Here I continue my notes on translating Galatians
So tell me, you person wanting to be under Law, are you listening to the Law?
For it is written in the Law that Abraham had two sons, one by the female slave and one by the free woman. But the son of the female slave was born through a flesh and blood process, the son of the free woman through God’s promise. This is an allegorical way of speaking: these women are the two Covenants. One is from Mount Sinai giving birth to children for servitude; that’s Hagar, who is Mount Sinai in Arabia, resembling the existing Jerusalem, for she is in servitude with her children. But the Jerusalem on high is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: “Be joyful, barren woman who does not give birth! Burst into speech and shout, woman who has no labour pains! For the children of the neglected one are more numerous than those of the one who has a husband.”
Now, my dears, we like Isaac are children of promise. And as then the one born through a flesh and blood process harassed the one born through spiritual means, it’s just the same now. But what does the Scripture say? “Throw out the slave woman and her son! For the slave’s son will not share the inheritance of the free woman’s son.”
So, my dears, we are not children of a slave, but of the free woman.
The use of allegory as a means of interpretation is common enough amongst Jewish Rabbis of Paul’s time, allowing them to give ancient words a contemporary relevance. Perhaps Paul knew of allegories about Hagar, the slave who had sex with Abraham and gave birth to Ishmael; and Sarah, Abraham’s wife who became pregnant by him in extreme old age and gave birth to Isaac, God having promised Abraham that in his seed all nations would be blessed. Hagar’s son is born through a flesh and blood process whereby she bears a child for her barren mistress, whereas ultimately Sarah bears the child promised by God. Paul uses these characters to stand for a) the worldly Jerusalem, mother of the Judaean faith in the Law, and b) the Jerusalem on high, the heavenly Jerusalem, mother of the assemblies of Jesus Messiah. It seems to the modern reader a long way for a short cut, but Paul wants to root his teaching in scripture, and to reinforce his analysis of the Torah Law as slavery.