Galatians 4

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Galatians 4:1

Further emphasizing the changed status of full sonship, Paul wrote: “Now I say [that for] whatever time the heir is a babe, he differs [in] nothing [from] a slave, [though] being lord of all [things].”

In this case, the Greek conjunction (but) apparently does not introduce a contrast and so may be translated “now.” The word links what the apostle said before with another illustration of the same basic point.

As evident from the context, the term “babe” (népios) is not limited to the brief period of infancy. Instead, it describes the state of the heir during the entire period of his minority. While a minor, the heir is treated as a subordinate. In this respect, he differs in nothing from a slave or bondservant (doúlos). By reason of his being the heir, the minor is “lord” or “owner” of “everything” (plural of the Greek pás, all). Nevertheless, as a minor, he is not permitted to exercise the authority of an owner or lord.

Galatians 4:2

Paul continued: “But he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by the father.” The conjunction “but” (allá) indicates a strong contrast. Slaves commonly filled the positions of guardians and stewards. Therefore, the heir, though lord, is actually subservient to slaves. In view of the tremendous contrast between the state of lordship and that of subordination, the conjunction allá is most appropriate.

“Guardian” translates the Greek term epítropos (epí, [upon] and trépo, [turn or direct]). The basic meaning of this word suggests that the “guardians” had the authority to direct and guide the minor. “Stewards,” on the other hand, were “house administrators,” caring for the property or the estate. The Greek term for steward (oikonómos) is a compound of oíkos (house) and nómos (law). Accordingly, both as to his person and his inheritance, the heir could not exercise independent authority until the time that his father had previously set.

Evidently the apostle’s illustration was based on a legal arrangement with which the Galatians were familiar. The father had the authority to determine just when the son would be old enough to assume the full responsibilities of an adult and the management of the inheritance. The Greek word having the sense of “time set” is prothesmía (before appointed; pró [before] and títhemi [appoint, set, place, put, ordain, establish]) and refers to a time fixed in advance.

Galatians 4:3

Applying the illustration, Paul wrote: “Thus, also we, when we were babes, were enslaved to the elements of the world.” In view of the apostle’s previous reference to the Mosaic law, the word “we” (hemeís) evidently is to be understood as referring to him and his fellow Jews. While “babes,” or in their minority, they did not enjoy the dignified status of adult sons. Instead, they were subject “to the elements of the world.” Commonly rendered “to,” the preposition hypo (under) points to being under authority.

The Greek word for “element” (stoicheíon) appears to designate something that is a part of a row or series. A related term (stoíchos) denotes “row” and is drawn from the verb steícho, meaning “to march in line.” The expression stoicheíon was used to designate the letters of the alphabet and those which formed a word. Thus, the plural of stoicheíon conveys the thought of “rudiments,” “elements,” or the “ABCs.” The Mosaic law, with its focus on animal sacrifices and a material altar and sanctuary, belonged to the “world” (kósmos; see Hebrews 9:1, where the adjective kosmikós [worldly] is used with reference to the material sanctuary).

Under the law arrangement, the Jews were treated as minors, subject to the ABCs or only the basic elements of the fullness of the truth that was to be revealed through Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) Since the law was binding, the apostle could speak of being in servitude or “enslaved” to the “elements of the world.” The state of servitude contrasts sharply with that of full freedom as sons.

Note: Manuscripts vary in using either hémen (we were; active voice) or hémetha (we were; middle voice, indicative of sharing in the results of the action). This difference does not affect translation.

Galatians 4:4

Pointing to the time for the change from a condition of enslavement to freedom, Paul continued: “When, however, the fullness of the time came, God sent his Son, [who] came to be out of a woman [and] under law.”

The “fullness of the time” designates the time determined beforehand by God for the sending of his Son to the earth. When Jesus Christ arrived on the earthly scene, the Jews were awaiting the Messiah (Luke 3:15), suggesting that the prophecy of Daniel, with its specific time features, may have provided the basis for their expectation. (Daniel 9:25, 26) With the coming of God’s Son to the earth, no more time needed to pass. The allotted time for waiting in the state of minority was completely “filled up.” While on earth, Jesus was fully a man, for he came to be out of a woman, Mary. As the son of Mary, he was a born Jew and subject to the Mosaic law.

Galatians 4:5

Commenting on what Jesus was able to accomplish by reason of being “out of a woman” and “under law,” Paul added, “in order that he might redeem those under law so that we might receive the sonship.”

The apostle used hína twice. This conjunction initially introduces the purpose for Jesus’ coming to be “out of a woman” and “under law,” and so has the sense of “in order that.” The second occurrence points to the result of the redemption (the receiving of sonship) and thus can appropriately be rendered “so that” or “that.” As evident from the context, the law is the Mosaic law and, therefore, those under it or subject to its requirements were the Jews. As a perfect man under the law, Jesus flawlessly lived up to it. So he could take upon himself the penalty for disobedience — death — and thereby purchase freedom for those who were under the condemnation of the law. The Greek word exagorázo, commonly rendered “redeem,” literally means to “buy out.” Bound by the law and yet condemned by it as sinners unable to live up to its requirements, the Jews found themselves in a hopeless state of slavery. (John 8:34) By dying sacrificially in the place of condemned sinners, Jesus Christ bought them out of this state of slavery. Nevertheless, only those who responded in faith to this loving provision benefited. (John 8:31, 32, 35, 36)

Sonship was granted to those who accepted Jesus as the Son of God who died sacrificially for them. When using the first person plural verb apolábomen, meaning “we might receive,” Paul doubtless meant to include both Jewish and non-Jewish believers, not limiting the bestowal of sonship to those who had been “under law.” The Greek word for “sonship” is huiothesía and signifies an “adoption as son.”

Galatians 4:6

Focusing on sonship, the apostle continued: “Now that you are sons, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father.’”

The Greek word (often meaning “but”) is not introducing a contrast. Since the apostle is building on the point about sonship, the word “now” is an appropriate rendering.

