Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

Galatians 5:1 . In the original text, which I have adopted in accordance with the best MS. authority, the first clause of this verse is clearly detached from the second στήκετε οὖν , and attached to the preceding ἀλλὰ τῆς ἐλευθέρας without any connecting particle. But this primary connection with the preceding verse was apparently obscured at an early period of Church history, owing probably to the frequent use of the important section Galatians 5:1 ff. as a Church lesson by itself apart from the preceding allegory. It is difficult otherwise to account for the great variety of connecting particles employed in MS. versions and quotations to transform the fragment τῇ ἐλευθ . ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς ἠλευθ . into a complete sentence, e.g. , the addition of ᾖ , οὖν , or γάρ , and the omission of οὖν after στήκετε , all evidently corrections made with one object. The division of chapters has unfortunately perpetuated this error. But the removal of the full stop after ἐλευθέρας at once restores the full force of the original passage: Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but Christ set us free with the freedom of the freewoman . The threefold iteration, free, freedom, freewoman , marks with expressive emphasis the importance of this Christian birthright. ἡμᾶς Χριστὸς . The best MSS. place the object ἡμᾶς before the subject Χριστός , inverting the usual order of words. This inversion throws an emphasis on ἡμᾶς , as the previous context demands; for the whole passage forcibly contrasts the freedom granted to us Christians with the bondage which the Jews inherit. μὴ πάλιν … Converts had all alike, whether Jews or Greeks, been under bondage to some law, human or divine: all had been set free by Christ, but might now, by the voluntary adoption of circumcision, forfeit this freedom and rivet the yoke of Law about their own necks.

Verses 1-12

Galatians 4:31 to Galatians 5:12 . Freedom is our birthright in Christ and an essential condition of our call. Accordingly the Apostle protests against the claim that all Christians should be circumcised, as a departure from the spirit of Christ, a dangerous innovation which the churches will certainly condemn, and a superstition of the flesh on a par with the grossest heathen superstitions.

Verse 2

Galatians 5:2 . ἐγὼ . The Apostle finds it necessary to express pointedly his own personal judgment on the effect of circumcision in consequence of false reports which had been circulated that he had given some sanction to the new doctrine. (See Galatians 5:11 .)

Verse 3

Galatians 5:3 . μαρτύρομαι . This verb, which in Attic Greek denotes the calling of witnesses, is applied in Pauline language to the Apostle’s own testimony. περιτέμνησθε , περιτεμνομένῳ . The use of the present tense intimates that the warning is not aimed at isolated acts, but at the introduction of a systematic practice involving a virtual transfer of allegiance from Christ to the Law.

Verse 4

Galatians 5:4 . κατηργήθητε . This verb is applied with comprehensive force to any destruction of growth and life, physical or spiritual, beneficial or deleterious. Joined with ἀπό it denotes the loss of some essential element of life by the severance of previous intimate relations, e.g. , annulment by death of a wife’s obligations to her husband (Romans 7:2 ), and emancipation from the control of the Law by spiritual death (Romans 7:6 ). Here, in like manner, it denotes the paralysis of spiritual life by severance of union with Christ. This paralysis produces a deadening effect on the whole spiritual nature, and results in the continuous craving for legal justification which is expressed by δικαιοῦσθε . ἐξεπέσατε . As the quasi-passive verb ἐκπίπτειν corresponds to the active verb ἐκβάλλειν , this aorist corresponds to ἔκβαλε in Galatians 4:30 ; so that the combination of κατηργήθητε with ἐξεπέσατε contains a special allusion to the doom of Ishmael, who suffered the loss of his inheritance at the same time that he was cast out from his father’s house. Disloyal children of God, who prefer bondage to filial freedom, have by their own act forfeited the birthright of sons, and been cast out from His favour and blessing.

Verse 5

Galatians 5:5 . πνεύματι . In the absence of an article this dative must have an adverbial force, and should be rendered in spirit . The Holy Spirit is uniformly designated to τὸ Πνεῦμα . ἀπεκδεχόμεθα . This verb expresses eager expectation rather than the attitude of patient waiting attributed to it in our versions. True faith in Christ inspires a confident hope of acceptance ( δικαιοσύνης ) before God.

Verse 6

Galatians 5:6 . Circumcision conveyed no spiritual blessing in return for its binding pledge of obedience to the Law. In 1 Corinthians 7:17-22 it is placed in the same category as marriage and slavery, outward conditions of life which are neither good nor evil in themselves, but are the appointed portion of some, who should therefore loyally accept the burden or the blessing. Paul not only paid due respect to the Law himself, but even circumcised Timothy, when he desired to take him with him as his minister in Christ amidst Jews, that he might avoid needless offence. But he warned his disciples at the same time that in resorting to it for salvation they were really denying the faith, and forfeiting their birthright of Christian freedom. διʼ ἀγάπης . The rendering of our versions by or through love confuses faith with love, as though faith was the result of love or worked through its instrumentality. But the clause really describes a combination of two distinct graces: there may be intense faith without love ( cf. 1 Corinthians 13:2 ); but faith ought to work in love, i.e. , in a spirit of love. Love is the atmosphere amid which faith should put forth its energy. This force of διά has been already noted in the case of διὰ νόμου (Galatians 2:19 ). ἐνεργουμένη . The middle voice is here employed to describe the inner working of the spirit of man, the active is used for recording God’s work for man in Galatians 2:8 .

Verse 7

Galatians 5:7 . ἐνέκοψεν . The figure of a race, introduced by ἐτρέχετε , is here carried on. Hitherto they had run a smooth course of obedience to truth; who had thrown obstacles in their way?

Verse 8

Galatians 5:8 . It was God who called Abraham, Moses, Samuel and the prophets of old and was now calling the Galatians through the Gospel of which Paul was minister, but this new persuasion was no true gospel, and did not come forth from Him.

Verse 9

Galatians 5:9 . Leaven became a type of moral and spiritual corruption in virtue of the fermentation it engenders. A very small lump might readily form a centre of widespread corruption; so stringent precautions were adopted in Jewish households for the removal of every particle before the days of unleavened bread. Hence the origin of the proverb quoted here and in 1 Corinthians 5:6 . It is clear that the taint of heresy had not yet spread widely through the Galatian Churches: it was more its insidious nature than its actual extent that alarmed the Apostle.

Verse 10

Galatians 5:10 . The emphatic ἐγώ with which this verse opens reminds the converts of the Apostle’s personal claims in the Lord on their allegiance. He reckons with confidence on their support in pronouncing the judgment of their church on any who may disregard this warning. Every offender shall bear his own responsibility, whoever he may be.

Verse 11

Galatians 5:11 . It seems strange in view of Paul’s later career that he should have needed to repudiate, however briefly and scornfully, the charge of still preaching circumcision as he had before his conversion. After his open breach with the synagogue, indeed, at Corinth and at Ephesus it would have been hardly possible to advance such a plea. But he had recently, before writing this Epistle, taken two steps open to this misconstruction on which agitators could fasten. He had deposited with the Galatians for their guidance the resolution adopted by the Church at Jerusalem which recommended scrupulous regard for the Law in certain matters, and he had himself circumcised a Galatian convert whose father had been a Greek. Paul contents himself with pointing for answer to the persecutions which he was still enduring at the hands of Jews, probably those which befel him in Macedonia. ἆρα . The interrogative ἆρα is far more appropriate to the context than the inferential ἄρα . The Apostle, being accused of currying favour with the Jews, points indignantly to the persecutions he was suffering from them and exclaims, “Hath the stumbling-block of the Cross been done away?”

Verse 12

Galatians 5:12 . ὄφελον . This adverb occurs also in 1Co 4:8 , 2 Corinthians 11:1 , Revelation 3:15 . In all three places it expresses dissatisfaction with the actual position, “Would that it were otherwise”. But it acquires this force from its combination with past tenses, like the aorist ὤφελον in Attic Greek. When coupled however with a future as it is here, it does not express a wish, but like the future of ὀφείλειν declares what ought to be the logical outcome of the present. The clause predicts in bitter irony to what final consummation this superstitious worship of circumcision must lead. Men who exalt an ordinance of the flesh above the spirit of Christ will be bound in the end to proceed to mutilation of the flesh like heathen votaries. ἀποκόψονται . This word was habitually used to describe the practice of mutilation which was so prevalent in the Phrygian worship of Cybele. The Galatians were necessarily familiar with it, and it can hardly bear any other sense. ἀναστατοῦντες . This word forcibly expresses the revolutionary character of the agitation which was upsetting the peace and order of the Galatian Churches. It is used in Acts 17:6 ; Acts 21:38 to denounce seditious and riotous conduct.

Verse 13

Galatians 5:13 . ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ . Our versions render this unto ( for R.V.) freedom , as though it were the design of the Gospel to lead to freedom. But the Greek text affirms rather that God’s call was based upon freedom, and so makes it an essential element in spiritual life and the inalienable right of every true Christian. μόνον μὴ . A warning is added that freedom, essential as it is to spiritual life, is open to abuse by carnal men, and that it is subject to the demands of the higher Law of mutual love. “Only do not treat it as an opening for carnal self-indulgence, but for loving service to each other.” μόνον is used in the same elliptical way in Galatians 2:10 and 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ; and the ellipsis of the verb after μή is common in rhetorical passages. ἀφορμήν . This term was applied in military language to a base of operations, and generally to any starting-point for action. In Romans 7:8 ; Romans 7:11 , 2 Corinthians 11:12 it denotes an opening for sin, as it does here. δουλεύετε . This injunction contains an instructive paradox. Christians are freed from the trammels of outward Law, not that they may please themselves, but that they may become slaves to the Law of mutual love. The true ideal of the Christian is not freedom, but unfettered service to the love of God and man, which annihilates self, and subordinates all selfish desires to perfect love. A similar paradox is found in 1 Corinthians 7:22 , he that was called, being free, is the bondservant of Christ .

Verses 13-15


Verse 14

Galatians 5:14 . πεπλήρωται . MS. authority is decisive in favour of this perfect against the present πληροῦται . The perfect is likewise adopted in the parallel passage Romans 13:8 , ὁ ἀγαπῶν νόμον πεπλήρωκεν . For the very existence of love in the heart attests the completion of a previous inward act of the will. ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ . The single precept which follows embodies in itself the whole duty to man. τὸν πλησίον . The language of Leviticus 19:18 is here invested with the comprehensive force which Christ attached to the word neighbour by his teaching.

Verse 15

Galatians 5:15 . If the spirit of mutual love does not prevent Christian brethren from preying on one another, they are in danger of utter destruction.

Verse 16

Galatians 5:16 . Πνεύματι περιπ .: Walk by the spirit, i.e. , Regulate your lives by the rule of the spirit. You will not then fulfil the desire of the flesh.

Verses 16-24


Verse 17

Galatians 5:17 . σὰρξ … πνεῦμα . All the various motives which operate on the mind and will to prompt intention and action are comprehended under one of the two categories, spirit and flesh. The line of division between them corresponds to that drawn in 1 Corinthians 2:14 between the natural man ( ψυχικός ) and the spiritual. The spirit of man owes its original existence to the quickening inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and depends for its continued life on the constant supply of his life-giving power: its impulses are therefore purely spiritual. In the term flesh are included all other desires of the natural man, not only the appetites and passions which he inherits in common with the animal creation, but all the desires that he conceives for the satisfaction of heart or mind. ἐπιθυμεῖ . This is a neutral term equally applicable to the good desires of the spirit and the evil lusts of the flesh. ἀντίκειται ἀλλ . ἴνα . After the coexistence of two conflicting forces, spirit and flesh, in the heart of man has been definitely affirmed, it is here added that these are set ( sc. by divine appointment) in mutual antagonism to each other for the express purpose of due control over the human will. Both alike derive their being from the same Creator, though one belongs to the natural, the other to the spiritual, creation: both alike continue by His will to fulfil their several parts in the scheme of Christian life. It is beside the purpose of the Epistle to analyse the functions of the flesh in the economy of nature, or to affirm the absolute dependence of the human will on the spontaneous action of its desires for vital force and energy: enough that by the will of God they too form an essential element in Christian life: the Epistle deals not with their beneficial action, but with their liability to perversion. For their indiscriminate craving for indulgence renders them constantly liable to become ministers of sin. The mind of the flesh, if left without a check, issues in enmity to God and death ( cf. Romans 8:6-7 ). Wholesome restraint is therefore a condition essential to their healthy action. In every community this is to a certain extent provided by the discipline of education, by social order and law. But in true Christians a far more effective control is maintained by the spirit, since it is capable of combating every wrong desire within the heart before it issues in sinful action, and so by constantly checking any wrong indulgence it gradually neutralises the power of selfish appetites, and establishes an habitual supremacy over the whole mind and will, until in the ideal Christian it brings them into perfect harmony with the mind of Christ.

Verse 18

Galatians 5:18 . Law finds no just occasion against men who are led by the spirit, for they themselves check every wrong desire within them, and so fulfil the whole Law. The identity of Law with justice and right is, of course, assumed.

Verse 19

Galatians 5:19 . Though this verse enumerates only evil works of the flesh, it is not thereby suggested that its action is wholly evil; for the flesh has been shown to have its appointed function from God, and to be essential to the human will. The opening ἅτινα puts the following catalogue of crimes and vices in its true light as samples, produced by way of specimen of the evil effects wrought by excessive indulgence of natural appetites without due control, and not an exhaustive list of the works of the flesh, as the rendering which , in our versions, rather suggests. The list begins and ends with sensual vices due to the lower animal nature; it couples idolatry with its habitual ally sorcery : in specifying the various quarrels between man and man it adds two διχοστασίαι and αἱρέσεις to the corresponding list in 2 Corinthians 12:20 , perhaps owing to the prevalence of religious dissensions in the Galatian churches. ἀσέλγεια . This term, which in classical Greek expresses insolent contempt for public opinion, denotes in the N.T. shameless outrages on public decency a fit climax to fornication and uncleanness.

Verse 20

Galatians 5:20 . ζῆλος . See note on Galatians 4:17 . ἐριθίαι . The apparent derivation of this word from ἔριθος ( a hireling ) points to mercenary motives. The Apostle elsewhere associates it with jealousy, envy and vainglory, and contrasts it with sincerity, union and love. It denotes, probably, selfish intrigues. αἱρέσεις . This term is used in the N.T. to designate any religious sect or party, e.g. , the Pharisees, Sadducees, Nazarenes (as the Jews designated Christians).

Verse 21

Galatians 5:21 . προεῖπον . No particular admonition is here specified: warnings against these sins had, of course, formed the staple of many former discourses.

The Epistle has already claimed for Christians the inheritance of sons. That this inheritance included a kingdom needed no proof; for the conception of a Messianic kingdom ran through Hebrew prophecy and covered the whole range of Gospel teaching.

Verse 22

Galatians 5:22 . Since the object of this verse is to exhibit the harmony between the fruit of the spirit and the restraints of law, those qualities only are specified which affect man’s duty to his neighbour. Love with its unfailing attendants, inward joy and peace , supplies the motive power; long-suffering in the face of wrongs and ill-treatment, kindness in rendering service to others, and goodness in the free bestowal of bounty on those who need, cannot fail to gain goodwill; good faith, meekness, self-control enlist confidence and respect. πίστις . It is clear from the subordinate place here assigned to πίστις that it does not here denote the cardinal grace of faith in God which is the very root of all religion, but rather good faith in dealings with men, and due regard to their just claims.

Verse 23

Galatians 5:23 . πραΰτης : Meekness is the outcome of true humility, the bearing towards others which results from a lowly estimate of ourselves. ἐγκράτεια : Self-control comprehends every form of temperance, and includes the mastery of all appetites, tempers and passions.

Verse 24

Galatians 5:24 . ἐσταύρωσαν . The Apostle has already traced back his own spiritual life to the fellowship with the crucifixion of Christ, which he had undergone at his conversion (Galatians 2:20 ). He assumes that his converts have likewise crucified the will of the flesh not, however (as the previous context shows), that that will is already dead, but that the spirit has by one decisive victory asserted its complete supremacy in all true Christians, and so given an earnest of its entire triumph in the end. παθήμασιν . This word departs here from its usual meaning, sufferings , and expresses inward emotions, as in Romans 7:5 . Greek philosophers applied πάθος in like manner to denote active impulses of passion.

Verse 25

Galatians 5:25 . Here, as in Galatians 2:20 , the thought of crucifixion with Christ suggests that of the new life which is its sequel. If , then, we live in spirit ( i.e. , if we have spiritual life), let us take the spirit for the rule to guide our conduct.

Verses 25-26


Verse 26

Galatians 5:26 . The English version provoking introduces an idea of wanton provocation which does not belong to the Latin provocantes , nor to the Greek προκαλούμενοι , for this denotes challenges to combat, and so describes the spirit of defiance which animated rival parties amid the heated atmosphere of religious controversy. The verse denounces the vainglorious temper of party leaders which found vent in mutual defiance and ill-will.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 5". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/galatians-5.html. 1897-1910.
Ads FreeProfile