Studies in Galatians
O FOOLISH GALATIANS!
foolish Galatians! (3:1a) It is only because of the extremity of the Galatians
error in their repudiation of the grace of God (cf 2:21), that the apostle is led
to speak thus, explicitly declaring unto the Galatians that in respect of their
repudiation of divine grace they are foolish indeed.
By his explicit
characterization of the Galatians as foolish, Paul was prepared to risk
initial offense for the sake of eventual good; the eventual good that would come whenever
the Lord Himself (cp 5:10a; Rom.14:4c), through these very words of
Pauls, would bring the Galatians to a realization of the truth.
It has been the part
of inspiration as well for Paul to speak thus, in consideration of the needs of every
believer, down the centuries, whom God would enlighten in the truth of the evangel. Often,
that we might truly acquire wisdom, it is needful for us to know not only that of which it
consists, but that of which it does not consist.
It is not that
Pauls appraisal of the Galatians as foolish was inaccurate; nor can we
charge him with having overstated the case. It is only that, for so long as one remains
foolish, he cannot be expected to respond favorably to any true appraisal of his
It is to be
regretted that in everyday speech the word foolish is usually used
connotatively, in a disparaging or demeaning sense. It is often a term of belittlement or
ridicule. Indeed, it is in a consideration of this common usage of foolish,
together with an awareness that we do well not to demean or ridicule others, that we
hesitate to speak at all of others as being foolish.
definition of fool, however, is One who is deficient in judgment,
sense, or understanding; likewise, a foolish thought or deed, is one
Having or resulting from poor judgment; unwise.1 This accords with the Greek term for
foolish, anoêton, the elements of which signify UN-MINDed
(i.e., thoughtless, in the sense of deficiency of proper thought). Any
secondary or tertiary definitions of foolish such as ridiculous or
gullible, not to mention connotations of derision, denigration, or scorn, are
not the essential meaning of either fool or foolish.
It is true that we
do well to minimize both our declarations and thoughts in consideration of such ideas as
those which these lesser definitions of foolish, and especially their
connotations, call to mind. But it is also true that we do well to note, whether in
ourselves or others, that which constitutes deficiency in judgment, sense, or
understanding, especially where the measure of that deficiency is extensive.
All such deficiency
is foolishness; it is a deficiency of wisdom, which is the highest and
best application of knowledge. Since it is impossible to know what is wise apart from a
knowledge as well of that which precludes wisdom, it is vital that we be mindful not only
of that which is wise, but also of that which is foolish. Those who are foolish, are those
who engage in that which is foolish; in that which is marked by deficiency in judgment,
sense, or understanding. To imagine that it is the sine qua non2 of love to avoid appraising others as foolish even
where this is the case, is itself a foolish notion.
It is rather that,
as a rule, it is the sine qua non of prudence not to inform a fool of
his foolishness. This is because, The foolish despise wisdom and discipline
(Prov.1:7); and, because The way of a fool seems upright in his own eyes
(Prov.12:15). Wisdom is too high for the fool (Prov.24:7). Indeed,
Though you bray the fool in a mortar, in the midst of the grist with a pestle, his
folly shall not go away from him (Prov.27:22). Accordingly, then, Let a
bereaved bear encounter a man, but certainly not a stupid [i.e., undiscerning] person in
his folly (Prov.17:12).
JUSTIFIED IN HIS BLOOD
bewitches you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was graphically crucified? (3:1b)
the indefinite pronoun, tis, signifying ANY. When possible,
the Concordant Version seeks to preserve its indefiniteness by rendering it
any, asome, or acertain.
Idiomatically, however, it must often be rendered awho, awhose,
awhich, awhat, awhy,
or with negatives, aone. Pauls point, then, was not to
inquire specifically as to just who it was who had bewitched them; nor does he
seek to elicit just what particular means any such ones had used unto this
end. His point is rathersince it was evident that they had become
bewitchedthat something must have bewitched them. This sense,
stated as a rhetorical question, may be expressed thus: [In light of your profound
withdrawal from the faith,] is there not asomething that bewitches
youbefore whose eyes Jesus Christ was graphically crucified?
is an idiomatic variant of prographõ (BEFORE-WRITE), which
literally means, write before (e.g., Eph.3:3). Paul had written
before the minds eye of every one of the Galatians that Christ had died for
their sakes, and thatin the bloody death of His crucifixionthey were now
justified (cp Rom.5:8,9). It was ever the burden of Pauls ministry to declaim
the word recorded in Romans 8:32, which is: Surely He Who spares not His own
Son, but gives Him up for us all, how shall He not, together with Him, also,
be graciously granting us all?
This is the truth
which Paul vividly outlined and clearly set forth concerning Christ crucified,
graphically presenting it before the eyes of the Galatians. It is not at all that he
denied the horror of the cross or sought to minimize it, but that he did not specifically
rehearse the details of its terror. Much less did he employ any account of our Lords
sufferings merely to evoke the maudlin, thus stirring the emotions while leaving the
intellect quiescent, specifically in the knowledge of the evangel itself.
openly set forth [ASV; graphically, CV] is regarded by some as
proof of the oratorical ability of the apostle. He possessed, so we are told, an eloquence
which had at its disposal the whole armory of rhetoric, and he captured an audience by
drawing vivid, impressively realistic pictures of the scenes attending the betrayal and
death of our Lord.
preachers, nursed in the artificial atmosphere of academic theories, imagine that
eloquence, imagination, descriptive ability, are the most effective weapons of a herald of
the cross, and that, equipped with these, the truth is sure to ride on prosperously from
conquest to conquest.
the idea, they strive to fascinate an audience with animated word pictures of the scenes
enacted in the garden of Gethsemane, the judgment hall of Pilate, and the hill Golgotha.
The audience is spellbound and visibly moved. Moist eyes are in evidence everywhere. A
solemn hush pervades the room.
conclusion of the service commendatory remarks flow in profusion. The sermon is
unanimously pronounced wonderful. The congregation disbands and everybody goes
home. By the time the afternoon repast is over, popular mood turns to a lighter vein. The
effect of the sermon has worn off. Its elegant style and rhetorical flourishes have
volatilized. Many begin to feel that a visit to the movies would fittingly
complement the sermon.
Why has such a
seemingly impressive oration failed to produce a lasting impression? How did it come to
pass that it so readily resolved itself into thin air? Just because the preachers
preoccupation with the circumstantial events of our Lords death prevented his
understanding its deep purpose and vital import. In divorcing the external events of our
Lords passion from the underlying purpose, his preaching became sentimental,
producing emotional ebulliencies, ecstatic raptures, anomalous and spectacular
experiences, outbursts of gush, while the intellect remained inactive and the conscience
disdained the artifices which form the stock in trade of professional evangelists and
preachers (cp 1 Cor.2:1-5; 2 Cor.10:10). He never wasted a second in
reciting the chain of circumstantial events which brought about the death of Gods
Son. He pushed his way above and beyond these. The purpose of God for the universe
converging in the cross of Christ was the one object engaging his mind. The bearing of the
cross on the tremendous questions of law, sin, lifethese were the initial truths
which he strove to impart to his hearersthese were the truths which he set forth
lucidly and convincingly, which he drove home to the mind by the irresistible power of his
logic and burned into the heart by the consuming passion of his love.
were these truths presented by the apostle and so profoundly did they grip the Galatians,
that they yielded an immediate harvest of precious fruit. So firmly were they convinced of
the truth of the evangel that their faith weathered the storm of persecution. They
suffered many things for truths sake. That they should now remove to a
different evangel, and meander in bypaths of legalism, after so splendid a record, was a
strange enigma, a positive marvel, which the apostle could only attribute to
Though in Galatians
3:1, bewitches is a figure of speech, it is quite an apt metaphor. When
believers withdraw from the faith, their situation is not unlike one in which, in certain
religions of the world, a witch casts a spell upon its victim,
thus rendering its captive subject to its own wicked behests and sinister designs.
situation that literally obtains in cases in which even believers themselves begin
to withdraw from the faith, is one in which they now give heed to deceiving spirits
and the teachings of demons, in the hypocrisy of false expressions, their own conscience
having been cauterized (1 Tim.4:1,2).
It is evident that
these deceiving spirits themselves are but Satans own agents. This is because
wherever believers are found antagonizing (INSTEAD-THRU-PLACing)
the words of the apostle Paul, we are to account for this, not by a mere acknowledgement
of the infirmity of the flesh, but by recognizing that, at a deeper level, what has
occurred is that such ones have fallen into the trap of the Adversary, having been
caught alive by him for that ones will (2 Tim.2:25,26).
Paul was mindful
that, in our response to such fearful encounters, we must, first of all, not
be fighting; then, we must rather, be gentle toward all, apt to teach, bearing
with evil, with meekness training those who are antagonizing, seeing whether God
may be giving them repentance to come to a realization of the truth (and [whether] they
will [then] be sobering up out of the trap of the Adversary, [hitherto] having been
caught alive by him for that ones will) (2 Tim.2:24-26).
THE SPIRITS OWN TESTIMONY
only I want to learn from you: Did you get the spirit by works of law or by hearing of
faith? So foolish are you? Undertaking in spirit, are you now being completed in flesh? So
much did you suffer feignedly? Since, surely, it also is feignedly! (3:2-4)
reduces the dispute between himself and the Galatians to a single issue. The strength of
his protest lies in its appeal to the Galatians own experience, which they cannot
well deny. Yet the success of his argument assumes that they are honest enough to
acknowledge the facts, being sensible enough as well to apply them logically.
