A Commentary by John Stott
Galatians 3:1-9. The folly of the Galatians.
Throughout most of chapters 1 and 2 Paul has been stoutly defending the divine origin of his apostolic mission and message. They had been derived from God, he insists, and were independent of men.
Now he comes back to the Galatians, and to their unfaithfulness to the gospel as a result of the corrupting influence of the false teachers. Verse 1: ‘O foolish Galatians!’ Verse 3: ‘Are you so foolish?’ Or, as J.B.Phillips puts it, ‘O you dear idiots of Galatia… surely you can’t be so idiotic…?’ The Galatians’ turning away from the gospel, therefore, was not only a kind of spiritual treason (1:6), but also an act of folly. Indeed, so stupid was it that Paul wonders if some sorcerer ‘has bewitched’ them or ‘has been casting a spell’ (JBP) over them. His question is partly rhetorical, because he knows only too well about the activities of the false teachers. But perhaps he uses the singular (‘who…?) because behind these false teachers he detects the activity of the devil himself, the deceiving spirit, whom the Lord Jesus called ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn.8:44). Much of our Christian stupidity in grasping and applying the gospel may be due to spells which he casts.
What have the Galatians done, which leads Paul to complain of their senselessness and to ask if they have been bewitched? They have yielded to the teaching of the Judaizers. Having embraced the truth at the beginning (that sinners are justified by grace, in Christ, through faith), they have now adopted the view that circumcision and the works of the law are also necessary for justification.
The essence of Paul’s argument is that their new position is a contradiction of the gospel. The reason for his astonishment at their folly is that before their very eyes Jesus Christ has been ‘publicly portrayed as crucified’. It is not just that Christ was publicly portrayed before their eyes, but that He was portrayed before them *as crucified* (an emphatic participle at the end of the sentence). It is possible that Paul is making a further allusion to their having been bewitched. He seems to be asking how some sorcerer could have put them under the spell of an evil eye, when before their very eyes Christ has been portrayed as crucified.
This, then, is the gospel. It is not a general instruction about the Jesus of history, but a specific proclamation of Jesus Christ as crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2). The force of the perfect tense of the participle (*estauromenos*) is that Christ’s work was completed on the cross, and that the benefits of His crucifixion are forever fresh, valid and available. Sinners may be justified before God and by God, not because of any works of their own, but because of the atoning work of Christ; not because of anything that they have done or could do, but because of what Christ did once, when He died. The gospel is not good advice to men, but good news about Christ; not an invitation to us to do anything, but a declaration of what God has done; not a demand, but an offer.
And if the Galatians had grasped the gospel of Christ crucified, that on the cross Christ did everything necessary for our salvation, they would have realized that the only thing required of them was to receive the good news by faith. To add good works to the work of Christ was an offence to His finished work, as we saw in 2:21.
Paul now exposes the senselessness of the Galatians. They should have resisted the spell of whoever was bewitching them. They knew perfectly well that the gospel is received by faith alone, since their own experience (verses 2-5) and the plain teaching of Scripture (verses 6-9) had told them so.
Tomorrow: Galatians 3:2-5: 1). The argument from their own experience.