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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament
Galatians 3

 

 

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Verses 1-5

DIVISION II JUSTIFICATION IS BY FAITH, APART FROM LAW AND THEREFORE FROM CIRCUMCISION.

CH. 3:1-5:13a.

SECTION 9. — BY FAITH THE GALATIAN CHRISTIANS RECEIVED THE SPIRIT.

CH. 3:1-5.

O senseless Galatians, who was bewitching you before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly written as Crucified. This only I wish to learn from you, From works of law did ye receive the Spirit, or from a hearing of faith? So senseless are ye? Having begun by the Spirit, are ye now by flesh being brought to maturity? So many things have ye suffered in vain? If at least it be indeed in vain. He then who supplies to you the Spirit and works powers in (or among) you, is it by works of law or by a hearing of faith?

We have assumed as the only explanation of this Epistle that in Galatia were men who bitterly opposed Paul’s teaching that the good things of the New Covenant are received by faith and in proportion to our faith, apart from obedience to the Mosaic Law or to any law; and that these teachers insinuated that Paul’s authority was inferior to that of the earlier apostles, because derived from them, and intimated that he had been unfaithful to the teaching they had committed to him. That his authority as a teacher, and his teaching, were not derived from them, Paul has proved by the facts of DIV. I.; and in so doing has prepared a way for a defence and exposition of his teaching, which is the second, and chief, matter of this Epistle. It occupies DIV. II.

Paul’s words to Peter have brought him to the cross of Christ and to the self-sacrificing love there manifested. From these, as the best possible starting point, he now passes to a series of arguments with his readers in Galatia. And, while turning to them, in the light which shines from the Cross, his first thought is wonder at their strange defection.

Galatians 3:1. Senseless: lacking power to grasp underlying realities, to read the meaning of that which was written in letters so public and plain. Same word in Luke 24:25; Romans 1:14 : cognate word in Romans 1:20, R.V. perceived; Ephesians 3:4; Hebrews 11:3.

Bewitch: deceive with magical art: same, or cognate, word in Sirach 14:6; Sirach 18:18; Wisdom of Solomon 4:12.

Was-bewitching: while the process of fascination was going on. So strange is their spiritual blindness that Paul assumes that someone has thrown a spell over them; and asks who the magician is.

Who?… you: the deceiver confronting his victims.

Before whose eyes, etc.: a fact proving the Galatians to be senseless and suggesting that they had been bewitched.

Openly-written: publicly placarded, as in 1 Macc. x. 36, and probably Judges 1:4; or written-beforehand, as in Romans 15:4; Ephesians 3:3. Probably the former: for beforehand, which could only mean, before the wizard came, would, as already implied in the context, add no sense to the word written; whereas openly is a new and Important idea, and one suggested by before whose eyes. The name of Jesus Christ was written in plain letters before the eyes of Paul’s readers where they and all men could read it: and it had been written as the name of one Crucified. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2. This recalls crucified with Christ in Galatians 2:20 and Christ died in vain in Galatians 2:21. All this proves their spiritual blindness, and suggests that they had been bewitched. For the teaching which had beguiled them set aside (Galatians 2:21) practically the death of Christ.

The words bewitch and eyes recall a widespread superstition that from the eye of the enchanter to that of his victim passed a fascinating glance. So Plutarch, Symposium Galatians 3:7, p. 680 c: “about those said to bewitch and to have a bewitching eye.” And Alexander of Aphrodisias, Physical Problems bk. ii. 53: “they send forth a ray as if poisonous and destroying from the pupil of their eye: and this entering in through the eyes of the envied one will change the soul and the nature.” From the fascinating and deadly glance of the deceiver, the vision of Jesus crucified should have saved the Galatians.

Galatians 3:2. First argument in defence of Paul’s teaching.

This only: this one argument being sufficient to decide the matter.

I wish to learn; suggests deliberate and careful inquiry.

From works of law: as in Galatians 2:16.

The Spirit: not His miraculous gifts merely or chiefly, of which the real worth was that they revealed His presence; but Himself dwelling in the hearts of all His people in all ages as their life and light and strength and joy, and the bearer to them and in them of all that Christ has and is. Cp. Galatians 4:6; Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:22; Galatians 5:25. The Spirit, Paul assumes that his readers have received; and that they know it. His inward presence was in the Apostolic Church outwardly manifested by supernatural gifts, especially by that of tongues: cp. Acts 10:44 ff; Acts 11:17; Acts 8:17 f; Acts 19:6. For it was important that both the receiver and others around should have unmistakable proof that he had received the Spirit. But the same Spirit in all His fulness dwells in us now, revealing Himself by a direct influence in our hearts moving us to call God our Father and breathing into us a strength and wisdom which we know to be not ours but God’s; and in some measure revealing Himself to others by the moral beauty of those in whom He dwells.

The word rendered hearing denotes both the faculty (as in Mark 7:35; 1 Corinthians 12:17; Hebrews 5:11) and the act (as in 2 Peter 2:8) of hearing. It therefore easily denotes the matter heard: for there can be no hearing without something heard. Same word three times in Romans 10:16 f: faith comes from hearing; i.e. we first hear and then believe, and not otherwise can we believe. Similarly, the reception of the Spirit comes from hearing: the Galatian Christians heard a word preached, and thus received the Spirit. Moreover, it was a hearing of faith, i.e. accompanied, and therefore characterised, by faith. Cp. Hebrews 3:12; Hebrews 4:2. The simplicity of this exposition renders needless the suggestion that faith was the matter heard, as in Romans 2:5 it is the object to be obeyed.

This verse itself disproves the assertion of the disturbers that observance of the Mosaic Law is a condition of the blessings of the New Covenant. Already the readers had received the Holy Spirit who is Himself the great and promised (Ezekiel 36:27) gift of that Covenant. Paul asks, Whence did you obtain this gift? Was it by obeying prescriptions of conduct, or by hearing and believing a preached word? To state the only answer possible, is needless. A mere appeal to his readers’ memory of their early Christian life is conclusive argument.

Galatians 3:3. Questions developing the arguments involved in Galatians 3:2. So senseless: introducing the absurdity exposed in Galatians 3:3 b. Begun… brought-to-maturity, or completion, or perfection: same words in 2 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:10 f; Philippians 1:6.

Being-brought-to-maturity: a process now going on. Same word in 2 Corinthians 7:1, cognate word in 1 Corinthians 2:6 : see notes. That the circumcision urged upon Titus is needful for entrance into the Christian life, Galatians 3:2 has disproved. Consequently, the only supposition still open to its advocates is that by obeying the Mosaic Law the Galatian Christians were being brought to maturity.

Spirit: the Holy Spirit, but looked upon in the abstract as a life-giving principle.

Flesh; implies that the Jewish restrictions which the false teachers sought to impose on the Galatians pertained only to outward, bodily life, to something done by, or to, the body. And this we can understand. For, in its inner significance none can fulfil the Law. They who trust to it for salvation do so by limiting their thoughts to small outward details, of piety or morality, which they are able to perform; and by rigourously performing these. Just so, the Judaisers insisted on (Galatians 5:3; Galatians 6:12) circumcision and on (Galatians 2:12) Mosaic distinctions of meat, things pertaining to the body. Paul reminds his readers that their spiritual life began by reception of the Holy Spirit, an inward, pervasive, life-giving principle; and asks whether, after such a beginning they are now being raised to a further and final stage of development by something pertaining only to their outward covering of flesh and blood. Notice here the contrast of Spirit and flesh so deeply interwoven (cp. Galatians 5:16; Galatians 6:8; Romans 8:4-13) into the thought of Paul.

It may be objected that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper touch only the flesh, and that therefore the same argument would prove that they cannot be obligatory on those who have already received the Spirit. But their solemn institution by Christ at the founding of His Church breathed into the outward rite a spiritual significance which can never be separated from it. Probably (Galatians 6:13) the disturbers in Galatia cared for nothing but the outward act of circumcision. Against them, therefore, this question would have irresistible force.

