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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Galatians 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

It is folly to mix law and grace. The Galatians were behaving as though they were under some kind of spell and not in full use of their rational faculties. Paul had drawn graphic word pictures of Jesus Christ crucified as their substitute when he had been among them, and they had understood the gospel.

To bring them to their senses Paul asked four more questions of them in Galatians 3:2-5. He probably intended his introductory rhetorical question in this verse as a rebuke. [Note: F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 1462.] Fools in Scripture are people who disregard God"s revelation (cf. Psalm 14:1; Luke 24:25).

". . . Paul regards his Galatian converts as having unwittingly come under the spell-the hypnotic effect-of the false teachers ..." [Note: Fung, p129.]

The public portrayal of Christ crucified (Gr. perfect participle estauromenos, crucified with continuing results) probably refers to the fact of Jesus" death as the crucial event in salvation history. It probably does not refer to some description of the crucifixion that Paul or someone else had presented to them nor to Christ as presently still crucified in some sense. [Note: Ibid.] The Galatians would not have found false teaching attractive if they had truly appreciated the major significance of Jesus" crucifixion.

"The suggestion is that anyone with spiritual perception ought to be able to see the impossibility of legal efforts to save a man. This idea Paul proceeds to develop." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians , p91.]


Verses 1-5

1. The experiential argument3:1-5

The apostle began to apply the principle stated in Galatians 2:15-21 to his audience.


Verse 2

Question1: How did you receive the Holy Spirit? The answer to this one question should settle the whole debate (cf. Galatians 3:5). It was obviously not by keeping the Law but by hearing and believing the gospel, the message of Christ crucified (cf. Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul assumed his readers" salvation.

Justification ( Galatians 2:16) and the Holy Spirit become the believer"s possession not by the works of the Law but by faith through one act of believing. Receiving the gift of God"s Spirit is one of the highest privileges mortals can experience. Since God gives us this gift when we believe the gospel ( Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13), believing the gospel is clearly superior to obeying the Law. Furthermore since the Spirit is the guarantee of final salvation (glorification; cf. Ephesians 1:13-14), and the Spirit comes to us by faith, final salvation must depend on faith, not obedience to the Law.

". . . those who stressed the law put no emphasis on the Holy Spirit. But from the day of Pentecost on, the Christians emphasized the importance of the Holy Spirit for Christian living." [Note: Morris, p95.]


Verse 3

Question2: How is God sanctifying you? Their justification had been a work of the Holy Spirit in response to believing faith. Likewise their sanctification was also a work of the Holy Spirit in response to believing faith. The idea that keeping the Mosaic Law will somehow help the Holy Spirit is a fallacy that persists to our day.

"The Judaizers in Galatia, it seems, claimed not to be opposing Paul but to be supplementing his message, and so to be bringing his converts to perfection ..." [Note: Longenecker, p106. Cf. Betz, p136.]

"Flesh" here refers to one"s sinful human nature, the seat and vehicle of sinful desires. This is a metaphorical use of the word. [Note: See I. Howard Marshall, "Living in the "Flesh"," Bibliotheca Sacra159:636 (October-December2002):387-403 , for an excellent word study of "flesh."] Notice that reception of the Spirit does not mark a second or higher stage after justification, a "second blessing." It belongs to initial justification and now takes place at the moment of conversion (cf. John 7:39; John 16:7; John 20:22; Acts 1:8; Acts 2:38; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13).


Verse 4

Question3: Have your experiences been useless? "Suffer" can mean suffer persecution or simply to experience something. In the former case it would refer to the persecution the Galatians had experienced since they became Christians (cf. Acts 14:21-22). The point would be that all of those afflictions would have been needless suffering. In the latter case it would refer to all the experiences that the Galatians had gone through, good and bad, since their conversion. The point would be that all of those experiences would have been meaningless. Perhaps we should prefer the wider significance here since the other questions in this pericope concern positive benefits the Galatians had received from God by faith.


Verse 5

Question4: What accounts for the miracles you witnessed (cf. Acts 14:3; Acts 14:8-10)? God did not perform them because the Galatians did something special to earn them. He gave them freely in response to their believing the gospel.

Paul knew, of course, that miracles do not necessarily evidence that God is at work. Satan can empower people to do miracles too ( 2 Thessalonians 2:9; cf. Exodus 7:22; Exodus 8:7). He regarded the evidential value of miracles as secondary (e.g, Romans 15:19). Here he appealed to the fact that miracles accompanied his preaching to the Galatians whereas presumably they did not accompany the preaching of the Judaizers. He did this to remind them of the Holy Spirit"s miraculous confirmation of his gospel. These miracles may have been those the Holy Spirit continued to work among the believers even after Paul left. Note the present tense of the word translated "works" (Gr. energon). He continues to do miracles in and through believers even today not the least of which is the miracle of regeneration. However, Paul was speaking of the miracles that his original readers had witnessed.

For Paul the Mosaic Law and the Holy Spirit were as antithetical as works and faith regarding what makes people acceptable to God now (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6).

Thus Paul reminded his readers of their own experience of salvation to prove that it was by faith alone.


Verse 6

The Judaizers, in emphasizing the Mosaic Law, appealed to Moses frequently. Paul took them back farther in their history to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. He cited Genesis 15:6 to prove that God justified Abraham by faith, not because he kept the Law. Abraham believed the promise that God would bless him. Abraham could and did do nothing but believe God"s promise that He would do something supernatural for him (cf. Romans 4:3). One writer suggested that the best commentary on Galatians 3is Romans 4. [Note: George, p219.] Abraham"s faith was his trust in God.

". . . Paul takes it for granted that Abraham"s being justified by faith proves that the Galatians must have received the Spirit by faith also; and this argument from Scripture falls to the ground unless the reception of the Spirit is in some sense equated with justification. For if this were not Song of Solomon , it could be objected that even though Abraham was indeed justified by faith, it does not necessarily follow that reception of the Spirit also has to be dependent on faith; conceivably while justification is by faith the gift of the Spirit could be conditioned on works. We may take it, then, that Paul conceives of receiving the Spirit in such close connection with justification that the two can be regarded in some sense as synonymous, so that in the Galatians" receiving the Spirit their justification was also involved." [Note: Fung, p136.]

Genesis 15:6 is one of Paul"s two key proof-texts for his teaching about justification by faith in Galatians (cf. Romans 4:3). The other is Habakkuk 2:4, which he quoted in Galatians 3:11 (cf. Romans 1:17).

This verse introduces Paul"s major explanation of salvation history. It is a bridge concluding one section of his argument ( Galatians 3:1-6; "even so") and introducing the next ( Galatians 3:6-9; "Therefore," Galatians 3:7).


Verses 6-9

The blessing of faith3:6-9


Verses 6-14

2. The Scriptural argument3:6-14

Next Paul appealed to Scripture to defend salvation by faith alone. To refute the legalists Paul first argued that it is incorrect to say that only through conformity to the Law could people become sons of Abraham ( Galatians 3:6-9). Second, he argued that by the logic of the legalists those whose standing the Law determines are under the curse of the Law, not special blessing ( Galatians 3:10-14).


Verses 7-9

"In this verse [ Galatians 3:7] Paul extended his argument from Abraham to his posterity and raised for the first time the question that would dominate the remainder of Galatians 3 , 4 : Who are the true children of Abraham? This train of thought will find a conclusion in the allegory of the two mothers, Sarah and Hagar, and their two sons, Isaac and Ishmael ( Galatians 4:21-31)." [Note: George, p223.]

The spiritual sons of Abraham, Paul contended, were not his physical descendants but those who believed God whether they were Jews or Gentiles. He expounded Genesis 12:3 c and Genesis 22:18 a (in the LXX) to prove his point. We should understand this promise to include salvation. Paul clarified that this is what God intended. However it is only those who trust God who enter into God"s blessings for believers. Paul was not a universalist; he did not believe everyone will eventually go to heaven. Personal appropriation of God"s gift is necessary for salvation.

The Judaizers were evidently teaching the Galatians that to become Abraham"s children by adoption they had to receive circumcision. This was necessary for pagan proselytes to Judaism. They may have said that God had declared the Galatian Christians righteous by faith while uncircumcised like Abraham. Nevertheless now they needed to undergo circumcision as Abraham did. Circumcision would be a seal of their justification as it had been for Abraham. Circumcision would make them true sons of Abraham.

Paul argued that it was not circumcision that made a person a son of Abraham but faith. He treated circumcision as a part of the Law because, even though God instituted it many generations before He gave the Law, He reaffirmed it and incorporated it into the Law ( Leviticus 12:3).

"What endeared Abraham to many Jewish thinkers were his virtues and his deeds. They understood him to have kept the law before it was written." [Note: Morris, p98.]


Verse 10

Living under the Mosaic Law did not bring blessing but a curse. The reason is that to obtain God"s blessing under the Law a person had to keep it perfectly, and no one could. Even one failure brought God"s curse. Paul cited Deuteronomy 27:26 that was a passage the legalists would have respected highly because it is in a highly legal section of a highly legal book. He did so to support his argument. The Law is similar to a chain; one must forge every single link securely or it will not support the person who clings to it for salvation (cf. Galatians 5:3; James 2:10).

Paul was not changing the original intention of the passage he quoted (i.e, Deuteronomy 27:26). The whole Law taught that people cannot earn God"s blessing. The blessing that people experience because they do God"s will is not something they earn. God grants it freely in grace. What people earn and deserve is cursing and judgment from God since they cannot obey the Law perfectly ( Romans 6:23).


Verses 10-14

The curse of works3:10-14

"In Galatians 3:6-9 Paul set forth a positive argument for justification by faith. In Galatians 3:10-14 he turned the tables and argued negatively against the possibility of justification by works." [Note: George, p227. Cf. Lightfoot, p137.]


Verse 11

Paul further quoted Habakkuk 2:4, from the Prophets section of the Old Testament, to show that justification by faith has always been God"s method. Since Scripture says that it is the person who is righteous by faith that will live, no one can be justified by works of the law.

In Galatians 3:10 Paul argued that anyone who seeks justification by works of the Law will suffer God"s curse. He or she will do so because he or she cannot keep the Law perfectly. In Galatians 3:11-12 he argued that justification by the works of the Law is impossible by definition.


Verse 12

Responding to the idea that perhaps both Law and faith are necessary for justification Paul quoted Leviticus 18:5. This verse shows that they are mutually exclusive. They are two entirely different approaches to God. The Law demanded perfect compliance. "Them" refers to the statutes and ordinances of the Mosaic Law.

Law and faith are as different as apples and elephants. The Law requires works, but the gospel calls for faith.


Verse 13

If the Law shows every person to be under God"s curse, how can we escape God"s wrath? Paul reminded his readers that Christ paid the penalty for our sins and made justification possible for every person. He voluntarily took the wrath of God directed toward us upon Himself; He became the object and bearer of God"s curse ( 2 Corinthians 5:21).

"He neutralized the curse for them, so that they, on whom the curse rightfully falls because of their failure to keep the law, now become free from both its demands and its curse....

"Verse13thus represents Christ"s death as a vicarious bearing of the curse of the law which delivers his people from the same curse. This is in simple terms Paul"s Christian interpretation of Christ"s death on the cross." [Note: Fung, pp149-50.]

"Christ has done all that is necessary and his death is the means of making sinners free." [Note: Morris, p106.]

The proof that Christ became a curse for us was the fact that His executioners hung Him on a tree. Under the Law this was the fate of criminals whom God had cursed. Note that God did not curse Christ because He hung on a tree, but Christ hung on a tree because God had cursed Him. Paul again quoted Deuteronomy ( Deuteronomy 21:23).

"The curse of the Law" is the curse pronounced on the law-breaker by the Law ( Deuteronomy 27:26; cf. Galatians 3:10).

"By bringing these two texts [in Deuteronomy] together and interpreting the latter [ Deuteronomy 21:23] in terms of the former [ Deuteronomy 27:26], Paul understands Jesus" death on the cross (to which a curse was attached according to Deuteronomy 21:23) as a bearing of the curse of God incurred (according to Deuteronomy 27:26) by all who fail to continue in obedience to the law." [Note: Fung, pp147-48.]


Verse 14

Christ"s death has resulted in two blessings. The blessing of justification that Abraham enjoyed has become available to the Gentiles, as has the blessing of the promised Holy Spirit"s ministry to believers ( Acts 1:8; Acts 2:33).

". . . at several points in the argument of Galatians 3Paul so parallels or intertwines the categories of being justified and receiving the Spirit that we can draw the conclusion: the experience of the Spirit and the status of justification are, for the apostle, inconceivable apart from each other." [Note: Sam K. Williams, "Justification and the Spirit in Galatians ," Journal for the Study of the New Testament29 (February1987):97.]

The contrasts between faith and law-keeping presented in this section would have been especially persuasive to people such as the legalists of Paul"s day who regarded the Old Testament Scriptures as authoritative. They help us see the issue clearly too, of course, and they help us deal with legalistic false teachers of our day. [Note: See James D. G. Gunn, "Works of the Law and the Curse of the Law ( Galatians 3:10-14)," New Testament Studies31:4 (October1985):523-42.]

Paul was not saying that the Mosaic Law is valueless for Christians. The Mosaic Law is a part of the Old Testament, all of which is profitable for Christians ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17). He was saying that obeying the Mosaic Law never results in the justification or sanctification of anyone, Jew or Gentile.


Verse 15-16

Paul now turned to the objection that when God gave the Law He terminated justification by faith alone. He reminded his readers, with a human analogy, that even wills and contracts made between human beings remained in force until the fulfillment of their terms. Likewise the covenant God made with Abraham remains in force until God fulfills it completely. The promises made to Abraham extended to his descendants as well as to him personally. They even extend to Christ, the descendant of Abraham who became the greatest source of blessing God promised would come through Abraham"s descendants. Paul did not mean that Christ fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant completely. He meant that through Christ, the descendant of Abraham, God continued to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant. The Mosaic Law did not supersede (take the place of) the Abrahamic Covenant.

The Hebrew word for "seed" or "offspring" (zera, Galatians 3:16) is a collective singular that can refer either to one descendant or many descendants. An English collective singular, for example, is "sheep" that can refer to one sheep or many sheep. Both "seed" and "offspring" are also collective singulars in English. Paul explained that the seed God had in mind in Genesis 13:15; Genesis 17:8 was the one descendant, Christ. [Note: See Robert A. Pyne, "The "Seed," the Spirit, and the Blessing of Abraham," Bibliotheca Sacra152:606 (April-June1995):214-16.]

"The term seed not uncommonly denotes all the descendants of some great ancestor, but it is not normally used of one person. Used in this way it points to the person as in some way outstanding; the seed is not simply one descendant among many but THE descendant." [Note: Morris, p110.]

The Four Seeds of Abraham in Scripture

Natural Seed
All physical descendants of Abraham
Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7; et al.

Natural-Spiritual Seed
Believing physical descendants of Abraham
Isaiah 41:8; Romans 9:6; Romans 9:8; Galatians 6:16

Spiritual Seed
Believing non-physical descendants of Abraham
Galatians 3:6-9; Galatians 3:29

Ultimate Seed
Jesus Christ
Galatians 3:16; Hebrews 2:16-17


Verses 15-18

The continuance of faith after the giving of the Law3:15-18


Verses 15-29

3. The logical argument3:15-29

Paul continued his argument that God justifies Christians by faith alone by showing the logical fallacy of relying on the Law. He did this to answer the legalists and to clarify the distinction between works and faith as ways of salvation (i.e, justification, sanctification, and glorification). He continued to base his argument on the biblical revelation of Abraham.


