Galatians 3

The Foolishness of Legalism

Comedic Fool

O foolish Galatians! (Galatians 1:3)

Greco-Roman theatrical events often ridiculed idiots and fools; the actors who played such characters used comic or grotesque masks to augment those characteristics. The sculpture shown here was not meant to be worn but portrays such a mask. Paul’s audience would have immediately recognized such a mask as portraying foolishness.

Gentile Pentecost

Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law or by the message of faith? (Galatians 3:2)

An example of receiving the Spirit by the message of faith is the so-called Gentile Pentecost at Caesarea, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the household of the Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10). This event was especially relevant for Paul’s letter to the Galatians since the Gentile Pentecost was crucial in the decision at the Jerusalem Council to reject any strict adherence to the Law (Acts 15:1; 22-29).


The Free Gift of the Spirit

He therefore who supplies to you the Spirit and works miracles among you . . . (Galatians 3:5)

This relief depicts worshippers coming to an Asclepeion (healing temple of the god Asclepius) to make an offering in return for healing. The snake-wrapped staff of Asclepius can be seen next to the temple column, and a young slave leading a pig to sacrifice is just visible at the front of the line. In addition to animal sacrifice, monetary gifts, dedicatory altars, and votive offerings of models of body parts would also be brought to the temple in search for healing. In contrast to such practice, the Spirit of the true God works miracles without price by the hearing of faith.

The Mosaic Law

For as many as are under the works of the law are under a curse (Galatians 3:10).

All who committed themselves to the Law were susceptible to both blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. As Paul notes elsewhere, there is none who does good, implying that all men are under a curse (Rom 3:12). The curses and blessings of the Law were well known to observant Jews; they had been rehearsed at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim when the land was first taken (Deut 27:13; Josh 8:33-34).

A Sealed Contract

Brothers, I speak in human terms: even though it is a covenant between men, once it has been ratified, no one nullifies it or adds to it (Galatians 3:15).

At the time of Paul and his audience, a way to protect the contents of a legal document was to seal it. Ancient documents would be rolled up and tied with string, and a dollop of clay would be placed on the knot. A seal, often bearing the name of the owner or other identifying marks, would then be pressed into the clay. This would confirm that the document was authentic and had not been tampered with. This is a recreation of a sealed papyrus document.

Clothed with Christ

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27).

The metaphor of being clothed with Christ may have several interpretations. It could have to do with clothing generically, which covers the shame otherwise associated with nakedness. Clothing can also act as an identifying mark; tradition and even law in Roman culture dictated that an individual’s place in society was to be evident in their clothing. For example, it is thought that the toga was restricted to Roman citizens, at least in some periods. The clothing metaphor could symbolize putting off the old and putting on the new. It could also simply be a way to picture the close relationship we are to have with Christ, as though wrapped in a garment. This Roman statue shows a young man in a toga.

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