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Galatians Chapter Four


4:1, 2 - I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.


Comments:  Paul now turns his attention to a teaching on the biblical concept of the heir.  The Greek word rendered heir in our verse above is kleironomos klhronovmoß and as understood from the English refers to one who receives a portion allotted to him by law (as can be inferred by the suffix of the Greek nomos=law).  What is Paul trying to teach us?  Having begun with the paidagogos theme in the last chapter he now focuses on the logistics of how the parent, the father of the boy in our previous midrash, has control over how and when the boy is to gain the promised family inheritance.  Notice that the verse teaches that the child (a term signifying spiritual immaturity, viz, unregenerate) is both an heir and a slave.  He must mature in his faith before he can utilize the family inheritance promised by his father.  Once he reaches the “legal age” set by the father he then gains ownership, as it were, of the family inheritance, but not sooner.  Until such a time, he is subject to guardians and trustees. 


The whole midrash is a teaching on sonship from a 1st century perspective, conveniently couched in terminology that the Galatians could identify with, that of Roman Law.  I believe the Jewish people are the child, heirs according to birth, yet slaves to sin and death, owners of the promises (the estate) of HaShem as spelled out to the Fathers of the Faith, Avraham, Yitz’chak, and Ya’akov.  They are under the supervision of guardians and trustees (the Law and the Prophets) until the moment of spiritual salvation set by the Father in Heaven, the moment of personal trusting faithfulness in the Promised Seed, viz, Yeshua.  Once the child (the Jewish people) matured in their faith (placed trust in Yeshua) they gained lasting covenant membership and thus received the promise of the Father.  Merely being born Jewish did not secure the promises offered by the Father.  Rather, they, being heirs, were considered as slaves being governed as it were by the Torah (the paidagogos) until they should meet the Teacher of Righteousness.  In this passage, Paul reveals that ‘Am Isra'el does enjoy covenant status on a limited basis due to being merely born into Avraham’s family.  Yet, he does not emphasize this truth unnecessarily as it had a tendency to lead the average Jewish person to an illogical conclusion, one that suggested full and lasting covenant membership based on their position at birth (or conversion for the non-native-born Gentile) without having arrived at the “time set by his father.”


4:3 - In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.


Comments:  Paul now switches to the personal pronoun “we” to intimately identify with his audience.  He too was a son of Avraham according to the flesh.  He too was an heir, yet was treated like a slave until arriving at personal trust in Yeshua.  Jewish ethnicity was found to be lacking of true covenant membership short of embracing faith in the Promised Seed.  He stops to explain this slavery lest his audience misunderstand the analogy.  Isra'el was, to one extent or another, always in slavery, even though she, at the time of Paul’s letter, dwelled in the Land of her forefathers.  Now, the Zionists of Paul’s day would not easily argue about such slavery, pointing to Rome as her captor, yet Paul wanted his readers to come to an even more personal and pertinent realization that outside of personal trust in Yeshua they were slaves to the stoicheion stoicei'on[1] of the very world around them (4:8-9 below reveals these to be demons)!  In fact, the Stoics were those ancient Greek philosophers that the religious Hebrews were attempting to avoid becoming like!  Yet Paul now reveals that outside of the regeneration offered by the Spirit of the Messiah a person was a legal heir (a slave) to even the baser principles of fallen human nature, complete with all of its ugliness, something surely shocking to the candidate of righteousness.


4:4 - But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Law,


Comments:  The first part of this verse requires little explanation; the meaning is quite obvious: ‘born of a woman’ speaks of Yeshua’s humanity.  Even though he came from heaven, he had an earthly mother named Miryam (Mary) making him as human as every other person born on planet Earth (Adam and Eve excluded from the mother category since God created them directly), fully able to—as the book of Hebrews describes—sympathize with our weaknesses (4:15).  The second part of the verse containing the phrase “born under the Law” is usually understood to mean, “born into a law-keeping environment—viz—as a Jewish man in a Jewish community.”  Indeed the Barnes Notes commentary to this verse conveys the prevailing Christian interpretation:


            Made under the Law - As one of the human race, partaking of human nature, he was subject to the Law of God. As a man he was bound by its requirements, and subject to its control. He took his place under the Law that he might accomplish an important purpose for those who were under it. He made himself subject to it that he might become one of them, and secure their redemption.[2]


Tim Hegg, however, sees Paul continuing the line of thought began in 3:13-14, indeed providing a parallel to that section.  In his Galatians commentary he explains that born under Torah likely carries with it the sense that as sinners, mankind finds himself under the curse of Torah, a curse from which only the redemption proffered by Yeshua could bring a remedy.[3]  Personally, I tend to think that Paul could be attempting to convey either one or both of these important aspects of Christ’s being referred to as “under the Law.”


4:5 - to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.


Comments:  Recall that I stated an opinion that there exists a parallel between these verses (4:4-6) and 3:13, 14.  You are encouraged to read the commentary to 3:13, 14 from that location above.  Starting in 4:5, however, as with verse four above, “under the Law” could refer to Jews, or it could refer to all those under God’s condemnation as unregenerate sinners prior to coming to a personal decision of the Lordship of his Son, that is, Jews and Gentiles outside of Messiah.  After all, Paul does in fact count himself in this group with his use of the first person plural pronoun “we.”  And since he is writing to a group mixed of Jews and Gentiles, the “we” must apply the statement to all present.  In this fashion, he describes Gentiles who most certainly grew up outside of a Torah-keeping community as those who were nevertheless “under the Law” while they were outside of the personal knowledge of Christ as Redeemer.


4:6, 7 - And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.


Comments:  Continuing with the contextual son and heir theme Paul is emphasizing at the moment, he now wishes for his readers—both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah (but perhaps primarily Gentiles)—to understand that to strive to gain (or maintain) a legally recognized Jewish identity in the society of Isra'el is pointless if God has not sent his Spirit into their hearts, causing them to be counted at true sons and thus true heirs.  Here once again, we see the true theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians: God determines genuine and lasting identity based on our personal identification with Yeshua, not based on establishing our own way of righteousness.


4:8, 9 - Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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?


Comments:  Paul makes the shocking statement here in Galatians that before his readers came to Messiah, they all—both Jews and Gentiles—were slaves to demons (also recall 1 Cor. 10:20-21)!  In 1 Thess. 1:9 Paul says that we turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.  So much for our supposed fleshly pedigrees outside of God’s saving grace to rescue us from our own degenerated state of existence!  What pathetic wretches we were before Christ found us and washed us clean!  Once we begin to see our true identity before the Blood of Yeshua purchased us, we can start to appreciate the awesome price that God paid to actually redeem us!  The passage speaks of some of his readers turning back to those weak and miserable principles, a view supposed by historic Christianity to be a return to Judaism and the Torah of Moses.  To be sure, in the eyes of the Church, the enslavement Paul warns against in verse 9 is the bondage to ceremonial commandments such as Sabbath, circumcision, and the dietary restrictions.  But can this really be the correct interpretation of weak and miserable principles?


Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, he calls the Torah “holy” and the commandment “holy and righteous and good.”[4]  How can he simultaneously call the Torah weak and miserable?  I think if we let the weight of Paul’s teachings in Romans and especially Colossians where he teaches against letting ourselves become subjugated to the elemental spirits of the world all over again, influence our interpretation of these passages in Galatians, then we will not fall for the historical trap of supposing Paul to be some kind of schizophrenic who waffles back and forth on his loyalty to Torah.  Colossians 2:20-23 is worth quoting at length here:


20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.


Considering verse 10 below, to which we will turn shortly, it is amazing how similar these two passages are!  Hegg makes the comment that those wishing to return to the weak and miserable principles were perhaps wishing to straddle the fence between membership in Isra'el—the visible people of God, and pseudo membership with the extant Imperial Cult of Rome.[5] Indeed, growing persecution from Rome for no longer participating in the “required” allegiance to the gods of Rome, coupled with Paul’s “pressure” to resist proselyte conversion, may have put these Gentile Christians between a rock and a hard place!  Paul would not have them return to Emperor worship, and he would not have them submit to the message of the Influencers either!  Oy vey!  Talk about being in a pickle!


