Galatians 4 - Outline of Galatians (MENU page)
As this chapter opens, Paul is still developing his analogy of the Law as our schoolmaster which brought us to faith in Christ. To understand the continuation of Paul's argument, it is important to understand its beginning. If you are jumping in at this point, it would be best to first review the Book Notes at Galatians 3:19-29.
 
III. Doctrinal explanation - 2:15- 4:31
Justification is by Grace through Faith.
C. The example of Abraham, 3:6-29
     6. The position of Believers, 3:26- 4:20
a. Children of God: Heirs of the Promise, 3:26-29
b. Adopted Sons: Free from the Law, 4:1-7
c. Unborn Sons? Paul's renewed Travail, 4:8-20
1. Now I say, [That] the heir, as long as he is a child {GK=nepios, minor child},
differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;
2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.
3 Even so we, when we were children
{GK=nepios},
were in bondage under the elements of the world:
4 But when the fulness of the time was come,
God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
6 And because ye are sons,
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son;
and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
now I say...the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all...
Paul's thought continues from 3:24-29. God's sons are heirs to His promises.
As God's sons, they are princes, who will eventually have responsibility in His household.
But as 'children' {GK=nepios, lit., 'with nothing to say', minor children}, even the King's sons were indistinguishable from the children of servants.
  • they differed nothing (v.1)- The word 'differed' {GK=diaphero} relates to the comparative excellence of their deportment.
    They looked and acted like any other children.
  • they were under the authority of guardians (v.2)- tutors {ie., managers} and governors {ie., stewards of the household}.
    They were required to obey the same authorities which were over other children.
  • they were in bondage to the elements {ie., 'slaves to fundamental things'} (v.3)-
    The word for 'elements' {GK=stoicheion} refers to elementary or rudimentary principles.
    The word was sometimes used for the 'alphabet' (eg., 'the ABCs').
    ie., They, like other children, had to work at learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.
         In Col 2:8,20, the 'rudiments of the world' refers to human traditions and philosophies. In that letter, Paul is addressing an error which arose from unbiblical thought.
         Here, in Galatians, the question revolves around the purpose of the Law, which he refers to as 'elementary,' since it was not the completion of God's plan (cp. 3:23). He says, 'we' {ie., Jews} were in bondage to the Law (cp. 2:15,16), since most of his Gentile readers had not been brought up under the Mosaic Law.
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son... that we might receive the adoption of sons.
When the Father's appointed time came, He made arrangements that his children should be 'placed as sons.'
     The 'adoption of sons' {GK=huiosthesia} refers to the placing of mature sons into the family business. At the moment of faith, the new believer is born-again as a child of God. But the transition from a child to an 'adopted son' is a process of growth, which begins when we first put our faith in Christ (cp. v.1-6; Rom 8:15; Gal 3:24-26; Eph 1:5 where the word 'children' should read 'sons') and continues until we reach full maturity (cp. Eph 4:13-15), and enter into the things that our Father has prepared for us (Rom 8:21-23,29, where 'the creature' refers to 'the whole creation').
To accomplish this purpose...
  • ...God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law...-
    God sent forth {GK=exapostello, sent out on a mission} His Son.
    God's Son became a man (Mat 1:21-23).
    He fulfilled the Law, which we had broken (Mat 5:17).
    He 'redeemed' {ie., bought out of slavery} us, by His death in our place (Col 2:14; Heb 2:14; 1Joh 4:9,10).
    Because of who He is and what He has done for us, we who trust in Him have received righteousness and life as God's children.
  • And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
    God sent forth {GK=exapostello, sent out on a mission} the Spirit of His Son, into the hearts of His sons.
    Therefore, God's children desire to please their Father, and love Him with a love like His for them.
    By the witness of God's Spirit within us, we know that we are His children. Rom 5:5; 8:15-17
         Notice the change of pronoun between v.5 and v.6. Just as the Law had led 'we' Jews to faith in Christ, by whom 'we' who were under the Law had been redeemed, and placed as His sons... so, 'ye' Gentiles, who have trusted in Christ, have become God's sons through the Spirit of God's Son, in 'your' hearts (cp. Peter's report, in Acts 11:15-17; Gal 3:2).
         Of course, it is the same Spirit by whom both Jews and Gentiles become sons of God. While the Law is influential in bringing Jewish believers to Christ, once they become sons of God, they are no longer governed by the Law, but live in obedience to the Spirit. Likewise, Gentile believers, though less influenced by the Law, have become sons of God, and are to live in submission to the Spirit, not under the Law.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Because of the work of God's Son and His Spirit within us, we are no longer considered 'minor children with nothing to say.' Rather, we have been brought into fellowship with the Father and His Son (1Joh 1:3-7). There can be no higher or more privileged position, than to know the Lord in such a personal way. Psa 16:5,11; Php 3:8-10; 1Joh 3:2
 
6. The position of Believers, 3:26- 4:20
c. Unborn Sons? Paul's renewed Travail, 4:8-20
8. Howbeit then, when ye knew not God,
ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.
9 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?
10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
12. Brethren, I beseech you, be as I [am];
for I [am] as ye [are]: ye have not injured me at all.
...when ye knew not God...
The Galatians were Gentiles, who previously had given themselves to false gods and fleshly lusts (Eph 2:2-5,11-12; 4:18; 1The 1:9,10; 1Cor 12:2).
...but now, after... ye have known God, or rather are known of God... (cp. Joh 10:14,27)
Christ had redeemed them, and brought them into fellowship with God as His own sons. God knew their hearts. But Paul wondered whether they knew {ie., recognized, perceived, understood} Him. At best, they very poorly understood the greatness of His love for them, or the perfection of His Person and of His Work in their behalf.
...how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, wherein ye desire again to be in bondage?...
The Lord had delivered them from bondage to idolatry. But now, they were willingly making themselves slaves to legalistic Jewish traditions. The Jewish traditions may have seemed superior to the vain traditions which they had received from their Gentile fathers, because they did have some biblical basis, and they might illustrate aspects of Christ's work. Yet, these also were weak {ie., sickly, feeble} and beggarly {ie., cowering, impoverished} elements {basic earthly principles}.
  • The Law (like the idols) was powerless to save from sin and condemnation (Gal 3:10; Rom 8:3).
  • The Law (like the idols) held no inheritance from which to supply Righteousness and eternal Life (Heb 7:18,19; Eph 3:8; Gal 1:3,4).
Did they really want to enslave themselves to another form of empty ritual? Gal 3:1-3; Heb 10:38,39
...ye observe days, and months, and times {ie., seasons}, and years.
Jewish religious customs included sabbath days, new moons, feasts at certain seasons, and sabbatical years.
In contrast to the rites of heathen religions, the prescribed feasts and rituals of the OT did point to Christ. But these things were only shadows of the realities which were to come (eg., Col 2:16-23). As a nation, the Jews had been so focused on their rituals and traditions, that they had not recognized their Messiah, though their scriptures spoke of Him and their religious activities pictured Him.
...I am afraid of you...
Paul feared for their spiritual well-being. He had labored among them to bring them to faith in the true Gospel. But now, they seemed intent to follow a legalistic gospel which could not save, and which would distract and lead them away from knowing Christ. He was beginning to wonder whether they were truly God's children. Gal 1:6-8; 2Cor 11:2,3; 1The 2:8-12; 3:5; 2Pet 2:22
Brethren, I beseech you, be as I am...
Paul was trusting Christ alone for salvation and sanctification. Therefore, he was in possession of the Righteousness which is by faith. He was alive in Christ, as a son of God. He was free from bondage to legalistic religion.
...for I am as ye are...
This same inheritance of God's sons, which Paul enjoyed, belongs to all true believers. So, if that was who they were, they also should be trusting Christ alone, and be done with legalism. cp. Gal 2:14-16
...ye have not injured {ie., hurt, offended} me at all. (cp. 2Cor 2:5)
Their new stance had not harmed his standing as a son of God, or his commission as His apostle.
The apostle's Gospel had not changed.
Paul's love for his readers remained constant.
Therefore, he was deeply concerned for their spiritual health.
13 Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first.
14 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.
15 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.
16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?
ye know how through infirmity {ie., weakness, sickness} of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you...
Paul proclaimed the Gospel, despite his physical weaknesses, depending on the power of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 2:1-5).
Apparently, his eye problems (including poor vision and perhaps a distracting discharge) were very noticeable (v.15; Acts 9:3,8,18). However, the effects of multiple shipwrecks, beatings and stoning had taken their toll, and further marred his appearance (2Cor 11:23-29). Yet, he labored on.
...my temptation {ie., trial}... in my flesh, ye depised {ie., little esteemed} not, nor rejected {lit., 'spit out'}...
Although Paul's appearance was repulsive, the Galatians had not discounted him and his message as unworthy of a hearing.
...but received {ie., readily accepted} me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Despite Paul's appearance, the Galatians had welcomed him as a messenger from God.
     Isn't there a lesson for us, here? The Gospel has no appeal to the flesh, because the One who is the essence of the Gospel is "despised and rejected of men" (Isa 53:1-3). Who will believe this message and trust in the arm of the Lord for salvation? Only those to whom the Lord reveals the truth of their sinful condition and of His powerful provision (Isa 53:4-6). Those, who love Him who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, are drawn to Him, though His "visage was so marred more than any man" (Isa 52:14). Yet, today, the church worries about making its message 'appealing and relevant.' Our methods are contrary to the way of God, who presents His Word "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1Cor 2:4).
     When these Gentiles first heard the Gospel of Christ, from the lips of an infirm man, they recognized and received God's Truth.
...where is the blessedness ye spake of?...
'Blessedness' is an 'attribution of good fortune.' The Galatian believers had considered themselves happy and fortunate to be the recipients of the Gospel message and its messenger. cp. Rom 4:6-8
At that time, they would have done anything for Paul.
...am I... become your enemy {lit., 'hated one', adversary}, because I tell you the truth?
What had changed their attitude toward him?
Neither Paul nor his message had changed.
But they had turned away from him to follow the teachers of legalism. Gal 3:1
17. They zealously affect you, [but] not well;
yea, they would exclude you, that ye might affect them.
18 But [it is] good to be zealously affected always in [a] good [thing],
and not only when I am present with you.
19. My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
20 I desire to be present with you now, and to change my voice; for I stand in doubt of you.
they zealously affect you... that ye might affect them...
The phrase 'zealously affect' (v.17,18) and the word 'affect' (v.17) are each translated from GK= zeloo, earnestly desire, warmly seek. (eg., This word is translated 'covet earnestly' in 1Cor 12:31.)
The false teachers packaged their errors with good public relations. They knew how to win friends and influence people. They looked good and appeared to desire nothing but the best for the Galatian believers. But in reality, they were seeking followers for themselves. cp. 2Cor 11:13-15
Compared to them, Paul looked inferior in his fleshly weaknesses (v.13-16)
...yea, they would exclude {GK=ekkleio, shut out} you, that ye might affect {warmly seek} them.
They were teaching salvation by works, which is 'excluded' as a means of justification (Rom 3:25-27).
Justification is by Faith, not works. Therefore, those who teach legalism 'exclude' their followers from acceptance before God, in order to gain affection and allegiance for themselves. This is certainly not a 'good thing.'
...it is good to be zealously affected {warmly desired}... not only when I am present with you.
In time past, the Galatian believers had been very warm toward Paul, because he had brought them the true Good News. But their affections had turned toward others, who were leading them astray..
...my little children {GK=teknon, born ones}, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you...
Paul's warm love for his spiritual children overflows in these words. cp. Php 1:8; Col 2:1
When he first met them, he had travailed to bring them out of idolatry, and into new birth as God's children, through faith in Christ. Yet, now, he was travailing a second time (contrary to what should be expected), to bring them out of legalistic Judaism, into life as God's sons, who live through faith in Christ alone (cp. Col 1:27; Gal 2:20; 4:6).
...I desire... to change my voice; for I stand in doubt {GK=aporeo, lit., without a way} of you. (cp. v.11)
Paul would have preferred to speak to them with a lighter tone of voice.
The danger of their situation had caused him to be urgent and stern.
Paul was perplexed. He was 'at a loss' as to the outcome of their present infatuation with legalism.
 
