Would you please explain the two covenants, as mentioned in Galatians 4:21-31? Doesn't this passage teach that the Old Covenant with all of its Old Testament laws was abolished and is no longer in force and effect?


In order to fully comprehend what Paul is referring to with his
symbolism or allegory (compare Galatians 4:24), we must carefully
review the context. We should note, first of all, to whom Paul is
writing. The letter is addressed to “the Galatians” — non-Jewish
peoples who had come to the faith. These peoples never were part of the
Old Testament relationship between God and the ancient nation of
Israel. They were never part of the Old Covenant. IF Paul had in mind
to address the so-called “Old” and “New” Covenants in Galatians 4, then
his concluding statement in Galatians 5:1 would make little sense.
There, he says: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ
has made us free, and do not be entangled AGAIN with a yoke of bondage.”

commentaries say that Paul used his allegory to show that the Old
Testament laws were abolished. They reason that Christ came to set us
free from the “bondage” of the Old Testament law. However, as we prove
in our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,”
Christ did not do anything of the kind. He did NOT come to do away with
the Ten Commandments, and the statutes and judgments which define the
Ten Commandments even further. Paul taught the Gentiles to keep the
Sabbath. He taught them to follow him, as he followed Christ, and Paul
kept the Sabbath, as did Christ. Paul taught the Gentiles on the
Sabbath. Paul could not possibly have told the Galatians that they were
no longer under the “bondage” of the Old Testament law, when he told
them not to be entangled AGAIN with a yoke of bondage. Whatever that
yoke of bondage is, it is something the Galatians were entangled with
before— and they were never “entangled” with the Old Testament laws
and covenants.

Even IF Paul had in mind the abolition of the Old
Covenant, that still would not mean that he was also stating that God’s
law was no longer in force. As we explain in our booklet, “And Lawlessness Will Abound,”
a covenant is something altogether different from the law. A covenant
is based on law–it does not bring law into existence. And when a
covenant ceases to be in force, that has absolutely no influence on the
validity or invalidity of the law, on which the covenant was based. A
covenant is simply an agreement, and the parties can decide that the
agreement is no longer valid. Unless the lawgiver revokes the law on
which the covenant is based, the law continues to be in effect.

when reading the entire passage in Galatians 4:21-31, it is highly
doubtful that Paul even had the Old Covenant in mind. He introduces the
discussion by asking the Galatians why they want to be “under” the law
(verse 21). The term “under the law” always means “under its penalty.”
When we break the law, the law has its hold over us. We are subject to
its penalty–which is death. Paul is asking, in effect, the Galatians,
“Why do you want to be under the law–that is, its penalty–if you can
have forgiveness for your sins, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ
who died for you?” Through Christ’s death, the penalty for sin was
paid–if we repent and accept His sacrifice. We are no longer in
bondage to death, if we are in Christ. We read in Hebrews 2:15 that
Christ “release[d] those who through fear of death were all their
lifetime subject to bondage.” That is why Paul later condemns attempts
by overly zealous Jews who tried to convince the Galatians that they
had to become circumcised in order to obtain salvation (Galatians 5:2;
compare Galatians 4:16). He is explaining that we cannot become
“justified” by our keeping the law, because nobody can keep it
perfectly. We all sin, and we need forgiveness of our sins, which is
given to us by grace (Galatians 5:4) through faith (Galatians 5:5-6).

explaining that we must receive Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness,
Paul then begins his allegory: Abraham had two sons–the one (Ishmael)
by a bondwoman, Hagar, and the other (Isaac) by a freewoman, Sarah.
While Ishmael was born according to the flesh (Abraham and Sarah
produced offspring through Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar), Isaac was born
through promise (God had promised to Abraham and barren Sarah that
Sarah would bear Abraham a son). Paul continues to say that these
things are (also) symbolic or an allegory, and that they are two
covenants (Galatians 4:24–Please note that the original Greek does not
say, “the two covenants,” but “two covenants.”). The one covenant,
according to Paul, is from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage,
which is Hagar, “for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and
corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her
children” (verse 25). Paul then goes on to say that “the Jerusalem
above is free, which is the mother of us all” (verse 26).

IF Paul
was addressing here the so-called “Old Covenant,” which was made with
the nation of Israel under Moses, and the “New Covenant” (which has not
been made yet with the nation of Israel, and which has not been fully
executed yet with true Christians today), then we would face several

At the time of Hagar, God had not made a covenant with
the nation of Israel–in fact, the nation of Israel did not even exist.
Also, several covenants were made at Mount Sinai with the nation of
Israel–which one was Paul referring to, if he had in fact any of those
covenants in mind? Further, even at the time of the covenants which God
made with Israel, under Moses, the city of Jerusalem was not part of
any of those covenants. That city was not even part of the nation of
Israel, but it was in the hands of the Jebusites. It only happened many
years later that King David conquered Jerusalem and made it a part of
the kingdom of Israel and Judah. At the same time, “Jerusalem above” is
not here on earth yet, either–it is the heavenly Jerusalem which will
come down to this earth after the Millennium and the Great White Throne

Also, when again noticing Galatians 5:2, we recall that
Paul was referring to circumcision in that passage. But circumcision
came into force and effect, as a sign and a covenant (Genesis 17:11;
Acts 7:8), at the time of Abraham–not at the time of Moses. It may be
that Paul was including in Galatians 4 the “covenant of circumcision,”
which WAS made at the time of Abraham, but which did not lead to
salvation, as Ishmael was also circumcised. Peter called circumcision
and other ritual laws a “yoke,” in Acts 15:10. But Paul could not have
exclusively meant, as one of the two covenants in Galatians 4, the
“covenant of circumcision,” as the Galatians were not circumcised and
could therefore not have been entangled “again” with the “yoke” of
circumcision (Galatians 5:1). Obviously, Paul’s reference to two
covenants was of a much broader application.

If Paul tried to
draw an allegory from the events surrounding Abraham, by applying it to
an “old covenant” at the time of Moses, his allegory would break down
rather quickly.

It appears that Paul was not talking about the
“Old Covenant” at the time of Moses, even though most commentaries try
to say this, thereby attempting to do away with God’s Law. Rather, when
considering Paul’s statements in the fifth chapter of the letter to the
Galatians, it seems that Paul had in mind two ways of life. In the
fifth chapter, Paul points out that we must walk in the Spirit, and
that we must reject the works of the flesh. He says that if we walk in
the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh; but we will
rather fulfill the law by loving our neighbor (Galatians 5:14). If we
do this, we are not under the law, that is, under its penalty–as we
don’t break the law, but rather keep it (Galatians 5:18). If we produce
the fruit of the Spirit, we are not breaking any law (Galatians 5:23).

are not to use the liberty (or freedom from the death penalty because
of Christ’s sacrifice) as liberty to sin (Galatians 5:13). As Paul said
to the Romans: “Shall we sin because we are not under law [its penalty] but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:15). And he reminds the
Romans that the penalty of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal
life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” whom we must obey (Romans 6:23). And
further, sin is defined as the “transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4,
Authorized Version).

Here, now, is Paul’s interesting point in
his allegory: As we have to cast out the fleshly desires and our human
nature, Abraham had to cast out the bondwoman and her son (Galatians
4:30). And why? Because the son of the bondwoman, who was born
according to the flesh, persecuted the son of the freewoman who was
born according to the Spirit (verse 29). And Paul continues to
allegorize by saying that this is also the case today (same verse).
How? In that God’s Spirit in us wars with our flesh. Paul said that he
did not do what he wanted to do, but that he gave in at times to his
flesh, following its desires (Romans 7:13-25). As our flesh
“persecutes” our Spirit-begotten minds, so we must cast out the flesh
and its desires, including temptations which might come from Satan or
this world. James tells us: “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of
the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the
Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit [which] dwells in you yearns
earnestly’?… Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts,
you double-minded” (James 4:4-5, 8).

What then were the two
covenants Paul was referring to? In all likelihood, Paul had in mind
two ways of life: He addressed those people who lived according to the
flesh, while thinking that they could do so without having to pay a
penalty for their deeds–and those who lived according to the Spirit,
having their eyes on the heavenly Jerusalem which would become their
place of abode on a new earth, when it would descend from heaven. We
read in Isaiah 28:15 that carnal people made a covenant or an agreement
with death, thinking that they would be spared from destruction in
times of evil: “… you have said, ‘We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we are in agreement. When the overflowing scourge passes
through, It will not come to us, For we have made lies our refuge, And
under falsehood we have hidden ourselves.'” But God did not have any
regard for such a covenant or agreement! He responded to these
carnally-minded people, in verse 18: “Your covenant with death will be
annulled, And your agreement with Sheol will not stand; when the
overflowing scourge passes through, Then you will be trampled down by

In his allegory, Paul compared Hagar and Ishmael with those
who made a covenant with death. According to the Living Bible, “Mount
Sinai is called ‘Mount Hagar’ by the Arabs.” By extension, this would
include all peoples who have not been called by God today to salvation,
including, of course, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. They
all are or were “under death”–even though they might have hoped and
believed that they were not, and that they were saved, as long as they
lived in accordance with the dictates of their own hearts and
conscience. (This does not mean that they are “lost” forever–they will
receive their chance to accept and live God’s Way of Life in the
future, as explained in our booklet, “God’s Commanded Holy Days.”).
On the other hand, God is offering those whom He is calling in this day
and age the opportunity to live a different way of life–they CAN live
according to the Spirit of promise, but they must conquer their own
flesh and “leave it behind” (compare Romans 6:1-4; 8:5-9; Colossians
2:11-13). As Abraham and Sarah, as well as Isaac, were called to
salvation, so they had to separate themselves from everything which
stood in their way toward their salvation. This is also true for us
today–as Paul explains in his allegory in Galatians 4:21-31.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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