Rhetorical Questions

A Study of Galatians 3:1-5

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if [it be] yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, [doeth he it] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? [Gal 3:1-5]

Having established the cross as the end of self and the beginning of life, the Apostle now speaks to the mind of the believer. He begins by calling them “foolish”. This is an appeal to them to think. This foolishness is just that. It is a way of saying that in going back to the law and to rules and to religion you are not using your mind. As good teachers often do, Paul asks them a series of questions to make them think. Questions have that effect, even if we are not expecting the person that we are asking to answer. The first of these questions:

Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? The implication here is that someone must have some kind of spell or supernatural power over the one who moves away from the truth of Christ crucified and toward religion and law. Christ crucified has implications:

  • Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [Him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. [Rom 6:6]
  • I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me. [Gal 2:20]
  • But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. [Gal 6:14]
  • Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; [Col 2:14]

The Lord endured open shame on the cross that we might be given life. He did not endure the cross so that we might continue failed attempts to please Him by the arm of the flesh. Reversion to law-works and religion is an attempt to dress up the old man. That is the old man that is crucified with Christ. Remember that the last chapter ended saying that if righteousness comes by the law, than Christ has died in vain.

The next question Paul asks is: Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

He knows the answer here, and he also knows that they know the answer. They received the gift of the Holy Spirit when they believed the gospel that Paul preached to them. Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). There was no commandment that he required them to keep so that they would be ready for the gift of the Spirit. It cannot be denied that during the period covered by the book of Acts, the gift of the Spirit was manifest by visible witness. This should have been very well remembered by the Galatian believers. If we simply look at one incident during the ministry of Paul during this time, we can see how the Spirit was imparted:

And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on Him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard [this], they were baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid [his] hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. And all the men were about twelve. [Act 19:1-7]

There was no works or turning to the law to defeat the flesh so that the Spirit could be received. This was by the hearing of faith. Note well too, that these were already believers, followers of a past program of God. Paul was bringing them out of this past program into the then present program, and there was no issue, for they believed John about Him that should come after. It was only natural that believers should continue to believe God’s message. We should remember that Paul is not asking this question to get information, but asking to make them think and remember the truth–that the Spirit was given by grace through faith.

Another rhetorical question: Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?

Again, not looking for an answer, just looking to make them think. It seems like such a “silly” question, yet it has been the way that most of us Christians think we will live the victorious life. It is by conquering the flesh with law. Except the law was weak through the flesh. No power to keep the law was ever given, it was only demanded. But we which are in Christ Jesus have victory, but not by law. Law has ever only been a means to control the flesh. But the flesh is crucified with Christ. Let us look at Paul’s teaching on the Spirit and the flesh:

[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. And if Christ [be] in you, the body [is] dead because of sin; but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. [Rom 8:1-13]

The flesh is usually thought of as walking in sin, but we must never forget that the war between the flesh and the Spirit wages when we try to overcome sin by the power of the flesh.

For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. [Rom 7:9]

All of mankind’s religious systems make an attempt to reform the natural man. The greater part of Christendom, or the Christian religion is no different. Even true believers, such as the Galatians fall into this trap. Sometimes utter failure is the best reminder that this is not the pathway to victory. Christ, and Christ alone is our victory. Getting our own mastery over sin would at best lead to self-righteousness and disdain for others that have not defeated sin in their own life by law-keeping. It is no wonder that it is in this very epistle that Paul gives this warning:

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. [Gal 5:15]

This would be a good time to bring in this instruction that Paul teaches regarding the walk of the believer in Christ:

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, [so] walk ye in Him: Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. [Col 2:6-9]

The next question which Paul asks: Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if [it be] yet in vain.

Paul himself certainly suffered much, and the indication is that the Galatian believers did as well. In the Acts record persecutions certainly followed him. The Lord said to Annanias, For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for My Name’s sake. [Act 9:16] Yet in the same chapter: Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied. [Act 9:31] It appears that the Jewish assemblies were beginning to be accepted among the Jewish people, although considered as “the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5). They were in Jerusalem by the thousands (Acts 21:20) and prayed in the temple. But thoughout the period covered by the book of Acts, Paul was persecuted by the Jews, and in Acts 14, they persuaded the heathen there to stone him.

Paul’s reaction after all this:

Confirming the souls of the disciples, [and] exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. [Act 14:22]

We cannot help but think that if Paul would have proved by preaching circumcision that he was adding to the people of Israel gentiles who were proselytes to Judaism, he would never have been persecuted. The Lord, however, had no interest in new proselytes. The Lord said of the Pharisees and their proselytes:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. [Mat 23:15]

One of the main reasons the Jews rose up in such rage when Paul was in the temple in Acts 22 was that he said the Lord sent him far hence unto the gentiles. The gentiles were not being brought into the fold of Judaism. The Lord was making in Himself of Jews and Gentiles one new man (Eph 2:15). The Jews put the message of Christ far from themselves, and wanted to keep the gentiles from the salvation found in Christ as well. Yet the persecutions would have probably ceased if Paul brought the gentiles into the fold of Judaism. But Paul’s message was not reconciling gentiles to Jews in Judaism. It was reconciling Jew and Gentile in one body by the cross of Christ. (Eph 2:16)

And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. [Gal 5:11]

As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. [Gal 6:12-13]

Compromise might make the persecution cease, but the will of God was much more important to Paul, and he would suffer persecution for the Lord’s sake. He would not let what he already had suffered be in vain, and did not want them to have suffered in vain either.

