Sunday, June 1, 2014

Notes on Galatians 4:21-5:1

Paul concludes the middle section of the letter with an allegory. Allegories are extended metaphors, and they were an accepted form of argumentation in the rhetoric of the first century. Paul’s allegory revolves around the stories of Sarah and Hagar, and their sons, Isaac and Ishmael.

It is interesting that the first century Jewish writer, Philo, made an argument based on a similar allegory with regard to education. He compared Hagar to the elementary subjects we must learn, and Sarah to the deeper knowledge of virtue (The Preliminary Studies, I-V).

It may very well be that Paul is responding to an allegorical argument made by the Judaizers, who may have concluded that since Ishmael and even foreigners had to be circumcised (Gen. 17:23-27), that Gentiles even in the era of the gospel had to be as well. 

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, 

“Under” is the key preposition Paul uses for the relationship to the Law (3:23; 3:25; 4:2; 4:3).

do you not listen to the law?

Here Paul uses “Law” in the broader sense of “Scripture”.

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 

The background for Paul’s argument is found in Gen. 16:1-12 and Gen. 21:9-10.  In 4:22 the contrast is between their mothers, a “slave woman” and a “free woman.”

23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 

The son of the slave woman was born “according to the flesh,” by natural means. The son of the free woman was born “through promise,” not according to the normal way, but by God’s intervention. In a different context Paul makes the key point that God determines who His people are, not the flesh (Rom. 9:6-8).

“As Abraham was wrong to turn to Hagar, relying on the flesh for fulfillment of the divine promise, so those who likewise rely on the flesh (ethnic decent from Abraham, signified by circumcision) were in the wrong” (Dunn p. 247).

24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. 

One of the covenant is obviously the Mosaic covenant, which Paul identifies as the “one from Mount Sinai.” So Hagar = Law of Moses.

What is the other covenant? It is tempting to make the connection between it and the new covenant, but in the context it is probably better to interpret it as the covenant with Abraham (given in Gen. 15), which preceded the Law (which was the point of Gal. 3:17).

The key point is that the Mosaic covenant, represented by Hagar, produces “children for slavery.”

One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;  she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, 

On the surface it is unusual that Paul would connect the law with Jerusalem. The reason may be because the Judaizers were apparently making much of their connection with Jerusalem, which is why Paul minimized his connection with Jerusalem (1:17).

(Dunn prefers “belongs to the same column” instead of “she corresponds,” arguing that “this is clearly what Paul had in mind here - two parallel columns”, p. 252).

for she is in slavery with her children. 

Slavery has been a key theme of Paul’s in this letter in terms of what the Law of Moses does to those under it, making Hagar and Ismael appropriate symbols of those under the Law, with “present Jerusalem” the power center where those seeking to impose the Law on others come from. This is hardly how the Jews normally pictured themselves (John 8:33)!

26 But the Jerusalem above is free, 

Both non-biblical (4 Ezra 10:53; the interpretation of Isaiah 49:16 in 2 Baruch 4:2-6) and biblical writings (Ezek. 40-48; Heb. 11:10, 14-16; 12:22; Rev. 21) mention a heavenly Jerusalem.

and she is our mother. 

The OT prophets spoke of Jerusalem as a mother and her citizens as her children, as in Isaiah 54:1 (the passage Paul quotes in the next verse). Membership in God’s family is determined by God, from His heavenly dwelling, and not by what those in physical Jerusalem have to say.

27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Sarah’s condition as a barren woman created a connection with this passage in Isaiah 54:1, in which Jerusalem is described as a “barren one.” Sarah was blessed with offspring, and so will Jerusalem be blessed.
In this context, Paul’s point is that the way God was rebuilding and repopulating the barren city of “the Jerusalem above” was with the inclusion of the Gentiles!

“Paul’s claim, therefore, is that Isaiah’s hoped for restoration of Judea/Zion was best understood as fulfilled eschatologically in the amazing fruitfulness of the Christian, including the Gentile mission” (Dunn p. 255).

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 

Just as Isaac was born by promise and not by normal fleshly mean, the Gentiles became members of God’s family by God’s promise, not by the fleshly means of circumcision (see 3:28-29).

29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, 

Ishmael persecuted Isaac (see Gen. 21:9-10). Notice that here the contrast is not birth according to the flesh vs promise, but flesh vs Spirit. 

so also it is now. 

The Judaizers were persecuting those who did not accept their definition of membership in God’s family (see 3:4; 6:12; 1 Thess. 2:14-15).

30 But what does the Scripture say? 
“Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 

This is a quotation from Gen. 21:10. The application would be that they need to withdraw from those Judaizers seeking to enslave them.

31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

If the Judaizers were using Ishmael’s circumcision as a way to argue for its necessity for Gentiles, Paul’s allegory has shown the clear contrast between the way of the promise and the Spirit vs the way of the flesh and the Law.

Paul uses the first person “we,” and I think in this case he is clearly including Jews and Gentiles.

1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

The Gentiles were enslaved once to the gods of paganism - to submit to the yoke of the Law would be to embrace another form of slavery rather than freedom in Christ.

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