Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 3-4, Argument 1)

Galatians 3-4 constitutes the probatio, according to the terminology of classical rhetoric—that is, where the principal arguments are presented and the case made. Paul uses a variety of “proofs”, generally moving between arguments from Scripture, practical illustrations, and personal appeals, in an attempt to persuade and convince his audience. He has already stated the case in 2:15-21 (see the previous discussion), and in these chapters he seeks to persuade the Galatians.

Probatio (Galatians 3:1-4:31)

I divide the probatio into six sections, and will discuss each in turn:

    1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6)
    2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14)
      —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
    3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29)
      Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
      Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
      Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
    4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11)
    5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20)
    6. An allegory from Scripture illustrating Slavery vs. Sonship (4:21-31)

Section 1: Galatians 3:1-6

Paul begins with an appeal to the Galatians’ experience, as believers who have come to Christ. He uses the rhetorical/dialogical technique of calling on his audience to bring forward the argument themselves (“this only I wish to learn from you…”, v. 2), by asking them a two-fold question, framed with a provocative accusation/insult (using the adjective a)no/hto$, “mindless, unintelligent”, i.e. “foolish”):

    • “O senseless [a)no/htoi] Galatians! who has exerted (this evil) influence on you?…” (v. 1)
      • Question: “did you receive the Spirit out of [i.e. from] works of Law or out of (the) hearing of trust/faith?” (v. 2)
    • “Are you thus (so) senseless [a)no/htoi]?…” (v. 3-4)
      • Question: “the one supplying… and working… (is he/it) out of [i.e. from] works of Law or out of (the) hearing of trust/faith?” (v. 5)

In both questions Paul contrasts two parallel expressions:

e)c e&rgwn no/mou
“out of works of Law”
e)c a)koh=$ pi/stew$
“out of (the) hearing of trust”

These are similar in form, with the preposition e)k (“out of”) in the sense of “from, through, on the basis of”. The expression “works of (the) Law” was already used in 2:16 (cf. my note on this verse), there being contrasted with “trust of Jesus Christ”, which is generally synonymous with “trusting in(to) Jesus Christ” as indicated there in 2:16. Here “works of Law” is set against “hearing of trust”, which probably should be understood in the sense of “hearing (the Gospel) so as to trust in Jesus”.  “Works of Law” is a shorthand for active observance of the commands and ordinances of the Old Testament Law (Torah or “Law of Moses”), particularly in its ritual/ceremonial aspect (cf. the similar Hebrew expression in the Qumran text 4QMMT). Here in Galatians the reference is primarily to circumcision, but would also include the sacrificial offerings, observance of holy days (Sabbath, Passover, etc), dietary regulations, and so forth—even extending to supererogatory acts of religious devotion which go beyond the letter of the law. By juxtaposing the parallel genitive expressions, Paul creates a contrasting distinction—Law vs. faith/trust (in Christ), and the Galatians are ultimately asked to choose between them. The implicit correct answer to Paul’s two-fold question, as he has already stated, is “out of faith/trust“; but what is it that specifically comes out of faith/trust? In the first question (v. 2), it is the Galatians having received the Spirit; in the second (v. 5), Paul refers to:

“the One [i.e. God]
—supplying the Spirit upon you and
—working (work)s of power in/among you”

This indicates the two-sides of the religious/spiritual transformation: (a) the believer who receives the Spirit, and (b) the active work of God in giving the Spirit—both of these are seen as the result of a person hearing (and responding to) the Gospel in faith/trust. In verse 3, Paul also contrasts the Spirit with “the flesh [sa/rc]”, where the (second) question to the Galatians is specified:

“having begun in the Spirit, are you now being completed in/with flesh?”

Paul often juxtaposes the Spirit and flesh in his letters, and does so here in Galatians (cf. the allegory in 4:21-31 and  throughout the exhortatio of 5:1-6:10). Clearly, the contrast Spirit/flesh is meant to be understood as directly parallel to faith/Law. The “works of Law” are effectively “works of flesh“. The implication is also clear that, in turning to observance of the Law (“in flesh”, esp. circumcision), the Galatians would be turning away from the Spirit.

This section concludes with a quotation from Genesis 15:6, regarding Abraham; its purpose is two-fold: (a) as a Scriptural illustration of the argument in 3:1-5, and (b) as a transition into the Scriptural arguments of 3:7-29, which center upon Abraham. Because of the importance of this citation (also used by Paul in Romans 4:3ff, 22; and again by James 2:23), it is worth comparing the versions of it side by side:

Genesis 15:6

hq*d*x= oL h*b#v=j=Y~w~ hw`hyB^ /m!a$h#w+
“and he [i.e. Abraham] relied firmly on [i.e. trusted in] YHWH and He counted/regarded it for him (as) righteousness”

Genesis 15:6 [LXX]

kai\ e)pi/steusen Abram tw=| qew=| kai\ e)logi/sqh au)tw=| ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn
“and Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”

Galatians 3:6

kaqw\$  )Abraa\m e)pi/steusen tw=| qew=| kai\ e)logi/sqh au)tw=| ei)$ dikaiosu/nhn
“and {even as} Abraham trusted (in) God and it was counted to/for him unto justice/righteousness”

The citation in Galatians (like those in Romans and James) matches the LXX, which itself is a fairly literal rendering of the Hebrew, the only real difference being the use of the (divine) passive e)logi/sqh (“was counted”) in Greek rather that the active “he [i.e. God] counted it” in the Hebrew. This verse, and, indeed, the entire Scriptural argument in 3:16-29, is dealt with more precisely in Romans 4 (a passage which will be discussed extensively at the proper point in this series). Paul presents it in rather a different context than we see in James 2:14-26; and this difference will be discussed in a separate note. Suffice it to say, Paul gives more attention to the immediate Scriptural context in Gen 15:1-5, where God discloses to Abraham the promise of a son and heir for him. This theme of promise will be central to the arguments from Scripture in the remainder of Galatians 3 (and 4:21-31).

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