How Was the Spirit Received?

Galatians 3:1-5

Who Has Bewitched You? (Galatians 3:1)

It is the Galatian brethren who have changed, not Paul. Paul calls them “foolish.” The Greek word anoetoi does not refer to an unintelligent person but to someone who doesn’t think ahead to the consequences of his actions and, thus, does not apply what he knows consistently. At one time, they had seen the truth. They saw in their mind’s eyes the crucifixion of Christ.

Paul charges them with being “bewitched.” The Greek word baskaino refers to someone deluded or hypnotized as if by a spell. At one time, they were fascinated by the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, but now they are focused on other things.

The result is that they are no longer obeying the truth. This phrase is missing in many of the older manuscripts and older translations. It doesn’t change Paul’s argument because back in Galatians 1:19-20, Paul stated that he died to the Law of Moses because he was crucified with Christ. Thus, he now lives in obedience to Christ and not the Law of Moses. The same should have been true with the Galatians, but they have gone astray.

How Was the Spirit Received? (Galatians 3:2-5)

The Galatians had received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Paul asks if they received these gifts because they were following the Law or because of their faith in the Gospel. Paul said this is the only question because the answer to this one question is enough to settle the issue. Being Gentiles, they were not following the Law of Moses at the time Paul taught them the gospel. And after receiving the Gospel, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the Old Law did not benefit them.

The phrase “works of the law” emphasizes how the false teachers viewed righteousness and justification before God. They saw it as a checklist of deeds that were not accompanied by faith (Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:20). Hebrews 3:7-19 addresses the issue in greater detail. Because the Israelites did not have faith, they did not listen to God’s voice, and as a result, they disobeyed.

The phrase “hearing with faith” is another term for the gospel because hearing the words of Christ produces faith in the listener (Romans 10:17; Ephesians 1:13-14). That faith, in turn, creates obedience.

Paul believes it is foolish to think that what was started by receiving the Spirit could be perfected or completed by following the Law that was replaced. The phrase “receive the Spirit” refers to receiving the gift of salvation from the Spirit (Acts 2:38; Ephesians 1:13-14; Hebrews 6:4; I Peter 1:12; II Corinthians 11:4), or it can refer to receiving the miraculous gifts from the Spirit (Acts 8:15; 10:47; 15:8; 19:2-6). Paul uses the phrase “by the flesh” to refer to the Old Law because the false teachers were teaching circumcision was required. However, this represents the idea that false teachers were focused on the physical aspects of the law. The Galatians, however, had started their life as Christians with an emphasis on the spiritual applications of the Law of Christ (Romans 2:28; Philippians 3:3).

When they first followed the Gospel, they suffered many hardships at the hands of the Jews (Acts 14:2-5, 21-22). Paul himself was chased from town to town in Galatia, so it is likely that the Christians in Galatia also suffered hardships. They were happy to suffer for the cause of Christ at that time. But if they now insist on following the Old Law, then all that endurance was for nothing (Hebrews 10:32-36; II John 8).

God provided the Spirit and miraculous gifts to those who listened with faith to the gospel. These things were not provided to the Jews. Thus, God is demonstrating that He wants the gospel to be followed, not the Old Law.


  1. Is Paul stating all works are unable to save a person?
  2. Is salvation by faith alone?
  3. Does “receive the Spirit” refer to the gospel, salvation, or miraculous gifts? Could it be a combination?
  4. Is Galatians 3:2 and Galatians 3:5 a repeated argument or a different point though expressed in somewhat similar terms?
  5. Why are there so many questions in these few verses? What purpose do questions serve?
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