Negative Proof from the Old Testament
For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” (3:10–12)
The Judaizers also strongly advocated the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. But here again, simply the sequence of Old Testament events should have shown them the foolishness of that belief. Abraham not only was declared righteous about 14 years before he was commanded to be circumcised, but more than 500 years before God revealed His law to Moses at Sinai. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and countless other Hebrew believers lived and died long before the written law was given by God.
Just as the Judaizers and their Galatian victims should have known that justification is by faith and not circumcision, they should also have known it is not by the Law. Therefore after showing what faith can do, Paul now shows what works cannot do. As in verses 6–9, his argument is based on the Old Testament.
In his defense before King Agrippa in Caesarea, Paul states the scriptural foundation of all his preaching and teaching: “Having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He should be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22–23).
The ancient rabbis were so absolutely convinced that salvation could only be earned through keeping the law that they tried to prove God had somehow revealed His law even to the patriarchs and other saints who lived before Moses and that those people found favor with Him because they kept His law. Because they could not bring themselves to consider limiting the supremacy of the law, the rabbis sought instead to reconstruct history and the clear teaching of God’s Word.
But Paul turns the tables on them again. “Don’t you realize,” he says, “that as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse?” That question would have utterly perplexed the Judaizers, who would have responded vehemently, “We know no such thing. How can you speak such foolishness?” “Have you forgotten Deuteronomy, the last book of the Law?” Paul asks, in effect; “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’ ” (see Deut. 27:26). A curse is a divine judgment that brings the sentence of condemnation.
The apostle’s emphasis in the quotation was on the requirement to abide by all things. In other words, the fact that those who trust in the works of the Law are obligated to keep all things in the law, without exception, places them inevitably under a curse, because no one had the ability to abide by everything the divine and perfect law of God demands. Paul confessed his inability to keep the law even as a devout Pharisee. He testified that “this commandment which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me” (Rom. 7:10). Even as a believer he said, “I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25) If men proudly insist on living by the law, it will curse them, not save them, because they cannot possibly live up to it.
The legalistic Jews had “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:2–4). Consequently, they unwittingly placed themselves under God’s wrath rather than His blessing, because they could not live up to His law and they would not submit to His grace.
Paul reminds his readers again of more teaching concerning God’s way of justification: Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith,” quoting this time from Habakkuk 2:4. The passage from Deuteronomy proves justification cannot be by the Law, and the passage from Habakkuk proves it must be by faith. The ways of law and faith are mutually exclusive. To live by law is to live by self-effort and leads inevitably to failure, condemnation, and death. To live by faith is to respond to God’s grace and leads to justification and eternal life.
Quoting another Old Testament text (Lev. 18:5), Paul again turns Scripture against the Judaizers by showing them that salvation by works and salvation by believing are mutually exclusive: However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” God’s written law itself marks the danger of trying to live up to its standard, which is perfection. If you are relying on works of the law as your means of salvation, then you have to live by them perfectly.
Pointing up that same truth in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus destroyed the very foundation of legalistic Judaism. Because God’s standard is perfection, He said; “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). And He had already made clear that God’s standard of perfection is inner virtue and perfection, not simply outwardly respectable behavior. To those who piously asserted they had never committed murder, He said, “Everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt. 5:22). And to those who claimed they had never committed adultery, He said, “Everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” (v. 28).
Whether consulting the texts in Deuteronomy, Habakkuk, or Leviticus, the message is the same: perfection allows no exceptions, no failure of the smallest sort. To break the law in one place is to break it all, “for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). No wonder the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight” (Rom. 3:20, KJV).
A ship that is moored to a dock by a chain is only as secure as the weakest link in that chain. If a severe storm comes and causes even one link to break, the entire ship breaks away. So it is for those who try to come to God by their own perfection. They will be lost and forever wrecked.
11 This juxtaposition continues as Paul writes, “Clearly no one is justified before God by law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ ” Paralleling the thought of v. 10, Paul reiterates the fact that no one is justified by the law. Paul’s scriptural argument, then, essentially continues along the lines of the preceding verses: “righteousness” is the domain of faith, while “curse” is the stronghold of law.
