Galatians 4:21-5:12 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. Contrast Abraham’s two sons as Paul describes them in Galatians 4:22-30 (printed below).

It is written that Abraham had two sons: one by the slave woman and one by the free woman. (23) However, the son by the slave woman was born by means of natural procreation; but the son by the free woman was born as a result of the promise of God. (24) These things contain a spiritual meaning: these women represent two covenants—one represents the covenant from Mount Sinai, she bears children for bondage, that one is Hagar. (25) Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and stands for the present earthly Jerusalem, for she is in bondage with her children. (26) But the Jerusalem that is above is free, she is our mother; (27) for it is written, “Rejoice, O barren woman who has borne no children; burst with joy and shout aloud, you who have never experienced labor pains; for more numerous are the children of the single woman than of the woman who has a husband!” (28) Now we, brothers, just like Isaac, are children of promise. (29) But just as it was then—namely, the one who was born by natural procreation persecuted the one who was born by the Spirit—so is it the same now. (30) But what does the Scripture say? It says, “Expel the slave woman and her son; for by no means shall the son of the slave woman share the inheritance with the son of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:22-30)

The two sons of Abraham each had a different status. Ishmael, who was the child of the slave woman, Hagar, had the status of a household slave. Isaac, the child of the free woman, Sarah, had the status of being the free son and rightful heir of the whole household. Abraham’s two sons are also compared with regard to the source or origin of their birth. Ishmael was born “by means of natural procreation” (i.e.; he was born as a result of human effort; he was the son Abraham produced with his natural physical relationship with Hagar). Isaac was born “as a result of the promise” (i.e.; his birth was the result of the gracious working of God and His faithfulness to His promise: the Lord promised that He would give a son to Abraham and his wife, Sarah, and the Lord miraculously caused the couple to bear a son in their old age). Finally, the son of the slave woman was expelled from the covenant community; the son of the free woman inherited the promises.

2. Why does Paul call the Galatians attention to the fact that Abraham had two sons? (Remember that the heretical teachers were claiming to be sons of Abraham.)

The heretical teachers took confidence in the fact that they were sons of Abraham. But, Paul cautions, one must be clear as to which son he is descended from—if someone tells you that they are a son of Abraham and they can make you an adopted son, it is vitally important to ascertain which line of descent they are connected to, of which son are they a descendant? As Paul implies from his discussion of Abraham’s two sons, the heretical teachers fit into the same category as Ishmael (a son by natural procreation who was expelled.) It is those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who share the same status as Isaac (the son born by the grace of God, the son who inherits the promises.)

3. Paul wants the Galatians to understand (literally, “to listen to”) the Law. He then (in Galatians 4:22-30) refers them to the history of Abraham’s sons recorded in the book of Genesis. Why does he do so, what is the significance of this? Note: The Hebrew Scriptures were divided into three parts, the first of which was The Law (consisting of the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy).

It is important to understand what the apostle means when he refers to “the law.” He is not using the term, “the law,” in the narrow sense of the commandments (that is to say, the moral, civil, and ceremonial body of laws recorded in the Old Testament). He is speaking about “the law” in its broadest sense; namely, as the first five books of the Old Testament. As noted, the Hebrew Scriptures were divided into three parts, the first of which was The Law (consisting of the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy). The history and promises recorded in Genesis are just as much a part of “the law” as are the commandments recorded in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. If one is to truly heed the teaching of “the law,” he must pay attention to the whole law; he must pay attention to the entire teaching of the first five books of Scripture. When one begins to consider the Law in its broadest scope, one begins to see that its teaching is far different than may have been supposed. In its broadest scope, the Law does not teach that a man must try to save himself by his own efforts of seeking to bring his life into conformity with the commandments of God. On the contrary, the Law teaches that our salvation is dependent upon the work of the Lord and our trust in Him.

4. What is Paul’s warning to the Galatians in chapter 5 verse 2 (printed below?) What does he go on to say in verses 3-4 (printed below?)

Listen. I, Paul, am telling you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. (Galatians 5:2)

I testify again to every man who receives circumcision: you are under obligation to keep the whole law. (4) You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by the law—you have lost the connection with grace. (Galatians 5:3-4)

In verse 2 of chapter five Paul warns the Galatians that, if they submit to the heretical teachers’ demand that they be circumcised, then Christ will be of no value to them. That is to say, if one chooses the religion of salvation by works (relying upon one’s compliance with religious ceremonies—such as circumcision—and one’s personal efforts to conform to the commandments of God), one is no longer trusting Christ for salvation; consequently, Christ and His work will be of no benefit to that individual. In verse 3 Paul further warns his readers that if one chooses the way of Salvation by Human Effort he is obligating himself to keep the whole law perfectly in order to be saved. In verse 4 Paul states it bluntly: If you choose the course of Salvation by Works you are separated from Christ and separated from grace. If you travel down the road of Salvation by Works you will find that you are left to yourself and to the justice of God; you will not find Christ beside you and your pleas for mercy will go unheeded, because the justice of God cannot be denied or compromised.

5. How does Paul define the Christian’s position? See chapter 5 verse 5 (printed below)

But we, by the Spirit and by means of faith, are eagerly awaiting the righteousness for which we hope (Galatians 5:5)

As Christians, the source of our spiritual life is the Holy Spirit; we have been born again, being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life, by the Holy Spirit. Our new spiritual life is characterized by faith (dependence upon Christ, trusting in Him, His righteousness, and His work of atonement), not works (i.e.; dependence upon our own moral endeavors to merit God’s favor.) Finally, we are trusting the Holy Spirit to conform us to the righteousness of Christ our Savior and we eagerly await the day when that work, known as sanctification, will be fully completed in the kingdom of God.