Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2024
the Fourth Week after Easter
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Galatians 3

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1


The apostle inquires how they could be so foolish as to

renounce the Gospel of Christ and turn back to the law, after

having heard, received, and suffered so much for the Gospel,


Asserts the doctrine of justification by faith, on the example

of Abraham, 6-9.

Shows that all who are under the law are under the curse, from

which Christ alone redeems us; and the promise made to Abraham

comes to the Gentiles who believe, 10-14.

For the covenant is not by the works of the law, but by promise,


The law was given to show the sinfulness of sin, and to act as a

schoolmaster till Christ should come, 19-25.

It is by faith only that any become children of God, 26.

And under the Gospel, all those distinctions which subsisted

under the law are done away; and genuine believers, whether

Jews or Gentiles, bond or free, are one in Christ Jesus, and

accounted the genuine children of Abraham, 27-29.


Verse Galatians 3:1. O foolish Galatians — O infatuated people; you make as little use of reason as those who have none; you have acted in this business as those do who are fascinated-they are led blindly and unresistingly on to their own destruction.

That ye should not obey the truth — This clause is wanting in ABD*FG, some others, the Syriac, Erpenian, Coptic, Sahidic, Itala, Vulgate MS., and in the most important of the Greek and Latin fathers. Of the clause Professor White says, Certissime delenda, "It should certainly be expunged."

There are several various readings on this verse, from which it appears that the verse in the best ancient MSS. and versions was read thus: O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you? Before whose eyes Jesus Christ crucified hath been plainly set forth.

Among you? — εν υμιν is wanting in ABC, several others, the Syriac, Erpenian, Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, Armenian, Vulgate MS., one copy of the Itala, and in several of the fathers. The words appear to disturb the sense, and have obliged commentators to have recourse to a sort of technical meaning; viz. "The doctrine of the Gospel had been so fully preached among these people that it might be said Jesus Christ had been crucified among them; so fully had his sufferings been detailed, and the design of them pointed out."

Verse 2

Verse Galatians 3:2. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law — This may refer to the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which were very common in the apostolic Church. Did ye receive these extraordinary gifts in consequence of your circumcision, and observing the Mosaic precepts? or was it by the hearing of the Gospel, prescribing faith in Christ crucified? It may also refer to the spirit of adoption, and consequently to their sonship.

Verse 3

Verse Galatians 3:3. Having begun in the Spirit — Having received a spiritual religion, which refined and purified your hearts; and having received the Holy Spirit of God, by which ye were endued with various miraculous influences; and the spirit of adoption, by which he were assured of the remission of sins, and incorporation with the family of God:

Are ye now made perfect by the flesh? — Are ye seeking to complete that spiritual religion, and to perfect these spiritual gifts, by the carnal rite of circumcision? It appears that by the Spirit, here, not only the Holy Spirit, but his gifts, are to be understood; and by the flesh, illud membrum in quo circumcisio peragitur; and, by a metonymy, circumcision itself.

Verse 4

Verse Galatians 3:4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain? — Have ye received and lost so much good? The verb πασχων, as compounded with ευ, well, or κακως, ill, and often without either, signifies to suffer pain or loss, or to possess and enjoy. In such a case the man is considered as the patient, and the good or ill acts upon him. Though it is possible that the Galatians had suffered some persecution for the truth of Christ, yet it is as likely that the apostle refers to the benefits which they had received. Ye have received faith, the pardon of your sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and with it many extraordinary gifts and graces; and have ye suffered the loss of all these things? Have ye received all these in vain? if yet in vain-if it be credible that ye have sacrificed so many excellent benefits for an imaginary good.

Verse 5

Verse Galatians 3:5. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit — The apostle means himself: he had been the means of conveying the Holy Spirit to them, and by that Spirit he wrought miracles among them; and he did all this, not as a Jew, (for as such he had no power,) but he did all as a believer in Christ. The word επιχορηγων, which we translate ministereth, is very emphatic, and signifies leading up the chorus, bringing up one after another, adding grace to grace, benefit to benefit; so that it appears that they had not only some, but many benefits; God, by means of his apostle, having greatly enriched them with various spiritual blessings.

Verse 6

Verse Galatians 3:6. Abraham believed God — This is quoted from Genesis 15:6, where see the note; and St. Paul produces it, Romans 4:3-5, where also see the notes. Abraham, while even uncircumcised, believed in God, and his faith was reckoned to him for justification; and Abraham is called the father of the faithful, or, of believers. If, then, he was justified without the deeds of the law, he was justified by faith; and if he was justified by faith, long before the law was given then the law is not necessary to salvation.

It is remarkable that the Jews themselves maintained that Abraham was saved by faith. Mehilta, in Yalcut Simeoni, page 1, fol. 69, makes this assertion: "It is evident that Abraham could not obtain an inheritance either in this world or in the world to come, but by faith."

Verse 8

Verse 8. The Scripture, foreseeing — See the notes on Romans 4:3-16. As God intended to justify the heathen through faith, he preached the Gospel that contains the grand display of the doctrine of salvation by faith, before, to Abraham, while he was in his heathen state; and thus he is called the father of believers: therefore it must refer to them who shall believe the same Gospel among the Gentiles; and, as the door of faith was open to all the Gentiles, consequently the promise was fulfilled: In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.

Verse 9

Verse 9. They which be of faith — All who believe, as Abraham has believed, are made partakers of Abraham's blessings.

Verse 10

Verse 10. As many as are of the works of the law — All that seek salvation by the performance of the works of the law are under the curse, because it is impossible for them to come up to the spiritual meaning and intent of the law; and the law pronounces them cursed that continue not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. Hence, every Jew is necessarily under the curse of God's broken law; and every sinner is under the same curse, though he be not a Jew, who does not take refuge in the salvation provided for him by the Gospel. It is worthy of remark that no printed copy of the Hebrew Bible preserves the word כל col, ALL, in Deuteronomy 27:26, which answers to the apostle's word πασι, all, here. St. Jerome says that the Jews suppressed it, lest it should appear that they were bound to perform all things that are written in the book of the law. Of the genuineness of the reading there is no cause to doubt: it exists in six MSS. of Kennicott and De Rossi, in the Samaritan text, in several copies of the Targum, in the Septuagint, and in the quotation made here by the apostle, in which there is no variation either in the MSS. or in the versions.

Verse 11

Verse 11. But that no man is justified by the law — By the observance of the law, suppose he had even continued in all things that are written in it to do them, is evident; for the Prophet Habakkuk, Habakkuk 2:4, has declared, under the direct influence of the Spirit of God, The just shall live by faith; or, he who is just by faith shall live: therefore this justification comes not by works, or the observance of the law, but by faith.

Verse 12

Verse 12. And the law is not of faith — It promises no forgiveness to believing, but requires obedience. It is not, What do you believe? but, What have you done? The man that doeth them perfectly, at all times, and in all places, he shall live in them; but if in any case he fails, he forfeits his life. Romans 1:17; Romans 1:17, &c.

Verse 13

Verse 13. Christ hath redeemed us — εξηγορασεν. Hath bought us with a price; viz. his blood, or life.

Being made a curse for us — Being made an atonement for our sins; for whatever was offered as an atonement for sin was considered as bearing the punishment due to sin, and the person who suffered for transgression was considered as bearing the curse in his body; therefore, in the same day in which a criminal was executed it was ordered that his body should be buried, that the land might not be polluted, because he that was hanged, which was the case with every heinous culprit, was considered accursed of God, Deuteronomy 21:22-23; hence the necessity of removing the accursed THING out of sight.

Verse 14

Verse 14. That the blessing of Abraham — That is, justification or the pardon of sin, with all other blessings consequent on it, such as peace with God, spiritual life, and eternal glory.

Might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ — So we find that he was made a curse for us, that the blessings promised to Abraham might be given to them who believe on him, as having been made a curse; i.e. an expiatory victim for them.

