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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The Whole Law

not just the rules.

Galatians 4:21–26 (ESV)

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

Take a step back from the details of this passage and something amazing emerges. By “the law” Paul doesn’t just mean the rules in the Torah; he means the whole Torah. This is typical; see Romans 3:21.

So then, what does it mean to follow the law? What does it mean to “be under the law?” What does it mean to “listen to the law?”

The Torah’s teaching isn’t just in the rules. The whole Torah teaches us who God is and who we are and how we got here. Many of those lessons are the kind of “law” that still applies today. The ceremonial law that Christ satisfied is in the rules. The rest is timeless wisdom.

Okay, so what’s Paul’s point here?

The root of the Greek word translated as interpreted allegorically (ἀλληγορέω, al-ay-gor-eh-oh) is where we get the English word allegory from, but back then its meaning was more like to make an analogy.

Paul’s point is that Hagar is analogous to Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Hagar corresponds to the present Jerusalem—the slavery of the law— for she is in slavery with her children.

Conversely, the son of the free woman was born through promise, and let us not forget that this was the promise that Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. It’s the foundation of Paul’s whole faith argument. By analogy, Paul says, “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.

We’re the children of faith and thus the children of the promise.

We do well to study the law (the whole Torah), even though Christ fulfilled and revoked the ceremonial rules. Even the rules He revoked are worth studying. In them, there is much to learn about God’s attitude towards the ones He created in His own image. This even holds for the whole Old Testament.

One of the great things about those “read the Bible in one-year” programs is that you discover how much of the Bible is in the Old Testament. Most of the DEEPs are written about the Old Testament because that’s where the vast majority of scripture is found—more than two-thirds.

That said, I find the pace of those one-year programs too much for thorough study. One trick I’ve found is listening to the audio NIV on CD. It’s very well produced and downright thrilling at times.

Somehow that’s easier for me to concentrate on.

These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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