#452…sci., RELIG., etc.: “Allegory & Midrash in Galatians”


Allegory – (n) a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one: Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory of the spiritual journey. [on-line OED]


“…the son [of Abraham] by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son [of Abraham] by the free woman [his wife Sarah] through the promise. This is allegorically speaking…”


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[continuing]     “This is allegorically speaking: for these women [Hagar, the slave woman; and Sarah, the free woman and Abraham’s wife] are two covenants, one proceeding from 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….¹And you brethren [Christians in Galatia] like Isaac, are children of promise.”  –Galatians 4:22 – 28².


[Now, from The Complete Jewish Bible³, look at a part of the above.]   “Now, to make a midrash on these things: the two women are two covenants:…” –Galatians 4:24.


    What’s going on here? Our “quick point?”  First another definition (OED). Midrash – (n) an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures, attached to the biblical text. The earliest Midrashim 4 come from the 2nd century AD, although much of their content is older.

.   Let’s number what we consider the take-away here.

   (1)  Whether we use “allegory” or “midrash,” St. Paul [the writer of Galatians] is using Old Testament Scriptures¹ to make an allegorical argument that New Testament Christians are “freeborn” (and legitimate) children of God and (as argued in other places) are also considered adopted children of Abraham. And, from a New Testament Christian point of view, this is a powerful statement since Paul’s words are now considered authoritative Scripture as well.

   (2)  This allegory (or illustrative commentary is a clear case nonliteral truth given in the Bible. (We’ve addressed the importance other nonliteral truths: symbols, metaphors, hyperbole, etc.) In other words, the “plain truth” of some Scripture is not so plain after all.

   (3)  Note how Paul’s argument may sound insulting to serious Jews.  Shouldn’t Sarah connect with regular Jews and Hagar with the “add-on” non-Jewish Christians? Serious, law-abiding Jews–with no exposures to along with acceptance of, Jesus’ teaching–are compared to slave children! And Johnny-come-lately Christians are now “free” and are inheritors of God’s blessings! This is a loaded, hard message!

   (4)  Although not easy to quickly explain, this is hardly an argument for “replacement theology.” Christians (who are largely gentiles) have not replaced the Jews in God’s family. Rather, the new Christians (including many gentiles)–along with Jews who accept their Messiah Jesus–have become partners, and “family,” legitimate “full-status” members of His family.


   ¹ It is important to recognize in the ellipsis here (….) that Paul cites two important passages of Scripture here that are not included here.

   ² The English translation of the Bible here is The New American Standard Bible.

   ³ The Complete Jewish Bible translated by David H. Stern (Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1998). Stern is a Jew who has accepted Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.

   4 “Midrashim” is the plural of Midrash.

Author: John Knapp