An inquiring mind asked about what Paul meant by “interpreted allegorically,” in Galatians 4:24, and whether or not such interpretation should be normative.  Or should we preach and teach the way Paul does in Galatians 4:21-31.  What Paul is doing here, while the logic seems surprising at first, is not as strange as it seems.  I would even argue that we do what Paul is doing all of the time.

Paul is not, as some would argue, giving a meaning to the Genesis text that is foreign to its original context.  By allegory Paul is not saying, “Excuse me while I speak cluelessly and abuse the Genesis text for the sake of my current argument.”  Rather Paul is poetically illustrating his argument by using an example from Genesis that clearly demonstrates that God brings about His plan by means of His gracious fulfillment of His promises and not by means of human effort.  When we read of Isaac and Ishmael in Genesis we must not miss God’s gracious fulfillment of His promise, of His doing for Abraham what he could not do for himself.

The word used here for allegory is a compound preposition taking a word meaning “another” and a word meaning “to speak” and combining them.  Paul is essentially saying, “let me put this another way” or “allow me to explain this differently.”  He is not perverting the Genesis text through eisegesis.  He is explaining his argument by means of a narrative.  He is illustrating his central point that redemption is an act of God’s grace and not the working of man.  With that as our understanding of allegory what Paul does here is not all that foreign; indeed we illustrate points this way all the time.

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