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the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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Galatians 6

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1

(1) Brethren.—The unfortunate conventional use of this word rather tends to weaken our sense of the delicacy and earnestness of this appeal.

If a man be overtaken.If a man be even stirprised, or detected; not only caught, but caught red-handed, in the very act, before he can escape. A special expression is used in order to aggravate the circumstances of the detection. No matter what these circumstances may be, one who is truly spiritual will still deal gently with the offender.

Ye which are spiritual.—This has reference to what had been said in the last chapter (Galatians 6:16-18). St. Paul assumes that all Christians are animated by the Spirit of God. If, while claiming to be better than others, and to condescend towards them, they were not so animated, their presumption would be seen in all the more glaring light.

Restore.—A good translation. The idea is that of correcting with no feeling of resentment or thought of punishment, but with a single eye to the amendment of the offender. The same word is used for “mending their nets” in Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19. It is also found as a medical term for setting dislocated limbs.

In the spirit of meekness.—”Spirit” here has reference to “ye that are spiritual” in the clause before. It does not mean exactly “the Holy Spirit,” but “such a state of mind as is produced by the operation of the Spirit.” One characteristic of a truly spiritual state is “meekness.” (Comp. Galatians 5:23, where “meekness” is mentioned expressly as one of the “fruits of the Spirit.”)

Considering thyself.—In other words, “Do unto others as ye would they should do unto you.” You, too, are liable to fall, and then you would be glad of the same gentle restoration.

Verses 1-5


(1-5) Be charitable to the fallen, for you, too, may fall yourselves. Sympathise with each other. Indulge in no delusions as to your own superiority. Look each to his own work, and see that that is sound. He will find enough to do without entering into idle comparisons with others.

Galatians 6:2-3 are a sort of repetition, with some expansion, of Galatians 6:1. Deal considerately and kindly with the fallen, for you may fall. Bear each other’s burdens, for to claim any superiority to them is mere delusion.

It has been acutely suggested that the Apostle’s tone in this passage has been affected by the recent occurrence at Corinth, where he had to warn the Corinthians against over-severity (see 2 Corinthians 2:6-8).

Verse 2

(2) Bear yo one another’s burdens.—Take them upon yourselves by kindly sympathy. Our Lord Himself was said to “bear” the physical infirmities of those whom He healed. (Matthew 8:17 : “He bare our sicknesses.”)

So fulfil.—The reading here is somewhat doubtful, and the balance of authorities interesting. On the one hand, for the Received text adopted in our version is a large majority of the MSS.; on the other hand, the reading, ye shall fulfil, is found in the Vatican and two good Græco-Latin[62] MSS., but has besides an almost unanimous support from the versions. As several of these were composed at a very early date, and as they necessarily represent a wide geographical dispersion; as, further, the MS. authority for the reading—though small in quantity is good in quality—also representing the evidence of widely separated regions; and as, finally, the internal evidence or probabilities of corruption are also in favour of the same reading, it would seem, on the whole, to have the greater claim to acceptance. The meaning is that by showing sympathy to others in their distress, of whatever kind that distress may be—whether physical, mental, or moral—the Christian will best fulfil that “new commandment” bequeathed to him by his Master, the “law of love.” (See John 13:34; 1 John 3:23.)

[62] Practically, these two MSS. can only count as one as both seem to have been copied from the same original.

Verse 3

(3) He deceiveth himself.—A peculiar word, perhaps coined by St. Paul: puts himself under an hallucination; persuades himself of the existence of that which has no reality.

Verse 4

(4) Prove.Test, or examine, by reference to an objective standard. The word is used specially of the assaying of metals.

Rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.—Rather, he shall have his ground of boasting with reference to himself alone, and not with reference to his neighbour. He will judge his own actions by the standard properly applicable to them, and will find as much ground for boasting as this will give him, and no more. His standard will be absolute and not relative, and the amount of his boasting will be proportioned accordingly. He will not seek to excuse himself by dwelling upon his neighbour’s weaknesses.

Verses 4-5

(4, 5) The best antidote for such false estimates of self is severe self-criticism. Let a man judge his own work, not by comparison with others, but by the ideal standard, then he will see what it is worth and how much he has to boast of. His boasting will be at least real, and not based upon any delusive comparisons. He must stand or fall by himself. He must bear the weight of his own virtues and his own sins. By them he will be judged, and not by any fancied superiority or inferiority to others. For the thought, compare 2 Corinthians 10:12-14.

Verse 5

(5) Every man shall bear his own burden.—The word for “burden” here is different from that which had been used above, though its meaning is very much the same. The distinction would be sufficiently represented if we were to translate in the one case burden, in the other load. The context, however, is quite different. In Galatians 6:2 the Christian is bidden to “bear the burdens” of others, in the sense of sympathising with them in their troubles. Here he is told that he must “bear his own load,” in the sense that he must answer directly to God for his own actions. His responsibility cannot be shifted on to others. It will make him no better that there are others worse than himself.

Verse 6

(6) Him that is taught in the word.—He who receives instruction in the truths of the gospel. Even at this early date there seems to have been a more or less organised system of instruction in the Church. Teaching was regarded as a separate function, though those who took part in it do not seem as yet to have formed a separate class. See Acts 13:1; Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; Ephesians 4:11; James 3:1 (“masters” should be rather “teachers”). The teacher was dependent on the alms of his scholars.

Communicate . . . in all good things.—Let him impart or share with his teacher in all those temporal goods with which God has blessed him. The teacher would not receive any settled and regular payment, but the scholar would make him presents—many of them, probably, in kind—so as to relieve him from the care of providing for his own livelihood, and so give him more leisure for his work of teaching.

Verses 6-10

(6-10) Special exhortation to liberality in the support of teachers, grounded upon the fact that we shall all receive, in the harvest at the end of the world, according as we have sown during the time of our probation here. The self-indulgent will find the flesh that he has indulged fall to dissolution, and there will be an end. On the other hand, he who in all his actions has sought the approval of the Spirit shall be rewarded with everlasting life. The same rule holds good for every kind of beneficence. Let us do what good we can, whenever an opportunity is given us, especially towards our fellow Christians.

Verse 7

(7) Be not deceived; God is not mocked.—It is all very well for you to make large professions to which you do not act up. These may deceive others, but do not let them deceive yourselves. Do not think that God will allow you thus to mock Him.

It might seem, perhaps, as if the language of this warning was almost too solemn for the occasion (an exhortation to liberality towards teachers), but the Apostle has in his mind the wider scope that he is going to give to his treatment of the subject. In this—and indeed in all this—”with what measure ye meet, it shall be measured to you again.”

Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.—Compare especially 2 Corinthians 9:6 : “This I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” where the same metaphor is used in reference to the same thing—liberality in almsgiving.

Verse 8

(8) He that soweth to his flesh.—The seed sown is a man’s actions here on earth. If the object of those actions is merely self-indulgence, they are, as it were, sown in a field the owner of which is the flesh (i.e., the lower, carnal self). The flesh alone benefits by them, and for it alone are they garnered up.

Shall of the flesh reap corruption.—If such has been a man’s conduct, he must look to the flesh for his reward, and all the reward it can give him will be a share in its own corruption. The flesh perishes, and so shall the fruit of his actions perish, and “leave not a wrack behind.”

He that soweth to the Spirit . . .—On the other hand, where all the actions are like seed deposited in the field of which the owner and lord is the Spirit, that same Spirit will reward them in the world to come with the gift of everlasting life.

Verse 9

(9) And.—Rather, But. There is something of a stress on “well-doing,” which continues the idea of “sowing to the Spirit” in the verse before: “But in well-doing, &c.”

Be weary.—Rather, let us not be faint-hearted; lose heart.

Verse 10

(10) As we have therefore opportunity.—“Therefore” is emphatic, and should come first. It introduces a summary conclusion from the preceding argument. Therefore (or, so then), as we have opportunity; wherever an opportunity offers.

Them who are of the household of faith.—It would seem, on the whole, that this translation might stand. It is true that the Greek word, meaning originally a “member of a household,” came to mean simply “acquainted with,” or “belonging to,” the idea of a “household” being dropped; still, in view more especially of Ephesians 2:19—”Fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God”—where there seems to be a play upon the words “city” and “house,” it would appear as if it ought in the present phrase to be retained. The Church is represented as a household in 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5; 1 Peter 4:17.

Verse 11

(11) Ye see.—Rather, See. The Apostle calls the attention of his readers to the handwriting of these concluding paragraphs.

How large a letter.—Rather, in what large letters: i.e., characters. The exact significance of these words is somewhat enigmatic, and can only be matter of conjecture. Two points, however, are clear:—(1) The latter part of the Greek phrase means “in” or “with” letters—i.e., characters of hand-writing—and not “a letter,” “an epistle,” as it is taken in the Authorised version; (2) The former half of the phrase means “how large,” strictly in respect of size. The Apostle, for some reason or other, points out that the characters in which he is writing are larger than usual. What is his reason? It is hard to say. Some have thought that the reference was to the “shapelessness” of the letters, whether as due to the fact that the Apostle himself was not accustomed to the manual work of writing, or possibly to physical weakness from the hardships that he had undergone. The idea of “shapelessness,” however, is not necessarily included in that of size. It seems, on the whole, most probable that the size of the characters express the emphasis and authority with which the Apostle is writing. He adds to the Epistle—which had so far been written by an amanuensis—a few bold incisive strokes in his own hand, trenchantly exposing the motives of the Judaising faction, and re-asserting his own position.

I have written.—Must this be so taken: I have written? or may it be idiomatically translated: I write? In other words, does it refer to the whole previous portion of the Epistle, or only to these concluding paragraphs? The question turns upon a nice point of Greek scholarship, on which such authorities as Bishop Ellicott and Dr. Lightfoot take different sides. It will only be possible in a Commentary like this to express a general conclusion, without going into the arguments on which it is based. That conclusion would be that the Greek may, quite fairly and tenably, be translated: I write; and that being so, considerations of exegesis would seem to tell somewhat decidedly in the same direction. The whole character of this concluding section is very much what we should expect if St. Paul followed his usual custom of taking the pen from the amanuensis to write it, and its brief weighty summarising style would correspond well with the “largo letters” in which he says that it was written. If this description is to be applied to the whole Epistle, it must remain a riddle to which there is no clue.

With mine own hand.—It was the Apostle’s custom to make use of an amanuensis, and only to add a few final words in proof of the genuineness of the writing. (See especially 2 Thessalonians 3:17; and comp. also Romans 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18.)

Verses 11-18

(11-18) Concluding section of the Epistle, written in the Apostle’s own hand. These Judaising teachers only wish to have you circumcised as a matter of outside show, in order to disguise their own professed Christianity from their fellow Jews, and so escape persecution. They show that they really care nothing for circumcision, for they freely break the rest of the Law to which they affect to give in their adhesion. Their true object is to make capital out of their influence over you, to boast publicly of your submission to the rite. I, too, will boast, but of something very different. My boast is in the cross of Christ. When I attached myself to the crucified Messiah, from that moment the world became nothing to me. Circumcision and uncircumcision matter not. The essential point is that total change which such a relation implies. On all who take this for their rule I can invoke a blessing, for they are the true Israel. Enough. I have a right to claim exemption from these attacks. The scars that I bear upon me are marks of the place I hold in my Master’s service.

Verse 12

(12) To make a fair shew in the flesh.—To obtain a reputation for religiousness in externals, like the hypocrites, who “love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men” (Matthew 6:5). The object of the Judaisers was by this means to keep in with their countrymen, the Jews, and even to gain favour amongst them by seeming to win over proselytes to the Mosaic law.

Only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.—What aroused the antagonism of the Jews against the Christians was evidently not so much the confession of the Messiahship of Jesus as the declared abolition of the Law of Moses. By suppressing this side of Christian teaching, the Judaisers could easily obtain toleration for their other tenets. If, on the other hand, they were to emphasise it, the full weight of persecution would fall upon them—its ostensible ground being the doctrine of a crucified Messiah. Accordingly, they persuaded as many of the Galatians as they could to accept circumcision, and made the most of this propagandist zeal to their Jewish neighbours.

Verse 13

(13) Their insincerity is shown by the fact that they are not really careful to observe the Law. What they do is only to serve as a blind, that they may be able to point to your mutilated flesh as the visible sign of their success in gaining proselytes.

They themselves who are circumcised.—The expression in the Greek includes, not only those who were circumcised themselves, but also those who were for circumcising others.

Glory in your flesh.—Make a boast of getting this rite performed upon your bodies.

Verse 14

(14) God forbid that I should glory.—There is a stress upon the pronoun “I,” which, in the Greek, stands first, in emphatic contrast to the party who had been the subjects of the last verse. They make their boast in a mere external; but for me—far be it from me to make my boast in anything but the cross of Christ.

