09f. Excursus: Additional "Tough Phrasing" (covers 3:2, 3, 5)

09f. Excursus: Additional "Tough Phrasing" (covers 3:2, 3, 5)

Chapter Three

3:2, 3 - I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Comments:  No other chapter of the Bible has caused more theological misunderstandings than Chapter Three of Galatians!  We would do well to tread cautiously as we seek to unlock its meanings…

Again, Sha'ul returns to his irony with a rhetorical question about the origins of the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh among the Galatian believers.  Sha'ul surely knows first hand from whence the Spirit flows from God to an individual.  However, in this portion of his letter he is attempting to shock the readers back into some semblance of “biblical reality.”  Having begun with the truth of Yeshua’s atoning death, how could they possibly be considering going back on such a revelation?  To the apostle, such a notion was ludicrously untenable!  Again, knowing that the Greek word for law (nomos) can refer to the Oral Tradition of proselyte conversion helps us to understand Paul to be challenging its validity among genuine covenant members.  Surely lasting covenant membership is not acquired by human effort, but rather by placing one’s trust in the Ultimate Son of the Covenant, Yeshua himself.  Our opening question might be better phrased as so:  “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by becoming proselytes, or by believing what you heard?”  Paul immediately provides his answer, a resounding “Are you so foolish?”  To suppose that human achievement could in some way trump the grace of God as afforded by his Only Son was an exercise in futility!  The second question then is merely a clarification of his previous inquisition stated this time using the explicit language of the Influencers, viz, “human effort,” referring back to the proselyte ceremony.  The historic position held to by the later emerging Christian church that the apostle is pitting true faith in Yeshua against any supposed Torah observance finds no basis from the context of Paul’s argument here.  Indeed, we must allow the context of the letter to determine what is driving his consternation.  Read without the clarity of context, we will forever misconstrue Paul to be teaching Gentile believers that HaShem’s Laws hold no valuable place in the practical application of the very Promise inherited through Yeshua the Savior.  Read without the clarity of context, we will misunderstand Paul to be denigrating the Torah in favor of being led by the Spirit.

3:5 - Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Comments:  This verse is a restating of the previous round of rhetorical questioning.  Obviously by now we know that Paul is not in favor of ethnic-driven righteousness, a position maintained by his detractors.  The evidence that the Galatians are already in possession of genuine and lasting covenant status is the fact that the Ruach HaKodesh is indeed working among them!  Recall Peter’s surprise when the Ruach HaKodesh fell freely on Cornelius and company in Acts 10: 44-48.  Why was Peter surprised?  Because the long-standing belief among the Judaisms of the 1st century sincerely assumed that God only chose Jews as covenant partners!  Paul here is acknowledging the genuine working of the Spirit among his fellow Gentiles as proof positive that they were existing covenant members and not merely “Gentile-to-Jewish converts” in the process of becoming covenant members.  The question is meant to raise the issue in the minds of the Galatians as to what exactly attracts the attention of God himself: flesh or faith?  The answer is given below using Avraham as the paradigm.

Return to Topics of Discussion