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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verses 1-7


CH. 4:1-7.

But I say that for so long time as the heir is a child he differs nothing from a servant, though he be Lord of all; but is under guardians and stewards until the father’s predetermined time. So also we, when we were children, were under the rudiments of the world, held in bondage. But when the fulness of the time came God sent forth his Son, born from woman, born under law, that He might buy off those under law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons God sent forth the Spirit of The Son into our hearts crying Abba, Father. So that no longer art thou a servant but a son: and, if a son, also an heir through God.

In §, 13 Paul taught that by giving the Law God imposed a temporary bondage on those who afterwards became His sons and heirs of Abraham. His justification of this remarkable assertion, he postpones to § 15; eager to describe at once, in § 14, for the sake of contrast, his reader’s subsequent and present position of honour. That this previous temporary bondage is not inconsistent with their present position, he shows in Galatians 4:1-3; and in Galatians 4:4-7 supplements his description in § 14 of this position by recording the two great events which have brought about the change. Thus Galatians 4:1-3 are parallel to § 13; Galatians 4:4-7, to § 14. To the preliminary description of men under the guardianship of law, the word heirs, which concluded § 14, is a convenient stepping stone.

Galatians 4:1. But I say; introduces a new point, as in Galatians 5:16; Galatians 3:17.

For so long time as: exact co-extension of time, as in Romans 7:1; 1 Corinthians 7:39.

Child: usually one under ten years old. Same word in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 4:14; Hebrews 5:13 f; Romans 2:20; Matthew 11:25; Luke 10:21.

Servant, or slave: see under Romans 1:1.

Lord: one having control over men or things, correlative to a servant who is under the control of his lord. Cp. Matthew 10:24 f. Even if the father was still living the heir was in some sense lord of all, as already possessing a relation to the father which will some day put the estate under his control. But the contrast between the child’s apparent and virtual position is more conspicuous if we conceive the father to be dead. For then the estate has no owner except one who is himself under the control of others. And, that our Father in heaven ever lives, does not exclude this thought. For the analogy is quoted merely to show that outward dependence is consistent with real and great wealth.

Galatians 4:2. Further description of the child’s position.

Guardians: literally, men to whose care something or someone is committed. Same word in Matthew 20:8; Luke 8:3. It is a wider term than stewards, which denotes (e.g. 1 Corinthians 4:1 f; Romans 16:23) one who has charge of the property of another, in this case, that of the heir. This narrower sense of stewards suggests that guardians refers chiefly to those in charge of the child himself. Whether in Roman law the father could determine the time when his heir should take possession, is immaterial. For Paul is now passing from the metaphor to its underlying reality. The son, although virtually possessing the whole estate, is under the control of others until a certain fixed time comes. Paul remembers that for us this was the Father’s predetermined time, i.e. a time fixed by our Father in heaven. Similarly, in English law a father can determine by will at what age his son shall receive from the trustees full control over the inheritance.

Galatians 4:3. Application of the foregoing comparison.

Also we: as well as the heir to an estate. That both Jewish and Gentile readers are included, is made quite certain by Galatians 4:5 and Galatians 4:8-9.

When we were children: as implied in the word tutor in Galatians 3:24. It is the point of the foregoing comparison. Virtually it is explained and justified in the following words, which are evidence of spiritual childhood. In another sense, i.e. in contrast to the maturity of heaven, even believers ( 1 Corinthians 13:11) are children.

Rudiments, or elements: primarily, the letters of the alphabet; then the simplest component parts of the material world, as in 2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12; Wisdom of Solomon 7:17; Wisdom of Solomon 19:17, and especially earth, air, fire, water; then the simplest beginnings of any branch of knowledge, as in Hebrews 5:12. If we render elements, then the elements of the world (so Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20) will denote the constituent parts composing the material world around us. But this would give no sense consistent with Paul’s teaching. For unbelievers, though in bondage to the material world around them, are in no special bondage to its component parts. Consequently, the inserted word elements would be meaningless. It remains therefore that here and in Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20 Paul thinks of rudiments, i.e. of the simplest beginnings of spiritual education. So Hebrews 5:12. And, if so, since the world cannot possibly be the entire lesson, of which the rudiments are the beginning, these last words must be taken as conveying a complete idea, as in Galatians 4:9; and of the world must denote the matter of which the rudiments, these simplest beginnings, consist. The material world, with its various material objects, was the great lesson-book of pictures laid open by the great Father before the eyes of the infant human race, that men might read therein His name, and to some extent His nature and His will concerning them. Even to the heathen God revealed Himself (Romans 1:20) through the material world; and thus laid a foundation of moral obligation. And God’s revelation to Israel was conveyed through material objects, viz. the holy things of the Old Covenant. For this reason, the worship both of Jews and Gentiles took a material form. And since, by God’s design, both heathenism and Judaism were on their better sides a preparation for the Gospel, Paul embraces them here, overlooking for the moment their vast differences, under this one designation. The writings of Greece and Rome reveal some progress in these rudiments of religion. All this is not disproved by Paul’s description of idolatry, on its worse side, as ( 1 Corinthians 10:20) a worship of demons and as hostile to the Gospel. For in Galatians 4:10 even the divinely-ordained Mosaic ritual is treated as apostacy; and frequently those who claimed for it continued validity are denounced in strongest terms. And this we can understand. For they who place above and against the perfect teaching of Christ the rudimentary teaching of material forms pervert into positive error even divinely-given truth.

Since, both in Jews and Gentiles, these rudiments of religion assume the form of law, i.e. of a rule of conduct with rewards and punishments, they were a superior power under which in earlier ages our race lay, against which there was no rising up, and from which no escape.

Held-in-bondage: graphic description, expounding the word under; cognate to servant in Galatians 4:1. It recalls Galatians 3:22. The rudimentary teaching given to Jews and Gentiles in material forms belonging to the world around reveals God’s will that we obey Him, and the penalty awaiting disobedience; and, by prompting efforts after obedience, reveals our powerlessness to obey, and the presence of a power hostile to God forcing us to sin and from which we cannot free ourselves. Hence all who have only this rudimentary teaching are held-in-bondage: for they cannot do what their best judgment approves. This idea of bondage will be more fully developed in § 18.

That, in contrast to the saved, the unsaved are here called children, and that they are placed by the Father under a tutor, implies that they stand in special relation to Him, and indeed in some sense are already His sons. For it is a man’s own sons whom he puts under a tutor. This relation of all men to God rests upon their creation and the death of Christ for all men. We must therefore not think that our faith evokes God’s paternal love to us. That love rested on us before time began; and manifested itself in the death of Christ for us even when we were sinners. Yet, in the New Testament, believers and no others are called (Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:14; John 1:12) sons of God. This limitation was probably designed to warn us that they who reject Christ are in a real sense, and unless saved by faith will be in every sense, outside the family of God.

Galatians 4:4-7. Two facts, one (Galatians 4:4 f) historical and one (Galatians 4:6) spiritual which have put an end to the pupilage and bondage just described and brought about (Galatians 4:7) the happy state depicted in § 14.

Galatians 4:4. The word rendered time, (same word in Galatians 4:1,) which differs from that in Ephesians 1:10, suggests the long delay of Christ’s coming.

The fulness of the time: as though a long space were marked out to be filled up by successive moments. Cp. Mark 1:15; Luke 21:24; John 7:8; Genesis 29:21. It was the Father’s predetermined time. On what principles this space of time was marked out, Paul does not say. But doubtless the purpose of the delay was that the Law written on the hearts of men and on the tables of stone might have full scope, and thus prove itself powerless to save and in this way reveal man’s helpless bondage under sin; and that human nature might have time and opportunity to put forth all its powers, under the influence of law more or less fully understood, and thus find out its inability to attain for itself happiness. When Christ came, the civilisation and religious teaching of the ancient world were utterly worn out; and in spite of them society was rapidly sinking into ruin.

Sent forth; recalls the surroundings from the midst of which, and away from which, Christ came to earth.

His Son: as in Romans 1:3; Romans 8:3. That this title is used here as a sufficient designation of Christ, implies that it belongs to Him in a unique sense, i.e. that He holds a relation to the Father shared by none else. See my Romans Diss. i. 7. And, since this august title is evidently chosen to mark the dignity of Him whom God sent forth, it implies the pre-existence of Christ. This proof is not invalidated by John 1:6, which certainly does not imply the preexistence of John: for these very different words are fully accounted for by John’s designation from birth for a special office: cp. Luke 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5.

Born from woman: bodily derivation of the earthly life into which God sent His Son. It is similar to, but wider than, Romans 1:3 : see notes.

Under law: Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:18; Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 9:20. Christ entered by birth a state of subjection to a prescribed rule of conduct. By being born a Jew, He took upon Himself the obligation to keep, in every sense, the Law of Moses; and accepted obedience to law as the condition of the approval of God.

Galatians 4:5. Purpose for which Christ was born under obligation to keep law.

Those under law: the Jews. A close verbal and real parallel is in 1 Corinthians 9:20, where a servant imitates His Master. In a wider yet correct sense all men are under law. For all are subject (Romans 2:14) to a rule of conduct by which they will be judged. Actually, those under obligation to keep the Law are also under its curse. For, all men have broken the Law. From this curse, Christ came to buy us off, (same word in Galatians 3:13,) by Himself enduring it. This purpose implies that Christ’s assumed obligation to keep the Law, and therefore His perfect obedience, were needful for man’s deliverance from the penalty of sin, i.e. needful to reconcile (Romans 3:26) his deliverance with God’s justice. It thus involves the active obedience of Christ as an essential element of man’s salvation. But this element Paul does not make prominent. He attributes salvation, always to the death, never to the obedient life, of Christ.

The adoption: literally the son-making, the act in which God makes us His sons. See my Romans p. 238.

Receive; reminds us that this act of God is an enrichment to us.

We: not emphatic, yet reminding us that the adoption is for both born Jews and Paul’s Gentile readers. This further purpose implies that only those bought off from the curse of the Law can receive the adoption, i.e. that this curse excludes from the family of God. It gives also the ultimate object of the mission of the Son, which is not negative, i.e. to save us from death, but positive, i.e. to bring us to God. In order that we might enter His family, God sent His Son to liberate us, at the cost of His own life, from the penalty of the broken Law. Cp. Galatians 3:13-14.

Galatians 4:6. A spiritual event in the hearts of Paul’s readers analogous to, and consequent upon, the above historical event.

Ye are sons: as already stated in Galatians 3:26. This implies that the purpose of the sending of the Son, stated in Galatians 4:5, has been actually accomplished. And, because to be sons of God and yet not have the Spirit of His Son would be incongruous, God sent-forth, etc. Notice the stately parallel of Galatians 4:4; Galatians 4:6 : cp. Romans 1:3-4.

The Spirit of His Son: so Spirit of Christ, Romans 8:9; 1 Peter 1:11. An uncommon term, yet easily understood. For, that the Spirit is sent both by (John 14:26; John 15:26) the Son and the Father, suggests His similar relation to the Father and the Son. And the analogy of our own spirit in 1 Corinthians 2:11 suggests that the Son, like the Father, sends forth, in the person of the Holy Spirit, the animating principle of His own divine life to be the animating principle of His servants’ life. Thus the presence of the Spirit is virtually the presence of Christ Himself within us: Romans 8:9 f; Ephesians 3:17; John 14:18. That this animating principle is a Person distinct from the Son and the Father, (see under 1 Corinthians 12:11,) belongs to the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Sent forth: or has-sent forth. The Greek tense does not suggest, as does the English preterite, some definite time, e.g. Pentecost. By personal faith (Galatians 3:26) Paul’s readers became sons of God; and, because of this, received the Spirit of His Son. The Spirit, thus received, works a new birth: John 3:5. Consequently, the recipients are born from God: 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 5:18; James 1:18; cp. 1 Peter 1:23. But of this new birth Paul speaks only in the casual reference in Titus 3:5. He attributes the new life directly to the presence and activity of the Spirit: Galatians 5:16 ff. Since the Spirit is the source of this cry, He is said Himself to cry: cp. Romans 8:26. So do evil spirits, in Matthew 8:31. Since men are the mouthpiece of the cry, it is also attributed to them: in whom we cry, Romans 8:15.

Abba, Father: see under Romans 8:15. The Eternal Son, as He looks at God, cries Father. This cry the Spirit of the Son, sent forth by God, puts into the hearts of His people. And, while they utter it, they are conscious that their own cry is the voice in them of the Spirit of the Son of God. This inward voice is thus a proof to them that they are sons of God. See under Romans 8:17.

Galatians 4:7. Logical result of Galatians 4:6.

No longer: in contrast to Galatians 4:3. Although, as doing the work of God, we are (see under Romans 1:1) His servants, yet the word servant is no longer an accurate description of our position. The servant has become an adopted son. And, to be a son, is to be also an heir. In Roman law the adopted sons of an intestate father shared his property equally with the born sons. And they who believe in Christ will enjoy for ever, in virtue of their relation to God, His infinite wealth. So Romans 8:17.

Through God, or by the agency of God: cp. Galatians 1:1, through God, the Father, who raised, etc.: and see notes. By sending His Son that we might receive the adoption, and by sending the Spirit of His Son to assure us of this, God is not only the ultimate source but Himself an immediate agent of our heirship.

The apparent contradiction between no longer a servant and Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 7:22 results from the weakness of human language to set forth the many-sided truths of God; and warns us to use the utmost caution in interpreting solitary statements in the Bible. Neglect of this has given rise to innumerable and serious errors. Fortunately the chief doctrines of the New Testament are stated so frequently that, as here, one statement supplies the imperfection of another.

SECTION 15 completes Paul’s teaching about the sons of God, teaching very conspicuous in Romans and Galatians but elsewhere rare (2 Corinthians 6:18; Ephesians 1:5; Philippians 2:15) with Paul. It is very similar to John 1:12; 1 John 3:1 f, and akin to Christ’s words in Matthew 5:45; Luke 20:36, and to His frequent teaching that God is our Father. We are said to be His children, not by creation but by adoption through faith into His family. Before our faith we were in bondage. But this is not inconsistent with our present relation to God. For even a born son is, during his minority, in the position of a servant. To us now these days of servitude are past. So important in the eyes of God was our new relation to Him that to bring it about He sent forth from the glories of heaven His Eternal Son. And, to make the adopted sons like the Firstborn and to set an inward seal upon their adoption, God sent forth into their hearts the Spirit of His Son. So that now, by the immediate agency of God, we are His sons and heirs of His wealth.

Verses 8-11


CH. 4:8-11.

Nevertheless at that time, not knowing God, ye were in bondage to those who by nature are not gods. But now, having come to know God, or rather having become known by God, how are ye turning again to the weak and poor rudiments to which, beginning anew, ye wish to be again in bondage? Days ye observe, and months, and seasons, and years. I fear you, lest in any way I have in vain laboured for you.

Practical and personal application to the Galatian Christians, closing the argument introduced in Galatians 3:1.

Galatians 4:8-9. Startling and sad contrast to Galatians 4:7. The contrast is to be sought, not in the bygone detail ye were servants, but in turning back again to the rudiments, which is the chief matter of § 16 and indeed (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:21; Galatians 5:4) of the whole Epistle, and which was actually going on as Paul wrote, in almost tragic contrast to Galatians 4:7. Paul might have said nevertheless ye are turning back: but, as his manner (e.g. Romans 6:17; Romans 8:15) was, he preludes his chief point by other matter which throws it into stronger relief. Then, after the interval thus caused, instead of an assertion, he puts in Galatians 4:9 his chief point in the form of an astonished question.

Not knowing God: 1 Thessalonians 4:5; John 17:25; contrast Romans 1:21. In each case the extent of the knowledge is determined by the context. The personal God who revealed Himself to Israel (Psalms 76:1) was not known, in the same sense, to the heathen. Yet they derived from Nature such knowledge of Him as should have prompted further search, and actually left them without excuse. On the other hand, only they who believe the Gospel, and in proportion to their faith, know God so as to rest and rejoice in Him. Cp. John 17:3. The heathens’ scantier opportunities of knowing God, as compared with the Jews’, were a palliation of their service of idols: but this palliation at that time aggravates by its absence now the guilt of turning back to the old rudiments of heathenism.

Were-in-bondage or were-servants: same word in Galatians 4:25; Galatians 5:13; Romans 6:6; Romans 7:6; Romans 7:25; Ephesians 6:7. It involves the two ideas of doing work (cp. Galatians 5:13) for others and of being (cp. Galatians 4:25) under others’ control. By performing the ritual of idolatry, the heathen acknowledged themselves to be servants under the control of their supposed deities. And whether idols be looked upon as mere images or as demons, idolatry is service and bondage to objects which by nature, i.e. by their mode of existence, are no gods. The word nature (see under Romans 2:14) suggests the essential and infinite difference between God and the no-gods.

Galatians 4:9. But now; a marked feature of Paul’s phraseology and thought, the contrast of past and present; see under Romans 6:22.

Having-come-to-know God: as implied in Galatians 4:6.

Known by God: see under 1 Corinthians 8:3. Paul remembers that the change has its ultimate source, not in the mind of man as though by his intelligence he had found out God, but in the mind of God who in mercy has looked upon man. Therefore, leaving out of sight for a moment God’s eternal knowledge of all men, which lay at that time outside his readers’ thought, Paul speaks here as though they had lately come within the embrace of this divine knowledge. They can now say, as once they never said, God knows me.

How: as in Galatians 2:14 : by what process is so remarkable a retrogression taking place?

Are turning: the apostacy now going on, and therefore not yet complete. See under Galatians 1:6. Same word in 2 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:9: often used of turning to God, here the opposite.

Again; recalls Galatians 4:3.

Weak: unable to achieve results.

Poor: unable to enrich.

Again… again: emphatic reference to Galatians 4:3, reminding us that to go to the Law for salvation was to go again to something already tried and found unable to save.

Beginning-anew: as though recommencing the severe discipline of their spiritual childhood.

To-be-in-bondage: as in Galatians 4:8. Cp. Galatians 5:1. Since to seek salvation from law is essentially bondage, (for it is a vain effort to free ourselves from a terrible curse,) all desire for the Law as a means of salvation is practically a wish to be again in bondage to it. Cp. Acts 15:10. And this practical result of the present conduct of the Galatian Christians reveals its folly. They deliberately prefer now a path already tried, for which the only excuse at that time was their then ignorance of God.

Paul assumes that both himself (Galatians 4:3) and his Gentile readers (Galatians 4:8-9) were formerly under the same rudiments, and in bondage to them. This implies, not only that Judaism was powerless to save and to enrich, but that heathenism, as well as Judaism, was in some sense and measure a preparation for the Gospel. Heathen sages taught the great principles of right and wrong, and that God’s favour was to be obtained only by doing right: and even the rites of heathenism, deeply corrupt as many of them were, contained elements expressive of man’s felt need of salvation and of God. In other words, the Old Covenant did but reveal, with greater distinctness and depth and certainty, truths already revealed, in Nature and in the law written on the heart, to the nations around; and added to these moral truths a prophecy of future salvation of which only the faintest outline was known to the heathen world. Consequently, to seek salvation by the Mosaic Covenant of works, was to go back, ignoring the noblest element in the earlier revelation, e.g. Genesis 15:6; Habakkuk 2:4; Jeremiah 31:31 ff; Ezekiel 36:25 ff, to that which in a lower degree heathenism had in common with Judaism, to that which both Jews and Gentiles had found unable to save them. That the Law is here called weak and poor. (cp. Romans 8:3) does not deny its infinite worth as a means (Galatians 3:24) of leading men to Christ. Cp. Romans 7:12. It is good as a stepping stone to the Gospel; but is utterly ruinous when chosen as a means of salvation in preference to the salvation proclaimed in the Gospel.

This assumption that to go to the Mosaic Law for salvation was a return to the moral powerlessness and poverty of heathenism, although perfectly true and embodying a principle of immense importance, helps to explain the intense hatred of the Jews to a teacher of Jewish race who used such words.

Galatians 4:10. Simple statement of fact. It explains and justifies the charge involved in the question of Galatians 4:9.

Days: cp. Romans 14:5 : the weekly Sabbath; but including probably the great days (John 7:37; John 19:31) of the yearly festivals. Cp. Colossians 2:16; where, in the inverse order of frequency, we have the weekly sabbath indisputably, the beginnings of months, and the yearly feasts. It is thrown conspicuously forward to the beginning of Galatians 4:10, suggesting that these sacred days were a chief feature of the Jewish ritual adopted by the Galatian Christians.

Observe: attend to them with scrupulous care. Same word in Josephus, Antiq. bk. iii. 5. 5, “to observe the seventh days;” in reference to the fourth commandment.

Months: probably the new moons, which are constantly mentioned with the weekly Sabbath; Numbers 28:11; Isaiah 1:13; Hosea 2:11; 1 Chronicles 23:31, also Numbers 10:10; Psalms 81:3. Philo speaks (vol. ii. 286) of the seventh month as specially honoured by containing “the greatest of feasts.” But he says this chiefly to glorify the number seven. Moreover, this long festival is included in the seasons: and the new moons, a conspicuous feature of Jewish ritual, are unmentioned unless referred to as months. That only the beginnings of the months, but the whole of the days and seasons, were sacred, is an unimportant difference.

Seasons: same word in Leviticus 23:4, introducing regulations for the Passover, Pentecost, and feast of Tabernacles. And to these feasts occupying several days, Paul probably refers here.

Years: the seventh Sabbatic year. The plural number, making the reference general, forbids us to infer that Paul wrote during a sacred year. He merely says that, to observe the year when it came round, was part of his readers’ Judaizing programme.

Galatians 4:11. Result, in Paul’s heart, of the conduct described in Galatians 4:10. His own converts were objects filling him with fear. For, their present conduct threatened to render fruitless his toil for them and thus to inflict upon him, eager for success, i.e. for their salvation, a severe blow.

He was therefore in some sense at their mercy. This fear reveals their tremendous danger and Paul’s deep interest in them.

In-any-way: as in Galatians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:5. He thinks of the variety of ways in which his labours may become fruitless. The emphatic word is in-vain: cp. Galatians 3:4. For the result is still contingent; whereas Paul’s labours are already matter of fact, and therefore beyond reach of fear. [This explains sufficiently the perfect indicative, without supposing that Paul assumes that his fear is already realised.]

Galatians 4:10 is Paul’s first plain statement of the nature of the incipient apostacy from which in this Epistle he seeks to recall his readers. Observance of the Jewish festivals and even of the Jewish Sabbath, though all these were ordained by God, is described as a turning back to the powerless rudiments of spiritual education and as a desire to return to bondage, and is said to inspire in Paul fear lest his labours for them be in vain. This reveals the vast issues at stake in this observance, and its tremendous significance. Evidently it implied that the Law of Moses was still binding as a condition, and therefore the only means of obtaining, the blessings of the New Covenant. This inference from the observance of Jewish ritual is plainly stated in Galatians 5:3. Cp. Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5. It explains the question in Galatians 3:2, and the argument following; and is the only conceivable explanation of them.

This logical inference from these Jewish practices would produce various results in various persons. Since the Law contains moral precepts involving broad principles which reach to the inmost sources of human action, and thus reveals a morality far beyond reach of the best men who come to the Law for salvation, the result to earnest seekers would be a sense of condemnation deepening into despair. Of this, Paul had himself been an example: cp. Romans 7:24. Others would direct and limit their attention to those parts of the Law which seemed easy of fulfilment, especially the details of its ritual, e.g. observance of sacred days. And on such observance they would rely for the favour of God, silencing the voice of conscience by increased punctiliousness in small details. Of this false reliance a lowered moral tone is an inevitable result. In each case the result would be subversive of the Gospel and of Christianity. Yet these sacred days were ordained by God, in order to prepare a way, both as means of spiritual education and by their felt inability to save, for the salvation revealed by Christ. To retrace our steps in the path of life, is the way to destruction.

In Acts 21:24 we find Paul himself doing that which in the Galatian Christians caused him so much fear. See Diss. i. 5. As a born Jew, to conciliate Jews and to avoid appearance of denying the divine origin of the Mosaic Law, Paul himself obeyed its requirements. But he taught strenuously that such observance was not needful for salvation, or in any way binding on Gentile converts. Thus Paul’s conduct and teaching were consistent, although easily misunderstood and misrepresented.

REVIEW of §§ 9-16, the central argument of the Epistle.

Some men in Galatia had taught that Christians are bound to be circumcised and to keep Jewish sacred seasons. Without discussing these details, Paul goes at once to a broad and erroneous principle underlying them, viz. that observance of the Law is still a condition of the favour of God. In disproof of this, he appeals to his readers’ earlier Christian life which was derived, as memory testifies, not from obedience to law but from belief of a preached word. He asks whether a life begun by reception of the Spirit is to be perfected by ordinances pertaining to mere bodily life.

With his readers’ experience agrees the story of Abraham, who obtained by faith blessings for himself and promises for all nations. These promises are fulfilled in those who believe the Gospel, and in them only. For, on all who come to it for salvation the Law pronounces a curse. From this curse Christ bought us off, by Himself undergoing it, that by faith we might obtain the blessings promised to Abraham. if the Law be a condition of salvation, God has nullified His promises to Abraham by adding to them a later and impossible condition; which even human morality forbids. Paul notices incidentally that the heirs of the promises are uniformly designated by a word in the singular number, in close harmony with the fulfilment of these promises in Christ. The real purpose of the Law was to create in man consciousness of helpless bondage under the power of sin, in order to compel him to seek salvation by faith in Christ. The days of bondage are now past. By union with Christ we are sons of God, a relation in which all human distinctions fade; and heirs of Abraham’s promises. The former days were the bondage of childhood: but now that the set time has come we are adopted sons of God; and, in token of this, God has put in our hearts the filial cry of His Firstborn Son. In view of all this, Paul asks why his readers wish to begin over again the discipline and bondage of their earlier days, and expresses a fear lest they will rob him of the fruits of his toil on their behalf.

THE weekly SABBATH is, as we have seen, included, and probably referred to specially, in the evidently sad statement of Galatians 4:10. This agrees with Colossians 2:16, where the Sabbath, which must be chiefly the weekly rest, is joined to feasts and new moons and distinctions of food as a matter in which sentence must not be pronounced upon Christians; and with Romans 14:5, where the superiority of one day above another is left an open question. The relation therefore of the Jewish Sabbath to Christianity demands our attention.

The word Sabbath is an English form of a Hebrew word denoting always a sacred rest. The corresponding verb denotes sometimes simply to cease or rest, as in Genesis 8:22; Joshua 5:12; Jeremiah 31:36; Proverbs 22:10; Job 32:1; Nehemiah 6:3; and sometimes to keep a sacred rest, as in Genesis 2:2 and He kept Sabbath on the seventh day from all His work which He did, Exodus 16:30; Exodus 23:12; Exodus 34:21; Leviticus 23:32; Leviticus 25:2.

Although there are several festal days in which servile work was forbidden, e.g. Leviticus 23:7 f, and in a few places, e.g. Leviticus 23:11; Leviticus 23:15, these seem to be called Sabbaths or are indisputably called (so Leviticus 23:24) by the cognate name Shabbathon, yet the weekly Sabbath and the Day of Atonement are raised above all other days as (Leviticus 23:3; Leviticus 23:31 f) a cessation from all work and are designated by a special superlative name Sabbath of Sabbath-keeping or Rest of Resting, in A.V. Sabbath of Rest. When not otherwise defined, the word Sabbath is a sufficient and frequent designation of the weekly rest. Thus the usage of words gives to the seventh day a unique place of honour among the many sacred days of the Law of Moses.

Amid many other ordinances, the weekly Sabbath is very conspicuous as being the special sign of the Mosaic Covenant: Exodus 31:12-17; cp. Ezekiel 20:12. It thus takes in some sense the place of circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14) in the covenant with Abraham. The frequent and regular recurrence of the weekly rest made it a very appropriate test and visible expression of loyalty to the covenant with God.

Still further is the weekly Sabbath raised above all other ritual prescriptions by its place in the Decalogue, among commandments valid every one for all time and all men; and by being based in the Decalogue and in Genesis 2:3; Exodus 31:17 upon God’s work in creation. Of the close relation of the Sabbath to moral precepts, Isaiah 56:1-6 affords remarkable proof.

That the weekly rest was ordained before Moses, is not proved by Genesis 2:3 : for even after a lapse of time an institution may have been ordained to commemorate a bygone event. Against this, the consecutive order of Genesis 2 cannot be appealed to for after the ordinance of the Sabbath in Genesis 2:3 we have in Genesis 2:7 the creation of man. Nor is it disproved by Ezekiel 20:12 : for an already existing institution might at the Exodus have been made by God a sign of the new covenant then given to Israel. That the princes of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16:22) did not understand the double supply of manna, suggests perhaps that the Sabbath was not then known to them. On the other hand, Genesis 8:10; Genesis 8:12; Genesis 29:27 suggest that a period of seven days was already used as a division of time: and, although this does not imply a weekly day of sacred rest, the division of time into weeks is much more easy to understand if the weeks were separated by a sacred day. The word remember in Exodus 20:8, if it is anything more than an emphatic form of the parallel phrase keep the Sabbath day in Deuteronomy 4:12, refers doubtless to the institution of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:29-30. Certainly it is no proof or suggestion that the Sabbath was ordained earlier than the departure from Egypt. Indeed, taken together, the above casual and uncertain notes have little weight as evidence either that the Sabbath was not, or was, ordained earlier than the Exodus. But the double supply of manna on the sixth day with no manna on the seventh, and the solemn ordinance of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:25-30 before the giving of the Decalogue, are additional marks of honour to the weekly Day of Rest.

The week itself was unknown to the early Greeks and Romans, and apparently to the heathen world generally. But that something like it was known to the Babylonians and Assyrians, is proved by a Babylonian calendar for a sacred month written in the Assyrian language, in which amid sacrifices for other days, the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st, and 28th days have a uniform description as “days unlawful to work on,” and the king is forbidden to eat his ordinary food or change his dress or do his ordinary royal duties on them. See Smith’s Chaldaean Account of Genesis p. 89; Records of the Past, vol. vii. p. 159; Schrader, Keilinschriften und A.T. 2nd ed. p. 18. Since these were days of a lunar month, which contains 29½ days, they would not coincide with the Jewish Sabbath, which is each seventh day all the year round independently of the moon. But the similarity is worthy of notice. An Assyrian form of the word Sabbath has been found; (see Records of the Past, vol. vii. p. 157;) and is explained as “day of rest of heart.” But it is not used in the calendar mentioned above other Babylonian inscriptions reveal the sacredness of the number seven.

A seven-fold division of time is also mentioned in the Indian Vedas. So Rig-veda i. 50, in a hymn to the Sun-god: “Clear-sighted god of day, thy seven ruddy mares bear on thy rushing car. With these thy self-yoked steeds, seven daughters of thy chariot, onward thou dost advance.” Also Atharva-veda xix. 53, in a hymn to Time: “Time, like a brilliant steed with seven rays… Time, like a seven-wheeled, seven-naved car, moves on.” But I learn from a reliable authority that these are the only references to a seven-fold division of time in Indian literature earlier than our era; and that there is no reference there to a weekly rest. But in later days the week became known in India.

Similar scanty references are found in the literature of China.

Dion Cassius (Roman History bk. 37. 16-18) states that in his day the division of time into weeks was universal, though not of early date among the Greeks and Romans, and that they received it from the Egyptians. But we have not, so far as I know, any reliable traces of a weekly day of rest among the Egyptians. And indeed the evidence of a weekly division of time earlier than the Christian era and outside Israel is at present very scanty and somewhat uncertain.

The early Christian writers assume that the Sabbath did not exist before Moses. So Justin (Dialogue with Trypho ch. 19) says in argument with a Jew, referring to Adam, Abel, Enoch, and Melchizedec: “All these were just men and righteous in the sight of God without even keeping the Sabbath.” And Irenæus in his work Against Heresies (bk. iv. 16. 2) writes “Without circumcision and without observance of the Sabbath Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” Probably these quotations represent the opinion of the Apostolic Church. But the distance of time and absence of independent sources of information deprive this opinion of any critical value as evidence of the date of the first institution of the weekly rest.

The above casual references leave us unable to determine with confidence whether the Sabbath was earlier than the Mosaic Covenant. And the matter is unimportant. For, that the Jewish Sabbath rested on a basis broader than the Mosaic Covenant, is proved by its connection with God’s work at the Creation.

The importance of the Sabbath in the Old Covenant is attested by Jeremiah 17:21-27; Ezekiel 20:12; Nehemiah 10:31; Nehemiah 13:15-22. Its worth in the eyes of the more pious of the later Jews is seen in 1 Macc. i. 39; ii. 34, 38, 41.

Yet that which to Israel of the Old Covenant was an obligatory mark of loyalty to God, was, in the Gentile Christians of Galatia, called by Paul a return to spiritual bondage. Indeed the prominent position in Galatians 4:10 of the word days suggests that their observance of the weekly Sabbath was a chief mark of their apostacy. And this, Paul’s foregoing argument enables us to understand. For it implies that the Galatian Christians kept the Jewish Sabbath as an essential condition of salvation. But this was an acknowledgment that the Mosaic Law is still binding as a condition of the favour of God. For the entire Law, including ritual and moral commands, was given by the same authority. Now Paul has proved that the Law pronounces a universal curse, and excludes from the blessings promised to Abraham all those under its domain. Consequently, the continued validity of the Law would close to all men the way of salvation. And this was involved in the observance by the Galatians of the Jewish Sabbath. This observance was therefore utterly subversive of the Gospel proclaimed by Christ. Hence Paul’s fear lest his labours in Galatia be in vain.

All this implies that, like the distinction of food, (Mark 7:15; Mark 7:18; Acts 10:15,) so marked a feature of the Mosaic Covenant, also the command to keep sacred the seventh day was in some sense annulled by Christ, and that the great principle of Romans 6:14; 1 Corinthians 9:20, that we are not under law but under grace, includes the Sabbath Law. This inference compels us to consider now the relation of the Lord’s day to the Jewish Sabbath.

In marked contrast to the comparative disregard of the day so highly honoured in the Old Covenant, we find in the New Testament special honour paid to another day. On the day following the Jewish Sabbath Christ rose from the dead; and on the evening of the same day (John 20:19) appeared to the assembled disciples. On the same day of the next week He appeared to them again. And on the same day six weeks later He founded His Church by pouring upon the assembled disciples the Holy Spirit. The infinite importance of these events gives to the first day of the week a glory never conferred on the seventh day.

Accordingly we find in Acts 20:7 a Christian meeting held on the first day of the week; and in 1 Corinthians 16:2 Paul prescribes it as the day for laying by money for a charitable purpose. In Revelation 1:10, we read of the Lord’s Day, which is honoured by a special revelation to John. And the distinction already given to the first day of the week makes us quite certain that this was the Lord’s Day.

All this is confirmed by early Christian writers. The lately discovered Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written probably early in the second century, says in ch. 14: “Each Lord’s Day come together and break bread and give thanks,” i.e. celebrate the Eucharist. So the Epistle of Barnabas, probably a few years later, ch. 15, where after a long reference to the Sabbath we read: “For which cause also we keep the eighth day for gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead.” Justin writes in the middle of the century, First Apology ch. 67: “On what is called Sunday there is a coming together to one place of all who dwell in town or country, and the memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets are read;” and says that this is followed by exhortation and the Lord’s Supper, adding: “On Sunday we all make our common gathering since it is the first day in which God changed darkness and crude matter and made the world: and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.” A succession of later writers removes all doubt that the first day of the week was called the Lord’s Day, and was a special day of worship in the early Church.

We have already seen that unique honour to one day of the week was a marked feature of the Old Covenant; and that, by its reference to the work of Creation and its place in that Decalogue, the Jewish Sabbath was placed on a basis broader than the Mosaic Law. We now find in the New Covenant still more conspicuous honour paid to one day of the week; but not to the same day. The change of day marks a transition from the Old Covenant to the New. And the honour paid in each covenant to one day in seven suggests that a common element underlies both, and that the Lord’s Day bears to the Jewish Sabbath a relation similar to that of the New Covenant to the Old. That this is actually the case, is, I think, fully proved by the following considerations.

We find by experience that the weekly day of rest is of incalculable and many-sided benefit. The gain to the body of regular intervals of rest from the monotonous toil of daily life can never be estimated. Still more valuable is the leisure thus obtained, amid the imperious demands of the present life, for contemplation of the eternal realities of the life to come. Moreover, the observance of this sacred rest in spite of these pressing cares is an acknowledgment, in view of many who through forgetfulness of God are slaves of the world around, of the greater importance of the world above us. Thus, like the Lord’s Supper, the Lord’s Day gives visible form to the service of God. Moreover, the observance by all Christians of the same day of rest renders united worship possible; and makes the outward aspect of society a recognition of God. For these reasons, (and they might be multiplied indefinitely and they have much more force than appears on the surface,) were there no divine obligation it would be expedient for our highest interests to keep a frequent and regularly recurring day of rest, and that all Christians should observe the same day. This reveals the gain actually derived from the prevalent belief, whatever be its grounds, that the day of rest was ordained by God. Indeed, it is not easy to conceive how otherwise all Christians would agree to keep the same day. Consequently, either this belief is correct or an error has been to the world a manifold and incalculable benefit. This benefit is an element of good in the Jewish Sabbath suitable to all nations and all ages.

These spiritual gains go a long way to prove, or rather strongly confirm our other abundant proof of, the divine origin of the Mosaic Covenant. Certainly, the teacher who gave to his nation and institution so rich in blessing for all mankind was indeed taught by God.

Admitting now the divine origin of the Jewish Sabbath, as we are compelled to do unless we reject the plain and repeated historical statements of the Old Testament, and observing the immense gain to all men of a weekly day of sacred rest, we are irresistibly driven to infer that the rest ordained at Sinai was designed for all mankind; or, in other words, that this gain is by divine purpose. While enjoying the benefits of the Lord’s Day, we feel that these benefits are God’s gift. And this wider purpose of Israel’s Day of Rest is the easiest explanation of its place in the Decalogue and of its reference there to the Creation of the World. Indeed we can well conceive that the great benefit it was designed to confer on Israel and on the world moved God to select the Sabbath, whether previously existing or not, as the special sign of the Mosaic Covenant. For, by thus selecting it, He gave it a sure place in the national life.

If the above inference and explanation be correct, by keeping the Lord’s Day we are doing the will of God and are receiving benefits designed by Him for us. To neglect it, would be to trample under foot a precious and divine gift. We therefore keep it, not as a condition or means of the favour of God or under fear of penalty, but with gratitude for so great a gift and desirous to obtain all the blessings it is designed to convey. And this desire will determine our mode of spending the Sacred Day.

In the above discussion we have left out of sight the symbolic significance which belongs to the Sabbath in common with the entire Mosaic ritual. This significance is embodied in the words holy and sanctify, which are everywhere given to every part of that ritual. God claimed from Israel for Himself one tribe out of twelve, one day in seven, and one-tenth of all produce, in order to assert His universal ownership. He now claims, in the New Covenant, that every man be His servant and priest, that all our possessions be consecrated to Him, and every day and hour be spent for Him. To us, therefore, in the highest conceivable sense every day is holy to the Lord. But this by no means lessens the benefit of separating, from the secular toil which forms so large a part of the work God has allotted to most of us, a portion of time for meditation and evangelical work. This separation of a part greatly aids us to spend our whole time for God.

We understand now the relation to Christianity of the Jewish Sabbath. Whenever instituted, it was commanded in the Law; and was made a sign, and a conspicuous feature, of the Old Covenant of works. Consequently, as commanded by God, it was binding on every Israelite under pain of God’s displeasure. And they who sought salvation by law sought it in part by strict observance of the Sabbath. This is the legal aspect of the Jewish Sabbath. Again, like the entire Mosiac ritual, the Sabbath was a symbol of the Christian life. In these two aspects, the legal and the symbolic, the Jewish Sabbath passed away; or rather has attained its goal in the fuller revelation of the New Covenant. Instead of one day sanctified for Jehovah, every day is now spent for Christ. The Law has led us to Christ. And the Voice which once condemned us for past disobedience, and made the favour of God impossible by reason of our powerlessness to obey in the future, has been silenced by the Voice from the Cross. In these two senses the Law, even the law of the Sabbath, is to us as completely a thing of the past as is the schooling of our childhood.

