Galatians 3

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Galatians 3:1

Shocked, dumbfounded, and indignant about their turning aside from the true evangel, Paul addressed the Galatians as “senseless.” The Greek word anóetos is the opposite of possessing understanding, perception, or discernment. It signifies “foolish” or “stupid.” When giving credence to false teaching, the Galatians proved themselves to be gullible, lacking good sense or sound reasoning. By using such strong language, Paul evidently wanted to bring the Galatians to their senses.

Unable to fathom what had happened to them, the apostle wrote, “Who bewitched you, [you] to whom, before [whose] eyes, Jesus Christ was depicted [as] crucified?”

In this context, the Greek word baskaíno is commonly understood to mean “bewitch,” “put under a spell,” or “exercise a malign influence upon.” In the Septuagint, this term is used regarding the eye that begrudges or is inclined toward evil—the “evil eye.” (Deuteronomy 28:54, 56) The related Greek adjective báskanos appears in a context that points to a similar meaning—“stingy,” “greedy,” “grudging,” or “ungenerous.” (Prov. 23:6; 28:22)

In other ancient writings, however, báskanos also can denote “slanderous.” Since the malicious lies of a slanderer can deceive others, there is a possibility that, in the context of Paul’s words, baskaíno simply means “deceive.” Puzzled and distressed, the apostle raised the question as to who could possibly have had such a baneful influence on the Galatians.

The Greek expression kat’ ophthalmoús (“according to eyes”) is an idiom that signifies “before or in front of the eyes.” In this case, the reference, however, is not to a vivid portrayal of the manner of Jesus’ death. Rather, Paul’s preaching about the meaning of Christ’s death was so clear that it could be compared to making the Galatians actually see Jesus Christ nailed to a staurós in order to atone for sins.

“Depict” is one definition of the Greek term prográpho, which literally means “write before.” Besides being used in the sense of “write before or above,” prográpho may also denote “put on public display,” “set forth publicly,” “depict openly,” or “set forth in a public announcement” for all to read. Paul left no doubt in the minds of the Galatians about God’s arrangement for salvation through Jesus Christ. So they had no reason to believe anyone who insisted that, in addition to faith in God’s Son, circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law were needed to be divinely approved.


Numerous later manuscripts, after ebáskanen (bewitched), add the words té aletheía mé peíthesthai (found in Galatians 5:7), meaning “the truth not to obey.” These words are, however, not included in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. For this reason, they are missing in modern translations.

Many later manuscripts add en hymín (in you; here having the sense of “among you”) after proegráphe (depicted). The words en hymín are absent from the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, accounting for their not being found in modern translations.

Galatians 3:2

The apostle continued: “This only I want to learn from you, did you receive the spirit out of works of law or out of a hearing of faith?” To rescue them from the trap into which they had fallen by listening to the words of a Judaizing element, Paul tried to stir up the reasoning faculties of the Galatians. In effect, he told them, “Answer my question.”

Regarding their receiving the spirit, the Galatians could give only one answer to Paul’s question. God’s spirit had not been imparted to them “out of works of law.” This had not taken place as a result of their observing the precepts of a legal code. What had happened to the Galatians did not have its source or origin in their seeking to conform to the requirements of the Mosaic law.

The Greek word akoé may be defined as “report,” “news,” “message,” or as “hearing” or “listening.” Hence, the expression “hearing of faith” can signify either a message that has faith as its prime focus or the responsive hearing that led to faith. Both meanings may be found in the various renderings of modern translations. Since the message could either be accepted or rejected, the emphasis is more likely on the response in faith to what was heard. Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians received God’s spirit. That faith was expressed after they heard Paul proclaim the glad tidings. (Compare Romans 10:17.) Not even in a limited way was observance of a legal code involved in their coming under the influence of God’s spirit. As uncircumcised non-Jews, they never had been subject to the Mosaic law, and Paul did not impose its requirements on them. Their experience in receiving the holy spirit was like that of Cornelius and others who put faith in Jesus Christ upon hearing Peter declare the evangel.


Besides having the basic meaning of “wind” or “spirit,” the Greek word pneúma can designate the “prevailing attitude” or “disposition”—that aspect of a person’s inner life that influences thought, words, and actions. In Greek, this term is neuter. Because of the predominant theological view about “God’s spirit,” translators usually use the pronoun “he” (not “it”) and capitalize “spirit” when the reference is to the “holy spirit.” A number of versions, however, read “spirit” (without an initial capital) at Joel 2:28, 29, [3:1, 2, in some translations], and a few translations follow through consistently without capitalization in Peter’s quotation of this passage.

The angel Gabriel is quoted as using the words “holy spirit” in parallel with “power of the Most High.” (Luke 1:35) This reveals that the “holy spirit” or “God’s spirit” is the power proceeding from the Almighty and is at his disposal for the accomplishment of his will. An examination of the use of pneúma in the Septuagint corroborates that the spirit of God is an influencing, guiding, and energizing power. At times, God’s spirit operated mightily in the case of Israelite judges, prophets, and others, enabling them to accomplish extraordinary feats, enhancing their abilities, or impelling them to reveal or express the divine purpose or will. All (not just some) who put faith in Jesus Christ were filled with God’s spirit, and it continued with them, not being limited to specific times only. The holy spirit produced marvelous changes in their lives and empowered them to be courageous in proclaiming the glad tidings. Additionally, through the spirit, a variety of miraculous gifts were imparted.

Galatians 3:3

In view of what the Galatians had experienced, the apostle tried to bring them to their senses with strongly worded, pointed questions. He wrote: “Are you so senseless? Having begun with spirit, are you now ending with flesh?”

The Galatians had received God’s spirit while they were in an uncircumcised state. This was unmistakable proof of their being divinely approved. Therefore, Paul asked them how they could be so foolish as to accept the idea that they did not enjoy a proper standing with God but, to be fully approved, needed to get circumcised and submit to the regulations of the Mosaic law. The apostle repeated the word anóetos, meaning “foolish,” “senseless,” or “stupid,” which he had earlier applied to the Galatians (3:1). It was hard for Paul to comprehend how they could be so stupid, yes, so dull in their perception.

Upon accepting the glad tidings as God’s word or message, the Galatians came under the influence of holy spirit and thus were impelled to make changes in their lives in order to be more like their Lord or Master, Jesus Christ. They began their course in or with spirit, since the spirit prompted them to conform themselves ever closer to the example of God’s Son. Hence, the Galatians were cooperating with the work that the Father was doing within them by means of his spirit.

Under the influence of false teachers, however, they ceased to look to the Most High to aid them to attain the full stature of his children. The Galatians started a process that was fleshly, one that had its source in the “flesh,” not in the “spirit.” They began to think in terms of what they could do on their own to prove themselves righteous. By legalistic observance of the outward forms of worship set forth in the Mosaic law, including the keeping of certain days or festivals, they imagined that they would gain God’s favor. Such legalistic observance was fleshly, that is, it relied on the flesh (human effort) and not on what God was doing by means of his spirit. Legalistic observance of a code of law also appeals to the sinful flesh. It promotes pride in human achievement and gives rise to feelings of contemptuous superiority in relation to those who seriously fall short. (Compare Luke 18:11, 12.) By means of his question, Paul emphasized how foolish it was for the Galatians to start their life as Christians by yielding to God’s spirit and, then, to abandon this course—to seek being completed as Christians through fleshly means, through personal efforts alone.

