Columns 657-664 in Migne PG vol. 61

Verses 1-3: What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a household servant, although he is the lord of the entire estate. He is under the foremen and managers until the time set by his father. So also, when we were still children, we were made subject to the heavenly bodies of the universe.

[NIV: What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world.]

[1.] The word “child” here does not refer to a particular age, but a level of understanding. Since the beginning, God had intended to give us our full rights as his children and heirs. But because we continued in childish ways, he subjected us to the heavenly bodies of the universe. This is a reference to new moon festivals and Sabbaths, which are regulated by the course of the sun and moon. If some try to bring you under the law today, they are doing nothing but leading you backwards, since we have come of age and reached maturity. Note the consequence of observing such holy days. It brings down the lord and master of the house [the Christian], who should be its sovereign ruler, below the rank of his own servants [the sun and moon, whom he is placed under when observing those holidays]!

Verses 4-5: But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Here the apostle notes two results of the incarnation: deliverance from evil and the good things that come from being sons. Only Christ could supply our deliverance from the curse of sin and our promotion to sonship. Paul rightly says that we “might receive” or in other words “be paid” the full rights of sons. His words imply that God owed us these rights because of the promise of old made to Abraham. The apostle himself has illustrated these things at length. How have we become sons? Paul has already told us one way: we have put on Christ who is his Son in the fullest sense. Now he mentions another means by which we are his children: we have received the Spirit of adoption.

Verses 6-7: Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

If God had not first made us sons, we could not have called him Father. Since grace has made us free men instead of slaves, adults instead of children, heirs and sons instead of foreigners, is it not completely absurd and stupid to desert this grace and revert backwards?

Verses 8-9: Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

Paul turns to the Gentile believers and calls this rigid observance of new moons and Sabbaths an idolatry that incurs severe punishment. To give his argument even greater weight and to instill in them an even greater fear, he calls these things “those who by nature are not gods.” He points out, “Even if you lay on the ground groveling, puzzled and confused, you have already known God, or rather have been known by God. Imagine the great and bitter punishment you are bringing upon yourselves if you fall into the same disease all over again after such gracious treatment from God! You did not find God with your own effort, but while you continued in error, he drew you to himself. Paul calls the heavenly bodies of the universe “weak and miserable” because they bring us no closer to the good things God holds out to us.

Verse 10: You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!

The verse makes it clear that the Galatians’ teachers were promoting not only circumcision but also festival days and new moons.

Verse 11: I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Note the tender compassion of the apostle. The Galatians were the ones in trouble, and he is the one afraid and trembling. Paul, therefore, chooses words which will thoroughly shame them: “I have put much effort into you, so do not make the labors that cost me so much sweat and pain end up being for nothing. He does not say, “I have wasted my efforts,” but, “I fear I have wasted my efforts.” Basically, Paul means that the disaster has not yet happened, but he sees it as a real danger like a gathering storm. Paul is therefore afraid, but he does not yet despair because the Galatians still have the ability to make things right and calm the storm. Then, as if he is stretching out a hand to them while the storm tosses them about, he calls them to himself saying,

Verse 12: I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.

Paul addresses these words to his Jewish followers, and he uses himself as an example to encourage them to abandon their old customs. He says, “Even if you had no one else as an example, to see me should be enough for you to take courage and change. So look at me! I was once like you were and more. I had a deep fervor for the law, but afterwards, I was not afraid to leave the law and withdraw from that way of life. You know very well how stubbornly I held on to Judaism and how much more forcefully I let it go.” Paul is wise to place this argument last because situations most people can relate to influence them more than a thousand good reasons. People are also more likely to follow what they see others do.

Verse 12: You have done me no wrong.

Notice again how he addresses them with respect. This serves as a good reminder of the doctrine of grace. After he has severely scolded them in a variety of ways and pointed out their many different violations of the law, Paul relents and comforts them by speaking more tenderly. If you do nothing but comfort, the result will be lack of discipline. Similarly, doing nothing but scolding sours people. It is right to achieve a good balance on both sides. Notice how he tempers what he has said. He shows that he did not speak that way because he did not like the Galatians, but because he feared for them. After he has cut them deeply, he pours out this encouragement like oil and shows that his words were not from hate or enmity. He reminds them of the love they had shown them as he mixes his self-justification with praises for the Galatians.

[2.] So he says, “You have done me no wrong.”

Verses 13-14: As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

It is not such a great thing to refrain from injuring someone. No one would choose to hurt someone else who had never hurt them. But not only did the Galatians refrain from injuring Paul, they also showed him great and inexpressible kindness.

It is impossible for someone who has been treated with such kindness to speak with any an evil motive. Paul’s language, therefore, does not come from ill-will; rather, it comes from affection and concern. “You have done me no wrong. As you know it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.” What could be gentler, sweeter, or more affectionate than this holy soul? His previous words could not have come from blind anger or ardent emotion but from concern. Paul says the Galatians have done him no wrong because they have instead demonstrated a great and sincere respect for him. “As you know,” he says, “It was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.” What does he mean? While Paul preached to them, he was driven out of cities, he was beaten, and he suffered a thousand deaths. The Galatians, however, did not scorn Paul. This is what Paul’s words mean. Note his spiritual skill. Even while he is justifying himself, Paul appeals to the Galatians’ feeling by showing what he had suffered for them. Paul’s suffering, however, did not offend the Galatians, nor did they reject him on account of these sufferings or persecutions, or as he calls it now, an infirmity.

Verse 14: Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.

Isn’t it absurd that the Galatians received him as an angel of God when he was persecuted and driven about, yet they did not receive him when he was urging them to do what was right?

Verses 15-16: What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Here Paul shows his confusion and astonishment, and he wants to find out from them why they have changed. “Who has deceived you and changed your attitude toward me?” he asks. “Are you not the same people who served and ministered to me, considering me more precious than your very own eyes? What has happened? Where did this dislike come from? Where did this suspicion come from? Is it because I told you the truth? For that very reason, you ought to have honored me even more. Instead, I have become your enemy because I tell you the truth, for I can think of no other reason than this.” Also note the humility in Paul’s defense. He proves that his language could not have come from any unkind feelings not by his own conduct but from theirs. He doesn’t say, “How is it possible that someone who has been beaten and driven out of cities and ill-treated in a thousand ways for you could now have an evil scheme against you?” Instead, he argues from the Galatians’ conduct, saying, “How could someone you have honored and received as an angel now repay you in the very opposite way?”

Verse 17: Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them.

It is right to imitate someone when it leads to the imitation of a virtue, but it is evil if that imitation leads someone away from the virtue of the right path. That is exactly what those who desired to take away the Galatians’ perfect knowledge desired to do. Instead, they wanted to give the Galatians mutilated and false knowledge. They did this for no other reason than that they wanted to be teachers and bring the Galatians down to the rank of students even though they previously stood higher. This is the meaning of the words, “that you may be zealous for them.” Paul, however, wishes just the opposite; he wants the Galatians to be a model for these false teachers and to be models of the higher standard that they gained when he was with them. To this, Paul adds:

Verse 18: But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you.

Here Paul hints that his absence had caused this, they would have been truly blessed if they had held to the truth, not only in their teacher’s presence, but also in his absence. But since the Galatians had not yet reached this point, Paul makes every effort to get them there.

Verse 19: My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you,

Note Paul’s confusion and distress. “Brothers, I beg you. My little children for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth.” Paul resembles a mother trembling for her children “until Christ is formed in you.” Note Paul’s fatherly tenderness and his misery worthy of an apostle. His cries are far more piercing than those of a mother in the pains of childbirth. They have destroyed themselves and their relationship to Paul. They have changed, but he still considers them children even though they are deformed monsters. But Paul does not speak to them as harshly as they deserve. He spares the Galatians, unwilling to strike and inflict wound after wound. When someone has suffered for a long time with an illness, a wise physician does not cure them all at once. Instead, he cures them little by little so that they do not faint and die. And so for this blessed man; as his pain increased, so did his affection for them. The Galatians’ offense not trivial at all.

[3.] As I have often said and will say again, even a slight blemish ruins the appearance and distorts the whole figure.

Verse 20: how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone,

Take note of the warmth Paul cannot contain. He cannot conceal his feelings. This is the nature of love. Paul is not satisfied with words, but he wishes to be present with them, and as he says, to change his voice, that is, to change his scolding to mourning and tears. Paul could not show his tears or cries of grief in a letter, so he eagerly wishes to be present with them.

Verse 20: because I am perplexed about you!

