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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 3

 

 

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Verses 1-14

Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 5:12. Doctrinal Section. Paul Sets the Choice before them—Christ or the Law—and Argues for its Urgency.

Galatians 3:1-14. It was a strange folly which could lead them to forget the picture, so plainly shown them, of the suffering Saviour. (1) Their own experience had been of "the Spirit," as (a) the source of ecstatic prayer (Galatians 4:6), in which the sacred scrap of Aramaic speech (Mark 14:36) once used by Jesus was employed throughout the early Christian world (cf. Romans 8:15); (b) the source of miracles (Galatians 3:5). wrought by God Himself; (c) the source of the new moral life (Galatians 5:16 ff.). (2) The OT itself (Galatians 3:6) preaches faith (Genesis 15:6) and (Galatians 3:8) dwells on its blessings (Genesis 12:3*, Genesis 18:18; though the original meaning in Gen. was probably lower—Israel would prosper till good wishes in other lands came to run "May you be as happy as a Jew"; also (Galatians 3:11) Hab. 24 (cf. Romans 1:17, Hebrews 10:38). Here again the original meaning is different—"by his fidelity"). (3) The OT Law described itself (Galatians 3:10) as a very different system; Deuteronomy 27:26 (Paul takes these words more rigorously than the OT did), and again (Galatians 3:12) Leviticus 18:5. The two different systems of religion came together in the Cross, when Jesus, dying a cursed death (Deuteronomy 21:23), released Jewish believers from the curse which the Law announced, that Gentile believers might have a share in Abraham's blessing (cf. Galatians 3:8), and that "we"—Jewish and Gentile Christian alike—might receive what God promised so long ago, now fulfilled in the gift of the Holy Spirit. (The Atonement, as Paul here conceives it, had been offered on behalf of Jewish believers. There is no such limitation at 2 Corinthians 5:21.)


Verses 15-21

Galatians 3:15-21. The "promise" having once been given, no subsequent enactment like the Law can interfere with it. (Similarly Heb. emphasizes the priority in time of Melchizedek to Aaron.) Even in human affairs, a "scrap of paper" which records an agreement is not torn up without tragic and memorable consequences. (It has been thought that a will is specially referred to, and in the Gr. rather than the Rom. form; perhaps confirming the view that the epistle went to S. Galatia.) Elsewhere (Galatians 4:24) there are two covenants and (2 Corinthians 3:14) one is "old" (cf. Jeremiah 31:31, and often in Hebrews). Here, the Covenant—OT "promise" or NT fulfilment—contrasts with the alien institution of Law. (2) The very language of Genesis 12:3 (Genesis 18:18) points to Christ; "seed" in the singular, not "seeds" (plural); a rabbi-like subtlety—the Heb. language never speaks of "seeds." For the figure 430 cf. (Genesis 15:13) Exodus 12:40 (LXX, however, reads 215). (3) If the Law was the way of life, the promise falls to the ground; which is unthinkable. The true purpose of the Law is to increase human guilt [(a) by provoking more sins, Romans 7:7 ff., (b) by completing the conditions of account-ableness]. For a Jewish mind this is the hardest of all Paul's hard sayings; it occurs also Romans 5:20, 1 Corinthians 15:56. (4) In a sense, the Law bears the mark of inferior agencies. According to later Jewish theology it came primarily from angels rather than from God (Deuteronomy 33:2 [Heb. text, not LXX], Acts 7:53, Hebrews 2:2); hence the need of a human mediator (Moses) to act for the crowd of angels as single representative of their joint endeavour; God, being one, would have no similar need of an intermediary. (This is Ritschl's explanation. Heb. and 1 Tim. from a different point of view call Jesus "mediator" of the new covenant between God and man.) [Ritschl's view, which had been put forward by others, is very attractive, since it is that naturally suggested by the words, and it may be correct. It is open to the objection that Moses is not regarded in the OT as mediator between the angels and Israel. But this is perhaps not insuperable (cf. Acts 7:38). Lightfoot takes the first clause to mean that the very idea of mediation implies two parties for whom the mediator acts. The Law is a contract between two parties, valid only while both fulfil its terms. It is accordingly contingent, not absolute. The second clause asserts that God, the giver of the promise, is one; there are not two parties, it depends on God alone. He is all, the recipients nothing. The promise is therefore absolute and unconditional. This gives a fairly good sense, but Paul would probably have expressed it more clearly and in a different way. The passage is extremely difficult. B. Jowett says it has received 430 interpretations (Meyer says "above 250"). No confidence can be felt in any interpretation. Lücke regarded the verse as a gloss, and this view has been revived by Bacon and Emmet.—A. S. P.] (5) Yet the Law, though temporary and imperfect, is part of God's plan. It is in no antagonism to the promise. The suggestion shocks Paul; his words have given it no warrant! If one held that law saved, one would be undermining the promise. No; law drives to despair—a second strange harmony between the rival religious systems.


Verses 23-29

Galatians 3:23-29. Inferior, temporary, co-operating—such is the distinctive nature of the Law. It had held Israel prisoner, till Christ should come. Or it resembled the slave who led a child to (Christ's) school (1 Corinthians 4:15*). Now that Christ has appeared there is no room for a law-regime. Sonship, faith, a new humanity "put on" like a garment at baptism (Galatians 3:27; cf. Romans 13:14, and in a modified application, 1 Corinthians 15:53 f.), these are the privileges of Christians. Why be circumcised? Why Judaize? The new humanity is international—no room now for Jewish superiority! And, while there is a blessing in being Abraham's seed, the true descent is spiritual, and Christ gives the blessing according to the promise. Law give it? Never!—Evangelical Protestants must not ignore Paul's sacramental doctrine; still, they are entitled to urge that the keynote of all remains "faith." The apostle believes and teaches nothing which could make faith less than all-important. (1 Corinthians 8 ff. is peculiarly instructive as to his attitude towards quasi-magical sacramental doctrines. The idol taint is not physical.)

Galatians 3:27. put on.—It is tempting to conjecture that the phrase is borrowed from the mystery religions; but authorities have failed to find confirmatory evidence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/galatians-3.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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