Studies in Galatians
INITIALLY, the Galatian believers obtained the spirit out of tidings of faith, the glad-tidings of faith, which they subsequently heard and believed (Gal.3:2). This is because out of the power inherent in the evangel of Christ (cf Rom.1:16), God’s chosen ones graciously obtain the spirit and believe. This is what truly occurs, and, why it truly occurs, wherever one truly enters into faith. Those who believed, were, “whoever were set for life eonian” (cf Acts 13:48), the grace of our Lord overwhelming their unbelief “with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim.1:14).
Since the Galatians had “undertaken” (Gal. 3:3) in spirit, it would be “foolish” to suppose that God would now reverse Himself, somehow expecting them to become completed in flesh. It is on this basis that Paul shows that it is correct to conclude: “He, then, who is supplying you with the spirit, and operating works of power among you [will be completing what He has undertaken].” That is, Paul assures, since you “undertook” in spirit, and even now God is continuing to supply you with the spirit and operate works of power among you, “He, then . . . [will also be completing what He has undertaken]” (cf Gal.3:2,3,5).
It is important for us today to believe and recognize that God is continuing to supply us with the spirit, even as to operate works of power among us. It is to be regretted that to the popular mind the thought of “spiritual works of power” evokes images of the sensationalistic, the pseudo-miraculous, and the superstitious. While we have no need of these and do well to eschew all such spurious activities, still, we remain in vital need of God’s genuine provision of spirit, even as of His faithful works of power within us.
It is with the eyes of faith that we perceive that when we continue in faithfulness, or in cases where we have faltered or failed and yet subsequently recover, that these experiences, ones both of sustenance and deliverance, reflect God’s spiritual provision unto us even as His powerful operations, both in us, individually, and among us, collectively. Were it not so, I could not possibly compose this present writing; nor could you, the reader, find spiritual benefit in it. So it is, concerning all our activities of faith: they are the fruit of whatever measure of spirit God has been pleased to grant us, according to His present spiritual operations in power.
For whoever are of works of law are under a curse, for it is written that, Accursed is everyone who is not remaining in all things written in the scroll of the law to do them. (3:10)
“How striking the contrast! As many as are of faith [v.9] are blessed. Accursed is everyone who does not remain in all which has been written in the scroll of the law to do it. Who would be so perverse as to choose law? Yet the heresy of Galatianism is far more prevalent today than ever. Life under law [with blessing on the basis of law-obedience] can only come to one who keeps every precept perfectly at all times, yet is forfeited at the slightest infringement. Life through faith does not depend on conduct but on the One in Whom the faith is placed.”
There are only two conceivable sources of blessing: (1) divine grace; and (2) human works of law. Only one of these, however, divine grace, is a viable source of blessing. The other, works of law, since it is infirm through the flesh (Rom.8:3), has been rendered ineffectual. That being so, whoever are “out of” works of law are under a curse. This is because, “Accursed is everyone who is not remaining in all things written in the scroll of the law to do them” (3:10; cit. Deut.27:26; cp 28:15).
The fact that under the law some were less sinful than others is not the point. What is important to see is that no one in Israel ever deserved blessing, but only cursing, and that in the fullest possible degree. Such is the righteous standard of the law. On the one hand, it was so unspeakably severe as to demand perfection from any who, by their own obedience, would obtain a single blessing or escape a single curse. Yet on the other hand, it was this very stringency of the law that ensured that all under its jurisdiction would be equally dependent upon God and His grace, if they would enjoy any blessing at all.
It is simply delusion to imagine that some under law were somehow more deserving of blessing than others, according to their works. Since all were sinners, none were deserving of any blessing whatsoever, according to the law’s own righteous standard. Instead, all were wholly dependent upon divine grace–and grace alone–for any blessing received, however small or great.
It is true that on a basis of strict justice, the least infraction of the law would call forth all its curses. God was often merciful, however, and did not impose the law’s full penalty, even though it had been repeatedly violated. This is because God is merciful; and, because He has the prerogative to be merciful “to whom He will” (Rom.9:18). For to Moses He is saying, “I shall be merciful to whomever I may be merciful, and I shall be pitying whomever I may be pitying” (Rom.9:15; cit. Ex.33:19). These words, as such, are Paul’s inspired interpretation of the actual divine declaration recorded in Exodus 33:19, which is, “I will be gracious to whom I am being gracious and will have compassion for whom I am having compassion.” Thus we learn that mercy is a matter of grace, even as that pity is the fruit of compassion.
It is vital to recognize that, under law, those who were characteristically faithful in their practice of law-obedience, thus were faithful, “according to the choice of grace” (Rom.11:5; cp Isa.26:12). Hence the blessing of such ones–since they too were sinners–was not “out of” law-obedience, but was instead in grace (Rom.11:6).
The Galatians, however, having repudiated grace (1:6; 2:21), were simply seeking blessing “out of” law-obedience itself. They did not realize that blessing is never granted from such a source, even under law. How foolish they were, then, ones to whom the law had not even been given, who were not obliged to keep it, nonetheless to attempt to put themselves under it, even as to anticipate blessing on the presumed basis of their own ability to keep it!
Such is ever the confidence of fleshly man; he fails to realize that whatever is worthy in his walk is due to the grace of God alone, and that any further obedience rendered by him will itself likewise be dependent upon further grace, apart from which he will surely fail (cp Rom.9:29; cit. Isa.1:9). He reasons not, correctly, that since grace has granted him what virtue he has, he will likewise be dependent on grace alone for any increase in virtue, but instead, incorrectly, that since he ultimately has himself alone to thank for what virtue he has, he will likewise ultimately have himself alone to thank for any progress in virtue he may make. If there is a law that is to be kept, for obedience to which one may expect an increase in personal welfare, the fleshly man deems himself a worthy candidate to fulfill it. Such ones having confidence in themselves that they are just (cf Luke 18:9), therefore proudly declaim, “All that Yahweh speaks we shall do” (Ex.19:8a).
Now that in law no one is being justified with God is evident, for the just one by faith shall be living. Now the law is not of faith, but who does them “shall be living in them.” (3:11,12)
It is not the province of law to justify, but to condemn. Effectually, the law merely says, “He who heeds my precepts shall find life in so doing”; which life no one ever finds since no one ever heeds its precepts (cf Lev.18:5; cp Luke 10:28). Like evil, law, too, is transitory. It lasts only until God’s purpose through its agency has been realized. Those who are “just” (as spoken of in Habakkuk 2:4), owe their righteousness not to law, much less to themselves, but to grace. Life comes to them not out of their imperfect (and so disqualified) law-obedience, but out of faith, that it may accord with grace.
Christ reclaims us from the curse of the law, becoming a curse for our sakes, for it is written, Accursed is everyone hanging on a pole, that the blessing of Abraham may be coming to the nations in Christ Jesus, that we may be obtaining the promise of the spirit through faith. (3:13,14)
The pronoun “us,” here, refers to Paul and his Jewish brethren on whom the law weighed so heavily. Christ reclaimed them from the law’s grip. Thus, through His death on the cross (His “hanging on a pole”; cf Deut.21:23), Christ cleared “those whoever, in fear of death, were through their entire life liable to slavery” (Heb.2:15), the slavery of the law.
The purpose of His death on the cross, further, was, “that the blessing of Abraham may be coming to the nations in Christ Jesus, that we may be obtaining the promise of the spirit through faith” (3:14).
“The sacrifice of Christ made provision for all classes and all contingencies. For those under law, He bore its curse, so that they may receive the blessing of Abraham. And He bore the sins of those not under law as well, so that they, too, may obtain the righteousness of Abraham. So both, through faith, receive the spirit, by which they may exceed the righteous demands of the law.”
Since God has graciously granted the allotment to Abraham through the promise–and therefore, accordingly, through promise, has allotted the blessing of justification to us, out of Jesus Christ’s faith (cp Gal. 2:16)–the burning question is: “What, then, is the law?” (Gal.3:19). In preparation for answering this very question, Paul first points out the following:
Brethren (I am saying this as a man), a human covenant likewise having been ratified, no one is repudiating or modifying it. Now to Abraham the promises were declared, and to his Seed. He is not saying “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of One: And to “your Seed,” which is Christ.
4 Now this am I saying: a covenant, having been ratified before by God, the law, having come four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not invalidate, so as to nullify the promise. For if the enjoyment of the allotment is of law, it is no longer of promise. Yet God has graciously granted it to Abraham through the promise. (3:15-18)
What, then, is the law? (3:19a)
Here is the answer:
On behalf of transgressions was it added . . . . (3:19b)
“Law changes sin from a mere mistake to the overstepping of a divine command. It enhances the sinfulness of sin. Transgression is sin against a known law, entailing not only the usual penalties, but the added displeasure of God against one who defies His precepts . . . . The promises Abraham received [which, incidentally, subsequently, came to be] in connection with the law, were unconditional; [ultimately speaking,] dependent only on God’s faithfulness. They were given without any reference to the law and [thus] do not depend on any legal observance for fulfillment.”
Charin (“on behalf,” CV) is the accusative form of “grace,” and is used as a preposition with the genitive case (“of transgressions”).
The Authorized Version, at least as interpreted by some, is very misleading here in its rendering “because of transgressions.” The words “because of” have led some to imagine that transgression obtained prior to Moses; and that the reference here is merely to ceremonial laws which were temporarily added by Moses to an already extant timeless moral code (namely, to a code which, under Moses, was merely formalized as the “Ten Commandments”). All of this is perfectly false (as well as artful and unreasonable), yet it is instructive to note the lengths to which some will go in order to impose the law upon believers today.
The idea of the Greek word, charin, is that of an act done with the objective of somehow bringing favor (i.e., some type of benefit or advantage) to the object in view (cp Titus 1:5,11). This is just what the entrance of the law afforded to transgression. Hence the law was given on behalf of the resultant transgressions which came into being through the law. Where no law is, neither is there transgression (Rom.4:15); yet the bestowal of law gives rise to its violation, which is transgression. Transgression owes its very existence to law, and cannot exist apart from it. Thus, on behalf of transgressions, “law came in by the way, that the offense should be increasing” (Rom.5:20).
THE ESSENCE OF THE EVANGEL
. . . until the Seed should come to Whom He has promised, being prescribed through messengers in the hand of a mediator. Now there is no Mediator of one. Yet God is One. Is the law, then, against the promises of God? May it not be coming to that! For if a law were given that is able to vivify, really, righteousness were out of law. But the scripture locks up all together under sin, that the promise out of Jesus Christ’s faith may be given to those who are believing. (3:19c-22)
The law, on behalf of transgressions, however, was added “until the Seed should come . . .” (Gal.3:19c). This fact is of special relevance to our understanding of the evangel, since we are apt to fear that our sins may bar us from its benefits.
In speaking of himself and of his fellow Israelites who had now obtained the evangel which he proclaimed (cp Gal.2:15), Paul declares:
Now before the coming of faith, we were garrisoned under law, being locked up together for the faith about to be revealed. So that the law has become our escort to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. Now, at the coming of faith, we are no longer under an escort, for you are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For whoever are baptized into Christ, put on Christ, in Whom there is no Jew nor yet Greek, there is no slave nor yet free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus. Now if you are Christ’s, consequently you are of Abraham’s seed, enjoyers of the allotment according to the promise. (3:23-29)
As is true of all scripture, to avoid misinterpretation, this passage must be kept within its context and understood accordingly. The context is that of the epistle to the Galatians which is a defense of the exclusively Pauline teaching of justification by faith (the faith of Christ). Specifically, the context is that of the evangel of the Uncircumcision (Gal. 2:7)–the evangel which Paul was heralding among the nations (Gal. 2:2).
This evangel is “in accord with the faith of God’s chosen, and a realization of the truth which accords with devoutness, in expectation of life eonian, which God, Who does not lie, promises before times eonian, yet manifests His word in its own eras by heralding, with which [Paul] was entrusted, according to the injunction of God, our Saviour” (Titus 1:1-3).
These glorious declarations, however, are not revelations of the evangel of the Circumcision, but that of the Uncircumcision (Gal.2:7). Indeed, in a number of vital particulars, they are contrary to the Circumcision evangel. The evangel of the Circumcision consists only of pardon (which may be withdrawn); it knows nothing of justification. Under the evangel of the Circumcision, works of righteousness, according to Moses, are essential to life (i.e., to “remaining for the eon”; 1 John 2:17; cp Matt.7:21,23).
Yet under Paul’s evangel, the evangel which, broadly speaking, is the evangel of the Uncircumcision, not only are we justified apart from law, but, “where sin increases, graces superexceeds” (Rom.5:20); where there is persistence in sin, grace increases accordingly (Rom.6:1), for life eonian (Rom.5:21). This is not true under the evangel of the Circumcision.
NO LONGER UNDER AN ESCORT
Therefore, as it stands in relation to the Pauline evangel, the law is nothing more than a former escort.
6 It is but an erstwhile servant; a pedagogue-slave which, while useful in its day in its ministrations on behalf of children, is now rendered wholly redundant, since the children have attained their majority.
Thus, on behalf of transgressions, the law was added (yet incidentally so, with respect to the original promises made to Abraham) until the Seed should come. Insofar as Paul and those of his fellow Israelites to whom this evangel had been granted are concerned, the law had become their escort to Christ. Now at the coming of the faith (through the advent of Christ; cp 2 Tim.1:10), such ones (“we”; Gal.3:25) are no longer under an escort. Thus, whoever–among those who are in view in this context; namely, among those who are blessed according to Paul’s evangel–are baptized into Christ put on Christ, in Whom–with respect to Paul’s evangel and insofar as it is concerned–there is no Jew nor yet Greek, nor any other distinction, for all, thus blessed, are one in Christ Jesus (Gal.3:27,28).
Thus, in a figure, we become “of Abraham’s seed”; that is, literally, we become enjoyers of an allotment according to promise (Gal.3:29). (It is not “the” allotment, or “the” promise; the definite article does not appear in the Greek.)
In service, or in the Lord, the slave was still a slave, the sexes were still recognized; but–under Paul’s evangel–in Christ, in Whom we are complete (Col.2:10), all physical distinctions vanish. By faith, all who are called according to the Pauline evangel (cp Gal. 1:6-9) enter into the same high place of privilege, and are blessed with the common promise and righteousness of which this evangel consists. Thus, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, since all of the evangel’s blessings are graciously granted to us, through promise, in Him.
1. A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.282.
2. These considerations alone show that the popular teaching of free will is but human delusion and vanity.
3. A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.282.
4. Christ, our only Saviour, is represented by the singular “seed” of Abraham. That is, even as Abraham’s offspring alone may possess their promised blessings, thus also our blessings in Christ depend solely upon His finished work (cf Unsearchable Riches, vol.81, pp.46-48).
5. A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.282.
6. adapted from A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY p.282. It should be noted that in declining to subject ourselves to the particulars of the Mosaic instruction, it is not that we have been given over to lawlessness. The entreaties of Paul for service in the evangel, inculcate a far more august (and encompassing) “morality” than that of the demands of Sinai.
7. Adapted from A. E. Knoch, THE CONCORDANT COMMENTARY, p.282.
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