Monday, June 13, 2016

Paul’s Ecclesiology in Galatians (Part 2)

In Galatians 4:22-26, Paul teaches: 

For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (KJV)

According to Young, this passage of Scripture is noted to be “the sharpest polemic against Jerusalem and Judaism in the New Testament.”[1] Paul begins by referring to two of the sons of the patriarch Abraham: Isaac whose mother was Sarah, and Ishmael whose mother was the bond-slave Hagar. Although he acknowledges the historicity of the events surrounding the patriarch, his wife, and the bondwoman, Paul understands that Hagar and Sarah allegorically represent two covenants: the covenant of law, and “the covenant of grace sealed in the blood of Christ, the only foundation for real freedom and release from sin and death.”[2] As Ridderbos has commented, “For it is said of Hagar and Sarah that they represent two covenants, the first that of the law and the bondage resulting from it, the second that of the Spirit and the liberty given by him (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6).”[3]

Commenting on this passage in Galatians chapter 4, Ronald Fung writes:

“The two women stand for . . . two covenants. On the one hand, Hagar stands for the covenant derived from Mount Sinai and producing children for bondage: just as the children of a slave-wife (unless acknowledge as true children by the husband and master) were destined to be slaves themselves, so the covenant of law given at Sinai committed all who embraced it to its binding power. Over against Hagar and the covenant of law which she represents . . . stands the free woman (v. 22b), with the other covenant represented by her. The unnamed free woman is obviously Sarah while the other covenant, similarly unnamed, is obviously the covenant of faith referred to in [Galatians] 3:17 in contrast with the law (though the latter is not there specifically called a covenant). Paul takes it as self-evident that a straight line runs through Sarah and Isaac, the covenant of faith (because it depends on promise), the Jerusalem above (v. 26), and Christians – these being held together and interrelated by the fact that freedom can be postulated of all of them, although it is explicitly postulated of the third member only.”[4]

Paul is therefore linking together the bond-slave Hagar, Ishmael, the Sinaitic covenant of law, the present city of Jerusalem, and all who adhere to the Mosaic law as the means of salvation and justification. This is contrasted with the “Jerusalem which is above,” “which is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26).

History tells us that Paul’s religious education was not completed within a seminary in America or Singapore. Being a former disciple of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), he was well-versed in Pharisaism and Jewish traditions. Taking into account his religious influence and background, together with the prevalence of Judaism in Paul’s era, is it not surprising that Paul sees Hagar as representing Sinai and the Jerusalem of his time, which is in slavery with her children? Remarkably, the apostle’s understanding of the spiritual significance of Jerusalem contradicts that of the Jewish leaders.

The Jews apparently still believed that Israel was God’s covenant nation. But the earthly Jerusalem, even in Paul’s day, is no longer the promised city of God’s grace and presence. It has evidently lost all its significance as the city of salvation. Instead of referring to Jerusalem as the city of God, Paul amazingly describes another Jerusalem, “which is above” and heavenly (Gal. 4:26). The promises of salvation and the covenant of grace are now associated with this heavenly Jerusalem, “which is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26).”

Paul, in fact, associates the entire Judaistic system of worship with the Sinaitic covenant of law, the present city of Jerusalem, and Ishmael, the son of the slave woman, Hagar.[5] Instead of pandering to the Jewish notion that the nation of Israel possesses any spiritual privilege apart from the gospel of Christ, Paul turns the argument around and alleges that the Judaizers are, in effect, putting people under the bondage of the law and reversing the course of redemptive history. As Morris has noted, “the Judaizers would have argued that they were the descendants of Isaac, the ancestor of God’s free people, whereas the Gentiles were outside the covenant as the slave woman’s son was. But Paul turns this interpretation on its head. The spiritual descendants of the slave woman are those who are in bondage to the law, whereas the spiritual descendants of the free woman are those who live in the freedom of the gospel.”[6] It is clear that the physical descendants of Abraham will have no spiritual blessings outside the covenant of grace and the Church of Christ.

We have noted that in his epistle to the Galatians, and culminating in chapter 4, Paul explains his doctrine of ecclesiology. In his commentary on Romans 11, Alexander aptly summarizes Paul’s ecclesiology in Galatians 4:21-31:

“Paul is pursuing an allegory, as he did also when writing to the Galatians (Gal. 4:22-31). He is treating Ishmael as the representative of all Israel after the flesh, though in fact no Jew was descended from Hagar’s son. Isaac is put forward as the representative of all Israel after the spirit, though these include a stupendous majority of gentiles who in fact were never descended from Isaac. . . . The one (Ishmael) represents Israel after the flesh, to whom no promises are made and who are not considered as the Seed of Abraham at all. The other (Isaac) represents Israel after the spirit or the true Church of the Redeemed, and of the Firstborn, who are written in heaven, and these – Jews and gentile together – are the true Seed of Abraham to whom the promises were made.”[7]

Therefore, in Paul’s language and understanding, the Church is the true Israel, or rather, the “Israel after the spirit.” The heir of the Abrahamic promise is Abraham’s seed; this does not include all the physical descendants of Abraham, but only the believing Jews who have been incorporated into the true Israel of God, the Church (Gal. 3:29).

Paul’s Understanding of Isaiah’s Prophecy

In Isaiah 54:1-3, the prophet sees the city of Zion as barren. She is likened to a barren woman, because her children have been exiled to Babylon. However, Jehovah God reveals to the prophet that though Zion is now barren, the post-exilic Zion will have more children than before the exile. This prophecy, therefore, seems to refer to Jerusalem during the days of her exile. But in Galatians 4:27, Paul quotes Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 54:1) of Israel’s restoration and return from exile in Babylon, and applies it to the New Testament Church. Bruce comments:

“So by Paul the promises of Is. 54 are understood as addressed to the church of the new age, Jerusalem above. But for Paul the contemporary church was a predominantly Gentile community. Formerly the Gentiles were spiritually sterile, producing no fruit for God, but now their response to the gospel has made them more fruitful than the synagogue: the new Jerusalem has more children than ever the old Jerusalem had.”[8]

Paul thus sees the new Jerusalem as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy – a prophecy which seems to proclaim that the future, post-exilic Jerusalem will have more children than the pre-exilic Jerusalem, “for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband (Gal. 4:27).”[9] This fulfillment is aptly stated by Paul, “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise (Gal. 4:28).” In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul is adamant that all who believe in Christ by faith are the children of this free woman, irrespective of ethnicity, genealogy or nationality. They are Abraham’s seed and heirs of the Abrahamic covenant.

Therefore, according to Paul’s understanding, the prophecy in Isaiah 54:1-3 is closely related to the Abrahamic covenant. Hendricksen explains further,

“The promise given to Sarah, who also was barren, will be fulfilled (Gen. 17:16). God’s church will be extended among the Gentiles. Large multitudes will thus be added to the company of the saved. Zion, the Jerusalem (that is) above, will have an abundant posterity on earth. Hence, she will have to make her tent more spacious by lengthening its cords. At the same time she will have to see to it that the stakes are strengthened, that is, that the tent-pins are fixed into the ground more firmly, because the dwelling-place of the church as God sees it will never be broken up (Isa. 54:2, 3; Rev. 3:12; 7:9; cf. John 6:37, 39; 10:28).”[10]

The Church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles saved by faith in Christ, are heirs of the promises to Abraham’s seed. In Galatians 4:28, Paul reiterates the fact that believers are the children of promise, who are typologically represented by Isaac. As such, believers are not under the bondage of law.

Fung highlights Paul’s continuing argument that, “underlying, and corresponding to, the contrast between slavery (characterizing Hagar and Ishmael, the Sinaitic covenant of law, and the earthly Jerusalem of Judaism and the Judaizers) and freedom (characterizing Sarah and Isaac, the new covenant of promise, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the Christian believers) is the contrast between righteousness by law and righteousness by faith.”[11] As Bruce has aptly commented, “Legal bondage and spiritual freedom cannot coexist.”[12]

Paul ends his polemic against the Judaizers in Galatians chapter 4 with this forceful statement: both Ishmael and the nation of Israel, which is under the bondage of legalism, have been completely disinherited. The apostle exclaims, “Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free (Gal. 4:30-31).”

In his commentary on Galatians 4:31, Bruce writes:

“Paul’s later, non-allegorical (but still in intention typological) reference to Abraham’s sons in Rom. 9:7-9 comes to mind. There, emphasizing the sovereignty of the divine election, he insists that it is spiritual, not natural, descent that matters: ‘Not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named” [Gn. 21:12]. This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants’ – the ‘word of promise’ being that spoken by God to Sarah in Gn. 17:21, confirming that she would give birth to a son.”[13]

As in the epistle to the Galatians, Paul emphasizes in Romans that, “They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed (Rom. 9:8).” The true heirs of the promise are not physical Israelites, but the spiritual Israelites, the true seed of Abraham.

Sadly, without repentance and faith in the Messiah, the nation of Israel remains in bondage to legalism and Judaism. What, then, is the hope for Israel after the flesh? Robertson laments that,

Jerusalem today remains as it was in Paul’s day. It is still in bondage to legalism and rejects the gracious gift of salvation that has come through the Messiah. It must not be assumed that those who live in Jerusalem today without faith in Jesus have been chosen by God for salvation. Apart from repentance and faith, the inhabitants of Jerusalem continue to be in bondage and are “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). To suggest anything else is to slight Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, while at the same time imperiling the souls of many by encouraging false assumption.”[14]

The entire thrust of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians contradicts the Dispensationalist’s understanding of national Israel and the Abrahamic promise. Paul’s ecclesiology is obviously not dispensational ecclesiology. He sees the Church as fulfilling the position and role of spiritual, heavenly Israel. God does not have two separate “programs” or “covenants”: one with Israel and another with the Church. The Church, consisting of both believing Jew and Gentile, is the heir of the Abrahamic covenant, not apostate, unbelieving national Israel.

Thus, it is apparent that the apostle Paul categorically rejects the false notion that ethnic Israel has a continuing claim to any covenant promise apart from faith in the Messiah.

[1] J. C. Young, Jerusalem in the New Testament (Kampen: Kok, 1960), 106.
[2] Timothy George, Galatians: The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1994), 340.
[3] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 217.
[4] Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians: New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1988), 206-207.
[5] Paul’s teachings in Galatians 4:21-31 “would have been very disturbing to any patriotic Jew just as it must have been to the Judaizers of Galatia. Everyone knew that the Jews were the sons of Isaac and the Gentiles were the descendants of Ishmael. Paul, however, had correlated the covenant of Sinai and the present religious system centered at Jerusalem with the offspring of the slave woman. They were those who sought to be justified before God “according to the flesh,” that is, by observing the works of the law. Conversely, the children of the free woman were those who had embraced the promise of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. They were the children of the covenant of grace. For Paul, it was completely irrelevant to their identification as the offspring of Sarah whether or not people were circumcised, of Jewish birth or Gentile background. No doubt much of the opposition that was mounted by the Judaizers related to the fact that the renewed people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, which began on the Day of Pentecost as an exclusively Jewish enclave, was coming increasingly to include a preponderance of Gentiles, many of them won to Christ through the efforts of Paul and his coworkers. Although the Judaizers may not have seen it in this light, efforts to make circumcision and observance of the law an entrance rite into the Christian faith were nothing less than a futile attempt to reverse the divinely ordained course of redemptive history.” See George, Galatians, 342.
[6] Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 146.
[7] Charles D. Alexander, “Romans Eleven and the Two Israels: An Exposition of Romans 9-11” (Unpublished lecture notes, n.d.), 2-3.
[8] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 222.
[9] Likewise, Fung concurs, “In proof of the existence of a new Jerusalem composed of God’s redeemed people, Paul quotes the Septuagint of Isa. 54:1, where a greater prosperity is prophesied for restored Jerusalem as compared with the old. . . . The prophet [Isaiah] says that Jerusalem as she would be after the exiles had returned would have more children than she did before the Exile robbed her of her children.” See Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, 210-211.
[10] William Hendricksen, Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon: New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co, 1968, 2004), 185.
[11] Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, 212.
[12] Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, 225.
[13] Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, 225-226.
[14] O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 2000), 29-30.

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