He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, [doeth he it] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Whether Paul was talking about himself or others among them that were working miracles we are uncertain. It is certain, however, that Paul did work miracles as the signs of an apostle:

Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. [2Co 12:12]

Even a casual reading of Romans 7 would bear witness that Paul received nothing but condemnation by attempts to keep the law. It became death to him. Romans 8 gives witness that Paul lived by the power of the Spirit that raised up Christ from the dead. As we bring this study to a close, read carefully how any attempts to rule the flesh by the power of the flesh is worthless, and that our all in all is in Christ:

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ. Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. [Col 2:16-23]

6 thoughts on “Rhetorical Questions

  1. michikolong

    you quoted Acts 19. did Paul use water to baptise them and then laid his hands on them and then they got the spirit? also, Paul told them that circumcision as a religious rite didn’t do a thing for them. is there a verse where Paul says the same about water baptism? some friends say that you don’t need it to be saved, but to show that you have been saved. sort of a public confession. my friends want me to show them a verse where Paul says the same about water baptism as he says about circumcision. and why did Paul circumcise Timothy if it was unncessary?

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    1. I think that sometimes when we see “baptism”, our minds are conditioned to automatically see water. John the Baptist did baptize with water. This passage says that Paul baptized them in the Name of the Lord Jesus. I have seen it also translated as “into” the Name of the Lord Jesus, just like we have been baptized into Jesus Christ and into His death as Paul says in Romans 6. They were now identified with His Name and no longer with John. There is no mention of water unless we read it into the verse because of what we understand baptism to be. 1 Corinthians 1:17 says Christ did not send Paul to baptize but to preach the gospel. Paul was not the least bit interested in the number of baptisms that he performed, but that he preached the gospel. So baptism has nothing to do with his gospel. The whole issue of baptism seems to take on a way too disproportionate amount of arguments, even among us who have come to understand grace and the distinctiveness of Paul’s gospel of Christ. Fundamental baptists who do understand the distinctiveness of Paul’s revelation draw a line against us who they call “hyperdispensationalists” just because of baptism, when we could really be their best friends. There is the question of Acts 2-7 or 8 where I understand the message to be a continuation of the offer of the Kingdom to Israel a period of forebearance, where they don’t see that, and that becomes the biggest problem too, next to baptism. There really is a interesting dynamic in the rest of Acts about the Jewish assemblies that were still altogether Jewish, in fact, they were exactly what Jews should be, and the gentile assemblies that were coming to Christ entirely apart from Jewishness, It is a very unsettled time as far as things happening are concerned, but it is also not where we get the Lord’s revelation for us. We get that from Paul, and our doctrine is settled in his epistles. Paul brought Timothy into the Jewish temple so he circumcised him so he could be allowed in the temple. These were Jewish things, and I think that Paul did it out of respect for Jewish things and the Jewish assemblies of James. God had not completely called out the Jewish assemblies from their Jewish religion yet. That is my best understanding of this at this point.
      Thank you for the question, I hope my answer helps a little. I also need to fix the font of these comments, because I can barely read them.

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  2. Mom

    Another good article and a good answer to a good question. Some think that the baptism spoken of had to do with John baptizing these believers when they believed at the time of John’s ministry and that Paul did not re-baptize them.

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    1. This episode in Acts seems every bit a continuation of the end of the previous chapter where Aquila and Priscilla expounded to Apollos the way of God more perfectly. Some would say that the disciples of John needed to be saved again, but this is not consistent with scripture. Believing John they believed God’s word to them, and with a change, or a transitioning dispensation, they needed this communicated to them. The Lord promised to His disciples that they would not be left comfortless, which is literally left as orphans. He did not leave the believers of the previous dispensation as orphans, He moved them on to perfection.

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  3. Mom

    So, this passage says that Paul laid his hands on these believers and they received the Holy Ghost even as those in the early part of Acts received the Holy Ghost on that Jewish Feast Day of Pentecost. Now if they believed through John’s ministry and were believers through John’s ministry weren’t they then water baptized when they believed John’s message even if they hadn’t at that time received the Holy Ghost? Wasn’t that part of John’s message, that they repent and be water baptized? Did they then have to be water baptized again when they met Paul? Can we suppose that they never met John and were only informed of John’s gospel by someone else and were never water baptized after they believed? This seems to be inconsistent with the message John gave, that is, repent and be baptized for the remission of sins. Evidently, these believers never received the Gift of the Holy Ghost until they met Paul as did those believers at the Pentecost mentioned in early Acts. One thing I’m thankful for is that these believers met Paul and, yes, he did move them on to perfection.

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  4. They were baptized unto John’s baptism, which was with water. It was a baptism of repentance, accepting God’s witness against themselves. To be baptized unto John’s baptism would have to have been with water, because that is how John baptized. One interesting thought I had about why Paul had to lay hands on them to receive the Holy Ghost: It seems that every instance of anyone receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost in Acts of necessity had to be through means of a directly appointed Apostle of the Lord Jesus.(Acts 2, 8, 10, 19) This is a proof of Paul’s direct appointment as Apostle of Jesus Christ. Maybe this is especially important that disciples of John were to understand this so that they could know for sure that Paul was indeed God had chosen to be the steward of grace, of the gospel, and of the mystery.

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