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Galatians 3

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Galatians 3:0


Law or FaithJustification by FaithAn Appeal to ExperienceLaw or FaithThe Christian Experience
Galatians 3:1-6Galatians 3:1-9Galatians 3:1-5Galatians 3:1-5Galatians 3:1-5
An Appeal to Abraham's Experience in ScriptureWitness of Scripture. Faith and the Law
Galatians 3:6-9Galatians 3:6-9Galatians 3:6-9
Galatians 3:7-14
The Law Brings a CurseThe Curse Brought by the Law
Galatians 3:10-14Galatians 3:10-14Galatians 3:10-12Galatians 3:10-14
Galatians 3:13-14
The Law and the PromiseThe Changeless PromiseAn Example from the Covenant with AbrahamThe Law and the PromiseThe Law Did Not Cancel the Promise
Galatians 3:15-20Galatians 3:15-18Galatians 3:15-18Galatians 3:15-18Galatians 3:15-18
Sons and HeirsThe True Purpose of the Mosaic LawThe Purpose of the Law
Galatians 3:19-20Galatians 3:19-20Galatians 3:19-22
Slaves and SonsThe Purpose of the Law
(Galatians 3:21-7)(Galatians 3:21-7)
Galatians 3:21-22Galatians 3:21-22Galatians 3:21-22The Coming of Faith
Galatians 3:23-25Galatians 3:23-26Galatians 3:23-25Galatians 3:23-29
An Appeal to Baptismal Equality
Galatians 3:26-7Galatians 3:26-7Galatians 3:26-29
Galatians 3:27-29

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Chapter 3 continues the literary unit begun in Galatians 2:15-21. In chapters 3 and 4 Paul develops the theological aspects of his gospel (these become developed further in the book of Romans). Apparently, the Judaizers attacked him personally as a means of attacking his preaching.

B. The structure of chapter 3 is easily discernible.

1. In Galatians 3:1-5 Paul appealed to the personal salvation experiences of the Galatians. He used his personal testimony as evidence of the truth of his gospel in Galatians 1:10-21, but here he uses their personal experiences. He does this with four or five rhetorical questions.

2. In Galatians 3:6-18 Paul develops the Old Testament experience of Abraham as a paradigm for the experience of all humans in the area of salvation. He particularly focuses on Abraham receiving justification by grace through faith before and apart from the Mosaic Law. This chapter is the theological precursor to Romans 4:0!

C. Paul quotes the Old Testament seven times in Galatians 3:6-18.

Galatians 3:1. Galatians 3:6 Genesis 15:6

Galatians 3:2. Galatians 3:8 Genesis 12:3

Galatians 3:3. Galatians 3:10 Deuteronomy 27:26 (also possibly 28:58)

Galatians 3:4. Galatians 3:11 Habakkuk 2:4

Galatians 3:5. Galatians 3:12 Leviticus 18:5

6. Galatians 3:13 Deuteronomy 21:23

7. Galatians 3:16 Genesis 13:15 (also possibly 22:18)

The possible reasons for the extensive use of the OT were:

1. Paul wanted the Judaizers and Galatians to see that his gospel was based on the OT also.

2. The Judaizers used the OT in their argument, therefore, Paul did also

We must remember that Paul's presentation is being shaped by (1) current Jewish theology and (2) the emphases of the Judaizers. Paul's argument is ambiguous to us because we do not know the theology of the Judaizers and how (texts, illustrations, metaphors) they presented it. We are reading only half a conversation. It is obvious the people of the OT saw God's Law as a gift and a blessing, but Jewish legalism had distorted it!

D. Because of Paul's vehement attack on the misinterpretation and application of the Law by the Judaizers, he states the purpose of the Mosaic legislation (verses Galatians 3:19-29). He accomplished this with two questions (Galatians 3:19 and 21). It must be asserted that Paul was using the term "law" here in a very specific manner. Paul was refuting the theology of the false teachers (i.e., that the Law is a means of salvation, cf. Romans 4:14). One must balance this view of the Law with Jesus' use of the term in Matthew 5:17-21. The Law is goodthe Law is from God! The Law is eternal (cf. Romans 7:7, Romans 7:12-14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: PAUL'S VIEWS OF THE MOSAIC LAW at Galatians 3:19.

E. The Mosaic Law was personified in two senses (cf. Galatians 3:23-25; Galatians 4:1-2) which were known in the Greco-Roman world:

Galatians 3:1. Galatians 3:23, "we were locked up under the law" the law as jailor

Galatians 3:2. Galatians 3:24, "the law has been our attendant" the law as a child's custodian

a. Galatians 4:2, "guardians" a child's custodian from birth through 14 years of age

b. Galatians 4:2, "trustee" a young person's custodian from age 14 to 25 years of age


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What does it mean "to receive the Spirit?"

2. Why did Paul use Abraham as the focus for his argument?

3. How does the term "curse" apply to us, to the Judaizers, and to all men?

4. Did Paul record an error in chronology in verse Galatians 3:17? Why or why not?

5. Give the four aspects of why the Law is inferior to the promises listed in verse Galatians 3:19.

6. List the two reasons for God's purpose for the Law in verses Galatians 3:23-24.

7. Explain the implications of verse Galatians 3:28 in the Church today.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 3:1-5 1You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4Did you suffer so many things in vainif indeed it was in vain? 5So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?

Galatians 3:1, Galatians 3:3

NASB, NKJV, NRSV, TEV"You foolish Galatians" NJB"are you people in Galatia mad"

This is the term "mind" [nous] with the alpha privative which is translated "foolish" (cf. Luke 24:25). Paul asserts emphatically that they had not clearly thought through the implications of the Judaizers' false teachings (cf. Galatians 1:6). As always, these false teachers must have been strong, gifted, logical personalities!

"who has bewitched you" The use of the singular pronoun "who" may be a method of pointing out one primary false teacher to whom Paul was referring (cf. Galatians 5:7, Galatians 5:10). But this may be reading too much into this context since the plural is used in Galatians 5:12.

"Bewitched" is likely a metaphor for mental confusion, though some scholars see it in this context as an OT allusion to "the evil eye," (cf. Deuteronomy 15:9; Deuteronomy 28:54; Proverbs 23:6; Proverbs 28:22; Matthew 20:15; Mark 7:22).

"before whose eyes Jesus Christ was portrayed" The Koine Greek papyri found in Egypt (cf. Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament) have shown that "portrayed" meant (1) to "vividly portray" or (2) an official legal notice posted publicly. This metaphor was used of Paul's clear teaching and preaching of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Evidently, the Galatian churches were turning from Paul's teaching to Jewish legalism.

"as crucified" "Crucified" is a perfect passive participle implying that Jesus remains the crucified One. This may be a title, "the crucified One" (cf. Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:6; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2). When we see Him, He will still have the marks of His crucifixion. They are now symbols of His victory!

The passive voice may speak of God the Father as the true agent in the sacrifice of the Son (cf. Isaiah 53:10; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

Galatians 3:2 "did you receive the Spirit" Receiving the Spirit is not a secondary act of grace (i.e., Acts 8:14-17); it occurs when one becomes a Christian (cf. Romans 8:9). One has the Spirit or he/she is not a Christian. The Spirit here is seen as a sign of the New Age spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-34. "Receive the Spirit" is another way of saying "receive the gospel." Beyond this point in Galatians, Paul mentions the Holy Spirit sixteen times. Paul and John develop the theology of the Spirit more than any other NT authors.

NASB"by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith" NKJV"by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith" NRSV"by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard" TEV"by doing what the Law requires, or by hearing and believing the gospel" NJB"was it because you practiced the Law that you received the Spirit, or because you believed what was preached to you"

"Faith" [pistis] is used repeatedly in this chapter and may be interpreted or translated in English as "faith," "trust," or "believe." See the Special Topics on both the OT and NT use of faith at Galatians 3:6. The English concepts of believing and trusting are very similar (cf. Gal. 2:26; Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:6, Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:9, Galatians 3:11, Galatians 3:12, Galatians 3:14, Galatians 3:22, and 26).

Galatians 3:3 "Are you so foolish" This is the same term as in verse Galatians 3:1.

NASB"Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh" NKJV"Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh" NRSV"Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh" TEV"You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power" NJB"Are you foolish enough to end in outward observances what you began in the Spirit"

The grammatical structure of this second clause can be understood as (1) middle voice (NRSV, TEV, JB) or (2) Passive voice (NASB, NKJV). The middle voice emphasized the Galatians' actions while the passive would emphasize an outside agent. The middle voice fits the context best. The Galatians were trying to complete their salvation by their own efforts in fulfilling the Mosaic Law. Both our salvation and maturity are appropriated by grace through faith! The two significant terms in this phrase are also used together in Philippians 1:6. The rest of Paul's argument will focus on the fact that believers are complete and mature in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.

Paul's statement in Galatians 3:3 does not imply that believers do not make choices about how they live. Salvation is a response to God's initiating grace; so, too, is the Christian life is a continuing response to the Spirit's guidance by repentance, faith, obedience, and perseverance. This is progressive Christlikeness (cf. Galatians 5:1-10)!

For "flesh" see Special Topic at Galatians 1:16.

Galatians 3:4

NASB"Did you suffer so many things in vain" NKJV"Have you suffered so many things in vain" NRSV"Did you experience so much for nothing" TEV"Did all your experience mean nothing at all" NJB"Have all the favours you received been wasted"

"Suffer" may refer to

1. physical suffering (we do have some record of the churches in southern Asia Minor experiencing Jewish persecution as in Acts 14:2, Acts 14:5, Acts 14:19, Acts 14:22)

2. emotional upheaval in their conversion

3. in Greek literature the term can refer to "benefits" (cf. Magill NT TransLine, p. 688)

"if indeed it was in vain" This is a third class conditional sentence. There are two theories about this phrase: (1) it may relate to Galatians 1:16 (i.e., Paul's ministry to the Gentiles) or (2) it may relate to Paul's sustained argument about the spiritual futility of trusting in human performance of the Mosaic Law. If they are reverting to human effort then Christ's grace will not help them (cf. Galatians 4:11; Galatians 5:2-4; 1 Corinthians 15:2).


Galatians 3:5 "So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit" God's provision of the Spirit is a reference to initial salvation (cf. Galatians 3:14; Romans 8:9). The participle is present active, also used of God's provision in 2 Corinthians 9:10. Earlier uses of the word suggest it meant "to lavish upon" or "to grant freely."

"and works miracles among you" This is also a present active participle which may indicate the continuing effect of

1. the miracle of their salvation

2. the accompanying signs and miracles which confirmed the gospel

3. the spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:0) which were being manifested within the Galatian congregations

Translators disagree whether the phrase should read "in you," speaking of individuals, or "among you," speaking of "in your midst," speaking of the church.

Did God graciously give all His blessings because they were performing the Law of Moses? No! These miracles were God's confirmation of the true gospel that they received by grace through faith.

Verses 6-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 3:6-9 6Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you." 9So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

Galatians 3:6 "Even so Abraham" Verses Galatians 3:6-9 amplify the example of Abraham, the spiritual and racial father of the Jewish nation. The false teachers may have used Abraham as an example of someone who believed God and then later was circumcised. This explains why Paul's argument recorded in Romans 4:0 is not developed here. Abraham is paradigmatic of how all humans come to God (cf. LXX of Genesis 15:6). Salvation and right standing with God has always been by grace through faith. This was not a new message!

"Even so," Curtis Vaughan, A Study Guide Commentary, makes the comment that this makes the comment that this phrase implies that as Abraham was made right with God by grace through faith, so too, the Galatians (p. 61). The faith principle is expanded to all who have faith in Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:9; even to Gentiles, Galatians 3:8!

One's relationship to Abraham was not determined by (1) physical lineage (Israel) or (2) physical sign (circumcision, cf. Romans 2:28-29), but by grace (cf. Galatians 3:18) through faith (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)!



SPECIAL TOPIC: Faith, Believe, or Trust (Pistis [noun], Pisteuô, [verb], Pistos [adjective])

"it was reckoned to him as righteousness" This is a quote from the Septuagint of Genesis 15:6. "Reckoned," an aorist passive verb, is a commercial term that meant "to make a deposit into another's account" (cf. Romans 4:3, Romans 4:9, Romans 4:22). See SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS at Galatians 2:21. God's righteousness was given to Abraham because of God's love and Abraham's faith that God would give him an heir. The Genesis 15:6 quotation comes from the Septuagint. Paul quotes the Law of Moses several times (see Contextual Insights, C) to strengthen his argument. Since the false teachers used the Law to make their argument, Paul used the same technique to prove them wrong. The writings of Moses (Genesis Deuteronomy) were the most authoritative section of the Hebrew canon for Judaism for first century Judaism.

Galatians 3:7 "be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" This statement is the major thrust of this contextual unit. This declaration would have appalled the Jewish-oriented false teachers. This same truth (i.e., Jews were not right with God because of their ethnic origins) is alluded to in the message of John the Baptist (cf. Luke 3:8) and specifically in the words of Jesus in John 8:37-59. This theological truth is developed by Paul in Galatians 3:14, Galatians 3:29 and Romans 2:28-29. One can tell Abraham's sons by

1. who they trust and know (personal relationship with Jesus)

2. how they live (Christlikeness), not by who their parents (ancestors) are

Galatians 3:8 "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith" This Hebraic idiom affirms the full inspiration of the OT. In this verse the Scripture is personified twice. See note at Galatians 4:30.

The salvation of all humans has always been God's plan (cf. Genesis 3:15; Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5-6). There is only one God and all humans are made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6), therefore, He loves everyone (cf. Ezekiel 18:32; John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). The universal love of God, which includes the Gentiles, is clearly seen in Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 45:21-25; Isaiah 56:1-8; Isaiah 60:1-3).

The mechanism of this universally available salvation is God's grace through

1. the work of Christ

2. the drawing of the Spirit

3. a human faith response (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)

4. which issues in Christlikeness (Galatians 3:10)

"preached the gospel beforehand" This English phrase translates one work in Greek (proeuangelisato, aorist middle [deponent] indicative).

1. pro before

2. eu good

3. angelia message/news

4. euangelizomai means to preach

5. all together it means "preach the good message beforehand"

It is found only here in the NT. It denotes that God's love for all humans was revealed to Abraham in his initial call (i.e., Genesis 12:3). The gospel (euangelion) has its roots in the writings of Moses.

"All the nations will be blessed in you" Here Paul quotes God's promise to Abraham, recorded in Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4. The Hebrew verb form may be

1. a passive form, "will be blessed" (cf. Genesis 18:18; Genesis 28:14)

2. a middle reflexive form, "will bless themselves" (cf. Genesis 22:16-18; Genesis 26:4)

However, in the Septuagint and in Paul's quote, it is passive, not middle. In this text Paul combined Galatians 3:3 with 18:18 from the Septuagint. The salvation of all humans made in God's image has always been God's plan! See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN at Galatians 1:7.

Galatians 3:9

NASB"those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer" NKJV"those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham" NRSV"those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed" TEV"Abraham believed and was blessed; so all who believe are blessed as he was" NJB"Those therefore who rely on faith receive the same blessing as Abraham, the man of faith"

The preposition "syn," meaning "joint participation with," shows the close identification between Abraham and all those who have faith in God. The description of Abraham as "faithful" or "believing" emphasizes that Abraham believed God by trusting in His promise. NT faith also means trusting in the trustworthiness of God and His promises. However, remember that Abraham did not have perfect faith, he too, tried to help God fulfill His promise by having a natural child with Hagar (cf. Genesis 16:0). It is not mankind's perfect faith, but the object of their faith.

Verses 10-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 3:10-14 10For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them." 11Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "The righteous man shall live by faith." 12However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "He who practices them shall live by them." 13Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for usfor it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"14in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 3:10

NASB"For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse" NKJV"For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse" NRSV"For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse" TEV"Those who depend on obeying the Law live under a curse" NJB"those who rely on the keeping of the Law are under a curse"

In the next step in the argument, Paul moved from Abraham to the strict legal requirements of the Mosaic Law. The argument challenges the bad theology of the Judaizers. Trusting in adherence to the Law characterized the Pharisees of Jesus' day (cf. Romans 10:2-5). Paul asserted that self-effort to obtain right standing is only a road to damnation (cf. Galatians 2:16). Paul knew this road well! Although Paul was primarily referring to the Mosaic Law, the referent is "law" in general or human effort by means of some external moral standard. Which standard is not importantthe essential truth is that fallen mankind cannot claim that their moral accomplishment deserves acceptance by God. We call this approach self-righteous legalism. It is alive and well and thrives among religious people!

"for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them'" This alludes to Deuteronomy 27:26 and 28:58ff. Although the word "all" does not appear in Deuteronomy 27:26, it does appear in Deuteronomy 28:58. The curse of the Law is alluded to in John 7:49. If one breaks the law (after Bar Mitzvah) in one way, even just once, he falls under the condemnation of the Law, (cf. James 2:10; Galatians 5:3). The OT Law became a death sentence for all humans (Colossians 2:14). God said "the soul that sins, it will surely die" (cf. Ezekiel 18:4, Ezekiel 18:20). All of the children of Adam have sinned! The Law, as a means of right standing with God, is only applicable to the one who never commits sin. The problem with this is that all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:22, Romans 3:23; Romans 11:32).

Galatians 3:11

NASB"for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith'" NKJV"‘The just shall live by faith'" NRSV"‘The one who is righteous will live by faith'" TEV"He who is put right with God through faith shall live" NJB"the righteous man finds life through faith"

Here Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4 (cf. Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38). Rather an ambiguous verse, Habakkuk 2:4 has been understood in several different ways.

1. the Masoretic Text has "the righteous shall live by his faith/faithfulness"

2. the Septuagint has "the righteous shall live on the basis of my (God's) faithfulness"

3. Paul's use favors faith-based righteousness through Christ versus works-based righteousness through the Mosaic Law (cf. Galatians 3:12, which quotes Leviticus 18:5)

There may be a veiled allusion to Genesis 15:6 because both Habakkuk 2:4 and Genesis 15:6 contain the same two key terms: "faith" and "righteousness."


Galatians 3:12

NASB, NKJV"the Law is not of faith" NRSV"the law does not rest on faith" TEV"the Law does not depend on faith" NJB"The Law is not even based on faith"

Here is the basic assumption! In the matter of right standing (salvation) with God, the choice is faith or law, not faith and law. The Judaizers had turned faith in God into rules by God. Even in the OT the individual Israelite was only right by personal faith in YHWH. Never were all Israelites right with God because of their descent from Abraham (cf. John 8:31-59)

"on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them'" This quotation comes from Leviticus 18:5 (cf. Rom. 10:25), stressing the importance of performing the demands of God (i.e., Moscai law). However, the OT is a history of mankind's inability to perform the OT Law (cf. Nehemiah 9:0). The OT accentuated fallen humanity's spiritual need (cf. Galatians 3:19, Galatians 3:22). Therefore, another way of salvation was introduced, which in reality, had always been God's means of salvation: not human effort, but faith (cf. Habakkuk 2:4). Salvation by grace through faith is the essence of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-36; Acts 2:0; Romans 4:0; Ephesians 2:8-9).

Galatians 3:13 "Christ redeemed us" Here Paul refers to the substitutionary atonement of Christ. He purchased for us that which we could not purchase for ourselves (cf. Isaiah 53:0; Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The term "redeemed" or "ransomed" means "to buy someone back from slavery" or "capture" (cf. Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18-19).


"from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us" This verse quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 which was used to describe someone who had already been killed and was then publicly hanged or impaled as an act of public humiliation. This inappropriate burial was interpreted as a curse by God (cf. Isaiah 53:4, Isaiah 53:10). Jesus' crucifixion as a sinless substitute meant that He took the curse of the Law on Himself for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 2:8). This truth is overwhelmingHe became the curse for us! He fulfilled the law Himself, but died under its curse on our behalf (cf. Isaiah 53:0) and thereby destroyed its power (cf. Colossians 2:14).

Galatians 3:14 The two purpose clauses in Galatians 3:14 serve to describe the purpose of God in calling Abraham.

1. to bring the heathen into the blessings enjoyed by Israel through the promise to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8-9)

2. that by faith all might receive the Spirit which was the promised sign of the New Age

The experience of Pentecost was a sign to the Apostles that the New Age had dawned. Receiving the Spirit is a metaphor for salvation (cf. Galatians 3:1; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4; Romans 8:9).

There are two words apparently confused in this verse in some ancient Greek manuscripts.

1. the blessing (eulogiau) of Abraham

2. the promise (epaggelian) of the Spirit

The ancient papyrus manuscript P46 (written about A.D. 200) and the uncial manuscript Bezae (D, fifth century) have "blessing" twice, but the vast majority of other ancient witnesses (MSS א, A, B, C, D2) have "promise" in the second phrase. The UBS4 gives "promise" an "A" rating (certain).

Verses 15-22

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 3:15-22 15Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. 17What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. 21Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Galatians 3:15-17

NASB, NKJV"a man's covenant" NRSV"a person's will" TEV"that covenant" NJB"If a will"

Paul proceeds with his argument by means of a common human illustration. He uses a term in Koine Greek which may be translated as either "will" or "testament," in connection with one's inheritance. In Classical Greek it is translated "covenant." In the Septuagint this term is always used of a covenant between God and humanity. Due to this ambiguity, Paul used this legal metaphor as an example for God's covenanting or contracting with Abraham and his descendants. This contract cannot be changed! The same type of argumentation using the concept of a last will and testament is found in Hebrews 9:15-20.


Galatians 3:15

NASB"yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it" NKJV"yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it" NRSV"once a person's will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it" TEV"when two men agree on a matter and sign a covenant, no one can break that covenant or add anything to it" NJB"has been drawn up in due form, no one is allowed to disregard it or add to it"

Paul responds to the Judaizers' claim that the Mosaic Law superseded the Abrahamic promise. The promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:0 was ratified by both God's promise (i.e., the Exodus) and a sacrifice in which Abraham had no covenant responsibilities, only faith (i.e., an unconditional divine covenant, cf. Genesis 15:12-21).

Galatians 3:16 "the promises" "Promises" is plural because of the number of times God repeats His promise to Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 13:14-18; Genesis 15:1-5, Genesis 15:12-18; Genesis 17:1-14; Genesis 22:9-19).

"his seed" The use of "seed" is a word play on a common idiom for descendant. Although singular in form, it can be singular or plural in meaning. In this case, Paul used it as a reference to Jesus, not Isaacthus, God's promise was not linked to the Mosaic Covenant. "Seed" could be understood in the corporate sense of God's children by faith, like Abraham (cf. Romans 2:28-29).

Galatians 3:17 "the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later" Paul gives another reason for the superiority of the Abrahamic promise, it preceded the Mosaic Law in time. There has been much discussion about the number four hundred and thirty years, which comes from Exodus 12:40-41 and relates to the Egyptian captivity. Some scholars use the Septuagint translation and the Samaritan Pentateuch of Exodus 12:40 which adds "and in the land of Canaan" (F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 170). Genesis 15:13 and Acts 7:6 record that Israel was in captivity in Egypt for 400 years. Others assert, however, that the promise was not to Abraham alone, but was repeated to all of the Patriarchs, and simply refers to the time from the last repeated promise to the Patriarchs to the time of Moses' receiving the Law. In context, Paul's explanation concerns not the duration of time, but the long interval between the promise to Abraham and the Law to Moses.

"as to nullify the promise" This word (katargeô) is translated so many different ways but its main meaning is to make something useless, null and void, inoperative, powerless but not necessarily non-existent or destroyed.


"by God" This is the reading of the best ancient manuscripts (P46, א, A, B, C, P) to which UBS4 gives an "A" rating (certain), but wait, several tenants of biblical criticism come into play.

1. on the positive side

a. usually the shorter reading is to be preferred (scribes tended to add and clarify, not remove)

b. the older and most widespread geographical reading is probably original. The longer reading is first found in MS D (sixth century)

2. on the other side

a. the most unusual reading is probably original. Paul normally has "in Christ" (en Christô), not "into Christ" (eis Christon)

b. the author's normal usage affects how one views a variant. However, Paul uses the same unusual form in Galatians 2:16 and Galatians 3:24.

See Appendix Two: Textual Criticism.

Galatians 3:18

NASB"but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise" NKJV"but God gave it to Abraham by promise" NRSV"but God granted it to Abraham through the promise" TEV"However, it was because God had promised it that he gave it to Abraham" NJB"and it was precisely in the form of a promise that god made his gift to Abraham"

This perfect middle (deponent) indicative emphasizes what God Himself has done in the past with results that abide into the present. The basic root of "granted" (charizomai) is "gift" or "grace" (charis). It emphasizes the free nature of God's acts, solely on the grounds of His character through the work of the Messiah.

Galatians 3:19

NASB, NRSV"Why the Law then" NKJV"What purpose then does the law serve" TEV"What was the purpose of the Law, then" NJB"What then was the purpose of adding the Law"

Paul returned to his rhetorical style of verses Galatians 3:1-5. He began with two questions through which he tries to explain the purpose of the Mosaic Law in the plan of God (cf. Galatians 3:19 and 21). He engages in this contrasting approach because he had so devastated the purpose of the Law in his previous argument that some readers might think he was advocating antinomianism. The OT still functions in sanctification but not (and never did) in justification!


"It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made" There are several different readings in the MSS tradition, but the one printed in NASB is rated "A" by the UBS4. Four elements regarding the Law's inferiority to the promise may be discerned here.

1. it was added later

2. it increased transgressions

3. it was only until the Messiah, "the seed," came

4. it was given through an intermediary

The phrase "increased transgressions" can be interpreted "limit transgressions." This translation is possible syntactically. However, according to Paul's full exposition in the early chapters of Romans (cf. Romans 3:20; Romans 5:20; Romans 7:1), the Law was given to clearly show humans their sins. Before the Law sin was not counted (cf. Romans 4:15; Romans 5:13).

Philippians 3:6 and Romans 7:7-11 pose a paradox. Paul felt that he had fulfilled the requirements of the Law in his life. However, covetousness, which was later made obvious to him, showed him that he was a sinner and in need of spiritual salvation.

The rabbinical view of angels as agents in the mediation of the Law can be seen in the translation of Deuteronomy 33:2 in the Septuagint. The angel(s) who are related to the giving of the Law are also discussed in Acts 7:38, Acts 7:53 and Hebrews 2:2; Josephus'Antiquities of the Jews, 15.5.3; and the non-canonical Book of Jubilees, 1:27-29. Paul may have had in mind the Angel of the Lord who continued with the people when YHWH did not (cf. Exodus 23:20-33; Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2).

Galatians 3:20

NASB"Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one" NKJV"Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one" NRSV"Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one" TEV"But a go-between is not needed when there is only one person; and God is one" NJB"Now there can only be an intermediary between two parties, yet God is one"

This verse presents the interpreter with many different possibilities. In context, an obvious reading would be that the order of the Law's transmission was from God, through angels, to Moses, to the people. Therefore, the promise is superior because it was given face-to-face between only two persons, God and Abraham, while the Mosaic covenant involved four parties. The promise to Abraham required no mediation.

It could also refer to God's unconditional promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:12-21. Only God participated in its ratification. Now, although God's initial contact with Abraham was conditional (cf. Genesis 12:1), Paul is using the Genesis 15:0 passage to make his point. The Mosaic covenant was conditional for God and mankind (see Special Topic at Galatians 3:15-17). The problem was that since the Fall (cf. Genesis 3:0) mankind was incapable of performing their part of the covenant. The promise, therefore, based on God (i.e., "God is One") alone, is superior!

Galatians 3:21 "Is the law then contrary to the promises of God" The Greek text does not have the article with the term "law," which would have implied the Mosaic Law. The use of "law" with no article occurs three times in Galatians 3:1 and 4:5. Often "law" in Galatians does not have the article in which case it refers to mankind's attempt to earn God's favor by means of the performance of religious guidelines or cultural norms. The key is not which guidelines, but the belief that a human being cannot earn acceptance with a holy God (cf. Ephesians 2:9). Here is where a careful reading of Romans 7:0 is crucial.

The phrase "of God" has some variations in the Greek manuscripts.

1. some have "of God" MSS א, A, C, D, F, G

2. some later minuscule manuscripts (104, 459) have "of Christ"

3. some omit the words MSS P46, B

The UBS4 cannot decide on the wording ("C" rating) and puts "of God" in brackets, which fits the context best.

"For if a law had been given" This second class conditional sentence which expresses a concept "contrary to fact." An amplified translation would read: "if a law had been given that was able to impart life (which there never was), then right standing would have come through law (which it does not)." The Law was never the way to be right with God. It is a true revelation from God (Matthew 5:17-19; Romans 7:12). The Law is inspired revelation and valuable but not in the area of right standing or salvation.

"righteousness" See Special Topic at Galatians 2:21.

Galatians 3:22

NASB"But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin" NKJV"But the Scripture has confined all under sin" NRSV"But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin" TEV"But the Scripture has said that the whole world is under the power of sin" NJB"Scripture makes no exceptions when it says that sin is master everywhere"

To which OT text Paul was alluding is uncertain, though one possibility is Deuteronomy 27:26, referred to earlier in Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:10. The fall of humanity and their estrangement is the first point of Paul's gospel (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:22-23; Romans 11:32).

Literally this is "all things" (neuter), not "all men" (masculine). Some see here the cosmic significance of Christ's redemption (cf. Romans 8:18-25; Ephesians 1:22 and the entire book of Colossians whose theme is cosmological redemption in Christ). However, in this context, it refers to all mankind, including Jews, Judaizers, and Gentiles.

"that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" This is a summary of the entire discussion that God's grace and favor come through His promise to Abraham and his "Seed" (i.e., Messiah), not through human merit or performance! Notice the repetition of the term, pistis, translated as "faith" and "believe." See Special Topic at Galatians 3:6.

For a discussion of how to understand and translate "by faith in Jesus Christ" see note at Galatians 2:16.

Verses 23-29

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 3:23-29 23But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3:23 "But before this faith came" The definite article used in tandem with "faith" implies the body of Christian truth (i.e., the gospel, cf. Acts 6:7; Acts 13:8; Acts 14:22; Galatians 1:23; Galatians 6:10; Jude 1:3, Jude 1:20). However, in this context, it is metaphorical for the gospel age.

NASB"we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed" NKJV"we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed" NRSV"we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed" TEV"the Law kept us all locked up as prisoners, until this coming faith should be revealed" NJB"we were allowed no freedom by the Law; we were being looked after till faith was revealed"

The law was first depicted as a jailor as in v. Galatians 3:22. Humans were put in protective custody until the Messiah came (cf. Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:5). The second metaphor used to describe the law is in Galatians 3:24, where it is called our custodian (cf. Galatians 4:1-2). In Greek and Roman society, this term referred to caretakers of young Greek or Roman boys. The guardian was in charge of their protection, food, transportation, and tutoring, so "custodian" had a dual connotation: protector and disciplinarian. Paul distinguished the two intentional purposes of the law in the plan of God:

1. to show us our sinfulness

2. to keep us as a guardian until the free offer of grace in Christ came (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 1:16; Romans 10:9-13)

Galatians 3:24

NASB"the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ" NKJV"the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ" NRSV"the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came" TEV"So the Law was in charge of us until Christ came" NJB"The Law was to be our guardian until the Christ came"

Two varying interpretations of the prepositional phrase "to Christ" are possible: (1) to bring us to Christ, as in the NASB, NKJV, and NIV or (2) until Christ came, as in NRSV, TEV, and the JB.

"that we may be justified by faith" "Justified by faith" was Luther's famous slogan of the Reformation. The Law has a part to play in God's free gift in Christ. It provides a necessary pre-condition to the gospelour need! The saving "faith" always has (1) cognitive, (2) volitional, and (3) relational elements.

Galatians 3:25 "But now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" Believers are no longer underage children, but they have become full sons, full heirs! All of this occurs through God's grace, Christ's finished work, and our repentant faith response.

Galatians 3:26 "you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" The phrase "are all sons of God" refers to those who have received Christ by faith (cf. John 1:12; John 3:16; Romans 8:14-17). This verse does not advocate universalism; nor does Romans 5:18 or 11:32, but it does speak of the universal offer of salvation. "All" appears first in the Greek sentence for emphasis.

Galatians 3:27 "For all of you who were baptized into Christ" This is not an emphasis on baptism as a means to salvation, for that is exactly the argument the Judaizers were using in connection with circumcision. Christian baptism is a sign of the work of the Spirit which is mentioned earlier in verses Galatians 3:2, Galatians 3:3, Galatians 3:5, Galatians 3:14 (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). To be baptized in/by/with the Spirit was a biblical metaphor for becoming a Christian. Baptism was simply the opportunity for a public confession of faith in Christ and an accompanying symbol of an inner change. To make water baptism a precondition for salvation is to become a neo-Judaizer!


"have clothed yourselves with Christ" This is an aorist middle indicative which emphasizes a purposeful action on our part. This involves the idea of our "putting on" (as a garment) the family characteristics of God. This clothing metaphor was used often by Paul (cf. Romans 13:14; Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:24, Ephesians 4:25, Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:10, Colossians 3:12, Colossians 3:14). It is possible that it refers to the Roman rite of passage when a boy traded his childhood toga for his adult toga, thereby becoming a full citizen (like the Jewish rite, Bar Mitzvah). This then would symbolize our becoming of full age and, thereby, a full heir.

Galatians 3:28 The distinctions which the Judaizers emphasized are now totally removed in Christ. There are no barriers for anyone to become a Christian. The Jewish arrogance against Gentiles, slaves, and women has been totally removed. Distinctions are not valid for salvation (cf. Romans 3:22; 1 Corinthians 12:13; and Colossians 3:11), yet this does not mean that we are no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Greek. Those distinctions remain and there are passages that speak to these distinctions, but in the area of becoming a Christian there are no barriers. Every barrier raised by self-righteous, legalistic or biased humans, Christ has knocked down once and for all. Hallelujah!

Manfred T. Brauch, Abusing Scripture, p. 68 (also F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 187) asserts that the three contrasting groups reflect an ancient synagogue prayer where Jewish men thank God they were not created as women, slaves, or Gentiles! The new reality in Christ has negated and revealed the bias of first century Judaism. "In Christ" supercedes everything!


"for you are all one in Christ Jesus" As humans are all one in Adam (Romans 5:12ff.), they are all potentially one in Christ (cf. Romans 5:18). The only barrier is personal repentance and faith in Christ (Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21).

This collective emphasis is very similar to the concept of corporate Israel. We are now one new collective unit, the Church (cf. John 17:0; Romans 12:4, Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12ff.).

Galatians 3:29 "if" Here, "if" introduces a first class conditional sentence, assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

"if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise" Not all national or racial Israel is truly spiritual Israel (cf. Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:6), but all who are the true Israel are so by faith. Therefore, no more distinction was made between Jew and Gentile; only between those who have faith in the Messiah and those who do not. There is no favoritism with God. God's one-time, universal gracious plan for the redemption of mankind is repentance and faith in His crucified Son. Those who respond by faith are made sons and heirs of God (cf. Titus 3:7)! There is no longer the OT distinction of Jew vs. Greek.

This new reality also affects the nationalistic and geographical prophecies. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is no longer valid. Now the distinction is unbeliever and believer. No NT author, including Jesus, ever reaffirms the OT nationalistic prophecies to Israel. Palestine and Jerusalem are no longer the focus of God's activity. The whole world is the new holy land. Jerusalem is no longer a special, holy city. It is now "new Jerusalem" (cf. Revelation 3:12; Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10), which is a symbol of heaven. Be careful of systematic theologies that focus or magnify OT prophecies as ultimate future realities!

Here is a selected part of the introductory notes to my commentary on Revelation (pp. 1-2).

"FIRST TENSION (OT racial, national, and geographical categories vs. all believers over all the world)

The OT prophets predict a restoration of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine centered in Jerusalem where all the nations of the earth gather to praise and serve a Davidic ruler, but Jesus nor the NT Apostles ever focus on this agenda. Is not the OT inspired (cf. Matthew 5:17-19)? Have the NT authors omitted crucial end-time events?

There are several sources of information about the end of the world:

1. OT prophets (Isaiah, Micah, Malachi)

2. OT apocalyptic writers (cf. Ezek. 37-39; Dan. 7-12; Zech.)

3. intertestamental, non-canonical Jewish apocalyptic writers (like I Enoch, which is alluded to in Jude)

4. Jesus Himself (cf. Matthew 24:0; Mark 13:0; Luke 21:0)

5. the writings of Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:0; 2 Corinthians 5:0; 2 Corinthians 1:0 Thess. 4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:0)

6. the writings of John (1 John and Revelation).

Do these all clearly teach an end-time agenda (events, chronology, persons)? If not, why? Are they not all inspired (except the Jewish intertestamental writings)?

The Spirit revealed truths to the OT writers in terms and categories they could understand. However, through progressive revelation the Spirit has expanded these OT eschatological concepts to a universal scope ("the mystery of Christ," cf. Ephesians 2:11-13. See Special Topic at Gal. 10:7). Here are some relevant examples:

1. The city of Jerusalem in the OT is used as a metaphor of the people of God (Zion), but is projected into the NT as a term expressing God's acceptance of all repentant, believing humans (the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22). The theological expansion of a literal, physical city into the new people of God (believing Jews and Gentiles) is foreshadowed in God's promise to redeem fallen mankind in Genesis 3:15, before there even were any Jews or a Jewish capital city. Even Abraham's call (cf. Genesis 12:1-3) involved the Gentiles (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5).

2. In the OT the enemies of God's people are the surrounding nations of the Ancient Near East, but in the NT they have been expanded to all unbelieving, anti-God, Satanically-inspired people. The battle has moved from a geographical, regional conflict to a worldwide, cosmic conflict (cf. Colossians).

3. The promise of a land which is so integral in the OT (the Patriarchal promises of Genesis, cf. Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:7, Genesis 15:15; Genesis 17:8) has now become the whole earth. New Jerusalem comes down to a recreated earth, not the Near East only or exclusively (cf. Rev. 21-22).

4. Some other examples of OT prophetic concepts being expanded are:

a. the seed of Abraham is now the spiritually circumcised (cf. Romans 2:28-29)

b. the covenant people now include Gentiles (cf. Hosea 1:10; Hosea 1:10; Hosea 2:23, quoted inRomans 9:24-26; Romans 9:24-26; alsoLeviticus 26:12; Leviticus 26:12; Exodus 29:45, quoted in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18 andExodus 19:5; Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 14:2, quoted in Titus 2:14)

c. the temple is now Jesus (cf. Matthew 26:61; Matthew 26:61; Matthew 27:40; John 2:19-21) and through Him the local church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16) or the individual believer (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19)

d. even Israel and its characteristic descriptive OT phrases now refer to the whole people of God (i.e.,"Israel," cf. Romans 9:6; Romans 9:6; Galatians 6:16, i.e.,"kingdom of priests," cf. 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 1:6)

The prophetic model has been fulfilled, expanded, and is now more inclusive. Jesus and the Apostolic writers do not present the end-time in the same way as the OT prophets (cf. Martin Wyngaarden, The Future of The Kingdom in Prophecy and Fulfillment). Modern interpreters who try to make the OT model literal or normative twist the Revelation into a very Jewish book and force meaning into atomized, ambiguous phrases of Jesus and Paul! The NT writers do not negate the OT prophets, but show their ultimate universal implication. There is no organized, logical system to Jesus' or Paul's eschatology. Their purpose is primarily redemptive or pastoral.

However, even within the NT there is tension. There is no clear systemization of eschatological events. In many ways the Revelation surprisingly uses OT allusions in describing the end instead of the teachings of Jesus (cf. Matthew 24:0; Mark 13:0)! It follows the literary genre initiated by Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, but developed during the intertestamental period (Jewish apocalyptic literature). This may have been John's way of linking the Old and New Covenants. It shows the age-old pattern of human rebellion and God's commitment to redemption! But it must be noted that although Revelation uses OT language, persons, and events, it reinterprets them in light of first century Rome (cf. Revelation 1:7)."

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/galatians-3.html. 2021.
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