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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Galatians 5

 

 

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Verse 1

GAL. 5

Paul in this summarized his teaching of the last three chapters preceding this (Galatians 5:1-5), and then distinguished between the works of the flesh and the works of the Spirit, appealing to the Galatians to live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:6-26).

For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)

The second clause here makes the identity of the freedom in the first clause easy to ascertain. "There can be no doubt that it refers to freedom from the slavery of the Law of Moses."[1] As a summary statement, this also shows the meaning of "freedom from law" as taught in the previous chapters. That it never had any reference to Christian obligations, whether in the realm of obedience to the primary ordinances of God, or adherence to the ethical commandments of our holy faith, is absolutely certain.

Stand ... therefore ... Paul, by this admonished the Galatians to hold their ground, resist the Judaizers and reject the persuasions of those who would entangle them in such things as sabbath days, feast days, circumcision and all other Jewish regulations.

ENDNOTE:

[1] R. E. Howard, Beacon Bible Commentary, Galatians (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), Vol. IX, p. 82.


Verse 2

Behold, I Paul say unto you that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing.

Behold, I Paul say unto you ... Intensely personal and dramatic, this appeal was intended to affirm in the most dogmatic and positive way possible the truth which he was uttering.

Circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing ... There were exceptions to this rule, for Paul himself had been circumcised; and what is meant is "that circumcision with any view to its aiding or leading to one's justification would be a denial of Christ, a repudiation of the Christian gospel and the forsaking of Christianity." As MacKnight said, "This general expression must be limited; because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them from being profited by Christ."[2]

The deduction is mandatory that the purpose of the Judaizers among the Galatians had made this their purpose, to circumcise the Galatians, no doubt representing to them that it was no great thing and did not involve them in the more onerous and expensive obligations of Judaism. Paul would expose the fraud in such a proposition in the very next verse.

ENDNOTE:

[2] James MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 190.


Verse 3

Yea, I testify again to every man that receiveth circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

So it was no small thing at all the Judaizers had in mind. They would impose the whole corpus of Jewish law-keeping on the Christian converts of Galatia; and in the process, the gospel of Christ would be totally neglected and replaced.


Verse 4

Ye are severed from Christ, ye that would be justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.

Howard observed that "This, in capsule form, is his contention throughout the entire argument. All the other points climax in this."[3] Of course, this is true; and the allegation that Paul was, in these chapters, displaying a brand new conception of being saved "by faith only" is absolutely foreign to the entire Galatian letter, and the whole New Testament.

The present tense in this verse must be read as indicating that some of the Galatians had actually defected from Christianity in the manner indicated, with the result that they had "fallen from grace." Apparently, Paul was no Calvinist.

ENDNOTE:

[3] R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 83.


Verse 5

For we through the Spirit by faith wait for the hope of righteousness.

Through the Spirit ... The Holy Spirit is conferred upon all baptized believers, according to the promise of Acts 2:38, thus identifying those who "by faith" were waiting for the hope of righteousness.

By faith ... has the meaning here of "by the Christian religion." "Faith" as used in the popular theology of this current era, meaning the subjective experience of sinners and the sole ground of their justification, is merely the jargon of religious cultism, utterly different from the New Testament meaning of the word.

Cole's opinion that "The gift of faith is the first gift of the Spirit"[4] cannot be correct; because only those who have already believed, repented and have been baptized into Christ are promised the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

ENDNOTE:

[4] R. A. Cole, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), p. 143.


Verse 6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith working through love.

This means "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is relevant to Christianity." The question of true justification does not regard such a thing in any manner whatever. Some have wondered why Paul included "uncircumcision" in this declaration; but, as many of the Galatian converts had been won from the Jewish synagogues (where Paul always went first with the gospel), it was mandatory that none of them should be concerned with the fact that they had been circumcised long ago, nor concern themselves with trying to undo it. Some indeed had, through surgery, attempted to become "uncircumcised." Although there is no evidence that any of the Galatians had done that, it may be inferred from 1 Corinthians 7:18,19 that some at Corinth had gone that far; and as MacKnight said, "Apostate Jews fancied that by such actions they could free themselves of their obligation to keep the Law of Moses."[5] There was also another consideration: "From Paul's speaking so much against circumcision, some might have believed that there was something meritorious in uncircumcision."[6] As Howard correctly summarized it, "For salvation, circumcision had no value; and for salvation, uncircumcision had no value."[7]

But faith working through love ... Contrasted with things of no value, here is the essence of justification; and sure enough, it is not "faith alone," but "faith working through love," thus presenting the emphatic apostolic denial of the favorite heresy of our age. To be sure, people do not like this verse, rendering it "faith inspired by love" (New English Bible margin), or otherwise avoiding the word "working" as they would strive to avoid the plague! It happens that Paul used the expression "circumcision nor uncircumcision, etc." three different times thus:

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision ... but faith working through love (Galatians 5:6).

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision ... but a new creature (Galatians 6:15).

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision ... but the keeping of the commandments of God (1 Corinthians 7:19).SIZE>

From the above comparison, it can be seen that "faith working by love" means the same thing as being baptized into Christ in order to become "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17); nor is it limited to that, for it also means "keeping the commandments of God." This threefold summary of what does avail, as contrasted with circumcision or uncircumcision which do not avail, should be pondered by all who seek to be known of the Lord and to stand with Christ "in that day." It is a source of thanksgiving that a scholar of the stature of Huxtable also testified to the truth thus:

"Faith operative through love" must be identical with, or involve "the keeping of God's commandments," and "a new creature." A close examination of the first of these three sentences will show that this is so. (Huxtable attached an extensive exegesis of the Greek text here, proving that passive renditions such as "faith wrought in us," etc., are absolutely "inadmissible and preposterous.")[8]

Of all the preposterous interpretations insinuated into this passage, however, none of them is as incredibly evil as that of William M. Greathouse, who wrote: "All Paul had to say about circumcision he would say equally about baptism!"[9] Nevertheless, Greathouse must be commended in this, namely, that he bluntly stated the conviction of the entire "faith only" family of interpreters, who by their writings attempt to lead the reader to that same conclusion, yet lack the courage to say what they mean as Greathouse did. See under Galatians 5:12 for comment on "in Christ."

[5] James MacKnight, Apostolical Epistles and Commentary, Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 108.

[6] James MacKnight (on Galatians), op. cit., p. 192.

[7] R. E. Howard, op. cit., p. 83.

[8] E. Huxtable, Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), Vol. 20, p. 242.

[9] William M. Greathouse, Beacon Bible Commentary, Romans (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1969), p. 103.


Verse 7

Ye were running well; who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth?

In all Paul's writings, he sought to lead people into "the obedience of faith"; and his writings in Galatians do not deviate from that invariable purpose.

Who did hinder you ... The original meaning of the word translated hinder is to break up a road, as an army before the advance of hostile forces."[10] A paraphrase of this metaphor, is "Who tore up the race track in front of you?"

That ye should not obey the truth ... "Some of the Galatians had stopped obeying the truth, as taught by Paul and the other apostles, perhaps neglecting to observe the Lord's supper and failing to do other things which have been distinctive of the Christian life in all ages. The clause here shows that this disobedience was a prime concern of the apostle's. Note, particularly, that it is not said that they had stopped "believing in Christ," for there is no evidence that such was the case. "Faith only" for them was as impotent as it is today. By their failing into Jewish observances, they were neglecting and had stopped obeying the teachings of Christ.

ENDNOTE:

[10] William Sanday, Ellicott' s Commentary on the Holy Bible, Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 456.


Verse 8

This persuasion came not of him that calleth you.

This simply has the meaning that "their disobedience of Christ's teachings, due to fooling around with Judaism, did not come of anything that Christ, who had called them through the gospel, had taught them."


Verse 9

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

It is believed here that Dummelow read this correctly as meaning "that only a few of the Galatian converts were affected by the false teachings."[11] The danger of the situation, however, was not to be judged by the small size of the defecting group. As Lipscomb said: "Just as one plague-infected person may bring devastation to a city, so may one teacher of doctrine subversive of the gospel corrupt a whole community of believers."[12]

[11] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 956.

[12] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Galatians (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, n.d.), p. 260.


