Galatians 5:3
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) For I testify again.—Translate rather, Nay, I protest again, introducing a further argument. He who allows himself to be circumcised thereby commits himself wholly to the Law, just as, it might be said, he who is baptised commits himself wholly to Christ. The act of circumcision placed a man under the legal system, just as the act of baptism placed him under the Christian system. From that time forward he could not choose one part and refuse another, but was bound alike by all.

He is a debtor.—He is under an obligation.

5:1-6 Christ will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour. Let us take heed to the warnings and persuasions of the apostle to stedfastness in the doctrine and liberty of the gospel. All true Christians, being taught by the Holy Spirit, wait for eternal life, the reward of righteousness, and the object of their hope, as the gift of God by faith in Christ; and not for the sake of their own works. The Jewish convert might observe the ceremonies or assert his liberty, the Gentile might disregard them or might attend to them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward privileges or profession will avail to acceptance with God, without sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren. May we be of the number of those who, through the Spirit, wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. The danger of old was not in things of no consequence in themselves, as many forms and observances now are. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of small value.For I testify again - Probably he had stated this when he had preached the gospel to them first, and he now solemnly bears witness to the same thing again. Bloomfield, however, supposes that the word "again" here (πάλιν palin) means, on the other hand, or, "furthermore," or, as we would say, "and again."

That he is a debtor to do the whole law - He binds himself to obey all the Law of Moses. Circumcision was the distinguishing badge of the Jews, as baptism is of Christians. A man, therefore, who became circumcised became a professor of the Jewish religion, and bound himself to obey all its special laws. This must be understood, of course, with reference to the point under discussion; and means, if he did it with a view to justification, or as a thing that was necessary and binding. It would not apply to such a case as that of Timothy, where it was a matter of mere expediency or prudence; see the note at Galatians 5:2.

3. For—Greek, "Yea, more"; "Moreover."

I testify … to every man—as well as "unto you" (Ga 5:2).

that is circumcised—that submits to be circumcised. Such a one became a "proselyte of righteousness."

the whole law—impossible for man to keep even in part, much less wholly (Jas 2:10); yet none can be justified by the law, unless he keep it wholly (Ga 3:10).

This must be understood either of the Gentiles only, who were never under any obligation to circumcision, or of such as were circumcised, with an opinion that it was necessary at this time to justification and salvation. Of these the apostle saith, that by this they made themselves debtors to do the whole law; they were obliged to one part of the law, they must also be obliged to all the other parts of it. Besides that circumcision was an owning and professing subjection to the whole law; as the receiving the sacrament of baptism is a professed subjecting ourselves to the whole gospel.

Objection. But (may some say) ought not then all Christians to observe the law?

Answer.

1. Not the ceremonial and political law, which were peculiar to the Jewish church and state.

2. It is one thing to be under an obligation to our utmost to fulfil the law, another thing to acknowledge ourselves debtors to the law.

Objection. But did not the fathers, then, by being circumcised, acknowledge themselves debtors to the law?

Answer. Yes, they did acknowledge themselves bound to the observation of the law, and to endure (upon the breaking it) the curse of it: but they were discharged from this obligation by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was made a curse for them, that he might redeem them from the curse of the law. But if any disclaimed Christ, (which, whosoever added any thing to his righteousness and to faith in him, as to the justification of the soul, did, as the apostle had said in the former verse), they laid themselves under an obligation to fulfil the whole law of God, if they would be saved. For I testify again to every man,.... This is the form of an oath, a calling God to witness, swearing by the living God, and declaring as in his presence to every man, whether Jew or Gentile, whoever he be:

that is circumcised; in order to obtain salvation, and as necessary to it:

that he is a debtor to do the whole law; and this it is that made circumcision an insupportable yoke, for that itself might be bore, and was bore by children of eight days old; but the fulfilling of the whole law cannot be done by any man; and yet everyone that is circumcised, in order to procure righteousness and life, is bound to keep the whole law; because the law is only his righteousness, when he observes all that is required in it, and as the Lord has commanded; if he does not, he is pronounced accursed: and this proves what was before said, that Christ is of no profit to such persons; because they reject him and his righteousness, and, as much as in them lie, make void his obedience, sufferings, and death: hence the same thing is repeated, though not in the same words, in the next verse.

For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Galatians 5:3. With regard to the judgment just expressed, Χριστὸς οὐδὲν ὑμᾶς ὠφελήσει, Paul now, with increasing emotion (μαρτύρομαι, παντὶ ἀνθρ. περιτ.), gives an explanation (Galatians 5:3-4) which clearly discloses the entire certainty of this negation.

The δέ is not potius (Schott), because it is not preceded by any antagonistic assertion, but is the autem which leads on to more detailed information (Herm. ad Viger. p. 845).

μαρτύρομαι] in the sense of μαρτυρῶ, as in Acts 20:26; Ephesians 4:17; Joseph. Bell. iii. 8. 3; and also Plat. Phil. p. 47 D, while in classical authors it usually means to summon as a witness and obtestor. Paul testifies that which with divine certainty he knows. The context does not warrant us to supply θεόν, with Bretschneider and Hilgenfeld.

πάλιν] not contra (Erasmus, Er. Schmid, Koppe, Wahl; comp. Usteri), which is never its meaning (see Fritzsche, ad Matth. p. 166 f.), but again, not however in the sense that Galatians 5:3 is described as a repetition of what was said in Galatians 5:2 (Calvin, Castalio, Calovius, Wolf, Zachariae, Paulus, and others), which it is not; nor in the sense that Paul is thinking merely of the testifying in itself, and not of its purport (Hofmann; comp. Fritzsche, Winer, de Wette),—an interpretation which cannot but be the less natural, the more necessarily that which is attested πάλιν stands in essential inner connection with the axiom which had been previously expressed (“probatio est proximae sententiae sumta ex loco repugnantium,” Calvin); but in the sense that Paul calls to the remembrance of his readers his last presence among them (the second), when he had already orally assured them of what he here expresses (Moldenhauer, Flatt, Rückert, Olshausen, Wieseler). Comp. on Galatians 1:9, Galatians 4:16.

παντὶ ἀνθρ. περιτ.] stands in a climactic relation to the foregoing ὑμῖν, remorselessly embracing all: to every one I testify, so that no one may fancy himself excluded from the bearing of the statement. According to Chrysostom and Theophylact, with whom Schott and others agree, Paul has wished to avoid the appearance κατʼ ἔχθραν ταῦτα λέγεσθαι; but in this view the whole climactic force of the address is misunderstood.

ὅλον] has the emphasis; comp. Jam 2:10. Circumcision binds the man who accepts it to obey the whole law, because it makes him a full member of the covenant of the law, a proselyte of righteousness, and the law requires from those who are bound to it its entire fulfilment (Galatians 3:10). Probably the pseudo-apostles had sought at least to conceal or to weaken this true and—since no one is able wholly to keep the law (Acts 13:38; Acts 15:10; Romans 8:3)—yet so fearful consequence of accepting circumcision, as if faith in Christ and acceptance of circumcision might be compatible with one another. On the contrary, Paul proclaims the decisive aut … aut. The state of the man who allows himself to be circumcised stands in a relation contradictory to the state of grace (comp. Romans 6:14 f., Romans 11:6).Galatians 5:3. μαρτύρομαι. This verb, which in Attic Greek denotes the calling of witnesses, is applied in Pauline language to the Apostle’s own testimony.—περιτέμνησθε, περιτεμνομένῳ. The use of the present tense intimates that the warning is not aimed at isolated acts, but at the introduction of a systematic practice involving a virtual transfer of allegiance from Christ to the Law.3. By receiving circumcision a man voluntarily put himself under the conditions of the law, which were, ‘fulfil perfectly and live: fail and die’. The tremendous responsibility thus incurred may have been disguised by the false Apostles: or the Galatians may have been slow to realise it. St Paul’s appeal is to the individual conscience. ‘Warning every man and teaching every man’ (Colossians 1:28) was his maxim as a minister of the Gospel, and it ought to be the maxim of all who claim to be successors of the Apostles.Galatians 5:3. Ὀφειλέτης, a debtor) Endangering salvation.—ὅλον, the whole) A task which he will never be able to perform.Verse 3. - For I testify again (μαρτύρομαι δὲ πάλιν); I protest again. In using the word μαρτύρομαι, pro teste loquor, "I speak in the presence of a witness," the apostle intimates that he is making his affirmation with a definite sense of the Lord being his Witness (cf. Ephesians 4:17, "This I say and testify in the Lord"). The original construction and force of the verb are shown in Judith 7:28, Μαρτύρομαι ὑμῖν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν. The apostle is wont to use it with a distinct sense of its emphatic import (see Acts 20:26; 1 Thessalonians 2:11). The word "again" points, not to the substance of the subsequent affirmation, as if it were a repetition of that mode in the preceding verse, which in fact it does not appear to be, but to the solemnity with which he makes this fresh affirmation. For the phrase, "I Paul say unto you," was one form of solemn affirmation which in effect gaged his personality as Christ's apostle and as acting in his name; and this "I protest" is another of equally solemn import. To every man that is circumcised (παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ περιτεμνομένῳ); to every man that is having himself circumcised. St. Paul's statements elsewhere, and his own proceeding in circumcising Timothy, as well as the present context, make it certain that, however absolute and universal his affirmation at first sight seems to be, it is nevertheless meant to be taken as made with reference to certain understood conditions. Thus: "I protest to any one of you Gentiles, who, being already baptized into Christ, has himself circumcised with the view of winning righteousness and favour with God, by obeying this one prescription of the Law - that," etc. The conjunction δὲ is most probably the δὲ of transition (metabatic), introducing a fresh particular merely; and in this instance, as often, it needs not to be represented in translation at all. Certainly s for" is not its meaning. Possibly, as De Wette supposes, it points back, as an adversative, to the words," Christ shall profit you nothing," as if it were "but on the contrary." That he is a debtor to do the whole Law (o%ti o)feile/th ἐστὶν ὅλον τὸν νόμον ποιῆσαι); that he is under obligation (Greek, is a debtor) to do the whole Law. By having himself circumcised, he adopts the token of the Lord's covenant (Genesis 17:11, 13) made with those who were his people after the flesh; he enrolls himself with them to share with them their obligations. And to them the Lord had given the Law of Mount Sinai to be their appointed pedagogue till the Christ should come. "By being circumcised" (he means) "you of your own accord put yourself back afresh under this pedagogue, and just his bidding you must do. And for what? All the ordinances and ceremonies he puts you upon observing will leave you as far off as ever from remission of sins and justification with God! And this self-surrender to the pedagogue God has not asked for at your hands; while what he does require, that you withhold, even faith in him whom he hath sent: nay, not merely withhold your belief, but by open act and deed testify your disbelief in him." Under all that the apostle is here writing there appears to lie the principle, which, however, he has not distinctly stored, but which we see to be true, that circumcision was the peculiar badge of "Israel after the flesh," appertaining to them alone and not to be meddled with by any who did not mean to become naturalized as fellow-citizens with them. (For the use of ὀφειλέτης ἰστίν, comp. Romans 8:14.) The noun more commonly points to a debt incurred, or guiltiness; but here it simply denotes obligation. Again (πάλιν)

Probably with reference to what he had said at his last visit.

Every man

Emphasizing and particularising the general to you, you, in Galatians 5:2.

A debtor (ὀφειλέτης)

In N.T. mostly of one under moral obligation. So in the sense of sinner, Matthew 6:12; Luke 13:4. Comp. Romans 1:14; Romans 8:12. Similarly the verb ὀφείλειν to owe, as Luke 11:4; Luke 17:10; Romans 15:1, etc., though it is frequent in the literal sense.

To do the law (ποιῆσαι)

Rare in N.T. See John 7:19; Romans 2:13, Romans 2:25 (πράσσῃς). Τηρεῖν to observe the law, the tradition, the commandment, Matthew 19:17; Mark 7:9; John 14:15; Acts 15:5 James 2:10 : πληροῦν to fulfill the law, Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14; comp. ἀναπληροῦν Galatians 6:2 : φυλάσσειν to keep or guard the law, Acts 7:53; Acts 21:24; Galatians 6:13 : also with commandments, word of God or of Christ, ordinances of the law, Matthew 19:20; Mark 10:20; Luke 11:28; John 12:47; Romans 2:26. Τελεῖν to carry out the law, Romans 2:27; James 2:8. Ποιῆσαι is to perform what the law commands: τηρεῖν to observe, keep an eye on with the result of performing: φυλάσσειν to guard against violation: τελεῖν to bring to fulfillment in action.

The whole law (ὅλον)

Comp. James 2:10. Submission to circumcision commits one to the whole law. It makes him a party to the covenant of the law, and the law requires of every one thus committed a perfect fulfillment, Galatians 3:10.

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