Columns 647-658 in Migne PG vol. 61

Verse 1: You foolish Galatians! Who has cast an envious eye on you? [NIV: who has bewitched you] Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

[1.] He now moves on to another subject. Earlier he established that he was not an apostle of men, or by men, or who needed apostolic instruction. Now that he has established his authority as a teacher, he carries on his discussion more confidently, and draws a comparison between faith and the law. At the outset he said, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you” (Gal 1:6), but now “You foolish Galatians!” At the beginning of the letter, his anger had just begun, but now that he has refuted the charges made against him, it bursts forth.

Do not be surprised that he calls them “foolish.” It is certainly not a transgression of Christ’s command to call one’s brother a fool. In fact, calling one’s brother a fool is often a strict observance of Christ’s teaching. Christ does not simply say, “Whosoever shall say to his brother, you fool” (Mat 5:22). He adds the condition that they should do so “without cause.”1 There was certainly cause to call the Galatians foolish, since after such great events they adhered to the past as if nothing had happened. You cannot call Paul a slanderer for using this phrase any more than you can call Peter a murderer on account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), in fact, less so. You must also consider that Paul does not use such forcefulness at the beginning, but only after he has given much evidence and proof which carries the weight of the rebuke rather than Paul himself. He has already shown that they have rejected the faith and made the death of Christ into something pointless. When he now reprimands them, they can see his words are less severe than they deserve, though they are somewhat harsh. Notice how quickly he begins drawing back. He could have asked, “Who has seduced you? Who has perverted you? Who has been deceived you?” But instead he asks, “Who has cast an envious eye on you?” which lessens his rebuke by adding a hint of praise. For it implies that their previous condition had aroused jealousy, and that their present condition arose from the evil cunning of a demon whose attack had destroyed their former, thriving condition.

When you hear of “casting an envious eye” here in Galatians, and of an “evil eye” in the Gospel (Matt 6:23), which means the same, you must not suppose that the glance of the eye has any natural power to injure those who look upon it. For the physical organ known as the ‘eye’ cannot be evil in and of itself. Christ uses the term “evil eye” to refer to jealousy. The only function of the eye is to behold things. An eye can only behold things in an evil manner if it is led by an evil soul within. The knowledge of visible objects enters our souls through the eye. Jealousy is for the most part generated by wealth, and wealth and sovereignty and pomp are perceived by the eye, therefore he calls the eye ‘evil’. He is not referring to the way the eye looks at the objects, but to the moral condition of the one who looks with envy. Therefore, by the words, “Who has looked enviously on you,” Paul implies that the persons in question did not act from concern for the Galatians, or to supply what they lacked. Rather their intention was to mutilate what the Galatians had. Envy, far from supplying what is wanting, subtracts from what is complete, and defiles the whole. Paul speaks in this way, not to imply that envy has any power in itself, but meaning that the teachers of these doctrines were motivated by envy.

Verse 1: Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

Jesus Christ was not crucified in Galatia, but at Jerusalem. Paul’s reason for saying, “before your very eyes,” is to declare the power of faith to see events which are at a distance. He does not say, “crucified,” but, “clearly portrayed as crucified,” signifying that through the eyes of faith they saw the crucifixion more clearly than some who were present and watching at the time it happened. Many of those present at the crucifixion received no benefit from it, but those who behold it with eyes of faith, who were not eye-witnesses, have seen it clearly.

These words of Paul carry both praise and blame for the Galatians. Praise is due for their implicit acceptance of the truth. But they deserve blame for abandoning him whom they had seen. The watched as for their sakes he was stripped naked, transfixed, nailed to the cross, spit upon, mocked, fed with vinegar, insulted by thieves, pierced with a spear – for all this is implied in the words, “clearly portrayed as crucified.” They abandoned him and clung instead to the law, without a hint of shame at the thought of Christ’s suffering. Here observe how Paul omits any mention of heaven, earth, or sea. He everywhere preaches the power of Christ, holding up his cross: for this is the sum of divine love toward us.

Verse 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?

In other words, “You are not interested in listening to long speeches, and not willing to consider the greatness of God’s plan. Since you are so extremely ignorant, my strategy will be to convince you by concise points and a condensed argument.” Earlier he had convinced them by what he said to Peter. Now he only uses arguments based on what had happened among the Galatians themselves, not from what had occurred elsewhere. His proof is not merely taken from what was given to them in common with other churches, but from what was given only to them. Therefore he says, “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?” You have received the Holy Spirit, he says, you have done many mighty works, you have brought about miracles in raising the dead, in cleansing lepers, in prophesying, in speaking with tongues – did the Law give you this great power? Was it not rather faith, since before you had faith you could do no such things?

[2.] Is it not the height of madness for these Galatians who have received such benefits from faith to abandon it and retreat back to the law, since the law can offer nothing like what faith brought?

Verse 3: Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh? [NIV: are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?]

Here again his rebuke is well placed. They should have improved over time, but instead they have done the opposite and grown worse. Those who start from small beginnings make progress to higher things, but the Galatians, who began so highly, have relapsed to the low. Even if they had begun in the flesh they should have been spiritual by now. But they started spiritually and were now acting according to the flesh, since the working of miracles is spiritual, but to be circumcised is of the flesh. After working miracles, had they moved on to circumcision? After coming to a knowledge of the reality, have they returned to the shadow? After gazing at the sun, are they now looking for a candle? After tasting strong meat, do they now crave milk? He says, “made perfect,” which does not mean merely “initiated,” but “sacrificed,” signifying that their teachers took and slew them like animals, while they resigned themselves to suffer what those teachers pleased. This is as if some military general or other distinguished man won a thousand victories and trophies, but then became a wretched deserter, thereby giving others the right to brand his formerly glorious body.

Verse 4: Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?

This remark is even more powerful than what he previously said. Remembering the miracles they had worked would not have been as moving as calling to mind the struggles and sufferings they endured for Christ’s sake. Paul says that these men would strip you of all you have endured and rob you of your crown. Then, in order not to cause too much apprehension, he adds, “if it was really for nothing.” “If you can only shake off your drowsiness and recover yourselves,” he says, “it is not for nothing.” I hope all those who want to put a limit on repentance will pay attention to this example. Here were men who had received the Spirit, worked miracles, become confessors, encountered a thousand perils and persecutions for Christ’s sake, and after so many achievements had fallen from grace. Nevertheless he says, “If you have the resolve, you can still recover your former condition.”

Verse 5: Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

Have you been given so great a gift and achieved such wonders because you observed the law, or because you held fast to faith? Plainly on account of faith. Paul could see that they had heard the argument many times that apart from the law, faith had no power. Therefore he proves the opposite, that if the commandments are added, faith no longer has any power. Faith only has power when the law is not added to it. “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal 5:4). This he says later, when his language has grown bolder, since by that point in his argument he has a strong advantage. Meanwhile, as he gains that advantage, he argues from their past experience. “It was when you obeyed faith,” he says, “not the law, that you received the Spirit and worked miracles.”

And now, since he is discussing the Law, he takes advantage of the opportunity to treat a related topic of controversy by introducing a convincing argument about Abraham.

Verse 6: Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

He is saying, “The miracles which you performed are enough to prove to you the power of faith, but please permit me to introduce proof from the ancient narratives as well.” Since they held the patriarch Abraham in great esteem, Paul uses his example to show that Abraham too was justified by faith. And if he was justified by faith, although he lived before grace and certainly abounded in works, how much more are we justified by faith. What loss was it to him that he was not under the law? None at all. His faith was enough to supply his righteousness. The Law did not yet exist in Abraham’s time. Neither does it now exist any more than then. As Paul proves that the law is not necessary, he introduces Abraham, who was justified before the law was given, so that no one could object to his assertion. The situation parallels today: then, it was not yet given; today it has been given but also abrogated. Paul’s opponents made much of their descent from Abraham and feared that if they abandoned the Law they would be considered strangers to his descendants. Paul removes this fear by turning their argument upside down, proving that faith in fact firmly connects them with Abraham. He draws out this argument more at length in the Epistle to the Romans [chapter 4], but he mentions it here in these words:

Verse 7: Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.

Which he proves with a reference to sacred history:

Verse 8: The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

If Abraham’s descendents are not those who are related to him by blood, but those who follow his faith, then clearly Gentiles can be brought into his family. This is the meaning of “All nations will be blessed through you.”

[3.] Here he proves another important point. They were confused by the fact that the law was older than faith. He removes this idea by showing that faith is actually older than the law, as is clear from Abraham’s case, since he was justified before the law was given. He shows that more recent events had happened according to prophecy, “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” This is an important point. God himself, who gave the law, had declared before he had given it that the Gentiles would be justified by faith. He does not say, “revealed,” but “announced the gospel,” to signify that the patriarch experienced joy from this method of justification, as he eagerly awaited its accomplishment.

