To the Galatians 4:1-31

4  Now I say that as long as the heir is a young child, he is no different from a slave, although he is the lord of all things,  but he is under supervisors and stewards until the day set ahead of time by his father.  Likewise, we too, when we were children, were enslaved by the elementary things of the world.+  But when the full limit of the time arrived, God sent his Son, who was born of a woman+ and who was under law,+  that he might release by purchase those under law,+ so that we might receive the adoption as sons.+  Now because you are sons, God has sent the spirit+ of his Son into our hearts,+ and it cries out: “Abba, Father!”+  So you are no longer a slave but a son; and if a son, then you are also an heir through God.+  Nevertheless, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those who are not really gods.  But now that you have come to know God or, rather, have come to be known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to the weak+ and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again?+ 10  You are scrupulously observing days and months+ and seasons and years. 11  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. 12  Brothers, I beg you, become as I am, because I also used to be as you are.+ You did me no wrong. 13  But you know that it was because of a physical illness that I had my first opportunity to declare the good news to you. 14  And though my physical condition was a trial* for you, you did not treat me with contempt or disgust;* but you received me like an angel of God, like Christ Jesus. 15  Where is that happiness you had? For I bear you witness that, if it had been possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.+ 16  So, then, have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth? 17  They are zealous to win you over, but not for a good purpose; they want to alienate you from me, so that you may be eager to follow them. 18  However, it is always fine for someone to seek zealously after you for a good purpose and not just when I am present with you, 19  my little children,+ for whom I am again experiencing birth pains until Christ is formed* in you. 20  I wish I could be present with you just now and speak in a different way,* because I am perplexed over you. 21  Tell me, you who want to be under law,+ Do you not hear the Law? 22  For example, it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the servant girl+ and one by the free woman;+ 23  but the one by the servant girl was actually born through natural descent+ and the other by the free woman through a promise.+ 24  These things may be taken as a symbolic drama; for these women mean two covenants, the one from Mount Siʹnai,+ which bears children for slavery and which is Haʹgar. 25  Now Haʹgar means Siʹnai,+ a mountain in Arabia, and she corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children. 26  But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27  For it is written: “Be glad, you barren woman who does not give birth; break into joyful shouting, you woman who does not have birth pains; for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous than those of her who has the husband.”+ 28  Now you, brothers, are children of the promise the same as Isaac was.+ 29  But just as then the one born through natural descent began persecuting the one born through spirit,+ so also now.+ 30  Nevertheless, what does the scripture say? “Drive out the servant girl and her son, for the son of the servant girl will by no means be an heir with the son of the free woman.”+ 31  So, brothers, we are children, not of a servant girl, but of the free woman.

Footnotes

Or “temptation.” Lit., “testing.”
Or “spit at me.”
Or “takes shape.”
Or possibly, “and change my tone of voice.” Lit., “and change my voice.”

Study Notes

under supervisors and stewards: In Paul’s day, the arrangement of the guardianship of a minor was well-known. A supervisor could be legally appointed to act as a guardian for a minor and to manage the child’s financial affairs. Stewards, on the other hand, managed the financial affairs of an entire household. In either case, when “the heir [was] a young child,” he might theoretically be “lord” of his inheritance, but he had no more rights over it than a slave did. (Ga 4:1) His life was controlled by others until he reached adulthood. Paul compares such arrangements to the Jews’ being under the Law until the appointed time came when God’s Son released them.​—Ga 4:4-7.

the elementary things: This expression generally means “the rudimentary elements of anything.” For example, it was applied to the individual sounds and letters of the Greek alphabet, the basic components used to form words. Paul uses the expression here and at Col 2:8, 20 in a negative sense to refer to the basic principles that guide the world, that is, the world of mankind alienated from God. These could include (1) philosophies based on human reasoning and mythology (Col 2:8), (2) unscriptural Jewish teachings that promoted asceticism and “worship of the angels” (Col 2:18), and (3) the teaching that Christians must observe the Mosaic Law in order to gain salvation (Ga 4:4–5:4; Col 2:16, 17). The Galatian Christians had no need of such “elementary things,” for they had a superior way of worship based on faith in Christ Jesus. Christians were not to be like children who were enslaved by the elementary things, voluntarily placing themselves under the Mosaic Law, which Paul likened to a guardian. (Ga 3:23-26) Rather, they were to be like grown sons in a relationship with their Father, God. The Christians certainly should not turn back to the Law or to any of “the weak and beggarly elementary things” promoted by those who were not following Christ.​—Ga 4:9.

the evening meal: Evidently referring to the Passover meal that Jesus ate with his disciples before instituting the Lord’s Evening Meal. Thus Jesus celebrated the Passover according to the accepted custom of the time. He did not alter it or interrupt it by introducing anything new into the observance. In this way, he kept the Law as one who was born a Jew. However, when the Passover had been observed according to the Mosaic Law, Jesus was free to introduce the new evening meal for memorializing his approaching death on that same Passover Day.

the full limit of the time: Lit., “the fullness of time.” Some Bible translations render this expression “the appropriate time”; “the appointed time.” This verse indicates that Jehovah set a fixed time for his only-begotten Son to come to the earth as the Messiah in fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up an “offspring.” (Ge 3:15; 49:10) The apostle Peter also refers to a “particular time” or “season” in connection with Christ. (1Pe 1:10-12) The inspired Hebrew Scriptures indicated that there was a specific time for the Messiah to appear. (Da 9:25) When Jesus was born in the year 2 B.C.E., he was born of a woman, the Jewish virgin Mary.

was under law: During his earthly ministry, Jesus kept the Mosaic Law as one who was born a Jew. (Mt 5:17; see study note on Lu 22:20.) The Law was abolished only after his death.​—Ro 10:4.

becoming a curse instead of us: The Mosaic Law stated that those who were under that covenant and who violated its laws would be cursed. (See study note on Ga 3:10.) In this verse, Paul quotes De 21:22, 23, which shows that the bodies of those who were “accursed of God” were hung on stakes. So Jesus had to be hung on a stake as a cursed criminal to benefit the Jewish people. He assumed the full weight of the curse that the Law imposed on them. His death thus enabled any Jew who chose to put faith in him as the Messiah to be relieved of that curse. Paul’s point here may echo Jesus’ words to the Pharisee Nicodemus.​—See study note on Joh 3:14.

adoption as sons: Lit., “a placing as son” (Greek, hui·o·the·siʹa). The concept of “adoption” was known in the Greek and Roman world. Most often the adoptees were, not young children, but youths or young adults. Some masters were known to free slaves in order to adopt them legally. The Roman Emperor Augustus was named as the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Paul uses the concept of adoption to describe the new status of those called and chosen by God. All descendants of the imperfect Adam were slaves to sin, so they could not be considered sons of God. But thanks to Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, Jehovah can free them from slavery to sin and adopt them as his sons, making them joint heirs with Christ. (Ro 8:14-17; Ga 4:1-7) Paul emphasizes the change in relationship by saying that such adopted ones cry out: “Abba, Father!” It was unthinkable for a slave to use this intimate expression toward his master. (See study note on Abba in this verse.) Jehovah decides whom he wants to adopt as sons. (Eph 1:5) From the time he anoints them with his spirit, he acknowledges them as his children. (Joh 1:12, 13; 1Jo 3:1) However, they must prove faithful during their life on earth before they can fully realize their privilege of being raised to heavenly life to be joint heirs with Christ. (Re 20:6; 21:7) Thus, Paul speaks of them as “earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.”​—Ro 8:23.

release by purchase: Jesus released by purchase those under law, that is, believing Jews. Paul goes on to say “so that we” (apparently referring to all Galatians who have become Christians, both Jews and Gentiles) can “receive the adoption as sons.” The Greek word e·xa·go·raʹzo, here rendered “release by purchase,” is also used at Ga 3:13, where Paul says: “Christ purchased us, releasing us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse instead of us.”​—See study note on Ga 3:13.

the adoption as sons: In the Christian Greek Scriptures, Paul mentions adoption several times with regard to the new status of those called and chosen by God. Such ones are given the prospect of immortal life in heaven. As descendants of imperfect Adam, they were in slavery to sin and therefore were not born as sons of God. Because of Jesus’ sin-atoning sacrifice, they can receive adoption as sons and become “joint heirs with Christ.” (Ro 8:14-17) They themselves do not choose to be adopted as his sons. Rather, God chooses them, according to his will. (Eph 1:5) God acknowledges them as his children, or sons, from the time that he begets them by his spirit. (Joh 1:12, 13; 1Jo 3:1) But they must continue faithful until the end of their life as humans in order to receive the full realization of being adopted as spirit sons of God. (Ro 8:17; Re 21:7) That is why Paul says: “We are earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.” (Ro 8:23; see study note on Ro 8:15.) The concept of adoption was widely known in ancient times. In the Greco-Roman world, adoption was primarily intended for the benefit of the adopter, not of the one being adopted. However, Paul emphasizes that Jehovah has lovingly taken steps for the benefit of those being adopted.​—Ga 4:3, 4.

the spirit of Jesus: Apparently referring to Jesus’ use of the holy spirit, or active force, which he had “received . . . from the Father.” (Ac 2:33) As head of the Christian congregation, Jesus used the spirit to direct the preaching work of the first Christians, indicating where they should concentrate their efforts. In this case, Jesus used “the holy spirit” to prevent Paul and his traveling companions from preaching in the province of Asia and the province of Bithynia. (Ac 16:6-10) These regions, however, were later reached with the good news.​—Ac 18:18-21; 1Pe 1:1, 2.

Abba: A Hebrew or Aramaic word (transliterated into Greek) occurring three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. (Ro 8:15; Ga 4:6) The word literally means “the father” or “O Father.” It combines some of the intimacy of the English word “papa” with the dignity of the word “father,” being informal and yet respectful. It was among the first words a child learned to speak; yet in ancient Hebrew and Aramaic writings, it was also used by a grown son when addressing his father. Therefore, it was an endearing form of address rather than a title. Jesus’ use of this expression shows the close, trusting relationship he has with his Father.

the spirit of his Son: Here “spirit” refers to God’s holy spirit, or active force, which God by means of his Son sends into the hearts of Christians when anointing them.​—Compare Ac 2:33 and study note on Ac 16:7.

Abba: A Hebrew or Aramaic word (transliterated into Greek) that occurs three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The word literally means “the father” or “O Father” and was an endearing form of address used by a son to a beloved father. (See study note on Mr 14:36.) Paul uses it here and at Ro 8:15, both times in connection with Christians called to be spirit-begotten sons of God. Since they had now been adopted as God’s sons, they could address Jehovah with an expression that a slave could not use of his master unless he had received such an adoption. So while anointed Christians are “slaves to God” and are “bought with a price,” they are also sons in the house of a loving Father. Holy spirit makes them clearly aware of this status.​—Ro 6:22; 1Co 7:23.

Father: All three instances of Abba in the Christian Greek Scriptures are followed by the translation ho pa·terʹ in Greek, which literally means “the father” or “O Father.”

their coming to know you: Or “their taking in knowledge of you; their continuing to know you.” The Greek verb gi·noʹsko basically means “to know,” and here the verb is used in the present tense to express continuous action. It may denote a process of “taking in knowledge about someone; getting to know someone; becoming better acquainted with someone.” It may also include the thought of making an ongoing effort to get better acquainted with someone who is already known. In this context, it refers to a deepening personal relationship with God brought about by ever-increasing knowledge of God and Christ and a growing trust in them. Clearly, this necessitates more than knowing who a person is or knowing his name. It would also involve knowing what that person likes and dislikes and knowing his values and standards.​—1Jo 2:3; 4:8.

the elementary things: This expression generally means “the rudimentary elements of anything.” For example, it was applied to the individual sounds and letters of the Greek alphabet, the basic components used to form words. Paul uses the expression here and at Col 2:8, 20 in a negative sense to refer to the basic principles that guide the world, that is, the world of mankind alienated from God. These could include (1) philosophies based on human reasoning and mythology (Col 2:8), (2) unscriptural Jewish teachings that promoted asceticism and “worship of the angels” (Col 2:18), and (3) the teaching that Christians must observe the Mosaic Law in order to gain salvation (Ga 4:4–5:4; Col 2:16, 17). The Galatian Christians had no need of such “elementary things,” for they had a superior way of worship based on faith in Christ Jesus. Christians were not to be like children who were enslaved by the elementary things, voluntarily placing themselves under the Mosaic Law, which Paul likened to a guardian. (Ga 3:23-26) Rather, they were to be like grown sons in a relationship with their Father, God. The Christians certainly should not turn back to the Law or to any of “the weak and beggarly elementary things” promoted by those who were not following Christ.​—Ga 4:9.

you have come to know God: Many of the Galatian Christians had “come to know God” through Paul’s preaching. The verb rendered “come to know” and “be known” in this verse may denote a favorable relationship between the person and the one he knows. (1Co 8:3; 2Ti 2:19) So “to know God” is not just a matter of knowing basic facts about God. It involves cultivating a personal relationship with him.​—See study note on Joh 17:3.

or, rather, have come to be known by God: Using this wording, Paul shows that to “come to know God,” a person must also be recognized as known, or approved, by Him. One lexicon defines the Greek word for “to know; be known” as to “have a personal relationship involving recognition of another’s identity or value.” To enjoy such favorable recognition from God, a person must conduct himself in a way that is in harmony with God’s personality, ways, and dealings.

beggarly: Some Galatian Christians were turning back again to the “elementary things” they had formerly practiced. These may have included such things as human philosophies or the idea that Christians should return to keeping the Mosaic Law or at least parts of it. (Col 2:8, 16-18, 20; see study note on Ga 4:3.) Paul describes these “elementary things” as “beggarly,” using a Greek term that literally means “poor, needy.” In a figurative sense, the term could mean “miserable” or “worthless.” Such things were truly “beggarly” in comparison with the spiritual riches obtainable through Christ Jesus.

days and months and seasons and years: Paul here refers to special occasions that God’s people were required to commemorate under the Mosaic Law. For example, there were the Sabbaths and sabbath years (Ex 20:8-10; Le 25:4, 8, 11), the new moon observances (Nu 10:10; 2Ch 2:4), the annual Day of Atonement (Le 16:29-31), the Passover (Ex 12:24-27), the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Le 23:6), the Festival of Weeks (Ex 34:22), and the Festival of Booths (Le 23:34). Each of these events took place at designated times. Some of the Christians in Galatia were formerly under the Mosaic Law and for many years had faithfully observed it. However, on learning of Christ’s ransom sacrifice, they happily accepted its benefits and the freedom from servitude to the Mosaic Law. (Ac 13:38, 39) Paul rightly feared for those who were again becoming enslaved to the Law and who were scrupulously commemorating those special occasions. (Ga 4:11) Likewise, if any Gentiles who became Christians returned to some of the religious observances from their pagan past, this would show a lack of faith in Christ’s ransom sacrifice.

because of a physical illness: Paul might have suffered from an affliction of the eyes. (Ga 4:15; 6:11; compare Ac 23:1-5.) Whatever the health problem referred to here, it led in some way to Paul’s first opportunity to declare the good news in Galatia. This may have been about 47-48 C.E., during his first missionary tour. It was then that he and Barnabas traveled into Galatia, there visiting the cities of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. (Ac 13:14, 51; 14:6, 21) Later, about 49 C.E., prior to writing this letter, Paul revisited those cities in Galatia.​—Ac 15:40–16:1.

you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me: Paul uses a common figure of speech to emphasize how much affection the Galatians had for him. They would have been willing to sacrifice anything in his behalf, even something as precious as their eyesight. His use of this expression was especially appropriate if he suffered from a chronic eye affliction, which may have been the “physical illness” he had just mentioned.​—Ga 4:13, 14; see also Ac 23:2-5; 2Co 12:7-9; Ga 6:11.

my little children: In this verse, Paul compares himself to a mother and the Christians in Galatia to his children. Regarding them, he says: for whom I am again experiencing birth pains. Paul is apparently referring to his deep interest in the Galatian believers and his fervent desire to see them develop fully as Christians. Although some ancient manuscripts use the Greek word for “child” (teʹknon) here, other authoritative manuscripts use the diminutive form (te·kniʹon) of this word. Therefore, the New World Translation uses the expression “little children.” In the Christian Greek Scriptures, a diminutive is often used to indicate affection and familiarity, so this Greek word could also be rendered “dear children” or “beloved children.”​—See Glossary, “Diminutive.”

For such freedom Christ set us free: By using the Greek words for “freedom” and “free” several times in his letter, Paul emphasizes “the freedom we enjoy in union with Christ Jesus.” (Ga 2:4) He contrasts this freedom with the slavery he described in the preceding chapter. The above expression could also be rendered “With her freedom, Christ set you free,” which would highlight that such freedom can be enjoyed only as children of “Jerusalem above,” the free woman.​—Ga 4:26.

the free woman: This term is used with reference to Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and “the Jerusalem above.” (Ga 4:26) Paul compares the enslaved Jerusalem of his day with the servant girl Hagar. (Ga 4:25) The nation of Israel, with its capital Jerusalem, could not be called a free woman because the Law did not give it that status. Rather, the Law showed that the Israelites were subject to sin, hence they were slaves. In contrast, God’s figurative wife, the Jerusalem above, has always been, like Sarah, a free woman. Those who become “children . . . of the free woman” have been set free by the Son of God from the bondage of sin and the Mosaic Law.​—Ga 4:31; 5:1 and study note; Joh 8:34-36.

according to the flesh: The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) here refers to human kinship, physical (earthly) descent, that is, Jesus’ descent as a human. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David, so it could be said of her son Jesus that he came to be from the offspring of David according to the flesh. As “the root and the offspring of David” through his mother, he held the natural hereditary right to “the throne of David his father.” (Re 22:16; Lu 1:32) Through his adoptive father, Joseph, also a descendant of David, Jesus had a legal right to David’s throne.​—Mt 1:1-16; Ac 13:22, 23; 2Ti 2:8; Re 5:5.

through natural descent: Lit., “according to the flesh.”​—See study note on Ro 1:3.

taken as a symbolic drama: Or “considered as an allegory.” Here Paul uses an allegory, that is, a narrative in which people, objects, and events serve as symbols of other things. In this symbolic drama, based on Genesis 16 through 21, Paul contrasts “the free woman” (Sarah) with “the servant girl” (Hagar).​—Ga 4:22–5:1; see Media Gallery, “Two Women in a Symbolic Drama.”

these women mean two covenants: These covenants were apparently the Mosaic Law covenant and the Abrahamic covenant. Hagar and Sarah themselves are not these covenants. In the prophetic drama, however, they correspond to different aspects of God’s relationship with his people​—the Law covenant involving figurative slavery and the Abrahamic covenant leading to true freedom.

according to the flesh: The Greek word for “flesh” (sarx) here refers to human kinship, physical (earthly) descent, that is, Jesus’ descent as a human. Mary was of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David, so it could be said of her son Jesus that he came to be from the offspring of David according to the flesh. As “the root and the offspring of David” through his mother, he held the natural hereditary right to “the throne of David his father.” (Re 22:16; Lu 1:32) Through his adoptive father, Joseph, also a descendant of David, Jesus had a legal right to David’s throne.​—Mt 1:1-16; Ac 13:22, 23; 2Ti 2:8; Re 5:5.

through natural descent: Lit., “according to the flesh.”​—See study note on Ro 1:3.

began persecuting: Paul here refers to Ge 21:9, where the account says that Ishmael “was mocking Isaac.” Ishmael was the one born through natural descent. Isaac is called the one born through spirit because Jehovah used His holy spirit to revive the reproductive powers of Abraham and Sarah in order to fulfill His promise. (Ge 12:3; 13:14-16; 17:7-9, 19; Ga 4:28) In relating the part of the “symbolic drama” where Ishmael was persecuting Isaac (Ga 4:24), Paul made a connection to his day by saying so also now; he explains that Jesus’ spirit-anointed followers, “children of the promise” (Ga 4:28), were being persecuted by natural Jews, who viewed themselves as Abraham’s legitimate heirs.

Media

Two Women in a Symbolic Drama
Two Women in a Symbolic Drama

In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, Paul mentions “a symbolic drama” in which Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and his secondary wife, Hagar, play special roles. (Ga 4:24) Paul writes that Hagar, a slave, corresponds to “the Jerusalem today,” the capital of natural Israel in Paul’s day. Hagar’s offspring pictures Jews who choose to remain bound to the Mosaic Law and its system of animal sacrifices. (Ga 4:25) Sarah, a free woman, represents “the Jerusalem above,” God’s symbolic woman, his heavenly, wifelike organization of spirit creatures. She also produces symbolic offspring, Christ and his spirit-anointed brothers. (Ga 3:16, 28, 29; 4:26) Jesus’ brothers and their associates render worship to Jehovah by their Christian way of life, including making public declaration to his name and gathering at congregation meetings. (Heb 10:23, 25; 13:15) In the book of Galatians, Paul shows that the only way worshippers of God can be truly free is by faithfully following Christ.​—Ga 5:1.

Mount Sinai
Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb, is described in the Scriptures as “the mountain of the true God.” (Ex 3:1, 12; 24:13, 16; 1Ki 19:8; Ac 7:30, 38) At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Law covenant went into effect. (Ex 19:3-14; 24:3-8) For this reason, the apostle Paul referred to the Mosaic Law as the covenant “from Mount Sinai.” (Ga 4:24) Paul wrote that Mount Sinai is “a mountain in Arabia,” but its exact location is uncertain. (Ga 4:25) According to traditional views, it is part of a granite ridge (shown here in the center of the photo) that is situated on the Sinai Peninsula between the two northern arms of the Red Sea.