corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Galatians 3



Other Authors
Verses 1-29

THE APOSTLE CALLS them “foolish” or senseless, for they had not themselves had the spiritual sense to see whither these false teachers had been leading them. They had been like men bewitched, and under a spell of evil, and they had been led to the brink of the awful conclusion that Christ had died for nothing—that His death had been in fact a huge mistake! On the edge of this precipice they were standing, and the Apostle’s pungent reasoning had come as a flash of light amidst their darkness, revealing their danger!

What made their folly so pronounced was the fact that formerly there had been such a faithful preaching among them of Christ crucified. Paul himself had evangelized them, and as with the Corinthians so with the Galatians, the cross had been his great theme. It was as though Christ had been crucified before their very eyes.

Moreover, as a result of receiving the word of the cross, which Paul brought, they had received the Holy Spirit, as verse Galatians 3:2 implies. Well, in what way and on what principle had they received the Spirit? By the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? There was but one answer to this question. For the Galatians to reply, “We received the Spirit by the works of the law,” was an absolute impossibility, as Paul knew right well.

Hence he does not pause to answer his own question, but at once passes, in verse Galatians 3:3, to further questions based upon it. Having received the Spirit by the hearing of faith were they going to be made perfect by the flesh? Does God begin with us on one principle and then carry things to completion on another and opposing principle? Men are erratic enough. They change about in this fashion when their earlier plans miscarry. But is God erratic? Do His plans ever miscarry so that He needs to change? The Galatians were senseless, but were they SO senseless as to imagine that? And were they themselves prepared to change, and to throw away as worthless all they had previously held and done; so that their earlier sufferings for Christ had all to be treated as in vain, as null and void? What questions these were! As we read them are we not conscious of their crushing force?

But why did the Apostle speak of out being made perfect by the flesh? Firstly, because it is that which is particularly opposed to the Spirit; and secondly, because it is closely related to the law. It completes the quartette contained in verses Galatians 3:3-4. Faith and the Spirit are linked together. The Spirit is received as the result of the hearing of faith, and He is the power of that new life which we have in Christ. The law and the flesh are linked together. The law was given that the flesh might fulfil it, if it could do so. In result it could not. Nor could the law put an effectual curb on the propensities of the flesh; for the flesh “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Yet here were the Galatians inclined to turn from the all-powerful Spirit to the flesh, which though powerful for evil was wholly impotent for good. It was folly indeed!

In verse Galatians 3:5 the Apostle repeats his question of verse Galatians 3:2, only in another form. In verse Galatians 3:2 it concerned the Galatians. How did they receive the Spirit? Here it concerns himself. In what way and on what principle did he labour when he came amongst them with the Gospel message? Miracles were wrought amongst them and when the Gospel was believed the Spirit of God was received. Was it all on the ground of works, or of faith? Once more he does not pause for a reply, knowing right well that only one answer could be given by the Galatians. Instead he at once appeals to the case of Abraham, that they might realize that before ever the law was instituted God had established faith as the way of blessing for man.

From the very outset faith was the way of man’s blessing, as Hebrews 11:1-40 reveals so clearly. With Abraham, however, the fact came clearly to light even in Old Testament times. Genesis 15:6 plainly declared it, and that verse is quoted here, as also in Romans 4:3 and James 2:23. Abraham was the father of the Jewish race, who had circumcision as their outward sign, but he was also, in a deeper and spiritual sense, “the father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11).

The Judaising teachers had been trying to persuade the Galatians to adopt circumcision, that thereby they might put themselves into a kind of Jewish position, becoming children of Abraham in an outward way. It would have been a poor imitation thing, if compared only with the true-born Israelite. And all the while, if they were “of faith,” that is, believers, they were children of Abraham, and that in the deepest possible sense, as verse Galatians 3:7 makes manifest.

Every believer is a child of Abraham in a spiritual sense; and not only so, but as verse Galatians 3:9 shows us, every believer enters into the blessing of Abraham. Verse Galatians 3:8 indicates what it is that is referred to as the blessing of Abraham. It was not merely his own personal blessing, but that in him all nations should be blessed. Not only was he to be accounted righteous before God and to stand in the blessings connected with righteousness, but myriads from all nations were to enjoy similar favour, which was to reach them in him.

But why in Abraham? How could this be? It will be worth while reading the passages in Genesis which refer to this matter. The promise of the blessing was first given when God’s call first reached him. This is in Genesis 12:3. Then in Genesis 18:18 it is confirmed to him. Again, in Genesis 22:16-18 the promise is amplified, and we discover that the accomplishment is to be through “the Seed” who is Christ, as verse Galatians 3:16 of our chapter in Galatians tells us. Then further, the promise is confirmed to Isaac and Jacob respectively, in Genesis 26:4, and Genesis 28:14; and in both these cases “the Seed” is mentioned. Once introduced, the Seed is never omitted, for in truth everything in the way of fulfilment is dependent upon Him.

The blessing then was only in Abraham inasmuch as, according to the flesh, Christ sprang out of Abraham. The Jews boasted themselves in Abraham as though he were of all-importance in himself. The Galatians had been tempted to ally themselves with Abraham by adopting his covenant of circumcision. But the real virtue lay not in Abraham, but in Christ. And the very circumcision which would outwardly ally them with

Abraham, would virtually cut them off from Christ (see Galatians 5:2) in whom everything was found, not outwardly, but inwardly and vitally.

From the outset God intended to bless the heathen (or, the nations) through faith. It was no after-thought with Him. How gracious was His design! And how comforting it is to us to know it! He called Abraham out from the nations that had fallen into corruption, that He might, m spite of all the defection that marked His people, preserve a godly seed out of whom might spring in due season, the Seed, in whom all the nations should be blessed, and Abraham as well. Hence the nations are to be blessed by faith, as Abraham was, and not by the works of the law.

God is omniscient. He can foresee what He will do, in spite of all eventualities. But here this omniscience is attributed to the Scripture! A remarkable fact surely! God’s Word is of Himself, and from Himself, and is therefore to be very closely identified with Him. Let men beware how they handle it. There are those who utterly deny and deride the Scripture; and there are those who honour it in theory, and yet corrupt it. Both will ultimately have to reckon in judgment with the God whose Word it is. And, woe betide them!

The Scripture itself foresees, and it foretells their doom!

From beginning to end this third chapter is filled with contrasts. On the one side we have the law and the works that it demanded, the flesh, upon which the law’s demands were made, and the curse which fell when the law’s demands were broken. On the other side we find the faith of the Gospel, the Spirit given, and blessing bestowed. We have spoken of contrasts, but after all the contrast is really one, only worked out in a variety of different ways.

The Spirit and the flesh are brought into contrast in verse Galatians 3:3. Now in verse Galatians 3:10 we get the curse of the law in contrast with the blessing of believing Abraham. The curse was pronounced against every one that did not continue doing all things that the law demanded. No one did so continue, and hence all who were placed under the law came under the curse. It was enough to be “of the works of the law”—that is, to have to stand or fall in one’s relations Godward by the response one gave to the law’s demands —to be under the curse. Man being what he is, the moment any one has to stand before God on that ground he is lost.

The Jews, who had the law, hardly seem to have realized this. On the contrary they looked upon the law as being the means of their justification. Contented with a very superficial obedience to some of its demands, they were “going about to establish their own righteousness,” as Paul puts it in Romans 10:3. In this of course they utterly failed, for in their own Scriptures it had been put on record that, “the just shall live by faith.” And faith is not the principle upon which the law is based, but rather that of works. The whole matter briefly summed up stands thus:—By law men come under the curse and die. By faith men are justified and live.

The curse which the law pronounced was a perfectly just sentence. The Jew having been placed under the law, its curse rested upon him, and it had to be righteously borne ere it could be lifted off him. In the death of Christ the curse was borne, and hence the believing Jew is redeemed from beneath it. In the days of Moses, the curse had been specially connected with the one who died as a transgressor by hanging on a tree. Many a one in ancient days, reading Deuteronomy 21:23, may have wondered why the curse was thus linked with death on a tree, as distinguished from death by any other means, such as stoning, or the sword. Now we know. In due season the Redeemer was to bear the curse for others, thus honouring the law, by hanging on a tree. It is another case of how the Scripture foresees!

The bearing of the curse was in view of the bestowal of the blessing. Verse Galatians 3:14 speaks to us of this, presenting the blessing in a twofold way. First, there is “the blessing of Abraham,” which is righteousness. Second, there is the gift of the Spirit, a blessing beyond anything bestowed upon Abraham. The wonder of the work of Christ is this, that righteousness now rests upon Gentiles who believe, as well as upon believers who are Abraham’s children according to the flesh. All who believe are in a spiritual sense the children of Abraham, as verse Galatians 3:7 informed us.

In Old Testament days the Spirit was promised, as for instance in Joel 2:28, Joel 2:29. We who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, receive the Spirit today. Thus by faith we anticipate the blessing so fully to be enjoyed in the millennial day.

For the moment however the Apostle does not pursue the subject of the Holy Spirit. When we enter Galatians 4:1-31 we learn something as to the meaning of His indwelling, and in Galatians 5:1-26, we have an unfolding of his operations. In our chapter is pursued the subject of the law, and the place it had in the ways of God, and this in order to lead up to the unfolding of the proper Christian position—as stated in the early verses of chapter 4,—which is the central theme of the epistle. And first of all certain difficulties are cleared out of the way; misconceptions and objections flowing from a false view of the functions of the law, held by the Judaising teachers and doubtless instilled by them into the minds of the Galatians.

The first of these is taken up in verses Galatians 3:15-18. In so many minds the covenant of law had completely overshadowed the covenant of promise made with Abraham. But as we have just seen the covenant of law inevitably brings nothing but its curse. Blessing can only be reached by way of the covenant of promise which culminates in Christ. It cannot arrive partly by law and partly by promise. Verse Galatians 3:18 states this. The inheritance of blessing if by the law is not by promise, and this of course is true vice versa. The fact is, it is by promise. Thanks be unto God!

But was not the law intended as a kind of revision of the original testament, a kind of codicil, so to speak? Not at all, for as verse Galatians 3:15 says, it can be neither disannulled nor added thereto. It is an old trick of dishonest men to procure the rejection of a disliked document by foisting into it an addition so contradictory of its main provisions as to stultify the whole. This is not allowed amongst men, and we must not conceive of God’s covenant of promise as being less sacred than human documents. The law, which was not given until 430 years after, has not disannulled it. Nor has it been added to it in order to modify its blessed simplicity. It was never intended to do either of these things.

Verse Galatians 3:16 is worthy of special note, not only because it declares in such an unmistakable way that from the outset the covenant was in view of Christ and His redeeming work, but also because of the remarkable way in which the Apostle argues as to the Old Testament prediction. The Holy Spirit inspired him to hinge the whole point upon the word, “Seed,” being in the singular and not in the plural. Thereby He indicated how fully inspired was His earlier utterance. Not merely was the word inspired, but the exact form of the word. The inspiration was not merely verbal, i.e. having to do with words, but even literal, i.e. having to do with letters.

Accepting Paul’s argument, stated in the verses we have just considered, a further difficulty might well present itself to any mind. If then the law, given over 400 years after Abraham, had no effect upon the earlier covenant, neither annulling it nor modifying it, does it not seem to have lacked any definite purpose? An objector might declare that such doctrine as this leaves the law shorn of all point and meaning, and feel that he was propounding a regular poser in simply asking, Why then the law?

This is exactly the question with which verse Galatians 3:19 opens. The answer to this is very brief, and it appears to be twofold. In the first place, it was given in order that men’s sins might become, in the breaking of it, definite transgressions. This point is more fully stated in Romans 5:13. In the second place, it served a useful purpose in connection with Israel, filling up the time until the advent of Christ, by proving their need of Him. It was ordained through angels, and through a human mediator, in the person of Moses. But then the very fact of a mediator supposes two parties. God is one; who is the other? Man is the other. And since the whole arrangement was made to hinge upon the doings of man, the other party, it promptly failed.

In definitely convicting men of transgressions the law has done a work of extreme importance. What is right, and what is wrong? What does God require of men? Before the law was given there was some knowledge, and conscience was at work, as is indicated in Romans 2:14, Romans 2:15. But when the law came, all vagueness disappeared; for all, who were under it, the plea of ignorance totally disappeared and, when brought into judgment for their transgressions, not a shred of an excuse remained. We Gentiles were never formally placed under it, but as a matter of fact we know about it, and our very knowledge of it will make us amenable to the judgment of God in a way and degree unknown to the savage and unenlightened tribes of the earth. So let us take care.

In verse Galatians 3:21 another question is raised, which springs out of the foregoing. Some might jump to the conclusion that if, as shown, the law was not supplementary to the covenant of promise it must necessarily be in opposition to it. This is not so for one moment. Had the law been intended by God to provide righteousness for man, He would have endowed it with power to give life. The law instructed, demanded, urged, threatened and, when it had been broken, it condemned the transgressor to death. Yet none of these things availed. The one thing needful was to bestow upon man a new life, in which it would be as natural to him to fulfil the law, as now it is natural to him to break it. That the law could not do; instead it has proved us all to be under sin, thus revealing our need of that which has been introduced through Christ.

Thus the law, instead of being in any way in opposition, fits in harmoniously with all the rest of God’s great scheme. Until Christ came it has played the part of “the schoolmaster,” acting as our guardian and maintaining some measure of control. In verse Galatians 3:24 the words, “to bring us,” are in italics, there being no corresponding words in the original. They should not be there. The point is not that the law leads us to Christ, but that it exercised its control as tutor until Christ came. When Christ appeared, a new order of things was instituted, and there was justification for us on the principle of faith, and not by works.

This new order of things is spoken of in verse Galatians 3:23 as the coming of faith. Again in verse Galatians 3:25 we have the words, “after that faith is come.” Faith was found of course in all the saints of Old Testament days, as is shown by Hebrews 11:1-40, and by the passage from Habakkuk, quoted in verse Galatians 3:11 of our chapter. When Christ came, the faith of Christ stood revealed, and faith was publicly acknowledged as being the way, and the only way, by which man can have to do with God in blessing. In that sense “faith came,” and its coming marked the inauguration of an entirely new epoch.

By faith in Christ Jesus we have been introduced into the favoured place of “sons of God.” The word in verse Galatians 3:26 is “sons,” and not “children.” The saints under the law were like children in a state of infancy; under age, and hence under the schoolmaster. The believer of the present age is like a child who has reached his majority, and hence, leaving the state of tutelage behind, he takes his place as a son in his father’s house. This great thought, which is the controlling thought of the epistle, is more largely developed in the early verses of chapter 4. Before reaching them however, we have three important facts stated in the three closing verses of chapter 3.

By our baptism we have, as a matter of profession, put on Christ. Had we submitted to circumcision we should have put on Judaism, and thereby committed ourselves to the fulfilling of the law for justification. Had we been baptised to John’s baptism we should have put on the robe of professed repentance and committed ourselves to believe on the One that should come after him. As it is we have, if baptised to Christ, put on Christ and committed ourselves to that practical expression of the life of Christ which in the next chapter is spoken of as “the fruit of the Spirit.” As sons of God, having now the liberty of the house, we put on Christ as our fitness to be there.

Further, we are “in Christ Jesus,” and consequently we are “all one,” with all distinctions obliterated, whether national, social, or natural. When we get to the last chapter we shall find that in Christ Jesus there is new creation, which accounts for the removal of all the distinctions belonging to the old creation. This new creation work has reached us as to our souls already, though not yet as to our bodies. Hence we cannot as yet take up these things in an absolute way. For that we must wait until we are clothed upon with our bodies of glory at the coming of the Lord. Still even now we are in Christ Jesus, and hence can learn to view each other apart from and as lifted above these distinctions.

Let us take note that what is taught here is the abolition of these distinctions in Christ Jesus, and not in the assembly. We say this to safeguard the point and preserve from misconceptions. In the assembly, for instance, the distinction between male and female is very definitely maintained, as is shown in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Corinthians 14:35.

We have already had three things which mark the believer of today in contradistinction from believers before Christ came. We are “sons of God;” we have “put on Christ;” we are “in Christ Jesus.” The last verse of our chapter gives us a fourth thing: we are “Christ’s,” and belonging to Him we are in a spiritual sense Abraham’s seed, and consequently heirs, not according to law, but to promise. about three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18), so the second, being fourteen years later, was about seventeen years after that time, and is evidently the occasion as to which we have much information in Acts 15:1-41. That passage therefore, may profitably be read before proceeding further. From a careful reading several interesting details appear.

Acts 15:1-41 begins with mentioning “certain men who came down from Judaea,” who taught circumcision as essential to salvation. They are not termed “brethren,” we notice. In our chapter Paul unhesitatingly labels them “false brethren unawares brought in.” Thus early do we find unconverted men getting amongst the saints of God, in spite of apostolic vigilance and care! It is sad when they are brought in unawares in spite of care. Sadder still when such principles are professed and practised as leave the door open for them to enter.

In Acts we read that “they determined” that a visit to Jerusalem was needful. But here Paul gives us a view behind the scenes of activity and travel, and shows us that it was “by revelation” that he went up. The temptation might have been strong upon him to meet these false brethren and vanquish them at Antioch, but it was revealed to him by the Lord that he should stop disputation and carry the discussion up to Jerusalem, where the views his opponents pressed were most strongly held. It was a bold move; but it was one which in the wisdom of God preserved unity in the church. As a result of his obedience to the revelation the question was settled against the contentions of these false brethren in the very place where most of their sympathizers were. To have so settled it amongst the Gentiles at Antioch might easily have provoked a rupture.

Further, in Acts 15:1-41 it is just stated that “certain other of them” went up with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem. Our chapter reveals that amongst these “certain other” was Titus, a Greek. This of course raised the point at issue in its acutest form. The apostle gave no quarter to his opponents. He did not submit to them for an hour, and in result Titus was not compelled to be circumcised.

This being so, Paul’s action in regard to Timothy, related in Acts 16:1-3, is the more remarkable. It is an illustration of how that which has to be strenuously resisted under certain circumstances may be conceded under other circumstances. In the case of Titus circumcision was demanded in order to establish a principle which cut at the very root of the Gospel.

In the case of Timothy no such principle was at stake, the whole question having been authoritatively settled, and Paul did it that Timothy might have liberty of service amongst Jews as well as Gentiles. By birth Timothy was half a Jew and the Apostle made him completely a Jew, as it were, that he might “gain the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9:20). To Paul himself and to the Corinthians, and so to us, both circumcision and uncircumcision are “nothing” (1 Corinthians 7:19).

It is possible that you might observe some servant of Christ acting after this fashion today. Pause a moment before you roundly accuse him of gross inconsistency. It may after all be that he is acting with divinely-given discernment in cases where you have as yet perceived no difference. The apostle speaks of “Our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus.” It was liberty to refuse circumcision where legal bondage was involved, and yet a year or so later to practise it when nothing of principle was involved.

Then again during this visit to Jerusalem Paul took opportunity to convey formally to the other apostles the Gospel which he had preached among the Gentiles. Though he had received it directly from the Lord he was not above conceiving that possibly error might have crept into his understanding of the revelation. This is indicated in the latter part of verse Galatians 3:2. In effect however it was far otherwise. The most instructed amongst the apostles and elders at Jerusalem had nothing to add to Paul’s gospel when they conferred upon the point. The rather they recognized that Paul was clearly called of God to carry the Gospel into the Gentile world, while

Peter had a similar commission in regard to the Jew. Hence the three apostolic leaders, perceiving the grace given to Paul, expressed the fullest fellowship and sympathy with him in his work.

This fact had a very definite bearing on the point at issue with the Galatians. If the men who had been at work in Galatia attacked Paul as being an unauthorized upstart, he was able to counter this by showing that he had received his message from the Lord by first-hand revelation. This established his authority. If on the other hand they attacked him as a man proceeding thus on his own authority and so being in opposition to those who were apostles before him, he countered this lie by the fact that James, Peter and John had shown fullest confidence in him and fellowship with him after thorough conference had taken place.

It remained for him to show that there had been a time when even Peter had yielded somewhat to the influence of men similar to those now opposing Paul, and to relate how he had opposed him then, and the grounds on which he had done so.

There is no mention in the Acts of this visit of Peter to Antioch, but it evidently happened after the decision of the council in Jerusalem as narrated in Acts 15:1-41. In that council Peter had argued in favour of the acceptance of Gentile converts without the law of Moses being imposed upon them. He had then spoken of the law as “a yoke... which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” At Antioch however when certain came down from James holding strict views as to the value of circumcision he no longer would eat with the Gentile believers but withdrew himself. His example had great weight and others followed it—even Barnabas who had formerly stood with Paul, as recorded in Acts 15:2; Acts 15:12.

To many doubtless such action would have seemed a very small matter— just a little prejudice to be condoned, a fad to be smiled at. To Paul it was far otherwise. He perceived that under this apparently small question of how Peter took his food, grave principles were at stake, and that Peter’s action was not upright “according to the truth of the Gospel.”

Oh, that we may all seize the point so strongly enforced here! Departure from the truth, even of the gravest kind, is generally presented to us under cover of seemingly trifling and innocent circumstances. Most of us would have been tempted to exclaim, “Oh, Paul, what an exacting man you are! How difficult to please! Why make such a fuss over a small detail? If Peter wants now to eat only with Jews, why not let him? Why disturb our peace at Antioch and make things unhappy?” We are so often ignorant of Satan’s devices. He sees to it that we shall be diverted from truth over something of an apparently harmless nature. The railway engine runs from the main line into a siding over very fine points.

Incidentally let us at this point take note that the idea that church in the apostolic age was the abode of peace and free of all contention has no support from Scripture. From the outset the truth had to be won and maintained through conflict—a great deal of it internal, and not merely with the world without. We have no right to expect absence of conflict and trouble today. Occasions are sure to arise when peace can only be purchased by compromise, and he who sees most, and hence is constrained to raise his voice in protest, must be prepared to be accused of uncharitableness. Failing such protest peace is maintained, but it is the peace of stagnation and spiritual death. The quietest spot in the throbbing heart of London is the city mortuary! So beware!

If we find ourselves in a position where we feel morally bound to raise our voices, let us pray earnestly that we may be able to do it in a way similar to Paul. “When I saw... I said unto Peter...” Our tendency always is to launch our complaints into the ear of someone other than the culprit himself. Notice, for instance, in Mark 2:1-28, that when the Pharisees object to the action of Jesus they complain to His disciples (ver. 16), and when to the action of His disciples, they complain to the Lord (vers. 23, 24). We shall do well to make it a rule, when remonstrance is needed, to make our remonstrance directly to the person concerned, rather than behind his back.

Paul however did this “before them all.” The reason for this is that Peter’s defection had already affected many others and so become a public matter. It would be a mistake in a multitude of cases to make public remonstrance. Many a defection or difficulty has not become public, and if met faithfully and graciously in a private way with the person concerned it may never become public at all, and thus much trouble and possible scandal be avoided. Public defection however must be met publicly.

Paul began his protest by asking Peter a question based upon his earlier mode of life, before the sudden alteration. Peter had abandoned the strict Jewish customs in favour of the freer life of the Gentiles, as he himself had stated in Acts 10:28. How then could he now consistently retreat from this position in a way that was tantamount to saying that after all Gentiles should live after the customs of the Jews? This question we have recorded in verse 14.

In verses Galatians 3:15-16 we have the apostle’s assertion which succeeded his question. In this assertion Paul could link Peter with himself and Peter could not deny it. “WE,” he says. “We, who are Jews by nature” have recognized that justification is not reached by “the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ,” and hence have turned from law to Christ and been justified by Him. Thank God, that was so!

Now comes a second question. If it were true, as Peter’s action seemed to suggest, that even when standing in all the virtue of Christ’s work we still need something, in the way of law-keeping or the observance of Jewish customs, to complete our justification, is not Christ then discredited? He puts the proposition with extreme vigour of language,—is He not even “the Minister of sin” instead of the Minister of justification? To ask such a question is to answer it. It is impossible! Hence he adds, “Away with the thought,” or “God forbid.”

This was followed by a second assertion in verse Galatians 3:18, a statement which must have fallen as a sledge-hammer on Peter’s conscience. Peter’s action had inferred that Christ might be the Minister of sin; but it also was without a doubt of the nature of building up again the wall of partition, between Jew and Gentile who are in Christ, that the Gospel had thrown down, and which Peter himself had destroyed by his former action in the house of Cornelius. Whichever was right, Peter was wrong somewhere. If he was right now, he was wrong formerly. If right formerly, he was wrong now. He stood convicted as a transgressor.

As a matter of fact he was wrong now. Formerly he had acted as instructed of God in a vision. Now he was acting impulsively under the influence of the fear of man.

In these few words from the lips of Paul the Spirit of God had revealed the true inwardness of Peter’s action, however innocent it may have appeared to most. Only two questions and two statements, but how effective they were! They quite destroyed Peter’s false position.

Not content with this however the Spirit of God led Paul to forthwith proclaim the true position. He had perceived at the outset that Peter and his followers “walked not uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel,” so now he very plainly, yet in fewest possible words, states the truth of the Gospel. He states it moreover not as a matter of doctrine but as a matter of experience—his own experience. He does not now say “we,” but “I,” which occurs no less than seven times in verses Galatians 3:19-20.

In the Acts we have striking examples of the preaching of the Gospel through the lips of Paul. In Romans 1:1-32; Romans 2:1-29; Romans 3:1-31; Romans 4:1-25; Romans 5:1-21; Romans 6:1-23; Romans 7:1-25; Romans 8:1-39 we have the exposition of the Gospel from his pen. In Galatians 1:1-24 we have the defence of the Gospel— by setting forth its characteristic features, which hall-mark it, as it were. Now we are to consider the truth of the Gospel.

In the closing verses of this second chapter, Paul speaks for himself alone. Previously (verses Galatians 3:15-17) he had said, “we,” since he spoke of truth generally acknowledged by Christians, Peter included. But now he comes to truth which Peter’s action had challenged, and so he could not assume that Peter acknowledged it. However truth it was, and Paul standing in the enjoyment and power of it could set it forth in this personal and experimental way.

At that moment Peter had the law before his soul: he was living to the law. “For myself,” says Paul, in effect, “I have God, and not law before my soul, and am living to Him.” How much greater is God, who gave the law—God, now revealed in Christ—than the law He gave. But what set Paul free from the law, under which once he had been, as well as Peter? Death had set him free. He had died to the law, and that by the law’s own act! This is stated in verse 19.

Nevertheless, here he was very much alive, and boldly confronting Peter! How then had he died to the law? And in what sense was it true that he had died through the law? Both these questions are answered in that great statement, “I am crucified with Christ.”

In those words we have Paul seizing upon the truth of the Gospel, and giving it an intensely personal application to himself. The Lord Jesus, in His death, not only was the believer’s Substitute, bearing his sins, but also thoroughly identified Himself with us in our sinful state, being made sin for us, though knowing no sin Himself. So really and truly did this take place that one of the things we are to know, as a matter of Christian doctrine, is that “our old man is crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). The crucifixion of Christ is therefore the crucifixion of all that we were as fallen children of Adam. But here we have Paul’s personal appropriation of this. As crucified with Christ he had died to the law.

Then again the crucifixion of Christ was not merely the act of evil men. Viewed from the divine standpoint, the very essence of it is seen to be that act of God whereby He was made sin for us, and wherein was borne for us the curse of the law (see Galatians 3:13). As dying under the curse of the law, Christ died through the law, and as crucified with Christ Paul was able to say that he had died to the law through the law, in order that he might live unto God.

The force of this great passage may perhaps become clearer to us if we consider the five prepositions used.

1. Unto, which indicates the end in view. To live unto God is to live with God as the End of one’s existence.

2. With, indicates identification, or association. We are crucified with Christ by reason of that complete identification which He effected in His death for us. Consequently His death was our death. We died with Him.

3. In, which here signifies character. Though crucified we live. We are still living people on earth, yet we no longer live the old character of life. We live a life of a new order, a life, the character of which, summed up in one word, is CHRIST. Saul of Tarsus had been crucified with Christ. Yet the individual known as Saul of Tarsus was still living. Still living, yet in another character entirely. As you observed him you saw not the Saul-of-Tarsus character coming into expression, but Christ. In keeping with this he did not retain his old name, but soon after his conversion he became known as Paul, which means, “Little one.” He must be little if Christ is to live in him.

4. By, which introduces us to the Object that controlled Paul’s soul, and made this new character of life possible. Presently, when the life we now live in the flesh—that is, in our present mortal bodies—is over, we shall live by the sight of the Son of God. Meanwhile we live by the faith of Him. If faith is in activity with us He is made a living bright reality before our souls. The more He is thus before us objectively, that is, as

“... the object bright and fair,

To fill and satisfy the heart.” the more will He be seen in us subjectively.

The Lord Chancellor’s “Great seal” is a remarkable object. If you wished to see it however, you would probably find it impossible to get access to it. Possibly they would say, “No, we cannot let you see the seal itself, but look at this large spot of wax affixed to this state document. Here you virtually see the seal, for it has been impressed into it.” The wax has been subject to the pressure of the seal. You see the seal subjectively expressed, though you could not see it objectively. This may illustrate our point, and show how others may see Christ living in us, if as Object He is before our souls.

5. For, which here is the preposition of substitution. It introduces us to that which was the constraining power and motive of Paul’s wonderful life. The love of the Son of God constrained him, and that love had expressed itself in His sacrificial and substitutionary death.

We may sum up the matter thus:—Paul’s heart was filled with the love of the Son of God who had died for him. He not only understood his identification with Christ in His death, but he heartily accepted it, in all that it implied, and he found his satisfying Object in the Son of God in glory. Consequently the sentence of death lay upon all that he was by nature, and Christ lived in him and characterized his life, and thus God Himself, as revealed in Christ, had become the full End of his existence.

Thus it was with Paul, but is it thus with us? That our old man has been crucified is as true for us as for Paul. We have died with Christ even as he had, if indeed we are really and truly believers. But have we taken it up in our experience as Paul did, so that it is to us not only a matter of Christian doctrine (highly important as that is in its place) but also a matter of rich spiritual experience, which transforms and ennobles our lives? The plain truth is that most of us have only done so in a measure which is pitifully small. And the secret of this? The secret clearly is that we have been so little captivated by the sense of His great love. Our realization of the wonder of His sacrifice for us is so feeble. Our convictions as to the horror of our sinfulness were not very deep, and hence our conversions were comparatively of a shallow nature. If we track things back to their source, the explanation lies just here, we believe. Let us all sing with far more earnestness,

“Revive Thy work, O Lord!

Exalt Thy precious Name;

And may Thy love in every heart,

Be kindled to aflame!”

If in each of our hearts love is kindled to a flame, we shall make progress in the right direction.

The Apostle’s closing words, in the last verse of out chapter, plainly implied that the position Peter had taken was of such a nature as to lead to the “frustration” or “setting aside” of the grace of God. It would imply that after all righteousness could come by the law, and lead to the supposition that Christ had died “in vain,” or, “for nothing.” What a calamitous conclusion!

Yet it was the logical conclusion. And, having reached it, the moment had arrived for a very pointed appeal to the Galatians. This appeal we have in the opening verses of chapter 3.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 27th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology