Westminster Theological Journal 55 (1993) 299-320.

        Copyright © 1993 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.   

 

                 JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER:

     METALEPSIS AND INTERTEXTUALITY IN

                         GALATIANS 4:21-31

 

                                             KAREN H. JOBES

 

                                        Be glad, 0 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 embrac-

ing 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 dis-

course, 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. Even if Galatians is not a formal oration, 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 grace in Paul's argument against the Judaizers.

            In the opening argument of the probatio (3:6-9), Paul compares the Gala-

tians' 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 antithet-

ical states of being, the former characterized by slavery, the other by free-

dom. In Paul's argument the Jews who reject Christ are in bondage to the

 

1 A trope is any literary device that uses words in other than their literal sense. I will refer

to the Hagar-Sarah construction as a trope to avoid associations that burden the more fre-

quently used terms allegory and typology.

2 Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in Galatia

(Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) 239-40.

                                                           299



300            WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

law and akin to Ishmael, but the Galatian Christians are among the true

seed promised to Abraham, brothers of Isaac and free from Sinai's curse.

Paul shows that the evidence used to argue for the circumcision of the

Gentile Christians, taken by the Judaizers from the story of Abraham in

Genesis, actually argues decisively against the circumcision of Gentile Christians.

            Gal 4:21-31 is rife with interesting problems and has rightly received

much scholarly scrutiny. The overarching hermeneutical issue in this pas-

sage is how Paul can use the story of Hagar and Sarah from Genesis 21 to

effect an exegetical reversal that ends up identifying Jews as the children of

Hagar and Christians as the children of Sarah. Paul seems to accomplish

his end by making arbitrary assignments of the women to two covenants

and to two Jerusalems, a method many call allegorizing.

            This questionable use of the Genesis 21 material furthermore contradicts

the traditional understanding of Israel's history that had stood for centu-

ries. Historically understood, Genesis 21 taught that the circumcised Jews

are indeed the children of promise descending from Abraham through

Isaac. This historical understanding played into the hand of Paul's oppo-

nents in Galatia. These opponents were apparently arguing that if the

Christians of Galatia claimed to be children of Abraham by faith and

therefore heirs of God's promise to Abraham, then they should identify

with Abraham's descendants by being circumcised, as Abraham himself

had been after coming to faith in God.3

            Because the story of Abraham was evidently a persuasive part of the

Judaizers' argument, Paul's response also uses the Abraham story, but with

a hermeneutic that leads to the startling conclusion that the Jews are not,

in fact, the children of Abraham after all, but that the true children of

Abraham are the Spirit-filled Christians (including of course those circum-

cised Jews, like Paul himself, who come to faith in Jesus Christ).

            The notorious difficulty of comprehending the operative hermeneutical

principle(s) through which Paul produces this conclusion is aggravated by

textual and lexical problems within the text itself. The eleven different

textual variants found here perhaps reflect how troubling scribes found the

passage. Furthermore, two semantically important words in the passage,

(a]llhgorou?mena and sustoixei?, are hapax legomena in the NT and the

intended sense of a third important lexical item, diaqh?kai, is contested in

this context. Then there is the notoriously perplexing statement of v. 25,

"Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia."

 

3 The specific teaching of the Judaizers at Galatia is not extant and can be gleaned only

by Paul's response to it in this epistle. Many scholars have attempted to articulate the precise

nature of the problem. In addition to standard commentaries, see also J. M. G. Barclay,

Obeying the Truth: A Study of Paul's Ethics in Galatians (Studies of the NT and Its World; ed. J.

Riches; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988) 1-74; B. H. Brinsmead, Galatians-Dialogical Response
to Opponents
(SBLDS 65; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982); C. H. Cosgrove, The Cross and the

Spirit (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1988) 87-118; F. Pereira, "The Galatian Contro-

versy in Light of the Targums," Indian journal of Theology 20 (1971) 13-29; M. Silva, "Gala-

tians," New Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Leicester: IVP, forthcoming).



                             JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                                   301

            Much scholarly effort has rightly been focused on these significant prob-

lems. Much less effort has been expended on identifying the contribution of

the Isa 54:1 quotation in Gal 4:27 to the logical flow of Paul's argument.

Understanding the logical function of this quotation should enlighten the

discussion of the problems in the verses that surround it.

            The apostle Paul quotes Isaiah's words in his epistle to the Galatians

(4:27) immediately after the trope in which he constructs a contrasting, but

uncompleted, parallel between Hagar, the slave woman, and Sarah, the

free woman; between Hagar of the Mosaic covenant of Sinai and Sarah of

the Abrahamic covenant of promise. Carefully note, however, that Paul

specifies only the Hagar-side of the parallel construction and, without so

much as referring to Sarah by name, leaves the Sarah-side of the construc-

tion unspecified. The significance of the unfinished character of the parallel

is often overlooked as interpreters have not hesitated to fill in the Sarah-side

of the construction using the force of logical parity.

            Immediately following the quotation of Isa 54:1, Paul addresses his read-

ers with a transition to application in v. 28: u[mei?j de<, a]delfoi<, kata>  ]Isaa>k

e]paggeli<aj te<kna e]ste< ("And you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of

promise"). In this verse Paul uses the second person plural pronoun, u[mei?j

He last explicitly addressed the Galatian readers in v. 21 by using the

implied second person plural pronoun in the verbal form: le<gete< moi, oi[

u[po> no<mon qe<lontej ei#nai, to>n no<mon ou]k a]kou<ete; ("Tell me, you who

want to be under law, do you not understand the law?"). The verses be-

tween 21 and 28 comprise his explanation of what the law actually says

about the situation in the Galatian church (v. 21). In v. 28 he begins to

bring that exposition to bear on the contemporary situation in Galatia.

            C. H. Cosgrove debates whether v. 28 (u[mei?j de<, a]delfoi< . . . ) functions

as "a vocative of applicatio" or as marking the start of a new theme for

further development.4 It seems to me to have elements of both functions

and to mark a transition from the exposition of Genesis 21 to its application

in Galatia. Paul wants the Galatians to be so persuaded by his argument

from Abraham's life that they, like Abraham, will "cast out the slave

woman and her son" (v. 30). In Paul's radically reversed economy this

means that the Galatian Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, recognize the

heirs of Abraham as a people not marked out by circumcision but as a

people distinctively marked out, like Abraham, by faith in God's promise.5

            Upon first reading, it is difficult to see how the quotation of Isa 54:1

advances or supports Paul's argument that Christians are the true children

of Abraham to the exclusion of the Jews, or how it justifies Paul's applica-

tion of the Hagar-Sarah trope to the contemporary situation in Galatia. In

 

4 Cosgrove, Cross, 80.

5 Dunn's point that circumcision and the food laws functioned as sociological distinctives

that formed the corporate self-identity of God's covenant people in the first century is helpful

for understanding how appealing the Judaizer's argument would have been and how unat-

tractive Paul's counter-argument may have seemed. J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus, Paul and the Law:

Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville: Westminster/Knox, 1990) 215-236.



302           WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

fact, if the quotation is to be taken as an integral part of Paul's argument,

which the formula ge<gratptai ga<r suggests, then it seems only to further

confuse and obscure Paul's thought.

            One thing that is clear is that Paul's argument depends upon the fact that

both Hagar and Sarah did have a son by Abraham (and both were circum-

cised). Therefore it seems confusing to introduce the thought of barrenness

by quoting Isa 54:1. Though Sarah had been barren for much of her life,

Paul's reference here is specifically to her as the mother of Isaac. Who then

is this barren woman and how does she contribute to such an exegetical

reversal? How is the barren one related to Sarah and Hagar? How is the

barren one relevant to the Galatian Christians? These connections are not

stated and are left to the inference of the reader.

            If, as many interpreters suggest, the barren one is Sarah, then it obviously

must refer to her in that time of her life before she gave birth to Isaac. But

this identification does not seem completely apt, for in the quotation the

barren one is contrasted with the one "who has a husband." It was Sarah,

not Hagar, who was the wife of Abraham.

            Furthermore, in the historical context of Isaiah's prophecy, the children

of the "barren one" was understood to refer to the Jews who returned to

Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Fishbane explains this traditional signifi-

cance of Isaiah's use of the Abraham story. In Isaiah, Abraham "becomes

a ‘type’ for the favourable response to a command to return to the promised

land. . . . since Abraham was one and multiplied, Israel, his typological

heir, could anticipate a great renewal if it would return—however small the

nucleus—to the ancestral land."6 Later rabbinical interpretation contin-

ued to take Isa 54:1 as a promise of national restoration and renewal to the

Jews who had suffered the national disasters of AD 70 and 135.7  Given this

long-standing interpretation, how could Paul then possibly use this quotation to

support his argument that the Jews are not the children of Sarah but of Hagar?

            Besides, if Sarah is to be understood in some sense as the barren woman,

and if she stands for the free Jerusalem above, in what sense can it be said

that the Jerusalem above has been barren like Sarah? When did Jerusalem

give birth? And how did she become "our" mother? Moreover, Jesus Christ

is repeatedly mentioned in the verses immediately surrounding this passage

(4:14, 19; 5:1, 2, 4, 6), but not once within it. How does Jesus Christ relate

to the radical reversal of Paul's argument?

            The syntax of v. 27 indicates that Paul expected the Isa 54:1 quote to

support his argument. The quotation is introduced by the formula

ge<graptai ga<r ("for it is written"). The ga<r indicates that Paul intends the

quotation to somehow advance, explain, or ground his previous thought,

which includes at least v. 26:  h[ de> a@nw  ]Ierousalh>m e]leuqe<ra e]sti<n, h!tij

 

6 M. Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985) 375.

7 Franz Mussner, Der Galaterbrief (HTKNT; Freiburg Herder, 1988) 327-28.



                          JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                            303

 

e]sti>n mh<thr h[mw?n ("But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our

mother"). Even if the frequency of Paul's use of ga<r suggests a less rigor-

ously logical force for the conjunction, the position of this quotation indi-

cates that Isa 54:1 held a logical place here in the flow of Paul's thoughts.

The quotation must also somehow lead into Paul's next thought: h[mei?j de<,

a]delfoi< kata>   ]Isaa>k e]paggeli<aj te<kna e]ste< ("Now you, brothers, like

Isaac, are children of promise"). One would therefore expect the quotation

of Isa 54:1, in some way, to justify, explain, or support Paul's claims that:

(1) the Jerusalem above is free; (2) the Jerusalem above is our mother;

(3) Christians are like Isaac, i.e., Sarah is our mother (and therefore Abra-

ham is our father).

            A surface reading of Isa 54:1 is disappointing because it seems to answer

to none of these expectations. Something seems to be missing, and yet Paul

clearly expects the quotation to speak to his readers. The introduction

of Isa 54:1 into Paul's argument seems to raise more exegetical questions

than it answers.

            Given the nature of commentaries, most devote comparatively few words

to explaining Paul's use of Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27. H. D. Betz, P. Bonnard,

E. Burton, H. N. Ridderbos, and H. Schlier recognize the "eschatological"

or "Christological" significance of the Isaiah quotation but discuss it in

only very general terms.8  Other commentators do expound the use of the

quotation in Paul's argument. F F Bruce, R. Y. K. Fung, D. Guthrie,

J. B. Lightfoot, and R. N. Longenecker attempt, with only minor differ-

ences among them, to relate the barren one to Sarah and to the Galatian

Christians.9  Most of these treatments of the text are based not on exegeting

Paul's use of Isa 54:1 in place, but by completing the implied parallels

between Hagar and Sarah (although Paul himself leaves the parallel un-

specified) and simply identifying the barren one with Sarah and the new

covenant. The resulting connection between Sarah and the Christian

church is understood from biblical theology, not from Paul's use of Isa 54:1.

In fact, the function of the Isa 54:1 quote is so loosely connected to the

exegesis of this passage that if the quotation were excised from the text, most

modern interpretations of this passage would not be substantially altered.

 

8 Betz, Galatians, 248-49; P. Bonnard, L'Epftre de Saint Paul aux Galates (CNT; Paris:

Delachaux & Niestle, 1953) 99; E. De Witt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the

Epistle to the Galatians (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1959) 264; H. N. Ridderbos, Epistle

of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953) 179; H. Schlier, Der

Brief an die Galater (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971) 225-26; cf. also G. W. Hansen,

Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary and Rhetorical Contexts (JSNT 29; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1989) 150.

9 F. E Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982) 222; R.

Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988) 211; J. B.

Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957) 183; R. N.

Longenecker, Galatians (WBC 41; Dallas: Word, 1990) 215-16; cf. also C. K. Barrett,"The

Allegory of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar in the Argument of Galatians," Rechtfertigung: Fest-

schrift fur Ernst Kasemann (Tubingen: Mohr, 1976) 5.



304            WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            J. Bligh discusses at length the specific question of how Paul understood

Isa 54:1 and why he quotes it to the Galatians.10  According to Bligh, Paul

saw that "Isaiah's words are being fulfilled in an ultra-literal sense. The old

Jerusalem remains ‘under a husband’, that is, subject to the law. The new

Jerusalem, being ‘desolate’, is not subject to the law of a husband, but is

free."11 To support the idea that Jerusalem who has a husband is Jerusalem

under law, Bligh invokes Rom 7:2, "A married woman is subject to the law

of her husband so long as he lives."

            According to Bligh's exegesis, Paul, in quoting Isa 54:1, means to say that

the numerical growth of the children of the new Jerusalem (i.e., the Chris-

tian church) depends upon its being free from a husband, i.e., free from law,

(The NT itself, however, describes the church as a bride married to Christ

in Rev 21:2, 9.) Bligh goes on to discuss that though Gentile Christians were

relatively few compared to Jews in Paul's day, Christians will ultimately

outnumber Jews. Prior to Bligh, Lagrange seems to be thinking along this

same line when, in commenting on Gal 4:27, he writes that the fecundity

of the Christian church proves that it is indeed the new Jerusalem predicted

by the prophet Isaiah.12

            Although Bligh's attempt to do exegetical justice to the citation of Isa

54:1 is admirable, I think his exegesis misses the point and is questionable

on three counts. First, he presumes on the basis of Rom 7:2 that being

married was an OT metaphor for being under law, and conversely, that

barrenness was an OT metaphor for being free from law. The premise uses

Rom 7:2 totally out of context. The converse is not at all self-evident, and

Bligh presents no justification for it. Furthermore, the idea that having a

husband refers to being under the law does not function well in Paul's

construction because Sarah was bound to Abraham in marriage, yet she is

associated with barren Jerusalem and is used to represent Jerusalem free

from law. Third, Bligh's conclusion that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled

"ultra-literally" and that Gentile Christians would, if not in the first cen-

tury then eventually, outnumber the Jews does not fit the flow of Paul's

argument in Galatians 4. Paul is not trying to persuade the Galatians that

they are really in a majority position. Paul is somehow using Isa 54:1 to

support his radical reversal of the status of Christians and Jews as the true

heirs of Abraham.

            Searching the larger context for clues as to how the idea of barrenness

functions in Paul's thought does not yield satisfactory answers. Nowhere

else in Galatians does Paul refer to or allude to barrenness or to a barren

woman. Nor does Paul quote Isa 54:1 in any other epistle.

 

10 J. Bligh, Galatians. A Discussion of St. Paul's Epistle (London: St Paul Publications, 1969)

401-4.

11 Ibid., 403.

12 M.J. Lagrange, Saint Paul, Epitre aux Galates (Paris: Gabalda, 1950) 129.



                            JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                                 305

 

            Perhaps the most thorough and satisfying treatment of the function of

Isa 54:1 in Galatians is offered by R. B. Hays in his book Echoes of Scripture

in the Letters of Paul.13 In this book Hays presents an exegetical approach to

the Pauline epistles that recognizes that often when Paul quotes the OT the

connection of the quotation to the topic at hand seems to be obscure or

missing.

            Hays approaches Paul's use of Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27 with a hermeneutic

of intertextuality. When two texts are juxtaposed, as occurs when an OT

text is quoted in the Pauline epistles, an intertextual space is defined that

forms a new interpretive context. Concepts from each text mutually play

upon and amplify one another within this intertextual space. Because a

previously existing text is being evoked from a subsequently written text,

Hays refers to instances of this intertextual play as echoes. These echoes

cannot be understood either within the original context alone or within the

new context alone, but must be viewed from within the context of the newly

created intertextual space. Hays explains how this intertextual phenome-

non, also called metalepsis, operates: "When a literary echo links the text in

which it occurs to an earlier text, the figurative effect of the echo can lie in

the unstated or suppressed (transumed) points of resonance between the

two texts."14

            Using a hermeneutic of intertextuality, Hays addresses the question of

how the quotation of Isa 54:1 contributes to Paul's accomplishment of the

"extraordinary hermeneutical inversion" found in Gal 4:21-31:

 

   It is Isaiah's metaphorical linkage of Abraham and Sarah with an eschatologi-

   cally restored Jerusalem that warrants Paul's use of Isa. 54:1. The effect of Paul's

   allusive use of the quotation, however, can be better described the other way

   around: the citation of Isa 54:1 metaleptically evokes the whole rippling pool of

   promise found in the latter chapters of that prophetic book.15

 

Hays' analysis suggests that the missing elements that link Gal 4:27 to the

larger context of Paul's argument may be found as unstated "points of

resonance" within the intertextual space created by juxtaposing Galatians

with Isa 54:1. Taking its cue from Hays, this article is an attempt to un-

derstand more clearly how Paul uses Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27 by identifying at

least some of the unstated points of resonance echoing between Galatians

and Isaiah. It examines these intertextual echoes to clarify how they func-

tion to support Paul's radical claim that (1) the Galatian Christians are

heirs of the Abrahamic covenant without the covenant sign of circumcision,

 

13 R. B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press,

1989) 105-21.

14 Ibid., 20.

15 Ibid., 120.



306           WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

and furthermore, (2) how the Jews are not the heirs of the Abrahamic

covenant in spite of circumcision.

            Paul's quotation of Isa 54:1 is verbatim from the extant text of the Greek

version of Isaiah:16

 

Eu]fra<nqhti, stei?ra h[ ou] ti<ktousa    Rejoice, thou barren, that bearest not;

r[h?con kai> bo<hson, h[ ou]k w]di<nousa     Break forth and cry, thou that does not

                                                                                    travail:

o!ti polla> ta> te<kna th?j e[rh<mou for more are the children of the desolate

ma?llon h@ th?j e]xou<shj th>n a@ndra.      than of her who has a husband.17

 

It is the Greek text of Isaiah, not the Hebrew text, that shapes the inter-

textual space under consideration. Furthermore, because the quotation of

Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27 follows immediately upon a trope of the narrative

material of Genesis 15, 16, and 21, the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar

also shapes the intertextual space that forms the interpretive context within

which the exegesis of Gal 4:21-31 must occur.18

            When Paul writes Eu]fra<nqhti in Gal 4:27, he is suggesting that

the theme of barrenness is somehow relevant, in ways that are not imme-

diately obvious from the context, both to a city (a@nw   ]Ierousalh<m, v. 26)

and to the Gentile Christians of Galatia (u[mei?j de<, a]delfoi<, v. 28). When

Paul sounds the note of barrenness he is striking a chord that reverberates

with Isaiah's use of the same theme. Isaiah develops the barren-woman

theme by echoing the Genesis account of Sarah. Outside of Genesis, Sarah

is mentioned by name in the OT only in Isaiah. It is the nexus of Sarah's

story in Genesis, Isaiah's use of Sarah, and Paul's further use of Isaiah that

forms the intertextual space in which the theme of barrenness is to be understood.

            The theme of barrenness is first found in the OT in Gen 11:30 in the

introduction to the story of Abraham: kai> h#n Sara stei?ra kai> ou]k

 

16 Paul did not even change the negative ou] commonly used with participles in classical

Greek to mh< as normally used with participles in NT Greek. See E. De Witt Burton, Syntax

of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek (repr. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1982) 184.

17 Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations of Isaiah are taken from the LXX and its

English translation by C. L. Brenton as published in The Septuagint with Apocrypha: Greek and

English (1851; repr. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).

18 First-century Jewish midrashim and targums of Genesis (and possibly Isaiah) probably

also somewhat shape the intertextual context of Paul's argument in Galatians. It is difficult to

identify the extent of intertextuality, if any, between Galatians and the midrashim or targums

of Genesis and Isaiah because it is so uncertain which, if any, texts available to us were also

known to Paul. Since Hays' methodology for identifying echoes depends on the lexical and

syntactic details of two or more texts with a known chronological relationship, it cannot be

straightforwardly applied to the targums. For a discussion of targumic and rabbinic influence

on Galatians in general see M. G. Steinhauser, "Gal 4,25a: Evidence of Targumic Tradition,"

Bib 70 (1989) 234-40; Hansen, Abraham in Galatians, 175-215; M. Wilcox, "The Promise of the

‘Seed’ in the New Testament and the Targumim," JSNT 5 (1979) 2-20; Pereira, "The Gala-

tian Controversy," 13-29; R. Le Deaut, "Traditions targumiques dans 1e Corpus Paulinien?"

Bib 42 (1961) 28-49.



                                      JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                            307

 

e]teknopoi<ei ("And Sarai was barren and she had no child"). Paul's union

of the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis with the barren one of

Isaiah in Gal 4:21-31 follows the trajectory defined by the development of

this theme in the OT. Therefore the theme of barrenness as developed in

the OT must play some role in the exegesis of Gal 4:21-31.

            The issue of barrenness reappears in the narratives about Isaac and

Rebekah (Gen 25:21) and about Jacob and Rachel (Gen 30:1), both of

whom were covenant couples and direct descendants of the miraculous

birth experienced by Abraham and Sarah. The theme of barrenness is also

present in the story of Samuel's birth (1 Sam 1:2, 6) and is implied in the

story of the Shunammite woman (2 Kgs 4:14). In all of these instances,

barrenness is presented as a historical fact in the personal lives of the great

people of Israel's past. In every biblical case barrenness was deliberately

and purposefully overcome by God and the barren woman produced a son

who became a hero in Israel's history (excepting the son of the Shunammite

woman).

