|Galatians Chapter 4|
MY PERSONAL COMMENTARY
THE BOOK OF GALATIANS
By David L. Hannah
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
* Now I say, That the heir, *
In the last several verses of Chapter Three (Gal 3:23-29) the Apostle was explaining to his readers the purpose of God in adding the Law (Gal 3:19) after He had given the Promise to Abraham and his Seed (Gal 3:15-18). The Law was added as a pedagogue (the Greek word translated “schoolmaster” in the KJV), a guardian to watch over the Jews until the coming of justifying faith (Gal 3:25), which is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:26), Who is the promised Seed (Gal 3:16). When we place our faith in Christ, rather Jew or Gentile (Gal 3:28), we’re baptized into Him (Gal 3:27), and by virtue of being “in Him,” we are “in” the Seed of Abraham, and are, consequently, Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the Promise (Gal 3:29). We, who are believers in Christ, are certainly those heirs, but the particular heirs that Paul is referring to in this illustration are the Jewish believers.
* as long as he is a child, *
The word translated “child” is “nepios.” Strong’s Concordance gives it this meaning, “from an obsolete particle ne- (implying negation) and NT:2031; not speaking, i.e. an infant (minor); figuratively, a simple-minded person, an immature Christian:” It’s found in 10 New Testament verses, being used 14 times (5 times in I Cor 13:11), and is translated “child” 7 times, “babe” 6 times, and “childish” 1 time.
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library gives us this insight, “The English reader will miss the flavor of these verses unless he realizes that the moment of growing up was a very definite one in antiquity and that it involved matters of great religious and legal importance. For instance, in Judaism a boy passed from adolescence to manhood shortly after his twelfth birthday, at which time he became ‘a son of the law.’ In the Greek world the minor came of age later, at about eighteen, but there was the same emphasis on an entering into full responsibility as an adult. At this age, at the festival of the Apatouria, the child passed from the care of his father to the care of the state and was responsible to it.” It then adds, “Under Roman law there was also a time for the coming of age of a son. But the age when this took place may not have been as fixed as is often assumed (cf. Lightfoot), with the result that the father may have had discretion in setting the time of his son’s maturity. If this is so, it leads one to think that Paul is referring primarily to the Roman custom as he observed that a child is under guardians and trustees ‘until the time set by his father.’ A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. At this time the child was formally adopted by the father as his acknowledged son and heir and received the toga virilis in place of the toga praetexta which he had previously worn.”
The idea is that as long as a child is immature he doesn’t enjoy the privileges of being the “owner of everything,” [NAS]. In the case of a will two things are necessary for the son to receive his inheritance: he must have reached the proper age, and his father must have died. In the case of you and I inheriting the Promise, and its blessings, the only thing that comes into play is the “time appointed of the father” (Gal 4:2). Our Father will never die, and yet we have become full heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29).
* differeth nothing from a servant, *
Of this Barnes says, “This does not mean that he does not differ in any respect, but only that in the matter under consideration he does not differ. He differs in his prospects of inheriting the property, and in the affections of the father, and usually in the advantages of education, and in the respect and attention shown him. but in regard to property, he does not differ, and he is like a servant, under the control and direction of others.”
Certainly the legal heir to all that he has, his own son, differs mightily from a servant in the eyes of his father. Unfortunately, in the eyes of a slave-owner, the servant was often viewed as dispensable, a mere piece of property, one that could be disposed of at the mere whim of the owner. The son, on the other hand, was the pride of his father, one for whom the father would gladly die to protect. There’s no comparison between the affection a man has for his son and the feelings he has for his slaves. There’s a huge difference between them. And yet the Apostle says the son doesn’t differ at all from the servant. Barnes says it well. The son only “differeth nothing” from the servant in the sense of which Paul is speaking of in this illustration. He doesn’t enjoy the liberties of being the owner of everything, but rather operates under the restrictions the father has placed upon him for his own protection, since he’s too immature to have the freedom he’ll enjoy as an adult heir.
* though he be lord of all; *
The son is “lord of all” in the sense that everything his father has will one day be his. However, this isn’t that day! In this illustration he’s still a child. One day, but not yet, he’ll own it all.
But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
* But is under tutors and governors *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library comments, “It is interesting that here Paul drops the term ‘pedagogue’ he had used earlier, and speaks instead of ‘guardians’ (epitropous) and ‘trustees’ (oikonomous) Too much should not be read into the change, but the fact that these refer to legal functions should not be missed either. It is status that Paul is thinking of.”
Concerning “tutors,” Vincent says, “Better, “guardians.” See the note at Luke 8:3. Only here in Paul. A general term, covering all to whom supervision of the child is intrusted,” and concerning “governors,” he adds, “Better, ‘stewards.’ Latin: ‘dispensatores.’ More special than guardians, signifying those who had charge of the heir’s property. See the note at Luke 16:1. In later Greek it was used in two special senses:
1. The slave whose duty it was to distribute the rations to the other slaves: so Luke 12:42.
2. The ‘land-steward:’ so Luke 16:1.”
Even though an under-age child will one day own everything his father has willed to him, until the child is of legal age others will control him, and his inheritance. Their control will be limited by the dictates of the law, and of his father’s will, and will be for the benefit of the child, but it won’t always appear that way to the child. Others, the “tutors and governors,” will dispense to him what he’s in need of, will watch over him for his protection, and will see to it that he receives an education. They will apply discipline when that’s needed. They are simply the servants of his father, and yet in charge of him as long as he isn’t of legal age.
* until the time appointed of the father. *
Robertson says, “Under Roman law the tutor had charge of the child until he was fourteen when the curator took charge of him until he was twenty-five. Ramsay notes that in Graeco-Phrygia cities the same law existed except that the father in Syria appointed both tutor and curator whereas the Roman father appointed only the tutor. Burton argues plausibly that no such legal distinction is meant by Paul, but that the terms here designate two functions of one person. The point does not disturb Paul’s illustration at all.”
Barnes adds, “the time when the son shall inherit the father’s property must be fixed by the father himself if he is living, or may be fixed by his will if he is deceased.”
The Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary brings out, “The Greek is a legal term, expressing a time defined by law, or testamentary disposition.”
A wealthy man has the right to do with his wealth whatever he desires, as long as it’s legal. In most cases he’ll leave it to his wife and children. If only one heir is involved, as in Paul’s illustration, and that heir is not of the age of responsibility, the father can include in his will certain stipulations that will govern how the child will come to inherit all his father’s estate. Those stipulations will be made, in the mind of the father, for the protection of the child. The father might appoint an executor to manage the execution of the will according to the father’s desire, and a trustee to manage the estate of the deceased until the heir reaches whatever age the father determined, in his will, where he’d be of sound judgment to manage the estate himself. At that point the heir would receive full control over all of the estate left him by his father. It wouldn’t matter if the child thought himself wise enough at the age of twenty, if the will stated he must reach the age of twenty-five. The “time appointed of the father” was the age when the heir was legally free to assume full control over all that was left him.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
* Even so we,*
The “we” in this verse probably refers to the same people that the “we” in a couple of verses in the last chapter referred to (Gal 3:23, 25). On the one level it refers to us all, because we Gentiles lived by some “law,” or “creed,” even though we were never under the Law of Moses. Whatever “creed” it was, it was powerless to give us life, just as the Law of Moses was powerless to give life to the Jews (Gal 3:21). And no matter how good a “greed” it was, it could never make us righteous because it had the same weakness as the Law of Moses had, our flesh (Rom 8:3). So on some level, “we,” Jews and Gentiles, were all in the same boat.
Having said that, the “we” most probably refers to the Jews. The message of the Apostle here seems to be that it would be absolutely foolish (Gal 3:1) for Gentile believers to be “removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another” (Gal 1:6-7). It’s foolish to “desire to be under the law” (Gal 4:21), when the Law is a “yoke” of which Peter said, “neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10). It would be foolish to run to a Law that has justified absolutely no one (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16; 3:11), not one single Jew. Jewish men (the Judaizers) were teaching Gentile believers in the province of Galatia to submit to the Law as the means by which they would find justification. Paul’s asserting that the Law never brought any Jew to justification (Gal 2:16), or to spiritual maturity (Gal 3:2-3); nor did it bring a single Jew to life in Christ (Gal 3:21). The Law accomplished the purpose for which God “added” it (Gal 3:19-25), but it was a complete failure at bringing man to justification, because that was never the intended purpose of God in giving it, and because our “flesh” made it impossible for the Law to succeed in that area (Rom 8:3). His argument is this: if the Jews couldn’t be justified this way, then why would we Gentiles who have trusted in Christ turn to something so ineffective?
* when we were children, *
At this point of his argument he likens the good Jews, the ones who sincerely wanted to follow God, who were living under the Law to the under-aged child who, though he was “lord of all” (Gal 4:1), was no better off than a servant (Gal 4:1-2). In doing this, he’s stating that the entire history of the economy of the Law was a history of God’s people living prior to the “time appointed of the father” (Gal 4:2), and therefore a history of God’s people, though heirs of all things, living a life that was no different than the life of a slave. And if that wasn’t hard enough for the Jew to hear, he’s showing that it wasn’t the Law that made them heirs, but the Promise. The Law was simply the servant put in charge of their care until that appointed time of the Father, that time when they would become heirs according to the Promise.
The Jew rested in the Law and boasted in God (Rom 2:17), and saw that Law as the wall that separated him from the pagan Gentile (Eph 2:14). He was unique, and he liked it. In the mind of that Jew, if the Gentile was to be included he had to find that inclusion in the same Law that made the Jew separate from others. In this Epistle Paul shows us that our inclusion has absolutely nothing to do with the Law, which was the pride of the Jews. The Jews didn’t want to hear it then, and many Messianic Jews have trouble hearing it today. They complain about Paul and call his teaching “anti-Torah.” Paul was never against the Law, he simply understood the God-given place of the Law; and that place was never where the Jew wanted it to be.
* were in bondage under the elements of the world: *
Concerning “the elements,” Thayer’s Greek Definitions says,
“1) any first thing, from which the others belonging to some series or composite whole take their rise, an element, first principal
1a) the letters of the alphabet as the elements of speech, not however the written characters, but the spoken sounds
1b) the elements from which all things have come, the material causes of the universe
1c) the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens or (as others think) because in them the elements of man, life and destiny were supposed to reside
1d) the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles of any art, science, or discipline
1d1) i.e. of mathematics, Euclid’s geometry.”
Allow me to include a rather lengthy quote from Vincent concerning this thought, “Interpretations differ. 1. Elements of knowledge, rudimentary religious ideas. See Heb 5:12. The meaning of world will then be, the material as distinguished from the spiritual realm. Elements of the world will be the crude beginnings of religion, suited to the condition of children, and pertaining to those who are not Christians: elementary religious truths belonging to mankind in general. Thus the Jewish economy was of the world as appealing to the senses, and affording only the first elements of a spiritual system. The child-heir was taught only faint outlines of spiritual truth, and was taught them by worldly symbols. 2. Elements of nature – of the physical world, especially the heavenly bodies. See 2 Peter 3:10,12; Wisd. 7:17. According to this explanation, the point would be that the ordering of the religious life was regulated by the order of nature; ‘the days, months, times,’ etc. (Gal 4:10), as well as the heathen festivals, being dependent on the movements of the heavenly bodies. This was the patristic view (Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom, Theodoret). 3. The elements of the world are the personal, elemental spirits. This seems to be the preferable explanation, both here and in Col 2:8. According to Jewish ideas, all things had their special angels. In the Book of Jubilees, chapter 2, appear, the angel of the presence (comp. Isa 63:9); the angel of adoration; the spirits of the wind, the clouds, darkness, hail, frost, thunder and lightning, winter and spring, cold and heat. In the Book of Enoch, 82:10-14, appear the angels of the stars, who keep watch that the stars may appear at the appointed time, and who are punished if the stars do not appear (18:15). In the Revelation of John we find four angels of the winds (Rev 14:18); the angel of the waters (Rev 16:5); the angel in the sun (Rev 19:17). In Heb 1:7 we read, ‘who maketh his angels winds.’ Paul also recognizes elemental forces of the spiritual world. The thorn is ‘a messenger of Satan’ (2 Cor 12:7); Satan prevents his journey to Thessalonica (1 Thess 2:18); the Corinthian offender is to be ‘delivered to Satan’ (1 Cor 5:5); the Kingdom of God is opposed by ‘principalities and powers’ (1 Cor 15:24); Christians wrestle against ‘the rulers of the darkness of this world; against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the upper regions’ (Eph 6:12).”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library states, “A second interpretation (Lightfoot, Stott, Teeny) is that Paul is again referring to the law of Israel. This view is consistent with Paul’s earlier teaching about the law–that it holds us in bondage (cf. Gal 3:23). But in this case there are two further difficulties: (1) It does not seem to apply to the Gentiles, for the difficulty of the Gentiles is not that they were under law in the past but that they were in danger of falling under it in the present; and (2) it does not explain why or how Paul could add the phrase ‘of the world’ to the term stoicheia. All Jewish thought would emphasize the other-worldly character of the law resulting from its divine origin.”
Zondervan’s second interpretation is the same as Vincent’s first one. I disagree with the conclusion that there are two difficulties with this interpretation. Paul’s referring to the Law of Moses here, which is the subject of this entire discussion. Allow me to start with Zondervan’s second difficulty: the Jews might have felt that there was an “other-worldly character of the law resulting from its divine origin,” but, though the Law came from God, the keeping of the Law was up to man, with no spiritual strength accompanying it, and therefore the power of the Law to justify was of this world, and consequently ineffective because of the weakness of fallen humanity (Rom 8:3). Regarding the first difficulty: he isn’t speaking of the Gentiles as being under the Law, nor is he referring to them as being under-aged heirs prior to their salvation, because he shows in his letter to the Ephesian believers that we Gentiles were “strangers from the covenants” (Eph 2:12) prior to our conversion. His point is that the Law didn’t accomplish the fulfilling of the Promise, which for the sake of this discussion is justification (Gal 3:8,24), for the Jews, and therefore his Gentile readers shouldn’t be deceived into thinking that it’ll accomplish that for them. The “we” of this verse is the same as it was in the last Chapter (Gal 3:23,25). He’s stating that “we” Jews, the nation of Israel, under the economy of the Law, were living under the bondage of being controlled by “tutors and governors” (Gal 4:2), and consequently, were no better off than slaves (Gal 4:1). The Law was totally ineffective at bringing us Jews to justification, and so there’s no way it’ll be effective for you Gentiles. As you have probably determined I am convinced that the “elements” of this verse do refer to the beginning teachings of religion, or in the case of this discussion, the Law.
Paul’s stating that under the economy of the Law the Jews were under-aged children, awaiting their inheritance under the care of the servant put in charge of them, the Law. In that economy they were in bondage! The Law never brought them freedom. It brought them bondage. They were in essence slaves (the Greek word for “bondage” here, according to Thayer means, “to make a slave of, reduce to bondage.”) of the slave put in charge of them, in the sense that they were under the guidance and control of that slave, the Law. The Law bound them under “the elements of the world.” The Law was the “first thing” of religion. It was elementary school for the under-aged child. It was the guardian who protected the child until he reached adulthood.
