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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

1. The heir Whether the father be living or not, he is heir. The divine Father ever lives.

Child Literally, an infant; but the word is intended to cover the whole period of minority, which, by Roman law, terminated at twenty-five.

Differeth nothing from a servant That is, in the respects mentioned in the next verse.

Lord of all That is, inherently and by law; though externally subjected for his own good to the judgment of others. So the child of God, a servant in exterior, is interior heir of God, and lord of all the blessedness of eternity.

Verses 1-8

5. The development from Judaism or Gentilism to Christianity, parallel to the development from childhood into manhood, Galatians 4:1-8.

Paul here unfolds, with marked clearness, his “doctrine of development,” and charges therefrom that the Galatians have reversed the law of progress, and “advanced backwards.” He had hinted this view in Galatians 3:3; Galatians 3:25, and now fully expands the view. In the present chapter, Galatians 4:1-2 describe the child in pupilage and advancement; Galatians 4:3-7 the parallel pupilage and growth of moral life; Galatians 4:8-11 describe and rebuke the Galatian retrograde movement.

Verse 2

2. But The items of his servile external conditions.

Under tutors The guardians of his person.

And governors The trustees of his property. He is thus a prisoner in his own domains, a servant in his own lordship.

Time appointed His close of twenty-five years’ minority the time appointed by law.

Of the father This does not mean that the father appoints the time; but it is the time by which the father is limited, and grants him the rights of majority.

Verse 3

3. Even so Introducing the parallel growth of the child and of race in religion. The nice adjustment of parallel terms and phrases must be specially marked. Children answers to child, Galatians 4:1; bondage to servant; elements to tutors and governors. We That Gentiles as well as Jews are included as children and heirs is clear from Galatians 4:8. Gentilism is thus viewed in its aspect of a preparatory dispensation, a previous stage to Christianity. See notes on Acts 17:22-23.

Elements The Greek word is derived from a root signifying a row, or any objects standing in rows, ranks, or orders. Hence it became a term for the letters of the alphabet.

And as nature is viewed in rows and orders, so it came to signify the elements of nature, which were then held to be earth, air, fire, and water. Thence, from their visible order, or from their orderly measurement of time, the term was applied to the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars. By the phrase elements of the world, here, most of the ancient interpreters understood the heavenly bodies, as objects of worship among Gentiles. But that does not fit the parallelism between the child and the early human race. The parallelism requires that alphabetic elements should be understood, adjusted to under tutors. These elements are of the world in that sense of the world in which it is in antithesis to the Christian Church, and so includes Judaism in its adverse aspect, as well as Gentilism.

The latter is viewed in its most favourable aspect in order to its being associated with Judaism. Both, then, are viewed as unknowing Christ, yet preparatory to Christ.

Verse 4

4. Fulness… time Parallel to the time appointed, Galatians 4:2, at which the minor became major in age. The fulness of the time is, therefore, the completion of the maturing period, in which the nations are ready for the advent of Christ and Christianity. The historic process is going on until “ the wheels of time” have completed their revolution, and the clock of time points to the second and strikes the hour. God is prompt to the instant.

Sent forth his Son For the purpose of emancipating the heir from his tutors and governors. Roman law had its processes for this purpose; the divine law has a method of its own. The divine Father sends an elder brother to assume subjection and emancipate us, the child, with himself.

Made of a woman That he might be our brother.

Under the law Rather, under law, the article not being in the Greek. Made of a woman is parallel to child, Galatians 4:1; made under law is parallel to under tutors and governors, Galatians 4:2.

Verse 5

5. Them The we of Galatians 4:3.

Receive the adoption of sons Parallel to the emancipating the child from his servile minor state as a servant into his free sonship and inheritance.

