The Expositor's Bible

Epistle to the Galatians

Rev. Prof. G. G. Findlay, B.A.

The Doctrinal Polemic
Chapter 3:1 - 5:12

Chapter 11


"O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified? This only would I learn from you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now perfected in the flesh? Did ye suffer so many things in vain? if it be indeed in vain. He therefore that supplieth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?"—Ga 3:1-5.

AT the beginning of chap. 3. falls the most marked division of this Epistle. So far, since the exordium, its course has been strictly narrative. The Apostle has been "giving" his readers "to know" many things concerning himself and his relations to the Judean Church of which they had been ignorant or misinformed. Now this preliminary task is over. From explanation and defence he passes suddenly to the attack. He turns sharply round upon the Galatians, and begins to ply them with expostulation and argument. It is for their sake that Paul has been telling this story of his past career. In the light of the narration just concluded, they will be able to see their folly and to understand how much they have been deceived.

Here also the indignation so powerfully expressed in the Introduction, breaks forth again, directed this time, however, against the Galatians themselves and breathing grief more than auger. And just as after that former outburst the letter settled down into the sober flow of narrative, so from these words of reproach Paul passes on to the measured course of argument which he pursues through the next two chapters. In Ga 4:8-20, and again in Ga 5:1-12, doctrine gives way to appeal and warning. But these paragraphs still belong to the polemical division of the Epistle, extending from this point to the middle of chap. 5. This section forms the central and principal part of the letter, and is complete in itself. Its last words, in Ga 5:6-12, will bring us round to the position from which we are now setting out.

This chapter stands, nevertheless, in close connection of thought with the foregoing. The Apostle’s doctrine is grounded in historical fact and personal experience. The theological argument has behind it the weight of his proved Apostleship. The Judaistic dispute at Antioch, in particular, bears immediately on the subject-matter of the third chapter. Peter’s vacillation had its counterpart in the defection of the Galatians. The reproof and refutation which the elder Apostle brought upon himself, Paul’s readers must have felt, touched them. very nearly. In the crafty intriguers who made mischief at Antioch, they could see the, image of the Judaists who had come into their midst. Above all, it was the cross which Cephas had dishonoured, whose efficacy he had virtually denied. His act of dissimulation, pushed to its issue, nullified the death of Christ. This is the gravamen of Paul’s impeachment. And it is the foundation of all his complaints against the Galatians. Round this centre the conflict is waged. By its tendency to enhance or diminish the glory of the Saviour’s cross, Paul judges of the truth of every teaching, the worth of every policy. Angel or Apostle, it matters not—whoever disparages the cross of Jesus Christ finds in Paul an unflinching enemy. The thought of Christ "dying in vain" rouses in him the strong emotion under which he indites the first verses of this chapter. What greater folly, what stranger bewitchment can there be, than for one who has seen "Jesus Christ crucified" to turn away to some other spectacle, to seek elsewhere a more potent and diviner charm! "O senseless Galatians!"

1. Here then was the beginning of their folly. The Galatians forgot their Saviour’s cross.

This was the first step in their backsliding. Had their eyes continued to be fixed on Calvary, the Legalists would have argued and cajoled in vain. Let the cross of Christ once lose its spell for us, let its influence fail to hold and rule the soul, and we are at the mercy of every wind of doctrine. We are like sailors in a dark night on a perilous coast, who have lost sight of the lighthouse beacon. Our Christianity will go to pieces. If Christ crucified should cease to be its sovereign attraction, from that moment the Church is doomed.

This forgetfulness of the cross on the part of the Galatians is the more astonishing to Paul, because at first they had so vividly realised its power, and the scene of Calvary, as Paul depicted it,75 had taken hold of their nature with extraordinary force. He was conscious at the time—so his words seem to intimate—that it was given him, amongst this susceptible people, to draw the picture with unwonted effect. The gaze of his hearers was riveted upon the sight. It was as if the Lord Jesus hung there before their eyes. They beheld the Divine sufferer. They heard His cries of distress and of triumph. They felt the load which crushed Him. Nor was it their sympathies alone and their reverence, to which the spectacle appealed. It stirred their conscience to its depths. It awakened feelings of inward humiliation and contrition, of horror at the curse of sin, of anguish under the bitterness and blackness of its death. "It was you, " Paul would say—"yo. and I for whom He died. Our sins laid on Him. that ignominy, those agonies of body and of spirit. He died the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God." They looked, they listened, till their hearts were broken, till all their sins cried out against them; and in a passion of repentance they cast themselves before the Crucified, and took Him for their Christ and King. From the foot of the cross they rose new men, with heaven’s light upon their brow, with the cry Abba, Father, rising from their lips, with the Spirit of God and of Jesus Christ, the consciousness of a Divine sonship, filling their breast.

