Saturday, June 23, 2007


4:8-11 Paul's Concern for the Galatians

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Having now covered the theological ground, Paul makes a personal application to the Galatians. In verse 8, he reminded the Galatians that, before they became believers, they were enslaved to false gods. They were probably worshippers of the Roman gods and other idols. Now that they have become believers, or are “known by God, they should not return to the elementary principles that enslaved them. So, he asked them a rhetorical question, “how could you?”

I think it is interesting here that Paul corrects himself. He first says that you have come to know God, but corrects himself to say “known by God”. I don’t know for sure what Paul was thinking, but we often put even spiritual things in human terms, since we are by nature self centered. The extreme of this is those who teach that Christ is primarily interested in your earthly success and riches, or those who say we can by our words make things happen.

But, the truth is, the Bible tells us God is in control and God is the initiator. Those who believe are “known by God. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 says “…the man who loves God is known by God” (NIV). Jesus said “I am the good shepherd and I know my sheep and am known by my own. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. John 10: 14, 27.

So, Paul said, now that you have entered into this relationship with God through Christ, so that He knows you and you know him, how could you contemplate going back to your life of slavery to other things? Why would you trade a relationship with the Living God for legalism?

Paul pointed out that the Galatians were observing special days, months, seasons and years. The Romans had many special days set aside to honor their gods, and they became times of celebration for the people. For example, there was Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was celebrated on December 17, and came to take up a whole week. There were sacrifices to Saturn, who had a temple in Rome, a large dinner or banquest, a holiday from school, and giving presents. They even had a greeting, "io (pronounced “vo”, Saturnalia!", meaning "Ho, praise to Saturn". Saturday is named after Saturn. Now you can buy a car named after him also.

Sol Invictus means “the Unconquered Sun", or Deus Sol Invictus ("the Unconquered Sun God") was worshipped in Rome, including by the emperor Constantine.

The Romans held a festival on December 25 called Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, "the birthday of the unconquered sun." December 25 was also considered to be the date of the winter solstice, the day the Sun proved itself to be "unconquered" despite the shortening of daylight hours. The emperor Aurelian introduced an official cult of Sol Invictus, making the sun-god the premier divinity of the empire. Emperors began to wear radiated crowns to identify themselves with this god. He founded a college of pontifices. He dedicated a temple to Sol Invictus. The Romans began to celebrate a festival called dies natalis Solis Invicti, "birthday of the undefeated Sun", on the 25th December. Constantine even named a day after it, called “dies Solis”, or Sunday. It was a Roman day of rest. The government and the shops closed. This continued until paganism was abolished by Theodosius I in 390.

Some think Paul is referring to Jewish days of observance, rather than Roman days, and that days refers to Sabbaths, months to new moons, seasons to feasts or festivals, and years to jubilee years.

Paul told them they had been liberated from having to observe such days and they should not go back, whether it was to Roman holidays or Jewish holidays. The legal observance of those days was no longer a part of their faith.

He will now drop this argument until verse 21, to make a personal appeal.

4:12-16 How Paul Came To Them

12 Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Paul evidently came to Galatia because he was sick. Even though Paul was sick, the Galatians received him and considered him a blessing because he brought the gospel to them. Now, he says, after becoming a blessing for telling you the truth of the gospel, have I become an enemy for telling the same truth?

Paul urged the Galatians to imitate him, to hold on to their freedom from legalism and to hold to Christ, not to the Jewish law.

4:17-20 Up To No Good

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

The Judaizers zealously pursued the Galatians. They made much of them, probably by flattery. But, they did this for a bad purpose, to pull these believers away from the truth. It reminds me of cults who work to befriend lonely or consuded people, then lead them away from truth and into a cult. It’s fine to be courted, but only for a good purpose.

Paul feels like a parent toward these believers in Galatia, but, unfortunately feels that he will again experience the anguish of childbirth, until they have forsaken this error of legalism and begun to live again by faith. He wished, instead, to be with them and find the correctly living by faith, so he could change his tone and not be perplexed by their turning to the law.

4:21-31 Allegory of Sarah and Hagar

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by 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. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; [5] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 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.”

Paul begins this section by saying, in verse 21, that these people who want to be under the law are not reading the law correctly. He asked a rhetorical question, “do you not listen to the law”, meaning “you do not listen to the law. This is like saying to a bad driver, “didn’t you take driving lessons?” That means you drive so badly you must not have taken driving lessons.

So, he goes on to explain the law, and uses an allegorical interpretation of the story of Sarah and Hagar to make his point. An allegory is an extended metaphor, in which objects, persons, and actions in a narrative, are equated with the meanings that lie outside the narrative itself. The characters are personifications of traits or ideas. So, the allegory is a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. The most famous one in philosophy is Plato’s allegory of the cave.

More well know to you is likely Pilgrims Progress, by John Bunyan, the great English Baptist (and Calvinist). There is a story of a man making a journey, but it is an allegory for the Christian life. The full title of the book is actually The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come. The main character travels from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. The characters have names to indicate who they are in a theological sense, such as the character Christian, and the place “Vanity Fair”.

The difference here is that Paul takes a true story from Genesis. The characters are Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, the son of promise she bore him. The other is Hagar, the concubine, whom Sarah gave to Abraham to have a son, and who bore him Ishmael.

Paul reminded them of the real historical characters. Sarah bore the child of promise, Isaac. Hagar had a son according to the flesh, Ishmael, who was born of the flesh when Abraham and Sarah doubted the Lord and tried to create an heir in their own way.

Allegorically speaking, Paul said that Hagar is a slave, so her son is born in slavery. She corresponds to Mt. Sinai, where the law was given, the old covenant and earthly Jerusalem, where the law was practiced. The Judaizers would understand that Paul is saying they are not part of the covenant family.

Sarah, on the other hand, stands for the new covenant, the Heavenly Jerusalem. This is the “age to come” and our redemption in Christ. This is the Heavenly Jerusalem that will descend to earth at the end of all things, as set out in Revelation 21:2. This Jerusalem is free, that is, free from the law, in contrast to the earthly Jerusalem, which is in slavery to the law.

It was this heavenly Jerusalem that Abraham himself sought, not the earthly one. Hebrews 11 tells us this. Hebrews 11:10 says “For he [Abraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. Then, in verse 16 says of all those mentioned in the faith hall of fame, “But, as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” That city is the heavenly Jerusalem. We also wait for that city. Philippians 3:20 reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Hebrews 12:22 says “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”

Believers physically dwell here on earth, but are citizens of that heavenly city. We already have the right to dwell in the heavenly city, but that right is not realized until the next age begins.

The poem Paul recites in verse 27 says the children of the promise will be more than the children of slavery. This is a reference to Isaiah 54:1. This is not speaking of Arabs and Jews, it is speaking of the church, the believers, as the children of the “desolate one”, that is, Sarah, and the children born into slavery, those who are enslaved to the law, which would be the Jews. Abraham was promised that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in heaven, and that is fulfilled in the church with believing Jews and Gentiles filling out that great assembly.

4:28-31 Children of Promise

28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 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.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.


Paul reminded them, and us, again, that believers are the children of promise, not the children of slavery to legalism. Those born according to the flesh represent those Jews who want to live by the law, or legalism. Those born according to the Spirit, are those of the church, those who have been born again.

Yet, as verse 29 says, the children of legalism will persecute the children of faith. In Paul’s time, it was the Judaizers who persecuted the children of faith. But, in all times, there will be those who want to take away your freedom in Christ and impose legalism on you, giving you lists of things you must do as a Christian, or not do, and the things on those lists will take precedence over faith in the gospel. Don’t let them do it.
Be like Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart” and cry “they can take away our lives, but they’ll never take away our freedom”.
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