Sons of God (cont’d), 1-7
4:1 Now I mean that the heir, as long as he is a minor, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. 4:2 But he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 4:3 So also we, when we were minors, were enslaved under the basic forces of the world. 4:4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 4:5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights. 4:6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” 4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.
When the time had fully come – In this verse ‘Paul refers to Christ’s first advent as “the completion of time (chronos).” This may be one (or the first) of the times (Gk kairos, cf. Lk 21:24; Acts 1:7) or ages (Gk aiōnes, cf. Gal 3:20–21; 1 Cor 10:11; Eph 2:7) which will all find their consummation in God’s ultimate objective of uniting all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). Christ is not only the source and sustainer, but also the goal of the history of the whole cosmos. So here in Galatians 4:4 plērōma means the full realization of God’s predestined plans revealed in the Scripture (Eph 1:10; cf. Mt 5:17; Mk 1:15).’ (DPL)
Born of a woman – Commentators are generally agreed that this expression does not explicitly allude to the Virgin Birth (cf., for example, Mt 11:11; Job 14:1; 25:4). They incline, rather, to the view that it expresses our Lord’s full humanity. Cole adds that any Jew would notice a correspondence between what Paul says here and Gen 3:15.
J. G. Machen observes: ‘This passage [Gal. 4:14] has sometimes been held to show that Paul did not believe in the virgin birth and sometimes also has been held to show that he did so. As a matter of fact both opinions are probably wrong; the passage does not enable us to draw any conclusion with respect to Paul’s belief in the matter one way or the other.’
Macleod notes, however, the difference in wording between this verse and the apparent parallels. In Mt 11:11 the word used is gennetos, born, whereas here the word is genemenos, ‘become’. ‘The variation suggests [that] even while not explicitly asserting the virgin birth, the New Testament writers describe the Lord’s advent into the world in terms which are highly unusual. In the meantime, suffice it to say that if Paul had wanted to avoid contradicting the doctrine of the virgin birth, he could not have chosen his language more felicitously than he does in Galatians 4:4.’ (The Person of Christ, p29)
‘How far Paul was acquainted with the facts of Christ’s earthly origin it is not easy to say. To a certain extent these facts would always be regarded as among the privacies of the innermost Christian circles—so long at least as Mary lived—and the details may not have been fully known till the Gospels were published. Paul admittedly did not base his preaching of his Gospel on these private, interior matters, but on the broad, public facts of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection. It would be going too far, however, to infer from this that Paul had no knowledge of the miracle of Christ’s birth. Luke was Paul’s companion, and doubtless shared with Paul all the knowledge which he himself had gathered on this and other subjects. One thing certain is, that Paul could not have believed in the divine dignity, the pre-existence, the sinless perfection, and redeeming headship, of Jesus as he did, and not have been convinced that his entrance into humanity was no ordinary event of nature, but implied an unparalleled miracle of some kind. This Son of God, who “emptied” himself, who was “born of a woman, born under the law,” who “knew no sin,” (Php 2:7,8; Gal 4:4; 2 Cor 5:21) was not, and could not be, a simple”] product of nature. God must have wrought creatively in his human origin. The Virgin birth would be to Paul the most reasonable and credible of events. So also to John, who held the same high view of Christ’s dignity and holiness.’ (James Orr)
Orr further remarks: ‘There is hardly an allusion to Christ’s entrance into our humanity in the Epistles which is not marked by some significant peculiarity of expression.’
“Abba” – John Gill comments: ‘If it might not be thought too curious an observation, it may be remarked that the word “Abba,” read backwards or forwards, is the same pronunciation, and may teach us that God is the Father of his people in adversity as well as in prosperity.’ Well, Dr Gill, we do think it too curious an observation.
‘Christians who pray to God sincerely, with reverence and humility, with a sense of privilege and a pure (i.e., purified, penitent) heart, will find in themselves a Spirit-given filial instinct prompting prayer to and trust in their heavenly Father, (Gal 4:6 Rom 8:15) and a desire to pray that outruns their uncertainty as to what thoughts they should express. (Rom 8:26-27) The mysterious reality of the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer becomes known only to those who actually pray.’ (Concise Theology)
This verse may contain the most primitive, if indirect, extant reference to the Trinity. As John Owen wrote: ‘When God designed the great and glorious work of recovering fallen man, and the saving of sinners, to the praise of the glory of his grace, he appointed, in his infinite wisdom, two great means thereof: The one was the giving his Son for them, and the other was the giving his Spirit to them. And hereby was way made for the manifestation of the glory of the whole blessed Trinity; which is the utmost end of all the works of God.’
Heirs of Promise Are Not to Return to Law, 8-12
4:8 Formerly when you did not know God, you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods at all. 4:9 But now that you have come to know God (or rather to be known by God), how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless basic forces? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again? 4:10 You are observing religious days and months and seasons and years. 4:11 I fear for you that my work for you may have been in vain. 4:12 I beg you, brothers and sisters, become like me, because I have become like you. You have done me no wrong!
You know God – or rather are known by God– ‘What comes to the surface in this qualifying clause is the apostle’s sense that grace came first, and remains fundamental, in his readers’ salvation. Their knowing God was the consequence of God’s taking knowledge of them. They know him by faith because he first singled them out by grace.’ (J.I. Packer, Knowing God)
Principles – cf. Col 2:8 n
Personal Appeal of Paul, 13-20
4:13 But you know it was because of a physical illness that I first proclaimed the gospel to you, 4:14 and though my physical condition put you to the test, you did not despise or reject me. Instead, you welcomed me as though I were an angel of God, as though I were Christ Jesus himself! 4:15 Where then is your sense of happiness now? For I testify about you that if it were possible, you would have pulled out your eyes and given them to me! 4:16 So then, have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?
My illness was a trial to you – It seems clear that Paul suffered from some kind of physical malady or disability. the sense it not some much of this being a burden to the Galatians, but rather that they might have taken it as a sign of God’s disfavour.
You did not treat me with contempt or scorn – Lit. ‘You did not spit upon me’. It was commonly believed that spitting could exorcise the demon responsible for epilepsy. Therefore, the present verse has sometimes been adduced as evidence that Paul’s ailment was, in fact, epilepsy. But by this time spitting was often used simply as an expression of contempt.
As if I were an angel of God – Bart Ehrman (How Jesus Became God) takes this verse to mean that Paul thought that Jesus was an angel. But, as Larry Hurtado says, ‘Paul’s statement that the Galatians had received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus,” seems to most exegetes to be an ascending set of alternatives. Ehrman also ignores evidence that Paul distinguished Jesus from the angels (e.g., Rom. 8:31–39). I would add that there is no evidence that angels (or any putative “Son of Man”) received worship in the gatherings of any known Roman-era Jews. So the remarkable place of the risen Jesus in earliest Christian worship cannot be explained as a consequence of an alleged view of him as an angel.’
‘Many second- and third-century Jewish Christians did portray Christ as the chief angel, because of the limited categories available in Judaism to communicate him to their culture. The image was discontinued in the fourth century due to its exploitation by the Arians, who regarded Christ as deity but created, although the image fit earlier use by Ebionites who rejected Christ’s divinity. Some Jewish writers, like Philo, portrayed the Word as the supreme angel, but earliest Christianity lacks any direct evidence for this portrayal.)’ (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
v15 This verse has been appealed to (along with Gal 6:11) to support the notion that Paul was afflicted with some kind of ophthalmic disease. But there is insufficient evidence to say whether his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was epilepsy (see v14), an eye disorder, or something else.
4:17 They court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you would seek them eagerly. 4:18 However, it is good to be sought eagerly for a good purpose at all times, and not only when I am present with you. 4:19 My children—I am again undergoing birth pains until Christ is formed in you! 4:20 I wish I could be with you now and change my tone of voice, because I am perplexed about you.
An Appeal from Allegory, 21-31
4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not understand the law? 4:22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 4:23 But one, the son by the slave woman, was born by natural descent, while the other, the son by the free woman, was born through the promise. 4:24 These things may be treated as an allegory, for these women represent two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar. 4:25 Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 4:26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 4:27 For it is written:
“Rejoice, O barren woman who does not bear children;
break forth and shout, you who have no birth pains,
because the children of the desolate woman are more numerous
than those of the woman who has a husband.”
v26 ‘Now when Paul speaks about “the Jerusalem (that is) above,” he is thinking not only of the Church Triumphant but also of the many blessings which the exalted Christ lavishes upon this object of his love. And since from heaven these blessings also descend to the earth (cf. Eph 1:3), creating and strongly influencing the church here below, producing conditions on earth which in some measure reflect those in heaven, it is clear that “the Jerusalem (that is) above” becomes in a sense the mother of all God’s true children on earth, be they Gentiles or Jews. Essentially the same idea is found in the book of Revelation (Rev 3:12; 21:2, 21:10). In a vision John sees the holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. That is happening now: whenever sinners are reborn—born “from above” (Jn 3:3, 3:6-7)—; whenever, in principle, God’s will is done on earth as in heaven (Mt 6:10); and whenever, as a result of Christ’s coming and work (Isa 7:14; cf. Isa 9:6), heaven’s peace is reflected in the hearts and lives of God’s children here below (Isa 11:6-9; cf. Jer 23:6; Jer 31:31-34). But this is only an anticipatory fulfilment of the prophecies. Perfection belongs to the day of the great consummation.’ (Hendriksen)
v28 ‘Controversially, Paul says that unbelieving Jews are the spiritual descendants of Hagar not Sarah, while the Galatian Christians are, like Isaac, the true children of promise…The promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph are therefore now fulfilled only through those who follow Jesus Christ, since they alone are designated the true children of Abraham and Sarah. Jews who reject Jesus Christ are outside the covenant of grace and are to be regarded as children of Hagar.’ (Sizer, Zion’s Christian Soldiers, p61).