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Galatians 4



Slaves and Sons Sons and Heirs Enslavement under the Law; Freedom for God's Children The Purpose of the Law Sons of God
(3:21-4:7) (3:26-4:7)   (3:21-4:7)  
3:26-4:7 3:26-4:7      
    4:1-7 4:1-5 4:1-7
Paul's Concern for the Galatians Fears for the Church   Paul's Concern for the Galatians  
4:8-11 4:8-20 4:8-11 4:8-11 4:8-11
    An Appeal to the Galatians in Their Relationship to Paul   A Personal Appeal
4:12-20   4:12-20 4:12-16 4:12-20
The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah Two Covenants A Final Proof The Example of Sarah and Hagar The Two Covenants: Hagar/Sarah
4:21-5:1 4:21-31 4:21-5:1 4:21-27 4:21-31

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. This chapter divides into three distinct sections:

1. Verses 1-11 (or 1-7) continue discussing Gentiles as full heirs of God by faith (like Abraham) and not slaves to the world's crude notions. Verses 1-11 are very similar to the emphasis of Romans 8:1-17.

2. Verses 12-20 (or 8-20) contain Paul's appeal to their personal experiences (cf. 3:1-5).

3. Verses 21-31 contain an Old Testament allegory based on the first two sons of Abraham.


B. Paul used two cultural metaphors to emphasize the purpose of the Old Testament Law and its relationship to New Testament believers:

1. Roman law concerning children and their guardians.

2. Rabbinical typology concerning Abraham's life.


C. This chapter also illustrates the close relationship between Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit (cf. 4:6):

1. Jesus asks the Father and He sends the Spirit

a. Jesus sends the Spirit in John 15:26; 16:7

b. the Father sends the Spirit in John 14:26

c. both from the Father and the Son in Luke 24:49

d. Jesus spoke out of His unity with the Father, so the Spirit speaks out of His unity with them both

2. "Another of the same kind." The best name for the Spirit is "the other Jesus":

a. both "sent" from the Father

1) Son – Gal. 4:4

2) Spirit – Gal. 4:6

b. both called "truth"

1) Son – John 14:6

2) Spirit – John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13

c. both called "paraclete"

1) Son – I John 2:1

2) Spirit – John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7

d. Spirit called by Jesus' name (NASB)

1) Acts 16:7 – "The Spirit of Jesus"

2) Rom. 8:9 – "Spirit of God. . .Spirit of Christ"

3) II Cor. 3:17 – "The Lord is Spirit. . .the Spirit of the Lord"

4) II Cor. 3:18 – "The Lord, the Spirit"

5) Gal. 4:6 – "The Spirit of His Son"

6) Phil. 1:19 – "The Spirit of Jesus Christ"

7) I Pet. 1:11 – "The Spirit of Christ"

e. both indwell believers

1) Son – Matt. 28:20; John 14:20, 23; 15:4; 17:23; Rom. 8:10; II Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27

2) Spirit – John 14:16-17; Rom. 8:11; I Pet. 1:11

3) Father – John 14:23; 17:23; II Cor. 6:16

f. both described as "holy"

1) Spirit – Luke 1:35

2) Son – Luke 1:35; 14:26


D. Definitions of Allegory and Typology (4:21-31)

1. Allegory seeks a hidden, deeper level of meaning in every text. It imports meaning into the text that has no relation at all to the intended meaning of the original author or his day or even the thrust of Scripture as a whole.

2. Typology seeks to focus on the unity of the Bible, based on one divine Author and one divine Plan. Similarities between the OT and NT pre-figure truths. These similarities (i.e., Hos. 11:1) rise naturally out of a reading of the entire Bible (cf. Rom. 15:4; I Cor. 10:6,11; I Pet. 1:12).



 1Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!" 7Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.


NASB, NKJV"Now I say"
NRSV"My point is this"
TEV"But to continue"
NJB"Let me put this another way"

Paul used this standard literary technique to introduce an expansion of a previous subject (cf. 3:17; 5:16).

▣ "the heir" The great truth that believers are heirs of God in Christ is the focus of Gal. 3:7,16,24-26,29 (cf. Rom. 8:17). This same emphasis is continued in Gal. 4:1, 5, 6, 7, 28-31. The real descendants of Abraham are not ethnic, but believers (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11).

