Dear Church Family,

The passage which we will be looking at in the sermon this coming Sunday (Galatians 4:21-31) is considered by some to be the most difficult passage in the whole of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. It’s a difficult passage and argument to follow because Paul assumes a knowledge of the Old Testament, and his argumentation is somewhat complicated through a series of parallels. So, in preparation for our worship this Sunday, I thought it would be good to at least familiarize ourselves with this text.

Galatians 4:21-31

21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?  22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.  23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.  24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.  25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.  26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.  27 For it is written, "REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND."  28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.  29 But 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.  30 But 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."  31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.

Outline

In this passage, the Apostle Paul appeals to ‘the law’ (the Torah, or first five books of the Bible) to speak to those who desire to be ‘under the law’ (v 21). Paul shows how a correct appeal to Scripture will actually undo his opponents’ attempts to appeal to Scripture.

(vv 22-23) First, Paul establishes the historical record: Abraham had two sons. Through Hagar the bondwoman or slave, Abraham had Ishmael who was born according to the flesh. Through Sarah the free woman, Abraham had Isaac who was born according to promise.

(vv 24-27) Second, Paul gives an allegorical interpretation of this biblical history. We should note here that while allegorical, Paul’s interpretation is not random or arbitrary. However, this is probably the most difficult part of Paul’s argument to follow. It’s a bit difficult to follow because Paul simultaneously traces two lines (or two covenants, as he calls them), while contrasting them to each other. Two very different covenants proceed from two different women, and each represents two different religions. In fact, the two covenants are diametrically opposed to each other, even as they correspond to one another. I have found it helpful for my own thinking to chart out Paul’s comparisons in a table as follows:

 

Abraham

Mothers

Hagar

Sarah

(Status)

(Bond-woman)

(Free-woman)

Sons

Ishmael

Isaac

(Means)

(born according to the flesh)

(born according to promise)

Origin

Mount Sinai

?

Mother Cities

Present Jerusalem

Jerusalem Above

Offspring

Children are slaves

Children are free

(Status)

(born according to the flesh)

(children of promise)

 

(vv 28-31) Third, having contrasted these two covenants, Paul makes application. Those who have come to trust in Jesus Christ are, like Isaac, children of promise, born according to the Spirit. Those who seek to justify themselves through works of the Law are in slavery, children of the flesh, born according to the flesh. And, the children of the flesh (the Judaizing false teachers) are persecuting the children of promise; therefore, they must be cast out.

Positive and Negative Applications

The Apostle Paul makes both positive and negative applications in this passage. That is to say, he affirms certain truths about the Christian believers in Galatia and he denies certain claims which have been made by the false teachers in Galatia.

Positively, the Christian believers in Galatia are not slaves but free because they have embraced the promises of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Though they may be persecuted in this life, they are children of the Jerusalem above and thus are secure in their salvation. Because they have been born of the Spirit as a result of the promises of God and not born of their own work and will, they may rest secure in the knowledge they are the true descendants of Abraham.

Negatively, the false teachers in Galatia are not free but slaves because they have sought to justify themselves through works of the Law. They are the persecutors who are seeking to mock the faith of the true believers and enslave them all over again. Rather than having certain spiritual rights and privileges because they are physically descended from Abraham, by denying sufficiency of Christ’s work for justification, they show themselves to be descended through Ishmael not Isaac. Thus, unless the repent and trust in Christ alone for salvation, they must be cast out.

Conclusion

I hope that this brief outline and charting of Paul’s argumentation is helpful for us in preparing for worship this coming Sunday and hearing from God in the reading and preaching of His Word. There is much more that could be said about the teaching and application of this passage which we will explore on Sunday, but even in the sermon on Sunday morning we will not be able to plumb all of the teaching and application found in these verses.

However, I’ll leave you with one final question that we will seek to answer in the sermon on Sunday. In the chart above, you may notice that there is a question mark in one of the blocks. That’s because in Paul’s explanation, he leaves something out. In speaking of the covenant proceeding from Hagar, he says that “Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem” (v 25). Yet, while he speaks of how the ‘Jerusalem above’ in contrast with the ‘present Jerusalem’ (v 26), he doesn’t specifically mentions a contrast to ‘Mount Sinai.’

Among other things, this Sunday we’ll try to answer this question: What is the implicit, unstated thing that Paul has in mind which corresponds to ‘Mount Sinai’? It’s an important question, because it is the origin and source of our spiritual life and worship.

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch