Here, the subject is the role faith and works play in the justification process. This time, he uses Abraham as the model by which all his "children in the faith" also become "children of God." He begins by posing a question, which can be paraphrased as, "Do miracles come by ritual?" There is in this a veiled illusion to magic. Do miracles come by incantation? Do they come by knowing certain formulas that may include even such things as cutting the flesh or going through long periods of fasting or sufferings to get God's attention? Will God respond with a miracle out of pity once we show Him how humble and righteous we are? No, it does not work that way. Miracles come by a living God, who is actively working in our lives because He called us and we have faith in Him.
With that foundation, Paul begins what turns into the preamble for a very controversial section of Galatians. He proceeds to state that it was through faith that Abraham was justified. It is good to remember that Abraham not only believed who God is, but he also believed what God said. This is what set him apart from everybody else. His faith was not merely an intellectual agreement, but he also lived His faith.
Abraham's works did not win him acceptance by God, but they did prove to God that Abraham really did believe Him. So Paul says in verses 10-11 that those who rely on their works to justify them are under the curse of the law. What is "the curse of the law"? The death penalty! When one sins, he brings on himself the curse of the law he broke, which is death. In effect, he says that those who seek justifcation through works are still under the curse because justification by this means is impossible.
So powerful is the curse of the law that, when our sins were laid on the sinless Jesus Christ, the law claimed its due. Jesus died! Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 to counteract those who were troubling the church, because they were saying that their asceticism, magic, and similar things (like keeping Halakah, the oral law and traditions of Judaism) could justify.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Six)
The word scripture refers to the Old Testament. Paul writes in a way where the Scripture is personified ("foreseeing"), but the intent is clear that the Scripture is being spoken of in terms of the Author. The One who inspired the Old Testament (Scripture) foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles through faith. This means that the doctrine of justification by faith is contained in the Old Testament (Psalm 130:3, 143:2; Exodus 34:7; Job 4:17, 9:2-3,29, 15:14, 25:4; Ecclesiastes 7:20), and is not something contained just in the New—if not directly, then at least indirectly by showing that we cannot justify ourselves in God's eyes. (God foretells of this Gentile justification in Isaiah 49:6, 22-23, 60.)
The phrase "would justify" is in the present indicative sense, which means that it is now, and at all times, God's one way of justification. Here it would better be translated as "justifies." God justifies through faith—He always has, and as long as the present order of things continues, He always will. There was never a time when a person could have been justified by their works or actions.
Faith in Christ is the means by which God would justify the heathens ("the nations"—the Gentiles), but that justification does not mean they were allowed to remain Gentiles (heathens) in a spiritual sense. Being justified does not mean we are told we have not done anything wrong. Being justified means we are brought into legal alignment with God and His law, so the sin-induced gulf between God and man can be overcome and the relationship can begin. The physical Gentiles are/were given the opportunity to repent (Acts 11:18), which coincides with justification, but even repentance means that a change in behavior (works) must be made. God saves us from our sins, not in our sins.
David C. Grabbe
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Galatians 3:8: