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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 3

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Verses 1-7

Foolish Galatians

Now Paul begins with the dogmatic part of the letter. Some Christians think if they hear the word ‘dogmatic’ that it means tough, dry explanations, which you cannot use in practice. Well, let me tell you that there never can be a good practice, without a sound ‘doctrinal’ knowledge or training. That’s also how it is in social life, isn’t it? First learn at school, and then apply in practice what you have learned. That’s why this part of the letter is very important. And even this dogmatic part begins in a very practical way.

Galatians 3:1. Paul is going to ask some questions to let them think about it. Is this practice or not? He is lashing out against them, because they have become so foolish. In his voice we don’t hear contempt, but indignation. How was it possible that they came under the spell of false teachers? If they had kept in mind what Paul had shown them when he preached the gospel to them, this wouldn’t have happened. You can see now that it is very important in practice to remain with the clear, pure gospel.

If you think about the situation in Christianity now, Paul would, I think, say to a number of Christians today: ‘O, foolish Christians!’ It is also necessary for us to be reminded again and again of the Lord Jesus as the crucified One. The cross is mentioned seven times in this letter.

It takes a central position in resisting the deception which found entrance among the Galatians. He who has taken his refuge in the cross has consciously taken the place of being despised and rejected; he has thereby said that in himself there is no good to be expected.

Galatians 3:2. In the second question you detect a certain irony, because the answer to the question is so obvious. Of course the Holy Spirit came into their life solely on the ground of the faith that was preached to them and was accepted by them. Paul doesn’t doubt that they had received the Spirit. He is sure about that. He just wants to show that the Spirit and the faith go together and not the Spirit and the law. They hadn’t received the Spirit by their own efforts. A person receives the Holy Spirit if he believes the gospel of his salvation and rests therein. Such a person knows Who God is, Who the Lord Jesus is, he knows who he himself is, and he knows what the law is.

This is the first time in this letter that the Holy Spirit is mentioned. He dwells in every believer on earth. In chapter 2 it is about Someone Who is in heaven (Galatians 2:20). The Lord Jesus as Man in heaven and God the Holy Spirit on earth are the quintessence of Christendom. This shows how crucial the apostle’s argument is!

Galatians 3:3. The answer to the third question doesn’t need much reflection. This question he also puts with an indignant “are you so foolish?” They had received the Holy Spirit and had started their way in faith under His power and His guidance. How could they ever think that flesh could finish the work of the Holy Spirit?

Galatians 3:4. Furthermore, as he says in his fourth question, they had to consider what they had suffered after they had accepted the gospel. They had suffered a lot. Was it all in vain? Persecution by the Judaists (Acts 14:1-Deuteronomy :) had not shaken their faith. Would that still happen now by the deception of these people?

Galatians 3:5. But he clings to the genuineness of their faith. Hence his fifth question, in Galatians 3:5, which connects to his question in Galatians 3:2. There he spoke about receiving the Holy Spirit once and for all; here he speaks about the ongoing work of the Spirit. He is pointing to the undeniable proofs of the operation of the Holy Spirit. The question he connects to that fact is: Does God respond to this in answer to obedience to commandments or as the result of accepting the gospel in faith?

Galatians 3:6. After what you might call the subjective experience in Galatians 3:1-Deuteronomy :, Paul switches in this verse to the objective proofs of Scripture. Scripture remains the perfect touchstone, whether it concerns experiences, or it concerns doctrine. The opponents stated that the Galatians should be circumcised. They therefore appealed to Genesis 17. For the origin of circumcision every Jew would refer to Abraham.

Paul’s defense to that is superb. He beats the Judaists with their own weapons and breaks down their entire building of doctrines. He actually refers to the same Abraham to demonstrate that Abraham was not justified by circumcision, but by faith. Abraham was a sinner by nature just like everyone else and had no righteousness. Righteousness was reckoned to him by the faith he already had before he was circumcised (Romans 4:9-2 Samuel :). It had nothing to do with works.

On the contrary, Abraham did nothing but believe in what God had said about a numerous posterity, even when there was nothing to expect anymore of him and Sara. His faith rested in what God had said. That faith was by God “reckoned to him as righteousness”. That means: God declared him righteous. Therefore he was able to be connected with the righteous God.

Galatians 3:7. All who have such faith are sons of Abraham. They all resemble him and are in the same position before God. Perhaps the letter to the Galatians has only now come into its full power, in our time. With the Galatians the evil could be excluded, but Christianity in our day has placed itself under the law. How many Christians believe they are acceptable to God because of outward ordinances such as baptism or belonging to the – in their own eyes – right church? This letter has a very clear message, especially for them.

Now read Galatians 3:1-7 again.

Reflection: What contrasts do you find in these verses?

Verses 8-14

Blessing or Curse

Galatians 3:8. The false teachers referred to Abraham as proof of their theory. This, however, was entirely wrong. Paul makes clear who the real sons of Abraham are. These are not the Jews who proudly claimed that they were the physical posterity of Abraham. The real sons of Abraham are those, both Jews and Gentiles, who have the same faith as Abraham. He who possesses that faith receives the blessing. This blessing means, among other things, that he who believes will be justified. As stated, this means that such a person is declared righteous by God. It is as if God says: ‘You trust Me, that‘s why you belong to Me; I give you a place in My presence.’

It really was good news to Abraham, when he heard that in him God would bless all nations with the same blessing he too had received. So this blessing was not only for him personally and for his physical posterity, but also for all nations.

God made this promise to Abraham when there was not yet a word of the Old Testament put on paper. Moses only did that several hundred years later. Still it is written: “The Scripture, foreseeing … preached.” From this it is evident that the Scripture and God are one and the same. That makes the Bible so exceptionally impressive. It is truthfully the Word of God.

Galatians 3:9. So it is clear that it is not the keepers of the law – those who try to keep the law – who will receive the blessing, but those who believe. They are blessed with the believing Abraham and not with the circumcised Abraham. All the emphasis is on faith; the law is completely excluded.

Galatians 3:10. But the adversaries are not yet silenced. Well, they might say, Abraham is justified by faith; but the law came in later on, didn’t it? You can’t put that aside, can you? Well, Paul also says, the law did indeed come in later. But let us take a good look at the law. It is clear that in the law God tells people exactly how He wants to be served. Obedience is the key word. But does man desire to submit himself to the law? Is he able to fulfill the law?

No, Paul says in Romans 8, the flesh “does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]” (Romans 8:7). So the next question might be: if I am justified, and I am risen to a new life, then don’t I desire to keep the commandments of God? However, the question is not if I desire to obey the commands of the law but if I do what the law commands. Acknowledging the law and fulfilling the law go together, in order to be acceptable to God and to be rewarded by Him.

That brings us to the question: am I able to keep all that God has commanded? Who, as a Christian, dares to say: yes, I can, deceive himself and makes God a liar (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). And what if I don’t succeed? As soon as I stumble in one commandment and so don’t succeed to keep them all to the full, I fall under the curse. The law shows no mercy in case of violation (Hebrews 10:28). There is no pardon!

The quotation where the curse is pronounced upon all who don’t persevere comes from Deuteronomy 27 (Deuteronomy 27:26). There Moses speaks about six tribes that had to bless and six tribes that had to curse. And what do you read about the blessing? Nothing at all! And what do you read about the curse? That is pronounced in detail at the end of the above quotation, which you find cited here in Galatians 3:10. That is significant.

The quotation is introduced with the words “for it is written”. Let these words affect you with power. They contain the acknowledgment of the authority of the Scriptures with which you can defeat the enemy. The Lord Jesus did just that in the desert where the devil tempted Him (Matthew 4:4-2 Samuel :). Here Paul does the same to refute the false doctrine. “It is written” is the only guarantee to escape from the wiles of the devil.

Galatians 3:11. Paul has more quotations from Scripture. Habakkuk already has said that the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). By law you can only expect judgment. Law and faith don’t match in any way. That’s why it is an error when someone talks about keeping the law ‘out of gratitude’.

Galatians 3:12. The verse that Paul quotes can help in refuting this false doctrine. It is written in Leviticus 18 (Leviticus 18:5). You can’t contradict that a Christian lives by his faith. What sense does it make to involve the law? The law is meant to earn life, and you can only earn that life if you practice “them”, that is, if you have done what the law says.

Galatians 3:13. You can see very clearly in this verse that Paul doesn’t wipe out the law with his arguments. In a moving way he confirms the law in that verse. You see the merciless character of the law by what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. When the Lord Jesus on the cross (“the tree”) took the sins upon Him of everyone who believes and would believe in Him, He became a curse. In the Lord Jesus the law has taken full effect. When He lived He perfectly kept the law and fulfilled it. However, we are not redeemed by the perfect way in which the Lord Jesus kept the law. We are redeemed because on the cross He took the curse of the law on Himself.

During His life God’s pleasure was upon the Lord Jesus; on the cross, in those hours of darkness, God cursed Him and He became a curse. By that – and by that alone – we are redeemed from the curse we deserved. That is substitution in the true sense of the word (2 Corinthians 5:21). The price He paid is His blood.

Galatians 3:14. Because He turned the curse of the law away from us, it is possible that the blessing freely flows in all its fullness to both Jew and Gentile. Both receive the Holy Spirit only by faith.

Now read Galatians 3:8-14 again.

Reflection: What do you learn about the law in these verses?

Verses 15-22

Law and Promise

Galatians 3:15. Paul doesn’t get tired of trying to convince the Galatians how foolish and dangerous it is to make room for the law in their Christian life. He makes a comparison between the law on the one hand and the promise on the other hand. It’s magnificent to see how he approaches them. He starts with an encouraging “brethren”, because that is what they were in spite of their openness to the influences of the Judaist false teachers. He thus makes them feel his association with them.

Then he appeals to their common sense and he refers to how things work in interpersonal intercourse. Could it be so, he says, that if you have a covenant with someone that you can just change that – of course not. Especially if that covenant is also confirmed in writing and signed with an official autograph. Anyone who can think a little bit logically will say: Of course it isn’t possible.

Galatians 3:16. Well, Paul continues, promises were made to Abraham and to his seed. At this point Paul briefly comments on the subject of the seed of Abraham before he develops further the difference between law and promise. The word ‘seed’ requires some explanation. In the plural it means ‘offspring’ and in the singular it means ‘descendant’. The addition makes it clear that the latter is meant here. Added to that, Paul indicates Who that Descendant is, namely Christ. In Him all promises of God will be fulfilled. But at the moment the law was given, Christ was not yet come. That means that the promises fully remained as they were.

Galatians 3:17. Moreover, note that the law was given four hundred years after the promise. Paul brings this argument forward to indicate the absurdity of trying to link the unconditional promises of God with the law which indeed includes conditions.

Just imagine: someone promises to give you a thousand dollars, within a year. That’s nice, you say, and as time progresses, you think more and more about receiving those thousand dollars. But after ten months the generous person tells you that he expects some performance from you as a condition by which you can earn those thousand dollars. That beats everything, you would say, and being very disappointed you turn your back on the flatterer. This is not the way to go along with each other. Well, it is exactly the same with the law and the promise. When God makes promises, He doesn’t change them by telling you later that it depends on performance.

Galatians 3:18. You certainly see here that law and promise exclude each other. They have nothing in common. That’s why it is so beautiful that God granted the inheritance to Abraham by promise. What that means is not told here. You may think of the entire expanse of the land of Canaan, where Israel during the millennium will live. The point here is how the inheritance will be obtained: by law or by promise? It should be clear that it will be obtained by promise.

Galatians 3:19. But then the question is given as to what function the law still has. The answer is: the law “was added because of transgressions”. Now you must read very carefully. It does not say ‘because of sin’. How could it? God doesn’t give something by which man becomes a sinner. On the contrary, the law makes it clear that man is a sinner, without pointing him at a possibility to escape the penalty that rests on sin.

You can compare it to a mirror that shows you how dirty you are. The mirror shows you are dirty, but the mirror is not a soap you can use to wash off the filth. In the same way the law shows that you are a sinner, but it doesn’t give you the means by which you can be redeemed from your sins. The remission of your sins is only possible through the blood of the Lord Jesus.

Then there’s still another difference between the promise and the law. With the promise God gave it to Abraham directly, without involving anyone else. It’s different with the law: God gave the law by mediation of angels in the hand of another mediator, Moses. That’s how the law came to the nation. Therefore, the promise is greater than the law.

Galatians 3:20. The promise shows a gracious, giving God, Who unconditionally takes everything upon Himself to fulfill the promise. On that man has no influence at all. That’s why it’s written “God is one” meaning that He is the only One who takes all responsibility to deliver what He has promised. The law however shows a holy, demanding God, Who holds man to the obligations he took upon himself.

Galatians 3:21. After reading the above, the question may arise as to whether the law is in conflict with the promises of God. That of course can’t be so. Both come from God and how could it be possible for God to contradict Himself? The answer to this question is that both present a different side of God. The law shows God’s righteousness and the promise shows God’s grace. It was never God’s intention to give life through the law. Law isn’t able to produce life because man is a depraved sinner. The law indeed promises life, but is not able to give it. It makes visible what is in the heart of man.

Galatians 3:22. Therefore, it can be said that “the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin”. For example, in Romans 3 you read about the sinfulness of man (Romans 3:9-Jeremiah :). Whoever is – or becomes – aware of his sinfulness, can go to God for forgiveness. Then the Lord Jesus and faith in Him come into view.

The law or Scripture determines without any possible contradiction the depravity of every man. The purpose of this is (the “so that” of Galatians 3:22) that man will take refuge by faith in Jesus Christ. There is no distinction here. The promise is ready for “those who believe”.

Now read Galatians 3:15-22 again.

Reflection: Mention some differences between the law and the promise.

Verses 23-29

The Era of Faith

Galatians 3:23. In this part Paul puts two eras opposite to each other. One era is that of faith, that is the period in which God deals with man by faith. The other period is that of the law, that is the period in which God deals with man by keeping the law, so do what the law says. The era of ‘faith’ is in essence the Christian era – the period that started when Christ came to earth, accomplished His work on the cross and returned to the Father. After that the Holy Spirit came on earth and Christendom started.

The era of the law was characterized by strict statutes which God had imposed on Israel, His earthly people. To the Jew it was a yoke (bondage), under which he suffered as a prisoner. It took away all his freedom of action, it governed his whole life. On penalty of death he had to keep it. The law protected him from mingling with the nations around him (Ephesians 2:14). But the era of the law had a restricted period of validity. This era lasted until “the faith which was later to be revealed” (Galatians 3:23); that means that with the coming of Christ a new era would begin.

Galatians 3:24. After presenting the law as a prison, Paul uses another example for the law: a tutor. A tutor is a person in a household who is responsible for the care and discipline of the children. He takes care of the physical wellbeing of a child. That is how the law functions. The law ensures that man adheres to the commandments of God which are given to him to obtain life. However, since man is depraved and is not able to keep the law, the desire arises in him for a Deliverer.

The law doesn’t show the way to Christ. You may not read Galatians 3:24 in that sense. The law reminds us that we are incorrigible sinners who fall under the condemnation of God. He who is going to realize that, searches for a solution to escape from that condemnation. God has prepared that solution in Christ and in His work of reconciliation on the cross. Because the Lord Jesus has accomplished His work on the cross, it is possible to be justified in Him by faith. This is by faith alone, not by law nor by any effort of man.

Galatians 3:25. Since the accomplished work of Christ, God no longer deals with man on the basis of law, but only on the basis of faith. Therefore it can be said: “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” The law has had its time. The Galatians had to be fully aware of this and thereby they have to shake off the Jewish false teachers.

Galatians 3:26. Then Paul makes a powerful statement to prove that the law has lost its validity for the Christian. By faith the Christian has come in a new position to God: that of son. Yes, you read it right: SON! That’s quite different from being a slave, such as is the position of someone under the law, or someone who places himself under the law.

If you fully understand what it means that you and all believers are “predestined … to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5), how would you ever give room to the law in your life again? Have you become a son by keeping the law or by the faith in Jesus Christ? The answer here is “through faith in Christ Jesus”.

Galatians 3:27-Hosea :. Also bear in mind what you confessed when you were baptized. (Or have you not been baptized yet? What’s hindering you?) If you have been baptized, you are attached by your baptism to a dead Savior (Romans 6:3-Numbers :). In the death of Christ each link with the law is broken. He has borne the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13) and thus removed the penalty of the law for all who believe in Him.

The law has no authority anymore over Someone Who died (the Lord Jesus) nor over those who died with Him (the believers). You confessed the latter – that you died with Him – when you were baptized. But the Lord Jesus didn’t remain dead and you didn’t stay in the water-grave. The Lord Jesus is risen and it may be expected of you that after you were baptized you will live in connection with Him. Then people will see that you “have put on Christ”.

It may sound a little bit disrespectful, but it is like putting on a new coat. People see that you have something new. To show Christ your nationality, your social status or your gender is of no importance. Everyone who is baptized has put on Christ and shows Him in his life rather than himself. There is only One Who is seen.

That does not mean that after your conversion these distinctions no longer exist. What Paul says here, concerns the position of the believers as God sees them in Christ. But in other letters slaves are addressed in their position, and wives have in every respect to give to their husbands the attitude ordained by God and that applies in reverse as well. It is God’s will that man and wife respect His order in creation in always wearing short or long hair and in not covering or covering the head during prayer and prophecy (1 Corinthians 11:1-Nehemiah :). Also during the meetings of the church, God wants to see these distinctions being maintained (1 Corinthians 14:34-Habakkuk :).

Galatians 3:29. The last verse makes clear once again what has already been demonstrated by Paul. Whoever belongs to Christ is an offspring of Abraham, because Christ is ‘the seed’ of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). He or she receives the promise that he is an heir. In the next chapter we will see what that means.

Now read Galatians 3:23-29 again.

Reflection: What contradictions do you find in these verses? What blessings do you encounter?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Galatians 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/galatians-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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