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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-31

The Bondage of the Law. Freedom in Christ

1-7. Under the Law we were in bondage; under the Gospel we have received the freedom of sons.

Paraphrase. ’(1) The heir before he comes of age can no more enter upon his inheritance than a servant in the family can possess himself of it, (2) but must continue, until the set time, in a subordinate position, and under the authority and training of others. (3) So, when we were under the elementary Law system, we were in a position like that of the heir in his minority; (4) but when the appointed time arrived, God sent His Son, subject not only to human conditions, but also to the Jewish Law, (5) in order that He might set free all who were in bondage to the Law and put them in possession of full liberty and all the rights of the sons of God. (6) And God also gave us the Spirit of His Son, and imparted to us the sense of sonship, (7) so that we now know ourselves as no longer bondmen to the Law, but freemen, and heirs of the salvation which is our rightful, destined possession.’

1. The heir] is, of course, a son, as Galatians 4:2 shows. A child] i.e. under age; a minor.

Differeth nothing] as respects the control of his destined possessions, though, in prospect, lord of all.

2. Tutors] RV ’guardians’; the regular term for the guardian of a minor.

Governors] RV ’stewards,’ who have the management of his prospective property. Time (RV ’term’) appointed] the time of reaching his majority. Ramsay points out that under the Syrian law, which prevailed in S. Galatia, a child was subject to a ’tutor’ until he was 14, after that he could make a will and dispose of his property; but the management of his estate was under a ’governor’ or curator until he reached the age of 25.

3. Children] in a state of tutelage under the Law. Elements] RV ’rudiments’ (cp. Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:8); elementary religious observances belonging to the outward, visible world.

4. Cp. Galatians 3:19, Galatians 3:24; Romans 5:20, Romans 5:21. Made] RV ’born’; entering fully into our human lot.

5. Redeem] i.e. save us from our bondage in sin under the Law, and introduce us into full sonship to God. Under the law] and therefore bound to obey it, and yet guilty of infringing it. Adoption] Redemption is followed by the admission of the sinner among the children of grace.

6. This emancipation being accomplished, a new sense of sonship fills the heart. Abba] an Aramaic word commonly used in prayer, meaning ’Father.’ Christ’s love for us exhibited in His incarnation and all that it includes wins our love, and for His sake we overcome sin.

7. Thou art] application of the conclusion to the individual. An heir of God] RV ’an heir through’ (the adopting act of) ’God.’

8-11. In the past the Galatians had been idolators, in bondage to gods that were ’no gods’ at all. Now they are going back again to a similar bondage.

Paraphrase. ’(8) Before your conversion you Gentiles were victims of idol-worship; (9) but now, since the true God has revealed Himself to you in Christ, how can you desire to return again to a lower plane of religious knowledge and practice? (10) This you are doing in taking up the observance of Jewish feast-days and ceremonies. (11) This action causes me to fear lest my labours on your behalf should prove to have been in vain.’

8. Howbeit then] RV ’At that time,’ when they were yet unconverted heathen. No gods] cp. 1 Corinthians 8:5; 1 Corinthians 10:20 the so-called divinities of the heathen.

9. Their lapse into Judaism is a return, not, indeed, into idolatry, but into an imperfect and rudimentary religion. In this point of view only does the Apostle class heathenism and Judaism together. The Law is weak, etc., as being powerless to justify and give the assurance of sonship. Known God, or rather are known of God] i.e. now that ye have come to know the nature and love of God, or rather that God has recognised you and bestowed upon you His gifts.

10. Days] Jewish feast-or fast-days. Months] new moons: cp. Colossians 2:16. Times] RV ’seasons,’ such as Passover, Pentecost, etc. Years] e.g. sabbatic years. These observances are ’weak and beggarly elements’ (Galatians 4:9), because they are matters of dry routine, customs which the Gentiles would adopt without understanding their meaning or catching anything of the spirit which lay behind them. They were of no avail for salvation.

11. Afraid] anxiously solicitous lest they should repudiate their Christian profession.

12-20. The Apostle appeals to his readers to return to their former allegiance to the gospel.

Paraphrase. ’(12) I plead with you to come to my point of view, even as I in renouncing slavery to the Law, have become as a Gentile to you Gentiles. (13) I hope for this result on the ground of your former kindness to me; you remember that it was in consequence of an illness that I was led to become your Christian teacher, (14) but you did not consider the care of me at that time burdensome, but received and treated me with the greatest honour and deference. (15) How great is the change in you since that time when you would have made any sacrifice for me! (16) Do you now regard me as hostile to you because I urge you to loyalty to Christ? (17) The Jndaisers are courting your favour only that they may make you their partisans and supporters. (18) It is well to be the object of others’ interest in a good cause—and that at all times and not merely when I am with you. (19, 20) I assure you my desire that you should be moulded after Christ’s pattern is intense; and I would fain visit you and adopt a less censorious tone in the hope of winning you back.’

12. As I am] loyal to Christ: cp. 1 Corinthians 11:1. I am as ye are] cp. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. RV puts a period after ’ye are,’ and then reads ’Ye did me no wrong; but ye know that because of an infirmity,’ etc. Ye have not injured me] i.e. I am not personally offended.

13. The first] lit, as RM ’the former time.’ The Gk. word, accurately interpreted, indicates that St. Paul had paid the Galatians two visits before the date of this letter. This ’former’ visit is of course that recorded in Acts 13:14 to Acts 14:24. St. Paul probably intended preaching at Perga when he landed there; but being seized by illness was compelled to leave the low ground of Pamphylia and seek health and strength on the high plateau further inland. His journey brought him first to Pisidian Antioch, then to Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. On his return to Perga, on his way back to Antioch in Syria, he preached the gospel there, as he had not been able to do it on his outward way: cp. Acts 13:13-14 with Acts 14:25.

