Frustration & Faith: The Story of Sarah

In the course of his argument in the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul appeals to the biblical account of barren Sarah to illustrate the Christian covenant, especially the component of faith, man’s faith in God’s fidelity. Paul writes, “It is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic” (4:22–24).

The Greek word translated by the NKJV as “symbolic” is allegoroumena, which literally means “things said in allegory.” This is our first instance of the word “allegory” in Christian thought, where it properly means the New Testament meaning of an Old Testament text. Indeed, this is why Paul brings up the subject of barren Sarah: her historical and symbolic relevance to the Christian covenant.

The apostle’s insertion of this image into his exposition of the Christian covenant prompts the Christian mind to reflect further on what the story of ancient Sarah means to the life of faith. I propose to structure this reflection under two headings: frustration and faith.

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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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