by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Theodore of Mopsuestia also notes that the Apostle does not deny the history or pick apart the events of the distant past but states them as they happened at the time while using for his own purpose the interpretation of these events to point out an even more profound mystery contained in those Scriptures. After all, that’s what Jesus did to make His teachings more intellectually visible. But in both cases, neither our Lord or the Apostle Paul keep any light from shining in their theology. In fact, they added more light. In this case, Paul would not say in verse twenty-three that the “son by the bondwoman was born” without believing that person really existed. There cannot be any true figure of speech if one takes away the historical reality itself.[1]

Late medieval writer Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101 AD) also makes the point that just as God promised, He brought it to pass that through His power a child was delivered by the elderly and barren Sarah. This applies, says Bruno, to the people of faith who were from the free woman, meaning that they were born by faith, which is free through love, not like those born from the handmaid through fear. These people were born as a result of the promise because God mercifully assured, He would save them through faith. It was through the promise because these people do not serve God out of any desire for fleshly things, which are visible, but rather out of an affection for spiritual things, which are invisible. They trust that they will obtain these things by faith based upon God’s promise alone.[2]

Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) was not so complimentary in how some early Catholic scholars treated Paul’s use of allegory to explain a more profound. He writes that Origen, and many others along with him, seized the occasion of twisting Scripture in every possible way, drawing it away from its true meaning. These people concluded that the literal sense is too simple and inarticulate, and that, hiding under the shadow of the literal sense, there lurked deeper mysteries that cannot be extracted but by explaining it in forms of imaginary supposition. And this they found no difficulty in accomplishing for the preferred speculations which appear to be ingenious, and will always be preferred by the world over solid doctrine.[3] How clearly this applies to churches within Christendom who try to create children of God through ceremonies, rituals, and sacraments, instead of being created through conviction by the Holy Spirit, repentance, and being born again in union with the Anointed One.

Then this great Reformer goes on to say something that in our own day and age proves to be true. He states that if we approve such a loose system of interpretation, it will lead to people using the Scriptures to justify what amuses them and not fear any condemnation. But even more, they’ll spread their personal assumptions to great applause. For many centuries all those who were considered bright and imaginative used their skill and daring to morph their favorite Scriptures into a variety of curious of spiritual philosophies and positive thinking.

In the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), we find one of the questions to be answered reads as follows: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?” The answer is, indeed, we are, unless we are regenerated by the Spirit of God. The answer is based on what the Scriptures say in the Torah,[4] and here in Galatians, People who depend on following the Law to make them right will end up being punished because they failed in perfect obedience.[5]

This is exactly what Satan was so good at. He even tried to get Jesus to disobey His Father by undermining the authority of Scripture. This is best done by convincing people not to consult the Scriptures any longer because they are outdated. We can clearly see in our day, those secularists who call themselves Christian scholars do the same with almost everything Paul teaches here, even questioning if Paul was the author of this epistle. But to what gain? How many were delivered from the bondage of sin and motivated to become strong in the faith by such inventions?  Instead, there’s nothing to lose but everything to gain by sticking to the Word of God as it was delivered to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us that Hagar was able to give birth to a son through the procreation of nature, but Sarah was able to reproduce Isaac through the promise of God. So, considering her age and that of Abraham, we too might be guilty of laughing if we are told to schedule a baby shower at the age of ninety. It was impossible for Sarah to conceive except by way of divine providence. Likewise, it was impossible for Mary to conceive as a virgin except for the promise of God. Similarly, today it is impossible for people to be born again save for the promise of God through the Anointed One. No amount of human effort was able to birth Isaac without the power of God’s promise. We can say the same about our rebirth in union with the Anointed One through the Spirit without God’s promise to those who believe. Consequently, verse twenty-nine is just as valid today as it was when Paul wrote it.

In this illustration, we can also see a comparison in Paul’s thinking of God having two other sons: the first man Adam, who was formed out of the earth, and into whom God breathed the breath of life; the second man Adam, who was both of heaven and earth, and who was God in the flesh, and, therefore, He became the breath of life to all those who believed in Him so that they too may be born-again and live eternally as sons and daughters of God.

William Perkins (1558-1602), a clergyman and Cambridge theologian who was one of the foremost leaders of the Puritan movement in the Church of England, did not hold back his contempt for what he saw as complete degradation of the doctrines of the Scriptures involving justification by grace. He speaks of a fifth principle involved in this debate concerning whether any unsaved person can will their own conversion or regeneration into reality. He points to some of the Catholic scholars of his day who taught that will alone by itself cannot do so. However, it is possible when that same will is stirred up by some good teaching infused into the mind, and some good desire awakened in the heart, with assistance directed by God.

They illustrate this by saying that an eye in total darkness sees nothing. Yet, if an object is set before their eyes and light is brought into the room, and they open their eyes will be able to see again. Likewise, if a person lies sleeping in a dungeon and entertains no thought of ever being set free, let someone come to the window above and call their name, and let down and cord they tie under their armpits, they will come up out of the dungeon. But Perkins argues that the person bringing in the light and the one letting down the rope will be unsuccessful unless the person they’re trying to help expresses the will to be helped. It is the will to be saved that must precede the offering of salvation.[6]

James Arminius (1560-1609) also finds the subject of using allegories to make the truth more understandable as a matter of discussion in his day,  One of the first objection on the part of some involved the assumption that by using allegories to explain what the Scripture says that it deludes the meaning of the text. As long as the reason for using an allegory is in itself clear and apparent, it enhances understanding of Scripture, it does not wrap it in a mental fog or haze. He defends Paul use of the allegory involving Hagar and Sarah because it assists in identifying the true spiritual children of the freewoman, Sarah, from the children of slave woman, Hagar, where the first are those redeemed and saved by grace and those of the second woman still imprisoned by the Law and enslaved by sin. The same goes for the descendants of Isaac illustrated by Esau and Jacob. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and that’s why the lineage of the Messiah came through him to those who are part of the covenant between God and Abraham, while Esau became to father of all those who is not part of the covenant between God and Abraham.

Arminius goes on to point out that here in verse twenty-four Paul says that these things are to be taken figuratively, not literally. The Apostle does not spend time attempting to prove these allegories as actual events. However, there’s no reason not to believe they are true when taken in a spiritual sense. Furthermore, if we truly believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in living right, who are we to dispute that?[7] The key to understanding the relationship between allegory and Scripture is not meant to be an exact resemblance but in their mutual connection and relation. Arminius offers this admonition: No one needs to think it is necessary that they who speak of the “children of the flesh” in a spiritual sense, must actually be “children of the flesh” in reality.[8]

Adam Clarke (1760-1851) points out that the use of allegories was prevalent in early Greek and Jewish writings.  It was an effort to take something that is representative of another and to show how the literal sense is illustrative of a spiritual meaning. He shows how in the life of Greek mythological Homer, the author, speaking of the marriage of gods Jupiter and Juno, is to be understood allegorically where Juno means the air and Jupiter the atmosphere. Also, Plutarch, we find how Cronos (Saturn) was allegorized into Chronos (Time).  Also, the Palestine and Babylonian Talmud are full of such allegories, as well as the writing of the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. So, Clarke says that it is very likely that the allegory produced here of Hagar and Sarah was borrowed from Jewish writings.  His purpose was to use something familiar in order to convict the Judaizing Galatians on their own principles.[9]

[1] Ancient Christian Commentary Edwards, Mark J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 68–69

[2] Bruno the Carthusian: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[4] Deuteronomy 27:26

[5] Galatians 3:10

[6] William Perkins. God’s Free Grace & Man’s Free Will (Kindle Location 665-694)

[7] 2 Timothy 3:16

[8] James Arminius: Analysis of the Ninth Chapter of the epistle to the Romans, p. 473

[9] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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