Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Galatians/Chapter 4
Introduction to Galatians
Authorship and Date: Galatians is one of the New Testament books of the Bible. It is an “epistle” or “letter.”
The author of Galatians, according to the prescript of the letter is Paul. He was an early Christian leader, known to us from the account of him ministry reported in the last half of the book of Acts. Some radical 19th century scholars challenged his authorship of all of the NT letters bearing his name. But today virtually all scholars include Galatians among the letters that were almost certainly written by the Saul, the Pharisaic persecutor of Christians turne Christian missionary.
There is no comparable agreement on the question of when Paul's letter to the Galatians was written. Although Galatians is the fourth letter in the New Testament, following the four Gospels and Acts, this sequence does not reflect the actual order in which they were written. By comparing Galatians to Paul's other letters, some have argued that it may have been one of the earlier letters, there is no way to be certain when it was written.
Origin and Address: Also, although Ephesus is questioned as the place of origin, it is important to note that there are many suggestions and none of them where anything other than possibilities (Freedman 872). However, the letter is addressed to the churches of Galatia, though there are a few different hypothesis of where these churches were located. The “North Galatians” and “South Galatians” hypothesis are known to describe the Territory or the province of Galatia. Yet because the information describing these hypothesis in both Paul’s first missionary campaign in the book of Acts and that of Galatians does not line up very well, it is more likely that the churches were located in Central Anatolia. This was an area where Celtic tribes had settled.
Literary analysis: The writing that happens within Galatians is thought to be the “apologetic” type of letter. According to Freedman, “The letter frame consists of an epistolary prescript naming the co-sender and the sender, and the addressees and a conclusion with an expanded salutation and doxology. The epistolary postscript, handwritten in the original … concludes with a blessing. The body of the letter is a compositional unit containing the typical features of a defense speech” (873).
Introduction to Galatians 4
Up till this point Paul has addressed the Churches of Galatia in previous chapters. He has mentioned to them his astonishment with there deserting the gospel, what he teaches is from Jesus Christ, and reminds them of his past and how far he has come. He went from persecuting the Church of God until he received God’s grace. He talks about his opposition with peter over how poorly James was acting towards Gentiles after he had been around the Jews. He expresses how he died to the law and now lives in Christ fully. He talks about the righteous living by faith not the law. He then states that the law is not all bad, as long as it leads to the promise made first by God. The law that is to be followed is by faith to lead us to Christ. Now that this faith has come, the law is not our supervision.
Paraphrase of Galatians 4
Sons of God
26 Everyone who has faith in Christ is a child of God. 27 If you have been baptized in Christ then you are covered in Christ. 28 There is no such thing as social, racial, or ethical distinctions when it comes to those who belong in the body of Christ. 29 Those who have faith in Christ are rightful heirs of Abraham. 1 A child, though they may be an heir, is like a slave. 2 The child must listen to and obey their guardians and submit to them until they are given their inheritance. 3 Likewise, we were under control and slaves to old teachings while we were children. 4 When the time came though, God sent Jesus. 5 He sent him to save those that were under the law, so that we may receive our inheritance, our rights as children. 6 Because we are children of God, He sent the Holy Spirit into us, the Holy Spirit that calls God Father. 7 Therefore we are no longer slaves, but rightful children of God, and being rightful children of God we are heirs to Him.
Paul's Concern for the Galatians
8 Before you knew God, you were slaves to those who were not gods, and never were. 9 Now that you know God, or at least you are known by him, how can you possibly go back to your old ways that were not good to begin with? Do you want to be trapped by them all over again? 10 You are practicing all the important dates and seasons that are were significant to your old ways, showing you still care about the things you used to do. 11 I am afraid that I have wasted my time on you because even now you return to your old miserable ways. 12 I beg you to try to do as I did. try to see things my way, in the same way that I have for you. You have always been good to me. 13 You know that even when I was sick I still preached to you for the first time. 14 And even though I was sick you still accepted me with the best intentions. In the same manner you would have accepted God himself. 15 Why has this changed? Before you would have given anything up to be kind to me? 16 Are you now upset with me for only trying to tell you the truth? 17 Other people are determined to get you one there side, for no good reason at all. They just want to keep you from seeing things our way, so that you will join their side and not come to ours. 18 It is fine to be determined if you are doing so over good things. But make it something you do always, and it cannot be just when I am with you. 19 The pain is almost to much to handle, that I have for you that I consider like my children, you have so much growing to do. 20 I wish I could be present there with you to change or better express how I feel, but I am so shocked by you!
