Chapter four continues the second section of the letter and the explanation of the inheritance available to all who believe in Jesus. Galatians 4:1-7 contains the wonderful truth that Jesus was born at just the right time in just the right manner to accomplish everything God wanted to do, namely, to adopt rebel humans back into his spiritual family and make us free. This is important because we are all enslaved in sin by nature (Galatians 4:8-12; Ephesians 2:1-3), but in Christ we are freed from that. Paul wondered, then, why someone would place himself under any kind of restrictions again.
Galatians 4:13-20 breaks from Paul’s explanation of his doctrine to a personal appeal to his original readers. He reminded them of how they had received him. Even though he was violently ill, they were not repulsed by him, but rather received him and his message as if he were Jesus himself. In fact, Paul noted that they would have gouged out their own eyes and given them to him if they were able. 1
This chapter (and the second section) closes with an allegory (an extended metaphor), in which Paul likened the old covenant to Hagar and Ishmael. 2 While he was a legitimate physical son of Abraham, Ishmael was not the son through whom God’s promises would be fulfilled. In the same way, while the Law, symbolized by Mt. Sinai, was legitimately God’s way of leading Israel during that time, it was never meant to bring righteousness or salvation. As Hagar and Ishmael were slaves in Abraham’s household, those who subject themselves to the Law are slaves to it.
Sarah and Isaac (along with Mt. Zion), on the other hand, represent the only true way of salvation, through Jesus. As they were free persons in Abraham’s household, those who come to God through faith in Jesus find freedom from the Law. Why, then, would someone place himself back into slavery when he had been set free?
- This offhand remark in Galatians 4:15 possibly hints to Paul’s “THORN IN THE FLESH,” a constant reminder of his weakness and immense privilege (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). ↩
- This is the only place in the New Testament that we find the English word “allegory” or its Greek source, ἀλληγορέω (allegoreo). An allegory is an extended metaphor, usually with several pieces connecting the two things being compared. This should not be confused with the allegorical method of interpreting the Bible that requires looking “deeper” than the literal meaning of the text, usually due to perceived errors or problems that the interpreter has with the text. The literal interpretation method allows the use of allegory and metaphor as legitimate uses of the language. The allegorical interpretation ignores the literal meaning of the text or supplements it with additional, “spiritual” meanings. ↩