30 June 2016

Galatians 4:21 - 5:1

Galatians 4:21 - 5:1 “So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman”. (4:31)

Psalm: Psalm 107:1-16


Just before today's passage, Paul expresses his desperation at the lack of understanding among the Galatians. They keep on wanting to return to the law; to the old ways, the ways of slavery.

Paul employs an example from the Old Testament to put his point across. He had told the Galatians that God's promise to Abraham had been made long before the law was given at Mount Sinai (Galatian 3:15-18). Now he uses an example which would have been familiar to a Jewish audience. In Genesis 12:1-3 God had promised Abraham that God would give him descendants. But Abraham's wife, Sarah, was barren, something which would have carried a great stigma. In order to ensure that there would be an offspring, Sarah suggested that Abraham have intercourse with Hagar, their slave girl (Genesis 16). Hagar became pregnant and bore a son, Ishmael. Subsequently, though Sarah was well past child bearing age, God promised her a son. She fell pregnant and gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21).

There was rivalry between Hagar and Sarah, and between Ishmael and Isaac. Ultimately, Hagar and Ishmael were sent away by Abraham and Sarah. (Genesis 16, Genesis 21).

Paul is saying that all those who accept Christ are children of Abraham and Sarah, the free woman born of the promise fulfilled in Christ, rather than children of Hagar, the one who was enslaved. Hagar represents the Sinai covenant; Sarah's children are the ones born as a result of the promise. And just as Ishmael mocked Isaac, so those who insist on circumcision, on a return to slavery, are persecuting those who have freedom in Christ.

Those who insisted on circumcision for everyone, were promoting enslavement under the law; those who accepted Christ no longer needed the law, because they were free in Christ. Slaves could not inherit from their owners, but those who were free were heirs and thus entitled to the inheritance.

To Ponder

  • The story of Sarah and Hagar would have been familiar to Paul's readers. What could be a contemporary example of the point Paul is making?
  • What does it mean for people today to know that they are children of a free woman?

Bible notes author

The Revd Lynita Conradie

Lynita Conradie is a Methodist presbyter in the Nottingham North Circuit. Originally from South Africa, she was a human rights' lawyer before entering the ministry and being ordained by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.