Online Bible Commentary
Are You So Foolish?
Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing to believers in southern Galatia from his home city of Antioch, Syria in 49 A.D, prior to the Jerusalem Council meeting which occurred that same year. Paul has just completed his first missionary journey in which he and Barnabas planted churches in southern Galatia at Antioch in Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. This letter is the first of Paul’s letters.
The churches in Galatia, influenced by Judaizers, have already turned from Paul’s Gospel to a false gospel of a mix of works and grace instead of grace alone. Judaizers claimed that Christians must also follow the Old Testament law, including circumcision. So Paul is writing to the Galatian believers to direct them back to the true Gospel.
In this passage, Paul directly confronts those Galatian believers. He begins by calling them “foolish” and “bewitched” for not obeying “the truth”, the true Gospel (v. 1b). The word translated “foolish” is the Greek word “anoetos” which means unintelligent or unwise. The word translated “bewitched” is the Greek word “baskaino” which means to malign or fascinate by false representation. Paul is criticizing the Galatians for being unwise in believing false representations.
The word translated “who” is the Greek word “tis” which is singular, not plural (v. 1a). It appears that Paul is saying that the Galatians were deceived by Satan and not any group of people such as the Judaizers. The deceiver was Satan. Satan works through using people, which in this case were the Judaizers. Satan is always a deceiver, a liar, and he is not to be believed.
Paul continues his criticism of the Galatian believers by reminding them that the crucifixion of Jesus was a public event, a very real event (v. 1c). The very reason for His crucifixion was to provide salvation by grace, so that works were not needed.
Paul then asks a rhetorical question. Did the Galatian believers receive the Holy Spirit as a result of their good works, or their faith (v. 2)? The Gospel teaches that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon their expression of faith in Jesus Christ, and the Galatian believers were previously taught this by Paul. They should know the answer to this question.
Next, incredulously, Paul asks “Are you so foolish” that, “having begun” by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you now think that you are being sanctified, “being made perfect”, by works of the flesh instead of by the Holy Spirit (v. 3)? The participle translated “having begun” is the Greek word “enarchomal” which is a temporal participle that refers to the moment of becoming a Christian. It indicates that the Holy Spirit indwells us at the moment we become a Christian. Since the Holy Spirit began the process of sanctification in us He would also be the One to finish that process. Good works would not finish the process that the Holy Spirit started.
Paul then questions them as to why they have endured such persecution for being Christians if they are going to turn around and follow a false gospel, if indeed they are really going to do so (v. 4). Paul is still not fully convinced that they are going to follow this false gospel. He finds it inconceivable that the Galatian believers could do that after having taught them the true Gospel. This false gospel teaches salvation by works instead of by believing in Jesus, a belief for which they had been persecuted.
This passage hopefully makes us think about what we believe as Christians. Do we believe that we have to be “good” to go to Heaven? Do good people go to Heaven just because they have been a good person? The answer to these questions is no.
We go to Heaven because we have believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. At the moment of that belief we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit then works in us so that we become sanctified, good in the eyes of Christ. Often who the world recognizes as a good person, the Lord does not. We are not to be “so foolish” as to believe the world, who is mostly under the influence of Satan.