Galatians 4-6

We used to be enslaved to the elemental spirits, but Jesus came, and we are now heirs of Abraham’s promise.  Now that you know God, how can you turn back to the elemental spirits?  Why are you observing Jewish holidays?  Am I now your enemy for telling you the truth?  If you want to be subject to the law, the law says that Abraham had two sons: one by Hagar, a slave woman, and one by the free woman Sarah.  Hagar is from Mount Sinai and represents the law, and her children are in slavery.  You are Sarah’s children, and are free–therefore drive out the slave and her child, for they will not share Sarah’s inheritance!

Listen!  If you get circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  Anyone who seeks to be justified by the law have cut themselves off from Christ.  You are called to freedom; live by the Spirit, not by the flesh.  Those who try to compel you to be circumcised are only doing so to boast about you.

Commentary:

  • The “elemental spirits” are probably cosmic powers that dominate humans, such as sin and death.
  • Paul has a highly unconventional interpretation of the promise to Abraham.  In Genesis, Abraham’s son by Sarah is Isaac, and his son by Hagar is Ishmael.  Isaac is the ancestor of the Israelites, while Ishmael was usually considered by Jews to be the ancestor of the Arabs (though this view is not Biblical).  Paul identifies Hagar with Mount Sinai (an identification never made in the Hebrew Bible), and thus with the giving of the law.  The Israelites, he claims, are children of Hagar instead of Sarah; the true children of Sarah are the Christians.
  • Paul’s negative view of the law is backed with his views on the law’s origins.  Paul claims that the law was given by angels by a mediator (namely Moses), whereas in the Hebrew Bible, God gives the law directly (Exodus 19-20).
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