Galatians 4:12–5:12. Paul’s Final Appeal For Christian Liberty.

Key Notes: Paul agonizes over them. Sarah's "children" are the believers; Hagar's "children" are traditional Jews. Why slavery is popular, constantly reinventing itself.

Paul has made the theological case against Judaism, and now makes a warm personal appeal based on his previous ministry among the Galatians. It contains a warning if they persist in their slide back into Judaism, either Jews or Greeks. Look for six metaphors as you read this section.

4:12–20 Paul’s appeal.
When Paul had previously worked among the Galatians, he had been very sick. We know nothing about this sickness from Acts (Acts 13–14; 16:1–6) or other sources, but it was one that could lead people to react negatively: “…you did not scorn or despise me (literally “spit at me”), but received me as an angel (or messenger) of God, as Christ Jesus”. They tended him sacrificially and reverently. They had “made much of” him then. Now the Judaizers are making much of them, trying to shut them out of their salvation in Christ. This is a personal contest between Paul and the Judaizers, and he is making a direct appeal to the Galatians.

Various guesses about Paul’s illness include malaria (endemic in the region), dysentery, small pox or whooping cough. All of these diseases, and many others, are distressing to the sufferer and the care-givers.

“My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you.”  He is perplexed and burdened, not sick physically, but spiritually. Is he becoming their "enemy”? He would like to come back and see them in person and be relieved of his anxiety.

4:21–31 Here Paul introduces an allegory, using Isaac and Ishmael as representatives of grace vs. the Law. For modern expositors, allegory is a sensitive word because so many Jewish and early Christian readers interpreted Scripture allegorically, that is, imaginatively. But Paul tells us in advance that he is making an exception, and we can readily see that this allegory is grounded in Genesis. It works into a simple table. No doubt Jews would be insulted at the implication that they were children of Ishmael and not Isaac.



Son of the free woman—Sarah

Son of the slave woman—Hagar

Born according to the promise

Born according to the flesh

Belonging to Jerusalem above

Belonging to Mt. Sinai / Jerusalem below

Persecuted by Ishmael

Persecuting the Heir

Heir of the Father

Cannot inherit; cast out

Representing Abraham and the Covenant

Representing Moses and the Law

The passage quoted from Isa.54:1 refers to Israel in captivity (exile) as a wife who is promised a future time of growth and prosperity. Similarly,  Sarah who was barren became the mother of millions of those who follow Abraham’s faith, faith in Christ, according to God’s promise.

5:1–12 Paul then warns those who are vacillating. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” That implies that freedom is of value in itself and it is the antithesis of legal bondage.


The reference to Hagar from Mt.Sinai in Arabia is not a precise geographical term. “Arabia” is a gesture pointing toward the south. Associating Hagar, Sarah’s servant, with slavery, then to the Law, to Mt. Sinai,  and first-century Jerusalem is allegory, balancing Sarah, recipient of God’s grace coming from heavenly Jerusalem. Earthly Jerusalem (alias Mt. Sinai) was where Jewish law was being reformulated in Jesus’ day.

He warns the Gentiles that seek circumcision as a rite of passage into Judaism (and from there into Christianity) that they are inviting themselves to be under the full burden of the Law. They have been tripped while running. They are contaminated by a small influence, like yeast in dough, perhaps one persistent teacher of legal religion.

“If I, brethren, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?” He may be referring to the fact that he had Timothy circumcised as a concession to the Jews because he had a Jewish mother. (Acts 16:1–3)

The list of warnings in accepting Judaism are several:
            Submit again to a yoke of slavery?
            You are bound to keep the whole law.
           you are severed from Christ,
            fallen away from grace.

“Fallen from grace” is not a term for back-sliding, as it has been used in modern times, but for separation from Christ, a far more serious threat.

The six analogies of the passage are
4:19 having Christ formed in them is like birth, a travail.
4:22–23 Sarah is like the Mother Church, Hagar like traditional Judaism.
5:1 The Law is like a yoke, one which Peter said “neither our fathers nor have we been able to bear”. (Acts 15:10)
5:7 As if in a race, they have been bumped off the track. Can they get back on track?
5:8  The influence of the Judaizers is like yeast in dough, a little influence with a powerful  effect.
5:11 The Cross is a like a big stone, a block that could make one stumble; it is a scandal.

There are four pearls,  rich expressions worth memorizing.
5:5 “Through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.”
The expression is cautious, tentative,and hopeful. The Hope of Righteousness is the hope of resurrection, final purification, and sanctification in the presence of Christ . I Jn.3:1–3
Surprisingly, most Christians, when asked what their hope is, do not have a ready answer.

5:6 “…faith working (expressing itself) through love”. Of course “faith without works is dead, being alone.” (Jm.2:17). Love is the proof that faith is at work.

5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

4:19 “I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you.”
Christ-formation is our spiritual goal. We will think about this crucial process in Phil. 2:5: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus….”

Why is freedom so rare and slavery is so common? People prefer to be under rules.

*If there are no rules, people make them up. Benjamin Franklin, having rejected Christianity, invented his own moral code, but was unable to abide by it.
*Rules make the law-abiding person feel good, better than others who are less observant.
*People feel that they should pay; they do not want to get something for nothing. Free grace is embarrassing. Why should I be loved unconditionally? Let me pay my share.
*People who are politically and economically free enslave themselves casually, notably addicting themselves to drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling. They are sure they can escape whenever they are ready. But the brain does not forget the impact of addictions.
*Pure freedom is intolerable. Where are the boundaries? We need fences.

Mercifully, there are fences in the Christian life and we will read about them next time.