Abraham and His Offspring A Comparison of Galatians 5,1 with 3,13

Jan Lambrech

These notes do not pretend to offer a full christology of Paul"s letter to the Galatians. Nor do they claim to treat the figure of Abraham in Galatians (and Romans) exhaustively. In view of an often unnoticed similarity between Gal 5,1 and 3,13 the two verses will be compared and their respective contexts brought into that comparison. Just as after the Abraham passage of 3,6-12 Christ is mentioned in 3,13 quite unexpectedly, so also after 4,21-31, Paul"s so-called allegory which deals with the wives and sons of Abraham, the sudden statement about Christ in 5,1 cannot but surprise the reader1. Although the word order differs, both vocabulary and content of parts of 3,13a and 5,1a are identical or at least similar: Xristo_j h(ma=j e)chgo/rhsen..., and ... h(ma=j Xristo_j h)leuqe/rwsen. In 5,2-6 Christ is mentioned three more times (see vv. 2.4 and 6)2; one can also point to the christological terms "grace" (v. 4) and "faith" (vv. 5 and 6). This attention to Christ is striking. One more introductory remark is called for. In this study the name "Abraham" is taken in a wider sense: not only Abraham himself, but also Sarah and Hagar, and equally Isaac and Ishmael ("Abraham had two sons, one by a slave and one by a free woman", 4,22).

I. Those of Faith with Abraham who had Faith

Gal 3,1-14 forms the first pericope of the middle section of the letter, 3,1-5,12, a lengthy discussion concerning the Mosaic law and Christian freedom. Within that pericope there is the comparison with Abraham (3,6-9)3. After his invective question in verse 1 Paul speaks in verses 2-5 about the Galatians" experiences of the Spirit. Twice, in verse 2 and verse 5, Paul interpellates: did you receive and do you possess that Spirit thanks to works of the law or thanks to your hearing with faith? The answer is not given, but it is clear from the context that one has to choose the second alternative: through listening and believing. The comparison with Abraham then follows: he also "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (v. 6; quoting Gen 15,6). Therefore, faith is surely a matter which is common to Abraham and the Galatians. But is this the only such matter? What is the relationship between the Spirit experiences of the Galatians and the righteousness of Abraham? Both are guaranteed on the ground of faith. Are the two simply identical?

The conclusion in verse 7 has far-reaching implications: "Therefore know [probably an imperative] that it is the people of faith who are the children of Abraham". Why can this conclusion be drawn? According to Paul faith is so important that it constitutes the basis for a connection between Abraham and the others, a connection so strong that the believing Galatians can be called children of Abraham. Verse 6 quotes Gen 15,6, where Abraham"s faith and righteousness are mentioned. In verse 8 a further citation is present: "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you" (probably a conflation of Gen 18,8 and 12,3). It would be wrong to understand this blessing of all the Gentiles as a kind of reward for Abraham"s faith; Paul"s reflections run in another direction. He emphasizes the parallel between father and children, and thereby also between his righteousness and their blessing. It also becomes evident that for the Gentiles righteousness (v. 8a) and blessing (v. 8b) are identical. All this was planned by God; scripture foresaw it (proi+dou=sa) and proclaimed it beforehand as gospel (proeuhggeli/sato) to Abraham.

In verse 9 one more conclusion is indicated: "So then, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed". Gentiles believe and are blessed together with Abraham who had faith. A small change in comparison with verse 8 is worthy of note: "in" Abraham becomes "with" Abraham. According to verse 9 Abraham not only believes (and not only receives the scriptural promise of the Gentiles" future blessing), but he himself is also blessed, like the Gentiles. For Abraham, too, righteousness is the same as blessing. Moreover, blessing refers to the Spirit. Although Paul could hardly say that Abraham already possessed the Spirit, through the two purpose clauses in verse 14 one understands that the blessing of Abraham is the promise of the Spirit. The second clause explains the first.

In Gal 3,1-14 Paul very much stresses the decisive importance of faith. By hearing with faith the Galatians have received and experienced the Spirit. This corresponds with scripture: Abraham is justified through faith; in him all nations, all the Gentiles will be blessed. Those who believe are his children; together with him they are blessed. One would think that faith is the only condition. Being blessed through faith is being justified through faith, and this implies the possession of the Spirit.

This reading, however, has not yet considered the sudden mention of Christ in verses 13-14. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (v. 13a)4, "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles" (v. 14a). By these verses the insight is forced upon the reader that the parallel between Abraham and the Gentiles is in the end not so simple. The sequence "faith-blessing" may have been possible for Abraham. Without the intervention of Christ, however, it remains impossible for his children. Previously there was blessing thanks to faith; now Christ must first redeem humanity from the curse of sin.

Yet it should be realized that this qualification is not completely correct, since for Paul redemption by Christ is certainly more than a first step, more than as it were a necessary condition before justification can take place. Redemption by Christ is the justification itself. The needed faith is specifically faith in Christ. In Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles (v. 14a) and through faith in Christ all Christians — Gentiles as well as Jews — receive the promise of the Spirit (v. 14b). One must, however, nuance these considerations once more. Strictly speaking, Abraham"s faith too was not without a "christological" content. For he believed in God"s promise which attained its realization and fulfillment precisely in Jesus Christ. This means that Abraham"s faith and that of the Galatians may not be radically distinguished. Just as his children, Abraham too had to believe in God"s new initiative of salvation in order to be justified. For Abraham that initiative was still a promise; for the Galatians it has become reality.

II. Like Isaac, Children of the Promise

Galatians 3 is full of Old Testament quotations and references. It is understandable that Paul, writing this letter to a community consisting for the most part of Gentile Christians, introduces "a human example" in 3,15: "no one annuls even a man"s will, or adds to it, once it has been ratified". But immediately afterwards, he resumes his reasoning with data taken from scripture. In 4,1-2 the profane humane reality, well known to the Galatians, is once more brought forward: "I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father". The application of this is worked out in 4,3-7. Paul"s exclamation "how can you turn back again ..." is the center of 4,8-11, a brief passage in which he also expresses his fear: "I am afraid I have labored over you in vain" (v. 11). Then there follows in 4,12-20 a personal pleading in which Paul reminds the Galatians of their mutual loving relations. He also accuses his opponents: "they make much of you, but for no good purpose" (v. 17). This last pericope ends on a pathetic note: "I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you" (v. 20).

     Gal 4,21-31

In Gal 4,21-315 Paul returns to Scripture: "Tell me, you who desire to be under law, do you not hear the law?" "Law" is evidently used here in a double sense, referring first to the Torah as law and then to Torah as scripture. The formula "it is written" does not introduce a literal quotation. Paul summarizes several sections from Genesis, the stories of Hagar and Sarah and their sons (cf. Gen 16–25). Special attention is given to the status of the two mothers (slave and free) and to the way their respective children are born (according to the flesh and through promise). So a radical opposition prevails in the entire pericope.

The mothers are two covenants. Hagar is the covenant of Mount Sinai. It is the covenant of the law which entails lack of freedom, slavery. With this covenant Paul connects, in v. 25b, the present Jerusalem, which is in bondage with her children, the non-Christian Jews. The second part of the so-called allegory is not worked out. One is invited to supply: the other covenant is from Mount Zion; Sarah is Mount Zion, which corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is in freedom with her children, the Christians (cf. v. 26). "Above" disrupts the expected temporal antithesis "present-future". The idea of a heavenly, already existent Jerusalem stems from apocalyptic Judaism. Paul, however, may also have chosen the new spatial image because he was convinced that the "future" is no longer completely future; it is somehow present now. That the two cities are seen as "mothers" (cf. vv. 25-26) can best be understood in connection with the two mothers, Hagar and Sarah.

The time factor complicates the allegory. It is not improbable that, in Paul"s opinion, both covenants can be said to be existing in the history of Hagar and of Sarah. But the data concerning the Patriarchs point, above all, to two opposing realities: law (Sinai) and fulfilment of the promise, flesh and Spirit, slavery and freedom. The first covenant was inaugurated on Mount Sinai but it is still alive in the present Jerusalem; the new covenant, however, is only brought about by Jesus, now, in these days. The Hagar-line has three time moments: Hagar-Ishmael, law-Sinai, and present Jerusalem. The Sarah-line has only two such moments: Sarah-Isaac, and new covenant-Jerusalem above.

Twice, in verses 28 and 31, the vocative "brothers" occurs, twice also the term "children". The Galatians (cf. "you" in v. 28), Paul included (cf. "we are" in v. 31), are children of promise "after the manner of Isaac" who himself was a child of promise (cf. v. 23); they are children not of the slave girl but of the free woman. The two verses, 28 and 31, clearly form an "inclusio". Yet verse 31 also refers back to verses 21-22. There, "under law" suggests lack of freedom, bondage; there, too, the two terms paidi/skh and e)leuqe/ra are used for the first time. From these literary data one is able to conclude that in 4,21-31 Paul wants to prove that the Galatians as Christians are free, free from the law. They alone, not the non-Christian Jews, are the heirs (cf. v. 30).

The allegory of Gal 4,21-31 stands out in its fierce language. Three data should be noted. (1) The allegorizing of the unfree Hagar as Mount Sinai must have been particularly odious for non-Christian Jews. It implies a clear depreciation of the giving of the law. This is confirmed by the opposition of the two covenants in which Sinai is said to bear children for slavery. (2) No less offensive is Paul"s treatment of his contemporary fellow-Jews. The present Jerusalem, the mother of the non-Christian Jews, is sharply criticized. The present Jerusalem corresponds to Mount Sinai (and the slave girl Hagar); the city is in bondage with her children; she persecutes the believers. She will be cast out and rejected; she will not have an inheritance. (3) The fact that Paul appropriates Sarah and Isaac, promise and heritage, Spirit and the Jerusalem above, i.e., all Israel"s glory and her privileges for the church and thus also for the Gentile majority in that church, must certainly have been offensive to his fellow-Jews.

In Rom 9,6-13 Paul stresses the idea of God"s free election. This applies to the call of Isaac and to that of Jacob. Not the children of the flesh are the children of God; only the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants (cf. v. 8). In Gal 4,21-31 it is underscored that Isaac is the son of Sarah through promise (cf. v. 23) and that he was born according to the Spirit (cf. v. 29). At the end of the pericope Paul very strongly affirms: "So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman". Like Isaac we are children of the promise. Can one suppose that on the part of the Galatians nothing good or bad has been done and that God"s purpose of election must continue, not because of works but because of his call (cf. Rom 9,11)? Since faith is not mentioned, one may have the impression that absolutely nothing is needed. The right descent meets with all the conditions: through promise, according to the Spirit. Christ does not enter on the scene; in fact, he is not even mentioned in Gal 4,21-316. Yet just as in 3,13a Christ all at once appears in 5,1a: Th|= e)leuqeri/a| h(ma=j Xristo_j h)leuqe/rwsen.

    Gal 5,1

We can assume that Paul has composed 5,1a still under the influence of what he had just written in 4,31, without referring to contemporary practices of slave emancipation7. Yet, as is well known, the problems regarding Gal 5,1 are legion. First of all, there are a number of variant readings. Furthermore, the question whether this verse still belongs to the allegory or can be seen as a new beginning8 is not solved; therefore, many prefer a compromise: the verse constitutes a transition. This question is related to the other, namely whether the major parenetical part of Galatians begins with 5,1 or rather with 5,13. Much attention is also devoted to the connection between the two clauses, the indicative in verse 1a and the imperative in verse 1b. Commentators also ask how the dative at the beginning of the verse has to be taken: is it instrumental or is it the equivalent of a Hebrew absolute infinitive or, more probably, a dative of advantage? All these problems9 may have caused the lack of attention given to the sudden appearance of Christ in 5,1a10.

A survey of parallel affirmations in the letter to the Galatians reveals both the kernel of Paul"s thought and the possible variations and images11. In 1,4 it is said that Christ "gave himself (do/ntoj e(auto/n) for our sins to deliver (o#pwj e)ce/lhtai) us from the present evil age"12. The verb used in 2,16 for that which is produced through or by faith in Christ (cf. 2,17: "in Christ") is, of course, dikaiou=mai. As stated already, in 3,13a Paul maintains that "Christ redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us". One may, finally, also refer to 4,5 in which the same verb occurs: When the time has come, God sent his son "to redeem (i#na ... e)cagora/sh|) those who were under the law". Consequently, that Christ gave himself for our sins can be expressed equally well by justification, by deliverance from the evil age, by redemption from the curse of the law, and by liberation, i.e. setting us free from the slavery of the law. In each case, Christ is the agent of these actions. On 5,1a E. Burton writes: "The sentence is, in fact, an epitome of the contention of the whole letter"13.