            Isaiah, however, totally transforms the theme of barrenness. Isaiah's

transformation of this theme prepares the way for its startling use by Paul

in Galatians 4. Isaiah's transformation of the biblical theme of barrenness

is examined in a published dissertation by M. Callaway. Isaiah used this

theme as it had never previously been used and radically transformed it

from "the story of a birth of a child to the story of a birth of a people."19

            According to Callaway, Isaiah uses the theme of barrenness not to speak

of God's past faithfulness to his people, as the Pentateuch does, but to

proclaim a future manifestation of God's power. Isaiah's shift of focus from

past to future is accomplished, according to Callaway, by (1) using the

imperfect forms of Hebrew verbs instead of the perfect, (2) casting the

theme of barrenness in Isa 54:1 in the form of poetry rather than prose

(compare "And Sarah was barren" to "Rejoice, 0 barren one!"), and

(3) setting the theme of barrenness in the prophetic genre of proclamation

about the future instead of narrative about the past.20

            In his transformation from narrative to prophetic proclamation, Isaiah

uses the story of Sarah from Genesis both implicitly and explicitly. Implic-

itly, Isa 54:1 echoes Gen 11:30:

            kai> h#n Sara stei?ra kai> ou]k e]teknopoi<ei [Gen 11:30]

            Eu]fra<nqhti, stei?ra h[ ou] ti<ktousa [Isa 54:1]

Explicitly, Isaiah refers to Sarah, not as the mother of the great patriarch

Isaac, but as the mother of oi[ diw<kontej to> di<kaion kai> zhtou?ntej to>n

ku<rion ("those who pursue righteousness and seek the Lord," 51:2).

Isaiah's transformation associates Sarah's barrenness with the miraculous

 

19 Mary Callaway, Sing, 0 Barren One: A Study in Comparative Midrash (SBLDS 91; Atlanta:

Scholars Press, 1986) 63.

20 Ibid., 63-64.



308            WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

birth of a people whose heart is after God, instead of with the birth of an

individual son to an individual woman.

            Isaiah provides a canonical text that develops the biblical theme of the

barren woman in the direction of Paul's later use of it in Galatians. This

development made it exegetically possible for Paul to dissociate the Isaiah

proclamation from ethnic Israel exclusively (even though it previously had

been understood to apply only to Israel) and to include among the children

of Sarah all who "pursue righteousness and seek the Lord."

            Isaiah's transformation also provides for Paul the association of Sarah's

barrenness with a city, specifically, the city of Jerusalem. Within the his-

torical setting of Isaiah's lifetime, it was a colloquial idiom to personify the

capital city of an ethnic population as a female (often a goddess in pagan

culture) whose husband was the local patron deity.21 The population repre-

sented by that city was referred to as the "children" (or often the "daugh-

ter") of the mother-city. During times of war when a nation was conquered,

its capital overrun and its peoples exiled, the city was considered to be a

barren woman rejected by her husband (or a barren widow). By reason of

having no husband and no son, the barren woman herself was considered

as good as dead.22 Thus the plight of the barren woman portrayed the worst

situation a people could find itself in. To continue in exile under foreign

subjugation did indeed mean death to a national and ethnic identity. This

was precisely the historical situation of Jerusalem to which Isaiah spoke his

proclamation of 54:1.23

            The idiom of female personification was used by Yahweh's prophets to

describe the relationship between him and the nation of Israel. The prophet

Hosea refers to the land of Israel, and by metonymy to its people, as the

adulterous wife of Yahweh (Hos 2:1). Through the prophet Isaiah, Yahweh

announces that he will reject Jerusalem because of her spiritual adultery

and she will become barren.24 Isaiah merges and transforms the two con-

cepts of Sarah, the barren matriarch of Israel and the female personification

of the city of her descendants, Jerusalem.

            The plight of the barren and rejected Jerusalem is described in Isa 64:10:

po<lij tou? a[giou sou e]genh<qh e@rhmoj, Siw>n w[j e@rhmoj e]genh<qh,  ]Ierousa-
lh>m ei]j kata<ran
("The city of your holiness has become desolate, Zion

has become as a wilderness, Jerusalem, a curse"). According to Isaiah,

 

21 Ibid., 65.

22 The association of childlessness with death is first made explicit in Rachel's poignant cry

in Gen 30:1, translated by R. Alter as "Give me sons or I am dead!" (The Art of Biblical

Narrative [New York: Basic Books, 1981] 187). Ironically, Rachel died giving birth to a son

(Gen 35:18).

23 Regardless of how one understands the authorship of Isaiah and its implications for the

dating of the book(s), the implied audience of the proclamation are those Jews who are in exile

away from Jerusalem.

24 Isaiah also personifies the city of Babylon as a woman. In Revelation, John echoes Isaiah's

imagery when he personifies Babylon as a harlot and Jerusalem as a bride.



                                   JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                       309

 

Jerusalem is cursed because of the sins of the people which the city, by

metonymy, represents. The nation of Israel had forsaken its covenant with

the Lord.

            However, unlike many ancient peoples who were conquered and exiled,

never again to regain their national identity, Isaiah also brings good news

to barren Jerusalem. Isa 54:1 is the climactic pronouncement of all of

Isaiah's prophetic promise concerning Jerusalem's future. In Isaiah 54, the

prophet proclaims the good news to the barren woman, Jerusalem, that

though she be as good as dead, she will yet live with her many children.

Isaiah secures the certainty of this promise that the Jews will not die out as

a people, and that they will again inhabit Jerusalem, on the fact that what

the God of Israel did in the past for Sarah (and Rebekah and Rachel), he

will do in the future for barren Jerusalem (Isa 51:2). God's omnipotence is

demonstrated to his people by the miraculous birth of a child to a barren

woman. By identifying the barren woman with the city of Jerusalem and

her miraculously giving birth with a life-giving reprieve from death,

Isaiah's proclamation further provides for Paul's subsequent use of this

theme.

            Isaiah's transformation of the story of Israel's childless matriarchs,

beginning with Abraham and Sarah, provides a canonical basis for at

least three points with which Paul later resonates. Isaiah's proclamation

(1) provides an interpretation of Sarah's motherhood that can be taken to

have wider reference than to the nation of Israel; (2) merges the concepts

of matriarchal barrenness and the feminine personification of capital cities

to produce female images of two Jerusalems, a barren, cursed Jerusalem

and a rejoicing Jerusalem; and (3) introduces the concept of a miraculous

birth to a barren woman as a demonstration of God's power to deliver a

nation of people from death.

            If barrenness is the note that resounds in the intertextual space between

Galatians and Isaiah, its major harmonic is the topic of inheritance. Of all

the sorrows that the human experience of barrenness brings, the issue of

primary relevance to the biblical writers was the issue of inheritance. In

Genesis 15, the Lord announces to Abram a very great reward. A para-

phrase of Abram's response is, "Why bother, Lord? I'm old and I have no

child to enjoy it after me." Without a child, Abram's possessions were to go

to Eliezer of Damascus. In the LXX (but not in the MT) Eliezer is iden-

tified as "the son of Masek my home-born female slave." Immediately the

Lord answers Abraham that it shall not be the son of Abraham's slave but

a son of Abraham's own body who shall inherit. In the LXX, the failure

of Ishmael to inherit is proleptically suggested because although he was a

son of Abraham's body he was at the same time a son of Abraham's slave,

Hagar.

            After Ishmael is born to Abraham and Hagar, the Lord establishes his

covenant with Abraham, and with a son yet to be born to Abraham and

Sarah and t&? spe<rmati au]tou? met] au]to<n ("to his seed after him,"

Gen 17:19). In Genesis 17 God promises that the seed of Abraham will



310     WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

become a great nation and will inherit the land of Canaan. The promise is

formalized as a covenant between God and, represented by Abraham, the

nation that will come into existence through Abraham's descendants. Circum-

cision of the male descendants of Abraham is instituted as the sign of that

covenant. However, not all sons who are circumcised are heirs of this cov-

enantal promise to Abraham, for Ishmael, though he was a circumcised son

of Abraham, remained outside of the covenant. Only Abraham's seed re-

sulting from the promise of a miraculous birth to Sarah could inherit.25

            The identity of the "seed" of Abraham and of who receives the promised

"inheritance" are of crucial importance in Paul's letter to the Galatians.

The story of the "seed" and "inheritance" as found in Genesis 17 seems to

support the argument of the Judaizers: if the Gentile Christians of Galatia

truly want to identify themselves as children of Abraham and recipients of

the promised inheritance, then they, too, like Abraham (not to mention the

Lord Jesus himself), should be circumcised. Through circumcision, the sign

of the Abrahamic covenant, they should identify themselves with God's

covenant people. And yet Paul uses the same story of Abraham to argue just

the opposite. How so? Paul's argument in Gal 4:21-31 resonates, not with

the Genesis narrative, but with Isaiah's transformation of its themes of

seed and inheritance. By using Isa 54:1 to sound the note of barrenness

in Gal 4:27, Paul is metaleptically evoking echoes of Isaiah's proclamation

concerning the seed and the inheritance.

            Isaiah's interpretation of the identify of Abraham's seed and the inheri-

tance as related to the Jews of his time must be understood in the negative

light in which Isaiah introduces his prophecy: Isaiah prophesies against

Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem are called spe<rma ponhro<n ("an evil

seed") in Isa 1:4 because they have "forsaken the Lord and provoked the

Holy One of Israel." As Isaiah understands it, the unfaithfulness of the

people has invoked the curses of the covenant. For them the covenant has

become a covenant of death and the people who expect covenant blessing

hope in a lie (Isa 28:14-15). Isaiah declares that "the faithful city of Jeru-

salem has become a harlot" (Isa 1:21).

            But in the midst of such scorching condemnation, Isaiah announces to

Jerusalem that though judged for her sin, in the future she shall be called

po<loj dikaiosu<nhj, mhtro<polij pisth> Siw<n ("city of righteousness, the

faithful mother-city Zion," Isa 1:26, emphasis mine). In the Greek text of Isa

1:26, but not in the Hebrew, a future Jerusalem is identified who is a mother.

This Greek text echoes in Gal 4:26 when Paul refers to “Jerusalem, our

mother."

            Within Isaiah's proclamation there are two images of a personified fe-

male Jerusalem—one a barren and rejected woman, the other a faithful

 

25 In the next generation Esau was excluded from the covenant even though he was a

descendant of Abraham and Sarah. Paul uses this in Rom 9:6-13 to argue that from the

beginning not all descendants of Israel's patriarchs were in fact heirs of the covenant.



                              JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                                311

 

mother. Isaiah reminds Israel that just as Yahweh intervened to transform

Sarah from a barren woman as good as dead to a fruitful mother of many

children, so he will transform a Jerusalem destroyed by sin into a city with

a thriving population of righteous seed. Isaiah's proclamation draws a con-

tinuity between Jerusalem in exile and Jerusalem in glory. But by describ-

ing two Jerusalems, one barren, the other a mother, Isaiah provides a

canonical basis for Paul to later further distinguish and separate the two.

When Paul refers to nu?n  ]Ierousalh<m (4:25) and a@nw  ]Ierousalh<m (4:26),

he is echoing Isaiah's portrayal of two Jerusalems. In Galatians the two

Jerusalems metonymically represent the two sides of Paul's antithesis between the

spiritual states of being e]k no<mou and e]k pi<stewj (cf. Gal 3:2, 5, 12, 23-25).

            The analogy that Isaiah establishes between Sarah and Jerusalem ex-

tends to, and transforms the sense of, the covenant, the seed, and the

inheritance.26 These three elements are integral both to the Genesis patri-

arch narratives and to Paul's argument in Galatians. God established his

covenant with Abraham after he promised that Sarah would bear a son and

before that son was actually born. Analogously, through Isaiah, Yahweh

establishes a covenant with the seed of the barren Jerusalem who at the

time the promise was made did not yet exist: "And this shall be my cove-

nant with them, said the Lord; My Spirit which is upon you [the deliverer

of Zion], and the words which I have put in your mouth, shall never fail from

your mouth, nor from the mouth of your seed, for the Lord has spoken it, from

now and forever" (Isa 59:21, emphasis mine).

            In transforming narrative history to prophetic proclamation, Isaiah intro-

duces the Holy Spirit as defining the future seed of the faithful mother-city

Jerusalem:27 "But now hear, Jacob, my servant; and Israel, whom I have

chosen. Thus saith the Lord God that made thee, and he that formed thee

from the womb; Thou shall yet be helped; fear not, my servant Jacob; and

beloved Israel, whom I have chosen. For I will give water to the thirsty that

walk in a dry land: I will put my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon

thy children" (Isa 44:1-3, emphasis mine). In distinction, the seed of

barren, rejected Jerusalem are banished to exile as those who have

"framed counsel, not by me, and covenants not by my Spirit, to add sins to

sins" (Isa 30:1, emphasis mine). Isaiah speaks of a seed of Abraham who

are apart from God's Spirit and who suffer judgment. Just as Isaiah speaks

of two Jerusalems, he speaks of two seeds, one who inherit covenant bless-

ings, the other covenant curses.

            Isaiah merges the concepts of seed, inheritance, and covenant with the

operation of the Holy Spirit as he prophetically transforms the theme of

barrenness. The seed of the patriarchs whose mother-city is the redeemed

 

26 Covenant: Isa 24:5; 28:15, 18; 42:6; 49:6, 8; 54:10; 55:3; 56:4, 6; 59:21; 61:8. Seed: Isa 1:4,

9; 17:10; 31:9; 33:2; 37:31; 41:8; 43:5; 44:3; 45:26; 48:19; 53:10; 54:3; 59:21; 61:9; 65:9, 23;

66:22. Inheritance: Isa 34:17; 47:6; 49:8; 53:12; 54:3, 17; 57:13; 60:21; 61:7; 63:18; 65:9.

27 Spirit: Isa 11:2, 10; 12:2, 4, 6; 26:17-19; 30:1; 34:16; 42:1; 44:3; 57:16; 59:21; 60:22;

63:10-14.



312              WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

Jerusalem is transformed in Isaiah to be, without mention of circumcision,

those who pursue righteousness and seek the Lord, those to whom the Holy

Spirit is given. Isaiah provides a canonical development of this theme that

is obviously well-suited to Paul's argument in Galatians. Echoes of seed

("sons," "children"), inheritance ("heir"), and the Spirit resound through-

out Gal 3:1-4:31: "those who believe are children of Abraham" (3:7); "The

promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed" (3:16); "For if the

inheritance depends on the law" (3:18); "until the Seed to whom the promise

referred had come" (3:19); "you are Abraham's seed and heirs" (3:29); "as

long as the heir is a child" (4:1); "that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit

who calls out, Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and

since you are a son, God has made you also an heir" (4:5-7); "Abraham had

two sons" (4:22); "Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise"

(4:28); "we are not children of the slave" (4:31).

            Paul opens his argument in Gal 3:1ff. by appealing to the Galatian

Christians to recall their experience with the Holy Spirit. The argument

appears at first to be a weak one because it seems to be based upon sub-

jective human experience. To the contrary, Paul is grounding his argument

not in the subjective experience of the Galatian churches, but in the canoni-

cal prophecy given by Isaiah which identifies the seed who will inherit as

those upon whom the Spirit rests. When the appeal to the experience of the

Spirit is viewed within the intertextual space created with Isaiah's trans-

formation of barrenness and the seed who will inherit the promise, echoes

of Isaiah's proclamation resonate within Paul's argument.

            This appeal to the Galatians' experience of the Holy Spirit is introduced

with the question, "Did you receive the Spirit e]c e@rgwn no<mou or e]c a]koh?j

pi<stewj?" (Gal 3:2). Obviously, Paul expects them to agree that the Spirit

was received e]c a]koh?j pi<stewj. Paul's question resonates with the question

asked in Isa 53:1: ti<j e]pi<steuse t^? a]ko^? h[mw?n; ("who has believed our

report?").28 When these texts are juxtaposed, it becomes clear that the

content of what immediately follows Isaiah's question in Isa 53:2-12 echoes

in the Galatians text immediately preceding Paul's question in Gal 3:2:

 

Isa 53:1: ti<j e]pi<steuse t^? a]ko^? h[mw?n;         Gal 3:2: e]c a]koh?j pi<stewj;

Isa 53:2-12: the suffering servant who                 Gal 3:1: "Before your very eyes Jesus

"was led as a lamb to the slaughter,"                   Christ was clearly portrayed as

"wounded on account of our sins,"                      crucified."

and "bruised for our iniquities."

Isa 54:1: "Rejoice, 0 barren one!"                        Gal 4:27: "Rejoice, 0 barren one!"

 

28 It is not clear that intertextual resonance can be used to make semantic decisions; if it

can, this resonance between Isa 53:1 and Gal 3:2 argues in favor of Hays' understanding of

e]c a]koh?j pi<stewj "from the message of faith" (R. B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus

Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 [SBLDS 56; Chico,

CA: Scholars Press, 1983] 143-46). For a discussion of other options see Hansen, Abraham, 110.



                                 JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                              313

 

            Notice that the verse immediately following Isa 53:2-12 is Isa 54:1. The

suffering of the Lord's servant is followed immediately in Isaiah by the call

for the barren one to rejoice. Paul's citation of Isa 54:1 sets up waves of

resonance with Isaiah's proclamation of the suffering servant and Jerusa-

lem's future that ripple through the entire probatio of Gal 3:1-4:31.

            When Paul proceeds to develop his argument to show not only that the

inheritance is received by faith but also that the consequence of living by

the law is a curse, his argument again resonates with Isaiah's barren Jeru-

salem theme. Paul's statement in Gal 3:10, o!soi ga>r e]c e@rgwn no<mou ei]si<n

u[po> kata<ran ei]si<n ("for as many as are of the works of law are under a

curse") resonates with Isaiah's image of barren Jerusalem, who is not only

barren but cursed as well: po<lij tou? a[gi<ou sou e]genh<qh e@rhmoj, Siw>n w[j

e@rhmoj e]genh<qh,  ]Ierousalh>m ei]j kata<ran ("The city of your holiness has

become barren, Zion has become as a wilderness, Jerusalem, a curse," Isa

64:10, emphasis mine).

            Barren Jerusalem is cursed because of sin, because of her inability to keep

the law. According to Isaiah, her only reprieve from her barren and cursed

state awaits that glorious day when her judgment is past, when she will be

a mother-city, when she will rejoice over miraculously giving birth. In

Paul's argument in Gal 3:10-14, any who rely on observing the law will fail

and in that sense Jerusalem, the city of the law, remains barren and cursed.

Paul's use of the quotation of Isa 54:1 is therefore quite apt when it is

viewed within the nexus of Genesis 21 and Isaiah's transformation of the

barrenness theme. Perriman has argued that the value of the quotation

"lies in the fact that it provides a remarkably apposite expression for the

merging of the Abrahamic and Zionist themes: it mediates rhetorically, if

not logically, between v. 26 (the Jerusalem above is our mother) and v. 28

(like Isaac we are children of a promise)."29 Without diminishing the rhetor-

ical value of the quotation, I would want to argue further that the quotation

does in fact contribute logically to Paul's argument if it can be shown that

the barren one of Isa 54:1 has in fact given birth.

            If the echoes of Isaiah sounded by Gal 4:27 are to have any weight

against the Judaizers there must be more than a rhetorical link between

Jerusalem above, who is our mother” in v. 26 and the Galatian Christians

in v. 28. The force of Paul's argument is based on the major premise that

the barren one of Isa 54:1 has in fact given birth. For if the barren one has

not yet given birth, then none of the promises of Isaiah echoed within Paul's

argument (such as the experience of the Holy Spirit) have been realized and

they can have no efficacy in the Galatian church. For Paul's argument to

have force, all of the transformed promise of inheritance prophesied in

Isaiah's proclamation must have been fulfilled. The time of Jerusalem's

 

29 Andrew C. Perriman, "The Rhetorical Strategy of Galatians 4:21-5:1," EvQ 65 (1993)

40.



314               WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

rejoicing has in fact come. I would argue that in Paul's thought the his-

torical event which realized Isaiah's prophetic metaphor of a miraculous

birth to the barren one is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            Paul does not explicitly associate miraculous birth with resurrection in

Galatians, though, as discussed below, he does in Romans and Colossians.

However, the quotation from Isa 54:1 and all the echoes it metaleptically

invokes would not function to support the radical reversal in Paul's argu-

ment in 4:21-31 unless he construed the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be

the miraculous birth which would transform Jerusalem the barren one into

Jerusalem the faithful mother-city in accordance with Isa 1:26.

            The event which, according to Paul himself, radically altered his own

reading of Scripture was his encounter on the Damascus road with the

resurrected Jesus (Gal 1:1, 11-24; Acts 9). Because of his apostolic calling,

Paul does not simply use Isaiah's proclamation in the same forward-looking

way as did traditional, first-century Jewish exegesis. Paul authoritatively amplifies

and reshapes Isaiah's proclamation in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            The association of barrenness with death and of miraculous birth with

resurrection was first made when Isaiah merged and transformed Israel's

barren matriarch tradition with the female personification of Jerusalem.

Isaiah portrays the coming salvation of barren Jerusalem with images of

both childbirth and resurrection:

   And as a woman in travail draws nigh to be delivered, and cries out in her pain;

    so we have been to thy beloved. We have conceived, 0 Lord, because of thy

   fear, and have been in pain, and have brought forth the breath [pneu?ma] of thy

   salvation, which we have wrought upon the earth: we shall not fall, but all that

   dwell upon the land shall fall. The dead shall rise, and they that are in the tombs

   shall be raised, and they that are in the earth shall rejoice. [Isa 26:17-19,

   emphasis mine]

 

Note that in this passage Isaiah conjoins images of childbirth, the Spirit,

resurrection, and rejoicing.

            Because barrenness was associated with death throughout the OT, its

antonym, miraculous birth from a barren woman, could aptly be associated

with resurrection from death. The association of birth with resurrection,

only suggested by Isaiah, is fully developed by Paul as expressed, for in-

stance, in Rom 1:4 and Col 1:18.30 According to Rom 1:4, Jesus was

o[risqe<ntoj ui[ou? qeou? e]n duna<mei kata> pneu?ma a[giwsu<nhj e]c

a]nasta<sewj nekrw?n ("declared Son of God . . . by resurrection"). For all others,

 

30 Jesus' physical birth to a virgin also resonates with Isaiah's transformed theme of mirac-

ulous birth to a childless woman, which has implications for our understanding of Mary's role

in redemptive history. M. Callaway recognizes that virginal conception "so richly brings

together all the traditions developed around the barren matriarchs and Jerusalem as mother."

She discusses Luke's infancy narrative from the perspective that it was inspired by Paul's use

of Isa 54:1 in Gal 4:27 (Sing, O Barren One, 100-107).



                             JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                                 315

 

the father-son relationship is established by birth; according to Paul, Jesus

attains sonship by resurrection.31

            In Col 1:18, Paul refers to Jesus as prwto<tokoj e]k tw?n nekrw?n ("first-

born from the dead"). In its historical context prwto<tokoj ("firstborn")

was the title of the recognized heir under Roman law. All others attained

the status of prwto<tokoj by birth (or sometimes by adoption), but ac-

cording to Paul, Jesus attained it by virtue of being the first to be raised

from the dead. The prwto<tokoj usually emerged from the womb by birth;

Jesus emerged e]k tw?n nekrw?n ("from the dead") by resurrection.32 There-

fore, there is a sense in which Paul is thinking of Jesus' resurrection as a

birth.