Verse 17-18

Paul summarized his point in Galatians 3:17.

The430 years probably began with God"s reiterating the promises to Jacob at Beersheba as he left Canaan to settle in Egypt (in1875 B.C.; Genesis 46:2-4). They probably ended with the giving of the Mosaic Law (in1446 B.C.; Exodus 19).

The "inheritance" ( Galatians 3:18; cf. Galatians 3:29; Galatians 4:1; Galatians 4:7; Galatians 5:21) refers to what God promised to Abraham and his descendants, including justification by faith implicit in blessing. Reception of this did not depend on obedience to the Law, but God guaranteed to provide it. The idea of inheritance dominates much of the discussion in the following chapters. [Note: George, p249.]

". . . the inheritance of Galatians 3:18; Galatians 4:30 is parallel not with the land promises, Canaan, but with the gift of justification to the Gentiles. This is the major passage in the New Testament used to equate the inheritance of the land of Canaan with heaven, but the land of Canaan is not even the subject of the passage!" [Note: Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, p90.]


Verse 19

In view of the foregoing argument, did the Law have any value? Yes, God had several purposes in it. Purpose, not cause, is in view, as is clear in the Greek text.

There have been four primary interpretations of what "because of transgressions" means. First, some take it to mean, "to restrain transgressions." [Note: E.g, David J. Lull, ""The Law Was Our Pedagogue": A Study in Galatians 3:19-25 ," Journal of Biblical Literature105:3 (September1986):482.] This seems legitimate since all law has a restraining effect. Second, some understand the phrase to mean, "to reveal transgressions." This seems valid in view of other statements that Paul made (cf. Romans 3:20; Romans 4:15; Romans 5:13). Third, it may mean, "to provoke transgressions." This, too, seems legitimate. A "Do not touch! Wet paint!" sign on a bench tempts people to touch the bench to see if the paint really is wet. Fourth, some have understood that Paul meant, "to awaken a conviction of transgressions." This seems less likely in this context since Paul showed more concern with the objective facts of salvation history than he did with the subjective development of faith in the individual. [Note: Fung, pp159-60.]

Angels who stood between God and the Israelites mediated the Mosaic Covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 33:2, LXX). Both God and the Jews had responsibilities under the Law. In contrast, God Himself revealed the Abrahamic Covenant, without mediation, in which only God had responsibilities ( Galatians 3:20; cf. Genesis 15).

"Just as it [the Law] had a point of origin on Mount Sinai, so also it had a point of termination-Mount Calvary." [Note: Ibid, p254.]

Paul clarified that the Law was only a temporary measure designed to function until Christ came. [Note: See J. Daniel Hays, "Applying the Old Testament Law Today," Bibliotheca Sacra158:629 (January-March2001):21-35; and Hal Harless, "The Cessation of the Mosaic Covenant," Bibliotheca Sacra160:639 (July-September2003):349-66.]

"The function of the law was to point people to Christ, not to provide for all time the way the people of God should live." [Note: Morris, p113.]

"He [Paul] conceives of a sequence which may be summarized as follows: age of promise, age of law, age of Christ, the last being conceived as a fulfillment of the age of promise." [Note: Guthrie, Galatians , p104.]

The Christian Reconstruction movement answers Paul"s question, "Why the Law then?" ( Galatians 3:19) this way. God gave the Mosaic Law to provide a framework for the operation of every nation"s government. [Note: See Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction.]

"Reconstructionists anticipate a day when Christians will govern using the Old Testament as the law book" [Note: Rodney Clapp, "Democracy as Heresy," Christianity Today (February20 , 1987), p17. This article is an excellent popular evaluation of the movement.]

Reconstructionism rests on presuppositional apologetics, theonomy (lit. the rule of God), and postmillennialism. Other names for it are the theonomy movement and the Chalcedon school. It has gained many followers, many among charismatic evangelicals. Its popular appeal is that it claims God wants America and every other nation to function as God intended Israel to function, namely, as a theocracy. It fails to make a distinction between God"s unique purpose for Israel and His purpose for other nations throughout history. [Note: Other helpful critiques include the following: Thomas D. Ice, "An Evaluation of Theonomic Neopostmillennialism," Bibliotheca Sacra145:579 (July-September1989):281-30; Robert Lightner, "Theological Perspectives on Theonomy," Bibliotheca Sacra143:569 (January-March1986):26-36; 570 (April-June1986):134-45; and571 (July-September1986):228-45; Meredith Kline, "Comments on an Old-New Error," Westminster Theological Journal41:1 (Fall1978):172-89; and Douglas Chismar and David Raush, "Regarding Theonomy: An Essay of Concern," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society27:3 (September1984):315-23.]


Verses 19-22

The purpose of the Law3:19-22


Verse 20

The meaning of this verse has drawn numerous different explanations. [Note: Lightfoot, p146 , mentioned250 to300 , and Charles J. Ellicott, A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on St. Paul"s Epistle to the Galatians , with a Revised Translation, p83 , estimated over400.] I think Paul probably meant that a mediator (here the angels, Galatians 3:19) is necessary when two parties make an agreement in which they both assume responsibilities, as in the reciprocal Mosaic Covenant. However a mediator is not necessary when the covenant is unilateral, as when God made the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant.


Verse 21-22

Do the Law and the promises contradict each other? Never! God designed them for two different purposes. The purpose of the Law was never to provide justification. It served as a mirror to show people their sinfulness and that they are the slaves of sin. When they realize they cannot save themselves, they will be open to receiving salvation as a gift by faith.

"God always intended to save by faith, apart from law. God gave the law, but he gave it in order that it would condemn all and thus prepare negatively for redemption on the basis of faith ( Galatians 3:22; Galatians 3:24, the purpose clauses conveying God"s intention). The law was not given to make alive ( Galatians 3:21)." [Note: E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People, p68.]

"It rivets upon us the conviction that we cannot be justified by anything we can do. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we are commanded to make bricks without straw, to be perfectly holy when we have none of the makings of holiness-to love God with all our hearts and the neighbor as ourselves when we are without divine charity." [Note: A. R. Vidler, Christ"s Strange Work, p42.]

"A law can lay down what people ought to do, but it cannot give them the power to overcome the temptations to do evil." [Note: Morris, p115. See also Barclay, p32.]

The whole Old Testament ( Galatians 3:22), not just the Law of Moses ( Galatians 3:21), showed that people are sinners and incapable of saving themselves. Paul personified Scripture to illustrate that the Word is really God working through the Word.


Verses 23-27

Paul pictured Israel before the advent of Christ as a child. The coming of faith ( Galatians 3:23) is synonymous with the coming of Christ in Paul"s view of salvation history.

In Paul"s day it was common for children between age six and puberty to be under the care of a pedagogue (tutor). The pedagogue protected them from evil influences and demanded their obedience.

"No doubt there were many pedagogues who were known for their kindness and held in affection by their wards, but the dominant image was that of a harsh disciplinarian who frequently resorted to physical force and corporal punishment as a way of keeping his children in line." [Note: George, p265.]

The Law did just that for Israel. [Note: See Michael J. Smith, "The Role of the Pedagogue in Galatians ," Bibliotheca Sacra163:650 (April-June2006):197-214.] The Law was essentially a disciplinarian for the Israelites. However the need for that kind of assistance ended when Christ came.

"Christ is the real teacher, who takes us in hand and shows us the way of God in terms of grace." [Note: Harrison, p1292.]

Now all who trust in Christ are adult sons (Gr. huioi), no longer children. It is faith in Christ Jesus that makes one a son of God ( Galatians 3:25).

"Now the focus shifts from the historical to the personal, from the institutional to the individual. Paul has discussed the inheritance promised to the children of Abraham; now he zooms in on the heir who claimed his bequest." [Note: George, p271.]

George suggested that Galatians 3:26 is the center of a chiasm. [Note: Ibid, pp271-74.] The first half of the chiasm has a Jewish emphasis whereas the second half has a Gentile emphasis.

A Promise (Abraham) Galatians 3:6-14

B Law (Moses) Galatians 3:15-22

C Faith (Christ) Galatians 3:23-25

D "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:26

C" Faith (Spirit) Galatians 3:27 to Galatians 4:7

B" Law (stoicheia tou kosmou [elements of the world]) Galatians 4:8-11

A" Promise (Sarah) Galatians 4:21-31

What unites us to Christ is the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that takes place at the moment of salvation ( 1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul"s original readers may have taken his reference to baptism as being water baptism, but water baptism dramatized what happened to them when the Spirit baptized them. When Roman male children reached son status their fathers gave them a special toga that identified their status. Paul compared that toga to Christ ( Galatians 3:27).

God has dealt with humanity as a father deals with his children. When children are young, having limited information and experience, a good father makes allowances for their immaturity, but when they become mature, he deals with them as adults. The differences in the house rules that Paul spoke of here reflect different dispensations (i.e, economies, Gr. oikonomos, lit. house law). It is interesting that even non-dispensational commentators admit that the coming of Christ, as Paul spoke of it here, inaugurated a new dispensation in God"s dealing with humanity.


Verses 23-29

The conditions of people under Law and faith3:23-29

"Continuing the perspective of salvation history introduced in Galatians 3:13 f. and developed in Galatians 3:15-22, Paul gives further consideration to the place of the law in the divine economy by showing the relation between law and faith as two distinct dispensations." [Note: Fung, p167.]


Verse 28

Another difference is that under faith all believers share the same privilege and position. Paul was not saying that all distinctions between people have ceased. Obviously people are still either Jews or Gentiles, slaves or free, and male or female. His point was that within the body of Christ all have the same relationship to God. All are of equal value. Paul may have used a fragment of an early Christian hymn here (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Colossians 3:9-11).

"The three pairs of opposites Paul listed stand for the fundamental cleavages of human existence: ethnicity, economic capacity, and sexuality. Race, money, and sex are primal powers in human life." [Note: George, p284. See his excursus "Was Paul a Feminist?" pp286-93 , which also relates this passage to liberation theology.]

Most of the evangelical feminists regard this verse as the major passage that teaches the abolition of male leadership in Christianity. Paul Jewett, for example, believed that Paul"s teaching that woman is subordinate to Prayer of Manasseh , for whose sake God created her, came from rabbinism rather than revelation. [Note: P. Jewett, Man as Male and Female, p112.] Daniel Fuller reflected the same conclusion but for a slightly different reason.

". . . he [Paul] supported, by way of accommodation, a Christianized slavery and patriarchalism, but with regard to both he left sufficient clues for the church to have understood that these teachings no longer applied after the "neither Jew nor Greek" issue had been settled." [Note: D. Fuller, "Paul and Galatians 3:28 ," Theological Students Fellowship Bulletin9:2 (November-December1985):12-13.]

Bruce took what I consider to be a more biblically defensible position on this verse.

"The first stipulation here . . . is that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek ...; the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between these two was fundamental to Paul"s gospel ( Ephesians 2:14 f.). By similarly excluding the religious distinction between slaves and the freeborn, and between male and female, Paul makes a threefold affirmation which corresponds to a number of Jewish formulas in which the threefold distinction is maintained, as in the morning prayer in which the male Jew thanks God that he is not a Gentile, a slave or a woman....