Galatians 3:4

The apostle raised yet another question: “Did you suffer so much in vain, if indeed even in vain?”

Generally, the Greek word páscho denotes “to suffer.” It can, however, refer to anything that a person might undergo—both good and bad. If understood in a favorable sense, the experiences would include receiving God’s spirit and all the blessings resulting from being divinely approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. While the context does not specifically mention suffering, there also are no qualifying words to indicate that páscho here means having favorable experiences. Therefore, it appears preferable to understand páscho in its usual sense (suffer), especially since it was common for believers to undergo difficulties because of being disciples of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts reveals that believers in the Roman province of Galatia were no exception.

When the Galatians embraced the evangel and abandoned all attempts to prove themselves righteous by legalistic conformity to a code of laws, they became an object of hostility. The unbelieving Jews would not accept the fact that a person could be divinely approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and without having to become a Jewish proselyte. Upon discerning that Christians did not insist on circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law as being essential for gaining God’s approval, the unbelieving Jews started a campaign of persecution to stop the spread of Christianity. For example, in Pisidian Antioch, the unbelieving Jews, upon seeing non-Jews taking an interest in the evangel, became jealous and began to contradict Paul’s teaching. The apostle and Barnabas then told them: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46, NRSV). As more non-Jews became disciples of Jesus Christ, the unbelieving Jews succeeded in stirring up the influential people in Antioch to such a degree that Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave. Later, in Iconium, the opposition of the unbelieving Jews reached the point that they and those who sided with them made plans to stone Paul and Barnabas. Then, in Lystra, unbelieving Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium stirred up the native non-Jewish population. Paul was then actually stoned. Believing he was dead, those responsible dragged him outside the city. (Acts 13:50–14:19)

The forced departure of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch and other cities did not eliminate persecution for the disciples who remained behind. (Acts 14:22) These disciples continued to face opposition from the unbelieving Jews and those who supported them.

If the Galatians initially had submitted to circumcision and taken upon themselves the yoke of the Mosaic law, they would have escaped persecution from the Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Christ. Therefore, the apostle rightly asked the Galatians whether their experiences of the past had been “in vain,” without any purpose or reason. Paul did not believe that what they had undergone was in vain and indicated this by expressing himself in a conditional sense—“if indeed [] even [kaí] in vain.”

The Greek term is an expression of emphasis and here evidently limits the conditional assertion that begins with “if” (). The Greek expression eí gé would, therefore, denote “if really” or “if indeed.” While kaí usually means “and” or “also,” it can signify “even,” and this meaning would fit the context.

To Paul, it was inconceivable that the Galatians would conclude that their sufferings meant nothing to them, that they had made a big mistake in not taking a course that could have spared them persecution. His question was designed to cause them to think seriously, to make them see that what they had endured was because of their having taken the right course. The apostle’s words anticipate that the Galatians would be moved to say that their faithful endurance under suffering had not been in vain but was purposeful.

Galatians 3:5

Continuing to reason with them, Paul said: “The [One] then giving you the spirit and working powerful deeds in you, [does he do this] out of works of law or out of a hearing of faith?”

Although the spirit is imparted to believers through Christ (Acts 2:33), the ultimate source or the Giver of the spirit is the Father. (1 Thessalonians 4:8; Titus 3:4–6) The Greek verb epichoregéo may be defined as “give,” “furnish,” “supply,” or “provide.” It is an intensified form of choregeó, which in its basic sense means (1) “to lead a chorus or dance,” or (2) “to care for the expense of a chorus.” The idea of providing a chorus at one’s own expense is the basis for the meaning “to supply,” “to furnish,” or “to provide.” Since epichoregéo is intensified by the prefix epí, it can mean “to supply fully or abundantly.” Thus, Paul called attention to God’s abundant or generous providing of the spirit to the Galatians.

The Greek expression “in (en) you” is commonly translated “among you.” When thus understood, the “mighty deeds” could refer to the miracles that were occurring among the Galatians, probably including the expelling of demons, healing the afflicted, and speaking in tongues or languages that they had never learned. If, however, the Greek en means “in,” the “mighty deeds” would designate the powerful workings of God’s spirit within the Galatians. They must have been aware of the tremendous effect on their lives and sensed the impelling, energizing, and motivating power working within them. (Compare Ephesians 1:19.)

What the Galatians had previously experienced did not come about “out of works of law.” The abundant supplying of God’s spirit to them did not result from or have its source in their getting circumcised and submitting themselves to the requirements of the Mosaic law. God’s working “mighty deeds” in their midst or within them personally began while they were in an uncircumcised state and without their having taken upon themselves the yoke of any legal code.

There was only one answer to the apostle Paul’s question. What had happened to the Galatians with reference to God’s spirit and “mighty deeds” was “out of a hearing of faith.” While the expression “hearing of faith” can mean either (1) responding in faith to the message that was heard or (2) “the message which proclaims faith” (Wuest), the first meaning is preferable, as it best fits the point the apostle made with his question. Once the Galatians responded in faith to the evangel (the glad tidings which revealed that an approved standing with God was possible solely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by dying sacrificially), the holy spirit became operative toward them, miracles were performed in their midst, and marvelous changes began taking place within them individually. Accordingly, all this occurred “out of” or as a result of a response in faith. That faith was an unqualified trust in Christ, the one on whom the message declared to the Galatians focused.

Galatians 3:6

Their coming to be regarded as righteous was on the same basis that God counted the forefather of the Jews as righteous. Paul continued: “Just as Abraham ‘put faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” The Greek verb pisteúo is commonly translated “believe,” since English has no verb form for “faith” (as does Greek). This term denotes to “put faith, trust, or confidence in.” Sinful humans cannot attain “righteousness” on their own merit. They are flawed and not without guilt before God. Hence, righteousness must be “credited,” “reckoned,” or “counted” to them. The preposition preceding righteousness (eis), often meaning “into,” here points to the result of the “counting” or “reckoning.”

Even Abraham did not gain an approved standing before God by getting circumcised and starting to live up to the requirements of a legal code. While yet uncircumcised, Abram (Abraham) was told: “Look up at the skies and count the stars, if indeed you can count them. … So shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:5) It was then that the words Paul quoted were applied to Abraham. The Genesis account reads: “He put his faith in YHWH, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) The case of the Galatians was just like that of Abraham. God reckoned them as righteous because of their faith in the seed of promise, Jesus Christ, and Abraham was counted as righteous on account of his faith in the divine promise about the seed.

Galatians 3:7

Identifying the true sons of Abraham, Paul continued: “Know, therefore, that the ones out of faith—these are sons of Abraham.”

