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Galatians 3

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In this great chapter, Paul proceeded, after relating his confrontation with the apostle Peter, to expound the central theme of Galatians, which is Justification by the Faith of Jesus Christ. This chapter is considered by many commentators and theologians to be the stronghold of their doctrine that the subjective faith only of Christians is the ground for justification, notwithstanding the truth that not a single word in the chapter may legitimately be construed as teaching such a proposition.

Some prior knowledge of Almighty God and the nature of his dealings with mankind will help to understand this chapter. From the days of Cain and Abel, one of whom was cursed and the other blessed, for the simple reason that the deeds of one were righteous and the deeds of the other were evil (1 John 3:12), and throughout the history of the patriarchs, and continuing down through the Jewish monarchy, where of various kings it is said that some "did that which was right and good in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 14:2), and of others, that they "did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 33:2), with the result that some received God’s blessing and others did not, people’s obedience or disobedience to God’s commandments has been the primary and invariable determinator of their destiny. Not even the perfect salvation which Christians have received "in Christ" nullifies this basic law of God’s dealings with mankind. As Paul wrote the Corinthian church:

For we must all be manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Any notion that Paul relaxed or countermanded this truth is erroneous. The relationship between the Jews and the Law of Moses, as contrasted with the relationship between the Christian and the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:2), lies only in this: (1) if the Jew did his best to live up to the law (and failed, as all must fail), he nevertheless stood condemned anyway; (2) but if the Christian does his best to keep all of the commandments of the gospel (failing in particulars, as all must fail), he is nevertheless justified and remains uncondemned, because through his identity with Christ "in Christ" and "as Christ," the righteousness of Christ, with whom the true Christian is fully identified, stands in the stead of his own failure, saving his soul anyway. But in such a conception there is no relaxation whatever of the eternal rule that obedience to God is the sine qua non of salvation. In Christ, the obedience is provided by Christ, but certainly not on behalf of those who refused to obey, believed that they were not required to obey, or who through indifference and neglect never got around to obeying. The great fallacy of salvation by "faith only" is that it utterly removes from human hearts all concern whatever with regard to keeping the commandments of the Lord. Paul thunders the refutation of that fallacy throughout his writings, as in this example:

Rest with us at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:7,8).

Furthermore, the necessity of obedience (to the fullest extent of human ability) in order to be saved, does not make man his own Savior; because the Christian, no more effectual than the Jew, is simply not able to give perfect compliance to God’s teachings. Thus, all salvation is by grace, without human merit, unearned and incapable of being earned. Despite this, how can any man be saved who has consciously rejected for himself any requirement whatever that God has enjoined upon man? On the basis that he merely believed? Even devils believe (James 2:19).

Another fundamental truth regarding this chapter was enunciated by Halley, thus:

Those Galatians had swallowed the Judaizers’ message so completely that they had instituted Jewish festival days and ceremonies (Galatians 4:8-11), evidently trying to combine the gospel with the Mosaic Law. Paul plainly tells them the two systems do not combine Henry H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1927), p. 561.

The works vs. faith contrast in this epistle regards the incompatibility of Judaism and Christianity, and absolutely nothing else. The separation of subjective faith from Christian obedience with regard to the ground of justification is not under consideration at all, nor may a single line in the whole epistle be rightfully applied to such a proposition.

Verse 1

O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?

"Jesus Christ and him crucified" was the burden of Paul’s preaching throughout every moment of his apostleship. The scholarly conceit that Paul only came to this method after failing with a different method at Athens is refuted by the fact that in Galatia, long before Paul came to Corinth, his message was the same.

Foolish Galatians … By such an adjective, Paul did not violate the Saviour’s injunction in Matthew 5:22. It is the same word Jesus used in Luke 24:25." William Sanday, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 440. Phillips’ translation renders this "You dear idiots," and the New English Bible (1961) has "You stupid Galatians."

Who did bewitch you … ? Barclay declares that the word here means "the evil eye," rendering it, "Who has put the evil eye on you?" William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 24. Still, it is wrong to suppose that Paul absolved the Galatians themselves from the blame. It was their stupidity that lay at the base of it.

Jesus Christ was openly set forth … This is "from the Greek word [@prografein], used for putting up a poster. Ibid., p. 26. This means that the dramatic story of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection had been emphatically and publicly proclaimed.

Verse 2

This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?

It will be noted that "Law" has been capitalized throughout this chapter to indicate the one and only law Paul referred to throughout, meaning the Law of Moses. The commentators are less than candid when they use terminology that confuses this, as Dummelow, who said: "The apostle upbraids their speedy change from faith to legal observances," J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 950. leaving room for the allegation that something other than the Mosaic Law is meant.

The hearing of faith … This is a shameful rendition of a phrase which actually means "the obedience of faith." James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary and Notes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 139. As so frequently in the New Testament, faith must be understood as an obedient faith, as in Romans 1:5; 16:26. "The hearing of faith" in this verse means exactly the same thing, as Macknight pointed out:

Here, as in Galatians 3:5, it means "the obedience of faith," as also in 1 Samuel 15:22 (LXX), "behold, obedience is better than sacrifice." In like manner, the compound word means "disobedience," as translated in Romans 5:19. Ibid.

Cole is therefore absolutely wrong in rendering this "hearing and believing." R. A. Cole, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), p. 89. Foy E. Wallace decried the butchering of this text, saying flatly that it has "been bungled." Foy E. Wallace, Jr., A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth, Texas: The Foy E. Wallace, Jr., Publications, 1973), p. 442. Of course, it was bungled on purpose to support a theory. Riddebos spoke of this passage as being "not easy to manage"; H. N. Ridderbos, The Epistles of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953), p. 113. and indeed it is impossible to manage it in such a manner as to make it support the "faith only" thesis, except by mistranslating it. The "obedience of faith" mentioned here at the head of the chapter makes it certain that Paul was dealing with a contrast between Judaism and Christianity, and not between two ways of understanding the gospel.

Verse 3

Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh?

In the Spirit … in the flesh … is another way of contrasting Judaism and Christianity, "the Spirit" being the endowment of all Christians, and "fleshly descent" being the total basis of Jewish confidence. But the constant manipulation of every text in the New Testament to fit the "faith only" notion must be maintained: "They received the Spirit by faith," R. E. Howard, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), Vol. IX, p. 55. as one declared, despite the fact that faith is not mentioned in this verse, and despite the further fact that nobody ever received the Spirit except in consequence of his believing, repenting and being baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38), or as Paul said a little later in this epistle, "Because ye are sons God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts" (4:6). The full meaning is: "Are you so foolish, after receiving the Spirit in consequence of your faithful obedience of the gospel, to think that Judaism can bless you in any manner?"

Verse 4

Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain?

Some translate "suffer" here as "experience" (New English Bible); but even if this is allowable, their experience would have included their sufferings. This writer agrees with Howard that this refers to the persecutions brought against them from the very first by the Judaizers. The whole passage, as Ramsay thought, points squarely at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe of the first missionary journey. William M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1965), p. 327.

Verse 5

He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?

Worketh miracles among you … "This is exactly the same phrase as in 1 Corinthians 12:10," W. J. Conybeare, The Life and Epistles of St. Paul (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1966), p. 484. and logically refers to the miracles which Paul himself had performed among them, notable examples of which, as Ramsay pointed out, were: (1) the healing of the lame man at Lystra (Acts 14:9), and (2) the signs and wonders done at Iconium (Acts 14:3). Of course, Ramsay identified "the Galatians" as those churches of Paul’s first missionary journey. William M. Ramsay, op. cit., p. 327.

Works of law … hearing of faith … See under Galatians 3:2.

Verse 6

Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.

By the introduction of this great truth, Paul refuted the notion that the Law of Moses had had anything to do with the salvation of Abraham. Since Abraham was justified, or reckoned righteous in God’s sight, without regard to the Law of Moses, Abraham being the ancestor of every Jew on earth, why should any of his remote descendants, much less the Gentile Galatians, think to gain anything at all from it? The argument is profound and beautiful.

Abraham believed God … Abraham’s faith, not his faith only but his obedient faith, was the basis of God’s reckoning him to be righteous. Of course, Abraham did not obey perfectly; but the whole compass of his life was lived out in a frame of obedience to God’s commands. The ridiculous postulations of the "faith only" advocates to the effect that, since Abraham was justified without obeying the Law of Moses (which never even existed until centuries after Abraham) and without circumcision (which also came long after God’s justification of him), therefore he was justified by "faith only" and without any obedience whatever, is just as illogical as it is ridiculous. The New Testament plainly reveals the time of God’s justifying Abraham in such places as the following:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? (James 2:21 KJV).

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, in that he offered up Isaac his son upon the altar? (James 2:21 English Revised Version (1885)).

Despite the obvious attempt to soften this in the English Revised Version (1885) (to accommodate a theory?), the meaning shines through anyway; for it was not Abraham’s "mere faith" which resulted in justification, but justification was "by works." It did not occur as soon as Abraham believed, but "in that he offered" Isaac. Both the Emphatic Diaglott and the Nestle Greek retain the "when."

And if these references should be thought of as insufficient, go back to Genesis. It is revealed that God "did test" Abraham’s faith (Genesis 22:1). There were many tests; but the great one was the command to offer up Isaac; and Abraham did so. He actually offered him and would have slain his son had not God interposed. And upon that occasion, God said:

Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing that thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me (Genesis 22:12).

By such a declaration, God implied that until then, the issue of Abraham’s faith had not been settled. When Abraham met the test, God said, "Now I know."

Now the absurdity of supposing that today God saves people without any test whatever of their faith, and merely upon their supposition that they have had some kind of subjective experience of "faith," is clearly evident. Exactly the same kind of divinely imposed test of every man’s faith in Christ was announced by none other than the Christ himself who declared, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:15,16); furthermore, in that passage, Jesus gave that as his own personal definition of the gospel. Let people scream about it if they will, the truth shines in the word of God; and may God protect all of us from the stupidity of the Galatians in turning away from it.

"Works" as advocated in the New Testament as entering into Abraham’s justification should not be understood in the sense of any perfect obedience by Abraham to everything God commanded, for he palmed off his wife as his sister, and was doubtless guilty of other sins; but, in the all-important matter of meeting the final test of doing what God commanded instead of obeying his own human will, Abraham passed the test. Among Christians, it may be supposed, perfect obedience is not considered to be possible; but in basic tests such as complying with the divinely imposed preconditions of redemption, such tests must be passed by those who hope to enter eternal life. Also, Christians will not merit, earn, or deserve salvation any more than did Abraham.

Verse 7

Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.

The grand argument is that Abraham was justified upon the exhibition of an obedient faith; and persons today who manifest an obedient faith through their acceptance of the gospel message and obedience to it are true children of Abraham "in Christ." See under Galatians 3:16,27.

Verses 8-9

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.

Justify the Gentiles by faith … The New Testament meaning of the word "faith" has been grossly distorted by post-Reformation theologians. "Its meaning in the New Testament is most often faithfulness," George Howard, Article: "The Faith of Christ," in Expositor Times, Vol. 7, pp. 212-214, April, 1974. which is the normal meaning of the word in the LXX, where the word never means trust/faith in the sense of the current usage of it. Ibid. "The normal meaning of faith in the Greek language is not trust/faith, but reliability, or fidelity." Ibid. Of course, anyone with a knowledge of Pauline teaching could not possibly believe that Paul here meant that the Gentiles were saved by trust/faith only. In the language in which Paul was writing, such a thought did not normally belong to the word at all.

The gospel unto Abraham … The words "In thee shall all the nations be blessed," immediately following, identify what Paul meant by the gospel preached to Abraham. The word nations in the promise to Abraham means "Gentiles," who would be saved in exactly the same manner as Abraham, namely, by the "obedience of faith." Paul elaborated that in verse 16, below.

Verse 10

For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.

The human impossibility of any man’s doing "All the things of the law" rendered every man attempting to do so subject to the curse, here quoted from Deuteronomy 27:26. The Galatians, by fooling around with circumcision and Jewish festival, had inadvertently obligated themselves, under penalty of God’s curse, to keep the whole law, every jot and tittle of it, an achievement which only Jesus Christ accomplished.

Verses 11-12

Now that no man is justified by the Law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the Law is not of faith; but, He that doeth them shall live in them.

No man is justified by the Law … The reason this is true is cited in Galatians 3:10. There was another important indication of the same truth, which Paul then quoted from Habakkuk 2:4, i.e., "The righteous shall live by faith"; thus the prophets had borne testimony to the fact that the purpose of God, even in the Old Testament, was looking for an "obedient faith" in his children, and not merely for the legalistic type of rule-keeping which was the essence of the Law. The Law did not even require faith, as seen in the quotation Paul gave here from Leviticus 18:5, the meaning of which may be paraphrased, "No matter about faith; do the Law and live." This was the essence of Judaism. See note 2, at the end of the chapter.

Now regarding the conceit that would make Habakkuk say, "The righteous shall live by FAITH ONLY? such a meaning was never in any Old Testament usage of faith. As we have already observed, trust/faith or faith only simply did not pertain to the word in the Old Testament. Paul was here merely pointing out that, from the beginning, God had been interested in receiving "faithful obedience" from his followers, and not a mere faithless rule-keeping. We might add that the meaning of trust/faith or faith only is also foreign to the meaning of the word in the New Testament, or even in the Greek language, as Professor Howard has so effectively demonstrated.

There was still another sense in which the Law was a curse, and Paul quickly pointed that out.

Verse 13

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.

The quotation is from Deuteronomy 21:23; and, since Christ was crucified on "the tree" the curse of the Law rested upon the Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind, and this in spite of the fact that Jesus our Lord was the unique and only person of all time who ever kept the totality of the Law in perfection. Cole was doubtless correct in seeing in this verse a rough parallel with 2 Corinthians 5:21, where it is declared that "God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf." Only by his crucifixion and suffering "without the camp" could the holy prophecies have been fulfilled by the Lord.

Verse 14

That upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

In Christ Jesus … This is the cornerstone and foundation of the gospel Paul (and all the apostles) preached. The Gentiles will be blessed, along with Abraham, "in Christ," thus becoming technically part of Christ’s spiritual body, therefore truly of "the seed singular" of Abraham, which is Christ. See under Galatians 3:16, where Paul elaborated this.

Through faith … Every scholar on earth knows that the article precedes "faith" in this place in the Greek New Testament, and that the only honest translation is "through the faith," meaning through the Christian religion. See Emphatic Diaglott, Nestle Greek Text, or any dependable Greek-English rendition of the New Testament. Foy E. Wallace also pointed this out. The attempted perversion of the meaning of this chapter is so extensive as to be phenomenal. The last thing on earth that this passage could mean is that the Gentiles shall be saved through trust/faith alone, which by any definition can be nothing but a subjective personal experience without any merit or trustworthiness whatever.

Verse 15

Brethren, I speak after the manner of men: though it be but a man’s covenant, yet when it hath been confirmed, no man maketh it void, or addeth thereto.

Paul is here still exposing the sinful arguments of the Judaizers, who despite the fact of Abraham’s being accounted righteous by God, long before the giving of the Law, were insisting that God, in a sense, had amended the requirements of righteousness by the addition of the Mosaic Law. This Paul denied on the basis that, even in the case of a human covenant, it could not be altered by one of the parties after it had been ratified and confirmed, thus demonstrating the proof that God’s covenant with Abraham was founded, not upon his keeping the Law (which never existed until centuries afterward), but upon God’s promise made long before the Law came into being. The application of this is the same as that Paul pointed out in verses 6ff, namely, that if the ancestor of all Jews was redeemed without the Law, there could be no earthly use of anyone’s keeping it.

Covenant … For extended remarks on the use of this word in the New Testament, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 9:16-17.

Verse 16

Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed which is Christ.

"There is in this verse a sense of the corporate meaning of Christ, as in 1 Corinthians 12:12, Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 707. where is mentioned "the body of Christ" inclusively of all the redeemed. Christ is again called the "seed singular" in Galatians 3:19. This is the verse that tells "how" the Gentiles, and even the saints of the Old Testament, are saved. They are saved "in Christ," there being this correspondence between the manner of their salvation and our own, namely, that both for them and for us, the basis of it was "the obedience of faith," notwithstanding the tests for them were not the same as the test which those under the New Covenant must meet. For us, the manner of our being "in Christ" is dogmatically declared to be the baptism of believers "into Christ," as Paul would forcefully show a moment later (Galatians 3:27).

Howard thought this verse was "an afterthought"; R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 62. Hendriksen spoke of "its being a bit of rabbinical casuistry (equivocal reasoning), ingenious perhaps, but unconvincing"; William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1968), p. 134. Coad labeled it a "parenthesis"; F. Roy Coad, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 134. and on, and on. Clearly there is no help from the majority of commentators on this verse. Nevertheless, it is the key verse of the entire third chapter. This eliminates completely the nonsense about being saved "by faith only," by making it clear that all salvation is "in Christ," a principle which Paul repeated 169 times in his writings! It is tragic that people would prefer to label the apostle Paul as "an equivocator" rather than face the unwelcome truth of this passage.

Verse 17

Now this I say: a covenant confirmed beforehand by God, the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years after, doth not disannul, so as to make the promise of none effect.

This was Paul’s repetition for the sake of emphasis of the argument already delivered above.

Four hundred and thirty years … For comment on the variation in this figure from that given by Stephen in Acts 7:6, see my Commentary on Acts 7:5-8. Paul used the figure also found in the LXX, and Stephen used a round number.

Verse 18

For if the inheritance is of the Law, it is no more of promise: but God hath granted it to Abraham by promise.

This is based on the profound truth that "all the nations" shall be blessed in the "seed singular" which is Christ. Any salvation allegedly derived from keeping the Law of Moses would, of course, nullify and countermand this promise.

Verse 19

What then is the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made; and it was ordained by angels through the hand of a mediator.

The Law of Moses expired by limitation when Christ came, because it was given only "until" that event.

Because of transgressions … Paul elaborated the fuller meaning of this in Romans 3:19ff; and for discussion of the utility of the Law see my Commentary on Romans. The great service of the Law was to demonstrate that all people are sinners (even the Jews), a fact many of them were loath to admit.

Verse 20

Now a mediator is not a mediator of one; but God is one.

This writer will spare the reader any exegesis of this verse. The full or even approximate meaning of it is unknown; and as proof of that, it must be pointed out that Huxtable said there are literally hundreds of interpretations; E. Huxtable, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 20, p. 138. McGarvey said, "This verse has been interpreted in more than three hundred ways; J. W. McGarvey, The Standard Bible Commentary (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Standard Publishing Company, 1916), p. 268. and Ridderbos declared that "There are four hundred and thirty interpretations of Galatians 3:20." Herman N. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 139. It only remains to be added that this writer has never seen an interpretation of it that is wholly satisfactory.

Verse 21

Is the Law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there could have been a Law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the Law.

The impossibility of even God’s Law making people righteous derived from the weakness and frailty of human beings. The helplessness of mankind is implicit in this, that man alone unaided, is simply incapable of fully measuring up to God’s perfect and holy standard. Glorious is the thought, therefore, that Christ did it for all people who will receive and obey him. Christ fulfilled all of God’s Law perfectly; and then, through the device of setting up an extra-literal "body," called in the New Testament "the body of Christ," into which people upon believing, repenting and being baptized are enrolled, thus becoming in a true sense "Christ," and therefore "in him," achieving saving righteousness. That is what is meant by "the righteousness of God in Christ." This is a genuine righteousness, not an imputed thing at all, except by the device of the corporate body of Christ. The present-day notion of God in some manner "injecting righteousness," or imputing righteousness to sinners upon the basis of mere faith is incorrect, because "faith only" bypasses the corporate body of Christ, which is his church. This means that it bypasses the "seed singular" who is Christ!

