing. It would be without profit if they listened and followed after the Judaizing teachers. His labor has accomplished something for them, but it is possible for them to lose all they have gained (see 5:4). This concern and warning are necessary because their observance of these days is a signal that they are in bondage to a system that has come to an end.

Verse 12

2

Paul Appeals to the Love
They Once Had for Him

Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.

Brethren, I beseech you: In this section Paul begins an appeal to them based on their original relationship when he first comes and preaches the gospel to them. This appeal is designed to touch their feelings in order to bring them back to the truth, which they are now beginning to leave.

be as I am; for I am as ye are: Paul is, physically speaking, a Jew (Philippians 3:5). He has given up all the material gains he could have had and has became, in the eyes of his former Jewish people, as a Gentile (see 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). All of this sacrifice is for the gospel’s sake and the salvation of both Jew and Gentile. He has left Judaism for the gospel and the salvation it offers. Now, he is a Christian only and has left Judaism behind. "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

ye have not injured me at all: Paul is not saying they have not done wrong, for they have; and he is apprehensive of them for their wrong practices. They have not wronged him personally up to this point. Rather, they have provided good care for him and loved him very much in the past as the next few verses show. However, they are dangerously close to causing him much spiritual pain. He begins his plea for them not to continue in the way the false teachers are leading them. The pangs he is suffering are expressed in verse 19.

Verse 13

3

Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.

The writer now begins a brief history of his coming to them the first time and their feelings toward him.

Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you: It seems that through some physical illness Paul has had the opportunity to stay long enough to preach to them about Christ. The scriptures do not inform us about this illness any more than they do about his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Testimony about Paul is that, whatever his circumstance, he looks upon it as an opportunity to preach the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13).

at the first: In Acts 14 and 16:6, Luke records two visits to Galatia by Paul. The illness he incurs is probably during the first journey.

Verse 14

4

And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.

Paul now writes about that illness and the importance of the source of the message and of the message itself.

And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not: The illness is referred to by the word "temptation," which here means trial. It is not a trial to Paul, the one enduring the sickness, but to the ones who see him, as most of the translations show (see the RV, NASB, NIV, etc.). Evidently, the illness has brought about some physical repugnancy in Paul’s appearance that is of such nature as to cause people to turn away from him. It is a trial for them to look at him and listen to him at the same time. However, they have not accounted him as someone unworthy to listen to because of his appearance.

nor rejected: Vine states that this word literally means "to spit out" or "to abominate, loathe" (519). Even though the disease is of such nature as to cause a natural reaction of rebellion, they do not reject him.

but ye received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus: When Paul comes with the gospel message, they receive him in such a way that he has ready access to their ears. They have heard him as a messenger of God voluntarily and have received the gospel (1:9). Their reception of him personally is with a sacrificial love as is revealed in the next verse. Their receiving him is no different than if Christ himself had come into their midst. At Lystra they thought he was Mercurius because he was the chief speaker (Acts 14:12). That was when they were without God (verse 8), so it was easy for them to think more highly of Paul than they should have (see Acts 10:25-26, and compare to Paul’s reaction in Acts 14:14-15).

Verse 15

5

Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.

This verse reveals the depth of their love for Paul.

Where is then the blessedness ye spake of?: In Romans 4:6, Paul uses "blessedness" in the same way it is used here. In Romans four, he quotes from David (Psalms 32:1-2), who describes the happiness and joy a person has when his sins are forgiven. In a similar fashion the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing after he is baptized by Philip (Acts 8:39). This verse refers to the happiness and joy they experience after they have obeyed the gospel. They have revealed their feelings about this joy to Paul, and they have enjoyed his presence with them.

for I bear you record: Paul could personally testify to the following statement:

that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me: This expression seems to have been a proverbial statement indicating they would have given him the most precious thing they possessed. Compare this use of plucking out their eyes with that of Matthew 5:29-30 where the eye and the hand are used to indicate the things we value most in this life. Even though the context is of Paul’s physical infirmity, it does not necessarily mean the disease is one that affected his eyes. This statement is just saying that the disease is of such nature that all of their possessions, even the ones they valued the most, would not have purchased for him a cure. The thought is that, at that time, they loved him so much and were so happy with him and the good news he had brought to them they would have given anything they owned for him to be brought back to health. This is the way Paul remembers them. Apparently, things are different now.

Verse 16

6

Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

Paul is writing them the truth about the false teachers and the bondage that will result from following that teaching. Whether he has heard they now consider him an enemy or whether he is anticipating this reaction is not revealed here. The scriptures teach that if we tell and live the truths in the gospel, we will have enemies. Matthew ten suggests that these foes may develop in one’s own household (34-36). Certainly it can happen among brethren (Matthew 23:35; 2 Corinthians 11:26). At the very first, Paul has taught them the truth. Because of this teaching, they love him. Now, he is telling them the truth again; but, instead of loving him for it, they are thinking he is their enemy.

Verse 17

7

They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.

They zealously affect you: Vine defines "zealously affect" as "to seek or desire eagerly" (693).

but not well: The false teachers do not use the right methods nor do they have the correct motives. It is with flattery and pretended interest (see Matthew 23:15). They did not even have the spiritual welfare of the Galatians in mind.

yea they would exclude you: Their mixing Judaism with the gospel will exclude them from salvation and citizenship in the kingdom of God (Vine 216). They will be cut off from Paul, other gospel preachers, and other Gentile Christians, and for what purpose?

that ye might affect them: The false teachers want the Galatians to seek after them in an eager fashion. In order to accomplish this effect, the false teachers have to cut the Galatians off from Paul’s teachings and influence. The Galatians will be forced to court the false teachers for favors, that is, to come to them for advice. The false teachers will then make sure they teach them doctrines well mixed with the flavors of Judaism.

Verse 18

8

But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.

When Paul first comes to the Galatians, they eagerly seek his advice and teaching. This practice is good, and they have a mutual affection for each other’s welfare. They would have given anything they owned for Paul’s physical health, and certainly he has given his all for their spiritual welfare. Even though he is not present with them, he is advising them to seek his counsel and listen to his advice eagerly. Though Paul is absent, he is zealously seeking after them and their soul’s salvation. Righteous indignation must have arisen in his heart at the thought of the Galatians’ seeking the counsel of the Judaizing false teachers.

Verse 19

9

My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.

My little children: Vine offers an interesting comment on Paul’s use of this special term. Paul does not address them simply as a child but as "a little child" (99). "It is a term of affection by a teacher to his disciples under circumstances requiring a tender appeal..." (99).

of whom I travail in birth again: Paul compares the pain he is feeling because of their acceptance of the false teachers to that of a mother experiencing the pain of child birth. When they were born again, Paul was physically enduring an illness that must have caused him great pain. Now the pain is spiritual and emotional and as intense as a woman may experience at childbirth until the baby is born.

until Christ be formed in you: An individual’s true form is seen externally in his words and actions if he expresses what he really is inwardly (see Proverbs 23:7). Hypocritically, a person may express words and actions different from what is really in his heart (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). An individual may change his inward heart and thus bring about a change in his outward activities. He makes this change by renewing his mind (Romans 12:2). Christ is formed in an individual by his letting the mind of Christ dwell in him (Philippians 2:5). From that mind, changes will occur in that person’s life (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul describes the object of renewal of mind:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Ephesians 4:14).

Until the Galatians reach that point of growth, Paul will experience the pain he describes.

Verse 20

0

I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.

When Paul was present with them, there was no doubt, no perplexity, and no distress about the Galatians. He has been absent from them for awhile, and now he is writing to them with doubt about their spiritual welfare. He really wants to be present with them so that he can change his doubt about them to complete confidence. This change can be brought about if the things he is hearing of them are not true. If they are true, he at least will have no doubt about them whether he is present or absent.

voice: The writer uses metonomy where the cause is put for the effect, that is, the tone and the words are what he would like to be able to change.

Verse 21

1

Allegory Illustrating Their Relationship
to the Law and the Gospel

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law: Paul has in mind the Judaizing teachers as well as the Gentiles who want to follow them back to the law of Moses. Law, as used in this phrase, has to do with Mosaical rites such as circumcision, the observance of days, and all the commandments given on Mt. Sinai, including the Ten Commandments.

do ye not hear the law: The law of Moses is not given until after the children of Israel are delivered from Egyptian bondage (Exodus 12 through 20). However, the reference in the Old Testament that Paul uses in the following verses has its beginning in Genesis 16. This usage is an expanded meaning of the law and might be explained in two ways.

