The Scriptural arguments proposed in Galatians 3:1-9 present Paul’s belief that justification and righteousness before God for both Jews and Gentiles can only be obtained through personal faith in Jesus Christ, and not through the observance of Jewish law. This essay will identify, examine and evaluate the prominent themes of this passage using exegetical and textual evidence to arrive at the most adequate interpretation of the text. The development of Paul’s message was largely directed in response to the arguments proposed by his opposition, the Galatian agitators, with Jewish law standing at the forefront of the conflict. Paul regarded Old Testament scripture as divinely inspired by the literal Word of God, “not as a static document from the past but rather as a living dynamic reality in the present” (George, 1994). Therefore, George comments on Paul’s expectation that such reference to scripture would “have a spiritually transforming effect on his hearers and readers” (1994). To fully understand and adequately interpret this passage, one must first analyse the historical context within which it is set. Meeks and Fitzgerald support evidence pointing towards Paul’s use of the term ‘Galatia’ in its narrow sense, comprising the kingdom in north central Asia Minor (1969). The exact timescale of Galatians is debated, but themes consistent with Romans indicate a relatively late time period and modern scholars have dated Galatians between 53 and 55. Significantly, we only possess partial knowledge of the setting and context of Paul’s audience, thus certain proclamations in the passage which appear ambiguous in contemporary interpretation would have been completely comprehensible to the Galatians. Furthermore, it must be taken into account that the Holy Spirit is considered to be the divine inspiration of Scripture, therefore ‘one must study the Scriptures with a high level of reverence and diligence in order to correctly handle the Word of truth’ (George 1994). The expressed rebuke and concern in 3:1 was not an unusual diatribe in Paul’s epistolary style, nor was it the only point that Paul directly appeals to the Galatians in the theological section of the letter. In 4:12-20, Paul continues to question the failure of the Galatians to understand the character of the gospel, but only in 3:1 does Paul introduce the emotive particle ‘Oh’, which emphasises his impatience and concern. However, Paul’s barbed language here must not be interpreted in such a way as to contradict the gentleness that he treats the Galatians with elsewhere in the letter (6:1). Paul undeniably cared greatly for the Galatians and wished for them to be theologically and spiritually restored. (George, 1994). Furthermore, Matera states that the Greek word “Anoetoi”, translated in the text as “foolish” is actually “rendered by the NEB, REV, NAB and NJB as ‘stupid’” (1992). However, Matera also maintained that in Romans 1:14, the same word “is used in conjunction with ‘wise’ (sophros) which suggests that its opposite is ‘foolish’”. Therefore, indicating that Paul was criticising the Galatians’ refusal to recognise the true work of the Spirit, as opposed to suggesting that they lacked intelligence. On discussion concerning Christos estaurômenos, Matera comments: “Paul’s preaching had the graphic effect of presenting the crucified Christ to the Galatians” (1992). Thus, ‘Publicly exhibited as crucified’ is referring to Paul’s proclamation of the gospel in vivid imagery (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), as opposed to suggesting that the Galatians literally witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. Significant exegetical problems surrounding Paul’s rhetorical question: ‘Who has bewitched you?’, has resulted in many possible interpretations of Paul’s intended meaning. George points out that ‘the word for bewitched is a hapax legomenon’, which possesses supernatural and sinister connotations (1994). Moulton and Milligan suggest that the Greek term baskainô was borrowed by the Greeks from the Thracians, and subsequently the verb was borrowed by the Romans to give the form fascinare (‘to fascinate’ or bewitch’) (1930). Furthermore, Liddell and Scott identify Greek authors that used the word in many cognate ways: “to envy, to nurse a grudge against someone, to malign him, to bewitch him by means of spells or by casting the evil eye upon him” (1940). In turn, Bligh identifies the popular belief in antiquity that harm could be inflicted by the look from the evil eye of a jealous person. Thus, it cannot be assumed that Judaizers and other missionaries in Galatia were resorting to magic, the most adequate implication being that other missionaries in Galatia