III. Doctrinal explanation - 2:15- 4:31
Justification is by Grace through Faith.
D. An allegory of Two Covenants, 4:21-31
21. Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons,
the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he [who was] of the bondwoman was born after the flesh;
but he of the freewoman [was] by promise.
24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants;
the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia,
and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 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.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him [that was born] after the Spirit,
even so [it is] now.
30 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.
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
...ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
Paul takes his readers back to a familiar account within the biblical books of the Law (the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, written by Moses). His purpose is to illustrate the difference between Law (the works of the flesh) and Grace (faith in God's promise).
...which things are an allegory... these are the two covenants...
An allegory uses the events in real or fictional stories to convey an abstract message. Some interpreters allegorize large parts of the Bible, treating the historical accounts as myth which carries some symbolic significance. However, the normal method, of understanding any literature, requires reading it literally, unless the author is obviously using figures of speach.
     God inspired the very words of scripture, in order to reveal and convey His message clearly (2Pet 1:20,21; 2Tim 3:16,17). The Bible is meant to be taken literally, according to the natural meaning of the words. However, the Lord occasionally chose to use allegory, in order to make the reader stop and take notice. For example, the nation of Israel is referred to as the Lord's Vine, which He planted in the land, but which failed to serve Him (eg., Isa 5:1-7). In other prophetic passages, the Lord continued the figure of the Vine to speak of Israel's dispersion and future restoration. Such language vividly pictures God's dealings with the nation. But it does not cast doubt upon the reality of the nation or her history.
     By using an allegory, Paul is not saying that the scriptural account of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar is something less than history. Rather, he is applying the points of an historical account to illustrate spiritual principles. An allegory does not change the historical account, and the illustrated principles may or may not have been present at that point in history. For example, although Paul's allegory mentions them together, Abraham knew nothing of mount Sinai or the Law, because they belong to a later period of Israel's history. Abraham did learn the difference between trusting in fleshly works, and trusting in God's promises. It is that difference which Paul is seeking to clarify for his readers.
 