Verse 10

I have confidence to you-ward in the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

I have confidence ... Paul did not believe that the Judaizers would succeed in Galatia, and they did not succeed. All efforts to meld Judaism with Christianity were thwarted and checkmated by this very epistle and other New Testament writings. See under Galatians 5:12 for comment on "in the Lord."

Shall bear his judgment ... The Judaizer (whether one or more) would bear the judgment Paul had written a moment earlier, that of being "severed from Christ," "fallen from grace," etc.


Verse 11

But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? then hath the stumbling, block of the cross been done away.

If I still preach circumcision ... This evidently refers to the allegations of the false teachers to the effect that Paul himself taught circumcision, an argument they reinforced, no doubt, by appealing to the known instance of Paul's circumcising Timothy, whose mother was a Jewess (Acts 16:3). Paul's reason for doing that, however, had nothing whatever to do with Timothy's salvation, but was for the purpose of avoiding and frustrating Jewish persecution. Any allegation that Paul considered circumcision as related in any manner to salvation was effectively denied by the fact that "if Paul indeed honored circumcision in any such way, the Jews would have stopped persecuting him."

The stumbling-block of the cross ... The cross of Christ was preeminently above everything else the center and citadel of Christian hope; and if Paul trusted circumcision for anything, reliance upon the Great Atonement would have been forfeited. But is is not forfeited. The cross remains!


Verse 12

I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision.

"The priests of Cybele, whom the Galatians had formerly worshipped,"[13] made themselves eunuchs. Also, "The cult of Attis, whose famous temples were at Rome and in Phrygia of Asia Minor, practiced sacral castration."[14] None of the Galatians, therefore, could misunderstand Paul's ironic, and perhaps humorous, remarks here. Paul was so disgusted with all the argument demanding circumcision that he uttered this outburst, which may be paraphrased, "It would be good if you fellows, always wanting to circumcise somebody, would just circumcise yourselves like those priests of Cybele!" Criticism of Paul's remark here is unbecoming, for the remark is a protest, not any sort of recommendation.

Before moving to a study of the next paragraph, the student should observe the double reference "in Christ" (Galatians 5:6) and "in the Lord" (Galatians 5:10), indicating the ever-present consciousness on his part of the dominating concept which pervades all of his writings, that salvation is always a matter of one's being "in Christ," who alone is righteous, and whose perfect faith and perfect obedience are the only true ground of redemption for any man. When one is "baptized into Christ" be becomes Christ, in the sense of being part of his spiritual body, being saved, not in his own identity, but "as Christ." This expression, "in Christ," or its equivalent, is found 169 times in Paul's writings.

ENDNOTE:

[13] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 956.


Verse 13

For ye brethren, were called for freedom: only use not your freedom for an occasion to the flesh, but through love be servants one to another.

Freedom from Jewish observances did not mean freedom to indulge in things forbidden, which Paul would promptly enumerate. No relaxation of the commandments of Christ was for one moment intended by anything Paul had written about being "under grace" and not "under law." Here he cited the great motivator of Christian morality, namely love of the brethren.


Verse 14

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, even this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

The "law" in view here is the "law of Christ," mentioned again in Galatians 6:2. True, this was a commandment of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18), but that is not the frame of reference applicable here. Christ himself had made the "first and great commandment" to be the "love of God, and love of one's neighbor" (Mark 12:29-31), nor has there ever been, from the morning of creation, the slightest relaxation of this primary obligation of all who were ever born on earth. In Romans 13:8-10, Paul outlined this principle more fully, specifying as specific components of this law of Christ such commandments as "Thou shalt not commit adultery ... nor steal ... nor kill ... nor covet, etc." There also, Paul indicated that love of the brethren is the heart condition that makes the honoring of such commandments possible for the Christian. As Huxtable said, "This passage in Romans is a lengthened paraphrase of the one before us."[15] For further exegesis on all of this, see my Commentary on Romans, Romans 13:9-10.

[14] Herman N. Ridderbos, op. cit., p. 195.

[15] E. Huxtable, op. cit., p. 250.


Verse 15

But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

Christian faith and behavior are never more frustrated and disgraced than by spiteful criticisms, derogatory remarks, snide observations and poison-tongue fulminations of Christians against each other. The fate of any group permitting such a development issues inevitably in that of "The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat":

The truth about the cat and the pup Is this: They ate each other up!

The apostle said as much in this very passage.


Verse 16

But I say, Walk by the Spirit and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other; that ye may not do the things that ye would.

In this passage is the key to righteous living, Everyone is familiar with the seductive force of carnal, or fleshly desire, a force that operates subjectively within the minds of people, aided, of course, by all kinds of external suggestions and allurements. This "lusting against the Spirit" by that force has its stronghold in the mind, in the imagination particularly. Even in the Old Testament, the climax and pinnacle of the so-called "seven deadly sins" (Proverbs 6:18) was revealed as "a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations." The total corruption of the antediluvian world had been achieved by the evil one when the "imagination of men's hearts" had become evil, and only evil, without intermission (Genesis 6:5). This was the essence of pre-Christian debauchery of the Gentiles (Romans 1:21); and it was "imaginations" which Paul identified as being "exalted against the knowledge of God" (2 Corinthians 10:5), the Christian warfare being simply that of "casting down," eliminating, reducing and controlling the imaginations of the heart.

Now the contrary force to evil imaginations is exerted in the mind, the same being the battlefield where the warfare is decided. The pursuit of sacred studies, the thinking of loving and generous thoughts and the soul's welcome of the thoughts and attitudes of the Saviour, all of these things coming from the indwelling Spirit but remaining only if they are desired and welcomed - all of these things "lust against the flesh." This means that such Spirit-induced thoughts, if permitted to dwell within, will actively dissipate and destroy their opposites, namely, the fleshly lusts. These two verses are the summary of the thoughts in mind in the following verses, where Paul described the two kinds of life, that of the flesh and that of the Spirit.


Verse 18

But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

Judaism was almost totally concerned with external, liturgical, spectacular, material and physical things; and the filling of people's minds with that type of observances would add nothing at all, and even detract from the energies needed in the true spiritual warfare. Paul did not hate Judaism, as such; but it simply could not do any good in the kind of warfare that must be won by the soul if people are to please God. The moral commandments of the Mosaic Law are to be fulfilled by Christians, no less than under the law of Christ (see under Galatians 5:14); and Paul's stress here is laid not upon the relaxation of such obligations, but upon the only manner of their fulfillment.


Verse 19

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you even as I did forewarn you, that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

This is another of Paul's lists of evil works, similar but longer than the one in 1 Corinthians 6:9,10, and also resembling those given in Rom. 1:27-32,2 Timothy 3:1-8. Extensive comments on various items in this list have already been made in my commentary on Romans and my commentary on 1,2Corinthians in this series.

There are fifteen evils listed here by Paul, and Ramsay identified them all as characteristic of "the kinds of influence likely to affect the South Galatians recently converted from paganism."[16] Any thoughtful person could today make up his own list of the sins, perversions and gross wickedness characteristic of the current culture.

Sorcery ... has been cited by some as proof that Paul believed in the reality of witchcraft; and, in the sense of believing that it was a gross work of the devil being practiced in the culture of those times, of course he did believe. But from this, it is not inferred that Paul believed that so-called witches or sorcerers could actually do the things they claimed and pretended to do. This writer believes in witchcraft in exactly the same way, as being a work of the devil advocated and practiced in the city of Houston at the present time, and being just as sinful now as it was in the days of the apostles; however, it is also believed that the claims and devices of such practitioners are fraudulent, untruthful, deceitful and powerless to do anything either good or evil, except in the sense of causing evil in the people who resort to such things.

ENDNOTE:

[16] William M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistles to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1965), p. 447.


Verse 22

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.

Most of these wonderful virtues are subjective, lying within the hearts of Christians, but kindness, goodness and faithfulness are, at least in their manifestation, objective qualities.

Faithfulness ... includes not merely the inward qualities of "keeping on believing in Christ," but it also means remaining loyal and faithful to the church. Goodness and kindness are likewise determined by actions involving others outside the person of the believer.

Significant especially in this list are the things left out of it. The apostle Paul did not list tongue-speaking, charismatic experiences, visions, premonitions, and things like that as being connected in any manner with the "fruit of the Spirit." Strangely enough, some who believe that those omitted things are the fruit of the Spirit very frequently stop being faithful to the church.

There is more misunderstanding in current times over the meaning of the Spirit's indwelling of Christian hearts than of any other doctrine of the New Testament. As frequently pointed out in this series, there are no less than eight designations in the New Testament of a single condition (see summary below). Note:

Ye are the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:16).

For it is God that worketh in you (Philippians 2:13).

God abideth in us ... we abide in him and he in us ... God abideth in him and he in God ... he that abideth in love abideth in God and God abideth in him (1 John 4:11-16).

The entire Thessalonian church was said to be "in God" (1 Thessalonians 1:1).SIZE>

From the above citations, there can be no way to avoid the truth that Christians are in God, and God is in them.

But note also the following:

If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Paul's writings alone contain 169 references to being "in Christ, in him, in the Lord, in the beloved, etc."

If Christ is in you ... the spirit is life (Romans 8:10).

It is Christ that liveth in me (Galatians 2:20).

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17).SIZE>

From the above citations, there can be no way to avoid the truth that Christians are in Christ, and Christ is in Christians.

Note likewise these references:

The Spirit of God dwelleth in you (1 Corinthians 3:16).

The Spirit ... dwelleth in you (Romans 8:11).

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6).

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10).

Walk in the Spirit (KJV, Galatians 5:16).

If we live in the Spirit (KJV), let us also walk in the Spirit (KJV, Galatians 5:25).SIZE>

The obvious and undeniable teaching of the New Testament is that the Spirit is in Christians and that Christians are in the Spirit.

In addition to the above, it should also be observed that Christians are commanded to "have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5), Paul declaring that he himself had "the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). Also, it is a commandment to the church of all ages that they shall "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians 3:16). Thus the mind of Christ dwells in Christians, and the word of Christ dwells in Christians.

SUMMARY

God is in Christians.

Christians are in God.

Christ is in Christians.

Christians are in Christ.

The Holy Spirit is in Christians.

Christians are in the Holy Spirit.

The mind of Christ is in Christians.

The word of Christ is in Christians.

These are descriptions of ONE CONDITION, the saved condition; and there is no stretch of philosophical doodling that can find one iota's difference in the true meaning of the above descriptions of the state of enjoying the salvation of God through Jesus Christ. A full understanding of this, with all of the implications of it, will eliminate the mystical nonsense which has been advocated in this connection. The perfect identity of all of the above as various expressions meaning the same thing is perfectly and glaringly obvious; but, in addition, all of the above expressions are used interchangeably in the New Testament.

Joy ... This may be taken typically of all the various "fruits" here mentioned. This is by no means an experience attributable to the Holy Spirit as separated in any manner from the other persons in the Godhead, or even apart from the mind of Christ and the word of Christ dwelling in people's hearts. To be filled with the word of God is to have this same joy. To have the mind of Christ is to have it. To have Christ in us is to have it, etc., etc.


Verse 24

And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts thereof.

Continuing to walk in the Spirit, centering and continuing the thoughts and meditations of the heart upon the teachings of the Lord, actively seeking to maintain identity with the mind of Christ, consciousness of the indwelling Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - these things will indeed "crucify" the lusts and evil imaginations which feed them. This is possible only in the spiritual religion of Christ Jesus, free from the externals and attractive allurements of spectacular Judaism, the same being the blessed "freedom in Christ."


Verse 25

If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk.

In the Spirit ... instead of "by the Spirit" is far better, the same being the rendition in the KJV. The current conception is so obsessed with "Spirit in us" that they are reluctant to admit that it is also true the other way around, we being "in the Spirit." See notes under Galatians 5:23.


Verse 26

Let us not become vain-glorious, provoking one another, envying one another.

Vain-glory and jealousy are two of the fundamental fleshly lusts, especially degrading and unbecoming in the church of Jesus Christ. Nothing that anyone is or has is of himself, but of God. As Russell said: `Even Jesus said, `The Son can do nothing of himself' (John 5:19)."[17] All of the miracles of our Lord were done as a result of prayer to the Father. See John 11:42 and comment in my Commentary on John.

ENDNOTE:

[17] John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 471.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Galatians 5:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/galatians-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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