But underneath the legal and symbolic aspects of the Sabbath, which pertain only to the Old Covenant, lay an element of universal and abiding value, viz. the manifold benefit of the weekly rest. To secure this benefit for Israel, and through Israel for the world, God embodied the Sabbath in the Law and Ritual of the Old Covenant. And when the Old Covenant was superseded by the New, Christ secured for His Church the same advantages by paying special honour to the first day of the week. But, like everything in the Gospel, the Lord’s Day is not so much a law as a free gift of God. While keeping it we think, not of the penalty of disobedience, but of the great benefits received thereby in the kind providence of God: and we spend the day, not according to a written prescription, but in such way as seems to us most conducive to our spiritual growth. Thus the Lord’s Day is a Christian counterpart of the Jewish Sabbath; and differs from it only as the Gospel differs from the Law.

Similarly, as a visible embodiment of the truth that our salvation comes through the shed blood of the innocent, the Jewish sacrifices have in some sense a Christian counterpart in the Lord’s Supper. And the rite of Infant Baptism, which is not expressly enjoined in the New Testament, reproduces in the Christian Church, by recognising the relation of little ones to the God of their fathers, a part of the spiritual significance of circumcision.

We understand now Paul’s indifference in Romans 14:5 whether we esteem one day above another, or all days equally. Seen in the full light of the Gospel, all days are equal: for all are spent for Christ. And the service we render Him in the common duties of daily life is as precious in His sight and as rich an outflow of Christian life as are the meditation and evangelical activity of the Lord’s Day. This is perfectly consistent with the consecration of one day a week for the latter, and the equal consecration of six days for the former, kind of service.

Nor is the absence from the New Testament of any express teaching about the relation of the Lord’s Day to the Jewish Sabbath and the Fourth Commandment difficult to understand. Any such teaching in the Epistle before us would have seriously blunted, by inevitable misinterpretation, Paul’s resistance to the advocates of the Mosaic Law as still binding on Christians. Abundant proofs of this relation were stored in the sacred volume. The inference from these proofs was left to be observed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the later ages of the Church. And in the meantime, by Christ and by the apostolic Church an unique honour was paid to the first day of the week which marked it out unmistakably as the Day of Days.

In exact accord with the above exposition is the usage of early Christian writers. The first day of the week is constantly called the Lord’s Day, and spoken of as specially honoured and as the chosen day of Christian worship. But, so far as I know, not until the Council of Macon in A.D. 585 have we any hint of a transfer of the sacred rest from the seventh to the first day, or of obligation to keep the Lord’s Day on the ground of the Fourth Commandment. Very interesting is Augustine’s note on Psalms 91:1, where he contrasts the Jews’ Sabbath, which he says they waste in bodily idleness, with the Christians’ inward rest, which he calls the Sabbath of the heart. The whole note makes us almost certain that Augustine did not look upon the Lord’s Day as a Christian counterpart of the Jewish Sabbath. Equally interesting is a treatise of doubtful authorship and date on The Sabbath and Circumcision attributed to Athanasius, in which, although the Lord’s Day is not called a Sabbath or placed in any relation to the Fourth Commandment, it is nevertheless shown to stand in close relation to the Jewish Sabbath. See also the much earlier quotation on p. 118 from the Epistle of Barnabas.

The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, decreed, in A.D. 321, that all judges and people residing in cities rest from work on Sunday, permitting only agriculture. He thus recognised publicly the Day of Rest as a Christian institution.

But neither imperial decrees nor command of the ancient Law of God nor tradition of the Early Church are needed by those who have experienced the great and various benefit of the rest and leisure of the Lord’s Day. The greatness of the benefit is to them abundant proof of the divine origin and authority of the Christian Day of Rest.

Verses 12-20


CH. 4:12-20.

Become as I am, because also I have become as ye are, brethren, I beg you. No injustice have ye done me. And ye know that because of weakness of the flesh I preached the Gospel to you the first time: and your temptation in my flesh ye did not despise nor loathe, but as an angel of God ye welcomed me, as Christ Jesus. Where then is your professed holiness? For I bear you witness that, if possible, your own eyes ye would have dug out and given to me. So then am I become your enemy by speaking truth to you?

Zealously they care for you, not in a good way: but they wish to shut you out, that ye may care for them zealously. And a good thing it is to be zealously cared for in a good matter always, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you. I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my voice: because I am perplexed about you.

After the application to the readers, in § 16, of the foregoing argument, now follows (Galatians 4:12-16) a personal and loving appeal based on their welcome to Paul on his first visit to Galatia: then comes (Galatians 4:17-20) the first direct reference, after Galatians 1:7, to the men who were leading them astray.

Galatians 4:12. A direct appeal prompted by Paul’s fear lest his labours for his readers be without result.

Become as I am: i.e. free from the legal bondage implied in their observance (Galatians 4:10) of sacred days: not do as I do; for (see under Galatians 4:11) Paul himself kept the Jewish ritual. His motive in so doing differed infinitely from that of his opponents: cp. 1 Corinthians 9:20 with Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5.

Because also I, etc.: a fact added to the foregoing entreaty, as a reason for it. By recognising the emptiness of Jewish prerogatives and thus laying them aside, Paul, a born Jew, placed himself on the spiritual level of his readers, who were born Gentiles. He now entreats them to come down, by laying aside the fancied superiority of Jewish proselytes, to the common level which he has long ago accepted. Thus Paul brings to bear, on those who as strangers were seeking prerogatives which were his by birth and to which from childhood he had been taught to cling proudly, the example of his own surrender of these prerogatives as worthless. Similar appeals to his own example, in 1 Corinthians 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10:33. Those to whom he appeals, he, a born Jew, recognises as brethren.

No injustice; so literally: or no injury, without thought of injustice, as in Luke 10:19 : for, as the derivation of the words suggests, injury is usually injustice. A close parallel, in 2 Corinthians 12:13. The utter obscurity now of these words points to facts known to the readers but not to us. The emphasis rests, not on me in contrast to others, but on the negative: in NOTHING have ye done me injustice. Nor does this emphatic and unexpected denial refer necessarily to Paul’s visit to Galatia. [The Greek aorist covers the entire past to the moment of writing.] This denial was suggested naturally by Paul’s loving appeal; and suitably prefaces his mention of the, welcome given to him by the Galatians on his first visit.

Galatians 4:13-14. Not only had his readers done Paul no injustice or injury, but on his first visit, although it was occasioned merely by sickness, they welcomed him with eager affection. This he recalls in order to arouse now a similar affection, and thus strengthen his own appeal.

Weakness: absence of strength, of any kind. It is the usual term for sickness, of which absence of bodily strength is a constant mark: so Philippians 2:26 f; 2 Timothy 4:20; Matthew 10:8; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:40; John 11:1-6; Acts 4:9; Acts 5:15 f. And this is the only meaning which will make sense here.

Of the flesh: the material of our bodies, which by its nature is in various ways (cp. Romans 8:3; Matthew 26:41) weak or liable to weakness.

Because of weakness, etc.: i.e. detained in Galatia by some sickness. This led him to preach the Gospel and found Churches there. Thus Paul’s sickness brought good-news (see under Galatians 1:6) to his readers.

The first time: or literally the former-time. It contrasts a former with a later visit. And, since contrast with the present was needless, (for this is sufficiently indicated by preached-the-Gospel,) it implies that twice Paul had preached in Galatia. If so, these words give definiteness to the statement in Galatians 4:13 : otherwise they are meaningless.

The first recorded visit of Paul to Galatia is that mentioned in Acts 16:6, on his second missionary journey. And we have no difficulty in supposing that then he was detained in Galatia by illness. and founded Churches there. Another visit, on his third journey, is recorded in Acts 18:23. And we cannot well conceive any other earlier visit. Consequently, not earlier than this last visit was the letter before us written. See Diss. iii.

That the Gospel was first preached to the Galatians by a man who lingered among them merely because of bodily weakness, put to a severe test their readiness to receive the truth. Many hearers would have turned away from a Gospel proclaimed by a sick man. Consequently, the sickness in Paul’s flesh was a trial or temptation (see under 1 Corinthians 10:13) to his readers. And, since the afflicted man was an embodiment of this trial, had they turned from him with disgust, they would have despised and loathed the temptation which God had laid upon them. Instead of this, they welcomed him (literally received with outstretched right hand) as though he were a visitant from heaven, an angel of mercy from God. Nay more.

They welcomed him with the reverence they would have paid to his divine Master, to Christ Jesus. The words despise and loathe suggest that Paul’s sickness was of a kind calculated to evoke contempt and disgust.

Galatians 4:15. Question prompted by the foregoing statement.

Where then: as in Romans 3:27; cp. 1 Corinthians 1:20; 1 Corinthians 12:17; 1 Corinthians 12:19; 1 Corinthians 15:55. It implies that their gratulation had vanished from view.

Your professed happiness: literally your pronouncing-happy, or blessed.

Same word in Romans 4:6; Romans 4:9; see note: cognate word in Romans 4:7 f; Matthew 5:3-11. They pronounced themselves happy, i.e. fortunate in the highest and holiest sense, because Paul had visited them. Of this felt good fortune, the enthusiasm of their welcome (Galatians 4:14) was proof and measure. Paul therefore supports his question by the following emphatic statement.

Paul is able to bear-witness in his reader’s favour. Your, is not emphatic, as though in contrast with Paul’s eyes. Consequently, these words in no way suggest that Paul’s complaint was in his eyes.

Dug-out your eyes: same words (LXX.) in 1 Samuel 11:2; cp. Judges 16:21 : graphic description of a painful and ruinous operation. Even this costly, and in fact impossible, gift would not have been too great in their view to express the benefits they had received from the preaching of Paul. This testimony, the readers knew to be true. Paul asks therefore what has become of this recognition of spiritual benefits.

Galatians 4:16. An inference from Galatians 4:15, thrown because of its unlikeliness into the form of a question.

Your enemy: or an enemy of yours: one intent on doing you harm. Paul’s earnestness suggests this rather than the weaker sense, one hated by you. The Galatians treated Paul as though he were actually hostile to them. And, since he was formerly so valued a friend, if he be now an enemy, as his readers suppose or act as though they supposed, he has become such: i.e. a change has taken place. Paul asks the reason. He has done nothing but speak-truth. Is this then the cause of the change? The precise reference of Paul’s question is unknown to us. It cannot be the letter he is now writing: for he refers to his readers’ present judgment about him. The easiest explanation is that on his second visit Paul rebuked a tendency to Judaism then visible: and that this rebuke was used by his enemies to alienate from him the Galatian Christians. He asks whether words which they know to be true have made a valued friend into an enemy.

Review of Galatians 4:12-16. Moved by fear which their observance of Jewish festivals inspires, Paul reminds his readers that he a born Jew has laid aside all Jewish prerogatives; and makes a brotherly appeal to them to lay aside the Jewish entanglements which were bringing them into bondage. He recalls the eagerness with which at the first they welcomed him, when as a sick man he lingered among them. Their devotion to the preacher knew no limits: and it proclaimed the benefits they had received from his preaching. Since then, all that Paul has done has been to speak what they know to be true. He asks if this has made their former friend into a foe.

The above is, like Galatians 3:1-2, an appeal to the readers’ early Christian life in proof of the truth of the word they then received.

It is also a welcome addition to the narrative of Paul’s life. We see him detained by serious illness (for no other would hinder him) among people of strange nationality and speech. We can imagine him preaching to them in great bodily weakness. But his word produced immediate and wonderful results. The preacher was welcomed with enthusiasm. And various scattered but flourishing Churches were formed among the Keltic settlers of Galatia. We have also an indication of a second visit: and Paul’s silence suggests that even then his converts’ loyalty to their great teacher had begun to decline.

These biographical notes agree with Acts 16:6 where we find Paul passing through Galatia; and with Acts 18:23 where we find him visiting disciples in the Galatian country.

Whether Paul’s sickness in Galatia had any relation to his probably much earlier stake in the flesh, is quite uncertain. See Under 2 Corinthians 12:7. But this abiding affliction reveals some kind of bodily unsoundness: and this might easily give rise to a passing illness which would detain the apostle.

Galatians 4:17. A silent reference to Paul’s opponents in Galatia. That he does not find it needful to mention them expressly, proves that they are already present to his thought. Cp. Galatians 5:10; Galatians 6:12 f. And direct mention of them would be unpleasant.

Zealously-care-for you: or they-are-zealous or jealous-about you: same word and construction in 1 Corinthians 12:31, Be zealous for the greater gifts; and 2 Corinthians 11:2, I am jealous about you. They are very eager about you; i.e. for your benefit apparently, and for your favour.

Not-in-a-good-way, or manner: expounded by they wish, etc., which states the motive of their earnest effort. From whom or what, the false teachers wish to-shut-out the Galatian Christians, Paul does not say. He fixes attention simply on the designed isolation. The practical effect of the false teaching will be exclusion from Christ, from the Gospel and its blessings, and from the community of faithful Christians. But a special reference to these last is not required by the emphatic word them, as though the false teachers were compared with those from whom they would shut out the Galatian Christians: for it is simply a contrast to you, the excluders and the excluded being thus brought face to face. And Paul’s exact reference remains uncertain, and not very important. If the Galatian Christians yield to the disturbers and become circumcised, they will be shut out of that element in which they have found life and peace; and will become dependent on the favour and help of those who have led them astray. Consequently, the seduced will be compelled to court their seducers. And this Paul declares to be (that ye may, etc.) the purpose of the seduction.

Since the last word of Galatians 4:17 is the first word of 1 Corinthians 12:31, the four Greek-Latin uncials insert after it But be zealous for the better gifts: an interesting example of the way in which error has crept into our MSS.

Galatians 4:18. A general statement suggested by the zealous efforts of these false friends to gain the Galatian Christians. It glides imperceptibly into a description of Paul’s own zeal for them, which is an example of the general statement. A good thing it is to be an object of earnest attention, provided it be in a good matter, i.e. with a good aim, this aim looked upon as the element of the earnest effort. Paul’s aim is (2 Corinthians 11:2) to present a pure maiden to Christ. The word always has no perceptible reference to the false teachers, (for we have no hint that their zeal was not constant,) but completes the transition, through this general remark, from Paul’s opponents to himself; and records a marked feature of his own zeal, viz. its constancy. This thought is further developed, without any reference to the false teachers, in the words following. Paul’s care for his readers is not limited to his presence with them. Indeed it prompts him now to write this earnest letter, and makes him wishful (Galatians 4:20) to be with them again.

[Ζηλουσθαι is passive, corresponding to the active forms in Galatians 4:17, and in the same sense: for a change of sense would need to be clearly marked, as in Romans 14:13, to avoid mistake; especially here where the same sense gives an intelligent meaning. Moreover the middle voice of this verb is unknown elsewhere; and would have here practically the same sense as the active voice, and be therefore inexplicable. The emphasis is not on με, as though contrasting Paul with the false teachers, but on παρειναι, contrasting Paul’s presence with his absence. This is confirmed by the appearance of the same word in Galatians 4:20.]

Galatians 4:19. An expression of Paul’s love for his readers, and a proof of the intensity of his effort on their behalf. As being a sort of climax, it is most easily joined to the foregoing sentence. [And the preposition δε in Galatians 4:20 suggests, but does not prove that it begins a new sentence.] The Vat., Sinai, and Greek-Latin MSS., a combination seldom in error, read my children, as in 1 Corinthians 4:14, using a word very common with Paul. But the Alex., Ephraim, and later MSS., a combination often in evident error, read my little-children, as in 1 John 2:1 : cp. little-children in John 13:33; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 2:28; 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21. The difference is only one small letter. So appropriate here is the tender expression little-children, nowhere else found in Paul, and so easily changed to the common word children, that Westcott prefers it, placing in his margin my children, which last, is read by Tischendorf and without note by Tregelles. Thus external and internal evidence are at variance, which rarely happens. Perhaps probability inclines to my little-children. But certain decision is impossible. Paul’s earnest and constant efforts for his readers remind him that they are helpless as little children needing a parent’s care, and that they are his own little children. He therefore accosts them with a father’s affection and solicitude. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:14; Philemon 1:10.

The undeveloped spiritual life of the Galatian Christians, Paul compares to the undeveloped state of an unborn embryo; and compares his own painful anxiety for them to a mother’s birth-pangs, which can cease only when the development of the embryo is complete. For, till his readers show a Christian character in some degree mature, Paul’s anxiety will continue.

Again: as though a mother were twice enduring birth-pangs for the same offspring. The desired development, Paul describes as Christ formed in you: i.e. the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them (Galatians 2:20) changing their outer life into moral likeness to Christ. Thus in them men will see the form of Christ, a visible manifestation of His actual inward presence. See under Romans 2:20 : cp. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:6 f; 2 Timothy 3:5. This comparison reveals how intense is Paul’s effort (Galatians 4:18) for his readers, and how pure his motive.

Galatians 4:20. A wish prompted by the readers’ undeveloped state and by Paul’s anxiety about them. Would that I were present with you now! a wish, felt to be vain, suggested by the words present with you in Galatians 4:18, which recall Paul’s earnest efforts for their good when he was in Galatia.

He could wish to be with them now, (this last word emphatic,) instead of merely writing to them from a distance.

And to change my voice: purpose of this impracticable wish. Paul’s love suggests that if he were himself with his readers he could bring them to a better mind, which would enable him to speak to them in a voice different from his present severity.

Perplexed: not knowing which way to go. Same word in 2 Corinthians 4:8; Luke 24:4; Acts 25:20; John 13:22. That Paul does not know what to do to restore his relapsing converts, is the cause of his consciously futile wish to be with them now. Thus, like § 16, so § 17 closes with dark foreboding.

Only for a moment does Paul refer to the false teachers, as though reluctant to give them a place on his pages. But his few words lay bare the selfish motive of their earnestness. Still greater earnestness for the Galatian Christians, with a motive as pure as theirs is selfish, does Paul whether present or absent ever cherish. For they are his own children. And till they bear the image of Christ there is nothing but anguish for him. His present perplexity makes him long to be with them now, hoping that his presence would effect the change he so earnestly desires.

Verses 21-31


CH. 4:21-5:1.

Tell me, ye who wish to be under law, do ye not hear the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the maid and one by the free woman. Yet he by the maid was born according to flesh: but he by the free woman, through promise. Which things contain an allegory. For these women are two covenants; one from Mount Sinai bearing children for bondage, which is Hagar. Now this Hagar: Mount Sinai in Arabia; and stands in line with the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, barren one that bearest not; burst forth and shout, thou that dost not travail in birth. For many are the children of the desolate woman, more than of her who has the husband.” (Isaiah 54:1). And we, brethren, like Isaac are children of promise.

But just as then he that was born according to flesh was persecuting him born according to Spirit, so also now. So But what says the Scripture? “Cast out the maid and her son: for the son of the maid shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” (Genesis 21:10.) For which cause, brethren, we are not children of a maid but of the free woman. For freedom, Christ has made us free. Stand then, and be not again held fast by a yoke of bondage.

Another appeal, an argument based upon facts recorded in the Book of the Law taken in connection with the teaching in Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:1-3 that all who are under law are in bondage.

Galatians 4:21. Law: the general principle, Do this and live.

Under law: as in Galatians 4:4; Romans 6:14.

Wish to be under law; describes suitably an apostacy now going on, as do the present tenses in Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 5:3-4; Galatians 6:12-13. They desire to have as the basis of their relation to God, and as the means of obtaining His favour, a prescribed rule of conduct, viz. the rule embodied in the five Books of Moses: i.e. practically, they wish to stand, or rather to lie in helpless bondage, under the authority of law.

Hear the Law: cp. Romans 2:13, John 12:34. It recalls vividly the public reading in the synagogues, when this was, for Jews and proselytes, the chief means of acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures.

Paul asks of those who wish to be under a prescribed rule, Do you not hear what is said by those Books which are an authoritative embodiment of such rule?

Galatians 4:22-23. The foregoing question will now be justified by a fact about Abraham recorded in the Books of the Law.

Two sons; prepares us for a difference between them.

Maid: same word in Genesis 16:1; Genesis 16:3; Genesis 16:5 f, Genesis 16:8; Genesis 21:10; Genesis 21:12 f; Matthew 26:69; Acts 12:13; Acts 16:16 : in N. T. always a maid-servant, but not so Ruth 4:12. The word free implies that here the maid was a slave. Abraham had one son by the well-known maid-servant, and one by the well-known free woman.