Galatians 3:4. The mention of maturity suggests another element in the Christian life of the Galatians, viz. the many things they have suffered. These are most easily explained as persecutions aroused by Jews. For, the hostility to Paul (Acts 14:2; Acts 14:19) in the neighbouring cities of Iconium and Lystra was caused by Jews; and unquestionably their reason was that his teaching broke down Jewish prerogatives. To similar hostility, for the same reason, the Galatian Christians must have been exposed. They knew how much direct and indirect persecution was included in so many things. But if the new teaching be true, these sufferings were in vain, i.e. (cp. Galatians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 15:2) without sufficient cause and without result. For, against this teaching their enemies would have little or nothing to say. Similar argument in Galatians 5:11. Thus Paul appeals to his readers’ outward, as in Galatians 3:2 f to their inward Christian life. He asks, Are you willing to trample under foot as needless your own sufferings for the Gospel? These sufferings were provoked by the teaching you are now surrendering. This question rests on the broad principle that whatever we have suffered for is dear to us. We do not like to admit that our sufferings have been needless and without result.

At the word in vain Paul starts, and adds as if apologizing for it if at least it be in vain. [ ει γε implies emphatically that the foregoing question rests entirely upon the supposition embodied in the word in vain, which και raises into conspicuous prominence. These particles therefore suggest scrutiny whether the supposition be correct.] These added words reveal Paul’s reluctance to believe that these sufferings had been in vain; and thus suggest how serious his question is.

Galatians 3:5. A repetition of the question in Galatians 3:2, transferred now from entrance into, to present continuance in, the Christian life; a transfer suggested by the arguments in Galatians 3:3-4, which give great force to the question now asked. It is an appeal to present religious experience.

‘If your Christian life began by reception of the Holy Spirit, it being thus impossible for it to be brought to maturity by anything merely outward, and if for this Christian life you have already suffered so much, I ask whether God is now supplying to you the Spirit, etc.Supplies: see under 2 Corinthians 9:10; cp. Philippians 2:19.

The Spirit: same full and general sense as in Romans 3:2. Of this inward presence of the Spirit, endowment with supernatural powers was one visible and conspicuous manifestation.

He that supplies: God, who (Galatians 4:6) sends forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of His adopted sons. Paul thus supplements received the Spirit in Galatians 3:2; and removes the controversy into the presence of God, the source of all good. The present tense, with the definite word you, implies that each moment the Spirit goes forth (cp. John 15:26) from God to men. Paul thus courteously acknowledges his readers’ continued spiritual life; and assumes that they are conscious of a continuous reception of the Spirit by faith. This, the servants of Christ understand by personal experience. They find in their hearts an influence which raises them above themselves and enables them to live a life which is not their own but God’s; and they find that in proportion to their faith, and from the very words believed, this life flows from Him to them. Of this divine life thus received, their obedience to God is a joyful result, but by no means an instrument or source.

Powers: either words of supernatural power, i.e. miracles, as in 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29. Probably the latter, as more usual with Paul: but the practical difference is hardly perceptible.

In you, or among you: both meanings embraced in the Greek word. The miracles were wrought among (same word in 2 Corinthians 12:12) the Galatians: but capacity for miracles was by the energy of God operating in the hearts of those who did them. This latter exposition is suggested here by the inwardness of the Spirit’s operation, and is implied in my exposition of the word powers. Cp. Matthew 14:2; 1 Corinthians 12:6. This question implies that miracles were indisputably wrought in the apostolic Churches. Paul asks, what is the immediate source from which you receive day by day the Holy Spirit, and from which proceeds power to work miracles? is it works done in obedience to a rule of conduct, or attention to, and belief of, a spoken word? Answer is needless. They know that, when most firmly they believe the Gospel, then most richly does the Spirit animate and glorify their entire life, and then most mightily does the power of God endow them with supernatural capacities.

REVIEW. The suggestion that Christ died in vain, as would be the case if the teaching of the Judaizers were correct, reveals to Paul, as he turns to discuss the teaching they contradict, the mental blindness of the Galatian Christians. A single argument seems to him sufficient to settle the matter at issue. His readers’ Christian course began with reception of the Spirit to be in them the animating principle of a new life. Paul asks whether they obtained the Spirit by means of obedience to legal prescriptions or by hearing with faith a preached word. Memory replies. The only supposition open is that obedience to law might lead them to a richer and higher Christian life. But the legal prescriptions of which the Judaizers think reach only to the material clothing of human life. Can mere bodily obedience develop a life begun by receiving a life-giving Spirit? The thought is absurd. Again, for the teaching of Justification by Faith apart from works of law, the Galatian Christians have already suffered persecution. Are they now prepared to admit that these sufferings were needless and profitless? These questions enable Paul to ask again in stronger form his first question. The Spirit whom day by day God still gives to his readers, and who reveals His presence by working miracles among them, do they receive by works of law or by faith? Thus not only their past but their present experience confirms the Apostle’s teaching.

This section illustrates a principle in theology all-important yet very liable to abuse, viz. that frequently abstract teaching may be verified by reference to our own spiritual life. To make subjective feelings a standard of truth, is perilous in the last degree. But our inner life is capable of, and deserves scientific analysis. Such analysis must, if correct, agree with the teaching of Christ as expounded by His apostles. And the comparison will in some cases detect a misunderstanding of the words of Christ, and in others confirm our confidence that we have rightly interpreted His words.


Verses 6-9

SECTION 10. — JUST SO, BY FAITH ABRAHAM WAS JUSTIFIED.

CH. 3:6-9.

According as “Abraham believed God; and it was reckoned to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6.) Know therefore that they of faith, these are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, having foreseen that by faith God justifies the Gentiles, (or nations,) announced beforehand good news to Abraham, that “In thee shall all the nations be blessed.” So then they of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

The foregoing appeal to his readers’ spiritual life past and present, Paul now supports by showing it to be in harmony with the spiritual history of the father of the Jewish nation. And this historical comparison becomes a starting point and basis of an exposition of the relation of the Gospel to the Law which occupies the remainder of DIV. II. Paul thus continues his defence, begun in § 9, Or the doctrine of salvation by faith, from the legal restrictions with which some sought to overload and practically invalidate it.

Galatians 3:6. That Paul’s readers received the Holy Spirit by faith accords with a remarkable spiritual fact recorded of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. Paul thus verifies his appeal to personal experience by comparison of the ancient Scriptures. An excellent example.

Believed God: word for word from the LXX. (cp. Exodus 14:31; Exodus 19:9) as in Romans 4:3; James 2:23 instead of believed in Jehovah as in the Hebrew: probably because believe in is not common in Greek. See my Romans p. 147. Abraham was sure that God will fulfil His promise to give him children as numerous as the stars: and this faith God reckoned to be fulfilment of the condition on which the promise was suspended. Thus by faith Abraham obtained the fulfilment of God’s promise. The express and conspicuous record of this, and of the covenant which on that day amid slain sacrifices God made with Abraham, is in remarkable agreement with the fact that by faith the Galatian Christians received the Spirit of God who is the bearer of all the blessings of the New Covenant.

Galatians 3:7. Logical inference from the quotation in Romans 3:6, which Paul bids his readers make.

They of faith: i.e. whose relation to God, and confidence, and character, are derived from, and determined by faith: so Romans 3:26; Romans 4:16; cp. Romans 2:8; Romans 4:14. They who have a spiritual life derived from faith are sharers of Abraham’s spiritual nature; and in some sense derive it from him. For they follow in the way of faith which he trod. And Paul will show that the blessings they now enjoy are those promised to his children. They may therefore be called his sons.

Galatians 3:8. Not only does Genesis 15:6 prove that the men of faith are Abraham’s sons, but in the spiritual facts of Genesis 15:2; Genesis 15:5 is a fulfilment of the first promise to Abraham so exact that it implies intelligent foresight.

The Scripture: Galatians 3:22; Galatians 4:30; Romans 4:3; Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; Romans 11:2 : the passage of Scripture here quoted, viz. Genesis 12:3. So always, apparently. The collective sacred writings are the Scriptures, Romans 1:2; Romans 15:4; Romans 16:26. Cp. this Scripture, Mark 12:10; Luke 4:21; another Scripture, John 19:37; every Scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16.

Having foreseen: the divine foresight preceded the announcement recorded in Genesis 12:3. A strong personification: cp. Galatians 3:22; Galatians 4:30; Romans 9:17. That the solemn words of God are quoted simply as the Scripture, and that foresight is attributed to it as to a living person, reveals Paul’s firm conviction both of the correctness of the record and of its divine authority. See my Romans, Diss. iii. Similarly, the law of England, enforced as it is by the power of the government, is sometimes spoken of as though it were a living person. And this reveals the unique position of the law among other writings.

By faith God justifies the Gentiles: simple matter of fact, going on day by day while Paul wrote this Epistle, and foreseen by God before He spoke the first promise to Abraham.

Announced beforehand good things: viz. the spiritual good actually bestowed in Paul’s day. Compare carefully Romans 2:2 the Gospel which He promised beforehand in Holy Scriptures. The quotation is from Genesis 12:3, changing only all the families of the earth into all the nations or all the Gentiles, to agree with justifies the Gentiles.

In thee: in virtue of something done to, or by, Abraham. So 1 Corinthians 15:22; in Adam all die.

In Paul’s day God was giving to all who believe, in all nations, the blessings of the New Covenant. This Covenant was a development of that which God made with Abraham in the day when he believed the promise that he should have children numerous as the stars. Consequently, their faith was a development of his faith. And in their justification was fulfilled the promise made to Abraham before he left his own country. Paul will show in § 11 that not otherwise could this promise be fulfilled. So exact is the fulfilment that it must have been designed. He may therefore rightly say that the original promise, recorded in the ancient writings which were to Israel the voice of God, was a foresight of the blessings which in his day God was actually bestowing.

Galatians 3:9. Logical result of Genesis 12:3 taken in connection with Genesis 15:6, stated in a form similar to Galatians 5:7 and preparatory to § 11.

They of faith… believing Abraham: the point of the argument. The blessings now received by those who believe in Christ are a fulfilment of the promises pledged to Abraham in the Covenant made with him by God in the day he believed. Consequently, they who share Abraham’s faith share also with him the blessings which follow his faith.

Section 10 is preparatory to §§ 11, 12. In order to expound the true position and design of the Law, Paul has taken us into the presence of Abraham centuries before the Law was given, and proved from the Scriptures that he obtained the favour of God by faith, and that the justification of the Gentiles by faith is a fulfilment of the first promise made to Abraham. In the light of these facts he will now approach the Law.


Verses 10-14

SECTION 11. — THE LAW BRINGS A CURSE.

CH. 3:10-14.

For so many as are of works of law are under a curse: for it is written that “Cursed is every one that does not continue in all the things written in the Book of the Law to do them.” (Deuteronomy 27:26.) And that in law no one is justified in the presence of God, is evident: because “the righteous man by faith will live.” (Habakkuk 2:4.) But the Law is not by faith, but “He that hath done them will live in them.” (Leviticus 18:5.) Christ hath bought us off from the curse of the Law having on our behalf become a curse; (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone that hangs upon wood:” Deuteronomy 21:23;) that to the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus, that we might receive through faith the promise of the Spirit.

Proof that the promise to Abraham was a foresight of the Gospel; viz. because not otherwise can that promise be fulfilled, since all who trust in law are under a curse: Galatians 3:10. That the Law cannot save, is proved by its difference from faith as a means of salvation: Galatians 3:11-12. The powerlessness of the Law to save rendered needful the death of Christ for the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham: Galatians 3:13-14.

Galatians 3:10. Proof of Galatians 3:8-9. The original promise to Abraham is fulfilled in those who believe the Gospel: for all others, including all who trust in Law, are under a curse. Paul thus approaches, from the platform set up in § 10 on the firm foundation of God’s first treatment of Abraham which agrees with his readers’ own spiritual experience in § 9, the chief matter of DIV. II., viz. our relation to the Law.

So many as: favourite phrase with Paul; Galatians 3:27; Galatians 6:12; Galatians 6:16; Romans 2:12; Romans 6:3; Romans 8:14.

Of works of law: whose religious life and claim to God’s favour are derived from, and determined by, actions prescribed in a rule of conduct. That all such are under a curse, is proved by the very solemn and conspicuous words of Deuteronomy 27:26, which are a summary and culmination of the curses which Moses bade the Levites pronounce on Mount Ebal, and which embody the spirit of the entire Mosaic Law. The quotation is from the LXX., which however reads all the words of this Law. The Hebrew, omitting everyone and all reads Cursed is he who does not establish the words of this Law to do them. But the difference is unimportant: for these strong universal terms give the tenor of the whole Law.

The Book of the Law: same phrase in Deuteronomy 31:26; Joshua 2:8; 2 Kings 22:8; 2 Kings 22:11.

Continue in: abiding self-restraint within the limits marked out by the Law.

To do them: purpose of this self-restraint.

This argument implies that none have kept the Law, i.e. that all have sinned. So Romans 2:1; Romans 3:9; Romans 3:19; Romans 3:23. To make us conscious of this, Paul chose the exceedingly broad and conspicuous summary of the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 27:26, which reminds us that the Law is no mere series of regulations which we can easily keep but covers and touches all the actions of life and even the secret springs of conduct. Consequently, each deeper insight into the Law reveals transgressions undetected before and pronounces against us a fresh condemnation. And if so, the first great promise to Abraham can never be fulfilled to any one on the basis of law. It can be fulfilled only as the Galatian Christians have already received blessing from God, viz. by faith. And all this was foreseen by God when He spoke the promise.

Galatians 3:11-12. Further proof that the Law cannot save.

Justified in law: same phrase in Galatians 5:4; and, from the lips of Paul, Acts 13:39 : to have a rule of life as the surrounding element in which, and therefore the medium through which, a man receives justification. Cp. in Christ, Galatians 2:17; Acts 13:39; in the blood and name of Christ, Romans 5:9; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 4:4.

In the presence of God: the Great Judge who knows the whole case and pronounces just judgment. Cp. righteous before God, Romans 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Romans 2:11; Romans 9:14; Romans 11:25.

No one is justified: an abiding principle. No one obtains by accepting a rule of conduct as the surrounding element of his spiritual life, a favourable sentence in the presence of the heart-searching Judge. This is evident from the total difference between justification by faith and by law. These two incompatible principles Paul states in word-for-word quotations from Habakkuk 2:4 and Leviticus 18:5. God’s words to Habakkuk are not perhaps given as independent proof that salvation is by faith: yet, taken in connection with Genesis 15:6, they remind us that this doctrine has its roots in the records of the Old Covenant. See under Romans 1:17. Not only did God accept Abraham’s faith as a fulfilment of the required condition of the promise, but to Habakkuk He declared that by unshaken firmness, resting upon the believed word of God, the righteous man will survive the coming storm. But the main argument is the contrast with Leviticus 18:5.

The Law is not by faith, or from faith: it is not derived from the principle believe and live. This modest and indisputable assertion reveals the infinite difference between the Law and faith.

He that hath done, etc.: a broad principle prefixed in Leviticus 18:5 to a series of legal prescriptions. Same quotation in Romans 10:5. It is the principle underlying all law. Reward follows right doing. The word will-live is a link uniting the two quotations; life through faith and life through obedience. That in each case bodily life is referred to, does not weaken the argument: for even bodily life is in the Old Testament a mark of the smile of God. The total incompatibility of these two channels of life, in connection with the exceeding breadth of the Law and with the Gospel announced by Christ and reflected from afar here and there in the pages of the Old Testament, makes it quite evident that on the basis of law no one stands before God justified.

Galatians 3:13-14. Relation of Justification by Faith to Christ.

Us: rather emphatic: viz. Paul and the Jews who had received and broken the Mosaic Law. But this is true of all men: for all have (Romans 2:15) broken the same Law, and lie under the same curse.

Bought-off: same word in Romans 4:5; Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5; cp. bought in 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; 2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 5:9. The word rendered redeem in Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:18; Luke 24:21 (cp. Romans 3:24) is quite different; yet similar in sense. See under Romans 3:24.

The curse of the Mosaic Law: that pronounced in Deuteronomy 27:26, quoted in Galatians 3:10.