Has all this passed away? Have the Galatians forgotten the shame, the glory of that hour-the tears of penitence, the cries of joy and gratitude which the vision of the cross drew from their souls, the new creation it had wrought within them, the ardour of spirit and high resolve with which they pledged themselves to Christ’s service? Was the influence of that transforming experience to prove no more enduring than the morning cloud and early dew? Foolish Galatians! Had they not the wit to see that the teaching of the Legalists ran counter to all they had then experienced, that it "made the death of Christ of none effect," which had so mighty and saving an effect upon themselves? Were they "so senseless," so bereft of reason and recollection? The Apostle is amazed. He cannot understand how impressions so powerful should prove so transient, and that truths thus clearly perceived and realised should come to be forgotten. Some fatal spell has been cast over them. They are "bewitched" to act as they are doing. A deadly fascination, like that of the "evil eye," has paralysed their minds.

The ancient word alluded to in the word the Apostle uses here is76 not altogether a superstition. The malignity that darts out in the glance of the "evil eye" is a presage of mischief. Not without reason does it cause a shudder. It is the sign of a demoniac jealousy and hate. "Satan has entered into" the soul which emits it, as once into Judas. Behind the spite of the Jewish false brethren Paul recognised a preternatural malice and cunning, like that with which "the Serpent beguiled Eve." 77 To this darker source of the fascination his question, "Who hath bewitched you?" appears to point.

2. Losing sight of the cross of Christ, the Galatians were furthermore rejecting the Holy Spirit of God.

This heavy reproach the Apostle urges upon his readers through the rest of the paragraph, pausing only for a moment in ver. 4 to recall their earlier sufferings for Christ’s sake in further witness against them. "I have but one question to put to you," he says—"You received the Spirit: how did that come about? Was it through what you did according to law? or what you heard in faith? You know well that this great blessing was given to your faith. Can you expect to retain this gift of God on other terms than those on which you received it? Have you begun with the Spirit to be brought to perfection by the flesh? (ver. 3) . . . Nay, God still bestows on you His Spirit, with gifts of miraculous energy; and I ask again, whether these displays attend on the practice of lawworks, or upon faith’s hearing?" (ver. 5).

The Apostle wished the Galatians to test the competing doctrines by their effects. The Spirit of God had put His seal on the Apostle’s teaching, and on the faith of his hearers. Did any such manifestation accompany the preaching of the Legalists? That is all he wants to know. His cause must stand or fall by "the demonstration of the Spirit." By "signs and wonders," and diverse gifts of the Holy Spirit, God was wont to "bear witness with" the ministers and witnesses of Jesus Christ: (Heb 2:3,4 1Co 12:4-11) was this testimony on the side of Paul, or the Circumcisionists? Did it sustain the gospel of the grace of God, or the "other gospel" of Legalism?

"He, the Spirit of truth, shall testify of Me," Christ had said; and so John, at the end of the Apostolic age: "It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth." When the Galatians accepted the message of the cross proclaimed by Paul’s lips, "the Holy Spirit fell" on them, as on the Jewish Church at the Pentecost, and the Gentile believers in the house of Cornelius; (Ac 10:44) "the love of God was poured out in their hearts through the Holy Ghost that was given them". (Ro 5:5) As a mighty, rushing wind this supernatural influence swept through their souls. Like fire from heaven it kindled in their spirit, consuming their lusts and vanities, and fusing their nature into a new, holy passion of love to Christ and to God the Father. It broke from their lips in ecstatic cries, unknown to human speech; or moved them to unutterable groans and pangs of intercession. (Ro 8:26)

There were men in the Galatian Churches on whom the baptism of the Spirit conferred besides miraculous charismata, superhuman powers of insight and of healing. These gifts God continued to "minister amongst" them (God is unquestionably the agent in ver. 5). Paul asks them to observe on what conditions, and to whom, these extraordinary gifts are distributed. For the "receiving of the Spirit" was an infallible sign of true Christian faith. This was the very proof which in the first instance had convinced Peter and the Judean Church that it was God’s will to save the Gentiles, independently of the Mosaic law. (Ac 11:15-18)

Receiving the Spirit, the Galatian believers knew that they were the sons of God. "God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, crying, Abba, Father". (Ga 4:6,7) When Paul speaks of "receiving the Spirit," it is this that he thinks of most of all. The miraculous phenomena attending His visitations were facts of vast importance; and their occurrence is one Of the historical certainties of the Apostolic age. They were "signs," conspicuous, impressive, indispensable at the time—monuments set up for all time. But they were in their nature variable and temporary. There are powers greater and more enduring than these. The things that "abide" are "faith, hope, love"; love chiefest of the three. Hence when the Apostle in a later chapter enumerates the qualities that go to make up "the fruit of the Spirit," he says nothing of tongues or prophecies, or gifts of healing; he begins with love. Wonder-working powers had their times and seasons, their peculiar organs; but every believer in Christ—whether Jew or Greek, primitive or mediaeval or modern Christian, the heir of sixty generations of faith or the latest converts from heathenism—joins in the testimony, "The love of God is shed abroad in our heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us." This mark of God’s indwelling Spirit the Galatians had possessed. They were "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus". (Ga 3:26) And with the filial title they had received the filial nature. They were "taught of God to love one ‘another." Being sons of God in Christ, they were also "heirs". (Ga 4:7 Ro 8:17) They possessed the earnest of the heavenly inheritance, (Eph 1:14) the pledge of their bodily redemption, (Ro 8:10-23) and of eternal life in the fellowship of Christ. In their initial experience of "the salvation which is in Jesus Christ" they had the foretaste of its "eternal glory," of the "grace" belonging to "them that love our Lord Jesus Christ," which is "in in-corruption."78

No legal condition was laid down at this beginning of their Christian life; no "work" of any kind interposed between the belief of the heart and the conscious reception of the new life in Christ. Even their baptism, significant and memorable as it was, had not been required as in itself a precondition of salvation. Sometimes after baptism, but often—as in the case of Cornelius’ household—before the rite was administered, "the Holy Ghost fell" on believing souls. (Ac 10:44-48 11:15,16) They "confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus"; they "believed in their hearts that God had raised Him from the dead,"—and they were saved. Baptism is, as Paul’s teaching elsewhere shows,79 the expression, not the medium — the symbol, and not the cause, of the new birth which it might precedeor follow. The Catholic doctrine of the opus operatum in the sacraments is radically anti-Pauline; it is Judaism over again. The process by which the Galatians became Christians was essentially spiritual. They had begun in the Spirit.

And so they must continue. To begin in the Spirit, and then look for perfection to the flesh, to suppose that the work of faith and love was to be consummated by Pharisaic ordinances, that Moses could lead them higher than Christ, and circumcision effect for them what the power of the Holy Ghost failed to do—this was the height of unreason. "Are you so senseless?" the Apostle asks.

He dwells on this absurdity, pressing home his expostulation with an emphasis that shows he is touching the centre of the controversy between himself and the Judaisers. They admitted, as we have shown in chap. 9., that Gentiles might enter the kingdom of God through faith and by the baptism of the Spirit. This was settled at the Council of Jerusalem. Without a formal acceptance of this evangelical principle, we do not see how the legalists could again have found entrance into Gentile Christian Churches, much less have carried Peter and Barnabas and the liberal Jews of Antioch with them, as they did. They no longer attempted to deny salvation to the uncircumcised; but they claimed for the circumcised a more complete salvation, and a higher status in the Church. "Yes, Paul has laid the foundation," they would Say; "now we have come to perfect his work, to give you the more advanced instruction, derived from the fountain-head of Christian knowledge, from the first Apostles in Jerusalem. If you would be perfect, keep the commandments; be circumcised, like Christ and His disciples, and observe the law of Moses. If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you much more than hitherto; and you will inherit all the blessings promised in Him to the children of Abraham."

