Thursday, July 16, 2009

Galatians 3:1-5

V1-5 – 1You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? 4Have you suffered so much for nothing – if it really was for nothing? 5Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Paul (rightly, if not surprisingly) harshly criticizes the Galatians for their slide – or rather, nosedive – into legalism. He has just finished his summary, acknowledging that Christ died for nothing if righteousness could be gained by obeying the law. But he is so certain that righteousness cannot be gained by obeying the law, so certain that Christ’s death was not in vain, that he is almost enraged at the idea that some would teach a doctrine that leads to this conclusion. And Paul is passionate about the Galatians, not wanting them to fall victim to this heretical false gospel. Calvin asks, “When we hear that the Son of God, with all His benefits, is rejected, that His death is esteemed as nothing, what pious mind would not break out into indignation?”

The word translated “foolish” here (anoetos, which commentators say often suggests intellectual foolishness, rather than moros, which commentators say suggests a moral foolishness; others say there is no difference, that the two words describe the same flaw) essentially means “mindless, easily duped, exhibiting sheer stupidity, idiotic, illogical, inconsistent, contradictory, undiscerning, and nonsensical.” Calvin says that Paul “insinuates that their fall partook more of madness than of folly.” Harsh criticism may be employed to defend Biblical doctrine, as Paul exhibits here. But dare we say that harsh criticism must be employed to defend Biblical doctrine, as Paul exhibits here? Paul might dare to say so, for he also says, “If I were still trying to please men (through the use of ‘humble’ language and non-rebuke out of ‘patience’), I would not be a servant of Christ (through the use of harsh criticism to rebuke and snatch those in danger from the fire (Jude 23) out of love)” (Galatians 1:10).

The rest of this passage is made up of rhetorical questions. Vincent Cheung says, “The questions are harsh and direct. As a rhetorical strategy, they rebuke the Galatians for their foolishness, and require them to rationally think through their present disposition against the background of what they have learned before. Whereas Paul has shown that the Judaizers’ doctrine cannot be true in light of the apostle’s knowledge and history, now he shows that the heresy in question is inconsistent with the Galatians’ own knowledge and history. The effect is to accentuate the irrational and erroneous nature of the doctrine, and the foolishness for accepting it.” Let’s break them down.

First, Paul critically asks “Who has bewitched you?” They Galatians have been so irrational that it appears they must be under a spell, for no right-minded person – after either seeing the crucified and risen Lord or hearing Paul preach on the truth of those historic events – could miss the clear reality and importance of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion (Paul will elaborate throughout this letter on the significance of the crucifixion for the satisfaction of divine wrath and justice, though here, as in 1 Corinthians 2:2, he uses the crucifixion as a summary of the entire gospel). Yet they had, and so Paul has another question since that was the case.

Second, he asks in v2 if they received the Holy Spirit by obeying the law or by faith. This is a no-brainer question for his imbecilic audience. His point is that Gentiles had the Spirit of God, proving that circumcision was not necessary to be a Christian. What matters is the possession of the Holy Spirit.

Third, in v3, he again asks if they are so foolish as to try to live so inconsistently. Vincent Cheung points out regarding the next question in v3, “
The word translated ‘human effort’ here is ‘flesh.’ Thus Paul is presenting two contrasts in these verses: faith versus work, and spirit versus flesh. Faith corresponds to the spirit, that which is of God and spiritual. Work corresponds to the flesh, that which is of man and carnal, and unable to attain righteousness or to sustain righteousness to perfection. Faith, then, is needed not only at conversion, but it is to be a way of life, so that it is also by faith that we shall continue in sanctification and attain perfection by the Spirit. It is foolish to think otherwise.”

In v3-5, Paul is showing disdain and impatience with the Galatians, wondering if they plan to keep the law in their flesh and remain under its condemnation without the Holy Spirit, or if they would rather try to earn God’s favor by work apart from faith. Either way, it’s no good. God works through His Spirit by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone and to the glory of God alone. John Piper says, “What is it practically that converts the love of Christ for us into our love for others? There are two answers in the book of Galatians. One answer is the Holy Spirit. The other answer is FAITH.” Piper elaborates on this in his comments on Galatians 5.

The next question, in v4, is meant to show the Galatians that their experience with the Holy Spirit, along with any persecution that might have come to them upon their genuine conversion, was not in vain. Paul adds, “If it really was for nothing,” to show that he doesn’t believe their conversion was false. Finally, v5 ties back to v2, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit through faith – as opposed to the role of the flesh through the law – in justification (receiving the Spirit from v2) and in sanctification (God’s giving the Spirit and working miracles from v5).

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