Verse 6

6. Ye are sons As the minor does not cease to be a son upon attaining his majority.

The Spirit of his Son Not merely in the rationalistic interpretation ”the temper of a true Christian” but the divine Spirit indwelling. So Bishop Pearson: “Here the Son is distinguished from the Father, as sent by him; and the Spirit of the Son is distinguished from the Father, as sent by the Father after he had sent the Son. And this our Saviour hath taught us several times. John 14:26; John 15:26. Hence we conclude that the Holy Ghost, although he be truly and properly God, is neither God the Father nor God the Son.” So also Mr. Locke: “He could not be called the Spirit of the Son any otherwise than as proceeding from the Son; so that it is evident he proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

Into your hearts See note on Romans 8:26.

Crying It is the very Spirit itself which in our hearts utters the cry. Not only is there a groaning, (Romans 8:26,) as for a deliverance, but there is a cry, as ascending from our hearts to the Father on high.

Abba, Father Both the popular Hebrew and the Greek form of the name are given in undoubted symbol; we think that both Jew and Gentile are united in this blessed co-sonship with the Son. In the heart of either alike the indwelling Spirit sendeth up the filial cry. Yet this mode of double wording arose from the fact that Hebrews largely spoke two languages, and Greeks would, in approximate Christianity, often become Hebraized. Schoettgen is quoted by Lightfoot as giving a specimen of the title my lord, addressed in both Hebrew and Greek by a Jewish woman to a judge. Compare Mark 14:36, and Romans 8:15.

The word abba, signifying father in Hebrew, is the original of the ecclesiastical terms abbot, abbe, and abbey, in modern European languages.

Verse 7

7. No more a servant Even in form and law like the minor child in Galatians 4:1.

A son In the full privileges of thy majority, and the full abundance of thy inheritance.

Verse 8

8. Ye knew not God Alluding to the fact that the main body of the Galatian Church had been pagans.

Did service You were not merely like the slave of Galatians 4:1, but were actual slaves and worshippers of false tutors and governors, namely, them which are no gods.

By nature But only in the fancy of their worshippers.

Verse 9

6. Consequent folly of their relapse from faith-justification into old legalism, Galatians 4:9-20.

9. But now After your adult growth and knowledge.

Known God Not merely as a false Jupiter or a dim Jehovah, but as father through Christ.

Rather… known of God No longer like children committed to governors and tutors, and overlooked by their father; but like children to whom the Father hath sent the Spirit of sonship, who hears them crying, and knows them as his sons.

How Imperative rebuke! How can so preposterous a turn be made.

Weak As childhood.

Beggarly Penniless as the minor state.

Elements The first letters, hieroglyphs, and child-pictures of pupilage. That is the circumcision, the holidays, and the rituals of either Judaism or paganism.

Weak Impotent to strengthen spiritually the soul in its full growth.

Beggarly Poor in any thing that can satisfy an immortal spirit.

Verse 10

10. Observe days The sabbaths of Judaism, the ritual days of paganism. That the heathen also observe days we have a striking illustration from the fact that the days of our Christian week bear each the name of a pagan divinity, as, indeed, do some of our months.

Months The feasts of new moons.

Times Seasons, as passover, pentecost, etc.

Years The sabbatic, or seventh year; the jubilee, every fiftieth year. Wieseler reckons that the then passing year was a sabbatic. But the jubilee was then truly no longer observed. Paul enumerates all these, not as being actually kept, but because the Galatians were making up with puerile system their whole ritual calendar. It seems, perhaps, strange that Paul does not name circumcision as one of the beggarly elements. But against that he warns them in Galatians 4:2; in words implying that they had not yet gone so far as that.

Verse 11

11. I am afraid of you, lest The Greek indicative implies that he assumes that which he fears was an accomplished fact.

Verse 12

12. Brethren Beginning, as at Galatians 3:15, a new and gentler strain. Be Omitting the interpolated italic words, we render, Become as I, because I as you. The meaning is, become as I became when I left Judaism and rejected these beggarly elements; because I became as you then were, when you, as Gentiles, rejected them. Let us agree as we agreed when I first preached the gospel to you.

Ye have The Greek aorist omits the have. Render, Ye did not wrong me at all; that is, when I first preached to you. So, Galatians 4:14, ye despised not… but received.

Verses 12-20

a. Earnest expostulation in view of his and their past mutual history and the conduct of his opponents, Galatians 4:12-20 .

Paul tenderly reminds the Galatians of their cordial reception of his first preaching, 12-16; hints the selfishness of their seducers, 17, 18; and makes appeal to their sympathetic emotions, Galatians 4:19-20.

Verse 13

13. Through infirmity Rather, on account of infirmity, or bodily illness. A visitation of St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh (note, 2 Corinthians 12:7) detained him at Galatia; and in spite of its drawback on his oratory the Galatians cordially received him and his message.

At the first The Greek meaning seems to be, at the former of two visits.

Verse 14

14. My temptation The truer reading seems to be, your temptation. That is, your temptation, from my infirmity, to reject me with contempt.

Ye despised not This verb seems to require that Paul considers temptation to be a sort of designation of his infirmity: your temptation, to wit, my infirmity, you despised not. The Greek for despised not is an idiomatic term for that meaning; εξεπτυσατε , ye spit not out.

As an angel So divine seemed my message that ye treated me as a divine messenger.

As Christ Jesus Lord of all angels, whose testimony stands, even though contradicted by an angel, Galatians 1:8.

Verse 15

15. Where… blessedness The blessedness is the self-felicitation expressed by the Galatians in their first joy in the gospel. They have grown cold, and St. Paul now demands what has become of that first joy and love.

For In illustration of the original glow of that blessedness. If…

possible If I could have been adequately benefitted by so costly a gift.

Eyes We see not the slightest reason to infer from this expression, with Alford, that St. Paul had himself weak eyes. The passage is the hyperbole of passionate affection.

Verse 16

16. Therefore… enemy Is it inferable from the immense change on your part?

The truth For telling them the truth is he who was once their angel now their enemy? The change was neither in the truth nor its apostle, but in themselves. So is it with backsliders and apostates; the truth and its minister they once loved they often now dread and hate.

When was it that he so spoke the truth as to incur this enmity? Not at his first visit, commentators reply, for then he was as an angel to them. Nor in this letter, for they have not as yet read it. Therefore, at his second visit.

Acts 18:23, it is said. Nevertheless he told them no new truth at that second visit. The very reason why he is now deemed their enemy is, because he is the fixed representative of the same unchanging truth, at his first visit, his second, and in this epistle.

Verse 17

17. They The unnamed propagators of Judaism in the Galatian Church.

Affect you Court you, flatter you, zealously cultivate you.

But not well Not honourably for them, not beneficially to you. I am your enemy, for-sooth, for telling truth; they your friends, by telling untruth.

Exclude you Shut you off from Christ, his Church, and me, to themselves alone.

Ye might affect Court, be zealous partisans for them. St. Paul holds the cross of Christ as the true centre, from which these separatists wished to form a clique of followers.

Verse 18

18. Zealously affected Rather courted, treated with friendly zeal.

In a good thing In a right way, for a good purpose. Connect always with and not only as antithetical. I admit that the being treated with zealous attentions, if rightly done, is a good thing; and that not only when I am present with you to render them, but always, my little children, of whom I travail in birth until Christ is imaged in your characters.

It will be seen that this paraphrase connects Galatians 4:17-18, as a single sentence, as Ellicott, Lightfoot, and Wordsworth. This avoids a detachment of Galatians 4:19-20 into a separate fragment, and connects both clauses present with you in the same paragraph.

Verse 19

19. My little children My darlings. An expression of endearment repeatedly used by St. John, but here alone by St. Paul. Little children he may well call them; for he is now in figure their mother, in pangs of childbirth, to bring them forth in the likeness of Christ.

Again Clearly expressing the thought of a second regeneration.

Verse 20

20. Desire… be present The mention of being present in Galatians 4:18 now recurs to him in the form of a most affectionate wish.

Change my voice From doubt and rebuke to confidence and commendation.

For With my present view of you at this distance.

I stand… doubt My sad position is, that your Christian perseverance is a dubious matter.

Verse 21

8. Superiority of faith over legalism illustrated by the history of Sarah and Hagar, Galatians 4:21 to Galatians 5:1.

21. Tell me As if after an interval since writing the last tenderer paragraph, St. Paul resumes the more severe and imperative strain of Galatians 2:1-7.

Desire… under the law The observers of seasons, as in Galatians 4:10.

Hear the law The Jews did hear the law read to them in the synagogue every sabbath; but Paul demands now whether they will hear it with the earnest ear of the soul. He is going to frame for these legalists an argument after the style and manner of their own legal teachers.

The ensuing allegorical exposition of the Abrahamic history was shaped after a form of composition current in the Jewish schools. The passage has been much attacked by adverse criticism, and even evangelical expositors. It is asked, Was this Old Testament narrative allegory, and not true history? Or, if true history, can we suppose that this combination of events and characters was divinely framed to evolve this lesson deduced by St. Paul?

All these difficulties would have vanished, we think, in a moment if our commentators had noted what none of them seems to have done that Paul has merely here put into an allegorical form the very same thought as in logical form he gives in Romans 9:6-10, (where see our notes.) The thought simply is this: That Christianity does, by its very nature, disclose an underlying subsense in the Old Testament; not only in its ritual, but in its history. And an allegory is simply an external surface history under which there lies an internal subsense.

Verse 22

22. It is written The ordinary deferential form of quotation from the old canon. Genesis 16, 21.

Abraham The great representative of the covenants, both old and new.

Two sons That Ishmael. the natural-born, as distinguished from Isaac, as miracle-born, represents the unregenerate as distinguished from the Church of the regenerate, and especially represents the falsely regenerate, who seek salvation by work and law as distinguished from the truly regenerate, who seek salvation by faith in Christ, we have explicitly shown in our note on Romans 9:8. And it is from this standpoint that the false expositions of Stuart, and Calvinistic interpreters in general, of Romans 9:8, is clearly shown; and by consequence the falseness of their entire interpretation of the book of Romans.

The correspondent points between the outer and inner meaning of the history appear in the following synopsis:

HAGAR, the old covenant. SARAH, the new covenant.

ISHMAEL and the legalists. ISAAC and the justified by faith.

Sinai. Zion?

Old Jerusalem. Heavenly Jerusalem. In bondage. In freedom.

Cast out of heirship. Heirs with the Son.

The doctrine of this programme is equally clear and true. Isaac, as miraculously, under promise, born of Sarah, is type of all the faithful, who are freely justified by faith, and heirs of the new Jerusalem; while Ishmael, as born of the alien bond-woman, is palpable type of the falsely regenerate by law and works, who are still adhering to old Jerusalem, are in legal bondage, and bound to be cast out of the inheritance. And St. Paul has as much right to frame this into a full allegory, giving it a conceptual form to occupy the imagination and memory of his readers, as any man would to shape it into a metaphor, a poem, or a parable.

Verse 23

23. After the flesh Not by miracle and promise, as Isaac was, but in the ordinary mode. And so he is suitable type of the unregenerate; and, as under bondage, he is type of the falsely regenerate under law and works; just like their Judaizing apostles and all their converts in Galatia or elsewhere. See note, Romans 9:8.

Verse 24

24. Which things Not the Greek pronoun α , which, but ατινα , which sort of things. The Old Testament histories of this kind. Christian verity underlies the whole old dispensation.

Are an allegory A literal history with a spiritual subsense. The Greek word αλληγορουμενα , may signify either are spoken allegorically, or, are allegorized. The latter is the meaning here; implying that the literal history is by Christian truth thus spiritualized. This spiritualizing arises from the very relation of the new dispensation to the old; the latter infusing a new and grander import into the former.

These Hagar and Sarah.

Are That is, represent. Their position in the history assigns them that typism.

Two covenants That of law and works, and that of gospel and faith; yet the latter really underlying the former through the whole old history. See note on Romans 9:5-13.

From the mount Sinai For the decalogue is THE LAW; all the rest of the Old Testament, the ritual, the history, and the prophecy, being but adjuncts to give that law power and effect.

Gendereth to bondage As Hagar bore children to bondage, so does the Sinaitic covenant produce sons under circumcisional bondage to the heavy ritual. Under this bondage the Galatians are perversely ambitious to place themselves.

Which is Corresponds to.

Verse 25

25. For To give proof of this correspondence.

This Agar The this is the Greek article in the neuter gender, and can agree with Hagar only as a thing; that is, as an element or factor in this allegory.

Is Represents. The neuter verb often implies representation; as “the candlesticks are the seven Churches,” “the stars are the angels of the Churches.” And in Christ’s words, this bread is my body.

Answereth Co-ordinates with, or stands in parallel row with.

Jerusalem St. Paul here uses the old Hebrew word for Jerusalem, not the modern Greek form, indicating thereby that he speaks not so much of the present concrete Jerusalem of walls and houses as of the conceptual Jerusalem, symbolized by this material Jerusalem, namely, fallen Judaism, the obsolete theocracy.

Now is Not the Jerusalem of the holy old past, nor of the future; but the faded Jerusalem of the present, deserted by God, effete and enslaved, and bound to a speedy destruction.

In bondage Bound in the fetters of the law, after the grace and glory in the law have departed.

Her children The Judaistic apostles and their Galatian converts. Of the clause this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, we have given what we conceive to be the true interpretation.

But, 1. By another reading, adopted by Lightfoot, the first words of the verse are, For the mountain Sinai is in Arabia. The phrase in Arabia, is then made to signify that the connexion between Hagar and Sinai is, that both are Arabian. To the Sinaitic peninsula, apparently, Hagar fled, Genesis 16:7-14. The Arabians are called sons of Hagar, ( Bar 3:23 ;) Hagar’s name is illustrious in Arabian legends; and Arab tribes are called Hagarenes, Psalms 83:7, and Hagarites, 1 Chronicles 5:19. Hence Hagar represents Sinai, as both being Arabian. All this is far-fetched and feeble. 2. Chrysostom is quoted as saying that Hagar means rock, and thus Sinai is named Hagar rock in the Arabic language. Hence it is said, that in Arabia, means in the language of Arabia; and so St. Paul identifies Hagar and Sinai here by oneness of name. But, first, there is no sufficient proof that Sinai was called Hagar in Arabic, and the word Hagar does not etymologically signify rock, but one who flees, being cognate with hegira, the term for the flight of Mohammed. The word for rock is not Hagar, but Chagar. See Lightfoot’s learned dissertation.

Verse 26

26. Jerusalem… above Literally, the above, or upper Jerusalem. The same Greek phrase Josephus uses to designate the upper city of Jerusalem; and a parallel phrase, the upper city, was used in Athens to designate the Acropolis. Paul does not, however, mean the upper part of the then present Jerusalem, but a spiritual Jerusalem, higher, not only than the material one, but higher than the conceptual one, the old theocracy; namely, the new theocracy, the Church of the New Testament. This is called in Hebrews 12:22, the heavenly Jerusalem: not because it is heavenly in locality, but heavenly in nature. And in Revelation 21:0, John beholds the glorified counterpart of this earthly-heavenly Jerusalem descend from heaven, and identify itself with the earthly-heavenly Jerusalem, ( the beloved city of Revelation 20:9.) In Paul’s allegory the correspondent item to Sinai is not formally supplied, and, as the above synopsis shows, Zion seems to be needed. Yet St. Paul skips it, really because, though needed to make out a regular programme, it is not needed for the complete exhibition of the truth. Wieseler furnishes in good Greek the apostle’s “missing link” (as quoted by Schmoller) thus: “The second covenant from mount Zion, bearing children unto freedom, which is Sarah. For Zion is a mountain in the Land of Promise, and corresponds to Jerusalem, for she is free with her children.”

Is free Her legal bonds are fallen off. She is like Sarah, whose name meant princess free and queenly.

Mother of us all Not a barren princess, as Sarai was, but a miraculously fertile mother of countless free and princely sons. They are the very progeny predicted by Jehovah, to be as numerous as the stars of heaven.

Verse 27

27. Written St. Paul adorns his allegory with a choice gem from old prophetic poetry. Isaiah 54:1. The passage is clearly Messianic, and is spoken in view of the gathering in of the Gentiles, Galatians 4:3. She who was barren, and that travailed not, has now a numerous offspring. The barrenness, according to Paul, is the effeteness of fallen Judaism, and the new fertility is the life and increase of new Christianity.

Verse 28

28. We, brethren The direct application of the allegory to the present company. We Not as seeking circumcision, but as reposing faith in Christ.

As Isaac… children of promise Isaac’s miraculous generation is type of our miraculous regeneration. The promise of his birth, first made by Jehovah to Abraham, is part of the covenant by which man is regenerate through Christ.

Verse 29

29. Then… now The persecution of Isaac by Ishmael is identical with the persecution of faithful Christians by circumcised Jews and Judaists. Isaac and the faithful Christians are alike the born after the flesh, as Ishmael and the Judaists are alike the born after the flesh. And this verities the statement of our note on Romans 9:8. Persecuted, seems, at first, to be a severe word for mocking, (in Genesis 21:9,) describing Ishmael’s demeanour to Isaac; and still more for the Hebrew, which is “laughing,” and the Septuagint, which is “playing.” But, somehow, it was Ishmaelite playing; arousing the indignation of Sarah, confirmed by Jehovah; was the type of future wars between the two races, and, as here, the type, of the persecution of the good by the bad.

Verse 30

30. Nevertheless In spite of the apparent triumph of these persecutions.

Cast out It is the destiny of the persecutor to be rejected and reprobated.

The bondwoman The rejected Jewish Church.

Her son The converts they make in Galatia to circumcision.

Shall not be heir Shall not inherit the kingdom of God by faith.

Free woman The New Testament Churches; free because released from the heavy yoke of Judaism.

Verse 31

31. So then Wherefore. That is, it results as an inference from all this that we, uncircumcised believers.

The bondwoman In the Greek the article is significantly omitted from bondwoman, but inserted before free. There are many Churches in bondage, but there is but one Church free through Christ. The various false religions, even though they had not circumcision, had still severer rites, (see note Galatians 5:12,) and quite as cumbrous rituals; Christianity is the free religion of the heart. Professor Lightfoot gives in illustration an allegory on the same passage of Old Testament history by the eminent Jewish theologian of Alexandria, the contemporary (though earlier) of Paul, Philo.

Philo makes the allegory illustrate the principle that divine wisdom, in order to be fruitful to the human soul, must be aided by human science; a true and valuable doctrine. Abraham is the human soul; he marries Sarah, whose name, signifying “princess,” shows that she represents divine wisdom; but the marriage is barren. Divine wisdom advises that he form connection with Hagar, who comes from Egypt, the land of science, and whose name ”sojourning” indicates the human and transitory. Then, first, this marriage is fruitful, and the result is, that the barren becomes more prolific than the previously fruitful.

Professor Lightfoot shows several points in which Philo’s allegory is inferior; but one is most important of all; which is, that while Philo’s allegory is unbased, Paul’s is really contained in the history. The correspondences in Philo are imaginary, while in Paul they are real.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Galatians 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/galatians-4.html. 1874-1909.
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