Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Continuation of the argument. Galatians 4:1-7. The Law a necessary preparation for the Gospel. Sonship through redemption attested by the Spirit.
Galatians 4:8-11. Danger of going back to the observance of the legal ceremonial.
Galatians 4:12-20. Personal appeal.
Galatians 4:21-31. The allegory of the two Covenants, pointing to liberty only in Christ.
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;1. The word ‘heirs’ at the end of the preceding chapter suggests another illustration. In human affairs the condition of a minor is antecedent to the enjoyment of the liberty and the civil rights which accrue to him on coming of age. He is a son and an heir, but during minority his position is that of a slave.
Now I say] This is my meaning, comp. ch. Galatians 3:17.
a child] lit. ‘an infant’, the legal term to designate ‘a minor’.
differeth nothing from a servant] rather, from a slave. It is doubtful whether this description (continued in Galatians 4:2) applies to a minor under Roman or Jewish or Colonial (Galatian) law. Cæsar says that among the Gallic tribes a father had power of life and death over wife and children (B. G. vi. 9). It would seem from a passage in Gaius (Inst. 1. 55) that by a local law a Galatian father had this exceptional power. We may however regard St Paul’s description as generally applicable to the condition of a minor without reference to any particular code.
 Bp Lightfoot considers that ‘this view seems to rest on a mistaken interpretation’ of the words of Gaius. It is however maintained by an eminent living jurist.
though he be lord of all] Though, unlike the slave, he is lord of all, lord, by right of ultimate succession, whether his father be living or dead. Our Lord uses a similar figure, John 8:35, ‘The slave abideth not in the house for ever; but the son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’.
“He is the free man whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves besides.” Cowper.
But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.2. tutors and governors] guardians and stewards, the one having the charge of his person, the other the management of his estate.
the time appointed of the father] the time fixed before by his father for the coming of age. It is not necessary, as has been stated already, to refer this to any special law or custom. It is clearly what might have often happened; and it is mentioned because of its typical import. The ‘fulness of the time’ is the antitype to ‘the time appointed’, and ‘the father’ of the minor has his counterpart in Him to whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father’.
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:3. Even so we] Both Jews and Gentiles, as such, i.e. before conversion to Christ.
children] minors, as in Galatians 4:1.
the elements of the world] The exact meaning of this expression is doubtful. The word rendered ‘elements’ is translated ‘rudiments’ in Colossians 2:8; Colossians 2:20, and there, as in this passage, it has the qualifying addition, ‘of the world’. The senses assigned to the word are: (1) the material elements, which are supposed to constitute the physical universe, such as earth, fire, water, air and the heavenly bodies; and (2) rudimentary instruction, the alphabet of the human race, which it was taught in times antecedent to the Gospel revelation—a system of rites and ceremonies, the picture-lessons of its childhood.
It is used in the former sense in two passages of St Peter (2 Peter 3:10; 2 Peter 3:12) and is so understood in this place by most of the older commentators. Theod. Mops. explains it of the sun and moon, by which months and years are measured, and refers it to that observance of days and seasons and months, which the Apostle condemns Galatians 4:10. Others see a reference to the worship of the great powers of nature among the heathen, and the honours virtually paid to them by the Jews in their observance of weeks and years.
Most modern expositors adopt the second explanation, and suppose St Paul to represent “the religion of the world before Christ, especially the Jewish, as an elementary religion, or a religion of childhood, full of external rites and ceremonies, all of which had a certain educational significance, but pointed beyond themselves to an age of manhood in Christ”. These systems are characterised (Galatians 4:9) as ‘weak and beggarly’ (see note there). In Colossians 2:8 these ‘rudiments of the world’ are placed in parallelism with ‘the traditions of men’, and are closely associated with ‘philosophy and vain deceit’ which Clement of Alexandria explains as referring to Greek philosophy. The expression here seems to include all those systems of religion and philosophy which prevailed in the world, prior and preparatory to the dispensation of the Spirit, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Subservience to these was slavery. Of the Jewish ceremonial we read that it consisted “only in meats and drinks and divers washings and ordinances of the flesh imposed, pressing heavily on them, until the time of reformation.” Hebrews 9:10. Yet more burdensome were the requirements of Rabbinic Judaism, and of most heathen systems of religion.
of the world] Not only sensuous, material, as opposed to spiritual; but as embracing under various systems the whole human race.
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,4. the fulness of the time] The completion of the time of the world’s nonage, corresponding to ‘the time appointed by the father’ in Galatians 4:3. God’s appointed time had come, and man’s need of redemption had been proved to the full. Thus the eternal purpose of God and the preparation of the world had their fulfilment in the Advent of the Incarnate Son.
God sent forth his Son] In the Gospels, and especially in that of St John, our Lord designates the Father by the expression, “Him that sent me.” It implies that our Lord existed before His incarnation, that He ‘was with God’, John 1:1.
made … the law] Translate, born of woman, born under the law. The Son of God Most High thus became very man, the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15) and also the Seed of Abraham in whom all nations of the earth should be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.5. Born under the law, our Blessed Lord not only in His most holy life fulfilled all the commandments of the law, but in His death He satisfied its conditions by bearing its penalty, and redeeming us from its curse; born of a woman, He became the Head and representative of the human race, that in Him we might become sons of God. Possibly the wider rendering ‘under law’ may be correct, in which case the redemption includes expressly what it does by implication—all mankind.
the adoption of sons] Men become sons of God by adoption; Christ is the Son of God by eternal generation.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.6. In proof of this, as in ch. Galatians 3:2, St Paul appeals to their own experience. Man by nature does not regard God, much less does he pray to Him, as a father. If the Galatians have “the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 1:22; 2 Corinthians 5:5) in their hearts, it is a pledge of their inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), a proof that they are sons of God. Comp. Romans 8:15-16 (where the identity of the words employed is very striking in the original) “For ye did not receive a spirit of bondage again unto fear, but ye received a spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
sent forth] the same verb which is used in Galatians 4:4. The Father sends forth from Himself the Son and the Spirit.
the Spirit of his Son] ‘A title more strictly adapted to this occasion than any other that could have been employed. We are sons of God, because we have received the same Spirit as His only Son’. Calvin. He is the Spirit of Christ because given to Christ (John 3:34), sent by Christ (John 15:26) witnessing to Christ (Ib.).
crying] A word denoting intense earnestness of supplication. Here it is the Holy Ghost who makes intercession in the believer’s heart (comp. Romans 8:26); in Romans (loc. cit.) the believer himself cries, Abba, Father. There is no contradiction in this, any more than in our Lord’s promise, Matthew 10:20.
Abba, Father] The first word is Aramaic, and means ‘Father.’ In two other passages the same combination is found. From its use in one of these (Romans 8:15) which is parallel to the verse before us, nothing can be inferred as to its origin. But from the other (Mark 14:36), we learn that our Blessed Lord in His agony in Gethsemane used this form of invocation. Why He used it, we cannot say. Certainly the second word was not added by Him (or by the Evangelist) as explanatory of the first. In the repetition of the word, which expressed at once His faith and His filial submission, we have an utterance which baffles our finite exegesis. The anguish of that spotless soul, in the near prospect of the Cross and bowing beneath the load of a world’s sin, found vent in words, the most fitting, yet (as language ever must be) inadequate fully to convey the deepest feelings of the heart. But we observe, 1st, that it was in deep suffering that these words were spoken. Suffering is a mark of Sonship. Comp. Hebrews 5:7-8 ‘Who in the days of His flesh, having offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death … though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered,’ with Hebrews 12:7 ‘If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons: for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not?’ And, 2ndly, the use of a Jewish and a Gentile word in that mysterious and awful cry reminds and assures us that in Him and by His Passion we both, Jews and Gentiles, have access as children unto the Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.7. The conclusion of the argument is not stated didactically, but made emphatic by its personal form, passing from ‘we’ to ‘ye’, from ‘ye’ to ‘thou’.
no more a servant] rather no longer in bondage (Galatians 4:4).
then an heir] By the Roman law all the children whether sons or daughters inherited equally, whereas by the Jewish law females succeeded only in default of heirs male. Comp. Romans 8:17.
of God through Christ] The reading which has most authority is ‘through God’. It is unlikely that any transcriber would have adopted this reading, which is less usual, if he had had the received text before him. The expression ‘through God’ has the same sense as in ch. Galatians 1:1. It stands in antithesis to all human effort or merit, by the appointment and grace of God.
Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.Danger of going back to the observance of the legal ceremonial. 8–11
8. Notwithstanding, is it so that you who once were idolaters and ignorant of God, yet after having been brought to the knowledge of the true God, are turning back to a system of ceremonial observances? If this be so, I fear the labour I have bestowed on you is thrown away.
The emphatic words in Galatians 4:8-9 are ‘did service’, ‘to be in bondage’. The verb is the same in the original. The tense is different. ‘Before your conversion you were in slavery—will you go back to a state of slavery? Then you served demons—will you now submit to the bondage of weak and beggarly elements?’
knew not God] Comp. 1 Thessalonians 4:5 ‘The Gentiles, which know not God’. They might have known something of Him from the universe or from tradition or intuitively, but ‘they did not like to retain God in their knowledge’, Romans 1:28.
them which by nature are no gods] The order of these words, so far as the position of the negative particle is concerned, is uncertain in the original. Adopting the A.V. we explain, ‘which by nature (in reality) are not gods, but demons’. If however the negative stand earlier in the sentence, the rendering will be, ‘which are not by nature, (not really, but only by repute) gods’. If the former be retained, comp. 1 Corinthians 10:20, “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.” If the latter order be adopted, we may compare 1 Corinthians 8:5, “there be that are called gods.”
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?9. now, after that ye have known … are known] The word rendered ‘known’ is different in the original from that so rendered in Galatians 4:8. It here denotes more than the acknowledgment of God’s existence—a discern ment of His character and recognition of His authority, on the part of man; approval on the part of God. The same English word is used in 1 Corinthians 13:12 to render a still stronger verb in the Greek of which the margin of R.V. gives ‘fully know’ as the equivalent.
or rather] God knows man before man knows God—an humbling thought.
weak and beggarly elements] See note on Galatians 4:3. They are ‘weak’, powerless to give life (Hebrews 7:18); ‘beggarly’ (rather, ‘poor’) as contrasted with ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’, the riches of that grace which came by Jesus Christ.
Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.10. Perhaps this verse should be read interrogatively, ‘Do ye observe &c.?’ or the construction may be carried on from the preceding verse, ‘How is it that ye are turning, … that ye are observing &c.?’
Ye observe] The whole meaning of the verse depends on the sense attached to this word. It is compounded of a verb which means to observe and a preposition which implies that either the purpose or the method of observation is bad. The simple verb and corresponding noun are commonly used in N. T. in a good sense, e.g. “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me”. John 14:21, ‘Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God.” 1 Corinthians 7:19. But the compound is never so used. Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7; Luke 16:1; Luke 20:20; Acts 9:24. Comp. for the noun, Luke 17:20. St Paul is not condemning the observance of ‘days and months and times and years’ but their mis-observance. Jewish Christians might continue to keep them as hallowed customs of divine origin, but not as grounds of justification. These were not to be sharers with Christ in the great work of salvation. Bondage to these rudiments forfeited the liberty of the Gospel. Gentile believers were never bound to such observances, and if they yielded to the Judaizing teachers and submitted to the yoke of the Jewish ceremonial, they were no longer partakers of the liberty of Christ.
Compare Colossians 2:16, where not the simple observance is condemned, but the slavery which is involved in its being required for salvation, and the dishonour which is done to Christ by adding to His perfect righteousness. See note on ch. Galatians 5:2.
days] ‘sabbaths and fasts’. There is clearly no exemption here from the obligation of the observance of ‘the seventh day’. ‘The law of the Sabbath, i.e. of one weekly day of holy rest in God (the seventh in the Jewish, the first in the Christian Church) is as old as the Creation, it is founded on the moral and physical constitution of man, it was instituted in Paradise, incorporated in the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, put on a new foundation by the Resurrection of Christ, and is an absolute necessity for public worship and the welfare of man’. Dr Schaff. What St Paul condemns is the observance of the day in a legal spirit, in compliance with the minute and childish prohibitions of the Rabbinic system and as a matter of merit with God.
months] As marked by the ‘new moons’. Comp. Isaiah 1:13; Numbers 28:11 &c., or possibly the ‘seventh month’, Leviticus 23:24 foll.
times] Better, seasons, the great annual festivals, which lasted several days, as the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, &c.
years] Every seventh year was a sabbatical year and every fiftieth year a Jubilee. See Leviticus 25:2-17.
I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.11. I am afraid of you] Sad thought, that all the toil which he had undergone on their behalf might prove to have been in vain! The possibility of such a result softens his tone, and as he thinks of his own labours, he will appeal to them by their memory of the past—of their reception of him and of his message ‘at the first’.
The thought of having bestowed labour in vain has always been one of the trials of the faithful messenger of God. It was so in the case of Elijah (1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14), of Isaiah, (Isaiah 53:1). It finds frequent expression in the Epistles of St Paul (1 Corinthians 15:14; Galatians 2:2; Php 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 3:5). The assurance given long ago (Isaiah 55:11) is still needed and still in force.
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am; for I am as ye are: ye have not injured me at all.12–20. Personal Appeal
The Apostle now makes a personal appeal, marked by deep affection and earnestness. “Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, free yourselves from the trammels of the ceremonial law and of the Judaizing teachers, for I became as you were. To you who were Gentiles and ‘without law, I became as without law’ (1 Corinthians 9:21) that I might gain you to Christ. Copy then my example”.
for I am] Better, I became as you. I gave up much that was dear to me for your sake.
ye have not injured me at all] The exact meaning of these words is doubtful. Perhaps we should refer them to what immediately precedes. ‘I ask you now to make a return for my self-sacrifice. I am not complaining of your conduct in past time. That was deserving of praise, not of reproach’.
Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.13. through infirmity of the flesh] Rather, as R.V. ‘because of an infirmity of the flesh’, owing to bodily sickness.
What was this infirmity? Most commentators identify it with the ‘thorn in the flesh’, 2 Corinthians 12:7. Bp Lightfoot (p. 169 foll.) enumerates in chronological order the different conjectures which have been put forward in early and more modern times. They are (1) some bodily ailment, (2) persecution, (3) fleshly desires, (4) spiritual trials, such as temptations to despair, blasphemous suggestions of the Devil. The most recent expositors recur to the earliest view of this infirmity—that it was some bodily ailment. Bp Lightfoot conjectures that it was ‘of the nature of epilepsy’. Between this suggestion and that of some defect of eye-sight, perhaps acute ophthalmia, it is not easy to choose. The passages adduced in support of this latter conjecture are not conclusive in its favour, though their cumulative evidence is strong. They are discussed in an interesting note by Bp. Lightfoot, p. 174, note 1.
at the first] Probably, ‘on the former occasion’, i.e. on the earlier of my two visits, mentioned Acts 16:6. The second or later visit is named Acts 18:23. We may fairly infer from the Apostle’s language that on the former occasion he had not intended to preach the Gospel in Galatia, but that sickness of some kind (probably acute disorder) detained him there, and that notwithstanding weakness and pain—distress to himself, and disadvantage to the reception of his message—he proclaimed the Gospel of his Lord.
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.14. And my temptation] The true reading is probably ‘your temptation’. The Apostle’s sickness was a trial of their faith. Like his Divine Master, he had no natural ‘form nor comeliness’ (2 Corinthians 10:10), and when to this natural disqualification bodily disorder was added, they might well have asked if such a teacher had any claim on their acceptance.
ye despised not nor rejected] Very strong expressions, implying that there was something repulsive in the character of the disease.
rejected] Nearly = ‘loathed’. The construction is simple, the ‘temptation’ being put for the ‘sickness’ which constituted it, and which they might have regarded with contempt and disgust.
even as Christ Jesus] An unconscious fulfilment on the part of the Galatians of our Lord’s words, ‘He that receiveth you, receiveth me’, Matthew 10:40.
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.15. Where is then the blessedness ye spake of] The last three words are not in the original. They are a paraphrase (and so an interpretation) of the genitive of the 2nd personal pronoun. Does this genitive express the object or the subject of the noun rendered ‘blessedness’? This noun occurs Romans 4:6. Here it may either mean ‘your blessedness’ (as A.V.), the blessedness which you experienced in embracing the Gospel of justification by faith apart from the works of the law. Or it may mean, your applause of me. On the whole the former is to be preferred, as bearing on the general argument of the Epistle. The latter is however in full accordance with the immediate context.
your own eyes] Rather, your eyes. Some have inferred from the A.V. that St Paul was suffering from loss of eyesight. But the emphasis is not on ‘your’ but on ‘eyes’. ‘There is no sacrifice which you were not ready to make to shew your zeal and affection towards me’.
Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?16. Am I therefore] ‘So that I am become … truth?’ The tone of the sentence is interrogative, rather than the form.
I tell you the truth] The reference is probably to the second visit to Galatia, when the Judaizers had begun to sow seeds of error and discord among St Paul’s converts. He says ‘I tell’, not ‘I told’, because he has made no change in his teaching. Truth is ever one and the same.
They zealously affect you, but not well; yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.17, 18. In contrast to the simplicity of his own teaching, St Paul exposes the party spirit by which the false teachers were actuated.
They zealously affect you] The sentence is abrupt, no persons being named; though St Paul evidently had in his mind those alluded to ch. Galatians 1:7. The expression ‘zealously affect’ is not very intelligible to the ordinary reader. The verb, which is rendered ‘affect’ in this same verse, is used frequently in N. T. with reference to both persons and things. Originally it meant to feel or shew zeal, jealousy or envy. From this sense the transition was easy to that of ‘desire earnestly’, ‘pay court to’, ‘seek to win or win over’. The word is used in a good and a bad sense by St Paul, e.g. 1 Corinthians 12:31 where it is rendered ‘covet’, i.e. desire, and 1 Corinthians 13:4 ‘Love envieth not’. Here the meaning is ‘They seek to win you over to their own party’. Error must be maintained and propagated by proselytising and partisanship.
The whole passage may be paraphrased—‘They seek to gain you to their own party, but not with right motives, nay, they would exclude you from my influence, in the hope of your reciprocating their desire for your adhesion. But let me remind you that a desire of this kind is only to be approved when the motives are pure and the object good. Under such conditions it is always good. Such were the conditions under which I sought to win you to Christ when I was present with you; such is still the case now that we are separated’. This leads up to the tender yet sad remonstrance which follows. In support of this view of the connexion and train of thought we may compare St Paul’s words, 2 Corinthians 11:2 “I am jealous over you (I would fain win you, not from party spirit or for personal ends, but) with a Godly jealousy (or longing desire)”. True love is always jealous.
they would exclude you] Some copies read ‘us’ for ‘you’. The sense is the same. There seems to be an allusion to some attempt on the part of the Judaizers to induce the Galatian converts formally to renounce their allegiance to St Paul.
But it is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing, and not only when I am present with you.
My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,19. In the preceding verse the metaphor seems to be taken from the affection of husband and wife (see 1 Corinthians 11:2-3). Now it is changed to that from a mother in travail.
My little children] A form of address expressive of great tenderness, common with St John, but used only here by St Paul. This verse may be a continuation of the preceding. But it is better to take it as an apostrophe, and to regard the particle ‘but’ (see note) at the beginning of Galatians 4:20 as resumptive of the train of thought from Galatians 4:18.
again] This had first taken place at their conversion.
until Christ be formed in you] The indwelling of Christ in the believer’s soul is the principle of his new life. To restore this after a relapse is a task of deep anxiety to the Apostle. Calvin sees here an illustration of the efficacy of the Christian ministry. God ascribes to His ministers that work which He Himself performs through the power of His Spirit, acting by human instruments.
I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.20. I desire] Rather, “But, speaking of being present, I could wish to be present with you now”. The ‘but’ which is not expressed in the A.V. connects this verse with Galatians 4:18 in which he had referred to his presence in Galatia.
to change my voice] Most commentators understand this to mean either (1) to accommodate my speech to your requirements which I could do, were I on the spot; or (2) to change my tone from severity to gentleness. Mr Wood contends for a different explanation. He considers that St Paul’s intention in writing this Epistle, was that ‘by another’s voice he might speak to them without delay’. He understands the presence to be ‘a presence in spirit’ as in 1 Corinthians 5:3. The choice lies between the 1st and 2nd interpretation, of which perhaps the first is preferable.
I stand in doubt of you] Rather, I am perplexed about you, as R.V.
