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Inductive Bible Study: Discussion of Galatians 4

March 22, 2010

I think for this chapter I will try sharing some of my personal observations and then ask questions to kick off the discussion.  For improved discussion perhaps we only want to answer 1 or 2 questions at a time and then the next blogger can either respond to the first commenter’s points or answer another question.  How does this sound?

My observations:

The chapter seems to have three main points.  The first section begins by explaining the difference between a slave under the old covenant and a son under the new covenant.  The OT saints, under the law, were slaves in bondage to an elementary form of instruction that paved the way for something better for those in the new covenant.  In light of the freedom and liberty of the new covenant, the OT law is described as a tutor and a governor, bondage, enslaving, of the world, of the flesh, weak and beggarly, etc.  Jesus came during the dispensation of the law (v. 4) in order to perfectly fulfill the righteous requirements of the law and to give His own life to redeem mankind from bondage to the law.  Saints in the new covenant now have the awesome privilege of being adopted into God’s family as sons and daughters.  We are no longer treated as children who must be governed by a list of ordinances, but we have been given the high status of being an adopted son of God with all the privileges and responsibilities that bestows.

Paul is deeply concerned that the Galatians have returned to the weak and worthless bondage of law-keeping and he urges them to be as he is (9-12).  We know from the previous chapters that circumcision is in view, but Paul also refers to their observance of the Jewish Sabbaths and feast days (v. 10).  What other commands does Paul have in mind?  By cross-referencing with other passages we can see Paul’s thoughts on law-keeping include such ordinances as what we eat or drink, and whether or not we observe one day of the week differently from the rest (see Col. 2:14-16, 20-23, Rom. 14:5-14).  In this and other letters Paul urges liberty and the individual’s conscience as a guide in all these things.

Finally, the third main point of the chapter is the explanation of the OT allegory of the two covenants.  Lest we mistakenly think that Paul is saying the OT story is merely allegorical and not historical, my cross reference guides me to 1 Cor. 10:11 which states, “Now all these things happened unto them for examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

Now here is where I am really tempted to look at a commentary!  But I’m not going to do it just yet.  I will give my best stab at this and after we discuss it then I think we should check some commentaries and enlighten ourselves further on this challenging section.

First, I will summarize the OT story to refresh our memories on this.  In Gen. 16 Sarah and Abraham doubt the promise that Sarah will conceive and they try to work out an alternative plan on their own.  Sarah has the idea of giving her maid servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife so that she can bear a child for Sarah.  After Hagar conceives she despises Sarah.  Sarah then becomes angry and mistreats Hagar and Hagar runs away.  The angel of the LORD meets Hagar in the wilderness and comforts her and promises her that she will bear a son who she is to call Ishmael.  He also tells Hagar to return to her mistress and to submit to her authority.  Sometime after Isaac is born Sarah sees Ishmael mocking Isaac.  She asks Abraham to send Hagar away declaring “Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman” (Gal. 4:30, cf. Gen. 21: 10).

Paul explains that these OT women are an allegory for the two covenants.  Hagar’s position as a maid servant is a picture of the enslaving aspect of the OT law.  The birth of Ishmael, like the OT law, “was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19).  Just as the promise could not be fulfilled through Ishmael, so we can never obtain righteousness through law-keeping.  And just as Sarah cast Hagar away, so new covenant believers are admonished to cast off the old covenant of law-keeping and embrace the new covenant of life in the Spirit.  Just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, so legalizers persecute new covenant believers.  Just as Sarah said to cast away the bondwoman and her son, so the admonition for the Galatians is to cast away the legalizers along with the system of law-keeping and to stand in the liberty of the new covenant (Gal. 4:29-5:1, cf. Gal. 2:19, Rom 7:4-6, 2 Cor. 3:6-9).

Discussion Questions:

1.  What do you think of my observations?  What would you add/clarify/agree/disagree with?

2.  What do you see as the implications of Jesus’ life on earth being “under the law” (Gal. 4:4)?  Should this affect our interpretation of His teachings in the Gospels?  Why or why not?

3.  How does this chapter impact your view of law-keeping?

4.  Have you experienced freedom from some form of legalism?  Do you have any specific examples you would like to share?

5.  What aspect of the new covenant are you most grateful for?

Have a cookie = )

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. shematwater permalink
    March 22, 2010 8:45 pm

    I loved this one. It was well done, and I have to say I agree with it almost entirely.

    However, I would say that the Law Paul is talking about is the Law of Moses, and thus does not include all commandments of God. He even mentions that the Galatians were slaves to false gods (notice that he does not say to the Law of Moses) before they new the gospel, and was worried that now that they had the Gospel they wanted to be in bondage again, this time to the Law of Moses.

    I think this distinction between the Law of Moses (those ordinances and restrictions added by Moses) and the Covenant (the commands and promises given to Abraham). The Law of Moses should be discarded, and people should govern themselves through the spirit. However, this does not mean discarding the laws that pertain to the covenant made to Abraham.

  2. March 24, 2010 11:48 pm

    Thanks, Shem. I’m glad you liked this post.

    I’m curious what you mean when you refer to the commands given to Abraham. Could you elaborate on this? Are you referring to Gen. 17:1 or 22:2 or something else?

  3. shematwater permalink
    March 25, 2010 8:21 pm


    What I am refering to is very obscure in the Bible, and very difficult to see, but it is there. In a general sense I refer to every command given to man from the time of Adam down to the time of Moses, when the “Law” that Paul is speaking about was added to the covenant. (See my posts on the Galatians 3 discussion.)
    Thus, the command given by God to Adam and Eve to “Multiply and Replenish the Earth” is part of this, as we have no record of this being withdrawn. Also, the animal sacrifices, as we know that Abraham had this ordinance (though I do not wish to get into a great debate over this, it is just an example). There is the command not to murder, as recorded in Genesis 9: 6, given to Noah. All of this was had by Abraham when he was promised that if he remained faithful his seed would bless all the earth.
    Now, this is a very general way of explaining it. There are other, more complex things. The first tables of stone Moses received contained many laws and ordinances that the second set did, but the first was made by the hand of God, while the second by the hand of Moses. Those things on the first Tablets Is what I more specifically refer to as the commands that had been given to Abraham, and the things on the second tablets are the Law of Moses added because of iniquity. From Numbers 8: 16-18 we see that the Priesthood was originally supposed to go to all the firstborn of Eqypt, but was given to the Levites as part of the Law of Moses (or after the Law was added). This is supported by the Patriachal way of Genesis, in the firstborn receiving the Birthright. It was changed after the Law was added.
    There is more, but it is very difficult to see it, and I think this gives a basic idea of the kind of things I am talking about. I will agree that the exact commands had before the time of Moses are not very clear from the Genesis account, but this is no reason to assume they were not had. After all, Genesis covers nearly 3000 years of history in a fairly short account.

  4. Doc Hollywood MD permalink
    February 2, 2012 9:37 pm

    i want the recipe for those Cookies! Now I’m hungry!


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