1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? 4 Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. 5 Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
6 Just as Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness," 7 so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you." 9 For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.
10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law." 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law; for "The one who is righteous will live by faith." 12 But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, "Whoever does the works of the law will live by them."
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us-- for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"—14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
15 Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person's will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, "And to offsprings," as of many; but it says, "And to your offspring," that is, to one person, who is Christ. 17 My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise. 19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. 20 Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
21 Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law. 22 But the scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin, so that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.
- Paul's emotion, pouring out from his pen since 1:6, continues to flow how: "You foolish Galatians!" Faith is in vain when it becomes all about works (vv.1-5). What a vital lesson for our own time!
- Faith is the basis of justification (vv.6-9). Abraham was right with God not because he earned salvation, but because he put his trust in God. See Genesis 15:6 and then Genesis 12:3. These verses undermine the Judarizers' position. The way of grace is older than the way of law.
- The Law itself (vv.10ff) suggests that right standing with God merely based on legalistic performance is a human impossibility. Deuteronomy 27:26 and Habakkuk 2:4 are enlisted to support the argument. In effect, Paul is asking the false teachers and those they have led astray, "What is the logical conclusion of your method, salvation by law-keeping?" And the answer: "It is failure, for no one can measure up fully to God's perfect standards."
- Christ became cursed for us (v.13). The reference is to Deuteronomy 21:22-23. It is important, if we are to follow Galatians, to familiarize ourselves with the O.T. references. Here he is using passages from the Law to undermind the Judaizers' assertion that we can only be saved by following the Law. (Like using Goliath's own sword to decapitate him.)
- The Spirit was to be received through faith, according to O.T. prophecy.
- Which passages did Paul have in mind? Take a look at Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31, 36:26.
- The O.T. foresaw a time when the people of God would internalize his will. Their faith would no longer be mere religion, but personal passion.
- Paul continues in this chapter to develop more convincing lines of reasoning upholding grace over against law as the foundation of our justification.
- We are called to the freedom of sonship, not the legalism of slaves.
- We are sons of God through faith, not works. Not that works are somehow optional, but the basis for our salvation is faith in who God is and what he has done (vv.25-26).
- We became his sons when we were baptized, being clothed with Christ (v.27).
- Christ has abolished the Jew-Gentile distinction (v.28). That is, Gentiles need not become Jews before becoming Christians; members of both groups can how have direct access to God. (See Ephesians 2:18.)
- The three distinctions in this verse correspond to the prayer of the ancient Jew, that he was born neither a woman nor a slave nor a Gentile.
- All Christians participate in the promises to Abraham. And so we come full circle: Christians today are right with God by grace through faith, just as was Abraham, long before the giving of the law.
- V28 has some significant parallels in the ancient world.
- Jewish morning prayers (c.150 AD) included: "Blessed be He that he did not make me a Gentile; Blessed be He that he did not make me a slave; Blessed be He that he did not make me a woman" (Rabbi ben Judah, t.Ber. 7.18, j.Ber 13b; R. Meier, b.Menach 43b).
- The Greek philosopher proclaimed thanks "that I was born a human being and not a beast; next, a man and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian."
- Thales and Socrates (Diogenes Laertius, Vitae Philosophorum 1.33) or Plato (Plutarch, Marius 46.1; Lactantius, Divine Institutes 3.19.17)
- Paul's point is that the classic divisions in his world had been nullified--at least when humans approach God.
- The entire chapter cogently cuts the ground from under the Judaizers.
- Receiving the Spirit by faith as opposed to works (v.2) does not suggest that all one does to receive the Spirit is get into a certain mental state. The N.T. consistently teaches that obedience is required. See Acts 5:32, and then take another look at Acts 2:38.
- At this time (the late 40s AD), through the Spirit miracles were still being performed among the Galatian churches (v.5). It had not been long before that Paul himself had been in Galatia, preaching and working miracles and laying hands on others, as miraculous gifts of the Spirit were distributed. See Hebrews 2:3-4 (with 2 Corinthians 12:12). These were the early days of Christianity.
- The word "Gentiles" (v.8) can also be translated "nations" or, better, "peoples." The peoples are the non-Jews. (The root word in Latin is gens meaning "people.")
- The Dead Sea Scrolls shed light on the meaning of "hanging on a tree." 11QTemple 64:6-13 discuss execution by hanging on a tree as well as post mortem hanging.
- Then Paul cites the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:7, 13:15, 15:5, 16:10, 17:7-10, 22:17-18. He is making a subtle point about zera', meaning seed or offspring (sperma in the Greek version). Some English versions render this as descendants, which is not incorrect, though it pluralizes the original word. The singular word refers to a single person, Jesus Christ, the sole person through whom the entire world may find blessing. But the promise to Abraham was made 430 years before the Law was given.
- The law was given c.1290 BC.
- The promise Paul refers to therefore points to 1720 BC, which is the time that Abraham's extended family entered Egypt. Although Abraham was dead, his grandson Jacob and all his grandsons (Joseph, Judah...) went to Goshen to escape the famine.
- Once again the way of grace is older than the way of law.
- Warning: The section from verses 15 to 24 is very dense. Please bear with me. Paul is arguing in a typical rabbinic fashion. His thinking, though somewhat opaque to our modern eyes, would have been clear to the original recipients of Galatians. Let me take a stab at it:
- the Judaizers relied on Deut 27:26, Hab 2:4, and Lev 18:5 as their proof-texts. Paul takes up the very same passages, exegetes their real meaning, and destroys the false understanding of Torah.
- The Law of Moses does not nullify the promise (to Abraham). It was added (v.19); it was not God's initial plan for justification for his people. The promise, based on grace through faith, is original and superior.
- The Law was added amidst a sinful people in order to give them a better consciousness of sin. In this it served a useful function. Yet it did not give them spiritual life. Whereas God's promises lift us up, the Law brings us down.
- The Law was temporary, ruling only until the coming of Christ. Jesus said he came not to abolish the law -- which, after all, still has much to tell us of God's character and righteousness -- but to fulfill it. Nevertheless, we are not under law.
- The Jews believed that angels were present at Mount Sinai, and through their mediation the Mosaic law was given to the Jewish people. Paul seems to be arguing that on the one side were the people of Israel, and on the other side, God's angelic intermediaries. But God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4), and so the revelation of the law in some respect was inferior. It was given to the people of Israel indirectly, whereas the gospel was delivered directly and personally by Jesus Christ. For more on the role of angels vis-a-vis the Law, see Deut 33.2 LXX; Psalm 68:18 LXX; and Job 1:27-29; Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2; and Philo Somn. 1:140-144.
- Having said all these things depreciating the law, one might think Paul was belittling or rejecting it. Not at all, he replies.
- The law charges that all are under sin (back to Deuteronomy 27), since no one can keep all the commands.
- The Law led us to Christ. It was our pedagogue. In the Greco-Roman world, the pedagogue was not the teacher, but a custodian or disciplinarian. Rather, the pedagogue led the child to his teacher (Plato, Republic 373C, 467D; Lysis 208C).
- Our status would change completely under Christ, as we became sons. For example, Galatians 4:6 says that when we became sons we received the Spirit.
- Note: If we are justified by faith, we are Abraham's children -- the true offspring to which the promises of God in Genesis referred -- but not Israel's (Jacob's) children. Jacob is the father of the Jews, Abraham of all peoples of the world who come to faith in Christ.
- How easily do I slip back into legalism?
- Do I make requirements of matters not bound in scripture, even if I don't understand them as strictly necessary for salvation?
- Would I be better described, in my thinking and deportment, as a son (or daughter), or a slave? The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15) well illustrates these two dispositions.