TheArgument of Galatians
Brian Clatworthy, Newton Abbot, Devon, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Chapters 3 and 4
– The argument from precedent
(Old Testament theology)
In these chapters Paul develops the main argument of the letter, namely that righteousness was dependent on the work of Christ alone not the works of the law. Whilst the chapters are more theological than historical, Paul’s argument is buttressed again by history, Rom. 15. 4. In chapter 3, Paul’s initial reaction to the defection of the Galatians is one of sheer unbelief and astonishment, hence his somewhat mild rebuke in verse 1. The Greek word ?ν?ητοι, foolish, signifying a lack of understanding, or a failure to reason correctly – the New English Bible’s translation of this word as ‘stupid’ is perhaps slightly harsh! Paul accuses them of being mesmerized by an evil influence. Had he not graphically presented the work of Christ to them like someone displaying a public notice yet their present reaction was to look elsewhere for salvation. To Paul, faith in Christ alone secured righteousness, and spiritual growth could not be sustained by human effort, 3 .2, 3. If it was now possible to obtain righteousness by human effort why had they been prepared to suffer in the past for an empty and hollow profession? The Holy Spirit had been given and received on the basis of faith in Christ and not by some legal requirement on their part, v. 5. An illustration of faith in operation is now provided by Paul as a proof of his argument.
The story of Abraham’s faith is a master stroke in his dialogue with his Jewish opponents. They would have recognized, per se, the great importance of Abraham to Jewish life and tradition. If Paul could, therefore, show a unity between their faith and that of Abraham, without the law, then the argument from precedent would prevail. Abraham was, of course, justified by faith before the introduction of circumcision, Gen. 15. 6; 17. 9. God had promised that through his seed He would bless all the nations of the earth. How was this possible when his wife was beyond the age of procreation? The answer was that Abraham took God at His word, and this resulted in spiritual, as well as temporal blessing. Thus, Paul argues that the true descendants of Abraham were children of faith not works. Faith brought blessing to Abraham, as it would to them, 3. 9. From chapter 3 verses 10 to 14, Paul then contrasts law and faith. If blessing accrued to those who are justified by faith, law only brought a curse, 3. 10. Man was simply incapable of keeping the law because of the weakness of human nature, Rom. 8. 3. Christ had become a curse for us by being hung on a cross, 3. 13, and, in His death and perfect obedience to the law, He had removed the curse of the law from us, cp. Col. 2. 14, 15. This one supreme sacrifice enabled God to fulfil His promises to Abraham resulting in blessing being extended to the Gentile world, and the giving of the promised Spirit through faith, 3. 14. But how did the law fit in with the promises of God? Could it affect the unconditional promises under the covenant that God made with Abraham, v. 15? From a human point of view, a covenant or will could not be declared invalid or altered once it had been proven. Similarly, the unconditional promises made by God to Abraham could not be invalidated by the Mosaic law, which was not introduced until 430 years later, vv. 15-17. If they could be invalidated then it would make the inheritance dependent upon law not grace, but this was not in fact what happened, v. 18. But if the law did not bring blessing, why was it introduced by God? What was the principal purpose of the law, v. 19? Quite simply, says Paul, because of sin! The law was a parenthesis brought in by God until Christ came to fulfil the promises made to Abraham. Does this mean, then, that the law was superfluous, because it could not give life? No, the purpose of the law could be compared to the role of the Greek pedagogue or custodian who was employed to keep a child under discipline until he came to maturity. Once that happened, then the services of the pedagogue or custodian were no longer required. Similarly, the law’s function as our custodian ended when we were justified by faith in Christ, vv. 24-26. Thus, the promise made to Abraham that his seed would be blessed had now been fulfilled in Christ, and all those linked with Him through faith union, vv. 27-29.
Since Paul had introduced the notion of the pedagogue in chapter 3, he now develops the idea of the freedom that a child or heir would enjoy once he came of age. This is likened to the freedom that came to the Galatians from being the adopted children of God through the saving work of Christ, who redeemed them from the curse of the law. They now served God, not as slaves but as sons, 4. 1-7. But if they are now free from the requirements of the law in Christ, why would they again want to return to a state of bondage, vv. 8-11? When Paul remembered what the Galatians had previously done for him, he is even more perplexed about their present attitude. His great desire for them was that just like a mother who through labour brought children into the world, he wanted them to bear the image of Christ through his labours, vv. 12-20. This image would not, however, be achieved by returning to the law. And, as a warning shot to them, Paul uses the Old Testament story of Sarah and Hagar by way of allegory to show just what it meant to place oneself again under law, vv. 21-31. In the allegory, Sarah speaks of freedom, whereas Hagar speaks of bondage. It was the son, Isaac, of the free woman who ultimately inherited the promise, not the son, Ishmael, of the bond woman. Thus, by analogy, Isaac represents Christian believers, v. 31.
Chapters 5 and 6
– The moral/ethical argument
If the Galatians were to express a life of freedom then they were not to entangle themselves again in the yoke of the law. Paul views the Galatians as slaves who had been through the process of sacral manumission,1 and warns them of the danger of attempting to build again something that had already been destroyed, 5. 1-4, cp. 2. 18. Paul has only condemnation for anyone, irrespective of status, who was encouraging the Galatians to embrace Judaism again, vv. 5-12. But, at the same time, he warns the Galatians that freedom in Christ was freedom from sin, not freedom to sin, i.e., Christianity was about liberty not licence, 5. 13. Love, exemplified in service to others, was the key to Christian freedom, vv. 13-15. Essentially, this freedom was lived out in the power of the Holy Spirit, but there was a constant battle for the ascendancy raging between the flesh and the Spirit within the believer, vv. 16-18. These conflicting principles of life produced very different outcomes, the flesh manifesting evil that would ultimately exclude an individual from inheriting the kingdom of God, vv. 19-21. Whereas the Spirit produced a crop that needed no restraint, and gave evidence of the ethical character of the kingdom of God, vv. 22, 23. Life in the Spirit brought with it certain obligations to others, especially where fellow Christians had erred in some way or were carrying inordinate burdens, 5. 24 – 6. 5.2 It was also important that teachers of God’s word should be supported by those who benefited from their teaching, v. 6. Above all, there was an inviolable principle that whatever a man sowed in his life that would he also reap, v. 8. Thus, if the Galatians sowed to the Spirit then they would reap a spiritual harvest, but if they went back to Judaism and sowed to human endeavour then it would inevitably lead to corruption, v. 8. Doing good to others, especially other Christians, would in the end bring its own rewards, vv. 9-10.
Finally, Paul puts his own imprimatur on the letter by taking up the stylus from his secretary, and making an appeal to the Galatians by reference to the cross of Christ, vv. 11, 12. The cross, which Paul had placed at the centre of his life, was the only thing that was worth glorying in, not the flesh, which was a mark of Judaism not of a new creation, vv. 13-15. Paul’s identity with the cross brought upon him the brand marks of Jesus, v. 17 ESV, in contrast to the brand marks of circumcision brought upon Jewish legalists. It is only through the grace of God that men find peace and forgiveness; thus, Paul closes his letter to the Galatians with a benediction of grace. A timely reminder not to spurn the grace of God, v. 18; 2. 21!
1 The manumitting of slaves was common in ancient Greece, and according to Adolf Deissmann (Light from the Ancient East, Baker, pp. 323-325), found its way into Jewish and Christian ecclesiastical custom. He suggests that we become free by the fact that Christ buys us, 1 Cor. 6. 20, and that those who are manumitted are expressly forbidden to be made slaves again, hence Paul’s comments in Galatians chapter 5 verse 1.
2 The Greek word βαστ?ζω in chapter 6 verse 2, meaning to bear or carry, is used here in a good context (contrast this with chapter 5 verse 10 of someone bearing the judgement of God). The application in chapter 6 verse 2 is of shouldering the burden of others, which might, in the immediate context, include the burden of shame of the guilty party. It should also be noted that verse 2 is not at variance with verse 5. In the former the Greek word β?ρος, weight/burden, means a burden of oppression, which is too heavy for one person to carry, whereas in the latter Paul uses the Greek world φορτ?ον, a soldier’s pack or to a ship’s cargo, relating to the personal responsibility of each believer.
AUTHOR PROFILE: He is an elder and active member of a pioneer assembly work in Newton Abbott. For many years he has been welcomed as a ministering brother in the south of England and has written a number of articles for the magazine. He is married and has two children.