Having become on our behalf a curse; explains and justifies bought off, by stating the price, i.e. the costly method, by which Christ set us free.

On our behalf, or for our benefit: constant statement of the relation to us of Christ’s death; Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:6 ff; Romans 8:31 f; Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:15. That the benefit was rendered by Christ taking our place, we learn here from the context. For the price takes the place of the thing bought: and we were made free from the curse by Christ placing Himself under it. And, since that curse was death, we rightly say that Christ died in our stead. But this is only a forceful way of stating the great fundamental doctrine of Romans 3:24-26, (see note,) that we are justified by means of the death of Christ.

A curse: an example and embodiment of a divine curse. What that is, we learn by contemplating Christ Crucified. The word was suggested by the Hebrew form of Deuteronomy 21:23, a curse of God is a hanged one. So Zechariah 8:13, ye were a curse among the nations. A very close parallel in 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Because it is written, etc.: an important quotation (Deuteronomy 21:23) placing Christ actually under the curse of the Law; slightly changed from the LXX. in which upon wood is repeated from Deuteronomy 21:22. These words are needful here, to give the full sense of the original. As in the quotation in Galatians 3:10, the LXX. strengthens the passage by inserting everyone. The Hebrew equivalent of the word wood denotes primarily a tree, as in Genesis 2:9; Genesis 2:16; then the material derived from trees. The corresponding word denotes in classic Greek wood, or things made from wood, and very rarely or never a tree. But it is used by the LXX. for the above Hebrew word even when used in this last sense, as in Genesis 2:9; Genesis 2:16; and in the same sense and reference is found in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19. But elsewhere in the N.T. there is no need to give it any other than its ordinary sense of a piece of wood. The original words of Deuteronomy 21:23 embrace both a living tree, and any pole from which a dead body might be hung. A corpse hanging from a tree or pole, as being a conspicuous presentation of death and of crime, was marked out in the Law as specially accursed; and was not allowed to remain over night. By a strange coincidence (for crucifixion was a Roman punishment) Christ came under this legal curse: and in obedience to the Law His body was removed lest even that Most Sacred Temple should defile the coming Sabbath. And this apparently small coincidence reveals how completely He had taken upon Him our curse. Thus the Law pronounced a curse upon the All-Blessed One; and by so doing proclaimed itself to be imperfect and passing.

Galatians 3:14. Double purpose for which Christ became a curse. It thus expounds on our behalf.

To the Gentiles, or nations: emphatic.

The blessing of Abraham: recorded in Galatians 3:8 as proclaimed in Genesis 12:3.

In Christ Jesus. Not until Christ came and bore our curse, and only in proportion to our spiritual union with the Risen Saviour, can the blessing of Abraham reach us.

That we might receive, etc.: further purpose, expounding the practical significance of the foregoing. It leads us back to the spiritual facts of Galatians 3:2-5, with which the case of Abraham was in Galatians 3:6 said to agree; thus preparing a way to Galatians 4:6 and Galatians 5:16.

The promise of the Spirit: viz. that the Spirit shall be given: Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:27; John 14:16; John 14:26.

Receive (or obtain) the promise: receive its fulfilment; Hebrews 10:36; Luke 24:49; Acts 2:4.

Through faith, joins § 11 through § 10 to § 9. It marks the completion of the matter introduced in Galatians 3:2.

Galatians 3:13-14 assume that Christ was crucified in order that God’s purpose of mercy might be accomplished in us, a fundamental doctrine which probably no Christian would deny. But, if crucified, he fell under a curse conspicuously pronounced by the Law. Now upon all men the Law pronounces a curse: for none have fully obeyed its commands. Consequently, Christ fell under the curse of the Law in order to rescue us from it. And only through Him, and to those who believe the Gospel, can the original promise made to Abraham be fulfilled: for all others are shut out from all blessing by the curse of the Law. Therefore, Christ bought us off from the curse of the Law by Himself submitting to its curse. Moreover the Spirit given to those who believe is Himself a fulfilment, and the agent of the complete fulfilment, of the first promise made to Abraham. Consequently, this gift was the aim of the death of Christ.

In § 9 Paul appealed to his readers’ past and present experience in proof that the Holy Spirit, the great gift of the New Covenant, comes by faith and not by works of law. In § 10 he shows that this agrees with the story of Abraham; and asserts that it is a fulfilment of the original promise to Abraham. This last assertion, he proves in § 11 by showing that in no other way can this promise be fulfilled; that as a means of salvation obedience to law is incompatible with faith, by which he has already shown that Abraham obtained God’s favour; and that the only conceivable explanation of the death of Christ is that He died that in the spiritual facts of § 9 the promise to Abraham might be fulfilled.


Verses 15-18

SECTION 12. — YET THE LAW CANNOT SET ASIDE THE STILL EARLIER PROMISE.

CH. 3:15-18.

Brethren after the manner of men I say it. Even a man’s confirmed covenant, no one sets aside or adds conditions to. Now to Abraham were spoken the promises, and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds” as of many, but as of one, “And to thy seed,” which is Christ. But this I say, a covenant before confirmed by God, the Law proclaimed four hundred and thirty years afterwards does not annul, in order to make of no effect the promise. For if the inheritance is by law, it is no longer by promise. But to Abraham God graciously granted it by promise.

The Law is not a later-imposed condition: for, if it were, it would prevent fulfilment of the promise, which was earlier than the Law and had reference not only to Abraham but to Christ. Paul will thus prove that the Law (which cannot save: § 11) cannot hinder salvation.

Galatians 3:15. After the manner of men (literally, according to man, as in Galatians 1:11)

I say: Romans 3:5; 1 Corinthians 9:8 : taking human nature and its customs as my standard. Hence, Paul goes on to speak of a man’s covenant. He thus appeals to the principles of human morality in proof of what God will do. Cp. Matthew 7:11. This implies that what is wrong in man cannot be right in God.

Covenant: an engagement in which men mutually bind themselves to do certain things on certain conditions. See my Romans pp. 136, 266.

Confirmed: ratified, and thus made legally binding. Same word in Genesis 18:20. ‘Although it be only a man’s engagement, yet, when ratified, no one sets it aside.’ Nor, when a man has bound himself to do something on certain conditions, does he add other conditions and require their fulfilment before he performs his part of the engagement. For he would thus practically set aside the covenant.

Galatians 3:16. This verse applies to Abraham, and through him to Paul’s readers, the principle stated in Galatians 3:15. They would remember that God’s words to Abraham were the well-known promises; and that in the day of Abraham’s faith (Genesis 15:18) these were confirmed by a solemn covenant. This familiar historical connection is the historical link binding Galatians 3:16, and Galatians 3:15. Cp. Galatians 3:17, and Ephesians 2:12 the covenants of the promise. Nearly all the many promises to Abraham have the conspicuous addition, and to thy seed: Genesis 13:15, (and in LXX. Genesis 13:17,) Genesis 17:8; Genesis 17:19. These words are quoted here to prove that on the principle asserted in Galatians 3:15, persons still living can claim the promises to Abraham. To complete this proof, Paul will show in Galatians 3:16 b that these added words pertain to Christ.

To Abraham… and to (or for) his seed: the Greek dative includes both him to whom, and those for whom, the promises were spoken; a latitude which no English rendering can reproduce.

He does not say: probably God; for the words referred to are in the promises spoken by Him. Instead of thy sons(as in the frequent phrase sons of Israel: Exodus 1:13; Exodus 12:37; Exodus 12:40) God says always (even in Genesis 26:24) thy seed; using a singular noun. This proves clearly that He looked upon Abraham’s descendants as one organic whole. The plural of the Hebrew word rendered seed denotes in 1 Samuel 8:15, where alone in the O. T. it is found, (cp. a similar word in Isaiah 61:11; Daniel 2:12; Daniel 2:16,) not persons but grains of seed; and therefore could not have been used to denote descendants. But the plural of the corresponding Greek word was sometimes, though rarely, so used: e.g. Plato, Laws p. 853c. Paul therefore adopts it here as the easiest way of describing popularly a grammatical construction conspicuously absent from the promises to Abraham. The exact words and to thy seed are found in (LXX.) Genesis 13:15; Genesis 13:17; Genesis 17:8. The word and recalls a conspicuous addition in the promises to Abraham.

Which seed, looked upon as one organic whole, is Christ: a concisely expressed deduction from Galatians 3:14 a.

Is; denotes coincidence or practical identity, as in 2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:16, ( 1 Corinthians 12:12,) Romans 2:12; Romans 2:16. The promise to Abraham’s seed is fulfilled, by God’s design, in those united to Christ, in them only, and in virtue of their union with Him. The personality of Christ enfolds them: (for they have put on Christ, Galatians 3:27 :) and His relationships and rights are theirs. Thus the personality of Christ is in some sense co-extensive with the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham. And, since this was originally designed by God, and since the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham will set up the kingdom of Christ, Paul does not hesitate to say in Galatians 3:19 that He was the seed to whom the promise was made, and to say here that the seed is Christ. The profound truth thus expressed, viz. the practical identity of Christ and His people, has many applications and is worthy of careful study. The expression itself was suggested by the form, conspicuous by its uniformity, of the promises to Abraham’s descendants.

Galatians 3:17. But this I say, or mean: practical bearing of Galatians 3:15-16 on the matter in hand. Galatians 3:15 states a universal principle of human morality: Galatians 3:16 proves that God’s relation to Abraham and to his spiritual children comes under it: and Galatians 3:17 shows how the principle applies to them. God bound Himself (Genesis 15:18; Genesis 17:2) by a covenant to fulfil the promises to Abraham.

Ratified: the legal obligation by which God condescended to bind Himself. Possibly Paul has in mind (cp. Hebrews 6:17 f) the solemn oath in Genesis 22:16. The prefixed word before emphasizes the fact that this confirmed covenant was earlier than the Law.

Does not annul: an unchangeable principle. For God to attach to the promises, centuries after He had confirmed them by oath, an impracticable (Galatians 3:10) condition, would be in effect to set aside His own covenant.

In order to make-of-no-effect (see under Romans 3:3) the promise: the only conceivable purpose of God for annulling the covenant by adding a later and impossible condition, viz. to avoid fulfilling His own promise, i.e. to make it practically inoperative. To denote a mere result, another familiar Greek phrase would have been used, as in 1 Corinthians 2:7; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Corinthians 13:2. All inevitable results of God’s action, being foreseen, are taken up into His plan, and are therefore His definite purposes. Consequently, had God afterwards made His promises to Abraham conditional on obedience to the Law, He would have done so with a deliberate purpose of evading His own promises. For God to plot this, and to accomplish it by giving the Law at Sinai, is inconceivable.

Galatians 3:18. Explains how the Law, if it were a condition, would neutralise the promise.

The inheritance: the benefits to Abraham’s children, bodily and spiritual, in virtue of their relation to him. It is a constant designation of the land of Canaan given to Israel as descendants of Abraham: Deuteronomy 4:38; Deuteronomy 15:4; Deuteronomy 19:10, etc. But Canaan was only an imperfect firstfruit of the infinite blessing which comes and will come to all who walk in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham. Thus will he become (Romans 4:13) heir of the world.

By law: cp. Galatians 3:21 : derived from a rule of conduct, i.e. by obeying it.

No longer: logical result, as in Romans 11:6; Romans 7:17.

By promise: derived from an announcement of good things from God to us. As shown in Galatians 3:11-12, these modes of derivation, viz. man’s exact obedience to words of command, and God’s fulfilment of His own promise, are utterly incompatible. We must therefore choose between them. Which alternative is the true one, the following historical statement determines.

By promise: more fully, by means of promise. Before giving the inheritance God gave a promise, and made belief of it the condition of fulfilment. The promise was thus the instrument and channel through which the inheritance came.

Graciously-gave it, or gave it as an act of grace: Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:12 : akin to gift-of-grace, in Romans 1:11; Romans 5:15 f, etc.; and to the word grace in Galatians 1:3; Galatians 1:6; Galatians 1:15, etc. It suggests an argument. For the promises to Abraham were evidently undeserved favour. Therefore the inheritance does not come through law: for then (Romans 4:4 f) it would be matter not of favour but of debt. [The Greek perfect directs attention to the abiding results of God’s word of grace to Abraham, reminding us that it created an era in his history and in that of the world. But since Paul refers to a definite event or events in the past, the use of English tenses requires the preterite. The R.V. hath granted it does little or nothing to reproduce the force of the Greek perfect; and is very uncouth.]

REVIEW. In proof that the benefits of the Gospel are obtained by faith and not by obedience to law, Paul has appealed to his readers’ spiritual life, and has shown that it accords with the story of Abraham. Not otherwise can the blessings promised to Abraham’s children be obtained: for the Law pronounces a universal curse, from which we are rescued only by the curse which fell upon Christ. Now if, hundreds of years after giving the promises and confirming them by a covenant, God had made their fulfilment conditional on obedience to law, He would have set aside His covenant, thus violating a recognised principle of human morality; in order to evade fulfilment of His promises. The evasion would be complete: for obedience as a condition of benefit is quite different from the undeserved favour manifested in God’s promises to Abraham. This last verse opens a way for the argument of § 13 which rests upon the total difference between law and promise.

Paul’s appeal in Galatians 3:16 to a small grammatical distinction reveals his confidence that the Book of Genesis is a correct record of God’s words to Abraham. His argument rests, however, not on one passage, but on an expression used some fifteen times and forming a conspicuous feature of the narrative. In this, Paul is a pattern to us. Appeal to general usage is the only safe method of Biblical theology. Moreover, the point in question is only a detail confirming an argument already conclusive, by an interesting coincidence which cannot be explained except on a principle involved in the argument. This allusion to a grammatical detail thus differs altogether from the childish word-play of the Jewish writers.

THE PRECISE STATEMENT of time in Galatians 3:17, 430 years, recalls Exodus 12:40-41, where (and there only) the same period is given twice, yet not as the time from Abraham to the Exodus, as Paul here says, but as the duration of the sojourn in Egypt. This discrepancy is evidently derived from the LXX., which Paul usually quotes, and of which the Vat. MS. reads which they sojourned in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, while the Alex. MS. adds further they and their fathers. With this last agrees the Samaritan Pentateuch. But the Hebrew text (given in the A.V.) is open to no doubt. For it is supported not only by the Peshito Syriac and the Latin Vulgate but also by internal evidence: for the Vatican reading betrays a clumsy attempt to shorten the stay in Egypt, perhaps to bring it into harmony with the genealogy in Exodus 6:16-20; and the Alex. reading looks like a correction of the other. Moreover, it is much more natural, in reckoning the time of the departure from Egypt, to give the length of the sojourn there than the period elapsed since Abraham entered Canaan. It is also difficult to suppose that in Genesis 15:13 the land not theirs, in which Israel was to dwell 400 years and which seems to be contrasted with the land promised to Abraham, includes both Egypt and Canaan, countries so different in their relation to Israel. The word rendered generation in Genesis 15:16 is an indefinite term for a human life or the men living at one time, e.g. Numbers 32:13; and is different from the word used in Genesis 11:10; Genesis 11:27, etc. The shorter chronology seems to be supported by the genealogy in Exodus 6:16 ff: but this is neutralised by the longer genealogies in Numbers 26:29; Joshua 17:3; #Ruth 4:18 ff; 1 Chronicles 2:5 f; 2:18; 7:20ff. For it is more likely that names have fallen out of the shorter list than been inserted fictitiously into the longer one. Moreover, if taken as a complete list, Exodus 6:16-20 does not give the length of the stay in Egypt: for in this case the lives would overlap to an extent which is not specified, leaving us without any exact chronological data. The aggregate of these lives, viz. 487 years, rather suggests that they are in the main consecutive, and that these four lives represent the four centuries or generations which God foretold should live and be spent in Egypt. We find therefore no reason to suspect corruption in the plain historical statement of our best authority for the Old Testament, the Hebrew text.

The above discrepancy is found also in Josephus who in Antiq. ii. 15. 2 follows the LXX. by interpreting the 430 years to include Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan, yet in ch. 9. 1 and Wars v. 9. 4 speaks of the bondage in Egypt as lasting 400 years.