begrudged the Galatians’ receiving of the Spirit without serious observance of the works of the law. Paul introduces the term “Pneuma” (Spirit) for the first time in Galatians in 3:2-5. Significantly, Paul introduces the Holy Spirit into the Trinitarian context by demonstrating its role in representing God’s characteristics and in establishing Jesus as God (1 Corinthians 12:3). George comments that initially Paul “had just spoken of his proclamation of the cross of Christ” and that later in 3:5 Paul refers “to the Father who gave his Spirit to the Galatians” (1994). In this way, Paul establishes and reinforces the concept of the three persons within the Trinity as inextricably one. Furthermore, Paul’s choice of the verb “elabete” (translated as received), which is also used in 1 Corinthians 4:7, indicates that the Spirit is portrayed as a universal gift for everyone. In this way, through Paul’s teachings on Christ’s crucifixion and the revelation of the Spirit, the Galatians’ faith develops through the metaphorical hearing and receiving of God’s word, in antithesis to the works of law. The ironic double entendre in 3:3 potentially refers to circumcision (6:12-13) and to mortal existence separate from God. The term ‘ending’ may have been purposefully used by Paul to satirise his opponents’ belief that the law is necessary to “complete” the faith of Gentiles, as the word ironically implies “coming to perfection”. In the following verse, differing interpretations and controversy over the term “pascho” has resulted in the word being translated as both “to experience” and “to suffer”. George interprets the term as “to suffer”, as he draws on “periodic persecutions” in Galatia (1994). Furthermore, he unpacks Paul’s short clause: “if it really was for nothing?”, suggesting that Paul did not believe his attempts to divinely save Galatia were in vain. In 3:5, Paul reveals that he views the Galatians’ experience of ‘the spirit’ and ‘miracles’ as an ongoing part of their communal life. Paul’s argument moves from that of experience to a conclusion, as he repeats his previous question (3:2). This prompts George to indicate the importance of one’s understanding that Paul’s acceptance “of the validity of the miraculous revelations of the Spirit” does not separate “this element of the Spirit’s work from the sanctifying function of inner transformation” (1994). Therefore, demonstrating that Paul was referring to the miracles of the Spirit in Galatia, rather than the miracles that Paul personally performed in Galatia.The final part of this passage demonstrates a noticeable transition in Paul’s argument. From verses 3:6-9, Paul begins a complex argument based on scripture to illustrate that the salvation of Gentiles was always God’s intention. Paul’s use of the term “righteousness” implies that his opponents “nullify the grace of God” (5:4) when they add observance of Jewish law to the justification of righteousness, which is reached only through the death of Jesus. Thus, Paul emphasises that justification is secured not just through human works, but through faith in Jesus, which is evidenced in his rejection of circumcision. In verse 6, Paul is referring to Genesis 15:6, wherein he lays the theological foundations for an argument articulated by the connection of scriptural passages, in the style of the didactic exegesis midrash aggadah. Throughout Galatians, Paul refers to the Pivotal example of Abraham nineteen times and in his reference to Abraham, Paul goes further back than the authority of Moses. Thus, suggesting that Paul was attempting to satirise his critics’ arguments over Moses’ authority as father of the Jews. However, Scott posits that it is more probable that in his reference to Abraham, Paul was driven more by his purpose to display Abraham’s role in the history of salvation, as opposed to outsmarting his opponents’ theological arguments (date). To conclude, Galatians 3:1-9 has been extensively considered for its demonstration of Paul’s theological arguments on faith superseding the works of the law. Such justification and righteousness before God is doubtlessly obtained through personal faith in Jesus, and not through the observance of Jewish law, for example via the practice of circumcision. It is not surprising that Paul addresses the issues in Galatia directly, because of the emergence of “false preachers” and the imbalance between Spirit-filled living and doctrine in the Galatian Churches. Therefore, despite the fact that the Galatians had experienced the receiving of the Spirit, Paul arrives at the realisation that they were in danger of falling subject to embracing malignant doctrines.
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