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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

Beet's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentBeet on the NT

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Verse 1


CH. 4:21-5:1.

Tell me, ye who wish to be under law, do ye not hear the Law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the maid and one by the free woman. Yet he by the maid was born according to flesh: but he by the free woman, through promise. Which things contain an allegory. For these women are two covenants; one from Mount Sinai bearing children for bondage, which is Hagar. Now this Hagar: Mount Sinai in Arabia; and stands in line with the Jerusalem that now is: for she is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, barren one that bearest not; burst forth and shout, thou that dost not travail in birth. For many are the children of the desolate woman, more than of her who has the husband.” (Isaiah 54:1). And we, brethren, like Isaac are children of promise.

But just as then he that was born according to flesh was persecuting him born according to Spirit, so also now. So But what says the Scripture? “Cast out the maid and her son: for the son of the maid shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” (Genesis 21:10.) For which cause, brethren, we are not children of a maid but of the free woman. For freedom, Christ has made us free. Stand then, and be not again held fast by a yoke of bondage.

Another appeal, an argument based upon facts recorded in the Book of the Law taken in connection with the teaching in Galatians 3:23; Galatians 4:1-3 that all who are under law are in bondage.

Galatians 4:21. Law: the general principle, Do this and live.

Under law: as in Galatians 4:4; Romans 6:14.

Wish to be under law; describes suitably an apostacy now going on, as do the present tenses in Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9; Galatians 5:3-4; Galatians 6:12-13. They desire to have as the basis of their relation to God, and as the means of obtaining His favour, a prescribed rule of conduct, viz. the rule embodied in the five Books of Moses: i.e. practically, they wish to stand, or rather to lie in helpless bondage, under the authority of law.

Hear the Law: cp. Romans 2:13, John 12:34. It recalls vividly the public reading in the synagogues, when this was, for Jews and proselytes, the chief means of acquaintance with the Jewish Scriptures.

Paul asks of those who wish to be under a prescribed rule, Do you not hear what is said by those Books which are an authoritative embodiment of such rule?

Galatians 4:22-23. The foregoing question will now be justified by a fact about Abraham recorded in the Books of the Law.

Two sons; prepares us for a difference between them.

Maid: same word in Genesis 16:1; Genesis 16:3; Genesis 16:5 f, Genesis 16:8; Genesis 21:10; Genesis 21:12 f; Matthew 26:69; Acts 12:13; Acts 16:16 : in N. T. always a maid-servant, but not so Ruth 4:12. The word free implies that here the maid was a slave. Abraham had one son by the well-known maid-servant, and one by the well-known free woman.

According to flesh: the process of birth corresponding to the constitution of human or animal bodies. This reminds us that Ishmael stood to Abraham in the same relation as the Jews of Paul’s day, viz. that of natural descent. This is embodied in the argument of Romans 9:8. [The Greek perfect tense intimates that the birth of Ishmael according to flesh has abiding significance. So 1 Corinthians 15:4; 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:27. In reference to events so definite, the English language, which has no tense corresponding to the Greek perfect, uses the preterite, was born.]

Through, or by means of, promise. Not only was Isaac’s birth a fulfilment of promise, but the faith elicited by the promise was an essential condition, according to the principles of the kingdom of God, of the putting forth of divine power and of the fulfilment of the promise. Hence the promise was the channel through which the power of God operated, producing first faith, in Abraham, and then the birth of Isaac. Similarly, in the birth of Jesus a promise to Mary was the vehicle through which the Spirit of God operated. ‘Although both were sons of Abraham, yet the offspring of the slave girl was born (and the significance of this fact remains) according to the ordinary laws of human bodies, the offspring of the free woman was produced by the special voice of God, by the word of promise which Abraham believed.’

Galatians 4:24. Which things: or rather, which class of things.

Contain an allegory, or are-allegorized: they have another meaning beside the historical one. Same word and tense in Philo, vol. i. p. 143: “The cherubim are, according to one manner, in this way allegorized.” So Clement of Alex., Exhortation ch. xi. “The serpent is allegorized as pleasure, crawling upon its belly, an earthly vice, turning to matter.” That the narratives of Genesis are fact, Paul ever assumes: see my Romans, Diss. iii. He now declares that under the facts (as Philo says of the cherubim) lies spiritual significance. This significance, the rest of Galatians 4:24 explains.

Are two covenants: cp. 1 Corinthians 11:25. This cup is the New Covenant. In a mutual relation similar to the relation of these two women there actually are two covenants. Therefore, in Paul’s thought, and in objective reality, (for the relationships are real,) the women and the covenants are the same. So the word is, denoting practical identity, in Romans 1:12; Romans 1:16; 1 John 5:3-4; Matthew 13:37-39.

The two covenants; recalls 2 Corinthians 3:6, written probably shortly before this letter.

Of these two covenants, one is expounded in Galatians 4:24 b, Genesis 4:25; the other, under an altered form of speech, in Galatians 4:26-28. The Old Covenant, an abiding possession, was received from God speaking on Mount Sinai.

Bearing children for bondage: just as children of a slave-mother are also slaves. This metaphor is the more easy because the word rendered covenant is feminine. They who accept the Law as the basis of their relation to God, and whose religious life is derived from and determined by it, are children of the Covenant (cp. sons of the Covenant, Acts 3:25) which had its origin at Sinai. And Paul has shown (Galatians 3:10 to Galatians 4:3) that, in consequence of the nature of the covenant then given, such persons are, and must be, in bondage. Thus their position is analogous to that of the boy who, though Abraham’s offspring, yet, because his mother was a servant, was not a sharer of the rights of Abraham’s son. For, the religious life derived from the Law, a life of bondage, was derived from God who gave the Law at Sinai. That Ishmael was not actually a slave, does not weaken this comparison. For, because he was a slave’s child, he could not claim a son’s rights. And this defect of Ishmael, the Jews eagerly asserted.

Galatians 4:25. Between readings (1) Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and (2) For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, evidence is almost equally balanced. We find r. 1 in the Vat. and Alex. MSS., the Latin part of the Clermont MS., and the Coptic version; evidence perhaps slightly stronger than that for r. 2, viz. the Sinai and Ephraim MSS., two Greek-Latin uncials, and the Latin Vulgate Version. Uniting these two readings, the later Greek MSS. and the Syriac Version which often accompanies them read (3) for this Hagar is Mount Sinai, etc. Chrysostom read, as the tenor of his exposition proves, this Hagar is Mount Sinai. And existing copies of his exposition read also for this Hagar, etc. But the difference between now and for does not affect his argument.

Consequently, in view of the great frequency of this last reading in later copies, we cannot be sure that Chrysostom himself accepted it. It seems to me that the documentary evidence for r. 1 preponderates slightly over that for r. 2. The difference is only three Greek letters, which must have been wrongly either inserted or omitted. Their accidental insertion is perhaps rather the more easy to conceive. For the insertion of Α, making ΓΑΡ into ΑΓΑΡ, might have been suggested by the same word at the end of Galatians 4:24 : and the need for a particle would suggest the insertion of ΔΕ. But this possibility only counterbalances the slightly preponderant documentary evidence.

Of Critical Editors, Lachmann gives r. 2 in his text, r. 1 in his margin. Tischendorf gave r. 3 in his 7th, and gives r. 2 in his 8th, edition. Tregelles places r. 3 in his text and r. 1 in his margin. Even the joint editors part company here, Westcott preferring r. 2 and Hort r. 1: but, like the R.V., their joint text gives r. 1, with r. 2 in the margin.

Amid this conflict of evidence and opinion, I shall further test the readings by endeavouring to expound them.

Reading 1. This Hagar: i.e. Hagar looked upon, not as a woman, but simply as an abstract object of thought and comparison. Already Paul has said that one covenant is Hagar. With Hagar he now links in his allegory Mount Sinai, from which (Galatians 4:24) the covenant was received.

Is: as in Galatians 4:24 : in the allegory, Hagar and Sinai are the same. To assert this practical identity, is the purpose of Galatians 4:25 a.

In Arabia; recalls the geographical position of Sinai, where in solitary grandeur, away from the land promised to Abraham, the rugged mountain looks down upon the wilderness home of the children of Hagar. The position of Sinai reveals the appropriateness of the allegory. And this sufficiently accounts for these words, without the exposition of Chrysostom: “The bondwoman was called Hagar; and Mount Sinai is thus interpreted in the language of the locality.” For this last statement we have hardly any confirmatory evidence. Some Arabian tribes bore their mother’s name: e.g. Psalms 83:6; 1 Chronicles 5:10; 1 Chronicles 5:20; Eratosthenes in Strabo bk. xvi. 767. Possibly this tribal name may have been heard by Paul during his sojourn in Arabia, and have suggested the contrast of the sons of Hagar and of Sarah. But even this supposition is needless. We notice, however, that the Epistle which tells of Paul’s journey to Arabia contains this comparison. It may have been suggested by meditations on the spot.

