on Galatians 4 :24
Which things are an allegory - They are to be understood spiritually; more being intended in the account than meets the eye.
Allegory, from αλλος, another, and αγορεω, or αγορευω, to speak, signifies a thing that is a representative of another, where the literal sense is the representative of a spiritual meaning; or, as the glossary expresses it, ἑτερως κατα μεταφρασιν νοουμενα, και ου κατα την αναγνωσιν· "where the thing is to be understood differently in the interpretation than it appears in the reading."
Allegories are frequent in all countries, and are used by all writers. In the life of Homer, the author, speaking of the marriage of Jupiter and Juno, related by that poet, says: δοκει ταυτα αλληγορεισθαι, ὁτι Ἡρα μεν νοειται ὁ αηρ-Ζευς δε, ὁ αιθηρ· "It appears that these things are to be understood allegorically; for Juno means the air, Jupiter the ether." Plutarch, in his treatise De Iside et Osir., says: ὡσπερ Ἑλληνες Κρονον αλληγορουσι τον χρονον· "As the Greeks allegorize Cronos (Saturn) into Chronos (Time.)" It is well known how fond the Jews were of allegorizing. Every thing in the law was with them an allegory. Their Talmud is full of these; and one of their most sober and best educated writers, Philo, abounds with them. Speaking (De Migrat. Abrah., page 420) of the five daughters of Zelophehad, he says: ἁς αλληγορουντες αισθησεις ειναι φαμεν· "which, allegorizing, we assert to be the five senses!"
It is very likely, therefore, that the allegory produced here, St. Paul had borrowed from the Jewish writings; and he brings it in to convict the Judaizing Galatians on their own principles; and neither he nor we have any thing farther to do with this allegory than as it applies to the subject for which it is quoted; nor does it give any license to those men of vain and superficial minds who endeavor to find out allegories in every portion of the sacred writings, and, by what they term spiritualizing, which is more properly carnalizing, have brought the testimonies of God into disgrace. May the spirit of silence be poured out upon all such corrupters of the word of God!
For these are the two covenants - These signify two different systems of religion; the one by Moses, the other by the Messiah.
The one from the Mount Sinai - On which the law was published; which was typified by Hagar, Abraham's bond maid.
Which gendereth to bondage - For as the bond maid or slave could only gender - bring forth her children, in a state of slavery, and subject also to become slaves, so all that are born and live under those Mosaic institutions are born and live in a state of bondage - a bondage to various rites and ceremonies; under the obligation to keep the whole law, yet, from its severity and their frailness, obliged to live in the habitual breach of it, and in consequence exposed to the curse which it pronounces.
on Galatians 4 :24
Which things - The different accounts of Ishmael and Isaac.
Are an allegory - May be regarded allegorically, or as illustrating great principles in regard to the condition of slaves and freemen; and may therefore be used to illustrate the effect of servitude to the Law of Moses compared with the freedom of the gospel. He does not mean to say that the historical record of Moses was not true, or was merely allegorical; nor does he mean to say that Moses meant this to be an allegory, or that he intended that it should be applied to the exact purpose to which Paul applied it. No such design is apparent in the narrative of Moses, and it is evident that he had no such intention. Nor can it be shown that Paul means to be understood as saying that Moses had any such design, or that his account was not a record of a plain historical fact. Paul uses it as he would any other historical fact that would illustrate the same principle, and he makes no more use of it than the Saviour did in his parables of real or fictitious narratives to illustrate an important truth, or than we always do of real history to illustrate an important principle.
The word which is used here by Paul (ἀλληγορέω allēgoreō) is derived from ἄλλος allos, another, and ἀγορεύω agoreuō, to speak, to speak openly or in public - Passow. It properly means to speak anything otherwise than it is understood (Passow); to speak allegorically; to allegorize. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, nor is it found in the Septuagint, though it occurs often in the classic writers. An allegory is a continued metaphor; see Blair's Lectures, xv. It is a figurative sentence or discourse, in which the principal object is described by another subject resembling it in its properties and circumstances - Webster. Allegories are in words what hieroglyphics are in painting. The distinction between a parable and an allegory is said to be, that a parable is a supposed history to illustrate some important truth, as the parable of the good Samaritan, etc.; an allegory is based on real facts.
It is not probable, however, that this distinction is always carefully observed. Sometimes the allegory is based on the resemblance to some inanimate object, as in the beautiful allegory in Psalm 80. Allegories, parables, and metaphors abound in the writings of the East. Truth was more easily treasured up in this way, and could be better preserved and transmitted when it was connected with an interesting story. The lively fancy of the people of the East also led them to this mode of communicating truth; though a love for it is probably founded in human nature. The best sustained allegory of any considerable length in the world is, doubtless, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; and yet this is among the most popular of all books. The ancient Jews were exceedingly fond of allegories, and even turned a considerable part of the Old Testament into allegory. The ancient Greek philosophers also were fond of this mode of teaching.
Pythagoras instructed his followers in this manner, and this was common among the Greeks, and was imitated much by the early Christians - Calmet. Many of the Christian fathers, of the school of Origen, made the Old Testament almost wholly allegorical, and found mysteries in the plainest narratives. The Bible became thus with them a book of enigmas, and exegesis consisted in an ingenious and fanciful accommodation of all the narratives in the scriptures to events in subsequent times. The most fanciful, and the most ingenious man, on this principle, was the best interpreter; and as any man might attach any hidden mystery which he chose to the scriptures, they became wholly useless as an infallible guide. Better principles of interpretation now prevail; and the great truth has gone forth, never more to be recalled, that the Bible is to be interpreted on the same principle as all other books; that its language is to be investigated by the same laws as language in all other books; and that no more liberty is to be taken in allegorizing the scriptures than may be taken with Herodotus or Livy. It is lawful to use narratives of real events to illustrate important principles always. Such a use is often made of history; and such a use, I suppose, the apostle Paul makes here of an important fact in the history of the Old Testament.
For these are - These may be used to represent the two covenants. The apostle could not mean that the sons of Sarah and Hagar were literally the two covenants; for this could not be true, and the declaration would be unintelligible. In what sense could Ishmael be called a covenant? The meaning, therefore, must be, that they furnished an apt illustration or representation of the two covenants; they would show what the nature of the two covenants was. The words "are" and "is" are often used in this sense in the Bible, to denote that one thing represents another. Thus in the institution of the Lord's supper; "Take, eat, this is my body" Matthew 26:26; that is, this represents my body. The bread was not the living body that was then before them. So in Galatians 4:28; "This is my blood of the new covenant;" that is, this represents my blood. The wine in the cup could not be the living blood of the Redeemer that was then flowing in his veins; see the note at that place; compare Genesis 41:26.
The two covenants - Margin, "Testaments." The word means here, covenants or compacts; see the note at 1 Corinthians 11:25. The two covenants here referred to, are the one on Mount Sinai made with the Jews, and the other that which is made with the people of God in the gospel. The one resembles the condition of bondage in which Hagar and her son were; the other the condition of freedom in which Sarah and Isaac were.
The one from the Mount Sinai - Margin, "Sina." The Greek is "Sina," though the word may be written either way.
Which gendereth to bondage - Which tends to produce bondage or servitude. That is, the laws are stern and severe; and the observance of them costly, and onerous like a state of bondage; see the note at Acts 15:10.
Which is Agar - Which Hagar would appropriately represent. The condition of servitude produced by the Law had a strong resemblance to her condition as a slave.
on Galatians 4 :24
4:24 Which things are an allegory - An allegory is a figurative speech, wherein one thing is expressed, and another intended. For those two sons are types of the two covenants. One covenant is that given from mount Sinai, which beareth children to bondage - That is, all who are under this, the Jewish covenant, are in bondage. Which covenant is typified by Agar.