Such was the style of "persuasion" employed by the Judaisers. It was well calculated to deceive Jewish believers, even those best affected to their Gentile brethren. It appeared to maintain the prescriptive rights of Judaism and to satisfy legitimate national pride, without excluding the Gentiles from the fold of Christ. Nor is it difficult to understand the spell which the circumcisionist doctrine exerted over susceptible Gentile minds, after some years of Christian training, of familiarity with the Old Testament and the early history of Israel. Who is there that does not feel the charm of ancient memories and illustrious names? Many a noble mind is at this present time "bewitched," many a gifted and pious spirit is "carried away" by influences precisely similar. Apostolical succession, potristic usage, catholic tradition, the authority of the Church— what words of power are these! How wilful and arbitrary it appears to rely upon any present experience of the grace of God, upon one’s own reading of the gospel of Christ, in contradiction to claims advanced under the patronage of so many revered and time-honoured names. The man, or the community, must be deeply conscious of having "received the Spirit," that can feel the force of attractions of this nature, and yet withstand them. It requires a clear view of the cross of Jesus Christ, an absolute faith in the supremacy of spiritual principles to enable one to resist the fascinations of ceremonialism and tradition. They offer us a more "ornate worship," a more "refined" type of piety, "consecrated by antiquity"; they invite us to enter a selecter circle, and to place ourselves on a higher level than that of the vulgar religionism of faith and feeling. It is the Galatian "persuasion" over again. Ceremony, antiquity, ecclesiastical authority are after all poor substitutes for faith and love. If they come between us and the living Christ, if they limit and dishonour the work of His Spirit, we have a right to say, and we will say with the Apostle Paul, Away with them!

The men of tradition are well content that we should "begin in the Spirit," provided they may have the finishing of our faith. To prey upon the Pauline Church is their ancient and natural habit. An evangelical beginning is too often followed by a ritualistic ending. And Paul is ever begetting spiritual children, to see himself robbed of them by these bewitching Judaisers. "O foolish Galatians," he seems still to be saying, What is it that charms you so much in all this ritual and externalism? Does it bring you nearer to the cross of Christ? Does it give you more of His Spirit? Is it a spiritual satisfaction that you find in these works of Church law, these priestly ordinances and performances? How can the sons of God return to such childish rudiments? Why should a religion which began so spiritually seek its perfection by means so formal and mechanical?

The conflict which this Epistle signalised is one that has never ceased. Its elements belong to human nature. It is the contest between the religion of the Spirit and that of the letter, between the spontaneity of personal faith and the rights of usage and prescription. The history of the Church is largely the record of this incessant struggle. In every Christian community, in every earnest and devout spirit, it is repeated in some new phase. When the Fathers of the Church in the second and third centuries began to write about "the new law" and to identify the Christian ministry with the Aaronic priesthood, it was evident that Legalism was regaining its ascendency. Already the foundations were laid of the Catholic Church-system, which culminated in the Papacy of Rome. What Paul’s opponents sought to do by means of circumcision and Jewish prerogatives, that the Catholic legalists have done, on a larger scale, through the claims of the priesthood and the sacramental offices. The spiritual functions of the private Christian, one after another, were usurped or carelessly abandoned. Step by step the hierarchy interposed itself between Christ and His people’s souls, till its mediation became the sole channel and organ of the Holy Spirit’s influence. So it has come to pass, by a strange irony of history, that under the forms of Pauline doctrine and in the same of the Apostle of the Gentiles joined to that of Peter, Catholic Christendom, delivered by him from the Jewish yoke, has been entangled in a bondage in some respects even heavier and more repressive. If tradition and prescription are to regulate our Christian belief, they lead us infallibly to Rome, as they would have led the Galatians to perishing Jerusalem.

3. Paul said he had but one question to ask his readers, that which we have already discussed. And yet he does put to them, by way of parenthesis, another (ver. 4), suggested by what he has already called to mind, touching the beginning of their Christian course: "Have ye suffered so many things in vain?" Their folly was the greater in that it threatened to deprive them of the fruit of their past sufferings in the cause of Christ.

The Apostle does not say this without a touch of softened feeling. Remembering the trials these Galatians had formerly endured, the sacrifices they had made in accepting the gospel, he cannot bear to think of their apostasy. Hope breaks through his fear, grief passes into tenderness as he adds, "If it be indeed in vain." The link of reminiscence connecting vv. 3 and 4 is the same as that we find in 1Th 1:6: "Ye received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.".80

We need. not seek for any peculiar cause of these sufferings; nor wonder that the Apostle does not mention them elsewhere. Every infant Church had its baptism of persecution. No one could come out of heathen society and espouse the cause of Jesus, without making himself a mark for ridicule and violence, without the rupture of family and public ties, and many painful sacrifices. The hatred of Paul’s fellow-countrymen towards him was an additional cause of persecution to the Churches he had founded. They were followers of the crucified Nazarene, of the apostate Saul. And they had to suffer for it. With the joy of their new life in Christ there had come sharp pangs of loss and grief, heart-wounds deep and lasting. This slight allusion sufficiently reminds the Apostle’s readers of what they had passed through at the time of their conversion.

And now were they going to surrender the faith won by such a struggle? Would they let themselves be cheated of blessings which had cost them so dear? "So many things," he asks, "did you suffer in vain?" He will not believe it. He cannot think that this brave beginning will have so mean an ending. If "God counts them worthy of His kingdom for which they suffered," let them. not deem themselves unworthy. Surely they have not escaped from the tyranny of heathenism, in order to yield up their liberties to Jewish intrigue, to the cozenage of false brethren who seek to exalt themselves at their expense. (Ga 2:4 4:17 6:12,13) Will flattery beguile from them the treasure to which persecution had made them cling the more closely?

Too often, alas! the Galatian defection is repeated. The generous devotion of youth is followed by the lethargy and formalism of a prosperous age; and the man who at twenty-five was a pattern of godly zeal, at fifty is a finished worldling. The Christ whom he adored, the cross at which he bowed in those early days—he seldom thinks of them now. "I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness." Success has spoiled him. The world’s glamour has bewitched him. He bids fair to "end in the flesh."

In a broader sense, the Apostle’s question addresses itself to Churches and communities untrue to the spiritual principles that gave them birth. The faith of the primitive Church, that endured three centuries of persecution, yielded its purity to Imperial blandishments. Our fathers, Puritan and Scottish, staked their lives for the crown-rights of Jesus Christ and the freedom of faith. Through generations they endured social and civil ostracism in the cause of religious liberty. And now that the battle is won, there are those amongst their children who scarcely care to know what the struggle was about. Out of indolence of mind and vanity of scepticism, they abandon at the bidding of priest or sophist the spiritual heritage bequeathed to them. Did they then suffer so many things in vain? Was it an illusion that sustained those heroic souls, and enabled them to "stop the mouths of lions and subdue kingdoms"? Was it for nought that so many of Christ’s witnesses in these realms since the Reformation days have suffered the loss of all things rather than yield by subjection to a usurping and worldly priesthood? And can we, reaping the fruit of their faith and courage, afford in these altered times to dispense with the principles whose maintenance cost our forefathers so dear a price?

"O foolish Galatians," Paul in that case might well say to us again! 


[75] The verb προεγράφη (openly set forth) probably means painted up rather than placarded. This more vivid meaning belongs to γράφω, and there is no sufficient reason why it should not attach to προ-γράφω. It is entirely in place here. "Jesus Christ crucified" is not an announcement to be made, but an object to be delineated.

[76] On βασκαίνω see the note in Lightfoot's Commentary in loc.; also Grimm's N. T. Lexicon. "The Scripture calleth envy an 'evil eye;' ... so there still seemeth to be acknowledged in the act of envy an ejaculation or irradiation of the eye. Envy hath in it something of witchcraft.... It is the proper attribute of the Devil, who is called 'The envious man, that soweth tares among the wheat by night.'"—(Lord Bacon: Essay ix.)

[77] Comp. 2 Cor. xi. 1-4, a passage closely parallel to this context, containing what is expressed here and in Gal. i. 6, 7; iv. 11, 17, 18.

[78] 2 Tim. ii. 10; Eph. vi. 24 (ἀφθαρσία is incorruption everywhere else in Paul: why not here?)

[79] Ch. iii. 26, 27; Rom. vi. 2-4; Col. ii. 11-13; Tit. iii. 5.

[80] Comp. 2 Thess. i. 4-6; Ph. i. 28-30; Rom. viii. 17; 2 Tim. i. 8.