Galatians Chapter Three: ‘Stupid Galatians’

The third chapter of Galatians was incredibly enjoyable to translate. As one working with the text, the nuance of Paul’s writing in the last half of the chapter gave way to more creative freedom, at least that is what I felt, in finding the the right wording and tone. On a personal note, he starts out by insulting them, but finishes the chapter with the beautiful soaring rhetoric of inclusion. It is kind of funny, if you think about it — ‘Hey idiot . . . we’re in this together’.

As usual, there are three parts here. The first is the translation from the Greek New Testament. The second part is translation notes and the last are study questions for personal reflection or for group study. I finished the translation this morning for Chapter Four, and will post it next week, one week at a time finishing right before the season of Lent begins.

Galatians: Chapter Three 

1. Stupid Galatians!* Who tricked you? It was before your very eyes Messiah Jesus has been publicly crucified.

2. There is only one thing I want to learn from you; did you receive the Spirit from works of the law or by hearing then believing? 

3. You are truly tricked — beginning in the Spirit and now finishing in the flesh. 

4. Why did you suffer so much for nothing? If it was for nothing. 

5.  So come now, does the one who supplies you with the Spirit and wonder-working power do so by works of the law or by hearing then believing 

6. just like Abram who ‘believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness’?**

7. You should know this, those who believe are the children of Abram.

8. The scriptures predicted the Gentiles would be made right by believing when God gave the gospel beforehand to Abram, that ‘all the Gentiles will be blessed in you.’

9. So now those who believe are blessed with the faith of Abram. 

10. Those who count on the works of the law are under a curse because it is written, ‘Everyone is accursed who does not keep everything and do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ 

11. For it is clear no one is made right with God by the law, for, ‘those who are right will live by belief.’

12.  The law is not out of belief, therefore, the one who has done them, ‘will live by them.’ 

13. Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law. By becoming accursed for us, and so it is written, ‘accursed is everyone who has been hanged on a tree.’ 

14. So now the blessing of Abram stretched to the Gentiles in Messiah Jesus, and thereby we might receive the promised Spirit through belief. 

15. Brothers and sisters, let me speak to it in an everyday human way; it’s all very similar to a will that’s already probated, and no one can annul any of it or add a codicil. 

16. The promise was made to Abram and his seed***. It does not say ‘seeds, as though it were plural, but from one – your seed – who is Messiah. 

17. I tell you this, a will already probated by God cannot be annulled by the coming of the law four hundred and thirty years later.  The promise cannot be cancelled. 

18. If the inheritance comes from the law, it is no longer by the promise, but God has bestowed the promise to Abram.

19. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressors until the promised seed would come. It was handed down by the angels, mediators. 

20. The mediator was not one, but God is one.

21. Is the law then against the promise of God? Never! If the law that was given was able to bring life, then rightness really would come from the law. 

22. For the scriptures locked everyone up under sin, so that the promise comes by belief in Jesus as Messiah to those who are believing. ****  

23. Before faith came, we were held captive under the law waiting for faith to be revealed. 

24. The law became our teacher in Messiah, so that we might be made right by belief. 

25. But belief has come. We are no longer under the teacher.

26. For all of you are children of God by belief in Jesus as Messiah. 

27. It is the people who have been baptized into Messiah that have clothed themselves in Messiah. 

28. There is no Jew nor Greek. There is no slave nor free. There is no male nor female. You are all one in Messiah Jesus. 

29. And, if you are of Messiah, then you are seed of Abram, inheritors by promise. 

Translation Notes

*Some translators use “foolish” but Paul doesn’t use the word most commonly associated with fool or foolish in the Bible, which is one of my favorite words, a root word of ‘moron’. He chooses a completely different word, and so did it. 

**It is hard to know where to put the question mark, but there is a question in verses 5-6.

***The word is ‘spermati’ or a root word for ‘sperm’. Paul plays with the singular and plural of the word here, so child/children or descendant/s works well. There is a sexual connotation to the word in the language of the New Testament, though, that the word ‘seed’ implies in English so I went with that instead of softening it up.

****It is redundant, but I believe the redundancy is a feature not a bug of this argument, so I resisted the urge to clean it up.

Study Questions

  1. Paul did not attack the Galatians as being evil, but of being stupid. They weren’t thinking clearly on the issue. What issues do you think Christ-followers today do not think clearly about, i.e. are stupid about?
  2. Abram believed God, verse 6 says, which references Genesis 15, and it was counted unto him as righteousness. What did Abram believe about God?
  3. Verses 10-14 are some of the densest theological statements in the whole New Testament and are filled with Old Testament references. Use your Bible concordance and chase down all the Old Testament references and work through how Paul is using them.
  4. It is my contention that Paul is making an argument based on the Jewish tradition of angelic mediators of the law that the promise made to Abram was more durable primarily because God’s word trumps angelic action. Do you think he means the law was always inferior and defective?
  5. Paul uses the primary grouping of people — slave, free, Jew, Greek, and male and female to talk about the possible barriers in church life. What categories would you use today?