Summary: Galatians 4:21-31 is unique. It is the only place in the New Testament to use allegory from the Old Testament. These events are recorded in Geneses 15-21. When Abraham was seventy five years old God promised him he would be the father of a great nation.
One of the most widely read and influential books of all time was written from a jail cell by a Baptist minister. He was in England, in jail for twelve years for preaching without a license when he wrote it. The title of the book is Pilgrims Progress and the author is John Bunyan.
There are probably many reasons why this book has been so widely read and remained in print for over three hundred and twenty years since it was first published 1678. What is so appealing about the book is that it is an allegory. Every part of the book has a deeper and hidden meeting.
One example from Pilgrims Progress is when a man is led into a parlor, full of dust that has never been swept, this man swept it, and the dust flew up and choked him. Then a woman sprinkled the floor with water and when she finished sweeping it was clean.
There is more to it than just a story of sweeping and cleaning.
The parlor– is the heart of man.
The dust– is sin, inward corruption. .
Sweeping– The law, sweeping could not clean, choked him
Water sprinkled– The Gospel that cleans.
The whole book is filled with this kind of illustration of the Christian life. It is an excellent book using allegory.
But the use of allegory has also been very harmful. People take the Bible and do their own allegorizing. They give every part a deeper meaning. For example, they find spurious meaning to the Good Samaritan story that Jesus told in response question, Who is my neighbor?
Jesus teaches who your neighbor is. He is teaching how to really love your neighbor. People have found every imaginable meaning from every intricate part of the parable. The Samaritan, Priest, Levi. People have misused allegory to justify their particular type of church traditions, their cultural whims and even their prejudices.
When we study Christian history we find the reformation played a role in interpreting the Bible. As a general rule now we reject the allegorical method of interpreting Scripture. It does make the interpreter seem smart. The listener is left thinking, how did he get that meaning?
Using an allegorical method to interpret the Bible will lead to reading into scripture our preconceived ideas. Our goal is to let the teachings of Scripture flow out of the Bible.
That is why Galatians 4:21-31 is unique. It is the only place in the New Testament to use allegory from the Old Testament. So we should remember a couple of things when we come to this Scripture passage. One is that Paul took Old Testament history literally. And also he believed Abraham, Sarah and Hagar were historical figures.
That is what separates this passage from the liberal Bible scholars who allegorize the fall of man, flood, Jonah etc, but what the Bible teaches as history, Paul accepted as historical.
Paul was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit so when he says in another occasion the rock in the wilderness was Christ, this is not a license for us to find our own meanings in the minute details of Scripture.
We must find what the Scripture means in its context. In addition we must find the principles in Scripture and prayerfully apply them to our lives today.