"The reason for the threefold thanksgiving was not any disparagement of Gentiles, slaves or women as persons but the fact that they were disqualified from several religious privileges which were open to free Jewish males." [Note: Bruce, p187.]

Gentiles, slaves, and women did not enjoy the same access to God in Israel"s formal worship as did Jews, free men, and males. They could trust God for their personal salvation, however. The priests in Israel had to be Jews, free, and males. Now in the church every Christian is a priest ( 1 Peter 2:9-10). Paul"s emphasis, however, was on believers" unity in Christ, not their equality with one another.

" Galatians 3:28 says nothing explicitly whatsoever about how male/female relationships should be conducted in daily life. Even the feminists acknowledge that the context of Galatians 3is theological, not practical. [Note: Footnote21: Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We"re Meant to Be, pp18-19.] Paul is here making a theological statement about the fundamental equality of both men and women in their standing before God. Thus any ideas about how this truth should work itself out in social relationships cannot be drawn from Galatians 3:28, but must be brought to it from one"s broader understanding of the nature of things." [Note: A. Duane Litfin, "Evangelical Feminism: Why Traditionalists Reject It," Bibliotheca Sacra136:543 (July-September1979):264. For a good evaluation of the feminists" arguments, see ibid.; and Roger Oldham, "Positional and Functional Equality: An Appraisal of the Major Arguments for the Ordination of Women," Mid-America Theological Journal (Fall1985):1-29; Kenneth Gangel, "Biblical Feminism and Church Leadership," Bibliotheca Sacra140:557 (January-March1983):55-63; and H. Wayne House, ""Neither ... Male nor Female ... in Christ Jesus"," Bibliotheca Sacra145:577 (January-March1988):47-56.]

The statement does not mean "that all male-female distinctions have been obliterated in Christ, any more than that there is no racial difference between the Christian Jew and the Christian Gentile." [Note: Fung, p175.]


Verse 29

A third change is that those joined to Christ by faith become spiritual descendants of Abraham and beneficiaries of some of God"s promises to him. This does not mean Christians become Jews. Christians are Christians; we are in Christ, the Seed of Abraham (cf. Galatians 3:16). God promised some things to all the physical descendants of Abraham (e.g, Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 12:7). He promised other things to the believers within that group (e.g, Romans 9:6; Romans 9:8). He promised still other things to the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not Jews (e.g, Galatians 3:6-9). Failure to distinguish these groups and the promises given to each has resulted in much confusion. For example, amillennialists conclude that Gentile believers inherit the promises of the believing remnant within Israel, thus eliminating any future for Israel as a nation. Here is another example of this error.

"Throughout the whole vast earth the Lord recognizes one, and only one, nation as His own, namely, the nation of believers ( 1 Peter 2:9)." [Note: William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Galatians , p151. Cf. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, p150.]

Why can the amillennialist position represented above not be correct? The reason is that Scripture speaks of the church as a nation distinct from Israel ( Ephesians 2:11-22). [Note: See Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, "Israel and the Church," in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp113-30 , especially pp126-27.] Jews, and Gentiles who had to become Jews to enter Israel, made up Israel. The church consists of Jews and Gentiles who enter it as Jews or Gentiles ( Ephesians 2:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:32). Furthermore Paul called Jewish Gentile equality in the church a "mystery," something unique, not previously revealed in Scripture ( Ephesians 3:5). The church began on the day of Pentecost, not in the Old Testament ( Acts 1:5; Acts 11:15-16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 1:18). Believers of all ages are all the people of God. Nevertheless God has dealt with different groups of them and has had different purposes for them as groups in various periods of human history.

Does the church inherit the promises to Abraham? It only inherits some of them. The Jews will inherit those promises given to the physical descendants of Abraham. All believers will inherit those given to the spiritual descendants of Abraham. Saved Jews will inherit those given to the physical descendants who are also spiritual descendants. In Bible study it is very important to note the person or persons to whom any given promise was given.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/galatians-3.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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