The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Exegetical Compilation: Galatians 4

This is part of my Exegetical Compilation Project, which can be found here.

Some Calvinists point to Galatians 4 as evidence of interpreting Genesis to mean that the children of Hagar are a separate people who aren’t children of God and not chosen by God to be saved from their sins.

Hagar’s son Ishmael was also a son of Abraham, and God went very far in promising protection and blessings for him. Paul, in the middle of talking about (and grieving over) those descended from Abraham who are not spiritual Israel, reiterates that those who are not currently spiritual Israel still have the promises, the covenants, and the blessings (up to and including the Christ) given to the patriarchs. (Rom 10-11) They may have stumbled and are currently stumbling over the stumbling stone, but not so as to fall.

Paul’s reference to Hagar in Galatians 4 uses her as a metaphor for the covenant of Mount Sinai, being under the Law, which covenant Israel broke and was punished for, but which will be replaced in those who broke it with a superior covenant; Sarah represents the covenant of promise, which only God made, not Abraham (by God’s gracious provenance), so which cannot be invalidated by the misdeeds of Abraham’s descendants. (Similarly the “everlasting” priesthood of Aaron, from the Sinai covenant, is abolished in favor of the priesthood of the Messiah Who is established “not after the law of a carnal commandment but after the power of an endless life”. (Heb 7:12-18))

This is the context of Paul’s comparison and complaint to the Galatians, about them going back to the covenant of Sinai rather than the covenant of Abraham (through Isaac). Hagar represents the present Jerusalem currently under slavery (Gal 4:25), but those people are not inherently non-elect in the Calvinist sense or no one could be called out of Hagar into the promises of Sarah, the free mother!–yet Paul says this has happened with his audience (and with him as well). It is even more suggestive that Paul reckons Ishmael, the child of Hagar, into the covenant of Sinai and the present Jerusalem, out of whom we are converted into the promises to Sarah. So there is no absolutely utter distinction in Galatians 4 between “the son of the bondswoman and the son of the free woman”: Christ sets us free with the freedom of the free woman, the freedom of the heavenly Jerusalem. But we are set free from the slavery of being immature heirs.

(Galatians 4:1-7, not incidentally, is where Paul talks explicitly about adoption NOT being adoption of those who aren’t already children, but adoption of those who are naturally children. On the contrary, he denounces those who shut out others even so the others may seek the ones who shut them out! v.17 When we mature we are son-placed by the authority of the father into our inheritance; until we mature we remain slaves, though still children of the father.)

It is in this context that Paul quotes Isaiah 54 at Gal 4:27; which (from back at least as far as Isaiah 49, maybe even Isaiah 47 insofar as Babylon is often mystically identified with rebel Israel) is about Israel being a faithless and treacherous wife who slew her husband (the classic Suffering Servant prophecy from Isaiah 53), and who was punished by God for a moment but who shall be saved everlastingly by Him. There is simply no two separate people in this example, in the sense required.

(See also comments on Paul’s statements just previously in Gal 3.)

As always, members are invited to discuss interpretations of these verses below, and to link to discussions either here on the forum or elsewhere.

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