Martin Luther's Commentary on Galatians (verse 3:1 excerpt)

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O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? (Galatians 3:1)

Paul here showeth his apostolic care, and burning zeal which he beareth to the Church: so that in disputing and confuting, he intermingleth sometimes gentle exhortation, and sometimes he sharply reproveth, according to his own rule given to Timothy. Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, rebuke, exhort (2 Tim. iv. 2 [2 Timothy 4:2]). Here the reader may think, if he be not circumspect, that Paul in teaching keepeth no order at all. And indeed, after the manner of the rhetoricians, he observeth none; but as concerning the spirit he useth a goodly order.

Now after he has proved with strong arguments, that Christian righteousness cometh not by keeping the law, but by faith in Christ, and withal confuted the doctrine of the false apostles, he turneth his talk to the Galatians themselves, and reproveth them saying: O foolish Galatians, as if he would say, alas, from whence are ye fallen, O miserable Galatians? I have most carefully taught you the truth of the gospel, and ye received it of me with fervent zeal and great diligence. How then cometh it to pass that ye are so suddenly fallen away from it? Who hath bewitched you?

He reproveth very sharply, when he calleth them fools, bewitched, and disobedient to the truth. Whether he did this of zeal or compassion, I will not her contend: both may be true. A carnal man would interpret this to be a reviling, rather than a godly reprehension. Did Paul then give an evil example or was he spiteful against the Churches of Galatia, because he called them foolish and bewitch? No, not so. For with a Christian zeal it is lawful for an apostle, a pastor, or preacher, sharply to reprove the people committed to his care, and such reprovings are both fatherly and godly. So parents, of affection, do sharply rebuke their children: which they would not bear if another should do it. The schoolmaster is angry with his scholar, he rebuketh him and beateth him: all which he taketh in good part, but would not bear it at the hands of an equal. The magistrate likewise reproveth and punisheth some that are brought before him. And this discipline is not only good, but very necessary; without which nothing can be well done. Wherefore, unless the magistrate, the schoolmaster, the parent be angry and reprove when the case requireth, he is unprofitable, and doth not discharge his office rightly.

Wherefore chidings and bitter words are as necessary in every kind of life, as any other virtue. Yet must this anger be so tempered, that it proceed not of any malice, but only of fatherly concern and affection. These kinds of anger are good, and are called in the Scripture zeals or jealousies. For in chastising my child, my scholar, or subject is this sort, I seek not his hurt, but his profit and welfare.

It may be then that Paul here rebuketh the Galatians of his zeal (not to destroy but to amend them), or else out of pity and compassion, by way of complaint, for that it grieveth him that they should be so miserably reduced, as if he would say, I am sorry and ashamed to hear this of you. In like manner do we reprehend the miserable: not that we tread them down, but as having compassion on them and seeking their amendment. This I say, lest any man should cavil and say that Paul railed upon the Churches, contrary to the rule of the gospel.

In like manner Christ rebuketh the Pharisees, calling them serpents, the generation of vipers, the children of the devil. But these are the rebukings of the Holy Ghost. They are fatherly and motherly, and as the chidings of a faithful friend: as it is said in the Book of Proverbs: "better are the wounds of a friend than the kisses of an enemy" (Prov. xxvii. 6 [Proverbs 27:6]). Thus one and the same rebuke if it come out of the mouth of a father, may be a great benefit: but if it proceed from an equal or an enemy, it is a spiteful reproach. But when Christ and Paul do reprove, it is done with singular virtue and commendation: but when a private man should do the like, it is in him a great vice.

There is a certain vehemency to be noted in this word, Galatians; for he calleth them not his brethren, as elsewhere he is wont to do; but he calleth them by the name that was proper to their country. And it seemth that it was the natural vice of that nation to be foolish; like as it was the fault of the Cretenses to be liars. As if he would say: As ye are called, even so are ye indeed, and so ye continue; that is to say: "foolish Galatians"; and so you show yourselves now in the business of the gospel (wherein ye ought to have been most wise), yet ye continue still in your own nature, and are no changelings.

Thus Paul, by way of correction, putteth the Galatians in mind of their corrupt nature.

Moreover we are here admonished, that, according to the flesh, there are yet natural vices remaining in the Churches, and in the godly. Grace maketh not such a change in the faithful, that by-and-by they become altogether new creatures, and perfect in all things: but there remain yet certain dregs of their old natural corruption. As if a man, that is naturally prone to anger be converted to Christ, although he be mollified by grace (the Holy Ghost so framing his heart, that he is now before more meek and gentle), yet this natural vice is not utterly quenched in his flesh. So it is with such as are, by nature severe and sharp, although they be converted to the faith, yet they cannot entirely forsake this vice. Hereof it cometh that the holy Scriptures, which do contain all one truth, are diversely handled by the various writers. One in teaching is mild and gentle: another more rough and rigorous. Thus the Spirit of God, being poured into diverse vessels, doth not quench at once the vices of nature: but by little and little, during this life, He purgeth that sin which is rooted, not only in the Galatians, but also in all men of all nations.

Albeit then that the Galatians were lightened and did believe, and had now received the Holy Ghost by the preaching of faith, notwithstanding this remnant of vice (this foolishness I mean), and the original corruption, which afterwards did easily burst out into a flame of false doctrine, remaineth in them still.

Wherefore let no man trust so much in himself, as to think that when he hath received grace, he is thoroughly purged from his old vices. Indeed many things are purged in us, and principally the head of the serpent: that is to say, infidelity and ignorance of God is cut off and bruised, but the slimy body and the remnants of sin remain in us. For we are not yet dead, but still we live in the flesh: which, because it is not yet pure, continually lusteth against the spirit. I am carnal, saith Paul, sold under sin. I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind (Rom. vii. 14,21 [Romans 7:14,21]; Gal. v. 19 [Galatians 5:19]). Wherefore the natural vices that were in us before we received faith, do still remain in us after that we have received faith: saving that now they are subdued to the spirit, which hath the upper hand to keep them under, that they rule not; and yet not without great conflict. This glory is due to Christ alone; and this title He beareth, that: "He is without spot and blemish: who did not sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Pet. ii. 22 [1 Peter 2:22]).

When Paul asketh: Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not believe the truth? he hath another fling at that righteousness of the law, and of our own righteousness, namely, that it maketh us to contemn the truth: it bewitcheth us in such sort that we do not believe, or obey the truth but rebel against it.


Afterwards, in the fifth chapter, he rehearseth sorcery among the works of the flesh, and sorcery is a kind of witchcraft, whereby he plainly testifieth, that such sorcery and witchcraft there is, and that it may be done. Moreover, it cannot be denied that the devil liveth, yea, and reigneth throughout the whole world. Witchcraft and sorcery are the works of the devil; whereby he doth not only hunt men, but also, by the permission of God, he sometimes destroyeth them. Furthermore, we are all subject to the devil both in body and goods, and we be strangers in this world, whereof he is the prince and god. Therefore the bread we eat, the liquids we drink, the garments we wear, yea, the air, and whatsoever we live by in the flesh, is under his dominion.

But he doth not only bewitch men after this gross manner, but also after a more subtle sort, and much more dangerous, wherein he is a marvellous cunning workman. And hereof it cometh that Paul applieth the bewitching of the senses to the bewitching of the spirit. For by this spiritual witchcraft that old serpent bewitcheth not men's senses, but their minds with false and wicked opinions: which opinions they that are so bewitched, do take to be true and godly. Briefly, so great is the malice of this sorcerer the devil, and his desire to hurt, that not only he deceiveth those secure and proud spirits with his enchantments, but even those who are professors of true Christianity, and well affected in religion: yea, as touching myself, to tell the truth, he sometimes assaileth me so mightily, and oppresseth me with such heavy cogitations, that he utterly shadoweth my Saviour Christ from me, and, in a manner, taketh Him clean out of my sight. There is not one of us who is not oftentimes bewitched by false persuasions: that is, who doth not fear, trust, or rejoice when he ought not, or doth not sometimes think otherwise of God, or Christ, of faith, or his vocation, etc., than he should do.

Indeed we have many times been cast down in this conflict, but we perish not: for Christ hath always triumphed, and doth triumph through us. Therefore we hope assuredly, that we shall also hereafter by Jesus Christ obtain the victory against the devil. And this hope bringeth us sure consolation, so that in the midst of our temptations we take courage, and say: "Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world" (I John iv. 4 [1 John 4:4]). Christ is stronger, who hath overcome that strong one in us, and shall overcome him for ever. Notwithstanding the devil sometimes overcometh us in the flesh, that we may have experience of the power of a stronger against that strong one, and may say with Paul: When I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. xiii. 9 [2 Corinthians 13:9]). Let no man think that the Galatians only were bewitched of the devil: but let every man think that he himself might have been, and yet may be bewitched of him.

When Paul asketh: Who hath bewitched you? he excuseth the Galatians, and layeth the blame upon the false apostles.

As though he would say, I see that ye are not fallen through willfulness or malice; but the devil hath sent the enchanting false apostles, his children among you, and they do so bewitch you, in teaching that ye are justified by the law, that now ye think otherwise of Christ than ye did afore, when ye heard the gospel preached by me. But we labour, both by preaching and writing unto you, to uncharm that sorcery wherewith ye are bewitched, and to set at liberty those who are ensnared therewith.

So we also at this day do labour by the word of God against the fantastical opinion of the Anabaptists, that we may set at liberty those that are entangled therein, and bring them to the pure doctrine of faith, and hold them there. Yet such there are, as will not suffer themselves to be taught, especially the chief sorcerers and authors of this witchery. They will hear no reason, nor admit the Scriptures, yea, they abuse and corrupt the Scriptures, with their false glosses and devilish dreams, which is a sure sign that they are bewitched of the devil. And surely I could never have believed, but that I have good experience thereof at this day, that the power of the devil is so great, that he is able to make falsehood so like the truth. Moreover, when he goeth about to overwhelm sorrowful consciences with overmuch heaviness, he can so cunningly change himself into the likeness of Christ, that it is impossible for the poor tempted soul to perceive it, whereby many are deceived and driven down to desperation.

Such a thing happened to that miserable man, Dr. Kraw of Halle, who said: "I have denied Christ, and therefore He standeth now before His Father and accuseth me." And he so strongly conceived in his mind this imagination, that by no consolation, no promise of God, could he be brought from it, wherefore he despaired, and miserably destroyed himself. But the Scripture setteth not forth Christ as an accuser, a judge, or a tempter: but as a reconciler, a mediator, a comforter, and a throne of grace.

But this poor man could not see this, and therefore against all Scripture, he thinketh this to be an undoubted truth: "Christ accuseth thee before His Father." And this temptation is not of man, but of the devil, which that enchanter doth strongly imprint upon the heart of the tempted. But unto us who are led and taught by another spirit, it is a cursed lie, and a bewitching of the devil. Seeing then that the devil is able to print in our heart so manifest a lie, we must not be proud, but walk in fear and humility, calling upon the Lord Jesus, that we be not led into temptation. Worldly and secure men, who having heard the gospel once or twice preached, do by-and-by imagine that they have received abundance of the spirit, fall at length in like manner, because they fear not God, nor are thankful unto Him, but persuade themselves that they are able, not only to hold and defend the doctrines of true religion, but also to stand against the devil in any assault or conflict. Such are meet instruments for the devil to bewitch and to throw down to desperation.

Say not then, I am perfect: I cannot fall: but humble thyself and fear, lest, if thou stand to-day, to-morrow thou be overthrown.

I myself, although I am a doctor of divinity, and have now preached Christ a great while, by my own experience have found how hard a matter this is. But thanks be to God who keepeth us in the word, in faith, and in prayer, that we may walk before Him in humility and fear, and not presume of our own righteousness, and strength, but trust in the power of Christ, who is strong when we are weak and feeble creatures continually overcometh and triumpheth; to whom be glory for ever.

The Galatians did at the first gladly hear and obey the truth. Therefore when Paul saith: Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth? as if he would say, ye are so deluded and bewitched that now ye cannot obey the truth. I fear lest many of you are utterly lost, and so fallen away that ye will never return to the truth again.

For as it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews, that the law bringeth none to perfection: so in this epistle, St. Paul, by manifest example, confirmeth the same, reasoning thus: Tell me, ye that would be justified by the law, received ye the Spirit of God by hearing the law, or by the gospel of faith preached? Proving by their own experience, that it is not the law, but the gospel that raiseth a man being fallen, and quickeneth him to true repentance.

More vehemently still he now saith: To whom Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.

It was bitterly spoken where he said before that they were so bewitched, that they could not obey the truth; but it is more bitterly said, that Christ was so lifely described before them, that they might handle Him with their hands, and yet they would not obey the truth. Thus he convinceth them even by their own experience. Whereas I Have with great pains and diligence set forth Christ plainly before your eyes, yet doth this profit not at all.

In these words he hath respect to his former argument, whereby he proved, that to those who will be justified by the law, Christ is but the minister of sin; that such do reject the grace of God, and that to them Christ died in vain. Now being absent he putteth them in mind of the same things, saying: to whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you. As if he said, there is no painter with his colours can so lively set out Christ unto you, as I have painted Him by my preaching: and yet ye remain most miserably bewitched. What did I then paint? Even Christ Himself. How was that done? In this sort, that He is crucified in you or among you. Here are sharp words. Before he had said, that they sought righteousness by the law, rejected the grace of God, and that to them Christ died in vain. Now he addeth, that they even crucify Christ, who before lived and reigned in them. After the same manner he speaketh in Heb. vi. [Hebrew 6:6]: Crucifying again the Son of God, and putting Him to an open shame.

If a man do but hear the name of a monk, of his shaven crown, of his cowl, of his rule, it should make him afraid (how much-so-ever the papists do adore these abominations, and brag that they are perfect religion and holiness, as I and others did judge of them, before God revealed His gospel unto us: for we were brought up in the traditions of men, which darkened Christ, and made Him unprofitable unto us), when he heareth Paul say, that even they who seek to be justified by the law of God, are not only deniers and murderers of Christ, but also they do most wickedly crucify Him again. Now, if they be crucifiers of Christ who seek to be justified by the righteousness of the law of God, and the works thereof, what are they, I pray you, who seek salvation and eternal life, by the dregs and dung of man's righteousness and the doctrine of devils?

But who could ever believe or think that it was so horrible and so abominable a sin to be made a religious man (for so they call them), namely, to be made a massing priest, a monk, a friar, a nun? Doubtless no man. Yea, they themselves say that monkery is a new baptism. Can there be anything more horrible than that the kingdom of the papists is the kingdom of such as spit in the face of Christ the Son of God, and crucify Him again? For indeed they crucify Him afresh both in themselves, in the Church, and in the hearts of the faithful: for with their reproaches, rebukes, slanders, and injuries, they spit upon Him, wound Him, and thrust Him through, that in them He may die most miserably, and in the stead of Him they set up a glorious witchcraft, whereby men are so miserably charmed and deluded, that they cannot know Christ to be their justifier, their reconciler, their Saviour, but a minister of sin, their accuser, their judge, and their destroyer, who must be pacified no otherwise than by our works and merits.

And out of this question did afterwards spring the most pestilent doctrine that is in the whole papacy, which is this: If thou wilt serve God, thou must merit forgiveness of sins and everlasting life: thou must enter into a monastery, and vow obedience, chastity and poverty, etc. Monks and friars being puffed up with this opinion of their own holiness, bragged that they only were in the life and state of perfection, and that other Christians led but a common life for they did no special works, or more than they were bound to do, that is, they did not vow and keep the monkish rule, but were only baptized, and kept the ten commandments. But as to themselves they kept also the works of supererogation, and the counsels of Christ: wherefore they hoped to have merits, and a place in heaven among the principal saints, far above the common sort of Christians.

This is undoubtedly a horrible delusion of the devil, whereby he hath betwitched almost the whole world. And this was the cause that we could not know that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and Mediator, but we thought He is a severe judge, who should be pacified by our works. Wherefore whosoever do enter into monasteries, to the end that by keeping of their rule they may be justified, do enter into the den of thieves, and are such as crucify Christ again.

It is not without cause that Paul addeth these words "among you," or in you. For Christ is no more crucified, nor can be. He dieth no more in His own Person, as is said in Romans vi., but He dieth in us, when we rejecting true doctrine, grace, faith, free remission of sins, seek to be justified by our own works, or those commanded by the law. Whosoever then hath any fear of God, or love unto Christ and His true religion, let him fly quickly out of this Babylon, and let him tremble at the very name of the papacy.

Related Weblinks

Luther's Commentary on Galatians, That He might deliver us from the present evil world. (Galatians 1:4 excerpt), English translation by Erasmus Middleton, B.D., edited by John Prince Fallowes, M.A., Pembroke College, Cambridge


*Luther, Martin (1483-1546), Commentary on Galatians, English translation by Erasmus Middleton, B.D., edited by John Prince Fallowes, M.A., Pembroke College, Cambridge, ISBN: 0825431247. A Christian classic. Considered to be among the ten greatest books in the English language. Available on the Puritan Hard Drive.
"I prefer this book of Martin Luther's (except the Bible), before all the books I have ever seen, as most fit for a wounded soul." -- John Bunyan
"This is a great, historic work, and is beyond criticism on account of its great usefulness. As a comment its accuracy might be questioned; but for emphatic utterances and clear statements of the great doctrine of the Epistle it remains altogether by itself, and must be judged per se." -- C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
"The reissue of a famous series of lectures delivered at Wittenberg University in 1553." -- Cyril J. Barber
Commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther
Luther's Commentary on Galatians, That He might deliver us from the present evil world. (Galatians 1:4 excerpt), English translation by Erasmus Middleton, B.D., edited by John Prince Fallowes, M.A., Pembroke College, Cambridge
Luther's Commentary on Galatians, Who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth. (Galatians 3:1 excerpt), English translation by Erasmus Middleton, B.D., edited by John Prince Fallowes, M.A., Pembroke College, Cambridge

The text above is an exact copy of the excerpt from this edition and is used by permission.

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