Allegorically Speaking in Galatians 4:21-5:1 -- By: Anne Davis

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 14:2 (NA 2004)
Article: Allegorically Speaking in Galatians 4:21-5:1
Author: Anne Davis


Allegorically Speaking in
Galatians 4:21-5:1

Anne Davis

Trinity Southwest University

This study examines Paul’s phrase “allegorically speaking” in Gal 4:24, suggesting that the following passage is not the literary genre of narrative allegory, a method of Greek rhetoric, or a method of interpretation known as “typology.” Instead, the study examines another ancient allegorical technique that employed two literary devices to startle the reader and act as markers leading to the Hebrew Scriptures for deeper spiritual interpretations. Furthermore, because these allegorical markers are clustered together in Gal 4:24-28, one can recognize the literary structure. By identifying the method of Paul’s argument and the literary structure of the passage, this study promotes further examination of the meaning of these verses by following the allegorical markers to the Hebrew Scriptures.

Key Words: Allegory, Galatians, Paul, Philo

The “allegory of Hagar and Sarah” in Gal 4:21-5:1 continues to challenge theologians, who have never agreed on its interpretation. There is no consensus on such important topics as main idea, the purpose for which Paul was writing this passage, or even which verses contain the conclusion. Such key terms and concepts as slavery, the two types of birth, purpose of the law, and nature of the inheritance have prompted significant dialogue and debate. Much of the problem lies in what Paul meant by ἅντινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα: “This is allegorically speaking …” (Gal 4:24; nasb).1

The function of an “allegory” has numerous possibilities, which may vary according to time and culture. The question lingers, “What

did Paul intend?” Many consider Paul’s “allegorically speaking” a narrative allegory, a common genre in Classical Greek literature. As a fictitious narrative, it has characters, a plot, and a distinct beginning and end whose purpose is to portray a moral message.2 Others suggest that Paul used ancient Greek methods of rhetoric to present an allegorical argument.3 Still others believe that Paul’s method of argument was “typology,” a device that views figures and events in the Hebrew Scriptures as foreshadowing a coming event, in this case Christ and his ...

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