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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Galatians 3

 

 

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Verse 1

PART SECOND.

BIBLICAL ESTABLISHMENT OF FAITH-JUSTIFICATION THROUGH CHRIST, Galatians 3:1 to Galatians 4:31.

1. Introductory expostulation against their apostasy from faith to works, Galatians 3:1-4.

1. O foolish Galatians—A bold apostrophe; especially bold as being to be read to their congregations.

Foolish—Defective, either in the possession or the use of the spiritual faculty; unintuitive.

Bewitched—Fascinated, spellbound. The spell or formula of uttered words, or the power of the eye, or of the touch, as in modern animal magnetism, enabled, as was supposed, the magician to possess the will and control the action and being of his victim. So, in popular fancy, the snake possessed the power of eye to charm the bird into his fangs.

Before whose eyes—They were fascinated away in spite of the most attractive of objects before their eyes, namely, Christ crucified.

Set forth—Forth-written, as by a public inscription or nailed-up advertisement.


Verse 2

2. This only—Earnestly emphatic, as if this one consideration alone were decisive.

The Spirit—They had, since they embraced Christ, been conscious of the blessed testimony of the Spirit. In it was supreme demonstration. How received ye it?

Hearing of faith?—The listening of faith to the voice of the gospel.


Verse 3

3. Begun… made perfect—In the paragraph Galatians 4:1-9 he more fully illustrates that advancing development is from law to spirit, as from childhood to adulthood.


Verse 4

4. Suffered—Appeal to their memory of persecutions suffered by them for Christ. If it can be, alas! yet in vain. The history of their sufferings for the gospel when first preached to them by Paul is not recorded; but the analogy of Luke’s narrative of the persecutions in Lycaonia and elsewhere justifies the belief that these are the subject of St. Paul’s allusion. Calling these sufferings to mind, his heart is touched with sorrow to think that their apostasy from the faith should so nullify their former constancy.


Verse 5

The Abrahamic faith-covenantis superior to law, which works curse, Galatians 3:5-14.

5. He—God.

Ministereth—Abundantly supplies.

Worketh miracles— Rather, inworketh within you miraculous powers. Endoweth you with the power of performing miracles. This assumes that the Galatians had performed miracles, but not as Judaizers.

Faith—In its various uses in the Bible the word faith ranges through the various meanings of belief, trust, fidelity, trustworthiness. And in the Christian signification of justification, these four ideas are embraced; though in particular cases some one of the four may be most prominent. And true faith, beginning with belief, runs through and includes the other three. The man who has this faith in God is in sympathy with God. And in special ages of divine dispensation that sympathy becomes the medium of supernatural intercourse, and so, as in the apostolic age, even with these Galatians there were the inworkings of miraculous powers. And Paul here appeals to them to say whether these were not the result of faith.


Verse 6

6. Even as—These connective words imply that the last interrogation has the force, as often, of a strong affirmation.

Abraham—So in Romans, written near the same time, Abraham is adduced as an illustrious exemplar of faith. The notes on Romans iv are essentially a comment upon this passage. But, as Prof. Lightfoot has fully shown, Abraham had long been a standing model of faith in Jewish literature, both among the Greek-Jews of Alexandria, of whom the chief representative was Philo, and among the Rabbinical Jews of the Babylonian school, who retained much of ancient tradition. Thus, in the Apocrypha, (1 Maccabees 2:52,) Mattathias, father of the Maccabees, enumerating a line of Hebrew worthies, begins with “Was not Abraham found faithful in temptation, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness?” And so in the Rabbinical school it was said, “Great is faith, whereby Israel believed on Him that spake and the world was. For as a reward for Israel’s having believed in the Lord, the Holy Spirit dwelt on them… In like manner thou findest that Abraham, our father, inherited this world and the world to come, solely by the merit of faith, whereby he believed in the Lord; for it is said, And he believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.” A doctrine of faith essentially, yet not wholly, true, existed, therefore, in the pre-Christian Jewish Church. The faith extolled by the Jewish rabbi was too often an intense doctrinal monotheism, a mere bigoted sticking to Judaism. It was said. “As soon as a he is to be loved and forgiven, and treated in all respects as a brother; and though he may have sinned in every possible way, he is, indeed, an erring Israelite, and is punished accordingly; but still he inherits eternal life.” Hence faith was not only a supremely meritorious virtue, but a substitute for other virtues. St. Paul and Christianity reconstructed the doctrine of faith in four ways:—First, in Christ crucified there was presented a new object of faith, awakening the profoundest emotions of our being; second, in the substitutive atonement there was conditioned an abandonment of all self-merit, all merit in the faith itself, and a salvation purely gracious was substituted; third, the faith by which this salvation is attained is a complete surrender of the whole being to Christ and to all holiness of heart and life; fourth, that holiness of life, springing from the heart, is wrought in the being by the gift of the Spirit, which is by Christ bestowed consequently upon the faith. Paul’s Galatians had had the crucified One presented to their faith, and accepted, (Galatians 3:1;) they had received the Spirit and run well; yet after having entered into the full glory of the Christian faith they were relapsing into the cold Jewish twilight.

Accounted… for righteousness—Not that the faith was so great a merit that it became a righteousness of character; but by this faith Abraham gave himself over to God, and was by God pardoned of his sins, and accepted, and strengthened into a holiness of soul and conduct. Notes, Romans 4:3-4; Romans 4:16-17.

The Christian faith and blessing being identical with the Abrahamic, Paul shows the Galatians how they are going out from Abraham, Christ, faith, and grace, into Moses, law, judgment, and curse. So far from becoming truer sons of Abraham by circumcision, they are going out from the Abrahamic sonship.


Verse 7

7. Know ye—The Greek verb may be either the imperative or the indicative, but the former suits more the imperative style of the whole passage. Be ye well assured that faith makes you truer sons of Abraham than birth or circumcision.


Verse 8

8. Scripture, foreseeing—A personification of Scripture, as in Galatians 3:22; a strong proof that Paul views Scripture as God speaking. The Jewish writers used the expressive phrase, What saw the Scripture? Heathen, as well as nations below, the same in Greek as the word Gentile, Galatians 3:14.

Preached before the gospelPre-evangelized, pre-announced the glad news. The gospel of Christ and the gospel of Abraham are one, the latter being earliest preached, and by Jehovah himself.

In thee—See note, Romans 5:12. That the posterity is in the progenitor, as the oak is said to be in the acorn, is not a physical fact, but a conception of the imagination by which truths are forcibly impressed on the mind. The root and causation of their blessedness is in thee.

All nations—All Gentiles, so not Jews alone. This quotation is a blending of Genesis 12:3; Genesis 18:18; a double promise in one.


Verse 9

9. Of faithOut from ( εκ) faith. Notes on Luke 20:35, and Acts 8:38.


Verse 10

10. In contrast with the blessing they were under by faith, comes now the curse they incur by law. It arises from the fact that every one of them continueth not in all things… to do them. Deuteronomy 27:26. The law making no allowance for failure, and no provision of pardon for transgression, condemns, sentences, and executes every man. This is the condition in which, on the law side, every one of us, on awaking, finds himself. He is a sinner. The law, which he has broken, knows not mercy.


Verse 11

11. In the sight of God—However it may be in the sight of man. Men can easily lower law for themselves and for each other. They can easily pardon themselves and each other for transgression of law. But how are law and pardon in the sight of God, is the great question. Note, Romans 4:2. The just… by faith. Note, Romans 1:17.


Verse 12

12. Law is not of (out from) faith—Law has no justifying power flowing out from faith, but from the perfect doing.

Doeth themLeviticus 18:5.


Verse 13

13. Redeemed—The Greek word signifies to buy off; to redeem, as from slavery. Here we are said to be redeemed out from ( εκ) the curse of the law. Us—Some commentators (including Alford) limit this us to the Jews, inasmuch as the law here quoted is Mosaic law. But the Mosaic law was the moral universal law brought out with particular manifestation. The decalogue was the absolute universal law itself, and all the Mosaic enactments were either special points of the decalogue, or special provisions for giving the decalogue efficiency. Hence the curse is of the universal law, and the us is all mankind.

A curse—The object cursed, as being an embodiment of the condemnation, is energetically called the curse itself. See note, 2 Corinthians 5:21. Very probably, as Prof. Lightfoot remarks, the fewness of adjectives in the Hebrew produces this using the noun for the adjective.

WrittenDeuteronomy 21:23. Moses there enacted that when a malefactor was first executed and his body afterwards hung on a tree, he should be taken down and buried before night, “for he that is hanged is accursed of God.” Prof. Lightfoot gives upon this expression a very interesting but extended note. The word “accursed,” being susceptible of an active force, is by most Jewish authorities rendered maledictory, or insulting to God. Paul’s rendering is derived from the Septuagint, and accords with Judges 9:57. Lightfoot conjectures that the other rendering obtained currency in later times, when the Jewish patriots were often impaled by the Syrians or crucified by the Romans, and kept exposed until they putrefied and disintegrated on the cross. The literalism of the Jews would require, by the Septuagint translation, that all these were cursed; and the other rendering was adopted to avert such appalling consequences. Still later, this last rendering served against Christians, as it enabled the Jews to hold that the crucified Jesus was an insult to God. Nevertheless, notwithstanding Lightfoot’s putting of this last point, Paul’s translation would seem as suitable to the reproachful purpose of the Jews as the other.


