Posted by: Brad Beaman | August 5, 2008

The Gospel: Shown by Allegory

One of the most widely read and influential books of all time was written from a jail cell by a Baptist minister. He was in England, in jail for twelve years for preaching without a license when he wrote it. The title of the book is Pilgrims Progress and the author is John Bunyan.


There are probably many reasons why this book has been so widely read and remained in print for over three hundred and twenty years since it was first published 1678. What is so appealing about the book is that it is an allegory. Every part of the book has a deeper and hidden meeting.

One example from Pilgrims Progress is when a man is led into a parlor, full of dust that has never been swept, this man swept it, and the dust flew up and choked him. Then a woman sprinkled the floor with water and when she finished sweeping it was clean.

There is more to it than just a story of sweeping and cleaning.
The parlor– is the heart of man.
The dust– is sin, inward corruption. .
Sweeping– The law, sweeping could not clean, choked him
Water sprinkled– The Gospel that cleans.

The whole book is filled with this kind of illustration of the Christian life. It is an excellent book using allegory.

But the use of allegory has also been very harmful. People take the Bible and do their own allegorizing. They give every part a deeper meaning. For example, they find spurious meaning to the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told in response question, Who is my neighbor?

Jesus teaches who your neighbor is. He is teaching how to really love your neighbor. People have found every imaginable meaning from every intricate part of the parable. The Samaritan, Priest, Levi. People have misused allegory to justify their particular type of church traditions, their cultural whims and even their prejudices.

When we study Christian history we find the reformation played a role in interpreting the Bible. As a general rule now we reject the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. It does make the interpreter seem smart. The listener is left thinking, how did he get that meaning?

Using an allegorical method to interpret the Bible will lead to reading into scripture our preconceived ideas. Our goal is to let the teachings of Scripture flow out of the Bible.

That is why Galatians 4:21-31 is unique. It is the only place in the New Testament to use allegory from the Old Testament. So we should remember a couple of things when we come to this Scripture passage. One is that Paul took Old Testament history literally. And also he believed Abraham, Sarah and Hagar were historical figures.

That is what separates this passage from the liberal Bible scholars who allegorize the fall of man, flood, Jonah etc, but what the Bible teaches as history, Paul accepted as historical.

Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so when he says in another occasion the rock in the wilderness was Christ, this is not a license for us to find our own meanings in the minute details of Scripture.

We must find what the Scripture means in its context. In addition we must find the principles in Scripture and prayerfully apply them to our lives today.

Gods Promise to Abraham

When we read Galatians 4:21-31 we will find some stark contrasts.
• The Law verses the Gospel.
• Bondage Verses Freedom.
• Salvation by works verses salvation by Grace.

Galatians 3:21-23
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.

These events are recorded in Geneses 15-21. When Abraham was seventy five years old God promised him he would be the father of a great nation. He was told he would have a son from his own body with numerous offspring. So numerous as the dust, even as numerous as the stars of the sky.

Sarah was sixty five years old when this promised came. So they waited. They waited a month, a year etc. A decade later when Abraham was eighty five and Sarah seventy five they still had not conceived a child. Abraham and Sarah were frustrated. They took matters into their own hands. Sarah’s biological clock had run out.

They decided to build their family through Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. They would save God the embarrassment of an unfulfilled promise they must have thought. Hagar, the slave women, conceived and gave birth to the son Ishmael.

The way of flesh causes problems. Trying to do God’s work in our strength is like shaking an hourglass to make the sand pass through quicker. A problem arises whenever we try to achieve in our own efforts what only God can do.

At ninety-nine years old God appears to Abraham. This child will come by miracle of God, not by human effort. When Abraham was one hundred years old and Sarah ninety years old Isaac was born. Twenty five years later the promise of God realized in miraculous fashion through Sarah.

There is a stark contrast between these two sons. They have the same father, but different mothers. The son of slave woman Hagar is Ishmael. He was born through sinful human effort of an ordinary birth.

The son of Sarah is Isaac. He was the child of promise. There was nothing ordinary about his birth. It could be explained by nothing but the hand of God.


There is a deeper meaning already in the historical text. The Jews say we are the child of the promise. Paul has his figurative lesson. Paul is speaking figuratively about the two sons representing the two covenants. With respect to historical context Paul makes a spiritual implication.

Galatians 4:24-27
These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27For it is written:
                                “Be glad, O barren woman,
                                 who bears no children;
                                 break forth and cry aloud,
                                 you who have no labor pains;
                                 because more are the children of the desolate woman
                                 than of her who has a husband.”

The two covenants are law and grace. Hagar represents the law. This represents the covenant made at Mount Sinai. We find that Mount Sinai is not in the promise land. It lies outside the promise land. It represents the way of human effort.

Jews boasted of being children of Abraham. They were quick to say that Sarah’s offspring was the child of promise. We are the chosen people in the promise land. Paul is a Jew and he was the most zealous until a dramatic Christian conversion.

There is a principle here. Are you seeking righteousness by the law? The law was given at Mount Sinai outside the promise land. If you are seeking a righteousness by good works then your religion is mans efforts to achieve God’s promise. You are in bondage. You are like the child born to Hagar, enslaved.

Those who belong to Jesus Christ are the children of promise. The Jews have their religious center in Jerusalem. This is an earthly, man made city. Those in Christ have a heavenly citizenship. In Christ you belong to a heavenly Jerusalem from above.

A follower of Christ can go to Jerusalem and to the site of the temple there, stand at the Western Wall. But that is not the center of your religion. Our religious center is the heavenly Jerusalem. Look up where Christ is.

Paul tells the Judaizers the same message that John the Baptist gave, that Jesus gave. You must have a spiritual birth. To be a child of promise is not about being a physical descendent of Abraham. A child of the promise is about being a spiritual descendent. This spiritual meaning is consistent with the Old Testament historical context.

Hagar and Sarah represent the contrast of law and Grace. The Galatian Christians were being deceived into thinking the law would bring them blessing. Paul wants them to see what we really find there.

Ishmael, Hagar son represents those seeking righteousness through good works. Isaac, Sarah’s son represents righteousness through faith.

Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1
“Sing, O barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
says the LORD.

This is the Old Testament prophecy to the Jews in exile. God’s miracle is through the promise and is fulfilled in Christ.


Galatians 4:28-31
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30But what does the Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

All religion outside of faith in Christ is mans effort to relate to God outside the miracle of spiritual birth. You were born again by the power of the Spirit. Good works and salvation and grace are incompatible. Expect persecution from those who try to merit salvation. Ishmael persecuted Isaac.

The law keeping and grace living will always clash. Paul is upset because, the Christians he loved are trading the promise land for the desert. They should be walking by faith and they were walking by sight. You were born again by the Spirit, not by efforts of the flesh. Don’t live the spiritual life in the energy of the flesh. Live in a way that is consistent with your spiritual birthright.

Don’t trade God’s way for mans way. Don’t trade freedom for bondage. Crucify the flesh. Stop manipulation. Start trusting. Live by Faith and by the power of the Spirit. Don’t try to achieve what only God can do. Nothing is too difficult for God.

God will bless those who live by faith not those who live by sight, not by flesh. Is your citizenship in the spiritual heavenly Jerusalem? Are you a spiritual descendent of Abraham? Is your faith in Christ?


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