Against the foregoing historical arguments the cursory allusion in Galatians 3:17 has no weight. About trifling discrepancies between the Hebrew and Greek texts, Paul probably neither knew nor cared. And they have no bearing whatever upon the all-important matter he has here in hand. He adopted the chronology of the LXX. with which alone his readers were familiar; knowing, possibly, that if incorrect it was only an understatement of the case.

The above discussion warns us not to try to settle questions of Old Testament historical criticism by casual allusions in the New Testament. All such attempts are unworthy of scientific Biblical scholarship. By inweaving His words to man in historic fact, God appealed to the ordinary laws of human credibility. These laws attest, with absolute certainty, the great facts of Christianity. And upon these great facts, and on these only, rest both our faith in the Gospel and in God and the authority of the Sacred Book. Consequently, as I have endeavoured to show in my Romans Diss. i. and iii., our faith does not require the absolute accuracy of every historical detail in the Bible, and is not disturbed by any error in detail which may be detected in its pages. At the same time our study of the Bible reveals there an historical accuracy which will make us very slow to condemn as erroneous even unimportant statements of Holy Scripture. And, in spite of any possible errors in small details or allusions, the Book itself remains to us as, in a unique and infinitely glorious sense, a literary embodiment of the Voice and Word of God.


Verses 19-24

SECTION 13. — THE LAW WAS DESIGNED TO LEAD US TO FAITH IN CHRIST.

CH. 3:19-24.

What then is the Law? For the sake of the transgressions it was added, until the Seed should come to whom the promise had been made; ordained by the agency of angels, in the hand of a mediator. But the mediator does not pertain to one person: and God is one person. The Law then is it against the promises of God? Far from it. For if there had been given a law able to give life, really from law would righteousness be. But the Scripture has shut up together all things under sin, that the promise may by belief of Jesus Christ be given to those who believe. But before that the belief came, we were kept in ward under law, being shut up together for the belief about to be revealed. So that the Law has become our tutor for Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Galatians 3:19. After showing what the Law is not, viz. a later-imposed condition practically annulling the earlier promise, Paul will now say what it is. And this is absolutely needful to his argument. For, indisputably, the Law holds an all-important place in the Old Covenant: and until this place be found we shall ever be in danger of misinterpreting its purpose. Paul asks, ‘since the inheritance is not derived from a rule of conduct, what then is the meaning and aim of the Law?’ To this question, § 13 is the answer. Cp. Galatians 3:24.

It was added; recalls adds conditions to, in Galatians 3:15, and reminds us that the Law was later than the promises, and suggests that it was subordinate to them.

For-the-sake-of: a general term noting any kind of motive, something either existing or thought of; cp. Titus 2:11; Judges 1:16. Grammatically it might mean because of the sins committed before the giving of the Law; or perhaps, in order to restrain sin in the future. But these senses are foreign to the context. Paul’s meaning is expounded, and his teaching here completed, in Galatians 3:22; and in Romans 5:20, which teaches that the Law was given in order that it might be broken, that thus the previous moral fall of Adam might multiply into many breaches of a written law. And this meaning is confirmed by the word transgressions, which denotes (Romans 4:15) violations of actual commands. To men born in the power of sin and therefore unable to obey, God gave a law. The only possible result was disobedience; which, since it was inevitable and foreseen, must have been taken up by God into His plan, and in this sense designed by Him. Paul speaks therefore of the various subsequent transgressions, which were a definite object of God’s thought, as being His motive for giving the Law. The ultimate purpose of blessing behind this immediate purpose is stated in Galatians 3:22 and in Romans 5:21.

Until the Seed, etc.: a second detail about the Law, and another mark of its subordinate position. It was an addition; and was only for a time. Cp. Galatians 3:25.

The Seed: Christ, as declared in Galatians 3:16.

To whom the promise had been made: Greek perfect as in Galatians 3:18. His coming gave birth to, and He was thus practically identical with, the many nations of Abraham’s spiritual children; in whom were fulfilled the promises to his seed, and whom God had specially in view when giving these promises. And their fulfilment involves the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. Consequently, the promises given to Abraham and designed to be fulfilled in those who in after-ages should believe the Gospel, were designed also for Christ.

Ordained by the agency of angels: a third detail about the Law, revealing its importance as superhuman. Paul thus, as his wont is, pays it due honour. But even these words of honour place the Law below the Gospel. Same teaching in Acts 7:53, words heard probably by Paul before his conversion; and in Hebrews 2:2, where the Law is contrasted with the Gospel. That it was common among the Jews, we infer from Josephus, Antiq. bk. xv. 5. 3, “We have learnt from God by the agency of angels the best of the decrees and the most sacred of the things in the Law”; and from Philo, vol. ii. 642, “Angels announced the commands of the Father to His children.” All this proves how firmly in Paul’s day both Jews and Christians held that the Law of Moses was given by angels. Yet of a plurality of angels at the giving of the Law the only mention is Deuteronomy 33:2, which we may perhaps render, Jehovah came from Sinai… He drew near from multitudes of holiness, as though, surrounded by armies of the holy ones of heaven God proclaimed the Law. This the LXX. render with myriads of Kadesh, from His right hand angels with Him. Cp. Psalms 68:17, The chariots of God are multitudes, thousands twice-told: the Lord is among them: a Sinai in holiness. But these two ambiguous passages hardly account for definite teaching so widely accepted. Its source is rather the frequent mention of an angel as the medium through which God spoke to Moses. So Exodus 3:2; Exodus 23:20; Exodus 33:2; Numbers 20:16 : cp. Acts 7:30, there appeared to him an angel in a flame of fire Acts 7:35; Acts 7:38; Acts 7:53. This derivation is not disproved by the plural number, angels: for this merely leaves undetermined whether the angel of the Lord was always the same heavenly person, and asserts in general terms that the Law of Moses was given by angelic agency. And this general statement is sufficient to prove the infinite importance of the Law.

That the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was the pre-existent Son of God, was held by the earliest fathers. So Justin (Dialogue with Trypho, § 56ff) argues at length; and Tertullian, Against Marcion bk. ii. 27, iii. 9. But of this opinion we can find no trace in the New Testament: and, had it been true, it could hardly have been passed over in silence. Indeed, had the Angel in the burning bush and the pillar of cloud been immediately the Son of God, then by Him was the Law spoken at Sinai: and, if so, Paul’s words here would fall so far below the truth that we cannot conceive him using them. And the argument of Hebrews 2:1 ff would be invalid. Accordingly, Augustine (On the Trinity bk. iii. 11. 22f, 27) argues forcefully that through a created angel God appeared and spoke to Moses. So Jerome on Galatians 3:19, and other later writers. And this seems the best explanation. In Daniel 12:1; Daniel 10:13 we find Michael, one of the chief angel-princes or archangels, who cannot well be other than a created angel, standing in special relation to Israel. This suggests that possibly he led Israel in the wilderness.

That God spoke to Israel His Law through a created angel, foreshadowed the day when through the face and lips of the Eternal Son, incarnate, God showed Himself and spoke to, and dwelt among, men. And this is the true relation between the Angel of the Lord and the Son of God. The one was forerunner of the other. Moreover, whatever God does visibly He does through the Son. Mediately, therefore, through the Son, God spoke the Law to Israel.

A fourth detail about the Law.

A mediator: Moses, who received from God through the agency of the angel the various commands of the Law.

In the hand of: common Hebrew phrase for agency; so Numbers 4:37; Numbers 4:45, cp. Acts 7:35. But it reminds us that in the very hand of Moses (cp. Exodus 32:15) were brought down from Sinai the tables of stone which were the noblest part, and a visible and permanent embodiment, of the Law. Cp. Leviticus 26:46 : the Laws which Jehovah gave between Himself and the sons of Israel in Mount Sinai in the hand of Moses.

Mediator: once in the LXX., Job 9:33. By Philo, Moses is twice called a mediator: vol. ii. 642 referring to Exodus 20:19, and vol. ii. 160 referring to Exodus 32:7. It reminds us that, not only did God select Moses to be His means of communicating with Israel, but that (Exodus 20:19) he was requested by Israel to be such, and that through him the people promised (Exodus 19:8; Exodus 24:3) to obey the commands of God. Thus in every sense Moses was a mediator through whom was negotiated the Covenant of God with Israel.

Led astray by 1 Timothy 2:5 and Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24. Origen and most of the Fathers understood the mediator to be Christ. But He was mediator of a Better Covenant. This mistake warns us not to accept as decisive the united judgment of even the greatest of the Fathers. We have means and methods of research unknown to them.

Galatians 3:20-21 a. An objection provoked by the word mediator, and noted here in order to be overturned by, and thus to prompt, a further exposition of the purpose of the Law.

The mediator: any mediator, but looked upon as embodying and representing a definite conception. Hence the article.

Does not belong to one: the very conception involving two contracting parties, each of whom is bound by the contract. ‘In the hand of a mediator. Yes. And this implies that by the Old Covenant more than one person was bound; i.e. someone else besides God who is only one person.’ Thus the obligation accepted by Israel at Sinai, which seemed to be overlooked in the argument of Galatians 3:17, is silently brought before us, that the doubt thus suggested may be dispelled. The obscurity of Galatians 3:20 no loss. For it is not a link in the argument; but merely suggests the important objection stated in Galatians 3:21 a, which is overturned in Galatians 3:21 b, Galatians 3:22, viz., the Law then, is it against the promises of God? The reply to this objection completes the answer to what then is the Law? in Galatians 3:19.

Since the Law was an engagement binding not only God but another party, viz. Israel, it might be thought that this engagement would limit, and thus practically set aside, the earlier promises to Abraham. If so, it would be against the promises of God. This question Paul answers by an indignant negative; and supports his denial by completing in § 22 his exposition of the purpose of the Law.

Of the New Covenant Christ is mediator, inasmuch as through Him God draws us to Himself. But Christ was not, as Moses was, requested by men to be a medium of communication between them and God. Consequently, he was not a mediator in the same sense as Moses, But to any contrast between them there is no reference here.

An account of the many expositions of Galatians 3:20 is given in the commentary of Meyer. See additional note on p. xxiii.

Galatians 3:21-22. Proof that the Law is not against the promises. According to Paul’s wont, the weight of the proof rests on the second clause, viz.

Galatians 3:22, that the promise may be given, etc.; for which Galatians 3:21 b prepares the way.

Give-life: same word in Romans 4:17; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 1 Corinthians 15:36; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 2 Corinthians 3:6; John 5:21; John 6:63. It denotes here eternal life. This is the ultimate design of the Law, Romans 7:10 : and in Galatians 3:22 we shall see the design accomplished. But that the Law is not of itself able to give life, Paul proves by saying that this would involve righteousness actually derived from law, which in Galatians 3:10-13 he has shown to be impossible. He thus introduces suitably the real purpose of the Law. It is not able to give life because (Romans 8:3) it is weak through the flesh.

Righteousness: as in Galatians 2:21. It is the opposite of under a curse In Galatians 3:10.

The Scripture: or rather the portion of Scripture; see under Galatians 3:8. It is the literary embodiment of the Law. So suitable here is Deuteronomy 27:26, quoted in Galatians 3:10, that we cannot but think that to this passage specially Paul refers. The Scripture is personified as in Galatians 3:8, to enable us to realise its tremendous power.

Shut-up-together: same word, and a close parallel, in Romans 11:32.

All things: probably all men, cp. Romans 11:32; for they only can sin. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:27 f. The neuter looks upon men in the aggregate as an abstract idea.

Under sin: Romans 3:9 : under its curse and penalty and power, and these looked upon as a burden from above pressing all men down. As Paul read Deuteronomy 27:26, the very words of Scripture seemed to bar irresistibly every way of escape from the deadly bondage of sin. For its words made him powerless to obtain, by anything he could do, the favour of God. See under Galatians 3:8.

That the promise, etc.: ultimate purpose of the Law in shutting up all things under sin. It expounds, in answer to the question in Galatians 3:21, the relation of the Law to the promises, looking at these as one whole, as the promise.

May-be-given: i.e. may be fulfilled, which alone remains to be done. So Hebrews 10:36; Hebrews 11:39. This promise includes virtually (cp. Galatians 3:14) the Holy Spirit and all the blessings of the New Covenant.

By belief of the words of Jesus Christ: as in Galatians 3:16. It is thrown forward for emphasis. To them that believe: emphatic repetition cp. Romans 3:22. Believers are the recipients, and their faith the immediate source, of the blessings. It is conceivable that even believers might receive them from some other source, e.g. observance of ritual.

The question in Galatians 3:19 is now answered. God gave a law which was powerless to save inasmuch as men were unable to obey it, a law which pronounced a curse upon all who did not obey it, in order to force men to seek and to obtain, by simple belief. the blessings promised by God to Abraham. Consequently, the Law is not against, but subservient to, the promises of God. A practical outworking of this divine purpose in the spiritual life of Paul is recorded in Galatians 2:16.

Galatians 3:23. Restatement of Galatians 3:22, in another form preparing a way for § 14. Faith (literally the faith) came, when belief of the good tidings of salvation proclaimed by Christ entered into the hearts of men.

For then faith, i.e. assurance that God will fulfil His word, assumed in their thought a new and definite form as the abiding channel of spiritual life. Hence practically faith came when the Gospel came. But the argument suggests the former expression as the more suitable note of time.

Kept-in-ward: 2 Corinthians 11:32; Philippians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:5 : a military term denoting both the closing of all way of escape and protection against enemies.

Under law: the abstract principle of treating men according to their actions, (hence no article,) looked upon as an irresistible power under whose authority Paul and his readers were once held in guard. Doubtless he thought chiefly of the Mosaic Law, in which this principle assumed historic form. But these words are true also of the law (Romans 2:15) written on the heart; and therefore include all readers, Jews or Gentiles.

Being-shut-up: Greek present passive; as though each moment at the bidding of the Law every way of escape was being closed. It defines kept-in-ward; and links Galatians 3:23 to Galatians 3:22. For, to be shut up under law, is, since we cannot obey it, to be shut up under sin. Contrast Romans 6:14.

For the faith, etc.: purpose for which every way of escape was each moment closed: and therefore parallel with Galatians 3:22 b.

Revealed: Galatians 1:16 : specially appropriate because faith is matter of immediate consciousness; which is implied in this word. See under Romans 1:17. The Gospel unveiled, not merely the truths therein set forth, but a new conception of confidence in the promises of God. And in order that we may have this conception of faith we were formerly held in prison under the irresistible rule of law.

Galatians 3:24. Summing up of § 13, and especially of Galatians 3:22-23.

The Law: of Moses. But, in less degree, this is true of the law written on the heart.

Tutor, or guardian: 1 Corinthians 4:15 : one who takes charge of children under seven years old, usually a slave. Cp. Plato, Lysis p. 208c: “Who rules thee? This tutor. Indeed, a slave!… Strange that one who is free be ruled by a slave! But, what doing, does the tutor rule thee? Leading me to the teacher’s house.”

For Christ: purpose for which the Law has become our tutor, viz. that, instead of wandering elsewhere, we should come to Christ and belong to Him. That Paul thinks of Christ, not as a teacher, as the word tutor naturally suggests, but as a means of justification, the following words show.

That we might, etc.: parallel with for Christ, and supplementing it. We were placed in helpless bondage under the iron rule of law, that for us there might be no way of escape except by coming to Christ to be justified through faith. Cp. Galatians 2:16.

SECTION 13 is an important addition to the teaching about the Law in Romans 5:20. See note under Romans 8:11. The Law was given in order to reveal to us our utter moral helplessness and ruin, to destroy all hope of self-wrought salvation, and thus to drive us to Christ for help and to prepare us to accept in sheer desperation justification as God’s gift on the simple condition of faith. Notice carefully that the immediate moral purpose of the Law to hold men back from sin, which must have been in God’s thought when giving it, is by Paul completely subordinated to this ultimate evangelical purpose. To him the Law is only a preparation for the Gospel. This reveals his deep conviction of the powerlessness of mere morality to secure man’s highest interests, and of the infinitely greater importance of the new life proclaimed in the Gospel. With Paul, Christian morality is derived (Galatians 5:14) from the law of love accomplished in us by (Galatians 5:16) the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.


Verses 25-29

SECTION 14. — BY FAITH WE ARE IN CHRIST, HEIRS OF ABRAHAM.

CH. 3:25-29.

But, faith having come, no longer are we under a tutor. For ye all are sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For so many of you as have been baptized for Christ have put on Christ. There is no Jew nor Greek; there is no servant nor freeman; there is no male and female. For ye all are one person in Christ Jesus. But if ye are Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise.

In conspicuous contrast to the reign of law before faith came, Paul describes in Galatians 3:25-28 his readers’ changed position now; and in Galatians 3:29 their consequent relation to Abraham and to the promise made to him.

Galatians 3:25. The change which followed the arrival of faith.

Under a tutor; links the metaphor of Galatians 3:24 to the words under law in Galatians 3:23.

Galatians 3:26. Proof of the foregoing statement.

All: an emphatic breaking down of the distinction (Galatians 3:28) of Jew and Gentile which the false teachers were so anxious to maintain. Note the change from we and our in Galatians 3:23-25, which refer chiefly to Jews who had the Law of Moses, to ye in Galatians 3:26-29, which embraces Paul’s Gentile readers as sharers of the blessings about to be described.

Sons of God: Romans 8:14. Paul’s argument assumes that this title is inconsistent with being under a tutor. And, since the word son is in itself by no means inconsistent with being under a tutor but rather the reverse, this assumed inconsistency reveals the theological definiteness, in Paul’s thought, of the term sons of God denoting a relation to God incompatible with bondage to law. See further under Galatians 4:5; Galatians 4:7. This incompatibility, and that this sonship is through faith, imply that not all men are in this sense sons of God. So always in the New Testament. See my Romans, p. 239: cp. John 2:12.

In Christ Jesus; might be joined to faith, as in Ephesians 2:15; 1 Timothy 3:13; 2 Timothy 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:15. But, if so, the addition of these words hardly adds to the sense. And, that they contain a new and independent thought, is suggested by the word Christ, at the end of Galatians 3:27 and Galatians 3:28. So the R.V. By means of our faith and in virtue of union with Christ who is the only-begotten Son of God, we are ourselves sons of God. Of this great privilege Hosea 2:10, quoted in Romans 9:26, is a remarkable prophecy.

Galatians 3:27. Proof of the whole statement in Galatians 3:26.

So-many-as, covers all; baptized, covers by faith; put-on Christ, covers sons of God in Christ Jesus.

Baptized for Christ: the formal and visible gate into the Christian life, designed to lead to a new relation to Christ. See under Romans 6:3.

Put-on Christ: so that the nature and disposition and relations of Christ are like a garment enwrapping us on every side. See under Romans 13:14; and cp. Job 29:14, I put on righteousness; and it clothed me. Like a robe and turban was my justice. So Job 8:22; Job 39:19, etc. Objectively, they had already at their baptism put on Christ. For by thus publicly avowing faith in Him they had fulfilled a condition of the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to obtain these blessings; and had thus made them their own. Now the New Covenant makes us sharers of all that Christ has and is. Consequently, since He is Son of God, and the baptized have put on Christ, they also are sons of God in Christ. Subjectively, Paul bids his readers (in Romans 13:14) put on Christ, i.e. appropriate to themselves Christ’s moral disposition, which was already theirs at baptism by a right given to them in the undeserved favour of God.

This argument implies that all Paul’s readers were baptized; and that their baptism was an expression of faith, so that what the baptized possess as such they have obtained by faith. Cp. Colossians 2:12 : wherein also ye were raised with Him by faith. Paul thus, as in Galatians 3:3-5, courteously assumes the genuineness of their Christian profession, and appeals to their entrance into the Christian life. Any false brethren among them are here left out of account.

Since Galatians 3:26-27 cannot apply to infants, and indeed would hardly have been written had many of Paul’s readers been baptized in infancy, it is utterly unfair to infer, from the spiritual significance here attributed to the baptism of believers, that similar spiritual results are wrought in baptized infants. For the baptism of a believer is an outward expression of a great spiritual and personal crisis in his inner life: whereas an infant’s personal life has not yet begun. This difference bars all argument from the one to the other. Consequently, this passage and others similar have no bearing on the regeneration of infants in baptism. The inward and spiritual benefits of baptism are, by those baptized in infancy, obtained actually and personally only when the baptized one claims them by personal faith in, and confession of, Christ, thus joining the company of His professed followers.

Galatians 3:28 a. In the embrace of Christ as the encompassing element of life, fade all earthly distinctions, nationality, social position, and even sex. Similar thought in Colossians 3:11; Romans 10:12; 1 Corinthians 12:13. The changed form male and female marks off this distinction from the others. And we remember that it was earlier than sin. Yet as we come to Christ even sex vanishes: and without distinction men and women of every rank and nationality receive in Him the same spiritual blessings.

Only to sex as affecting our relation to Christ does this assertion apply. It therefore does not absolutely deny the distinction of sex in man’s future glory. And, that it belongs to man’s original constitution, suggests strongly that even sex will share that glory. We can well conceive that, just as the happiness of many families on earth is increased immensely by the mutual influence of brothers and sisters, so it will be in the great family above. Paul’s prohibition ( 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12) to women to speak in the Church proves that in this relation also, in his view, the distinction of sex continues.

Galatians 3:28 b. Broad foundation principle of the foregoing assertions.

All ye: still more emphatic than the appeal in Galatians 3:26; recalling the varieties of Paul’s readers.

Are one person: cp. Ephesians 2:15. It makes prominent that our relation to Christ is that of living persons. Contrast are one thing in 1 Corinthians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 11:5; John 17:11; John 17:21-23; where personality is left out of sight, and men and even the Father and Son are looked upon merely as abstract objects of thought.

One-person: not identity, but the strongest description possible of absolute identity of relation; which, in the Father and Son, and in us so far as Christ’s purpose is realised, finds its consummation in absolute harmony.

In Christ: John 17:21; John 17:23 : i.e. through the objective facts of Jesus, and through spiritual union with Him. This repetition of the last words of Galatians 3:26 marks the completion of the argument there begun. Ye are no longer in bondage: for ye are all sons of God, a position incompatible with bondage: for the life ye entered at baptism is union with Christ, who is Son of God. And in union with Him all earthly distinctions fade.

Galatians 3:29. Leads up the argument of §§ 13, 14 to the chief matter of Galatians 3, the promises to Abraham and his seed.

Ye are Christ’s: 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 15:23; Romans 14:8. They who have put on Christ themselves belong to Him.

Then are ye, etc.: logical inference, Since all the Galatian Christians are in Christ and are thus in: some sense one person, and so belong to Christ and are in some sense a part of Christ; and since (as proved in Galatians 3:13; Galatians 3:16) the seed for which the promise to Abraham was made is coextensive with Christ, Paul infers that his readers also are included in Abraham’s seed.

Heirs according to promise: practical significance of the foregoing. What the heritage is, we learn from sons of God in Galatians 3:26. Cp. Romans 8:17.

Promise; recalls the whole argument of Galatians 3:14-29.

According to promise: the mode and kind of heirship, viz. in virtue of an announcement of Coming benefit. Paul has no need to say that he refers to the promises to Abraham. He therefore speaks merely of promise in the abstract. The word heirs which in Greek closes the verse opens a way for § 15.

In SECTION 14 Paul describes his readers’ present position, after describing in § 13 their former state. They are no longer under any kind of restraint, and therefore not under the Law. For, by faith and in virtue of their union with Christ, they enjoy the glorious position of sons of God. For when they entered the Church of Christ they assumed His position and rights. In relation to Him all human relations vanish. For, in Christ, the many members of His Church become only one person. And, since they belong to Him in whom are fulfilled the promises made to Abraham’s seed, themselves are heirs on the basis of divine promise.

 


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Bibliography Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jbc/galatians-3.html. 1877-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, July 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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