William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

An Old Story And A New Meaning (galatians 4:21-31; Galatians 5:1 (Galatians 5:21-31)

5:1 Tell me this--you who want to be subject to the law, you listen to it being read to you, don't you? Well, then, it stands written in it that Abraham had two sons; one was the son of the slave girl and one was the son of the free woman. But the son of the slave girl was born in the ordinary human way, whereas the son of the free woman was born through a promise. Now these things are an allegory. For these two women stand for two covenants. One of these covenants--the one which originated on Mount Sinai--bears children who are destined for slavery--and that one is represented by Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai, which is in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem; for she is a slave and so are her children. But the Jerusalem which is above is free and she is our mother. For it stands written, "Rejoice, O barren one, who never bore a child; break forth into a shout of joy, O you who know not the pangs of bearing a child; for the children of her who was left alone are more than those of her who had a husband." But we, brothers, are in the same position as Isaac; we are children of promise. But in the old days the child who was born in the ordinary human way persecuted the child who was born in the spiritual way; and exactly the same thing happens now. But what does the scripture say? "Cast out the slave girl and her son, for the son of the slave girl must not inherit with the son of the free woman." So we, brothers, are children not of the slave girl but of the free woman. It is for this freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand, therefore, in it and do not get yourselves involved all over again in a slavish yoke.

When we seek to interpret a passage like this we must remember that for the devout and scholarly Jew, and especially for the Rabbis, scripture had more than one meaning; and the literal meaning was often regarded as the least important. For the Jewish Rabbis a passage of scripture had four meanings. (i) Peshat, its simple or literal meaning. (ii) Remaz, its suggested meaning. (iii) Derush, the meaning deduced by investigation. (iv) Sod, the allegorical meaning. The first letters of these four words--P-R-D-S--are the consonants of the word Paradise--and when a man had succeeded in penetrating into these four different meanings he reached the joy of paradise!

It is to be noted that the summit of all meanings was the allegorical meaning. It therefore often happened that the Rabbis would take a simple bit of historical narrative from the Old Testament and read into it inner meanings which often appear to us fantastic but which were very convincing to the people of their day. Paul was a trained Rabbi; and that is what he is doing here. He takes the story involving Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael and Isaac ( Genesis 16:1-16 ; Genesis 17:1-27 , Genesis 21:1-34 ), which in the Old Testament is a straightforward narrative and he allegorises it to illustrate his point.

The outline of the story is as follows: Abraham and Sarah were far advanced in years and Sarah had no child. She did what any wife would have done in those patriarchal times and sent Abraham in to her slave girl, Hagar, to see if she could bear a child on her behalf. Hagar had a son called Ishmael. In the meantime God had come and promised that Sarah would have a child, which was so difficult to believe that it appeared impossible to Abraham and Sarah; but in due time Isaac was born. That is to say, Ishmael was born of the ordinary human impulses of the flesh; Isaac was born because of God's promise; and Sarah was a free woman, while Hagar was a slave girl. From the beginning Hagar had been inclined to triumph over Sarah, because barrenness was a sore shame to a woman; there was an atmosphere charged with trouble. Later Sarah found Ishmael "mocking" (King James Version) Isaac--this Paul equates with persecution--and insisted that Hagar should be cast out, so that the child of the slave girl should not share the inheritance with her freeborn son. Further. Arabia was regarded as the land of slaves where the descendants of Hagar dwelt.

Paul takes that old story and allegorises it. Hagar stands for the old covenant of the law, made on Mount Sinai, which is in fact in Arabia, the land of Hagar's descendants. Hagar herself was a slave and all her children were born into slavery; and that covenant whose basis is the law turns men into slaves of the law. Hagar's child was born from merely human impulses; and legalism is the best that man can do. On the other hand Sarah stands for the new covenant in Jesus Christ, God's new way of dealing with men not by law but by grace. Her child was born free and according to God's promise--and all his descendants must be free. As the child of the slave girl persecuted the child of the free woman, the children of law now persecute the children of grace and promise. But as in the end the child of the slave girl was cast out and had no share in the inheritance, so in the end those who are legalists will be cast out from God and have no share in the inheritance of grace.

Strange as all this may seem to us, it enshrines one great truth. The man who makes law the principle of his life is in the position of a slave; whereas the man who makes grace the principle of his life is free, for, as a great saint put it, the Christian's maxim is, "Love God and do what you like." It is the power of that love, and not the constraint of law, that will keep us right; for love is always more powerful than law.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Lovely Things (Galatians 5:22-26)

5:22-26 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, self-control. There is no law which condemns thing; like that. Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified their own unregenerate selves ;along with all their passions and their desires.

If we are living in the Spirit let us also keep step with the Spirit. Don't become seekers after empty reputation; don't provoke each other: don't envy each other.

As in the previous verses Paul set out the evil things characteristic of the flesh, so now he sets out the lovely things which are the fruit of the Spirit. Again it is worth while to look at each word separately.