Hagar and Sarah
21 So you say you want to live by the law and all it’s rules, but do you really even know what that means? 22 Let’s take a look at Abraham. He had two sons, one of them he had with a slave, the other he had with he had with his wife. 23 His son born of the slave women was conceived as a way of fulfilling God’s promise on his own, but his son that came from his wife was born because of God’s promise. 24 I am using these two women as an example. The slave woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai and her children are born slaves. 25 What I am saying is that Jerusalem is now like Mount Sanai in Arabia because she and her children live in slavery to the law. 26 But that is not how it has to be. There is a also a free Jerusalem, whose mother is Sarah. 27 Remember what the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Be happy you who does not have a child. Be excited you have never even been in labor. Because you will indeed have more children then this women with her husband.” 28 Friends just as Isaac was the child of a promise of God, so too are we! 29 Don’t you see what is going on, just as Ismael made life difficult on Isaac so those who are trying to force the law down our throats are doing now. 30 But look too the bible, reminds us to get rid of the slave women and her child, that they do not have a place at the table with free women and her son. 31 So friends remember we are not children of the slave women, but of the free women!
Galatians 3:26--4:31 (NIV)
|Galatians 4: (NIV)|
Sons of God
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. 1What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." 7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Paul's Concern for the Galatians
8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. 12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong. 13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. 15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. 18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you. 19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, 20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
Hagar and Sarah
21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise. 24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." 31Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
- Chapter 3
- Verses 26-29: Baptism into Christ
- By being baptized, believers are unified with Christ, regardless of social status, ethnicity, or gender
- Verses 26-29: Baptism into Christ
- Chapter 4
- Verses 1-7: Through Christ we are brought into inheritance as children of God
- Children were not unlike slaves
- Stresses Jesus as a human
- Contrast between being enslaved in human condition and the freedom Christ brings to God's children
- Verses 8-11: The Galatians fall back into bondage
- Paul says that the observances of the Galatians has returned them to a state similar to that of their pre-Christian enslavement
- Verses 12-20: Paul speaks about his close relationship with the Galatians
- He is distressed about the direction in which the Galatians are headed
- Verses 21-31: The allegory of Hagar and Sarah
- The two women represent two covenants
- Hagar, a slave woman who bore a child of Abraham, refers to the descendents of Abraham who are preoccupied with following the law
- Sarah, a free woman who also bore a child of Abraham, refers to those who have become the heirs of God by accepting Christ
- Verses 1-7: Through Christ we are brought into inheritance as children of God
Verse by Verse Analysis
Sons of God: Galatians 3:26--4:7
26You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,
Here the term "sons" is translated to mean "children". Paul states that all are sons of God, alluding to how Jesus' death and resurrection has means that all can be save through faith in Christ, not just the Jews who were followers of the law. Scripture tells us that all humans are under the same condition, that is we are all slaves to the bondage of sin, and Christ has redeemed all who have faith in him, not just a certain race or people (Longenecker 151-54).
27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
Paul's statement here is referring and putting an emphasis on having faith in Christ. This is a huge part of Paul's doctrine and this faith in and relationship with Christ is the cornerstone for what Paul has to say about salvation(1). It is important to recognize that baptism implies becoming a part of a community of believers, it is not merely an individualistic commitment to follow Christ. At a time when Paul is trying to redefine who the people of God are (from followers of the law to followers of Christ), he is stressing community and family among believers (Longenecker 154-56).
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In verse 28, Paul once again bring up the fact because of our human condition, and because of what Christ has done for us, it does not matter what race, gender, ethnicity, social standing, etc. we are.
29If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Earlier in the chapter of Galatians (3:16), Paul says that Christ is the seed of Abraham. Here he is saying if we belong to Christ, then we are both seeds of Abraham, as well as heirs according to the promise. This is very important for Gentile Christians who were not under the law because it relates them "directly to Abraham and God's covenental promise" (Hays). Being an heir once again refers to being a child of God, but notice how Paul does not say that we are all God's children, only those who belong to Christ.
1What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate.2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.
A child is like a slave except for in one way -- the fact that when they are of age, they will receive the inheritance and the estate will be theirs. Until then though, the child is "no different" than a slave. They have to obey the orders given to them by their guardians. Here Paul is saying that the law is like the "guardians and trustees" and that "the time set by his father" is when God sent Christ. The term that Paul uses for the word child is nepios, which means minor. By using this, Paul could have been merely referring to the legal incompetence of the child, but it also could be used to mean spiritual immaturiy (Longenecker; Hays).
3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.
The phrase "basic principles of the world" is derived from the Greek, ta stoicheia tou kosmou which refers to a series of something or components of a series. There are many different meaning that the phrase could mean including the basic elements (water, fire, earth, and air), teachings and principles that are fundamental and rudimentary, heavenly bodies such as stars, and spirits such as demons and angels (Hays). Most likely in Paul's case, he is referring to the old teachings, or referring to the basic things that everything is made up of. (Hays)
4But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,5to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.
When the right time comes, a father turns over his inheritance to his child, and that child is no longer a slave. In the same way, God sent Jesus to live among us as a human, was subjected to the law, and eventually crucified and risen again. Through his death and resurrection, and by putting or faith in him we receive our inheritance and become no longer slaves, but sons and heirs of God.
6Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father."7So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.
Without Jesus, we would have remained in slavery, but since God loves us, bestowed His grace upon us and He sent Jesus so that we may be freed from slavery (if you put your faith in Christ). Because we are the children of God, we are also His heirs and we receive the inheritance that He gives us.
Paul's Concern for the Galatians: Galatians 4:8-20
8Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
There is a definite sign that Paul is stressing whatever enslaves these people are not only not God, but in fact not gods at all (Longenecker 179). The Pagans used to worship what they believed to be gods, but Paul is making sure to at least not give them the authority that he gives to God. Though it has been mentioned in another of Paul’s letters that they are possibly demonic implications, it is not stated here; only that whatever enslaves them is not a god (Keck 287).
9But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
In the question that this verse proposes, Paul correcting his own statement draws attention to God “knowing” them. He took action in being in relationship with them (Longenecker 180). By going back to their old ways they are making a “conversion in reverse (Keck 287). Paul is pointing this out to them without actually having to come straight out and say it. Paul also commenting on them being weak can be a reference to the weakness that was considered of Idols or in reference to the law. This might be mentioned to point out that God has already defeated something that was this weak (Keck 287).
10You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!
By stating this Paul is re-affirming that they have in fact gone back to there old ways, and that they are following certain laws, for perhaps some time now (Longenecker 182). This could be Paul stating something about the specific practice they are enslaved by or the idea that the law will enslave them as other practices have before (Keck 288).
11I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
After an explanation of why, Paul now expresses a fear for the Galatians; a fear that his work has bee in vain. This fear shows that Paul already sees the action of the Galatians returning to their old ways, and is afraid that through his teaching they might return altogether (Keck 288). Also the mix of past and present tense give the idea that though the action has already begun, the end result is yet to take place (Longenecker 183). This helps set the context for the next part of the passage. If the final outcome is not yet decided, Paul is able to give the Galatians an opportunity. This part of the passage changes in dynamic giving it“Hellenistic” type writing form (Longenecker 188). This would not have been uncommon for Galatia (Freedman 870). This might even stand as an option to a religion they would have practiced, though this is not mentioned in this passage (George 310). Paul has been very forward to this point and now he gets more personal.
12I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.
The personal appeal comes out in this verse with Paul’s use of the word “brothers.” His pleading gives the emotional state needed to understand how passionate he is for the Galatians to see the significance of what they must do (Longenecker 189). Paul was not being arrogant by his request for the Galatians to be like him, because in his context it was right for the teacher to serve as a model for others to imitate. He is also showing that he too had to break away from the law in order to follow what was right, so he was like them (Keck 293).
13As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. 14Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.
There is some question as to what type of illness occasioned Paul's unplanned first visit to Galatia; but this was why he had to go there. This allowed him to preach the gospel there, but it also could have presented a problem. The Galatians could have rejected Paul, especially with the extra trouble of him being ill (Keck 294). Paul draws attention to this kindness, though he knew it was a trial to them, they still accepted him with joy, and some believe this to be comparing Jesus crucifixion and inflictions as well (Keck 294).
15What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?
Paul once again is able to point out this “conversion in reverse” idea by expressing that he is now seen more as an enemy; this idea that a change is taking place. He is not saying that they are treating him this way necessarily, but that they speak of him this way. He wants to understand why it is that this has changed (Keck 294). He even expresses that he is only telling the truth. He is expressing that the once strong relationship that they had, has now disappeared. There is a possible comparison hear to Ephesians emphasis in chapter 4 of speaking the truth out of love as a cure to false teaching, something that Paul later mentions as a possibility to what is happening to the Galatians (George 326).
17Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.
Paul transitions in this verse to talking about those having influence on the Galatians, or at least attempting to. It sounds a bit like a “us and them” argument, which side are you going to choose. Paul is giving the Galatians the impression that the only reason these other people are pay them any attention is to get them away from Paul. Then the others can capture the Galatians interest even more (Longenecker 194). Paul’s does not even mention who these people are, only that they are up to know good. Without this explanation it is clear that the Galatians knew who Paul was referring to (Keck 295). In addition, Paul suggest that it is okay to show this kind of interesting, but in good things only. Not just when he is there, but when he is not and others try to pursue them.
19My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,
At this point Paul is showing great emotion and affection through his concern for the Galatians. This picture of Paul as a mother to the his children, not only shows how he cares for them but that they still have growth that must take place (Longenecker 195). Paul’s comparison shows that pain that is caused by watching them turn back, the possibility that perhaps Paul is considering what that he may have to start all over again with the Galatians, or the idea of the Galatians need to be born again (Keck 296).
20how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!
This show that Paul has the urge to be present with the Galatians, but could not at this time. He does not feel as though he can do much from a distance whether it be to change his tone or to change there minds (Keck 296) Further, it shows that Paul still seeks their relationship even through his frustration. We see the repetition of verse 11, and Paul’s true worry for the Galatians (George, 331).
Hagar and Sarah: Galatian 4:21-31
21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?
Paul in this section begins to change his tone (Matera 168). Paul here is challenging the Galatians to really think about what it means to be under the law. In referencing those “who want to be under the law” Paul is stating that those Jewish Christians who were leaning towards living under the law and were even beginning to observe Jewish practices have not yet gone all the way, observing all the law’s practices. What Paul is really asking is whether they really hear fully what the law is saying (Hays 300). In phrasing his plea this way Paul is encouraging the Galatians to really think seriously about the ramifications of what they are seeking to do (Rapa 616).
22it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.
It is here in the text that Paul mentions Abraham for the last time. Instead of reading the story out of Genesis or quoting it Paul decides to briefly give a recap of the Abraham story (Hays 300) Paul’s reasoning for this had to do with the fact that much of the Judaizers arguments must have been based on Abraham and the fact that the Jewish people had descended from Abraham, and believed that the “blessings” of God were theirs because of this. Paul’s reasoning for this type of argument was not to deny the Jewish people descending from Abraham, but to remind them that Abraham had two sons, and to ask the question which of the two children they would be (Gaebelein 482).
It should be noted here that Abraham did have more than two sons, but the debate here would have been between Isaac and Ishmael. Those Paul was writing too would have known that the slave women was Hagar and that the free women is Sarah. It would be important to know that Paul does not use Sarah’s name but refers to her as the free women. This differs with the Genesis account where Hagar is referred to as the “slave women” while Sarah is not called the “free women”. Paul’s is purposefully make a point to set up a dichotomy between slave and free (Hays 300-301)
23His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.
Paul here begins to look at the significance of the son of the slave women and the son of the free women. Paul makes the point that Ishmael, who was born of the slave women Hagar, was born out of natural conception which occurred when Sarah, not trusting God to follow through on His promise of a child, had Abraham have a baby with Hagar. Paul then compares this with Isaac who was born of a promise since Sarah was beyond the age of child barring (Hays 301). Paul’s point here is not that it was a divine conception, but that while Abraham and Sarah had slept together the conception of the baby was a fulfillment of God’s promise (Longenecker 208).
24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.
Paul, using allegorical language which would have been understood in that day, talks of these two women representing two different covenants. The two covenants that Paul was talking about here are first the covenant made on Mt. Sinai known as the law which puts people in slavery, and the covenant of promise that God makes with Abraham.
What Paul is saying here is that the Judaizers are like the slave women’s child, in that they are conceived by man. Yet the child of the free women represent those who put their faith not in the law, but in Christ because as they do so they are saved through their faith in Christ, and not by their own works (Hays 301-302) In using the term “bearing children” Paul is saying that those who are living under the law are converting Christians who live by the law, while those who live by the promise of Christ are producing Christians who live by grace (Hays 302).
25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children
Verse twenty-five has at times been difficult for commentators in that it raises questions as to why Paul compares “Hagar” to Mount Sinai. For Paul the connection would have been a reference to Moses receiving the law on Mount Sinai. As the women Hagar was a slave, so too do those who live under the law produce slaves to that law (Hays 302-303).
The comparison then too Jerusalem is twofold. The first is that Jerusalem was in a sense a base operation for those Jewish Christians who wanted to follow the law, and as such had caused Paul of causing problems along the way. What Paul is saying is that just as the slave women’s child was born a slave so too are those Jewish Christians born a slave because they are under the law (Matera 169-170). The second picture here for Paul would have been of Jerusalem which still very much symbolized Israel. However the point he was making here is that Jerusalem is not a free place for the Jewish people, but is in fact in slavery to Rome (Hays 303).
26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother
Paul in earlier verses has used the word “covenant” and has specifically tied Hagar or the “slave women” too one of two covenants he has mentioned. Paul here does not go back to the word covenant to describe the free women, but switches gears and brings up the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem. For the Jewish people this eschatological Jerusalem from above would have been an idea they would have been familiar with (Martyn 440). This Jerusalem, which can be found in the scriptures, would have represented the final exclamation point in God’s redemptive plan at work throughout human history (Longenecker 213).
It is here that Paul says that this heavenly Jerusalem “is our mother.” It is interesting that while Paul is making that connection here, Sarah is never referred to with the title of “mother” in the Genesis texts (Martyn 440). It is here that the symbolism that Paul is using represents a double meaning.
First is Sarah who was too be the Mother of a promise, the mother of a free people. Paul is saying to the Galatians that we like the children of Sarah are a free people because of Christ (Rapa 617).
Second, Paul in drawing upon the Jerusalem from “above” and is saying that the Holy City Jerusalem, the “eschatological Zion” is “symbolically the mother of God’s own people” (Longenecker 215).
|Hagar, the slave women||Sarah, the free women|
|Ishmael, of natural birth||Isaac, of supernatural birth|
|The Present Jerusalem||The Heavenly Jerusalem|
- (Gaebelein 483)
27For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
Here Paul quotes from Isahia 54:1, and compares his argument of Hagar and Sarah with the prophets text. The verse that Paul quotes from was written at a time when the Babylonians had taken over and were running rough shot over Jerusalem. The Babylonians would have mocked the God of Israel. They would have rubbed it in that Israel, who was to be God’s chosen people, had in effect been abandoned by God and were left out on their own as a result of turning their backs on him (Martyn 442-443).
For the prophet Isaiah this would not have been out of the question. The idea that for a season God had allowed Israel to feel the destruction of her sin would not have been a foreign concept (Martyn 442-443). Yet in this text that Paul is quoting the prophet is saying that because of God’s covenantal love He has not abandoned Israel and that God will bring Israel out of captivity and restore Jerusalem (Gaebelein 484).
It is here that Paul makes the connection between the barren women in Isaiah’s text and Sarah who was in fact barren before having Isaac. Thus just as Israel was barren during the exile, God later restored her, and so too barren Sarah was later barren no more as God gave her a child (Hays 304). The further implication here is that this New Jerusalem, which represents Christians, will indeed have more children than the present Jerusalem which represents the Judaizers (Matera 171)
28Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise
Paul takes the main argument of the Judaizers, that they are children of the promise because of their Jewish heritage, and turns it on its head by saying that the Gentile believers, as well as Jewish believers are children of the promise. The idea here is that they did not gain salvation by earning it based on following the law, but by grace through faith in Christ (Matera 171).
29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.
In this verse Paul looks back to the twenty-first chapter of Genesis where it says that Ishmael “played” with Isaac. Some translations of this word “played” however look at it in a negative way, saying that Ishmael was somehow mocking or making life difficult for Isaac. This is the translation that Paul is bringing to the text (Matera 171). What he is saying is that just as Ishmael, “persecuted” Isaac so too are the Judaizers hurting the Galatians by trying to make them live under the law. It is important to note here that for the first time in this section the reference between Isaac and the Christians who were born of the Spirit (Hays 305). Also important to the text is that Paul here is not throwing all Jewish Christians under the buss, but is specifically talking about those Judaizers who are trying to stir things up for the Galatians by trying to get them to live under the law (Matera 171).
30-31But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
In this verse we see that Paul has now fully turned the argument against the Judaizers. He has taken the arguments that the Judaizers thought they had in their back pocket and turned it on them by identifying them with Hagar and Ishmael. On the flip side Paul has made the argument that the Gentile Christians should be identified with the free women. Paul’s technique has allowed him to make the case to those who want to live under the law that doing so is not the best way to live, that we are called to be free. In concluding this section of his argument Paul now quotes from the law to make his point that they should get rid of those who are making this argument (Matera 171-172).
Paul here jumps back to the Abraham narrative and quotes from Sarah. When Paul writes to “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Here Paul is taking from what Sarah said of Hagar and Ishmael and turns it against the Judaizers. His point here is that the “inheritance” goes to the children of the free women, and not the slave women (Hays 306). It is important to note here that Paul does not name Isaac in this section, but calls him the “son of the free woman” in order to emphasize freedom (Matera 171). The ramifications of this is that those not under the law are in fact under grace because of their faith in Christ. Following the law is not what brings one into right relationship with God, but the free grace of Christ is what invites us into relationship (Rapa 618-619).
The word “Therefore” in verse thirty-one is important to this section because it sums up Paul’s entire argument (Gaebelein 485).
Theological Implications for Today
While Paul’s argument in Galatians four was to a specific place and people, what he was arguing still has implications for the church today. What Paul was arguing to the Galatians was that because of what Christ had done they no longer had to live under the law. Paul argues that living under the law equates to living in slavery. He goes on to say that to live through the Spirit is to live a life of freedom from the law, it is this life for Paul that the Christian community should seek to live out.
In today’s church we often face many similar issues to those of Paul’s day. Just like those who thought it was best to live under the law, there is great debate in the church about what it really means to live the Christian life. Many in the church today believe that in order to be “Christian” one has to live a life of following the rule. That if one is somehow “good enough” then they are able to somehow earn their Christianity. This line of thinking has been popularized by the phrase, “Don’t smoke drink or chew, or go with girls who do!”
The problem with this line of thinking when it comes to salvation is twofold. The first is that it puts the emphasis of salvation, and living in relationship with God on the individual and not God. It says that it is up to us to somehow find the inner strength to be able to live the right way. However when talking about the Salvation that we have in Christ, we find that salvation from Christ is a gift of grace. It is not something that can be earned or manipulated, but only accepted by faith.
The second problem, stemming from the first is that when we seek to live under the law or in modern words when we make following the rules our idol, what we do is actually enslave ourselves to the very rules we are seeking to follow. Our focus is removed from Christ and onto the rules, and as a byproduct our focus shifts from following Christ to simply a fear of failure. Just as Paul uses the example of the child who is an heir to an estate. The child is not going to be able to cash in on that estate because the child is simply not at a developmental stage where they are capable of receiving and handling what is rightfully theirs.
The same is true for us today when our focus in on legalism instead of grace. We have been given a gift by God, yet if we fail to accept the gift and instead pursue a delusion of the gift then we are spiritually not at a developmental stage where we can enter into real life through the Spirit.
The application for the church today if for us to live out a Christian faith that is not tied down by the rules and regulations of a legalistic faith that sucks the air out of the grace we have been given. At the heart of our Christian journey should be a pursuit of the authentic and organic grace of God that is freely given through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is here that we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to truly find life. It is this life that is found not by a focus of following the rules as some sort of way of crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s, but of pursuing Christ, unbound by rules, and rapped in His love and grace.
Freedman, David N. "Amanuensis." The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Freedman, David N. Mitchell, Stephen. "Galatia (Place)." Pages 870-71 in vol. 2 of The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by David N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Gaebelein, Frank E. "Romans - Galatians". Vol. 10. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Regency Reference Libr., 1989.
George, Timothy. "Galatians." The New American Commentary. Broadman & Holman, 1994.
Hays, Richard B. "The Letter To The Galatians." Pages 299-310 in vol 11 of The New Interpreter's Bible. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000.
Keck, Leander E. "Galatians 4." The New Interpreters Bible. Vol. 11. Nashville: Abingdon, 2000.
Longenecker, Richard N. "Galatians." The Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1990.
Martyn, J. Louis. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible Commentary. New York: Doubleday, 1997.
Matera, Frank J. Galatians. Sacra Pagina 9. Edited by Daniel J. Harrington. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1992.
Rapa, Robert K. Boice, James Montgomery. "Galatians." Pages 407-508 in vol. 10 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008.