Galatians 4:21-31

Chapter 4 continues:

21Λέγετέ μοι, οἱ ὑπὸ νόμον θέλοντες εἶναι, τὸν νόμον οὐκ ἀκούετε;

Tell me, those under the law wishing to be (translated from Yoda-ese: wishing to be under the law), do you not hear the law?

21 Dicite mihi, qui sub lege vultis esse: Legem non auditis?

22γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι Ἀβραὰμ δύο υἱοὺς ἔσχεν, ἕνα ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης καὶ ἕνα ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας.

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one of the servant and one free-born ( born of the free woman).

We’re back to Abraham.  Thus begins an extended metaphor for the superiority of faith in Jesus over following the law.  He goes even further than before, since this time he equates the distinction between faith and the Law to be one of freedom vs slavery.  

Despite the sordid history of slavery in the USA, it, perhaps, hard for us to appreciate fully the impact of this distinction for someone in the ancient world.  “Freeborn” vs being born into slavery, or even having been emancipated from it (which happened not infrequently), bestowed huge legal advantages over and above not being the property of someone else.  Even those emancipated were often excluded from a lot of civic rights, even to owning property in some places.`

So, to argue, as Paul is about to do, that faith in Jesus is the heritage of the freeborn and the bondage to the Law is the heritage of the slave carries huge emotional impact.  It’s like the disgrace of crucifixion.

22 Scriptum est enim quoniam Abraham duos filios habuit, unum de ancilla et unum de libera.

23ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης κατὰ σάρκα γεγέννηται, ὁ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας δι’ ἐπαγγελίας.

But while one is born from the slave according to the flesh, the one (born) from the free woman is by way of ( = through) the promise.

And not only do we have the distinction of free/slave, we have the distinction of spirit/flesh to reinforce the negative connotations and implications of not being freeborn.  This disparagement of the Law is part of the reason that St Paul is often cited as the font of anti-Semitism in the later Christian tradition.

What makes this especially interesting is that this was written prior to the Jewish Revolt that culminated in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.  This revolt was bitterly fought, and included the mass suicide at Masada. Afterwards, the Romans did not think kindly of things Judean; in fact, this is when the name was officially changed from Judea to Palestine. This was part of a newspeak Roman attempt to obliterate as much of the nationalism of the Judeans as possible.  In such a context, later proto-Christian writers had a pretty decent incentive to distance themselves  from their Jewish heritage.

Paul, OTOH, is writing before this, so his aversion seems less political and more of the zeal of the convert who reacts against his former way of thinking.

Just to note: there was an initial benefit to tie Jesus to the Jewish tradition.  In the Graeco-Roman world, the age of the tradition gave credibility to one’s belief.  Judaism had a very long (if somewhat artificial) history, so this gave it weight among Greek-speakers who valued such antiquity.  New things were, by their nature, suspect.  In fact, in the Latin of the period << res novae >>, which literally means “new things”, was the term for “revolution.” So by the end of the first century CE,  followers of Jesus had to do a bit of a dance between embracing and distancing themselves from their Jewish roots.  

23 Sed qui de ancilla, secundum carnem natus est; qui autem de libera, per promissionem.

24ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα: αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι, μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ, εἰς δουλείαν γεννῶσα, ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἁγάρ.

Which things have been allegorized: for they are the two covenants; while the first is from Mt Sinai, it is born into slavery, for this was Hagar.

This is really interesting. Paul is flat-out saying that the tradition of Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, is an allegory.  This is, obviously, difficult to reconcile with the idea that every word in the Bible is literally true. Thus, for Paul to say something is an allegory in words that are literally true, is on par with the idea of God making something so heavy that even God cannot lift it.  A bit of a logical quandary; literally, this presents the horns of a dilemma: either Paul cannot be taken literally, or the Abraham story cannot be taken literally.

And, just for good measure, note that our word for ‘allegory’ is a direct transliteration of the Greek word.  As was the case with ‘anathema’.

24 Quae sunt per allegoriam dicta; ipsae enim sunt duo Testamenta, unum quidem a monte Sinai, in servitutem generans, quod est Agar.

25τὸ δὲ Ἁγὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβίᾳ, συστοιχεῖ δὲ τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ, δουλεύει γὰρ μετὰ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς.

But while Hagar is Mt Sinai in Arabia, this corresponds to the one now in Jerusalem, for she is enslaved with her children.

25 Illud vero Agar mons est Sinai in Arabia, respondet autem Ierusalem, quae nunc est; servit enim cum filiis suis.

26ἡ δὲ ἄνω Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐλευθέρα ἐστίν, ἥτις ἐστὶν μήτηρ ἡμῶν:

But the one above Jerusalem is free, which one is our mother.

This is interesting: above Jerusalem.  We get back to the sky/heavens/heaven thing. Note that this ties into the Greek idea of spirit and lightness: the spirit is more refined, so it is lighter, which is “better” in both a qualitative and a moral sense.

For a really interesting perspective on the conflicting ideas about lightness and weight in the Western tradition, read the first dozen or so pages of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  However, seeing the movie is not at all the same thing.

26 Illa autem, quae sursum est Ierusalem, libera est, quae est mater nostra;

27γέγραπται γάρ, Εὐφράνθητι, στεῖρα ἡ οὐ τίκτουσα: ῥῆξον καὶ βόησον, ἡ οὐκ ὠδίνουσα: ὅτι πολλὰ τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἐρήμου μᾶλλον ἢ τῆς ἐχούσης τὸν ἄνδρα.

For it is written: You rejoice, the barren one who has not produced children: break out and shout, the one who did not labor, for the many children of the desolate ( = barren ) oneare more than the husband has.

(childbirth sense; see above, Gal 4:19

27 scriptum est enim: /“ Laetare, sterilis, quae non paris, / erumpe et exclama, quae non parturis,
quia multi filii desertae / magis quam eius, quae habet virum ”.

28ὑμεῖς δέ, ἀδελφοί, κατὰ Ἰσαὰκ ἐπαγγελίας τέκνα ἐστέ.

For you, brothers, according to the promise, are the children of Isaac.

And we circle back to the promise to Abraham. Very nicely done from a rhetorical point of view.

28 Vos autem, fratres, secundum Isaac promissionis filii estis.

29ἀλλ’ ὥσπερ τότε ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς ἐδίωκεν τὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα, οὕτως καὶ νῦν.

But just as the one according to the flesh was born, they persecuted the one (born) of the spirit, then and now.

IOW, (more or less) the flesh is evil, to the point that it persecutes the spirit, pretty much as a given and a constant.

29 Sed quomodo tunc, qui secundum carnem natus fuerat, persequebatur eum, qui secundum spiritum, ita et nunc.

30ἀλλὰ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή; Ἔκβαλε τὴν παιδίσκην καὶ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς, οὐ γὰρ μὴ κληρονομήσει ὁ υἱὸς τῆς παιδίσκης μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἐλευθέρας.

But what does the scripture say?  Throw out the one of the slave and your own son, for the son of the slave is not the heir with the son of the free-born.

30 Sed quid dicit Scriptura? “ Eice ancillam et filium efius; non enim heres erit filius ancillae cum filio liberae ”.

31διό, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἐσμὲν παιδίσκης τέκνα ἀλλὰ τῆς ἐλευθέρας.

And so, brothers, we are not slaves, but children of the free.

IOW, we are not Hagar’s children, born into the slavery of the law, but Isaac’s children, born into the freedom of the Christ.

Again, I want to point out Paul’s referral to Judaism as slavery. Frankly, I find his vehemence about this surprising.  But then, the accusations of his anti-Semitism had to come from somewhere.

31 Itaque, fratres, non sumus ancillae filii sed liberae.

Advertisements

About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on October 26, 2012, in epistles, Galatians, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Wow – a logic loop for the Biblical Literalists – Paul himself calls part of the Bible allegorical. For them, this would be similar to “This statement is false”.

    Regarding the freedom and slavery parallels, it may not be totally figurative for Paul. Living as a Pharisee may have seemed liked slavery: following seemingly arbitrary rules, back-bending to avoid activity on the Sabbath… In modern times, you can buy a phone specially designed for the Sabbath, which is constantly “dialing-to-nowhere”, until you stop it, by pulling a pin, to let it dial out, all to avoid a positive action.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: