God’s Free Children in Christ.* 1I mean that as long as the heir is not of age,* he is no different from a slave, although he is the owner of everything, 2but he is under the supervision of guardians and administrators until the date set by his father. 3a In the same way we also, when we were not of age, were enslaved to the elemental powers of the world.* 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,b 5to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.c 6As proof that you are children,* God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”d 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.e
Do Not Throw This Freedom Away.* 8f At a time when you did not know God, you became slaves to things that by nature are not gods;* 9but 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 destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again?g 10You are observing days,h months, seasons, and years.* 11I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have labored for you in vain.*
Appeal to Former Loyalty.* 12I implore you, brothers, be as I am, because I have also become as you are.* You did me no wrong;i 13you know that it was because of a physical illness* that I originally preached the gospel to you, 14and you did not show disdain or contempt because of the trial caused you by my physical condition, but rather you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15Where now is that blessedness of yours?* Indeed, I can testify to you that, if it had been possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16So now have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17They show interest in you, but not in a good way; they want to isolate you,* so that you may show interest in them.j 18Now it is good to be shown interest for good reason at all times, and not only when I am with you. 19My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!k 20I would like to be with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed because of you.
An Allegory on Christian Freedom.* 21Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the freeborn woman.l 23The son of the slave woman was born naturally, the son of the freeborn through a promise.m 24Now this is an allegory. These women represent two covenants. One was from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; this is Hagar.n 25Hagar represents Sinai,* a mountain in Arabia; it corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery along with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is freeborn, and she is our mother.o 27For it is written:
break forth and shout, you who were not in labor;
for more numerous are the children of the deserted one
than of her who has a husband.”*
* [4:1–7] What Paul has argued in Gal 3:26–29 is now elaborated in terms of the Christian as the heir (Gal 4:1, 7; cf. Gal 3:18, 29) freed from control by others. Again, as in Gal 3:2–5, the proof that Christians are children of God is the gift of the Spirit of Christ relating them intimately to God.
* [4:3] The elemental powers of the world: while the term can refer to the “elements” like earth, air, fire, and water or to elementary forms of religion, the sense here is more likely that of celestial beings that were thought in pagan circles to control the world; cf. Gal 4:8; Col 2:8, 20.
* [4:8–11] On the basis of the arguments advanced from Gal 3:1 through Gal 4:7, Paul now launches his appeal to the Galatians with the question, how can you turn back to the slavery of the law (Gal 4:9)? The question is posed with reference to bondage to the elemental powers (see note on Gal 4:3) because the Galatians had originally been converted to Christianity from paganism, not Judaism (Gal 4:8). The use of the direct question is like Gal 3:3–5.
* [4:8] Things that by nature are not gods: or “gods that by nature do not exist.”
* [4:10] This is likely a reference to ritual observances from the Old Testament, promoted by opponents: sabbaths or Yom Kippur, new moon, Passover or Pentecost, sabbatical years.
* [4:12] Because I have also become as you are: a terse phrase in Greek, meaning “Be as I, Paul, am,” i.e., living by faith, independent of the law, for, in spite of my background in Judaism (Gal 1:13), I have become as you Galatians are now, a brother in Christ.
* [4:13] Physical illness: because its nature is not described, some assume an eye disease (Gal 4:15); others, epilepsy; some relate it to 2 Cor 12:7–9. Originally: this may also be translated “formerly” or “on the first (of two) visit(s)”; cf. Acts 16:6; 18:23.
* [4:15] That blessedness of yours: possibly a reference to the Galatians’ initial happy reception of Paul (Gal 4:14) and of his gospel (Gal 1:6; 3:1–4) and their felicitation at such blessedness, but the phrase could also refer ironically to earlier praise by Paul of the Galatians, no longer possible when they turn from the gospel to the claims of the opponents (Gal 4:17–18; 1:7). If the word is a more literal reference to a beatitude, Gal 3:26–28 may be in view.
* [4:17] Isolate you: that is, from the blessings of the gospel and/or from Paul.
* [4:21–31] Paul supports his appeal for the gospel (Gal 4:9; 1:6–9; 2:16; 3:2) by a further argument from scripture (cf. Gal 3:6–18). It involves the relationship of Abraham (Gal 3:6–16) to his wife, Sarah, the freeborn woman, and to Hagar, the slave woman, and the contrast between the sons born to each, Isaac, child of promise, and Ishmael, son of Hagar (Gn 16; 21). Only through Isaac is the promise of God preserved. This allegory (Gal 4:24), with its equation of the Sinai covenant and Mosaic law with slavery and of the promise of God with freedom, Paul uses only in light of previous arguments. His quotation of Gn 21:10 at Gal 4:30 suggests on a scriptural basis that the Galatians should expel those who are troubling them (Gal 1:7).
* [4:25] Hagar represents Sinai…: some manuscripts have what seems a geographical note, “For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia.”
* [4:27] Is 54:1 in the Septuagint translation is applied to Sarah as the barren one (in Gn 15) who ultimately becomes the mother not only of Isaac but now of numerous children, i.e., of all those who believe, the children of the promise (Gal 4:28).