Paul’s opponents had another worry based on the passage: “Cursed is the man who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out” (Dt 27:26). He removes this worry with great skill and prudence, turning their argument back on them. He shows that those who let go of the law are not cursed, but blessed. Likewise, those who keep it are not blessed at all, but cursed. His opponents said that those who did not keep the law were cursed, but he proves that he who kept the law was cursed, while he who did not keep it was blessed. His opponents said that those who adhered to faith were cursed, but he shows that he who adhered to faith alone was blessed. How does he prove this? We have been promised something extraordinary, and so we must pay attention to what follows. He has already shown this by referring to the words spoken to Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you,” (Gen 12:3). At that time, faith existed when there was no law, so he draws the conclusion:

Verse 9: So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Then he anticipates that they might object, granting that Abraham was justified by faith before the law was given, but arguing that Paul could not find an example of someone being justified by faith after the law was given. He anticipates this objection and proves more than required. Not only did faith justify, but the law brought its adherents under a curse. To be sure of this, hear the very words of the apostle:

Verse 10: All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.

This is his assertion. What is his proof? The law itself says as much:

Verses 10-11: “for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law…

…since all have sinned, and are under a curse. But he does not say this yet. He doesn’t want to give them this argument on his own authority, but establishes it by a text which states each of these points: 1) No one has fulfilled the law, and is therefore under God’s curse, and 2) faith justifies. What is this text? It is in the book of the prophet Habakkuk,

Verse 11: …because, “The righteous will live by faith,” (Hab 2:4).

This not only establishes the righteousness that is by faith, but also that there is no salvation through the law. No one kept the law, so all were under the curse on account of transgression. But God provided an easier way through faith, which is in itself strong proof that no man can be justified by the law. For the prophet does not say, “the righteous shall live by the law,” but, “by faith.”

Verse 12: The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”

The law requires not only faith but also works, but grace saves and justifies by faith (Eph 2:8).

He proves that only they who cling to the law are under the its curse, because it is impossible for them to fulfill it. Next, how does faith have this justifying power? He had already stood pledged to this teaching, now he maintains it with a strong argument. Since the law was too weak to lead men to righteousness, God provided faith as the solution to the problem. Faith is able to give that which, “the law was powerless to do” (Romans 8:3). Since the Scriptures say, “the righteous will live by faith,” thereby rejecting the salvation by the law, and since Abraham was justified by faith, it is clear that its power is very great. It is also clear that he who does not keep the law is cursed, and he who keeps to faith is righteous. You may ask, “How can we be sure this former curse is no longer in effect? Abraham lived before the law and was therefore now subject to this curse. But we, who were once under the yoke of the law, have made ourselves liable to the curse. Who will release us from the curse?” Notice his ready answer. He already answered the question [in chapter 2]. If a man is justified once, and has died to the law and embraced a new life, how can he be subject to the curse? Clearly he is not. However, he desires to further prove his point, so he begins a new argument.

Verse 13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”

The people were subject to another curse, which says, “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Dt 27:26). People were subject to this curse, for no person ever kept the whole law perfectly. But Christ exchanged this curse for the other, “anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Dt 21:23). So both he who hanged on a tree and he who transgresses the law is cursed. For someone to relieve a curse, he must be free from the curse he is relieving and must receive another curse. Therefore Christ took another curse upon himself in order to relieve us from the curse. It was like an innocent man who decided to die in place of another who was sentenced to death, and thereby rescued him from punishment. Christ did not take the curse for lawbreakers upon himself, but instead the curse of those hung on a tree, in order to take away our curse. For, “he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth” (Is 53:9; 1 Peter 2:22).

[4.] By taking a curse upon himself, he rescued those who were under a curse, just as by his dying he rescued from death those who are dying.

Verse 14: He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

How do they come on the Gentiles? It is said, “and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed,” (Gen 17:18; 26:4) referring to Christ. If this statement were referring to the Jews, it would make no sense. How could those who are themselves subject to the curse on account of transgression become the authors of a blessing to others? An accursed person cannot impart to others that blessing of which he himself is deprived. Plainly this statement refers to Christ who was the Seed of Abraham, and through whom the Gentiles are blessed. He then added the promise of the Spirit, as Paul declares, “that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Those apart from grace who offend God could not possibly receive the grace of the Spirit. First their curse must be removed. Then, once they are justified by faith, they receive the grace of the Spirit. And so, the cross removed the curse, faith brought righteousness, and righteousness drew on the grace of the Spirit.

