The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 20, 2016

A Summary of Galatians 4:21-30.

The greatest argument for the observance of the Law was, from the Jewish standpoint, that the Scripture itself seemed to declare it to be a perpetual ordinance. St. Paul has already refuted this error in a general way by showing that the Law was only a guide, a pedagogue, with a temporary mission. But now, in order to turn against the Judaizers their own argument, he draws from Scripture a proof that the Law was not intended in the designs of God to be an enduring provision. A first, imperfect disposition engendering servitude, it was to be followed by another which would be perfect, making us children of the promise and sons of God.

Gal 4:22. For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, and the other by a freewoman.

Two sons, namely, Ismael by the bondwoman Agar, and Isaac by the freewoman Sara.

Bondwoman (παιδισκης = paidiske) means “maid servant,” “slave,” in the New Testament. Cf. Gen. 16:15; 21:2.

Gal 4:23. But he who was of the bondwoman, was born according to the flesh: but he of the freewoman was by promise.

But he, i.e., Ismael, was born according, etc., i.e., according to the ordinary laws of nature: but he, i.e., Isaac, was by promise, i.e., was born in virtue of the promise. Isaac’s birth was miraculous inasmuch as, owing to the advanced age of Abraham and the sterility of Sara, it would have been physically impossible without a divine intervention.

There are then two differences between the two sons of Abraham: Ismael was of a slave and according to the flesh; Isaac was of a freewoman and in virtue of the promise. Cf. Gen. 17:16, 19; 18:10.

Gal 4:24. Which things are said by an allegory. For these are the two testaments. The one from mount Sina, engendering unto bondage; which is Agar:

Which things are said, etc., i.e., those circumstances concerning the two sons of Abraham have, besides their historical and literal sense, a spiritual meaning, which the Apostle is now going to point out.

For these, i.e., these two women, Agar and Sara.

Are, i.e., represent two testaments, i.e., two covenants. The first was from Mt. Sinai, where it was contracted between God and Israel.

Engendering, i.e., bring forth unto bondage, i.e., for obedience to the Law.

Which is Agar, i.e., Agar was the type of the first covenant, because like it she brought forth unto bondage.

Gal 4:26. But that Jerusalem, which is above, is free: which is our mother.

In contrast to “the one” (covenant) of verse 24 we should expect St. Paul here to speak of the other covenant; but instead he takes up the contrast to the present Jerusalem, and speaks of the Jerusalem above. By above he does not mean only the Church Triumphant, for he says she is our mother, i.e., the mother of us Christians living yet on earth. And this Jerusalem is free, i.e., not subject to the Law; she is the Kingdom of God, governed by God’s Holy Spirit.

Gal 4:27. For it is written: Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not: break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband.

St. Paul now cites the LXX of Isaias (liv. 1) to prove that the fecundity of the Jerusalem which is above, i.e., of the Messianic Kingdom, was foretold by the Prophet and miraculously ordained by God. Literally the Prophet’s words refer to the earthly Jerusalem which, although bereft of her inhabitants during the Babylonian captivity, would one day be more populous than ever. But spiritually the reference is to the heavenly Jerusalem, the Messianic Kingdom, which, born at the time of the
promise made to Abraham (Cornely), or existing only in the designs of God (Lagrange), remained sterile, until the death of Christ, when her children became far more numerous than were the children of the earthly city.

Agar was a fitting type of the old Jerusalem, of the Synagogue; as Sara was of the Messianic Kingdom, the Church of Christ. And this the Prophet seems to have had in mind, for a few chapters ahead (Isa 51:1 ff.) he had invited the Jews to imitate the faith of Abraham and Sara, whose children they were. St. Paul makes the application more definite.

The words barren, break forth, desolate refer literally to Jerusalem during the captivity (or to Sara, in the Apostle’s application); but spiritually to the reign of Christ and His Church. She that hath a husband in the Prophet’s literal meaning referred to Jerusalem before the captivity (as applied by St. Paul, to Agar); spiritually the reference is to the Old Covenant, the Synagogue, which had the Law as a husband.

 A Summary of Galatians 4:31-5:12.

In commencing the new section with Gal 4:31 we are following the division made by Bousset, Lagrange and Zahn. The recurrence of the word freedom joins it with what precedes, as a result with its sources. Many critics see in Gal 4:31 the last word of the allegory illustrating the two alliances, rather than the beginning of a practical conclusion. But the allegory was really concluded in Gal 4:28, and is presupposed in Gal 4:29-30. It seems better then to regard 31 as the point of transition between what has preceded and the section that now follows (Lagrange).

In the first place the Galatians must make their choice, either of the whole Law without Christ, or of the faith of Christ accompanied by charity without the Law. If they choose the Law, they must renounce Christ; if they wish to be Christians, then the Law must be abandoned (Gal 4:31-5:6). Having pointed out the dangers to which they are exposed, St. Paul next warns the Galatians to beware of false leaders who are courting a just and severe chastisement (Gal 5:7-12).

Gal 4:31. So then, brethren, we are not the children of the bondwoman, but of the free: by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.

So then (810). Better, “Hence,” or “consequently.” The general principle of the whole Epistle is here resumed under the color of the allegory, and the practical result of our being Christians is restated, namely, that we are free by the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free, i.e., we are sons of the free woman and enjoy a freedom which we owe to Christ, the author of our liberty. This is the reading of the Vulgate, and the easiest for this clause. In the best MSS., however, and according to the Greek Fathers, this final clause of the present verse belongs to the first verse of the following chapter, and the meaning is probably: “Christ has liberated us for freedom, in order that we may be and may remain free”; or, if we join “stand” to “freedom,” we shall have: “Stand firm to the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.”

Gal 5:1. Stand fast, and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.

Stand fast, i.e., in the liberty of the Gospel, as opposed to the slavery of your former condition in paganism and under the Law.


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