Law (confidence in works of the flesh)Grace (faith in God's promise)
Abraham had two sons... v.22
...son of a bondmaid (female slave)
     (Ishmael, son of Hagar the slave)
 
...son of a freewoman
     (Isaac, son of Abraham's wife Sarah)
v.23 ...born of the flesh -
     The scheme by which Abraham had a son with Hagar was a completely fleshly idea, born of impatience at waiting for the son which God had promised. Gen 16:2-5
...born of promise (totally dependent upon God's Word)-
     The birth of Isaac, was long promised. It was impossible for Abraham and Sarah to do what only God could do. Gen 17:15-19; 18:10-14; 21:1,2; Rom 4:17-22
Paul has stated the basic facts in the historic account, to highlight 'the works of the flesh' versus 'faith in God's promise.'Now, he applies those two conflicting principles...
These illustrate the two covenants...
v.24-25 - the Mosaic Covenant... (from Mt. Sinai, where the Law was given-- a dreadful place of death, and separation from God's Presence, Heb 12:18-21) ...is pictured by Hagar (in Paul's allegory), and corresponds to present (earthly) Jerusalem, with its ritualistic legalism...
...which 'gendereth to bondage' (ie., slaves beget slaves). Those who are under the Law are in slavery. Gal 4:3,9
 
v.26-27 - the new covenant, from 'Jerusalem which is above' (the heavenly Jerusalem, Zion, from where the Savior came, where believers rejoice in His Presence, Heb 12:22-24). This Jerusalem is mother of all who are free by faith (Rom 4:16,22-25; Gal 4:4-6).
For it is written... (Paul quotes Isa 54:1-5) which speaks of Israel's restoration in the Messianic Kingdom (the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises).
Paul's point . . .v.28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
v.29 But as then... he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the spirit (Gen 21:9)......even so it is now, Gal 5:11; 6:12-14
v.30 Cast out the bondwoman and her son (Gen 21:10-12)....the heir is the son of the freewoman. Gal 4:7
So then... we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.
As those who are justified by Grace through faith in God's promise of salvation through Christ, we are not in bondage to the Law, but free to serve God as His sons and heirs. Gal 3:21,22; 4:7
Paul's statement, which summarizes his allegorical lesson, leads directly into the next chapter (5:1).

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