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Paul's Argument in Galatians 3:1-5

1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 2 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? 3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort? 4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by your observing the law, or by your believing what you heard? (TNIV)
Paul finally begins directly addressing the situation in Galatia. This section contains the first of three major arguments, this one being an argument from experience.

Paul comes out strong, calling the Galatians foolish. This rhetoric may seem over the top to us, but it was not unusual in its day. There's more to verse 1 than reprimand, though. Paul is also expressing how perplexed he is that they could follow the false teachers when both Paul's ministry and teaching clearly proclaimed Christ and him crucified. Often we overlook the clear signals that Paul sends about the cruciformity of his missionary activity. As Peter T. O'Brien argues in one of his lesser known works, Gospel and Mission in the Writings of Paul: An Exegetical and Theological Analysis, not only did Paul see Jesus as the suffering servant, but he also saw himself as continuing the ministry of the suffering servant. Paul suffered for the law free gospel and the Galatians witnessed that.

In verse 2 Paul continues the appeals to experience this time asking a powerful question with an answer that he assumes is obvious and decisively settles the conflict between him and the teachers. How did they receive the Spirit? Clearly it happened at their point of conversion and prior to their observance of the Torah. Since this is a critical moment in Paul's argument, we have to ask why of all the questions that he could ask did he only want to ask this one question? I think that the answer to this question validates my analysis of the prior section. I'll defend this more in a future post, but the reason why Paul asks this question is because his central concern is to show that the Galatians were part of the people of God prior to their following of the law. Possession of the Spirit is the sign that one is part of God's family, part of the people of God, thus if you have the Spirit, you're in. The Galatians had received the Spirit prior to the arrival of the Teachers, and hence prior to their doing of the law of Moses. Thus they should have known that they already were full fledged members of God's people.

Verses 3-5 shows that gaining right standing with God isn't Paul's sole concern in Galatians. He is as or more concerned about how one maintains that relationship. As 2:15-21 state, one enters the people of God by faith (that's the assumed starting point). At that point the Spirit is given, sealing you as a member of the people of God. If you've already got the seal and are living life in the Spirit and experiencing fullness of life, why would you try to continue your walk by the Torah? Paul is perplexed and the way he puts his question in verse 5 shows that he thinks that the answer, at least to him, is obvious. The Spirit moved in many, miraculous ways; ways that would probably make many of us uncomfortable, but it was assuredly God's Spirit.

While the Galatians experience should make obvious the fact that they because part of God's people by faith, receiving the Spirit, and therefore that they do not need to observe the Torah to continue to be in God's people, because they will still have the Spirit in them, Paul is not content to leave the argument there. Those two strands will be the topic of the rest of the letter as he will expand at great length on each of them with special emphasis on the role of the Spirit.


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