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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

So long as (εφ' οσον χρονον). "For how long a time," incorporation of the antecedent (χρονον) into the relative clause.

The heir (ο κληρονομος). Old word (κληρος, lot, νεμομα, to possess). Illustration from the law of inheritance carrying on the last thought in Galatians 3:29.

A child (νηπιος). One that does not talk (νη, επος, word). That is a minor, an infant, immature intellectually and morally in contrast with τελειο, full grown (1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Philippians 3:15; Ephesians 4:13).

From a bondservant (δουλου). Slave. Ablative case of comparison after διαφερε for which verb see on Matthew 6:26.

Though he is lord of all (Κυριος παντων ων). Concessive participle ων, "being legally owner of all" (one who has the power, ο εχων κυρος).

Verse 2

Under guardians (υπο επιτροπους). Old word from επιτρεπω, to commit, to intrust. So either an overseer (Matthew 20:8) or one in charge of children as here. It is common as the guardian of an orphan minor. Frequent in the papyri as guardian of minors.

Stewards (οικονομους). Old word for manager of a household whether freeborn or slave. See Luke 12:42; 1 Corinthians 4:2. Papyri show it as manager of an estate and also as treasurer like Romans 16:23. No example is known where this word is used of one in charge of a minor and no other where both occur together.

Until the time appointed of the father (αχρ της προθεσμιας του πατρος). Supply ημερας (day), for προθεσμιος is an old adjective "appointed beforehand" (προ, θεσμος, from τιθημ). Under Roman law the tutor had charge of the child till he was fourteen when the curator took charge of him till he was twenty-five. Ramsay notes that in Graeco-Phrygia cities the same law existed except that the father in Syria appointed both tutor and curator whereas the Roman father appointed only the tutor. Burton argues plausibly that no such legal distinction is meant by Paul, but that the terms here designate two functions of one person. The point does not disturb Paul's illustration at all.

Verse 3

When we were children (οτε ημεν νηπιο). Before the epoch of faith came and we (Jews and Gentiles) were under the law as paedagogue, guardian, steward, to use all of Paul's metaphors.

We were held in bondage (ημεις ημεθα δεδουλωμενο). Periphrastic past perfect of δουλοω, to enslave, in a permanent state of bondage.

Under the rudiments of the world (υπο τα στοιχεια του κοσμου). Στοιχος is row or rank, a series. So στοιχειον is any first thing in a στοιχος like the letters of the alphabet, the material elements in the universe (2 Peter 3:10), the heavenly bodies (some argue for that here), the rudiments of any act (Hebrews 5:12; Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1; Galatians 4:3; Galatians 4:9; Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20). The papyri illustrate all the varieties in meaning of this word. Burton has a valuable excursus on the word in his commentary. Probably here (Lightfoot) Paul has in mind the rudimentary character of the law as it applies to both Jews and Gentiles, to all the knowledge of the world (κοσμος as the orderly material universe as in Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20). See on Matthew 13:38; Acts 17:24; 1 Corinthians 3:22. All were in the elementary stage before Christ came.

Verse 4

The fulness of the time (το πληρωμα του χρονου). Old word from πληροω, to fill. Here the complement of the preceding time as in Ephesians 1:10. Some examples in the papyri in the sense of complement, to accompany. God sent forth his preexisting Son (Philippians 2:6) when the time for his purpose had come like the προθεσμια of verse Galatians 4:2.

Born of a woman (γενομενον εκ γυναικος). As all men are and so true humanity, "coming from a woman." There is, of course, no direct reference here to the Virgin Birth of Jesus, but his deity had just been affirmed by the words "his Son" (τον υιον αυτου), so that both his deity and humanity are here stated as in Romans 1:3. Whatever view one holds about Paul's knowledge of the Virgin Birth of Christ one must admit that Paul believed in his actual personal preexistence with God (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11), not a mere existence in idea. The fact of the Virgin Birth agrees perfectly with the language here.

Born under the law (γενομενον υπο νομον). He not only became a man, but a Jew. The purpose (ινα) of God thus was plainly to redeem (εξαγοραση, as in Galatians 3:13) those under the law, and so under the curse. The further purpose (ινα) was that we (Jew and Gentile) might receive (απολαβωμεν, second aorist active subjunctive of απολαμβανω), not get back (Luke 15:27), but get from (απο) God the adoption (την υιοθεσιαν). Late word common in the inscriptions (Deissmann, Bible Studies, p. 239) and occurs in the papyri also and in Diogenes Laertes, though not in LXX. Paul adopts this current term to express his idea (he alone in the N.T.) as to how God takes into his spiritual family both Jews and Gentiles who believe. See also Romans 8:15; Romans 8:23; Romans 9:4; Ephesians 1:5. The Vulgate uses adoptio filiorum. It is a metaphor like the others above, but a very expressive one.

Verse 6

Because ye are sons (οτ εστε υιο). This is the reason for sending forth the Son (Galatians 4:4 and here). We were "sons" in God's elective purpose and love. Hοτ is causal (1 Corinthians 12:15; Romans 9:7).

The Spirit of his Son (το πνευμα του υιο αυτου). The Holy Spirit, called the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:19). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son (John 15:26).

Crying, Abba, Father (κραζον Αββα ο πατηρ). The participle agrees with πνευμα neuter (grammatical gender), not neuter in fact. An old, though rare in present as here, onomatopoetic word to croak as a raven (Theophrastus, like Poe's The Raven), any inarticulate cry like "the unuttered groanings" of Romans 8:26 which God understands. This cry comes from the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. Αββα is the Aramaic word for father with the article and ο πατηρ translates it. The articular form occurs in the vocative as in John 20:28. It is possible that the repetition here and in Romans 8:15 may be "a sort of affectionate fondness for the very term that Jesus himself used" (Burton) in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). The rabbis preserve similar parallels. Most of the Jews knew both Greek and Aramaic. But there remains the question why Jesus used both in his prayer. Was it not natural for both words to come to him in his hour of agony as in his childhood? The same thing may be true here in Paul's case.

Verse 7

No longer a bondservant (ουκετ δουλος). Slave. He changes to the singular to drive the point home to each one. The spiritual experience (Galatians 3:2) has set each one free. Each is now a son and heir.

Verse 8

To them which by nature are not gods (τοις φυσε μη ουσ θεοις). In 1 Corinthians 10:20 he terms them "demons," the "so-called gods" (1 Corinthians 8:5), worshipping images made by hands (Acts 17:29).

Verse 9

Now that ye have come to know God (νυν δε γνοντες). Fine example of the ingressive second aorist active participle of γινωσκω, come to know by experience through faith in Christ.

Rather to be known of God (μαλλον δε γνωσθεντες υπο θεου). First aorist passive participle of the same verb. He quickly turns it round to the standpoint of God's elective grace reaching them (verse Galatians 4:6).

How (πως). "A question full of wonder" (Bengel). See Galatians 1:6.

Turn ye back again? (επιστρεφετε παλιν?). Present active indicative, "Are ye turning again?" See μετατιθεσθε in Galatians 1:6.

The weak and beggarly rudiments (τα ασθενη κα πτωχα στοιχεια). The same στοιχεια in verse Galatians 4:3 from which they had been delivered, "weak and beggarly," still in their utter impotence from the Pharisaic legalism and the philosophical and religious legalism and the philosophical and religious quests of the heathen as shown by Angus's The Religious Quests of the Graeco-Roman World. These were eagerly pursued by many, but they were shadows when caught. It is pitiful today to see some men and women leave Christ for will o' the wisps of false philosophy.

Over again (παλιν ανωθεν). Old word, from above (ανω) as in Matthew 27:51, from the first (Luke 1:3), then "over again" as here, back to where they were before (in slavery to rites and rules).

Verse 10

Ye observe (παρατηρεισθε). Present middle indicative of old verb to stand beside and watch carefully, sometimes with evil intent as in Luke 6:7, but often with scrupulous care as here (so in Dio Cassius and Josephus). The meticulous observance of the Pharisees Paul knew to a nicety. It hurt him to the quick after his own merciful deliverance to see these Gentile Christians drawn into this spider-web of Judaizing Christians, once set free, now enslaved again. Paul does not itemize the "days" (Sabbaths, fast-days, feast-days, new moons) nor the "months" (Isaiah 66:23) which were particularly observed in the exile nor the "seasons" (passover, pentecost, tabernacles, etc.) nor the "years" (sabbatical years every seventh year and the Year of Jubilee). Paul does not object to these observances for he kept them himself as a Jew. He objected to Gentiles taking to them as a means of salvation.

Verse 11

I am afraid of you (φοβουμα υμας). He shudders to think of it.

Lest by any means I have bestowed labour upon you in vain (μη πως εικη κεκοπιακα εις υμας). Usual construction after a verb of fearing about what has actually happened (μη πως and the perfect active indicative of κοπιαω, to toil wearily). A fear about the future would be expressed by the subjunctive. Paul fears that the worst has happened.

Verse 12

Be as I am (γινεσθε ως εγω). Present middle imperative, "Keep on becoming as I am." He will not give them over, afraid though he is.

Verse 13

Because of an infirmity of the flesh (δι' ασθενειαν της σαρκος). All that we can get from this statement is the fact that Paul's preaching to the Galatians "the first time" or "the former time" (το προτερον, adverbial accusative) was due to sickness of some kind whether it was eye trouble (Galatians 4:15) which was a trial to them or to the thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7) we do not know. It can be interpreted as applying to North Galatia or to South Galatia if he had an attack of malaria on coming up from Perga. But the narrative in Galatians 4:13; Galatians 4:14 does not read as if Paul had planned to pass by Pisidia and by Lycaonia but for the attack of illness. The Galatians understood the allusion for Paul says "Ye know" (οιδατε).

Verse 14

A temptation to you in my flesh (τον πειρασμον υμων εν τη σαρκ μου). "Your temptation (or trial) in my flesh." Peirasmon can be either as we see in James 1:2; James 1:12. If trial here, it was a severe one.

Nor rejected (ουδε εξεπτυσατε). First aorist active indicative of εκπτυω, old word to spit out (Homer), to spurn, to loathe. Here only in N.T. Clemen (Primitive Christianity, p. 342) thinks it should be taken literally here since people spat out as a prophylactic custom at the sight of invalids especially epileptics. But Plutarch uses it of mere rejection.

As an angel of God (ως αγγελον θεου),

as Christ Jesus (ως Χριστον Ιησουν). In spite of his illness and repulsive appearance, whatever it was. Not a mere "messenger" of God, but a very angel, even as Christ Jesus. We know that at Lystra Paul was at first welcomed as Hermes the god of oratory (Acts 14:12). But that narrative hardly applies to these words, for they turned against Paul and Barnabas then and there at the instigation of Jews from Antioch in Pisidia and Iconium.

Verse 15

That gratulation of yourselves (ο μακαρισμος υμων). "Your felicitation." Rare word from μακαριζω, to pronounce happy, in Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch. See also Romans 4:6; Romans 4:9. You no longer felicitate yourselves on my presence with you.

Ye would have plucked out your eves and given them to me (τους οφθαλμους υμων εξορυξαντες εδωκατε μο). This is the conclusion of a condition of the second class without αν expressed which would have made it clearer. But see John 16:22; John 16:24; Romans 7:7 for similar examples where the context makes it plain without αν. It is strong language and is saved from hyperbole by "if possible" (ε δυνατον). Did Paul not have at this time serious eye trouble?

Verse 16

Your enemy (εχθρος υμων). Active sense of εχθρος, hater with objective genitive. They looked on Paul now as an enemy to them. So the Pharisees and Judaizers generally now regarded him.

Because I tell you the truth (αληθευων υμιν). Present active participle of αληθευω, old verb from αληθης, true. In N.T. only here and Ephesians 4:15. "Speaking the truth." It is always a risky business to speak the truth, the whole truth. It may hit and hurt.