In this case, the Greek verb for “know” (ginósko) may be either indicative or imperative. If indicative, this would mean that the Galatians knew who the real sons of Abraham were. It is more likely, however, that, instead of merely acknowledging what the Galatians already knew, the apostle was continuing to develop his argument regarding who is reckoned as righteous. Therefore, “know” evidently has the imperative sense of “recognize,” “understand,” “perceive,” or “see.”

The expression “the ones out of faith” indicates that those thus described have their origin in faith. It is their faith, their complete trust, that has made them what they are.

Sonship is not necessarily dependent on fleshly descent. John the Baptizer pointed this out to certain Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to be immersed. They imagined themselves to be children of Abraham and thus automatically in line for God’s special blessing. John, though, disabused their minds of such thinking: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:7–9, NAB) Similarly, Jesus Christ said: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this.” (John 8:39, 40, NAB) Abraham put faith in God’s promise about the seed, but the Jews whom Jesus addressed rejected the very one to whom the promise that Abraham believed pointed. Because these Jews acted contrary to the ways of Abraham, they had no right to call themselves his children. Instead of having the faith of Abraham, they manifested the murderous spirit of Satan. Hence, Jesus Christ could say to them: “You are from your father the devil.” (John 8:44, NRSV)

Abraham was what he was—the friend of God and one counted as righteous by him—on account of his faith. Since Abraham thus sprang from faith, all who (as divinely approved persons) likewise have their origin in faith are the real sons of Abraham.

Note: Manuscripts vary in reading either huioí eisin (sons are) or eisin huioí (are sons). This variation is immaterial when translating.

Galatians 3:8

Paul continued to reason with the Galatians: “But the Scripture, foreseeing that God justifies the nations [non-Jews] out of faith announced the evangel beforehand to Abraham that, ‘in you, all the nations will be blessed.’”

Many translations render the Greek word “but” () as “and.” The term itself can also mean “now,” “then,” or “so.” Possibly is to be understood as introducing an implied contrast that being children of Abraham “out of faith” was not a new thought. It was announced centuries earlier to Abraham. The term graphé (from grápho, to write), “Scripture,” is here personified and evidently denotes the written expression of God’s purpose. Since “Scripture” is the word or message of God, the apostle represented it as doing what its Author did—“foreseeing” and “announcing” the evangel. Scripture pointed forward to the time when God would count as righteous, upright, or guiltless people other than the chosen nation that descended from Abraham. This would be “out of” their faith, that is, the basis for justification would spring or result from their faith, their absolute confidence and trust in God, his promises and his arrangements.

That people of the nations would be blessed “in Abraham” was indeed “good news,” as special blessings only could come to those whom God views as approved, righteous, or upright. Being holy or pure, the Almighty could never bestow his favor on those who are unclean or defiled in his sight.

The glad tidings about blessing people of the nations was announced beforehand to Abraham. Paul used the term proeuangelízomai, (pro, before; a verb form of the noun euangélion, evangel, good news, or glad tidings), which only appears once in the Scriptures and denotes “to declare the glad tidings in advance.” In proof of the fact that people of the nations would be reckoned as righteous on account of their faith, the apostle quoted part of God’s statement to Abraham. (Genesis 12:3) The Greek words, however, do not correspond exactly to the reading of the Septuagint. While Paul wrote “all the nations,” the extant reading of the Septuagint is, “all the tribes of the earth.” Nevertheless, the sense of the apostle’s quotation is the same.

Since the apostle had already made it clear that the real children of Abraham are such “out of faith,” their being blessed “in” Abraham appears to mean that people of the nations share in the blessing by reason of belonging to Abraham. He is their spiritual forefather or ancestor. As his spiritual children, they share in his blessing.

Galatians 3:9

Concluding his argument, Paul added: “Therefore, the ones out of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” The Greek term hóste (therefore) links what follows with the previous words that, “in Abraham,” people of the nations would be blessed. Accordingly, as a consequence of being blessed “in Abraham,” they are also blessed with Abraham, the man of faith.

“The ones out of faith” are all whose identity has its source in or springs from faith—complete trust or reliance on God and his promises. They are persons of faith.

In being described as “faithful” (pistós), Abraham is being designated as a possessor of faith, or a man of faith. Because of fully trusting the Almighty, never doubting the divine promises, Abraham came to be richly blessed. The inspired psalmist sums up what the Most High did for Abraham and other faithful patriarchs: “When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in [the land of Canaan], they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. [God] allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’” (Ps. 105:12–15, NIV) All persons with a faith like Abraham’s become recipients of God’s blessing, thus sharing with him in being reckoned as righteous or guiltless from the divine standpoint and experiencing other accompanying favors.

Galatians 3:10

Drawing a contrast, Paul continued: “For as many as are out of works of law are under a curse.” All whose identity is “out of works of law” (that is, has its source in the observance of the Mosaic law) are under a curse, not a blessing. Anyone who endeavored to prove himself righteous before God by adherence to a legal code was doomed to fail. No matter how conscientious and scrupulous a person might be in such observance, he would be unable to measure up perfectly to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Instead of being blessed as was believing Abraham, the transgressor of the law would come under a curse. The law would condemn him as a transgressor deserving to be punished.

To back up his point, the apostle appealed to the Scriptures with the words, “for it is written.” He then quoted from Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is everyone who does not persevere [in] all the [things] written in the scroll of the law [so as] to do them.” Paul’s quotation differs from the extant Septuagint text. It reads: “Cursed is every man who does not persevere in all the words of this law [so as] to do them.” Nevertheless, Paul’s quotation, the present Hebrew text, and the extant text of the Septuagint make the point that a failure to live up to the law leads to coming under a curse. The word for “persevere” (emméno) basically means “remain” or “abide” and, in this context, denotes to continue to heed or obey.

Note: While en (in) appears after emménei (abide, remain, persevere) in many manuscripts, the word is missing in such ancient manuscripts as P46 (about 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus (though later added by a corrector).

Galatians 3:11

Presenting additional Scriptural proof that it is impossible to gain a righteous standing before God on the basis of adherence to a legal code, Paul added: “But that in law no one is justified before God [is] evident, because ‘the righteous one will live out of faith.’”

Since the Greek can mean “but,” “so,” “now,” or “then,” translations vary in the terms used. If understood in the sense of “but,” the word introduces an additional argument and signifies “moreover” or “on the other hand.”

The Greek expression “in law” is commonly rendered “by the law” or “by means of the law.” This would signify that the Mosaic law is not the instrument through which one is justified before God. It is possible, however, that “in law” signifies “in the realm” or “in the sphere” of the law, indicating that justification belongs to a distinctly different realm or sphere. In the sphere of the Mosaic law, a person cannot be justified, declared guiltless, or pronounced as righteous before God. Since efforts to keep the law perfectly would not succeed but only expose one in line for a curse, no sinful human could prove that he is righteous and deserving of life.