Verse 13-14

13, 14. How do we get from Moses and law to Abraham and faith? Christ, by bearing the curse of the law for us, lets the blessing of Abraham come on us.

The promise—In its fulfilment.


Verse 14

14. That—Depends upon redeemed in Galatians 3:13.

The promise—That is, the blessing contained in the promise.


Verse 15

15. Brethren—The distinct treatment of the blessed compact with Abraham calls up the apostle’s more tender emotions, and he begins it with a fraternal word in a gentler tone.

Manner of men—As men speak and think in their business contracts.

But a man’s—Even then its conditions are held binding and permanent; how much more if it be God’s covenant or contract.

Confirmed—Put into its completed shape and made binding upon the faith of the parties.

No man disannulleth—Except by a new agreement on both sides.

Addeth—Neither party can change the terms or add to them. In our constitutional governments it is a fundamental principle that legislatures cannot impair contracts.


Verses 15-18

3. This identity of the Abrahamic and Christian faith-covenant is not broken by the Mosaic interval of law, Galatians 3:15-18.

God’s engagement to Abraham to bless the nations in his Seed (namely, Christ) was a complete, immutable compact; under it, and not by the law, the inheritance of Canaan was held. That underlying compact lasted throughout the age of the Mosaic law until Christ.


Verse 16

16. To Abraham… promises made—In Genesis xv the covenant was made by God with Abraham, under the regular forms and ceremonies of a contract or treaty, to give him the inheritance of Canaan.

To seeds, as of many—To this many difficulties are raised. For, first, it is plain that the singular Seed is used as a noun of multitude, and so is of many. It is so used in Genesis 17:4-5, and by Paul himself, Galatians 3:29. Second, the plural, seeds, is never used to signify posterity, but only in the literal vegetable sense. To this we may reply, first, that Paul’s statement, that the Seed is Christ, or Messiah, is literally true. For it was in the Seed, Christ, that really and truly the nations were to be blessed, and by the Jewish race only secondarily and from him. So to him the inheritance and the promise, Galatians 3:19, were truly given, and to the tribes only as means for his appearance. So that the apostle’s limitation of the Seed to him has a primal truth. Next it is to be noted that all Paul says is, that the singular form of the word Seed enables us congruously to read this limitation of the term to Christ into the text of the promise. If it were plural, seeds, or any equivalent term, as children, or, descendants, this could not be done. The very fact that Paul so soon as Galatians 3:29 uses the singular, seed, as equivalent to heirs, shows that he does not mean that the plural form is necessary to a plural meaning.


Verse 17

17. And this I say—And the point I here make is this. In Christ, is rejected by the best critics as a false reading.

Four hundred and thirty years—On the chronological discrepancies here, (with which St. Paul’s reasoning has nothing to do,) consult note on Genesis 15:13.

Law… cannot disannul—Through the whole period of the law the promise holds valid, tying Abraham to Christ. The law overlies the promise, but does not supersede or abolish it.


Verse 18

18. Nor must the law be credited as the ground of the inheritance; for law and promise are contrary things: and the historic truth is, that God gave it to Abraham by promise.


Verse 19

19. Because of transgressions—”How is this to be interpreted? Is it to check transgression? or is it rather to create transgression? for ‘where no law is, there is no transgression.’ Romans 4:15. Thus law reveals, (Romans 3:20,) provokes, (Romans 7:7; Romans 7:13,) multiplies, (Romans 5:20,) sin or transgression.”—Lightfoot. Undoubtedly all these meanings; for in all, the law fails to give life to those who do not keep it.

The Seed—The Messiah. Note, Galatians 3:16.

To whom the promise was madeThe promise was addressed to Abraham, and made to him subordinately; but it was made to the Seed, the Redeemer, in the divine purpose, and supremely.

Ordained by angels—See note on Acts 7:53.

Mediator—Moses.


Verses 19-29

4. Real purpose of the lawnamely, to advance us to Christ and blessedness, Galatians 3:19-29.

If the Abrahamic promise is thus prior and superior to the Mosaic law what are the position, value, and purpose of the law? It met, exposed, and punished transgression during the interim between the giving of the promise and the coming of Messiah. The Galatians must, therefore, understand that the Mosaic legislation was but a temporary and subordinate expedient. To leave the older Abrahamic-Messianic promise, and fall back to law, is, therefore, an apostasy.


Verse 20

20. A mediator, or middle-man, is one who stands between two parties to transact a business in which they are mutually engaged. The two parties to the law were God and the Jews; and Moses was mediator in seeing to the parts to be performed by the two parties.

Not… of one—Mediation of a law supposes two: a law giver and a law keeper.

But God is one—He is LAW GIVER and he requires, in order that the law may give life, the other, namely, a law keeper. If there fail to be a law keeper, then the saving power of the law fails, and the Galatians must resort to grace and promise, or die.


Verse 21

21. Law… against the promises—They are very diverse; but do they oppose each other as foes, to collide with and destroy each other?

God forbid—By no means. They both aim at the same results—holiness and life. And if men would accord with law, they would by law attain to holiness and life. But though the law is all right, the men are not; and the blessed result is to be attained by Christ, grace, and promise. The latter is substitute to gain the same end that the former attempts, but fails to gain.

Given life—Eternal, blessed life, by perfect law-keeping, such as angels possess.


Verse 22

22. But—But the reversive conjunction introduces the terrible reverse fact.

The Scripture—Revelation; not in one passage or so alone, but in its whole tenor.

Hath concluded—Or shut up; that is, in thought and declaration. What Scripture is here represented as doing, God is said to do in Romans 11:32. Taking us off from the basis of law, yielding that we are completely under sin, Scripture flings us upon faith of Jesus Christ for redemption.

All—Neuter gender in the Greek, so as to signify the race as a whole mass. All, as in the nature of a fallen parent and under a perfect law, are under sin; and viewed as living human individuals are sure, sooner or later, to sin. Apart from Christ there would be no hope of holiness and life for any one of them. The introduction of a Saviour was the requisite condition of the propagation of the race. See note, Romans 11:32.

To them that believe—Even under Jesus Christ there is a law, the law of faith and self-surrender. But this law gracious aids enable us to keep, and find a remedy for our short comings. But beware of inferring that the promise secures an unconditional salvation.


Verse 23

23. Before faith came—As offered in the gospel of the crucified Jesus.

Kept—The Greek word signifies watched, as by a military guard; under sentinels.

Law—As a military fortress.

Shut up—The doors of our stronghold locked, and we imprisoned; in confinement, yet in safety.

Unto the faith—Our future and only outlet.

Which should afterwards be revealed—Rather, faith, which was about to be revealed. The faith was in its essence and power operated during the time of the law. It lay in the underlying promise of the Abrahamic covenant throughout the whole period. It lies in the designs of God’s mercy even under the heathen dispensation. But in their dim and dark dispensation, that faith is afterwards to be revealed.


Verse 24

24. Wherefore—Rather, so that. In strict accordance with the above image of a fortress is the image next to be introduced—a tutor.

Our schoolmaster—Rather, our private tutor or monitor. A boy was anciently placed under care of an elder person, perhaps a cultured slave, to attend him, and guard his manners and morals.

Unto Christ—As the monitor brings the boy to a well-mannered manhood, so the law brings us to justification by faith through Christ. The monitor is not represented as bringing us to Christ’s school, but into full emancipation, as of adulthood and freedom.


Verse 25

25. Faith is come—The announcement of justification by faith is an announcement of maturity and liberty. We are no longer under a monitor. We are inspired with a living spirit of free action towards right and holiness. We have wisdom, strength, freedom.


Verse 26

26. Children—Rather, full grown sons. Ye—Ye Galatians, so far forth as ye maintain your emancipation from law by faith in Christ Jesus.


Verse 27

27. Baptized into Christ—As the external form and act of the internal faith of the last verse. We may be baptized; but it is the faith which makes it really and truly a baptism into Christ. Paul introduces this baptism as that public proof and profession by which the Galatians had publicly bound themselves.

Into Christ—As into the embodiment of redemption, holiness, and eternal life.

Have put—Rather, the Greek aorist, put alone. A strict rendering is, whosoever were baptized into Christ put on Christ, that is, in the act of baptism. For though the saving faith exist before the baptism, and may exist without the baptism, yet the apostle objectively dates the full union to Christ with its consummation, external as well as internal, at baptism.

Put on Christ—In salvation upon the soul; in Christian profession upon the external life.


Verse 28

28. Neither Jew nor Greek—In the offer of salvation by Christ all are on a level; in the salvation received all are one. The Jew loses his pre-eminence, and sits at the same communion with the Greek.

Greek—A representative name for all Gentiles.

Bond nor free—Though ranks are not at once overthrown, yet the terms of salvation, and the enjoyment of its gift, are as free to slave as to master, to one colour as to another.

Male nor female—The terms and privileges of salvation know no sex.

All one— One gospel, one Church of the justified, one final heaven.


Verse 29

29. Abraham’s seed… the promise—The promise in the Abrahamic covenant. See notes on Galatians 3:16-18.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Galatians 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/galatians-3.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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