Galatians 3:2
This only would I learn of you, Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
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(2) This only.—The Apostle considers a single argument enough. He will only place the present conduct of the Galatians in contrast with their past, and ask how they can possibly reconcile the two.

Received ye the Spirit.—The reference is to those spiritual gifts, described more fully in 1 Corinthians 12, 14—the gift of prophecy, the gift of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, the discerning of spirits, gifts of healing, &c.—which attended the first preaching of the gospel, and were poured out upon the first converts in a manner and degree since unknown. The Galatians, it seems, had had a share in this outpouring, like the other churches, though their fickleness prevented them from reaping the full benefit from it. But a spiritual effect, such as this outpouring was, could only have a spiritual cause; it could not come from a mechanical performance of legal obligations.

By the works of the law.—By works done in obedience to the Law. There is a certain emphasis on both words, for the main point in the contrast which the Apostle is drawing is between the Law, on the one hand, and faith, on the other. Still, faith is as much opposed to works (i.e., a spirit of literal and mechanical obedience) as it is to Law, and excludes both at once. It is to be noted, however, that the works here meant are those done, in a Judaising sense, as themselves the direct means of salvation—not Christian works, the natural product and outcome of faith.

By the hearing of faith.—These words correspond very nearly to a phrase which we should perhaps use more naturally: by the preaching of faithi.e., by that preaching or hearing (hearing on the part of the recipients, preaching on that of the missionary Apostles) which has for its subject faith. What the Apostle had taught the Galatians on his first coming among them was not any system of laborious observances, but the duty of faith. They at first responded to his teaching: and in answer to their enthusiastic impulse of adhesion to Christ the gifts of the Spirit were abundantly shed upon them. Now all this had ceased. For the use of the word translated “hearing,” see the Note on Romans 10:16.

Galatians 3:2-4. This only would I learn of you — That is, this one argument might convince you; received ye the Spirit — In his gifts and graces, in his witness and fruits. See Galatians 4:6; Galatians 5:22. By the works of the law — By your observing the ceremonies of Moses’s law, or by your embracing the doctrine which inculcates the necessity of complying with these rites?

or by the hearing of faith — By receiving and obeying that doctrine, which teaches that justification is attained by faith in Christ, and in the truths and promises of his gospel? Are ye so foolish — So thoughtless, as not to consider what you yourselves have experienced? having begun in the Spirit — Having entered upon your Christian course under the light and grace of the Holy Spirit, received by faith in Christ and his gospel; do you now, when you ought to be more enlightened and renewed, more acquainted with the power of faith, and therefore more spiritual; expect to be made perfect by the flesh? — Do you think to retain and complete either your justification or sanctification, by giving up that faith whereby you received both, and depending on the law, which is a gross and carnal thing when opposed to the gospel? “The law of Moses is called the flesh,” says Macknight, “because of the carnal form of worship, by sacrifices and purifications of the body, which it prescribed; because that form of worship did not cleanse the conscience of the worshipper, but only his body, and because the Israelites were put under the law by their fleshly descent from Abraham.” Have ye suffered — Both from the zealous Jews and from the heathen; so many things — For adhering to the gospel; in vain — So as to lose all the blessings which ye might have obtained by enduring to the end? Will you give up the benefit of all those sufferings, and lose, in a great measure at least, the reward of them, by relinquishing what is so material in that system of doctrine you have been suffering for? If it be yet in vain — Which I am willing to hope it is not entirely, and that, however your principles may have been shaken, yet God will preserve you from being quite overthrown.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.This only would I learn of you - I would ask this of you; retaining still the language of severe reproof. The design here, and in the following verses, is, to prove to them that the views which they had at first embraced were correct, and that the views which they now cherished were false To show them this, he asks them the simple question, by what means they had obtained the exalted privileges which they enjoyed? Whether they had obtained them by the simple gospel, or whether by the observance of the Law? The word "only" here (μόνον monon) implies that this was enough to settle the question. The argument to which he was about to appeal was enough for his purpose. He did not need to go any further. They had been converted. They had received the Holy Spirit. They had had abundant evidence of their acceptance with God, and the simple matter of inquiry now was, whether this had occurred as the regular effect of the gospel, or whether it had been by obeying the Law of Moses?

Received ye the Spirit - The Holy Spirit. He refers here, doubtless, to all the manifestations of the Spirit which had been made to them, in renewing the heart, in sanctifying the soul, in comforting them in affliction, and in his miraculous agency among them. The Holy Spirit had been conferred on them at their conversion (compare Acts 10:44; Acts 11:17) and this was to them proof of the favor of God, and of their being accepted by him.

By the works of the law - By obeying the Law of Moses or of any law. It was in no way connected with their obeying the Law. This must have been so clear to them that no one could have any doubt or the subject. The inestimably rich and precious gift of the Holy Spirit had not been conferred on them in consequence of their obeying the Law.

Or by the hearing of faith - In connection with hearing the gospel requiring faith as a condition of salvation. The Holy Spirit was sent down only in connection with the preaching of the gospel. It was a matter of truth, and which could not be denied, that those influences had not been imparted under the Law, but had been connected with the gospel of the Redeemer; compare Acts 2. The doctrine taught in this verse is, that the benefits resulting to Christians from the gift of the Holy Spirit are enough to prove that the gospel is from God, and therefore true. This was the case with regard to the miraculous endowments communicated in the early ages of the church by the Holy Spirit; for the miracles which were performed, the knowledge of languages imparted, and the conversion of thousands from the error of their ways, proved that the system was from heaven; and it is true now. Every Christian has had ample proof, from the influences of the Spirit on his heart and around him, that the system which is attended with such benefits is from heaven.

His own renewed heart; his elevated and sanctified affections; his exalted hopes; his consolations in trial; his peace in the prospect of death, and the happy influences of the system around him in the conversion of others, and in the intelligence, order, and purity of the community, are ample proof that the religion is true. Such effects do not come from any attempt to keep the Law; they result from no other system. No system of infidelity produces them; no mere system of infidelity can produce them. It is only by that pure system which proclaims salvation by the grace of God; which announces salvation by the merits of the Lord Jesus, that such effects are produced. The Saviour promised the Holy Spirit to descend after his ascension to heaven to apply his work; and everywhere, under the faithful preaching of the simple gospel, that Spirit keeps up the evidence of the truth of the system by his influences on the hearts and lives of people.

2. "Was it by the works of the law that ye received the Spirit (manifested by outward miracles, Ga 3:5; Mr 16:17; Heb 2:4; and by spiritual graces, Ga 3:14; Ga 4:5, 6; Eph 1:13), or by the hearing of faith?" The "only" implies, "I desire, omitting other arguments, to rest the question on this alone"; I who was your teacher, desire now to "learn" this one thing from you. The epithet "Holy" is not prefixed to "Spirit" because that epithet is a joyous one, whereas this Epistle is stern and reproving [Bengel].

hearing of faith—Faith consists not in working, but in receiving (Ro 10:16, 17).

By the Spirit here is understood the gifts of the Spirit, which were either such as were common to all believers, (such as faith, love, &c.), or else such as were peculiar to some, and those not all believers; such were those abilities for miraculous operations given to some. Some understand this text of the former, some of the latter: it is best to take in both; all the manifestations of the Spirit then given out, either for the sanctification and eternal salvation of those to whom they were given, or for the confirmation of the truth of the gospel. Did you receive the Spirit

by the works of the law? That he knew they could not say they did; for they were heathens, strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, so as they could pretend to no works of the law. Did you receive this Holy Spirit upon

hearing the gospel (which is the doctrine

of faith) preached to you? Men should take heed of vilifying that ministry, or that doctrine, which God hath blessed to the change of their own hearts, or the hearts of others. We also may observe from hence, that the hearing the gospel faithfully preached is a blessed means by which men’s hearts are changed, and they receive the Holy Spirit; not enabling them (as it did some, and but some, in the beginning of the gospel) to work signs and wonders, but enabling them to the operations of a spiritual life. The strength of the apostle’s argument is this: You have the greatest reason to own that doctrine as the truth, which God hath blessed to your souls to produce spiritual effects there. This one thing would I learn of you,.... Though there were many things he could have put to them, yet he would only ask this one question, which, if rightly attended to, and honestly answered, must expose their folly, and put an end to the controversy upon this head:

received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? This question supposes they had received the Spirit; that is, the Spirit of God, as a spirit of wisdom and knowledge in the revelation of Christ; as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification; as a spirit of faith and adoption; and as the earnest, seal, and pledge of their future glory. Now the apostle asks, whether they received this Spirit "by the works of the law"; meaning, either whether they could imagine, that they by their obedience to the law had merited and procured the Spirit of God; or whether they thought that the Spirit came to them, and into their hearts, through the doctrine or preaching of the law: the former could not be true, for if they could not obtain righteousness and life by the works of the law, then not the Spirit; besides, works done without the Spirit of God, are not properly good works: not the latter, for though by the law is the knowledge of sin, yet this leaves nothing but a sense of wrath and damnation in the conscience; it is the killing letter, and a ministration of condemnation and death, and not of the Spirit, and of life; this belongs to the Gospel, "or the hearing of faith"; for by "faith", is meant the Gospel, and particularly the doctrine of justification by faith in Christ's righteousness; and by "the hearing" of it, the preaching of it, the report of it, Isaiah 53:1 which, in the Hebrew text, is "our hearing", that by which the Gospel is heard and understood. Now in this way the Spirit of God is received; while the Gospel is preaching he falls on them that hear it, conveys himself into their hearts, and begets them again by the word of truth: and in this way the Galatians came by the Spirit, and which is another aggravation of their folly, that they should enjoy so great an advantage by the Gospel, and yet be so easily removed from it.

This only would I learn of you, Received ye the {b} Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of {c} faith?

(b) Those spiritual graces and gifts, which were a seal as it were to the Galatians that the Gospel which was preached to them was true.

(c) Of the doctrine of faith.

Galatians 3:2. The foolishness of their error is now disclosed to them, by reminding them of their reception of the Holy Spirit. “Vide, quam efficaciter tractat locum ab experientia,” Luther, 1519.

τοῦτο μόνον θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφʼ ὑμῶν] This only—not to speak of other self-confessions, which I might demand of you for your refutation—this only I wish to become aware of from you. Bengel pertinently remarks: “μόνον, grave argumentum.” To take μαθεῖν (with Luther, Bengel, Paulus) in the narrower sense to learn—the apostle thus representing himself ironically as a scholar—is justified neither by the tone of the context nor by the tenor of the question, which in fact concerns not a doctrine, but simply a piece of information; μανθάνω is well known in the sense of to come to know, cognoscere. See Acts 23:27; Exodus 2:4; 2Ma 7:2; 3Ma 1:1; Xen. Cyr. vi. 1. 31; Hell. ii. 1. 1; Aesch. Agam. 615. Comp. Soph. Oed. Col. 505: τοῦτο βούλομαι μαθεῖν.

ἀφʼ ὑμῶν] is not used instead of παρʼ ὑμῶν (Rückert); for ἀπό also may denote a direct μαθεῖν (comp. especially Colossians 1:7): see on 1 Corinthians 11:23. And this is what Paul means, for he conceives himself speaking with his readers as if they were present.

ἐξ ἔργων νόμου κ.τ.λ.] Was it your fulfilment of works which the law prescribes (comp. on Galatians 2:16), or was it the preaching to you of faith (that is, faith in Christ), which caused your reception of the Spirit? The πνεῦμα is the Holy Spirit (the personal divine principle of the whole Christian nature and life), and the Holy Spirit viewed generally according to His very various modes of operation, by which He makes Himself known in different individuals; not merely in relation to the miraculous gifts, 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Chrysostom, Theophylact, Jerome); for Paul reminds the whole body of his readers of their reception of the Spirit, and it is not till Galatians 3:5 that the δυνάμεις are specially brought forward as a specific form of the operations of the Spirit. Comp. Hofmann, Schriftbew. II. 2, p. 27 f.

The which follows means: or, on the other hand; “duo directe opposita,” Bengel. The ἀκοὴ πίστεως is explained either as the hearing of faith (reception of the gospel preached: Vulgate, Beza, Bengel, Morus, Rückert, Usteri, Schott, Matthias, Reithmayr, and others), or as that which is heard, i.e. the report, the message of faith, which treats of faith, ἀκοή admits of either meaning (for the former, comp. Plat. Theaet. p. 142 D.; Plut. Mor. p. 41 E; Soph. El. 30; LXX. 1 Samuel 15:22 : and for the latter, comp. Plat. Phaedr. p. 274 C; Dem. 1097. 3; LXX. Isaiah 53:1; John 12:38; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:2; Sir 40:12). But πίστεως is decisive in favour of the latter, for it is never the “doctrina fidei” (see on Galatians 1:23), but always the subjective faith, which however, as here, may be regarded objectively; and hence also adherents of the second interpretation (as Calvin, Grotius, Zachariae, Rosenmüller, and others) are wrong in taking πίστις as system of doctrine. Moreover, ἀκοή, in the sense of preaching (discourse heard), but not in the sense of auditio, is familiar in the N.T. (so even in Romans 10:16, John 12:38, passages which Matthias seeks to explain differently); hence Holsten incorrectly takes πίστεως as the genitive of the subject to ἀκοῆς, so that the πίστις is the ἀκούουσα,—a view opposed also by Romans 10:17. But Hofmann also is incorrect in holding that it should be construed ἐκ πίστεως ἀκοῆς (faith in news announced); against which the antithesis ἐξ ἔργων νόμου is decisive. Through the news concerning faith, which was preached to them, the readers had become believers (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:2), and consequently partakers of the Holy Spirit. Lastly, Flatt and Matthies, following a few ancient expositors, have quite arbitrarily and, although not without linguistic precedent in the LXX. (1 Samuel 15:22), without any countenance from the N.T., understood ἀκοῆς as equivalent to ὑπακοῆς (Romans 1:5; Romans 16:26; 1 Peter 1:22). The acceptance of the ἀκοὴ πίστεως which took place on the part of the readers was understood by them as a matter of course, since from this ἀκοή proceeded the reception of the Spirit. They were in fact called through the gospel.Galatians 3:2. The Apostle appeals with confidence to the personal experience of his converts. They were themselves conscious of having received on their conversion gifts of the Spirit. Whence then came the inward change? Was it the result of fulfilling law, or of listening in faith? The question needs no answer: for it was obviously the result of listening in faith. The second clause couples together two essential requisites for conversion: men must not only listen, but listen in a right spirit, desiring to know and do God’s will. The genitive πίστεως adds this essential condition.—τὸ πνεῦμα. The spirit constitutes in this Epistle a definite element in the regenerate nature, due to spiritual creation as the flesh is to natural creation—an internal organ by which the Holy Spirit operates on the will and prompts the action of man (cf. Galatians 3:16-22). It becomes therefore a living human force within the heart, distinct from the personality of the Holy Spirit. But on the other hand it is absolutely dependent for its vital force on the original inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and can neither live nor grow without continual nourishment and sustenance from Him.2. Here the Apostle makes a personal appeal to their own experience. He might have adduced other arguments to shew the excellence of faith. But he confines himself to one question, which they alone could answer, and the answer to which is decisive. ‘Was it from (as the fruit of) the works of the Law that ye received the Spirit, or from the preaching of faith’? Luther shews at large, by reference to the Acts of the Apostles, that ‘the Holy Ghost is not given by the Law, but by the hearing of the Gospel’. ‘Hereby’, he says, ‘we may see what is the difference between the Law and the Gospel. The Law never bringeth the Holy Ghost, but only teacheth what we ought to do: therefore it justifieth not. But the Gospel bringeth the Holy Ghost, because it teacheth what we ought to receive. Therefore the Law and the Gospel are two contrary doctrines. To put righteousness therefore in the Law, is nothing else but to fight against the Gospel. For Moses with his Law is a severe exactor, requireth of us that we should work, and that we should give; briefly, it requireth and exacteth. Contrariwise the Gospel giveth freely and requireth of us nothing else, but to hold out our hands, and to take that which is offered. Now to exact and to give, to take and to offer, are clean contrary, and cannot stand together’.

Received ye the Spirit] Once only (in the Apostolic commission, John 20:22) does the expression, Receive the Holy Ghost occur in the Gospels. The reason for this is given, John 7:39. But when our Lord had ascended into Heaven, He sent the promised Gift from the Father to them which believed. Bp. Middleton classifies the uses of the words, Spirit, or Holy Spirit, in N. T. (Doctrine of the Greek Article, note on Matthew 5:18). The word ‘spirit’ is not employed here in its personal sense, but refers to the gracious gifts and operations of the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. These gifts were twofold, (a) extraordinary, miraculous and temporary; and (b) ordinary and abiding, that ‘fruit of the spirit’ of which an enumeration is given, c. Galatians 5:22-23. The former were the credentials of the early Church, attesting to the world her Divine mission; the latter are a witness in the heart of the believer both to the truth of the Gospel and to his own share in its unspeakable blessings. But this distinction must not be regarded as exclusive. Miracles serve to confirm the faith of believers, and the holy lives of Christians are an evidence to the world of the power of the Gospel, and so of its truth. Both kinds of gifts are probably included here in the expression, ‘the spirit’. Comp. Acts 2:4; Acts 2:17-18; Acts 2:33; Acts 8:17; Acts 10:44-46; Acts 19:2-6; Romans 8:9-11; Romans 8:13-16; Romans 8:23; Romans 8:26; 1 Corinthians 12:4-14.