            The parity between barrenness/death and miraculous birth/resurrec-

tion is also expressed in Paul's use of the story of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac

in Romans. Paul conjoins Sarah's barrenness with death and Isaac's birth

with resurrection in Rom 4:17-25 where he describes Sarah's womb as

dead (ne<krwsij). He describes Abraham's faith as a faith that believed that

God had the power to do what he had promised and was able to give life

to the dead (v. 17). Against all hope Abraham believed and so became a

father (v. 18). Paul is here portraying Isaac's miraculous birth from Sarah's

dead womb as a resurrection of sorts and Abraham's belief in God's life-

giving promise as a proleptic faith in the resurrection of Christ (v. 24).33

According to Paul in Galatians, the sign that Christians are united to

Abraham as his heirs is not circumcision but this specific nature of their

shared faith in God's power to raise the dead as demonstrated in Jesus

Christ.

 

31 G. Vos's exegesis of Paul's use of the birth-resurrection parallel in Rom 1:3-4 is helpful

here ("Paul's Eschatological Concept of the Spirit," in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpre-

tation [ed. R. B. Gaffin, Jr.; Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980] 104-5). He

asks, "How can resurrection from the dead be the counterpart of an issue from the seed of

David? . . . The resurrection is to Paul the beginning of a new status of sonship: hence, as Jesus

derived His sonship kata> sa<rka from the seed of David, He can be said to have derived His

divine-sonship-in-power from the resurrection. The implication is that the one working in the

resurrection is God; it is His seed that supernaturally begets the higher sonship.... He [Paul]

wished to contrast the resurrection-process in a broad generic way with the processes of this

natural life; the resurrection is characteristic of the beginning of a new order of things, as sarkic

birth is characteristic of an older order of things."

32 I am aware that this phrase in Col 1:18 is usually understood to express the same thought

as 1 Cor 15:20, that Jesus is the firstfruits among all who will be resurrected. (For a defense

of this position see R. B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul's
 Soteriology
[Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978] 36-39.) This understanding is based on the questionable

premise that Paul uses prwto<tokoj and a]parxh< synonymously. Furthermore, a comparison of

Paul's use of prwto<tokoj; in Col 1:18 and in Rom 8:29 (prwto<tokoj e]n polloi?j a]delfoi?j)

suggests that had Paul intended to say in Col 1:18 that Jesus was the firstborn from among the

dead, he would have used e]n toi?j nekroi?j.

33 The writer of Hebrews states that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and

in a manner of speaking did receive Isaac back from death when he was prevented from

sacrificing him (Heb 11:17-19).



316           WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

            Sarah and the barren one of Isa 54:1 should not be simply identified as

one and the same because they meet only in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That is, Sarah's identity as the barren woman to whom God promises a

miraculous birth merges with that of the barren one of Isa 54:1 at only one

point in history—when Jesus, the seed of Abraham (and hence the son of

Sarah) arose from the grave to be the firstborn son of New Jerusalem. In

Gal 3:16 Paul announces that Jesus is the son ("seed") promised to Abraham,

and therefore Jesus is Sarah's son. I believe Paul is arguing that the nation

which God promised to bring from Sarah's dead womb and the population

of the new Jerusalem prophesied by Isaiah are those people who are born

through the resurrection of Jesus, not those who are circumcised. Just as the

birth of Isaac eventually issued in the population of earthly Jerusalem by

his descendants, the resurrection of Jesus issues in the populating of the new

Jerusalem. The faithful mother-city of Zion was desolate because of sin and

had no inhabitants until the sinless Jesus rose from the dead. (Do I hear an

echo of Gen 3:24?) When Paul cites Isa 54:1, he is metaleptically announc-

ing to the Galatians that when Jesus arose from death, all of the elect seed

of Abraham were also born. In this way Paul not only establishes Christians

as rightful heirs of the Abrahamic covenant as it was fulfilled in Christ, but

at the same time disinherits those who reject Christ's resurrection, though

they may be circumcised. He has shown, as C. H. Cosgrove so eloquently

puts it, that "The Law Has Given Sarah No Children."34

            "Rejoice, 0 barren one!" is the climactic statement of promise concern-

ing the future of the city of Jerusalem in Isaiah's proclamation. Therefore,

when the Galatian Christians were seeking to identify with that historical

center of Judaism through circumcision, Paul must insist that they under-

stand their relationship to Jerusalem not in light of Genesis 21 directly, but

in light of Isaiah's transformation of it. Because Jesus Christ has been raised

from the dead, Isaiah's vision of a rejoicing Jerusalem and of a transformed

seed of Abraham who inherits the promise has consequently been realized.

            The relationship of the Abrahamic covenant, as represented by Sarah, to

the new covenant established in Christ accounts for the imbalance in the

parallel construction of Gal 4:22-25. For instance, Hagar is Mount Sinai

(v. 25) but no corresponding parallel place is given for Sarah. The signifi-

cance of this imbalance in the parallel construction is that because of its

fulfillment in Christ, Paul cannot relate the Abrahamic covenant of promise

to Sarah in the same way he relates the Mosaic covenant of law to Hagar.

In discussing the unfinished character of the parallelism in Gal 4:21-31

D. Koch explains:

   This imbalance in the construction of the allegory is not to be understood merely

   as an abbreviated representation. The starting point is, admittedly, the joint

   allegorical interpretation of both women as du<o diaqh?kai. But the fact that the

 

34 Cosgrove, Cross, 80; see also id., "The Law Has Given Sarah No Children," NovT 29

(1987) 219-35.



                                 JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                             317

 

   Hagar-allegory stands opposite from no similarly parallel Sarah-allegory has

   meaningful grounds. The assignment of two diaqh?kai is not based on the con-

   tents of the written tradition of the fathers, but rather assumes the Last Supper

   tradition of 1 Cor 11:23-25 as a concept established prior to Paul of a Christo-

   logically grounded kainh> diaqh<kh. This new diaqh<kh is for Paul evidently not

   locatable in the same way as the old; so that, therefore, there is no opposite

   corresponding place to Sinai at one's disposal with which Sarah could be alle-

   gorically identified.35

 

As Koch points out, Paul intentionally and purposefully does not complete

the Sarah-side of the parallel construction. This should caution interpreters

not to impose a rigorous parity between Hagar and Sarah beyond what

Paul specifies, namely, that the women represent two covenants (v. 24).

Though Paul explicitly identifies Hagar with Sinai, slavery, and the earthly

Jerusalem, he does not explicitly identify Sarah in the same way with the

new covenant, freedom, and the heavenly Jerusalem. As Hays points out,

Paul's allegorical polarities as represented by the two women should not be

misconstrued as a contrast between the old covenant at Sinai and the new

covenant in Christ. "Rather," he writes, "the contrast is drawn between

the old covenant at Sinai and the older covenant with Abraham, that turns

out in Paul's rereading to find its true meaning in Christ."36  Therefore,

there is not a straight line through history connecting the Galatian Chris-

tians (and indeed, all Christians!) with the Sinai covenant and the Sinai

covenant with the Abrahamic. This is precisely what the Judaizers were

implicitly arguing when they insisted on circumcision for Christians.

            Since the only way to be a child of both mother Jerusalem and mother

Sarah is found in Christ's resurrection, the Mosaic law from Sinai has in fact

given Sarah no children neither has it caused the barren one of Isa 54:1 to

rejoice. The Jews who reject Christ's resurrection are of the same standing

as Ishmael, who was a circumcised son of Abraham, but not a son of Sarah,

and who therefore gained no part in the inheritance. Ishmael's mother,

Hagar, is therefore an apt representation of the relationship of the Mosaic

covenant to the Abrahamic covenant, not an arbitrary allegorical assign-

ment. Paul concludes that the Jews of the "now" Jerusalem who have

rejected the resurrection of Jesus are indeed akin to Ishmael, and therefore

can be rightly described as children of Ishmael's mother, Hagar (Gal 4:23).