1. Genesis is a part of the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses, and all of these are considered as one unit known as the law.

2. In Galatians 3:19, the law is said to be added to those things recorded in Genesis, especially to the promises made to Abraham, and so, of necessity, must be considered as a single unit. For this reason Paul refers to Genesis sixteen and related chapters as coming from the law.

Verse 22

2

For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.

Genesis 16, 21 contain the written record Paul gives. Abraham’s two sons are Ishmael and Isaac. The bondmaid Hagar bears him Ishmael, and Sarah gives him Isaac. Sarah is referred to as a "freewoman" because she is opposed to the Egyptian servant who is in bondage to Abraham and Sarah in this illustration.

Verse 23

3

But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.

But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh: Ishmael is born of Hagar according to the natural laws of procreation just as other babies are born. But Isaac is born as a result of a promise from God.

but he of the freewoman was by promise: God promises Abraham a son by his wife Sarah and tells him the son’s name will be Isaac (see Genesis 17:19).

This foretelling of the birth of Isaac is not the only thing remarkable about his birth. Verse 17 indicates Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah 90. They had not been able to bear children. Sarah was barren and had entered into the age where women do not naturally bear children. The Genesis account indicates Abraham laughed at this promise, but Paul reminds his readers in Romans 4:19-21 that he staggered not at the promise and believed fully in God’s power to cause this impossible thing to happen.

Verse 24

4

Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

Which things are an allegory: An allegory is a figure of speech in which something is taught under the imagery or figure of something else. The literal basis for this allegory has been stated in verses 22-23.

for these are two covenants: Hagar and Sarah each represent different covenants--these two serve as types of the covenants. These two covenants, the old and the new, are misunderstood and misused by the false teachers, who create the need for Paul to use this allegory. The false teachers seem ready to accept much of the new covenant so long as they can bring with them the old covenant as equal authority.

the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar: Hagar (Agar is the Greek spelling) is a type of the covenant that came from Mt. Sinai. This is the old covenant that contains the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 4:13; 2 Corinthians 3:7-8).

"Gendereth" means to beget or bear children (Vine 57). The idea is that just like a woman in bondage would produce children destined to be in bondage, so the covenant that comes from Mt. Sinai is destined from its very beginning to produce children who will be in bondage under it. In chapter three and the first part of this chapter, Paul compares their bondage under the law to being under a garrison of soldiers (3:23); under a schoolmaster (3:24-25); and under tutors and governors (4:1-2). In this allegory, Paul proves to them they are even as slaves under the law as the word bondage suggests. The New American Standard Bible translates this phrase, "...bearing children who are to be slaves...." Every Israelite was as a slave under the law. The Galatians will be like them if they continue to follow the false teachers.

Verse 25

5

For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia: Verse 24 has already stated that Hagar is a type of the covenant that comes from God on Mt. Sinai. This usage does not mean she represents the literal mountain. This is a metonomy where the geographical source of the old covenant is used for the covenant itself. That particular location is important to Paul’s line of reasoning, for Arabia becomes the home of Ishmael and his descendants who all descend from Hagar. It is a great distance from Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews.

and answereth to Jerusalem which now is: This reference is to the literal city of Jerusalem. Hagar, Ishmael, and Mt. Sinai all stand for the physical Jews in their bondage. Literal Jerusalem is used for all of Israel after the flesh.

and is in bondage with her children: Just as Hagar is a bondwoman and thus her immediate children will be in bondage, so Jerusalem with her children is enslaved. This is the description of anyone trying to live under the law of Moses. Thus, Jerusalem is represented as being the mother of all those in that bondage. It all begins with Hagar being the mother. But she is Mt. Sinai, which by metonomy stands for the covenant that Hagar the mother represents; and she also stands for Jerusalem, the mother of all those in bondage.

Verse 26

6

But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

But Jerusalem which is above is free: This is another Jerusalem. It is above. It is called "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" in Hebrews 12:22. It is the capital city of the kingdom of God. It is in heaven where God dwells and, in this allegory, is the location of the new covenant in contrast with the old covenant’s coming from Mt. Sinai. It is the place where God is. The heavenly Jerusalem is not the church or the called ones themselves. She is the mother of the church as is seen in the next phrase. As such, she is represented by Sarah. As Mt. Sinai in Arabia is represented by Hagar and Mt. Sinai, by metonomy, stands for the covenant that comes from it, so the "Jerusalem that is above" is represented by Sarah and, by metonomy, is used for the new covenant that originates there. Sarah is the freewoman who produces Isaac who is a freeman so far as servitude is concerned. The new covenant, therefore, produces children like Isaac who are free from the bondage of the law.

which is the mother of us all: Sarah represents the new covenant, which comes from the Jerusalem which is above. Thus the church is made up of the children of the new covenant, not of the old covenant that the false teachers are attempting to impose on the Gentile converts.

Verse 27

7

For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

For it is written: This prophecy is found in Isaiah 54:1. Study also verse 3 of that chapter to see how the Galatians as Gentiles are included in this prophecy.

Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not: Inability to produce children is considered a curse by the Hebrew women. It is an occasion for sadness and weeping. Genesis 16 tells about the barren state of Sarah and how Hagar despises her when Ishmael is conceived. The despising comes because Hagar has the ability to conceive and bear a child and Sarah does not.

break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: The word "cry" is used in the sense of shouting. In this case it is to be a shout of joy, not of weeping. Sarah, at this point, has not experienced the pang of childbirth. Her weeping is to be turned into shouting for joy because this situation is about to be reversed (Genesis 21:5-8).

for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband: Not only did Sarah, who is called desolate here, give birth to Isaac and through him become the "mother of nations" (Genesis 16:17), she also becomes the mother of all those in the spiritual kingdom of God made up of both Jews and Gentiles (1 Peter 3:6). In this way Sarah’s progeny has far outnumbered the descendants of Hagar, who is represented here as having Abraham for her husband.

Verse 28

8

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

Ishmael is born through the natural process, but Isaac is born according to the promise God has made to Abraham and Sarah (verse 23). The Galatians who are Christians are identified with Paul also as the children of promise (see Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:16; Galatians 3:18). Abraham and Sarah are promised a seed and that seed is Christ. Consequently, all who are in Christ have become children according to that promise. In Galatians 3:26-29, Paul explains how the Galatians have entered into Christ and are, therefore, Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

Verse 29

9

But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit: Ishmael is born after the flesh or according to natural law. Because of this birth, Ishmael mocks Isaac (Genesis 21:9; Genesis 16:4-5). The influence of his mother, Hagar, can be seen in this attitude. The mocking is of such nature that Paul refers to it as a persecution.

even so it is now: The child of the bondwoman represents the literal Jews, and Isaac represents Christians. Isaac is born after the Spirit or in agreement with the will of God revealed by the Spirit in the promise. Just as Ishmael mocks and persecutes Isaac, the fleshly Jews are mocking and persecuting Paul and other Christians. Paul writes, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one" (2 Corinthians 11:24). This action is but a small part of the mocking and persecution the Jews hurled at him. Perhaps the Judaizing teachers have mocked the Galatians because they do not follow the law of Moses and have threatened persecution if they do not begin to do so. Paul has not finished with the allegory yet.

Verse 30

0

Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

Nevertheless what saith the scripture: The scripture says these words in Genesis 21:10 immediately after Sarah sees Ishmael mocking Isaac.

Cast out the bondwoman and her son: This reference, of course, would be Hagar and Ishmael. Sarah is making this statement. Since she represents the new covenant, this statement indicates the new covenant teaches that the old covenant, represented by Hagar, and the fleshly Jews, represented by Ishmael, are to be cast out just as Sarah cast Hagar and Ishmael out of her house. Paul, thus, teaches the Galatians that being under the law of Moses and being a fleshly Jew has nothing to do with becoming a child of God and maintaining that relationship. The reason it is necessary for Paul to make such a strong statement in this allegory is that if salvation could come according to the flesh and under the law of Moses, the work of Christ would be invalid and, therefore, worthless (Galatians 5:4; Colossians 2:14-17).

Verse 31

1

So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

This statement means that both Jew and Gentile who have entered into the new covenant relationship as children of God are free from the bondage and enslavement of the old covenant (see Acts 15:10). It must be kept in mind that the freedom they can enjoy in Christ is freedom from a particular law, the law of Moses, and not just any law. The idea that our liberty today is totally free from law violates such passages as Romans 8:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/galatians-4.html. 1993-2022.
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