NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson IV)
English evangelical preacher Charles Simeon (1759-1836) does not hold back when he says that the method of a sinner’s justification is plainly revealed in the Gospel. Also, there is no other doctrine more worthy of attention. There are numerous disagreements among scholars on plenty of other points concerning our salvation. But to be mistaken on this point that Paul makes here in verse one is to destroy all hope of acceptance by God as being right with Him. That’s why Paul is ready to place a curse on even an angel from heaven who comes with another Gospel if it could even be imagined that anyone could be found who would introduce a Gospel different from that which Paul himself preached. Unhappily, however, the Galatians were misled. The Apostle writes this epistle in order to reclaim them: he tells them that he even criticized Peter himself, and that, too, before the whole Church at Antioch, for dissembling the truth. He then goes on to also accuse their attempts at worsening the situation between Jews and Gentiles. I’m afraid that pastor Simeon would not be welcomed at an ecumenical ministers’ conference today.
John Brown (1784-1858) understands that when Paul speaks of the “truth” here in verse one, he means the truth as it is found in the Gospel of Jesus Messiah – that is, the true way to salvation through Jesus the Son of God. Some, says Brown, equate obeying the truth of what the Scriptures say of faith, much the same as obeying the Law should be equated with faith. But it is just the other way around. One obeys the truth of the Scripture because they have faith in the One who promises salvation, not the scriptures themselves. As Brown sees it, this refers to the complete transformation of character which results from accepting the truth and yielding to its power by letting it take full control over the mind. Apparently, as Paul saw it, the Galatians were not doing this. If they were truly walking by faith then their eyes would be fastened upon Jesus as the only One with the power and authority to save them. That’s why they received the Holy Spirit as believers, not as workers trying to fulfill the Law, the same way that Abraham was given a right standing before God as a believer, not a worker.
German Protestant theologian Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1873), notes that Paul begins to unfold to his readers that righteousness does not come from the Law, but from faith. But Paul wasn’t finished, after he censured the Galatians because of their surprising turnabout, he then asks them to look at their own experience, namely, to their reception of the Holy Spirit. You may be able to change a person’s mind about something, but they know what they personally experienced. In addressing his readers who allowed themselves to be carried away to that same strange intermingling of Law and Grace, Paul could not have built on any grounds more suitable or more natural. But Meyer finds the idea of Catholic scholar Jerome, who felt he discovered in this an expression tied to the natural weakness of understanding peculiar to the Galatians. However, the testimony offered on the other hand by Johann Jakob Wetstein (1693-1754) regarding the Galatian’s readiness to learn, and acuteness of understanding – the consciousness of which would make the reproach all the more keenly felt – is also to be set aside as irrelevant. By asking “Who has bewitched you,” Paul conveys his astonishment at how quickly this perversion succeeded in attaining such success.
John Edmunds (1800-1874) wants to know what was it about these Judaizers and their message that fascinated the Galatians so much they became spellbound by them? Couldn’t they see that they were allowing themselves to be victims of designing heretics who were passing off justification by way of a system of legal works which was entirely at odds with the Gospel Paul preached to them? Could it be that these false apostles knew how to casts spells? Were they witches in disguise? This doesn’t mean that the Apostle Paul believed in such things, but it was something most people of that age took for granted as being real. While in our day such things still exist on the fringes of society, the biggest danger for Christians is to become fascinated by the world and their way of living. They seem to get by when committing even the most immoral conduct without penalty. Don’t let it fool you, they are the fools who live as if there is no God, no hell, and no eternal punishment. What a wake-up they will receive on God’s Judgment Day!
W. A. O’Conor (1820-1887), makes an interesting point here when he says that the works of the law are unarticulated, unconscious, amoral, and unauthorized results of a principle that resides in the law rather than in the minds of those who perform them. In other words, if the Law did not demand it those things would never be done. They do not warm the heart or enlighten the understanding. All the grand moral and spiritual truths which are the subject-matter of faith, enlarge man’s soul and render it a fit receptacle for heavenly impulses and illuminations. Since spoken language is on a higher level than sign language, so communication made by language must excel in dignity those made by signs. Sign language does not convey the tone or intensity of words. The whole rationale-thinking process, the mental activities, the wide illustrative knowledge, which faith employs and stimulates, are more conducive to the growth and inspiration of man’s mind than any system of law possibly can be. It might help us to fully understand Paul’s meaning by accepting Galatian’s and Roman’s experience as an element in Christian education. So, it is by hearing or reading those truths which faith receives are conveyed from mind to mind, heart to heart. Now we see why in Paul’s mind, hearing the Gospel was so important.
Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) states that after having vindicated his claim to be an Apostle called by God and instructed by the Anointed One Himself through revelation, and recognized as a fellow Apostle by the elder Apostles, he is brought, by his protest and argument against Peter’s course in Antioch, to the deepest ground of his opposition to the Judaistic error, which is, that they are nullifying the grace of God by virtually pronouncing the Anointed One’s death as unnecessary. This appears so irrational to the deeply moved Apostle, that he cannot refrain from speaking frankly in addressing the Galatians. Their course suggests the influence of such fascination as is popularly attributed to “the evil eye.” It is a surprising, unaccountable course, especially when the Apostle recalls the clearness with which he portrayed to them the atoning death of the Anointed One.
Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910), Scottish Baptist preacher wrote that he was struck by the metaphor of an evil eye that runs through the whole question of what caused the Galatians to so suddenly turn away from the truth to falsehood about justification and salvation, and the word-picture of Jesus crucified on the cross for our redemption. He concludes that what Paul was trying to do was get their eyes off the Judaizers and put them on Jesus. This was the only way to break the spell and loose them from the spell they were under. The power of the Anointed One on the cross is much greater than the eye of any magic hypnotist.
I like the way Maclaren ends one of his sermons on this text in verses 1-3. He exhorted all those who were listening; he encouraged them to get their eyes on Jesus; this is the secret of triumph over the fascinations of the world. And, the longer we look, then the sweetness we experience will destroy all the seducing power of lesser and earthy sweetness, and the blessed light of the sun will all but extinguish the deceitful gleams that tempt us into the swamps where we could be drowned. Turn away, says MacLaren, from these things; grasp hold of Jesus the Anointed One; and although we may be as weak as a hummingbird before a cobra, or a rabbit before a tiger, He will give us strength, and the light of His face shining down on us will fix our eyes and make us insensible to the fascinations of the occultist. So, we will not need to dread the question, “Who bewitched you?” That’s because we are strengthened by the power of our answer: no one and nothing will separate us from the love of God through the Anointed One? O Lord, prays MacLaren, we always want to be near You. So, turn away our eyes from being tempted by vanity, and enable us to keep You always before our eyes so that we be not moved.
Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) Greek word study scholar, points out an interesting insight into what Paul says here in verse one about the “evil eye.” He notes that in the writings of Sirach “Ecclesiastucus”, this same word is used to define being “envious.” And in certain Greek writings it is used as “slanderous.” So we see that the two ideas of “envy” and “malice” and the “evil eye” are combined. We see this in what Jesus said in Mark 7:22. As a result, Paul’s metaphor here is “Who has cast an evil spell on you?” It follows that Chrysostom, followed by Lightfoot, think that the passage indicates, not only the baleful influence on the Galatians but also the envious spirit of the false teachers who envy them and their liberty in the Anointed One. Vincent is not so sure this can be proven in the text.
Bible scholar Joseph Beet (1840-1924), feels that it is only right to assume that the explanation of this Epistle is that in Galatia there were men who bitterly opposed Paul’s teaching that the good things of the Final Covenant are received by faith and in proportion to our faith, apart from obedience to the Mosaic Law or to any law; and that these teachers insinuated that Paul’s authority was inferior to that of the earlier Apostles because it did not come from them, and implied that he proved unfaithful to the teaching they committed to him. That his authority as a teacher, and his teaching, were not derived from them from any accredited source. So, they were making a personal attack on Paul, not just on the Gospel that he preached. No doubt, this would make the Galatians less sure that what he told them was the truth.
 Charles Simeon: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
 John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 106-119
 Heinrich A. W. Meyer: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 100
 John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 42
 O’Conor, W. A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 44–45
 Alvah Hovey: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 36–37
 Romans 8:38-39
 Alexander MacLaren: Exposition on Scripture, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 108
 Sirach 14:8
 Aristophanes: The Knights ; Plutarch: Moralia, 6:1, p. 24
 Marvin Vincent. Word Studies in Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 550)
 Joseph A. Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 72