11 Lesson Eleven: Galatians 4:21-31

Instructions: Translate the Greek text with help from the reader notes. Complete the MYON (Make Your Own Note) and Discussion Question if you desire.

21 Λέγετέ μοι, οἱ ὑπὸ νόμον θέλοντες εἶναι, τὸν νόμον οὐκ ἀκούετε; 22 γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι Ἀβραὰμ δύο υἱοὺς ἔσχεν, ἕνα ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης καὶ ἕνα ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας. 23 ἀλλ᾽ ὁ μὲν ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης κατὰ σάρκα γεγέννηται, ὁ δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας δι᾽ ἐπαγγελίας. 24 ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα· αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι, μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ εἰς δουλείαν γεννῶσα, ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἁγάρ. 25 τὸ δὲ Ἁγὰρ Σινᾶ ὄρος ἐστὶν ἐν τῇ Ἀραβίᾳ· συστοιχεῖ δὲ τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ, δουλεύει γὰρ μετὰ τῶν τέκνων αὐτῆς. 26 ἡ δὲ ἄνω Ἰερουσαλὴμ ἐλευθέρα ἐστίν, ἥτις ἐστὶν μήτηρ ἡμῶν· 27 γέγραπται γάρ· εὐφράνθητι, στεῖρα ἡ οὐ τίκτουσα, ῥῆξον καὶ βόησον, ἡ οὐκ ὠδίνουσα· ὅτι πολλὰ τὰ τέκνα τῆς ἐρήμου μᾶλλον ἢ τῆς ἐχούσης τὸν ἄνδρα. 28 Ὑμεῖς δέ, ἀδελφοί, κατὰ Ἰσαὰκ ἐπαγγελίας τέκνα ἐστέ. 29 ἀλλ᾽ ὥσπερ τότε ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς ἐδίωκεν τὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα, οὕτως καὶ νῦν. 30 ἀλλὰ τί λέγει ἡ γραφή; ἔκβαλε τὴν παιδίσκην καὶ τὸν υἱὸν αὐτῆς· οὐ γὰρ μὴ κληρονομήσει ὁ υἱὸς τῆς παιδίσκης μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἐλευθέρας. 31 διό, ἀδελφοί, οὐκ ἐσμὲν παιδίσκης τέκνα ἀλλὰ τῆς ἐλευθέρας. SBLGNT

4:21

[SN] Οἱ θέλοντες (PAPMPV LF: θέλω) is a substantival participle used as a #vocative of direct address, which functions as the subject of the main verb Λέγετέ.

[SN] Εἶναι (PN LF: εἰμί) is a #complementary infinitive that completes the action of θέλοντες (“those who desire to be”).

[SN] Ὑπὸ τὸν νόμον (MSA LF: νόμος) expresses subordination (“under the Law”).

4:22

[SN] Paul’s use of ὅτι here signals #indirect discourse and should be translated as “that.” Note that Paul is not quoting directly from Genesis in this verse (i.e., the ὅτι is not introducing direct discourse).

[GMN] Ἔσχεν is AAI3S (LF: ἔχω): This is a second aorist form, hence the stem change (εχ → εσχ).

[SN] Ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης and ἐκ τῆς ἐλευθέρας are both #genitives of source (“from the slavewoman . . . from the freewoman”) or #means (“by [means of]”).

[TN] Rather than quoting OT texts, Paul here summarizes Genesis texts regarding the story of Sarah and Hagar (cf. Gen 16:1–16; 21:1–14).

4:23

[SN] Ὁ . . . ἐκ τῆς παιδίσκης: The definite article nominalizes the prepositional phrase, making the whole phrase substantival (“the one/son from the slave woman”).

[SN] The prepositional phrase κατὰ σάρκα expresses #standard (“in accordance with/corresponding to the flesh”).

[SN] The construction μὲν . . . δὲ correlates the two clauses in this verse, establishing a contrast (“on the one hand . . . on the other”).

[SN] The prepositional phrase δι᾽ ἐπαγγελίας expresses #means.

4:24

[GMN, SN] Ἅτινά (NPN LF: ὅστις) is an indefinite relative pronoun and is the subject of the verb ἐστιν.

[GMN, LN] λληγορούμενα (PPPNPN LF: ἀλληγορέω) is a #contract verb and a #hapax legomenon that can refer to “allegory” or “analogy.”

MYON [SN] Ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα: Describe the syntactical function of this participial phrase.

[SN] Μὲν ἀπὸ . . . δὲ ἄνω: The μὲν appearing in this verse begins the first of two clauses standing in contrast to each other. The second clause is marked by δὲ in 4:26. μὲν . . . δὲ is a common construction used to set up contrasting ideas (cf. v. 23).

[LN, SN] Ὄρους Σινᾶ refers to Mount Sinai (Σινᾶ standing in #apposition to ὄρους; FSG LF: ὄρος).

[GMN] Γεννῶσα (PAPFSN LF: γεννάω) is a #contract verb.

[SN] Ἥτις (FSN LF: ὅστις) is an indefinite relative pronoun functioning as a simple relative pronoun (“which”).

[LN, SN] Ἁγὰρ is the #indeclinable proper name Hagar, and here functions as a #predicate nominative.

4:25

[GMN, LN] Συστοιχεῖ (PAI3S LF: συστοιχέω), a #hapax legomenon, is a compound verb meaning “to correspond to” or “to represent.”

[SN] Τῇ νῦν Ἰερουσαλήμ is functioning here as the dative direct object of συστοιχεῖ, with the #temporal particle νῦν modifying Ἰερουσαλήμ adjectivally (“the current Jerusalem”).

[GMN, SN] Δουλεύει (PAI3S LF: δουλεύω): It is unclear whether the grammatical subject of this verb is Ἰερουσαλήμ or Ἁγὰρ, though the proximity of the former (Ἰερουσαλήμ) suggests that it is the more natural referent.

4:26

[SN] The adverb ἄνω is functioning in this case as an attributive adjective (“the Jerusalem [that is] above”).

[SN] Ἥτις (FSN LF: ὅστις) is an indefinite relative pronoun functioning as a simple relative pronoun (cf. 4:24).

4:27

[GMN] Γέγραπται is RPI3S (LF: γράφω).

[LN] Εὐφράνθητι (APM2S LF: εύφραίνω) occurs fourteen times in the NT, with only three uses in Paul (see Rom 15:10; 2 Cor 2:2). It means “to cheer/rejoice.”

[SN] Στεῖρα (FSV LF: στεῖρα) occurs only five times in the NT, including two references to Elizabeth (Lk 1:7, 36) and two to Sarah (cf. Heb 11:11).

[SN, LN] Τίκτουσα (PAPFSN LF: τίκτω) is an attributive participle, which describes στεῖρα. The verb τίκτω means “to bear children.”

[LN] ᾽Ρῆξον (AAM2S LF: ῥήγνυμι) occurs six times in the NT (this is the only usage by Paul) and means “to break/burst forth.”

[GMN, LN] βόησον (AAM2S LF: βοάω) is a #contract verb. It means “to cry out” or “to shout.”

[LN, SN] Ἡ . . . ὠδίνουσα (PAPFSN LF: ὠδίνω): This verb is used only three times in the NT, including twice in Galatians (cf. 4:19) and once in Revelation (12:2), and it means “to labor/suffer birth pains.”

[SN] Ὄτι is a causal conjunction.

[LN] Τῆς ἐρήμου (FSG LF: ἔρημος) means “the desolate one.”

[SN] Τῆς ἐχούσης (PAPFSG LF: ἔχω) is a substantival participle.

[TN] Εὐφράνθητι . . . τὸν ἄνδρα is a direct quotation from LXX Isa 54:1. It is possible that Paul chose this quotation because of the occurrence of στεῖρα, allowing him to allude simultaneously to LXX Gen 11:30, where the term is used in reference to Sarah (καὶ ἦν Σαρα στεῖρα καὶ οὐκ ἐτεκνοποίει).

4:28

[SN] Note the double vocative Ὑμεῖς . . . ἀδελφοί, which adds great force to the clause.

[SN] Though Ἰσαὰκ is indeclinable, it is here functioning as an accusative noun. Therefore, κατὰ Ἰσαὰκ should be understood to express #standard (“corresponding to Isaac” or “according to the pattern of Isaac”).

[SN] Ἐπαγγελίας (FSG LF: ἐπαγγελία) is a #genitive of source modifying τέκνα (“children from/born of promise”).

[SN] Τέκνα (NPN LF: τέκνον) is a #predicate nominative in apposition to Ὑμεῖς and ἀδελφοί.

[GMN] Ἐστέ (PAI2P LF: εἰμί).

4:29

[SN] Ὥσπερ . . . οὕτως and τότε . . . νῦν: The correlative conjunction ὥσπερ (“just as”) and the demonstrative adverb οὕτως (“so/in this way”) frame Paul’s comparison between the sons born κατὰ σάρκα and κατὰ πνεῦμα, with the adverbs τότε and νῦν providing a temporal framework.

[LN] Ἐδίωκεν (IAI3S LF: διώκω) means “to pursue” and commonly connotes persecution (cf. 1:13, 23; 5:11; 6:12). It is possible that the use of the imperfect here suggests iterative or repetitive action.

[SN] The καὶ in this verse is adverbial (“even/also”).

[SN] Given the comparison, the verbless clause οὕτως καὶ νῦν should be understood vis-á-vis the verbal idea from the previous clause (ὁ κατὰ σάρκα γεννηθεὶς ἐδίωκεν τὸν κατὰ πνεῦμα). Alternatively, the translator could simply supply ἐστίν (“so it is even now”).

4:30

[GMN] Ἔκβαλε (AAM2S LF: ἐκβάλλω) is second aorist.

[SN] Οὐ . . . μὴ more commonly combines with the aorist subjunctive to express emphatic negation, but here we find the future indicative κληρονομήσει (FAI3S LF: κληρονομέω). As an emphatic negation, it should be translated “will never inherit.”

[SN] The prepositional phrase μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ expresses #accompaniment.

[TN] The γραφή Paul quotes here is LXX Gen 21:10, with a few minor changes: (1) Paul removes the demonstrative pronouns from τὴν παιδίσκην and τῆς παιδίσκης; (2) he adds μὴ to the prohibition ού . . . κληρονομήσει, which makes it emphatic; and (3) he changes the phrase μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ μου Ισαακ to μετὰ τοῦ υἱοῦ τῆς ἐλευθέρας.

4:31

[SN] Διό is an #inferential conjunction meaning “so” or “therefore.”

[SN] Paul’s use of the vocative ἀδελφοί (MPV) adds force to this verse.

[SN] The clause ἀλλὰ τῆς ἐλευθέρας has an implied ἐσμὲν, and we should think of τέκνα as doing double duty, i.e., serving as the head noun for both παιδίσκης and ἐλευθέρας.

[SN] Παιδίσκης and τῆς ἐλευθέρας are both #genitives of relationship.

Discussion Question (4:21–31)

[4:31] The conjunction διό introduces a clause that is logically connected to what precedes it. How is 4:31 connected to the preceding argument?

Word Study: Τὰ Στοιχεῖα Τοῦ Κόσμου (“the elemental things of the world”)

Introduction

Alongside the Mosaic Law, Paul identifies another set of enslaving powers in his letter to the Galatians. He calls these other entities τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου (sg. τὸ στοιχεῖον), or “the elemental things of the world.” In Gal 4:3 Paul writes, “So also with us, while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental things of the world” (τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου; cf. Gal 4:9).[1] The meaning of this enigmatic phrase (found only in Paul in the New Testament)[2] remains a matter of dispute among commentators.

Ancient Usages of Στοῖχος/Στοιχέω/Στοιχεῖον

The term στοιχεῖον originates from στοῖχος, which refers most simply to a “row” or “a course of masonry.”[3] The former meaning is evident in Josephus’ Antiquities, in which he uses στοῖχος to describe a row of pillars supporting a royal cloister at Herod’s Temple.[4] Similarly to this, στοῖχος can also refer to the “straight rod or rule” according to which one “goes in a straight line” or “is in a row” (cf. στοιχέω).[5] In the extant literature, the verbal form of στοῖχος, στοιχέω, is only used in a figurative sense (“be in a line with,” “stand beside,” “hold to,” “agree with,” or “follow”) as in LXX Ecclesiastes 11:6: “In the morning, sow your seed, and to the evening do not let your hand be slack, for you do not know what sort will fit [στοιχήσει], whether this or that and whether the two are good together.”[6] Certain seeds thus follow the proper pattern of growth and fruit-bearing, while others do not.

Note also the use of στοιχέω in an inscription found among the Sylloge Inscriptionum Graecarum, which recounts a man who was praised for his commitment to the ancestral traditions: “He also wishing to follow [στοιχεῖν] and to walk in their footsteps . . .”[7] The verb is similarly used in Acts 21:24: “But you yourself observe [στοιχεῖς] the Law by guarding it.” In sum, the verb στοιχέω fundamentally refers to the acting out of an arranged pattern.

BDAG outlines three basic meanings of στοιχεῖον. First, the word can refer to fundamental principles [of behavior or learning] (cf. Heb 5:12) or concepts (such as the alphabet). Στοιχεῖον can also refer to the “elemental substances” that make up the world, as in PGM 4.440: “Golden-haired Helios, who wields the flame’s unresting fire . . . From whom, indeed, all elements have been arranged to suit your laws which nourish all the world . . .”[8] In the LXX, στοιχεῖον solely refers to these “elemental substances.” In Wisdom 7:17, Wisdom announces her knowledge of “the constitution of the world and the activity of the elements [στοιχείων]” (cf. 2 Pt 3:10–12).

Third, στοιχεῖον can refer to “heavenly bodies,” as in Diogenes’ Laertes 6.102, which designates the twelve zodiac constellations as τὰ δώδεκα στοιχεῖα, “the twelve elements.”[9] Some believed that a person’s destiny was hidden in these heavenly bodies in the same way that the times and seasons were regulated by their movements. Broadly speaking, then, the στοιχεῖα are the building blocks of all things. Στοιχεῖα are the ordered patterns that make up knowledge, practice, and matter. They form the fundamental patterns of the cosmos and of life.

Pauline Usage of Στοῖχος/Στοιχέω/Στοιχεῖον

In the Pauline corpus, στοιχεῖον is found only in Galatians and Colossians. However, he uses the verbal cognate, στοιχέω, in Phil 3:16 and Rom 4:12. The NRSV translates Philippians 3:16 as “Only let us hold fast [στοιχεῖν] to what we have attained.” This use of στοιχέω corresponds with the examples given above. Paul admonishes believers to “continue in” or “hold fast to” the pattern exemplified in “forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead” (3:13). Rom 4:12 resembles closely the example from Sylloge 708, mentioned above: “and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow [στοιχοῦσιν] the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.”

Similar uses are found in Gal 5:25 and 6:16 as well. In 5:25, life in the Spirit is paralleled with walking according to the Spirit: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also continue [στοιχῶμεν] by the Spirit.” In Gal 6:16, it is not the Spirit who is being followed, but “this rule” (τῷ κανόνι), the rule that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything” (Gal 6:15). Paul’s use of the verb στοιχέω is thus only distinctive in that he applies it to a new pattern of living: the life of faith, in step with the Spirit of Christ.

In Galatians, τὰ στοιχεῖα are often interpreted as personified powers that once enslaved Gentile believers. The coming of Christ liberates Gentiles from these “slave-masters.” And yet, Paul worries that the στοιχεῖα will successfully lure believers into submitting to domination once more. It is possible, then, that the στοιχεῖα in Galatians are entities that cooperate with darkness in the “present evil age” (Gal 1:4).

In Colossians, we find these occurrences:  

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe [τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου], and not according to Christ” (2:8)

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe [τῶν στοιχείων τοῦ κόσμου], why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations?” (2:20)

We might conclude that these “elements” are either those physical elements making up the world or those ordered ideas by which the world lives outside the jurisdiction of God. The στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου, according to Col 2:8, are more likely the latter. They are equivalent to and parallel with the “philosophy and empty deceit” that are opposed to the way of Christ.

The στοιχεῖα are more or less the same in Col 2:20. Just as in Gal 2:19 Paul claims to have “died to the Law so that he might live to God,” so too does he die with Christ “to the elemental spirits of the universe.” The Law, at least as it was conceived by Paul’s opponents, is considered by Paul as kind of Jewish στοιχεῖον, a way of ordering one’s life that has now reached its end. In Colossians, then, the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου are not personified. They appear rather to be the elements making up a system of thought. They are ways of thinking that serve only to prevent life in accordance with God’s will.

Στοιχέω and Στοιχεῖον in Galatians 4:3, 9

Though highly debated, some interpreters understand τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου in Paul to be those “elemental spirits which the syncretistic religious tendencies of later antiquity associated with the physical elements.”[10] This definition envisions the “elemental substances” and “heavenly bodies” in personified form. For example, the Hymn of Orpheus 5.4 depicts fire, air, water, and earth acting as supplicants, petitioning the creator god. These entities are sometimes said to be revered as deities in Greek literature. Philo derides those who “honor the [physical] elements” (τοὺς τὰ στοιχεῖα τιμῶντας) as less pious compared to Jews who honor God by following the Law (De Vita Contemplativa 3). A Jew might well consider such beings demons (cf. Deut 32:17). Louis Martyn accepts a variation of this definition for Galatians. Observing Philo’s division of the elements into a variety of opposing pairs (fire/water, air/earth), Martyn believes the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου include, most importantly for Paul, the pair comprising all humanity: Jew and Gentile. With the redemption of Christ, this and other pairs constituting human existence (slave/free, male/female) are dissolved.[11]

F.F. Bruce argues that the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου should be closely linked with the Law in Galatians. As the Mosaic Law was the “guardian” (παιδαγωγὸς) of the Jews before Christ, so too were “the rudimentary notions of the world” (στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου) the guardians of the Gentiles prior to Christ. Bruce thus sees στοιχεῖα in Galatians not as deities, but as those now obsolete principles comprising pagan existence.[12]

James Dunn sees in the debate a number of false dichotomies. He contends that Paul and other people of antiquity would not have operated with our distinctions concerning the στοιχεῖα. Dunn writes,

[D]oes it [the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου] denote the “elemental substances” of which the cosmos is composed, earth, water, air and fire; or “the elementary forms” of religion, now superseded by the coming of faith in Christ; or “the heavenly bodies, the stars” understood as divine powers which influence or determine human destiny? . . . Rather we would do better to suppose that this phrase was [Paul’s] way of referring to the common understanding of the time that human beings lived their lives under the influence or sway of primal and cosmic forces, however they were conceptualized.[13]

To his credit, Dunn’s definition is able to hold together both the impersonal and personal language attributed to the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου across the Pauline corpus. The “elements” are both the enslaving entities honored by pagans and the ideological patterns of pre-Christian existence. Paul likely saw the workings of the former lying behind the experience of the latter.

Conclusion

We are now in a better position to understand why Paul employed the phrase τὰ στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου in his writings. Paul chose to speak of the “elemental forces of the world” rather than to speak directly concerning pagan deities and primal spirits because Christian worship of pagan gods was not what concerned him. A return to literal idolatry was not likely. Still, a sort of pagan idolatry did threaten his churches. Worldly patterns of thought and practice as symbolized and engendered by Gentile circumcision were threatening to infiltrate his Christian communities. In Paul’s estimation, Gentile Christians who become circumcised unwittingly submit to patterns of life opposed to Christ, patterns which could only result in what he called “the works of the flesh.” Though they do not worship exactly as the pagans, for Paul they become enveloped in a pagan mindset—a mindset enslaved to the στοιχεῖα τοῦ κόσμου. (Alexander Finkelson)


  1.       Gal 4:9: “Now, however, that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits [τὰ ἀσθενῆ καὶ πτωχὰ στοιχεῖα]? How can you want to be enslaved to them again?”
  2.       The same phrase is also in Col 2:8, 20. However, some scholars believe that Paul did not write Colossians.
  3.       VGNT, 591.
  4.       BDAG, 767, citing Josephus Antiquities 15.413.
  5.       H. Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1978), 376.
  6.       BDAG, 769.
  7.       VGNT, 591.
  8.       Greek Magical Papyri 4.435–441, translated in H. D.Betz, ed., The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), https://fewarethemystaidotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/hans_dieter_betz__greek_magical_papyri_in_translabookos-org.pdf, and cited in BDAG, 776.
  9.       BDAG, 776–77.
  10.       BDAG, 776.
  11.       Martyn, Galatians, 403–5.
  12.       Bruce, Epistle to the Galatians, 193.
  13.       Dunn, Epistle to the Galatians, 212–13.

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