Jerusalem, Our Mother: Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31 -- By: Karen H. Jobes

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 55:2 (Fall 1993)
Article: Jerusalem, Our Mother: Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31
Author: Karen H. Jobes


Jerusalem, Our Mother:
Metalepsis and Intertextuality in Galatians 4:21-31

Karen H. Jobes

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
. [Isa 54:1]

In Gal 4:21–31 the apostle Paul performs a hermeneutical tour de force unequaled in the NT. The Christians of Galatia were, unwittingly perhaps, in danger of rejecting the saving grace of Jesus Christ by embracing the covenant of Jewish law expressed in circumcision. In these eleven short verses Paul effects a turnabout with enormous theological implication by arguing that if the Galatians really understood God’s law, they would throw out any idea of being circumcised along with those persons who advocated it, because that is what the law itself demands! In a radical historical and theological reversal, Paul claims that Christians, and not Jews, are the promised sons of Abraham and are the true heirs of the promises of the Abrahamic covenant.

The Hagar-Sarah trope1 of Gal 4:21–31 is the final argument of a section that begins in 3:1. Betz identifies this section as the probatio of Paul’s discourse, using a term from classical rhetoric.2 The probatio was that section of a first-century deliberative oration in which the heart of the matter was argued. Within this section Paul marshals his case against circumcision as proposed by the Judaizers. He both begins and ends the probatio with a reference to Abraham. Therefore Gal 4:21–31 is the coup de grâce in Paul’s argument against the Judaizers.

In the opening argument of the probatio (3:6–9), Paul compares the Galatians’ personal experience of the Holy Spirit to Abraham’s experience with God millennia before. As the final argument of the probatio (4:21–31), Paul refers to Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, as representing two antithetical states of being, the former characterized by slavery, the other by freedom. In Paul’s argument the Jews who reject

Christ are in bondage to the law and akin to Ishmael, but the Galatian Christians are among the true seed promised to Abraham, brothers of Is...

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