The similarities between 5,1a and 3,13a are very impressive: absence of a connecting particle and presence of "Christ", "us" and a verb in the aorist. In both clauses the verb indicates an act by Christ which saves us out of a negative situation. Further, just as "curse" in 3,13a takes up that term from 3,11, so also the "freedom" terminology links 5,1a with 4,30-31.26 and 22-23. One should, however, not keep silent about the differences. The metaphorical language is after all not the same: redemption from the curse of the law in 3,13a over against liberation (from slavery) in 5,1a. In 3,13a Christ is said to have become a curse for us; a similar statement which points to his vicarious death on the cross is missing in 5,1a. In 3,13a the position "Christ" at the beginning of the clause is very prominent; in 5,1a "Christ" comes only as the fourth word. One could be tempted to say that in 5,1a Christ is mentioned almost unintentionally. Yet the threefold repetition of "Christ" in 5,2-6 hardly occurs by accident; it betrays Paul"s design.

The phrase "for freedom Christ has set us free" obtains most emphasis: by the position of th|= e)leuqeri/a| in front of the clause and immediately after th=j e)leuqe/raj at the end of the preceding verse (4,31)14; by the reiteration of the theme by means of the verbe)leuqero/w in the same clause; by the reference back to the whole of 4,21-31 (cf. Sarah the free woman of whom the Galatians are the children, and the free Jerusalem above); by the repetition of the same idea in 5,13 ("for you, to freedom you were called, brothers"); and, not least of all, also by its negative counterpart, the slavery, in the imperatival clause of 5,1b. Although in 5,1a the noun "freedom" probably possesses a positive nuance, Paul sees the verb "setting free" in the first place negatively, i.e., as a being freed from the slavery of the Sinai covenant and the law. In 4,21 he addresses the Galatians who desire to be "under the law"15. In 5,1b he says to them "stand fast and do not submit again (pa/lin) to a yoke of slavery". In 4,9 he already expressed the same warning: "how can you turn back again (pa/lin) to the weak stoixei=a, whose slaves you want to be once more (pa/lin)?". He will stress this warning again in 5,7-11 and also at the very end of his letter in 6,12-13. This is the freedom which Paul has in Christ (2,4: th_n e)leuqeri/an h(mw=n h$n e!xomen e)n Xristw|=   )Ihsou=: in Jerusalem the false brothers slipped in to spy out the freedom of Paul and Barnabas in order to bring them into bondage or slavery).

    Gal 5,2-12

Whether or not Gal 5,1 structurally belongs to what follows, the first five conspicuous and authoritative words of 5,2 (   !Ide e)gw_ Pau=loj le/gw u(mi=n) mark, it would seem, a new beginning16. They function to emphasize Paul"s worry and fear. In verses 1-6 the name Christ is present four times in an accumulated way. By itself this frequency somewhat distinguishes these verses from the next subdivision (vv. 7-12)17. Paul points to what he considers the great danger in Galatia: Christians desire to live as Jews (cf. 2,14). Circumcision is closely linked with the law and all its commandments (see 5,3-4). Two systems are diametrically opposed: justification by faith and so-called justification by the law. They are alternatives, indeed. If the Galatians are going to choose the law, then Christ will be of no advantage to them; they will be severed from him; they will have fallen away from grace (cf. vv. 2 and 4). Over against those supposedly judaizing Galatians Paul in verse 5 puts the authentically Christian "we" (h(mei=j). The Christian situation is one of eagerly expecting the final, eschatological righteousness, a life of being in Christ, of having a faith which works and expresses itself through love (cf. vv. 5-6).

In verses 7-12 Paul explicitly addresses the Galatians: "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?" (v. 7). He attacks and accuses the opponents. They cause trouble, they unsettle the Galatians. Paul announces their condemnation at the day of judgment; in an outburst, he even expresses the wish that they should mutilate themselves. Then, Paul once more refers to himself. No, he does not preach circumcision; he does not remove the scandal of the cross.

Apparently the whole of 5,2-12 is needed in order to explain correctly the freedom for which Christ has set us free. Paul"s pleading, his severe attacks, his protestation and self-presentation: all his arguing testifies to the fear that the Galatians may listen to the "different gospel" (1,6) which ultimately means slavery and absence of freedom.

III. Christ and Those of Christ: Abraham"s Offspring

In between 3,1-14 and 4,21–5,12 there occurs the lengthy section 3,15–4,20, by no means a strictly unified text. No doubt, the rest of chapter three, with the mention of Abraham and his offspring (spe/rma) in 3,16, as well as in 3,29, forms a unit: 3,15-29. What follows in 4,1-7 seems still to be connected with it, a kind of supplementary pericope. Because of Paul"s airing of his fear for the Galatians and because of his warning against judaizing practices, the differing passages 4,1-11 and 4,12-20 can be considered together. The first subdivision 3,15-29 requires a careful reading in view of the presence of references to Abraham and Christ; Paul"s type of reasoning is no longer the same here.

    Gal 3,15-29

After 3,14 Paul writes "brothers" and announces a human example (kata_ a@nqrwpon le/gw): no one annuls a will (diaqh/khn) which has been ratified, or adds to it (v. 15). The term diaqh/kh is used again in v. 17, in the same sense of will or testament18. For Paul the reality of that will is the promise (or promises) made to Abraham. The noun e)paggeli/a has already occurred in 3,14 ("the promise of the Spirit"). The promise-terminology reappears in vv. and 29. It will become obvious that the content of the promise is Abraham"s blessing, is the inheritance, life, righteousness and the Spirit.

With reference to Gen 13,15, verse 16 states that "the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring". In a curious way Paul modifies the originally collective meaning of "offspring" (spe/rma). Since the term is in the singular, he claims that it points to one only, and this one is Christ. As said above, the sudden mention of Christ in 3,13 was unexpected. In 3,16 that identification of Abraham"s offspring with Christ alone is not only strange but utterly confusing. Moreover, the time period between Abraham and Christ would seem to be suppressed. Do we have, then, a phenomenon which should be compared with that of 3,13 and 5,1? Yet after the statement in 3,7 that only those of faith are the children of Abraham, Paul can hardly hold in 3,16 that unbelieving Jews continue to be offspring or descendants of Abraham. Sooner than one might have anticipated, from verse 17 onward, the time argument emerges in all clarity; its treatment makes Paul"s reasoning in 3,15-29 different from that in 3,1-14 and 4,21-5,12. The law comes in. The lawgiving stands in between Abraham and Christ; it is later than the promise and earlier than the fulfillment. Yet, the law is powerless, its role is not positive.

The first negative feature of the law is a temporal one: the law came later, four hundred and thirty years after the promise. Therefore, it cannot nullify or destroy the promise (cf. v. 17). At the end of verse 19 Paul states that the law was ordained by angels through a mediator. "Mediator" here most probably points to Moses, not so much as an intermediary agent between two groups — angels and humans — but as the representative of the many angels19. In contrast God spoke the promise directly to Abraham, without angels and without an intermediary-representative. Again, law appears to be inferior. There is, moreover, a second temporal feature, equally negative, pointing not to the past but to the future. The function of the law is limited in time. Already in verse 19 it is said that the law will last (only) "till the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made". This temporal limitation is worked out very clearly in the somewhat simplistic survey of salvation history given in verses 22-25. Two periods of time are distinguished, that of the law and that of faith (or: that of sin and that of Christ). When the second arrives, the first disappears.

Promise and faith are so closely linked that in 3,18 promise even takes the place of faith in the opposition to the law: "for if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise" (cf. the end of v. 29: "heirs according to promise"). One notes the same radical tone as with faith. In diatribe style Paul asks in verse 21: "Is the law then against the promises of God?". "Certainly not" is the expected first emotional reaction. In fact, the real answer is not given afterwards; it must be supplied. Perhaps one may reconstruct it as follows: although the law is not against the promise and is holy, just and good (cf. Rom 7,12), yet through it sin works death (cf. Rom 7,13). What Paul eventually says after "certainly not" explains this answer: "for if a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law" (v. 21). The negative stand regarding the law prevails, the same as in 3,10-12. Even if verse 19 does not mean that the law"s function is to increase sin but to limit it, one should not consider such a role as constructive. This is obvious from what is stated in verse 23: "before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed". The time of the law is characterized by Paul as lacking in freedom (cf. v. 22: scripture consigned all things to sin). In verses 24-25 Paul understands the responsibility of the "custodian" (paidagwgo/j) probably not as pedagogic in a positive sense but only as restrictive, in any case as provisional. In these verses Paul employs the second person plural and thus addresses the Galatians in an emphatic way. Therefore, it would be un-Pauline to find in the law a preparation "unto Christ"20. The law is opposed to both the promise (past) and its fulfillment (future).

Promise itself points to fulfillment. In verse 16 the offspring of Abraham is strangely identified as being one person, Christ. In verse 19 the future coming of that offspring is mentioned again; verse 22 speaks of the future giving of what was promised and verse 23 of the coming of faith and its being revealed. Verse 24 points to the coming of Christ and verse 25, again, to the coming of faith. This frequency of remarks which look forward to Christ explodes, as it were, in verses 26-29. Already in verses 21-25 righteousness and life are mentioned. Yet in verses 26-29 one encounters the climax in expressions which all indicate the fulfillment of the promise: sons of God, faith in Christ, baptism and putting on of Christ, all one in Christ; and, by way of intended inclusion: "if you are Christ"s, then you are Abraham"s offspring, heirs according to promise" (v. 29). In verse 16 the uniqueness of Abraham"s offspring was affirmed and underscored in a forced manner (cf. also v. 19); at the end of the passage, in verse 29, all believers are one in Christ and so they are collectively Abraham"s offspring, his children (cf. v. 7). While in verse 23-25 the first person plural is used, in verses 26-29 Paul changes to the second person plural; he thus addresses the Galatians with great emphasis.

Twice, in 3,6-12 and in 4,21-31, the reader might be brought to the suspicion that belonging to Abraham or his family is sufficient. Abraham"s children must believe, just as Abraham was one who believed; like Isaac, born according to the Spirit, they are children of the promise. Yet in 3,13 as well as in 5,1 Christ appears on the scene, without warning; a misunderstanding is no longer possible. The faith that is needed is faith in Christ crucified who redeemed us from the curse; the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who has set us free from the law. In 3,15-29, however, nothing looks abrupt, nothing unexpected. Christ is explicitly present from verse 16 onward. His coming is repeatedly referred to in verses 19-25 and the fulfillment he brought is broadly depicted in verses 26-29. Paul"s argumentation here by means of the promise to Abraham, the intervening law and the coming of Christ manifests his view of salvation history.

    Gal 4,1-20

One should consider Gal 4,1-7 as a sort of complement to 3,15-29. With le/gw de/ Paul introduces a second human example connected with the first (cf. 3,15): the child-heir is not better than a slave "until the date set by the father" (4,1-2). In the application of this example ("so with us", 4,3), it would seem that all Christians in Galatia have been slaves to elemental principles, either in their pagan past or kept in slavery under the Jewish law. In 4,4-7 Paul explains — broadly as in 3,26-29 — what has happened "when the fullness of time came": God sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the law, in order to redeem those under the law so that all might become children by adoption. God sent his Spirit into our hearts, crying "Abba, Father". Therefore, we are no longer slaves but children and heirs. Apparently the same salvation historical pattern of argument is present, be it without explicit mention of the promise: first the period of slavery and then the fullness of time with Christ. Yet the unfree condition before Christ is not only that of restriction under the law but also the pagan enslavement to beings "that are by nature no gods" (4,8).

In 4,8-11 Paul, once more in a strange way, compares and even identifies the pre-Christian condition of the Gentile believers with the judaizing lifestyle proposed by the opponents: you were in bondage to "no gods", how can you turn back "again" to the weak and poor elemental spirits? Why do you wish to enslave yourselves to them "again"? As it happens Paul twice uses the term pa/lin. In verse 11 he then complains: "I am afraid I have labored over you in vain".

The same fear can be felt in the emotional and pleading pericope which follows in 4,12-20. Paul reminds the Galatians of their previous loving attitude with regard to himself: "Have I become an enemy by telling you the truth" (v. 16). Paul continues to warn them against the dishonest "courting" of the opponents. From the preceding context one knows that they want to bring the Galatians "under the law" (cf. 4,21). It is a law which restricts and condemns, a law which is incapable of providing life (cf. 3,21).

* * *

The reading of Gal 3,15-29 and 4,1-7 cannot but show us Paul"s heavily christological emphasis. Christ is both the apex and center in the argument. One final question remains with regard to 3,13 and 5,1. While it cannot be denied that in both verses Paul, rather unexpectedly, brings in a most forceful statement about Christ, should one speak here of a conscious correction on the part of the author, or of an important complement? Neither of these options seems likely. In 3,13 and 5,1 Paul mentions Christ, it would seem, spontaneously, not as a correction21 or complement, but out of the fullness of his personal conviction, out of his most profound vision of salvation history. Yet both 3,7-9 and 4,21-31 reveal to us how easily Paul is taken up, almost completely, in the presentation of Abraham and his family. That Genesis material provides him not only with an illustration. A promise was made to Abraham and he believed God; this faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. According to Paul, Abraham"s faith was already, by way of anticipation, Christian faith. Moreover, for Paul oi( e)k pi/stewj in 3,7 and 9 implicitly are believers in Christ. This also applies to 4,26. The children of h( a!nw  )Ierousalh/m are free because they belong to Christ, even if in v. 26 this is not (yet) explicitly stated. God promised an inheritance to Abraham. Through their belonging to Christ Christians have become, not by law but according to that promise, the heirs (cf. 3,29)22.

Abraham"s offspring is Christ; that offspring at the same time consists of all those who have faith in Christ23. Therefore, a seemingly brusque but easy transition from Abraham to Christ should not disturb the reader too much.


Just as after the Abraham passage of 3,6-12 Christ is mentioned in 3,13 quite unexpectedly, so also after 4,21-31, Paul"s so-called allegory which deals with the wives and sons of Abraham, the sudden statement about Christ in 5,1 cannot but surprise the reader. Although the word order differs, both vocabulary and content of parts of 3,13a and 5,1a are identical or at least similar. Abraham"s faith was already, by way of anticipation, Christian faith. Moreover, "those of faith" in 3,7 and 9 implicitly are believers in Christ. This also applies to 4,26. The children of "the Jerusalem above" are free because they belong to Christ, even if in v. 26 this is not (yet) explicitly stated. Therefore, a seemingly brusque transition from the Abraham text or the allegory to Christ should not disturb the reader too much.


1 On Gal 5,1 see A. OEPKE, Der Brief des Paulus an die Galater (THNT; Berlin 21960) 117: "Der abgehackte Einsatz hat etwas Befremdliches".

2 Cf. F. PASTOR RAMOS, La libertad en la carta a los Glatas. Estudio exegtico-teolgico (Madrid 1977) 91: "la palabra "Cristo" ... que no apareca desde 4,19".

3 This first paragraph is an edited version of sections of "Curse and Blessing: A Study of Galatians 3,10-14", J. LAMBRECHT, Pauline Studies (BETL 115; Leuven 1994) 271-298, cf. 277-279 and 287.

4 For an understanding of "us" (= Jews) in 3,13a as referring only to the Jewish Christians, see especially T.L. DONALDSON, "The "Curse of the Law" and the Inclusion of the Gentiles: Galatians 3. 13-14", NTS 32 (1986) 94-112. So F.J. MATERA, Galatians (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville 1992) 120, writes: "The pronoun hmas ("us") refers to Jewish believers who have lived under the curse of the Law. The redemption of the Jew precedes that of the Gentile". This interpretation, however, is not generally accepted. See, e.g., recently S.K. WILLIAMS, Galatians (Abingdon NT Comm.; Nashville 1997) 92: by us "Paul does not refer narrowly to himself and other Christian Jews".

5 For our comment on the different passages of Galatians we may refer to the major classic commentaries. That of R.N. LONGENECKER, Galatians (Word; Dallas 1990), provides an extensive bibliography for each pericope.

6 Cf. PASTOR RAMOS, La Liberdad, 139: "Hasta este momento no haba habido ninguna alusin a Cristo en toda la tipologa".

7 Paul does not seem to allude here to the Hellenistic sacral manumission nor to the Jewish redemption of slaves. F. MUSSNER, Der Galaterbrief (HTKNT; Freiburg – Basel – Wien 1974) 345, concludes his discussion as follows: "Die Formulierung ... macht ... den Eindruck, dass sie von Paulus ad hoc aus dem von ihm besonders in 4,31 Vorgelegten geschaffen worden ist".

8 M.-J. LAGRANGE, Eptre aux Galates (Paris 1918) 132-133, sees in 4,31 (with dio/, a)delfoi/,...) the beginning of a new pericope (4,31–5,12).

9 Cf. the discussion and choices in, e.g., LONGENECKER, Galatians, 220 and 223-225; PASTOR RAMOS, La libertad, 89-92.

10 A. VANHOYE, La lettera ai Galati. Seconda parte, (Roma 31997) is an exception: the affirmation "corregge l"impressione che poteva lasciare la tipologia precedente, cio che dobbiamo la nostra libert a una astrazione, la seconda diathe4ke4, o a una realt celeste collettiva, la Gerusalemme di lass. Non cos! La nostra libert la dobbiamo a un intervento di Cristo, intervento preciso, storico, espresso con un aoristo: e4leuthero4sen" (213). Regarding the verb, see also MUSSNER, Galaterbrief, 343: the aorist "schaut auf das historische Kreuzesgeschehen zurck" (with reference to the similar aorist in 3,13a).

11 Cf. PASTOR RAMOS, La libertad, 235-242.

12 At first sight Paul"s reflection in 2,20: "... the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself (parado/ntoj e(auto/n) for me" appears to be very similar to the tradition in 1,4a. Yet G. BERENYI, "Gal 2,20: a Pre-Pauline or a Pauline Text?", Bib 65 (1984) 490-537, convincingly, it would seem, defends the Pauline character of 2,20. The author highlights three Pauline particularities: the title Son of God; the verb paradi/dwmi and the reflexive pronoun; the typical and original use of a)gapa/w.

13 E. DE WITT BURTON, The Epistle to the Galatians (ICC; Edinburgh 1921) 270.

14 Cf. F. SIEFFERT, Der Brief an die Galater (KEK; Gttingen 91899) 297: the emphasis does not lie on Christ but on freedom which follows immediately on "the free woman" in 4,31.

15 Cf. D. LHRMANN, Der Brief an die Galater (Zrcher Bibelkommentare; Zrich 1978) 80; H. SCHLIER, Der Brief an die Galater (KEK; Gttingen 51971) 229-230: "Freiheit vom Gesetz ... Freiheit von der Snde ... Freiheit vom Tode". Yet: "Man wird nicht behaupten drfen, dass Paulus diese Bestimmungen in dem Satz 5,1 alle gegenwrig sind".

16 Cf. MUSSNER, Galaterbrief, 344-345, for highlighting the authoritative character of these words.

17 See, however, 5,11 with its mention of the cross (of Christ, cf. 6,12 and 14).

18 Cf. WILLIAMS, Galatians, 95-96.

19 H.D. BETZ, Galatians (Hermeneia; Philadelphia 1979) 171-172, e.g., retains the idea of mediating: "... as a go-between related to two parties, the mediator is defined merely in contrast with the oneness of God, that is, as the representative of a plurality. It is not at all necessary to identify this plurality as the angels in 3:19d, or as the people in the Sinai tradition" (171). Cf. also J.D.G. DUNN, The Epistle to the Galatians (Black"s NT Comm.; London 1993) 191: "Paul was probably attempting a not very successful ... epigrammatic play-off between the thought of God"s oneness and the fact that mediation implies more than one (between whom to mediate"). A. VANHOYE, "Un mdiateur des anges en Ga 3,19-20", Bib 59 (1978) 403-411, defends the less likely position that an angel is the representative of the multitude of angels mentioned in v. 19.

20 The question remains, however, whether a positive nuance is completely absent in the clauses which contain a!xrij ou| (3,19), ei)j th_n me/llousan pi/stin (3,24) and ei)j Xristo/n (3,25).

21 Cf. note 10.

22 Cf. DUNN, Galatians, 208.

23 Cf. WILLIAMS, Galatians, 92: Paul"s "insistence on the incompability of faith and the Law are grounded in yet more fundamental convictions about the eschatological import of Jesus" death and resurrection".