The Galatians could
not honestly deny that they got the spirit through the glad-tidings of faith, not
through works of law. Accordingly, they got the spirit of sonship, in which they cried,
Abba, Father! the spirit itself testifying together with their spirit that
they were children of God (cp Rom.8:15,16; Gal.4:6).
The sense of the
phrase So foolish are you? literally, is Thus foolish are
you? That is, rhetorically, Paul asks the Galatians, Are you foolish in the
following way? Namely, he asks them, Are you foolish in such a way so as to be
supposing that while, as you yourselves must acknowledge, you have undertaken in spirit,
you must now, nevertheless, go on and become completed in flesh?
Having assured them
that any such notion is a foolish notion, in a similar vein, Paul then continues on,
inquiring, So much did you suffer feignedly? Since, surely, it also is
feignedly! That is, the Galatians were as aware that they had genuinely obtained the
spirit simply by the tidings of faith, as they were likewise aware that their sufferings
for the name of Christ were not a sham but were altogether real. They could not honestly
deny the former fact any more than the latter, though to justify their recent apostasy,
they would be constrained to deny both of these propositions.
Paul has the
Galatians on the horns of a dilemma. Turn which way they will, they simply cannot (1)
remain honest, and (2) continue to acknowledge Pauls authority as an apostle, while
at the same time justifying their own departure from his teaching.
When the truth is
reduced to a single issue expressed in its simplest form, its acceptance is still
dependent upon the integrity and sensibility of those to whom it is presented. Those who
will not face the simplest of facts and respond appropriately thereunto, show that, at
bottom, their difficulty is not so much intellectual but moral; not so much ignorance as
stubbornness. To all that precludes their position, they may indeed interminably continue
to respond by the words, Yes, but. But what they may no longer do for even an
hour, subsequent to such a crisis, is to continue to respond thus out of a clean heart
governed by a sound mind.
SOURCED IN TRUTH AND GRACE
is willing to rest his case on this one item of evidence. Verse two (along with its
repetition and amplification in verses 5 and 6) is the linchpin of the apostles
argument, the Galatians own experience of having received the spirit. He deems it
irrefutable that they got the spirit not ex ergõn nomou (out of acts of
law), but ex akoês pisteõs (out of hearing [i.e., tidings] of belief
By the phrases
by works of law and by the [tidings] of faith, we are not to
understand two alternative methods of common principle, but two proposed sources
of mutually-exclusive, antithetical principle. One is false, the other true, in reference
to being that out of which the spirit is obtained.
Paul does not
present two alternative means by which man, ultimately by his own efforts, secures his
acceptance before God; the one works, the other faith. It is not that one human means of
gaining the divine acceptance is now supplanted by another human means of doing the same
thing. Even if faith is reduced to acquiescence, assent, or even non-resistance, thus
understood, as a human means of gaining Gods acceptance, it retains a meritorious
nature evoking reciprocity, to which Righteousness itself must grant its just due. Such a
schema merely replaces one system of merit with another. It simply substitutes the
mental act of having faith for the bodily one of being circumcised.4
man to rely on his own faith and another to rely on his own works; then the faith of the
one and the works of the other are equally of the same filthy rags.5 This is the
whole point: if we are relying on anything of ourselves, whether our works or
our faith, we have repudiated grace and are fundamentally mistaken in our understanding of
It is not that the
Galatians got the spirit on the basis of a believing act of hearing, even if most
suppose this to be so. Such reasoning is based upon the assumption that since works
of law describes one type of human action, hearing of faith must
describe some alternative type of human action. This interpretation attributes to Paul the
thought: You got the spirit not because you did X but because you did Y.
Such an understanding, however, is impossible, not because it is simplistic and
naïve (though it is certainly both of these), but because it accords with fleshly
glory and human pride, while failing to accord with either monotheism or divine grace.
literally means hearing (e.g., Mark 7:35). Sometimes, however, where it was
noted that it was used metonymically of that which is heard (e.g., Matt.24:6;
Rom.10:17), the Concordant Version renders it tidings, in reference to the
message itself which is associated with the hearing thereof. This
clearly appears to be the sense as well in Galatians 3, verses 2 and 5, in the phrase, ex
akoês pisteõs, which can be better rendered in accord with the context as tidings
of faith, instead of hearing of faith.
This is so, for, in
the nature of the case, the Galatians got the spirit out of the tidings (or
message) of faith, which they subsequently heard and believed. The
glad-tidings of Christ which are of faith (i.e., which pertain or relate to
faith), do so in that they constitute the object of faith; that is, that which is
believed, based upon that which is heard.
As Isaiah is
saying, Lord, who believes our tidings? (Rom.10:16; cit.
Isa.53:1). Even so, to those who do believe, according as it is written, How
beautiful are the feet of those bringing an evangel of good! (Rom.10:15; cit.
Isa.52:7). Consequently, faith is out of tidings, yet the tidings
through a declaration of Christ (Rom.10:17).
It was not, however,
by, in a transactional sense, the Galatians acceptance of tidings
of faith, that they qualified for, or met the requirements of,
getting the spirit. By their acceptance of the evangel, the Galatians gained a beginning
in the knowledge of God, according as it is in Christ Jesus. They did not thereby gain a
right to any endowment of the spirit of God.
Instead of gaining a
right to spiritual blessing by an acceptance of spiritual truth, it is rather that out
of the power inherent in the message of the glad-tidings of Christ (the tidings
of faith), Gods chosen ones graciously obtain the spirit and
believe. This occurs in the day when it delights God to unveil His Son in them, according
to the pattern which Christ Himself established in the salvation of Saul of Tarsus, who is
also Paul, the apostle of the nations (cp Gal.1:15,16; 1 Tim.1:12-16;
He, then, Who is
supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among youdid you get the
spirit by works of law or by the hearing of faith . . . ? (3:5)
He, then, Who is supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among
you Paul does not complete his thought. Yet he then goes on to repeat the
preceding question once again: Did you get the spirit by works of law or by the
hearing of faith . . . ? Since the only true answer to this question is that they
got the spirit by the hearing (i.e., tidings) of faith, Paul then rejoins, He, then,
Who is supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among you
It is as if Paul
wishes for the Galatians themselves to be honest enough and perceptive enough to gladly
supply the self-evident omission, which is, . . . will be completing what He has
undertaken. Thus the full sense becomes: He, then, Who is supplying you with
the spirit, and operating works of power among you, [will be completing what He has
undertaken] (cp Phil.1:6).
. . . according
as Abraham believes God, and it is reckoned to him for righteousness? Know, consequently,
that those of faith, these are sons of Abraham. Now the scripture, perceiving before that
God is justifying the nations by faith, brings before an evangel to Abraham, that In you
shall all the nations be blessed. So that those of faith are being blessed together with
believing Abraham. (3:6-9)
There is a
foundational agreement in kind between Abrahams calling and faith and our own
calling and faith. Similarly, since the most just thing that any man can do is to believe
Gods own word, when we ourselves also, even as Abraham, believe the word of His
promise, our so doing is reckoned to us for [i.e., into]
righteousness (Rom.4:22-24). God appraises our believing as being among (and so,
thus He accounts it into) that class of deeds which He deems righteous. Even
though faith extends no rights to its possessors, and is itself a gracious
gift, it is nonetheless considered righteous by God Himself, besides being full of
practical value for ourselves.
We are to know,
consequently, that those of faith, these are sons of
Abraham (3:7). Faith does not make Gods promise true; instead, it finds it
true. Faiths acceptance of the divine promise does not entitle its bearer to the
promises blessing; rather, it convicts its possessor of the truth of
the promises blessing. Faith has no value whatsoever as legal tender. It
simply acknowledges that which was already true prior to and wholly apart from its
subsequent acceptance thereof. It is not that we will obtain the blessing, if
we will believe it true. It is instead, that we will be blessed; and,
we believe that this is true.
Since the scripture,
perceiving before that God is justifying the nations by faith, it therefore,
prototypically, brings before an evangel to Abraham, declaring that, In
you shall all the nations be blessed. So that, those of faith
are being blessed together with believing Abraham.
blessed together with Abraham is on the common ground of faith,
according to grace (Rom.4:16). It is not that our blessing together
with him affords us the identical future allotment which God has appointed for Abraham.
Similarly, while God will grant us eonian life even if we should be persisting in
sin (cf Rom.5:20-6:1), no such principle obtained in the case of Abraham,
concerning whom law-obedience still retained a vital place unto the realization of the
blessing (cf Gen.26:5), its certainty in grace notwithstanding. This is so, even
though Abrahams blessing also, even as our own, ultimately depended upon God alone.
commonality of grace through faith obtains between ourselves and Abraham. Hence, in
respect thereof, we indeed become sons of Abraham. May we have
confidence in the Lord, that one day not only the Galatians but every believer
from every era will be made to stand in faith, full of wisdom, according to truth.
1. AMERICAN HERITAGE
DICTIONARY, second college edition, p.274 (Boston: Houghton
2. i.e., indispensable condition or element; Latin: without
3. Vladimir Gelesnoff, PAULS EPISTLE TO THE GALATIANS, pp.62,63.
4. G.M. Taylor, cit. in THE FAITH
OF JESUS CHRIST, by Richard B. Hays,
p.140 (Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1983); cit. The Function of Pistis
Christou [Faith of Christ] in Galatians, JBL 85 (1966) p.75.
5. William Law, op. cit., p.139; cit. A.G. Hebert, Faithfulness
and Faith, Theology 58 (1955) p.379.
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