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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Galatians 5

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 , and attached to the preceding 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 . . into a complete sentence, e.g., the addition of , , or , and the omission of after , all evidently corrections made with one object. The division of chapters has unfortunately perpetuated this error. But the removal of the full stop after 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.— . The best MSS. place the object before the subject , inverting the usual order of words. This inversion throws an emphasis on , as the previous context demands; for the whole passage forcibly contrasts the freedom granted to us Christians with the bondage which the Jews inherit.— ’ 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.



Verse 2

Galatians 5:2. . 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. . This verb, which in Attic Greek denotes the calling of witnesses, is applied in Pauline language to the Apostle’s own testimony.— , . 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. . This verb is applied with comprehensive force to any destruction of growth and life, physical or spiritual, beneficial or deleterious. Joined with 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 .— . As the quasi-passive verb corresponds to the active verb , this aorist corresponds to in Galatians 4:30; so that the combination of with 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. . 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 .— . 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 ( ) 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.— . 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 has been already noted in the case of (Galatians 2:19).— . 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. . The figure of a race, introduced by , 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 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.— . The interrogative is far more appropriate to the context than the inferential . 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. . This adverb occurs also in 1 Corinthians 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 in Attic Greek. When coupled however with a future as it is here, it does not express a wish, but like the future of 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.— . 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.— . 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. . 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.— . 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.” is used in the same elliptical way in Galatians 2:10 and 2 Thessalonians 2:7; and the ellipsis of the verb after is common in rhetorical passages.— . 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.— . 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. . MS. authority is decisive in favour of this perfect against the present . The perfect is likewise adopted in the parallel passage Romans 13:8, . For the very existence of love in the heart attests the completion of a previous inward act of the will.— . The single precept which follows embodies in itself the whole duty to man.— . 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. .: 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. . 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 ( ) 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.— . This is a neutral term equally applicable to the good desires of the spirit and the evil lusts of the flesh. . . 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 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 and to the corresponding list in 2 Corinthians 12:20, perhaps owing to the prevalence of religious dissensions in the Galatian churches.— . 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. . See note on Galatians 4:17.— . The apparent derivation of this word from (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.— . 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. . 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.— . It is clear from the subordinate place here assigned to 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. : Meekness is the outcome of true humility, the bearing towards others which results from a lowly estimate of ourselves.— : Self-control comprehends every form of temperance, and includes the mastery of all appetites, tempers and passions.



Verse 24

Galatians 5:24. . 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.— . This word departs here from its usual meaning, sufferings, and expresses inward emotions, as in Romans 7:5. Greek philosophers applied 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.



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 , 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.



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Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Galatians 5". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.