Galatians 4:24 The TWO Covenants Question? What are they?

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Staff member
I have a question about this text.

First off, is an allegory supposed to be a perfect representation? Should it be read similar to that of a parable only taking it as far as the text represents lest we go to far and imply things God never meant to portray.

I hope I am not a distraction but I have been delving into Galatians lately and this is a text I have been meditating on also.

What are the two Covenants referred to here? I use to view them as two covenants that were in the Mosaic Covenant as a Particular (Reformed) Baptist. They were the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace which worked together side by side. But what are they really representative of in this text? Wouldn't they be representative of the Old and New Covenant? The Old would be the one where men were bound (over 600 commandments and ordinances) to shadows and things that point to Christ instead of to Him? The old was a schoolmaster which is hard and the the New was liberating freeing us from the hard schoolmaster?

It seems that the situation that the Galatians (very similar to the Hebrew Church) were facing was being turned back to the shadows instead of to the real and significant Anti-type. They were being turned to the shadows instead of being turned to the one who came and set us free. They were being turned to a darker Administration of the Covenant of Grace which was idolatrous to turn back to after the actual Person it signified came in His Fullness. They were also seeking to be just before God by their supposedly correct sacramental obligations which was not the purpose circumcision nor baptism were instituted. They were even changing the meaning of the sign and seal.

Thus they were falling prey to bad teaching which was bondage and things that were shadows instead of to the substance. For Christ's yoke is easy. The yoke Moses put on them, with all of the laws that pointed to Christ, was very burdensome. Being set free from the shadows by the substance was entering a real rest.

Does that make sense? I always viewed this differently as being two covenants in the Mosaic but I am not sure I was getting that correct. I believe I am seeing this analogy a bit clearer now. Maybe I aint. What thinkest thou?

(Gal 4:1) Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

(Gal 4:2) But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

(Gal 4:3) Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:

(Gal 4:4) But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

(Gal 4:5) To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

(Gal 4:6) And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

(Gal 4:7) Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

(Gal 4:24) Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.

(Gal 4:25) For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.

(Gal 4:26) But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

(Gal 4:27) For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.

(Gal 4:28) Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

(Gal 4:29) But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

(Gal 4:30) Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.

(Gal 4:31) So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.

(Gal 5:1) Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

(Gal 5:2) Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

(Gal 5:3) For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

(Gal 5:4) Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

(Gal 5:5) For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

(Gal 5:6) For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

As a side note this also reminds me of the following passage as application.

(Rom 11:15) For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

(Rom 11:16) For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

(Rom 11:17) And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

(Rom 11:18) Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

(Rom 11:19) Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.

(Rom 11:20) Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

(Rom 11:21) For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

(Rom 11:22) Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

(Rom 11:23) And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.

(Rom 11:24) For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?

(Rom 11:25) For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

(Rom 11:26) And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

(Rom 11:27) For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins...

(Rom 11:31) Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

(Rom 11:32) For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

(Rom 11:33) O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

(Rom 11:34) For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

(Rom 11:35) Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

(Rom 11:36) For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
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Puritan Board Doctor
That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

The Old Covenant and the New Covenant, along with the Noahic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant, and the Proto-evangelium, are Covenants (plural) of the Promise (singular), what we call - theologically - administrations or even dispensations (plural) of the Covenant of Grace (singular).

The Old Covenant was preparatory to the New Covenant, and had a childhood picture- book Gospel, and a particular system of discipline and sanctions, suitable to the under age Church, but believers under the Old Covenant could find complete rest in Christ, looking through and sometimes beyond these types, these things assisting their understanding by the Spirit.

In the New Covenant we still learn from the childhood ABC without being bound by it and having the burden of it.

Those who clung to being bound by the childhood rules, such as the Judaisers in Galatia, revealed that they possibly had not looked through and beyond the types to Christ, and that their faith was in the shadows, and in works righteousness, rather than in Christ.

They'd turned the Old Covenant - an administration of the CoG - into a CoW, in an attempt to get right with God in their own sinful strength. Many have also done the same with the New Covenant. :2cents:
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Staff member
Well, there were a few reasons why I embarked on this passage recently. One was based upon something a Prof of theology wrote.
16. With regard to the land promise, the Mosaic covenant was, mutandis, for pedagogical reasons (Galatians 3:23-4:7), a republication of the Adamic covenant of works.

Then we got into a discussion about this in another thread concerning a postlapsarian view of the Covenant of Works in the following link.

Then someone asked a question concerning Paul's use of the word analogy and Biblical interpretation.
So I had to put my thoughts together and this is what developed.

A blog post in the following link.

Possible Misconceptions about Galatians. Law and Gospel are opposed? - Blogs - The PuritanBoard

So there ya have it.


Puritan Board Doctor
I think Venema deals with the Galatians passages very well in his review of "The Law is not of Faith". He points out that people like Calvin and Murray were able to deal with them by showing that the Apostle was in a debate with works-religionists, which coloured his use of the word "law" to refer not to the Mosauc Covenant or administration as such, but to the observation of it as a means of salvation.

As you know, the Mosaic Law is full of Gospel. Many of the 613 commandments which the Rabbis divided the Pentateuch into eloquently preached the Gospel when they were followed; I'm thinking here of - for example - the laws about the sacrifices and the dress and activities of the High Priest.

The Mosaic Covenant also graciously taught about the broken CoW as part of the Gospel and CoG, by publishing the moral law which had been the substance of the CoW that had been written on the heart of Man before the Fall but which Man broke, and by presenting typological pointers to the ultimate penalty for breaking the CoW and neglecting God's grace, Hell.

Part of this typology was in the possibility of excommunication by death for presumptuous sins for which there was no typological sacrifice. Part of it was in the possibility of the whole nation being cast out of the Land.

But if they wished to have (prosperous) tenure in the Land then this was only by grace through imperfect faith leading to imperfect good works being graciously rewarded by the Lord.

The CoW doesn't go away after the Fall, but becomes hypothetical as a means of salvation for sinful human beings - virtually everyone.

The rule of the already broken CoW, the moral law, becomes part of the preaching of the Gospel under Moses and Christ.

The penalty of the already CoW, the curse and a lost eternity, becomes part of the preaching of the Gospel under Moses and Christ.

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Although there is Covenant Theology expressed in the allegory, I think it is important to not make the passage bear more weight than what Paul is trying to drive home here. I guess this gets to my own preference to read passages in their fuller context rather than jumping to them to pick out the points but I've had the advantage of exhorting on this passage just two weeks ago to a Korean Church. I love teaching there because they're so appreciative and it forces me to build point upon point in a pithy fashion that may be translated.

If you look at the fundamental point of this allegory, Paul is distinguishing between those who have confidence in the flesh and those who are born of the Spirit. Ishmael is brought to bear because there is this underlying current that the Jews are in an advantageous position to the Gentiles because they're descended from Abraham according to the flesh. Circumcision is seen as a way for the Gentiles to get as close to ethnic and fleshly participation as possible.

Not so fast, argues Paul. Has everyone forgotten about Ishmael? In fact, as an aside, I'm repeatedly amazed at those who think that Jews have some corner on God's "blessing" because they descend from the loins of Abraham that they completely forget about Ishmael.

But I digress.

Paul essentially uses Ishmael as an illustration that all those who have confidence in the flesh are sons of Abraham for sure but, spiritually, they are sons of the slave woman regardless of whether they descended from Hagaar or Sarah. Spiritually they are of the flesh.

In contrast, Isaac is born not according to the power of the flesh but is of the Spirit and is representative of those who are born of the Spirit. He's the son of the Promise.

It's not as if their familial ties are meaningless at this point but the larger issue is what Paul is trying to drive home: those who are of faith are the true spiritual heirs of Abraham. This is true for both the Old and New Covenants.

He also uses Ishmael as representative of the persecution that those who are only born in the flesh (within the Covenant) inflict against the children of God. A myopic view of this would only see the nations surrounding Israel as true of this but Paul's point is that all of the persecution of the true children is captured under this idea. Thus, when Jeremiah was persecuted by fellow Jews it was the same idea. When Christ was persecuted by the Pharisess it was the same. When the Gentile Christians are persecuted by Judaizers, it's the same idea.

He concludes by pointing out that the Gentiles have nothing to be envious of in the Judaizers. They may be children of Abraham in one sense but they're not heirs. It's a judo flip. You think you have anything to be envious of?! Ha! You're the heirs! Those nuts are children of Hagaar! Can you see the steam coming out of the ears of the Judaizers?

Thus, I wouldn't want to move to far afield from what Paul's point is here. There's more that can be said and many more applications can be made but there are also a ton of false inferences that can be formed from this if one is not careful.


Puritan Board Senior
What are the two Covenants referred to here? I use to view them as two covenants that were in the Mosaic Covenant as a Particular (Reformed) Baptist. They were the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace which worked together side by side. But what are they really representative of in this text? Wouldn't they be representative of the Old and New Covenant? The Old would be the one where men were bound (over 600 commandments and ordinances) to shadows and things that point to Christ instead of to Him? The old was a schoolmaster which is hard and the the New was liberating freeing us from the hard schoolmaster?

I actually came to the same realization as you, but the first interpretation I learned from reading Presbyterians, and the second from Reformed Baptists :)
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