|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-5 Several things made the folly of the Galatian Christians worse. They had the doctrine of the cross preached, and the Lord's supper administered among them, in both which Christ crucified, and the nature of his sufferings, had been fully and clearly set forth. Had they been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, by the ministration of the law, or on account of any works done by them in obedience thereto? Was it not by their hearing and embracing the doctrine of faith in Christ alone for justification? Which of these had God owned with tokens of his favour and acceptance? It was not by the first, but the last. And those must be very unwise, who suffer themselves to be turned away from the ministry and doctrine which have been blessed to their spiritual advantage. Alas, that men should turn from the all-important doctrine of Christ crucified, to listen to useless distinctions, mere moral preaching, or wild fancies! The god of this world, by various men and means, has blinded men's eyes, lest they should learn to trust in a crucified Saviour. We may boldly demand where the fruits of the Holy Spirit are most evidently brought forth? whether among those who preach justification by the works of the law, or those who preach the doctrine of faith? Assuredly among the latter.
Verse 4. - Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain (τοσαῦτα ἐπάθετε εἰκῆ εἴγε καὶ εἰκῆ); did ye suffer all those troubles for nought? if indeed really for nought. The ambiguity of τοσαῦτα, which means either "so many" or "so great," is preserved by the rendering all those. The Revisers put so many in the text, and "or so great" in the margin. In respect to ἐπάθετε, the leading of the context in which the verse is embedded might incline us to take the verb in the sense in which it frequently occurs in Greek writers, that of being subjects of such and such treatment, good as well as bad; as, for example, in Josephus, 'Ant.,' 3:15, 1, Ὅσα παθόντες ἐξ αὐτοῦ καὶ πηλικῶν εὐεργσιῶν μεταλαβόντες, "What treatment having received from him [sc. God], and what huge benefits having partaken of" - the character of the treatment being sufficiently indicated by the context as being that of kindness. But it is a fatal objection to this view of the passage that, in the forty passages or more in which the verb πάσχω is used in the New Testament, it never is used of good treatment, but always of bad; and so also always in the Septuagint. We are, therefore, shut up to the sense of "suffering ills," and must endeavour to find, if we can, some circumstances marking the troubles referred to which might serve to explain the seemingly abrupt mention of them here. And the probable explanation is this: those sufferings were brought upon the Galatian converts, not only through the influence of Jews, but also in consequence of the bitter enmity with which the Jews regarded St. Paul, as bringing converts over from among the Gentiles to the service of the one true God apart from any regard to the ceremonial Law of Moses. That Jews in general did thus regard St. Paul is shown by the suspicion which even Christian Jews felt towards him (Acts 21:21). For this no doubt, it was that the Jews in Asia Minor persecuted him from city to city as they did, their animosity against him extending itself also to these who had attached themselves to him as his disciples. That it did extend itself to his disciples as such appears, as from the nature of the case, so also from Acts 14:22, "That through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God;" as also it is evinced by the strongly indignant tone in which he speaks of the persecuting Jews in his two Epistles to the Thessalonians, written near the very time to which he here alludes (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9) - this indignation being best accounted for by the supposition that it was roused by his sympathy with the similarly originated sufferings of the Macedonian brethren to whom he was writing. That the troubles here referred to emanated from the hostility of Jewish legalists may be further gathered from Galatians 5:11; Galatians 6:12 (on which see Exposition). Those Jewish legalists hated both St. Paul and his converts, because they alike walked in "the Spirit," that is, in the element of Christian spirituality emancipated from the bondage of the Law, and not in "the flesh" of Mosaic ceremonialism. Hence it is that the mention in ver. 3 of the Galatian brethren having "begun with the Spirit," leads him on to the thought of the sufferings which just on that very account had been brought upon them. "For nought." This adverb εἰκῆ sometimes means, prospectively, "to no good," as in Galatians 4:11, "bestowed labour upon you in vain," and probably in 1 Corinthians 15:2; sometimes, retrospectively, "for no just cause," as in Colossians 2:18, "vainly puffed up." The English phrase, "for nought," has just a similar ambiguity. The apostle may, therefore, mean either this - Did ye suffer all these troubles to reap after all no benefit from your suffering them, forfeiting as you do (Galatians 5:4) the reward which you might else have expected from the great Retributor (2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7) through your forsaking that ground of faith on which ye then stood, if indeed ye have forsaken it? or this - Did ye provoke all that persecution without just cause? - if, indeed, there was no just cause as ye seem now to think. According to the former view, the Galatians were now nullifying the benefit which might have accrued to them from their former endurance of persecution; according to the latter, they were now stultifying their former conduct in provoking these persecutions. The first seems somewhat the easiest. Αἴ γε, as in Colossians 1:23. The concluding clause has been here regarded as a reaching forth of the apostle's soul towards the hope that better thoughts might yet prevail with the Galatian waverers, so that they would not lose the reward of having suffered for Christ - a hope which he thus glances at, if so be he might thus lure them to its realization. But another view of the words has commended itself to not a few eminent critics, namely, that the apostle glances at the darker prospect; as if he had said, "If it be, indeed, merely for nought, and not for far worse than that! By falling away from the gospel, ye not only lose the crown of confessorship: ye forfeit also your hope of your heavenly inheritance" (cf. Galatians 5:4). The conjunction καὶ is, confessedly, sometimes almost equivalent to "merely," "only," as e.g. in Homer, 'Odyssey,' 1:58, Ἱέμενος καὶ καπνὸν ἀποθρώσκοντα νοῆσαι ῆς γαίης, "Longing if only but to see the smoke leaping upward from his native land." But in the present case εἴ γε does not so readily suggest the last proposed suppletion of thought as it does the other.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Have ye suffered so many things in vain?.... These Galatians had suffered great reproach, many afflictions and persecutions for the sake of the Gospel, as all that embrace it must expect to do; and which to them that persevere in the faith of the Gospel will not be in vain, they will be followed with eternal life and glory; not that these things are meritorious of such happiness, or deserve such a reward; the reward of them is not of debt, but of grace. But, if such who have made a profession, and have suffered for it, should after all relinquish it, their sufferings for it are in vain; they will come short of that glory which is promised to them that suffer for righteousness sake: and this is another aggravation of the folly of these persons, that they should suffer so much persecution for the Gospel, which, if not true, they must have suffered in vain, and might as well have avoided it; and, if true, by relinquishing it not only sustain a great loss, but bring great hurt and damage to themselves:
if it be yet in vain; by which words the apostle does, as it were, correct himself, and expresses his hope of them, that they would see their mistake, revoke their error, and abide by the truth of the Gospel.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
4. Have ye suffered so many things—namely, persecution from Jews and from unbelieving fellow countrymen, incited by the Jews, at the time of your conversion.
in vain—fruitlessly, needlessly, since ye might have avoided them by professing Judaism [Grotius]. Or, shall ye, by falling from grace, lose the reward promised for all your sufferings, so that they shall be "in vain" (Ga 4:11; 1Co 15:2, 17-19, 29-32; 2Th 1:5-7; 2Jo 8)?
yet—rather, "If it be really (or 'indeed') in vain" [Ellicott]. "If, as it must be, what I have said, 'in vain,' is really the fact" [Alford]. I prefer understanding it as a mitigation of the preceding words. I hope better things of you, for I trust you will return from legalism to grace; if so, as I confidently expect, you will not have "suffered so many things in vain" [Estius]. For "God has given you the Spirit and has wrought mighty works among you" (Ga 3:5; Heb 10:32-36) [Bengel].
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