            Far from being an arbitrary allegorical assignment, the association of

Hagar with the "now" Jerusalem and Sarah with the "above" Jerusalem

follows logically from Paul's understanding of Isa 54:1 in light of Christ's

resurrection. When Paul calls this trope a]llhgorou<mena, he is not using

the verb in the sense of the English literary term allegory. He is simply

 

35 Dietrich-Alex Koch, Die Schrift als Zeuge des Evangeliums. Untersuchungen zur
Verwendung and zum Verstindnis der Schrift bei Paulus
(BHT 69; Tubingen: Mohr, 1986)
205-6; translation from the German mine.

36 Hays, Echoes, 114.



318              WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

preparing his readers to understand that his exposition of Sarah and Hagar

goes beyond the traditional historical understanding of these women. He is

transforming the story of Sarah and Hagar from narrative history to (re-

alized) prophetic proclamation just as Isaiah did.

            By proclaiming Isa 54:1 in the light of Christ's resurrection, Paul has

shown the Galatian Christians from Scripture (i.e., from the law) that by

desiring circumcision they are seeking, yes, to be a child of Abraham, but

to be a child of Abraham with Hagar, thus a brother of Ishmael and

disqualified for the inheritance. The aversion to this thought sets the Gala-

tians up for the transition to application in 4:28-31 and the punch line of

Paul's argument: "But you, brothers, are like Isaac, children of promise,"

therefore, get rid of the idea of being circumcised!

            Paul's grievance against the Judaizers is, at least in part, a grievance

about their use of Scripture. Like many of our own generation who attempt

to apply the OT directly to contemporary situations, the Judaizers had

lifted Genesis 21 from its redemptive-historical location and had argued

directly from there to circumcision of the Galatian Christians. Specifically,

they had attempted to apply Genesis 21 to the Galatian church without

considering the intervening revelation of Isaiah that had transformed the

Genesis material and, most importantly, without reference to the resurrec-

tion of Jesus Christ. Paul was therefore correcting an errant hermeneutic.

The radical reversal effected in Gal 4:21-31 pivots on the resurrection of

Jesus Christ and indicates that the resurrection has far-reaching hermeneuti-

cal implications. Beware of the one who attempts to apply Scripture apart

from that great historical and hermeneutical fact!

            This journey through the intertextual space defined by Galatians and

Isaiah and Genesis (as transformed by Isaiah) has been arduous. One can

only wonder how Paul could have expected the Galatian Christians to

understand his argument, which can be fully comprehended only by hear-

ing within it the echoes of the Greek text of Isaiah. Could Gentile Christians

have been sufficiently familiar with Isaiah's transformation of the theme of

barrenness to have understood Paul's metalepsis in Gal 4:27? I conjecture

that what Paul invokes through metalepsis in his letter he had previously

taught explicitly to the Galatian churches from Isaiah, perhaps with

Isa 54:1 as his text. Therefore, when he quotes Isa 54:1 in his epistle to the

Galatians, he is expecting to metaleptically invoke their memory of the

salient points of his teaching. This would explain why there seems to be so

much missing upon a prima facie reading of Gal 4:21-31, and yet why the

unstated points of resonance between Galatians and Isaiah are so coherent

within Paul's argument. To what extent the Galatian Christians appreci-

ated Paul's metaleptic use of Isaiah is of course unknowable.

            The mystery created by the use of metalepsis in Paul's closing argument

may have been part of his rhetorical strategy. In discussing the effectiveness

of such a closing argument, Betz quotes Pseudo-Demetrius: ". . . not all

possible points should be punctiliously and tediously elaborated, but some



                         JERUSALEM, OUR MOTHER                            319

 

should be left to the comprehension and inference of the hearer . . . when

he perceives what you have left unsaid [he] becomes not only your hearer

but your witness, a very friendly witness too."37 Hays' hermeneutical meth-

odology of recognizing metalepsis as an important element of exegesis seems

well-suited both to this type of rhetorical strategy and to the occasional

nature of Paul's writings. Given the historical context of the epistles, it is not

surprising that so much seems to be missing to the modern reader. It is

almost like overhearing only one end of a telephone conversation. The logic

behind Paul's use of Scripture becomes clearer when one listens to the

Greek OT echoing within intertextual space.

            But, one might question, are these echoes of Isaiah really there in Gala-

tians? Hays has given seven criteria for determining the presence of inter-

textual echoes.38 How well does this analysis of the intertextuality of Gal

3:1-4:31 with Isaiah meet those standards?

      1. Availability of the source text. The Greek texts of both Genesis and Isaiah

were incontestably available and known to Paul.

      2. Volume of the echo. The "volume" of an echo is determined by "the

degree of explicit repetition of words or syntactical patterns." Although no

one lexical or syntactical pattern from Isaiah is repeated again and again

in Galatians, the presence of several coherent echoes within a unified pe-

ricope suggests they are really there: Gal 3:2 echoes Isa 53:1; Gal 3:10

echoes Isa 64:10; Gal 4:4-6 echoes Isa 44:1-3; 54:21; and Gal 4:25-26

echoes Isa 1:26; 54:1; 66:6-11.

      3. Recurrence. Paul does not quote Isa 54:1 elsewhere, but he does use the

theme of Sarah's barrenness in Rom 4:17ff. to associate childlessness with

death, miraculous birth with resurrection, and Abraham's faith with faith

in Christ's resurrection.

      4. Thematic coherence. Isaiah is proclaiming the future of Jerusalem as it

relates to Abraham's seed, the covenant, and the inheritance. These same

themes are of crucial importance in Paul's argument to the Galatians.

      5. Historical plausibility. As suggested, it is plausible that Paul previously

taught the Galatians from the Greek text of Isaiah and that his citation of

Isa 54:1 is intended to evoke memories of that previous teaching.

      6. History of interpretation. Other interpreters have recognized the "eschat-

ological" or "Christological" import of Paul's citation of Isa 54:1. Explicit

identification of unstated points of resonance with the Greek text of Isaiah

in Paul's logic simply provides details that specify more fully the exegetical

effect of this citation. The conclusions reached by an analysis of the met-

alepsis of this passage are consistent with the history of interpretation of this

passage.

      7. Satisfaction. Perhaps the most subjective of Hays' tests, satisfaction is

nevertheless an important aspect of any interpretation. It is dissatisfaction,

 

37 Betz, Galatians, 240.

38 Hays, Echoes, 29-32.



320           WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

 

in some sense, with standing interpretations that motivates all biblical

scholarship. This analysis of Paul's use of metalepsis in Gal 4:21-31 supplies

missing elements of Paul's logic that led to his identification of Christians

as the children of Sarah. Furthermore, it exegetically (in distinction from

theologically) relates Paul's argument to the resurrection of Jesus Christ

and provides the basis upon which Isaiah's eschatological promise of the

Spirit can be applied to the Galatian churches. To this extent, this analysis

of Paul's use of metalepsis provides a satisfying interpretation.

            Paul's citation of Isa 54:1 metaleptically announces a life of spiritual

freedom in Christ. It provides an apt transition from which Paul can pro-

ceed to exhort the Galatians to a life lived, not under the law, but in the

Spirit. Having established that the resurrection of Jesus, and not circum-

cision, is constitutive of the Christian's relationship to God, Paul proceeds

in the rest of the epistle to discuss moral living apart from Jewish law

(5:1-6:18). By virtue of their faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and

their reception of the Holy Spirit, the Galatian Christians must learn to live

in the new Jerusalem, where sin is not defined as failure to comply with

Jewish law, but as failure to live as a Spirit-born son of Sarah.

 

Westminster Theological Seminary

Philadelphia

 

 

 

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            Westminster Theological Seminary

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www.wts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu