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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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After the manner of the later Jewish interpreters of OT history, of whom Philo is the best representative, St. Paul treats the story of Hagar (Genesis 16:1-14; Genesis 21:8-21) as an allegory (ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα, Galatians 4:24).

‘Allegory (ἅλλος, other, and ἀγορεύειν, to speak), a figurative representation convening a meaning other than and in addition to the literal.… An allegory is distinguished from … an analogy by the fact that the one appeals to the imagination and the other to the reason’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 i. 689b).

St. Paul neither affirms nor denies the historicity of the Hagar narrative, but his imagination reads into it esoteric meanings, which make it singularly effective as an illustration. Ishmael the elder brother, the son of Hagar the bondwoman, the seed of Abraham by nature, persecuted Isaac the younger brother, the son of the freewoman, the child of promise and heir of the birthright, and was therefore east out and excluded from the inheritance of the blessing. This is interpreted as meaning that the Christian Church, the true Israel of God, endued with the freedom of the Spirit, is persecuted by the older Israel, which is under the bondage of the Law. Hagar, the mother of bondmen, answers to the present Jerusalem (τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ), but the Jerusalem which is above (ἡ ἄνω Ἰερουσαλήμ) is the mother of Christian freemen.

Luther wisely says that ‘if Paul had not proved the righteousness of faith against the righteousness of works by strong and pithy arguments, he should have little prevalled by this allegory.… It is a seemly thing sometimes to add an allegory when the foundation is well laid and the matter thoroughly proved. For as painting is an ornament to set forth and garnish a house already builded, so is an allegory the light of a matter which is already otherwise proved and confirmed’ (Galatians, in loc.). So Baur: ‘Nothing can be more preposterous than the endeavours of interpreters to vindicate the argument of the Apostle as one objectively true’ (Paulus2, 1866, ii. 312, Eng. translation , 1875, ii. 284).

If the words ‘Now this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia’ are retained, they allude to the historical connexion of the Hagarenes (Psalms 83:6) or Hagarites (1 Chronicles 5:10), the Ἀγραῖοι of Eratosthenes (ap. Strabo, XVI. iv. 2)-of whom Hagar was no doubt a personification-with Arabia. (In Baruch 3:23 the Arabians are called the ‘sons of Hagar.’) But the Greek is extremely uncertain, and Bentley’s conjecture, that we have here a gloss transferred to the text, has (as Lightfoot says [Gal.5, 1876, p. 193]), much to recommend it. The theory that ‘Hagar’ (Arab. ḥajar, ‘a stone’) was a name sometimes given to Mt. Sinai, and that St. Paul, becoming acquainted with this usage during his sojourn in Arabia, recalls it here (A. P. Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, new ed., 1877, p. 50, following Chrysostom, Luther, and others), is unsupported by real evidence. Such an etymological allusion would certainly have been thrown away upon St. Paul’s Galatian readers.

To affirm that the Jews, who were went to say that ‘all Israel are the children of kings,’ were the sons of Hagar the bondwoman, was to use language which could not but be regarded as insulting and offensive. But in fighting the battle of freedom St. Paul required to use plain speech and forcible illustrations. If he was convinced that men might be sons of Abraham and yet spiritual slaves, he was bound to say so (cf. the still stronger terms used on the same point in John 8:44). St. Paul was far too good a patriot to jibe at his own race, and too good a Christian to wound any one wantonly. But he saw the unhappy condition of his countrymen in the light of his own experience. He had lived long under the shadow of Sinai in Arabia, the land of bondmen, before he became a free citizen of the ideal commonwealth-Hierusalem quœ sursum est-the mother of all Christians. Only an emancipated spirit could write the Epistle to the Galatians, or (as its sequel) Luther’s Freedom of a Christian Man.

James Strahan.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hagar'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​h/hagar.html. 1906-1918.
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