Bible Commentaries
Galatians 3

Dummelow's Commentary on the BibleDummelow on the Bible

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Verses 1-29

Justification is by Faith, not Works

1-14. The Apostle upbraids the Galatians with their speedy change from faith to legal observances, reminding them of the fact that their reception of the Spirit had not been through the works of the Law, but through faith, and appealing both to the testimony of their own consciences and to the teaching of sacred history in the parallel case of Abraham.

Paraphrase. ’(1) You thoughtless Galatians have surely been bewitched. I told you plainly of Christ dying for your sins, and you accepted this salvation for your own. Why have you turned away from the Saviour? (2) Was it by obeying the Jewish Law, or by trusting in Christ, that you received those gifts of the Spirit which were so manifest among you when you first believed? (3) What folly, then, to desert the life of the Spirit for that of outward observance! (4) Why endure persecutions for the Gospel if you so lightly esteem it? (5) Have not all your spiritual gifts and the miraculous powers which are manifest among you been due entirely to your faith? (6) You read in the Scriptures that Abraham was accounted righteous on account of his faith, and your experience is an illustration of the same principle. (7) You want to be sons of Abraham. I tell you that his true spiritual children are those who have a faith like his. (8) In the promise made to him, because of his faith, you hear the principle of the Gospel announced in advance. (9) It is, therefore, those who base their lives on faith who share the blessing assured to him. (10) The Law, on the other hand, has no power to bless, but only to curse; for it pronounces a curse upon all who do not obey it in every detail. (11) How impossible salvation is on this principle the Scriptures plainly declare. (12) The Law does not rest on faith. It only justifies those who fulfil its works. (13) But Christ has come to redeem us from the curse which the Law pronounces; and He has accomplished that by taking the curse upon Himself, as His crucifixion makes evident. (14) And the purpose of His saving death was to secure that the Gentiles might receive through their faith the blessing which Abraham received through his, and gain the gift of the Spirit.’

1. Foolish] thoughtless, undiscerning, inconsistent. Bewitched] and so perverted you.

Before whose eyes] Paul had vividly (evidently, RV ’openly’) portrayed the crucified Christ as Saviour.

2. This only] one question will reveal your error and inconsistency.

Received ye, etc.] Of course the latter was the case.

3. Spirit and flesh denote the characteristics of Gospel and Law respectively—the spheres to which they belong: cp. Galatians 6:12. The Galatians had begun by putting their trust in Christ, and living a new life under His abiding influence. To forget this beginning and to aim not at living according to the mind of Christ, but at fulfilling the demands of a law, was to forsake the spiritual for the merely human or carnal.

4. Have ye suffered.. in vain] It was all for naught, and might better not have been endured, unless the gospel is deserving of their consistent adherence. If it be yet in vain] There was still hope that they might be reached and convinced by the appeal now made to them.

5. He that, etc.] i.e. God. Miracles] cp. 1 Corinthians 12. Doeth he it, etc.] Of course, in the latter way, or on the latter condition.

6. As Abraham] a typical case, which the Judaisers could not gainsay: cp. Genesis 15:6. St. Paul declares: Our Jewish sacred Scriptures teach salvation by faith. Abraham was blessed because he trusted in God absolutely, and did His will, before the Law even existed. So men are now to trust in Christ the Son of God, living according to His will and having His life in them, now that He has made the Law unnecessary.

7. Sonship to Abraham, therefore (in the spiritual sense), is determined by faith.

8. Preached before (RV ’beforehand’)] proclaimed long in advance the central principle of the Christian gospel.

9. The conclusion which follows from Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:5.

10. Why men cannot be saved by legal works of merit; they must be perfect and complete, or they never can be: cp. Deuteronomy 27:26; Romans 2:13; Romans 3:20; Romans 4:4-5; Romans 8:3; Romans 10:5.

11, 12. Further scriptural confirmation: cp. Hab24. Even under the Law a man was counted righteous not because he fulfilled the demands of the Law, but because he trusted in God, of whose will the Law was the imperfect expression.

13. Redeemed] a figure drawn from the analogy of ransoming captives. Us] i.e. Jews.

The curse] the condemnation pronounced by the Law upon sin. Being made] by submitting to the shame of being crucified: cp. Deuteronomy 21:23. The Law declared that any one who died a criminal’s death upon a cross was accursed. Christ died thus, and so was accursed. St. Paul associates this curse arising from ceremonial defilement with the curse which rests upon man for sins, and regards Christ as thus bearing the curse on man’s behalf. Christ’s death in some way availed to ransom men from the curse of the Law. God for Christ’s sake then bestowed the blessing of His Spirit on all who put their trust in His Son, and sought to live in union with Him. The Law was a mere outward command, seeking to gain man’s obedience by promises of reward and threats of punishment, Christ substituted loyalty to Himself for obedience to Law; and by thus introducing the personal element of love brought a powerful influence to bear upon His people, and inspired them with a new power to overcome the sin that beset them.

15-22. The principle of the Gospel—salvation by grace on condition of faith—antedates and underlies the Law.

Paraphrase. ’(15) To take a familiar illustration: even a man’s will, when ratified, no third party may annul or supplement. (16) Now God’s gracious promise to Abraham and his descendants is realised only in and through Christ, in whom all believers are one. (17) The Law system, which arose long after the promise was made to Abraham, cannot change or nullify that promise; (18) and as salvation (the promised inheritance) must be either by obedience to the Law or by grace, the case of Abraham proves that it is by grace. (19) If, then, the Law could not save, what purpose did it serve? It had a temporary and educational purpose. It was designed to excite in men’s hearts the consciousness of sin, which shows men their need of salvation, and so to point them to Christ; it was a system given not directly by God to the people, but indirectly through angels to Moses, who in his turn gave it to the nation. (20) Now when a mediator is employed, it means that there are two parties making a bargain; but in the case of Abraham there was but one party—God—making a promise out of His own free-will. (21) It is evident, then, that the Law cannot affect God’s promise. The Law is subordinate to the Gospel, but it serves the ends of the Gospel—otherwise it would have been sufficient of itself, and the Gospel need never have been given. (22) And the way in which it serves the ends of the Gospel is by convicting men of sin, and forcing them to realise that they can only be saved by God’s mercy through faith in Christ.’

15. Covenant] better as mg. ’testament,’ or will. It is an ’inheritance’ that is in question (Galatians 3:18). According to Ramsay, this word ’will’ as understood in the Galatian cities meant ’a provision to maintain the family with its religious obligations... The appointment of an heir was the adoption of a son, and was final and irrevocable in the Galatian territory.’

16. Thy seed, which is Christ] St. Paul here argues from the fact that the singular number is used—’seed,’ not ’seeds’; but the verbal reasoning does not affect the argument. The word is collective. He regards Christ as including all who are united to Him by faith, who are the true seed of Abraham.

17. The law.. cannot disannul] the will of God is irrevocable (as is seen even in the case of the wills of men); the Law, therefore, cannot be contrary to it, but must be explained in some other way. Four hundred and thirty years] The giving of the Law is dated 430 years after Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan. According to another passage (Acts 7:6), the sojourn in Egypt alone was to be 400 years. But the length of the time which had elapsed is immaterial to the argument.

18. The inheritance] the blessings promised to Abraham, here understood in the sense of the spiritual blessing of salvation through Christ. Of the law.. of promise] two contrasted dispensations; salvation cannot be by both. Scripture is explicit in favour of the latter. It is better to depend upon a promise of God made unconditionally, and to read all subsequent happenings in the light of that promise, than to rest everything upon a contract made between God and man.

19. Inferior character of the Law shown (1) by its aim to make transgressions abound, cp. Romans 3:20; Romans 4:15; Romans 5:20; Romans 7:7 and (2) by its mediation through the angels and Moses: cp. Deuteronomy 33:2; Acts 7:53. Ordained by angels] an addition of the rabbis to Scripture. St. Paul is justified in bringing it into his argument, as he is dealing with those who accepted the addition.

20. There is no place for a mediator where there is but one party to a transaction. Now, in issuing His promise to Abraham, God stands forth independent and alone. The point is the contrast between the conditions of the giving of the Law and of the promise. The former depends upon the fulfilling of a contract—and that man failed to do; the other is no contract, but the free gift of God.

21. It does not follow because the Law and the promise are of different rank that they are contrary.

22. Concluded all] RV ’shut up all things.’ The OT. teaches what the Gospel teaches, that all need a gracious salvation. Both Law and Gospel contemplate the same ultimate end. ’The connexion of the argument is, that if the Law could give men spiritual life, and so enable them to fulfil its precepts, it would give them righteousness; but it does not pretend to do this; on the contrary, it shows the impotence of their nature by the contrast of their requirements with their performance’ (Conybeare and Howson): cp. Romans 11:32.

23-29. The Law had a preparatory and disciplinary office, but it was now being fulfilled in the Gospel.

Paraphrase. ’(23) Before Christ’s coming it was the office of the Law to imprison men by its condemnation of sin until they should be set free by believing on Him. (24) Thus the Law was like a stem disciplinarian who made us willing and eager to receive the grace of God in the Gospel. (25) But now, in the freedom of faith and of sonship to God, we are exempt from the Law’s bondage and discipline. (26, 27) Through faith we are united to Christ and are become God’s children, and this is symbolised by our baptism. (28) In Him distinctions of nationality and social condition disappear; (29) in Him all believers alike become heirs of the gracious promise made to Abraham, the man of faith.’

23. Faith] i.e. the Gospel, whose principle is faith. Both Faith and Law are here personified. Kept] RV ’kept in ward,’ imprisoned by the Law’s verdict upon sin, awaiting the time of our deliverance through Christ.

24. Schoolmaster] cp. Romans 7:7. Tutor, or trainer, who by his chastisement for our faults made us see our need of grace and pardon. St. Paul may have been thinking of the Jewish custom of fathers daily conducting their sons to school.

25. The Law is the stern jailer or disciplinarian; Faith the liberator from bondage and chastisement. We] i.e. the Jews.

26. Ye.. all] whether Jews or Gentiles, are no longer bondsmen (cp. Romans 8:14.), but sons: see Galatians 3:16. Galatians 3:17-25 are a kind of parenthesis.

27. Baptized into Christ] entered by baptism into the relation of fellowship with Christ. The argument is: Baptism means union with Christ, and union with Christ means the liberty of sonship to God.

28. Such distinctions do not separate true believers. There is a unity in Christ which is deeper than differences of nationality, condition, or sex. The Greek is the Galatian. St. Paul shows his tact in using that name, as the more refined natives would probably like it.

29. Abraham’s seed] his spiritual descendants. Not lineal descent from Abraham, but spiritual kinship to him through a faith like his, determines whether we are heirs of the promise made to him.

Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.