Monday 11 October 2010

Bible Book:

"So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman." (v.31)

Galatians 4:21-5:1 Monday 11 October 2010


If you find this passage a little confusing don't worry! This iswhat happens when Paul, the writer of the letter, tries to find anallegorical meaning in an Old Testament story (where each elementstands for something else) and I'm not sure that it really worksvery well.

In the centuries after the New Testament was written this became afavourite way of interpreting Scripture, and it is still popularwith many preachers today. The problem is though that it requiresan extra level of meaning to be imposed on the text, which candistort the original text out of any recognisable shape. And thatis what happens here. This is an early version of the argument thatwas going to dominate Paul's theology: salvation was for everyone,and so the people of God, the community of the saved, who were thechildren of Abraham, now included both Jews and Gentiles(non-Jews).

In the original Old Testament story (in Genesis chapters 16-25) Isaac - the "child ofpromise" - is chosen as Abraham's heir, and his half brotherIshmael - the child of a slave - is sent out with his mother intothe wilderness to fend for himself. Now, of course, the importantand obvious point of the original story was that both Jews andGentiles were equally Abraham's descendents. Later on, in theletter to the Romans, Paul makes precisely this point. But here heis saying that, whereas the Jews saw themselves as the free peopleof God, they were in fact enslaved to their own Law - the Torah -represented in this passage by Mount Sinai where the Law wasreceived by Moses.

It was as though they had swapped ancestral mothers and, as'children of the slave', were now cast out by God. In contrast, thetruly free heirs of Abraham were those (including Gentiles) who hadfaith in Christ, and were not bound by the Law. Still confused?Probably!

To Ponder

Are you confused? Or do you find Paul's argumentclear and easy to follow?

Which is more important to you: the original textof the Bible, or the meanings which are imposed on it by laterinterpreters? Why?

Paul's words here, of course, are now part of theChristian Bible. He will later argue (in the letter to the Romans)that God has not withdrawn God's promiseto the Jews after all. What does that tell you about'inspiration'?

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