The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Galatians 3:1-5

Posted by Dim Bulb on August 13, 2016

This post opens with Fr. MacEvilly’s summary of all of chapter 3, followed by his notes on verses 1-5. Text in purple indicates his paraphrasing of the verse he is commenting on. Text in red, if any, are my additions.

A Summary of Galatians Chapter 3.
In this chapter, the Apostle, after having conveyed in feeling terms, a mild, paternal rebuke, to the Galatians (Gal 3:1), proceeds to prove by several arguments, that justification comes from faith and not from the works of the law. His first argument is derived from the experience of the Galatians themselves. The abundant gifts of the Holy Ghost were displayed amongst them, and he asks them, was it from faith these gifts were derived? and he, then, points out their utter folly in having recourse to carnal precepts for the consummation of that sanctification which commenced with faith (Gal 3:2–5). His next argument is derived from the example of Abraham, justified by faith before he received the law, and his justification is the model of ours (Gal 3:6–9). Another argument is derived from the evils entailed by the law, which, far from being the source of a blessing, is the occasion of a curse (Gal 3:10). A further proof, which may be rather termed a fuller development of the preceding, is derived from the difference of the effects flowing from faith and the works of the law (Gal 3:11-12).
He shows how we are freed from the malediction entailed by the law (Gal 3:13-14). His next argument is founded on the nature of the testament which God made with Abraham, and in a strain of reasoning which he elucidates by human examples, he shows this testament to be unchangeable, and not voidable, which would be the result, if justification were to come from the law (Gal 3:15-16). From these arguments he concludes that we are justified by Christ, or rather by faith in him, and not by the law (Gal 3:17-18). He then answers certain objections to which his doctrine and reasoning might give rise, and shows the points in which the Old Law, and the promise made regarding Christ, differed, and the excellency of the latter above the former (Gal 3:19-20). Reverting to the opposition apparently existing between the law and the promise, he shows that there was no opposition between them. They would be really opposed, if the law conferred justice, as the false teachers taught (Gal 3:21). He shows that the law served the promise, by causing men, oppressed with the yoke of sin, to look to the proper source, viz., faith in Christ, for the fruits of the promise (Gal 3:22), and also that it prepared us for the promise, by restraining us from manifest transgressions (Gal 3:23). The law held the same relation to the promise, that the pedagogue does to the preceptor (Gal 3:24). But now its office ceases; hence, abrogated, as being useless (Gal 3:25). The Galatians arrived at once at full grown spiritual existence; and, did not, therefore, require the magisterial discipline of the pedagogue (Gal 3:26). He points out the magnitude of the blessings conferred on them in justification. 

Gal 3:1 O senseless Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth: before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you?  

O senseless Galatians, slow of understanding, what magic influence could have so far bewitched you, as to give up the true faith, especially after the vivid picture, which I exhibited to you, of the death of Christ, as vivid and as striking as if he were really crucified before your eyes.

“Senseless.” The Greek word, ανοητοι (anoetoi), means stupid, or devoid of mind and understanding. “Who hath bewitched,” &c. The Galatians would appear, he says, to be under the influence of witchcraft, by which their senses were so perverted, that truth appeared as falsehood, and vice versa. “That you should not obey the truth.” These words are wanting in some Greek copies, and omitted by St. Jerome. They are admitted to be authentic by Matthæi, and others. “Jesus Christ hath been set forth,” which is read by others, “Christ hath been proscribed or condemned.” The meaning in the Paraphrase is the one more in accordance with the present Greek reading. “Set forth,” προεγραφη  (proegraphe), præscriptus est; a pictorial term, conveying an allusion to paintings exposed for public inspection. From these words, the Apostle wishes the Galatians to understand, that the vivid picture which he drew for them of Christ’s crucifixion, should have made a lasting impression on their minds, and preserved them from error, as regarded the necessity or sufficiency of the Mosaic ceremonies, whose total abrogation the mystery of Christ’s death so loudly proclaimed..

Gal 3:2 This only would I learn of you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by the hearing of faith?  

This one point I only wish to know from you. From what source was derived the spirit of graces and miracles which you received at your justification, and abundantly displayed amongst you? Was it from faith communicated through the hearing of my preaching, or from the works of the law?

He now enters on the subject of this chapter, viz., that justification comes not from the works of the law, but from faith. The first proof of this proposition is derived from the experience of the Galatians themselves. They received “the Spirit,” i.e., the Holy Ghost, at their conversion, and his gifts of miracles, tongues, &c., which were visibly displayed amongst them. These gifts accompanied justification, and although their presence is not always a proof of sanctity in individuals, as is clear from the Gospel—“nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, dæmonia cjecimus?” &c. (“Have we not prophesied in thy name, cast out demons, etc.” The reference is to Matt. 7:22 ), to whom the answer given is, “Amen, dico vobis, nescio vos;” (an allusion to Mt 7:23~”I profess unto them, I never knew you,” etc.,) still, when plenteously conferred on a multitude, it is a proof of the giving of the Holy Ghost in real and internal justification. The answer to his question, which the Apostle knew would be given, is—these gifts came from faith, since the Galatians, as being Gentiles, knew nothing of the works of the Jewish law, before their conversion.

Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish that, whereas you began in the Spirit, you would now be made perfect by the flesh?  

Are you so far advanced in folly, as, contrary to all order, after having commenced your justification by spiritual means, of which faith is the basis, to attempt to perfect this by the carnal observance of a law, which brought nothing to perfection?

From the supposed answer, the Apostle shows the utter folly of the Galatians in inverting all order, by recurring in the first instance, to spiritual means for justification, and then endeavouring to perfect the justification by carnal means, such as the ceremonial law was, which effected carnal purification. Right reason pointed out the contrary order of advancing, viz., from carnal to the adoption of spiritual means.

Gal 3:4 Have you suffered so great things in vain? If it be yet in vain.  

Have you endured so many sufferings and labours in the cause of the faith without any fruit or profit? I hope, however, that by your sincere repentance, you will recover the full fruits of your former good works, which have been lost to you by sin.

They gave a further proof of their folly, in losing the merit of their past sufferings, by falling back to Jewish ceremonies. “If yet in vain.” He corrects his former saying, and expresses a hope, that their past good works and sufferings may revive by penance and prove of avail to them. On the latter words of this verse, Divines ground a probable proof of the reviviscence, by penance, of the merit of former good works performed in a state of grace, but now lost, as to their fruit, or as they are termed, mortified, owing to mortal sin. Others understood them in an exceptive sense, if it be only in vain, as if to say, it might have gone farther, and be the source of their perdition.

Gal 3:5 He therefore who giveth to you the Spirit and worketh miracles among you: doth he do it by the works of the law or by the hearing of the faith?

I now repeat my former question (verse 2): Did God impart to you his Holy Spirit, and did he perform miracles of power amongst you, owing to your observance of the works of the law, or in consequence of the spirit of faith which you received from hearing my preaching? (Of course you will answer, it was owing to faith, since you knew nothing of the works of the law at the time).

 He repeats the question proposed (verse 2), in order to connect it with the following verse. The answer of course is, that given in Paraphrase. This answer is understood, and keeping this in mind, the Apostle proceeds to the following verse 6. “Miracles among you.” In Greek, miracles in you.

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