▣ "is a child" This was the Greek term for infant, used in the sense of

1. spiritual babies

2. legal minors

In ancient Mediterranean cultures, the rite of passage from boyhood to manhood occurred at different ages and was a major cultural/religious event

1. in Jewish culture, it was age 13

2.  in Greek culture, it was age 18

3. in Roman culture, it was usually at age 14


4:2 "but he is under guardians and managers" Galatians 3:22-25 says we were "under the Law," described as: (1) a jailor which kept us in protective custody (cf. 3:22-23) or (2) an adolescent custodian (cf. 3:24-25). However, in chapter 4, the metaphor changes to "guardian" and "trustee." In Roman law, boys from birth to 14 years of age were in the charge of a legal guardian (cf. 3:23-25). From age 14 to 25, their property was administered by trustees (cf. 4:2). Paul was alluding to this Roman custom by using these precise terms.

▣ "until the date set by the father" This phrase gives further evidence that Roman fathers had some discretion in setting the time of his son's transition from boyhood to manhood. This is a unique feature of Roman law. It implies that God the Father chose the time that His Son would bring in our maturity (cf. v. 4).

4:3 "while we were children" The pronoun "we" could refer to

1. the Jews who were under the guardianship of the Mosaic Law

2. Jews and Gentiles who were part of the old age before the gospel

3. the Gentiles' paganism with all its rules and rites

In the context it might relate to "heirs" (v. 1), therefore, option #2.

NASB"were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world"
NKJV"were in bondage under the elemental things of the world"
NRSV"we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world"
TEV"were slaves of the ruling spirits of the universe"
NJB"we were as good as slaves to the elemental principles of this world"

This phrase is periphrastic pluperfect passive participle. This construction emphasizes our fixed status as children. "Elemental things" [stoicheia] originally meant "to stand side by side in a row." It had a wide range of meanings in the Greco-Roman world of Paul's day:

1. the ABC's of a child's training or the elemental teachings of any subject (cf. Heb. 5:12; 6:1)

2. the basic components of the physical universe—air, water, fire, earth (cf. II Pet. 3:10,12), which were often deified by the Greeks

3. the heavenly bodies (cf. I Enoch 52:8-9); and this is how the early church fathers interpreted its use in Col. 2:8,20

Closely identified with #3 was the indirect meaning that behind heavenly bodies were spiritual powers, a common usage which could influence the interpretation of Gal. 4:3,8-10 (cf. the angels of Col. 2:18-20 and Gal. 3:19). However, in his book Christ and the Powers, Hendrik Berkhof states that these powers are impersonal structures (such as politics, democracy, social class, public mores, sports, education, medicine, etc.) in our natural, fallen world which tend to unify mankind apart from God (cf. p. 32). This interpretation fits the biblical examples. Paul was making a parallel between the Law as adolescent custodian (cf. 3:22-4:7) and stoicheia as slave master (cf. 4:3, see note at 4:8).


4:4 "But when the fullness of the time came" This implies that God is in control of history and that Christ came in God's timing (cf. Mark 1:15; Eph. 1:10; I Tim. 2:6; Tit. 1:3). Many commentators have seen the phrases related to

1. Roman peace

2. Roman highways, shipping

3. a common language in the entire area

4. the religious and moral searching of the Mediterranean world for the true God and for fellowship with Him

This statement relates to v. 2, "until the time fixed by the father." The New Age was inaugurated in God's time by the Christ event, the New Covenant had come, the Old Covenant (as a means of salvation) had passed away in Christ.

▣ "God sent forth His Son" "Sent" is the Greek term apostellō from which we derive "apostle." This same phrase occurs in v. 6, where God the Father sends the Holy Spirit. Notice that the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned in vv. 4-6. Although the term "Trinity" does not appear in the Bible, the concept does over and over again. See Special Topic below.

The fact that God sent His Son implies the pre-existence of the Son in heaven and, thereby, the Deity of the Son (cf. John 1:1-3, 14, 18; I Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:6; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:2). Herein is the conflict with the "monotheism" of Israel (cf. Deut. 4:35,39; 6:4; 33:26; Isa. 43:10-11; 45:21-22; 46:9; Jer. 10:6-7).


▣ "born of a woman" Paul emphasized the full humanity of Jesus Christ possibly due to the tendency of the docetic Gnostics (Ephesians, Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles and I John) to affirm the Deity of Jesus but to deny His humanity. However, there is scant evidence that this heresy influenced the writing of Galatians (cf. v. 3).

The phrase "born of a woman" would certainly remind the Judaizers of Gen. 3:15 and Isa. 7:14. The author of the book of Hebrews makes this a cardinal point in his theology (cf. Heb. 2:14, 17). A very similar phrase which emphasizes the true humanity of Jesus but without a sin nature, is found in Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:7. That Jesus was fully God (John 1:1-14) and fully man is a major truth of the gospel of the first century Church (cf. I John 4:1-3).

Surprisingly, the virgin birth of Jesus is not emphasized or even mentioned outside of the passages on Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke. Possibly it was too easily misunderstood and connected by pagans to the mythical activities of the Mt. Olympus gods.

▣ "born under the Law" This shows that Jesus was born within the Jewish tradition under Jewish Law (cf. Rom. 1:3). There is no article with the term "law," but the context shows it must refer to the Law of Moses, which was the stoicheia to which Jesus was subject. Jesus was also subject to Roman law. This phrase could also relate to "the curse of the Law" on mankind, which He voluntarily shared (cf. 3:10-13).

4:5 "so that He might redeem those who were under the Law" "Redeem" (aorist active subjunctive) is used in 3:13 (aorist active indicative) to speak of God's buying back either (1) all humanity from the slavery of sin or (2) the Jews from the Mosaic Law and the Gentiles from the stoicheia, through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This shows mankind's helplessness (cf. Rom. 1:18-3:31; Eph. 2:1-3) and God's gracious provision (cf. Mark 10:45; Eph. 2:4-6). It is difficult in this context to know if Paul was speaking of Mosaic Law, 3:19, or law in the general sense of human merit (cf. 3:21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: RANSOM/REDEEM at 3:13.

NASB, NKJV"that we might receive the adoption as sons"
NRSV"that we might receive adoption as children"
TEV"so that we might become God's sons"
NJB"to enable us to be adopted as sons"

Paul continued his discussion of the privileges that believers receive as full heirs of Abraham through faith in Christ. Paul used the familial metaphor "adoption" of our salvation while John and Peter used the familial metaphor "born again." The adoption metaphor was used primarily in two contexts in Roman culture. In Roman law, adoption was very difficult. A long, involved and expensive legal procedure, once enacted adoption afforded several special rights and privileges.

1. all debts were cancelled

2. all criminal charges were dropped

3. they could not be legally put to death by their new father

4. they could not be disinherited by their new father

In legal terms, they were a completely new person. Paul was alluding to the believers' security in Christ by using this Roman legal procedure (cf. Rom. 8:15, 23). When a father publicly adopted a son, he officially and permanently became his heir. Also, the metaphor was used in the official ceremony of a boy becoming a man, held on the 17th of March each year.

4:6 "Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" Similar to Rom. 8:14-17, Paul reiterated God's gracious act in sending His Son and His Spirit (the new guardians). The exact meaning of the Greek phrase is unclear. Is the Spirit the evidence or the result of sonship? "Through His Son we become sons" is the motto of Gal. 2:15-4:31. It is interesting to note that the Spirit was mentioned so frequently in chapter 3 in reference to our becoming Christians (cf. v. 2,5&14). He is now called "the Spirit of His Son." This shows two works of the Spirit: (1) wooing to Christ; and (2) forming Christ in us (cf. John 16:7-15) of the three works of the Spirit (John 14-16). The third being, "baptizes believers into Christ" (cf. I Cor. 12:13). The ministry of the Son and the Spirit has always been closely identified (cf. Introduction to this Chapter, C).

"hearts" See Special Topic following.


▣ "crying, ‘Abba' Father'" This phrase contains both the Greek and Aramaic terms for father. The term Abba was the Aramaic word for the intimate family relationship between a child and his father (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15), very similar to our use of "Daddy." Familial expressions such as this highlight the intimate relationship between Jesus and the Father. Because of our response to God's offer in Christ, we have this same intimate access to the Father (cf. Rom. 8:26-27). Truly, we are adopted sons!

