v. 1. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?
v. 2. This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?
v. 3. Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?
v. 4. Have ye suffered so many things in vain?—if it be yet in vain!
v. 5. He, therefore, that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the Law or by the hearing of faith?
The apostle here opens the doctrinal section of his epistle. But so great is his agitation over the threatened defection of the Galatians that his customary cool argumentation is here replaced with an excited chain of rhetorical questions: O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, to whom Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, was painted before your eyes? It was an evidence of senseless folly which the Galatians offered by their behavior in this instance, just as though somebody had bewitched or hypnotized them, as though they were being led astray as a result of magic. For the Cross of Jesus Christ and His atoning death, on the one hand, and the shallow legalism of the Judaistic teachers, on the other, are such great contrasts that no expression seems strong enough to describe their foolishness. The content of all Paul's preaching had been Christ's redemptive work; His expiatory death had been the theme of all teaching in their midst; their justification and salvation had been based upon His atonement alone: this was the picture which Paul had drawn and painted before their eyes as often as he appeared in their midst. Their present attitude, therefore, in giving ear to the seducers, seemed inexplicable unless one referred it to demoniac powers. It is always thus when people give ear to false doctrine, the folly often taking hold of them in such a way as to render them insensible to all appeals from Scriptures.
Paul here tries the one method which had any hopes of success, that of reminding them of their own experience at the time of their conversion: This alone I want to learn from you. Out of the works of the Law did you receive the Spirit or by the hearing of faith? To what agency did they ascribe the inward change which they experienced at the time of their conversion? The Spirit with all His gifts and blessings had come upon them; they had received forgiveness of sins, the assurance of the mercy of God, of their adoption as children of God. Surely not one of them would assert that this gift of the Spirit came to them as the result of their keeping the Law. The blessings of the Gospel had come to them through the preaching concerning faith. They had heard the message of redemption which wrought faith in their hearts, through the power of the Spirit; that they knew, and thus only one answer was possible.
The apostle now draws the conclusion which shows them the extent of their folly: So foolish are you? Having made a beginning by the Spirit, you now make the ending in the flesh? When they were regenerated by the power of the Spirit, they accepted the fact of their salvation through the work of Christ in simple faith, and the Spirit had free rein in their hearts, teaching them the various facts pertaining to their new state. But the promise of the splendid beginning did not continue; the end of their spiritual history threatened to be connected with things of the flesh only, with matters concerning circumcision, the various laws about purification, the observance of certain days and festivals, etc. To such matters of the Jewish ceremonial law they were attaching an importance which tended to make them eclipse the fundamental doctrines of Christianity in importance. Instead of going forward, they are losing ground in Christian knowledge so rapidly that there was danger of a speedy end, so far as their spiritual life was concerned.
Another question concerning their experience as Christians: So many things have you suffered in vain?—if it be really in vain! The Galatian Christians, like those of other provinces, had been subjected to various persecutions, most of which had been due to the jealousy and hatred of the Jews; many and various had been these experiences, and they had endured them all for the sake of the Gospel. But if they should now incline to the teaching of the Judaistic intruders, then all their sufferings would be vain and worse than useless. For their behavior would then proclaim their former resistance to have been stubborn and wanton caprice, without any foundation of Christian persuasion, without an object that would really make it worthwhile.
Paul finally refers to the situation as it obtained when he was writing this letter: He that now supplies you with the Spirit and works miraculous powers in you, does He do it by the works of the Law or by the preaching of faith? Paul had the confidence that the communication of the Spirit was still continuing in their midst, that they were being supplied bountifully from the riches of His treasures, that He was exhibiting miraculous powers among them: did any of them have the boldness to argue that these supernatural manifestations were the result of performing works of the Law and not rather such as followed the preaching of faith? If this experience has taught them nothing, then Paul would feel greatly disappointed.