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24. These are the two covenants. I have thought it better to adopt this translation, in order not to lose sight of the beauty of the comparison; for Paul compares the two διαθὢκαι, to two mothers, and to employ testamentum, (a testament,) which is a neuter noun, for denoting a mother, would be harsh. The word pactio (a covenant) appears to be, on that account, more appropriate; and indeed the desire of obtaining perspicuity, as well as elegance, has led me to make this choice. 7676 To a Latin scholar the author’s meaning is obvious enough. But it may be proper to apprize the English reader, that pactio (a covenant) is a feminine noun, and, on that account, is pronounced to be more natural and graceful, in a metaphorical description of a mother, than testamentum, (a testament,) which, being a neuter noun, sounds harshly in this connection. In that point of view, the preference is little else than a matter of taste; but, on far higher grounds, “covenant” is a more faithful translation than “testament;” and a careful investigation of the meaning of διαθήκη would contribute greatly to elucidate many passages of Scripture. — Ed.
The comparison is now formally introduced. As in the house of Abraham there were two mothers, so are there also in the Church of God. Doctrine is the mother of whom we are born, and is twofold, Legal and Evangelical. The legal mother, whom Hagar resembles, gendereth to bondage. Sarah again, represents the second, which gendereth to freedom; though Paul begins higher, and makes our first mother Sinai, and our second, Jerusalem. The two covenants, then, are the mothers, of whom children unlike one another are born; for the legal covenant makes slaves, and the evangelical covenant makes freemen.
But all this may, at first sight, appear absurd; for there are none of God’s children who are not born to freedom, and therefore the comparison does not apply. I answer, what Paul says is true in two respects; for the law formerly brought forth its disciples, (among whom were included the holy prophets, and other believers,) to slavery, though not to permanent slavery, but because God placed them for a time under the law as “a schoolmaster.” 7777 “C’est a dire, les conduisoit comme petits enfans.” “That is, treated them like little children.” (Galatians 3:25.) Under the vail of ceremonies, and of the whole economy by which they were governed, their freedom was concealed: to the outward eye nothing but slavery appeared. “Ye have not,” says Paul to the Romans, “received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” (Romans 8:15.) Those holy fathers, though inwardly they were free in the sight of God, yet in outward appearance differed nothing from slaves, and thus resembled their mother’s condition. But the doctrine of the gospel bestows upon its children perfect freedom as soon as they are born, and brings them up in a liberal manner.
Paul does not, I acknowledge, speak of that kind of children, as the context will show. By the children of Sinai, it will afterwards be explained, are meant hypocrites, who are at length expelled from the Church of God, and deprived of the inheritance. What, then, is the gendering to bondage, which forms the subject of the present dispute? It denotes those who make a wicked abuse of the law, by finding in it nothing but what tends to slavery. Not so the pious fathers, who lived under the Old Testament; for their slavish birth by the law did not hinder them from having Jerusalem for their mother in spirit. But those who adhere to the bare law, and do not acknowledge it to be “a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ,” (Galatians 3:24,) but rather make it a hinderance to prevent their coming to him, are the Ishmaelites born to slavery.
It will again be objected, why does the apostle say that such persons are born of God’s covenant, and are considered to belong to the Church? I answer, strictly speaking, they are not God’s children, but are degenerate and spurious, and are disclaimed by God, whom they falsely call their Father. They receive this name in the Church, not because they are members of it in reality, but because for a time they presume to occupy that place, and impose on men by the disguise which they wear. The apostle here views the Church, as it appears in this world: but on this subject we shall afterwards speak.