Galatians 4:23
But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
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(23) But.—Both were alike in being children of Abraham; they were unlike in that one was born naturally, the other by divine instrumentality.

Was born.—Strictly, is borni.e., is stated to have been born, was born as we still read.

After the fleshi.e., in the regular course of nature.

By promise.—The birth of Isaac is regarded as due to the direct agency of the promise, The promise itself is conceived of as possessing a creative power. The birth of Isaac was the result of a miraculous intervention. (See Genesis 18:10.)

4:21-27 The difference between believers who rested in Christ only, and those who trusted in the law, is explained by the histories of Isaac and Ishmael. These things are an allegory, wherein, beside the literal and historical sense of the words, the Spirit of God points out something further. Hagar and Sarah were apt emblems of the two different dispensations of the covenant. The heavenly Jerusalem, the true church from above, represented by Sarah, is in a state of freedom, and is the mother of all believers, who are born of the Holy Spirit. They were by regeneration and true faith, made a part of the true seed of Abraham, according to the promise made to him.But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh - In the ordinary course of nature, without any special promise, or any unusual divine interposition, as in the case of Isaac.

But he of the free woman ... - The birth of Isaac was in accordance with a special promise, and by a remarkable divine interposition; see Genesis 18:10; Genesis 21:1-2; Hebrews 11:11-12; compare the notes at Romans 4:19-21. The idea here of Paul is, that the son of the slave was in a humble and inferior condition from his very birth. There was no special promise attending him. He was born into a state of inferiority and servitude which attended him through his whole life. Isaac, however, was met with promises as soon as he was born, and was under the benefit of those promises as long as he lived. The object of Paul is, to state the truth in regard to a condition of servitude and slavery. It is attended with evils from beginning to end; from the birth to the grave. By this illustration he means to show them the folly of becoming the voluntary slaves of the Law after they had once been made free.

23. after the flesh—born according to the usual course of nature: in contrast to Isaac, who was born "by virtue of the promise" (so the Greek), as the efficient cause of Sarah's becoming pregnant out of the course of nature (Ro 4:19). Abraham was to lay aside all confidence in the flesh (after which Ishmael was born), and to live by faith alone in the promise (according to which Isaac was miraculously born, contrary to all calculations of flesh and blood). They were both (in a sense) born after the flesh, viz. in a natural way and course of generation: but

after the flesh is plainly, in this verse, opposed to

by promise; and the meaning is, that Ishmael, the son of Hagar, was not that son of Abraham to whom the promise was made, that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed: see Genesis 15:4 17:19. Isaac is said to have been born after the promise, either because God gave Isaac to Abraham, in completion or fulfilling of the promise made to him, that he should have an heir out of his own loins; or because the mighty and miraculous power of God was seen in his production, enabling Abraham at those years to beget, and Sarah to bear, a child, when both their bodies were as dead.

But he who was of the bondwoman,.... Ishmael, who was begotten and born of Hagar,

was born after the flesh; after the common order and course of nature, through the copulation of two persons, the one able to procreate, and the other fit for the conception of children; and was typical of the Jews, the natural descendants of Abraham, who, as such, and upon that account, were not the children of God, nor heirs of the eternal inheritance:

but he of the free woman was by promise; by a previous promise made by God to Abraham, that he should have a son in his old age, when his body was now dead, and when Sarah his wife, who had always been barren, was now grown old, and past the time of bearing children; so that Isaac was born out of the common order and course of nature; his conception and birth were owing to the promise and power of God, and to his free grace and favour to Abraham. This son of promise was a type of the spiritual seed of Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles, the children of the promise that are counted for the seed; who are born again of the will, power, and grace of God, and are heirs, according to the promise, both of grace and glory, when they that are of the law, and the works of it, are not. All which is further illustrated in the following verses.

But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the {x} flesh; but he of the freewoman was by {y} promise.

(x) As all men are, and by the common course of nature.

(y) By virtue of the promise, which Abraham laid hold on for himself and his true seed, for otherwise Abraham and Sara were past the begetting and bearing of children.

Galatians 4:23 presents the relation of diversity between the two, in contrast to the previously mentioned relation of similarity, according to which they both were sons of Abraham.

κατὰ σάρκα] according to the flesh, so that the birth was the result of a natural carnal intercourse. Differently in Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5γεγέννηται] is born; the perfect realizes the historically existing relation as present.

διὰ τὴς ἐπαγγελίας] through the (well-known) promise, Genesis 17:16; Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10; Romans 9:9. This must not, however, be rationalized (with Grotius, Rosenmüller, and others) into “per eam vim extraordinariam, quam Deus promiserat,” which does violence to the history in Genesis, as above; nor, with Hofmann, to the effect that the promise, with which Abraham had been called, was realized in the procreation itself; but it is to be definitely explained in accordance with the tenor of the words and with Genesis 21:1 : “by virtue of the promise he is born,” so that in his procreation (Matthew 1:2; Luke 3:34) the divine promise made to his parents, which had assured them of the birth of a son, was the procuring cause of the result, which would not have occurred without such an operation of the power of the divine promise (Genesis 18:14), seeing that the two parents were in themselves incapable of the procreation of Isaac; for Sarah was barren, and both were already too old (Genesis 18:11; Romans 4:19). Comp. Chrysostom.

Galatians 4:23. The two who were coupled together in the last verse as sons of one father are here contrasted in respect of their different mothers.—γεγέννηται. The perfect is used in order to present the birth as a Scripture record now in existence (cf. Hebrews 11:17; Hebrews 11:28 …): otherwise the aorist ἐγεννήθη would have been appropriate.—διʼ ἐπαγγελίας. There is an alternative reading διὰ τῆς ἐπ. supported by equal MS. authority: but it is difficult to attach any meaning to the article, whereas διʼ ἐπαγγ. forms an appropriate antithesis to κατὰ σάρκα. Like διὰ νόμου in Galatians 2:19; Galatians 2:21 it describes the attendant circumstances under which the birth took place, διά not having an instrumental force.

Verse 23. - But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh (ἀλλ ὁ μὲν ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης κατὰ σάρκα γεγέννηται); howbeit the son by the handmaid is shown as born (or, begotten) after the flesh. The ἀλλὰ is strongly adversative; both, indeed, were sons of Abraham, but there was a marked distinction in the way in which they severally came into being. The apostle has evidently in his eye the analogy presented by the natural birth of the Jewish descendants from Abraham, as contrasted with the birth of Abraham's spiritual seed through faith in the promises of the gospel. This point, however, he is content with merely, in vers. 28, 29, glancing at. His main point is the condition of both mother and child in each case, as being either both free or both in bondage. It is not clear whether the apostle by γεγέννηται meant "born" or "begotten," the verb being used in both senses: but neither is it material. The perfect tense of the verb either supposes us to be as it were present at the time of Ishmael's expulsion, in which case it would mean, "hath been born," or is used with reference to the record in the history, meaning in this case "appears in the story as having been born." So the perfect tense is used also in Hebrews 7:6, δεδεκάτωκε, εὐλόγηκε, and Hebrews 10:18, ἐγκεκαίνισται. "According to the flesh" does not precisely mean "in the common course of torture;" the word "flesh" rather contrasts the present visible sphere of human life with the invisible spiritual world, in much the same way as "flesh" is so often contrasted with "spirit." Ishmael was born "after the flesh," because he was born in the common course of nature; Isaac was born (ver. 28) "after the Spirit," because his birth was connected with the invisible spiritual world "through the promise," which on the one A hand was given by God the great Sovereign of the spiritual world, and on the other was laid hold of and made effectual in that same world of spiritual action by Abraham's and Sarah's faith. But he of the freewoman was by promise (ὁ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας δὶ [Receptus, διὰ τῆς] ἐπαγγελίας); but the son by the freewoman through a promise (or, through the promise). If the article before ἐπαγγελίας be retained, it is to be taken as pointing to the well-known promise made by the Lord to Abraham, both in the night in which God made a covenant with him (Genesis 15.). and afresh, in a more definite form, on the eve of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18.). This promise was the means of Isaac's being born, calling forth as it did an acting of faith in God, both in Abraham (Romans 4:17-21), and likewise in Sarah (Hebrews 11:11), in consideration of which the Almighty beyond the course of nature gave them this child. Galatians 4:23Was born (γεγέννηται)

Has been born, or is born: perfect tense, treating the historical fact as if present.

After the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα)

According to the regular course of nature. Very common in Paul.

By promise (δἰ ἐπαγγελίας)

Most editors retain the article, the promise of Genesis 17:16, Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10. Comp. Romans 9:9. In virtue of the promise; for according to natural conditions he would not have been born.

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