Verse 17

They zealously seek you (ζηλουσιν υμας). Ζηλοω is an old and a good word from ζηλος (zeal, jealousy), but one can pay court with good motives or evil. So here in contrast with Paul's plain speech the Judaizers bring their fawning flattery.

To shut you out (εκκλεισα υμας). From Christ as he will show (Galatians 5:4).

That ye may seek them (ινα αυτους ζηλουτε). Probably present active indicative with ινα as in φυσιουσθε (1 Corinthians 4:6) and γινωσκομεν (1 John 5:20). The contraction -οητε would be -ωτε, not -ουτε (Robertson, Grammar, p. 325).

Verse 18

To be zealously sought in a good matter (ζηλουσθα εν καλω). Present passive infinitive. It is only in an evil matter that it is bad as here (ου καλος).

When I am present (εν τω παρεινα με). "In the being present as to me."

Verse 19

I am in travail (ωδινω). I am in birth pangs. Old word for this powerful picture of pain. In N.T. only here, verse Galatians 4:27; Revelation 12:2.

Until Christ be formed in you (μεχρις ου μορφωθη Χριστος εν υμιν). Future temporal clause with μεχρις ου (until which time) and the first aorist passive subjunctive of μορφοω, late and rare verb, in Plutarch, not in LXX, not in papyri, only here in N.T. This figure is the embryo developing into the child. Paul boldly represents himself as again the mother with birth pangs over them. This is better than to suppose that the Galatians are pregnant mothers (Burton) by a reversal of the picture as in 1 Thessalonians 2:7.

Verse 20

I could with (ηθελον). Imperfect active, I was wishing like Agrippa's use of εβουλομην in Acts 25:22, "I was just wishing. I was longing to be present with you just now (αρτ)."

To change my voice (αλλαξα την φωνην μου). Paul could put his heart into his voice. The pen stands between them. He knew the power of his voice on their hearts. He had tried it before.

I am perplexed (απορουμα). I am at a loss and know not what to do. Απορεω is from α privative and πορος, way. I am lost at this distance from you.

About you (εν υμιν). In your cases. For this use of εν see 2 Corinthians 7:16; Galatians 1:24.

Verse 21

That desire to be under the law (ο υπο νομον θελοντες εινα). "Under law" (no article), as in Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:4, legalistic system. Paul views them as on the point of surrender to legalism, as "wanting" (θελοντες) to do it (Galatians 1:6; Galatians 3:3; Galatians 4:11; Galatians 4:17). Paul makes direct reference to these so disposed to "hear the law." He makes a surprising turn, but a legitimate one for the legalists by an allegorical use of Scripture.

Verse 22

By the handmaid (εκ της παιδισκης). From Genesis 16:1. Feminine diminutive of παις, boy or slave. Common word for damsel which came to be used for female slave or maidservant (Luke 12:45) or doorkeeper like Matthew 26:29. So in the papyri.

Verse 23

Is born (γεγεννητα). Perfect passive indicative of γενναω, stand on record so.

Through promise (δι' επαγγελιας). In addition to being "after the flesh" (κατα σαρκα).

Verse 24

Which things contain an allegory (ατινα εστιν αλληγορουμενα). Literally, "Which things are allegorized" (periphrastic present passive indicative of αλληγορεω). Late word (Strabo, Plutarch, Philo, Josephus, ecclesiastical writers), only here in N.T. The ancient writers used αινιττομα to speak in riddles. It is compounded of αλλο, another, and αγορευω, to speak, and so means speaking something else than what the language means, what Philo, the past-master in the use of allegory, calls the deeper spiritual sense. Paul does not deny the actual historical narrative, but he simply uses it in an allegorical sense to illustrate his point for the benefit of his readers who are tempted to go under the burden of the law. He puts a secondary meaning on the narrative just as he uses τυπικως in 1 Corinthians 10:11 of the narrative. We need not press unduly the difference between allegory and type, for each is used in a variety of ways. The allegory in one sense is a speaking parable like Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the Prodigal Son in Galatians 4:15, the Good Shepherd in Galatians 4:10. But allegory was also used by Philo and by Paul here for a secret meaning not obvious at first, one not in the mind of the writer, like our illustration which throws light on the point. Paul was familiar with this rabbinical method of exegesis (Rabbi Akiba, for instance, who found a mystical sense in every hook and crook of the Hebrew letters) and makes skilful use of that knowledge here. Christian preachers in Alexandria early fell victims to Philo's allegorical method and carried it to excess without regard to the plain sense of the narrative. That startling style of preaching survives yet to the discredit of sound preaching. Please observe that Paul says here that he is using allegory, not ordinary interpretation. It is not necessary to say that Paul intended his readers to believe that this allegory was designed by the narrative. He illustrates his point by it.

For these are (αυτα γαρ εισιν). Allegorically interpreted, he means.

From Mount Sinai (απο ορους Σινα). Spoken from Mount Sinai.

Bearing (γεννωσα). Present active participle of γενναω, to beget of the male (Matthew 1:1-16), more rarely as here to bear of the female (Luke 1:13; Luke 1:57).

Which is Hagar (ητις εστιν Hαγαρ). Allegorically interpreted.

Verse 25

This Hagar (το Hαγαρ). Neuter article and so referring to the word Hagar (not to the woman, η Hagar) as applied to the mountain. There is great variety in the MSS. here. The Arabians are descendants of Abraham and Hagar (her name meaning wanderer or fugitive).

Answereth to (συντοιχε). Late word in Polybius for keeping step in line (military term) and in papyri in figurative sense as here. Lightfoot refers to the Pythagorean parallels of opposing principles (συνστοιχια) as shown here by Paul (Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, the old covenant and the new covenant, the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem). That is true, and there is a correlative correspondence as the line is carried on.

Verse 26

The Jerusalem that is above (η ανω Ιερουσαλημ). Paul uses the rabbinical idea that the heavenly Jerusalem corresponds to the one here to illustrate his point without endorsing their ideas. See also Revelation 21:2. He uses the city of Jerusalem to represent the whole Jewish race (Vincent).

Verse 27

Which is our mother (ητις εστιν μητηρ ημων). The mother of us Christians, apply the allegory of Hagar and Sarah to us. The Jerusalem above is the picture of the Kingdom of God. Paul illustrates the allegory by quoting Isaiah 54:1, a song of triumph looking for deliverance from a foreign yoke.

Rejoice (ευφρανθητ). First aorist passive imperative of ευφραινω.

Break forth (ρηξον). First aorist active imperative of ρηγνυμ, to rend, to burst asunder. Supply ευφροσυνην (joy) as in Isaiah 49:13.

The desolate (της ερημου). The prophet refers to Sarah's prolonged barrenness and Paul uses this fact as a figure for the progress and glory of Christianity (the new Jerusalem of freedom) in contrast with the old Jerusalem of bondage (the current Judaism). His thought has moved rapidly, but he does not lose his line.

Verse 28

Now we (ημεις δε). Some MSS. have υμεις δε (now ye). In either case Paul means that Christians (Jews and Gentiles) are children of the promise as Isaac was (κατα Ισαακ, after the manner of Isaac).

Verse 29

Persecuted (εδιωκεν). Imperfect active of διωκω, to pursue, to persecute. Genesis 21:9 has in Hebrew "laughing," but the LXX has "mocking." The Jewish tradition represents Ishmael as shooting arrows at Isaac.

So now (ουτος κα νυν) the Jews were persecuting Paul and all Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:15).

Verse 30

Cast out (εκβαλε). Second aorist active imperative of εκβαλλω. Quotation from Genesis 21:10 (Sarah to Abraham) and confirmed in Galatians 21:12 by God's command to Abraham. Paul gives allegorical warning thus to the persecuting Jews and Judaizers.

Shall not inherit (ου μη κληρονομησε). Strong negative (ου μη and future indicative). "The law and the gospel cannot co-exist. The law must disappear before the gospel" (Lightfoot). See Galatians 3:18; Galatians 3:29 for the word "inherit."

Verse 31

But of the freewoman (αλλα της ελευθερας). We are children of Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:7).

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/galatians-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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