4:10 - You observe days and months and seasons and years!


Comments:  Continuing with our comparisons between standard Christian views and Messianic Jewish views of this passage, we again find that many see in this verse, Paul warning his readers away from Sabbaths (special days), Rosh Chodesh (months), and perhaps the Sh’mitah[6] (seasons and years).  Luther’s commentary to Galatians is representative of the prevailing view of the Church.


The Apostle Paul knew what the false apostles were teaching the Galatians: The observance of days, and months, and times, and years. The Jews had been obliged to keep holy the Sabbath Day, the new moons, the feast of the passover, the feast of tabernacles, and other feasts. The false apostles constrained the Galatians to observe these Jewish feasts under threat of damnation. Paul hastens to tell the Galatians that they were exchanging their Christian liberty for the weak and beggarly elements of the world.[7]


Given that the Influencers were certainly pushing for circumcision and Torah observance, the standard Christian interpretation certainly sounds quite plausible. However, as already noted at verse 9 above, the more convincing context of these “days, months, seasons, and years,” points to Roman pagan calendar observances, the familiarity of which probably provided the impetus to “turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world.”   Moreover, knowing that Paul personally confessed that he was a Torah-observant Jew his whole life renders the Christian interpretation of these observances untenable.[8]  Why would Paul keep Torah his whole life, even after coming to faith in Yeshua as Messiah, and then warn others against wanting to keep Torah also?  The logic is faulty.


4:11 - I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.


Comments:  If the Galatian Gentile Christians succumbed to the message of the Influencers and decided to undergo the ritual of circumcision (proselyte conversion), for the sake of the supposed covenant status that it promised, then indeed Paul would have wasted his efforts.  For in truth, one can only swear his allegiance to either Yeshua, or he must serve another lord.  Man cannot serve two masters.  Yeshua himself stated that we are either for him or against him (cf. Matt. 12:20), and Paul himself is going to present these two choices to his readers in 5:2, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.”  It is not as if by converting to legally-recognized Jewish status that somehow they would lose their salvation, if indeed they were genuinely saved in the first place.  However, the situation here in Galatians is much more precarious than simply adding Judaism to Jesus.  For indeed as we shall see when we get to Chapter Five, the Galatian Gentiles were considering ethnic status as a way to somehow be considered righteous instead of taking on the righteousness that is only supplied by Messiah.  The issue at stake is not “genuine salvation + Jewish status,” but rather, “genuine salvation vs. Jewish status.”


4:21 - Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?


Comments:  As we have already discussed elsewhere in this commentary, the phrase “under the Law” can carry with it a variety of meanings, each depending on the specific context in which it is found.  Here, the phrase likely refers to Jewish status as desired by those Gentiles wishing to please the huckstering Influencers.  “Tell me, you who want to be under the Law… (viz, you who want to be counted as legally recognized Jews in the community of Isra'el).”  Alternately, since in ancient Isra'el, as with today, to be a good Jew means to also be faithful to the Torah, Paul could be saying, “Tell me, you who want to be in subjection to the Torah lifestyle as adjudicated by the halakhah of the Influencers.”  This halakhah, as we have discovered from extra biblical sources, was staunchly against allowing Gentiles into close community proximity for fear of the pagan defilement they supposedly transmitted.  Thus, to conform to the halakhah of the Influencers would mean to have to eventually reject Gentile Christian fellowship, something Peter succumbed to in Chapter Two, but something Paul would have nothing to do with.


4:22, 23 - For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise.


Comments:  Paul introduces an allegory—a midrash—by way of the biblical narrative about Father Abraham and his offspring.  I believe at this point in his letter, that Paul wishes the Influencers themselves to actually hear his teaching.  Perhaps as his letter was being read to the communities, Paul envisioned some in the crowd to be the very detractors he so carefully needed to expose as false.  Perhaps if he, Paul, appealed further to Scripture directly, perhaps even the Influencers might be shocked back to some semblance of reality and give up trying to persuade those Gentiles from converting to Judaism for the wrong reasons.  Whatever the reasons for introducing this allegory into his letter at this point, the interpretation of the allegory is quite to the point: a line of demarcation is being drawn in the sand between who is a genuine covenant member and who is not.  In fact, those who are of Messiah are understood by Paul’s midrash here to be legitimate sons, while those of the Circumcision Faction—the Influencers—are understood by Paul to be illegitimate sons—bastards, if you will, and veritable slaves for sure.


The son of Abraham by the slave woman (understood to be Ishmael, even though he is not named directly) is likened to those seeking to be justified by human means, by the works of the Law, by circumcision, by legal Jewish identity.  Comparatively, the son of Abraham by the free woman (Isaac) is likened to those seeking to be justified by faith in Yeshua as the promised Messiah, without becoming Jewish first.  To strengthen the truth of his illustration, Sha'ul mentions that Ishmael was born when Abraham succumbed to his flesh—the way ordinary human beings procreate, while Isaac was born, not according to human effort, but by divine fiat after Abraham and Sarah were in reality too old to physically copulate for the sake of creating children.  To be sure, Paul reminds the readers of God’s sworn oath to Abraham and calls Isaac the promised child.


4:24 - Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar.


Comments:  The Greek word for ‘allegorically’ in this verse is the root word allegoreo ἀλληγορέω, from where we get our English word allegory.  Sha'ul now reveals the core truth of his midrash by explaining that he is referring to two opposing covenants, illustrated using (unnamed) Sarah, and (named) Hagar.  Paul also wants his readers to understand that to expect right standing with HaShem according to the flesh—according to Jewish social status—is to be identified with a covenant of slavery, the covenant with Hagar and her offspring.


4:25, 26 - Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.


Comments:  This covenant with Hagar and her offspring relates to where the Torah of Moshe was given because that is where the present Judaisms of Paul’s day all look to for the origins of the Nation of Isra'el as a people.  Indeed, the biblical Mount Sinai is still revered by all of world Jewry today—as it rightfully should be, because it is there that God covenantally “married” as it were his bride Isra'el.  Even though Paul specifically states that Hagar=Mount Sinai and corresponds to present city Jerusalem, oddly enough, Paul does not mention Sarah by name, nor does he say which mountain and city she stands for (if any).  What he does say specifically is that the Jerusalem that is above is free (in opposition to the slave-city earthly Jerusalem), and that this heavenly Jerusalem is our mother (more on these distinctions below).


I’m sure in Paul’s mind, it is a sad declaration that his beloved and beautiful earthly Zion, the City of God spoken of in Psalm 87:3, has to be identified in his allegory as a city in slavery with her children, in order for his readers to come to their senses.  But this is the length to which Paul will go to shock his readers into reality.  To flirt with the prospect of going through conversion for the wrong reasons is to be seen in God’s eyes as going back into slavery.  As is to be expected with most commentaries that one might find in your average Christian Bible bookstore, the historic Church has seen in these verses proof positive that the Old Covenant stemming from Mount Sinai represents slavery and must be replaced by the New Covenant stemming from the Heavenly Jerusalem that offers freedom. 


However, since we now know that Paul is not contrasting the Old Testament Torah with the New Testament Gospel of Christ, but rather, he is contrasting the works of the Law (proselyte conversion coupled with legal Jewish status) with genuine faith in Yeshua, we needn’t denigrate the Torah in order to make this midrash have genuine application for today’s Christian.  So much more could be said about the wrong way to understand Paul’s allegory here, but I think I have made my point adequately so I will leave off for now.


4:28 - Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.


Comments:  Paul now assures those of his audience who are genuine believers of their position in Christ.  They have all the identity they will ever need: children of promise.  A conversion to Judaism via the manmade ritual of conversion will add nothing to their existing righteousness via Yeshua in God’s eyes.  This is not to say that Jewish identity is worthless.  Far from it.  In fact, as Paul will spell out in his letter to the Romans, there is in fact a great advantage to being born as a Jew (read Romans 3:1-9).  But the sad truth is that the prevailing Judaisms of Paul’s day had wrongly believed that their covenant status as the chosen people of God was what earned them a right to stand before God righteously.  They were trusting in the arm of the flesh to get them into the ‘Olam Haba instead of placing their trust in the Sent One, declared to be the True Messiah by the power of a resurrected life.


4:29 - 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.


Comments:  Sha'ul now reveals a most painful scriptural truth: Darkness will always persecute righteousness; error will always strike out at truth; the flesh will always war against the spirit.  So it is with those who are or wish to be counted as children of the promise: they will suffer persecution at the hands of those who show themselves to be children of the flesh.  Yeshua explained it best:


18 “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. 21 But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 He who hates Me hates My Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well. 25 But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE.’[9]


Since the children of the promise (vs. 28) identify intimately with the ultimate Son born by the power of the Spirit (as opposed to merely being identified as legally-recognized Jews with no true saving faith in Yeshua), then they too can expect to be treated unfairly since “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12, KJV)  We see then from this admission by Paul that the earliest persecution against genuine Christians came not from the Roman establishment but from the Jewish synagogues bent on expelling those from The Way from their midst.  One need only read the book of Acts to see this played out in chapter after chapter, and in perfect fulfillment of Yeshua’s prediction in John 16:1-4:


1 “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling. 2 They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God. 3 These things they will do because they have not known the Father or Me. 4 But these things I have spoken to you, so that when their hour comes, you may remember that I told you of them. These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you.


Indeed, the final truth of the matter is that in Paul’s theology, a conversion to Judaism can never change the heart of an individual the way faith in Yeshua can, and those seeking to be “under the Law” (Gal. 4:21) will eventually end up identifying with Hagar of this allegory if they are not careful.  Instead of creating community among Jews and Gentiles, they will end up siding with those who destroy community by condoning rejection of Gentiles and persecution of the children of the promise (vs. 28) in a Jewish-only Isra'el the way the prevailing Judaisms of Paul’s day were presently doing.


4:30 - 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."


Comments:  Though making a choice to stand and be persecuted along with Yeshua might result in earthly persecution and expulsion from the established synagogues of their day, Paul would, nevertheless, urge his Gentile readers to reject manmade identity markers in favor of being received into the genuine inheritance offered only to those who identify with the free woman.  In the Genesis narrative to which Paul is taking his analogy, Hagar was eventually cast out of Abraham’s community, along with her son Ishmael.  Thus, even though the son of promise (Isaac) was the object of mocking (according to the text, according to Jewish midrash, and according to the analogy Paul is painting), in the end, God vindicated Isaac’s true status as recipient of Father Abraham’s inheritance by confirming it once again to Abraham.  Genesis 21:9-12 is relevant for our study here:


But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.[10]


Interestingly enough, Paul’s quote in Galatians about getting rid of the slave woman, etc., comes not from God’s mouth as one would expect if they only read Paul and did not cross reference Genesis.  Instead, Sarah is actually the one who uttered these words, and probably not in kindness!  To be sure, Abraham was displeased at the sudden and obviously emotional outburst.  Yet, Paul picks up on the prophetic truth of Sarah’s spiteful proclamation and turns it into a promise about inheritance for his midrash and uses it as a nice conclusion to this section.


4:31 - So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.


Comments:  Bringing his allegory to a close by restating what he said in verse 28 above, that if we choose to identify with Yeshua, the ultimate Son of Promise—the Quintessential Offspring of Avraham—instead of seeking to set up our own way of righteousness by purchasing a manmade Jewish identity via the proselyte conversion ceremony, then we, like Isaac of the Genesis narrative, will be counted as a true child of the free woman (heavenly Jerusalem)—a genuine child of Father Abraham and genuine heirs according to the Spirit.

[1] Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary (TSBD) stoicei'on: the elements from which all things have come, the material causes of the universe, the heavenly bodies, either as parts of the heavens or (as others think) because in them the elements of man, life and destiny were supposed to reside.

[2] Barnes’ Notes, online version, 1843,


[3] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (torahresource.com, 2002), p. 146.

[4] Romans 7:12.

[5] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (torahresource.com, 2002), p. 157.

[6] Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:20-22; Deuteronomy 15:1-6.

[7] Martin Luther, Galatians Four


[8] See Acts 21:24; 24:14-16; 25:8; 26:4, 5.

[9] John 15:18-25, NASB.

[10] Genesis 21:9-12, ESV.