Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Galatians 4:22-24, 26-27, 31-5:1
Posted by Dim Bulb on August 20, 2016
This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief summary of chapter 4, followed by his comments on today’s reading. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF GALATIANS CHAPTER 4
The Apostle commences this chapter by pointing out the preposterous conduct of the Galatians in submitting to the Jewish ceremonies. Their conduct in this respect is, he says, precisely similar to that of an heir, who, after attaining his majority, renounces his privileges—viz., the free and uncontrolled administration of his property, and submits anew to the control of the pedagogue, and the slavish drudgery of magisterial discipline. In order the more clearly to show this, he compares the Jewish people under the Old Law, which was composed of sensible, material signs and carnal ceremonies, to an heir in the state of nonage or of infant minority, deprived of all administration of his property, and in this respect nowise better than a servant, perfectly under the control of teachers and guardians (Gal 4:1–4). The Galatians reached their majority when, the term fixed upon by God for sending his Son having expired, he introduced them at once into the glorious adoption of full-grown sons of God, and into the full enjoyment of his heavenly inheritance, by anticipation here on earth (Gal 4:4–7). He next refers to their former state of idolatry, and insinuates, that, although their ignorance might then be pleaded in extenuation of their guilt, now, after having been introduced into the clear knowledge of the true God, and after having been so highly favoured by him, they had no such extenuation for recurring to the elements of Jewish infancy, one of which he instances in their observance of the Jewish festival days (Gal 4:8–10). He expresses his fears regarding them (Gal 4:11), and exhorts them to follow his own example in neglecting Jewish ceremonies (Gal 4:12). He endeavours to soften the ascerbity of his rebuke, by reminding them that they gave him no personal grounds for embittered feelings, as they treated him with the greatest kindness and respect. He points out the authors of whatever feelings of enmity they might entertain against him—viz., the false teachers, and he gives expression to his ardent paternal affection for the Galatians, and the consideration with which he longs to address them (Gal 4:13–22). He undertakes to prove from the Old Testament, that by subjecting themselves to the Law of Moses, they would be excluded from the Church and its inheritance. He quotes the history of Genesis, in which is recorded the birth of Abraham’s two sons, one born of the bond-woman, the other of the free-woman (Gal 4:21–23). He points out the allegorical meaning of these historical facts, and shows that those two wives of Abraham represented the Old and New Testaments. The old, which took its rise from Sinai, was represented by Agar. And he shows how fit a place Sinai was to originate the old covenant of fear (Gal 4:24-25). He leaves it to be inferred that Sara represents the new covenant, and points out the wonderful fecundity of the Church represented by her (Gal 4:26-27). He applies the allegory, in the three following verses.
Gal 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman and the other by a free woman.
For, it informs you of this fact, that Abraham had two sons—Ismael, whom he begot of Agar, a bond-woman, and Isaac, whom he begot of Sara, a free-woman.
“For,” is a proof of the implied proposition, viz., that the Law transfers them to Christ. “It is written.”—(Genesis, 16, 21)
Gal 4:23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh: but he of the free woman was by promise.
But Ismael, the son of the bond-woman, was born according to the natural course of things—his mother being young and prolific—whereas, Isaac, the son of the free-woman, was born of her—when old and sterile—in virtue of God’s promise on the subject.—(Genesis, 17:17).
“But he of the free-woman, was by the promise.”—(Genesis, 17:17).
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.
Now, these historical facts, besides their literal signification, convey a still more profound and allegorical meaning, which consists in this: These two marriages, or wives of Abraham, signify two covenants, the one taking its rise from Mount Sina, and bringing forth children into the servitude of the Mosaic law—of which the precepts are so numerous, and the spirit, that of fear; this covenant is represented by Agar.
Which things are said by allegory; literally, ἅτινα ὲστιν ἀλληγορούμενα (hatina estin allegoroumena), which things are allegorized, i.e., the things narrated in Genesis regarding the sons and marriages of Abraham, signifying at the same time other things altogether different from themselves. By an allegory, writers on rhetoric understand a lengthened or continued metaphor. Ecclesiastical writers generally understand it to denote a figure in things, by which one thing is employed to typify or signify another of quite a different nature. “For these,” αὗται γὰρ, i.e., the marriages, or, according to others, the two wives of Abraham. “Are,” i.e., signify “the two Testaments”—viz., the New and the Old. “The one indeed from Mount Sina.” The Old Testament took its rise from Mount Sina; because, there was promulgated the Law, the observance of which was among the primary conditions of the Old Covenant. “Which bringeth forth into bondage.” The Old Testament brought forth children into the bondage of the Mosaic Law, a law of servitude, both on account of the multitude of its precepts, which neither the Jews nor their fathers could bear, as also on account of the spirit of fear which it inspired. “Which is Agar;” and this covenant is represented by Agar.
Gal 4:26 But that Jerusalem which is above is free: which is our mother.
But the heavenly Jerusalem—viz., the Church, of which Sara, the free-woman was a type, is not, like he Synagogue, in servitude, but free. She is also fruitful in free children, among whom we are to be numbered; and hence, she is our mother.
The Apostle omits referring to the typical or allegorical signification of Sara, which he supposes to be clearly deducible from the anathesis between her and Agar. As Agar represented the Old Testament, so must Sara represent the other, viz., the New, which he supposes to bear the same near relation of signification to the heavenly Jerusalem, that the covenant established on Sina bears to the earthly. For, in heaven it took its rise; from heaven it descends; and from heaven its animating principle—viz., faith, hope, and charity (the soul of the Church), is derived. Of it, he merely says, that it is not, like the present Jerusalem, in servitude, but “free,” and also fruitful in free children—(the children always following the condition of the mother). In this respect also it differs from the other, which “is in bondage with her children.” In this respect also, it differs from the other, which “is in bondage with her children.”
“Which is our mother.” We all, both Jews and Gentiles, are among the free children, whom she has begotten to God.
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.
This wonderful fecundity of the Church was foretold by the Prophet Isaias, when he called upon this sterile woman, the Church of God among the Gentiles, to burst forth into shouts of joy and exultation, because, although hitherto barren and husbandless, she had now more children than the Synagogue, which had a husband.
He proves this wonderful fecundity of the Church from the Prophet Isaias (54:1). This quotation from Isaias refers to the state of the Church before the coming of Christ. Before that period, the Church had but few children among the Gentiles; hence, termed “barren” by the Prophet. But, now, she begets more children than the Synagogue “that hath a husband”—that was espoused to the Mosaic Law, or to God himself, as a fearful master. This fecundity of the Church above the Synagogue is clear from the fact, that the children of the Synagogue were confined to the Jewish people alone, and her spiritual children fewer still; while the Church extends to all nations, and her spiritual children are beyond numbering.
OBJECTION.—How could the Church be called “barren,” &c., before the coming of Christ, since she had no existence then? Should it be said, that she had existence in the faithful Jews, who lived before Christ, might it not rather be said that these were children of the Synagogue, begotten of her husband, the law? And, moreover, in the alleged supposition, where could be found the opposition referred to by the Prophet and quoted by the Apostle?
RESPONSE.—In the first place, it may be answered, that the few just men, who lived under the Patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, constituted the Church of Christ; since it was only through the grace of the New Law they were enabled to fulfil all their duties. And, then, the opposition or antithesis instituted by the Apostle, shall be made to consist between these few just men—(so few, that their mother, the Church of Christ, by whose aids they fulfilled their duties, might be justly termed “barren”); and the whole bulk of the Jewish nation united to the Synagogue, by the external subjection to the law, which could not of itself justify them.
In the second place, the Apostle may be said to refer here to the Church of God among the Gentiles, which, compared with the Synagogue, had but few children, and hence, termed “barren.” And, then, the opposition is between the Church as made up of but a few followers among the Gentiles, and the external followers of the Synagogue. For, although the Jews were among the first, nay, the very first, openly to join the Church of Christ; still, the Church was chiefly composed of the Gentiles, compared with whom, the Jewish converts were, in point of numbers, almost a mere nothing. This Church of the Gentiles, now far and wide extended, and embracing within its pale, almost all the nations was confined, of old, to a small number—viz., the few just.
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.
We should, therefore, bear in mind, brethren, that we are not the children of the bond-woman—the Synagogue—bound to the Law of Moses; but of the free-woman, viz., the Church of Christ; and hence, we are ourselves free, after the condition of our mother. But this liberty was procured for us by Christ, who, by his grace, freed us from the yoke of the Law, which he abrogated.
“Then, brethren, we are not the children of the bond-woman.” It is not easy to see the connexion of the word, “then,” or, therefore, unless it be with the words of verse 26:—“But that Jerusalem which is above is our mother.” It is, however, generally understood by Commentators to have the force of exhortation, having reference to the following chapter, rather than of argumentative conclusion. The word “brethren,” which is commonly employed by the Apostle in cases of moral exhortation, renders this view the more probable. “By the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free.” These words are made, in the ordinary Greek text, the commencement of chapter 5 verse 1. The Codex Vaticanus follows the Vulgate arrangement, and commences chapter 5 with the words, “stand fast,” &c.
Gal 5:1 Stand fast and be not held again under the yoke of bondage.
Persevere firmly in the Gospel liberty which Christ has secured for you (4:31), and suffer not yourselves to be again held under the yoke of servitude—viz., the yoke of the Mosaic law.
“Stand fast.” These words are, in the ordinary Greek and Syriac versions, joined with the words of the preceding verse, thus: stand fast (therefore) in the freedom with which Christ made us free. The meaning is the same as in our construction, which is that of St. Jerome, St. Augustine, and several old Greek editions. From the words, “stand fast,” some interpreters infer that the Galatians had not lost the faith. From verse 4, it appears, however, that some had, and the words, “stand fast,” are, probably, addressed to those who persevered. The words, “stand fast,” probably contain a military metaphor, in allusion to their persevering under the banner of Christ.
“And be not held again,” &c., i.e., be not tied down and held fast under another yoke of bondage. “Again” is used in reference to bondage in general; they were before under the bondage of idolatry. He now refers to bondage of a different kind viz., that of the Mosaic law.—(See 4:9).