To show that justification had no connection with the Mosaic law, Paul used the word délos, meaning “evident,” “clear,” “plain,” or “manifest” and then quoted from Habakkuk 2:4. (See the notes and comments in the commentary on Habakkuk.) The Greek word introducing the quotation is hóti, which can mean either “that” or “because.” Translators have commonly rendered the term as “because,” thus presenting the quotation as giving the reason for its being evident that justification does not originate from the Mosaic law.

Paul scripturally identified the sphere out of which justification does come—faith. The Hebrew term rendered “faith” in the Septuagint is ’emunáh, also meaning “faithfulness,” “steadiness,” “reliability,” or “trustworthiness,” but here evidently having the sense of “trust” or “faith.” The passage in Habakkuk follows a statement regarding the Chaldean, a corporate man that was ruthless, inflated with pride, and acted wickedly, not uprightly, in conducting aggressive campaigns of conquest. During the trying period of the Chaldean heyday, a person would be sustained by his trust in God and his steadfastness in the conviction that the divine promises would be fulfilled. Thus, through his “faith,” the individual would “live.” This “living” would not be a mere existence or a continuance of life, but it would be a meaningful living as one enjoying divine help, blessing, and approval despite the distressing circumstances. (Habakkuk 3:17–19) Accordingly, Paul’s use of the text from Habakkuk is in full harmony with the spirit of the passage.

The part of the passage quoted by Paul reads as follows in extant manuscripts of the Septuagint: “But the righteous one will live by [literally, out of] my faith.” These words establish that the living of the righteous one is by or has its source in faith and, therefore, cannot be linked to the observance of a legal code. By reason of his faith, the believer comes to live in the real sense of the word. He is no longer under condemnation as are those who refuse to put faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ. Whereas unbelievers are dead in trespasses and sins, believers are alive—justified, declared guiltless, pronounced righteous. (Compare Ephesians 2:1.)

Galatians 3:12

As to the relationship of faith and the law, Paul added: “But the law is not out of faith.”

Again, as in verse 11, the Greek has been variously rendered. It likely is to be understood as contrasting with the previous quotation about faith, and probably means “on the contrary.” This conjunction is, however, missing in the text of P46 (c. 200).

Because of not being “out of faith,” the law does not spring from or have its source or origin in faith. For a person to obey a code of laws, faith is not an essential. It is not dependent on faith, but is solely a matter of following through on what the legal code prescribes. Even a person who had no faith in God or his promises could make an effort to heed the dictates of the law.

In verification of his statement, Paul quoted from Leviticus 18:5, “the one having done them will live in them.” He introduced the quotation with allá, an indicator of strong contrast and meaning “but,” “rather,” or “on the contrary.” Thus, Paul contrasted faith with what Scripture says about the law.

The present text of the Septuagint reads, “[the] man having done [them] will live in them,” and the term “man” is also found in certain Greek manuscripts of Galatians 3:12. Thus the condition for living, prospering, or thriving, according to what the law outlined, is works—doing. The individual who would be able to obey the law perfectly would continue to live in the sphere of obedience to the commands contained in the law. Since his life would be dependent upon heeding the requirements of the law, he would be living “in them.” Obedience to the legal precepts would be his life. He could no more continue living without obedience to the legal precepts than he could in an environment lacking needed oxygen.

Note: Instead of simply reading “the one” (as do P46 [c. 200] and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) many later manuscripts add ánthropos (man; accordingly, “the man having done them”). The variation, however, does not affect the meaning of Paul’s words, which are quoted from Leviticus 18:5. In the Septuagint, ánthropos does appear in the Leviticus passage. Therefore, if ánthropos is an addition to the original text of Paul’s letter, possibly the Septuagint reading influenced copyists to include the word.

Galatians 3:13

Regarding what God’s Son accomplished for those under the curse of the Mosaic law because of their inability to keep it perfectly, Paul said: “Christ purchased us [freedom] from the curse of the law.”

The Greek term exagorázo basically means “to buy out” and is, in this case, commonly rendered “redeem.” In the Septuagint, this word appears only once. It is used in relation to time and signifies to “gain” time. (Daniel 2:8) While also linked with time at Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5, the expression has the sense of “making the most” of the time or the opportunity, as if “purchasing” it for beneficial use.

Since the law is manifestly the Mosaic law, Paul, when writing “us,” included himself with all others who were subject to its terms. Because of being unable to live up flawlessly to the law’s requirements, all the Jews came under the curse that it prescribed for disobedience.

Christ, by laying down his life sacrificially, bought transgressors of the law freedom from being under its curse. God’s Son, as Paul wrote, “having become a curse for us.” The preposition rendered “for” is hypér and has the basic meaning of “over” but may also signify “on behalf of” or “for the sake of.”

Again, establishing his point scripturally, the apostle quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23. He introduced the quotation with the words, “because it is written.” Although hóti can denote either “that” or “because,” the apparent meaning here is “because,” pointing to the scriptural reason for what Paul had said previously. The quotation that follows (“Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree” [xylon, wood or tree]) differs from extant Hebrew and Greek (Septuagint) manuscripts in not referring to the one hanged as accursed of God. Perhaps the apostle chose to omit the reference to God since the beloved, sinless Son of God (in harmony with his Father’s will) took upon himself the curse resting on disobedient ones and, hence, could never be spoken of as divinely accursed.

According to the law, a dead criminal suspended from a tree or pole was regarded as cursed of God. Therefore, no corpse was to remain in this condition as a public warning for a period extending beyond the daylight hours, but was to be buried.

Galatians 3:14

Emphasizing that what Jesus Christ did went beyond benefiting those who were under the law, the apostle continued, “in order that, into the nations, the blessing of Abraham might come to be in Christ Jesus so that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith.”

The introductory hína apparently is an indicator of purpose. Jesus’ sacrificial death opened the way for non-Jews to receive the “blessing of Abraham,” evidently the very blessing that the patriarch enjoyed—being justified or counted as righteous by God because of his faith. While believing Jews came to share in the blessing by being liberated from the curse of the law, this blessing was not to be restricted to them but was to be extended to non-Jews who put faith in God’s Son. Paul, therefore, spoke of the blessing as coming to be “in Christ Jesus,” not through adherence to a particular legal code. Only after non-Jews were cleansed from sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ would God count them as guiltless and recognize them as his approved children.

The apostle again used the word hína (so that), pointing to what results to believing Jews and non-Jews because of having the blessing of Abraham extended to them. This result is their receiving the “promise of the spirit.” Since Paul established that both Jews and non-Jews were approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, the first person plural verb lábomen (“we might receive”) is evidently referring to all believers. By repenting of their sins and accepting the deliverance from sin that God’s Son effected, believing Jews and non-Jews received the spirit.

The apostle used the expression “promise of the spirit.” It is the spirit which God, through his prophets, had promised. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:38, 39; note that the language of Joel’s prophecy is broad enough to include non-Jewish peoples, as is the wording of Peter’s statement made on the day of Pentecost.) Only “through faith” or absolute trust in Jesus Christ—accepting him as God’s Son and the one through whom forgiveness of sin is made possible—did Jews and non-Jews become recipients of God’s spirit, and this proved that they were indeed approved children of God. (Compare Romans 8:14–17.)


The reading epangelían “promise” has the most extensive manuscript support, including the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus. In a number of manuscripts, the oldest being P46 (c. 200), the word is eulogían (blessing). Possibly the variation resulted from a scribal repetition of the previous reference to the “blessing [eulogía] of Abraham.”

Galatians 3:15

Developing the significance of the “blessing of Abraham,” the apostle continued: “Brothers, I am speaking in human [terms (literally, according to man)], a covenant, though validated by a man, no one nullifies or adds [to it].”

Paul addressed believers as “brothers,” as all of them were “sons of God.” On the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ, they were justified and experienced the new birth through the operation of God’s spirit upon them. Even though the Galatians had been influenced by the persuasive words of false teachers, the apostle still regarded them as his brothers, members of his beloved spiritual family. This indicates that Paul desired to help the Galatians in a spirit of love.

When speaking “according to man,” the apostle drew on an example common to ordinary life. Paul’s objective was to assist the Galatians to recognize the relationship of the Mosaic law to God’s promise to Abraham. In the Greek text, the phrase “though validated by a man” precedes the term covenant (diathéke). This emphasizes that a man-made formal, solemn agreement is involved.

Still, though ratified merely by a man, the covenant is binding in its originally validated form. The Greek verb for “validate” (kyróo) is derived from the noun kyros, denoting “power” or “authority.” Hence, the verb means “to invest with power or authority,” “ratify,” “put into effect,” or “confirm.” No individual can unilaterally “nullify” (athetéo) a man-made covenant or “add” (epidiatássomai) to it. For any valid changes to be made all the parties involved must give their consent. The Greek term athetéo commonly has the sense of “nullify” or “set aside.” It can, however, also signify “reject” or “disregard”—a meaning that would, in this case, not fit the context of the apostle’s words. In the Scriptures, including the Septuagint, the word epidiatássomai (epí, upon; diá, through; tásso, arrange, designate, direct, appoint, or set) appears only once and conveys the sense of “add” or “supplement.”

Galatians 3:16

Building on the point he made, Paul continued: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as [meaning] many, but as [meaning] one, ‘and to your seed,’ who is Christ.”

The Greek term commonly rendered “now” in this case is and has the basic sense of “but.” What follows, though, does not contrast with Paul’s preceding words. Evidently, therefore, the expression is to be viewed as pointing to an additional thought and not to a contrasting concept as would the rendering “but.”

Through his representative angel, God (not man) spoke the promises. The plural “promises” harmonizes with the fact that Abraham heard expressions of divine promise on several occasions. (Genesis 12:2, 3, 7; 13:14–17; 15:5–18; 17:1–8; 22:15–18) As formal, solemn expressions of what God would do, the “promises” constituted a divine covenant or agreement with Abraham.

Like the English term “offspring,” the Hebrew word for “seed” (zéra‘) may designate a single individual, or it can be understood as a plural in the collective sense. Paul’s argument focusing on the singular “seed,” not the plural “seeds,” must be understood in the context of the Scriptures as a whole. The manner in which the Scriptures speak of the “seed” indicates that just one “seed” (not many “seeds”) is involved. For example, after Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, only one of these came to be associated with the “seed.” Abraham was told, “through Isaac your seed will be called.” (Genesis 21:12). The Scriptures point to one special seed—the “Anointed One,” the “Messiah,” or the “Christ”—through whom blessings would flow. (Isaiah 11:1–5) Accordingly, Paul’s argument about one seed agrees fully with what is set forth in the Scriptures. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to the special seed—Christ.

Note: Most manuscripts read hós (who). The variants ho (the one) and hou (genitive form of hós) found in some manuscripts do not affect the meaning of Paul’s words.

Galatians 3:17

Focusing on the unchangeable aspect of the covenant that God made with Abraham, Paul wrote: “Moreover, this I say, [the] covenant previously validated by God is not invalidated [by] the law [that] came to be 430 years later, making the promise ineffectual.”

A number of modern translations do not include a rendering for the Greek dé, basically meaning “but.” Since what follows this conjunction builds on Paul’s argument, the meaning is not affected by leaving untranslated. The conjunction appears to have the sense of “further,” “additionally,” “moreover,” and not the meaning of “but.”

The covenant is the one that God concluded with Abraham. Since no one could unilaterally nullify or change a covenant, the introduction of the law had no effect on the Abrahamic covenant and the promise incorporated therein. God’s promise to Abraham continued in force and remained unchanged.

The expression “previously validated” is a rendering of the Greek word prokyróo (pró, before; kyróo, put into effect, ratify, validate, confirm; see also comments on 3:15). While not yet in the land of Canaan, Abraham (Abram) first heard God’s promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2, 3, NIV) When Abraham responded in faith, leaving behind his country and relatives, and later entered Canaan, God confirmed the covenant promise. (Genesis 12:7). Abraham was then 75 years old. (Genesis 12:4)

From that time until the giving of the law a period of 430 years passed, 215 years of which Abraham and his descendants lived in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:4–6; 21:5; 25:26; 47:9) During the remaining 215 years, Abraham’s grandson Jacob and his descendants resided in Egypt. This agrees with the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint that the Israelites lived in “Egypt” and “Canaan” 430 years. (Exodus 12:40; the Masoretic Text, however, omits the mention of Canaan.) With seeming reference to Exodus 12:40, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus presents the same chronology: “They [the Israelites] left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.” (Antiquities, Book II, chap. XV, par. 2; Whiston’s translation) The law covenant was concluded with the Israelites in the year they left Egypt. Accordingly, Paul could speak of the law as coming into being 430 years after God made a covenant with Abraham.

Paul’s mentioning the passage of so many years may have served to provide additional proof that the law did not “invalidate” (akyróo, negative form of kyróo) the covenant God made with Abraham. By the time the law was given, the Abrahamic covenant had already existed 430 years.

An integral part of the Abrahamic covenant is the promise that, “in Abraham,” all the nations would be blessed and that his seed would be given the land of Canaan. This promise was made before the law covenant came into being and, therefore, the law did not change it. Regarding what the law did not do respecting the promise, Paul used the Greek word katargéo, meaning to “cancel,” “abolish,” “destroy,” “render ineffective,” or “make useless.” This compound consists of katá (down) and argós (idle), which is a negative adjective form of érgon (work).

Note: Many later manuscripts add the words eis Christón (into [in] Christ) after “God.” These additional words are, however, missing in P46 (c. 200) and the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus, and numerous other manuscripts.

Galatians 3:18

Regarding the inheritance, Paul wrote: “For if out of law the inheritance [is], [it is] not out of a promise, but God has graciously given [it] to Abraham through a promise.”

If God’s giving of the inheritance had been “out of law” (had its source in scrupulous observance of the Mosaic law), it would have been earned as a right and could not be spoken of as the receipt of a promised gift. The inheritance, however, was not granted on the basis of merit. Moses made this very clear when telling the nation of Israel: “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations [YHWH] your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that [YHWH] made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:5, NRSV) As Moses’ words confirm, the inheritance was “out of a promise,” having its source in the God-given oath-bound promise.

Abraham did not personally receive a land inheritance. The cave of Machpelah and the surrounding field that he bought for a burial site could not be regarded as such. Still, the patriarch did receive the favor and blessing that the land inheritance represented. Because of his faith, Abraham was granted an approved standing before God, being reckoned as righteous. (Genesis 15:6) This righteous standing, accompanied by divine blessings, was Abraham’s precious inheritance. (Compare Psalm 16:5, 6.) It was not something that Abraham earned. Because the Almighty God promised to bless Abraham, he did so as an expression of “grace” or “favor.” Rightly, then, Paul spoke of the inheritance as being “graciously given to Abraham through a promise.” The Greek term for “graciously given” (charízomai) incorporates the noun cháris, meaning “favor,” “grace,” or “kindness.”

Note: Most manuscripts read ek (out of), whereas P46 (c. 200) says diá (through). The basic meaning, however, is conveyed regardless of which preposition appears in the text.

Galatians 3:19

Directing attention to the Mosaic law, Paul raised the question: “Why, then, the law?” The interrogative introductory word means either “why” or “what.” In this case, it is commonly rendered “why,” or “what was the purpose of.” Since there is no verb, the question could also be translated: “What, then, the law?” Rather than focusing on the reason for the law, the question could be understood as referring to the nature or significance of the law.

The apostle provided the answer: “Thanks to transgression it was added until the seed would arrive to whom the promise had been made, and [the law] was enacted through angels at [the] hand of a mediator.”

“Thanks” is a rendering of the Greek word chárin, which is related to the noun cháris, meaning “favor,” “kindness,” or “grace.” In its basic sense, chárin denotes “in favor of” but here apparently signifies “on account of,” “because of,” or “for the sake of.”

The Greek word for “transgression” (parábasis) literally means an “aside stepping” (pará, beside or aside; básis, foot, step, or stepping) or an “overstepping.” For there to be such an “overstepping” or “transgression,” a law, rule, or regulation must exist. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (4:15, NIV): “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” If no deeds, expressions, and attitudes had existed that, in the light of a legal code, could be called transgressions, the law would have been unnecessary. Paul made this point in his first letter to Timothy (1:9, 10, NAB): “Law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching.” In a sense, the law owed its existence to transgressions, and transgressions owed their existence to the law, which made the Israelites painfully aware of their wrongdoing by identifying it.

In Greek, the word for “add” (prostíthemi) literally means “toward [prós] to put [títhemi].” It here refers to placing something additional alongside the promise made to Abraham. There was no change in the promise but merely an adding of something alongside it.

The Mosaic law was designed to be temporary, continuing in effect “until the seed would arrive.” That “seed” proved to be the promised Messiah or Christ, Jesus. As “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2), Jesus Christ is the one “to whom the promise had been made.” (In Greek, the expression “promise had been made” is one verb, epéngeltai, meaning “has been promised.”) In fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, Jesus Christ is the heir and the seed through whom people of all nations would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18)

Both angels and a mediator were involved in the giving of the law. In connection with the role of angels, the Greek verb used is diatásso (diá, through; tásso, arrange, order, or appoint), meaning “give instructions,” “order,” “command,” “assign,” “arrange,” “ordain,” or “enact.” The context lends itself to the sense of “ordain” or “enact.” Angels are not portrayed as the originators of the law but as the instrumentalities “through” whom it was put into effect, ordained, or enacted.

The Exodus account implies that angelic ministration was involved in giving the law to the Israelites. When God first revealed himself to Moses in the wilderness of the Mount Sinai region, an angel did the speaking. “The angel of Yahweh appeared to [Moses] in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush.” (Exodus 3:2, NJB). Thereafter, the words of the angel are represented as those of YHWH. Since the initial revelation involved an angel, it follows that God’s later communication at Mount Sinai, where the law was given, occurred through his representative angel. Accordingly, Paul’s words about the enactment of the law “through angels” agree with the record contained in Exodus.

The enactment of the law was not limited to the participation of angels. A human instrumentality played a significant role. As the apostle added, “at [en] hand of a mediator.” Here the preposition en (in) evidently has the sense of “at” or “by,” and so the expression “at hand” apparently means “through the instrumentality of.” The Greek word for “mediator,” “go-between,” “arbitrator,” or “umpire” (mesítes) is drawn from the verb mesiteúo, meaning “to bring about an agreement.” Mesiteúo can also signify or include the idea of “guarantee” or “confirm” (as appears to be the case in its sole occurrence in the Scriptures [Hebrews 6:17]). Moses was the mediator at or by whose hand the law was enacted. The Biblical record states: “Moses went and told the people all Yahweh’s words and all the laws, and all the people answered with one voice, ‘All the words Yahweh has spoken we will carry out!’ Moses put all Yahweh’s words into writing, and early next morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve standing-stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent certain young Israelites to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice bullocks to Yahweh as communion sacrifices. Moses then took half the blood and put it into basins, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then, taking the Book of the Covenant, he read it to the listening people, who then said, ‘We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey.’ Moses then took the blood and sprinkled it over the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you, entailing all these stipulations.’” (Exodus 24:3–8, NJB)


The best manuscript evidence supports the reading parabáseon (transgressions). A few manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200), read práxeon (deeds, practices, or acts). The reading paradóseon (traditions) in one sixth-century manuscript is manifestly a copyist’s error.

The majority of manuscripts have the word hou (which) after áchris (until). In the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a few other manuscripts, the word is án, which, in this context, would have the sense of “whenever.” The variation has little bearing on the significance of Paul’s words.

Galatians 3:20

Pointing to the distinct difference between the law and the promise made to Abraham, Paul wrote: “The mediator, however, is not of one, but God is one.” The apostle here stated the general principle that there is no mediator for just one entity. A mediator functions only for more than one party. In the case of the law covenant, Moses served as the mediator between God (represented by angelic ministration) and the nation of Israel, and the people obligated themselves to observe the terms of the covenant. When the Almighty gave his covenant promise to Abraham, however, there was no mediator. God dealt with Abraham directly, apart from any human instrumentality.

Whereas the law covenant required strict obedience from the Israelites in order for them to become recipients of the promised blessings, the covenant promise given to Abraham had no such stipulation attached. So no one could make any changes at a later time that would require the performance of certain works in order to earn the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed. Not even the mediator Moses could introduce changes.

It was the Most High who used the mediator Moses in concluding a covenant with Abraham’s descendants 430 years after his giving the covenant promise to their forefather. Since the Almighty God would not be working at cross-purposes with himself, the law covenant did not in any way alter the promise made to Abraham. Instead, the law covenant served a special purpose for a specific time.

Galatians 3:21

To counteract any wrong conclusion about the Mosaic law, Paul wrote: “[Is] the law, therefore, against the promises of God? May it not happen.”