According to flesh: the process of birth corresponding to the constitution of human or animal bodies. This reminds us that Ishmael stood to Abraham in the same relation as the Jews of Paul’s day, viz. that of natural descent. This is embodied in the argument of Romans 9:8. [The Greek perfect tense intimates that the birth of Ishmael according to flesh has abiding significance. So 1 Corinthians 15:4; 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:27. In reference to events so definite, the English language, which has no tense corresponding to the Greek perfect, uses the preterite, was born.]

Through, or by means of, promise. Not only was Isaac’s birth a fulfilment of promise, but the faith elicited by the promise was an essential condition, according to the principles of the kingdom of God, of the putting forth of divine power and of the fulfilment of the promise. Hence the promise was the channel through which the power of God operated, producing first faith, in Abraham, and then the birth of Isaac. Similarly, in the birth of Jesus a promise to Mary was the vehicle through which the Spirit of God operated. ‘Although both were sons of Abraham, yet the offspring of the slave girl was born (and the significance of this fact remains) according to the ordinary laws of human bodies, the offspring of the free woman was produced by the special voice of God, by the word of promise which Abraham believed.’

Galatians 4:24. Which things: or rather, which class of things.

Contain an allegory, or are-allegorized: they have another meaning beside the historical one. Same word and tense in Philo, vol. i. p. 143: “The cherubim are, according to one manner, in this way allegorized.” So Clement of Alex., Exhortation ch. xi. “The serpent is allegorized as pleasure, crawling upon its belly, an earthly vice, turning to matter.” That the narratives of Genesis are fact, Paul ever assumes: see my Romans, Diss. iii. He now declares that under the facts (as Philo says of the cherubim) lies spiritual significance. This significance, the rest of Galatians 4:24 explains.

Are two covenants: cp. 1 Corinthians 11:25. This cup is the New Covenant. In a mutual relation similar to the relation of these two women there actually are two covenants. Therefore, in Paul’s thought, and in objective reality, (for the relationships are real,) the women and the covenants are the same. So the word is, denoting practical identity, in Romans 1:12; Romans 1:16; 1 John 5:3-4; Matthew 13:37-39.

The two covenants; recalls 2 Corinthians 3:6, written probably shortly before this letter.

Of these two covenants, one is expounded in Galatians 4:24 b, Genesis 4:25; the other, under an altered form of speech, in Galatians 4:26-28. The Old Covenant, an abiding possession, was received from God speaking on Mount Sinai.

Bearing children for bondage: just as children of a slave-mother are also slaves. This metaphor is the more easy because the word rendered covenant is feminine. They who accept the Law as the basis of their relation to God, and whose religious life is derived from and determined by it, are children of the Covenant (cp. sons of the Covenant, Acts 3:25) which had its origin at Sinai. And Paul has shown (Galatians 3:10 to Galatians 4:3) that, in consequence of the nature of the covenant then given, such persons are, and must be, in bondage. Thus their position is analogous to that of the boy who, though Abraham’s offspring, yet, because his mother was a servant, was not a sharer of the rights of Abraham’s son. For, the religious life derived from the Law, a life of bondage, was derived from God who gave the Law at Sinai. That Ishmael was not actually a slave, does not weaken this comparison. For, because he was a slave’s child, he could not claim a son’s rights. And this defect of Ishmael, the Jews eagerly asserted.

Galatians 4:25. Between readings (1) Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and (2) For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, evidence is almost equally balanced. We find r. 1 in the Vat. and Alex. MSS., the Latin part of the Clermont MS., and the Coptic version; evidence perhaps slightly stronger than that for r. 2, viz. the Sinai and Ephraim MSS., two Greek-Latin uncials, and the Latin Vulgate Version. Uniting these two readings, the later Greek MSS. and the Syriac Version which often accompanies them read (3) for this Hagar is Mount Sinai, etc. Chrysostom read, as the tenor of his exposition proves, this Hagar is Mount Sinai. And existing copies of his exposition read also for this Hagar, etc. But the difference between now and for does not affect his argument.

Consequently, in view of the great frequency of this last reading in later copies, we cannot be sure that Chrysostom himself accepted it. It seems to me that the documentary evidence for r. 1 preponderates slightly over that for r. 2. The difference is only three Greek letters, which must have been wrongly either inserted or omitted. Their accidental insertion is perhaps rather the more easy to conceive. For the insertion of Α, making ΓΑΡ into ΑΓΑΡ, might have been suggested by the same word at the end of Galatians 4:24 : and the need for a particle would suggest the insertion of ΔΕ. But this possibility only counterbalances the slightly preponderant documentary evidence.

Of Critical Editors, Lachmann gives r. 2 in his text, r. 1 in his margin. Tischendorf gave r. 3 in his 7th, and gives r. 2 in his 8th, edition. Tregelles places r. 3 in his text and r. 1 in his margin. Even the joint editors part company here, Westcott preferring r. 2 and Hort r. 1: but, like the R.V., their joint text gives r. 1, with r. 2 in the margin.

Amid this conflict of evidence and opinion, I shall further test the readings by endeavouring to expound them.

Reading 1. This Hagar: i.e. Hagar looked upon, not as a woman, but simply as an abstract object of thought and comparison. Already Paul has said that one covenant is Hagar. With Hagar he now links in his allegory Mount Sinai, from which (Galatians 4:24) the covenant was received.

Is: as in Galatians 4:24 : in the allegory, Hagar and Sinai are the same. To assert this practical identity, is the purpose of Galatians 4:25 a.

In Arabia; recalls the geographical position of Sinai, where in solitary grandeur, away from the land promised to Abraham, the rugged mountain looks down upon the wilderness home of the children of Hagar. The position of Sinai reveals the appropriateness of the allegory. And this sufficiently accounts for these words, without the exposition of Chrysostom: “The bondwoman was called Hagar; and Mount Sinai is thus interpreted in the language of the locality.” For this last statement we have hardly any confirmatory evidence. Some Arabian tribes bore their mother’s name: e.g. Psalms 83:6; 1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:20; Eratosthenes in Strabo bk. xvi. 767. Possibly this tribal name may have been heard by Paul during his sojourn in Arabia, and have suggested the contrast of the sons of Hagar and of Sarah. But even this supposition is needless. We notice, however, that the Epistle which tells of Paul’s journey to Arabia contains this comparison. It may have been suggested by meditations on the spot.

Goes in the same line: like soldiers in file. It recalls (Aristotle, Nicom. Ethics bk. i. 6. 7) the Pythagorean Lists of corresponding Opposites. In such a list, Hagar, Ishmael, Sinai, the Old Covenant, the now Jerusalem would stand opposite to Sarah, Isaac, Golgotha, the New Covenant, the Jerusalem above. Paul has just said that in his allegory Hagar, the mother of the alien race, is identical with Mount Sinai whence they who trust in the Law derive their spiritual life. He now takes the allegory a step further by saying that Hagar is in the same line with Jerusalem that now is, or the now Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Jewish state and seat of the old Theocracy. This statement, the following words prove.

Is in bondage: viz. Jerusalem, as proved by the contrast with Jerusalem above which is free. Moreover, to say that Hagar is in bondage, etc., would merely and needlessly repeat Galatians 4:24 b, and would do nothing to prove that either she or Mount Sinai goes in the same line with the now Jerusalem: whereas, that Jerusalem is in bondage, etc., as practically proved in Galatians 3:23 to Galatians 4:9, places the Mother-City of the Jews in line with Hagar and her banished offspring; which is the chief point of this allegory.

With her children: cp. Matthew 23:37 : with those who look up to the old Theocratic state as their political and spiritual mother. For these are under the Law, and therefore (cp. Galatians 3:23 ff) in spiritual bondage; by the very nature of the Theocracy to which they owe their spiritual life.

Reading 2 should probably be rendered For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia.

It calls attention to the geographical position of Sinai, giving definiteness to our conception of the great mountain and silently reminding us that it was the home of Hagar’s children. Paul then, without further mention of Hagar, says that Sinai belongs to the same category as the present Jerusalem. For this statement, the following proof still holds good: for, that Jerusalem is in bondage with her children, places her in the same line both with the mother of the exiled race and with the mountain in Arabia whence Israel derived its spiritual life.

Since it was more important, for Paul’s argument, to place Jerusalem in relation with Hagar, whom all Jews regarded as an alien, as in r. 1, rather than with Sinai, on which all looked with reverence, and since for r. 1 the documentary evidence slightly preponderates, we may perhaps accept it, with the R.V., as slightly the more likely.

If we had proof that Sinai was actually called Hagar, we might take Galatians 4:25 a to mean that in Arabia Hagar is a name given to Sinai. But, as we have seen, this is needless for the argument. For, that Mount Sinai is in the land of Hagar’s children, whether or not the mountain bore her name, reveals in clear light the appropriateness of Paul’s allegory.

Galatians 4:26. The second of the two Covenants, described in an altered form suggested by the foregoing words.

Jerusalem above: or the above Jerusalem. Cp. the heavenly Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22; the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, Revelation 21:2; the city having the foundations, Hebrews 11:10; the city to come, Hebrews 13:14. It is the future home of the saved, looked upon as a city and a metropolis. The above different conceptions of it, we may harmonize by conceiving it as already existing in the purpose and forethought of God and influencing the thought and action of men. This city is free, with all that pertains to it. Restraint is needless there, and unknown.

Our mother: that city is a mother, and we are her children. For it is the source, by the laws of spiritual generation, of our spiritual life; a life which partakes the nature of its source: in other words, our spiritual life is an outflow of the eternal and divine forces which will find their visible and necessary manifestation in that future city. Moreover, the city will be an integral part of the place of glory where already, surrounded by angels, the Risen Saviour sits enthroned. Therefore, to that future city we already look up as our mother. That city is no mere idea we are endeavouring to realise, and whose realisation is contingent; but actual reality, infinitely more real than the things we see around us. This eternal and spotless City stands in absolute contrast to that towards which the men of the Old Covenant looked up with filial reverence or fanatical devotion.

Galatians 4:27. Proof that the Jerusalem above is a mother, and we her children. It is word for word (LXX.) from Isaiah 54:1; and recalls Isaiah 49:17-23; Isaiah 51:17-20; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 54:4-13; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 62:4-5; Isaiah 66:7-8. It is also an outburst of song evoked by this momentary vision of the heavenly city, and suitably clothed in the language of ancient prophecy.

Barren: a past state spoken of as if now present, for vivid contrast with the actual present.