We don’t give our small children our checkbooks, our debit cards, and our credit cards and tell them to have fun at the toy store. We don’t tell them to stay out as late as they’d like to. We construct rules for them, rules to guide them and protect them. Those same rules, however, constrain them. Those rules cause them to eat healthy meals when they want candy, to sit orderly in a restaurant when they want to run and play, to go to school and church when they want to stay home and watch television. They are bound by our rules. Our rules are “elementary” rules. They are the “first things” that teach them responsibility. When they become adults they are free from our rules. They must now make the choices that freedom affords them. May God grant them the maturity to make wise choices because the restraint of our rules is gone, and the freedom of choice that comes with being an adult is now theirs’.
Jews were under the bondage of the Law in the same way. Those commandments constrained them, but, as the Living Bible puts it, “they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person’s evil thoughts and desires. They only make him proud” (Col 2:23).
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
* But when the fulness of the time was come, *
Just as the father in this example (Gal 4:1-2) had appointed an appropriate time for his son to come into the full inheritance (Gal 4:2) provided him by his father’s will, even so God had appointed a time for those who would follow Him to come into the full inheritance of the Promise, which entails many things, but in the context of the current discussion of the Apostle, is justification and spiritual growth (Gal 3:8, 2-3).
This was a time set by God from an eternity past (Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:4, 9-11; 2:8-11; II Thess 2:13-14; Titus 1:1-2), and a time determined solely by the will and pleasure and purpose of God (Eph 1:5, 9, 11; 3:11; II Tim 1:9).
* God sent forth his Son, *
This “fullness of the time” involved the giving of His Son as a propitiation for our sins (Rom 3:23-25; I John 2:2; 4:10), which God had planned before the fall of man, before any sin had been committed (I Pet 1:18-20; Rev 13:8).
God sending His Son implies a pre-existing Son of God (John 1:1-2; 3:16; Phil 2:5-6; Col 1:12-17; I Tim 3:16; Titus 2:13l; Heb 13:8).
* made of a woman, *
The above statement displayed Christ as the Son of God, and therefore God, and this statement displays Him as the son of Mary, and therefore man. One of the mysteries of Scripture is that Jesus is 100 per cent man and 100 per cent God (John 1:14; Rom 1:3; Phil 2:6-8; I Tim 3:16; Heb 2:14; 10:5-10; I John 4:2).
* made under the law, *
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s Commentary points out, “Not merely as GROTIUS and ALFORD explain, ‘Born subject to the law as a Jew.’ But ‘made’ by His Father’s appointment, and His own free will, ‘subject to the law,’ to keep it all, ceremonial and moral, perfectly for us, as the Representative Man, and to suffer and exhaust the full penalty of our whole race’s violation of it.”
The Law of Moses was absolutely ineffective in bringing we who were dead in our sins (Eph 2:1,5) to life (Gal 3:21), or in justifying the sinner (Rom 3:20,28; Gal 2:16; 3:11), and yet it was “holy, and just, and good” (Rom 7:12). Its ineffectiveness was not due to any lack on its part, for it was perfect (Ps 19:7), its commandments faithful (Ps 119:86), and its judgments righteous (Ps 119:62), but it was powerless to make us righteous because of the weakness of our flesh (Rom 8:3). Yet it had judged us all guilty before God (Rom 3:19), because we had all sinned (Rom 3:23; 5:12), and therefore its sentence of death had to be invoked (Deut 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6; Jer 31:30; Ezek 18:4,20; Rom 2:5-9; 6:23). The Son of God had to be born a Jew, born subject to the Law that had condemned us all, and so God “made” Him to be born under the law (current passage). Why? The next verse gives us the answer.
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
* To redeem them that were under the law, *
The Law of Moses had held the Jews prisoners (Gal 3:23), those who were in covenant with God (Eph 2:12), and had made them live their lives, in the sense of their freedom to act and choose, as though they were mere slaves (Gal 4:1, 7), even though they were the heirs, or “lords,” of “all” (Gal 4:1-3; Eph 2:12). We Gentiles, on the other hand, were mere slaves. We were slaves to sin (Gal 4:8-9; Eph 4:17-19; John 8:34; Rom 6:16; I Thess 1:9), living under the wrath of God (Eph 2:2-3; John 3:36), without any hope whatsoever (Eph 2:12).
Concerning “redeem” Vine says, “exagorazo NT:1805, a strengthened form of agorazo, ‘to buy’ (see BUY, No. 1), denotes ‘to buy out’ (ex for ek), especially of purchasing a slave with a view to his freedom. It is used metaphorically (a) in Gal 3:13 and Gal 4:5, of the deliverance by Christ of Christian Jews from the Law and its curse.”
The purpose for God sending His Son (Gal 4:4) was to “buy” the Jews, those “that were under the law,” “out” of their slavery to the Law (current verse), not to bring believing Gentiles out of their slavery to sin and into slavery to that Law (Gal 5:1). The death of Jesus paid the demands (ransom) of the Law (Ezek 18:4; Rom 3:23) and satisfied the justice of a Holy God (Rom 3:24-26). When the believing Jew was baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (I Cor 12:13) he was baptized into His death (Rom 3:3), and consequently, that Jew, by the vicarious death of Christ, has paid the penalty the Law invoked on him as a result of his sin, which was his death (Ezek 18:4, 20), because he died “in Christ” (Rom 6:3-7; II Cor 5:14).
NOTE: The death of Christ has redeemed the believing Jew from the Law (current verse; Gal 3:13) and all believers, Jew and Gentile alike, from sin (Eph 1:7; Titus 2:14). In our current verse Paul is dealing with that part of redemption that frees the believing Jew from the Law. He will include we Gentile believers in the next verse.
* that we might receive the adoption of sons. *
In their notes on Verse One of this Chapter the Zondervan NIV Bible Library says, “The English reader will miss the flavor of these verses unless he realizes that the moment of growing up was a very definite one in antiquity and that it involved matters of great religious and legal importance. For instance, in Judaism a boy passed from adolescence to manhood shortly after his twelfth birthday, at which time he became “a son of the law.” In the Greek world the minor came of age later, at about eighteen, but there was the same emphasis on an entering into full responsibility as an adult. At this age, at the festival of the Apatouria, the child passed from the care of his father to the care of the state and was responsible to it.
Under Roman law there was also a time for the coming of age of a son. But the age when this took place may not have been as fixed as is often assumed (cf. Lightfoot), with the result that the father may have had discretion in setting the time of his son’s maturity. If this is so, it leads one to think that Paul is referring primarily to the roman custom as he observed that a child is under guardians and trustees “until the time set by his father.” A Roman child became an adult at the sacred family festival known as the Liberalia, held annually on the seventeenth of March. At this time the child was formally adopted by the father as his acknowledged son and heir and received the toga virilis in place of the toga praetexta which he had previously worn.”
Concerning “receive” Thayer says, “1) to receive, 1a) of what is due or promised.”
Concerning “adoption of sons” Strong’s Concordance states, “From a presumed compound of G5207 and a derivative of G5087; the placing as a son, that is, adoption (figuratively Christian sonship in respect to God): – adoption (of children, of sons).”
When, through His death at Calvary, Jesus became “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom 10:4) the Jews were redeemed from the Law (current verse), and its curse (Gal 3:13). When this happened the Jewish believers received “the adoption of sons” (current verse), or in other words, received “the placing as a son,” and became recognized legally, in the courtroom of Heaven, as children of full age. As a consequence they were no longer under the guidance of “tutors and governors” because the “time appointed of the father” (Gal 4:2) had arrived. They were now full heirs (Gal 4:7; Rom 8:17) of the Promise (Gal 3:29).
The Jewish believers became recipients of what was promised. In Christ, the Promised Seed (Gal 3:16), those Jews who became followers of the Lord Jesus were baptized into Him, and because they were “in Christ,” became heirs according to the Promise (Gal 3:27-29).
That’s great, but what about us Gentiles? Let’s get to the next verse.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
* And because ye are sons, *
In our notes on the last verse we pointed out that the Strong’s Concordance said that the Greek word for “adoption of sons” was from “a presumed compound of G5207 and a derivative of G5087.” The second of those Greek words means “to place,” and the first is the same as our word for “sons” in this verse.
In our notes on this same Greek word used in the last Chapter (Gal 3:26) we shared with you what Wuest had to say regarding it, “The word translated children is huios and is the important word here. This word signifies someone of full age. Under law, the individual was in his minority and under a guardian. Now, under grace, he has attained his majority, having outgrown the surveillance of his former guardian.”
Paul has shown us in the last verse (Gal 4:5) that the Jewish believers were “placed” as “sons,” or received the status of being recognized as adult sons, sons of legal age, those who moved into the role of possessing the inheritance, as a result of what Jesus did for them. In the first five verses of this Chapter Paul is speaking of “we,” or the Jewish believers. Now he changes his focus to “ye,” the Gentile believers. By doing this he’s showing us that, though we came from a different background, we Gentiles have also arrived at the same status of being recognized as “sons” of full age, and we arrived here in the identical way they did, by union with Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26-29).
What he’s teaching us is that the Jews, when under the Law, hadn’t reached this status. They had to be baptized by One Spirit (I Cor 12:13) into Christ (Gal 3:27), by placing their faith in Him (Gal 3:26), to get to this point. We Gentile believers have reached this point the same way. Why would we allow false teaching to convince us to run to the very same Law that couldn’t bring the Jew to this status of adult sonship? Why go anywhere but to Jesus? “In Him” we’re already there! We are full heirs!
* God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library points out, “Paul now adds Trinitarian teaching, for he is telling us that salvation consists in its fullness of acts by God the Father in sending both God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”
God has given us His Spirit, here referred to as “the Spirit of his Son.” This takes us back to the beginning of Paul’s discourse to the Galatian believers regarding their salvation (Gal 3:2), their subsequent justification (Gal 3:8), and their spiritual growth (Gal 3:3). Salvation comes with receiving the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9), but how did we receive it? Was it a result of our doing the “works of the Law?” No! Was it a result of “the hearing of faith,” which the NIV translates, “believing what you heard?” Yes! We are “sons” (current verse), and we are so as a result of our faith in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:26). Of course his point is that their spiritual growth will occur in the same way, by believing what they hear in the Gospel message (Gal 3:2-3). In other words, the Law plays absolutely no part in their salvation, their justification, or their continual spiritual growth. This is the message of Paul, and it’s a hard one for many to digest because it excludes boasting (Rom 3:27).
* crying, Abba, Father. *
Adam Clarke mentions, “It has been remarked that slaves were not permitted to use the term ‘Abba’, father, or ‘Imma’, mother, in accosting their masters and mistresses. The Hebrew canon, relative to this, is extant in the tract Berachoth, fol. 16. 2, ha`abadiym wªhashªpachowt ‘eyn qowriyn ‘owtam, lo’ ‘Abba’ pelowniy wªlo’ ‘Imma’ pelowniyt. ‘Men-servants and maid-servants do not call to their master ‘Abba,’ (father), N. nor to their mistress ‘Imma’ (mother), N.’ And from this some suppose that the apostle intimates that being now brought from under the spirit of bondage, in which they durst not call God their Father, they are not only brought into a new state, but have gotten that language which is peculiar to that state.”
John Wesley says, “The Hebrew and Greek word are joined together, to express the joint cry of the Jews and gentiles.”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library tells us, “It may be sentimentalizing the word “Abba” to tr. it “Daddy,” but it should not be forgotten that the word is a diminutive and implies intimacy. The early church fathers–Chrysostom, Theodor of Mopsuestia, and Theodoret of Cyprus, who came from Antioch (where Aramaic was spoken and who probably had Aramaic-speaking nurses in their childhoods)–unanimously testify that Abba was the address of a small child to his father (J1. Jeremias, The Lord’s Prayer, trans. J. Reumann [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1964], p. 19).”
As you can see, there are many explanations, of which I’ve mentioned three, that have been given as to why Paul uses both words for “Father,” the Aramaic and the Greek, in this verse. He also used them when writing to the Roman believers (Rom 8:15), and Mark records Jesus using them (Mark 14:36). We’re not certain exactly why but the above-mentioned comments of some commentators give us some possibilities. But I think what’s even more important is another comment by the Zondervan NIV Bible Library, “It is not always recognized how unusual the addressing of God as ‘Father’ was in antiquity nor what an unforgettable impression Jesus’ habitual mode of praying made on his followers.”
The point here is that we who have trusted the Lord Jesus to save us have been born-again (John 3:3) as sons of God (Gal 3:26; I John 3:1), and as a result of being His children we now have the same right that Jesus has, the privilege to call Him, “Father!” The Holy Spirit in us confirms that privilege by crying out through us, “Abba, Father.”
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
* Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son *
Concerning “servant” Strong’s Concordance says, “a slave (literally or figuratively, involuntarily or voluntarily; frequently therefore in a qualified sense of subjection or subserviency).”
When Paul speaks about a “servant,” he isn’t talking about one who serves as a profession, such as a waiter, but of one who is, in actuality, a slave. This is the same word used to speak of our bondage to sin (John 8:34-35; Rom 6:16—20).
Although a Jew was as much a slave to sin as the rest of us (John 8:34-35) in Paul’s current discussion the Jews weren’t seen as slaves, but as under-aged heirs who consequently lived under the restrictions that slaves live under (Gal 4:1-2). He did refer to them as having become slaves to the Law (Gal 4:3), but in the context of his teaching he was stating that they were no better of than slaves, as opposed to them actually being slaves, because they were living before the appointed time of the Father to bring about the fulfillment of the Promise (Gal 4:2, 4). He was speaking about the nation of Israel being like that under-aged heir in their time in history dating from Moses until Jesus, that time when they were under the Law of Moses (Gal 4:3). He then showed us that when Jesus came, through His death on the cross, believing Jews were redeemed from the Law and became heirs of full age (Gal 4:4-5). He then began to address us Gentile believers (Gal 4:6) who were, in actuality and in this current discussion, slaves of sin prior to our coming to the Lord Jesus (Rom 6:6; 7:25; Gal 4:8). He wants us to understand that, though we arrived at the destination from a different origin, we Gentile believers, along with Jewish believers, have indeed arrived. The Jews are no longer under-aged children whose lives are similar to those of slaves, but are heirs of full age, heirs who are enjoying all the privileges of their inheritance, and we Gentiles are no longer actual slaves, but are also heirs of full age, enjoying those same privileges. Jew and Gentile arrived at this destination the same way, through faith in Christ. As I asked in my notes on the previous verse (Gal 4:6), why would we Gentile believers leave our position as full heirs of the Promise through faith and run to the futility of trying to become full heirs through the Law, that same Law that couldn’t bring the Jews, those to whom it was given, to the position of being heirs of full age?
In the last Chapter he told us that we Gentiles, we who have come to the Lord Jesus through faith, are God’s children [of full age] (Gal 3:7-9, 14, 26-29), and he then re-iterated that important fact in the previous verse of this Chapter (Gal 4:6). He’s now stating that we can’t be both children [of full age] and slaves. When we became God’s children [of full age] we ceased being slaves!
NOTE: We Gentiles who have come to the Lord Jesus for justification have never been under-aged children. We were never under the Law [tutors and governors] as under-aged heirs (Gal 4:1-2). Only the Jews, prior to the cross, were in that position. Prior to our conversion we weren’t “children of God” in any sense, but when we were born-again we instantly became children of full age. Since the time appointed of the Father (Gal 4:2, 4) has arrived all His children are full heirs.
We Gentile believers begin our spiritual walk as babes in the sense that we haven’t reached spiritual maturity (Gal 3:2-3), but in the positional sense of being “in Christ” when we are born-again we are born of full age (Gal 3:26), and consequently we are full heirs, and enjoy all that being a full heir implies, the moment we place our faith in Him.
* and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. *
Vincent says, “The figure is based upon Roman, not upon Jewish, law. According to Roman law, all the children, sons and daughters, inherited alike. According to Jewish law, the inheritance of the sons was unequal, and the daughters were excluded, except where there were no male heirs. Thus the Roman law furnished a more truthful illustration of the privileges of Christians. Comp. Gal 3:28.”
Again, the word translated “son” here is “huios,” the word that Wuest says “signifies someone of full age.” Paul is stating that since you have become a son of full age through your union with Christ you stand in the position of being an heir to the Promise, or as he stated to his Roman readers, a joint-heir with Christ (Rom 8:17).
Christ Jesus is the Promised Seed, the single heir of the Promise given to Abraham (Gal 3:16), and we are “in Him” (Gal 3:27), and as a result of our position of being “in Him,” we are the seed of Abraham (Gal 3:29), and therefore heirs to the Promise.
The only way to become an heir is to be “in Him,” because He alone is the Promised Seed. The only way to be “in Him” is to be baptized by One Spirit into Him (I Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27), and that only happens when we are born-again “of the Spirit” (John 3:3-6). The only way to be born-again is to “believe on His name” (John 1:12), because we are saved, and become His children, by God’s grace as a result of our faith in Him (Eph 2:8-9; Gal 3:26). Consequently, we cannot become heirs of the Promise as a result of our turning to the Law of Moses, which the Gentile believers in the province of Galatia were beginning to do. Paul desperately wants his readers to understand this.
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
* Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, *
Paul has shown the purpose for which God “added” the Law (Gal 3:19). It was added to become the “schoolmaster” [pedagogue] to the Jews (Gal 3:24) who were seen as heirs of all that God has, but were living in a state of infancy, too young to possess what was theirs by Promise (Gal 4:1). Consequently they needed the “pedagogue,” and the “tutors and governors” (Gal 4:2) to guide and protect them until they reached the age appointed by the Father when they would inherit all that was promised them. The “pedagogue ” was a slave put in charge of the child, so the Jews, when under the economy of the Law, lived like slaves to the slave that was put in charge of them. Doesn’t that sound pathetic? They were living like a slave to a slave! But their condition prior to their knowing Jesus was glorious when compared to the condition of the Gentiles in the Galatian church prior to their knowing Jesus.
* ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods. *
Regarding “ye did service,” Barnes says, “This does not express the force of the original. The meaning is, “Ye were ‘slaves’ to; you were in a condition of servitude,” and Vincent comments, “Better, were in bondage or were slaves.”
Who were the Galatian Gentiles slaves to? Idols! The Jews lived like slaves to a slave, but the Gentiles were slaves to things that didn’t exist. They served false gods. The Psalmist decries the stupidity of serving idols (Ps 115:4-8), things made with the hands of some of the very ones who worship them. Even the Jews, the children of Promise, have fallen into this unbelievable state at times. You take gold, you fashion a calf, you call it “god,” and you worship it (Ex 32:1-4). What idiocy! How foolish for man to become the “creator,” and then serve the thing “created.”
The over-whelming majority of us Western Gentile Christians have never worshiped “graven images” (Ex 20:4). So what did we serve before we began to serve God? Certainly, without our knowledge, we served sin (John 8:34-35; Rom 6:16-20), but what did we serve purposely? At what altar did we kneel? To what did we pay homage? Some of us served at the altar of “greed,” some at the altar of “ambition,” some at the altar of “power,” some at the altar of “bitterness,” and some served at still other altars, but altars similar to the ones mentioned. The point is, we all served something. Maybe for some of us it was the altar of “self.” Whatever altar it was the thing we served was not God.
But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
* But now, after that ye have known God, *
In the previous verse he had reminded his Gentile readers of the spiritual state they were in prior to their coming to know the Lord Jesus (Gal 4:8). They worshiped objects that were created by the hands of a man, inanimate objects that could not speak, could not see, could not hear, could not smell, could not touch, could not walk, and not only were they unable to speak, they couldn’t utter any kind of a sound whatsoever (Ps 115:4-8), because they were inanimate objects, gods that did not exist. How utterly foolish their lives must have seemed as they looked back on them, even though their worshipping idols seemed to make sense at the time.
They used to serve dumb idols (Hab 2:18; I Cor 12:2), but not any longer. Now they had come to know the living God through their faith in His Son, the Lord Jesus.
* or rather are known of God, *
Robertson: “He quickly turns it round to the standpoint of God’s elective grace reaching them.”
Vincent: “The relation of knowledge between God and his sons proceeds from God.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown: “They did not first know and love God, but God first, in His electing love, knew and loved them as His, and therefore attracted them to the saving knowledge of Him.”
Barnes: “The object of this correction is to avoid the impression which might be derived from the former phrase that their acquaintance with God was owing to themselves.”
Gill: “and what knowledge they have, they have it first, originally, and wholly from him:”
Matthew Henry: “it was the effect of his free and rich grace towards them, and as such they ought to account it;”
The People’s New Testament: “God, himself, had sought them through the gospel, and had offered them eternal life. They knew God because God had taken note of them and sent them the gospel.”
Vine: “such ‘knowledge’ is obtained, not by mere intellectual activity, but by operation of the Holy Spirit consequent upon acceptance of Christ.”
Wuest: “Their escape from idolatry and bondage to law was not effected by any knowledge they acquired of God, but by God coming to know them in a saving way.”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library: “It is characteristic of Paul’s understanding of man’s total spiritual depravity and of the electing grace of God that he corrects himself so as not to leave the impression that it is possible for any man to come to know God by his own efforts.”
As you can see by the above quotes commentators believe the intent of Paul is to make certain that the Gentile believers in the province of Galatia don’t misunderstand the origin of their salvation. They, and we, didn’t go looking for God. He came looking for us! “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). He is the Seeker and we are the found!
He chose you long before you ever thought of choosing Him, before the world was formed (Eph 1:4), and because He foreknew that you would come to saving faith in Him He pre-determined to conform you to the image of His Son, and then He called you, justified you, and already sees you as glorified (Rom 8:29-30), that state of being like Jesus, which will occur in its fullness when you see Him (I John 3:1-3). None of this has been, or will be, the result of us doing some grand thing that so impresses God that He can’t help but reward us with the greatest of His blessings. He has done, and is doing, these things because they’re “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph 1:5), and to “the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph 1:6), and according to “the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7) and the “good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself” (Eph 1:9). They are, in fact, “according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph 1:11), and according “to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph 3:11). God has justified us without the “benefit” of any great accomplishment on our part, and His saving grace to us excludes all rights that we might think we have to boast (Rom 3:23-28).
* how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, *
Of “how” Wuest says, “The word ‘how’ is from ‘pos,’ rather, ‘how is it possible?’ It is, as Bengel says, a question full of wonder.”
Concerning “how turn ye again” Vincent comments, “Better, the continuous present, are ye turning, as of a change still in progress.”
Wuest adds, “The word ‘turn’ is present in tense, ‘How is it possible that you are turning?’ They were in the act of turning away from grace to law while Paul was writing this letter.”
Vincent then points us back to the first Chapter (Gal 1:6) where, in my notes, I mentioned, “According to Robertson and Vincent, and other expositors of the Greek, the middle voice of the Greek word being translated ‘removed’ in the KJV indicates that they were in the process of removing themselves from the truth of the Gospel, rather than already having completely removed themselves.”
Paul is totally confused. He can’t believe that these Gentiles who were serving false Gods, but are now known by the One true God, are in the process of returning to something that they had been saved from.
The question must be asked: in what way is the Gentile believer’s turning to the Law of Moses a returning to something, when in fact he had never been under the Law of Moses previously, but had been serving idols? What did the Apostle say they were in the process of returning to? He said the turning was to “the weak and beggarly elements” (current verse). In other words, even though the Jews of the Old Testament who were following Jehovah God were indeed following the One true God, they had something in common with the pagan Gentiles who were following false gods. The something they had in common has to do with what’s referred to here as “weak and beggarly elements.” These “elements” are the same ones mentioned earlier in this Chapter that the Jews had been in bondage to prior to their conversion to Christianity (Gal 4:3). Again, in what way did serving God while under the economy of Moses’ Law, which Law was a beginning revelation of God’s Truth to those people He had chosen, have anything in common with pagan idolatry, which was false religion that had no semblance of Divine Truth? Here’s how: in some ways both systems, true Old Testament religion and idolatry, teach principles that are “weak and beggarly.”
Robertson tells us, “The same stoicheia (NT:4747) in Gal 4:3 from which they had been delivered, ‘weak and beggarly,’ still in their utter impotence from the Pharisaic legalism and the philosophical and religious legalism and the philosophical and religious quests of the pagan as shown by Angus’s The Religious Quests of the Graeco-Roman World. These were eagerly pursued by many, but they were shadows when caught. It is pitiful today to see some men and women leave Christ for will o’ the wisps of false philosophy.”
Vincent believes, “The two adjectives express the utter impotence of these ‘elements’ to do and to bestow what was done and given by God in sending his Son into the world.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “weak–powerless to justify: in contrast to the justifying power of faith, and beggarly–contrasted with the riches of the inheritance of believers in Christ.”
Neither system could bring us to the desired result of justification, which result is the primary fulfilled Promise that we children of God are currently in possession of that Paul is referring to in the context of this discussion (Gal 3:8, 11, 24). Religion, even the true religion of the Old Testament Jew, can never bring us to the point of being “right with God,” only faith in Christ can (Gal 3:24). And this faith in Christ is what brings us to this point of being “right with God” in the beginning of our relationship with God, and keeps us in the position of being “right with God” throughout our walk with Him (Gal 3:2-3; Rom 1:17), and Paul considers it utterly foolish to seek an ongoing “right” relationship with God in any other way, no matter how religious that way seems. Keeping the Law of Moses, which Law was written by God, in an attempt to be “right with God” is futile, so you can imagine how utterly powerless any church law is, which law was definitely not written by God, in bringing us to the position of justification, or keeping us in a state of justification once we are justified by faith.
* whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? *
Although the bondage that these Gentile believers were turning to was different than the bondage from which they had come, it was, nevertheless, bondage. They had come from the bondage of idolatry, and all the sins that were included in that form of worship, and were in the process of turning to Judaism, and all the commandments that were involved with that. The two were so utterly different, and yet so alike. One, the Law, tried to get its followers to walk uprightly before the True God, and the other, paganism, though encouraging a devotion to a supposed deity, usually involved all kinds of adulteries, fornications, murders, and many other sins condemned by the Law. So different! Yet, they both failed in bringing their followers to a right relationship with God, and they both failed in bringing freedom to their followers, but brought bondage instead. So alike!
Make no mistake about it; seeking a right relationship with God through adherence to the Law only leads to bondage, not to the right relationship with God you’re seeking. When under the Law you’re under “tutors and governors” (Gal 4:2), and a “schoolmaster” [pedagogue] (Gal 3:24). You’re an under-aged child who lives like a slave (Gal 4:1), in bondage to the Law (Gal 4:3). That Law doesn’t bring you freedom from sin, but rather strengthens the very sin that you struggle with (I Cor 15:56; Rom 7:7-11). That’s the whole point of Paul’s teaching here. God help us to see it, because we Christians tend to gravitate to Law like the moon is held in check by the gravity of the earth. We feel secure in its parameters like the little child that doesn’t have to worry about the bills, finding a job, or any of those other things adults worry about. When we understand that the appointed time of the Father has arrived (Gal 4:2, 4), and that we are full-grown children, we now face the uncertainty of leaving the nest, and having to face the responsibilities of being an adult. There are those times we miss the crib, we miss the bottle, and we miss the toys. Yet now we can stay up until we’re tired, we can buy that Dairy Queen blizzard any time we want to. We are heirs, no longer living under the dictates of the “tutors and governors.” We are free from that. But they did their job of instructing us, of raising us, and now their teachings are a permanent impression on the who we are (Rom 2:14-15). We live right because, in the sense of the analogy I’m using, God has raised us right (II Cor 5:17; Eph 2:10).
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
* Ye observe days, *
Paul now gives an example of how his readers in Galatia were indeed gravitating towards trusting in the Law.
Concerning “observe” Vincent writes, “The word denotes careful, scrupulous observance, an intent watching lest any of the prescribed seasons should be overlooked. A merely legal or ritual religion always develops such scrupulousness.”
Regarding “days” the Zondervan NIV Bible Library comments that these days “would refer to sabbath days, including also those feasts that fell on specified dates in the calendar.”
The specifying of a day to set it aside for the purpose of worship isn’t what’s being condemned here. It’s the making of that day a “law” that brings condemnation when broken. Regarding the concept of esteeming “one day above another” Paul wrote, “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom 14:5). Most of us prefer attending church on Sundays, while others prefer Saturdays, which is the Jewish Sabbath. It’s not important which day you set aside to worship, as long as you don’t insist that I worship on that same day, insisting that I’m transgressing the Law if I don’t and that I’ll be judged as a sinner for it. That’s making law out of something that Paul taught was a thing to be determined by the persuasion of one’s own conscience. When I don’t regard it necessary to worship on Saturday, but determine that I’d rather worship on Sunday, the day that the Lord Jesus arose, I make that decision “unto the Lord” (Rom 14:6), and therefore, who are you to judge me (Rom 14:4)? Who am I to judge you if you prefer worshipping on Saturday? That’s your choice before God. However, I will take issue with you if you try to impose Old Testament Jewish Law on me.
If you worship on Saturday because you feel that you’re somehow under the Law then I must wonder if you understand anything that Paul teaches. He’s teaching the Galatian believers that they must not gravitate to the Law (Gal 3:10-13, 17-18, 23-25; 4:3-5), and that the elements of the Law are “weak and beggarly” (Gal 4:9). He told the believers in Rome that we Christians are not under the Law (Rom 6:14-15), and affirmed the same to the Galatians (Gal 4:21; 5:18). If you, as a New Testament Gentile believer, are trying to live “under the Law,” then you are guilty of the same foolishness as the Galatian believers were (Gal 3:1).
Which day your church sets aside as its main day of worship isn’t what’s important, but rather, or not, you’re being faithful to your local assembly (Heb 10:25). You’re “members in particular” (I Cor 12:27) of the body of Christ in your local fellowship, and need to faithfully sit under the teaching of the ministry God has placed you under (Eph 4:11-12) so you can be prepared to work your ministry among those fellow saints in that local body. That way the church body can be edified [strengthened] (Eph 4:12), unified, perfected, and reaching unto the “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:13), doctrinally mature (Eph 4:14), “speaking the truth in love,” and growing
”up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph 4:15), so that the church you’re attending is growing in, and being strengthened by, the love of God (Eph 4:16). Your faithfulness is needed in your local assembly.
* and months, and times, and years. *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library mentions that “months” refers to, “celebrations tied to the recurring monthly cycle, such as those connected with the appearances of the new moon and which Isaiah ridiculed” (Isa 1:14).
Of “times” Barnes comments, “Stated times; festivals returning periodically, as the Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles.”
Regarding “years” Vincent says, “Sabbatical years, occurring every seventh year. Not years of Jubilee, which had ceased to be celebrated after the time of Solomon.”
The idea is that these Gentile believers, men and women who had never been under the Law of Moses, were being seduced to turn to Old Testament Jewish religion, which religion has never justified a single Jew. They were beginning to observe religious “days, and months, and times, and years” (current verse).
The Law, from its commandments, to its Priesthood, to its sacrifices, and to its religious ceremonies and observances, is a mere shadow of the genuine (Heb 8:1-5; 10:1; Col 2:16-17), and the genuine is the Lord Jesus (Col 2:17), Who is the “express image” of God (Heb 1:1-3). Under the economy of the Law the Jews only had the shadow that was cast by Christ by which to understand Who God is, but you and I, under the economy of grace, have the Lord Jesus, Himself. When we see Him, we see the Father (John 14:9)! When I can see and talk to you, and get to know you firsthand, why would I decide to forfeit that privilege and run around the corner where I can only see the shadow you cast, and try to figure you out from that shadow? We have Jesus! Why would we turn to the Law, which is merely His shadow?
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
* I am afraid of you, *
Regarding “of you” Vincent says it should be translated, “I am afraid for you or concerning you.”
Many of the modern translations render it “for you,” or in some way similar to that, signifying that Paul’s fears are concerning the well being of the Galatians. Certainly he’s not afraid of them, as though they would harm him in some way, but he’s definitely concerned about them, and their spiritual condition.
* lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. *
Concerning the Greek structure of this phrase Robertson comments, “Usual construction after a verb of fearing about what has actually happened mee (NT:3361) poos (NT:4459) and the perfect active indicative of kopiaoo (NT:2872), to toil wearily)]. A fear about the future would be expressed by the subjunctive. Paul fears that the worst has happened.
Martin Luther suggests, “Behind his apparent disappointment at their failure lurks the sharp reprimand that they had forsaken Christ and that they were proving themselves to be obstinate unbelievers.”
The Family New Testament Notes has this thought, “he was fearful that they were depending for salvation on Jewish ceremonies, not on Christ; in which case his labor to bring them to Christ would be lost. There has always been a proneness in some professors of religion to depend for salvation upon the observance of rites, forms, and ceremonies, rather than on Christ.”
John Gill had these thoughts, “the doctrine of free grace in pardon, justification, and salvation, was made void, they observing these things in order to procure them thereby; and it was virtually and tacitly saying, that Christ was not come in the flesh, which is the main article of the Gospel; for since these things had respect to him, and were to continue no longer than till his coming, to keep on the observation of them, was declaring that he was not come; which is in effect to set aside the whole Gospel.”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library points out that, “the same Paul who speaks elsewhere of the fact that nothing can ever separate the Christian from the redeeming love of God (Rom 8:35-39) and who expresses confidence that the work begun in the Christian by God will be continued till the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6) now voices the thought that his labor in bringing the gospel to the people of Galatia might be wasted. This is not, to be sure, the same thing as saying that a Christian can lose his salvation. Indeed, even the Galatians have not gone that far. They have only begun to observe the feasts; they have not been circumcised (Gal 5:2). Nevertheless, the are wavering (“turning,” present tense, in v. 9), and their wavering is inexplicable and inexcusable.”
Wow! What about these things? Can someone who has truly been born again lose his salvation? Could these Galatian believers lose their salvation? They were, after all, those who had “received” “the Spirit” (Gal 3:2), and thus they had “begun in the Spirit” (Gal 3:3), and were called, by the Apostle Paul himself, the “children of God” (Gal 3:26), and referred to as “sons” with God’s Spirit living in them (Gal 4:6), and as those who knew God, and were known by God (Gal 4:9). Or, as some respected Commentators suggest, is it possible that their actions were proving that they were never truly saved, in spite of the verses I just mentioned? After all, Luther claims, “they were proving themselves to be obstinate unbelievers,” and the Family New Testament Notes declare, “he was fearful that they were depending for salvation on Jewish ceremonies, not on Christ; in which case his labor to bring them to Christ would be lost.” Here’s the question that bags to be asked: Does the fact that these Galatian Gentiles were beginning to turn to the Law of Moses, at the urging of the Judaizers, prove that they were never saved in the first place, or does it suggest that they were saved but now they were in danger of losing that salvation?
When people ask me, one who is passionate about grace, if I believe in the doctrine of “eternal security,” I answer “Yes,” and “No!”
When looking at it from the human perspective I believe that we must “make” our “calling and election sure” (II Pet 1:10), “work out” our “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12), that our security is settled “if” we “continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23), and if we understand that “we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Heb 3:14). None of these “conditions” has to do with the works of the Law, or any other good works, but with my keeping my faith in the Lord Jesus until the end. I’m saved by faith, and I’m kept by faith. From the human perspective, I believe I must continue in Christ, and that this is the proof of my being genuine.
When looking at it from God’s perspective I believe that those of us who have been “called” and “justified” (Rom 8:30) were foreknown by God (Rom 8:29), and that God already sees us “glorified” (Rom 8:30), or in Heaven. God chose us before there was ever a world (Eph 1:4) with the idea of finishing what He started (Phil 1:6), and therefore Jesus can say about us, “I know them” (John 10:27), and “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish” (John 10:28), because eternal God sees everything, past, present and future, without the constraints of time. There will be no surprises to God! The ones who end up in Heaven will be the ones that God already saw there before there was ever a creation. From God’s perspective, absolutely I believe that everyone He foreknew is eternally secure.
The next question then is this: what about the Gentile “believers” in the province of Galatia, or more importantly, what about you and me? I must ask myself, do I believe that I’m eternally secure? This I know, I’m saved by faith! Though there’s evidence that would prove that I’m a religious man, I have absolutely no physical evidence that would stand up in any court in our land to prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that I’m saved, but I do have evidence that’ll stand up in the court of Heaven, and that evidence is my faith in Christ (Heb 11:1). That same faith that saves me convinces me that I’m going to Heaven when I leave this world, either by death or by Rapture. Saving faith has convinced me that God will perform to the end that thing that He has begun in me (Phil 1:6). I’m a child of God and I’m going to Heaven one day. By the grace of God I will “hold the beginning of” my “confidence steadfast unto the end” (Heb 3:14). The faith that has saved me (Gal 3:2-3) will keep me to the day I die, and then God will change my “vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Phil 3:21), and receive me into Heaven.
Does that mean I believe in eternal security? I believe, by faith, I’m eternally secure in Christ, but what do I believe about you? I believe that each of us continues to walk in the freedom God has given us to choose whatever direction we want to take. All of the people who I firmly believe to be born again will continue to make choices throughout their lives, choices that will determine if they continue in their walk with the Lord. If they fall away from the Lord as a consequence of those choices will they go to Heaven? I don’t believe that a prayer someone prayed twenty years ago will get him to Heaven if he isn’t walking with the Lord today. I certainly don’t believe in that “brand” of eternal security. I think that “brand” teaches something fearfully close to the error of the Gnostics that John wrote to correct in his First Epistle, which was the error of “license,” that Christians can sin and grace will cover it. The doctrine of the Gnostics was that since only the spirit was saved, and not the body, it didn’t matter if the body sinned. That’s not the doctrine of this “brand” of eternal security, but the end result is the same; that it’s not important, regarding one’s salvation, if the Christian lives in sin. John wrote, “whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother (I John 3:10). I don’t accept any doctrine that teaches that a “believer” can choose a lifestyle of sin and still be a genuine Christian who is “of God,” and who will go to Heaven.
There are a couple of other “brands” of eternal security. Some teach that if you’re truly saved and then fall away that God will renew you to faith in Him before you die, and others teach that if you fall away, and never come back to faith in Christ, that you were never truly saved in the first place. Both of these doctrines acknowledge that those who will make Heaven, those who are “of God,” are those who choose to follow after Him. I have no difficulty with either of those doctrines.
Here’s what I’m saying: I’m saved by faith, kept by faith, and will go to Heaven one day, by faith. The One Who saved me foreknew me, and keeps me. Here’s the important question, what do you believe? Because it’s what you believe that’s matters. Here’s my point, it’s rather or not you’re placing your faith in the Lord Jesus that will determine where you are in the grand scheme of God’s eternal purpose. Do you believe that God has saved you, that He’s keeping you, and that He’ll get you all the way to Heaven? Put your faith in Him and keep it in Him, and He’ll do the rest. Trust Him!
Let’s get back to the issue of Paul potentially having his labor among the Galatians believers be in vain. What was he talking about? Was he fearful that their defecting from Gospel Truth was evidence that they were never really born again? Or, was he fearful that they were born again, but they were in jeopardy of losing their salvation? I don’t believe either of those possibilities is what concerned him. I’m convinced that the labor that he was concerned about was the effort he put forth trying to ground them in the Gospel Truth concerning Christian living, not the Gospel Truth concerning salvation. That Truth is that the way we live for Christ is the same way we become Christians in the first place, by believing the Promises that we are heir to (Gal 3:2-5, 29). This is a walk of faith (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11) and they were losing sight of that. They were in danger of falling from grace (Gal 5:4), which is God’s strength in our lives that empowers us to live holy before Him [see my notes on Gal 2:9], and falling into human strength (Rom 8:3) to keep the very Law that empowers the sin in us that we want freedom from (I Cor 15:56; Rom 7:8-11). I hope you caught that: grace empowers us, but the Law empowers the sin in us. God help us not fall from the grace of God as our power source and trust what has never worked, the Law of Moses or any other set of rules that depend on human power, which always fails. In other words, the power of God to overcome sin flows through our faith in Him (1 John 5:4-5), because when we trust Him it becomes a matter of His grace, which means that He does the work, which means that the end result is guaranteed (Rom 4:16) [NIV]. When you trust Him the spigot is on and His power is flowing freely in your lives, but when you trust in yourself the spigot is off. When you fall from grace in the area of Christian living by turning to the Law YOU TURN OFF THE SPIGOT TO GOD’S POWER! STOP IT!
Paul had labored among the Galatians to teach them this Truth about victorious Christian living. He was now fearful that his labor in this area of his instruction to them, concerning how they should walk out their Christian faith, which is the point of this ongoing discussion (Gal 3:1-4:17), was in vain.
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.
* Brethren, I beseech you, *
Paul is again affectionately referring to them as his brethren (Gal 3:15). He’s so much tenderer towards them at this point of his letter than he was initially when he marveled at their foolishness (Gal 1:6; 3:1).
Concerning “beseech” the Strong’s Concordance gives this definition, “to beg.”
* be as I am; *
Vincent says, “Better, become as I am.”
He’s begging the Galatian Gentile believers to follow his example of not trusting in the Law of Moses as having any part to play in justification. They were swaying towards the observance of “days, and months, and times, and years” (Gal 4:10), the rite of circumcision (Gal 5:2-3), and the keeping of the commandments of the Law as a means of being righteous (Gal 3:12; Lev 18:4-5). Paul had walked away from trusting those things (Phil 3:6-8) so that he could find true righteousness through faith in Christ (Gal 2:16; Phil 3:9), and he wanted the believers in the Galatian province to reject turning to those things, things that they had never been followers of in the past.
* for I am as ye are: *
When the Apostle had turned away from the Law of Moses as the means through which he sought for a right relationship with God, he had turned from the dividing wall between the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph 2:14-16), and had, in that sense, become like a Gentile, one who was living outside the restraints of the written Law.
He was not living lawlessly, but was now living under a greater law, one that imparts life, one that had set him free from the Old Testament law which brought death, (Rom 8:2), one that was a royal law (James 2:8) with new commandments (I John 3:22-24), those commandments being that we have faith in God and love for one another. That faith is what overcomes the sins of the world (I John 5:4-5) by believing the promises of God (Heb 6:12; II Pet 1:4), and that love is what fulfills the Law of Moses (Mat 22:36-40; Rom 13:8-10).
Paul counted his salvation (Rom 10:9, 13-14; Eph 2:8-9), his justification (Rom 3:26, 30; 5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:8) and his righteousness (Rom 3:22; 4:5; 10:10; Phil 3:9) as gifts of God to be received by faith in the Lord Jesus, and not as a reward for keeping the Law. In his disowning the Law is this way, and counting it “but loss” and “but dung” in order to win Christ (Phil 3:7-8), he had become like a Gentile. He now implores the believing Gentiles not to become like Jews by beginning to trust the Law for these things that can only come as a result of our believing the promises of God.
* ye have not injured me at all. *
There are a couple of strong possibilities as to what this is referring to. There are some Commentators who believe that Paul is saying that the Galatian believers’ position of leaning towards the error of legalism was not a personal affront to him, and that he desires to see them return to the firm footing of the Gospel for their benefit, and not because he somehow benefits from it (Barnes, Clarke, Gill, Matthew Henry, Luther, People’s New Testament, Wuest, and Wesley). These Commentators believe that Paul says this to let his readers know that he’s not speaking to them out of anger, but out of concern.
Other Commentators think that Paul is pointing to his original visit to them, and reminding them of how much they loved him, and treated him well on that visit (Vincent, the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, the Zondervan NIV Bible Library, and Wycliffe) in order to incite them to like action towards him now.
Choose your preference because, either way, it’s not something that’s going to change the flow of this discussion.
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
* Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh *
Concerning the Greek word translated “infirmity” Thayer says its meaning is, “want of strength, weakness, infirmity,” and when it’s concerning the human body he said, “its native weakness and frailty; feebleness of health or sickness.”
It amazes me that so many take for granted that Paul is referring to a physical illness, or disease (Vincent, Robertson, and Wuest for example), in this passage. While that’s a possibility it’s not an absolute.
Regarding this “infirmity of the flesh” Martin Luther comments, “When Paul speaks of the infirmity of his flesh he does not mean some physical defect or carnal lust, but the sufferings and afflictions which he endured in his body. What these infirmities were he himself explains in 2 Cor 12:9,10: ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.’ And in the eleventh chapter of the same Epistle the Apostle writes: ‘In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck,’ etc. (2 Cor 11:23-25.) By the infirmity of his flesh Paul meant these afflictions and not some chronic disease.”
John Gill suggests it could refer to, “some particular bodily infirmity and disorder, as the headache, with which he is said to be greatly troubled; or the weakness of his bodily presence, the mean outward appearance he made, the contemptibleness of his voice, and the great humility with which he behaved; or rather the many reproaches, afflictions, and persecutions which attended him.”
Wuest makes this argument for the “illness” position, “Paul mentions the fact in verse 15 that if it had been possible, the Galatians would have plucked out their eyes and would have given them to him. The inference should be clear that he needed a new pair of eyes, and that therefore his illness was an eye affliction. His words in 6:11, ‘Ye see with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand,’ confirm this, the large Greek letters being necessary because of his impaired vision.”
However, concerning the idea of plucking out their eyes Adam Clarke mentions, “Dearer than one’s eyes, or to profess to give one’s eyes for the sake of a person, appears to have been a proverbial expression, intimating the highest tokens of the strongest affection. We find a similar form of speech in Terence, Adelphi, act iv., scene 5, ver. 67.
– Di me pater Omnes oderint, ni magis te
quam oculos nunc ego amo meos.
‘O father, may all the gods hate me,
if I do not love you now more than my own eyes.’”
Others agree with Clarke that this expression might merely be a proverb of that time (the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary; and the People’s New Testament for example), with Jamieson, Fausset and Brown suggesting that it was, “a proverbial phrase for the greatest self-sacrifice (Matt 5:29).
I lean towards the opinion that the “infirmity” that caused Paul to stop in the province of Galatia was the physical toll that his persecutions (II Cor 11:23-27) had on his body. He probably had to stop to rest and heal from the many abuses afflicted on him, which made him weak, or infirm. The Greek word for “infirmity” in this passage is the same one that he used when writing to the believers in Corinth to describe the weakness in his body that he felt as a result of those physical persecutions he endured (II Cor 11:30; 12:5, 9, 10).
* I preached the gospel unto you at the first. *
Regarding “at the first” Strong’s Concordance says it means, “previously.” He’s pointing them back to the time he originally preached the Gospel to them, probably on his Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:6).
And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; but received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
* And my temptation which was in my flesh ye despised not, nor rejected; *
It seems that Bible Translators and Commentators are about equally divided concerning the correct translation of the word “my” in our current verse. Many believe it should indeed be rendered “my,” while many others believe it should be rendered “your.” In both cases, however, it’s agreed that the temptation is in Paul’s body, whether the infirmity being spoken about was a trial to Paul himself, or to the people in Galatia. On the one hand he might be saying that the thing he was suffering in his flesh was a huge trial to him, while on the other hand he might be saying his physical condition was a trial to the Galatians. In either case the Galatians didn’t despise or reject Paul has a consequence for his suffering.
Getting back to our discussion in the previous verse regarding rather this infirmity was an illness, as so many believe, or the physical pains and sufferings resulting from persecution, I must pose this question: why would they despise or reject a sick man? Good people generally have sympathy on those who are ill. Some might suggest that the temptation to reject Paul was brought about as a consequence of this ill man standing before them preaching, even though his illness, possibly an eye disease, was repugnant to look at. It’s possible, but I find it more likely that the temptation to reject Paul was a consequence of the fact that they saw the results of the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his persecutors, and wondered if they would face a similar consequence if they listened to the Gospel this man preached. If the authorities are torturing the preacher, might it be possible that they’ll torture the listener as well? That presents a real temptation to reject the one having been tortured, doesn’t it?
* but received me as an angel of God, *
In either case the Galatians hadn’t despised or rejected the Apostle. On the contrary, they had received him as though he were an angel of God.
Concerning “angel” Thayer comments, “a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God,” and the Strong’s Concordance says, “a messenger; especially an ‘angel’; by implication a ‘pastor.’”
It’s true that the word can simply mean someone sent by God, such as when Rahab received the “messengers” [same Greek word] (James 2:25), which were spies from the camp of the Israelites, and when the seven “angels” are considered to be referring to seven pastors (Rev 1:20) of seven churches. Paul could, therefore, be saying that they received him as though he were a minister sent from God. However, in this Epistle he used the word two other times, and both of those times it referred to angelic creatures (Gal 1:8; 3:19). It’s most likely, therefore, that he’s suggesting here that the Galatians received him the way they would have received an actual angel from Heaven.
* even as Christ Jesus. *
They not only received him as though he were an angel, but they received him in an even grander way; as though he were Christ Jesus Himself. And that’s the proper way to receive a minister, or anyone else sent by the Lord Jesus, or even a little child (Matt 10:40; 18:5; Mark 9:37; Luke 9:48; John 13:20). We ministers, and all of you who represent His Gospel at work, at home, or anywhere else you might be, are ambassadors of Christ (II Cor 5:20). When you receive someone that Christ has sent, then you receive Christ Himself, and you receive the Father Who sent Him (Matt 10:40), just as surely as when a leader of a country receives an ambassador from the United States, by that action he receives the President of our Country, and the Country itself.
Though the Galatians could’ve been tempted to reject Paul they received him, and they received him whole-heartedly.
Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.
* Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? *
Vincent comments, “Not ‘blessedness,’ but ‘pronouncing blessed, felicitation.’ ‘What has become of your self-gratulation on my presence and teaching?’ ‘Ye spake of’ is an attempt to render humoon (NT:5216). Better, ‘Where is then that gratulation of yours?’”
Barnes says, “The words ‘ye spake of’ are not in the Greek, and should have been printed in italics. But they obscure the sense at any rate. This is not to be regarded as a question, asking what had become of the blessedness, implying that it had departed; but it is rather to be regarded as an exclamation, referring to the happiness of that moment, and their affection and joy when they thus received him,” and then mentions the rendering of this passage by others, “Tyndale well renders it, ‘How happy were ye then!’ In this interpretation, Doddridge, Rosenmuller, Bloomfield, Koppe, Chandler, and others concur. Locke renders it, ‘What benedictions did you then pour out on me!’”
Matthew Henry suggests it was, “As if he had said, ‘Time was when you expressed the greatest joy and satisfaction in the glad tidings of the gospel, and were very forward in pouring out your blessings upon me as the publisher of them; whence is it that you are now so much altered, that you have so little relish of them or respect for me?’”
Paul reminds his readers of the great joy that they had when he first preached the Gospel to them. Not only had they received him in spite of the “infirmity of the flesh” (Gal 4:13) that Paul had suffered with, refusing to despise or reject him (Gal 4:14), but they had received him joyfully, and were happy and blessed that he was sent to share the Gospel with them (current verse), and, according to some of the Commentators, heaped their praises on him. He wondered where that joy and happiness was at the time of his writing this Epistle.
* for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, *
In this statement we have the foundation that many build on to prove that Paul’s eyes were bad, and that poor vision was his “infirmity of the flesh.” Again, I believe this to be possible, but I don’t believe it to be undeniable.
In my notes on verse 13 I mentioned that Wuest said that this statement should make it “clear that he needed a new pair of eyes, and that therefore his illness was an eye affliction,” and he added, “His words in 6:11, ‘Ye see with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand,’ confirm this, the large Greek letters being necessary because of his impaired vision.”
Martin Luther, on the other hand, firmly believed that this “infirmity of the flesh” concerned the physical sufferings, and the toll they took on his body, that he suffered at the hands of his persecutors (see my notes on verse 13), and he said, “By the infirmity of his flesh Paul meant these afflictions and not some chronic disease.”
Some Commentators stood convinced that the expression “would have plucked out your own eyes” was a proverb used in antiquity (see my notes on verse 13), and not an implication of an eye disease.
Allow me to turn our thoughts, for a moment, towards the issue of Divine healing. Those who are convinced that God wants all of His children walking in Divine health don’t believe that Paul, a chief Apostle, could have possibly been plagued with an ongoing physical disease, and therefore would reject what Wuest is suggesting. On the other hand, those who believe that God only heals those He chooses to heal, and that sometimes sickness is actually the will of God for some, would strongly lean towards this passage teaching that this great man of faith had this illness, believing that this would be a strong example for their position. Regardless of your personal position concerning the doctrine of healing I stand convinced that you will have to look elsewhere in the Scriptures for your evidence. The only man Who ever walked in the fullness of all the provisions of God was the Lord Jesus Christ. What we believe concerning the Truth of Scripture must be decided by the teachings of Scripture and the example of the Lord Jesus alone. Many great men of God are written about in the Bible, but absolutely none of them walked in perfection, accept the Son of God. He certainly suffered much physical pain as a result of those who persecuted Him, but we never read about Him suffering from any kind of sickness or disease. That only leaves us with the teachings of Scripture from which to draw our conclusions concerning this issue.
* and have given them to me. *
We’ll never know for certain if Paul actually had an eye disease or if he was simply reminding the Galatian believers of the extent of their initial love for him. This much is certain, that their feelings of strong devotion and love towards him had dramatically changed as a result of what the Judaizers had been telling them.
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
* Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? *
There are two possibilities here, but the majority certainly embraces one. Martin Luther says, “Paul’s reason for praising the Galatians is to avoid giving them the impression as if he were their enemy because he had reprimanded them. A true friend will admonish his erring brother, and if the erring brother has any sense at all he will thank his friend. In the world truth produces hatred. Whoever speaks the truth is counted an enemy. But among friends it is not so, much less among Christians. The Apostle wants his Galatians to know that just because he had told them the truth they are not to think that he dislikes them. ‘I told you the truth because I love you.’”
Albert Barnes comments, “Is my telling you the truth in regard to the tendency of the doctrines which you have embraced, and the character of those who have led you astray, and your own error, a proof that I have ceased to be your friend?”
These two suggest that Paul is asking, “Do you think that because I’m pointing out the error of your thinking that I don’t care for you any longer? Do you think that because of this disagreement that I see us as enemies? Of course not!” However, the majority (the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary, Gill, Wycliffe, Clarke, Matthew Henry, the People’s New Testament Notes, Robertson, and Wuest) believes him to be asking, “How is it that you, who cared so much for me initially, consider me your enemy now?”
It’s uncertain which of these two possibilities was in the mind of the Apostle when he wrote this, but I think it’s certain that he wouldn’t have wished his readers to think either way. He didn’t feel alienated from them in spite of his amazement at their ongoing defection from the Truth (Gal 1:6-7), nor did he want them to feel alienated from him, viewing him as a sort of “enemy” of theirs as a result of what they were now leaning towards in their beliefs about justification, etc. In either case the issue, from his perspective, was his telling them the Truth. His having to reaffirm to them the Truth of the Gospel that he had initially taught them hadn’t alienated him from them, but it seems as though it had alienated them from him. They were no longer thinking as highly of him as they once had, and nothing had changed on his part. They had changed!
In America we realize that so many have died to bring us freedom, and many others have died to keep us free, and we cherish that freedom, and many of us would die before we would surrender it. Freedom is wonderful, and we relish it. Why then, when it comes to the glorious freedom of the Gospel, which freedom was also purchased with blood, the blood of a Conqueror, the Lord Jesus, do so many choose to return to the bondage of the Law, which Peter referred to as “a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear” (Acts 15:10)? As it is in the world so it is in the Church, those who live under bondage resent us who live in freedom. Those who run after the Law resent us who have found freedom in Christ, and hurl insults at us, such as, “You teach easy believism and cheap grace!” But I don’t know any one who teaches the Gospel of Grace who teaches any other doctrine than this, that Christians ought to live holy before their God, although teachers of legalism accuse us of doing so.
They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
NOTE: In my notes on this verse I’m going to include one other translation in each division of the verse, that being the “New International Version.”
* They zealously affect you, but not well; *
* [NIV] Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. *
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “They–your flatterers: in contrast to Paul himself, who tells them the truth. zealously–zeal in proselytism was characteristic especially of the Jews, and so of Judaizers (Gal 1:14; Matt 23:15; Rom 10:2). affect you–that is, court you (2Co 11:2). not well–not in a good way, or for a good end. Neither the cause of their zealous courting of you, nor the manner, is what it ought to be.
These Judaizers were zealots trying to convert the Galatians from Paul’s Gospel to theirs. While Paul was “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), with the intention of winning them back to the Truth, these false brethren (Gal 2:4) were probably telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, in the area of flattery and the area of assurance that God would be proud of them for their religious efforts to please Him, with the intention of winning them over to their version of the gospel, which was not the Gospel (Gal 1:6-7). Simply put, they were up to no good!
* yea, they would exclude you, *
* [NIV] What they want is to alienate you [from us], *
Their goal was to alienate these believers in Galatia from the Apostle Paul with the intent that they would then alienate them from the Gospel that Paul had taught them. They hated Paul’s Gospel because it denied that the Law of Moses had any part in the salvation of these Galatian believers, or any part in their spiritual maintenance and growth. To them, removing the Law from a position of prominence was paramount to removing the Jew from a position of uniqueness. They had come to accept that God had included the Gentiles in His plan of salvation, but they insisted that these Gentiles practice Jewish Law as the means through which this inclusion came. Only then could the Jews maintain their position as being the special people of God, and they could then accept these Gentiles as proselytes who had become second class Christians.
Some still teach this today. They believe that we Gentile Christians have been grafted into the Jewish nation and have become part of the Jewish family. Some then add to this teaching by saying that because we have become Jews we must keep the Law. The “root” that we who were “a wild olive tree” have been grafted into isn’t Israel. The Jews were the branches, not the root. What idea is consistent with the whole of Scripture, and with all of Paul’s teachings? The root is the Covenant of Promise that God entered into with Abraham from which came the nation of Israel, his “natural branches,” and to which was added the “wild olive tree,” which is every Gentile believer (Romans 11:13-25). We who were at one time “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12) have been grafted into that Covenant of Promise (Eph 3:6) and made “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29). We have not become united with natural Israel, which Paul’s next example (Gal 4:21-31) will show, but we have been joined to the “Jerusalem which is above” (Gal 4:26), which is not in bondage to the Law (Gal 4:25-26), and in that sense have become a Jew on the inside, having experienced the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29). A natural Jew must experience this new “circumcision” of the heart in order for him to be included in the Church just as surely as we Gentiles had to (Gal 4:25,30-31), which means that when it comes to His Church there is “neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal 3:28). There’s no favoritism is the Gospel, and, consequently, the Judaizers hated its message.
Paul asked the question, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit [is there] of circumcision?” (Rom 3:1), and he then answered that question, “Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2). Make no mistake about it, the Jews are “Israelites; to whom [pertaineth] the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service [of God], and the promises; Whose [are] the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ [came], who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Rom 9:4-5). He further stated, “As concerning the gospel, [they are] enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, [they are] beloved for the fathers’ sakes” (Rom 11:28). God still loves the Jew in a special way “For the gifts and calling of God [are] without repentance” (Rom 11:29). After God has saved all of us Gentiles who will be saved, who He already foresees in Heaven (Rom 8:29-30; 11:25), the Jews will once again be the objects of His Divine focus. There’s no other people on earth of who it is said, “And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:” (Rom 11:26), and “For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins” (Rom 11:27). The Jews are God’s chosen people, and will continue to be, but in this Church Age God deals with the “whosoevers” (John 3:16), and plays no favorites to the Jews over the Gentiles.
* that ye might affect them. *
* [NIV] so that you may be zealous for them. *
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the people to whom you minister to love and respect you, and to, in some sense, be “zealous” for you. All sincere ministers are convinced that they’re preaching the Truth, and they want those listening to stand behind their efforts. The difference here is that the Apostle understood that he had one of those unique callings where he wasn’t teaching his opinion about the Scriptures, but he had been called to write some of the Scriptures. Rather we want to admit it or not, we, as today’s ministers, are preaching our understanding of the Scriptures, and our thoughts on them are not infallible. Paul’s teachings were! That’s why we should be far more careful to pronounce “Anathema!” on someone than Paul was. NOTE: “Anathema” is the Greek word Paul used earlier in this Epistle (Gal 1:8), and it means, in that case, “the curse of God.” Paul wasn’t watching over his opinion, he was guarding the very Word of God. When the Judaizers opposed his teachings they were opposing God’s Word. Sometimes that’s true when our teachings are opposed, but not always, only in those cases when we are teaching the absolute Truth of the Word. If our teachings aren’t infallible, if we’re capable of error, then when is it that we’re teaching absolute Truth? What if one of the doctrines we preach, and that we’re passionate about, turns out to be eighty percent Truth and twenty percent opinion? Maybe the part the other guy opposes is in that twenty percent bracket. Would you want to pronounce God’s curse on someone who disagrees with your opinion? Let’s prayerfully study, make every effort to rightly divide God’s Word (II Tim 2:15), and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us into all Truth (John 16:13). Then let’s preach what we’re convinced is that Truth and leave the judging of those who disagree with us to God.
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
NOTE: In my notes on this verse I’m going to include one other translation in each division of the verse, that being the “New International Version.”
* But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, *
* [NIV] It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, *
Barnes explanation is, “Understand me: I do not speak against zeal. I have not a word to say in its disparagement. In itself, it is good; and their zeal would be good if it were in a good cause.”
Matthew Henry points out that some would render “good thing” as “good man,” and that those who would continue with this thought, “and so consider the apostle as pointing to himself; this sense, they think, is favoured both by the preceding context and also by the words immediately following, ‘and not only when I am present with you,’ which may be as if he had said, ‘Time was when you were zealously affected towards me;’”
* and not only when I am present with you. *
* [NIV] and to be so always and not just when I am with you. *
If Matthew Henry is correct then the Apostle would seem to be saying, “These Judaizers are trying to win you over to their way of thinking, and trying to alienate you from me, and my Gospel teaching, so that you’ll be zealous for them and their doctrine (Gal 4:17). Being zealous for a man isn’t a bad thing, providing that man is a good man, and one’s who’s motivated by a good thing. You were zealous for me, and for the Gospel that I preach, when I was with you. That was a good thing! Now you need to be zealous for me, and for the Gospel message I taught you, even though I’m not there with you” (current verse).
If other Commentators, such as Barnes, are correct, then Paul might be saying, “These Judaizers want your zeal and affection, so they’re trying to alienate you from me. There’s nothing wrong with be zealous for a good thing.” And then with sarcasm he seems to say, “Having zeal for a good thing shouldn’t only be evident in you when I’m there.” With that statement he’s reminding them of their past zeal for him, hoping they see how fickle they are.
When Biblical Scholars reach different conclusions regarding things like this, it’s not important who’s right. Neither opinion affects the doctrinal integrity of the Apostle’s argument. We can discuss it as “food for thought,” but may we be spiritually mature enough to understand that it’s not important that we agree on it. What is important is that we understand what the Apostle is teaching his readers.
That’s the issue! In a sense when we study this Book Paul is with us, and we become zealous for him and his Gospel. That’s a good thing, because it’s the very Word of God. When we close the cover on the Book of Galatians, and in that sense Paul is no longer with us, may we continue in our zeal for the Gospel he taught us. Why? Because it’s the Truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32).
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
* My little children, *
Concerning “little children” Thayer says, “1) a little child; 2) in the NT used as a term of kindly address by teachers to their disciples,” and Strong’s has it, “an infant, that is, (plural figurative) darlings (Christian converts).”
Paul had just shared his wish with his readers that they would’ve remained as zealous for him as they were originally (Gal 4:18). He’s now showing, by this language, how his love for them has continued as strong as it ever was. He had seen himself as their spiritual parent when he had first led them to Christ on his initial visit, and he still sees himself that way at the writing of this Epistle. He sees them as his children, those he had given birth to in the Lord, but definitely not mature, fully-grown children. They were yet children of young age, with much growing still ahead of them.
* of whom I travail in birth again *
By using the word “again” he’s saying that he’s not only feeling labor pains for them at this time, but also that he’s had birth pangs for them previously. The labor pains that he felt initially, on his first visit to Galatia, were the pains of giving birth, of actually leading them to saving faith in Christ. Then what was this second time of travail about?
* until Christ be formed in you, *
Individual students of the Word will interpret this phrase in accordance with their personals beliefs regarding what this area of Paul’s writing is teaching us. If you believe in the doctrine of eternal security, and you believe that these Galatians were genuinely saved on Paul’s initial visit, then you’re probably going to see this “travail” as the bringing forth of something different than that initial “travail.” If, however, you believe in the doctrine of the possibility of losing one’s salvation, and you believe that these Galatians were genuinely saved on Paul’s initial visit, then you’re probably going to see this “travail” as the bringing forth, a second time, of the exact same thing that was brought forth as a result of that initial “travail.”
If you believe that Paul’s reference to his fear that his labor was in vain (Gal 4:11) is proof that these Galatians were never genuinely saved during his first visit, then you’re probably going to see this “travail” as referring to his effort to bring them to Christ for salvation, because they weren’t saved as yet.
You can certainly only be born again from God’s eternal perspective once. He already sees who ends up in Heaven, so there are no surprises to Him. From the eternal perspective you’re either going to end up in Heaven or you’re not! If you read my earlier notes (Gal 4:11) then you realize that I’m convinced that God doesn’t see someone as saved today and unsaved tomorrow. He sees as saved those who He foreknew (Rom 8:29) would get to Heaven (Rom 8:30), not those who begun the race. However, from our perspective people can certainly have all of the appearances of being saved; the appearance of a genuine love for God, of a love for people, of a desire to serve God in a local church, of a hunger for God’s Word, for prayer, and to share their “faith” with others; and they can have these appearances for many, many years, and then fall out of church and lose all interest in spiritual things. Were these people ever truly saved? How can you and I judge these things? If the Rapture had occurred when they had all of these appearances would they have been taken? God, by foreknowledge, knew that the Rapture wouldn’t occur at that time and that they would eventually forsake Him. So, from God’s perspective, “No!” They weren’t truly saved! However, how about from our perspective? Every one of us would have considered them saved at the time, but were they? I think that from the eternal perspective, “No,” but from the human, time constrained perspective, “Yes!” However, wisdom would dictate that we leave those judgments to God!
However, having said all of that, I’m convinced that Paul sees these Galatians as saved. He did, after all, say that they had “received” “the Spirit” (Gal 3:2), and that they had “begun in the Spirit” (Gal 3:3), and he did call them the “children of God” (Gal 3:26), and referred to them as “sons” with God’s Spirit living in them (Gal 4:6), and as those who knew God, and were known by God (Gal 4:9). When you consider those comments it’s difficult to believe that the Apostle questioned the legitimacy of their salvation at the time he was writing to them. With that in mind I can’t accept that this current “travail” with which he was praying for them was concerning their salvation. Therefore I must conclude that he’s now in “travail” for them concerning another issue, that being the issue of them becoming grounded in the Truth of the Gospel. He wanted his message to become part of them, the engrafted Word (James 1:21), a Word that set them free (John 8:31-32). He wanted Christ, and the Truth about Him, to be formed in these believers, that Truth being the one that he’s so powerfully presenting to them in this Epistle. The message of Christ crucified (Gal 3:1) is that His sacrifice is not only sufficient to save us, but it’s sufficient to empower us to spiritual victory and maturity (Gal 3:2-3). Our faith in Him has saved us, and our faith in Him will keep us. No amount of human effort will suffice! We must keep our faith in Him. He wanted them to understand this important Truth and so he was in “travail” for them that Christ would be formed in them (current verse), that this Truth about the victory of the cross would become a permanent part of them. They were beginning to fall into the error of trusting themselves to keep the Law, which is paramount to having “them” formed in them, or each of them on the throne of his or her own heart. Paul wanted their faith steadfast in the Lord Jesus, which is having Christ formed in them, or having the Lord Jesus sitting on the throne of their hearts.
I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
* I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; *
Of “desire” Vincent says, “Better, I could wish, the imperfect tense referring to a suppressed conditional clause, as if it were possible.”
When he had originally preached the Gospel to them, as a result of his “infirmity of the flesh” (Gal 4:13), they had received him, and his message, as though he were an angel, or the Lord Jesus Himself (Gal 4:14). He longed for that affection again. He wishes he were there with them, sharing his heart with them.
When trying to correct someone you’re with it’s difficult to correct with the right tone of voice, a tone that communicates that the correction is brought about as a result of the affection you have for the individual being corrected, but it’s much easier than it is trying to communicate that affection while you’re correcting that individual in a letter. He wishes he were there, correcting them in person, while communicating his love for them. Vincent sees Paul’s comment “to change my voice” as saying, “To address you, not with my former severity, so as to make you think me your enemy, but affectionately, as a mother speaks to her children, yet still telling them the truth.”
It’s also possible that he’s saying that he wishes he could be there and see for himself if what’s he’s been told about their spiritual state is true, or not. That way he would know for certain if his worst fears were true and that they were indeed beginning to practice legalism. If it wasn’t so, then he could change his voice, or in other words, the things he was saying to them.
* for I stand in doubt of you. *
John Gill: “The Vulgate Latin reads it, ‘I am confounded in you’; and the Syriac, hymtd, ‘I am stupefied’; and to the same sense the Arabic. He was ashamed of them for their apostasy and degeneracy; he was amazed and astonished at their conduct; or, as the word may be rendered, he was ‘perplexed’ on their account; he did not know what to think of them, and their state.”
Robertson: “I am at a loss and know not what to do.”
Vincent: “I am puzzled how to deal with you; how to find entrance to your hearts.”
Barnes: “The sense is plain. Paul had much reason to doubt the sincerity and the solidity of their Christian principles, and he was deeply anxious on that account.”
Clarke: “I have doubts concerning your state; the progress of error and conviction among you, which I cannot fully know without being among you, This appears to be the apostle’s meaning, and tends much to soften and render palatable the severity of his reproofs.”
As you can see, there are different thoughts regarding what this simple statement means, but whatever the exact thought the Apostle had when he wrote this, he wished he could be with them in person, and discover first hand the information that would settle these doubts. He wanted to think positively of them, and of their spiritual condition.
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
* Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, *
Of “desire” Vincent says, “Are bent on being under the law.”
These Galatian Gentile believers were “bent on” running to the Law of Moses to secure the justification that was already theirs by faith, even though the Law they were running to would enslave them (Gal 4:9). They had already begun to observe some of the “days, and months, and times, and years” of the Jewish faith (Gal 4:10).
The phrase “under the law” is used eleven times in the New Testament in ten different verses, five of those verses being in the Book of Galatians. Those verses that are not in Galatians tell us that the Law speaks to those who are “under the law” (Rom 3:19), but that we Christians are not “under the law” (Rom 6:14, 15), but that it’s alright to temporarily act like we’re “under the law” in order to win those who are (I Cor 9:20), and to remember that even though we’re not “under the law” of Moses we are “under the law” to Christ (I Cor 9:21). The Law that we’re under is a superior Law, it’s called the Royal Law (James 2:8), and a Law that’s “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” that sets us free from the Law of Moses (Rom 8:2) that pronounces death on all who break it (Rom 7:9-11). I trust you noticed the amazing difference in the two Laws; the Law of Moses is a Law of “sin and death,” while the Law of Christ is a Law of the “Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2).
The verses with the phrase “under the law” in Galatians, besides our current one, tell us that the Jews were “under the law” only until faith in Christ came (Gal 3:23), which was the eternal “fullness of time” when God pre-determined to send His Son (Gal 4:4) to redeem the Jews so that they would no longer be “under the law,” but could become the very children of God (Gal 4:5), and that if we are “led of the Spirit” that we are not “under the law” (Gal 5:18).
Those who teach that we Christians are indeed “under the law” must have never read any of Paul’s writings. Some would argue, however, that Paul is referring only to the ceremonial Law, and that we are still under the moral Law. The difficulty with their argument is that the Law that Paul says we’re delivered from (Rom 7:6) is the Law with its commandments (Rom 7:7-11)! The Law can cause you to desire to live right, but it’s powerless to help you live right (Rom 7:18), and consequently, every time you break its commandments you feel like a “wretched man” (Rom 7:24), who needs the deliverance of the Lord Jesus (Rom 7:25). There’s a better way, and Paul will explain it to us in Chapter Five.
* do ye not hear the law? *
Gill has these thoughts on this, “meaning either the language and voice of the law of Moses, what it says to transgressors, and so to them; what it accused them of, and charged them with; how it declared them guilty before God, pronounced them accursed, and, ministered sententially condemnation and death unto them; and could they desire to be under such a law? or rather the books of the Old Testament, particularly the five books of Moses, and what is said therein.”
It seems to me, because of the reference that follows regarding Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and their sons, that Paul is here referring to the Law in the sense of the Pentateuch, which is the first five Books of the Bible, the Books of Moses, the Lawgiver. Barnes has this comment, “Will you not listen to a narrative found in one of the books of the Law itself, fully illustrating the nature of that servitude which you wish?”
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
* For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, *
He now refers them to that part of the history of Abraham’s life that’s pertinent to this discussion. Abraham had six more sons at a later time of his life (Gen 25:1-6), but those sons don’t play into this allegory, so they’re not mentioned here.
The subject of Abraham was extremely important to all Jews. There was a subtle feeling among them that simply being his natural descendents qualified them as being the people of God, and Paul would have none of that. As Jesus before him did (John 8:33-45), the Apostle was teaching them that simply having the blood of Abraham flowing through their veins was not sufficient to make them the heirs to the Promise of Abraham (Gal 4:21-31), the very same thing he taught the believers at Rome (Rom 9:6-13). This was not a message they wanted to hear.
* the one by a bondmaid, *
Of “bondmaid” Vincent mentions, “The word in Class. means also a free maiden; but in N.T. always a slave. So almost always in lxx.”
The slave woman is Hagar (Gen 16:1-6; Gal 4:24-25) and her son is Ishmael (Gen 16:7-11).
* the other by a freewoman. *
Thayer’s definition for “freewoman” is, “1) freeborn; 1a) in a civil sense, one who is not a slave; 1b) of one who ceases to be a slave, freed, manumitted; 2) free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation; 3) in an ethical sense: free from the yoke of the Mosaic Law.”
The freewoman is Sarah (Gen 16:1-6) and her son is Isaac (Gen 21:1-3; Gal 4:28).
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
* But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; *
Hagar was the Egyptian slave, or handmaiden, of Sarah (Gen 16:1). This “bondwoman” gave birth to Ishmael, but there was nothing supernatural about that birth. He was born like all others before him and after him, with the exception of Jesus, the promised Seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16), and Isaac, the promised son of Abraham (Gen 17:15-19; 18:10-14). Jesus had, of course, been born of a virgin. He had a natural mother, but God Himself was His literal Father. Isaac’s birth was also unique in that even though it was physically impossible for Sarah to have children, as the result of the Promise of God she gave birth to Isaac.
All the rest of us, like Ishmael, have been born “after the flesh,” or as a result of natural circumstances. Our new birth was a supernatural one, being “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13), but our physical birth was “of blood,” was “of the will of the flesh,” and was “of the will of man.” To be certain there have been some pregnancies that have defied logic, but they were different than these two. Only Jesus was born as a result of an Immaculate Conception, and only Isaac was born as a result of the Promise given to his father, and the faith of his father in that Promise.
Ishmael’s birth, on the other hand, was the result of Sarah and Abraham’s faith growing weak, and their subsequent effort to help God bring about the fulfillment of His Promise to Abraham, as though God needed their help. They made a decision that Abraham would take Hagar to be his second wife, and then as a result of his union with her she became pregnant with Ishmael (Gen 16:1-6,15-16). There was nothing supernatural about his birth, but it was a result of the normal course of events.
* but he of the freewoman was by promise. *
Isaac had a natural mother and father, but his birth was supernatural. He was born after Sarah became pregnant as a result of a miracle of God in response to His Promise to Abraham. Sarah had been barren her entire life and was now past the age of women having children, having gone through the “change of life.” She was barren, and she had gone through “the change,” meaning it was doubly impossible for her to become pregnant, but God allowed, supernaturally, the seed of Abraham to germinate her womb, so that the birth of Isaac was the result of the Promise, and not the mere result of natural circumstances.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
NOTE: In my notes on this verse I’m going to include two other translations in the first three divisions of the verse, those being “God’s Word” and “The Message,” and two translations in the final two divisions of the verse, those being “God’s Word” and the “Bible In Basic English.”
* Which things are an allegory: *
* (God’s Word) These things can be understood as a figure: *
* (The Message) This illustrates the very thing we are dealing with now. *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library comments, “The verb allëgoreö (allegoreo) has two general meanings: (1) ‘to speak allegorically’–in ancient Gr. this was often the equivalent of ‘to speak in riddles’; and (2) ‘to treat allegorically,’ which means to base an allegorical interpretation or application upon fact. Clearly, it is the latter of these two meanings that is involved in Paul’s procedure.”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown point out, “rather, ‘are allegorical,’ that is, have another besides the literal meaning.”
Paul is not denying the historical truth of these facts. Abraham did indeed have two wives, Sarah and Hagar. He did indeed have two sons, Hagar’s son Ishmael and Sarah’s son Isaac. After reminding his readers of these facts he then draws an illustration from them, an illustration intended to drive home his teaching regarding the Promise, and how it impacts all whose faith is in Christ.
NOTE: I’m convinced that Paul believed that God worked out the historical facts in the manner in which He did, according to the pleasure of His Sovereign will, for the purpose of those facts setting up the Truth of this allegory. In other words, Sarah was barren, by God’s Sovereign design, during her child-bearing years, not only in order to make certain that we understood the miraculous nature of the fulfillment of the Promise given to Abraham so that we then, consequently, understood the miraculous nature of the Promise at work in our lives through Christ, but also in order that we could understand that those historical facts would present this illustration that would verify the very Truth of Paul’s teachings concerning those facts. Paul is big on the foreknowledge of God (Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:4-11), and stood convinced by Divine revelation that the historical facts happened, the way they did, by God’s design and therefore illustrate His eternal purposes. He here makes use of one of those illustrations found in factual history.
IMPORTANT NOTE: He’s not using an allegory to formulate a doctrine, but he’s using the allegory to illustrate a doctrine that’s been formulated on the teaching of Scripture interpreted literally.
* for these are the two covenants; *
* (God’s Word) The women illustrate two arrangements. *
* (The Message) The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God.*
He’s going to draw from these historical facts concerning Hagar and Sarah an illustration, showing them to represent the two Covenants from which his Galatian readers had to choose regarding how they would relate to God. There was the Covenant of Law, and there was the Covenant of Promise. Would it be Law or Promise? Would they trust their works or God’s grace? Was it dependent on them, or God? Would they prefer bondage or freedom? Which path would they choose? Paul now turns to this illustration to help persuade them to choose wisely. Let’s pay close attention because we have the same chose before us.
* the one from the mount Sinai, *
* (God’s Word) is the arrangement made on Mount Sinai. *
* (The Message) One is from Mount Sinai in Arabia. *
On the subject of Mount Sinai John Gill comments, “And because the whole Mosaic economy was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, it is said to be from thence: hence, in Jewish writings, we read, times without number, of a rite, custom, constitution, or appointment given to Moses ‘from Mount Sinai’, the same phrase as here. Sinai signifies ‘bushes’, and has its name from the bushes which grew upon if, (q); in one of which the Lord appeared to Moses; for Horeb and Sinai are one and the same mount; one signifies waste and desolate, the other bushy; as one part of the mountain was barren and desert, and the other covered with bushes and brambles; and may fitly represent the condition of such that are under the law.”
The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary adds, “that is, taking his origin from Mount Sinai. Hence, it appears, he is treating of the moral law (Gal 3:19) chiefly (Heb 12:18).”
In using this historical story to illustrate his position he points out that one of these “covenants” originated at Mount Sinai. It was in this Mountain that God spoke to Moses and gave to him the Law, both moral and ceremonial, that would govern Israel until the time of Calvary. To suppose, as some Commentators do, that the economy of the Gospel only replaced the ceremonial portion of the Law, is to totally misunderstand the teachings of Paul. Moses received the Ten Commandments at Sinai (Ex 19:23-20:17), and it’s the contrast between that Law given to Moses (the moral as well as the ceremonial) [which could never justify one single Jew (Rom 3:20; Gal 2:16; 3:11), because it simply made them aware of their sin, and empowered sin to work in them (Rom 3:20; 7:7-11)] and the Promise given to Abraham [which is the means by which God justifies us, bringing us into a right-relationship with Him (Gal 2:16; 3:24)] that the Apostle repeatedly points out.
* which gendereth to bondage, *
* (God’s Word) Her children are born into slavery. *
* (BBE) giving birth to servants, *
Concerning the word “gendereth” Thayer says, “1) of men who fathered children; 1 a) to be born; 1 b) to be begotten; 1 b1) of women giving birth to children; 2) metaphorically; 2 a) to engender, cause to arise, excite; 2 b) in a Jewish sense, of one who brings others over to his way of life, to convert someone; 2 c) of God making Christ his son; 2 d) of God making men his sons through faith in Christ’s work.”
The idea is that the Covenant of Moses gave birth to followers who were slaves. The Law of Moses brought bondage to all who followed God under that Covenant. Peter referred to the Law as an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10) and Paul, later in this Epistle, referred to it as a “yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1). It brings us the awareness of the awfulness of sin (Rom 3:20; 7:7-11), but because it can’t make the one who’s dead in sin alive (Eph 2:1,5; Gal 3:21) it can’t, therefore, empower the dead to live victoriously over the sin in their lives, but rather it empowers sin to conquer us (1 Cor 15:56; Rom 7:7-11). Paul wants us to see that the Law brings bondage (Gal 5:1) and death (Rom 8:2; 2 Cor 3:6), but faith in God to fulfill His Promise brings freedom (Gal 2:4; 4:26,31; 5:1) and life (Rom 5:21; 6:22; 2 Cor 3:6; Gal 2:19).
* which is Agar. *
* (God’s Word) Hagar, *
* (BBE) which is Hagar. *
Hagar was a slave-woman (Gen 16:2-4; Gal 4:22). Consequently, all her children would be born into servitude. Paul sees her as the perfect allegory to represent the Law of Moses, because all who are the children of the Law are born into servitude.
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
* For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, *
The People’s New Testament Notes mentions, “This Mount Sinai is in Arabia, the very home of Ishmael and his race. Some also add that one name of the mountain is Hagar, but this is not certain.”
Some Commentators agree with the People’s New Testament Notes (Matthew Henry; Jamieson, Fausset and Brown; and perhaps Robertson), while others are quite skeptical of that opinion (Barnes; Clarke; Vincent; and the Zondervan NIV Bible Library). Some believe that “Agar” wasn’t in the original text so that it reads along this line, “This mount Sinai is in Arabia.”
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library comments, “It is hard to suppose that Paul is assuming an historical identification of Hagar and her wanderings with the area of Sinai itself or that Sinai was called Hagar by those living in the area, as Chrysostom suggests. Even if this were true–and there is no evidence for it–it would be unlikely that the Galatians would know about it. The best explanation is simply that Paul wishes to carry through on his allegory, drawing a line from Hagar, who represents the old covenant, to Sinai, where that covenant was established, and beyond it to Jerusalem, where it was centralized at the time of his writing. At that time it was from Jerusalem that the old covenant of law was proceeding, just as it had once proceeded from Sinai.”
I agree with Zondervan. I don’t think the Apostle was trying to convince, or even teach, his readers that Mound Sinai was actually referred to as Mount Hagar by the Arabian people of that era. Why not? I don’t think it’s a point that would be important to his illustration. He’s simply continuing his allegory. He’s linking Hagar, the slave woman, who gives birth to children who are slaves to Mount Sinai, which was the location of the giving of the Law, and which also “gives birth” to children, or followers, who are slaves. In other words, he’s saying, “In this allegory Hagar represents Mount Sinai.”
* and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, *
Concerning “answereth to” Robertson says, “Late word in Polybius for keeping step in line (military term) and in papyri in figurative sense as here. Lightfoot refers to the Pythagorean parallels of opposing principles (sunstoichiai) as shown here by Paul (Hagar and Sarah, Ishmael and Isaac, the old covenant and the new covenant, the earthly Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem). That is true, and there is a correlative correspondence as the line is carried on.”
Vincent adds, “The subject of the verb is Hagar, not Mount Sinai. Lit. stands in the same row or file with. Hence, belongs to the same category.”
Paul’s line of thinking goes like this: Hagar and her son are slaves and so they represent the Law and its followers, because they also live in bondage. Where is the Law most fervently practiced? It’s in Jerusalem. He’s showing us, step by step, that in his example Hagar represents the Covenant that’s from Mount Sinai (Gal 4:24) and, at the time of Paul’s writing, the headquarters for the practice of that Covenant was Jerusalem (current verse). In other words, Hagar represents the Covenant of Law that originated at Mount Sinai, and consequently, she represents the religion of the Jews that had its Temple in Jerusalem. At the time of Paul’s writing this was the state of Jerusalem: they were living under the Mosaic Covenant of Law.
* and is in bondage with her children. *
The Zondervan NIV Bible Library mentions, “In this arrangement Hagar, the slave woman, stands for the old covenant enacted at Sinai, while her son, Ishmael, stands for Judaism with her center at earthly Jerusalem. This is one form of religion.”
The Jewish people in Jerusalem, and throughout Israel, were certainly in bondage to Rome, they were certainly in bondage to sin (John 8:31-36), and they were certainly in bondage to the Law (Gal 4:1-7). When a Christian chooses to live under the Law the only difference between him and the Jews in this allegory is that the Christian isn’t in bondage to Rome. However, he most certainly is living in bondage to the Law and sin. THE LAW CAN ONLY PRODUCE CHILDREN BORN INTO SLAVERY!
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
* But Jerusalem which is above *
He now talks about another Jerusalem, different from the one in Israel. This Jerusalem is “above.” Vincent says, “The phrase Jerusalem which is above was familiar to the rabbinical teachers, who conceived the heavenly Jerusalem as the archetype of the earthly. On the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom, the heavenly archetype would be let down to earth, and would be the capital of the messianic theocracy.” He goes on to say, “Paul here means the messianic kingdom of Christ, partially realized in the Christian church, but to be fully realized only at the second coming of the Lord.”
Paul’s now talking about the city Abraham looked for, the man the Jews proudly, and rightly, claimed as their father (John 8:33,39). This is that city “whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:8-10). This is that “city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22). This is that “holy city” that will come “down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev 21:2). This is that city revealed to John as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev 21:9-10). It’s “above” the earthly Jerusalem in location (being in Heaven at this time), in honor (being built and made by the Creator rather than by the created), and in importance (being eternal rather than temporary). This is the Jerusalem for which Paul yearns! As Vincent brought out, we “partially realize” it in our being joined to the Church, but we’ll fully realize it at “the second coming of the Lord.”
* is free, *
This Jerusalem is far superior to the other because its “builder and maker is God.” The earthly Jerusalem was in bondage to Rome, but no kingdom could ever overrun this city of God. The earthly Jerusalem was in bondage to the Law, but the Law was a mere shadow cast by the One Who built this city (Col 2:13-17), and this Jerusalem lives in the freedom that is in Christ (2 Cor 3:17). The earthly Jerusalem was in bondage to sin, but there is no sin in this Jerusalem (1 John 3:1-5). In all ways, and every way, the ones who live in this city are free!
In Christ there is freedom (John 8:36; Rom 8:2; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1). The just live by faith (Rom 1:17), and that faith comes from, and is in, the Word of God (Rom 10:17). When we see in God’s word Truth, that Truth sets us free (John 8:31-32), but in this life, unfortunately, we “see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor 13:12), but thank God, when we “see him as he is” we’ll “be like him” (1 John 3:2)! We grow in our walk of freedom in this life, but in the new Jerusalem, our future home, “we shall be like him”! Our bodies will be redeemed then (Rom 8:23-25), and we’ll no longer deal with sin that currently resides in the members of our physical body (Rom 7:23-25). We will be “free indeed” (John 8:36), in every way totally free!
* which is the mother of us all. *
In Paul’s allegory Hagar stands for the Old Covenant given at Mount Sinai, which gives birth to Judaism, which has for a home the “Jerusalem which now is.” In that sense the earthly Jerusalem is the home of those who are bound by the Law. Now he begins showing us that in this allegory Sarah stands for the New Covenant given at Calvary, which gives birth to Christianity, which has for a home the Jerusalem “which is above.” Hagar, the Old Covenant, and the earthly Jerusalem, all synonymous in this illustration, are all the mother of Ishmael, the slave-child, who represents Judaism, whose followers are all slave-children. Sarah, the New Covenant, and the “Jerusalem which is above,” all synonymous in this illustration, are all the mother of Isaac, the free-child, who represents the Church, whose members are all free-children. In this sense the Jerusalem “which is above” is indeed the “mother of us all” who have placed out faith in the Lord Jesus as our Savior.
For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
* For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: *
He now utilizes a prophecy given by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 54:1) to further enhance his point. The previous Chapter in Isaiah, Chapter 53, is a beautiful prophecy about the then future sufferings of the Lord Jesus for the sins of the world. At the time of this prophecy the Jews from the Kingdom of Judah were still in captivity in Babylon, and the words of Isaiah that Paul quotes here referred to their return to the Land of Israel, and that God’s blessing on them would exceed His previous blessing on them in their entire history prior to their exile to Babylon. Much of that blessing is yet to come, and has much to do with the coming of the “Jerusalem which is above” (Gal 4:26), a future time when the Lord Jesus will establish His Kingdom among His people for eternity, and will rule from that Jerusalem. Paul enlarges on that revelation by demonstrating that its fulfillment deals with the Church, which is made up of Jews and Gentiles alike who have been born into the true family of God by placing their faith in the Lord Jesus.
In continuing his allegory he shows how Sarah represents the barren one in this prophecy. Twenty five years earlier Abraham was promised a child, but Sarah remained barren, and now she was almost ninety years old. Then “three men” (Gen 18:1-2) on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah came by, and one of them told Abraham, “I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son” (Gen 18:9-10). “Sarah laughed within herself” (Gen 18:10-12) when she heard this, but God was true to His Word, and Isaac was born (Gen 21:1-3). Sarah had been barren all those years, that is, except in the mind of God. In God’s mind she was amazingly fertile! Why? She was fertile because the Promise of God had gone forth, and God cannot lie (Heb 6:18), first to Abraham (Gen 12:1-2,7; 13:14-17; 15:1-6), and then to Sarah (Gen 17:15-19). Isaac was truly born as a result of the Promise (Gal 4:23)!
When God instructed Abraham to “tell the stars, if thou be able to number them,” and then promised him that so “shall thy seed be,” He had Abraham’s spiritual seed in mind, the Church (Rom 4:18-25; Gal 3:6-9). God had the Church in mind when He first made Covenant with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; Gal 3:8), but all those centuries Sarah remained barren when it came to spiritual seed, that is, except in the mind of God. In God’s mind she was amazingly fertile! Why? She was fertile because the Promise of God had gone forth, and God cannot lie! So Isaiah prophesies, “Rejoice” (Isa 54:1)! She might have felt barren, but she wasn’t! The Word of Promise had went forth, and God had declared “it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please” (Isa 55:11)! And it did! The Church was born and has been exceedingly fruitful ever since.
* for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. *
Of “many more children” Vincent says, “Rather, ‘Many are the children of the solitary one in a higher degree than those of her which hath a husband.’ It is a comparison between two manys. Both had many children, but the solitary had a greater many.”
Concerning “barren” Thayer mentions it regards “a woman neglected by her husband, from whom the husband withholds himself.”
Abraham “withheld himself” from Sarah, the barren, desolate one, to go to Hagar, and she then became “she which hath an husband,” so that she could provide him with a child. And so, Paul uses this historic fact, mixes it with the prophecy of Isaiah, and continues his allegory. Certainly the descendents of Hagar are many, but the spiritual descendents of Sarah are more, consisting of all believers, Jews and Gentiles, throughout the ages since the cross. Rejoice, Sarah! “Break forth into singing” (Isa 54:1), Sarah! God’s at work fulfilling His Promise!
Martin Luther’s comments on this verse take another direction. I’m not sure we can find his conclusions in this verse, but we can certainly find them in many other verses. Here they are, “The scholastics think that the judicial and ceremonial laws of Moses were abolished by the coming of Christ, but not the moral law. They are blind. When Paul declares that we are delivered from the curse of the Law he means the whole Law, particularly the moral law which more than the other laws accuses, curses, and condemns the conscience. The Ten Commandments have no right to condemn that conscience in which Jesus dwells, for Jesus has taken from the Ten Commandments the right and power to curse us.”
Then, for the benefit of those who fear the absence of Law Luther adds, “You will complain: ‘But I am not doing anything.’ That is right. You cannot do a thing to be delivered from the tyranny of the Law. But listen to the glad tidings which the Holy Ghost brings to you in the words of the prophet: ‘Rejoice, thou barren.’ As Christ is greater than the Law, so much more excellent is the righteousness of Christ than the righteousness of the Law.”
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
* Now we, brethren, *
Some Commentators believe this should be rendered as “we,” but others believe it should be rendered “ye.” It’s not important to the illustration because in either case, rather “we” or “ye,” Paul’s talking to believers. He’s saying, “We the Church,” or, “Ye the Church,” but he’s definitely speaking to the believers he’s writing to. They are “brethren” by virtue of being born into the same family, the family of God.
* as Isaac was, are the children of promise. *
What’s he saying to believers? “Church, Isaac represents you in this allegory!” Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah when they were without hope of having a child (Rom 4:16-21). Sarah was not only barren her entire adult life, but she was now past the age where a woman could give birth, having gone through the change of life, and consequently, her womb was dead (Rom 4:19). It was twice impossible for her to have a child, impossible because she was barren, and impossible because she had gone through the change of life. But she did have a child! Why was that? She gave birth when it was twice impossible for her to do so because God promised her she would (Gen 17:15-16; 18:1-10). That was the only reason! Now listen, in the twenty-five years between the initial giving of the Promise to Abraham (Gen 12:1-4), and the actual fulfillment of that Promise (Gen 21:1-5), Abraham and Sarah had their moments of doubt (Gen 17:17-18; 18:10-12). However, God never disqualified them as a result of that doubt, but rather reaffirmed them in their faith (Gen 17:19; 18:13-14). He did this until they reached a level of trust where it could be said of Abraham that “being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb” (Rom 4:19), and that he “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God” (Rom 4:20), and that he was “fully persuaded that, what” God “had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom 4:21), and it could be said of Sarah that through her faith she “received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised” (Heb 11:11). In every way Isaac was a child of promise! What about us?
One of my favorite verses in all of God’s Scripture is “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). That verse lets us know that Abraham’s “justification” (Rom 4:2), which was the act wherewith God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness (Rom 4:3,9), was not a result of Abraham’s works, but was a result of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:3,9,16). God gave Abraham a Promise so that the fulfillment of that Promise would depend on His grace, not on Abraham’s works, because that was the only way to make sure that the end result was certain (Rom 4:16). In other words, God made a way where the end result depended on His faithfulness (Heb 11:11), and not Abraham’s. The same is true concerning the Promise He has given us, we who are included in the phrase “all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all” (Rom 4:16). God didn’t say, concerning Abraham’s faith, that “it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Rom 4:3,22) for his sake alone, but also for the sake of you and I who have put our faith in “him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead” (Rom 4:24). Verse 24 tells us that our faith is also counted unto us for righteousness. Follow me, in the same way that the Promise was “of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure” (Rom 4:16) when it came to God’s Promise to Abraham, even so when it comes to the Promise God has given us it is “of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure” (same verse). What Promise has God given us?
God has given us a Promise that He will justify the “heathen,” that is, all those who aren’t Jews, when they place their faith in Him (Gal 3:8). When we trust Him we become the “children of Abraham” (Gal 3:7), and are blessed along with Abraham (Gal 3:9). Why does this come to pass as the result of a Promise, and not as a result of our tireless effort to keep the Law? Because that’s the only way the end result can be certain (Rom 4:16)! When it works by faith it depends on God! When it works by Law it depends on us! Which way do you prefer? I’ll take grace!
In the same way that Isaac could only have been born as a result of a Promise because it was twice impossible for Sarah to have a child, we could only be born again into the family of God as a result of a Promise (John 3:3,16). Our spiritual birth was not the result “of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,” but was the result of the desire of God, and the Word of His Promise (John 1:12-13; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). There’s absolutely no physical evidence that we are God’s children, but our confidence is in His Word, and in His faithfulness to that Word (1 Peter 1:23; Heb 11:11).
Allow me to re-iterate this important truth: our salvation is a result of our faith (our trusting God to do what He said He’d do), and God has determined to do it this way so that it depends on His grace (His willingness to show His favor to us by giving us a Promise that He’ll remain faithful to), so that the end result (our justification, our becoming God’s children, our spending eternity with Him, etc.) is absolutely certain! We, like Isaac, are children of Promise!
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
* But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, *
The phrase “as then” points us back to the beginning of this allegory (Gal 4:21-24) where we read of the births of Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael was “he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh,” while Isaac was “he of the freewoman was by promise” (Gal 4:23). In our current verse we read the same phrase, “was born after the flesh,” regarding Ishmael, but the phrase of verse 23 regarding Isaac, “was by promise,” has been changed to “born after the Spirit” in our current verse. Why is that? In my earlier notes (Gal 3:2-3) I demonstrated how the “hearing of faith” was the same as the “having begun in the Spirit.” In other words, walking in the Spirit is walking by faith, and walking by faith is believing what God said about it (Rom 4:3,9), or trusting His promises. We began our Christian life “in the Spirit” (Gal 3:3) when we believed what we heard (Gal 3:2) regarding the message of the cross (Gal 3:1). Our total spiritual life is based on the solid ground of believing God’s Promises. First, we believed the Promises God gave us regarding salvation (John 1:12; 3:16; 1 Tim 1:15; 1 John 4:9; 5:11-12), and now we continue to believe the Promises God gave us regarding our spiritual growth (2 Cor 5:17-21; Eph 2:10; Rom 6:4-6; 7:6; 8:10). We were “born after the Spirit” (current verse), we “live in the Spirit” and desire to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:25), which is becoming “followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb 6:12).
Regarding the phrase “he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit,” Paul has in mind the way that Ishmael mocked Isaac (Gen 21:9) during the great feast Abraham had in honor of Isaac being weaned (Gen 21:8). There’s much uncertainty regarding the age that boys were weaned at that time, but Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment, “children are suckled longer in the East than in the Occident–boys usually for two or three years.” Adam Clarke says, “From the speech of the mother to her son, 2 Maccabees 7:27, it seems likely that among the Jews they were weaned when three years old: O my son, have pity upon me that bare thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee Suck Three Years, and nourished thee and brought thee up.” Whatever the age was, when Isaac was weaned Ishmael mocked him.
* even so it is now. *
The persecution that Paul, and others, endured for preaching the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-18), which message proclaimed freedom from the Law (Gal 3:13; 4:5; Rom 6:14; 7:4-6), was far more severe than the mocking Isaac endured from Ishmael (2 Cor 11:23-26; Acts 14:19; 2 Tim 3:11; 1 Cor 15:30-32). As you study the Book of Acts you’ll notice that it was the Jews stirring up trouble against Paul, the Jews who Paul refers to in this allegory as being the children of a slave, and consequently born into bondage (Gal 4:24-25). Those Jews were represented in our current allegory by Ishmael, and Paul is stating that just as surely as Ishmael mocked Isaac, even so the Jews of his day persecuted the Christians, those who were represented by Isaac, and referred to as “the children of promise” (Gal 4:28). Many Jews hated Paul, and hated his message that the cross of Christ brought freedom from the Law of Moses. They would at times follow Paul from city to city to stir up trouble (Acts 14:19). I’m convinced that this was the thorn in Paul’s flesh that he asked God three times to deliver him from (2 Cor 12:7-10). I believe that Satan assigned a demon to follow Paul around and stir up trouble for him as he shared the Gospel from city to city. That demon was the “messenger of Satan” that, through the hands of the people he deceived, continuously buffeted the Apostle (2 Cor 12:7). Paul was tired of suffering persecution so often, as tired of it as you and I would be, so he prayed three different times for deliverance from that messenger of Satan (2 Cor 12:8), but the Lord spoke to him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). So Paul rejoiced and gloried “in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake” (2 Cor 12:9-10). He understood that the ones who were deceived by Satan, and consequently persecuted him, were the Jews who were passionate about the Law.
Regarding you and I, we probably have never experienced the persecution that the Apostle lived with. However, we probably have been mocked for our stance concerning the Gospel. Who would mock us? It’s primarily those who practice legalism. The Zondervan NIV Bible Library rightly comments, “This is the lesson of history. It was the Jews who killed the prophets, not the Gentiles. It was the Pharisees and other religious leaders who opposed Jesus and instigated his execution, which was carried out by the Romans. Paul’s fiercest opponents were the fanatically religious Judaizers. Today the greatest enemies of the believing church are found among the members of the unbelieving church, the greatest opposition emanating from the pulpits and church hierarchies.”
Today’s legalist, like the first century, A.D., Judaizer, doesn’t like the message of freedom. They see us as false teachers teaching “easy believism.”
Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
* Nevertheless what saith the scripture? *
Paul once again personifies Scripture, as he often does (Rom 4:3; 10:8; 11:2; Gal 3:8; 4:21), to drive home a point. It’s not an unusual tactic. We often do the same thing. We ask, “What does the Bible say?”
* Cast out the bondwoman and her son: *
He quotes from the Genesis account he’s using for an allegory (Gen 21:10). When Ishmael mocked Isaac (Gen 21:9) it infuriated Sarah. She demanded that Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away from them, forbidding the slave and her son to remain part of the family.
Here’s the allegory: Hagar represents the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant given at Mount Sinai, and Ishmael represents the children of that Covenant, the Jewish people, who were born into slavery to the Law. Sarah represents the New Covenant, the Covenant given at Mount Calvary, and Isaac represents the children of that Covenant, the Church, born into freedom in Christ. The Jewish people, born into slavery to the Law, who have never been born-again into freedom in Christ, are cast out of Abraham’s family, the family that is heir to the Promise.
* for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. *
Sarah’s determination was that Hagar’s son, Ishmael, would not be an heir with her son, Isaac. How is Paul applying this? He’s saying that the only Jews that will live in the New Jerusalem are those who are born-again into the Church, the body of Christ. Being born a natural descendent of Abraham is insufficient, but a Jew must receive Christ as his Savior in order to possess the Promised Land. Natural Jews currently live in Israel, but in order for them to possess the land for eternity they must become spiritual Jews, having been born-again into the family of God, and thus becoming the true seed of Abraham (Gal 3:26-29). There will come a day of great revival in Israel, a day when all living Jews will be converted to Christianity (Rom 11:25-27), placing their faith in the Lord Jesus. That day is not here yet! Ultimately, all men must be born-again in order to become the true seed of Abraham, and inherit the earth (Ps 37:7-11). All Jews who have died since the death of Christ, those who had not received Christ as their Savior, have missed Heaven. They were children of the bondwoman, and they did not share in the inheritance with the children of the freewoman.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
* So then, brethren, *
He once again identifies his readers as being his “brethren.” He had earlier referred to the Judaizers as “false brethren” (Gal 2:4), but had called the Galatian believers “brethren” (Gal 3:15; 4:12). He had said that they were “all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26) and that they had “received the Spirit” (Gal 3:2) and “begun in the Spirit” (Gal 3:3), and so they were indeed his “brethren.” They were Christians in spite of the fact that they were “foolish” (Gal 3:1).
* we are not children of the bondwoman, *
Church, we are not children of the bondwoman! Hagar represents the Mosaic Covenant, and we have nothing to do with her. We are not under the Law (Rom 6:14-15; 7:5-6). The Law doesn’t restrain sin; it empowers it (1 Cor 15:56; Rom 7:7-11). “Thou shalt not” makes sin appealing to the fallen nature. Our identity is not with Hagar, it’s with Sarah, who represents the “Jerusalem which is above,” and who is the “mother of us all” who are believers (Gal 4:26). Our home is the New Jerusalem that is free, not the current Jerusalem that “is in bondage with her children” (Gal 4:25). The Law speaks of bondage, but we are free in Christ.
* but of the free. *
We are those born to the free woman, Sarah. We are the children of the Promise. We are saved by faith, not by the works of the Law (Eph 2:8-9).
The whole point of this allegory is to show the believers in Galatia the foolishness of wanting to leave the freedom of the Christian life to turn to the bondage of the Law. That point is still valid today. Legalism enslaves, but Christ sets us free.
NOTE: Paul must have really upset the Judaizers with this letter. It wasn’t bad enough that he was teaching the Gentile Christians that they were free from the Law, and teaching the Jewish Christians the same thing. But in this allegory he’s using Abraham’s slave wife, Hagar, to illustrate the spiritual state of Israel, and his free wife, Sarah, to illustrate the spiritual state of the Church. The Jews were the natural seed of Isaac, but according to Paul’s teaching they were the spiritual seed of Ishmael. This must have totally infuriated the Jew who clung to the Law of Moses. Not only did he offend the Jews of the first century, A.D., but there are many Christian Jews today who are offended by Paul’s teaching as well. But offended, or not, Paul was teaching the very Word of God!
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church