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This is a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul's epistle to the Galatians, which was written to combat those Jewish Christians who were unable to leave the Old Covenant and adhere to the New Covenant. In their attempt to add the New Covenant to the Old, and to add Jesus to the temple system of animal sacrifices and other rituals, they had distorted the gospel.
Category - Bible Commentaries
We come now to the third chapter of Galatians, keeping in mind that the Bible was not divided by chapters and verses until 1215 A.D. Chapter three continues to build upon what Paul has already set forth in the previous chapters.
So far he has told us that we are not justified by the law as the Judaizers were teaching by their “distorted gospel.” Even if they were to have a perfect understanding of the law, they would still be incapable of fulfilling all of its demands. But Paul was not focusing upon the differences between the law and the traditions of men. Instead, he was speaking of the idea of law itself. A law is a standard of righteousness, whether established by God or man, which men are responsible to fulfill in order to remain in right standing with the lawgiver.
The Judaizers certainly held to many traditions of the elders established by the temple authorities in Jerusalem. But even if their understanding of the divine law had been perfect, they were all found to be lawbreakers already, so appealing to their obedience to the law could never result in their justification.
As I have already written, the law itself is not the problem. The problem is the Old Covenant, which required men to keep the law in order to be justified. The New Covenant did not put away the law but is the promise of God to write it on our hearts by the power of His Spirit indwelling our flesh. If the law were evil, then God would never write it on our hearts.
The New Covenant functions by faith in Christ. He kept the law perfectly, and by faith we are His body. Thus, God attributes the perfection of Jesus Christ to us on account of the unity of the body.
The Judaizers were still placing their faith in the Mosaic method of salvation—that is, the Old Covenant—instead of looking to Abraham, by whom we receive the example of Faith. The Galatians were caught between Paul's teaching and that of the Judaizers, not knowing which was the Truth.
Paul says in Galatians 3:1-3,
1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the one thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
They all had faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb, wherein they were justified. But did they receive the Holy Spirit through the law—that is, through their ability to keep the law? Was it through the promise to Abraham or through the legal requirement of obedience under Moses?
The Judaizers could point to the fact that Pentecost was a celebration of the giving of the law at Sinai, even as Passover celebrated their departure from Egypt. Yet they missed the fact that this first Pentecost at Mount Sinai failed to impart the Holy Spirit to the people. It failed because it could not come under the Old Covenant.
That first Pentecost was the day that God spoke the Ten Commandments. Under Moses, the people were too fearful to hear, however, and so they sent Moses up the Mount to hear on their behalf. Ex. 20:18-21 tells us,
18 And all the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. 19 Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin. 21 So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God was.
In other words, the people had FEAR, not FAITH. So they did not receive the Spirit at that time under Moses. Under the Old Covenant, the Spirit was sent to “test” them. They failed the test. The purpose of the test was “so that you may not sin.” The Holy Spirit was to write the law in our hearts so that we would not sin; but under the terms of the Old Covenant, the people had to use the external law to restrain sin among a lawless people.
No amount of self-discipline and diligence could keep people from sinning completely. The fear factor under the Old Covenant was insufficient to perfect them. Hence, another way was required. That other way came about in Acts 2 when the Spirit was given under the New Covenant. The Law was to be written on our hearts and the motive was Love, not fear.
The Judaizers claimed that we receive the Spirit by our legal qualifications. They did not understand that Pentecost had been lost under the Old Covenant. Yes, Pentecost was a feast which commemorated the giving of the law, but under the Old Covenant the people were too fearful to receive the promise of the Father.
Yet they advocated the Old Covenant as the foundation of Pentecost. Having begun by faith (Passover), they taught that righteousness was determined by our acts of obedience in accordance with the law, instead of by the act of the Holy Spirit writing the law in our hearts.
This may be seem like a technical point, but the fruit of such thinking had produced the distorted gospel of the Judaizers, who still wanted to find some way to keep the Old Covenant alive. If the true Passover Lamb had indeed destroyed the Old Covenant as a method of justification, then they hoped to find a place for the Old Covenant in the sanctification process of Pentecost.
5 Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
In other words, did the people do righteous acts, which then qualified them to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Or did they receive the Spirit simply by hearing and believing the word that was preached to them?
6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
Here Paul begins to introduce Abraham into the narrative. Abraham, as a prophetic type, lived prior to Moses. Abraham is a type of the New Covenant; Moses is a type of the Old Covenant. The New came before the Old, showing that the New takes precedence over the Old. The Old Covenant was a temporary provision in view of Israel's inability to hear under Moses.
The age from Moses to Christ served two main purposes: (1) it gave them time to mature, because the Law was designed to bring us to Christ, as Paul explains in Galatians 4; (2) it proved that the Old Covenant requirement could only end in failure with the captivities of Israel and Judah.
Abraham is the father of Faith, because his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. In this, he foreshadowed the New Covenant, and all who follow his example of faith are called “sons of Abraham.” This was the common terminology of the day, for it was understood that “sons” were not merely physical sons but also those who followed the example of another.