Goes in the same line: like soldiers in file. It recalls (Aristotle, Nicom. Ethics bk. i. 6. 7) the Pythagorean Lists of corresponding Opposites. In such a list, Hagar, Ishmael, Sinai, the Old Covenant, the now Jerusalem would stand opposite to Sarah, Isaac, Golgotha, the New Covenant, the Jerusalem above. Paul has just said that in his allegory Hagar, the mother of the alien race, is identical with Mount Sinai whence they who trust in the Law derive their spiritual life. He now takes the allegory a step further by saying that Hagar is in the same line with Jerusalem that now is, or the now Jerusalem, the metropolis of the Jewish state and seat of the old Theocracy. This statement, the following words prove.

Is in bondage: viz. Jerusalem, as proved by the contrast with Jerusalem above which is free. Moreover, to say that Hagar is in bondage, etc., would merely and needlessly repeat Galatians 4:24 b, and would do nothing to prove that either she or Mount Sinai goes in the same line with the now Jerusalem: whereas, that Jerusalem is in bondage, etc., as practically proved in Galatians 3:23 to Galatians 4:9, places the Mother-City of the Jews in line with Hagar and her banished offspring; which is the chief point of this allegory.

With her children: cp. Matthew 23:37 : with those who look up to the old Theocratic state as their political and spiritual mother. For these are under the Law, and therefore (cp. Galatians 3:23 ff) in spiritual bondage; by the very nature of the Theocracy to which they owe their spiritual life.

Reading 2 should probably be rendered For Sinai is a mountain in Arabia.

It calls attention to the geographical position of Sinai, giving definiteness to our conception of the great mountain and silently reminding us that it was the home of Hagar’s children. Paul then, without further mention of Hagar, says that Sinai belongs to the same category as the present Jerusalem. For this statement, the following proof still holds good: for, that Jerusalem is in bondage with her children, places her in the same line both with the mother of the exiled race and with the mountain in Arabia whence Israel derived its spiritual life.

Since it was more important, for Paul’s argument, to place Jerusalem in relation with Hagar, whom all Jews regarded as an alien, as in r. 1, rather than with Sinai, on which all looked with reverence, and since for r. 1 the documentary evidence slightly preponderates, we may perhaps accept it, with the R.V., as slightly the more likely.

If we had proof that Sinai was actually called Hagar, we might take Galatians 4:25 a to mean that in Arabia Hagar is a name given to Sinai. But, as we have seen, this is needless for the argument. For, that Mount Sinai is in the land of Hagar’s children, whether or not the mountain bore her name, reveals in clear light the appropriateness of Paul’s allegory.

Galatians 4:26. The second of the two Covenants, described in an altered form suggested by the foregoing words.

Jerusalem above: or the above Jerusalem. Cp. the heavenly Jerusalem, Hebrews 12:22; the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, Revelation 21:2; the city having the foundations, Hebrews 11:10; the city to come, Hebrews 13:14. It is the future home of the saved, looked upon as a city and a metropolis. The above different conceptions of it, we may harmonize by conceiving it as already existing in the purpose and forethought of God and influencing the thought and action of men. This city is free, with all that pertains to it. Restraint is needless there, and unknown.

Our mother: that city is a mother, and we are her children. For it is the source, by the laws of spiritual generation, of our spiritual life; a life which partakes the nature of its source: in other words, our spiritual life is an outflow of the eternal and divine forces which will find their visible and necessary manifestation in that future city. Moreover, the city will be an integral part of the place of glory where already, surrounded by angels, the Risen Saviour sits enthroned. Therefore, to that future city we already look up as our mother. That city is no mere idea we are endeavouring to realise, and whose realisation is contingent; but actual reality, infinitely more real than the things we see around us. This eternal and spotless City stands in absolute contrast to that towards which the men of the Old Covenant looked up with filial reverence or fanatical devotion.

Galatians 4:27. Proof that the Jerusalem above is a mother, and we her children. It is word for word (LXX.) from Isaiah 54:1; and recalls Isaiah 49:17-23; Isaiah 51:17-20; Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 54:4-13; Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 62:4-5; Isaiah 66:7-8. It is also an outburst of song evoked by this momentary vision of the heavenly city, and suitably clothed in the language of ancient prophecy.

Barren: a past state spoken of as if now present, for vivid contrast with the actual present.

She that does not bear: an abiding and melancholy characteristic.

Burst forth: with joy, as implied by the word rejoice. The Hebrew reads shout for joy… break forth a joyful shout.

Does not travail with child: more graphic than does not bear. (Cp. Isaiah 66:7.)

Desolate: not only barren but without a husband, in lonely solitude. Yet she has many children, more even than some other woman who with her husband are (in the LXX.) definite objects of the prophet’s thought.

After his vision of the smitten Servant of Jehovah, who bore the sin of many, Isaiah bursts into song, in view of the glory which will follow. in this song he bids Jerusalem join, describing her as a woman once without children and even without husband, but now having many sons. For, God (Isaiah 54:5) is her husband: and her sons will be taught by Him and have great peace. The prophet’s words imply sudden and unexpected and great increase of the citizens of the Kingdom of God; and infinite splendour and blessing awaiting them. These words found no adequate fulfilment in the exiles returning from captivity. But Paul had seen thousands of aliens and heathens turning to God, entering by the power of God a new life derived from above, and becoming children of God. And he looked forward to the day when these lately born children of the one Father will tread the streets of that city which from afar Isaiah saw. Already, in the unchangeable purpose of God, and to the eye of faith, the city stands secure in heaven, the eternal home of freedom, its future inhabitants look up to it with longing eyes; and from it derive all their hopes. In this wondrous accession to the people of God Paul sees fulfilled the ancient prophecy: and the vision moves him to re-echo the prophet’s song. The prophecy also justifies his assertion that Jerusalem above is mother of his readers and himself.

Whatever may have been Isaiah’s own thought, Paul’s exposition points to the reality which in indistinct and distant outline the prophet saw. His exposition is, therefore, in the highest sense correct. it is reproduced by Justin, 1st Apology, ch. 53.

Galatians 4:28. As Galatians 4:27 justified the word mother in Galatians 4:26, so Galatians 4:28 justifies the word our by proving that Paul and his readers are among the children foretold by Isaiah. The reading we or ye is uncertain and unimportant.

Like Isaac: on the model of Isaac, our birth corresponding with his.

Children of promise: almost the same words in Romans 9:8, proving how familiar to Paul was this thought. it recalls Galatians 4:23 b.

Of promise: viz. the Gospel, the instrument by which God brought into being His children in Galatia. Cp. 1 Corinthians 4:15; James 1:18. Now, only in those whom by the Gospel promise God adds to His family does the above-quoted prophecy of Isaiah find fulfilment. Consequently, not only is (Galatians 4:26) the Jerusalem above a mother but she is our mother.

Galatians 4:29. A further development of the analogy, a contrast and a comparison.

But, or nevertheless: although children of promise, yet, just-as Isaac was then, so we also now are exposed to persecution.

Born according to flesh: the point of contrast (Galatians 4:23) with Isaac.

According to Spirit; Romans 8:4-5 : the Holy Spirit as a standard determining the manner of birth. For He (John 3:5) is the agent of the new birth: and all His works correspond with His nature. (Notice that whatever comes through belief of a promise is wrought by the Spirit, the divine Agent of all supernatural good.) The word here is suggested by Paul’s constant contrast of flesh and Spirit: Galatians 3:3; Galatians 5:16-17; Galatians 6:8; Romans 8:4. The Hebrew text of Genesis 21:9 reads, Sarah saw the son of Hagar… mocking: but the LXX. reads, playing with Isaac her son. Sarah’s demand, made at the festival, implies some aggravation from Ishmael: and her comparison of the two boys suggests that the aggravation was something done to Isaac. And this idea was taken up by Jewish tradition. This ridicule from Ishmael Paul describes, in order to place the Christians of his day in line with Isaac, by the word persecuted, which recalls the many persecutions aroused against Christians by Jews: cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:14; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19.

Galatians 4:30. But: or nevertheless, as in Galatians 4:29 : a complete and now triumphant contrast. The words of Sarah, (Genesis 21:10 nearly word for word from the LXX.,) inasmuch as her request was approved by God, are introduced simply as the Scripture says: so Romans 9:17; Romans 10:11; cp. Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:22. This implies that for Paul the Scripture had the authority of God. He quotes that authority in the literary form in which it lay before him. That Sarah’s petulant request obtained God’s sanction, and that a trifling sport of Ishmael caused his expulsion from Abraham’s home lest his presence should interfere with the unique honour due to Isaac, reveal in clearest light the infinite difference of position between the two sons. This difference gives great force to the contrast in Galatians 4:23-28. The last words of Galatians 4:30 are changed from with my son, even with Isaac to with the son of the free woman, to suit Paul’s quotation. The change also places the two mothers in conspicuous contrast, the maid or slave girl and the free woman.

Inherit: Genesis 15:3-4; Genesis 15:7-8; Genesis 17:8; receive, in virtue of relation to Abraham, the blessings promised to Abraham’s children.

Galatians 4:31. Result, not inference, from Galatians 4:30. [For διο always points back to a cause or motive, of which it introduces an actual or desired result.] Galatians 4:30 embodies an essential principle of the Kingdom of God which found historic expression in the story of the two sons of Abraham, viz. that the blessings of the Kingdom are for the free and for these only, and that freedom or bondage depends upon the source of our spiritual life. For this cause, i.e. that we may obtain the inheritance possessed only by the free, God gave us a spiritual life derived from the Gospel, the mother of freemen, not from the Law which by its nature can produce only slaves. The negative side is put generally: we are not a slave girl’s children, i.e. our relation to Abraham and to God is not derived from a source which involves us in bondage, as the Law would. The positive side is definite, the free woman: for there is only one mother of spiritual freemen.

Galatians 5:1. General statement linking the allegory to the general teaching of this Epistle. The transition is indicated by the word Christ, not found in § 18 till now.

For freedom: in order that we may enjoy the Gospel freedom.

Us: emphatic, revealing our great privilege as compared with others. That we may be free is the aim of (Galatians 4:4) the mission, and (Galatians 3:13) the death, of Christ.

Stand then: practical application of Galatians 4:1 a, and of the foregoing allegory.

Stand: maintain your position of erectness; cp. Romans 11:20; 1 Corinthians 15:1; 2 Corinthians 1:24. It courteously assumes that the readers, although on the eve of falling, have not yet fallen. So Galatians 1:6; Galatians 4:9.

Not again: recalls Galatians 4:9, ye wish to be again in bondage.

Yoke of bondage: 1 Timothy 6:1; cp. Acts 15:10. It is, like maid in Galatians 4:31, quite general.

That Christ has made us free, is a motive for not being again held in anything which destroys Christian freedom.

THE ARGUMENT of § 18, we will now endeavour to understand as a whole, and to estimate.

Paul recognised (Romans 4:11 f) in believers a spiritual offspring of Abraham, in whom, and in them only, will be fulfilled the promises to Abraham and to his seed. Consequently, Abraham has a double offspring, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church, each looking up to him as father, and claiming inheritance through him. The Jewish nation based its claim on ordinary bodily descent: the Christian Church owes its existence to supernatural power working out in those who believe it, a fulfilment of the Gospel promise. And Paul has proved (e.g. Galatians 3:10) that they whose claim rests on bodily descent are outside the blessings promised to Abraham; which are therefore reserved for those who are sons by supernatural birth. All this recalls, and corresponds with, the historical facts of Abraham’s family. For he had two sons, one born according to the ordinary laws of human generation, the other by the extraordinary power of God in one who had believed a promise: and the older was expelled from the home in order that the inheritance might belong only to the younger. Consequently, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church correspond, in these particulars, to Ishmael and Isaac.

Nay more. The Jewish nation owes its spiritual life to the Covenant received from Sinai, a covenant which from its nature can produce only bondmen. For, as Paul has proved, a spiritual life derived from law is helpless bondage. Consequently, Mount Sinai may be called the mother of Judaism, a mother whose children are slaves: and Paul remembers that she raises her rugged head amid the scattered and disinherited sons of Hagar.

Again, for many long centuries the Jewish nation had been looking up to Jerusalem as its mother-city. And this ancient city gives form, not merely to the visions of the old prophets, but to the hopes of the Christian Church. Even to this day we sing of “Jerusalem the golden:” and its foreseen glory and rest have been to Christians in all ages a refuge from fiercest storms. But the city we look for is above. And though actually a place of the future, it is nevertheless the birthplace of our present spiritual life, our home, and our mother. That City and her children, wherever they be, are essentially and for ever free. The wonderful and unexpected increase of her children in Paul’s day was the beginning of the fulfilment, of the only worthy fulfilment, of the glorious visions of Isaiah. The Jerusalem above is, therefore, the city he beheld.

This close parallel, like the similar argument in Romans 9:7-9, overthrows completely the claims of the Jewish disturbers in Galatia. For their relation to Abraham is simply that of Hagar’s descendants. And this reply is made the more crushing by the geographical position of the mountain whence they received the Law in which they trust. The worthlessness of such claims is revealed by the expulsion from Abraham’s home, at the bidding of the mother of the true seed, of Hagar and her son. So far then this historical comparison serves well a legitimate purpose.

But this is not all. Under this apparently accidental coincidence lie important and eternal truths.

Paul has taught (Galatians 3:22-24) that the Law is a necessary preparation for the Gospel. Consequently, the Jewish nation and the Christian Church represent two stages in the development of the kingdom of God, and indeed two stages in the spiritual history of every Christian.

And we cannot doubt that the sequence of events was controlled by God to embody in historic form great spiritual realities. Already in Romans 4:10 ff, we have seen the significance of God’s Covenant with Abraham, immediately after his faith and many years before the command to circumcise. Similarly, the long delay in the birth of Isaac is analogous to the delay in the mission of the divine Son into the world. And, without assuming any sanction of God for Abraham’s relation to Hagar, we may yet believe that the two sons of Abraham were designed by God to prefigure, even in the order of their birth the spiritual offspring of the two Covenants of God with man. In other words, abiding truths find expression in historical facts. And this involves the deeper truth that throughout the universe of God great and broad principles find various embodiments, sometimes in trifling details, which details frequently become valuable indications and memorials of the principles they embody.

Probably the above argument was due to Paul’s Rabbinical training. And it is an example of the one good element of this training, viz. careful sifting of the spiritual significance of the details of Holy Scripture. Paul’s use of Scripture assumes its historic truthfulness; and rests on broad principles already and independently proved to be true. Moreover, both here and else. where, he points to a correspondence which bears on its face the mark, not of accident, but of divine purpose.

Verses 2-13


CH. 5:2-13A.

Behold I Paul say to you that if ye receive circumcision Christ will profit you nothing. And I protest again to every man receiving circumcision that he is a debtor to do the whole Law. Ye have been severed from Christ, whoever of you are being justified in law: from His grace ye have fallen away. For we, by the Spirit, through faith are eagerly waiting for a hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything nor uncircumcision but faith working through love.

Ye were running nobly. Who hindered you that ye should not obey the truth? The persuasion is not from Him that calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I am confident about you in the Lord that ye will be no otherwise minded. And he that disturbs you will bear the judgment, whoever he be. But I brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then, of no effect has the snare of the cross become. Would that they who unsettle you would even mutilate themselves. For ye were called for freedom, Brethren.

Galatians 5:2-6 bring the argument of DIV. II., which has been in part summed up in the allegory of § 18, to bear on the matter of circumcision. This practical application betrays a chief point in the teaching Paul combats in this Epistle, viz. that all Christians ought to be circumcised. So Galatians 6:12 : cp. Acts 15:1; Acts 15:5. Then follow in Galatians 5:7-12 sundry appeals.

I Paul: the personal influence of the Apostle brought to bear on the matter in hand. So 2 Corinthians 10:1.

CIRCUMCISION: now first mentioned. But its casual appearance here without explanation, and again in Galatians 6:12, suggests that it has been in view throughout the Epistle. It was the outward and visible gate into the bondage of the Jewish Law. Circumcision was prescribed by God to Abraham (Genesis 17:10) some fourteen or more years after by faith he obtained (Genesis 15:18) the Covenant, as a token (Genesis 17:11; Romans 4:11) and condition of it. As a rite, it was in some sense a forerunner of the Mosaic ritual: but, as a simple command easily and fully obeyed, it differed altogether from the many-sided Law, to which none could render due obedience. The rite seems (so Joshua 5:5) to have been carefully observed by Israel in Egypt: for we have no hint of a great circumcising at the Exodus. Cp. Exodus 4:25. Once (Exodus 12:48) it is assumed, and once (Leviticus 12:3) expressly though casually enjoined in the Law. Yet, strangely, it was not performed in the wilderness; but was restored (Joshua 5:3; Joshua 5:8) at the entrance into Canaan. In the O.T. the word circumcise is found again only in Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 9:25, in a spiritual significance. But the common use

(Judges 14:3; Judges 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36; 1 Samuel 18:25; 1 Samuel 18:27; 1 Samuel 31:4, 2 Samuel 1:20; 2 Samuel 3:14) of the word uncircumcised to distinguish the Philistines from Israel proves that in Israel the practice was universal. Practically, circumcision was a part of the Law of Moses, and was the initial rite of the Old Covenant.

If ye-receive-circumcision: not, if ye have already been circumcised, as though past circumcision were a final bar to future salvation; but, if ye are now undergoing circumcision, ye thereby deliberately reject the blessings brought by Christ. [The present subjunctive limits the assertion to the time during which the process of circumcision is going on; this being extended by implication so long as the persons concerned continue in the same mind. Subsequent repentance would remove them from under this tremendous condemnation. But this, Paul leaves now out of sight.] This word implies (so Galatians 6:12) that the Galatian Christians, though already observing sacred days, were as yet only contemplating circumcision. Hence the earnestness of Paul’s appeal.

Profit you nothing: cp. Romans 2:25; Romans 3:1; 1 Corinthians 13:3; 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Hebrews 4:2; Hebrews 13:9; James 2:14; James 2:16. They will have no part in the infinite gain bought for men by the precious blood of Christ. This statement will be proved in Galatians 5:3-4. And if we receive no gain from Christ, through whom are all things, ( 1 Corinthians 8:6,) we are poor indeed.

Galatians 5:3. Protest: literally call upon some one, especially God, as witness in our favour. It introduces a solemn assertion, as if made in the presence of God. Same word in N.T. only in Ephesians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; Acts 20:26; Acts 26:22. That all these are from the pen or lips of Paul, is a remarkable coincidence. If on his second visit to Galatia he had made a similar protest, to this the word again would naturally refer. But this supposition is by no means necessary. For Galatians 5:3 is a repetition in stronger language of Galatians 5:2.

Debtor to do the whole Law, implies, as Galatians 5:4 will show, that Christ will profit you nothing: and every one receiving circumcision includes if ye receive circumcision. This solemn repetition reveals how terrible is the consequence here deprecated. And we can understand it. For, the only reason for circumcision was its prescription in the Law: cp. John 7:23. Therefore, to undergo it, was to admit that the Law was still binding; and, if so, it was binding as a condition of the favour of God. Hence to undergo circumcision was (Galatians 5:4) to seek to be justified in law. But, His favour, none can obtain by law. For none can render to the Law the obedience it requires. Consequently, the continued validity of the Law involves a universal curse Now, from this curse Christ died to save us. Therefore, to maintain, by undergoing circumcision, a Christian’s obligation to keep the whole Law, is to reject the benefits of the death of Christ.

Galatians 5:4. Severed: so removed from Christ that in them He will produce no results. Same phrase in same sense in Romans 7:2; Romans 7:6 : same word in Romans 3:3; Romans 3:31; Galatians 3:17; Galatians 5:11. It states a fact which justifies the assertion Christ will profit you nothing, in a form suggesting that the cause is in themselves and not in Christ.

Justified in law: the Mosaic Law, but looked at in the abstract as a rule of conduct, and as a surrounding element in which they receive justification. See under Galatians 3:11.

Are-being-justified: the process now, from their point of view, actually going on. But it can never be completed: Galatians 3:11; Romans 3:20. See note under Romans 2:4. It is practically the same as seeking justification in law; but is more forcefully represented. Although actual justification in law is impossible, the mere beginning of the fruitless process, as Paul’s readers by their observance (Galatians 4:10) of days and seasons had already begun it, had actually separated them from the influences proceeding from the cross of Christ.

From His grace: literally, from the grace; of God (Galatians 2:21) and (Galatians 1:6) of Christ. This undeserved favour is the source of all spiritual good, and especially of the profit which comes through Christ. Justification in law is (Romans 4:4) essentially by merit; and thus excludes the free undeserved favour which comes through Christ.

Fallen-away, or fallen-out, from: James 1:11, 2 Peter 3:17. It is the exact opposite of stand in this grace, Romans 5:1; and suggests complete removal and lower position. [The Revisers’ rendering, are severed, are fallen, confuses needlessly the Greek perfect and aorist. The aorist merely records a past event, without thought of its results, and may be accurately rendered have been separated, have fallen.]

By preparing to be circumcised, the Galatian Christians were entering a process of justification in law, i.e. of justification by obeying the prescriptions of the Law of Moses. They thus acknowledged that in order to enjoy the favour of God they were bound to keep the whole Law: for the whole was given by the same authority. But Christ died in order that upon men who have broken the Law may come the undeserved favour of God. Consequently, to receive circumcision was to place oneself beyond the benefits which proceed from Christ, to abandon the lofty position in the favour of God enjoyed by those who believe the Gospel.

Galatians 5:5. We: very emphatic, contrasting the spiritual position of Paul and those like him with that of his readers. This contrast proves how far they have fallen.

The Spirit: of God: for this can be no other than the Spirit received through faith in Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14; cp. Galatians 4:6. He is looked at here not as a definite person but in the abstract as an animating principle. By Him was prompted this eager-waiting: same word in Romans 8:19; Romans 8:23; Romans 8:25; 1 Corinthians 1:7; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:28.

Through faith: subjective source of the eager waiting, and (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14) of the Holy Spirit who prompts it. For (Romans 5:1 f) by faith… we rejoice in hope. Since hope is a stretching forward to good things to come, it is here used objectively as itself to come. So Titus 2:13, looking for the blessed hope and the appearance, etc.; Acts 24:15; Colossians 1:5, the hope laid up for us in heaven.

Hope of righteousness: a hope which belongs to, and goes along with, righteousness; cp. Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:23. Grammatically, righteousness might be the object hoped for. But this is unlikely. For, with Paul, the righteousness of faith is always (cp. Romans 9:30; 1 Corinthians 1:30) a present blessing; even though righteousness, in another sense, viz. the eternal principle of right doing, be still (1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22) a matter of pursuit. And, if righteousness were the object hoped for, it would be clumsy to represent this hope as itself eagerly waited for.

No: Paul waits ( 2 Timothy 4:8) for the crown of righteousness, the eternal reward which belongs to the righteous: and for the realisation of this hope he eagerly longs.

Righteousness: as in Romans 4:11; Romans 4:13; Romans 9:30; Romans 10:4 : the position or condition of one whom the judge approves. Of God’s approval, obtained by faith, right doing is a result. This close connection causes occasional ambiguity in the use of the word. Righteousness is the link between our faith and the Spirit who prompts our Hope. By faith we obtain the approbation of the Judge: and in token thereof God gives us the Holy Spirit, who moves us to wait eagerly for the fulfilment of the visions of future blessing opened to our view by His approbation.

Galatians 5:6. A general and contrasted statement, supporting the word faith in Galatians 5:5, and concluding the application to circumcision in Galatians 5:2-4 of the argument of DIV. II.

In Christ: the all surrounding, and yet personal, element of the new life: as in Galatians 2:4; Galatians 3:14; Galatians 3:26; Galatians 3:28; 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Avails anything: literally has any strength, i.e. is able to produce results.

Neither circumcision… nor uncircumcision: cp. Galatians 6:15; 1 Corinthians 7:19. Therefore, circumcision neither helps nor hinders life in Christ. This is an express abrogation of the covenant with Abraham, of which (cp. Genesis 17:10-14) circumcision was an absolute condition. Similarly, Christ abrogated the Mosaic Law: Mark 7:15-19; cp. Leviticus 11:42-45.

But faith: avails everything, as proved in the argument of Galatians 3:1-14, and implied in Galatians 5:5.

Working: producing results, an illustration and proof of the validity of faith.

Love; to our fellows, as in Galatians 5:13; its usual sense when not further qualified. So 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 13:1 ff. It is a principle prompting us to draw others to ourselves, that their interests may become ours. This is the direction of the working of faith; which produces love and through love other results. For saving faith is an active principle moulding conduct and character. Cp. 1 Thessalonians 1:3. It does this (Galatians 5:22) through the Holy Spirit given (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:14) to those who believe. That faith produces results which all must approve, reveals its superiority to circumcision; and thus strengthens the contrast here asserted. This reference to love as an effect of faith prepares the way to Galatians 5:13-15; as does the word Spirit in Galatians 5:5 to Galatians 5:16-26. Paul thus approaches the moral teaching of DIV. III.

Notice in Galatians 5:5-6 faith, hope, and love; and in the same order as 1 Corinthians 13:13.

This description of spiritual life proves how great is the profit through Christ lost by those who undergo circumcision in order to obtain justification in the Mosaic Law.

Galatians 5:7-13 a. Sundry direct appeals against the teaching of the disturbers, concluding DIV. II.

Ye-were-running: in the Christian racecourse, recalling the metaphor of 1 Corinthians 9:24 : cp. Galatians 2:2. Nobly: same word in Galatians 4:17. Hindered: as if by breaking up the path.

You: emphatic. So good was their beginning that Paul asks who (cp. Galatians 3:1) has stopped them by breaking up the path along which they were running so well.

Obey: literally be-persuaded-by; the obedience of persuasion. Same word in Romans 2:8; Hebrews 13:17; James 3:3; Acts 5:36 f, Acts 5:40; Acts 21:14; Acts 23:21; Acts 28:24.

Obey truth: yield to the persuasive influence of the Gospel, this looked upon in its general character as corresponding with eternal reality. The article before truth is omitted in Vat., Sinai, Alex. MSS.; and by all editors later than Lachmann: but is found in almost all other MSS. Its insertion is so easy, its omission so difficult, to explain, that we may accept with some confidence the testimony of the oldest copies.

