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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 4

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentZerr's N.T. Commentary

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Verse 1

Gal 4:1. There is a sense in which all men (whether Jews or Gentiles) were the children of God, namely, in that they were subject to Him either under the Jewish or the Patriarchal dispensatin. Notwithstanding this, all were restrained from enjoying the full benefits of the blessing promised through Abraham, until the time should arrive that the promised Seed came into the world. This period of waiting is here likened by Paul to the years of minority in a child. During that period, even though a man were a child and hence an heir of God, yet he had no more access to the property of his Father, namely, the possessions with Christ, than a servant would have to the estate of his master.

Verse 2

Verse 2. Continuing the line of comparison started in the preceding verse, the world of mankind is considered as minors, and hence under tutors and governors (see comments at chapter 3:24), waiting for the time appointed of the father. As far as the disposal of an estate is concerned, a child is a minor until such time as the father has designated, when his child should be released from the rule of these tutors, and his share of the estate be turned over to his full use.

Verse 3

Verse 3. When we were children is still used in reference to the years before the Gospel Dispensation was introduced. The bondage means the preparatory state already described in sev-veral preceding verses. Elements is from STOICHEION, and Thayer's general definition is, "any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole take their rise; an element, first principle." As the word is used in our verse, he explains it as follows: "The rudiments with which mankind, like minor children, were indoctrinated before the time of Christ, or the ceremonial precepts common alike to the worship of Jews and Gentiles." World is from 'cosmos, one definition of which is "the inhabitants of the earth, men, the human race." It is used in the present connection in that sense because such elements as pertain to moral and religious conduct could apply only to intelligent beings.

Verse 4

Verse 4. Fulness of the time means the time designated by the Father when his minor children (the Jews under the Mosaic Dispensation and the Gentiles under the Patriarchal Dispensation) were to be considered "of age" and ready to receive the full enjoyment of His provision for his children. That event was to be accomplished by the ushering into the world of His "only begotten Son" (see the comments at Luk 1:35 in volume 1 of the New Testament Commentary). Made is from GINOMAI, which has a wide range of meanings in the New Testament. As it applies to an intelligent creature, the proper one of Thayer's definitions is, "to become, i. e., to come into existence, begin to be, receive being." In this verse it means that the Son was brought into being in this world through the use of a woman. (Again see the comments cited in the parentheses above.) Under the law. Jesus was born, lived and died while the law was in force, for it was not entirely replaced until Pentecost in Acts second chapter.

Verse 5

Verse 5. As a minor would be redeemed or released from the rule of his guardian when he became "of age," so the minors (Jews) were redeemed or released from the authority of the law when Christ brought the Gospel age into the world. Adoption of sons. Paul makes a slight change in the use of his illustration. The Jews (as well as the Gentiles, though in a less specific sense), have been referred to already as sons not of age, now they are said to require adoption in order to become sons. But the point of comparison is not so far away after all. Verse 1 says that as long as the heir is a child (a minor), he is virtually the same as a servant. Harking back to that item in his parable, Paul switches from his first use of the servant-heir character, treating him as if he were a servant in the ordinary sense only, and permitting him to become a son of the head of the estate, in order that he might become not merely an heir apparent, but one in fact. However, since this servant cannot be the begotten son of the head of the estate, the relation can be accomplished only by the adoption of sons as It is here worded.

Verse 6

Verse 6. Because ye are sons has been perverted by -religious leaders, and made to teach as if it said, "to make you sons," etc. The sons of God are given possession of the Spirit, to be sure, but it is after they have become sons and not to make them such. However, the possession of this great gift is used in a special sense in this verse, which is evident by the affectionate effect its possession has on the recipients, namely, it causes them to address God as their Father. Hence the term is used to refer to the disposition or attitude toward God that is created in the mind of one who has been adopted into the family of God, through the service of His elder and only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. Abba, Father. Both words refer to the same relationship, but the first is of Chaldean orgin and the second is from the Greek. By using the two, Paul shows that when a man is adopted into the family of God, regardless of his national ancestry, he is led to look upon God affectionately as his spiritual Father. In other words, in Christ Jesus there is no distincition made as to whether the children of God are Jews or Gentiles, learned or unlearned, male or female, bond or free.

