Galatians 4

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap. You can read all my New Testament notes in my book New Testament: Chapter by Chapter.

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?

Notes:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.

1 Timothy 6

Chapter six addresses three more specific groups within the church and Timothy himself again. First, Paul gave instructions for slaves (1 Timothy 6:1-2). Similar to the instructions in Ephesians 6:5-7 (just a couple of years earlier), Paul wrote that slaves should respect their masters and work well because this glorifies God and keeps a good reputation in the community. For those who have “believing masters,” this is true “all the more.” Apparently, it was common then as now for Christians to treat unbelievers better than their fellow believers in the business world.

Second, Paul addressed those who would spread “false teachings and…not agree with sound words…and with the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3-10). It seems that then, like now, “health and wealth” theology (the “Prosperity Gospel”) was prevalent. Paul warned Timothy not to get involved with and to warn the believers to stay away from it as well. It is nothing more than idolatry, loving money more than God, and it results in the destruction of one’s faith.

Third, Paul returned to his original encouragement to Timothy, that he should not give up (1 Timothy 6:11-16). It would be a struggle, one that Paul was familiar with, but he – and we – could do it when we place our full trust in Christ and rest in him.

Finally, Paul closed with a few words to those “who are rich in this world’s goods” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). His comments about the “Prosperity Gospel” was not intended to be a condemnation on wealth itself or those who have it. Money is a tool, and Paul made sure to tell wealthy believers to use it to build God’s Church and enjoy what God has allowed them to have. What we do in this life is the foundation for relationship and reward in the next.

1 Corinthians 13

Chapter thirteen is the famous “love chapter,” a part of which is often used in weddings and such to demonstrate the greatness of selfless love. What is often overlooked is that this is right in the middle of Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts, and love was the comparison Paul used to show which gifts were greater than others.

In 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Paul used a series of hyperboles to demonstrate love’s greatness compared to even the most extraordinary things. There are some who take Paul’s mention of “the tongues of men and angels” to prove that speaking in tongues means speaking in some kind of literal heavenly language that is different from human language. However, this is not supported by the text. The metaphor about faith moving mountains is a hyperbole, as was Paul’s comment about allowing his body to be burned 1 or giving everything away. There is no justifiable reason to read “tongues of angels” as a specific supernatural language when the others are clearly illustrative.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 contains a list of fifteen ways that love is the greatest action in which we can engage. It is a wonderful list often cited and should be read at engagement parties and weddings. Speakers at Christian funerals should be able to point to the person in the casket as someone who embodied these principles. Yet, in context, this list also describes how spiritual gifts are to be used within the Church.

1 Corinthians 13:8 begins with “love never fails,” which is often misread as the sixteenth item in the previous list. In reality, it begins the following sentence, showing again that love is greater than the gifts themselves, because they will end while love remains. Paul noted that three gifts specifically would end – prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 is highly debated in reference to when these gifts will/did end, mainly centered on the meaning of “the perfect” in verse ten. Much has been written on this over the centuries, but there are three primary interpretations.

First, if “the perfect” refers to Jesus, then these gifts will remain until Jesus returns. This interpretation is based on the fact that only Jesus could be called “perfect.” Second, if “the perfect” refers to the final maturation of the Church (Ephesians 4:13), then these gifts will remain until the Rapture, when “we will be like him” (1 John 3:2). This interpretation takes “perfect” to mean “mature” in light of the immediate analogy of child/adult. Third, if “the perfect” refers to the Scriptures, then these gifts remained only until the completion of the New Testament. This interpretation takes “perfect” to mean “complete” as opposed to “partial” in verses ten and twelve. 2 This last interpretation seems to make the most sense in the immediate context, in the context of the whole New Testament, and in the experience of church history.

Regardless of one’s interpretation of the ending of these gifts, the fact is that they would not outlast “faith, hope, and love,” and that love is “the greatest of these,” including the gifts.

Notes:

  1. The NET translates verse 3 with “if I give over my body in order to boast” (also NIV) rather than “to be burned” (NASB, ESV, KJV) due to a textual variant, which Metzger notes was given a “C” rating by the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament because of the strong evidence for both readings (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament, Second Edition, 1994). In other words, it is difficult to determine which was Paul’s original thought.
  2. The Greek word τέλειος (teleios) can legitimately be translated as perfect, mature, or complete, so none of these interpretations can be dismissed based solely on the translation of this word. The context and analogies must be used to determine Paul’s meaning.