She that does not bear: an abiding and melancholy characteristic.

Burst forth: with joy, as implied by the word rejoice. The Hebrew reads shout for joy… break forth a joyful shout.

Does not travail with child: more graphic than does not bear. (Cp. Isaiah 66:7.)

Desolate: not only barren but without a husband, in lonely solitude. Yet she has many children, more even than some other woman who with her husband are (in the LXX.) definite objects of the prophet’s thought.

After his vision of the smitten Servant of Jehovah, who bore the sin of many, Isaiah bursts into song, in view of the glory which will follow. in this song he bids Jerusalem join, describing her as a woman once without children and even without husband, but now having many sons. For, God (Isaiah 54:5) is her husband: and her sons will be taught by Him and have great peace. The prophet’s words imply sudden and unexpected and great increase of the citizens of the Kingdom of God; and infinite splendour and blessing awaiting them. These words found no adequate fulfilment in the exiles returning from captivity. But Paul had seen thousands of aliens and heathens turning to God, entering by the power of God a new life derived from above, and becoming children of God. And he looked forward to the day when these lately born children of the one Father will tread the streets of that city which from afar Isaiah saw. Already, in the unchangeable purpose of God, and to the eye of faith, the city stands secure in heaven, the eternal home of freedom, its future inhabitants look up to it with longing eyes; and from it derive all their hopes. In this wondrous accession to the people of God Paul sees fulfilled the ancient prophecy: and the vision moves him to re-echo the prophet’s song. The prophecy also justifies his assertion that Jerusalem above is mother of his readers and himself.

Whatever may have been Isaiah’s own thought, Paul’s exposition points to the reality which in indistinct and distant outline the prophet saw. His exposition is, therefore, in the highest sense correct. it is reproduced by Justin, 1st Apology, ch. 53.

Galatians 4:28. As Galatians 4:27 justified the word mother in Galatians 4:26, so Galatians 4:28 justifies the word our by proving that Paul and his readers are among the children foretold by Isaiah. The reading we or ye is uncertain and unimportant.

Like Isaac: on the model of Isaac, our birth corresponding with his.

Children of promise: almost the same words in Romans 9:8, proving how familiar to Paul was this thought. it recalls Galatians 4:23 b.

Of promise: viz. the Gospel, the instrument by which God brought into being His children in Galatia. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18. Now, only in those whom by the Gospel promise God adds to His family does the above-quoted prophecy of Isaiah find fulfilment. Consequently, not only is (Galatians 4:26) the Jerusalem above a mother but she is our mother.

Galatians 4:29. A further development of the analogy, a contrast and a comparison.

But, or nevertheless: although children of promise, yet, just-as Isaac was then, so we also now are exposed to persecution.

Born according to flesh: the point of contrast (Galatians 4:23) with Isaac.

According to Spirit; Romans 8:4-5 : the Holy Spirit as a standard determining the manner of birth. For He (John 3:5) is the agent of the new birth: and all His works correspond with His nature. (Notice that whatever comes through belief of a promise is wrought by the Spirit, the divine Agent of all supernatural good.) The word here is suggested by Paul’s constant contrast of flesh and Spirit: Galatians 3:3; Galatians 5:16-17; Galatians 6:8; Romans 8:4. The Hebrew text of Genesis 21:9 reads, Sarah saw the son of Hagar… mocking: but the LXX. reads, playing with Isaac her son. Sarah’s demand, made at the festival, implies some aggravation from Ishmael: and her comparison of the two boys suggests that the aggravation was something done to Isaac. And this idea was taken up by Jewish tradition. This ridicule from Ishmael Paul describes, in order to place the Christians of his day in line with Isaac, by the word persecuted, which recalls the many persecutions aroused against Christians by Jews: cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19.

Galatians 4:30. But: or nevertheless, as in Galatians 4:29 : a complete and now triumphant contrast. The words of Sarah, (Genesis 21:10 nearly word for word from the LXX.,) inasmuch as her request was approved by God, are introduced simply as the Scripture says: so Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; cp. Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:22. This implies that for Paul the Scripture had the authority of God. He quotes that authority in the literary form in which it lay before him. That Sarah’s petulant request obtained God’s sanction, and that a trifling sport of Ishmael caused his expulsion from Abraham’s home lest his presence should interfere with the unique honour due to Isaac, reveal in clearest light the infinite difference of position between the two sons. This difference gives great force to the contrast in Galatians 4:23-28. The last words of Galatians 4:30 are changed from with my son, even with Isaac to with the son of the free woman, to suit Paul’s quotation. The change also places the two mothers in conspicuous contrast, the maid or slave girl and the free woman.

Inherit: Genesis 15:3-4; Genesis 15:7-8; Genesis 17:8; receive, in virtue of relation to Abraham, the blessings promised to Abraham’s children.

Galatians 4:31. Result, not inference, from Galatians 4:30. [For διο always points back to a cause or motive, of which it introduces an actual or desired result.] Galatians 4:30 embodies an essential principle of the Kingdom of God which found historic expression in the story of the two sons of Abraham, viz. that the blessings of the Kingdom are for the free and for these only, and that freedom or bondage depends upon the source of our spiritual life. For this cause, i.e. that we may obtain the inheritance possessed only by the free, God gave us a spiritual life derived from the Gospel, the mother of freemen, not from the Law which by its nature can produce only slaves. The negative side is put generally: we are not a slave girl’s children, i.e. our relation to Abraham and to God is not derived from a source which involves us in bondage, as the Law would. The positive side is definite, the free woman: for there is only one mother of spiritual freemen.

Galatians 5:1. General statement linking the allegory to the general teaching of this Epistle. The transition is indicated by the word Christ, not found in § 18 till now.

For freedom: in order that we may enjoy the Gospel freedom.

Us: emphatic, revealing our great privilege as compared with others. That we may be free is the aim of (Galatians 4:4) the mission, and (Galatians 3:13) the death, of Christ.

Stand then: practical application of Galatians 4:1 a, and of the foregoing allegory.

Stand: maintain your position of erectness; cp. Romans 11:20; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 1:24. It courteously assumes that the readers, although on the eve of falling, have not yet fallen. So Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9.

Not again: recalls Galatians 4:9, ye wish to be again in bondage.

Yoke of bondage: 1 Timothy 6:1; cp. Acts 15:10. It is, like maid in Galatians 4:31, quite general.

That Christ has made us free, is a motive for not being again held in anything which destroys Christian freedom.

THE ARGUMENT of § 18, we will now endeavour to understand as a whole, and to estimate.

Paul recognised (Romans 4:11 f) in believers a spiritual offspring of Abraham, in whom, and in them only, will be fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to his seed. Consequently, Abraham has a double offspring, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church, each looking up to him as father, and claiming inheritance through him. The Jewish nation based its claim on ordinary bodily descent: the Christian Church owes its existence to supernatural power working out in those who believe it, a fulfilment of the Gospel promise. And Paul has proved (e.g. Galatians 3:10) that they whose claim rests on bodily descent are outside the blessings promised to Abraham; which are therefore reserved for those who are sons by supernatural birth. All this recalls, and corresponds with, the historical facts of Abraham’s family. For he had two sons, one born according to the ordinary laws of human generation, the other by the extraordinary power of God in one who had believed a promise: and the older was expelled from the home in order that the inheritance might belong only to the younger. Consequently, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church correspond, in these particulars, to Ishmael and Isaac.

Nay more. The Jewish nation owes its spiritual life to the Covenant received from Sinai, a covenant which from its nature can produce only bondmen. For, as Paul has proved, a spiritual life derived from law is helpless bondage. Consequently, Mount Sinai may be called the mother of Judaism, a mother whose children are slaves: and Paul remembers that she raises her rugged head amid the scattered and disinherited sons of Hagar.

Again, for many long centuries the Jewish nation had been looking up to Jerusalem as its mother-city. And this ancient city gives form, not merely to the visions of the old prophets, but to the hopes of the Christian Church. Even to this day we sing of “Jerusalem the golden:” and its foreseen glory and rest have been to Christians in all ages a refuge from fiercest storms. But the city we look for is above. And though actually a place of the future, it is nevertheless the birthplace of our present spiritual life, our home, and our mother. That City and her children, wherever they be, are essentially and for ever free. The wonderful and unexpected increase of her children in Paul’s day was the beginning of the fulfilment, of the only worthy fulfilment, of the glorious visions of Isaiah. The Jerusalem above is, therefore, the city he beheld.

This close parallel, like the similar argument in Romans 9:7-9, overthrows completely the claims of the Jewish disturbers in Galatia. For their relation to Abraham is simply that of Hagar’s descendants. And this reply is made the more crushing by the geographical position of the mountain whence they received the Law in which they trust. The worthlessness of such claims is revealed by the expulsion from Abraham’s home, at the bidding of the mother of the true seed, of Hagar and her son. So far then this historical comparison serves well a legitimate purpose.

But this is not all. Under this apparently accidental coincidence lie important and eternal truths.

Paul has taught (Galatians 3:22-24) that the Law is a necessary preparation for the Gospel. Consequently, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church represent two stages in the development of the kingdom of God, and indeed two stages in the spiritual history of every Christian.

And we cannot doubt that the sequence of events was controlled by God to embody in historic form great spiritual realities. Already in Romans 4:10 ff, we have seen the significance of God’s Covenant with Abraham, immediately after his faith and many years before the command to circumcise. Similarly, the long delay in the birth of Isaac is analogous to the delay in the mission of the divine Son into the world. And, without assuming any sanction of God for Abraham’s relation to Hagar, we may yet believe that the two sons of Abraham were designed by God to prefigure, even in the order of their birth the spiritual offspring of the two Covenants of God with man. In other words, abiding truths find expression in historical facts. And this involves the deeper truth that throughout the universe of God great and broad principles find various embodiments, sometimes in trifling details, which details frequently become valuable indications and memorials of the principles they embody.

Probably the above argument was due to Paul’s Rabbinical training. And it is an example of the one good element of this training, viz. careful sifting of the spiritual significance of the details of Holy Scripture. Paul’s use of Scripture assumes its historic truthfulness; and rests on broad principles already and independently proved to be true. Moreover, both here and else. where, he points to a correspondence which bears on its face the mark, not of accident, but of divine purpose.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/galatians-4.html. 1877-90.
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