Galatians 3

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Verse 1: You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was (NIV)

  • Paul seems genuinely confused and upset here. His caring for the Galatians really shines through as instead of a perfectly formed argument he just bursts out in frustration for the next several verses.
  • Paul rarely uses direct forms of address in his letter, but here he uses the vocative (direct address) to talk right at the Galatians. He also adds another word at the beginning to emphasize his concern and indignation (George 205).
  • Paul is being rather harsh with the Galatians here, but he is not critiquing their intelligence. Instead, this is about their spiritual discernment (George 206).
  • When dealing with the Galatians' change from the gospel (bewitched), Paul doesn't usually use imperfect or perfect tenses (tenses that imply continuation or regular actions).
    • Paul instead uses aorist (an undefined action that just happened sometime).
    • He doesn't want people to think that this has to continue, but that it just happened and is done, let's get on with life and back to Christ.
  • The word translated as ”bewitched” means to slander someone, to envy them, hold a grudge, but also means "witchcraft" (Liddell 148).
  • What is translated here as “clearly portrayed” is more literally “write before” and in this instance means to put something up publicly, to proclaim something (Arndt 704). The idea is of posting something in the public square or similar proclamation.


Verse 2: I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? (NIV)

  • ”This alone” is placed at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis (Matera 112).
  • Paul literally believes that this is the only question he needs to ask, if they admit to this the debate it over, even though he continues it for some time.
  • ”Receive” is to get something as a gift and is not from any effort on the receivers part (George 211).
  • Paul is not questioning the fullness with which the Galatians had received the Spirit.
    • He acknowledges that they are fully Christians, that is the foundation of his argument here.
    • The question is what brought the Spirit, because whatever did is what you should continue with.
  • ”Hearing of faith” is a difficult phrase. It is two genitives, with no verb, It could mean "hearing through faith" or "hearing about faith" or "having faith in what you heard". It's all in how you interpret these two genitives. Any of these options fits the Greek.


Verse 3: Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? (NIV)

  • οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε means "thus you are stupid" and indicates that what is following is why he called them foolish in the first place, if they haven't figured it out already.
  • ”Human effort” is more literally “flesh” and is in direct contrast with the spirit. Begin/Spirit is in contrast with complete/flesh. It's a change of direction.
  • Paul is arguing that they can't begin their new life through the spirit and continue that with anything else.
  • This contrast between Spirit and Flesh is probably also a veiled slam on circumcision as that is one of the main issues at stake here. “You started by changing your spirit and now you have finished this change by hacking up your flesh?”


Verse 4: Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? (NIV)

  • ”Suffer” can also mean “experience” and opinions are divided as to which is meant here.
  • If this is about experiencing so much, then it refers to what they have experienced in the Spirit (Matera 113) that should be in their minds and keeping them strong.
  • If it does refer to “suffer, then there is a double meaning here with “suffered in vain”.
    • It can relate to the honest and legitimate suffering that they have already suffered for their faith.
    • Paul is probably implying that a motive of these false teachers was to avoid persecution and insults by hiding among the Jews, and thereby abandoning Christ (George 213).
  • It can also be a reference to the physical act of circumcision, and the pain that comes with being circumcised as an adult being useless. The story of Genesis 34:25 comes to mind.


Verse 5: Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (NIV)

  • This "giving the spirit" doesn't have to be over. There is no indication that it isn't a continual inflowing from God, as the working of miracles appear to be a continual thing as well.
  • The word used for "give" the spirit, isn't about giving once. It means to supply in addition to what we have (Liddell 307).
  • God is not directly mentioned in this verse, a very Jewish thing to do. They avoided mentioning the word "God" or his name where possible.
  • Instead of “because” the Greek has “from/out”. These deeds God does, come from/out of the faithful hearing. They spring from believing, not disconnected in any way.


Verse 6: Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (NIV)

  • This isn't a true question, but to bring out the meaning that Paul was intending it is often simplest to use a question format as many translations have it. In any case it is a rhetorical question, not an actual one. A way of triggering thought in a specific direction instead of asking something.
  • There is a question about why Paul is using Abraham as his example.
    • Partly it could be to overrule the law of Moses with the older covenant of faith Abraham had.
    • It could also be to try and reclaim Abraham as a model of faith instead of actions like people often thought in that day (George 216).
    • Abraham also was the founder of circumcision in Judaism and so if Paul could prove that his circumcision was a mark of his faith and not an important sign in itself, he could undermine his opponents position.
  • This passage is nearly an identical quote from Genesis 15:6. All that has changed is reordering "Abraham" and "had faith" to fit the context of this passage. Other than that it is identical in every respect.
  • ”Credited" is literally "accounted" as in adding up sums. The picture of this quote is one where there is almost a ledger of what we do and believing in God went into the righteousness category.
  • This verse is setting up the next verse. If they know this, which is from the Bible, and from the founder of circumcision, then they should know what is in the next verse, it just follows is what Paul is saying.


Verse 7: Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. (NIV)

  • These people are considering circumcision, because they are adopted children of Abraham and feel they should be circumcised like Abraham.
    • Paul just quoted a verse from the Bible that they should know.
    • This verse is suggesting that what follows from his quotation is that their adoption is not through circumcision, but by faith.
  • Paul is undermining the need to follow the law and circumcision because adoption into the family is not an adoption by blood but by faith, and so does not require anything in the body but in their lives.
  • ”The ones from faith" is the literal translation of the Greek rendered here as “those who believe”.
    • There seems to be a birth metaphor at work here, those who are “from” faith, or “come out of” faith.
    • So the people whose faith has let them be born anew are children of Abraham, or those whose faith has brought them to life.


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