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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations

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Galatians 4:1-3 The Jews were for a while held under the law, as an heir under his guardian till he be of age.

Galatians 4:4-7 But Christ came to redeem those that were under the law, and to give both to Jew and Gentile the adoption, and consequently the freedom, of sons.

Galatians 4:8-10 Paul therefore reproveth the Galatians, who from serving idols had been received of God, for falling back to the bondage of legal observances.

Galatians 4:11-20 He expresseth his fears and tender regard for them, and calleth to mind their former respect and good will to him, from which he admonisheth them not to be seduced in his absence.

Galatians 4:21-31 He allegorically describeth the Jewish and Christian churches under the types of Agar and Sara, and inferreth that we, being children of the free-woman, are free.

Verse 1

The apostle had before determined, that the whole body of such as believed in Jesus Christ, were that seed of Abraham to which the promise was made, and so heirs of the promises made to him; yet so, that, as it is among men, though a child be a great heir, and lord of a great estate, yet while he is under age he is used like a servant; so the time of the law being as it were the time of believers’ nonage, those who lived in that time were used like servants.

Verse 2

The heir, (mentioned in the former verse), though he be an heir of a great estate, yet is not presently possessed of it; but he is by his father kept under tutors and governors, until the time which he hath appointed when he will be pleased to release him from his pupillage, and settle some part of his inheritance upon him.

Verse 3

Such children were all believers, the seed of Abraham; from the first designed to a gospel liberty, but that was not to be fully enjoyed, until the fulness of time should come when God intended to send his Son into the world; and during the time of their nonage they were kept under the law, as a tutor and governor, leading them unto Christ. He chiefly intendeth the ceremonial law, which, Acts 15:10, Peter calleth a yoke, which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear. He calls these ordinances the elements of the world; so also Colossians 2:20; he means that discipline by which God instructed, and under which God by Moses at first tutored, the world, that is, the Jews, who were that part of the world to whom God pleased to make his oracles known. He calls those ritual observances, elements, or rudiments, because they were the first instructions God gave believers, leading them to Christ; like the first elements or rudiments in grammar learning.

Verse 4

But when the fulness of the time was come; the time, which answered the time appointed of the earthly father, mentioned Galatians 4:2; when that time came in which God had designed to bring his people into the most perfect state of liberty, which in this life they are capable of.

God sent forth his Son, who was existent before, (being brought forth before the mountains or hills were settled, Proverbs 8:25), but not

sent forth until this fulness of time came. And then

made of a woman, conceived in the womb of the virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowing her.

Made under the law; to which, as God, he was not subject, (being himself the lawmaker), but he subjected himself. He was born in a nation, and of a parent, under the law; he was circumcised, and submitted to the ceremonial law; he in all things conformed his life to the rule of the law, and subjected himself to the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Nothing of this is questioned, except the last; which yet appears also to have been necessary by what followeth in the next verse, for how else could he have redeemed those who were under the law; and this agreeth with what we had, Galatians 3:13.

Verse 5

This makes it appear, that Christ’s being under the law must be understood as well of the moral as of the ceremonial law, that is, subject to the precepts of it, as well as to the curse of it; for if the end of this being born under the law, was to redeem those that were under it, that he had not reached by being merely under the ceremonial law; for the Gentiles were not under that law, but only under the moral law; and they also were to be redeemed, and to receive the great privilege of

adoption, or rather, the rights of adopted children; which (some think) is to be understood here, rather than what is strictly to be understood by the term of adoption, viz. a right to be called and to be the sons of God. Others, by adoption, understand that full state of liberty of which the apostle had been before speaking, in opposition to that state of childhood and nonage in which believers were until the times of the gospel; for, Galatians 5:1, we shall find that that was a liberty wherewith Christ made us free: and indeed this last sense seemeth best to agree with what the apostle had before said, Galatians 4:1-3, though the other senses are not to be excluded.

Verse 6

Lest the Jews should claim the adoption as peculiar to them, the apostle tells them that these Gentiles were also sons; and in confirmation of that, he saith, that God had sent

the Spirit of his Son into their hearts: not that the Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of the Father, as well as of Christ; but he calleth him the Spirit of Christ, because he had made adoption the end and fruit of redemption; and redemption is every where made the work of the Son. The apostle saith, Romans 9:4, that the adoption belongeth to the Israelites: the Jews were the first people whom God dignified with the name of his sons, his first-born, Exodus 4:22; and so many of them as believed also received the Spirit, Ezekiel 36:27; but the full effusion of the Spirit was reserved to gospel times, and until the time that Christ ascended, John 7:39; John 16:7. After which the Spirit was poured out in the days of Pentecost, Acts 2:1-47, whose effects were evident, not only in power to work miracles, and speak with divers tongues, (which were not common to all believers), but also in a variety of spiritual gifts and habits, amongst which this was one, teaching them to cry,

Abba, Father.

Crying, ( it is expounded, Romans 8:15, whereby we cry, that is, through whose influence and working in us we cry), Abba, Father, that is, Father, Father: which not only signifieth the Spirit’s influence upon believers’ words in prayer, first conceived in the heart, then uttered by the lips; but chiefly those habits of grace, by which we pray acceptably; faith and holy boldness, by which we call God Father; zeal and fervency, by which we are importunate with God, and say, Father, Father. Which were now not the privileges of Jews only, but of these Galatians also, who were by nature Gentiles, and strangers to God; and a certain evidence of their concern in the redemption of Christ, and that they also might expect salvation from him.

Verse 7

Thou that art a believing Gentile, as well as the believing Israelites,

art no more a servant, not in that state of servile subjection to the law;

but a son; but in a more excellent state of liberty, like unto that of sons that have attained to a full and ripe age. Christ told his disciples, John 15:15, that he did not call them servants, for servants knew not what their lord did; but he had freely communicated to them what he had received from the Father. The apostle here saith, they were sons, sons by adoption; which is the highest notion of freedom and liberty. And this entitled them to an inheritance:

if a son, then an heir of God through Christ: which agreeth with Romans 8:17. And as it is with sons and heirs, though the inheritance cometh not fully to them till the death of the parent, yet while they live they are in a far better condition than servants; so the believing Gentiles, being made sons and heirs of God through Christ, though they were to stay a while for the inheritance reserved for the sons of God in the heavens, yet their state was much better than that of servants; for though they were obliged to serve the Lord, yet they served him without servile fear, and were no otherwise servants than sons are also servants to their father.

Verse 8

When ye knew not God, as he is, or as ye ought to have known him, or as, since, you have known him; for even the heathen have some knowledge of God, Romans 1:21.

Ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods; you paid religious homages unto idols; which are gods, not by nature and essence, but only in the opinion of idolaters. Which was a more miserable bondage and servitude than the Jews were under, who knew the true God; though in the time when the church was like the heir under age, it was subject to the law contained in ordinances, and under the yoke of the law.

Verse 9

After that ye have known God; after that you are come to a true and saving knowledge of God in Christ, and know God as he is.

Or rather are known of God; or rather after you are received of God, approved of him, made through Christ acceptable to him, which is much more than a true comprehension of God in your notion and understanding.

How turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? How turn you back again to the legal services of the ceremonial law? Which he calleth elements, or rudiments, because they were God’s first instructions given to his church for his worship, to which he intended afterward a more perfect way of worship. He calls them

weak, because they brought nothing to perfection; and the observance of them was impotent as to the justification of a soul, as all the law is. He calls them

beggarly, in comparison of the more rational, spiritual way of worship under the gospel. He saith that they desired

to be in bondage unto these, because they would not see and make use of the liberty from them which Christ had purchased.

