Lecture 10: Galatians 4:12-31 | Free Online Biblical Library

Lecture 10: Galatians 4:12-31

Course: Galatians

Lecture: Galatians 4:12-31

I. Galatians 4:12-20

As Paul continues in this appeal to the Galatians, he uses a common rhetorical method called pathos in the day of Paul. One of the things that the Greek were especially fond of doing was arguing. They loved the law court; they loved arguing issues back and forth. So this rhetoric was really very popular in the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s day. They established a lot of guidelines on how to classify arguments, how to argue well along with written handbooks. But I don’t think Paul used any formal rhetorical patterns as such; some people have thought so. One prominent scholar tried to reorganize all of Galatians in accordance with ancient rhetorical theory; Hons D. Betz was his name. But most scholars don’t think Paul does anything quite that formal. He was obviously a man of his world; he knew the culture and naturally he uses techniques that were common in his day in order to persuade his readers. We do the same thing; we fall into certain patterns in the way we preach and try to persuade people as well. Pathos is one of those meaning that is a kind of personal and emotional appeal. I think as you look at verses 12-20 you will see Paul engaging in this sort of thing.

‘I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong. As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you. My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!’

In verse 14, though my illness was a trial to you, is what the NIV has and in the Greek, you have this sort of ambiguity. We can translate your trial to the trial I experienced or something like that. This was the effects of Paul’s illness apparently. Paul is reminding them of the close relationship they had; he is pointing out some of the emotional stops in order to convince the Galatians to listen to him again. He is talking about his authenticity with them and reminding them that initially they had received him in a very positive way. We have the words, ‘even as an angel of God.’ We see the reference to the angels come back into the wording again. This reminds us of the situation in Acts 14 with Paul in Lystra with the people there thinking of Paul and Barnabas as gods that had come to visit them. So there might be some background here in that first missionary background context. What is Paul saying with these words, ‘become like me because I became like you?’ How did Paul become like them? Even though I was a Jew by birth, I became like a gentile for you. Now you need to become like me in that way. Remember in chapter 2, Paul says that he died to the law. Others think perhaps he is talking about his conversion experience. He may be saying to become like him in his radical conversion which includes all the implications of the Cross of Christ. For my life, you need to become like me, I who am crucified with Christ. There needs to be this radical break with your former life just as there was a radical break with my former life when I came to Christ.

Paul talks about his originally preaching and again we are not completely sure of the destination of Galatians here. I have argued for the so-called South Galatia view that Paul is writing to those first churches of the first missionary journey, but we can’t be sure about that. Paul could be writing, maybe at a later date to Christians living in the north of Asia Minor. This whole idea of Paul’s weakness of the flesh, being the language that Paul uses here often compares to the language of 2nd Corinthians where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. Neither text is clear in terms of this being a physical illness. Some think it is the false teachers he has to deal with, but most think that it is a physical issue of some kind. Even so, it is difficult to identify what that particular condition may have been. A number of interpreters note how Paul talks about the Galatians being willing to tear out their eyes and give them to him in verse 15. So, many think that it must have been some kind of eye issue, a seeing issue of some kind; however, that text could simply be a sort of hyperbolic way of saying that they would have done anything for him. There is evidence that this language was used in sort of that way; so it simple is a figure of speech. There is endless speculation about what Paul physical problem might have been. William Ramsey, an early 20th century scholar thought it was malaria that Paul had attracted because that area was known to have malaria at that time. From a hermeneutical application standpoint, not knowing what Paul’s particular problem was, keeps it in a general state and enables it to be a little more applicable to a lot of different physical conditions that people in our day might face. They can perhaps identify with Paul whatever their physical challenge might me.

Interestingly, in verse 15, it reads, ‘where, then, is your blessing of me now?’ This word would not mean blessedness as such; the Greek word would normally have more of an active sense, like blessed are the poor; it is a pronouncement of a blessing on them. But here, blessing of, you would think to be one who is blessing them. Other translations use, graciousness, which is a bit of a stretch for this. The message is an extreme example of a one person translation widely used in certain circles. It has the same problem as J.B. Phillips’ paragraph has. The original Living Bible with what Ken Taylor tried to do with that and the same kinds of issues. It is the icing on the cake and it should never be the cake. It is interesting to read as being another take on things, but it shouldn’t be given the status of your Bible. These one person translations have all the idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, and limited vision of a single author. They should not become regular Bibles, used either in devotions, studying or preaching. Even the updated NIV has taken a lot of liberties due to the issues on gender. In many places, we have pulled back from a slightly more periphrastic tendency in 1984 NIV. So the updated NIV just uses the language of blessing here which I think is a little more accurate to the Greek word Paul has actually chosen here. You have a perfectly good word in Greek for joy or graciousness which he could have used; yet, he doesn’t use those words. I am not sure this translation is the best way to go here. So these agitators have come in and taken your sense of being blessed by God, your peace and security and your personal settled state as it were as a Christian; this has all been taken away. When I was with you, he had experienced this blessedness and peace; you are so foolish, why trade this for something else. Why go back from that, Paul is asking?

Paul criticizes the agitators in verses 17 and 18 for a kind of score card mentality; you are trying to win converts for your cause. These people are zealous, Paul says, to win them over. The purpose of Paul trying to win them over and these agitators are different. They want you to have zeal for them; they want to attach themselves to you; I want to attach you to Christ. I think these last couple of verses here makes some really important and even moving points about ministry, such as our purpose for bringing people into our churches and bringing them to knowledge of Christ. This is not to score points for ourselves and put another notch on our scoreboard. There needs to be a sincerity that Paul had in seeking the good and blessing of the people he was working with. Then in verse 19 we have this language, ‘I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.’ What a vivid image for the minster of the Gospel who is trying to give birth to mature Christians and struggling in pain often, trying to accomplish that until Christ is formed in them. So these Galatia Christians come to the point where they are fully settled in their faith again. The agitators are left behind; they are done with these temptations to follow this other path. That is Paul’s overwhelming concern. He wants to be with them and to come back to them and wants to change his tone; he doesn’t want to write the way he has written. He is perplexed and doesn’t understand, granted the relationship he had with them, granted the truth of the Gospel he proclaimed; he is just trying to convince them and persuade them how foolish is the way they are now going.

You might remember in terms of the overall structure here, you have got this appeal text in the middle now, chapter 4:8-20. Now we come to a second theological argument. This is in 4:21-31.

‘Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: ‘Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’ Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’ Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.’

We see that 5:1 is another bridge verse. It is another argument that focuses on Abraham. It’s another argument that tries to give the Galatia Christians a little bit of a sense of salvation history. This is a very interesting text and fascinating and hard to understand in some ways. This seems like a continuation of the appeal in the first sentence, verse 21. But to me, this is a combination text; it has a lot of appeal at the beginning and at the end, but it is also a fairly strong theological argument from Scripture that Paul is engaged in here. The text is fascinating because Paul is obviously picking up some history from Genesis and giving it theological significance to meet the situation that Paul is addressing. He uses a verb in the middle of verse 25, ‘corresponds’ which has a sense of lining up into columns. You can almost translate the verb in this way. You see how Paul has lined things up in columns; he is talking about two very different realities corresponding to the two different wives and sons of Abraham. On the one side, you have Hagar and on the other side, you have Sarah. Hagar is the slave woman whereas Sarah being the free woman. Hagar represents the covenant of Mount Sinai, but Sarah represents perhaps the Abrahamic covenant. We are not quite sure about this in regards to Sarah and the covenant she represents. Hagar and the Sinai represent the present Jerusalem, the actual physical Jerusalem as kind of the locus of the Jewish religious establishment. In contrast to the Jerusalem above which in some sense represents the church? The slave woman represents the birth to children who are in slavery in contrast to the free woman who has given birth to free children. So you have those who are born according to the flesh verses those who are born according to the promise or Spirit and of course the over whelming emphasis on slavery verses freedom. So, the two columns here as Paul lines things up based on the story of Hagar and Sarah in the Genesis narrative, Paul then brings into the picture a key text from Isaiah to try to establish his point more clearly. This is a general overview.