All who seek to live up to the law cannot do so flawlessly. Hence, they stand as disapproved before God and are condemned as undeserving of life. This is the negative aspect of the Mosaic law that Paul had previously stressed in his letter. Some readers or hearers of the apostle’s words, therefore, could have wrongly reasoned that the law actually stood in opposition to God’s promises made to Abraham. Evidently anticipating this possibility, Paul raised the question about whether the law was “against the promises of God.”

The apostle then answered this question with the Greek expression (not) génoito (may it happen). Being in the optative mood, génoito (form of gínomai [happen, occur, take place, become, or come to be]) implies a wish or desire. Consequently, a literal translation of the expression mé génoito would be, “may it not happen.” In the Septuagint, the words mé génoito are sometimes found as a rendering of the Hebrew chalíláh, which is a strong negative interjection conveying the sense of “far be it from,” or “it is unthinkable.” (Genesis 44:7, 17; Joshua 22:29; 24:16; 1 Kings 21:3 [20:3 LXX]). As in Paul’s earlier use of the expression mé génoito (2:17), it may be understood as signifying “perish the thought.”

By next calling attention to what the law could not do, the apostle showed that it did not contradict God’s promises, the fulfillment of which did not depend upon scrupulous observance of a legal code. “For if a law had been given that could impart life, indeed out of law righteousness would be.” Here the conjunction gár (for) functions as an indicator of reason, introducing why the law could not be “against the promises of God.”

Any giving or bestowing of life falls outside the scope of law. As to the Mosaic law, it delineated what was divinely approved and disapproved. Since sinful humans could not live up to its requirements perfectly, they were exposed as condemned sinners, undeserving of life. Unable to effect a person’s having a righteous standing with God, the Mosaic law never had as its purpose to grant life to any sinful human. Because life is dependent on being righteous from the divine standpoint, a law that could impart life (zoopoiéo, make alive [zoé, life; poiéo, make]) would of necessity have to be the source of a person’s ceasing to be a sinful human. If such a law had been given, righteousness (as Paul said) would have been “out of” or from that law.


The words toú theoú (“of God”) after epangelión (promises) are missing in P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus. They are, however, found in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and most other manuscripts.

Instead of óntos (really, certainly, or indeed), two ninth-century manuscripts read alétheia (truth). The variation is insignificant, as the words “truth” and “certainty” express the same basic thought.

Instead of ek (out of), found in most manuscripts, P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus read en (in). The order of the next three words, however, is not the same in both manuscripts. Still different is the word order in the Majority text (represented primarily by Byzantine manuscripts). Nevertheless, these variations do not affect the basic meaning of Paul’s words.

Galatians 3:22

Drawing a sharp contrast, the apostle continued: “But the Scripture shut up all under sin.” In this case, the introductory Greek word for “but” is allá, which is more emphatic in pointing to a contrast than is (also meaning “but”). The term allá may denote “instead,” or “on the contrary.”

“Scripture” (graphé, from grápho [to write]) apparently includes the Mosaic law, which is a significant part of the sacred writings. Paul evidently personified “Scripture,” attributing to it what the divine Author of “the Scripture” had actually done.

The expression “shut up” is synkleío (syn, with or together; kleío, shut, close, lock, or bar). In the context of Paul’s words, the prefix syn may have an intensifying sense rather than the literal meaning of “with” or “together.” Besides numerous occurrences in the Septuagint, the term synkleío appears only four times in the Scriptures. (Luke 5:6; Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22, 23) Based on its use in the Septuagint and the four other occurrences, synkleío can denote “enclose [fish in a net],” “confine,” “hem in,” “trap,” “shut,” and “close.”

The words “under sin” evidently signify being “subject to” or “under the power of sin.” All find themselves in this condition. While the Greek word for “all” is a neuter pronominal plural adjective in this case, the context indicates that the application is to persons, not to things. The neuter case appears to indicate that “all” is general, leaving no room for any exceptions.

In revealing that it is impossible for imperfect humans to gain divine approval by trying to live up to a legal code, Scripture completely “shut up all under sin.” Instead of opening up the possibility of gaining a righteous standing before God and, hence, life, Scripture assigned all those under the law to the helpless state of confinement or imprisonment to sin, with death in view.

Presenting the reason for what Scripture did, Paul continued, “in order that, out of faith of Jesus Christ, the promise can be given to the ones having faith.” Since all were confined to the power of sin, this revealed that the receipt of everything included in the promise had its source in faith. No one could obtain the promised blessings by any means other than the basis on which Abraham was originally given the promise. In Abraham’s case, this basis was faith.

The genitive construction—“faith of Jesus Christ”—is not to be understood as faith belonging to Jesus Christ. Instead, it is the faith that has him as its object. This faith is an unqualified trust in him and what he accomplished by dying sacrificially for sinful humans. All those putting their faith in Jesus Christ are given the promise, that is, they share in what the promise embraces—a righteous standing before God and all the blessings this makes possible, both present and future.

Galatians 3:23

Explaining what the law did, Paul continued: “But before the faith came, under law we were guarded, shut up, for the faith destined to be revealed.”

The coming or arrival of the faith was when Jesus appeared as the promised Messiah or Christ. It was then possible, through faith in him and his sacrifice, to be declared righteous or guiltless. Before the arrival of this faith, law (evidently meaning the Mosaic law) served a specific purpose. With reference to that purpose, the apostle used the Greek term phrouréo, meaning “keep watch over,” “hold prisoner,” “confine,” or “hold in custody.” Thus, the function of the Mosaic law was comparable to that of a jailer on guard duty. Besides “guarding” or “keeping watch over” those under its control, the law also “confined” (synkleío; see comments on 3:22) them, not granting any release from its unyielding requirements.

The Greek preposition eis, which starts the phrase about the revealing of the faith, usually means “into.” It can, however, also denote “to” or “till” when the reference is to time (Matthew 24:13; 2 Timothy 1:12), or “for,” as in the expressions “for the future” (1 Timothy 6:19) and “for the defense” (Philippians 1:16). Since Paul’s emphasis seems to have been on the purpose or reason for the law, rather than on time (until), eis is probably to be understood as meaning “for.” Accordingly, the law’s “guarding” and “confining” served “for the faith destined [méllo, be about] to be revealed.”

At the time the law was given, the faith (centering on Christ and his sacrifice) had not yet been “revealed,” “uncovered,” or “unveiled.” The revealing of that faith, however, was “going” to come. There was no uncertainty about its arrival. Thus, while the faith had not yet been revealed, the law had fulfilled its work “for” this faith, preparing individuals to embrace the freedom made possible through it. The law’s guarding, coupled with its confining, was of such a nature that rightly inclined ones would have longed for the time when they could be righteous from God’s standpoint, liberated from all feelings of guilt and unworthiness.

Note: Variations in the form of the verb synkleío (shut up, confine)—synkleiómenoi and synkekleisménoi—convey a slightly different meaning. The participle synkleiómenoi, (which is the reading of P46 [c. 200], fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and other ancient manuscripts) expresses a continuing action. On the other hand, synkekleisménoi (found in many more recent manuscripts) is indicative of completed action.

Galatians 3:24

With reference to the law, Paul continued: “Therefore, the law has become our pedagogue for Christ so that out of faith we might be justified.”

In the first century, the “pedagogue” (paidagogós), “tutor,” or “guide” commonly was a slave. His assignment was to supervise the conduct of a child and to administer needful discipline. Instead of doing the actual teaching, the pedagogue took the child to the instructor. Similarly, the Mosaic law, with its penalties for wrongdoing, functioned as a strict disciplinarian and prepared those who responded properly to accept Jesus Christ as the one who could release them from the law and its consequences for disobedience. Focusing on the function of the “pedagogue,” translators have variously rendered the apostle’s words, “the law was our disciplinarian” (NRSV), “the law was thus put in charge of us” (REB), and “the law was serving as a slave to look after us” (NJB).

The Greek preposition preceding Christ is eis, basically meaning “into.” It can also mean “to,” “until,” or “for,” and translators vary in their renderings. A number of modern translations emphasize the time element—“until Christ.” Others render the preposition as “to” and “for.” Since the result to which Paul pointed (“so that out of faith we might be justified”) does not focus on the time element, “until” does not appear to be the preferable rendering of eis. While “to” is an acceptable meaning, it requires the addition of “to lead,” and Paul’s words do not stress Christ’s role as teacher. The thought expressed is not that of a pedagogue leading individuals to the real teacher—Christ. Accordingly, “for” may convey the best sense. The law served “for” Christ. Its intent, purpose, or objective was to point to him.

Persons who were fully convinced of their sin and the hopelessness of being divinely approved through personal effort or merit were moved to embrace the only means for gaining the righteous standing with God that they so greatly desired. Their being “justified” or declared “guiltless” would be “out of faith,” or would have its source in faith. By putting their full faith or trust in or reliance on Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sin made possible through his sacrificial death, they were justified or put right with God.

Note: The majority of manuscripts support the reading gégonen (has come to be, has become), whereas P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus read egéneto (came to be, became).

Galatians 3:25

The role of the pedagogue is temporary. Calling attention to this fact, Paul noted: “Now [that] the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a pedagogue.” The arrival of the faith is to be linked with the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ. He is the object of this faith or unqualified trust. As soon as individuals could be justified by their faith in Jesus Christ, the law had served its purpose. It was no longer needed as a strict supervisor and disciplinarian, convincing those under its guidance of their guilt and utter helplessness with reference to meriting divine favor. A pedagogue (as was the law) suited the needs of children, but did not have a place in the lives of responsible adult sons.

Galatians 3:26

Pointing to the relationship with God that had been made possible through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul wrote: “For you are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus.” The conjunction gár (for) introduces a reason for not being under a pedagogue, which reason is that believers enjoy the standing of fully responsible, approved “sons of God.” Instead of remaining condemned sinners, all (not just a few or a select group) who put faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven of their sins and granted this noble standing. The “faith” of these believers is an absolute trust in Jesus Christ and the value of his sacrifice applied in their behalf.


In P46 (c. 200) the definite article tés is missing, but it is to be found in other ancient manuscripts. Its inclusion or omission, however, is immaterial to the meaning of the text.

Instead of en Christó Iesoú (in Christ Jesus) supported by the majority of ancient manuscripts, P46 (c. 200) reads Christoú Iesoú (“of Christ Jesus”). The expression písteos (faith) Christoú Iesoú denotes the faith that has Christ Jesus as its object and, therefore, does not differ significantly from the reading “faith in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:27

Regarding these “sons of God,” the apostle continued: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The plural Greek word hósoi may be translated “all” or “as many as.” Since the Greek verb for “baptized” is a second person plural, hósoi is restricted to those addressed, requiring the rendering “all of you,” or “as many of you.” Water baptism or immersion is the outward symbol of baptism into Christ. To be baptized into Christ signifies becoming part of his congregational body, being incorporated with all the other sons of God into a unity with Christ as head.

The Greek term endyo means “to put on,” or “to clothe.” All who are “baptized into Christ” “put on” or “clothe” themselves with Christ in the sense that they reflect what he is. They take on the characteristics and the standing of Jesus Christ. As he is the Son of God, so they are sons of God. In attitude, speech, and conduct, they are like Jesus Christ. Thus, the conjunction gár (for) serves to introduce why all having genuine faith in Jesus Christ are sons of God. The reason is: they have “put on Christ.”

Galatians 3:28

Pointing to what all believers enjoy, Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is not male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

In connection with rights and privileges in the first century, a tremendous gulf separated Jew from Greek, slave from freeman, and male from female. These fleshly distinctions resulted in marked inequality.

At the temple in Jerusalem, uncircumcised non-Jews (Greeks being representative of this group) were not permitted to pass through the openings in the stone barrier that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Women. While Israelite women could go beyond the stone barrier, they were prohibited from entering the Court of Israel. Only ceremonially clean males could do so.

In the Roman world, the slave was regarded as a thing, not as a person. His master had absolute control over him and could treat him as he pleased.

Paul’s words, however, emphasize that fleshly distinctions had absolutely no bearing on the spiritual standing the individual could enjoy. Race, social condition, and sex were no barrier to a person’s becoming a full-fledged son of God. In the spiritual family, there are not two distinctly different kinds of children—male and female. All are “sons of God.” Accordingly, as the apostle wrote, “there is not male and female.” Unlike the two previous combinations, which are joined by a contrasting oudé (meaning “nor” in this case), the terms “male” and “female” are linked by kaí (and).

The weight of manuscript evidence favors heis, the masculine form of the Greek word for “one.” This is indicative of one corporate whole, or one person. Genuine believers are “one in Christ Jesus,” inseparably united to him as their head. Because of their forming a corporate whole, all enjoy spiritual equality. There are no second-rate sons of God. All have been made part of Christ’s body in the same manner.


Pántes (all) has the support of most ancient manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200). Codex Sinaiticus, a later alteration in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, however, read hápantes (all, possibly an intensified form).

P46 (c. 200) reads hymeís este Christoú (you are of Christ), meaning “you belong to Christ.” While a few manuscripts have the neuter form for “one” (hen), the majority include the masculine plural form heis and read, hymeís heís este en Christó Iesou (you are one in Christ Jesus).

Galatians 3:29

Identifying the true seed of Abraham, Paul continued: “But if you are Christ’s, you are indeed Abraham’s seed, heirs according to [the] promise.” As the apostle had shown earlier, the seed of Abraham is Christ (3:16). So all who belong to Christ—those whom he acknowledges as his own and incorporated into his body—are part of Abraham’s seed. By reason of their faith in God’s Son, the Galatian believers became true children of Abraham. Therefore, they were in line to inherit everything that is embraced in the promise made to Abraham (3:7). No legalistic keeping of the law had put the Galatian believers in the position of heirs. As the apostle expressed it, their being heirs was “according to the promise.”