Galatians 4:21-31 Exegetical Notes and Preaching Outline

Cultural / Historical Background: In Galatians Paul confronts “another gospel.” Those objecting to Paul and his gospel worked to undermine his message of salvation in Jesus Christ by demanding that converts to Messianic Jesus must also become practical Jews. It means that they urge Christians to maintain the ritual expression of the Jewish faith consisting of the “works of the law.” The book of Galatians is Paul’s answer to this threat. Here Paul challenges those who want to “be under the law” (4:21) to consider carefully what the law actually says. It seems that the believers have not fully “bought in” the Judaizers’ idea but tend to accept their opinions.

Contextual Background: The proposition of Paul is stated in 2:15-21, then there are supportive discussions from 3:1 to 4:11, mainly focused on two topics: (1) True Righteousness not “through law” (3:1-18); (2) True faith is not “under law” (3:19-4:7). Afterwards Paul stated his Apostolic Appeal in two aspects: (1) Against Legalism (4:12-5:12) and (2) Against Libertinism (5:13-6:10). The text of 4:21-31 is one of the three appeals against legalism. The other two appeals are (1) Appeals from Paul’s experience (4:12-20) and (2) Appeal to Steadfast Freedom (5:1-12). This section is a logical solicitation to the Galatians to recognize the futility of following after the Judaizers.

Structure: (1) Historical Facts (vv. 21-23). There are three basic historical facts from OT: a. Abraham has two sons; b. they differ in the identities of their mothers; c. they also differ in the method of being delivered. (2) Paul’s explanation of the allegory (vv. 24-27). (3) Application to the readers (vv.28-31).

Original Language Observation: (1) Paul uses the word “law” in verse 21 in two ways. In the phrase “under the Law” Paul means the stipulations of the Mosaic covenant; but when he goes on to say “listen to the law”, he is talking about Scripture. (2) Two contrasting prepositional phrases for “begotten”: “κατὰ σάρκα” and “διὰ τῆς ἐπαγγελίας.” Paul probably intends a double meaning for “flesh”: a. Abraham begot Ishmael by the natural power of procreation; b. The Judaizers teachers are begetting churches by flesh power (Martyn, 435) because they urge gentile Christians to be circumcised. As for “promise”, by contrast God was the central actor in the birth of Isaac, which took place by the power of God’s promise. Later in Paul’s allegory, it can link to Jesus’ similar contrast when He spoke to Nicodemus in John 3. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.” As Isaac’s life came about by a miracle, even so our spiritual birth and spiritual life comes about by a miracle of God’s Spirit. (3) the term διαθήκη usually refers to a legal testament (3:15, 17). The Hebrew equivalent amounts to a world order decreed by divine institution (Betz, 244). (2) In verse 25 Paul says that Hagar “συστοιχῶ” the Jerusalem now. The verb originally means “stand in the same line” or generally “correspond.” Betz suggests that it’s used in the more superficial sense of an association of terms, or as the category denoting the allegorical logic which justifies the association of the concepts (Betz, 245).

Difficult Text /Theology: (1) Paul says it is an allegory (ἀλληγορὲω in participle). But Paul is not attempting to reduce the historical content to moral aphorism or philosophical truism. He is simply using the similar situation that exists between the promise and law to make his point on the freedom in Christ opposing to the legalism of the Judaiziers. Allegorical method was believed to be able to bring the deeper meaning to light. Judaism had asopted this method long before Paul.(2) Why Hagar is connected to Mount Sinai? Some suggests that “Hagar” sounds imilar to Arabic “rock” or “mountain”. It also makes sense to understand that Paul associates Hagar with the giving of the Mosaic legislation at Mount Sinai by God. (3) The idea of a heavenly Jerusalem is widely accepted by Judaism. So Paul uses this understanding to further his illustration of freedom in Christ. It also points to the heavenly church that stands in contrast with the Judaism church located in the earthly city of Jerusalem. (4) Two covenants. Martyn suggests that the Judaizer teachers might have emphasized the term “covenant” to refer to the nomistic covenant of Sinai and inviting the Galatian Christians to enter it. Paul found two covenants in the same Genesis text. One of them has to do with the circumcision of flesh, the other representing the power of God’s promise. (5) Why does Paul quote Isa 54:1? The original OT text suggests that given the sins of Israel, God has indeed momentarily abandoned Jerusalem. Jerusalem is like a woman whose husband has left her desolate, without children and thus without future. Then Isaiah hears God’s comforting voice of the quoted text. God’s wrath is replaced by his love and revival of Jerusalem. Sarah-like Jerusalem is renewed by God’s return, and become a heavenly Jerusalem. Paul turns to it because its pictures supply him with pairs of opposites with which he can supplement those he has already found in the Genesis stories (Martyn, 442). It also contains contrasts that similar to what he has used from Genesis: barrenness versus fecundity, having husband vs no husband. The religion of law and human effort has not given birth to God’s children, but the way of faith in God’s promise has. Witherington suggests that Paul is exhorting himself, as the barren woman, to rejoice over what God has already done among the Galatians, and building on that by urging them to act on the advice of Sarah to drive out the slave women and her child. (Witherington, 336) (6) Ishmael persecuted Issac? There’s no indication from the bible, but it’s a Jewish tradition. Paul use this because of his experience with the false brothers, the circumcision party in the Jerusalem. (7) Verse 30 is quoted from Genesis 21:10, which is spoken by Sarah to Abraham, but proved to be right by God (21:12). Paul’s quotation seems trying to comfort the believers. It also implies that the two religions (Judaism and Christianity) cannot co-exist. God won’t bless both. It is suggested (Witherington, 337) that the language of casting out and expulsion in verse 31 is the final application that Paul is suggesting expelling Judaizers because they are not true members of the covenant community.