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?21–31. The Allegory of the two Covenants, pointing to liberty only in Christ
21. The final argument is an appeal to Scripture, to that very law to which the Galatians were desiring to subject themselves. If they would but listen to the teaching of the law they would hear it declaring its own inferiority to the Gospel, the bondage of its children as compared with the liberty of those who are the children of God through faith in Jesus Christ and heirs of the promise. Calvin says that St Paul in these verses employs a very beautiful illustration of the doctrine on which he has been insisting, but that viewed merely as an argument it has no great force. But he seems to forget that the cogency of an argument is relative to the habits of thought of the persons addressed. Some of those employed by our Lord seem to us inconclusive, because we find it difficult to put ourselves in the place of the Jews who heard Him. To them His words carried conviction or at least provoked no answer, e.g. Luke 11:47-48; Matthew 22:31-33; Matthew 22:41-46.
under the law] perhaps ‘under (i.e. subject to) law’, legal observances, used in a wider and less definite sense than ‘the law’ which here refers to the Pentateuch. St Paul adopts the well-known Jewish division of the O.T. Scriptures, the Law (or Pentateuch), the Prophets, the Hagiographa (or rest of the sacred writings).
do ye not hear] Either ‘do ye not listen to its teaching?’ or ‘is it not read in your hearing?’ Acts 15:21. Some copies have ‘do ye not read the law’, i.e. aloud in the Synagogues? Comp. Luke 4:16-17. The first is probably the meaning.
For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.22. it is written] This is not a quotation of any particular passage. ‘It is recorded in Scripture’.
a bondmaid] Lit. ‘the bondmaid’, Hagar; so ‘the free woman’, Sarah. Hagar was an Egyptian slave in the house of Abraham. God having promised to Abraham that in his seed all nations should be blessed, Sarah, becoming impatient because the fulfilment of the promise was delayed, gave Hagar as a concubine to her husband. This resulted in the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-3; Genesis 16:15.) Thirteen years later the Lord promised that Abraham should have a son by Sarah when she was past the age of child-bearing. This was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac.
The marked features of contrast in this narrative, which have their counterparts in the antitype are:
The bond maid and her son.
The free woman and her son.
Birth in the ordinary course of nature (‘after the flesh’).
Birth out of the course of nature, ‘through the promise’.
Ishmael, born a slave.
Isaac, born free.
Hagar and her son driven forth into the desert.
Sarah and her son abiding in the home.
To these correspond
The Old Covenant (or dispensation) given on Mt Sinai.
The New Covenant, the Gospel.
The earthly Jerusalem.
The Heavenly Jerusalem.
Natural birth into bondage.
Spiritual birth to freedom.
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.24. which things are an allegory] Rather, ‘Now all these things may be regarded as an allegory’. The facts are historical, but they are types (1 Corinthians 10:11) calculated and intended to teach great spiritual truths, and they have their counterparts in the facts (equally historical) of the Gospel dispensation. We generally regard an allegory as a fictitious narrative. It may be so, as Bunyan’s Pilgrims’ Progress; but there is no indication in St Paul’s language that he dissented from the common belief among the Jews that the narrative in Genesis was historical.
 Dr Johnson defines an allegory as ‘a figurative discourse in which something other is intended than is contained in the words literally taken’. By the examples which he gives he seems to confound it with ‘a metaphor’.
for these are the two covenants] Rather, ‘for these (women) are two covenants (or dispensations)’.
the one from the mount Sinai] ‘one from Mount Sinai’. We should have expected, ‘and the other from Mount Sion, answering to the heavenly Jerusalem, bearing children into liberty, and this is Sara’; but the explanatory clauses which follow interrupt the construction, which is resumed in Galatians 4:26, ‘but Jerusalem which is above &c.’
which gendereth to bondage] Better, bearing children into bondage.
which is Agar] ‘and this is (typified by) Hagar’.
For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.25. The reading, the construction and the meaning of the first clause of this verse are uncertain, and have afforded matter for considerable discussion. The genuineness of the word ‘Hagar’ is doubtful. If it is retained, the sense will be, ‘For (or, as some copies read, ‘now’) this term Hagar is the name by which Mount Sinai is called in Arabia’, it therefore represents Mount Sinai, which is in Arabia, the country to which Hagar fled and which her descendants inhabit. ‘The word Hagar in Arabic means “a rock”, and some authorities tell us that Mount Sinai is so called by the Arabs’. Conybeare and Howson. But it is better to omit it, and the sense will then be, ‘For Mount Sinai is in Arabia’, the country of Ishmael’s descendants, the offspring of the bondwoman. In any case the clause is parenthetical, and the following words refer to Hagar in the preceding verse:—‘and this is Hagar (for Mount Sinai is situated in Arabia—the country of the Ishmaelites) and it (the covenant) corresponds to Jerusalem &c.’
and answereth] ‘belongs to the same row or category, corresponds to’, see note Galatians 4:22.