14. My temptation which was in my flesh] RV ’That which was a temptation to you in my flesh.’ The bodily infirmity which had attacked him had left such traces that they might have been excused for rejecting one whose ’bodily presence was weak’: see 2 Corinthians 12:7 and note there. As an angel] with even excessive reverence. This spirit had been exhibited towards him in Lystra, even by the heathen (Acts 14:13); and, indeed, in all the cities of Galatia by those who had received his message and become followers of Christ.

15. Blessedness] RV ’Gratulation,’ your felicitation of yourselves in my teaching.

Plucked.. eyes] made any sacrifice for me, so great was your former kindness.

17. RV ’They zealously seek you in no good way; nay, they desire to shut you out that ye may seek them.’ They] the Jewish extremists.

Not well] i.e. in a party spirit. Exclude you] from the influence of other teachers, especially from my own. Affect (RV ’seek’) them] cling zealously to them as partisan adherents.

18. RV ’But it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter at all times.’ I am glad that you are the objects of others’ zeal and interest, whether I am present or absent, provided your favour is courted in a good cause.

19. I travail in birth again] RV ’I am again in travail.’ In his anxiety and distress he would reconvert them to Christ.

20. Desire] RV ’could wish,’ i.e. if such a thing were possible. Change my voice] i.e. change my tone, speak more mildly.

21-31. This passage is an example of the rabbinical method of interpretation, which found a hidden sense, embodied and intended, in many parts of Scripture. Here a historical narrative is taken as revealing the truth that those who adhere to the Law are in bondage, and those living by faith in Christ, free.

Paraphrase. ’(21) You who are so zealous for the Law will surely take a lesson from the Law itself. (22) You know the story of Abraham’s two children, Ishmael and Isaac, (23) the former the child of the bondwoman, Hagar, the latter of Sarah, born in accordance with a divine promise. (24) These two women represent, in the allegorical application, two covenants, the old and the new. Hagar represents the Law, whose symbol is Mt. Sinai, since her descendants, like the adherents of this old covenant, are born into a state of bondage. (25) Indeed, Hagar is a name of Mt. Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem, the sacred seat of the Law system, which, again, is a symbol of bondage. (26) But the spiritual Jerusalem, answering to Sarah, is, like her, the mother of freemen. (27, 28) For our spiritual mother has fulfilled the promise of Scripture to the childless, by making us like Isaac, the heirs of God’s gracious promise. (29) But just as then, so now, the unspiritual persecutes the spiritual. (30) And as then the Ishmaelites were rejected from the heirship of the promises, so now God will reject the slaves of the Law. (31) It is the Christian believers who are God’s true freemen and heirs of His promises.’

21. The very Law in which the Judaisers trust is shown to be against their contentions.

22. One son, from the circumstances of his birth, typifies bondage; the other, freedom: cp. Genesis 16, 21. It is written] This does not introduce a quotation here, but simply indicates the facts as recorded in the Scripture history.

23. One was born in a relation merely carnal, the other in fulfilment of a special. promise of God: cp. Hebrews 11:11, Hebrews 11:12.

24. Are (RV ’contain’) an allegory] i.e. are spoken allegorically. An allegory is a narrative where the literal sense ’half reveals and half conceals’ a spiritual meaning. The best example of allegory in the English language is Bunyan’s ’Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Hagar and Sarah represent, respectively, the Law and the Gospel—bondage and freedom. Of the former, Sinai, as the place where the Law was given, is the symbol.

25. Hagar] Some MSS of the Epistle omit this word here, in which case we should render: ’Sinai is a mountain in Arabia’ (so RM)—the land of Hagar’s descendants. Sinai and Jerusalem mean the same thing—law and bondage; Hagar typifies both. On St. Paul’s use of allegorical interpretation, cp. 1 Corinthians 9:9-10; Galatians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 3:14. As Hagar corresponds to (Mount Sinai, which is now represented by) the earthly Jerusalem, so Sarah corresponds to the ideal Jerusalem which is in heaven, of which all true Christians are citizens. With the whole passage cp. Hebrews 12:18-24.

26. Jerusalem.. above] the spiritual commonwealth or city of God, of which believers are citizens. The mother of us all] RV ’our mother,’ prefigured by Sarah.

27. This v. in its original context (Isaiah 54:1) had no reference to the Jerusalem above, only to the actual Jerusalem. It is quite in the rabbinical style for St. Paul to give it another, more spiritual application.

28. Conclusion and application. We believers stand in a relation to God’s promise and favour analogous to the descendants of Sarah, while the Judaisers take the place of the Ishmaelites.

29. Cp. Genesis 21:9. The ’mocking’ there mentioned hardly amounts to persecution. Perhaps the general hostility of Hagar’s descendants to Israel is referred to: cp. Psalms 83:6; 1 Chronicles 5:10, 1 Chronicles 5:19. History was now repeating itself in the persecution of the Christians of Galatia by Jews and Judaisers.

30. Cast out] cp. Genesis 21:10, Genesis 21:12.; Hagar’s spiritual descendants are the Jews and the Judaisers, who are the natural descendants of Sarah; while the heathen who have accepted Christ are the spiritual descendants of Sarah, and inherit the blessings promised to her children. For similar ideas in the teaching of Jesus cp. John 8:31-43.

31. So then] RV ’Wherefore’; since this rejection does not apply to us; we belong to a higher lineage and order. And as we are thus spiritually free (Galatians 5:1), let us take care to maintain our freedom.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcb/galatians-4.html. 1909.
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