Love; the New Testament word for love is agape ( Greek #26 ). This is not a word which classical Greek uses commonly. In Greek there are four words for love. (a) Eros (compare Greek #2037 ) means the love of a man for a maid; it is the love which has passion in it. It is never used in the New Testament at all. (b) Philia ( Greek #5373 ) is the warm love which we feel for our nearest and our dearest; it is a thing of the heart. (c) Storge (compare Greek #794 ) rather means affection and is specially used of the love of parents and children. (d) Agape ( Greek #26 ), the Christian word, means unconquerable benevolence. It means that no matter what a man may do to us by way of insult or injury or humiliation we will never seek anything else but his highest good. It is therefore a feeling of the mind as much as of the heart; it concerns the will as much as the emotions. It describes the deliberate effort--which we can make only with the help of God--never to seek anything but the best even for those who seek the worst for us.

Joy; the Greek is chara ( Greek #5479 ), and the characteristic of this word is that it most often describes that joy which has a basis in religion (compare Psalms 30:11 ; Romans 14:17 ; Romans 15:13 ; Philippians 1:4 ; Philippians 1:25 ). It is not the joy that comes from earthly things, still less from triumphing over someone else in competition. It is a joy whose foundation is God.

Peace; in contemporary colloquial Greek this word (eirene, Greek #1515 ) had two interesting usages. It was used of the serenity which a country enjoyed under the just and beneficent government of a good emperor; and it was used of the good order of a town or village. Villages had an official who was called the superintendent of the village's eirene ( Greek #1515 ), the keeper of the public peace. Usually in the New Testament eirene ( Greek #1515 ) stands for the Hebrew shalowm ( Hebrew #7965 ) and means not just freedom from trouble but everything that makes for a man's highest good. Here it means that tranquillity of heart which derives from the all-pervading consciousness that our times are in the hands of God. It is interesting to note that Chara and Eirene both became very common Christian names in the Church.

Makrothumia ( Greek #3115 ); this is a great word. The writer of First Maccabees ( 1 Maccabees 8:4 ) says that it was by makrothumia ( Greek #3115 ) that the Romans became masters of the world, and by that he means the Roman persistence which would never make peace with an enemy even in defeat, a kind of conquering patience. Generally speaking the word is not used of patience in regard to things or events but in regard to people. Chrysostom said that it is the grace of the man who could revenge himself and does not, the man who is slow to wrath. The most illuminating thing about it is that it is commonly used in the New Testament of the attitude of God towards men ( Romans 2:4 ; Romans 9:22 ; 1 Timothy 1:16 ; 1 Peter 3:20 ). If God had been a man, he would have wiped out this world long ago; but he has that patience which bears with all our sinning and will not cast us off. In our dealings with our fellow men we must reproduce this loving, forbearing, forgiving, patient attitude of God towards ourselves.

Kindness and goodness are closely connected words. For kindness the word is chrestotes ( Greek #5544 ). It, too, is commonly translated goodness. The Rheims version of 2 Corinthians 6:6 translates it sweetness. It is a lovely word. Plutarch says that it has a far wider place than justice. Old wine is called chrestos ( Greek #5543 ), mellow. Christ's yoke is called chrestos ( Greek #5543 ) ( Matthew 11:30 ), that is, it does not chafe. The whole idea of the word is a goodness which is kind. The word Paul uses for goodness (agathosune, Greek #19 ) is a peculiarly Bible word and does not occur in secular Greek ( Romans 15:14 ; Ephesians 5:9 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:11 ). It is the widest word for goodness; it is defined as "virtue equipped at every point." What is the difference? Agathosune ( Greek #19 ) might, and could, rebuke and discipline; chrestotes ( Greek #5544 ) can only help. Trench says that Jesus showed agathosune ( Greek #19 ) when he cleansed the Temple and drove out those who were making it a bazaar; but he showed chrestotes ( Greek #5544 ) when he was kind to the sinning woman who anointed his feet. The Christian needs that goodness which at one and the same time can be kind and strong.

Fidelity; this word (pistis, Greek #4102 ) is common in secular Greek for trustworthiness. It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable.

Gentleness; praotes ( Greek #4236 ) is the most untranslatable of words. In the New Testament it has three main meanings. (a) It means being submissive to the will of God ( Matthew 5:5 ; Matthew 11:29 ; Matthew 21:5 ). (b) It means being teachable, being not too proud to learn ( James 1:21 ). (c) Most often of all it means being considerate ( 1 Corinthians 4:21 ; 2 Corinthians 10:1 ; Ephesians 4:2 ). Aristotle defined praotes ( Greek #4236 ) as the mean between excessive anger and excessive angerlessness, the quality of the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. What throws most light on its meaning is that the adjective praus ( Greek #4239 ) is used of an animal that has been tamed and brought under control; and so the word speaks of that self-control which Christ alone can give.

Self-control; the word is egkrateia ( Greek #1466 ) which Plato uses of self-mastery. It is the spirit which has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. It is used of the athlete's discipline of his body ( 1 Corinthians 9:25 ) and of the Christian's mastery of sex ( 1 Corinthians 7:9 ). Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interests influence the government of his people. It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.

It was Paul's belief and experience that the Christian died with Christ and rose again to a life, new and clean, in which the evil things of the old self were gone and the lovely things of the Spirit had come to fruition.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible