Who is the Free Woman in Galatians 4?

Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, she is our mother.

                                                                        – Galatians 4:25-26

No other book of the Bible feeds the narrative of Replacement Theology quite like Galatians. It is the Holy Grail of the paradigm of Law vs. Grace.

Galatians chapter 4 represents the conclusion of Paul’s thematic argument against the Judaizers who sought to change his gospel in the minds of his followers. The first thing we need understand, then, is who the Judaizers were, and what they were doing. It is commonly believed that they were busy telling Paul’s Gentile converts to Christianity that they needed to continue to obey the law of Moses. They didn’t realize that these Jesus-following Gentiles were free from the law! And Paul was really mad!  However, we learn through a careful study of the context of the epistle that the real issue was formal conversion to Judaism, not obedience to God’s commandments.

A Judaizer is not someone who tells you that you should obey the law. It is someone who believes that you must be legally Jewish to be saved.

In Gal.4:21, Paul issues a challenge to those who are converting, saying, “Tell me, you who want to be under the law, do you not listen to the law?” He then gives his famous allegory of the slave woman and the free woman. Those born of the slave woman are “of the flesh”, while those born of the free woman are born of “promise”.

First, we must understand that when Paul uses the phrase “under the law”, he is not talking about someone who is forsaking grace, as though grace is opposed to law. No, he is referring to a person who is taking on legal Jewish identity through conversion. 

The question Paul asks here in Galatians is nearly identical to the one he poses in Romans chapter 2. This passage in Romans is worth quoting at length, since it gives us all the insight we need to understand Paul’s argument in Galatians.

 “But if you bear the name Jew and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking of the Law, do you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you, just as it is written. For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law, but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:17-29)

In this context, we can easily see that the allegory in Galatians is meant to contrast a person who is trusting in their status as one who is physically Jewish, rather than in their faith towards God. This was a problem within Judaism long before Jesus came along, and it’s a problem both in Judaism and Christianity today. Card-carrying members of the “club” who have never really had an encounter with the living God, and don’t know what real faith is. They instead trust in their associative identity in the church or synagogue, and in the creeds or liturgy or traditions in which they cling for security.

Another key to unlocking where Paul is coming from in our passage in Galatians is found in the mysterious and cryptic reference to “mother Jerusalem”.

But the Jerusalem above is free, she is our mother. (Gal.4:26)

Most Christians and in fact, most pastors, would be unable to tell you what in the world Paul is talking about here, other than by taking a wild stab. It is a strange verse. Yet, we need to know what it means, since it’s the central concept that fastens the knot in the bow of Paul’s allegory.

In the Talmud, we find in the Oral Law the exact concept which Paul is referencing, and which will solve the puzzle for us:

Anyone who derives benefit from this world without (uttering) a blessing, it is as if he stole from God and the community of Israel, as it is stated: “Whoever robs his father and his mother and says: It is no transgression, he is the companion of a destroyer”(Prov.28:24). The phrase, his father, refers to none other than God, as it is stated: “Is He not your Father Who created you, Who made you and established you” (Deut.32:6). The phrase, his mother, refers to none other than the community of Israel, as it is stated: “Hear, my son, the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the Torah of your mother” (Prov.1:8). The mention of the Torah as emanating from the mouth of the mother, apparently means that your mother is the community of Israel.  What is the meaning of the continuation of the verse: He is the companion of a destroyer? Rabbi Hanina bar Pappa said: He is a companion of Jeroboam ben Nevat, who corrupted Israel before their Father in heaven by sinning and causing others to sin. (Talmud, Berakhot, 35b, Koren Steinsaltz edition)

Jerusalem, the mother of the person of true faith in Paul’s allegory, the mother who brings forth the children of promise, is the Torah. So, far from being cancelled by Christ, we see that the Torah is the very measuring stick Paul uses to determine who belongs to God. This becomes clear even more as we parallel Romans 2 with Galatians 4 (and with Romans 9-11, but that is a different topic). Now we know the meaning of verse 26 in Gal.4. Even further, Paul seems to indicate that the Judaizers are actually equal to destroyers, as Paul relates them to those who shame the community through their lawless deeds while claiming the covering of God through legal status.

It should not be strange to consider the free woman the Torah, the mother Jerusalem, the true community of Israel, who brings forth children to the Almighty, as Jesus himself said basically the same thing as Paul in the gospels:

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:34-35)

Wisdom is synonymous with Torah in Jewish thought.

In Paul’s allegory in Galatians, there is one more thing we should notice. Paul is contrasting one who is claiming an inheritance by birth, while another is claiming it by promise. There is another place in which Paul makes the same argument, yet he uses entirely different characters. In Romans 9, Paul contrasts Jacob and Esau.

Just as it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ (Romans 9:12)

Esau, or Edom, is associated with Rome in Jewish teaching. Perhaps this is why Paul used this story to teach the Romans what he was teaching the Galatians through the allegory of Sarah and Hagar. Jacob received the inheritance because he believed God, and valued the inheritance of his father, while Esau did not value the birthright which was rightfully his to own. He sold his birthright for a morsel of bread, because it was more important to satisfy his flesh than to feed his spirit. And what was the birthright? In Jewish Oral Law, it is the yoke of the kingdom of God; the yoke of Torah. This is the understanding which Paul had, and what would have been known among those who had grown up in the synagogue.

In the same way, Paul is equating the faithless man who has attained legal Jewish status to a slave, but the one born of true faith (“wisdom’s children”) to be free. And their freedom is rooted in the Torah.

One could even say that, by referencing the “Jerusalem above”, that Paul is alluding to Christ himself, the “supernal Torah” concealed at creation, and revealed in the Messiah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Who is the Free Woman in Galatians 4?

  1. I always felt that by rejecting his birthright Esau was essentially rejecting God. I can certainly see how Israel could be considered our “Mother” since she is the one whom God chose to reveal himself to us through. Very interesting post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Paul, in both Galatians and certainly in Romans, is rebuking the parochialism of those who claim that their security is found in national identity. He dispels the secularism of the Judaizers by reminding them of what true faith if founded on and what it looks like. Good ole’ fashioned wood shed talk. Thanks for the comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Dave and Michelle,

    Just wanted to check in and see how you all were doing. It’s been busy here with vacation, visitors, real estate agents, etc. No bites on the house yet. We are in the process of re-listing with a new RE group. Still trying to get rid of ‘stuff’ – very slow process! We are hopeful that with a new RE agent and group, we can find a buyer and be out by November.

    Will you be coming down this way to visit family in August? If so, do let us know. How’s the new church working out?

    Sorry we have not had much time to read or visit links. Please keep sending, eventually we will catch up.

    Blessings, /arline & jim

    Liked by 1 person

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