The Institute for Midrashic Studies of the New Testament

Paul’s Use of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4:27

Paul created an enthymeme in Galatians 4:21-5:1 that is clearly seen through the lens of midrash.

What is an enthymeme?

An enthymeme is a form of reasoning that was described by Aristotle. It is the form of reasoning describing a technique lawyers use before juries and how medicine is taught. A simple example is the truncated phrase—north, south; east, west; up, down; right, _______.

Is the truncated word “wrong” or “left”? Left of course is the correct answer but how did you know? Wrong is the opposite of right, but so is left. The “clarification” is that all the other words—north, south; east, west; up and down are directional and so must be the truncated word. Wrong is clearly wrong and left is clearly right! Because the reader or listener came up with the answer on his or her own, the conclusion has the most impact of any reasoning device.

The directional nature of the words is called the “clarification statement” and the truncated word (in this instance) is called the “repressed premise.” Paul used the reasoning device in Galatians 4:21-5:1 by setting up a number of contrasts and with both repressed major and minor premises that is illustrated in Table 1.

Briefly, there are two of everything except a second mountain (the suppressed major premise). The second covenant is also not mentioned (the suppressed minor premise) but within the context of Paul’s argument that is clearly the Abrahamic covenant. Paul identified the second mountain with the clarification statement, Isaiah 54:1, as Golgotha. Although there is a chapter number between Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Isaiah 54:1 is juxtaposed to that passage. Juxtaposition is another literary device.

Note the English translation of Isaiah 54:1:

“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married,” says the Lord. (RSV)

Still another literary device, ellipsis, was used by Paul to get his message across. A form of the word “faith” is used in every chapter of Galatians except chapter 4 (Table 2). The device amplifies or reinforces the suppressed minor premise of the Abrahamic covenant.

Finally, this section of Galatians is a commentary (midrash) on Exodus 23:26-28:25 with many of the same words from the Septuagint (LXX) used by Paul (Table 3). In this section of Exodus the leaders of Israel saw “the God of Israel, and there was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness” (Exodus 24:10). Paul is identifying through midrash that this was the pre-Incarnate Messiah, and “many more have through faith been credited with righteousness from the event that occurred on Golgotha than the event that occurred on Mount Sinai.”

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