These small group studies of Galatians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Galatians 4:21-31 Inductive Bible Study

Title: The Two Covenants

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Paul ask this rhetorical question?
  • What allegory does Paul use?
  • What is an allegory? Are there are actually allegories in the Bible?
  • Why does Paul use this allegory?
  • In Paul’s allegory what do Mt. Sinai, Hagar, Sarah, Jerusalem, and Isaac represent? Is that meaning in the original text? Then why does Paul bring it in here?
  • What does verse 26 mean that the Jerusalem above is free? What is the Jerusalem above?
  • What is the meaning of verse 27?
  • Where did the Galatians fit into this allegory?
  • Who was the one born according to the flesh? How about the one born according to the Spirit?
  • What point is Paul making in verse 30?
  • What is his conclusion in verse 31?


Believers in Christ are free:

  • Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18, John 8:36, Romans 6:18,22, 8:2.
  • Galatians 16:1 – Hagar was Sarah’s slave.
  • Isaiah 54:1 – 4:27 is quoted from there.
  • Isaac inherited the promises to Abraham – Genesis 26:1-3.
  • We inherit God’s spiritual promises to us – 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, Ephesians 1:3.
  • Ishmael mocked Isaac – Genesis 21:8-9
  • Unbelievers persecute believers – Matthew 10:22-25, John 15:19-20, 1 Peter 2:20-21, 2 Timothy 3:12.

Teaching Points

Intro: Review the main theme of the book. How does this passage fit in with the overall theme? Paul uses yet another way to tell the Galatians that the law can’t save them and reminds them of their freedom.

  1. Read the passage about Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael. Discuss what we can learn from the various people involved. Genesis 16.

  2. Contrast “born according to the flesh” and “the son…through the promise.” – This phrase captures the essence of the account of Abraham/Sarah/Hagar/Ishmael. God promised to Abraham that he would have a child. Abraham waited many years for this promise to be fulfilled and still nothing happened. He and Sarah became impatient. Before Abraham had offered to make one of his servants his heir to “help” God, but God declined. This time they didn’t mention their plan to God at all. They decided to try to help God fulfill His promise. This plan was not conceived through faith. There is no evidence that they prayed about it. They certainly did not ask God’s opinion about it. Sarah suggested it and Abraham just did it. Thus it was according to the flesh. It was man’s idea, not God’s. It was a result of their own effort, their own wisdom, their own understanding.

    1. By contrast, Isaac was the son of promise. He was a miracle child. It was beyond human imagination that Abraham and Sarah could have a child at their advanced age. Both of them laughed at the idea at various times. But God had promised it. What He promises, He fufills. He came up with the plan. He miraculously accomplished it by His power. The promise was not fulfilled quickly, but it was fulfilled just at the right time.

    2. Later we will see that the distinction between “the flesh” and “the promise” is important to us as well. Pay attention to the differences between these two groups of people and think how they apply to us.

    3. Applications: What do we learn from this story?

      • Trust in God’s promises completely.
      • Wait for God’s proper timing.
      • Do not rely on our own understanding.
      • Do not make plans or decisions without praying/counseling.
      • The means and the end are both important. Do not try sneaky or sinful methods to get what we want. Do things God’s way even if it is more difficult.
      • Do not blindly follow the culture around us.
  1. Discuss allegories and the Bible – An allegory is a type of literature in which the “real” meaning is hidden. The real meaning is a mystery. Some people have followed an allegorical interpretation to the Bible. For example they might say that Judas’ suicide means we should free ourselves from all restraints. Or they might say that Jesus’ death is representative of the modern day plight of the common man being downtrodden by an oppressive government. Basically an allegory allows for any type of interpretation. The real meaning is a mystery, completely unknown. We should not follow the allegorical interpretation method toward the Bible. Cults and heresies get started this way. So then why does Paul offer an allegorical interpretation to the historical account of Abraham and Hagar?

    Paul is not actually interpreting this passage. He is not saying that the meaning he is assigning was intended originally. Basically Paul, like Jesus, is using a parable to teach a point. Only he is using actual historical characters for his parable/allegory. Keep in mind that Paul’s overarching theme of this book is to convince the Galatians that they are justified by faith alone and not the works of the law. He uses argument after argument, anything which may help to convince the Galatians. In this example, he uses characters they are familiar with to advance his arguments and put what he is saying into a context they can understand because they are familiar with it.

    • Application: Be careful how you interpret the Bible. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul could use this historical account as a type of parable to advance his argument. But this is not a green light for us to do the same. It may be easy for us to get off track. We should remember the rule: one interpretation, many applications. When studying a passage never start with the question, “What does this mean to me?” Instead start with the question, “What did this mean to the original audience?”

  2. Discuss each aspect of the parable and what it represents – Hagar, Sarah, Mt. Sinai, Jerusalem.
  3. Discuss what it means that Hagar bore children who are to be slaves – Those under the Old Covenant are slaves. They are slaves to the rituals and rules of the law, with no hope of being good enough to be saved. They try so hard to fulfill the law, but will ultimately fail. The sad part is that it is needless for them to be slaves anymore. Jesus came to set them free, but they missed it.
  4. The Jerusalem above is free – What is the Jerusalem above? Heaven is a free kingdom for people who are free. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are free indeed. How are those under the new covenant free compared to those under the law? What freedom will we have in heaven that we don’t have now?
  5. You brethren, are children of promise – In what way are we children of promise? What promises did God fulfill when He saved us? What lessons can we learn from that? Our salvation is the result of God’s fulfilled promises to us throughout the Old Testament. Some of those promises are seen in Isaiah 53, 49:6, and 42:6 among other places. These were promises that were made hundreds or thousands of years ahead of time (see also Genesis 3:15). Yet God fulfilled them all. It is a privilege to be a child of promise. It means:
      • We are not an accident. God had a plan for us and He fulfilled it.
      • God is sovereign. Nothing can stop God from fulfilling His plans for us.
      • We are loved. We are wanted.
      • We have a heavenly Father who will watch over us. He will continue the work He began in us.
  6. The one born of flesh persecutes the one born of the Spirit – Discuss Ishmael’s persecution of Isaac and the persecution of believers around the world today.
  7. Cast out the bondwoman and her son – In like manner we should cast out those who rely on the law instead of faith in Christ.
  8. Are you children of the slave woman or of the free? So since you are free, what should you do?
Study Galatians 5:1-15

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