Paul and Allegory: Galatians 4:21–31 Revisited

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Cedarville University School or Department

Biblical and Theological Studies

First Advisor

Thomas R. Schreiner


Those engaged in modern hermeneutical debates have begun to look afresh at the apostles for guidance concerning how one should read the Bible. How did the apostles read, and do their methods match those used in modern biblical scholarship? Amongst the texts discussed in this conversation, Galatians 4:21–31 stands out. Paul’s methods seem foreign to modern minds, and he even seems to flag his reading as an allegory, leading many to see in this text a justification for allegorical hermeneutics. This dissertation attempts to address the question “was Paul allegorizing?" by arguing that Paul was not allegorizing because Paul was not doing what Philo, the allegorical exemplar of the first century, was doing. This argument is built on the following four pieces: First, this dissertation provides a selective survey of modern scholarship on the issue, showing that Philo serves as the allegorical exemplar of the first century and, consequently, as a baseline for figuring what “allegory” was. Second, it analyzes what is implied by the phrase ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα in Galatians 4:24 by a broad study of how the verb ἀλληγορέω functioned in the first century, concluding that Paul meant little more than “these things are metaphorical.” Third, it provides a careful reading of Philo’s treatise De congressu eruditionis gratia, suggesting that Philo’s hermeneutic comprised four attributes: (1) problem solving, (2) etymology, (3) numerology, and (4) arbitrariness. Fourth, it attempts to explain how Paul moved from Sarah and Hagar to the present and heavenly Jerusalems through a detailed analysis of the so-called allegorical pericope found in Galatians 4:21–31 and the Old Testament texts on which this pericope depends (i.e., Gen 16–21 and Isa 54:1). Fourth and finally, it compares this interpretive scheme to that of Philo.