That ye should not obey truth: actual result, and therefore represented as the purpose, of the hindrance.

Persuasion: a word similar in form to that rendered obey; and suggested by it. Grammatically, it might denote either a persuasive influence, or surrender to such. Probably, the former here. For this is an answer to the question in Galatians 5:7 about the source of the disobedience. They refused to be persuaded by Truth because they had yielded to another persuasion. Close parallel in Romans 2:8. But the difference is very slight. For, passive surrender implies active persuasion. The influence to which they yielded is not from Him that calls you: i.e. God, as in Galatians 1:6. The present tense implies that the Gospel voice is still sounding. Galatians 1:6 refers to a voice heard in days gone by.

Galatians 5:9. Word for word as in 1 Corinthians 5:6 : see note. This suggests that it was a common proverb. Its application was so evident that Paul did not expound it. This proverb is in some sense a positive answer to Galatians 5:7. For it suggests that the source of the persuasion was small either in the number of the false teachers or in the apparent unimportance of their error. The latter is perhaps the more likely reference: for the importance of doctrine is more often overlooked than that of a few false teachers. In all ages, differences of doctrine have been held to be unimportant: whereas the influence of even one man has been felt to be great. The proverb also suggests that the result would be, as of many little things, silent, unobserved, yet pervasive and great. For the unseen leaven changes completely the nature of the whole lump. Paul thus calls attention, as does his protest in Galatians 5:3, to the importance of what seemed to the Galatians a small matter.

Galatians 5:10. I: emphatic contrast. After speaking of the obedient persuasion his readers refuse to the Truth and of the persuasion which does not come from Him that calls them, Paul gives his own persuasion about the Galatian Christians.

In the Lord: Romans 14:14; Philippians 1:14; Philippians 2:24; 2 Thessalonians 3:4. His confidence comes from union with the Master, and has Him for its surrounding element.

Minded: same word in Romans 8:5, (see note,) and Philippians 1:7; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15.

No otherwise minded: than Paul has just stated. He has a confidence about them which he feels to be an outflow of Christian life that, when they receive this letter, they will share his alarm about the influence of a little leaven and will recognise in the teaching of the disturbers an influence to be feared. This reveals Paul’s confidence that this letter will have its designed salutary effect. It is almost the only gleam of light in the Epistle.

He that disturbs you: hardly sufficient (in the absence of any other indication: contrast Galatians 5:12; Galatians 1:7; Galatians 6:12) to suggest one specially prominent man. Rather, Paul singles out any individual disturber who comes across his path and speaks of him personally.

Bear the judgment: the sentence which will be pronounced upon disturbers, this looked upon as a heavy burden, Notice that, as in 2 Corinthians 10:2; 2 Corinthians 10:6, etc., Paul distinguishes his readers, to whom he speaks and for whom he has hopes, from the disturbers, about whom he writes but to whom he says nothing, thus indicating that for them he has no hope.

Galatians 5:11. An abrupt question, which can be explained only as being a reply to a charge or insinuation, against Paul, of inconsistency. It is to us obscure because we do not know the charge which provoked it.

But I: emphatic, in contrast to he that disturbs.

Still preach: as before his conversion. For circumcision was an essential element of that Judaism which Paul then so eagerly advocated.

Why still? logical consequence; why do they go on persecuting me? This question implies that the chief ground of the hostility of Paul’s enemies was his denial that circumcision was binding on Gentiles. And naturally so. For they saw that this denial broke down the spiritual prerogative and monopoly which the Old Covenant gave to the Jewish nation.

Made-of-no-effect: shorn of results, as in Galatians 3:17.

Then (or if so) is made, etc.: correct inference from a false premiss, if I still preach circumcision; revealing its falsity: cp. 1 Corinthians 5:10; 1 Corinthians 7:14; 1 Corinthians 15:14; 1 Corinthians 15:18.

The snare of the cross: close coincidence with 1 Corinthians 1:23. The crucifixion of Christ led many to reject Him. It was therefore a trap in which they were caught. But Paul declares that if, while preaching the word of the cross, he still preaches the necessity of circumcision, then has the cross lost its power to hinder the faith of the Jews; in other words, that, if the shameful death of Christ is not inconsistent with the continued obligation of circumcision, i.e. with the continued prerogatives of Israel, it is no longer a difficulty to them. This implies that fear of the loss of spiritual pre-eminence lay at the root of that Jewish hatred to Jesus which took the form of bitter ridicule cast upon the mode of His death, a ridicule still recorded abundantly on the pages of ancient Jewish writers. Paul thus silently uncovers the wounded national pride which hid itself under the veil of refusal to believe in a crucified Messiah. His readers would understand the reference. See further under Galatians 6:12.

Galatians 5:12. A mere passing wish. The almost unknown Greek construction rather suggests that the wish will not be gratified.

Even; introduces a very extreme wish.

Mutilate themselves, or cut themselves off: used in the former sense, without any further explanation, in Deuteronomy 23:1 and Strabo, bk. xiii. p. 630, and Justin, 1st Apology ch. 27, “Some men mutilate themselves; and ascribe the mysteries to the mother of the gods,” i.e. to the goddess Cybele. This meaning is adopted here without question by Chrysostom and most Fathers. And it alone suits the extreme and unpractical form of this wish. Merely to desire the disturbers to leave the Church, would be an ordinary and moderate wish; and could not have been expressed in so remarkable a form. Of course, separation from the Church is included in Paul’s desire. But this would follow at once from heathen mutilation. Self-mutilation in honour of Cybele was practised at Pessinus in Galatia, which was indeed a chief seat of her worship. Paul wishes for a moment that the disturbers would go so far as to join the ranks of the heathen devotees around them. He thus compares circumcision with idolatrous mutilation. And rightly. For, although once commanded by God as a sign of His Covenant, yet to do it when no longer required, was but to imitate the needless self-inflictions of heathenism.

Unsettle: same word in Acts 17:6; Acts 21:38.

Galatians 5:13 a. A link binding § 19 to § 18, bringing Paul’s teaching about freedom to bear on the matter of circumcision; and a stepping stone to the moral teaching of § 20.

For ye: in marked contrast to they that unsettle you. The purpose of the Gospel summons is that we may become and continue free. But the Law brings bondage to all who trust in it. From this bondage Christ died to save us. Therefore Paul is prompted to wish for a moment that they who are causing confusion by endeavouring to lead his readers back into bondage would push their own conduct to its logical result and adopt the hideous mutilations common around them. For, thus, Christians would be saved from their subtle and evil influence.

DIVISION II. is, as we learn from its contents, a disproof of the teaching of some Jewish Christians in Galatia, as at Antioch (Acts 15:1) similar men taught, that Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.

Against this teaching Paul appeals to his readers’ early Christian life, which was derived from faith and not from obedience to law; and to the similar case of Abraham, who obtained by faith his Covenant with God. The promise that in Abraham should all nations be blessed was a foresight of the Gospel: for only through Christ who bore for us the curse of the Law can it be fulfilled. To make its fulfilment contingent on obedience to the Law afterwards given, would destroy the real worth of the promise: which even human morality forbids. The purpose of the Law was to render salvation impossible except through faith, and thus to force us to Christ. But now this purpose has been accomplished: and by faith we are sons of God. We are, therefore, no longer under the Law. For it belongs to our spiritual childhood: and, now that the set time has come, we are free. The Galatian Christians, however, by their observance of sacred seasons show that they are turning back again to the rudiments of childhood. Paul fears lest his toil for them be in vain. And his fear prompts an earnest appeal. He remembers the warmth of his first reception in Galatia, and asks the reason of the change. He points silently to its authors; and exposes their secret and selfish motives.

The prominence given to the Mosaic Law by the disturbers suggests an appeal to its pages. In the family of Abraham were two sons: but only one was heir of the promise. So are there two Covenants of God with man. And the foregoing argument has shown that the children of the Old Covenant are, like those of Hagar, in bondage. But, in fulfilment of a joyous prophecy of Isaiah, there are now others, an unexpected offspring, who look up to Jerusalem as their Mother, to the free city above. Between the children of the Old and of the New Covenant there is conflict. But, as of yore, the bondmen have no inheritance with the free born. And, because his readers are children of freedom, Paul warns them not to submit to a yoke of bondage.

In plain language Paul states the real significance and consequence of circumcision. To undergo it, is to accept the Law as a condition of God’s favour: and, to do this, is to reject the work of Christ and the undeserved favour of God. In complete contrast to all trust in law, Paul cherishes a hope received by faith and from the Holy Spirit, which works in him love and its various manifestations. He warns his readers that an influence not from God is among them, and that a small beginning may be followed by wide-spread results. Yet he has confidence in them. The punishment will fall on the guilty person. Some men charge the Apostle with inconsistency in this matter of circumcision. But the hostility of the Jews disproves the charge. Indeed, their rejection of Christ crucified has its real ground in the overthrow of Jewish prerogatives involved in his death. So damaging is the influence of the disturbers that for the moment Paul almost wishes that they would relieve the Church of it by joining the ranks of the mutilated devotees of Cybele.

Verses 12-15


CHAPTERS 5:13-6:18


CH. 5:13-15.

Ye were called for freedom, Brethren. Only use not your freedom. for an occasion for the flesh: but through love be servants one to another. For the whole Law has been fulfilled in one word, in this, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18.) But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed lest one by another ye be consumed.

After doctrinal exposition follows, as its needful complement, moral teaching. Cp. Romans 12:1 ff. Indeed, Paul’s exposition of the Law would be perilously incomplete if he did not show that it produces the highest morality. Oversight of this has again and again led, on the one hand to immorality, and on the other to rejection or mutilation of the teaching of Paul by those whose moral instinct assures them that morality is imperative. Hence Paul is compelled to add to the doctrinal teaching of DIV. II. the moral development of it in §§ 20, 21. To this he adds in § 22 sundry applications of the same. In § 23 he closes the Epistle by a few words from his own hand about its chief matter.

Galatians 5:13 b. Paul’s passing wish in Galatians 5:12 that the disturbers would join the ranks of heathenism, he justified in Galatians 5:13 a by recalling his teaching in § 18 that God designs His servants to be free. He did this that in § 20 he may defend Christian freedom from its most serious abuse. The word freedom thus becomes a stepping stone to his exposition of Christian morality.

Only; as in Galatians 1:23; Galatians 3:2; Galatians 6:12, gives special prominence to one thing. Cp. Philippians 1:27.

The freedom: this definite liberty, to which God has called you.

An occasion: as in Romans 7:8; Romans 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 11:12; a point of departure for a course of activity.

The flesh: the material constitution of our bodies, which determines in great measure our present bodily life, and seeks to rule us entirely; this looked upon collectively and in the abstract as one definite and active power. See note under Romans 8:11. The flesh ever seeks to gratify its own desires and to avoid what it dislikes. Paul warns us not, on the ground that obedience to law is no longer to us a means of obtaining God’s favour, to surrender ourselves to the guidance of the flesh, as we shall do if we follow our own inclinations. He thus exposes a subtle foe ever present with us, and a very frequent and terrible abuse of justification by faith. This reference to the flesh prepares a way, as Paul’s wont is, to the teaching of § 21. Moreover, gratification of bodily desires is essentially and utterly opposed to love, and indeed lies at the root of all selfishness. Therefore, before introducing the Law of Love, Paul warns against the greatest obstacle to it.

By love be-servants: exact opposite of an occasion for the flesh.

Love: as in Galatians 5:6, where it is an outflow of faith.

Be servants: same word in Galatians 4:25; Romans 6:6; Romans 7:6; Romans 7:25; Romans 14:18; Romans 16:18. It denotes both the position, and the action, of a servant or slave. See under Romans 1:1. As ordinarily used, the word combines the ideas of bondage and of work done for another, both ideas being exemplified in the numerous slaves of Paul’s day. Of these two ideas one or other frequently absorbs sole attention, leaving the other almost or quite out of sight. Hence the apparent variety in the use of the word and the apparent contradiction here. God has called us to Himself that we may be absolutely free, i.e. not hemmed in by outward restraint. Yet we love our brethren: and, prompted by this, we cannot but use all our powers for their good, as much as if we were their slaves. Such bondage is perfect freedom: for it is an unrestrained outflow of our own inmost and highest will. The apparent contradiction results from the poverty of human language. Only by using contradictory terms can we mark out the limits of our thoughts, and thus guard them from overstatement. Compare carefully similar language, evidently familiar to Paul, in Romans 6:18; Romans 6:22; 1 Corinthians 9:19; 1 Peter 2:16.

Galatians 5:14. The whole Law: of Moses, which contains Leviticus 19:18.

Has been fulfilled: or made-full: same word in Romans 13:8; Romans 8:4; Matthew 1:22, etc. Obedience to the whole Law has been embodied in one word, so that he who has obeyed this one precept has rendered all the obedience the Law requires. For all the commands of the Law are prohibitions of something contrary to love. (Cp. 1 Timothy 1:5.) This implies that even the ritual of the Mosaic Law is subordinate to this great command. And, to work in us love, which is the essence of God and involves all blessedness, is the ultimate aim (cp. Romans 8:4) of both the Law and the Gospel.

Galatians 5:14 is a summary of Romans 13:8-10 : see my note. That Paul twice quotes Leviticus 19:18, reveals its importance to him. It is the complement of the twice quoted words in Habakkuk 2:4, The righteous man will live by faith. This precept is also quoted in James 2:8, thus forming a link between James and Paul; and in Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27, thus connecting the teaching of Paul and James with the recorded words of Jesus.

That the fulfilment of THE LAW is here given as a motive for conduct, proves that in some real sense the Law has abiding validity. This agrees with Romans 8:4, which says that fulfilment of the Law was a purpose of the mission of the Son of God. For, if so, the Law is an embodiment of God’s will about us; and therefore a rule of life to His servants. This is true specially of the deep underlying principles of the Law of Moses, such as that now before us. The mass of moral precepts belongs rather to the alphabet of morality. The ritual has abiding value as an expression of Gospel truth. Therefore, as in this verse, the Law may be quoted as a motive for Christian conduct.

All this does not contradict Paul’s teaching in Romans 7:4; Romans 7:6; Romans 6:14; Galatians 3:25 that we are dead to the Law and no longer under its power. For, obedience to law is no longer to us the condition, and means of obtaining, the favour of God. Else we should never obtain it. For until God smiles upon us we cannot obey Him aright. In the midst of our sins and our moral helplessness we obtain pardon simply by belief of the good news of Him who died for sinners. Pardon is followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit to be in us the motive-power of a new life in harmony with the will of God, and therefore with the Law. Yet, as a condition of the favour of God and consequently an iron gate excluding us from it, the Law has utterly lost its power. In this sense it has completely passed away. The barrier has been broken down by Him who bore our curse and burst for Himself and us the bars of death.

On the other hand, the authority of the Law, which is strengthened immensely by the transcript of it in our hearts, prevents us from believing intelligently that God smiles upon us while we do what He forbids. Consequently, without obedience there can be no abiding faith; and therefore no abiding smile of God. But obedience is a result of His favour; and therefore cannot be a means of obtaining it. Between these views of obedience there is an infinite practical difference.

We see therefore that the Law is no longer a dread taskmaster under whose rule we tremble, but our Father’s voice guiding our steps. And every precept is a promise of some good which our Father will work in us by His Spirit. Upon the ancient writing which condemned us has fallen light from the Cross of Christ: and the brightness of that light has changed its condemnation into promises of infinite blessing. It is now a lamp to our feet and a light to our path: and its statutes are our songs in the house of our pilgrimage.

To the advocates in Galatia of the abiding validity of the Law of Moses, this verse would come with special force.

Galatians 5:15. Conduct exactly opposed to love. That the readers were in danger of it, this warning proves.

Bite: like dogs or wild beasts.

And devour, or eat-up: a further stage. Same word in 2 Corinthians 11:20; Mark 12:40; Revelation 11:5.

Consumed: ultimate destruction. Same word in Luke 9:54. [The Greek present tenses describe the process; and the aorist, the result.] This verse suggests that the Judaizers had caused (cp. Acts 15:2) bitter contention between church-members; and reveals the need of the moral teaching of Galatians 5:13-14. Paul warns his readers that, if they so far forget the Law of love as to act like wild beasts, they will thereby destroy their spiritual life and themselves.

Verses 16-26


CH. 5:16-26.

And I say, Walk by the Spirit, and the desire of the flesh ye will not fulfil. For the flesh desires against the Spirit; and the Spirit against the flesh. For these are contrary, one to the other; in order that whatever things ye may wish these ye may not do. But if ye are led by the Spirit, ye are not under law. And manifest are the works of the flesh, which are fornication, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of fury, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revelling, and the things like these: of which I forewarn you, as I forewarned, that they who practise such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self control. Against such things there is no law. And they that belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the emotions and the desires of it. If we live by the Spirit, by the Spirit let us also walk. Let us not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one another.

After pointing to Love as the disposition of heart from which flows human morality, in contrast to self-surrender to the flesh, which is ever a source of enmity, Paul now still further traces Christian morality to its divine source, viz. the Spirit of God, whom he contrasts with the flesh. For the love described in § 20 is the love of the Spirit, Romans 15:30. Already Paul has taught that God gives to His adopted sons the Spirit of the only begotten Son to evoke in them filial confidence in God. He now teaches that the same Spirit will be the guide and strength of their life, neutralising in them the influence of the flesh and producing every form of moral good. In Galatians 5:16-17, he states the contrast of flesh and Spirit; and makes it more conspicuous by turning in Galatians 5:18-22 f, Galatians 5:24-25 again and again (cp. Romans 1:24-32) from one to the other. Of this comparison the words Spirit and flesh in Galatians 5:5; Galatians 5:13 are forerunners. He then concludes § 21 with a warning similar to, but milder than, the close of § 20.

Galatians 5:16. And I say: as in Galatians 4:1 : cp. Galatians 3:17. That Paul refers to the Spirit of the Son, is made quite certain by his constant teaching that He is the animating principle of the Christian life: cp. Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 6:19. This constant usage renders the article needless: cp. Galatians 3:3; Romans 8:13. And the absence of the article directs us to the Holy Spirit in His abstract quality as an inward animating principle: so Galatians 5:5; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:25; and flesh and desire here.

By the Spirit: under His active influence, both guiding and strengthening; ideas involved in the word Spirit. So Galatians 5:5; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:25; Galatians 3:3; Romans 8:13-14; Ephesians 1:13; in all which passages the Spirit is much more than (Ellicott and Lightfoot here) “the metaphorical path, manner, or rule of action.” He is the divine Agent of all Christian action. [Cp. Romans 3:24, by His grace; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5.] The Spirit guides us along a path corresponding to His own nature: hence the companion phrase, according to Spirit, in Romans 8:4.

Walk: cp. 2 Corinthians 12:18; Romans 8:4. Allow the Spirit to choose your steps.

Desire is the chief feature of the flesh: Galatians 5:24; Ephesians 2:3; cp. Romans 6:12. In virtue of their common constitution, our bodies yearn for various objects needful or pleasant. See note under Romans 8:11. And these longings of the flesh do not distinguish right from wrong. Consequently, to yield to them, leads inevitably to sin. As in Galatians 5:13, the word flesh reveals the source of the contention condemned in Galatians 5:15. See notes under 1 Corinthians 3:3; Romans 8:11.

Fulfil or accomplish: same word in Romans 2:27. It denotes the attainment of a goal or aim. Cognate word in 2 Corinthians 11:15, see note; Romans 6:21 f; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Timothy 1:5. If the Holy Spirit guides our steps, then will the tendencies inherent to the constitution of our bodies be prevented from working out their otherwise inevitable results. (See note under Romans 8:17.) For the Spirit of God, if we yield to His inward guidance, will by His own infinite power defend us against the power of sin which seeks (Romans 6:12) to erect and maintain its throne in our bodies. Compare carefully Romans 8:13.

Galatians 5:17. Supports Galatians 5:16 by restating, and further expounding, the above contrast.

Desires against: absolute and mutual and active opposition of the flesh and the Spirit. The word desires is in itself neither good nor bad, and may therefore be supplied here as predicate of the Holy Spirit; as in Luke 22:15 it is predicated of Christ, and in 1 Peter 1:12 of angels. Cp. 1 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 6:11. The rendering lust (A.V. and R.V.) is therefore most unsuitable: for it cannot be predicated of the Spirit, and suggests an idea, viz. sin, not involved in the word. But since desire is a chief element in the practical influence of the flesh, and since in the flesh sin dwells and reigns, we read in the New Testament much more often of bad than of good desires. This implied desire of the Spirit makes the contrast of the two tendencies the more marked.

For these are opposed, etc.; supports the foregoing, by a restatement and further exposition.

In order that… ye may not do: purpose of each of these opposing influences. If we wish to do a good thing, the desire of the flesh tends to lead us the opposite way: and conversely. This inherent tendency of the constitution of our bodies to hinder in us the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s contrary purpose, are motives for following in all things the guidance of the Spirit; and are an assurance that if we do so this evil tendency will not in us attain its goal. The essential hostility of the two principles compels us to choose sides: and there can be no doubt what our choice should be. Thus Galatians 5:17 supports Galatians 5:16.

We have here no trace of blame; and therefore no hint that these words are true only of immature Christians such as Paul’s readers undoubtedly were. And the general terms, the flesh and the Spirit, suggest a universal truth. See under Galatians 5:24. The A.V. so that ye cannot do, etc., is a serious mistranslation. For it implies that the readers were not able to do what their better judgment approved; whereas Paul speaks only of opposite tendencies, leaving open the possibility of successfully resisting them.

Galatians 5:18. Another reason for Galatians 5:16.

Led by the Spirit: Romans 8:14 : parallel and equal to walk by the Spirit, but making more prominent the intelligent activity of the Spirit.

Under law: as in Galatians 4:4-5; Galatians 4:21; Romans 6:14 f; 1 Corinthians 9:20: no longer held in bondage and condemnation under rules of conduct which we have already broken and are still unable to obey. This statement is proved in Galatians 5:23.

Galatians 5:19-21. Catalogue of the works of the flesh, interrupting the argument of Galatians 5:18 to reveal by contrast the excellence of the fruit of the Spirit, which last proves that those led by the Spirit are not under law.

It is also a third reason for walking by the Spirit.

Manifest: conspicuous before the eyes of men: see under Romans 1:19. All can see for themselves that the following list is correct.

The works of the flesh: various fulfillments of the desire of the flesh, results of surrender to the influence of our bodily life. Cp. works of law in Galatians 2:16, cp. Romans 2:15; of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 16:10; of God, John 9:3; John 6:28 f; of faith, 2 Thessalonians 1:11.

Which are: more correctly to which class belong, implying that the following list is not complete. Similar lists in Romans 1:29; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; 1 Timothy 1:9; Mark 7:21; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15; 1 Peter 4:3. We note four divisions.

(1) Sensuality, including fornication, intercourse with harlots; see under 1 Corinthians 5:1 : uncleanness; Romans 1:24; anything inconsistent with personal purity: wantonness; Romans 13:13; insolent and open disregard of all restraint. Same three words together in 2 Corinthians 12:21. The last forms a sort of climax.

(2) Idolatry: and the closely related sorcery, the practice of magical arts; same word in Revelation 21:8; Revelation 22:15; Revelation 9:21; Revelation 18:23; Exodus 7:11; Exodus 7:22.

(3) Various forms of discord. Strife, jealousies, outbursts of fury, factions: same words in same order in 2 Corinthians 12:20; see notes there and 1 Corinthians 3:3.

Parties: same word in 1 Corinthians 11:18, the Greek original of our word heresy. They who adopted error formed themselves in later ages, for the more part, into parties outside the Catholic Church.

Envy: Romans 1:29; Philippians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:3; Matthew 27:18, James 4:5 : mere vexation at others’ good; a much worse word than jealousy which (see under 1 Corinthians 12:31) has good elements.

(4) Drunkenness and revelling or riotous feasting: same words in Romans 13:13 : cp. 1 Peter 4:3. [The plurals in this passage denote various outbursts of drunkenness, etc.]

And the like: added in a consciousness that even the above long list falls short of the infinite variety of sin.

This list begins with sins immediately prompted by the constitution of our bodies; then passes on to idolatry which rules men by gratifying their bodily desires; and to the collision with others which results inevitably from the selfishness of such gratification, and against which Paul has in Galatians 5:15 just warned his readers; and concludes with another class of sins immediately prompted by the appetites of the flesh.

I forewarn, or say-beforehand: before the penalty is inflicted. Same word in 2 Corinthians 13:2.

Forewarned: on a previous visit to Galatia. Whether the second fore- contrasts Paul’s former words with his words now or, like the first fore-, with their future fulfilment, is uncertain and unimportant. The previous word forewarn suggests slightly the latter reference. Paul reminds his readers that he is only repeating what he has said before.

Such things; reminds us again (cp. and the like just above and which sort of things in Galatians 5:19) of the infinite variety of sin, reaching far beyond the long catalogue given.

Inherit the kingdom of God: become, in virtue of filial relation to God, citizens of the future and glorious realm over which, in a royalty which His children will share, God will reign for ever. Same words in 1 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Corinthians 15:50.

Galatians 5:22-23. A fourth argument for Galatians 5:16; also completing the argument of Galatians 5:18.

Fruit: visible outgrowth of the unseen and mysterious vital force of the Holy Spirit. Cp. Romans 1:13; Romans 6:21 f; Ephesians 5:9; Philippians 1:11; Philippians 1:22; James 3:18. The change from works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit accords with Paul’s use of the word fruit only for good results. The various virtues following form, in organic unity, each promoting the others, the one fruit of the Spirit. Similar catalogues in Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 3:10.

Love: put first as the central principle of the Christian life. It is an outflow of the Spirit received through faith: Galatians 3:14; Galatians 5:6. And it links § 21 to § 20.

Joy: triumphant overflow of Christian gladness. Cp. joy in the Holy Spirit, Romans 14:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:6.

Peace: probably, as suggested by the words following, (cp. Romans 14:17-19,) concord with others, in contrast to the discord of Galatians 5:20.

Longsuffering: Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 3:10; 2 Timothy 4:2: a long holding back of passion; slow to anger, James 1:19. A frequent attribute of God, Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22; as is kindness, Ephesians 2:7, a gentle mode of dealing with others.

Goodness: doing good to others, by methods not necessarily gentle; Romans 15:14; Ephesians 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:11.

Faith: probably faithfulness, a disposition on which others can rely, as in Romans 3:3. For, in its usual meaning, viz., assurance that God will fulfil His word, faith holds a unique place as the means by which we receive the Holy Spirit and the entire fruit of the Spirit; and is therefore not likely to be classed as one among many elements of that fruit.

Meekness: absence of self-assertion; see under 1 Corinthians 4:21.

Self-control: Acts 24:25; 2 Peter 1:6; Sirach 18:29, “self-control of soul after thy desires go not, and from thy passions refrain.” A cognate verb in 1 Corinthians 7:9; 1 Corinthians 9:25.

Against such things: in contrast to (Galatians 5:21) those who practise such things, of whom the Law declares that they will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Now, since the Spirit produces as His fruit dispositions which the Law does not condemn, they who (Galatians 5:18) are led by the Spirit are not under law. The law is no longer a burden under which they groan. Just so, upright citizens think nothing of the criminal law; whereas to those who break or wish to break it, the same law is a terrible reality. Thus Paul completes the argument of Galatians 5:18 in support of Galatians 5:16. This deliverance from the Law by fulfilment of it (Galatians 5:14) was a purpose of the mission of the Son of God: Romans 8:4. The unexpected reference to the Law in Galatians 5:14; Galatians 5:18; Galatians 5:23 reveals its large place in the thought of Paul.

Galatians 5:24. Another argument in support of Galatians 5:16, viz. that to fulfil the desire of the flesh is to renounce our own acceptance of the Christian life.

Belong to Christ Jesus, or literally (R.V.) are of Christ Jesus: 1 Corinthians 3:23; 2 Corinthians 10:7; cp. 1 Corinthians 3:4. They stand in special relation to Christ as His servants, disciples, members of His body, etc.

Crucified: as in Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14; Romans 6:6. Notice three crucifixions in this Epistle; of Paul, of the flesh and its desires, and of the world. Each of these implies the others. In each case crucified denotes death in virtue of Christ’s death on the cross and by union with the Crucified: cp. Galatians 2:20 with Galatians 5:19; Galatians 6:14 with Colossians 2:20.

The flesh is dead, i.e. its life, or in other words its activity and power, has come to an end: see note under Romans 7:8, and compare carefully Romans 6:6 and my note. They have crucified the flesh, by their own act: for the destruction of the power of the flesh resulted from their own self-surrender and faith. See note under 2 Corinthians 7:1.

The emotions: same word in same sense in Romans 7:5 : elsewhere it denotes suffering, as in 2 Corinthians 1:5 ff. Compare our word passion, which combines both meanings. Objects around first produce in us emotions, in which the mind is chiefly passive, acted upon from without: these, taking practical and active direction towards the objects which produce them, become desires. Desires are a constant accompaniment of flesh so long as it has vitality: and emotions are the beginning of desires. Paul declares that, together with the flesh these emotions and desires have, by self-surrender to Christ and by union with His death, altogether lost their power.

The categorical statement of Galatians 5:24, like Paul’s statements about himself in Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14, can be no less than a description of the ideal and normal Christian life, i.e. of the life which God designs us to live and which He is ready to work in us from this moment by His own infinite power and in proportion to our faith. At first sight this statement seems inconsistent with Galatians 5:17. For if the flesh has desire and purpose, it must be alive, whereas here Paul implies that it is dead. But this inconsistency is but the poverty of human language, which often compels us to state opposite sides of the same truth in terms apparently contradictory. Each statement admits an interpretation in harmony with the other. The flesh is still alive in the sense that it exerts upon us an influence towards forbidden objects which can be effectually resisted only by the presence of the Spirit of God within us. And this is a reason for following ever the guidance of the Spirit. On the other hand, if in all things we accept His guidance, this hostile influence of the flesh will be neutralised so completely that it will no longer influence our conduct or defile our thoughts. And, in view of this complete victory which Christ has gained for us by His death, and which God is ready to work now, in all who venture to believe His promise, by joining them to the Crucified One, Paul says correctly that to those who belong to Christ the flesh and its desires have passed away, that their life has altogether ceased. By so saying he greatly helps our faith to grasp and appropriate the victory here described. The discrepancy is not greater than that between Galatians 2:20, I live in the flesh and Romans 8:9, ye are not in the flesh.

Notice that just as the flesh is the link uniting us to the material world around and the medium through which, by its susceptibility to material influences and by its desire for material objects, the world acts upon us, so it is also the link uniting the unsaved to sin and the avenue through which operate the evil influence and the domination of the material world. Christ died in order that by His death this link may be practically broken and this avenue closed, that by union with the Crucified we may be set free from this influence and bondage. Virtually, we were set free when Christ died: formally, when we joined His Church: actually, when, and so far as, we venture to believe that this inward crucifixion is already ours.

Galatians 5:25. Concluding argument in support of Galatians 5:16, which verse it recalls. It is a practical application of the foregoing doctrinal teaching.

By the Spirit: as in Galatians 5:16; under the influence of the Holy Spirit acting upon us from within as an animating principle.

If we live by the Spirit: an assumed fact: for He is in us the breath of immortal life. Therefore, Paul says, we should allow Him to direct our steps. For, in proportion as we yield to His influence, will the life He imparts be rich. Similar thought in Romans 8:2 : for the law of the Spirit is the Holy Spirit guiding our action; and since He has made us free from the law of sin and of death, He is to us the Spirit of life.

Walk: different from the word in Galatians 5:16, but found in Galatians 6:16; Romans 4:12; Philippians 3:16; Acts 21:24; all very instructive parallels. It calls attention to the path in which we walk.

Galatians 5:26. Steps in which the Spirit will never guide us, a negative specific application of the doctrinal teaching of § 21 and a transition to the positive specific application of the same in § 22. This application was prompted doubtless by the disposition in the readers which suggested the similar application (Galatians 5:15) of § 20.

Vainglorious: Philippians 2:3, cherishing empty opinions about ourselves: further expounded in Galatians 6:3. From this root spring as offshoots mutual provocation and envy. Paul warns against both root and offshoots. [The present subjunctive suggests that the vainglory was already creeping in.]

Provoking (or challenging) one another: a frequent outcome of envy, i.e. of vexation at the superiority of others.

SECTION 21 implies that the great contrast of flesh and Spirit so familiar to Paul, (cp. Romans 8:4-13,) a contrast underlying and pervading both the natural and the moral constitution of man, is also the basis of his moral probation. See notes under Romans 8:11; Romans 8:17.

The flesh is the visible side of man, animated matter. Mysteriously pervading it, preserving it from corruption and giving to it growth and well-being, is the invisible spirit. Thus in man meet and at every point interpenetrate, the seen and unseen worlds; the one destined to crumble soon into its original dust, the other created for endless life. We have thus the unseen world within us, actually present to our inmost consciousness. Now each of these elements claims to rule our entire action and to mould our inner life. And they are in absolute opposition. The flesh, acting upon us through desires aroused by material objects around, tends to beget various kinds of actions, many of them indisputably bad. Such actions will exclude us from the glory of the coming kingdom. But in absolute opposition to the flesh is the one Spirit of God, whom God has given to dwell in the hearts of His people, that thus their spirit may have (Romans 8:10) immortal life, and to be in them an all-wise guide. The Spirit is the living and divine seed from which springs a harvest of moral excellence. This excellence is all that the Law requires. Consequently, for those under His influence the Law has no terrors. And in proportion as they follow His guidance is the life which He imparts rich and strong.

The evil influences of the flesh are still a power against which the Christian must needs be ever on his guard. But his warfare is shared by the Spirit of God, against whom even the flesh is powerless. Consequently, the presence of the Spirit in our hearts has already in us put an end, as we abide in faith, to the rule of the flesh. We may therefore say that in us, through the death of Christ, the flesh itself is already dead, that our old selves and our old life have been buried in His grave. All this is abundant reason for complete self-surrender to the guidance of the Spirit. He will inspire that love which is fulfilment of the Law, and which alone will save Christian liberty from degenerating into hurtful licence.

Notice the massive simplicity and grandeur of Paul’s double foundation of Christian morality. He lays down first the one precept of love, in the very words of the ancient Law, a precept including all others. But even this, if it stood alone, would but reveal our inability to do what God requires, and thus condemn us. Paul therefore invokes the Spirit, the seed divine from which grows, by its unseen and mysterious vitality, the fruit of love and of all virtue. A specimen of the superstructure this foundation is capable of supporting, Paul will erect for us in § 22.

Bibliographical Information
Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jbc/galatians-5.html. 1877-90.
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