“I don’t know what to say or think,” he says, “You endured dangers for your faith and performed miracles through your faith. How is it that in the past you ascended to the highest heaven but now fall to such a depth of poverty that you are drawn to circumcision and Sabbaths and rely entirely on the Judaizers?” In the beginning of the letter, Paul said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting.” Now he says, “I am perplexed about you,” as if to say, “What I am to say? What am I to think? I am bitterly perplexed.” Paul has to weep, just like the prophets did when they were perplexed. Mourning demonstrates caring attention in the same way a rebuke does. What Paul said to those at Miletus, “For a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears,” he also says here in the words, “to change my tone” (Acts 20:31).

When we find ourselves overcome by confusion and helplessness contrary to expectation, we are driven to tears. So when Paul admonished the Galatians sharply and endeavored to shame them, he knew he must then turn to comfort them. Finally, he wept. This weeping was not only a rebuke but also an enticement. Weeping does not frustrate someone like a rebuke, nor does it relax someone like flattering them would. It is a mixed remedy that serves very well as an encouragement. After he has softened their hearts and raised their interest with his tears, he again advances the argument and presents a large proposition; he proves that the law itself was opposed to being kept. Above, he used the example of Abraham, but now he aptly brings forward the law, which itself encourages the Galatians not to uphold its observation but to leave it in the past. So Paul says they must abandon the law if they intend to obey it, for this is its own wish. He does not say this directly but supports it in another way through his account of the facts.

Verse 21: Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?

Paul rightly uses the word “want” because their desire to be under the law was not proper and orderly, but sprung from their own unreasonable contentiousness. It is the book of Genesis Paul here calls the law, the same name he often gives to the whole Old Testament.

Verse 22: For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.

Paul returns again to Abraham not to be repetitious but because the patriarch’s fame was great among the Jews. He shows that the figures had their origin from him, and that in him were pictured the current situation. Since he has previously shown that the Galatians were sons of Abraham, he now shows that the Patriarch’s two physical sons were not of equal status. One was the son of a slave woman, the other of a free woman. He shows that the Galatians were not only sons but sons in the same sense as the one from the free woman. Such is the power of faith.

Verse 23: His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh [NIV:in the ordinary way]; but his son by the free woman was born according to a promise[NIV:as the result of a promise].

What does “according to the flesh” mean? He has said that faith unites even the Gentiles to Abraham, but it seemed like a paradox to his hearers that those who were not physical sons of Abraham were called sons. So Paul now proves that this supposed paradox actually happened as long ago as Abraham. You see, Isaac was not born according to the order of nature, nor the by law of marriage, nor through the power of flesh, yet he was in fact Abraham’s son. He was the result of two bodies that were as good as a dead and of a womb that was dead. His conception was not through flesh, nor his birth through a seed, for the womb was dead both through old age and barrenness. Rather, the Word of God fashioned him.

This was not the case of the slave’s son. He was born through the laws of nature, by means of marriage. Nevertheless, he that was not born according to the flesh had more honor than the one born according to the flesh. Therefore, do not be bothered by the fact that you are not born according to the flesh. By this very fact, you are more than ever part of Abraham’s family. Being born of the flesh doesn’t give someone more honor, but less, since a birth which is not according to the flesh is much more marvelous and spiritual. This fact is obvious from the ancient example of Abraham’s sons. Ishmael was born according to the flesh and was only a slave. He was cast out of his father’s house. But Isaac was born according to the promise. He was a true and free son and was lord of the entire inheritance.

Verse 24: These things may be taken as an allegory [NIV: may be taken figuratively],

Contrary to normal usage, Paul calls a type an allegory. He means that this history not only consists of the external happenings, but it means something even more. That is what he means by calling it an allegory. And what is its additional meaning? It refers to our present situation.

Verse 24: for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.

Whom does Paul mean? He means the mothers of the two children, Sarah and Hagar. And what does he say they represent? He says they represent two covenants, that is, two laws. Since history records the names of the women, he uses these two names to differentiate between two races and shows how much these names matter. How does he do this?

Verse 25: Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia

The slave woman’s name was Hagar. “Hagar” is the word for Mount Sinai in the language of that country.1

[4.] Thus, children born of the old covenant must be slaves, for the mountain where God handed down the old covenant shared a name with the slave woman. This old covenant includes Jerusalem. This is the meaning of the following words:

Verse 25: and sits next to to the present city of Jerusalem [NIV: corresponds to],

That is, Jerusalem borders Mt. Sinai and is adjacent to it.

Verse 25: because she is in slavery with her children.

What comes next? Not only were Hagar and her children in slavery, but so was the old covenant of which Hagar was a type. You see, Jerusalem is adjacent to the mountain that shares the same name with Hagar [Mt. Sinai], and on this mountain, God delivered the old covenant. Now what does Sarah represent?

Verse 26: But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

The children of Sarah, the free woman, are not slaves. The type of Jerusalem was Hagar, as is plain from the name of the mountain. The Jerusalem above is the church. But Paul is not content with these types and adds the testimony of Isaiah to what he has said. After he has called the Jerusalem above the church and “our mother,” he adds the voice of the prophet in his favor,

Verse 27: For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

Who was it who before was “barren” and “desolate”? Of course it was the church of the Gentiles since previously they had no knowledge of God. And who was she “who has a husband?” Plainly this refers to the synagogue. But the barren woman had more children than she did because the synagogue involves only one nation, while the children of the church fill the country of the Greeks and the Barbarians, the earth and the sea, yes the whole habitable world. Note how both Sarah’s actions and the prophet’s words describe the events about to happen to us. Notice too that Paul has shown that she whom Isaiah called barren has had many children. This happened in the life of Sarah as a type too. Although Sarah was barren, she became the mother of numerous descendants. Paul, however, is not yet finished. He goes on to carefully show how the barren woman became a mother. In this way, the type also agrees with the truth. He adds, therefore,

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

The type is not merely in the fact the church was barren like Sarah, or that she became a mother of many children like Sarah. It goes deeper, because the church also gave birth to them in the same way Sarah did. It was not nature but the promise of God that made Sarah a mother. [God said, “I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14).] Indeed, the Word of God entered into her womb and formed the child. So also our rebirth is not by nature but comes from the words of God the priest speaks. The faithful know these words. They are in the washing with water (Eph 5:26), which is like a sort of womb that forms and regenerates the baptized.

If we are children of the barren woman, we are free. Some may object however and say, “What kind of freedom is this when the Jews arrest and beat believers and those who are supposedly free face persecution?” These things did happen to the faithful, but Paul urges that we do not let this trouble us. The type anticipates this too. You see, Ishmael the slave also persecuted Isaac who was free. So Paul adds,

Verses 29-30: At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.

What! Is this Paul’s idea of comfort, that slaves persecute those who are free? Of course not, for he says, “I am not stopping here. Listen to this. If you are not timid under persecution, you will find sufficient comfort.” What comes next?

Verse 30: But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.”

Take note of the short-lived reward for tyranny and the consequences of recklessness. The son is cast out of his father’s house and with his mother becomes an exile and a wanderer. He was not cast out simply because he persecuted Isaac, but also to make sure he could not be an heir. No, this punishment was not because of his temporary persecution of Isaac, which was insignificant and had nothing to do with it. Rather, this punishment prohibited him from sharing in the son’s inheritance. Disregard the persecution. This close parallel shows that from the beginning, God intended to symbolize today’s circumstances. The situation did not originate in Ishmael’s persecution, but in the purposes of God. Paul doesn’t say, “The son of Abraham will not be an heir,” but “The son of the handmaid.” He distinguishes him by his inferior descent.

Now Sarah was barren, like the Gentile church. See how the comparison is preserved in every way. Just like Sarah through her many years did not conceive a child, but only in her very old age became a mother, so the Gentile church brings forth children in the fullness of time. The prophets have proclaimed this saying, “Be glad, O barren woman who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” The prophets are talking about the Gentile church. They did not know God, but as soon as they came to know him, they were fruitful and had more children than the synagogue.

Verse 31: Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Paul discusses this comparison from every angle because he wants to prove that what had happened was not something new but had been symbolized many years before. How absurd it was then for those who had so long ago obtained freedom now willingly subject themselves to the yoke of slavery!

He next gives them another encouragement to hold to his doctrine.

1 Chrysostom believed “Hagar” was the word for Mount Sinai in the Arabic language.

John Chrysostom on Galatians – main page

John Chrysostom on Galatians 5

Revised by JCB

No Responses yet