The promise of the Spirit — The spirit of adoption, sonship with God; and the Spirit of God to attest that sonship. And all this was through faith. Hence, from the beginning God had purposed that salvation should be through faith, and never expected that any soul of man should be justified by the works of the law; and only gave that law that the exceeding sinfulness of sin might appear, and that man might be prepared to welcome the Gospel, which proclaimed salvation to a lost world through the atoning passion and death of Christ.

Verse 15

Verse 15. I speak after the manner of men — I am about to produce an example taken from civil transactions. If it be confirmed-If an agreement or bond be signed, sealed, and witnessed, and, in this country, being first duly stamped;

No man disannulleth — It stands under the protection of the civil law, and nothing can be legally erased or added.

Verse 16

Verse 16. Now to Abraham and his seed — The promise of salvation by faith was made to Abraham and his posterity.

He saith not, And to seeds — It was one particular kind of posterity which was intended: but as of one-which is Christ; i.e. to the spiritual head, and all believers in him, who are children of Abraham, because they are believers, Galatians 3:7. But why does the apostle say, not of seeds, as of many? To this it is answered, that Abraham possessed in his family two seeds, one natural, viz. the members of his own household; and the other spiritual, those who were like himself because of their faith. The promises were not of a temporal nature; had they been so, they would have belonged to his natural seed; but they did not, therefore they must have belonged to the spiritual posterity. And as we know that promises of justification, c., could not properly be made to Christ in himself, hence we must conclude his members to be here intended, and the word Christ is put here for Christians. It is from Christ that the grace flows which constitutes Christians. Christians are those who believe after the example of Abraham they therefore are the spiritual seed. Christ, working in and by these, makes them the light and salt of the world; and through them, under and by Christ, are all the nations of the earth blessed. This appears to be the most consistent interpretation, though every thing must be understood of Christ in the first instance, and then of Christians only through him.

Verse 17

Verse 17. Confirmed before of God in Christ — i.e. The promise of justification, c., made to believers in Christ Jesus, who are the spiritual seed of Christ, as they are children of Abraham, from the similitude of their faith. Abraham believed in God, and it was reckoned to him for justification the Gentiles believed in Christ, and received justification. Probably the word Christ is to be taken, both here and in the preceding verse, for Christians, as has already been hinted. However it be taken, the sense is plainly the same; the promise of salvation must necessarily be to them who believe in Christ, for he is the promised seed, Genesis 3:15, through whom every blessing is derived on mankind; and through his spiritual seed-the true Christians, the conquests of the cross are daily spreading over the face of the earth. The present unparalleled dispersion of the sacred writings, in all the regular languages of the universe, is a full proof that all the nations of the earth are likely to be blessed through them; but they have nothing but what they have received from and through Christ.

Four hundred and thirty years after — God made a covenant with Abraham that the Messiah should spring from his posterity. This covenant stated that justification should be obtained by faith in the Messiah. The Messiah did not come till 1911 years after the making of this covenant, and the law was given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham, therefore the law, which was given 1481 years before the promise to Abram could be fulfilled, (for so much time elapsed between the giving of the law and the advent of Christ,) could not possibly annul the Abrahamic covenant. This argument is absolute and conclusive. Let us review it. The promise to Abraham respects the Messiah, and cannot be fulfilled but in him. Christians say the Messiah is come, but the advent of him whom they acknowledge as the Messiah did not take place till 1911 years after the covenant was made, therefore no intermediate transaction can affect that covenant. But the law was an intermediate transaction, taking place 430 years after the covenant with Abraham, and could neither annul nor affect that which was not to have its fulfilment till 1481 years after. Justification by faith is promised in the Abrahamic covenant, and attributed to that alone, therefore it is not to be expected from the law, nor can its works justify any, for the law in this respect cannot annul or affect the Abrahamic covenant. But suppose ye say that the law, which was given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham, has superseded this covenant, and limited and confined its blessings to the Jews; I answer: This is impossible, for the covenant most specifically refers to the Messiah, and takes in, not the Jewish people only, but all nations; for it is written, In thy seed-the Messiah and his spiritual progeny, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. This universal blessedness can never be confined, by any figure of speech, or by any legal act, to the Jewish people exclusively; and, as the covenant was legally made and confirmed, it cannot be annulled, it must therefore remain in reference to its object.

In opposition to us, the Jews assert that the Messiah is not yet come; then we assert, on that ground, that the promise is not yet fulfilled; for the giving of the law to one people cannot imply the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, because that extends to all nations. However, therefore, the case be argued, the Jewish cause derives no benefit from it; and the conclusion still recurs, salvation cannot be attained by the works of the law, forasmuch as the covenant is of faith; and he only, as your prophets declare, who is justified by faith, shall live, or be saved. Therefore we still conclude that those who are only under the law are under the curse; and, as it says, he that doeth these things shall live in them, and he that sinneth shall die, there is no hope of salvation for any man from the law of Moses. And the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaiming salvation by faith to a sinful and ruined world, is absolutely necessary, nor can it be superseded by any other institution, whether human or Divine.

How we arrive at the sum of 430 years may be seen in the note on Exodus 12:40. Dr. Whitby also gives a satisfactory view of the matter. "The apostle refers to the promise made, Genesis 12:3, since from that only are the 430 years to be computed, for then Abraham was 75 years old, Genesis 12:4; from thence to the birth of Isaac, which happened when Abraham was 100 years old, (Genesis 21:5,) 25 years; from his birth to the birth of Jacob, 60 years, for Isaac was 60 years old when Rebecca bare him, Genesis 25:26. From Jacob's birth to the descent into Egypt, 130 years, as he said to Pharaoh, Genesis 47:9. The abode of him and his posterity in Egypt was 215 years; so that, with their sojourning in Canaan, was 430 years;" the sum given here, and in Exodus 12:40, where see the notes.

Verse 18

Verse 18. For if the inheritance be of the law — See the preceding arguments, in which this is proved.

Verse 19

Verse 19. Wherefore then serveth the law? — If the law does not annul the Abrahamic covenant, and cannot confer salvation on its votaries, why did God give it? This was a very natural objection, and must arise in the mind of any Jew who had paid attention to the apostle's reasoning.

It was added because of transgressions — It was given that we might know our sinfulness, and the need we stood in of the mercy of God. The law is the right line, the straight edge, that determines the obliquity of our conduct. Romans 4:15; and especially Romans 5:20, where this subject is largely discussed, and the figure explained.

Till the seed should come — The law was to be in force till the advent of the Messiah. After that it was to cease.

It was ordained by angels — The ministry of angels was certainly used in giving the law; see Psalms 68:17; Acts 7:53; and Hebrews 2:2; but they were only instruments for transmitting; Moses was the mediator between God and the people, Deuteronomy 5:5.

Verse 20

Verse 20. A mediator is not a mediator of one — As a mediator, μεσιτης, signifies a middle person, there must necessarily be two parties, between whom he stands, and acts in reference to both, as he is supposed to have the interests of both equally at heart.

This verse is allowed to be both obscure and difficult; and it is certain that there is little consent among learned men and critics in their opinions concerning it. Rosenmuller thinks that the opinion of Nosselt is to be preferred to all others.

He first translates the words ὁ δε μεσιτης ἑνος ουκ εστιν thus: But he (viz. Moses) is not the mediator of that one race of Abraham, viz. the Christians; for ἑνος relates to the σπερμα ᾡ επηγγελται, the seed that should come, Galatians 3:19, of which he said, ὡς εφ' ἑνος, as of one, Galatians 3:16. If Paul had written ὁ δε μεσιτης του ἑνος εκεινου ουκ εστι, he is not the mediator of one, no person would have had any doubt that σπερματος, seed, ought to be supplied after ἑνος, of one, Galatians 3:19-20. The same mode of speaking Paul uses, Romans 5:17; ὁ δε, but he, ὁ for αυτος, Matthew 12:3; Matthew 12:11; Matthew 12:39, ὁ δε ειπεν, but he said. Though Moses was the Mediator between God and the Israelites, yet he was not the mediator between God and that one seed which was to come; viz. the Gentiles who should believe in Christ.

But God is one. — He is the one God, who is the Father of the spirits of all flesh; the God of the Gentiles as well as the God of the Jews. That this is St. Paul's meaning is evident from his use of the same words in other places, 1 Timothy 2:5: ἑις γαρ Θεος, c., for there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, that is, there is only one God and one mediator for the whole human race Ephesians 4:5-6: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, εἱς Θεος και πατηρ παντων, ONE GOD and Father of ALL. The sense of the whole is: Moses was the mediator of one part of Abraham's seed, viz. the Israelites; but of the other seed, the Gentiles, he was certainly not the mediator; for the mediator of that seed, according to the promise of God, and covenant made with Abraham, is Christ.

Though Nosselt has got great credit for this interpretation, it was given in substance long before him by Dr. Whitby, as may be seen in the following words: "But this mediator (Moses) was only the mediator of the Jews, and so was only the mediator of one party, to whom belonged the blessings of Abraham, Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:14. But GOD, who made the promise that in one should all the families of the earth be blessed, IS ONE; the God of the other party, the Gentiles, as well as of the Jews, επειπερ εἱς ὁ Θεος, seeing he is ONE GOD, who will justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith, Romans 3:30." This exposition is so plain, and so well supported by the different scriptures already quoted, that there can be but small, if any, doubt of its propriety. The clause has been translated thus: "Now a mediator supposes two parties, of which God is but one."

Verse 21

Verse 21. Is the law then against the promises of God? — Is it possible that the intervention of the law, in reference to one part of the Abrahamic seed, should annul the promise made to the other? It is impossible.

For if there had been a law, &c.] If any law or rule of life could have been found out that would have given life-saved sinners from death, and made them truly happy, then righteousness- justification, should have been by that law.

Verse 22

Verse 22. But the scripture hath concluded — All the writings of the prophets have uniformly declared that men are all sinners, and the law declares the same by the continual sacrifices which it prescribes. All, therefore have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; and, being tried and found guilty, συνεκλεισεν ἡ γραφη, the Scripture hath shut them up-put them in prison, and locked them up, till the time should come in which the sentence of the law should be executed upon them: (See Romans 3:9-20, and the notes there; and particularly Romans 11:32, where the apostle uses the same metaphor, and which in the note is particularly explained.)

That the promise of justification, by faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.

Verse 23

Verse 23. But before faith came — Before the Gospel was published.

We were kept under the law, shut up — εφρουρουμεθα. We were kept as in a strong hold, συγκεκλεισμενοι, locked up, unto the faith-the religion of the Lord Jesus, which should afterwards be revealed. Here the same metaphor is used as above, and for its explanation I must refer the reader to the same place, Romans 11:32.

Verse 24

Verse 24. The law was our schoolmaster — Ὁ νομος παιδαγωγος ἡμων γεγονεν εις Χριστον· The law was our pedagogue unto Christ. The παιδαγωγος, pedagogue, is not the schoolmaster, but the servant who had the care of the children to lead them to and bring them back from school, and had the care of them out of school hours. Thus the law did not teach us the living, saving knowledge; but, by its rites and ceremonies, and especially by its sacrifices, it directed us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. This is a beautiful metaphor, and highly illustrative of the apostle's doctrine. Romans 10:4, where this figure is farther explained.

Verse 25

Verse 25. But, after that faith is come — When Christ was manifested in the flesh, and the Gospel was preached, we were no longer under the pedagogue; we came to Christ, learned of him, became wise unto salvation, had our fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life.

It is worthy of remark that, as ὁ νομος, the LAW, is used by St. Paul to signify, not only the law, properly so called, but the whole of the Mosaic economy, so ἡ πιστις, the FAITH, is used by him to express, not merely the act of believing in Christ, but the whole of the Gospel.

Verse 26

Verse 26. For ye, who have believed the Gospel, are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. — But no man is a child of God by circumcision, nor by any observance of the Mosaic law.

Verse 27

Verse 27. As many of you as have been baptized into Christ — All of you who have believed in Christ as the promised Messiah, and received baptism as a public proof that ye had received Christ as your Lord and Saviour, have put on Christ-have received his Spirit, and entered into his interests, and copied his manners. To put on, or to be clothed with one, is to assume the person and character of that one; and they who do so are bound to act his part, and to sustain the character which they have assumed. The profession of Christianity is an assumption of the character of Christ; he has left us an example that we should follow his steps, and we should, as Christians, have that mind in us which was in him. See the notes on Romans 6:3; Romans 6:4; and especially those on "Romans 13:14", where this phrase is farther explained.

Verse 28

Verse 28. There is neither Jew nor Greek — ελλην, Greek, is put here for εθνικος, heathen. Under the Gospel all distinctions are done away, as either helping or hindering; all are equally welcome to Christ, and all have an equal need of him; all persons of all sects, and conditions, and sexes, who believe in him, become one family through him; they are one body, of which he is the head.

Neither male nor female — With great reason the apostle introduces this. Between the privileges of men and women there was a great disparity among the Jews. A man might shave his head, and rend his clothes in the time of mourning; a woman was not permitted to do so. A man might impose the vow of nasirate upon his son; a woman could not do this on her daughter. A man might be shorn on account of the nasirate of his father; a woman could not. A man might betroth his daughter; a woman had no such power. A man might sell his daughter; a woman could not. In many cases they were treated more like children than adults; and to this day are not permitted to assemble with the men in the synagogues, but are put up in galleries, where they can scarcely see, nor can they be seen. Under the blessed spirit of Christianity, they have equal rights, equal privileges, and equal blessings; and, let me add, they are equally useful.

Verse 29

Verse Galatians 3:29. And if ye be Christ's — Or, as several good MSS. read, If ye be one in Christ. If ye have all received justification through his blood, and the mind that was in him, then are ye Abraham's seed; ye are that real, spiritual posterity of Abraham, that other seed, to whom the promises were made; and then heirs, according to that promise, being fitted for the rest that remains for the people of God, that heavenly inheritance which was typified by the earthly Canaan, even to the Jews.

1. THE Galatians, it appears, had begun well, and for a time run well, but they permitted Satan to hinder, and they stopped short of the prize. Let us beware of those teachers who would draw us away from trusting in Christ crucified. By listening to such the Galatians lost their religion.

2. The temptation that leads us astray may be as sudden as it is successful. We may lose in one moment the fruit of a whole life! How frequently is this the case, and how few lay it to heart! A man may fall by the means of his understanding, as well as by means of his passions.

3. How strange is it that there should be found any backslider! that one who once felt the power of Christ should ever turn aside! But it is still stranger that any one who has felt it, and given in his life and conversation full proof that he has felt it, should not only let it slip, but at last deny that he ever had it, and even ridicule a work of grace in the heart! Such instances have appeared among men.

4. The Jewish covenant, the sign of which was circumcision, is annulled, though the people with whom it was made are still preserved, and they preserve the rite or sign. Why then should the covenant be annulled? This question admits a twofold answer.

1. This covenant was designed to last only for a time, and when that time came, having waxed old, it vanished away.

2. It was long before that void, through want of the performance of the conditions.

The covenant did not state merely, ye shall be circumcised, and observe all the rites and ceremonies of the law; but, ye shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbour as yourself. This condition, which was the very soul of the covenant, was universally broken by that people. Need they wonder, therefore, that God has cast then off? Jesus alone can restore them, and him they continue to reject. To us the new covenant says the same things: Ye shall love the Lord, c. if we do not so, we also shall be cut off. Take heed, lest he who did not spare the natural branches, spare not thee; therefore, make a profitable use of the goodness and severity of God.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Galatians 3". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/galatians-3.html. 1832.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile