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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published Weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men (and women) to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
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Introduction to Galatians 3
Paul has concluded his rebuke and subsequent discourse with Peter re: his denial of the true gospel of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:11-21) and now the conversation naturally shifts to the Galatian churches who were doing the same thing. He begins by identifying them as foolish and asking a series of rhetorical questions beginning with: “Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” Paul had preached Christ crucified so clearly among them when he had finished it was like they had witnessed the event themselves. Therefore how could these folks now believe there was something more than Jesus (Galatians 3:1-5).
In Galatians 3:6-18 Paul uses Abraham as an example for the entire human race regarding their salvation experience. Paul does this to prove Abraham received justification by grace through faith (alone) before the Mosaic Law existed. He didn’t have to “life a finger” in order to be declared righteous by the LORD God. In other words, he merely believed God, or “took God at His Word,” and was declared to be, “In right standing” before God Genesis 15:6).
In this chapter Paul also shows the Galatians the Law places a curse upon all those who were under it, and it was impossible to be justified by it. But Christ redeemed His creation from the curse of the Law, having taken the curse on Himself, so that now all those who believe might be justified in the sight of God (Deuteronomy 11:26-29, 28:15-20, 30:1; Isaiah 53:4; Matthew 8:17; 1 Peter 2:24).
Please open your Bible at Galatians chapter 3.
Just so everyone starts off on the “right foot,”as we begin this week’s Bible lesson; a group of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem entered the Galatian churches, after Paul had left them, and began teaching the Gentile Believers and the Jewish converts it’s not enough to trust in Jesus Christ for righteousness. They said salvation can only be achieved if the person adds the “works of the law” to their faith in Christ. In other words, Christ’s sacrificial death for all isn’t enough. Faith is still required, but you have work to do, if you really want to be saved. The Judaizers required circumcision (2:3), dietary restrictions (2:12-13), and the keeping of feasts and holy days (4:10). The Galatian churches were in the process of turning away from Paul’s gospel; this is why he wrote them this letter.
Faith Brings Righteousness (Justification)
Paul begins his address to the Galatians with a strong rebuke. The situation called for it. These churches had veered off the course Paul had set for them. Because of this strange course change not only were they headed in a “different direction,” they were headed into danger. Paul means to right their course and he begins this process with 5 rhetorical questions. After being verbally shaken by his no nonsense prose, and hopefully brought back to the state of awareness by it, perhaps these fickle Believers will begin to think straight once again… It’s akin to a long-distance slap upside the head!
1-5: You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed (or the point of our conversation was Christ) as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Paul came to Galatia, initially, because of an illness and speaks of the warm welcome he had received from the Galatians (4:13-15). The center of his message was always Jesus Christ, who was publicly portrayed as crucified (3:1); whose death was for people’s sins (1:4); who had been raised from the dead (1:1), and who would rescue His people from the present evil age (1:4). Paul became a kind of father to these Galatians (4:19). They shared with him in the life of Spirit as they came to faith in response to the person of Christ whom he preached (3:2-4).
In Galatians, chapter 1, Paul referred to these Believers as “brethren,” “the church,” the ones that Jesus Christ “gave Himself for,” to pay their sin debt. Now, here we are in chapter 3:1 and he’s calling them foolish. The Koine Greek word for foolish is Anoetos (an-o’-ay-tos), Adjective, Strong’s Greek #453, meaning: not understanding, unwise, foolish (literally). When I chose to “dig deeper” for truth, I discovered this word originally meant: “to act as though the mind was inoperative, or worse, non-existent. This word meant: to know the truth and to just simply act unreasonably or irrationally – in English we would probably use the term “idiot” to describe such a person. The J.B. Phillips N.T. translation reads like this: “Oh, you dear idiots of Galatia.” That’s an accurate translation because it conveys Paul’s meaning. The Galatians acted like idiots. Today we’d use the same term on the way to the E.R., to describe an individual who was instructed not to hold a lit cherry bomb in their hand while it exploded, but they chose to do so anyway.
The report of these Galatians deserting Christ for a different gospel probably bewildered Paul. He had preached Christ crucified as the only means of salvation. Now he was being informed his brothers and sisters in the faith were being bewitched into believing there was something more than Jesus! The word bewitched is only used here in the N. T. You won’t find it anywhere else. Some people assumed the worst when they read this word. A lot of Bible scholars did. They attached all sorts of meaning to it such as, “the evil eye” (Deuteronomy 15:9, 28:54; Proverbs 23:6, 28:22).
The ancient Greeks were familiar with “the evil eye,” i.e. Matiasma, a superstitious belief of many cultures around the Mediterranean Sea at that time. However, Paul isn’t endorsing this irrational belief here. He’s not saying this was the cause of their momentary lapse of reason. He merely used the term to describe the effect the Judaizers had over these churches for no straight-thinking individual would desert the true gospel for a works-based religious system. By this he means to say their ability to think logically is so clouded they appear to be operating in a fog.
before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed – the Koine Greek word for portrayed is Prographo (prog-raf’-o), Verb, Strong’s Greek #4270, meaning: to depict or portray openly; to write before the eyes of all who can read. I’m sure you’re aware Jesus’ death was a public event. Pilate had an inscription placed above His head on the cross, a legal notice, saying, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). The other 3 gospels all give a different accounting as to what was written on this legal notice. I selected John’s explanation because he was there at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and it’s accurate. The other apostles weren’t there; they were in hiding. Getting back to Paul, he uses this metaphor to teach and preach there is one God and mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1Timothy 2:5). But the fickle Galatians were willingly turning from Paul’s teaching to Jewish legalism.
as crucified among you - I added the words “among you” because the NASB translation deleted it from the Bible text and so have other Bible translations. They obscured Paul’s meaning when they did this. The sense of this phrase is Paul’s teachings and preaching on the subject had been intentionally clear and simple. Using only words, he described it so well among them, when he was finished, it was like he had just completed a word-drawing and they had seen His crucifixion personally. So, now Paul’s confused; how is it they can now abandon this sound teaching so easily?
Scripture also reveals “the crucified One” to be the Lord’s title, (Matthew 28:5; Mark 16:6; I Corinthians 1:23, 2:2). When He returns, this is how His people will be able to identify Him for He will still bear the marks of the crucifixion: And one shall say unto him, What are those wounds in thy hands? And he will say, Those which I was wounded in the house of my friends (Zechariah 13:6 – Darby Bible Translation; John 20:19-20).
Let’s go to verse 2:
2: This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit (or were you truly saved) by the works of the Law, or by hearing (Romans 10:17) with faith?
Here Paul forces the Galatians to make a choice between two options to obtain salvation. They could pick achieving or believing. Let’s not forget the Galatians were not denying Jesus Christ died for their sins, but they were adding keeping “the Law” as an extra step in order to be saved. Paul already knew the answer to this question. Paul preached the gospel to these Galatians and they believed, so he knows they received the Spirit, by hearing, with faith. An individual either has the Spirit or he/she is not a Believer (Romans 8:9)! FYI: Paul mentions the Holy Spirit 16 more times in this letter.
3: Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
Are you so foolish – this is the same term Paul used in verse 1 and it means the same thing, i.e., if you’re going to abandon sound teaching, you’re obviously an idiot.
Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh – the Galatians had received the Spirit, so they were Believers beginning their new lives in Christ under the Spirit’s influence: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).
Paul’s talking about the Believer’s sanctification here. To sanctify means to set apart as “holy,” because Christ’s holiness is imputed to Believers by the Grace of God, through faith in the gospel (Ephesians 2:8-9). Don’t misunderstand what this means. “Holy” doesn’t mean moral purity here. It means set apart for God’s purpose: “I will be your God, and you will be My people,” says Yahweh (Leviticus 26:12). Of course there’s a difference between the O.T.’s view of holiness and the N.T.’s explanation of what happens to the Believer who has been united to Jesus Christ by faith in the gospel.
The Bible is talking about more than just believing; it speaks of a relationship with the Savior and a life dedicated to becoming like Him. Our Apostle Paul phrased it this way: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
There are 3 phases of salvation: positional sanctification, progressive sanctification, and then final sanctification. The moment we are saved we are also sanctified or set apart positionally, i.e. we are saved from the ultimate penalty of sin. Then progressive sanctification begins the process whereby we are saved from the practice and the power of sin thanks to the power of the indwelt Holy Spirit. After this life is ended, we will be sanctified finally; i.e. we will be saved from the very presence of sin.
The Judaizers convinced the Galatians they had to complete their salvation by their own efforts, i.e. keeping the Mosaic Law. This instruction contradicted Paul’s teaching because in order for the Believer to become Christ-like he or she has to respond to the Spirit’s guidance by faith, obedience, perseverance, and repentance.
Paul doesn’t mean to imply Believer’s won’t make wrong choices, as they live out their lives, but both our salvation and our growing to maturity in Christ are appropriated by grace through faith and the rest of Paul’s argument focuses on the fact that Believers are perfected in the Lord and not the Law (2 Peter 3:17-18).
4: Did you suffer so many things in vain – if indeed it was in vain?
The word suffer carries with it a bad sense meaning: to suffer hardship, trials, or tribulations; to be in a bad plight. But we haven’t read anything so far in the text that indicates this is what Paul means to say here. So, he’s not saying his leadership and preaching led them to suffer just as “being chosen as an instrument of God” brought suffering to him (Acts 9:15).
The Koine Greek word for suffer is Pascho (pas’-kho), Verb, Strong’s Greek #3958, and it also carries a good sense. It can mean: to be affected or have been affected, to have a sensible experience, to undergo something; to benefit. This is the sense of the word Paul chose to use here. Put another way, this verse would read: “Have all your wonderful Spiritual experiences been for no purpose?”
We know we’re on the right track because the verse before this one and the one after it speak of the gift of the Spirit and the occurrences of miracles, thus it appears Paul is asking them if all these wonderful spiritual experiences have not had a positive effect in their lives. Yet, their acceptance of the Judaizers message leaves Paul wondering whether they’ve learned anything at all from these great things that God has been doing among them; of what great value is the gift of the Spirit if you strive for perfection minus the assistance of the Holy Spirit?
if indeed it was in vain – this disclaimer at the end of the sentence lets us know Paul wasn’t willing to accept the notion that God’s gracious provision of the Spirit and His miraculous work is in vain. Nothing God does is without merit or purpose.
5: So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
Verse 5 basically repeats Paul’s statement in verse two except for one thing. Verse 2 was in the past tense, but now, verse 5 is in the present tense. Paul’s talking about experiencing the life of the Spirit. The Koine Greek word for provide is Epichoregeo (Ep-ee-khor-ayg-eh’-o), Verb, Strong’s Greek #2023, meaning: to supply, furnish, present.
Provides you with the Spirit is a reference to an individual’s initial salvation experience (Galatians 3:14; Romans 8:9) and is given freely once faith is demonstrated in the gospel. But did God give the Spirit and the power to perform miracles among you because people decided to perform the Law of Moses instead (Acts 14:8-10)? That would be no! The miracles were God’s confirmation of the true gospel which they received by Grace through faith (alone).
Here’s Paul argument in these five verses: If a person has received salvation through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit immediately thereafter, and has the power of the Holy Spirit working within them, how could they ever hope to improve on that by trusting in their humanness (the flesh), their own efforts? The answer: you can’t; you’d be an idiot to try!
(To be continued)
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