Biblical Studies

An Exegesis On Galatians 3

ImageFollowing his rebuke of the Galatians in Gal 3:1, Paul begins constructing an argument against the Judaizers in Galatia who would have the Gentiles follow the law and become circumcised. The question posed by Paul in Gal 3:2 seems rhetorical and provides the thesis for Paul’s argument that the Gentile Galatians received the Spirit by believing what they heard and not by doing the works of the law. The question is posed and left up to the Galatians to answer based on Paul’s argument. If this is a rhetorical question then it can be presumed that the Galatians already understand that they received the Spirit “by believing” what they heard before there were any demands on them to become circumcised in order to keep the law.

Paul constructs his argument on the foundation that Abraham believed God, and God credited to him as righteousness. Following his quotation of Gen 15:6 LXX in Gal 3:6, Paul reveals that the descendants of Abraham are “those who believe” (οἱ ἐκ πίστεως). Furthermore, Paul argues that God planned to justify the Gentiles by faith before the law was written. Paul claims this in God’s declaration to Abraham that “all the Gentiles (τὰ ἔθνη) will be blessed in you (ἐν σοὶ).” Paul quotes part of Gen 22:18 LXX, but he does not mention right away that it is in Abraham’s seed (ἐν τῷ σπέρματι) that all the nations will be blessed. Paul later reveals that it is through Jesus Christ, the only “offspring” of Abraham, that the promise of God’s covenant, the Spirit, would come to all nations through faith (Gal 3:14-18). Paul closes his opening argument for belief over doing the works of the law by associating those who believe as being “blessed with Abraham who believed” (σὺν τῷ πιστῷ Ἀβραάμ).

The next progression in Paul’s argument is to reveal the role of Jesus Christ in redeeming all from the curse of the law. Paul asserts that through Jesus Christ the blessing of Abraham has come to the Gentiles so that God’s promise to Abraham, the Spirit, might be received by all through faith.

Paul states that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse.” Interpreting Deut 27:36, Paul argues that no one is able to “observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.” He points out what is “evident” for everyone, that is, “no one is justified before God by the law,” because if they were they would live. In saying that “the righteous will live by faith,” Paul negates the possibility that there will be some who will be made righteous and alive through the law.

Furthermore, Paul insists that the law is separate from faith. He says, “the law does not rest on faith.” As evidence for this Paul quotes Lev 18:5 LXX asserting that if anyone was able to “do the works of the law,” then they would live by them. As Paul’s argument progresses, he will make this distinction between the law and faith once again (Gal 3:13-16). This is important for Paul’s argument that Jesus became a curse to alleviate the curse of the law for everyone. It seems evident that, for Paul, Jesus Christ’s resurrection is proof that life comes through faith and not through the law. He quotes and interprets Deut 21:23 LXX as evidence that according to the law Jesus is cursed because of the manner in which he was put to death. Paul interprets Jesus’ death on the cross to meet the criteria of Deut 21:23 LXX of one who is cursed. The curse of the law is broken for all because Jesus Christ was crucified to death and nevertheless lives.

Paul recalls two words (δικαιοσύνη and πιστεύουσιν) in Gal 3:21-22 that he used previously in Gal 3:6 when he quoted from Gen 15:6 LXX. Interestingly, Gal 3:6 and Gal 3:21-22 are the only two places in Galatians 3 that Paul specifically employs these words in reference to Gen 15:6 LXX. Paul’s use of δικαιοσύνη in Gal 3:21 calls the readers attention back to Gal 3:6 in order to conclude his argument that “if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) would indeed come through the law.” Paul maintains that righteousness is not possible through the law, since no one could do all the works of the law because of sin (“scripture has imprisoned all things under the power of sin”). Therefore, Paul insists that righteousness and life only come through the Spirit, which is what was promised to Abraham through the faith of Jesus Christ so that it might be given to those who believe (πιστεύουσιν).

Throughout his argument, Paul associates Jesus Christ with faith itself. Furthermore, Paul denotes the revelation and coming of faith in Jesus Christ’ faith (Gal 3:14, 22-26). In Gal 3:22, I prefer the translation of πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ as “faith of Jesus Christ” rather than as “faith in Jesus Christ.” I think that “faith of Jesus Christ” conveys the importance of the faith of Abraham’s “offspring,” Jesus. Given the context of Paul’s argument in Gal 3:15-18 that Jesus Christ is the “offspring” of Abraham, it is probable that Paul wants the Galatians to understand that the faith of Abraham’s “offspring” has enabled faith for all people. Through Jesus Christ’s faith all may receive God’s promise to Abraham and thereby fulfill God’s blessing of “all the nations” in Abraham.  Therefore, what was promised (the Spirit) through the faith of Abraham’s “offspring” (Jesus Christ) might be given to all who believe (πιστεύουσιν), just as righteousness was credited to Abraham because he believed God. Jesus’ faith has enabled anyone to become a part of “the offspring” (Jesus Christ) of Abraham by believing the Word about Jesus’ death and resurrection and receiving God’s promise (the Spirit) through faith. We are “heirs to the promise” by becoming a part of the “offspring” of Abraham by faith, just like it was Abraham’s “offspring” who brought about the promise through faith. (see Acts 2 = the promise (Holy Spirit) was given to Jesus and Jesus pours out the promise to everyone!)

Paul cites several scriptural texts throughout Galatians 3 including: Gen 12:3, 7; 15:5-6; 17:8; 18:18; 22:17-18; Ex 12:40; Lev 18:5; 26:46; Num 36:13; Deut 21:23; 27:36; 33:2; Hab 2:4.  Paul signals these citations of scripture either through example (e.g., Abraham in Gal 3:6), God speaking (e.g., Gal 3:8), by referring to the law as “it is written” (e.g., Gal 3:10, 13), historical interpretation of Gen 15:6 (e.g., Gal 3:11), or by correcting a false claim (Gal 3:12, 16).

Paul’s use of the future, passive, indicative, ἐνευλογηθήσονται, in his citation of Gen 12:3, 18:18, and 22:18 LXX, may signify his understanding that the extension of the blessing of Abraham to the Gentiles has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  In his citation of Deut 27:26 LXX, Paul changes “all the words of this law” (πᾶσιν τοῖς λόγοις τοῦ νόμου τούτου) to “all the things written in the book of the law” (πᾶσιν τοῖς γεγραμμένοις ἐν τῷ βιβλίῳ τοῦ νόμου). This change may reflect Paul’s argument against the Mosaic law as whole. Everyone who does not obey and observe the whole Torah is cursed.

In Gal 3:11-12, Paul quotes Hab 2:4 and Lev 18:5. These two verses share a common word, ζήσεται (“live”). This is significant for the structure of Paul’s argument. Paul asserts throughout his argument that faith brings life through the Spirit. The law cannot bring life because no one can do all the works of law.

Paul interprets Deut 21:23 LXX in light of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Although ὅτι κεκατηραμένος ὑπὸ θεοῦ πᾶς κρεμάμενος ἐπὶ ξύλου (“for anyone who is hanged on a tree is cursed by God”) in the context of Deuteronomy probably refers to one who is hanged from the neck or in the sun, Paul interprets Jesus Christ’s crucifixion to meet the requirements of a curse according to the law. In his citation of Deut 21:23 LXX, Paul leaves out “by God.” Paul may have omitted the words, “by God,” so that the Galatians would know that Jesus Christ was obedient to God in his death on the cross. Furthermore, that Jesus Christ’s faith freed them from the curse of the law to live through the Spirit by faith. Interestingly, Paul’s citations of Deut 21:23 and Deut 27:26 share a common term, ἐπικατάρατος (“cursed”).

According to BDAG, the range of meanings of διαθήκη include: “last will and testament,” “a will that has been ratified” (when used with κεκυρωμένην like in Gal 3:15),  “covenant” (used as a translation only when the thought communicates that it is God alone who sets the conditions – “a declaration of his purpose”), and “compact, contract.” The operative meaning in Gal 3:15 seems to be “a will that has been ratified,” since Paul is referring to God’s covenant with Abraham and his offspring. Paul does, however, seem to use διαθήκη to mean “covenant” in Gal 3:17. Translating διαθήκη as “covenant” in Gal 3:17 seems appropriate since Paul asserts that it is God who has set the conditions of the promise and ratified the covenant. Paul is recalling the condition in which God initiated a relationship with humans and more specifically, God’s covenant with Abraham. The covenant was not established with the law which came much later, but the covenant was established through God’s promise to Abraham.

In Gal 3:17, Paul makes the point that “the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” This passage and the timeframe in which Paul places the giving of the law is further evidence that Paul is using the Septuagint and not the Hebrew text. By calculating the four hundred thirty years, Paul is including the Israelite sojourn in Egypt and the earlier period in Canaan within this time period. This makes Paul’s argument that the inheritance comes through God’s promise to Abraham and not through the law even more justifiable, since the law was given so much later than the promise. He asserts that the law was a “disciplinarian” (Gal 3:25 – παιδαγωγόν can also mean “tutor” or “guide”) “until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made (Gal 3:19b).”

Based on Paul’s argument, it would be interesting to know whether or not Paul and Philo reflect a rational and appreciation for Abraham’s life that was common during the first century.  Did Paul understand the life of Abraham to be a model on which the law was written? Philo asserts that the written laws are “nothing more than a memorial of the life of the ancients (On Abraham).”  Furthermore, it seems that both Philo and Paul revere God’s response to Abraham’s belief to be a significant model on how to know and love God.

1]Michael Coogan, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd Ed. with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), 315 New Testament.


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