Verse 7

Verse 7. This verse is explained by the comments on verse 5, with an added thought as to the advantage of being a son. It entitles one to share in the riches of the Father in Heaven, who is the Creator and owner of all things.

Verse 8

Verse 8. Howbeit is an old word, coming from ALLA, which has been translated by "but" 572 times. It has also been rendered "notwithstanding" 10 times. It is used in this verse to introduce a statement about the past conduct of the Galatians, most of whom were Gentiles who had been worshipers of idols. But that was before they had been brought to know the true God, which was done through the preaching of the Gospel. By nature were no gods. Most of the objects of worship among the idolaters were articles of their own formation, or were the creatures of their imagina tion. Even such things as planets and animals, the works in creation, were not made into intelligent beings by nature, and hence were no gads in the true sense of the term, since a god is expected to have intelligence enough to plan and power to execute the plan, and thus direct human beings in their religious and moral conduct.

Verse 9

Verse 9. God made himself known to the Galatians, who for the greater part were Gentiles and idolaters, by having the Gospel taken to them. They had never been under the bondage of the law, but under the service to false gods, and the Gospel had delivered them from that bondage. But after their escape from that bondage and introduction to the liberty that belongs to Christians, they were invaded by Juda-izers who were leading them in a backward direction toward the ordinances of the Jewish law. The word again is rendered "back" in the margin which is correct, since these Gentiles had never been under the law of Moses and therefore could not be taken back to it again. In other words, they had been led out of their bondage of idolatry, and were now being turned into another bondage (that of Judaism) that was equally displeasing to God. Beggarly literally means to be poverty-stricken, and is here used of something that is not able to bestow any spiritual wealth on one. Elements is from the same word that is used in verse 3, and the comments on that place should be read again. The Galatian brethren were acting as if they desired to be in bondage again, only it was the bondage of Judaism.

Verse 10

Verse 10. Paul specifies some of the elements to which he referred in the preceding verse, namely, the observance of days, and months, and times, and years. This refers to the holy days and seasons that were required of the Jews under the Mosaic law, but which had ceased to be in force for religious purposes even to Jews; the Gentiles had no connection with them at any time for any purpose.

Verse 11

Verse 11. Paul's labors included his preaching the Gospel among the Galatians, in which he induced them to accept Christ and His law as their rule of faith and practice. If the Judaizers should persuade them to take up with the law of Moses, it would make void the work of Paul and thus render his labor in vain.

Verse 12

Verse 12. Be as I am. Paul, a Jew, had given up his religious devotion to the law of Moses in order to be true to Christ (Php 3:9). The Galatians had similarly given up their worship of idols in order to become a worshiper of Christ. In this respect Paul could say I am as ye are. But the apostle had continued in that devotion to Christ, and he wished these brethren also to continue in their faithfulness to Christ. It is in that sense he wishes them to be as I am. Ye have not injured me. This is an affectionate statement to show that he did not have any personal complaint to make against them, for they had not shown him anything but kindness when laboring among them. Instead, his reason for the various rebukes he has been giving them is to rescue them from the evil effects of Judaism.

Verse 13

Verse 13. Through infirmity of the flesh. That is, in spite of this infirmity, Paul preached the Gospel to these Galatians and they gladly accepted it. For more comments on this infirmity, see those at 2Co 12:7.

Verse 14

Verse 14. Ye despised not. The Galatians did not belittle the apostle because of this infirmity, which was something that might have suggested such an attitude, since it was placed upon him to humble him. (See the passage cited in the preceding verse.) In spite of it they respected him as if he had been an angel of God.

Verse 15

Verse 15. Blessedness means some great favor or good fortune, and the Galatians had congratulated themselves on having Paul in their midst. Their appreciation of him was apparently so great, that had it been possible they would have given him their eyes. This is an illustration drawn from the great value that anyone would place upon his eyes. Now the Galatians had become so changed in their attitude, Paul asks where their good estimate of him had gone.

Verse 16

Verse 16. Therefore indicates a conclusion drawn from certain truths or facts. The conclusion, however, is named (in the form of a question) before the basis, which is that Paul had told them the truth. The time when he told it to them evidently was when he was with them in person. Yet his becoming their enemy did not occur then, for we have just seen (verses 14, 15) that all was agreeable while he was in their midst. The change in their feeling for Paul came afterwards, and it was brought about by the meddlesome Judaizers, which is clearly shown by the next verse.

Verse 17

Verse 17. They means the Judaizers who have been referred to so many times. Zealously affect is from ZELOO, which Thayer defines, "to desire one earnestly, to strive after, busy one's self about him," and he explains it to mean, "to seek to draw over to one's side." Paul says the Judaizers were greatly concerned about the Galatians, but not for their good. Exclude is from EKKLEIO, and Thayer's definition here is, "to shut out," and he explains it as follows: "From intercourse with me and with teachers cooperating with me." That ye might affect them. The Judaizers hoped that by getting in between the Galatians and Paul, they would turn their attention toward them (the Judaizers), and be zealously affected, or be concerned to be attached to them instead of to Paul.

Verse 18

Verse 18. Not only when I am present confirms the comments on verse 16. While Paul was among these Galatians they seemed to be very much attached to him. He reasons that such was the right attitude, but that it should be maintained even when he is absent. (See Php 2:12.)

Verse 19

Verse 19. Little children is from TEKNION which is used only 9 times in the Greek New Testament, and is always rendered by this term. Thayer explains that "in the New Testament it is used as a term of kindly address by teachers to their disciples." Robinson defines and explains it in virtually the same way. Travail in birth, etc. The sentence is used figuratively, and no figure or other illustration can be applied literally in all of its items. The main thought should be considered, and the over-all application of the figure be applied accordingly. An expectant mother will be concerned and at times will feel some uneasiness (travail) over the child that is being formed within her. Paul uses the circumstances to illustrate his concern for the Galatians. He is anxious that the spirit of Christ be formed in their minds, and given birth by proper devotion to Him and not to Moses in their lives.

Verse 20

Verse 20. Desire to be present. Since the Galatians seemed to be better inclined toward Paul when he was in their midst personally, he wished to be with them again. Voice is from a word that means speech, either written or spoken. The apostle believed that if he were with these brethren personally, this better attitude would permit him to be milder in his spoken words than he was in his written words. Stand in doubt of you corresponds with "I am afraid of you" in verse 11. (See the comments at that place.)

Verse 21

Verse 21. The very document (the Old Testament) that the Judaizers professed to respect so much, predicted in numerous places that there was to be a new prophet come into the world, who would give another system of religious government. Paul is challenging them to hear that law, which means for them to respect its predictions, and cease disturbing Gentile Christians with their subversive teaching.

Verse 22

Verse 22. To avoid confusion, it is well to keep in mind that no parable or other illustration is big enough to include every detail of the subject to which comparison is made. As a result there may be some items in one illustration that do not apply to the subject at hand, and may even seem to contradict some parts of another illustration on the general subject. But the whole story has to be told in order to make it understood at the point where it does apply. Furthermore, the same facts or truths may be used at different times to represent different subjects, or different phases of the same subject. It is generally understood that Christians are under the law of Christ, which was given at Jerusalem in Palestine, while the Jews were under the law of Moses that was given at Sinai in Arabia. Yet in this and the following verses, Sarah is represented as the mother of Christians, notwithstanding she was an ancestor of Moses by whom the law for the Jews was given. All of this will clear up by simply remembering that Abraham and Sarah were not only the parents of Isaac as the one from whom the Jewish nation was derived, but also were the parents of Isaac as the one from whom was to come the seed (Christ) that was to bless "all the families of the earth" by giving them the Gospel to take the place of the law of Moses. It is in the latter sense that the present use is made of the two sons of Abraham.

Verse 23

Verse 23. After the flesh. Ishmael was conceived and born according to the established laws of fleshly reproduction; the account of it is in Genesis 16. The mother of Isaac was barren and a miracle was needed to enable her to conceive. But God had promised her a son, hence He performed the miracle upon her so that she could become a mother, and that made him a son by promise. (See Gen 16:1-2 Gen 21:1-2.)

Verse 24

Verse 24. Allegory is another word for illustration or figure. The events concerning these two women were literal and actually happened, but. Paul is showing how the facts illustrate some other truths pertaining to God's dispensations of religion among mankind. An illustration does not prove a point under discussion unless it has been selected by some acknowledged authority. That is what Paul has done in the present case, for he cites Isa 54:1-6, where the context plainly shows that a spiritual use is made of the experience of Sarah. And this was an appropriate authority to quote, for the Judaizers professed to have great respect for the prophets. The two covenants means the law of Moses and the Gospel. In the illustration the apostle connects Agar (Hagar) with the law of Moses. Gendereth to bondage means to bring forth children who are destined to bondage under rites and ceremonies of the law.

Verse 25

Verse 25. The literal fact is that Sinai (represented by Agar) is in Arabia, and was the place where the law of Moses came forth, with all of its burdens of ordinances, which are termed the yoke of bondage in the next chapter. The location of Jerusalem in Palestine is another literal fact, but. Paul makes a figurative use of the fact because of the conditions of servitude involving the city in his day. That is why he says that Agar and Sinai answereth (meaning to correspond with or be in the same rank or condition) to Jerusalem which now is. It is true that Jerusalem was the place, geographically, from which the Gospel was given to the world. But at the time of Paul the city was still clinging to the law of Moses as far as the Jews were concerned, and hence was yet under the bondage imposed by the Sinaite law.

Verse 26

Verse 26. This Jerusalem is figurative and means the church that was started in that city. Hebrew 12:22, 23 connects the name of this city with the church, which is the institution through which Christians obtain their spiritual relation with Sarah, the mother of the great Seed that was to bless all nations. Gal 4:27 Verse 27. Some comments on this verse are offered at verse 24. The barren woman is Sarah who travailest not (does not have pains of childbirth) for the most of her life, and hence was desolate in that she had no child over which to rejoice until near the end of her life. Many more children. Isaac was the only son whom Sarah ever bore, but he was the person through whom Christ came into the world, by whom "all nations" were destined to furnish spiritual children for God. Hath an husband. Hagar was but the handmaid of Sarah, yet she was permitted to receive Abraham in the relation of husband and wife. However, the descendants from this union though numerous, were people of the heathen world and not spiritual children of God, as were the descendants of Sarah through Christ.

Verse 28

Gal 4:28. As Isaac was. The comparison is in the fact that Isaac was promised to Abraham and Sarah, and God performed a miracle so that the son could be produced. From that child of promise came the Seed that was to bless all nations (whether Jew or Gentile) by giving them the Gospel plan of salvation. Whoever, therefore, accepted this plan became children of God. They are termed children of promise because it is through the noted Seed that was given the world as promised to Abraham.

Verse 29

Gal 4:29. Persecuted him. The account of this is in Gen 21:9, but all that is said in that place is that Sarah saw Ishmael "mocking." It was on the occasion when the weaning of Isaac was celebrated with "a great feast." The original for "mocking" has several renderings in the Old Testament, some of which are more severe than others. But Paul says that Ishmael persecuted Isaac, hence we must conclude that some of the more severe definitions are applicable. (See my comments on Gen 21:9, in volume 1 of the Old Testament Commentary.) Even so it is now. In the comparison that Paul has been making, the descendants of Ishmael represent the Jews, and those of Isaac stand for Christians. As Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so the Jews were persecuting Christians, especially those from the Gentile nation.

Verse 30

Gal 4:30. Nevertheless. The idea is that the persecutor was stopped, and Paul quotes the passage that proves it; the statement is in Gen 21:10. Sarah was acting purely because of her motherly resentment against the envious treatment being accorded her son by Ishmael. However, her performance proved to be a prediction of another important one, namely, the rejection of the Sinaite covenant as a religious system for God's people.

Verse 31

Gal 4:31. The grand conclusion of this unusual argument is that Christians are spiritual children (or descen dants) of the freewoman and not the bond. It means they are not under the bondage imposed by the law of Moses.
Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Galatians 4". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/galatians-4.html. 1952.
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