Objection. It may be objected, that the Galatians were not educated in Judaism; how then doth the apostle charge them with turning back to them?

Answer. This hath made some think, that, by

the weak and beggarly elements, mentioned in this verse, the apostle meaneth their Gentile superstitions and idolatries; but this is not probable, the apostle, all along the Epistle, charging them with no such apostacy. Others think, that he in this verse chiefly reflecteth on the believing Jews, who afterwards returned again to the use of the law. But why may not we rather say, that he calleth their fact a turning back, not so much with reference to their personal practice, as to the state of the church; which was once under those elements, but by the coming of Christ was brought into a more perfect state. So that for them who were called into the church in the time of this its more perfect state, for them to return to the bondage of the law, that was truly to turn back; if not to any practice of their own, which they had cast off, yet to a state of the church which the church of God had now outgrown.

Verse 10

If we had any evidence that these Galatians were relapsed to their Gentile superstitions, these terms might be understood of such days, &c. as they kept in honour to their idols. But the apostle, throughout the whole Epistle, not reflecting upon them for any such gross apostacy (as returning to the vanities of the heathen in which they formerly lived); but only for Judaizing, and using the ceremonies of the Jewish law, as necessary to be observed, besides their believing in Christ, for their justification; it is much more probable that he meaneth by days the Jewish festivals, such as their new moons, &c.; by months, the first and the seventh month, when they religiously fasted; by times, their more solemn times, such as were their feasts of first-fruits, tabernacles, &c.; and by years, their years of jubilee, the seventh and the fiftieth year. His meaning is, that they took themselves to be under a religious obligation to observe these times as still commanded by God.

Verse 11

Paul knew that, with reference to himself, he had not laboured in vain; he might say with Isaiah, Isaiah 49:5; Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorified. He had told the Corinthians, that he knew he should be a sweet savour to God, as well in them that perished as in them that should be saved, 2 Corinthians 2:15. But he speaks with reference to them. A faithful minister accounteth his labour lost when he seeth no fruits of it upon the souls of his people. Nor was Paul afraid of this as to the sincerer part of this church, who truly believed, and were justified, but he speaketh this with reference to the whole body of this church. That which he feared, was their falling back from their profession of Christianity to Judaism; as judging the observation of the Jewish days necessary by Divine precept to Christians. Nor doth he speak of the observation of such days, as it was their duty in obedience to the moral law to observe, which commandeth the observation of a seventh day for the weekly sabbath, and gives a liberty for setting apart other days, and the commanding the observation of them, to take notice of and acknowledge God in emergent providences. But he only speaks of days imposed by the ceremonial law, and men’s religious observation of them, as being tied to it by a Divine precept, by which they made them a part of worship. We have a liberty to set apart any day for God’s worship, and magistrates have a liberty to set apart particular days for the acknowledgment of God in emergent providences whether of mercy or judgment; but none hath a power to make a day holy, so as that it shall be a sin against God for all to labour therein, much less hath any a liberty to keep Jewish holy-days.

Verse 12

Be as I am; for I am as ye are; be as friendly to me as I am to you: see the like phrase, 1 Kings 22:4. But how doth the apostle say they had not injured him at all, when it is manifest they had defamed him?

Answer. He had forgiven, or was ready to forgive, this to them; he had no desire or design to be revenged on them. Or in this particular thing of Judaizing, for which he had been reflecting upon them, they had done him no personal injury; it was only his care for and love to their souls, which had drawn out this discourse from him; not any particular prejudice to them, or any desire he had to take any revenge upon them, for any personal injury done to himself.

Verse 13

The Scripture having not given us a particular account of Paul’s circumstances when he first preached the gospel to the Galatians, we are at a loss to determine what those infirmities were which Paul here speaketh of, more than that he calls them

infirmities of the flesh: by which may be understood, either the baseness and contemptibleness of his presence, (which the false teachers at Corinth objected to him, 2 Corinthians 10:10), or some bodily sickness which Paul had at that time, (as some of the ancients guess), or his sufferings for the gospel, which were those infirmities wherein he chose to glory, 2 Corinthians 11:30.

Verse 14

And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; the apostle saith they were so far from injuring him, (as he had said, Galatians 4:12), that they had expressed great kindness to him: for though, when he first came amongst them to preach the gospel, he was a man of no great presence; but, in the judgment of some, vile and base; or was full of bodily weakness and disease, was persecuted by men; yet they did not reject nor despise him, for those temptations he had in the flesh: by which he means, the same things he before meant by infirmities, for both bodily weaknesses, and sufferings for the gospel, are temptations, or, as the word signifieth, trials.

But received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus; nay, (saith he), you were so for from rejecting or despising me upon that account, that (on the contrary) you received me as if I had been an angel; yea, if Jesus Christ himself had come amongst you, you could not have been more kind to him than you were to me. This he tells them, partly, to let them know, that what he had spoken was not out of any ill will or prejudice to them; partly, to retain their good will, that they might not show themselves uncertain and inconstant in their judgments and affections; and partly, (as the following verse testifieth), to show the levity of some of them, who had too much forgotten their first judgment of him, and value for him.

Verse 15

Some understand the blessedness here spoken of in a passive sense; you were then a blessed and happy people, receiving the doctrine of the gospel in the truth and purity of it; what is now become of that blessedness? But both the preceding and the following words seem to rule the sense otherwise, viz. Where is that blessedness which you predicted of me? You called me then blessed, and showed me such a dear affection that you would, if it would have done me good, have parted with what was dearest to you.

Verse 16

What hath now altered your mind, or made you have a worse opinion of me? Wherein have I offended you or done you any harm? I have done nothing but revealed to you the truth of God; am I therefore become your enemy? Or do you account me your enemy on that account?

Verse 17

They; the false teachers, that have perverted you as to the faith of the gospel.

Zealously affect you; pretend a great warmth of affection for you.

But not well; but in this they do not well, nor for a good end.

They would exclude you from our good opinion and affection.

That ye might affect them; that they might have all your love and respect; and so, by the ruin of our reputation with you, they might build up their own reputation.

Verse 18

It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing: the apostle, in the former verses, had been speaking of a great zeal, or warmth of affection, (for that zeal signifieth), which these Galatians had for and declared towards him, when he first preached the gospel amongst them; and also of a great warmth and degree of affection which these false tcachers had pretended to this church. These words are so delivered that they are applicable to either of these; but the latter words seem to make them most properly applicable to the former; so the term

always is emphatical: There was a time, when you were very warm in your love to me; the cause being good, your warmth of affection ought not to have abated, but continued always,

and not only while you saw me, and I was

present with you.

Verse 19

By calling them little children, he both hints to them that he was their spiritual father, and had begotten them to Christ; and that they were as yet weak in the faith, not grown men, but as yet little children: and also hints to them, the tender affection he had towards them, which was the same as of a mother to her little children: though they did not own and honour him as their spiritual father, yet he loved them as his

little children.

Of whom I travail in birth again; for whom I am in as great pain, through my earnest desire for the good of your souls, as the woman is that is in travail for the bringing forth of a child.

Until Christ be fully and perfectly formed in you; that is, till you be brought off from your Judaism, and opinion of the necessity of superadding the works of the law to the faith of Christ in order to your justification, and be rooted in the truth and established in the liberty of the gospel, witIt which Christ hath made you free.

Verse 20

I desire to be present with you now; I wish circumstances so concurred that I could be present with you.

And to change my voice; that I might use my tongue towards you as I saw occasion; either commending, or reproving, or exhorting, as I saw cause.

For I stand in doubt of you; for I do not know what to think of you; I am afraid of your falling away from the profession of the gospel to Judaism.

Verse 21

Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law; you that cannot be content to receive Jesus Christ alone, for justification; but have a mind to maintain a necessity of obedience to the law of circumcision, and other Judaical rites;

do ye not hear the law, that law which curseth every one who continueth not in all that is therein written to do it? Or rather, the story which follows; which is taken out of one of the books of the law, which the apostle makes a mystical revelation of the Divine will, that there should come a time when circumcision should be cast out.

Verse 22

The substance of this is written, Genesis 16:1-16, where we read of Abraham’s having Ishmael by Hagar his bondwoman; and Genesis 21:2, where we read of the birth of Isaac, whom he had by Sarah, who was his wife.

Verse 23

They were both (in a sense) born after the flesh, viz. in a natural way and course of generation: but

after the flesh is plainly, in this verse, opposed to

by promise; and the meaning is, that Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was not that son of Abraham to whom the promise was made, that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed: see Genesis 15:4; Genesis 17:19. Isaac is said to have been born after the promise, either because God gave Isaac to Abraham, in completion or fulfilling of the promise made to him, that he should have an heir out of his own loins; or because the mighty and miraculous power of God was seen in his production, enabling Abraham at those years to beget, and Sarah to bear, a child, when both their bodies were as dead.

Verse 24

Which things are an allegory: that is called an allegory, when one thing is learned out of another, or something is mystically signified and to be understood further than is expressed. The Scripture hath a peculiar kind of allegories, wherein one thing is signified by and under another thing. The thing here signifying, was Abraham’s wife and concubine, Sarah and Hagar.

For these are the two covenants; the apostle saith, these signified the two covenants, for that is the meaning of are: so as here we have one text more where the verb substantive is put for signifieth; and it will be hard to assign a reason why it should not be so interpreted in the institution of the Lord’s supper, notwithstanding the papists’ and Lutherans’ so earnest contending to the contrary. The very word is here used, διαθηκαι, that is used in the institution of the Lord’s supper. Here it is,

these are the two covenants or testaments; there, this is the new covenant. The apostle calls them two covenants, ( whereas they were but one), with reference to the time of their exhibition, and manner of their administration, in which they much differed. Nor must we understand the apostle as signifying to us by these words, that Moses wrote the history of Sarah and Hagar with such a design and intention; but only that that history is very applicable to the two covenants, and we shall find, Galatians 4:27, the apostle justifying this application from the authority of the prophet Isaiah. And hereto he complied with the general sense of the Jews, who judged that there was not only a literal, but a mystical sense also, of those histories of the patriarchs.

The one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar: the one covenant was that of the law delivered from mount Sinai, this was like Hagar; for as Hagar was herself a bondwoman, and so her child did partake of the condition of the mother, and Hagar bare a bondman or servant; so the law (which he calls a covenant, because of the stipulation of obedience from the people to the will of God revealed and declared) left those that were under it in a state of bondage or servitude.

Verse 25

Agar, the bondwoman, fitly represented

Mount Sinai, the mountain in Arabia, from which the law was given: and

Jerusalem which now is answereth to Mount Sinai; for as in Mount Sinai the law was given in a terrible manner, so now Jerusalem is the seat of the scribes and Pharisees, who are the doctors of that law, and rigidly press the observation of it, by which the Jews are kept

in bondage. The apostle speaketh not here of the civil servitude that the Jews were in under the Romans, to whom they were now tributaries, but of that religious servitude in which the scribes and Pharisees kept them to their legal services.

Verse 26

The new covenant, or the dispensation of the gospel, or the Christian church,

which is above, or from above, which answereth to Sarah, and is said to be above, because revealed from heaven by Christ, sent out of the bosom of the Father, not as the law was revealed upon earth, upon Mount Sinai. Hence apostates from the doctrine of the gospel, are said to turn from him who speaketh from heaven, Hebrews 12:25. Or else it is said to be above, because it is the assembly of the firstborn written in heaven, Galatians 4:23; hence the gospel church is called the heavenly Jerusalem, Galatians 4:22. Of this gospel church the apostle saith, that it is free; i.e. free from the yoke and bondage of the ceremonial law, or from the covenant and curse of the law. Which church, he saith,

is the mother of all believers, they embracing the same faith, and walking in the same steps; from whence it was easy for the Galatians to conclude their freedom and liberty also from the law.