II. A Second Theological argument (4:21-31)

Paul may be responding to some argument that the agitators used. There are two schools of thought on this. The unusual nature of his argument suggests that he is responding to an argument the agitators are making. But if these agitators were representing typical currents in 1st century Judaism, I think the argument would have run more like how could they ignore the clear evidence of continuity between Abraham, Isaac and the present Jerusalem? God made the promise to Abraham; Isaac was the chosen son, Jacob was the chosen son who is also Israel and that is who we are. The agitators would argue that they represent the continuity of that experience, they were the chosen people and have the right to claim what things are as opposed to you Paul. More liken, I think this is the argument these agitators were making. So Paul has to figure out a way to get Abraham and Sarah and Isaac on his side, rather than having them on the side of the Agitators and their view of the continuity of the law. This is one of many places in the Old Testament we see some of the great heroes of the faith acting not so well. Sarah’s own action may well have been motivated to some degree by jealousy from a very human standpoint. At the same time, there is the sense that God has intended for Sarah to be the one to have a child of promise. There shouldn’t be anything to interfere with that. There shouldn’t be a rival in the sense of interfering in what God is ultimately planning to do in carrying out his redemptive plan. So there could be an idealistic motive for what she did. So then in quoting some of that language and expelling the slave woman with her son; I don’t think that he is giving any kind of endorsement of that action Sarah ultimately took. He is picking up the language of the text at that point and applying to what is distinctly theological and spiritual situation here.

In verse 24, ‘these things are being taken figuratively’ is the NIV. Other translations say allegorically but the Greek word is allegory and our word allegory is a transliteration of that. The argument can be made that the translation should be fairly straight forward here. You have the much transliterated word allegorumena. But does the word allegory in English convey the same notion that Paul is getting at in using that Greek word here. Note that translation always has to operate through the stage of meaning; understanding what the Greek word means and then decide how we can best say that in English. You can’t simply have word substitution in translation. A translator always has to analyze the original text and figure out the meaning and then decide how to say it. In this case the obvious English equivalent word for allegorumena is allegory, but the English word allegory has a fairly specific meaning in terms of an arbitrary plugging in element. It is often looked upon with some degree of suspicion. So it becomes opening ended and arbitrary and uncontrolled, making the text to mean anything you want in that way. The actual Greek word that Paul is using applies to a much broader idea, including what is often called figurative meaning; a text that has goes beyond the literal, but not necessarily allegorical. So, trying to understand just what Paul is saying is challenging whether we use the word allegory or figurative here. Paul like many of his Jewish contemporaries is finding meaning in Biblical stories beyond what their literal historical narrative would seem to indicate. Some of you would know the name Philo of Alexander who was a very prominent and important Jewish philosopher and theologian who was roughly contemporary to Paul. And in order to make the Hebrew Scriptures relevant being a kind of Platonist philosopher himself, he read Platonic philosophy into all the Biblical stories so that they would have value and application to his own context. So he often would read the stories in terms of human phycology: soul, spirit, mind and body, etc. Paul isn’t doing that exactly because he is governed a lot more by the actual associations in the Old Testament text, itself. So, as you look at Abraham and his two wives and two sons, you understand that in the broader understanding of God’s purposes, he intended that Sarah should be the one through whom the promise should come. Whereas Hagar and Ismael isn’t the line of promise compared to Isaac and what Paul sees moving into his own day. So, he is assuming that in Christ, the fulfillment of the promise is found; it is legitimate granted that assumption to bring Sarah and Isaac and the implications of that story into the realm of Christian truth, visa the other option as being represented by the present Jerusalem.

So Paul’s interpretation is governed by certain fundamental theological assumptions about how the Biblical text is to be read and what it ultimately means and refers to. These assumptions are part of the entailment by meeting Christ on the Damascus Road. A lot of people have compared that experience with Paul to a sort of Copernican revolution. Up to that point in Paul’s life, the Torah was sort of the center of his world and he would seek to orient his life around the Torah as a faithful Pharisaic Jew. But suddenly on the Damascus Road, God manifest and reveals Christ as the Son of God and glory. Paul can do nothing else from that experience except to put Christ at the center of his life and from that he begins to rethink everything else. Christ is at the center and everything has a certain meaning in relation to that and so a lot of Paul’s theology comes from sustained reflection of what it means to have Christ at the center of Salvation history. Obviously he learn from fellow Christians, he was taught certain things being a part of a community in which learn about Christian things. But Paul’s own claim in Galatians says that it was the revelation he experienced on the Damascus Road that was critical for him. So from that standpoint, Paul then begins to look back at the whole Old Testament and ask that if Christ is what all this is pointing to, how do I reconfigure it. How do I read it in light of Christ? So there are certain assumptions about Christ as the fulfillment of God’s purposes and plans that lead him to these theological assumptions he is making about what these narratives ultimately mean. That is why you have faithful Jews who read these same stories and come out at a different place, not because one is energetically better than the other but because they are reading them in the light of certain assumptions about where the story is going.

The problem with viewing this as simply an illustration is that Paul weaves his application right into the story; so at the end of it what the Scripture is saying to get rid of the slave woman and her son. It is clear that this is the advice that Paul is giving to the Galatians, get rid of these agitators. Just as Sarah took this decisive step to get rid of Hagar and her son; you need similarly to get rid of these agitators. That again suggests that he weaves an application right into the story itself; furthermore, the idea that Paul is illustrating the point, he is simply talking about what he thinks these things mean in relation to Scripture. I don’t think we can treat this as an illustration. Illustrations would be drawn from other parts of life in order to make sense of Scripture, but to use the Scripture itself as the illustration would be fairly foreign to the way Paul usually perceives in his use of Scripture. So Paul is saying that this is what this means in some ultimate sense; in a figurative or allegorical way and he really sees this as the genuine meaning in the text in light of the fulfillment that has come in Christ and granted that this other level of meaning that the text has. Sometimes we are very uncomfortable with that because there is a tendency, particularly in the modernist era saying that you can’t do that with the text. But throughout church history, it has engaged in this kind of figurative interpretation, very widely and constantly. So, I don’t think we should be as afraid of it as much as we are sometimes legitimately concerned about arbitrariness, finding anything we want in it because I think Paul is operating in certain clear theological and hermeneutical guidelines where Sarah and Isaac represent the promise of fulfillment and with Hagar and Ismael in a situation of slavery being similar to what the Mosaic Law has created. I think there are grounds to what he is doing in the larger story of Scripture. I think this is what saves it from an arbitrary misreading or attempt to make whatever point he wants to make. So, in summary, in light of Christ, this story conveys this larger or other meaning of a figurative reading. For example, when Moses lifted up that serpent in the wilderness, who at that time would have thought that was Christ, or any reference to the Son of Man being crucified, but Jesus tells us that is what it means. So, these are the patterns that we get sometimes and so it is not that unusual to read the Old Testament that way sometimes.

We saw this in Galatians 3; who is the seed of Abraham? It is Christ. Anyone reading the Old Testament narratives would have seen this similar reference. Paul claims were clear in what that means. This is a bigger reading in which granted the failure of Israel to live up to God’s commission, now Israel becomes concentrated in a single person, a single Israelite, Jesus, the Messiah and representative of Israel. He is ultimately the obedient seed. He is ultimately the one who is the place where God’s promise finds fulfillment. Then the broader seed, the other descendants of Abraham find their identity through him as the seed. So Paul is looking at these bigger patterns now and looking back at a particular text and seeing them in light of that pattern. We must understand that when we get involved in arguments, in our passion we can easily say things that are not true. Paul is ultimately communicating authoritative Scripture; I think that God is preventing him from saying something false in the midst of his passion. Paul is commenting on what he is doing; he is in the process of interpreting these things figuratively or allegorical way. I am following the convention that my fellow readers would identify with this so-called allegorical style. And I don’t think the word illustrations would apply here as it isn’t in the realm what this indicates. The word normally would indicate an interpretation not an illustration.

We have already stated that Jesus was born under the Law. The law had its era when it was the regime that governed the people of God. You Galatians want to put yourselves under it. God is playing on a word here, nomos, law. In the second occurrence, law has what we would call a canonical sense in keeping with the way Jews often talked about Scripture; the Law was the first five books of Moses, the Pentateuch. Alright, you want to be under the Law in one sense, the commandments of Moses, so let’s look at what the boarder sense of the law says. Let’s go back to Genesis where we see that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. The son of the slave woman was born according to the flesh. Sarah couldn’t have a child so Abraham sort of forced the issue with Sarah slave Hagar. So, this was from the standpoint of a human effort as it were. This is how Ismael who is never named is the son of the slave woman. But the son of the free woman was born as a resort of a divine promise. The idea here is one who is born through a divine promise in the story of God promising that Abraham and Sarah would have a son with the divine promise behind it. So, these things are being taken figuratively. Paul has the basic narrative, reminding us of the story; straight forward until this point. The women represent two different covenants and here is where Paul begins engaging in the figurative interpretation. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves; this is Hagar. So Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia. I suspect some of your versions will differ here as there is a nest of variants in the Greek here. The Greek at this point is really hard and there are all kinds of different texts and different substitutions and words omitted and also added making it very hard to figure out what is going on in Greek here. It seems as if Paul wants to make this simple identification: Mount Sinai in Arabia and one wonders why Arabia. We know that Paul went away to Arabia right after he was converted, but why Arabia, of all these places? This has fueled a lot of speculation about what Paul might be doing here. Some of it is must more imaginative, creative and convincing. I am not sure of the significance of the phrase; I think Paul simply wants to make the identification. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai corresponding to the present city of Jerusalem in slavery with her children. Paul is saying that there is fundamental point of identity which is the basis for what I’m doing here. My understanding is that the failure of most Jews to respond to Christ means that they are still under the old era before the fulfillment of salvation came into being and they are therefore still slaves to the elemental spirits of the world, slaves to the law, and slaves to sin. So, the Old Testament text makes it clear that Hagar was slave woman and Paul’s reading of salvation history makes it clear to him that the present Jerusalem is in slavery for this reason. There is a Jerusalem that is above which is free and is our mother. Paul does something really interesting; he turns to a quotation from Isaiah 54.

In Galatians 4:29 say that ‘at that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.’

‘Listen to me you who pursue righteousness and seek the Lord. Look to the rough in which you were cut and from the rock which you were taken. Look to Abraham your father and Sarah who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort Zion and look with compassion on all her ruins. He will make her desert like Eden and her wastelands like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her with thanksgiving and with the sound of singing.’ Now unless you are absolutely tone death, you should have heard a lot of resonance here; with things else were in Galatians and what Paul is doing here in Galatians 4. Richard Hazes in his very interesting book, Echoes of Scripture in the letters of Paul, has pointed out a way to enter into the world of Scripture as if you are in this sound room where ideas and words are bouncing off the walls and relating to each other. So, as we read this: You, who pursue righteousness, looked to Abraham your father. There is a lot in Galatians about that. Sarah, who gave you birth; oh yeah, because this language is used in Galatians 4. And interestingly, this is the only place the name Sarah appears in Old Testament Scripture outside the Genesis narrative. He is reading contextual fairly clear here. ‘When I call him, he was only one man and I blessed him and made him many.’ Paul talks about that many nations will be blessed through Abraham. ‘The Lord will surly comfort Zion and look with compassion on all her ruins.’ We see this picked up in Isaiah 54. The promise that God will restore Israel; remember the context of exile. People have been sent into exile, Jerusalem has been taken over by the pagans and now you have the prophecy that the ruins of Zion, Jerusalem will one day be repaired and restored. There will be joy and gladness again. In the midst of the chapter that we are look at, we have got the servant song of Isaiah 53, prime Christian text referred to again and again by our New Testament authors. And it is immediately after that that we get Isaiah 54:1 ‘Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.’

Clearly there is a reference back to Sarah; Sarah was barren, old and unable to bear children until God intervened. So the barren woman has some allusion back to Sarah, but to some degree, it is talking about the present Jerusalem. Jerusalem looks desolate right now, it looks barren just like Sarah was barren, but as God intervened with Sarah, so God is going to intervene on behave of the current desolate Jerusalem, Zion and bring them many children. Indeed, there will be more children ultimately than the current or past Jerusalem ever had. These are children in the sense of the people of God, the people of the promise. God will restore the fortunes of Zion and Jerusalem and that place which is desolate and empty with so many Jews in exile will be a place to which Jews return once again and fill the city with singing and rejoicing. So when we see Paul picking up Isaiah 54:1, we have to see him picking up a text in light of this much larger theology of God promising to reverse the exile of Israel; to do that through the work of a servant who gives himself as atonement for sin. And who therefore creates many children from the one who now appears to be barren; who is associated with Sarah, very clearly within the text of Isaiah. Paul is referring to Sarah as our mother from Isaiah. This is the link that Isaiah creates between a barren Sarah who is now giving birth and a barren Jerusalem who will one day give birth also and have it desolation reversed, not in terms of the law but in terms of Christ. And the above and below language is not language Isaiah is using but that of which Paul is using. He is getting the present and future language from Isaiah. I don’t think there is a reference to Hagar in Isaiah but instead the illusion is to the city. The city that has a husband is a way to talk about the fruitful number of Jews who used to live in Jerusalem, before the exile. In Hebrews, you have this idea of God having established heavenly realities with an earthly counterpart.

To conclude this part of the discussion, Jerusalem that is above is free, she is our mother. We are the children now that have been born to the restored Zion/Jerusalem.