Posted in discernment, galatians, grace, jesus, law, paul

Why did Paul spank the Galatians so hard?

Last week I wrote Should We Love False Teachers? in which I took a look at the aforementioned question and put forth an answer. (Answer: no).

O you foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you!?

I’m reading the book of Galatians this month, and the associated commentaries. The book I finished before this was 1 Corinthians, all about that rowdy crowd of raucous Christians Paul had to tame by reminding them that Christian liberty is not license to sin. The book of Galatians is a book about defending salvation by grace and not of works. In it, Paul refutes the Judaizers, a gang of false teachers who upset the Galatians into thinking they had to be circumcised and do other Mosaic law keeping in order to be saved. Paul had to remind the Galatians of their freedom in Christ is given by grace and not of works.

When you start reading the book of Galatians, one thing immediately strands out. Paul cut to the chase. Paul is usually blunt, but in no other book, however, did Paul fail at first to give a loving greeting full of thanks toward the recipients. He always found something to commend, even in the rowdy Corinthians.

Not so with the Galatians.

He says, “Hi, it’s me, Paul, and WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!?!” to paraphrase.

Wait, weren’t the Corinthians worse? Why was Paul being so tough on the Galatians? The answer is, because sinful doctrine is worse than sinful behavior. Here is John MacArthur on the Galatian situation from his commentary.

After exposing the dangers of the false doctrines that threatened the Galatians, Paul exposes the wicked character of the men who espoused the doctrines. Like his Lord, Paul had great patience with those who were caught in even the deepest moral sin. As much as they condemned the sin itself and warned against its consequences, their love for the sinner was always evident. For the oft-divorced woman at Jacob’s well and the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus’ rebukes were gentle, and His offers of help were kind and encouraging (John 4:7 26; 8:3-11). And even before the hated and larcenous Zaccheus repented and came to saving faith, Jesus was not ashamed to eat with him (Luke 19:1-10).

But for the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees—whose outward lives were ceremonially impeccable, but who refused to recognize their spiritual need and Who continually corrupted the people’s minds with their legalistic perversion of true Judaism—Jesus had only condemnation. The scribes and Pharisees were the primary teachers and interpreters of Scripture. When a man was initiated into the scribal office, he was given a key that symbolized his qualification to teach. Yet Jesus called them hypocrites, deceivers, extortioners, misguided proselytizes, blind guides, fools, inwardly corrupt and foul, partners with those who killed the prophets and murderers themselves, serpents and vipers, and future persecutors of His church (Matt. 23:13-36). Their worst evil, however, was one that Isaiah had prophesied of them more than six hundred years earlier: “In vain do they worship Me, leaching as doctrines the precepts Of men” (Matt. 15:9; cf. Isa. 29:13).

Paul, too, was longsuffering with those who were caught in sin, as his letters to the immature, factious, and immoral believers at Corinth attest. But also like the Lord, the apostle’s most scathing denunciations were reserved for those who pervert God’s truth and lead others into falsehood.

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Paul extols the Law for its place to remind us of mercy. However, misuse of the Law condemns! THAT is the horror of false teachers! Wrong behavior is external and can be corrected, a poisoned heart full of false notions about Jesus is condemning!

Charles Spurgeon said, in his sermon on Galatians 3:13, “The Curse Removed“,

O ye who trust in the law for your salvation! ye have erred from the faith; ye do not understand God’s designs; ye are ignorant of every one of God’s truths. The law was given by Moses to make men feel themselves condemned, but never to save them; its very intention was to “conclude us all in unbelief, and to condemn us all, that he might have mercy upon all.” It was intended by its thunders to crush every hope of self-righteousness, by its lightnings to scathe and demolish every tower of our own works, that we might be brought humbly and simply to accept a finished salvation through the one mighty Mediator

Anyone who believes – or teaches – differently is ignorant:

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. (1 Timothy 6:3-4)


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.