There is a measure of textual confusion with Paul’s quote of Habakkuk 2:4 in v. 11. The Hebrew text reads “the righteous will live by his faith,” while one text of the LXX reads “the righteous will live by my [God’s] faithfulness,” and another reads “my righteous one will live by faith.” Paul’s omission of the possessive pronoun “my,” however, would not have affected his argument in any case. Bruce, 162, has observed, “The faith by which one becomes righteous in God’s sight is faith in God, believing acceptance of his promise, as Abraham showed.”
Paul’s use of Habakkuk is probably his appropriation of an early Christian expression of faith. The early church would have used this “word of faith” as a vehicle to remind one another of the basis of life in Christ (cf. Longenecker, 119). The point Paul seems to be making with this quotation is that one who is “within this faith” shall live (ek pisteōs, “from within this faith”). In other words, Paul “strips faithfulness to its core of faith in God” (Fung, 144–45), thus expressing the validity of Habakkuk’s message as applied to his Galatian converts. Essentially, Paul is simply again emphasizing his previous point that the one who would emulate Abraham and share in his blessing is the one who exercises faith in God’s promise and integrity.
11 Secondly, Paul states that it is clear that no person is ever justified in God’s sight “in terms of law” (NEB) or “by the law” (AV, RV, RSV, NIV, NASB). He justifies this statement by quoting Hab. 2:4b, in which (as in Gen. 15:6) the two concepts “righteous” and “faith” appear together and which is doubtless chosen for that reason. The MT of of Hab. 2:4b can be represented by “the righteous will live by his faith” (NASB, NIV, RSV) or “by his faithfulness” (NASB mg., NIV mg., RSV mg., NEB mg.), that is, by steadfastness in waiting for the vindication of God’s justice in the face of enemy oppression. The LXX, on the other hand, has “the righteous one will live by my faithfulness” (ho de dikaios ek pisteōs mou zēsetai) or (if mou be taken as objective genitive) “by faith in me.” There is a variant reading placing mou immediately after ho de dikaios and thus yielding the sense “my righteous one will live by faith,” which is the form quoted in Heb. 10:38a (so NIV). Paul omits the possessive pronoun mou (without any significant alteration of meaning) and apparently understands the statement to mean: “he who is righteous by faith shall live” (NASB mg.).36
On the other hand, it has been argued in favor of the translation “the righteous shall live by faith” (RV; AV, NASB, and NIV are similar) that (a) the original Hebrew certainly does not bear the other meaning and it is contrary to both the MT and the LXX to link “by faith” with “the righteous one” rather than with “will live”; (b) the order of the words in Paul’s quotation is not what would be most favorable to the other rendering; (c) Paul’s argument seems best sustained by linking “by faith” with “live”; and (d) this construction forms a more exact antithesis to the words “shall live by them” in v. 12 (RSV, NASB). At least one scholar has judged that the understanding reflected in the RSV and NEB renderings “is inspired more by Lutheran dogma than by a calm consideration of the evidence”;38 others, while agreeing that the text is construed by Paul as in RSV and NEB, question the “somewhat violent use of the quotation” and speak of “the Pauline distortion of Habakkuk.”
Against these objections may be set the following considerations: (a) The particular meaning which the quotation had for Paul and which he intended for his readers is to be gathered primarily from the context in which he employs it and the part which it plays in his argument. The expression “justified … by the law” in v. 11a, not to speak of the wider context from 2:15 onwards (where the concern is with how a man may be justified, not how the righteous shall live), naturally suggests the association of “by faith” with “the righteous one” rather than with “shall live.”
(b) That the order of the words quoted (the placement of the modifying prepositional phrase after the noun rather than between the article and the noun) would be amenable to this interpretation may be deduced from Paul’s writing elsewhere “the Israel according-to-flesh” (ton Israēl kata sarka, 1 Cor. 10:18) rather than “the according-to-flesh Israel” (ton kata sarka Israēl): “the righteous-one by-faith” (ho dikaios ek pisteōs) could similarly be intended to mean the same as “the by-faith righteous-one” (ho ek pisteōs dikaios).