the hearing of faith] The word rendered literally ‘hearing’ has two senses, ‘the reception, or act of receiving by the ears’, as in Luke 7:1; 1 Corinthians 12:17; 2 Peter 2:8; and, the thing heard, or report or message, as in Matthew 14:1; Romans 10:16-17—in which latter passage it is = preaching. On the whole it seems better to take it in the latter sense here. Thus we have in strongest contrast the works of the Law and the preaching of faith. The Law said, This do, and thou shalt live; the Gospel, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.Galatians 3:2. Μόνον, only) A weighty argument.—μαθεῖν, learn) What it is that you think [what sentiment you entertain]. Here is the point of his questions: you have learned many things from me; I wish to learn this one thing alone from you.—ἐξ ἔργων νόμου, from the works of the law) In which you seek righteousness.—τὸ Πνεῦμα, the Spirit) [in (through) whom you addressed GOD as Father.—V. g.], and whose presence [among the Galatians] was conspicuous by means of the gifts, which He bestowed; Galatians 3:5; Mark 16:17; Hebrews 2:4. The gift of the Spirit accompanies righteousness [justification], Galatians 3:14; Ephesians 1:13. Therefore the one is often put for the other; comp. note on Romans 6:18. This argument is repeated, Galatians 3:5 : and it receives additional weight by the verses interposed, viz. Galatians 3:3-4. Further, Paul, in this one epistle of his, although he so often names the Spirit, does not, however, even once add the epithet, Holy; and this he does not appear to have done without good reason; namely, the epithet ‘Holy’ is a very joyful one, but this epistle is decidedly severe.—, or) Two things directly opposed.—ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως, from [by] the hearing of faith) The nature of faith is thus exquisitely denoted—faith [consisting in] not working, but receiving.Verse 2. - This only would I learn of you (τοῦτο μόνον θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφ ὑμῶν); this only would I learn from you. I need ask for nothing more to show that the Law is nothing to you, than that you should tell me this. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the Law? (ἐξ ἔργων νόμου τὸ Πνεῦμα ἐλάβετε;); was it in consequence of works of the Law that ye received the Spirit? I came amongst you as an apostle, preaching the gospel, and upon your baptism laying my hands upon you; and the Holy Spirit came down upon you, proving the reality of his presence both by signs and miracles and powers, and also by the love, joy, and peace with which your hearts were filled; sealing at once the truth of my doctrine and your own position individually as recognized heirs of the kingdom of God. You remember that time. Well, how was it then? Had there a word been then spoken touching meats or drinks, or washings of purification (besides your baptism into Christ), or circumcision, or care of ceremonial cleanness? Had you attended to any one point whatever of Levitical ordinance? Had either you or I cast one thought in that direction? The "works of the Law" here referred to must still be works of ceremonial performance, not those of moral obedience; for repentance, the practical breaking off from sin, the surrender of the soul to God and to Christ in faith and loyal obedience, the outward assuming of the character of God's servants, the purpose and inchoate performance of works meet for repentance, - these dotings of compliance with the moral Law were there. The gift of the Spirit was evidenced by charisms plainly supernatural; but it comprised more than the bestowment of these. Or by the hearing of faith? (ἤ ἐξ ἀκοῆς πίστεως;); or was it in consequence of the hearing of faith? The noun ἀκοὴ denotes sometimes (what is heard) "report," "rumour," as Matthew 4:24; Matthew 24:6; Romans 10:16, 17; sometimes, especially in the plural, the organs or sense of hearing, as Mark 7:35; Luke 7:1; Acts 17:20; Hebrews 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4; sometimes the act of hearing, as Matthew 13:14; 1 Samuel 15:22 (Septuagint). The last appears more suitable here than the first taken (as some take it) as describing the doctrine or message which they heard respecting faith; standing as ἀκοὴ does in contrast to "works" which would have been an acting of theirs, this likewise was most probably meant by the apostle subjectively of something appearing on their own part. "Were you not at once received into the kingdom of God and filled with joy in the Holy Spirit, immediately upon your believing acceptance of the gospel message?" With exquisite propriety, as Bengel observes, is hereby marked the nature of faith, not working, but receiving. This agrees also best with the illustration which in ver. 6 the apostle gives of the phrase as introduced by him again in ver. 5. This only

I will convince you of your error by this one point. Do you owe the gifts of the Spirit to the works of the law, or to the message of faith?

Received ye, etc.

The answer lies in the question. You cannot deny that you received the gifts of the Spirit by the message of faith.

The hearing of faith (ἀκοῆς πίστεως)

See on Galatians 1:23. For hearing, render message. So, often in N.T. See Matthew 4:24; Matthew 14:6; John 12:38. lxx, 1 Samuel 2:24; 2 Samuel 13:30; Tob. 10:13; Habakkuk 3:2.

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