The Gospel of Faith was “preached” to Abraham, along with a commission. Galatians 3:8 says,
8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations shall be blessed in you.”
In other words, the calling of Abraham was to bless all nations, as stated in Gen. 12:3,
3 And I will bless those who bless you and the one who curses you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
We “bless” Abraham by hearing his gospel and believing as he believed. We “curse” Abraham by refusing to hear his gospel or to believe as he believed. In other words, we are blessed by the New Covenant gospel by which we receive the promise of the Holy Spirit.
This verse has nothing to do with speaking against Judaism. If it did, then Jesus and Paul would both be cursed by God—Jesus for cursing the fig tree of Judah, and Paul for opposing the Judaizers. In fact, to retain the Old Covenant is to incur the curse of God, because in so doing, Judaism refuses to bless Abraham.
Those who teach that the Gentiles are saved by faith, while Jews are saved by the law, never seem to understand that Abraham himself was justified by faith. The fact that Abraham was to be made a great nation [goy] adds some humor to our dispute, because one might argue that Abraham was not one of the “chosen people” who was allowed to be saved by the law. He was one of the ethnos, or goy, justified by faith, along with Paul and everyone else. The first “Jew” was Judah, Abraham’s great-grandson, for the term “Jew” is merely a contraction of the name “Judah.”
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Keep in mind that faith and belief are the same thing in the Greek language. The Greek word for faith had a noun form as well as a verb form. Unfortunately, this made it virtually impossible to translate into English consistently, because English does not use faith as a verb but only as a noun. Hence, we have faith, but we believe God. So the Greek verb must be translated as “believe,” because it makes no sense to faith God.
Paul says that Abraham was called, chosen, and elected to bless all nations with this gospel of faith. He was not called to hoard the idea of faith for himself, but to teach it and to dispense it to all other nations. Abraham was not the only one capable of faith. He was to bless all nations by teaching them to have faith in God as well. Hence, those who respond are “blessed with Abraham” in the same manner that Abraham himself was blessed.
Paul was passionate about overthrowing the Jewish idea that being “chosen” meant that they were a people of privilege. He saw the Abrahamic commission as a mandate to dispense the blessings of faith to all nations. He argued forcefully that all men were justified by faith equally, and that there was just one way to be saved. Though the Old Covenant gave opportunity (if it were possible) to be saved by one's own works, that method was destined to fail from the start because “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23).
So Paul's conclusion was that anyone who exhibited genuine faith in Christ was figuratively a “son of Abraham.” The Scriptures speak of the “children of light” (Luke 16:8), the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17), the “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10), the “children” of wisdom (Luke 7:35). These are all figurative “sons.” Sons are those who follow the example of their “father.”
So also with the children of Abraham, as Paul tells us later in Galatians 3. The point is that no one has to be physically descended from Abraham to be a “son of Abraham.” One must, however, exhibit the faith seen in Abraham to be truly his “son.” It is ironic that this actually disqualified the Jews as far as God was concerned, because in their adherence to the Old Covenant, they were zealously working to achieve justification before God.
In Galatians 3:10-14, Paul makes the contrast between Moses and Abraham insofar as they were types of the Old and New Covenants. In this, he focuses primarily on the terms of these covenants.
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law to perform them."
Paul speaks here of Judaism itself as well as the Judaizers in the Church, all of whom "are of the works of the Law." He means that those who depend upon their works, their performance, are under the curse of the Law. Under the Old Covenant, the people vowed obedience, not only at Mount Sinai when the Law was given (Ex. 19:8), but also 40 years later in Deut. 27:26, the verse that Paul quotes above. Deut. 27:26 reads in full,
26 Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them. And all the people shall say, "Amen."
If we were to write up a list of Israelites who actually performed the requirement of the law, the list would be blank. Not even Moses himself was fully obedient, for he was disqualified from entering the Promised Land.
So the Old Covenant involved the people's vow of obedience, and none of them kept their vow. Their vow was the condition set forth by the Old Covenant by which they would receive the blessing of God, which we know as "justification." Because all of them were disobedient, the law could only curse them (i.e., judge them for sin).
Some have argued that keeping the Law brings the curse of God. But if that were so, then we should all steal from our neighbors in order to obtain the blessing of God. I have been quite astounded that anyone could actually be afraid to do what the Law prescribes, thinking that this would put them under God’s curse. The problem is not our law-keeping, but our law-breaking. The Old Covenant, however, can only save the righteous. It can never justify law-breakers, and that includes all men.
In essence, the legalist under the Old Covenant tries to make God believe in him, whereas Christians living under the New Covenant believe in Jesus Christ.
Paul understood this clearly. He knew that justification could come only by the New Covenant established by Abraham and later ratified by the blood of Jesus. So he says in verse 11,
11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for "The righteous man shall live by faith."
Here Paul quotes Habakkuk 2:4, another of the prophets, showing that life (i.e., immortality) comes through faith, rather than by one's ability to be perfectly obedient to the law. Paul continues in Gal. 3:12,
12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "He who practices them shall live by them."
This is a quote from Lev. 18:5,
5 So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.
The Old Covenant offered Israel an impossible path to immortal life. All a person had to do was to keep the law perfectly! Obviously, the people did not understand the real implications of this, for they continued to have confidence that if they were zealous enough to keep the law, then they would be justified before God.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse [judgments] of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree."
The Law, which was meant for our good (Rom. 7:13), became a curse to us, because it lacked the power to justify sinners. It could only bring down the judgments of the Law upon anyone who was disobedient. But Jesus came to hang on a tree in order to fulfill Deut. 21:23, which pronounces a curse upon those who are hanged on a tree. It was a common form of execution in those days to kill someone and to hang his body on a tree or post (or even on the wall of a town as in 1 Sam. 31:10) as an example to others.
In this way Jesus took the curse of the Law upon Himself, paying its full penalty for the sin of the whole world. . .
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles [nations], so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
There is no "blessing of Moses," but only "the blessing of Abraham." And because Abraham was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, the scope of the blessings that come by faith is universal.
When Paul speaks of righteousness, it is from the Greek word dikaiosune, from dikaios. It means justice, equity, equality, and human rights. In other words, the “righteousness” of dikaiosune has to do with the manner in which we treat others. We are not to do injustice to others, nor are we to treat people with partiality, but to recognize the God-given rights of all men to equal justice.
This is the essence of the Gospel of Abraham bound up in that statement in Gen. 12:3, “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Abraham's FAITH is set forth in the statement in Gen. 15:6, after promising him descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven:
6 Then he believed [had faith in] the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
In other words, Abraham believed that God's promise was true and that it would come to pass. He would be given a multitude of descendants who would be a blessing to all the families of the earth. This is the Gospel preached to Abraham (Gal. 2:8).
Paul takes this to mean that the sons of Abraham are those who actually ARE a blessing to all the families of the earth. Without treating others with impartial justice, one cannot really fulfill the Abrahamic Gospel. Those who are righteous before God are the ones who BELIEVE this promise and who accept this Gospel of justice, equality, and impartiality.
The physical descendants of Abraham were the first to be called to dispense the blessings of God to the rest of the world. They were supposed to learn the laws and ways of God, so that they could rule with impartial justice for all. However, they failed to fulfill their vow of obedience, and for this reason the Mosaic Covenant was broken irreparably and rendered “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13).
The house of Israel was cast off and dispersed among the nations, divorced from God (Jer. 3:8), stripped of her Birthright name, and classed as “not My people” (Hos. 1:9). They became as the other nations. The only way that they could regain an elect position with God was through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ. This requirement is no different from what God requires equally of all nations, for Paul says in Rom. 3:22, “there is no distinction” in this regard.
God is looking for those who actually believe the Gospel of Abraham and who are willing to treat all men equitably by the Law of Impartial Judgment (Ex. 23:1-9; James 2:9). Those who have true faith are those who believe the Gospel of Abraham, and then the righteous, equitable, impartial mind and will of God is imputed to them in the records of the divine court.
The purpose of Israel's election was to grant them the authority to bless all nations by sharing with them the revelation that they had received through the Scriptures. They failed first because they interpreted election to mean privilege and decided to hoard the Abrahamic blessings for themselves as an exclusive right. Second, they failed because they had an unwarranted confidence that their flesh could fulfill their vow of obedience and could fulfill the requirement of the righteous standard of the mind of God.
God knew from the start that the Old Covenant would not work. Yet it was necessary to give the flesh full opportunity to try to succeed on its own, so that it would be fully evident to all that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). God gave men about 1500 years to produce a single man who could fulfill the vow of Exodus 19:8. That was more than enough time to prove the point.
Then Jesus came to do what man could not do. Being born of the Spirit, without human father, He was not tainted by the sin of Adam and was therefore able to do all that the Law required. He treated all men with equity and impartiality, and after His ascension He revealed these principles in greater ways to Philip, Peter, James, Paul, and all the disciples.
Paul vigorously defended these laws against the Judaizers who sought to impose their own traditions of partiality upon non-Jews and to maintain their assumed position of privilege over all others. This was a direct violation of the Abrahamic Covenant, and it proved that they were not really the “sons of Abraham” after all, in spite of their genealogy. They did not believe the Gospel which Abraham believed, but instead they retained faith in Moses and his Covenant of works. They still believed that their flesh could match up to the standard of the Law, if only they were zealous enough and diligent enough to achieve it.
Israel was called to dispense the blessings of God to all nations, so that all might come to understand and experience the righteousness of Christ. The impartiality of God was revealed from the beginning. Though the plan started small with just one man, it was designed to end with the reconciliation of all men. Anyone who believes and accepts the calling of Abraham is a “son of Abraham” in the sense that Paul uses it in Galatians 3:7.