Abraham and His Offspring A Comparison of Galatians 5,1 with 3,13
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
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).
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 1625). 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
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
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
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).
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 4,215,12 there
occurs the lengthy section 3,154,20, 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.
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.
22.214.171.124.21.22 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
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
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.
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 Gálatas. Estudio exegético-teológico (Madrid 1977) 91:
"la palabra "Cristo" ... que no aparecía 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 hêmas
("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
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 había habido ninguna alusión a Cristo en
toda la tipología".
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
8 M.-J. LAGRANGE, Epître
aux Galates (Paris 1918) 132-133, sees in 4,31 (with dio/,
a)delfoi/,...) the beginning of a new pericope (4,315,12).
9 Cf. the discussion and
choices in, e.g., LONGENECKER, Galatians, 220 and 223-225; PASTOR RAMOS, La
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, cioè che
dobbiamo la nostra libertà a una astrazione, la seconda diathe4ke4,
o a una realtà celeste collettiva, la Gerusalemme di lassù. Non è così! La nostra
libertà 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 zurück" (with reference to the similar aorist in
11 Cf. PASTOR RAMOS, La
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; Göttingen 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. LÜHRMANN, Der
Brief an die Galater (Zürcher Bibelkommentare; Zürich 1978) 80; H. SCHLIER, Der
Brief an die Galater (KEK; Göttingen 51971) 229-230: "Freiheit vom
Gesetz ... Freiheit von der Sünde ... Freiheit vom Tode". Yet: "Man wird nicht
behaupten dürfen, dass Paulus diese Bestimmungen in dem Satz 5,1 alle gegenwärig
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,
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 médiateur 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,
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