[B-Greek] Gal 3:3 -- Question or statement?

Iver Larsen iver_larsen at sil.org
Wed Aug 25 03:02:40 EDT 2010

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Stephen Carlson" <stemmatic at gmail.com>
To: "Biblical Greek Mailing List" <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: 24. august 2010 16:33
Subject: [B-Greek] Gal 3:3 -- Question or statement?

> Galatians 3:3 is usually punctuated as a question:
> οὕτως ἀνόητοί ἐστε, ἐναρξάμενοι πνεύματι νῦν σαρκὶ ἐπιτελεῖσθε;
> "Are you so senseless? Having started in the spirit, you are now
> finishing in the flesh?"
> But it also seems feasible that it could be a statement, i.e.: "You
> are senseless in this way: having stated in the spirit, you are now
> finishing in the flesh."
> Are there any discourse or syntactic reasons that could shed light on
> whether Gal 3:3 is a question or statement?  Or is it merely the fact
> that 3:3 is in the middle of a barrage of questions? (By the way, I
> take 3.1, 2, and 5 to be questions; v. 4b is a statement; not sure
> about v. 4a).
> Stephen

Well, I cannot find any discourse or syntactic reasons that could decide the 
issue, so we are left with the more subjective pragmatic reasons (context if you 

I agree that hOUTWS here is kataphoric - "in the following way" - but that may 
go somewhat against the translation tradition from KJV onwards to separate into 
two questions, contra the NA punctuation. KJV: Are ye so foolish? having begun 
in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? The Robinson-Pierpoint 
edition does punctuate with two question marks, but that is probably influenced 
by the KJV tradition.

Already in 3:1 Paul said that the Galatians were ANOHTOI, but he quickly 
mitigates it by accusing not so much the Galatians as those who have "bewitched" 
them. Paul treats the Galatians like his "children" with affection but also with 
frustration (4:19-20). But he is hard and uncompromising against those who want 
to drag the Galatians back into slavery to Jewish laws and especially 
circumcision as a requirement to belong to God's people (e.g. 5:12).

It is partly because of this mitigation I would take v. 3 as a question. To say 
"you are now finishing in the flesh" seems too unloving and hard to me, as if 
they matter was settled. By taking it as a question, Paul invites them to think 
about their situation and then change. Another reason is that it is impossible 
to "finish in the flesh" in Paul's theology. You can mistakenly try to do so, 
but you cannot actually reach the finishing line by living by the flesh. Many 
translations clarify the durative/imperfective aspect of the present tense by 
adding "trying to" (e.g. NIV, NET, NLT) while GNB says "want to" and CEV says 
"think you can".

I might venture: Are you so foolish (that) after having started (so well) with 
(the help of) the Spirit, you now want to reach the finishing line by way of 
your own human efforts?

Another reason as you already mentioned is that v. 3 is surrounded by questions. 
They are not rhetorical, rebuking questions, but rather questions that invite 
the Galatians to examine their past and present history and actions. I like to 
call them pedagogical questions. (See θέλω μαθεῖν ἀφ᾽ ὑμῶν QELW MAQEIN AF' hUMWN 
in 3:2.)

Iver Larsen

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