Commentary on Galatians, 3:1-5

Galatians 3:1-5

“1 O foolish Galatians, who bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?”

Paul now returns his address to the Galatian Christians.

“foolish”

What the Galatians were now believing about salvation was not according to sound wisdom. What they were believing didn’t make any sense. Before embracing a new understanding about the gospel message, they should have had the wisdom to confirm the validity of it first by men of God such as the Apostle Paul. Paul had the authority as one of the primary leaders of the early church. Even Peter would have explained to them that what the Judaizers were teaching was not according to truth. Just because Peter behaved contrary to the truth, doesn’t mean that he didn’t know or teach the truth. The Apostles were given for the purpose of establishing the Church, and wisdom should have told the Galatians that perhaps they should consult with one of the church leaders about this new teaching.

Before accepting any new understanding about any doctrine of the Bible, we should walk carefully and with wisdom and discernment. We should commit ourselves to sincere and unbiased study of the Word of God to determine the truthfulness of any position that we are unfamiliar with. We shouldn’t follow anyone blindly, like the Galatian Christians were doing. We should be diligent in our study, and weigh everything out carefully.

“bewitched”  (Gr. baskaino – 940)

Vine’s:

“Primarily to slander, to prate about anyone, then to bring evil on a person by feigned praise, or mislead by an evil eye, and so to charm, bewitch.”

I don’t believe that Paul thought that the Galatians had literally been “bewitched.” I think he was simply trying to make the point that in order to fall for this new teaching, someone must have cast a spell on them, or perhaps hypnotized them. How else could one explain such a lack of discernment?

We live in a day where Christians have become mesmerized by certain Christians leaders. They put them up on such a high pedestal that they believe anything they teach. They foolishly believe that everything they say must be the truth, considering who they are. My friend, no one is above scrutiny. It should never be assumed that any one person has a market on the truth. I believe that even the most gifted of Bible teachers have blind spots that are due to a lack of sufficient study, or personal and positional bias. I personally am aware of these tendencies when approaching God’s Word, so by God’s grace I try very hard to study with a sincere desire to follow the truth wherever it leads, no matter what my present position may be on a particular doctrine. Otherwise, all we’re doing is trying to find passages that support what we already believe to be true.

“before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?”

Not that the Galatians were present when Jesus was crucified, but that the gospel message was so clearly presented it was as though they were present when it happened. So vividly was Christ and His gospel described to them, that it was as though they were seeing a painting of it. Therefore, they had no sensible reason to doubt what they had “seen” with their own eyes. 

The lesson for us to learn, is that before we accept a particular position on any doctrine of the Bible, we should fully exhaust the study of it, leaving “no rock un-turned.” By the time we have finished our study, it should be as though we have photograph of it. As they say, “pictures don’t lie.” Of course, that’s no longer true in our day, but you get the point.

“2 This only would I learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

When we place our faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within in us (Ro 8:9-11). In other words, the Spirit is received through faith, as Paul makes clear in verse 14:

“so that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

Paul knew, and they knew, that they had received the Holy Spirit through faith, and not “by the works of the law.” So here he’s wanting them to see that what they are now believing is not in harmony with the reality of that truth.

“3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh?”

This is the second time in three verses that Paul scolds them for being so foolish. 

When the gospel message was preached to them, the Holy Spirit brought conviction of sin and opened their eyes to the truth regarding Christ, and of their need for Him. The Spirit enabled them to see that it was through faith alone, in Christ alone, that we are forgiven of our sins and brought into a right relationship with God. Furthermore, because of the truth revealed to them and received by them, they were regenerated by the Spirit; they were born of the Spirit (John 1:12,13; John 3:5,6). 

Thus Paul wants them to think carefully about what they were now believing. Does it make sense that we initially recognize the work and revelation of the Holy Spirit, and then deem it to be “imperfect” or incomplete? Is our new birth, that we received by faith, somehow incomplete? Does it now make sense to try and “perfect” our salvation and relationship with God through self-effort? 

The way Paul is talking to them, it’s clear that they had been taught very, very well. He himself had a history with them. He had taught them personally (Acts 18:23; Gal 4:11-15). And we all know how detailed and thorough he is in his teaching. Therefore, they had no excuse for falling for the false teaching of the Judaizers. There was no rhyme or reason for being so deceived.

“4 Did you suffer so many things in vain? If it be indeed in vain?”

Apparently, they had suffered for the name of Christ. Their suffering may have been at the hands of both unbelieving Gentiles and unbelieving Jews. If their suffering was via the Jews, then it certainly wasn’t because of the circumcision and works of the law that they were now embracing. It was obviously for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul asks them, “was all that suffering for nothing? Did it have no purpose?

“If it be indeed in vain?”

Paul is hoping that all is not lost with the Galatians. He is doing his best in this letter to lead them back to the truth. It would be tragic to suffer so much for something that was no longer true of them.

“5 He therefore who provides the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

They had each received the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. Furthermore, the work of the Spirit among them had been clearly revealed through the miracles that He had performed in their midst. Was this by “works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” They began in faith alone, in Christ alone. The Holy Spirit confirmed the truth of what they believed through certain miracles. Paul may be referring to the miracles that were performed through him during his time of ministry with them. 

One of the primary purposes of miracles in the early church (as with Jesus), among the apostles and others, was to confirm the message they were preaching. The miracles provided evidence that the gospel they were preaching was from God. This, the Galatian Christians witnessed firsthand. God had revealed Himself to them in very unmistakable ways. Therefore, it was inexcusable, and bewildering, that they could be so easily drawn away from the truth for a lie. They needed to see this in a hurry.