During the time that Paul lived, he was often shocked by the rate at which people would forget and forego the doctrines that they had been taught. For instance, he could not understand how the believers at Galatia would want to hear a gospel that required more from them than it was supposed to. He had been in the ministry and had experienced a lot since his transformation. He also noted that the believers held that the Law of Moses had to be observed. This is one of the things that apparently shocked him. He then wrote a letter to the believers, commanding them to drop such doctrines. As such, Chapter 3 is ideally a reinstatement that the death of Christ released believers from such obsolete rules as the Galatians were practicing.
The law vs. the Spirit
In the first five verses of the chapter, Paul reminds the Galatians that they should acknowledge that they receive the Spirit through faith and not by the law. He is surprised by their doctrines and beliefs (Matera 114). He actually considers them either bewitched or too blind to exercise their faith. He says; “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified”. v1.
In this case, it is evident that Paul wants us to understand the gospel. It is also clears from this verse that understanding the fact that Jesus Christ was crucified for our sake forms the foundation for our faith. In most of his sermons, Paul would repeatedly remind the believers that Jesus died on the cross and would further explain the purpose of such a form of death. Jesus’ death was meant to save us (Matera 114). As such, we do not get salvation from what we do, but from him. The crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus change everything.
Paul also poses a few more questions to the believers to know whether or not they understand the importance of the death of Jesus (Matera 114). “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?” v2. The response to this question is definitely that their acceptance of what they had heard made them receive the Spirit by faith.
Paul was also concerned that the Galatian believers seemed blind to the potential outcomes of how they experienced the Spirit. Receiving the Spirit came with the promise of eternal life and so Paul could not understand why the believers were following a gospel that demanded more requirements from them yet they already had the promise (Witherup 310). In v3, Paul says; Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? According to him, it was senseless to observe the law and its requirements such as the circumcision of the flesh (Witherup 310). This shows that there were false teachers among the believers who would emphasize on observation of the Law of Moses. Paul considers such laws ridiculous.
It is also evident that most of the Galatians had been persecuted on account of this faith. In v4, Paul asks; have you suffered so much for nothing–if it really was for nothing? In v5, he asks; does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? (Witherup 310) The Galatians had witnessed God’s manifestations such as miracles, which had all been through faith and not the Law. It also beats logic that despite achieving a lot without the law, they all over a sudden considered it important to observe the law.
What Scriptures say
In their defence, his opponents claimed that one could only be counted as righteous if they observed the law, such as in Deuteronomy 6:25. They also argued that they practiced circumcision as it was observed during the time of Abraham (Hamilton Jr 471). Torah supports their claims and concedes that salvation by faith is supported by the Torah. This is evident in v6 as he says; Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. It was his faith that made him righteous, and the law is not mentioned. Although Paul supports the idea that the believers should be part of Abraham’s family, he points out that the law is not included in this deal. In v7; Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham (Hamilton Jr 471). In this case, it is notable that it was only through faith that people established a relationship with God. Abraham’s acceptance was a result of his faith, not actions (obedience). As such, God accepts anyone as long as they believe.
In v8, Paul reminds all believers that even the non-Jews can establish a similar relationship with God (Hamilton Jr 471). He alerts the people that; The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you. This is quoted from Genesis 12:3.
According to the Torah, the non-Jews will receive their blessing through Abraham, a further illustration of faith (Hamilton Jr 471). Even those who are uncircumcised receive the blessing; so those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. This shows that we receive God’s blessing through faith.
The Law is cursed
Faith forms the basis for one to be righteous. Consequently, Paul does not consider the law as the part of the requirements. He considers the law a source of penalties rather than blessings. In v10, he quotes Deuteronomy 27:26 and reminds the believers that, “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” This implies that God’s favor cannot be earned through the Law (Garroway 221). Actually, it results in penalties because people rarely meet its demands. Those who operate under the law as their standard risk facing a curse. This is because the law points out where people erred, but it does not make any one righteous because it was not developed for that purpose. As such, imagining that we should observe the Torah is implying that we want to live under the Law and consequently its condemnation.
In v11, Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 as he seeks to draw the conclusion of the matter; clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith. In v12, he quotes Leviticus 18:5, as he says; the law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them (Garroway 221). This makes his two approaches somewhat contradictory. However, he explains it is because there is no one who follows the law perfectly as it should be followed. He also shows that the righteous live by faith while the Law emphasizes on performance. It focuses on human external behavior and efforts, but salvation is received through faith and it is due to grace.
We also learn that God’s favor cannot be earned through law-keeping. Following the law can lead one into a curse when they fall short of its requirements (Stott 1120). However, amidst such a curse, God has bailed us out through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It enables one to navigate through this dilemma. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 21:23 in v13; Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.
We should always remember that Christ’s assumption of human nature made him our representative. He suffered the penalty associated with the law, on behalf of all of us. He also suffered its curse; death (Stott 1120). His letting the law do such to him was for the sake of all believers. We are redeemed because Jesus suffered on our behalf, otherwise we would have to suffer for our sins and failures. As such, the law cannot make any claim on us.
In this chapter, Paul uses various verses to explain to the believers that as Christians, we are not in any way under the Law and its authority (Stott 1120). We have no obligation to obey it. This is because it is ineffective, brings curses instead of blessings, and Jesus paid for it all on our behalf.
Paul mainly makes inference to Jesus’ crucifixion to support his stand on the law and faith (Stott 1120). In v14, he argues that ‘He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.’ The blessing is received through faith and not by the law. Human was removed from the domain of the Law by Jesus Christ so as to enable the Gentiles to receive salvation through Christ. It is by faith that we receive the Spirit, the promise of eternal life.
The Temporal Nature of the Law
Paul uses a more practical approach to his explanation in v15; Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.’ This is to imply that the human covenant cannot be changed by either of the parties (Bachmann 114). Paul draws such a human covenant to the covenant that was sealed between God and Abraham, with one of its terms being that Abraham would be counted righteous on account of his faith. In v16, Paul quotes from the book of Genesis 12:7; he promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
In this case, Paul is fully aware of the fact that ‘offspring’ is used in reference to many people but in this case, he explains that the singular is used because it is used in reference to Christ. The scripture is perfectly fulfilled through one Offspring; Jesus Christ. It was also through Christ that the Gentiles later became descendants of Abraham.
Verse 17 is a comparison between the human covenant and that between God and Abraham. He says; ‘what I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise’ (Bachmann 114). The law that Paul is referring to is the Law of Moses which was given 430 years after the death of Abraham.
It would be a violation to his word if God gives a promise without conditions and then later adds conditions that must be met for the promise to be fulfilled (Bachmann 114). His promise, however, is similar to that of man; it cannot be reviewed once it has already being established between the involved parties. Similarly, the requirements in the Law of Moses cannot nullify the promise that believers receive on salvation. Even through the law was established through Moses, it remains a fact that God accepts His people as righteous through their faith and not efforts.
In v18, Paul gives various reasons that account for this fact; ‘for if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.’ This shows the contradiction between law and grace (Eastman 634). Salvation is acquired either through faith and gift, or through laws and works. In his letter, Paul does not mix or combine the two. He says that it is impossible to combine them. The promise given to Abraham was a gif, implying that it is not through the law.
Importance of the Law
There are three crucial issues that Paul points out. The first is that we are justified by faith. The second is that the law cannot make us righteous. The third point is that the law contradicts God’s promise.
Consequently, one wonders the aim of the law. Paul gives response to this in v19; ‘what, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come (Eastman 634). The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.’ He also notes that the law was effective and followed until Jesus Christ came.
One of the flaws of the law is that it showed that the believers would continue living in sin even despite being issued with the written law. It also showed that human beings cannot attain righteousness through their own efforts, and thus they can only get it if it is given to them as a gift. In this way, it accomplished its purpose and then became obsolete.
In vv19-20, Paul claims that the angels put the law in place, by an intermediary; ‘A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one’. According to the Jewish beliefs, the law was given to them by the angels through an intermediary, who was Moses (Eastman 634). However, Paul gives an obscure point on ‘one’. This implies that it can be interpreted in three different ways. First, ‘intermediary’ suggests two parties; God and the Israelites. Second, an intermediary is a representative of a group; the Israelites. Finally, an intermediary suggests that there are indirect dealings. Ideally, this verse has no significance to Paul’s message and it sounds contrary to his logic.
In v21, Paul poses the question; ‘Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law’. This implies that had it been possible to give life through the Law, then God would definitely have used it. However, its purpose was to act as a means of salvation.
The law also states that there need for a Savior for humanity. In v22, Paul records; ‘But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe’ (Bosman 460). This shows that the law results in penalties instead of giving life. The bottom line is that we are all sinners and definitely fail to meet the requirements of the law. As such, the promise of salvation can only be achieved through God’s grace since our actions are not enough to warrant us it. God gives the solution. Those who believe and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ is given salvation through grace.
In v23, Paul gives a summary of the issue. He claims that ‘Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed’. This shows that the Jews were imprisoned by the Law before they learnt the importance of faith (Bosman 460). The law had put them under its custody before faith came. The law had various requirements, and anyone who failed to meet any of them would face the curse of the law; it had no way of bailing out people in the event that they backslid or failed to meet all the requirements. This was before Jesus came.
In v24, Paul notes that ‘So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith’. The authority of the Law was operational between the time it was given to Moses and the time Christ came (Bosman 460). It led to the revelation of the sinful nature of human beings, and that their efforts were not enough to save them. It justified the fact that salvation can only be achieved through faith and not through the law.
Having fulfilled the purpose for which it was given, the Law can now be justly declared obsolete. This is evident in v25 when Paul argues that ‘Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law’. Before Christ, the law had power and people were subjected to it. It also helped in revealing the character of humans as prisoners of sin, transgressors, as well as individuals without the capacity to earn righteousness through their efforts. However, Christ has duly redeemed us from the subjection to the authority of the law; we are beyond its condemnation.
However, we cannot dismiss the Law of Moses as if it does not have any role to play in our salvation. It does not make us righteous or right with God. It does not help us to enter His kingdom. It only justifies the fact that our relationship with God is based on faith.
Paul concluded this chapter by pointing out to the fact that all people are treated equally as regards the salvation by grace that is received through faith. This is evident in v26 where he states that; ‘You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus’. It is through believing the gospel that Jews and Gentiles have received God’s gift.
In v27, Paul states that ‘for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’. This implies that believers have clothed themselves with him (Carson 111). This has enabled them to get his robes of righteousness, which has consequently set them free. This is also reflected in v28; ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’.
The unity that believers have in Christ should also manifest in the social world. For instance, both slaves and slave-owners are equal in the presence of God, but they should be careful on how they treat one another.
The conclusion of the chapter is a restatement that salvation is accessible to all people, including the Gentiles although they were initially denied of a chance to share the gospel (Carson 111). In v29, Paul wraps up the whole idea; ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise’. This is a reminder that the promises that God gave to Moses form the basis of our salvation. We inherit such promises through faith because it is also the basis on which God gave such promises to Moses.
Bachmann, Michael. Anti-Judaism in Galatians?: Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul’s Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2009.
Bosman, Stefan. “Anti‐Judaism in Galatians? Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul’s Theology–By Michael Bachmann, translated by Robert Brawley.” Reviews in Religion & Theology 17.4 (2010): 456-458.
Carson, Marion LS. “Grown Up Religion: Polemic and Pastoral Practice in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.” The Expository Times 127.3 (2015): 105-113.
Eastman, Susan, MICHAEL BACHMANN, and Robert L. Brawley. “Anti-Judaism in Galatians? Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul’s Theology.” (2010): 634-636.
Garroway, Joshua. Paul’s Gentile-Jews: Neither Jew nor Gentile, but Both. Springer, 2012.
Hamilton Jr, James M. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Crossway, 2010.
Matera, Frank J. Galatians. Vol. 9. Liturgical Press, 2007.
Stott, John. The Message of Galatians. InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Witherup, Ronald D. “Galatians: A Commentary by Martinus C. de Boer.” (2012): 319-321.
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