Preaching Hints: (1) the text is framed by two questions: “do you really hear what the law says?” (v.21) and “But what does the scripture say?” (v.30). According to Longenecker (page 207), hearing played a very important role in the Jewish community, It’s not just a physical activity, but also internalize that word, understand it and obey it (Isa 1:10 and 6:9-10). So Paul’s challenge is that if the Galatians would “rally hear” the law, they would not regress to Jewish nomism. (2) It might be hard to find Jewish Legalism among today’s Christians. But this allegorical reinterpretation of Hagar-Sarah story still speaks to every attempt to govern the life of faith by nomistic direction by modern Christians (Longenecker, 219). Paul sees in the two mothers and two sons an interesting parallel to spiritual truth. False religion leads to bondage, while God’s truth way of salvation leads to freedom. (3) It’s better to extend to 5:1 as the final conclusion.

Bibliography: Beale, G.K. and Carson, D.A. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Baker, 2007 | Betz, Hands Dieter. Galatians. Fortress Press, 1979 | Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Galatians. Eerdmans, 1982 | Feng, R.Y.K., Galatians. NICNT, 1988 | Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians. WBC, 1990 | Martyn, J. Louis. Galatians: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Doubleday, 1997 | Rapa, Robert K. The Expositor’s bible Commentary: Galatians, Zondervan, 2008 | Witherington III, Ben. Grace in Glatia. Eerdmans, 1998


True Freedom rests in faith alone

Galatians 4:21-31

Introduction: We have heard of a “plan B” theology, which implies that God sent Jesus for our salvation because we failed in “plan A” which is the OT, covenant of Law. Sounds reasonable, but it indicates that salvation through faith in Christ is just a contingency plan, while God is more satisfied by our obedience to His law. In the book of Galatians, Paul is facing a similar theology that it’s good for gentiles to come to Christ, but salvation is perfected if they also abide by Mosaic Law.

Sermon Outline (E.P.A.):

I. Episode: (Organization Sentence) Starting from the historical narrative of Abraham’s two sons, Paul introduces his allegory of two covenants, and proclaims the identity of Christians.

  1. Background introduction: What’s wrong with Galatians? (vv. 21)
  2. Historical facts (vv. 22-23): Contrast between “according to the flesh” and “through promise”
  3. Paul’s allegory (vv. 24-26): the deeper spiritual meaning of historical fact.

          a. Contrast between two covenants. (vv. 24)

          b. Contrast between present Jerusalem and the Jerusalem above. (vv. 25-26)

          c. Contrast between slavery and freedom. (vv. 25-26)

      4. Our Identity (vv. 27-31)

          a. The new identity is from God. (vv. 27)

          b. The new identity is children of promise and enjoys freedom. (vv. 28, 31)

          c. The new identity cannot coexist. (vv. 29-30)

II. Principles: (Organization Sentence) Paul’s preaching from Old Testament not only warned the Galatians who wanted to turn away from Gospel, but also brings us three important principles regarding our identity.

  1. Christian salvation through faith alone is not the plan B, but the promise from God. (vv. 23)
  2. The faith in Christ leads to freedom and joy while self-reliance leads to slavery. (vv. 27)
  3. Only through faith people can inherit the kingdom of God. (vv. 30, ref. 2 Cor 15:50)

Proposition: The new covenant of justification by faith alone is God’s promise from the beginning and it leads us into true freedom and joy.

Application: (Organizational Sentence) as children of heavenly Jerusalem, we have three applications that distinguish life from those under legalism or religious nomism.

  1. We shall rejoice for God’s promise and for our regeneration. (ref. vv. 27)
  2. We shall leave the slavery under self-reliance and embrace freedom under grace. (ref. Rom 6:14)
  3. We experience God’s sanctification because we will inherit the kingdom of God. (vv. 29 – the persecution)

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