Verse 22

But the Scripture shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

As rendered here, this verse makes no sense whatever, for the paraphrase of the latter part of it is, "that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that have faith! What then, is the true rendition? The Authorized Version gave the correct translation thus: "That the promise by the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Even without the authority of the KJV, however, it is absolutely clear that sinner’s faith is in the last clause of this verse, and it has to be the "faith of Christ" in the preceding clause. The faith that saves is never that of the sinner, but that of Christ. Only his faith was perfect, and only his faith was perfectly obedient. In the ultimate sense, there is nothing that any sinner can either believe or perform that is capable of justifying him in the eyes of Almighty God, except in the limited and secondary sense of his "obedience of faith" upon his believing and being baptized, these being prerequisites of his salvation, and thus, in that lower sense, justifying him. See note 3, at the end of this chapter.

Thus, the full meaning of Galatians 3:22 is that the "promise of sharing in the perfect faith and obedience of Christ (called the faith of Christ) might be given to them that believe." Thus, the faith only concept is wrong on two counts: (1) the notion that it is the sinner’s imperfect faith that saves, and (2) the proposition that faith should be understood as meaning "faith only." Not even Christ’s faith was "faith only," for he was obedient in all things, becoming "unto all them that obey him, the author of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9).

Shut up all things under sin … One great purpose of the Law of Moses was to convict Israel of sin and make the nation conscious of their need of salvation from it. As used by them, however, it became a source of greater pride than ever on their part. The Law’s holy commandments were nullified, expanded, contradicted and perverted in countless ways; as Jesus himself revealed to them, "(You) make void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do" (Mark 7:13). If Israel had properly responded to the Law by realizing and confessing their inability to keep it, and the crying need of their souls for redemption from sin, there would have been a far different attitude on their part when the true Messiah came. That favorable attitude looking to the coming of the Redeemer, however, did not develop in Israel to any great extent, thus frustrating the purpose of the Law to prepare people for Christ.

Verse 23

But before faith came, we were kept in ward under the Law, shut up unto faith which should afterwards be revealed.

The figure of speech here is that of a jailer keeping his prisoners shut up. The Law could not save people, and the hope of deliverance from the sin which the Law could not forgive could be realized only by the coming of the Holy One.

Verse 24

So the Law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith.

This verse should be read with careful attention to Galatians 3:23, where Paul mentioned "the faith that should afterward be revealed." As Howard said, "The coming of faith (Galatians 3:23) here relates to the objective and historical coming of Christ on his redemptive mission and not to the repeated and subjective experience of believers." R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 66. Furthermore, what "faith" certainly means in Galatians 3:23, it means exactly the same thing in Galatians 3:24.

The Law is become our tutor … This rendition is unfortunate, for "The Law was our schoolmaster (tutor) to bring us unto Christ" (KJV) is far better. The Law of Moses is not in this dispensation, in any sense whatever, "our tutor." Although the Greek will bear the translation "has become our tutor," Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (The Nestle Greek Text) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), p. 749. it is clear from Galatians 3:25, below, that Christians are not under it.

The translators need to do a little further work on this verse, for neither "schoolmaster" nor "tutor" conveys the thought of the Greek, where the word is "pedagogue." "He was not a schoolmaster (nor a tutor), but the servant who had the care of the children to lead them to and bring them back from school, and had care of them out of school hours." Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1829), Vol. VI, p. 401. Thus it is clear that the character Paul used as a comparison with the Law did not teach anything.

Justified by faith … Exactly like Paul used "faith" in the preceding verse as a reference to historical Christianity, he used it here. A better rendition of it would be "justified by the faith." As frequently in Paul’s writings, "faith" is used extensively as a metaphor (synecdoche) of the religion of Christ, or the primary steps of obedience. As invariably in the New Testament, "faith" in such a context means "the obedience of faith."

Verse 25

But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor.

See under Galatians 3:24 for discussion of this. Note that "faith" is still being used in the sense of the historical arrival of the Christian religion, having no reference at all to subjective trust/faith of individuals. The total separation of Christianity from the Law is here dramatically stated with the comparison to a "pedagogue" no longer needed.

Verse 26

For ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Note that we have omitted the commas (RSV) which serve no purpose and even hinder the meaning. It has already been noted that Paul in this section is using "faith" in the sense of historical Christianity, the same usage being continued here. Macknight translated this verse correctly thus: "For ye are all sons of God through the faith published by Christ Jesus." James Macknight, op. cit., p. 161. That this meaning is mandatory is clear enough from the whole context. As Cole remarked with reference to theology itself, "it is nothing more than ordinary rules of grammar and logic applied to the text of Scripture." R. A. Cole, op. cit., p. 87. It has long been apparent that it is not a knowledge of the Greek, but of the grammar, that leads to an accurate understanding of the New Testament.

Verse 27

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ.

Baptized into Christ … is here used in exactly the same manner that "Faith" was in the preceding verse, that is, as a synecdoche for the primary steps of accepting the gospel and becoming a Christian; and by the use of it, Paul testified to the essentiality of it. It violates the rules of grammar to use in such a synecdoche any non-vital, unnecessary or unessential part to stand for the whole. Yet there is a difference between "faith" and "baptism," for here it is declared that people are baptized "into" Christ, a declaration nowhere existing in the New Testament with regard to "faith."

As many of you as were baptized into Christ … is only another way of saying that "all of the Galatians" had been so baptized. Howard was certain "that this refers to the initiatory rite of water baptism." R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 67. Ramsay correctly read Paul’s meaning here as follows: "Beyond all doubt Paul considered that, practically, to become a part of Christ implied membership in the church of Christ." William M. Ramsay, op. cit., p. 386. The use of "As many of you …" means that any who might not have been baptized were not in Christ. Ridderbos was correct in seeing this verse "as a limitation on the preceding verse," Herman N. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 147. making the "ye all" of Galatians 3:26, to be modified and restricted to those who had received Christian baptism, thus clearly denying that any persons whomsoever had believed themselves into Christ without being baptized as Jesus commanded.

Of course, there are trainloads of books coming off the presses every month denying the obvious truth of this verse; and among the countless objections alleged against the truth, perhaps the most common is that "Well, not everyone who is baptized is saved." Such an error is due to a misunderstanding of the pre-requirements of baptism, i.e., faith and repentance. Now, any person being immersed without those vital prerequisites to baptism is not baptized at all, but merely wet. It must be confessed that perhaps there are those who have thus been immersed without being saved; but nobody was ever saved without being immersed. See note 1, at the end of the chapter.

Verse 28

There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for all are one man in Christ Jesus.

Every possible kind of racial, economic and sex distinction finds its great equalizer "in Christ." The bond of love and fellowship in the Lord is sufficiently strong to contain all outward differences among God’s children.

Verse 29

And if ye are Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.

This is not merely a continuation of the argument Paul has been making, but it is continued into Galatians 4. The true seed of Abraham (in the plural sense) are all of those who, believing the gospel, have been baptized into Christ, comprising in their corporate totality the seed singular which is Christ, in the sense of his spiritual body. This enabled the Gentiles to be accounted the true seed of Abraham, bypassing the Law of Moses altogether, thus inheriting through the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).

Huxtable has this pertinent observation on this final verse of the chapter:

Those who believe in Christ and are baptized in him are to be understood as here being affirmed to be "Abraham’s seed," because, being clothed with Christ, they share his position. "Heirs …" They are heirs, not of Abraham, but of God; for the idea connects to that of the sonship to God (Galatians 3:26), of believers in Christ. E. Huxtable, op. cit., p. 147.


Observations under Galatians 3:27 are not intended as a presumption that any mortal knows the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:16), or the ultimate judgment of the Almighty regarding any man’s destiny; for God is too wise to make a mistake and too good to do wrong. The whole province of judging is denied to Christians (Matthew 7:1); on the other hand, the observations under Galatians 3:27, and throughout this series, are merely a conscientious effort to read what seems to be the clear and unequivocal meaning of the sacred New Testament itself. It was Christ who said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16), and the antithesis of that bold promise justifies the deductions offered under Galatians 3:27. The New Testament is all that people have as the basis of eternal hope; and it is in that frame of reference alone that people have any right to express opinions or form judgments of what is truth. The Lord has promised eternal life conditionally, and only God could change the conditions.

Upon behalf of many precious souls, apparently devoted, spiritual and praiseworthy in so many ways, who have decided to trust God for salvation regardless of their refusal to comply with the conditions, and in many cases, even admit that there are any conditions, let it be said that only God knows if he will or will not find a way for them to whom he has made no promise in the New Testament. The clear and, in a sense, dogmatic interpretations which have been attempted in this series regard only what has been revealed in the New Testament and do not presume to judge the eternal destiny of any fellow-mortal whomsoever, the sole purpose being that of persuading people to accept the salvation of God in Christ upon the condition of their exhibiting "the obedience of faith" (to the best of their intention and ability), the same being the only condition upon which God has promised (in this dispensation) to give any man eternal life. The presumption to affirm what the one true and Almighty God will do for us sinners-all, over and beyond what he has promised to do, simply does not lie within the boundaries of the purpose of these studies.


The term "Law" was capitalized throughout this chapter to indicate that the Law of Moses was the opposite of Christianity which Paul was discussing. In two or three places in this chapter, however, Paul used "law" in a sense that many scholars interpret to be more extensive than the Law of Moses only, the logic of such interpretations being clear enough. No doubt Paul’s using the "law" in that wider application was for the purpose of including any human law, code of ethics, or system of rules as also being powerless to give justification. Certainly, it is a necessary deduction that if the sacred and divine Law of Moses could not do it, then no lesser system of law whatever could do so.

However, the deduction of theologians to the effect that grace abolishes "all law" is sinful and presumptuous as any religious error ever advocated among people. Paul flatly declared: "Do we then make law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish law!" (Romans 3:30). It should be observed that in this quotation the English Revised Version (1885) margin has been followed, giving "law" the wider sense of meaning, being in no way a reference to the Law of Moses. So there is a law which faith establishes; and the nature of it is revealed in the New Testament, as follows:

The law of faith (Romans 3:27).

The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:2).

The perfect law (James 1:25).

The royal law (James 2:8).

The law of liberty (James 2:12).

So fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

In the light of the above passages, it is futile to think of being "under grace and not under law," unless the meaning excludes the law of Christ which every Christian is under. See "The Law of Christ" under Galatians 6:18.

Furthermore, when the author of Hebrews spoke of the abolition of the Law of Moses, he did not say that all law had been abolished, but that "there was of necessity a change of the law"! (Hebrews 7:12). It is that change which Paul discussed in the above chapter, the change from the Law of Moses to the Law of Christ.

One other extremely important consideration is due in this context. If grace has abolished law, then there is no such thing as sin! "Sin is not imputed where there is no law" (Romans 5:13). "Where there is no law, neither is there transgression" (Romans 4:14). "For sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). It is clear then that the interpretation of Romans 6:14, "For ye are not under the law, but under grace," if applied to the higher law of the Saviour, becomes the Magna Carta of antinomianism.


This chapter states no less than three times that it is the faith of Christ which saves and justifies, as utterly distinguished from the false notion that it is the sinner’s faith which does this. This is in perfect consonance with an extensive body of New Testament teaching to the same effect, as witness the following: (Most of the following is from the KJV.)

Even the righteousness of God through faith of Jesus Christ unto all them that: believe; for there is no distinction (Romans 3:22).

That he might be just and the justifier of him that is of the faith of Jesus (Romans 3:26)

A man is justified not by the works of the law but through faith of Jesus Christ, even we who believed on Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by the works of the law (Galatians 2:16).

It is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20).

But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe (Galatians 3:22).

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Christ) (Ephesians 3:12).

And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Philippians 3:9).

The failure of the English Revised Version (1885) to render these passages according to their true meaning is one of the most deplorable errors in any translation ever distributed. Not only do the KJV and the best modern scholarship testify to the true rendition; but in those instances marked with an asterisk (above), the context itself reveals the meaning to be certainly not that of the sinner’s faith in Christ, since the sinner’s faith is specifically mentioned in the succeeding clauses. A full dissertation on this exceedingly important truth is given in my Commentary on Romans, Romans 3:22ff.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/galatians-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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