Jerusalem which now is] Here, from the addition of the phrase ‘with her children’ (comp. Matthew 23:37), it is evident that Jerusalem stands for the whole Jewish people, nationally considered. It is contrasted not, as might have been expected, with ‘Jerusalem which shall be’, but with ‘Jerusalem which is from above’; but the antithesis is not weakened. The Heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:2) is the same as the ‘new Jerusalem’ (Revelation 21:2) of the prophetic vision, which is even now the city and the home of every true believer (Php 3:20). It is in heaven (or above) until the number of God’s elect shall be accomplished, and then it will ‘come down from God out of heaven’, not like a bondwoman and an outcast, but ‘as a bride adorned for her husband’.
and is in bondage] The reference is probably to the legal bondage to which every Jew, as such, was subject. But Jerusalem was at this time literally a conquered city, subject to the Imperial power of Rome.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.26. the mother of us all] Probably we should read with R.V. our mother, where of course ‘our’ is emphatic. Comp. Galatians 4:31.
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.27. For it is written] The quotation is taken exactly from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 54:1.
By the ‘barren’ we must understand Sarah, who was a type of the Gospel dispensation. Small and persecuted in its early days, the Church of Christ has now ‘many more children’ than the Jewish Church could ever boast of. ‘She which hath an husband’ (rather, ‘the husband’) is Hagar, who took the place of Sarah in the conjugal society of the husband. She represents the Jewish people, nationally and ecclesiastically, and for a time enjoyed the peculiar favour of her God—a relation to Him which in the O.T. is frequently described as that between husband and wife. St Paul’s use of this passage of Isaiah in no wise interferes with its primary reference to the promised deliverance of Israel from exile and oppression. Those who overlook or deny a primary and literal fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament unconsciously weaken the foundation on which the hope (or the belief) of a spiritual and ultimate accomplishment of them rests.
Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.28. The previous verse is introduced parenthetically. The connexion is, ‘Jerusalem from above is our mother … and we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children, not according to the flesh, but of promise’. The same conclusion as that arrived at ch. Galatians 3:29.
But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.29. In Genesis 21:9-10, we read, ‘And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had borne unto Abraham, mocking. Wherefore she said, Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac’. There is no specific mention here of persecution. But apart from the fact that insult is one form of persecution—a form in which the spirit of hatred finds expression when prevented by law or lack of opportunity from open violence—according to the Jewish tradition, Ishmael actually assaulted Isaac. And this hostility was perpetuated by their descendants. The Hagarenes or Hagarites are thrice mentioned among the enemies of Israel, 1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:19; Psalm 68:7.
even so it is now] Compare our Lord’s words (John 15:20), ‘If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you’. St Paul could say this from his own experience. See 2 Timothy 3:11, where after speaking of the persecutions which he had endured, he adds, ‘Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’. From the Acts of the Apostles we learn that the chief originators of these persecutions were the Jews whose bigoted attachment to the Rabbinic system inspired them with a bitter hatred of the Gospel and those who proclaimed it. In the subsequent history of the Church the illustrations of St Paul’s words are written in letters of blood. But to those who suffer for the truth these persecutions are an evident token of salvation, and that of God, Php 1:28. They are ‘the marks of the Lord Jesus’, proofs of sonship, badges of freedom, pledges of inheritance.
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.30. There is nothing here to lend colour to the Rabbinic notion that Sarah was a prophetess. The Scripture simply records her words and tells us how Abraham was bidden by God to comply with her demand, Genesis 21:12.
shall not be heir] ‘shall in no wise inherit’. Utterly and for ever irreconcilable are Judaism and Christianity—salvation by works and justification by faith—the Law and the Gospel.
So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.31. So then] Better, wherefore. The conclusion is drawn from the whole preceding argument. It is the assertion of our liberty in the Gospel of Christ—freedom from the curse of the law, from the yoke of ritual observances, from the bondage of sin and Satan, from the burden of an evil conscience—an earnest of “the glorious liberty of the children of God”.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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