Verse 27

It is written, Isaiah 54:1. Some think that the apostle doth but allude to that of the prophet; and that the sense of the prophet was only to comfort the Jews, whose city, though it should be for a present time barren, thin of inhabitants, during the time of the Babylonish captivity; yet it should be again replenished with people, and be more populous than other cities. But the apostle seemeth rather to interpret that prophecy, than merely to allude to it; so that verse is one of those prophetical passages about the calling of the Gentiles, of which are many in that prophet. In this sense, the Gentiles are to be understood under the notion of the woman that was barren and desolate. The church of the Jews is represented under the notion of a woman that had a husband and children. The prophet, by the Spirit of prophecy, calleth upon the Gentiles, that brought forth no children to God, and to whom God was not a husband, to rejoice, and to cry out for joy, for there should be more believers, more children brought forth to God, amongst them, than were amongst the Jews: so as the church of the Gentiles are compared to Sarah, who was a long time barren, but then brought forth the child of the promise, the seed in which all the nations of the earth were to be blessed.

Verse 28

Isaac was the promised seed, Genesis 21:12; Romans 9:7; the apostle tells the Galatians that the believing Gentiles were (as Isaac) the children of the promise. Isaac being born, not by virtue of any procreative virtue in his parents, which was now dead in them, Romans 4:19, but by virtue of the promise, and by a power above nature, was a type of the believing Gentiles, who are a spiritual seed, and that seed to whom the promise was made, being the members of Christ by faith: so as the Jews had no reason so much to glory as they did, that Abraham was their father, for those amongst them that believed not were but his carnal seed, believers only were the spiritual seed,

the children of the promise; to which the believing Gentiles had the same claim with the believing Jews, and a much better than those of them that believed not in Christ.

Verse 29

As it was in Abraham’s time, Ishmael, who was born in a mere carnal and ordinary way of generation, persecuted Isaac, by mocking at him, Genesis 21:9, who was born by virtue of the promise, and the mighty power of God, enabling Sarah at those years to conceive, and Abraham to beget a child;

even so it is now, the carnal seed of Abraham, the Jews, persecute the Christians, which are his spiritual seed. From whence we may observe, that the Holy Ghost accounteth mockings of good people for religion, persecution. So Hebrews 11:36; Others had trial of cruel mockings; and we know these were one kind of the sufferings of Christ. By this also the apostle doth both confirm what he had before said, in making Hagar a type of the Jews, and Sarah a type of the Gentiles, the Jews persecuting the seed of Christ, as Hagar’s seed persecuted Isaac.

Verse 30

We read, Genesis 21:10, that when Sarah saw Ishmael mocking at her son Isaac, she was not able to bear it, but speaketh to her husband Abraham, saying:

Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even Isaac. The principal design of the apostle seems to be, by that type of the ejection of Ishmael out of Abraham’s family, to let them know the mind and will of God:

1. Concerning the exclusion of the law from a partnership with Christ and the gospel, in the justification of sinners before God.

2. Concerning the rejection of the Jews, upon the calling of the Gentiles.

3. Concerning the total destruction of the Jewish church and nation, for their persecution of Christ and the Christian church.

Verse 31

The church of the Gentiles was not typified in Hagar, but in Sarah; from whence the scope of the apostle is to conclude, that we are not under the law, obliged to Judaical observances, but are freed from them, and are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by the works of the law. By this conclusion the apostle maketh way for the exhortation in the following chapter, pressing them to stand fast in their liberty.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Galatians 4". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/galatians-4.html. 1685.
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