Verse 15: Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.

“Let me take an example from everyday live” means to use human examples. He has already established his argument on the basis of Scriptures, on the miracles worked among the Galatians, on the sufferings of Christ, and on the Patriarch Abraham. He now moves to everyday life. Paul always does this, in order to sweeten his discourse, and make his writing more acceptable and understandable to the duller sort. He does something similar when writing to the Corinthians: “Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?” (1 Cor 9:7) and again with the Hebrews: “because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living?” (Heb 9:17). You can often find Paul enjoying such arguments at length. In the Old Testament God does the same thing in many passages, such as: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (Is 49:15) and again: “Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’” (Is 45:9). In Hosea, God takes the role of a husband cheated on by his wife (Hos 2:5). The Scriptures also teach using everyday examples through the symbolic actions of the prophets, as when the prophet takes the belt, (Jer 13:1-9) and goes down to the potter’s house (Jer 18:1-6).

The meaning of Paul’s present example is that faith is more ancient than the law, which is later and only temporary, and was given in order to pave the way for faith. For this reason he says, “let me take an example from everyday life.” Previously he had called them “foolish,” now he calls them “brothers,” at once chiding and encouraging them. “Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.” If a man makes a covenant, does any one dare to come afterwards and overrule it, or add anything to it? This is the meaning of “add to.” Much less would this be appropriate when God makes a covenant. And with whom did God make a covenant?

Verses 16-18: The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

God made this covenant with Abraham, promising that in his seed the blessing would come upon the Gentiles. The law cannot turn this blessing aside. Since this example was not completely appropriate for the subject he is addressing, he introduces it this way, “let me take an example from everyday life,” so that they would not think he was speaking in a derogatory way about the majesty of God. What is the point of this illustration? God promised Abraham that the Gentiles would be blessed by his seed by the flesh of Christ. The law came 430 years later. If the law is able to give the blessings of life and righteousness, then the promise is annulled. If a man’s covenant cannot be broken, neither can God’s covenant be broken 430 years after it is made. If the law were to give what had previously been given by the promise, then the law would set aside the promise, which would be most unreasonable.

Verse 19: What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions

This remark is quite appropriate. Paul glances around at everything, as if he had a hundred eyes. He has exalted faith and proved that it is older. In order to show that the law was not superfluous, he proves that the law was not given without a reason, but for a very useful purpose, namely, “Because of transgressions.” He means that the law was given so that the Jews might not be allowed to live carelessly and plunge into the depths of wickedness. The Law was placed upon them as a bridle, guiding, regulating, and keeping them from transgressing, if not all, at least some of the commandments. The law was advantageous in many ways, but for how long?

Verse 19: until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

This is referring to Christ. If the law was only given until his arrival, why do you want to use it after its designated time period?

Verse 19: The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.

Either he is calling the priests ‘angels’ (αγγελοι), or perhaps he is declaring that the angels themselves ministered to the delivery of the law. By Mediator here he means Christ, and shows that Christ existed before the law, and was himself its giver.

Verse 20: A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

[5.] What can the heretics say to this? According to them, the expression “the only true God” excludes the Son from being true God. So here, they say, the phrase “God is one,” excludes the Son from being God in any sense. But if, although the Father is called “one God,” the Son is nevertheless God, it is very plain that though the Father is called “very God,” the Son is also very God. Now a mediator, he says, is between two parties. Of whom then is Christ the mediator? Plainly of God and of men. Observe, he says, that Christ also gave the law. Since it was his to give, it is also his to annul.

Verse 21: Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?

He anticipates their objection: If the blessing is given by the seed of Abraham, but the law brings in a curse, the law must be contrary to the promises. He meets this objection first by a protest:

Verse 21: Absolutely not!

And next he brings his proof:

Verse 21: For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.

He means: If our hope for life was in the law, and our salvation depended on it, it might be valid to claim that the law and faith opposed one another. But quite the opposite is true. The law saves you by means of faith, though it must first bring you under its curse. You do not suffer God’s curse from the law and are not harmed because faith makes everything right. If the promise had been given on the condition of keeping the law, you would have good reason to be afraid, because if you were separated from the law, you would be separated from righteousness. But that is not the case. The law was given in order to confine the world under sin, that is, to expose everyone’s sins and convince them that they are sinners. Far from excluding you from the promises, the law helps you to obtain them! This is shown in the following words:

Verse 22: But the Scripture confined everyone under sin [NIV: declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin], so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

The Jews were not even conscious of their own sins, so that they did not even desire to be forgiven. Therefore the law was given to probe their wounds and make them long for a physician. The word “confined” means “convinced,” and their conviction held them in fear.

The law is certainly not contrary to God’s promises; in fact it was given for the sake of his promises. If the law had claimed the authority to give life, the objection would stand. But since its sense is entirely different from the promises, and it served a different purpose than they, it is not contrary to the promise of God. If the law had not been given, all would have been destroyed by their own wickedness. None of the Jews would have been left to listen to Christ. But now that the law has been given, it has brought about two results. First, it has taught its followers a certain level of virtue. Second, it has given them a knowledge of their own sins. This second result made them especially zealous to seek the Son. This is shown in the consideration that those who disbelieved did so because they did not have a sense of their own sins. Paul makes this point: “Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom 10:3).

Verse 23: Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.

Here he clearly puts forward what I have stated. The expressions “we were held prisoners” and “confined,” refer to the security given by the commandments of the law. The law used the fear of punishment to produce a life in conformity with its decrees. It thereby acted as a fortress, protecting them on all sides and so preserving them unto faith.

Verse 24: So the law has become our tutor unto Christ [NIV: the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ] that we might be justified by faith.

The tutor is not opposed to the teacher, but cooperates with him. The tutor’s job is to rid the youth from all vice and make him fit him to receive instructions from his teacher. But once the youth’s habits are formed, the tutor leaves him, as Paul says.

Verses 25-26: Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor [NIV; under the supervision of the law]. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.2

The law is not the adversary, but the fellow worker of grace, since it was our tutor, and we were kept confined under it. But if the law, out tutor, were to continue to hold us down now that grace, our teacher, has arrived, it becomes an adversary. If it confines those who ought to go forward to grace, then it works the destruction of our salvation. If a candle which gave light by night were to keep us from the sun during the day, it would not be helpful to us, but rather harmful. The law would also be harmful if it kept us from the greater benefits of grace. So the greatest violators of the law are those who still keep it, just as a tutor can make a youth seem ridiculous by remaining with him after the time has come for his departure.

Hence Paul says, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor,” because, “you are all sons of God.” Wonderful! See how mighty is the power of faith! Notice Paul’s progression. First he showed that faith made them sons of the Patriarch, “Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham” (Gal 3:7). Now he proves that they are also sons of God! “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” By faith, he says, not by the law. After this great and wonderful statement, he explains how they were adopted:

Verse 27: for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Why doesn’t he say, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have been born of God?” This would more directly prove that they were sons. But he is using imagery even more powerful than that. If Christ is the Son of God, and you have clothed yourself with him, then you have the Son within you. You are formed after his pattern and have been brought into one family and nature with him.

Verse 28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

See how hard it is for Paul to find satisfactory expressions. He does not stop after he has said, “We are all made children of God through faith,” but tries to find something more exact, which will convey an even closer oneness with Christ. Even saying, “You have clothed yourself in Christ,” is not adequate. In order to penetrate more deeply into this union, he adds: “You are all one in Christ Jesus.” That is, you all have one form and one mold – Christ. What can be more awe inspiring than these words! He who was a Greek, Jew, or slave yesterday now carries about with him the form, not of an angel or archangel, but of the Lord of all. Indeed, he displays the Christ in his own person.

Verse 29: If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Here he proves what he stated earlier concerning the seed of Abraham, that the promises were given to him and to his seed.


Please click on the footnote number to return to its call number in the text.
1Chrysostom here reads a text of Matthew 5:22 which inserted εἰκῇ (“without cause”), a variant cited in the Nestle-Aland 27 apparatus but not in the UBS. Unlike Chrysostom, the Nestle-Aland apparatus inserts εἰκῇ before the “angry” clause rather than the “fool” clause.

2Note that Chrysostom connects two verses which the NIV separates into two paragraphs.

John Chrysostom on Galatians – main page

John Chrysostom on Galatians 4

Revised by AJW

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