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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Galatians 3

 

 

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Verse 1

Galatians 3:1. O senseless Galatians, to think that righteousness comes through the law, and thus virtually to deny the necessity and efficacy of Christ’s death (Galatians 2:21). No reference to natural dullness or stupidity (for the Galatians, like all the Celtic races, were bright and intelligent), but to spiritual folly. The same word is used by our Lord of the disciples of Emmaus (Luke 24:25).

Did bewitch you, fascinate with his evil eye. The relapse from the freedom of the gospel to the slavery of the law is so absurd that it seems only explicable on the assumption of magical agency. The Greek word (βασκάνειν), originally referred to witchery by spells or incantations, then to the blighting influence of the evil eye (especially on children), according to a common belief still prevalent in Egypt and throughout the East, also in Italy (‘occhio cattivo’), and among the Celts in Brittany. It implies the envious spirit of the false teachers and their baleful influence on the Galatians.(1)

‘So deeply had she drunken in

That look, those shrunken serpent eyes,

That all her features were resigned

To this sole image of her mind.’

Before whose eyes Jesus Christ was evidently (or, conspicuously) set forth. This signifies the life-like, pictorial vivacity, and effectiveness of Paul’s preaching of Christ and Him crucified, who by his death delivered us from the curse and slavery of the law and reconciled us to God. The Greek verb is used of placarding public notices and proclamations. More freely we might translate: ‘You, before whose very eyes was held up the picture of Jesus Christ on the cross.’ Faithful preaching is the best painting. Paul intimates that the actual sight of Christ’s death could not have affected them more powerfully than his preaching. ‘When the church has such painters, she needs no longer dead images of wood and stone.’ (Calvin).

Among you, lit. ‘in you’ (omitted by some of the best editors) may be connected either with the verb ‘set forth,’ as a redundant phrase (not only by letter from a distance, but by my own personal presence and preaching), or with ‘crucified,’ in this sense: The crucifixion has been so graphically described to you as if it had occurred in the midst of you and in your very hearts. The former is preferable on account of the order of words.

Crucified is emphatically placed at the end, as in 1 Corinthians 1:23 : ‘We preach Christ, and him crucified,’ and 1 Corinthians 2:2. The perfect participle implies the permanent character and result of the crucifixion. Christ crucified is the greatest conqueror, and draws all hearts to him. Comp. John 12:32.


Verse 2

Galatians 3:2. Paul appeals to their own experience at their conversion, which alone should be sufficient to convince them of the error of their present position. This only, among other concessions which I might draw from your own spiritual experience. The ‘only’ indicates that this is sufficient. Was it by worn of law (law-works, Gesetzeswerke) that ye received the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the greatest of gifts. He is communicated to believers through the gospel, regenerates and sanctifies and makes them children of God and heirs of eternal life. In the apostolic age, the Spirit manifested itself also in extraordinary gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, working of miracles (comp. Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12-14)

From the preaching (or, message, not ‘hearing’) of faith, comp. Galatians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:2; and Romans 10:17 : ‘faith com-eth from preaching, and preaching through the word of God.’ The Greek (ἀκοή) admits of two meanings: (1.) active: the hearing of faith, i.e., the reception of the gospel preached (comp. ‘obedience of faith,’ Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26); (2.) passive: the report, the message which treats of faith (genit. of the object). Lightfoot adopts the first, but the second is preferable on account of the usual meaning of the word in the New Testament, and because the contrast is between the two principles, law and faith, not between two actions, doing and hearing. The emphasis lies on ‘law’ and ‘faith.’ In the New Testament, ‘faith’ is mostly used in the subjective sense of the act and exercise of faith, not in the objective sense of doctrine of faith or creed. Faith is the organ by which we receive the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel.


Verse 3

Galatians 3:3. Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now ending (or finishing) in the flesh? A fine irony. The middle voice of the Greek verb (ἐπιτελεσθε) is preferable to the passive (‘are ye now brought to perfection’) on account of the correspondence with ‘begun,’ and on account of the parallel passages, Philippians 1:6 (‘he who began a good work in you will finish it’), and 2 Corinthians 8:6. ‘Spirit’ and ‘flesh’ represent here the spiritual religion which makes man free, and the carnal religion which makes him a slave to outward forms and observances.


Verse 4

Galatians 3:4. Did ye experience so many things in vain? The usual rendering ‘suffer’ would refer to persecutions which the Galatians had to endure (probably from the Jews); but as we know nothing of them, it seems preferable to take the Greek verb (ἐπάθετε) in the neutral and wider sense (otherwise not found in the New Testament, except perhaps in Mark 5:26), embracing all spiritual experiences (blessings and benefits as well) of the Galatians (comp. Galatians 3:3; Galatians 3:5).

If it be really in vain. This leaves room for doubt; the Apostle cannot believe that the Galatians will lose all the benefit of their spiritual experiences and continue in their folly. Others take the words in the sense: ‘if it be only in vain,’ and not much worse; since spiritual expeperiences increase the responsibility and risk. Comp. Luke 12:47-48; 2 Peter 2:21.


Verse 5

Galatians 3:5. The present tense ministereth and worketh is used to indicate the continued communication and abundant supply of the spiritual gifts.

Powers, miraculous powers, 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29.

In you, i.e., in your heart and will; comp. Matthew 14:2. Paul probably means the moral miracles of regeneration and conversion. Others understand here physical miracles wrought ‘among you,’ i.e., in the midst of you.


Verse 6

Galatians 3:6. The only reply the Galatians could make to the foregoing question was: ‘By the preaching of faith.’ Taxing this for granted, Paul proceeds (as in Romans 4:1) to give the historical and scriptural proof from the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful. The words are a quotation from Genesis 15:6 (Sept.). The emphasis lies on believed, i.e., trusted in God.


Verse 7

Galatians 3:7. Ye perceive, therefore. The Greek may be the indicative or the imperative. The former agrees better with the argumentative character of the sentence and with the particle ‘therefore’ (άρα). Others maintain that the imperative (‘know ye’) is more animated.

Those of faith, emphatic, no others, in opposition to the self-righteous men of the law. ‘They whose starting-point, whose fundamental principle is faith.’ Comp. Romans 2:8; Romans 4:14 (in Greek).


Verse 8

Galatians 3:8. The Scripture, personified, as in Galatians 3:22, for the author of the Scripture.

Justifieth, now when Paul wrote, and at all times. It is the normal present indicating the only way of God’s justification, and sure accomplishment of his purpose.

Declared beforehand the good tidings. The promise to Abraham was an anticipation of the gospel, i.e., the good tidings of salvation by Christ.

In thee, as the spiritual father. Quotation from two passages (Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18), which are fused into one. The blessing promised includes the whole Christian salvation, which implies justification, i.e., the remission of sins and imputation of Christ’s merit.


Verse 9

Galatians 3:9. The emphasis lies on faith, as in Galatians 3:7.


Verses 10-12

Galatians 3:10-12. Negative proof of Galatians 3:9, by showing the impossibility of justification by law, because we cannot keep the law, and the violation of the law subjects us to its curse (comp. Romans 3:9-20; Romans 7:7-25). No man lives up even to his own imperfect standard of goodness, much less to the perfect rule of the revealed will of the holy God.

Galatians 3:10 confirms Galatians 3:9 by the opposite. As many as are of law-works, are controlled by the principle of law, and shape their character by works, are under curse, i.e., subject to curse (comp. ‘under sin,’ Romans 3:9).

For it is written, etc. A free quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26 (Sept.), the closing sentence of the curses from Mount Ebal, and a summary of the whole.

Galatians 3:11-12 contain the following syllogism: The just lives by faith; the law is not of faith: consequently no man is justified by the law.

Galatians 3:11. Now that in (the) law no man is justified in the sight of God, is evident ‘In’ is elemental and instrumental, ‘in and by,’ or ‘under’ the law, in the sphere and domain of the law. ‘In the sight,’ in the judgment of God; man standing as a culprit before His tribunal. For the righteous shall live by faith. From Habakkuk 2:4, according to the Septuagint. Comp. note to Romans 1:17. The passage refers originally to the preservation of the righteous Israelite amidst the ruin of the Chaldæan invasion. The stress lays oh ‘faith,’ as the power which gives life. ‘By faith’ must not be joined with ‘righteous,’ but with ‘shall live’; this is required by the original Hebrew (‘the righteous shall live by his faith,’ or ‘his fidelity’), by the rendering of the Septuagint (‘the righteous shall live by my faith,’ or according to another reading: ‘my righteous shall live by faith’), and by the contrast between ‘live by faith,’ and ‘to live in them,’ i.e., in the commandments (Galatians 3:12). The Old Testament, then, already declares faith to be the fountain of spiritual life and salvation, or rather the organ by which we apprehend and appropriate the saving grace of God in Christ to our individual use and benefit.

Galatians 3:12. The law is not of [springs not from] faith, but [declares], ‘He who hath done them’ [i.e., the statutes and judgments, previously mentioned in the Old Testament passage,] ‘shall live in them.’ Quotation from Leviticus 18:5. The life-element of the law is not faith, but work. Doing is the essential thing in law. Faith receives the gift of God, the law requires us to give, to perform all its enactments.


Verse 13

Galatians 3:13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. One of the strongest passages for the doctrine of a vicarious atonement Christ, out of infinite love and in full agreement with the Father’s eternal plan of redemption, voluntarily assumed, bore and abolished, by His death on the cross, the whole curse of the outraged law in the stead and in behalf of sinners. The vicarious efficacy lies not so much in the preposition ‘for,’ as in the whole sentence. What He did and suffered for men, He did and suffered in their stead, and what He suffered in their stead, He suffered for their benefit—‘Redeemed,’ delivered (by one act accomplished, once and for all) by a ransom, i.e., Christ’s life offered on the cross. Comp. Matthew 20:28 (He ‘gave his life a ransom for many’); 1 Timothy 2:6; 1Cor. 5:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Titus 2:14; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:4.—‘By becoming a curse,’ stronger, and yet milder than ‘accursed.’ Christ was the voluntary bearer of the entire guilt of the whole race, yet without any personal guilt. The curse is transferred from the guilty sinner to the innocent victim (as in the case of the typical scape-goat Leviticus 16:5. ff.). Comp. 2 Corinthians 5:21 : ‘Him [Christ] who knew no sin He [God] made to be sin [stronger than sinner] for us (or, on our behalf); that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.’—‘For us,’ on our behalf, for our sakes.

For it is written, etc. A parenthetic justification from Deuteronomy 21:23 (Sept.) of the startling expression just used. The passage refers to those criminals who after being stoned were hung up on a stake (probably on the form of a cross), but were not permitted to remain in this position over night, lest the holy land should be desecrated. Our Saviour fulfilled the legal curse by hanging dead on the cross. Paul significantly omits the words ‘of God’ which are in the Septuagint and in the Hebrew. For Christ was not Himself accursed of God, but only in a vicarious sense, that is, by the voluntary self-assumption of the curse of others, and in full harmony with the Father’s wish and will, who, far from hating his own beloved Son, delighted in His sacrifice on the cross as ‘a sweet-smelling savor’ (Ephesians 5:2), and in the execution of His own eternal purpose of redeeming mercy. Riddle: ‘Two curses are mentioned by Paul. The one: ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not,’ etc. (Galatians 3:10). That curse lay on all mankind. The other: ‘Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13). This curse Christ took that He might redeem us from the first. Both were curses in and of the law. The one specifies the guilt, the other the punishment. Christ bore the accursed punishment, and thus took away the accursed guilt. He stood for the every one who continueth not, by becoming the very one who hung upon the tree.’


Verse 14

Galatians 3:14. The blessing of Abraham, justification by faith and the whole Messianic salvation.

We, i.e., all Christians whether of Jewish or Gentile descent

Receive the promise of the Spirit, refers back to Galatians 3:2. ‘After a wondrous chain of arguments, expressed with equal force, brevity, and profundity, the apostle comes back to the subject of Galatians 3:2; the gift of the Holy Ghost came through faith in Jesus Christ.’ (Ellicott.)


Verse 15

Galatians 3:15. Brethren. Winning address, contrasting with the severe rebuke, Galatians 3:1; comp. Galatians 4:31; Galatians 6:1. ‘There is a touch of tenderness in the appeal here, as if to make amends for the severity of the foregoing rebuke’ (Lightfoot).

After the manner of men, refers to the following illustration taken from human relations. An argument a fortiori. If even changeable men keep legal contracts sacred, how much more the unchangeable God. The Judaizers altered the covenant with Abraham by adding new conditions, and thus virtually set it aside.

Covenant. Such was the nature of the promise of God to Abraham (Genesis 15:18; Genesis 12:7). The translation ‘will,’ ‘testament’ (in the margin of the E. V.), is unsuited to the connection, and the translation ‘promise’ is ungrammatical. In the Septuagint and in the Greek Testament, the word διαθηκη always means ‘covenant,’ except in Hebrews 9:15-17, and the rendering of the E. V. ‘testament’ (from the Vulgate, and in accordance with classical usage) in Matthew 26:28, and other passages should be corrected. The designation of the ‘Old and New Testament’ (instead of ‘Covenant’) arose from this mistranslation, and is especially improper in the case of the Old Covenant (since God cannot die), but has become so well established that it must be retained.


Verses 15-29

The Educational Mission of the Law.

Paul now assumes a milder tone, and reasons with the Galatians from the common dealings of men. Even a human covenant is sacred and cannot be set aside, much more a divine covenant. Hence the promise of God to Abraham and to his seed, i.e., to his believing posterity summed up in Christ, cannot be annulled by the law which came in several hundred years later (Galatians 3:15-18), but the law intervened between the promise and its fulfilment, or between Abraham and Christ as a school of discipline, or as a schoolmaster to prepare men for the freedom in Christ (Galatians 3:19-24), so that now by faith in Christ we are no more slaves, but sons and heirs (Galatians 3:25-29).


Verse 16

Galatians 3:16 introduces the new idea that the covenant of promise was not made with Abraham only, but with his whole seed which centres in Christ, and was therefore still waiting its fulfilment at the time when the law was given; so that it could not be abolished by the law. The emphasis lies on the words: ‘and to his seed,’ which look beyond the law of Moses and to Christ’s coming.

And to thy seed, Genesis 13:15; Genesis 17:8 : ‘And I will give unto thee, and thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’ The promised inheritance refers evidently in its next and literal sense to the land of Canaan, but in its deeper spiritual sense to the kingdom of Christ. The seed of Abraham comprehends, therefore, not only the Israelites under Moses and Joshua, but above all Christ and his people as the true spiritual Israel who enter into that heavenly rest, of which the rest of the earthly Canaan was only an imperfect type (comp. Hebrews 4:8).

He saith not, ‘And to seeds’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to thy seed.’ There arises a difficulty here from the stress which Paul lays on the singular of the word ‘seed’ inasmuch as this is a collective noun in Hebrew (sera) as well as in the Greek (sperma), and modern languages, and includes the whole posterity. It is singular in form, but plural in meaning. The plural (seraim, spermata) occurs in the sense of ‘grains of wheat’ or ‘grains of seed’ (or crop, produce of the field, 1 Samuel 8:15), but never in the sense of ‘offspring’ or ‘posterity.’ Hence it has been said that Paul, after the ‘manner of man’ (Galatians 3:15), accommodates himself merely to the prevailing rabbinical method of interpretation, or (as St. Jerome thought) to the capacity of the ‘foolish Galatians.’ Luther remarks: ‘My dear brother Paul, this argument won’t stick.’ But Paul under stood Hebrew and Greek as well as his ancient and modern interpreters, and he himself uses the word sperma, ‘offspring,’ in the sense of plurality (Romans 4:18; Romans 9:7), and the plural spermata in the sense of ‘various kinds of grain’ (1 Corinthians 15:38). He reads as it were between the lines of the text. It is not a question of grammar, but of spiritual meaning. The grammatical form (sperma and spermata) serves merely as a vehicle of his idea for the Greek reader. The main point is that the collective word seed is used instead of children or descendants, and that this word seed denotes an organic unity of true spiritual Abrahamites, and not all the carnal descendants of Abraham, as the Jews imagined (comp. Galatians 3:28-29; Romans 4:16; Romans 4:18; Romans 9:8). The promise refers to Christ par excellence, and to all those and only those who are truly members of His body and united to Him by a living faith. If all the single descendants of Abraham as such were meant, the children of Hagar and Ketura, and subsequently Esau with his posterity would have to be included also; and yet they are plainly excluded. We must, therefore, look to the believing posterity, which is comprehended in Christ as the living head, the same Christ, in whom as the true seed of Abraham, God had promised to bless all the nations of the earth (Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4; Genesis 18:14.)

Which is Christ, i.e., Christ, not as a single individual, but as the head of the church, which is ‘His body, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all’ (Ephesians 1:23). In Him the whole spiritual race of Abraham is summed up, and in Him it fulfilled its mission to the whole world. He is the representative and embodiment of all true Israelites, and without Him the Jewish people has no meaning. The seed includes, therefore, all true believers who are vitally united to Christ. The key to the passage is in Galatians 3:28-29 : ‘Ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.’ Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:12 : ‘As the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.’


Verse 17

Galatians 3:17 contains an inference from Galatians 3:15, in the form of a condensed restatement of the argument. It is impossible that the law should cancel the promise which was given repeatedly at least four hundred and thirty years earlier to the patriarchs, and which looked from the beginning to Christ as the proper end, so that the law is only an intervening link between the promise and its fulfilment. The words unto (with a view to) Christ (not ‘in Christ,’ as in the E. V.), are, however, omitted in the oldest MSS. and critical editions.

Now this I say. What I mean to say is this.

The law which came (so long a time as) four hundred and thirty years after (the promise). This is the exact time of the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, according to the historical statement in Exodus 12:40. In the prophetic passage (Genesis 15:13, and in Acts 7:6), the round number four hundred is given for this sojourn. The Hebrew text in both passages implies that the residence in Egypt only is meant, If Paul followed the Hebrew text, he did not include the patriarchal age from Abraham’s immigration to Canaan till Jacob’s emigration to Egypt, which would make about two hundred years more (630); the starting-point with him was the close of the patriarchal age, during which the promise was repeatedly given to Isaac and Jacob as well as to Abraham (hence the plural ‘promises’ in Galatians 3:17; Galatians 3:21). It is quite possible, however, that the Apostle follows here as often the text of the Septuagint which differs from the Hebrew in Exodus 12:40, by including the patriarchal period in the four hundred and thirty years, and thus reducing the length of the Egyptian sojourn nearly one half: ‘The sojourning of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt [and in the land of Canaan], was four hundred and thirty years.’ The words ‘and in the land of Canaan’ are not in the Hebrew text, but are also found in the Samaritan Pentateuch. Josephus is inconsistent, and sometimes follows the one, sometimes the other chronology. The Septuagint may have inserted the explanatory clause to adapt the text to the chronological records of Egypt. But this difference in the chronology of the Greek Bible and our present Hebrew text, although very serious in a historical point of view, is of no account for the argument in hand. Paul means to say, the older an agreement the stronger is its authority. The Hebrew text would strengthen the argument.


Verse 18

Galatians 3:18. If ‘the inheritance,’ i.e., all the temporal and spiritual blessings promised to Abraham and culminating in the Christian salvation (comp. the word ‘inheritance,’ Matthew 5:5; Acts 20:32; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21), proceeded from the Law and depended on its observance, it could be no more the gift of promise or of free grace, which can be apprehended only by a living faith. This, however, is plainly contradicted by the case of Abraham, who received the inheritance by free grace, and not by law, which then was not yet given. Law and works are inseparably connected, and so are promise (or grace) and faith. Law and promise are used here without the article as representing two opposite principles.

Hath freely given, bestowed it as a free gift ‘The perfect tense marks the permanence of the effect’ (Lightfoot).


Verse 19

Galatians 3:19. What then is the law? Since the law has properly nothing to do with the Christian salvation, the question arises: To what end was it then given at all, what is its use and import? The difficulty leads the Apostle to a profound exposition or the relation of the Mosaic to the Christian religion.

It was superadded because of the transgressions.—It was not the original scheme, but a subsequent addition to the promise for an interimistic educational purpose to prepare the way for the fulfilment of the promise in Christ by the development of the disease of sin which is necessary to its cure. Comp. Romans 5:20, ‘the law came in beside,’ etc. ‘Because of,’ or for the sake of, on account of. This is differently interpreted: (1.) In order to restrain or check transgressions; the law being a bridle to sin (a Riegel and Zugel) and preventing it from gross outbreaks (1 Timothy 1:9-10). The Jews were, indeed, more moral in their outward deportment than the heathen. But this did not generally predispose them more favorably for the gospel. And then Paul speaks here not of the general restrictive and detective significance of the law which it has to this day, but simply of its propædeutic office as a preparation for Christ (comp. Galatians 3:24 ff.). (2.) In order to punish the transgressor, and thus to quicken the moral sense and the desire for redemption. (3.) In order to multiply the transgressions (‘for the benefit of,’ comp. the Gr. κάριν here used); the law acting as a stimulant on the sinful desire, and calling it out into open exercise (Romans 5:20; Romans 7:5; Romans 7:7-8; Romans 7:10; 1 Corinthians 15:56). This bad effect arises not from the law itself, which is good and holy (Romans 7:12; Romans 7:14; Romans 7:22), and which was one of the great blessings of Israel (Romans 9:4), but from the sinful nature of man whose bad passions are pricked and roused by the law, so that the very prohibition tempts him to transgression (Romans 7:13 ff.; Romans 8:3). (4.) In order to bring sin to light, and to make it appear in its true character as a transgression of the divine law, and thus, by the knowledge of the disease, to prepare its cure. Comp. Romans 4:15 : ‘Where no law is, there is no transgression;’ Romans 3:20 : ‘By the law is the knowledge of sin;’ Romans 7:7-8 : ‘Without the law sin was dead.’ The choice lies between the last two interpretations, which are, in fact, closely connected; for it is by the very development of sin in the form of transgression that its true nature is understood, the sense of guilt awakened, and the desire for deliverance increased.

The disease of sin must reach the crisis before the restoration could take place, and so far we may say that God willed the development of sin with the view to its complete suppression by the future redemption. Comp. Romans 5:20 : ‘The law came in beside, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, the gift of grace did still more abound.’

The seed, i.e., Christ, as in Galatians 5:16.

Being ordained (or enacted) by angels (by the ministry of angels). According to Josephus and the Jewish tradition, the angels acted as the ministers and organs of God in the promulgation of the Mosaic law. The angels mediated between God and Moses, and Moses mediated between the angels and the people of Israel. This view is based upon the Septuagint translation of Deuteronomy 33:2 (‘Jehovah .... shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints,’ to which the Septuagint adds: ‘on his right hand the angels with him’), and indorsed in two other passages of the New Testament (Acts 7:53; Acts 7:58, and Hebrews 2:2. It may be inferred from the general mode of divine revelation which is mediated through agencies.

Through the hand of a mediator, i.e., Moses, who received (on Mount Sinai) the tables of the law from God through the angels, and brought them down to the people. Hence he is often called Mediator in Rabbinical books. There were thus two intervening links between Jehovah and the people, a human mediator (Moses), and superhuman agents of God (the angels). This double agency may have been mentioned here either for the purpose of lowering the law in comparison with the gospel where God spoke in his Son directly to men and invites them to commune with Him without the mediation of man or angel; or for the purpose of enhancing the solemnity of the enactment of the law as a preparation for the gospel. The view we take of this design, depends somewhat on the interpretation of Galatians 3:20.

Most of the ancient fathers falsely refer the passage to Christ, misled by 1 Timothy 2:5. But He is the mediator of the gospel, not of the law. Comp. Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 12:24. Here he would be coordinated with, or rather subordinated to, the angels and represented as a mere agent, which is altogether foreign to the mind of Paul. Some modern interpreters think of the Metatron, the Angel of the Covenant, who according to the latter Jewish theology instructed Moses in the law.


