Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, May 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected BooksMcGarvey'S Commentaries

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Verse 1

But I say that so long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a bondservant though he is lord of all

Verse 2

but is under guardians and stewards until the day appointed of the father.

Verse 3

So we also, when we were children, were held in bondage under the rudiments of the world

Verse 4

but when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law

Verse 5

that he might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. [In this paragraph Paul resumes the metaphor begun at Galatians 3:24; but from a slightly different point of view. There, law, or the tutor, was prominent; here, the son, or pupil, is the chief object of consideration. The point now illustrated is the reason why the bondage of the law preceded the liberty of the gospel. It was for purposes of development, similar to those by which youth is trained to manhood. The child in this instance is regarded as wholly subject to the terms of a will (though that of a living father, as appears later). Though the will provides that the son shall eventually be heir of all things, yet for the present he is so hampered, governed and restricted by the inflexible terms of the will that his condition differs, so far as comfort and freedom are concerned, in no respect from that of a bondservant, or slave. His person is under the care of guardians, and his estate is under the direction of stewards, and he can in no way expect to have his affairs bettered until the time has elapsed which is fixed by the will as the period of his subserviency, or minority. Thus, says the apostle, both Jews and Gentiles, as one common, congregate body, or heirs in God’s sight, were held in bondage either to the law of Moses or some other form of law, which laws are collectively described as the rudiments of the world. But when the time arrived which was stipulated in the will for the termination of this period of tutelage, then God took the steps for the liberation of the ward (which steps were also outlined beforehand in the promise to Abraham, and referred to in the types of the will as recorded by Moses), and sent forth his Son to effect the liberation of the ward. At Galatians 3:13 the apostle has already suggested that this liberation was to be effected by the son taking the place of the ward, etc. He shows, therefore, the steps by which the Son took upon him this wardship. He took upon him the nature of the ward by becoming flesh, being born of a woman (John 1:14), and he assumed the state of the ward, for he was born under the law and thus came under the wardship. And his gracious purpose in all this was to redeem all those under ward and bring them to the estate of sons (2 Corinthians 8:9)--adopted sons.]

Verse 6

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

Verse 7

So that thou art no longer a bondservant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. [And being made sons by the Son through the operation of faith (John 1:12), the Spirit of Christ is bestowed upon us to bring us to blissful realization of our sonship, so that we may speak to God, calling him Abba, Father. Abba is the Syriac for father. The Syriac and Greek names are both used by Paul, probably that all the tender associations which, to either Jews or Greeks, clustered around the paternal name, might be, at the sound of the sacred word, transferred to God. Thus, by the blessed ministration of Christ, all who believed on him in Galatia passed from servitude and wardship to the estate of sons and heirs-- Romans 8:17]

Verse 8

Howbeit at that time, not knowing God, ye were in bondage to them that by nature are no gods

Verse 9

but now that ye have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how turn ye back again to the weak and beggarly rudiments, whereunto ye desire to be in bondage over again?

Verse 10

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

Verse 11

I am afraid of you, lest by any means I have bestowed labor upon you in vain. [This paragraph is addressed especially to the Gentile Christians. He reminds them that at the time of their wardship their condition differed from that of the Jews; for, having no true copy of the will or law, they were in the more severe bondage of idolatry. Having come from this low, degraded, poverty-stricken bondage into the joyous estate of sonship, where they knew and were known of God the Father, they should have been more impressed by the contrast even than were the Jews, and so should have been more reluctant to return to bondage again. They, therefore, had less excuse than the Jews, who had not been so far removed from God. The bondage is forcefully described, and the points of description are thus aptly defined by Johnson: "Weak, because they have no spiritual power to strengthen us; beggarly, because they have no rich promise like the gospel; rudiments, because they belong to a rudimentary condition, to an undeveloped state, to the childhood of the race." In proof of the unquestioned relapse of the Galatians, Paul cites their observance of days, etc., set apart by the terms of the bondage, or law. It is not stated whether these were Sabbaths and festivals of Judaism, or the ritual days of paganism, but as they were observed at the instance and through the urgency of the Judaizers, there can be little doubt that they were the former; and the Jewish calendar corresponds to Paul’s list, for they had Sabbath days, and new moon festivals each month, the great feasts in their seasons, and Sabbatical years. This passage, and that in Colossians (Colossians 2:16), if taken together, show very clearly that the Christians are not required to keep the Jewish Sabbath, and Paul’s closing words, expressing fear as to the results of his labors, is a forcible warning, indicating that salvation itself may be forfeited by a return to legalism.]

Verse 12

I beseech you, brethren, become as I am, for I also am become as ye are. Ye did me no wrong

Verse 13

but ye know that because of an infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you the first time

Verse 14

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

Verse 15

Where then is that gratulation of yourselves? for I bear you witness, that, if possible, ye would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.

Verse 16

So then am I become your enemy, by telling you the truth? [I beseech you, brethren, become as I am, and be not Jews; for I forsook Judaism and became simply a Christian, which made me, in the eyes of my brethren, a Gentile like you. Though I have spoken severely to you, it is for no personal reasons. Ye have done me no wrong. On the contrary, your actions have been very gracious, for you will remember (and here the apostle refers to facts that are nowhere recorded, but which we presume to run thus:) that my journeying was providentially delayed as I was passing through your land, by my sickness; and so it came about that I preached the gospel unto you; and though my sickness was of so revolting a nature that ye might well have yielded to the temptation to ridicule or despise me, and reject me because of it, ye did not; for, conversely, ye received me as if I had been an angel of light, or the Lord himself. What, then, has become of your self-gratulation that you felt at having a real apostle among you? for I bear you witness that you so honored me that you would have plucked out your very eyes for my sake. Am I then showing myself to be your enemy by telling you truly how foolishly you are conducting yourselves? This plucking out of the eyes for another was a proverbial expression, indicating extreme attachment, and we have so rendered it in the paraphrase. Many take this as an indication that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was ophthalmia; see 2 Corinthians 12:7 and note; and this is not improbable, for, though the expression is proverbial, Paul does not here state it in proverbial form. The words "given them to me" suggest that he needed eyes, and these words are not essential to the proverb.]

Verse 17

They zealously seek you in no good way; nay, they desire to shut you out, that ye may seek them.

Verse 18

But it is good to be zealously sought in a good matter at all times, and not only when I am present with you. [The Jews showed great zeal in proselyting (Galatians 1:14; Matthew 23:15; Romans 2:10), and the apostle states that in this case their zeal exhibited itself in courting the Galatians in an unworthy manner, and, what was more serious, for an unrighteous purpose. They were zealous to exclude the Galatians from the church and kingdom of God, by showing them to be not rightly converted; that, feeling themselves forlorn and lost, the Galatians might seek the Judaizers for counsel and advice, and might thus come to look upon them as great shepherds and deliverers. As the apostle sees in imagination the Galatians seeking earnestly for the instruction of the Judaizers, he remembers how they had once sought him, whom they had now forsaken, so he adds: I find no fault with you for zealously courting them, but with the evil cause for which they have you seek them; for it is at all times good to be zealously sought as a teacher in a good cause, and so, for my cause’s sake, you should thus seek me, not only when present, but when absent.]

Verse 19

My little children [1 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 2:1; 1 John 2:1], of whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you

Verse 20

but I could wish to be present with you now, and to change my tone; for I am perplexed about you. [My little children, for whom I endured spiritual travail to give you birth at the time of your conversion, and for whom I a second time endure travail, that the Christ life may be formed in you, so that you may live, and think, and glory in nothing but Christ.--Here the apostle breaks suddenly off and at once explains why he did so. If the Galatians had come to look upon him as an enemy, how ridiculous such affectionate language would sound to them! He did not, as he viewed them at a distance, and as they were pictured to him by report, feel free to use such tender speech; but still, trusting that matters were better than reported, he wished that he might be present, and, finding them indeed loyal, lay aside the perplexity which was now hampering him, and change his tone from rebuke and reserve to the accents of loving persuasion. No language could be devised that would more fully reveal the apostle’s heart in all its contending emotions.]

Verse 21

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

Verse 22

For it is written [Genesis 16:15; Genesis 21:2], that Abraham had two sons, one by the handmaid, and one by the free woman.

Verse 23

Howbeit the son by the handmaid is born after the flesh; but the son by the freewoman is born through promise. [Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:14; Genesis 21:1-2; Hebrews 11:11; Romans 4:13; Romans 9:7-9]

Verse 24

Which things contain an allegory: for these women are two covenants; one from mount Sinai, bearing children unto bondage, which is Hagar.

Verse 25

Now this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children.

Verse 26

But the Jerusalem that is above [Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2] is free, which is our mother.

Verse 27

For it is written [Isaiah 54:1; Isaiah 51:2], Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; Break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: For more are the children of the desolate than of her that hath the husband.

Verse 28

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

Verse 29

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

Verse 30

Howbeit what saith the scripture? [Genesis 21:10] Cast out the handmaid and her son: for the son of the handmaid shall not inherit with the son of the freewoman.

Verse 31

Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of the handmaid, but of the free woman. [Tell me, ye who are so eager to return to the law, do ye not note what the law itself says? Of itself it warns you not to do this thing, in that it tells you the story of Abraham’s two sons, one of whom, Ishmael, was the son of the bondwoman, Hagar; and the other of whom, Isaac, was the son of the freewoman, Sarah. These sons, it tells you, were born differently. Ishmael, the slave-born, came into the world according to the usual course of nature; but Isaac, the freeborn, came through the promise of God, which held good even contrary to the laws of nature. Now, this history, though literally true, is, nevertheless, so designed as to contain an allegory; for these two women represent the two covenants which we have been discussing. Hagar represents the law, which came from Mt. Sinai, and which, like Hagar, bears slave-born children. Hagar, then, in earlier history, represents Mt. Sinai in Arabia with its covenant, and in later history she stands for Jerusalem, the successor to Mt. Sinai, for she, like Hagar, is in bondage; and all her children are, as to sin and the law, slave-born (John 8:32-34). Leaving out the preliminary steps, Paul rushes at once to the comparison of the two cities, for the emissaries of Jerusalem were constantly disparaging him as not the equal of those who were the heads of the church there (Galatians 2:6-7). Filling in all the steps, according to the analogy of the apostle’s reasoning, the full allegory would run thus: Sarah, the freewoman, represents the gospel covenant, which, like Sarah, bears freeborn children according to God’s promise, and she is now represented by the celestial Jerusalem, which, with her free children, is our mother. And the Scripture itself recognizes the order of these two covenants, showing how the law should be populous for a time, and then be excelled by the fecundity of the gospel covenant, which seemed so long barren; for Isaiah foretells it in the words, "Rejoice, etc." As for a time Hagar seemed to be the real wife, and as such to own the husband, so for centuries those of the old covenant seemed to be the real Bride and to own the Lord. Resuming the allegorical history and directly identifying the Christian with Isaac, Paul shows how the history continued to run parallel, for, as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so the progeny of the law persecuted the children of the gospel. Then, prophetically conscious of God’s design to continue the parallel to the end, he gives the final prophecy of the rejection of God’s once chosen people, and closes with the incontrovertible conclusion that the Galatians are not children of the bondwoman, or law, but of the freewoman, or gospel. Thus Paul, knowing the passion of the Judaizers for allegorizing, meets them with their own weapon, and casts into this appropriate mold matter which he presents argumentatively and logically at Romans 9:6-9; and prophetically at Romans 11:15 . The fact that Isaac and the gospel were both matters of promise, forestalled the Judaizers in any attempt to adjust the allegory so as to turn it against Paul. Moreover, the Jews themselves universally recognized the law as a practical bondage (Acts 15:10; Matthew 23:4), and the complaint against Paul was that he allowed too much liberty.]

Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/galatians-4.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.
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