The cross of our Lord Jesus Christi.e., “in the death and passion which Christ underwent for me.” The Apostle is aware that in this he is putting forward a startling paradox. The cross of Christ was “to the Jews a stumbling-block.” They attached to it only ideas of ignominy and shame, and yet it is precisely this of which the Apostle is most proud. He is proud of it as the ground of his salvation, and therefore as the cardinal object of all his hopes and aims.

By whom.—It seems better, on the whole, to adopt the marginal rendering: whereby. The antecedent is thus not Christ, but more especially the cross of Christ. It is the intense contemplation of a crucified Saviour through which the Christian dies to the world.

The world.—By this is meant here the world of sense, the sphere of outward and sensible things, at once with its manifold temptations to sin and with its inadequate methods of escaping from them—mere external rites, such as circumcision.

Verse 15

(15) In Christ Jesus.—These words are omitted by the Vatican MS. and by the best editors. They would seem to have come in from the parallel passage in Galatians 5:6.

Neither circumcision . . .—We have had almost the same words in Galatians 5:6 and in 1 Corinthians 7:19. It is interesting to note the different ways in which the sentence is completed:—

Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but

Faith which worketh by love (Galatians 5:6).

A new creature (Galatians 6:15).

Keeping the commandments of God (1 Corinthians 7:19).

The first is an analytical statement of the process which takes place in the Christian; the second is the state resulting from that process; the last is the visible sign and expression of the presence of that state.

A new creature.—The Greek may mean either the “act of new creation” or the “person newly created.” The Authorised version apparently takes it in the latter sense, which perhaps is to be preferred.

Verse 16

(16) According to this rule.—The word for “rule” is the same that afterwards received a special application in the phrase, “Canon of Scripture.” It meant originally a carpenter’s rule, or the line that a carpenter works by—hence, a rule or standard; and, from that, the list of books coming up to a certain standard—not (as might be thought) which themselves supplied a standard.

The Apostle confines his benediction to those who hold the fundamental truths of Christianity—i.e., here more especially, the doctrine of justification by faith and the spiritual view of Christianity connected with it, as opposed to the merely external and mechanical system of the Judaisers.

And upon the Israel of God.—The benediction is addressed, not to two distinct sets of persons (“those who walk by this rule” and “the Israel of God”), but to the same set of persons described in different ways. “And” is therefore equivalent to “namely:” Yea, upon the Israel of God. By the “Israel of God” is here meant the “spiritual Israel;” not converts from Judaism alone, but all who prove their real affinity to Abraham by a faith like Abraham’s. (Comp. Galatians 3:7-9; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:29; Romans 4:11-12; Romans 9:6-8.)

Verse 17

(17) The Apostle has done. He will not dally with these vexatious attacks upon himself and his authority any more. He dismisses them with an appeal which ought to be final. He points to the scars of wounds which he had received in his Master’s service. The branding-irons of Christ, he says, have imprinted these upon me. They show that I, like the slaves of a heathen temple, am devoted and consecrated to His service. They are my credentials, and I shall produce no others. My assailants must leave me in peace.

The marks.—The stigmata, or marks inflicted with branding-irons, such as those which show that a slave is attached to a particular temple or to the service of some particular deity. Branding was applied in some other cases, but especially to temple slaves. Those with which the Galatians were most familiar would be engaged in the worship of Cybele.

There does not seem to be evidence to connect this passage directly with the incident of the “stigmata” in the life of St. Francis of Assisi, but it would seem very probable that the use of the word, which was left untranslated in the Latin versions, suggested, whether by a more or by a less distant association, the idea which took so strong a hold upon his mind that in a moment of extreme spiritual tension the actual marks of the Passion seemed to imprint themselves upon his body.

Of the Lord Jesus.—The true text is simply, “of Jesus.”

Verse 18

(18) With your spirit.—The grace of God works especially on the “spirit,” or highest part, of man.

[The subscription, as it stands in our Bibles, appears for the first time in MSS. dating from about the beginning of the ninth century, though before this the Epistle had been described as written from Rome by Theodoret, Euthalius, and Jerome. We have seen that the choice really lies between Ephesus and Macedonia, or Corinth, and that the probability seems to be somewhat in favour of the latter.]

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Galatians 6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/galatians-6.html. 1905.
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