Verse 20

Galatians 3:20. The natural translation and meaning of this famous cross of interpreters seems to be this: Now a mediator (every mediator, including Moses, Galatians 3:19)(1) is not of one (of one party only, but always presupposes two or more parties; in this case God and the Jewish people); but God is one (either one numerically, i.e., one party, Israel being the other; or one morally and emphatically, i.e., one only in opposition to every plurality or contradiction). But what is the bearing of this sentence upon the argument? We have here evidently an elliptic syllogism, and must supply a link, either the minor proposition or the conclusion. The Apostle, as by an incidental stroke of lightning, suggests a collateral proof to the main idea of this section, namely, that the promise could not be made void by the law, in this sense: ‘The God who gave both the promise and the law is one and the same, consistent in all his dealings, and cannot contradict himself, therefore the law cannot set aside the promise.’ Or the Apostle suggests a proof for the inferiority of the law as compared with the promise, in this sense: ‘The law is a covenant between two parties and is conditioned by the obedience of the people; but the promise is the free gift of God alone, and man is merely the recipient; the law may be broken by sinful men, the promise of God is unconditional and irrevocable. These are the two most natural interpretations. I prefer the former because it falls in easier with the preceding Galatians 3:15-19.

Excursus on Chapter Galatians 3:20.

The genius of Paul, by the wealth and depth of his ideas, has stimulated more minds and exercised more pens than any other writer. This verse is counted the most difficult passage in the New Testament, and has given rise to about three hundred interpretations (254, according to Drs. Winer and Weigand in 1821; 430, according to Dr. Jowett.) Most of them are of recent origin, and not a few are more obscure than the text.(1)

The sentence is simple enough grammatically; the obscurity arises from its brevity and connection. The interpretations differ (1) as to the sense of ‘the mediator’ — whether it means all mediators as a class (the generic article), or Moses, or Christ; (2) in what is to be supplied to the genitive of one (ἑνός) — party, thing, seed, people (the Jews only as distinct from the heathen, but God is the one God of both); (3) as to the meaning of ‘God is one ς) —numerically, or morally, referring to his monarchy, or sovereignty, or faithfulness and unchangeableness’; (4) in the logical connection with the preceding and succeeding verses; (5) in the relation of the clauses to each other.

Omitting mere arbitrary conjectures and fancies, we will give only the best interpretations.

1. Christ is the mediator between God and men. Comp. 1 Timothy 2:5 : ‘There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ — So most of the fathers who cared little for the logical connection, and hence did not feel the difficulty of the passage. Some saw here even a reference to the two natures of Christ, the human (‘of one’) and the divine.

2. Moses is the mediator between God and the Jewish people; but God is one, the same who gave the promise to Abraham and the law through Moses. — So Theodoret and other fathers. Bengel and Wieseler also refer ‘the mediator’ to Moses, but differ in the conclusion. Wieseler supplies the inference: the failure of the mediatorial office of Moses between God and the people is due to the unfaithfulness of men who did not keep the compact.

3. A mediator (generally) is not of one party, but of two; God is one party, the people the other; and the people are bound to observe the law. The last sentence is supplied. — So Winer, who sees here a parenthetical remark in favor of the authority of the law.

4. A mediator occupies a subordinate middle position and belongs to both parties who stand over against each other; but God is one party for himself over and above the mediator. The law belongs to the same subordinate sphere as the mediator, but the promise which is given directly by God without a mediator, stands higher. The law was provisional, the promise is permanent — So Baur, followed by Farrar (St. Paul, i. 150).

5. A mediator implies a separation of two parties, God and man, but in God, the author of the promise, is perfect unity. An argument for the superiority of the promise. — De Wette.

6. Every mediator intervenes between two or more parties; but God is a single person, not a plurality; hence the law, which is a contract between God and Israel, cannot be opposed to the divine promises of the same one God acting directly. — Meyer.

7. The idea of a mediator supposes two different parties to be united; but inasmuch as God is strictly one — so that there can be no two Gods, or one God of the law and another of the promise — it follows that Moses as mediator did not mediate between the God of the promise and the God of the law and so abolish the promise by the law, but he mediated (as is well known) only between God and the people of Israel. — Ewald. Similarly Weiss (Bibl. Theol. d. N. T., 3d ed., p. 266).

8. God in the promise stands and acts alone; therefore in the promise a mediator does not appertain to God. Is then the law which involved a mediator opposed to the promises which rested on God alone? God forbid. — Ellicott.

9. The sentence is an attack upon the law and the Judaizers. A mediator, and consequently also the law which was given by mediators (angels and Moses), does not appertain to the promise which proceeds from God alone. — Holsten (in the Protestanten-Bibel, 1874).—Similarly Fricke: Moses and the law belong to the sphere of mediation between two parties at least; the promises were given by God alone to Abraham (Galatians 3:16); consequently the law and the promise do not agree, and cannot be reconciled except in the way pointed out, Galatians 3:21-24.

10. The very idea of mediation supposes a contract to which there are at least two parties. But where there is a contract there must be also conditions, and if these conditions are not observed the whole falls to the ground. The law was such a contingent contract, and as it was not kept, the blessings annexed to it were forfeited. On the other hand, the promise is absolute and unconditioned, it depends upon God alone. He gave it freely, and He will assuredly keep it, no matter what man may do.


Verse 21

Galatians 3:21. If the law had the power to break sin and to impart righteousness and life, it would indeed be a rival of the promise and enter into conflict with it. But this is not the aim of the law at all; on the contrary it is intended merely to bring sin to its proper crisis and thereby to prepare the fulfilment of the promise. Paul infers from the effect of the law its proper character and relation to the promise.

Make alive implies that we are spiritually dead by nature.

Indeed, truly, in reality. But Paul maintains, in opposition to the vain conceit of the self-righteous Jews and Judaizing Christians, that the law condemns all alike.


Verse 22

Galatians 3:22. The Scripture, the whole Old Testament, including the law. It is here personified as in Galatians 3:8, and stands for the author of the Scripture. The Apostle may have had in mind a special passage, as Psalms 143:2 (quoted above Galatians 2:16) or Deuteronomy 27:26 (quoted Galatians 3:10), or rather the general scheme of the Scripture as a history of the fall and redemption. Shut up all (things) under sin. Comp. Romans 11:32 : ‘God shut up all (men) in unbelief (or disobedience), that He might have mercy upon all.’ These two passages contain, as in a nutshell, the whole history of men, the mystery of the fall cleared up by the greater mystery of redemption. ‘Shut up,’ as in a prison and state of complete slavery, without means of escape, in striking contrast with the freedom of the gospel. The verb implies an effective (not simply a declaratory) activity of God in the development and punishment (not in the origin) of sin, and this activity is conditioned and controlled by the eternal counsel of redeeming love. ‘All’ things, the most comprehensive term. In the parallel passage, Romans 11:32, the masculine is used, ‘all’ men. They are viewed as one solid mass of corruption and guilt. No exception is made, not even in favor of the Virgin Mary, as the Vatican dogma would require. The second clause, that (in order that, with the intention that) the promise, etc., contains the solution of the problem in the first clause. God wills sin only as something to be overcome and destroyed; He permitted the fall of Adam only in view of the redemption by Christ which more than made up for all the loss of the fall.

‘In Christ the tribes of Adam boast

More blessings than their father lost.’—(Watts.)

Earth has a joy unknown in heaven

The new-born peace of sin forgiven.

Tears of such pure and deep delight,

Ye angels I never dimmed your sight.’—(A. L. Hillhouse.)


Verse 23

Galatians 3:23. Before the faith came, the faith in Jesus Christ just mentioned (Galatians 3:22), which under the legal dispensation existed only as a latent element of life.

We were shut up and kept in ward under the law for the faith about to be revealed, i.e., in order to be prepared for the free state of the Christian faith. The word ‘faith’ usually means the subjective state of the heart, the exercise of trust; but in Galatians 3:22-23 it seems to pass over into the objective sense, i.e., the dispensation of faith, the gospel, hence the verbs came and to be revealed. In Galatians 3:24 again the subjective sense is meant.


Verse 24

Galatians 3:24. So then the law has been our tutor unto Christ. This sentence expresses in a few words the true philosophy of the law in its relation to Christ—‘Tutor,’ literally pædagogue (leader of boys), one intrusted with the moral supervision and instruction of minors. In Greek and Roman families of rank the office of tutor was intrusted to a reliable slave who had to watch the children of his master in their plays, to keep them from excess and folly, to lead them to school, or instruct them himself in the elementary branches, and thus to train them for the freedom of youth and manhood. This pædagogic mission attaches not only to the law of Moses, but we may say to all laws, also to the moral law of nature written in the conscience of man. The discipline of law and authority is still the school of moral freedom, and reaches its proper end in self-government which is true freedom. The Greek fathers called philosophy the pædagogue of the Gentiles, which prepared them theoretically for Christianity, as the Mosaic law prepared the Jews practically.

The ‘schoolmaster’ of the E. V. expresses only one element in the office of the law. Luther’s version: Zuchtmeister, is better, because more comprehensive. It is still wider of the mark and inconsistent with the imagery of the context to make Christ the schoolmaster (‘the tutor to conduct us to the school of Christ’). On the contrary the whole work of preparatory training belongs to the pædagogue, and Christ represents here the result of the educational process, i.e., the state of evangelical freedom and independent, self-governing manhood. Comp. Ephesians 4:13.


Verse 26

Galatians 3:26. For ye all are sons of God. ‘All,’ Jews and Gentiles alike (comp. Galatians 3:27-28). ‘Sons’ (not ‘children,’ E. V.), implies here the idea of age and freedom, as distinct from the state of childhood and pupilage under the training of the pædagogue. Comp. Galatians 4:6-7; Romans 8:14-15. Paul uses the term ‘sons’ and ‘children’ of God mostly in opposition to slaves (Galatians 4:7). John uses the term ‘children’ of God with reference to their new birth (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-2; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:2).

By the faith, which is the act of a freeman, in Christ Jesus (the dative in Greek) i.e., reposing in Christ, or (if we prefer connecting the words with ‘sons’) by virtue of your life-union with Christ, being grounded and rooted in Him.


Verse 27

Galatians 3:27. As many of you as were baptized into Christ, did put on Christ. The Greek tenses (aorists) make the two acts simultaneous; in the act and at the time of your baptism ye did clothe yourselves with Christ. ‘Into’ implies introduction into union with Christ, mystical incorporation in Christ; so also Romans 6:3 (‘into Christ’; comp. 1 Corinthians 10:2 ‘into Moses’), and the baptismal formula, Matthew 28:19, ‘baptizing into (not in’) the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.’—‘Did put on Christ,’ is analogous to the phrase ‘to put on the new man’ of righteousness and holiness, in opposition to the ‘old man’ of sin which is to be ‘put away;’ Ephesians 4:22; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:9-10. The baptized is surrounded by Christ and covered with his merits, as the soldier is surrounded by his equipment. This is, however, only the beginning of the Christian life and must be followed by daily renewal and progress. Comp. Romans 13:14. The figure of putting on Christ as a new dress gave rise afterwards to the custom of wearing white baptismal garments, but there is no trace that such a custom existed already in the Apostolic church.

To understand this passage, we should remember that in the Apostolic age the baptism of adults (such as are here addressed) presupposed or implied, as a rule, actual conversion and regeneration in consequence of preaching and instruction, though there were exceptions (as the case of Simon Magus, who hypocritically confessed faith). If baptism of believers on personal profession of faith means anything, it means the death of the old man of sin and the birth of the new man of righteousness. This is its idea and aim, but practically it may be and often is profaned and perverted. On the part of God it is a sign and seal of remission of sin and of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, on the part of man an act of self-consecration to the service of God (comp. Romans 6:1; Romans 6:4; Titus 3:5). From this high estimate Paul derives the strongest exhortations to the baptized, to walk in accordance with their solemn pledge, lest by their own faithlessness they forfeit the baptismal blessing. The greater the benefit, the greater the responsibility and risk. Here he represents the putting on of Christ as a finished fact (in principle), elsewhere he urges it upon those already baptized as a daily duty (Romans 13:14). The former is the dogmatic, the latter the ethical view of the matter. Calvin remarks that sacraments are never meant to be empty signs, but include always, according to the divine will, the thing signified. The believer receives the grace offered, the unbeliever rejects it, but he cannot by such rejection overthrow the faithfulness of God, nor deprive the sacraments of their true objective intent and significance. Thus the sun shines upon the blind as well as the seeing, but although the blind man has no benefit from the sun, he cannot alter the nature of the sun, or deprive him of his force. Food is always nourishing and salutary in itself, though it may prove poison to the sick.


Verse 28

Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, etc., there is no room for, and there can be no room. Paul negatives, ‘not the fact only, but the possibility, as James 1:17.’ The great idea of freedom, fraternity, and equality, then, is to be traced to Christianity, although it is often carnally misunderstood and caricatured by men. Error steals the livery of truth, and anti-Christ the livery of Christ. It is to be understood here, of course, in a religious sense. The gospel makes all men equal before God, both as sinners, and as subjects of redeeming grace; it has broken down the national, social, and sexual partition walls of the ancient world, and raised women and slaves to the true dignity and the enjoyment of the rights of man, not in the violent way of a sudden revolution, but by the slow and silent, yet sure process of a moral transformation of society from within, a process still going on till its final consummation at the second coming of Christ.

For ye all are one (man) in Christ Jesus, one moral person in Jesus Christ the head, comp. Ephesians 2:15 (‘one new man’); 1 Corinthians 12:12. The masculine gender in the original is chosen on account of Galatians 3:16, and is more expressive in this connection than the neuter, which we find in John 10:30; John 17:11; John 17:21.


Verse 29

Galatians 3:29. And if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to premise. The final conclusion of this profound, comprehensive, varied, and terse reasoning, in proof of the assertion Galatians 3:7, that the believers are the true children of Abraham, and consequently heirs by promise. Galatians 3:16 must here be kept in view, where Christ is declared to be the seed of Abraham. Union with Christ constitutes the true spiritual descent from Abraham, and secures the inheritance of all the Messianic blessings by promise, as against inheritance by law.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/galatians-3.html. 1879-90.

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