(c) While Heb. ʾemûnâ strictly means “steadfastness” or “fidelity” rather than “trust” or “faith,” the former is based on the latter. As it has been well said, “can there be any `fidelity’ on man’s part, such as God can reward with the great gift of `life,’ which does not ultimately have its roots in man’s attitude of `faith’ in God?”
(d) Furthermore, “if it is `faith’ which makes the `just’ man worthy to receive life, what is it but his faith which gives him originally his title to be called `just’?” Seen in this light, Paul’s application of the Habakkuk text as though it read “he who is righteous-by-faith” does no violence to the prophet’s intention: he simply “strips faithfulness to its core of faith in God” and in so doing expresses the abiding validity of the prophet’s message.46 The quotation in Rom. 1:17 is to be similarly construed.
Paul’s argument in v. 11 is, then, to this effect: because Scripture says that it is he who is righteous (that is, justified) by faith that will live, it follows that no one is justified by works of the law (irrespective of one’s success or failure in keeping it).
3:11 / When Paul states clearly no one is justified before God by the law his evidence is not phenomenological. That is, he does not cite the evidence of his or others’ experience. Rather, Paul cites Scripture: “The righteous will live by faith.” There are few other places where we see Paul the exegete so hard at work. Paul’s argument does not rest on an assumption that humans find it impossible to fulfill the law. Rather, Paul’s argument is based on the assumption that Scripture has something to say to the problem at hand, on the conviction that he rightly understands what it says, and on the desire to discredit whatever his opponents may have said on the basis of these Scriptures.
Paul is faced with the challenge of a seeming contradiction in Scripture. N. Dahl’s suggestion makes good sense of Paul’s use of Scripture in this passage. According to Dahl, Paul here uses legal arguments common among rabbis who sought to deal with contradictions in Scripture. When they were confronted with contradictory scriptural passages the rabbis sought to determine which passage held the basic principle that would serve to set the other passage in context. Paul sees an opposition between Habakkuk 2:4 (“the righteous will live by faith”) and passages such as Deuteronomy 27:26 and Leviticus 18:5 (“the man who does these things [i.e., observing the law] will live by them”). Dahl proposes that the way Paul resolves the contradiction is to determine that the valid principle is “by faith” (Gal. 3:13–14). This means that the other scriptural principle, “by law,” is provisional (Gal. 3:15–19; “Contradictions in Scripture,” in The Crucified Messiah and Other Essays [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974], pp. 159–77).
11. The fact that the opponents were diverting the law from its true purpose and that this attempt was bound to result in tragic failure is brought out clearly, as Paul continues: Now it is evident that by law no one is justified before God, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” The law has no power to subdue man’s sinful tendencies. It cannot destroy the power of sin within man (Rom. 8:3). How then can a sinner ever attain to the ultimate blessing of being righteous in the sight of God? How can that true, rich, full life in which man is at peace with his Maker, and abides in sweet communion with him, ever be reached? The answer, which holds for both dispensations, the old and the new, and for people of every race or nationality, whether Gentile or Jew, is this: “The righteous shall live by faith.” It is the man who has placed his entire confidence in God, trusting him implicitly, and accepting with gladness of heart the gracious provision which that merciful Father has made for his salvation, it is he, he alone, who shall live. This living consists in such things as: a. enjoying the peace of God which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), in the knowledge that in the sight of God’s holy majesty the believer is righteous (Rom. 5:1; 8:15); b. having fellowship with God “in Christ” (John 17:3); c. “rejoicing greatly with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8); d. “being transformed into the image of the Lord from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18); and e., last but not least, striving to be a spiritual blessing to others to the glory of God (1 Thess. 3:8).
Now if the Judaizers had only paid more attention to the Word of God and had accepted it, they would have known that not by trusting in his own reasoning or in his own accomplishments but “by faith” the righteous man attains to this bliss of “living.” This had been clearly stated by Habakkuk the prophet (Hab. 2:4). That man of God appeared upon the scene of history during the reign of wicked Jehoiakim (608–597 b.c.). The words “The righteous shall live by his faith” may even be considered the theme of Habakkuk’s prophecy. The divisions then would be: I. Faith tested: the prophet’s questions and Jehovah’s answers (chapters 1 and 2), and II. Faith strengthened by a vision shown in answer to the prophet’s prayer. What bothered Habakkuk was that it seemed as if wicked men were getting away with their wickedness. Jehovah apparently tolerated such evils as the exploitation of the needy, strife, contention, violence, etc. So the prophet begins to ask questions. He addresses these questions to Jehovah. He complains, objects, and waits for an answer. Habakkuk’s first question amounted to this, “Why does Jehovah allow the wicked in Judah to oppress the righteous?” Jehovah answers, “Evil-doers will be punished. The Chaldeans (Babylonians) are coming.” But this answer does not quite satisfy the prophet. So he asks another one, which was tantamount to this: “Why does Jehovah allow the Chaldeans to punish the Jews, who, at least are more righteous than these foreigners?” The prophet stations himself upon his watch-tower and awaits an answer. The answer arrives: “The Chaldeans, too, will be punished. In fact all sinners will be punished … but the righteous shall live by his faith.” It is his duty and privilege to trust, and to do this even then when he is not able to “figure out” the justice of Jehovah’s doings. In this humble trust and quiet confidence he shall truly live.
But Jehovah does more than merely tell the prophet that he must exercise faith. He also strengthens that faith by means of a marvelous, progressive vision. Habakkuk sees the symbol of Jehovah’s presence, descending from Mt. Paran. Having descended he stands firm and shakes the earth. The tent-hangings of Cushan and Midian are trembling and are being torn to shreds. One question worries the prophet: “Upon whom is Jehovah’s wrath going to fall? Merely upon the realm of nature? Upon Judah perhaps?” Finally, the answer arrives: Jehovah destroys the Chaldeans and delivers his people.
So fearful and terrifying had been the appearance of Jehovah, so alarming the sound of the tempest, of crumbling mountains, etc., that the prophet is trembling in every part of his body. Nevertheless, having witnessed that Jehovah had descended for the defense of his own people, Habakkuk no longer questions the ways of God’s providence. From now on he “waits quietly.” He expresses his feelings in a beautiful Psalm of Trust: “For though the fig-tree shall not flourish.… Yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”
In this case, too, as with the quotation from the story of Abraham (Gen. 15:6; cf. Gal. 3:6), I beg to differ from those who think that Paul’s appeal to an Old Testament passage in his battle with the Judaizers is far-fetched. These interpreters seem to see little if any connection between “the faith versus law-works controversy” of Paul’s day and the “faith versus Chaldean self-confidence contrast” described in Habakkuk’s prophecy. It is an error, however, to restrict the latter contrast so narrowly. A rapid review of the contents of the Old testament book has certainly shown that the quiet confidence which Jehovah so patiently teaches his servant is contrasted also—perhaps especially—with the prophet’s own tendency to question the ways of God’s providence. Fact is that the sinner is beset with enemies: the accusing voice of conscience, the doubting mind, etc. He must have peace. How will he obtain it? The Judaizers answer: “by trusting in his own works (circumcision, etc.).” Habakkuk, before he had fully learned the lesson which God was teaching him, gives evidence of answering: “by trusting in his own reason.” That is why it was so difficult for him to harmonize the events that were happening in Judah with the existence of a holy God. That is why he had asked so many questions. But Habakkuk learned his lesson. When he sat down to write his prophecy he had learned it thoroughly, and gave an account of the experience through which he had passed. But whether a person trusts in his own works or in his own reason, in either case is he not trusting in “flesh”? As I see it, therefore, to clinch his argument Paul could not have chosen a better prophecy from which to quote than that of Habakkuk. The passage fits the situation exactly! In every age it remains true that “The righteous shall live by faith.” “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Galatians (pp. 76–78). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 595). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fung, R. Y. K. (1988). The Epistle to the Galatians (pp. 143–145). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jervis, L. A. (2011). Galatians (p. 90). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, pp. 127–129). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.