In Greek, the term hóti can denote either “that” or “because.” Rendering hóti as “that” points to the receiving of the Son’s spirit as a proof of sonship, whereas translating the term as “because” indicates the reason for receiving that spirit. A number of modern translations are explicit in conveying the sense of proof. “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (NAB; see also REB and TEV.) Other translations, however, render hóti as “because.” Since, however, the apostle already established that believers have been adopted as sons, the preferable meaning for hóti appears to be “that.”

As the Christ and the Son of God, Jesus possessed the fullness of his Father’s spirit. In fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, God’s spirit was upon him, and the miracles Jesus performed proved that he was indeed the Son of God. (Matt. 12:28; John 5:36; 10:37, 38). Because of his having the spirit of his Father in all its fullness, that spirit belongs to him. Thus, believers can be spoken of as having the spirit of God’s Son sent into their hearts.

The “heart” is representative of the deep inner self. Since the spirit has profoundly influenced the inmost self of believers, establishing their identity as God’s sons, it is the compelling power behind the outcry, “Abba, Father.” Jesus Christ is quoted as using this very expression when praying with great intensity on the final night of his earthly life. (Mark 14:36)

The transliterated Semitic designation appearing in the Greek text, abbá, means “father.” It imitates one of the first, simple sounds a baby makes and therefore can convey the intimacy, submission, trust, and affection of a young child when saying “papa” or “daddy.” The word abbá is followed by ho patér (literally “the Father”). Since the words ho patér are evidently not added to explain the meaning of abbá, the expression may be regarded as vocative and so could be rendered “O Father.” The designation “Father” could appropriately express the believer’s relationship to God as a son and the privileges and responsibilities associated therewith.


Though missing in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the words ho theós are found in nearly all other extant Greek manuscripts.

In P46 (c. 200), the words toú huiou (of the Son) are missing. Because of the preponderance of other manuscript evidence, however, there is reason to believe that the words are part of the original text.

The oldest manuscripts (P46, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus) support the reading hemón (our) with reference to hearts, whereas the majority of more recent manuscripts read hymón (your).

Galatians 4:7

Focusing on sonship, Paul continued: “Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son; and since a son, also an heir through God.” The apostle initially addressed the Galatian believers collectively, using the second person plural verb este (in verse 6), meaning “you are.” Then, evidently drawing attention to the individual standing of the believer, Paul employed the second person singular verb ei (you are), the singular “slave” or “bondservant” (doúlos), and the singular “son” (huiós). Upon becoming believers both Jews and non-Jews were set free from enslavement to sin and an arrangement of servitude to rules and regulations. Hence, the individual believer is “no longer” or “not still” (oukéti, a term indicating that what has been the case up to a certain point is so no longer) a slave. The great contrast between the position of slave and son is suggested by the word “but” (allá, a stronger term of contrast than dé, which also can be translated “but”).

The coordinating conjunction hóste (therefore, as a result of, or accordingly) links what Paul wrote about the sending of the spirit into the heart and the resultant outcry, “Abba, Father.” That outcry undeniably establishes the status of the believer.

Paul’s next statement builds on what sonship includes. Because there is no indication of contrast, the coordinating conjunction (but) here evidently means “and” or “now,” not “but.” In view of the apostle’s reference to the status of “son” as a fact, the word ei apparently does not have the conditional sense of possibility (if) but is to be understood as meaning “since.” A son, not a slave, customarily received the inheritance. So, because of being a son, the believer is also an heir, entitled to all the rights and privileges associated with the covenant promise made to Abraham.

According to the earliest manuscript evidence, being an heir is “through God.” It is the Father who has accepted the believer as his son and thus also constituted the individual as an heir. (Note also the seeming link to verse 2, where the reference is to the “time set by the father.”)


The majority of manuscripts read ei (you are), but two ninth-century manuscripts omit this word.

Among the manuscripts attesting the words kleronómos diá theoú (“heir through God”) are P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Many later manuscripts read kleronómos theoú diá Christoú (“heir of God through Christ”). Other variants found in manuscripts include kleronómos mén theoú synkleronómos dé Christoú (heir indeed of God, but fellow heir of Christ [much like Romans 8:17]), kleronómos diá theón (heir because of God), kleronómos diá Christoú (“heir through Christ”), and kleronómos theoú diá Iseoú Christoú (“heir of God through Jesus Christ”).

Galatians 4:8

Directing his attention to the non-Jewish believers, Paul wrote: “But then, indeed, not knowing God, you slaved for those who by nature are not gods.” The coordinating conjunction allá (but) points to the great contrast between the condition of sonship and the former state of not even knowing God. In this case, the Greek word for “know” is oída (perceive, recognize, or know), not ginósko, which can include the sense of having a relationship with someone. To the non-Jews, the true God was completely unknown and unrecognized. (The Greek particle mén [indeed, in fact] apparently serves to emphasize their former condition of being without knowledge of the true God.) Their gods, on the other hand, were mere figments of human imagination — unrealities. These deities were by “nature” (physis) or in actuality no gods. Therefore, when conforming to the humanly prescribed rituals that honored nonexistent deities, the Galatians had slaved for those who were no gods at all.

Galatians 4:9

Developing his point further, Paul appealed to the Galatians’ sense of reasoning: “But [] now [nyn] having come to know God — or [] rather having come to be known by God — how can you again turn to the weak and poor elements to which you are again willing to be enslaved anew?”

The conjunction (but) introduces a contrast to the former state of ignorance, whereas nyn (“now”) points to the existing condition of knowing God. Although the expressions oída and ginósko both mean “know” and can be employed synonymously (see John 8:55), Paul’s use of ginósko may be significant, as this term can include (though not necessarily) the thought of relationship with someone. (Matthew 7:23; compare Acts 19:15, where no relationship is implied by the word ginósko.) The Galatians had indeed come to know God as the “living and true God” and as their Father. This, however, occurred because God drew them to himself through Christ on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. (John 6:44; Titus 2:11–14) Therefore, the apostle evidently clarified his initial statement, introducing the point about the Galatians having come to be known by God with the words mállon dé (rather but). It was not the Galatians who had taken the initiative in coming to know God. Only through his favor did they receive his recognition as sons. The fact that the Galatians had come to be known by the living and true God made it even more serious for them to return to the kind of slavery to which they had been subject when serving nonexistent gods according to humanly devised regulations and ceremonies.

As in verse 3, the “elements,” “rudiments,” or “ABCs” evidently designate the legal requirements of the law. While the Galatians had never been in servitude to the Mosaic law, they did observe certain prescribed ordinances and rituals to gain the favor of nonexistent gods. Thus, when willingly taking upon themselves a yoke of servitude to an unyielding law in an effort to have God’s approval, they would have been returning to an arrangement similar to the one that they had formerly abandoned. It is no wonder, therefore, that the apostle raised the question of how they could do this — and willingly at that.

Paul described the “elements” as “weak and poor.” They were weak in the sense of being completely ineffectual, inadequate, and powerless with reference to gaining a righteous standing before God. These elements were also “poor,” destitute of any potential for supplying true spiritual riches and blessings. The Greek word for poor (ptochós) is descriptive of extreme poverty. Although having enjoyed a state of freedom, the Galatians were willing to become enslaved anew to valueless “elements.”

Galatians 4:10

Focusing on the ritualistic aspect of the enslavement, Paul wrote: “You are observing days and months and times and years.” The Greek word for “observing” is parateréo, an intensified form of teréo. Combined with pará (beside), teréo is indicative of a careful or close watching, the object of the watching or observing being in the proximity. Accordingly, the Galatians were closely, carefully, or scrupulously observing days, months, times, and years. They did so with the objective of gaining divine approval.

Having willingly placed themselves under the yoke of the Mosaic law, the Galatians evidently adopted the seventh day as the Sabbath. Because the first day of each Jewish month was a festival day (the new-moon festival), they doubtless made this a day of special observance and thus kept months.

The Greek word for “time” (kairós) also means “season.” Under the Mosaic law, the prescribed three annual festivals were closely associated with the seasons. Passover and the subsequent festival of unleavened bread came in early spring, at the start of the barley harvest. Pentecost or the festival of weeks coincided with the beginning of the wheat harvest in late spring. The festival of booths was celebrated in the fall, at the end of the major part of the agricultural year. By then, grapes, dates, and figs had usually been harvested. The “seasons” the Galatians observed apparently are to be linked to the Jewish festivals.

Insufficient time had passed between Paul’s visit and the writing of the letter for the Galatians to have kept “years.” Nevertheless, their willingness to submit to the law indicated that they would be treating certain years as special.

In itself, there was nothing improper about keeping the Sabbath or other days prescribed by the Mosaic law. Obligatory observance of special days with a view to gaining divine approval, however, was wrong, as it constituted a denial of the truth that faith in Jesus Christ was the sole basis for attaining an approved standing before God.

Galatians 4:11

In view of the spiritually hurtful developments among the Galatians, Paul said: “I fear for you, that somehow I have labored in vain for you.” The apostle was afraid or filled with apprehension. In Greek, the word “you” is in the accusative case and, in combination with the verb, could be rendered, “I am afraid of you.” This, however, evidently is not the sense of the Greek. Paul was not afraid of the Galatians but feared on their account or for them. His concern was for their spiritual welfare. The Greek verb for “labor” (kopiáo) can signify “hard work” or “toil.” In the Septuagint, this term often has the sense of wearying or exhausting laboring. The preposition eis (into [but here having the sense of “for”]) indicates that the Galatians were the object of Paul’s efforts. Despite his diligent efforts, the danger existed that he had expended himself fully on their behalf “in vain” or for nothing. By adopting a perversion of the evangel, the Galatians would experience spiritual harm, counteracting the wholesome effect of Paul’s labors for them.

Galatians 4:12

Paul appealed to the Galatians: “Brothers, I implore you, become as I [am], because I also [am] as you [are]. You did not wrong me.” In the Greek text, the words, “brothers, I implore you,” do not appear at the start of the sentence. Since, however, the words that follow do not constitute a request, the beseeching evidently relates to the preceding plea, “become as I [am]…” Even though the Galatians had erred seriously, the apostle still regarded them as his brothers and, hence, fellow sons of God.

The Greek word for “implore” (déomai) often implies an urgent petitioning on account of need. In view of his great apprehension for them, Paul begged the Galatians to take corrective action. His plea evidently was that they become as he then was — free from scrupulous law observance in an impossible effort thereby to prove himself righteous before God. The apostle understood fully what it meant to be under the yoke of the law and the contrasting state of freedom as a son of God, justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

Because verbs are missing in the Greek text, translators commonly insert present tense English verbs, representing Paul as saying that he, though a Jew, was like the non-Jewish Galatians in not being subject to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Since, however, the Galatians had willingly placed themselves under the law, perhaps Paul was referring to a past situation. Kenneth Wuest, for example, translated the apostle’s words, “because I also became as you were.” According to this rendering, the apostle became free of the law as had been the case with the non-Jewish Galatians before they yielded to the influence of false teachers. Still another possibility is that Paul could be saying that he used to be what the Galatians had become by willingly submitting themselves to the law, requiring that they heed his appeal to change and again become free of the law as he was.

Seemingly, with reference to the past, Paul said of the Galatians, “You did not wrong me.” The Greek verb for “do wrong” is adikéo, which may also be defined as “treat wrongly” or “unjustly.” This may mean that the Galatians had not wronged the apostle in the past, but treated him with the greatest kindness. In harmony with their past noble spirit, he supplicated them again to become as he was. Perhaps Paul meant to imply that, although the Galatians had not treated him in the wrong way formerly, they then did so or should not do so. Another possibility is that the Galatians were hurting themselves, not the apostle. If the reference to the past (“You did not wrong me”) implies that the attitude of the Galatians had changed toward the apostle, it appears more likely that he would have regarded this development more as an injury to the Galatians and the cause of Christ than as a personal wrong.

Galatians 4:13

Commenting on his physical condition at the time he first preached to the Galatians, Paul wrote: “You know, in fact, that because of an illness of the flesh I proclaimed the evangel to you the first time.”

Because the conjunction (but) does not introduce a contrast, a number of modern translations do not use any equivalent term in their renderings. In this case, the word may have the sense of “indeed” or “in fact.”

The Greek expression for “illness” (asthéneia) is descriptive of any kind of weakness or infirmity. Because the word is in the accusative case, translators commonly take the phrase hóti di’ asthéneian to mean “that because of an illness.” While the preposition diá, when used with the accusative, can mean “through,” and has thus also been rendered here (KJV), this would not be the usual significance. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, when the meaning of diá is definitely “through,” the term is followed by words in the genitive, not in the accusative, case. (See, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:7, 8.) Even in Luke 17:11, where diá means “through,” manuscript evidence varies regarding the case of the word that follows, “midst” (mésou [genitive], méson [accusative]). If the meaning is “through” (an exception to common use in Paul’s letters), the apostle would be saying that he was physically ill while preaching to the Galatians. When, however, the apostle’s words are understood to denote “on account of an illness,” the emphasis would be on the circumstance that was responsible for his being and preaching in Galatia — his illness. This would suggest that Paul’s affliction prevented him from going to another region. The sickness, infirmity, or weakness is described as being “of the flesh,” that is, of a bodily or physical nature.

To indicate when he proclaimed the evangel in his afflicted state, Paul used the words tó próteron, signifying “the former,” “the previous,” or “the first” time. If the apostle had preached in Galatia on one occasion only, his thus specifying the time of his activity would have been unnecessary.

Galatians 4:14

Regarding the response of the Galatians to him, the apostle said, “and your test in my flesh, you did not despise nor reject, but you received me like an angel of God, like Christ Jesus.” Paul’s affliction evidently was so severe that its effect on his “flesh” or physical organism made his bodily condition a test or trial to the Galatians. This may mean that the illness caused the apostle’s physical appearance to be repulsive. If so, the Galatians could have found it difficult to listen to a man whose affliction was of a nature that gave rise to feelings of revulsion. Moreover, the infirmity may have prompted the question of how a teacher of truth could be so terribly afflicted. In any event, the test to the Galatians would have been whether to accept a physically afflicted man as being in God’s service and ultimately, therefore, whether to embrace his message as the truth. According to the reading of other ancient manuscripts (including P46 from about 200), however, the affliction was a trial for Paul. In keeping with the alternate reading, W. J. Conybeare rendered the apostle’s words, “the bodily infirmity was my trial.”

Concerning what the Galatians did not do, Paul used two very strong terms — exouthenéo and ekptyo. The word exouthenéo is a compound of ex (out) and oudeís (nothing, nobody, or worth nothing) and means “account as nothing,” “hold in contempt,” or “despise.” A literal meaning of ekptyo is “spit out.” The term, therefore, signifies a rejection that is coupled with disdain or disgust. The kind of treatment that might be experienced by one who was terribly afflicted is revealed in the words of suffering Job: “They abhor me, they stand aloof, they do not hesitate to spit in my face!” (Job 30:10, NAB, revised edition)

The Galatians, however, accepted the apostle as a person who was divinely appointed and a proclaimer of truth. Paul made the contrast distinct by using the conjunction allá (but), a stronger term than (often meaning “but”).

Although the Greek word ángelos can refer either to an angel or a human messenger, most translators favor the rendering “angel.” Paul, of course, was a messenger of God. Therefore, the meaning “angel” evidently is preferable, especially since Jesus Christ is greater than the angels. The Galatians accepted the apostle not just as an angel of God, but as the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This indicates that they welcomed and accorded him the highest regard. They were genuinely concerned about his welfare and eagerly embraced the truth that he proclaimed.


The reading hymón (your) is supported by fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus; P46 (c. 200), however, reads mou (my). In addition to moú, the majority of later manuscripts also add the dative tón, meaning “which” in this context (which in my flesh). Still other manuscripts include neither hymón nor mou, but tón only.

Although having overwhelming manuscript support, the words oudé exeptysate (nor despise; nor treat with contempt) are missing in P46 (c. 200).

Galatians 4:15

In view of the Galatians’ change in attitude on account of the influence of false teachers, Paul raised the question: “Where, then, [is] your happiness?” Evidently they experienced great “happiness” because of the apostle’s labors in their midst and found delight in ministering to his needs. This former joy had manifestly ceased to exist, prompting the apostle to ask them what had happened to it. That their happiness included coming to the apostle’s aid is indicated by his next words: “For I bear you witness that, if possible, [after] gouging out your eyes, you would have given [them] to me.” Although the Greek literally reads, “I bear witness to you,” the attestation or favorable witness was about the Galatians and not testimony directed to them. A number of translations simply read, “I can testify.”

If the Galatians could have brought relief to Paul from his distressing affliction, they, regardless of any great personal sacrifice involved, would have done so. Because the eyes are specifically mentioned in the context of the apostle’s infirmity, the view has been advanced that he suffered from an extreme eye affliction. There is, however, no clear evidence in the apostle’s other letters or in the book of Acts to confirm this. Therefore, it appears preferable to regard the “eyes” as meaning something that is very dear, precious, and irreplaceable. Accordingly, Paul could testify that the Galatians would have been willing to undertake anything within their power to help him, no matter how difficult or costly it might have been.


The word poú (where) is found in P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Many other more recent manuscripts read tís (what).

While the oldest extant manuscripts (P46, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) do not have a verb after oún (then), many later manuscripts include én (was).

Galatians 4:16

The past kindly spirit of the Galatians prompted the apostle to raise another question: “So, have I become your enemy [for] speaking truth to you?” The apostle’s first word, hóste, is an indicator of result and may be rendered “so,” “therefore,” “consequently,” or “accordingly.” By giving ear to false teachers, the Galatians were actually rejecting the truth that Paul had declared to them. This also meant that they no longer regarded him as a trustworthy friend. As Paul’s question indicated, his speaking the truth was the reason for the change in attitude toward him.

Unlike English, Greek has a verb form for “truth.” This Greek term (aletheúo) signifies to communicate, speak or tell the truth. Paul’s use of aletheúo here manifestly relates to his proclamation of divine truth — the genuine “good news.”

Galatians 4:17

Regarding the false teachers, the apostle observed: “They show great interest in you, [though] not [in a] good [way], but they want to exclude you in order that you may show great interest in them.” Paul’s words indicate that the false teachers had no real concern for the Galatians. The words, “show great interest in,” are a rendering of the verb zelóo, which in its basic sense means “to be jealous.” In this context, however, the word denotes “be greatly concerned about,” “show great interest in,” “to be the object of another’s zeal.” There was nothing commendable about the zealous attention that the false teachers were giving to the Galatians. It was not “good,” fine, right, honorable, or proper.

Regarding the desire of these false teachers, Paul used the word ekkleío, meaning “exclude,” or “shut out.” Although the apostle does not mention from what or whom they wanted to “exclude” the Galatians, possibly the implied thought is that these false teachers desired to shut them off from all who upheld the truth and were genuinely concerned about their spiritual welfare. By thus excluding or isolating the Galatians, the false teachers wanted to get their complete attention. It was their objective to be regarded as spiritual guides, occupying the position of an exclusive spiritual authority. They selfishly sought to be the sole object of the Galatians’ “great interest,” “concern,” or “zealous seeking.” When referring to what the false teachers wanted for themselves, Paul again used the verb zelóo.

Note: A number of manuscripts do not end the sentence with zeloúte, but read zeloúte dé tá kreítto charísmata (may be zealous [for] the greater gifts). This addition probably arose from copyists’ familiarity with 1 Corinthians 12:31.

Galatians 4:18

To show the Galatians that he was not jealous because they had become the object of others’ “great concern,” Paul wrote: “But good [it is] to be shown great interest in good always, and not only when I am present with you.”

The apostle used the conjunction (but) to contrast the ignoble attention of false teachers with the proper concern. It was “good”, right, or proper at all times for the Galatians to be “shown great interest” (zelóo; see the previous verse). The apostle, however, specified that being the object of great concern must be within proper limits. He used the expression en kaló (in good), which may be understood to mean “in a good or commendable thing or way,” “for a good purpose” (NRSV), or “for good reason” (NAB). The attention given must be rightly motivated, based on genuine concern for the welfare of those to whom it is directed. Never is there a time when it is wrong to manifest such great concern for others. Paul, therefore, added the modifying adverb pántote, meaning “always” or “at all times.”

The apostle did not want to be regarded as the only one who genuinely cared about the Galatians, requiring his personal presence for them to experience being the object of someone’s zealous attention. Rather, he desired that the Galatians be the object of others’ noble concern at all times, not just when he could be with them in person.

A number of translations, though, render the apostle’s words in such a way that the Galatians are the ones being encouraged to manifest the proper zeal. “It is always good to give your attention to something worthwhile, even when I am not with you.” (CEV) “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.” (NIV). The contrast with the previous verse, however, makes it preferable to understand Paul’s words to refer to zealous attention being given to the Galatians.

Galatians 4:19

Moved by great love for the Galatians, Paul continued, “My little children, [for] whom I am again in labor pains until Christ is formed in you.”

The expression tekníon, a diminutive of téknon (child), means “little child.” (Ancient manuscripts vary, with plural forms of either word [tékna (children) or teknía (little children)] being used.) By reason of his having been instrumental in their becoming Christ’s disciples, Paul was a spiritual father to the Galatians. In addressing them as “my little children,” or “my children,” the apostle revealed the close relationship he had with them. His affection for them was like that existing between a loving, caring father and his children.

So great was Paul’s concern for the Galatians and so keenly distressing to him was their spiritual plight that he spoke of “again” being in labor pains for them. He used the Greek verb odíno, which denotes experiencing the pain of childbirth. The apostle had given fully of himself when he first aided the Galatians to become disciples of God’s Son. They were the object of Paul’s loving care and attention during their development as spiritual babes, drawing heavily on his strength. The anxious care Paul felt for them as the evangel initially began to affect the Galatians was comparable to the pain of childbirth. Because they had come under the influence of false teachers and their spiritual development was in jeopardy, Paul experienced the same distress or anxious concern and therefore spoke of “again” experiencing labor pains. Since the verb odíno is in the present tense, this indicates that his distress continued.

For the apostle, relief from anxious concern would not come “until,” as he wrote, “Christ is formed in you.” Only as mature disciples of God’s Son would the Galatians properly reflect what he is. Christ’s example and teaching would thus be the sole guiding principle of their life. Their thoughts, words, and actions would be those of their Lord, for they would have his mind. By reason of their oneness with Christ, he would be a part of the Galatians’ inmost selves, influencing every aspect of their lives, and thus be fully “formed” in them.

Galatians 4:20

Revealing his great concern for the Galatians and indicating how difficult it was for him to understand what had happened to them, Paul continued: “But I would like to be with you now and to change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.”

The conjunction (but) may serve to contrast the apostle’s being a considerable distance from the Galatians and his unrealizable desire to be with them in person. His circumstances apparently prevented him from immediately going to Galatia. When speaking of his desire, Paul used the verb thélo in the imperfect tense, evidently indicative of a desire that, though felt, could not be fulfilled. Paul very much would have wanted to be with the Galatians in person. The infinitive pareínai (which he used) signifies “to be present,” and is the same expression found in verse 18. Adding immediacy to his unfulfilled desire, the apostle employed the adverb árti (now).

Prompted by great love and concern for them, Paul had used very strong language in an effort to bring the Galatians to their senses. Therefore, his reference to “changing” his “tone,” literally “voice” (phoné), may point to his adopting a milder manner when speaking to the Galatians.

Evidently the apostle sees himself as being personally with the Galatians and changing the tenor or tone from that reflected in his letter. His being in their presence would have enabled him to ascertain firsthand how they had individually been affected by false teaching and then to observe their reaction to his admonition. Apparently Paul believed that the Galatians would respond favorably, making it possible for him to use a milder approach than he had in his letter.

As to his reason for wanting to be with them and change his tone, the apostle said, “I am perplexed about you.” The Greek verb for “perplex” (aporéo) is a combination of a negative prefix and a verb form of the noun póros, meaning “way.” So the word literally signifies “without a way” and may be defined as “at a loss” or “perplexed.” Paul’s being “at a loss” could relate both to his not comprehending how the Galatians could have so quickly deviated from the truth and his not knowing just what to do and say in an effort to help them spiritually.

Galatians 4:21

To arrest their attention and stimulate their thinking, Paul raised a question: “Tell me, those [of you] wanting to be under law, do you not hear the law?” The apostle’s words were specifically directed to all among the Galatian believers who were willing to subject themselves to the requirements of a legal code. This is indicated by his use of the plural hoi, (the ones; here translated “those”) after the imperative expression “tell me” (légeté moi). Evidently, therefore, he recognized that not all the Galatians had been persuaded to place themselves under the demands of law, that is, the Mosaic law.

The import of Paul’s question appears to be: “Do you not actually hear or perceive what is stated in the law?” His question also seems to imply that they had not really “heard,” because if they had, they would not have wanted to be under the Mosaic law. In view of what follows, the designation “law” (nómos) applies to the entire Torah or Pentateuch — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy — and not just the commands constituting the legal code.

Note: The word akoúete (hear) has the best manuscript support. A number of manuscripts, however, read anaginóskete (read).

Galatians 4:22

Paul directed attention to the historical account found in Genesis: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one from the slave [woman] and one from the free [woman].” The conjunction “for” (gár) links the apostle’s previous question to the historical example found in the Torah. Accordingly, the question is really continued and could be understood to convey the following sense: “Because of what is written in the Torah, do those of you wanting to be under law actually hear what the Torah says?”

After the death of Sarah, Abraham did have other sons by Keturah, his concubine. (Genesis 25:1, 2) The apostle, however, focused only on the time when Abraham had but two sons — Ishmael and Isaac. At the request of Sarah, Abraham had relations with her maidservant, Hagar. Thus, “out of” or “from” the slave woman, Abraham came to have a son, Ishmael. Later, his wife gave birth to Isaac. Sarah had never been a slave but was herself the mistress of Hagar. So Paul referred to Sarah as the “free one,” using the feminine form of the word eleútheros.

Galatians 4:23

Calling attention to yet another difference, the apostle continued: “But, in fact, the one from the slave [woman] was begotten according to the flesh, but the one from the free [woman] through a promise.”

Evidently to contrast what he just said about the “free woman,” Paul used a strong indicator of contrast, allá (but). The apostle may also have employed the word mén (see Notes), a term used to express emphasis, contrast, or continuation. It may be understood to mean “in fact,” “indeed” or “on the one hand.” If translated “on the one hand,” the term (but), which introduces the thought about the “free woman,” could be rendered “on the other hand” (Wuest).

Although commonly rendered “born,” the verb gennáo often signifies “become father to,” “generate,” or “beget.” It may well have the significance of “beget” in this passage. If so, the begetting “according to the flesh” would mean according to the usual manner of procreation. No divine promise and no miracle were involved in the birth of Abraham’s son by Hagar. Instead, in the procreative process, the usual functioning of the “flesh” or human organism was at work.

The son whom Abraham received “out of” Sarah, the free woman, however, came into existence in a different way. From a physical standpoint, Abraham and Sarah were unable to become parents to a baby boy. The Genesis record reports: “Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years, and Sarah had ceased to have her monthly periods.” (Genesis 18:11, NJB). Nevertheless, according to the God-given promise conveyed through an angel, Sarah gave birth to a son. (Genesis 18:10–15; 21:1–7; Romans 4:19). Isaac was born “through” or on the basis of a promise. His being conceived, though involving the usual manner of procreation, required a miracle — the reviving of the reproductive powers of Abraham and Sarah. If it had not been for the promise of God, there would have been no miracle, and Sarah would not have given birth to Isaac.


P46 (c. 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus omit mén (in fact, indeed), which is found in the majority of other manuscripts.

P46 is an exception in omitting the word ek (out of, from) in connection with eleútheras (free one).

Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and many other later manuscripts have the definite article tés before epangelías (promise). Among the manuscripts where tés is missing are P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, as well as other later manuscripts.

Galatians 4:24

With reference to the historical facts, Paul then made an application, introducing it with the words, “which [things] are allegorized.” The pronominal adjective hóstis appears in the plural form and may be understood to mean “which things,” or “which class of things,” the reference being to the historical facts to which Paul had pointed. When using the expression “class of things,” translators are able to preserve the singular estin (is). For example, Kenneth S. Wuest renders the words, “which class of things is allegorical.”

The verb allegoréo (allegorize) is a combination of állos (other) and agoreúo (speak in the place of assembly). Paul used the expression to denote a sense other than the literal one. Yet, though using the historical facts to illustrate something else, the apostle presented matters in full harmony therewith. The allegorizing was consistent with historical truth. It did not spring from human ingenuity or fanciful imagination.

At this point, Paul continued with the allegorical explanation, “these are two covenants.” The conjunction gár (for) that is linked to these words does not have the sense of “because” or “since.” This term basically is an indicator of a new sentence. Therefore, though gár could be understood to mean “and,” a number of modern translators simply omit it in their renderings. Being in the feminine gender, the word haútai (“these”) applies to the two women — Hagar and Sarah. These women “are” or “represent” two covenants.

The apostle Paul does not identify which covenant Sarah represents but focuses on Hagar, saying, “one, in fact, from Mount Sinai, bringing forth [children] into slavery, which is Hagar.” Because “one” (mía) is not specifically identified, some translators have added either “woman” or “covenant.” In view of the emphasis on the covenant and its consequences, the preference probably should be given to covenant. Often, mén (indeed, in fact) is left untranslated.

At Mount Sinai, God concluded the law covenant with the nation of Israel, using Moses as the mediator. Because the Israelites, as sinful humans, were unable flawlessly to observe the terms of the covenant, they were condemned by it and exposed as slaves of sin. As Jesus Christ pointed out to the unbelieving Jews who refused to admit their slave status: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, NRSV). Like Hagar, the law covenant could not produce free children. It could not liberate even one Israelite from enslavement to sin. Thus, as Paul wrote, there was a bringing forth “into slavery.”

Under the terms of the new covenant, however, forgiveness of sin is possible on the basis of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Through Christ, a person could gain the status of a free son. (John 8:36; Hebrews 8:7–12; 10:16–22) Perhaps the apostle regarded Sarah as representing the new covenant. In his letter to the Galatians, however, Paul made no previous reference to the new covenant but highlighted the Abrahamic covenant. According to the promise incorporated in the Abrahamic covenant, blessing would come to peoples other than the natural descendants of Abraham. So there is reason for concluding that Sarah represents the Abrahamic covenant, under which the blessing would be granted to free sons, not slaves. (Galatians 3:16, 29)

Galatians 4:25

Continuing the allegorical explanation regarding Hagar, Paul wrote: “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the Jerusalem [of] today, for she is enslaved with her children.”

The conjunction dé, commonly meaning “but,” does not introduce a contrast. Therefore, the word may be understood to signify “now.” Numerous manuscripts, however, read gár (“for”), which could here have the sense of “indeed” or “in fact.”

Because the law was given at Mount Sinai, Hagar “is” or represents the eminence that belongs to the earthly sphere in Arabia, an extensive arid region situated to the south and east of Israel. The exact location of Mount Sinai cannot be established with absolute certainty. In the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, there is a red granite ridge with two peaks — Gebel Musa (Mountain of Moses) and Ras Safsafa. According to the traditional view, Mount Sinai is Gebel Musa. Only in front of Ras Safsafa, however, lies an extensive plain that could have accommodated a large number of people, suggesting that this peak is the more likely site.

The Greek word rendered “and” (preceding the words about Jerusalem) is dé, which often means “but.” Because there is no contrast but a continuation of the thought, “and” appears to give the correct sense.

Common renderings for systoichéo are “correspond” and “represent.” The word consists of the prefix syn (with) and stoíchos (row, line, file), thus denoting “to be in the same line, row, or file.” Hagar, as Paul stated, “corresponds to the Jerusalem of today [nyn, now].” At that time, Jerusalem with its temple served as the Jewish center for worship. As such, the city represented the entire Jewish nation that was subject to the Mosaic law.

Because the inhabitants of a city are the children thereof, the apostle spoke of Jerusalem and her children. The entire nation was bound by the law and exposed by it as sinful. So Jerusalem was not a free city but in bondage, as were her children (the individual members of the nation).

Note: There are a number of variant readings. While many read (but), others read gár (for). In certain manuscripts neither nor gár are found in the text. Another omission is the name Hagár.

Galatians 4:26

Genuine disciples of Jesus Christ are justified on the basis of faith and cease to be condemned sinners. They are citizens or children of another city, or have another mother. As Paul wrote, “But the Jerusalem above is free, which [city] is our mother.”

The conjunction (but) introduces a contrast. Unlike the nation of Israel and the individual members thereof (Jerusalem and her children), the “Jerusalem above” is a free, royal city. In this heavenly city, God reigns by means of his Son. Because the Father and the Son are personally present, the “Jerusalem above” is also the center of pure worship. This holy, royal city is the mother of all believers who are free sons of God. (Compare Hebrews 12:22–24.)

Note: In many manuscripts the word pánton (of all) follows méter (mother), but it is not found in the oldest extant manuscripts — P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.

Galatians 4:27

Backing up his statement, Paul appealed to the Scriptures, “for it is written.” The passage to which he referred is Isaiah 54:1: “Rejoice, barren [woman], the one not giving birth, break forth [in jubilation] and cry aloud, the one not having labor pains, because more [are] the children of the desolate [woman] than of the one having the husband.”

As clearly evident from verses 2 through 8 of Isaiah 54, this prophecy pointed to the time when Jerusalem would be desolated and, eventually, restored to favor. While Jerusalem lay in ruins without any inhabitants, the city proved to be a childless, barren woman. She was then in a state of “rejection.” Prior to this pathetic condition, however, Jerusalem enjoyed the status of a mother with sons, bound as a wife to YHWH by reason of the law covenant. After completing the period of rejection, however, the number of sons would prove to be greater than had been the case during the former time when Jerusalem had a “husband.” (Compare Zechariah 2:1–5; 8:3–8.) Because these sons would be acknowledged by the Most High as his, the fulfillment relates to the time when such sons — true Israelites — would come into being. Such sons would be children of the city of God, the true Jerusalem.

Sarah similarly had long been barren and, when Hagar became pregnant, felt rejected. (Genesis 16:5) Still, the children of the long-barren free woman — Sarah — were to be more numerous than those of the slave woman Hagar. (Compare Genesis 16:10; 17:16; 19, 20.)

Because the main point of Paul’s argument pertains to earthly Jerusalem and her children, the barren woman manifestly is to be understood as the “Jerusalem above,” which long appeared to have no earthly children that could be called free “sons of God.” The situation, though, was to change dramatically, giving rise to the rejoicing foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy. The Greek word for “rejoice” (euphraíno) is a combination of (well) and phrén (mind).

Galatians 4:28

After having identified the mother of believers, Paul wrote: “Now you, brothers, according to [the manner of] Isaac, are children of the promise.”

The conjunction (but) could be regarded as serving to contrast the children of the woman having the husband with the “children of the promise” Since, however, Paul’s apparent objective in quoting from Isaiah was to point to the “Jerusalem above” as the mother of believers, the word may simply be an indicator of continuation and may be rendered “now” or “and.”

Although certain Christians in Galatia had allowed themselves to be influenced by false teachers, the apostle still recognized them as his “brothers,” or fellow sons of God. This is the fourth time in his letter that Paul addressed the Galatians in this way (1:11; 3:15; 4:12), and he continued to do so five more times (4:31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18).

Isaac’s birth occurred in fulfillment of God’s promise. Without that promise and the divine miracle needed to bring about its realization, there would have been no Isaac. Similarly, God promised to bless peoples other than the natural descendants of Abraham. To be thus blessed required that they come to enjoy a divinely approved standing — an impossibility for sinful humans. The Most High, however, made possible the fulfillment of the promise by sending his Son to the earth and letting him die sacrificially on behalf of sinners. Through their unconditional acceptance of the divine provision for forgiveness of sins, genuine believers are counted as righteous by God and adopted as his sons. Hence, not on the basis of natural descent from Abraham but by reason of the promise of God, believers have been constituted sons and are blessed accordingly. As in the case of Isaac, their existence as “sons” must be attributed to God’s promise and his loving act in effecting its fulfillment.

Note: The reading hymeís … esté (you are) has the support of P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, as well as other later manuscripts. Many other extant manuscripts, however, read hemeís … esmén (we are). These manuscripts include fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.

Galatians 4:29

Commenting on the way in which Ishmael treated Isaac and then making an application to unbelievers and believers, Paul said: “But even as then the one begotten according to the flesh persecuted the one [begotten] according to the spirit, so also now.”

The conjunction allá (but) serves to introduce a negative aspect that contrasts with the previously mentioned dignified status of being “children of the promise.”

Ishmael was begotten by Abraham and conceived by Hagar “according to the flesh” — the human function of procreation. No divine promise and no miracle were involved in the birth.

The Greek word for “persecute” (dióko) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting repeated action. Ishmael’s hateful attitude manifested itself fully on the day Isaac was weaned. During the feast Abraham arranged to celebrate this event, Sarah observed teenage Ishmael “playing” (paízo, LXX) with Isaac. Since the incident so disturbed Sarah that she immediately requested Abraham to dismiss Hagar and Ishmael from the household, the “playing” must have taken the form of “jesting,” “jeering,” or “taunting.” (Genesis 21:8–10) Rightly, then, Paul referred to Ishmael as persecuting “the one [begotten] according to the spirit.” Isaac’s birth was miraculous and fulfilled the divine promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a son. The words “according to the spirit” could mean “according to the operation of God’s spirit” that made the birth of Isaac possible. (Regarding “begotten,” see verse 23.)

Paralleling what had occurred in the past with the then-existing situation relative to persecution, Paul simply said, “so also now.” As in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, the unbelieving natural descendants of Abraham persecuted the free sons — believers who had been justified and experienced a new birth through the operation of God’s spirit.

Galatians 4:30

Again pointing to the historical example of Ishmael and Isaac, Paul wrote: “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave [woman] and her son, for the son of the slave [woman] will not inherit with the son of the free [woman].”

The conjunction allá (but) apparently indicates the great contrast between the seemingly strong position of the persecutor and the final outcome of his being expelled from the household. Paul quoted the words of Sarah directed to Abraham as “Scripture.” Since Abraham acted upon her words in harmony with divine direction, the apostle rightly referred to them as “Scripture” or God’s words. (Genesis 21:10–14). The quotation itself basically corresponds to the extant Septuagint reading of Genesis 21:10. In Genesis, however, Sarah is quoted as saying “the son of me, Isaac” (or, “my son Isaac”). The apostle, in keeping with his argument and the historical facts, identified Isaac as the “son of the free [woman],” Sarah.

Note: Apparently to conform the quotation to the Septuagint, some later copyists changed tés eleuthéras (of the free [woman]) to mou Isaák (of me Isaac) — a reading found in a number of manuscripts.

Galatians 4:31

Having established that genuine believers are sons and thus in line for the inheritance, Paul concluded: “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave [woman], but of the free [woman].” The conjunction dió, may be understood as introducing a summation and here evidently denotes “therefore,” “accordingly,” or “for this reason.” Likewise, the word ára (found in many manuscripts) may be rendered “consequently,” “thus,” or “therefore.”

Though the Galatians had erred, Paul again addressed them as “brothers,” acknowledging them as fellow sons of God. Not bound by the obligations of the law covenant and not under condemnation for failure to live up to its requirements flawlessly, disciples of Jesus Christ are not children of an arrangement represented by the slave woman Hagar. Children of a slave woman would themselves be slaves, not free sons. It may be significant that Paul did not use the definite article with “slave [woman],” as this could suggest that believers are not the children of any enslaving system. The fact that the definite article does precede “free [woman]” lends some weight to this conclusion.

To introduce what believers are, the apostle used the conjunction allá (but) as an indicator of contrast. Without qualification, Paul included all genuine believers as being children of “the free [woman].” They are the free sons of “Jerusalem above,” citizens of the royal city, where “Christ is seated at God’s right hand.” (Colossians 3:1, 4; compare Psalm 2:6–8; 110:1, 2; Acts 2:33, 36; Philippians 3:20.)

Note: The majority of manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200), read ára (therefore). Besides a number of later manuscripts, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus have the word dió (therefore, for this reason). Two other variants are ára oún (for this reason then) and hemeís dé (but we).