NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson III)
Jerome makes it sound like Paul thought witchcraft was being used to pull the Galatians away from the Gospel. But the Greek verb baskainō must not be misinterpreted in such a way as to make Paul sound like he was legitimizing witchcraft as having such power. Rather, he used a colloquial expression that was adopted as a part of everyday speech. In other words, Paul was using “bewitched” as a metaphor, not in the literal sense. Instead, Paul no doubt meant that just as a small child may be dazzled by even the simplest magic trick, so too the Galatians, recently born in the faith of the Anointed One and nourished with milk, not solid food, had been fooled by some false teachers whose knowledge of the Anointed One did not exceed what they learned from Paul.
And since Paul, says Jerome, was using Holy Scripture to portray the Anointed One before their eyes, was using a whole chorus of First Covenant prophets who spoke of His suffering and passion, His blows and whippings, and the graphic picture of torture painted by the prophet Isaiah. And Jerome doesn’t think it was the majority of Galatian believers who were led astray. Paul may have intended this letter as a reprimand for one particular church, along with instructions for them to pass the letter around to others as a warning. No doubt the reading of the prophets continually and recalling all the teachings of Paul that they were able to hold their ground against being deceived.
Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) feels that Paul scolded the Galatians for being so foolish in leaving their faith-based right standing with God, but at the same time, he rebukes them for doing so with a mental word picture he painted for them of the Anointed One dying on the cross for their salvation. Aquinas uses the Latin Version of the Bible which calls the Galatians as “senseless.” But it isn’t common sense they are lacking, but a spiritual sense. Aquinas then points to Paul’s accusation that they were bewitched. For him, not only did the Galatians lack spiritual sense but what spiritual sense they did possess became delusional. They thought that everyone would see them as Courageous Lions of the Truth, but instead, Paul saw them as Cowardly Liars of the Truth.
When Martin Luther read the opening verse here in Galatians, he remarked that Paul criticizes the Galatians rather sharply when he calls them “fools, bewitched, and disobedient.” Whether he is indignant or sorry, says Luther, he may be both. As far as Luther is concerned, it is the duty of any Christian pastor to scold the people committed to their charge. Of course, the pastor’s anger must not flow from meanness, but from affection and a real zeal for the Anointed One. And when dealing with believers who don’t seem to know how or don’t care to follow instructions, each pastor must remember that grace does not suddenly transform a Christian into a new and perfect saint. There are some small and some large deposits of the old and sinful nature that remain stuck to them.
The Spirit of God chooses not to overcome all human deficiencies at once. Sanctification takes time. Not because the Spirit is slow, but because believers are slow in giving up their old habits. Although the Galatians were enlightened by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of faith, something of their national trait of foolishness plus their original depravity clung to them. Let no person think that once they receive faith, they can presently be converted into a faultless being. The grime of old vices will stick to them, be they ever so good a Christian. In another writing, Luther had this interesting thought about the subject here in Chapter three: The law, with its righteousness, is like a cloud without rain, which promises rain but gives none; even so does the law promise salvation, but never gives it, for the Law was not assigned for that purpose, says Paul.
John Calvin makes a pointed jab at some critics here with regard to Paul saying that he pictured the Anointed One crucified right before the Galatian’s eyes. Calvin confessed that the way things were in his day there plenty of theologians who cannot bear it went books contain such images as the one Paul painted. So, he asks, how did they become so stupid? Was it the fact that they were cheated out of the only doctrine which was proper to instruct them? The simple reason why those in charge of churches gave up their office of teaching the Gospel and taught idols was that they themselves were dumb. Of what use, then, were the hanging in churches of so many crosses of wood and stone, silver and gold, if this doctrine was faithfully and honestly being preached, showing that the Anointed One died that He might bear our curse upon the cross, that He might wash away our sins by the sacrifice of His body, wash them in His blood, and, in short, reconcile us to God the Father? From this one doctrine, the people would learn more than from a thousand crosses of wood and stone. As for crosses of gold and silver, it may be true that the covetous give their eyes and minds to them more eagerly than to any heavenly instructor.
William Perkins (1558-1602) notes that there were many even in his day that could be labeled as “enemies of the cross.” However, when such a weighty and special part of the Christian religion is very much neglected, Perkin’s cries out: O man or woman, high or low, young or old, if you have been wanting to know the Way, begin though it may cause you embarrassment to learn, learning truly to know the Anointed One. That you may begin to behold Him often, not still on the wooden crucifix after the Roman Catholic manner, but in the preaching of the Word, and in the Ordinances, in which you will see Him crucified before your eyes, as Paul says here in verse one. Desire not only here upon earth to behold Him with the physical eye, but look upon Him with the eye of true and lively faith, applying Him and His merits to yourself as your own, and that with a broken and bruised heart, as the poor Israelites stung with fiery serpents even to death, looked up to the brazen serpent in the wilderness of Sinai. Again, you must look upon Him first of all as through a spiritual crystal, in which you will see God’s glory greater in your redemption, than in your original creation.
Catholic scholar and priest Cornelius à Lápide (1567-1637 AD), in his commentary on Galatians, gives us an interesting picture of Galatia in his day. When Paul called them “foolish,” they gave him plenty of reasons to do so. Cornelius points to what some of the historians say about them. For instance, a philosopher from Crete named Epimenides (flourished in the 6th century BC), accused all Cretans of being liars; charges the Arabs with insincerity; the Dalmatians (Serbia today) with ferocity. All the poets condemn the cowardice of the Phrygians (Turks). Cicero asserts that the Greeks are frivolous by nature and empty by education. He agrees with Jerome who said each province forms its own characteristics.
In the same way, says Lápide, the Apostle Paul charges the Galatians with the defects inherent in their ethnicity in describing them as somber, stubborn, and slow to wisdom. Hilary of Poitiers (310-367 AD), calls the Gauls obstinate; and again, he insists that the stupidity of the Galatians can be traced to their inclination to believe to all sorts of foolish heresies. Lápide then tells how he once visited Ancyra (Ankara today), the largest metropolis of Galatia, will agree that they were torn with schisms. They can’t get along with each other, let alone foreigners. This is what Paul was dealing with, and to know this should help us understand why he was so frustrated with the sudden turn back to doing things the old way.
But Lapide is also drawn to how this verse is interpreted by early church scholars. For instance, Jerome interprets the Latin verb præscriptus (Greek, prographō – “set forth” KJV; “portrayed” NIV) to mean that the death of Christ was, predicted by the prophets and in the sacraments of the Old Law. But Lapide says there is a third and better meaning. The Anointed One was put in writing, or by a picture, before their very eyes, crucified. The Galatians were not spectators of the actual Crucifixion, but by preaching and faith the Anointed One was represented to them as crucified. The sense, then, is: Though crucified at Jerusalem in fact, yet the Anointed One was presented as though He was crucified for them to see. O Galatians, by my preaching and your eyes of faith, says Paul, you saw Christ hanging on the Cross more clearly than did the Jews who stood at its foot. Who, then, has cast a spell upon those eyes which have so clearly seen Christ crucified?
William Burkitt (1654-1703) seems filled with emotion as he describes what Paul remembers how it was when he taught the Galatians the story of Jesus. For him, the senseless and atrocious aggravation caused by this cowardly act of the Galatians occurred after Jesus the Messiah was evidently portrayed by Paul in order for them to visualize the scene as though they were standing there on Calvary to see the horror of His brutal suffering and agonizing death. Yes, the Messiah who bought their freedom from the bondage of the ceremonial law with great purpose and design for their liberty in grace. Paul made it so real that they could see the Messiah being crucified as they stood and watched.
Then Burkitt turns to the Judaizing professors, heretics, and false teachers and labels them with the infamous brand of being spiritual sorcerers, and calling their doctrines spiritual witchcraft: O foolish Galatians, who has made such fools out of you? As sorcerers, deluding the senses, made people believe that what they see can disappear by the sleight of hand in the same way an illusionist makes an object appear and disappear into thin air. Heretics are no better. They manipulate human reasoning so as to take what is half-truth and make them believe it is the whole truth. Sorcerers are able to do things beyond their own ability and skill by the help of Satan, and heretical spirits are often, with Satan’s cooperation, make their doctrines based on imagination so attractive that it draws multitudes of followers. O foolish Galatians, who has so successfully dazzled and deluded you with such success?
I like the way Matthew Henry (1662-1714) puts it in what we often call, “plain English.” In other words, short, precise, and to the point. He sees the Apostle Paul here in verse one dealing with those who, after embracing the Messiah by faith, they still continued to seek justification through works of the Law, depending on their own obedience to the Law’s moral precepts as their right standing before God. But finding it inefficient, added sacrifices and the rite of purifications to make up for the difference. At first. Paul sharply admonishes them, and then endeavors, by telling them the truth, to go back to trusting in the Messiah alone for their justification. This, says Henry, is the right way to do it. Once we admonish someone about any fault or an error is to show them why it is a fault or error.
 Isaiah 53
 Jerome: On Galatians, op. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), pp. 35–363:27.
 See Matthew 15:16
 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 55
 Martin Luther: Table Talk, Of the Law and the Gospel, p. 281
 Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion, op. cit., Of the Knowledge of God the Creator, the Argument, Bk. 1, Ch. 11, p. 125
 William Perkins. Knowing Christ Crucified, op. cit., p. 633
 Cornelius à Lápide: Ibid, p. 261
 William Burkitt: On Galatians: op. cit., p. 313
 Matthew Henry: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.