4:7 "Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God" This is a First class conditional sentence, "since you are sons" (TEV, NIV). The Spirit removes our slavery and bondage and establishes our sonship (cf. Rom. 8:12-17). This assures our inheritance (cf. I Pet. 1:4-5).


▣ "through God" The KJV reads "through Christ." Older Greek manuscripts have "through God." This emphasizes God as the originator and initiator of grace (cf. John 6:44,65 and Gal. 4:9). Several manuscripts have variations but manuscripts P46, א, A, B, and C* have "through God." Of all the many variants, this one seems to be the most unusual and probably the source of all the others. The UBS4 gives it an "A" rating (certain).

 8However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 10You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

4:8 "However at that time, when you did not know God" This is a perfect active participle which emphasizes a settled state. Although some modern commentators have tried to identify this with a Jewish background, it fits much better with the concept of the Gentiles who were pagans estranged from God (cf. Eph. 2:12-13; Col. 1:21). It is true that all humans have the potential of knowing God both from creation (Ps. 19:1-5 and Rom. 1:19-20) and also an inner moral witness (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). This knowledge is called "natural revelation," but the Bible asserts that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, have rejected this knowledge (cf. Rom. 3:23).

"Know" is used both in its Hebrew sense of interpersonal, intimate, family relationships and its Greek sense of cognitive content but the focus here is on the Greek sense as v. 9 is on the Hebrew sense.

▣ "you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods" Idol worship is vain and futile (cf. Acts 17:29 and I Cor. 8:4-5). However, Paul asserted that behind the vanity of idol worship is demonic activity (cf. I Cor. 10:20; Rev. 9:20). Mankind's slavery to the demonic is also implied in the verb of I Cor. 12:2. Paul may have been referring to one of several possible things:

1. the stoicheia of vv. 3 and 9

2. pagan idols

3. demons behind pagan idols

4. the Jewish Law, which in its legalism and ritualism had replaced YHWH


4:9 "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God" The time element in verse 8 is contrasted with v. 9. In v. 9 Paul used another powerful, rhetorical question as he did in 3:1-5, 19,21, and 4:15. "Know" (ginōskō) in v. 9 is a different, and perhaps, more relational Greek word choice than the term used in verse 8 (oida), although it is hard to make this distinction in Koine Greek. This term theologically carries the Hebrew connotation of knowledge as an interpersonal relationship (cf. Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5). Their new relationship was not based on facts about God but God's initiating a new covenant through Christ with those who had been estranged (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13).

NASB"how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things"
NKJV"how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements"
NRSV"how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits"
TEV"how is it that you want to turn back to those weak and pitiful ruling spirits"
NJB"how can you want to go back to elemental things like these, that can do nothing and give nothing"

This is a present active indicative of a Greek term that reflects the OT concept (shuv, BDB 996) of repentance (turning back). This verse contains the word stoicheia, as in 4:3. They were trading the slavery of paganism for the slavery of Judaism as a means of salvation. Both Judaism and paganism were subject to the stoicheia (see note at v. 8)! These fallen world structures are completely inadequate to bring salvation.

The stoichea are described as "weak and worthless," which is parallel to Col. 2:15,20.

4:10 "You observe days and months and seasons and years" This is a present middle indicative representing continuing action, in this case, a personal, scrupulous religious observance—a reference to the Jewish religious calendar (cf. Col. 2:16). These Galatians were exchanging one religious calendar (pagan) for another (Jewish). Paul's understanding of the gospel allowed him to apply the truth to different situations. The situation in the Galatian churches required Paul to oppose legalism and works righteousness. However, in Romans 14, Paul encouraged strong believers not to judge weaker believers who respected certain days (cf. Rom. 14:5-6). In Galatians it is a matter of the proper understanding of the gospel, in Romans it concerns Christian fellowship (cf. I Cor. 8,10).


NASB"I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain"
NKJV"I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain"
NRSV"I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted"
TEV"I am afraid for you! Can it be that all my work for you has been for nothing"
NJB"You make me feel I have wasted my time with you"

Several modern versions translate this verse in reference to Paul's labor among the Galatian churches (cf. JB and Revised English Bible). However, this verse could be related to Paul's concern for the Galatian believers themselves (cf. TEV). There are two possibilities.

1. Paul was not doubting their salvation but rather their usefulness in spreading, living, and enjoying the radically free gospel

2. Paul was fearful they were rejecting grace for human performance (cf. 3:4; 5:2-4)


 12I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You have done me no wrong; 13but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. 15Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. 18But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. 19My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—20but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

4:12 "I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are" This verb is a Present middle (deponent) imperative. This verse has been variously interpreted.

1. The Williams translation reads "take my point of view," Paul asked them to accept his view of justification by faith because he once had accepted their current tendency of justification by works (Judaism).

2. Some say that "for I also have become as you are" is an allusion to I Cor. 9:19-23, where Paul asserted that he became all things to all men in order that he might win some. When he was with Jews, he lived like the Jews. When he was with Gentiles, he lived like the Gentiles. Yet in truth he had abandoned the Law as a way of salvation. He was flexible on the method, but not on the message.

"Brothers" indicates Paul's transition to a new topic. Also, calling them "brothers" lessened the blow of his hard hitting criticisms (cf. v. 19; 1:11; 3:15).

▣ "You have done me no wrong" Some think this phrase expresses a negative statement implying "in the past you did me no harm but now you do." But others read it as a positive expression of his appreciation of the Galatian churches' original acceptance of him and his message. This phrase should be read with vv. 13-15.

4:13 "it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time" The mention of a "first time" implies a second time before the letter was written. However, the phrase may idiomatically mean "formally" as in I Tim. 1:13. Paul went to the churches of Galatia

1. for a time of recuperation from some illness

2. because of an illness he had to stop and stay a while

Because of (1) vv. 14-15; (2) in tandem with 6:11; and (3) II Cor. 12:1-10, I personally believe Paul is alluding to his "thorn in the flesh," a physical ailment. With the combination of these verses it seems to me that it was some type of eye problem which possibly began with his Damascus Road experience (cf. Acts 9) and was made worse by the diseases of the first century. Paul's partial blindness may have been caused by the repulsive eye disorder, ophthalmia.

For "illness" (lit. "weakness of the flesh") see Special Topic at 1:16.


NASB"and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe"
NKJV"And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject"
NRSV"though my condition put you to the test, you did not scorn or despise me"
TEV"But you did not despise or reject me, even though my physical condition was a great trial to you"
NJB"you never showed the least sign of being revolted or disgusted by my disease that was such a trial to you"

Many Jews and Gentiles would have seen Paul's illness as a judgment from God. The fact that Paul was in God's will, and sick, forces us to rethink the link between sin and sickness (cf. John 9; Job and Psalm 73).

These two verbs invoke strong images. The first means "to count as good for nothing." The second means "to spit out." The use of the second verb is the reason that some relate Paul's illness to the superstition in the Ancient Near East about "the evil eye" (cf. 3:1). The magical remedy was "to spit" and thereby protect yourself from its spell, possibly referring to (1) an unusual-looking eye or (2) a wild-eyed look (epilepsy).

▣ "you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself" A strong statement, Paul implied that they genuinely received the message of God through him, accompanied with great respect for the servant who brought it. The NJB translates the phrase as "messenger of God." The word for "angel" in Hebrew and Greek also means "messenger."


NASB"Where then is that sense of blessing you had"
NKJV"What then was the blessing you enjoyed"
NRSV"What has become of the goodwill you felt"
TEV"You were so happy! What has happened"
NJB"What has become of this enthusiasm you had"

In this rhetorical question, Paul wants to know where the original, positive feelings the Galatians held for him has gone. The Phillips translation reads, "What has happened to that fine spirit of yours?"

▣ "that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me" This second class conditional sentence should be understood as, "If you had plucked out your eyes which you did not, you would have given them to me which you did not." This reading supports the theory that Paul's thorn in the flesh (cf. II Corinthians 12) was eye disease.

4:16 "So have I therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth" Paul contrasted their radical change of heart toward him with their change of heart toward the gospel.

4:17-18 Two difficulties arise in interpreting vv. 17 and 18: (1) the meaning of the phrase "eagerly seek" and (2) the ambiguity of the subject in v. 18. Does it refer to (1) Paul or (2) the churches of Galatia? With this kind of ambiguity, a dogmatic interpretation is inappropriate but the general sense of the passage is not affected. The Judaizers wanted the Galatians to follow them exclusively and appreciate them the way they previously had Paul.


NASB"They eagerly seek you"
NKJV"They zealously court you"
NRSV"They make much of you"
TEV"Those other people show a deep concern for you"
NJB"The blame lies in the way they have tried to win you over"

Literally, this reads "they are zealous of you." This must be a reference to the false teachers, especially in context with the next phrase, "but not sincerely." "Zealous," from the root "to burn," had two connotations in Koine Greek: (1) the affection of young lovers and (2) envy of another. These strong emotions characterized the activity of the sweet-talking false teachers toward the Galatian churches, but their activity derived from selfish motivation.

NASB"but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them"
NKJV"they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them"
NRSV"they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them"
TEV"All they want is to separate you from me, so that you will have the same concern for them as they have or you"
NJB"by separating you from me, they want to win you over to themselves"

The false teachers were jealous of the affection that the Galatian churches had shown Paul (cf. vv. 13-15). They wanted to alienate Paul so they could take his place! This may explain verse 18.

4:18 Paul was shocked that those who had been so kind and caring toward him had so dramatically become hostile (cf. v. 16). In the context of verses 13-20, this interpretation fits best.

4:19 "My children, with whom I am again in labor" Paul often used familial metaphors because of their warm and caring connotation. He called himself a father in I Cor. 4:15 and I Thess. 2:11 and here, a mother (cf. I Thess. 2:7). Paul may have been making the point that he was the true spiritual parent of the Galatians, not the Judaizers.

▣ "until Christ is formed in you" "Formed" [Greek root morphē] was used in a medical sense for fetal development. Morphē could refer to the abiding character of something. This text refers to their maturity in Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13), or in other words, their Christlikeness (cf. Rom. 8:28-29; II Cor. 3:18; 7:1; Gal. 4:19; Eph.1:4; 4:13; I Thess. 3:13; 4:3,7; 5:23; I Pet. 1:15). This does not necessarily mean two different experiences of the Christian life—salvation and maturity—and yet we all know that maturity is a developmental experience.

Paul showed that his motives in teaching and preaching to the Galatian churches were totally different from those of the self-seeking false teachers.

4:20 "but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone" Paul wished they could sense the paternal care he felt for them. His heart was on fire for them, though the printed page seemed cold and harsh.

NASB, NRSV"for I am perplexed about you"
NKJV"for I have doubts about you"
TEV"I am so worried about you"
NJB"I have no idea what to do for the best"

The Greek word for "way" with the alpha privative may be translated in at least two ways.

1. the Living Bible reads "I frankly don't know what to do"

2. the Phillips translation reads "I honestly don't know how to deal with you"

These different idiomatic translations express the frustration of Paul in his dealings with these Galatian churches.

 21Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27For it is written,
Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear;
Break forth and shout, you are not in labor;
For more numerous are the children of the desolate
Than of the one who has a husband
 28And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30But what does the Scripture say?
 "Cast out the bondwoman and her son,
 For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman."

 31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. 5:1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

4:21 "Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to law" Paul used the writing of Moses to combat errors based on Moses. This verse resumes the thought of verse 7. Verses 8-20 are another personal, emotional appeal by Paul. The concepts of "sonship" and "heir" in 4:7 and "seed" in 3:15-18 are the antecedents to this typology.

4:22 "Abraham had two sons" Abraham had more than two sons, but the ones spoken of here are contrasted: his first son, Ishmael, recorded in Genesis 16, and his second son, Isaac, recorded in Genesis 21. The whole point of the typology is that one was born by natural means by a servant girl and one was born by supernatural means according to the promise of God by a free woman, his wife. The emphasis throughout this context has been, as in v. 23, on the promise of God versus human effort.

4:23-24 The Jews would have agreed with Paul's typology until verse 23, where he said that in the sense of human effort, the Jews were really the descendants of Ishmael, while the Church was the true descendant of Sarah because of "the promise."

4:24 "allegorically" This is not "allegory" as used by Philo, Clement or Origen, but rather typology. Paul saw the current situation as analogous to the two children of Abraham; one by social custom, one by divine promise. One corresponds to works righteousness (Ishmael), the other to free grace (Isaac)! For Paul, the Law could not save but had become a death sentence on sinful mankind (cf. Col. 2:14). Only in Christ could true salvation be found. The essence of OT faith was not found in Mosaic Law but Abrahamic faith.


4:25 "Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia" There have been two ways of interpreting "is" here: (1) "it represents" or (2) there is some kind of popular etymological connection between Hagar and Mount Sinai. The name "Hagar" is spelledmuch like the Hebrew term for "rock" (metonymy for mountain). Most commentators choose option #1. Hagar stands for the Mosaic Law given on Mt. Sinai and, thereby, Judaism.

Arabia was a far wider geographical designation in Paul's day than today.


▣ "corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children" The metaphor here is between the current system of Judaism centered in Jerusalem and the coming, eschatological city, New Jerusalem. This city, not made with hands, exists eternally in the heavens (cf. Heb. 11:10; 12:22; 13:14 and Rev. 21:2, 10).

Notice that Paul made the Jerusalem above apply to the Church. NT apostolic writings change the focus of the OT (Jews vs. Greeks) to believers vs. unbelievers. The NT reorients the OT geographical promises from Palestine to heaven (earthly Jerusalem vs. heavenly Jerusalem). It is this basic change of focus that allows the book of Revelation to refer to (1) believers, not Jews or (2) a universal kingdom, not a Jewish kingdom.

4:26 "free" Freedom here refers to the believer as being released from the obligation of both Judaism (i.e., free from the curse, cf. 3:13) and paganism (the stoicheia). Freedom is not related to the believer becoming self-directed, but

1. we are free to serve God (cf. Romans 6)

2. we are free from the terrible tyranny of the fallen self

To put it another way, believers are free "to serve" and free from "self." It is a dual freedom! We willingly serve the Father and the family as sons and daughters, not slave and servants!

4:27 This is a quote from Isaiah 54:1. In context it refers to the restoration of the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The New Jerusalem is mentioned specifically in chapters 65 and 66. Paul projected this eschatological understanding into his typology.

4:28 The believers in the Galatian churches were the true descendants of Abraham by faith (cf. Rom. 2:28-29).

4:29 Paul associated all true followers of Jesus with the true descendants of Isaac through God's promise. Although the OT does not specifically mention persecution (i.e., Jewish tradition), it does mention Hagar's haughty attitude toward childless Sarah (cf. Gen. 16:4-5), but also Sarah's mistreatment of Hagar (cf. Gen. 16:6). The rabbis interpreted Gen. 21:9 as Ishmael mocking Sarah and her child. The Hebrew text itself reads "playing" or "laughing" (BDB 850, KB 1019). Possibly Paul was referring to the later animosity between Jews and Gentiles.

The last phrase of v. 29, "so it is now also," implies that the physical descendants (i.e., children of the Mosaic Covenant) of Abraham are still persecuting the spiritual children (i.e., faith children) of Abraham. There is conflict between the two mountains!

4:30 "But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son'" This is a quotation from Gen. 21:10 (quoting Sarah, Peil imperative, BDB 176, KB 204). The Greek verb is aorist active imperative meaning to "drive off the slave girl" and in the context of Galatians would mean "kick the Judaizers out!"

Scripture is personified (cf. John 7:42; Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8; 4:36; James 2:23; 4:5). This may be a metaphorical way of referring to the Father or the Spirit speaking, which would be a way of referring to "inspiration" (cf. Matt. 5:17-19).

4:31 "So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman" This was the summary of the argument. We who trust in Jesus Christ are full heirs of the Abrahamic promise and not simply those who are of racial, or natural Israel. This same truth is expressed in Romans 9-11.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did Paul continue to emphasize our sonship in Christ?

2. What is the threefold emphasis of verse 4 in connection with the person of Jesus?

3. What is the relationship between verses 8 and 9 as far as our knowing God or our being known by God?

4. What is the meaning of the phrase "the world's crude notion" or "stoicheia?" Explain.

5. What was Paul's thorn in the flesh which is apparently referred to in verses 14-15?

6. Why must we be careful of allegorical interpretations? If Jesus and Paul used it, why can't we?

7. Explain in your own words how verse 9 is related to verses 6 and 7.