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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4062. A.D. 58.

In this chapter the apostle applies the preceding discourse in an earnest exhortation, enforced by several arguments,

(1,) To stand fast in the liberty of the gospel, 1-12.

(2,) To beware of abusing that liberty, by indulging sinful tempers, contrary to the great law of love, 13-15.

(3,) To walk in the Spirit, and not fulfil the lusts of the flesh; the nature and fruits of which two principles are represented as altogether contrary, 16-26.

Verse 1

Galatians 5:1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty, &c. The apostle (chap. 3.) having, from Abraham’s justification by faith, proved, 1st, That all who believe in Christ, and in the promises of God through him, are the seed of Abraham, whom God in the covenant promised to justify by faith: 2d, That the law of Moses, which was given long after the Abrahamic covenant, could neither annul nor alter that covenant, by introducing a method of justification different from that which was so solemnly established thereby: 3d, That men are heirs of the heavenly country, of which Canaan was the type, not meritoriously, by obedience to the law, but by the free gift of God: 4th, That the law was given to the Israelites, not to justify them, but to restrain them from transgressions, and by making them sensible of their sins, and of the demerit thereof, to lead them to Christ for justification: further, having (chap. 4.) observed that the method of justification by faith, established at the fall, was not universally published in the first ages, by immediately introducing the gospel, because the state of the world did not admit thereof; and because it was proper that mankind should remain a while under the tuition of the light of nature, and of the law of Moses: also, having declared that the supernatural procreation of Isaac, and his birth in a state of freedom, was intended to typify the supernatural generation of Abraham’s seed by faith, and their freedom from the bondage of the law of Moses, as a term of salvation: the apostle, in this 5th chapter, as the application of his whole doctrine, exhorts the Galatian believers to stand fast in that freedom from the Mosaic law which had been obtained for them by Christ, and was announced to them by the gospel; and not to be entangled again with, or held fast in, (as ενεχεσθε may be rendered,) the yoke of Jewish bondage, as if it were necessary to salvation. “The apostle, though writing to the Gentiles, might say, Be not again held fast in the yoke of bondage, because the law of Moses, which he was cautioning them to avoid, was a yoke of the same kind with that under which they had groaned while heathen. By this precept, the apostle likewise condemns the superstitious bodily services enjoined by the Church of Rome, which are really of the same nature with those prescribed by Moses, with this difference, that none of them are of divine appointment.” Macknight.

Verses 2-4

Galatians 5:2-4. Behold, I Paul A divinely-commissioned apostle of Christ; say, that if ye be circumcised And seek to be justified by that rite, or if you depend on any part of the ceremonial law, as your righteousness, and necessary to salvation; Christ The Christian institution; will profit you nothing For you thereby disclaim Christ, and all the blessings which are received by faith in him. I testify again As I have done heretofore; to every man Every Gentile; that suffers himself to be circumcised now, being a heathen before, that he is a debtor That he obliges himself; to do the whole law Perfectly; and if he fail, he subjects himself to the curse of it. It is necessary that the apostle’s general expression, If you be circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing, should be thus limited, because we cannot suppose that the circumcision of the Jewish believers incapacitated them for being profited by Christ. Besides, “as the preservation of Abraham’s posterity, as a distinct people from the rest of mankind, answered many important purposes in the divine government, their observance of the rite of circumcision, declared by God himself to be the seal of his covenant with Abraham, was necessary to mark them as his descendants, as long as it was determined that they should be continued a distinct people. This shows that the apostle’s declaration is not to be considered as a prohibition of circumcision to the Jews as a national rite, but as a rite necessary to salvation. And therefore, while the Jews practised this rite, according to its original intention, for the purpose of distinguishing themselves as Abraham’s descendants, and not for obtaining salvation, they did what was right. But the Gentiles, not being of Abraham’s race, were under no political obligation to circumcise themselves; consequently, if they received that rite, it must have been because they thought it necessary to their salvation; for which reason the apostle absolutely prohibited it to all the Gentiles.” Macknight. Christ is become of no effect unto you See on Galatians 2:21. Or, as the original expression, κατηργηθητε απο του Χριστου , may be properly rendered, Ye are loosed, or separated from Christ, and deprived of the benefit you might have received from him. The Vulgate hath, Vacui estis a Christo, Ye are devoid of Christ; whosoever of you are justified That is, who seek to be justified; by the law, ye are fallen from grace Ye renounce the covenant of grace in this last and most perfect manifestation of it: you disclaim the benefit of Christ’s gracious dispensation. the apostle’s meaning is, that whosoever sought to be justified meritoriously by the law of Moses, and for that purpose received circumcision, dissolved his connection with Christ, and renounced all relation to, and dependance on him as a Saviour.

Verses 5-6

Galatians 5:5-6. For we Who believe in Christ, and are his true disciples, having been savingly enlightened in the knowledge of the truth; do, through the influences of the Spirit Without any of these carnal ordinances; wait for In sure confidence of obtaining; the hope of righteousness That is, the righteousness we hope for, and the full reward of it; by faith The only way in which these blessings can be attained; for it is through faith that we receive this righteousness of God, Philippians 3:9; and by faith we shall obtain the reward. For in Christ Jesus According to the institution which he hath established, according to the tenor of the Christian covenant, or with respect to our having an interest in and union with him; neither circumcision With the most punctual observance of the law; nor uncircumcision With the most exact heathen morality; availeth any thing To our present justification or eternal salvation; but faith alone, even that faith which worketh by love That persuasion of, and confidence in, the love of God to us, manifested in his giving Christ to die for us, and in pardoning and accepting us through Christ, which produces in us love to God in return; and obedience, the fruit of this love, and which worketh in us all inward holiness, and worketh by us all outward holiness. “The account which the apostle here gives us of faith,” says Macknight, “deserves attention. He does not say that it consists in the mere speculative belief of the truths of the gospel, nor in a confident persuasion, taken up any how, that we are actually justified, or that Christ hath died for us in particular. These things are nowhere in Scripture represented as constituting justifying faith; and they who trust to them delude themselves. The faith which is counted for righteousness, according to St. Paul, is such a belief [in Christ and] the truth, as worketh in the mind of the believer by love, and maketh him a new creature, Galatians 6:15. The apostle called the attention of the Galatians to this operation of faith, because they were deficient in love to each other, Galatians 5:15.”

Verses 7-10

Galatians 5:7-10. Ye did run well In the race of faith, love, and obedience; in true, genuine Christianity; believing its truths, experiencing its graces, enjoying its privileges, performing its duties. The exercises of faith and holiness, enjoined in the gospel, are often in Scripture compared to the ancient athletic exercises of the Greeks, especially to the race; because in that exercise the greatest exertions of activity and strength were necessary to obtain the prize, Hebrews 12:1. Who did hinder you Who hath interrupted you in that good course; that ye should not continue to obey the truth? In this question the apostle does not ask who the person was that had put a stop to them; but he expresses his surprise and grief at their being stopped. This persuasion Concerning the Mosaic law, and the necessity of observing it in order to your justification and salvation; cometh not of God, who calleth you To his kingdom and glory. A little leaven If it be suffered to continue; leaveneth the whole lump Operates unseen, till it diffuses itself on every side: that is, a little false doctrine may soon corrupt the judgment in other points, and a small number of seduced persons may soon infect the whole church. It is a proverbial expression, in which the pernicious and infectious nature of erroneous doctrine and vicious example is set forth. Hence our Lord gave the name of leaven to the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 16:11-12. The same name the apostle gives to the doctrine of the Judaizing teachers in this passage, and to the incestuous person, 1 Corinthians 5:7. Yet I have confidence in you That, on reading this, and being thus warned of your danger; you will be no otherwise minded Than I am, and ye were, concerning the doctrine of justification by faith; but he that troubleth you And would pervert your minds from the purity of the faith; shall bear his judgment A heavy burden, already hanging over his head. The apostle seems to refer to one person chiefly, as endeavouring to seduce them.

Verses 11-12

Galatians 5:11-12. And I, brethren If, as my enemies insinuate; I yet preach circumcision As necessary to salvation, and urge it upon the believing Gentiles; why do I yet suffer persecution From the Jews, as one apostatized from their religion? Probably the person that troubled them took occasion, from Paul’s having circumcised Timothy, to affirm that he preached the necessity of submitting to that rite. Then is the offence of the cross ceased The grand reason why the Jews were so offended at his preaching Christ crucified, and so bitterly persecuted him for it, was, that it implied the abolition of the ceremonial law. Yet St. Paul did not condemn the conforming, out of condescension to the weakness of any one, to that law; but he did even absolutely condemn those who taught that this was necessary to justification. I would they were even cut off From your communion; cast out of your church; that thus trouble you “It by no means agrees with the gentle genius of Christianity, to suppose that the apostle should mean by this, that he wished them dead, or wished that any bodily evil were inflicted upon them by human violence. All arguments, therefore, which are drawn from this text, in favour of persecuting principles, must be very inconclusive.” Doddridge.

Verses 13-15

Galatians 5:13-15. Ye have been called By the gospel; into liberty From the bondage of the Mosaic ceremonies, as well as of sin and misery: only use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh So as to nourish or gratify any corrupt principle in yourselves or others. But by love serve one another Use your liberty as may best manifest your love to your neighbour, seeking his edification, or at least doing nothing contrary thereto, Romans 14:13; Romans 14:15. And hereby show that Christ has made you free indeed. For all the law With which we believers in Christ have any concern; is fulfilled in one word Or precept; even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself Inasmuch as none can do this without loving God, (1 John 4:12,) and the love of God and man includes all perfection. But if On the contrary, from your zeal for, or your zeal against, the Mosaic ceremonies, and in consequence of the divisions which those troublers have occasioned among you; ye bite and devour one another By evil speaking, railing, and clamour; take heed that ye be not consumed one of another That your divisions do not end in the total destruction of religion among you, and the entire ruin of your church: for it is certain, by these mutual contentions, you take the readiest way to produce these effects. By bitterness, strife, and contention, men’s health and strength, both of body and soul, are consumed, as well as their substance and reputation.

Verses 16-18

Galatians 5:16-18. I say then He now explains what he proposed Galatians 5:13; Walk in, or by, the Spirit Namely, the Spirit of God: follow his guidance, exercise his graces, and bring forth his fruits: at all times endeavour to conduct yourselves as under his influence, and in a way agreeable to the new nature he hath given you. We walk by the Spirit, when we are led, that is, directed and governed by him as a Spirit of truth and grace, of wisdom and holiness. And we walk in the Spirit when, being united to him, or, rather, inhabited by him, we walk in faith, hope, and love, and in the other graces, mentioned Galatians 5:22. And ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh Ye will not gratify any sinful appetite or passion, any corrupt principle of your nature or disposition, which may yet have place in you; such as envy, malice, anger, or revenge. For the flesh lusteth Επιθυμει , desireth; against the Spirit Your corrupt nature, as far as it remains corrupt, and is unrenewed, has inclinations and affections which are contrary to, and oppose the operations and graces of the Spirit of God: and the Spirit against the flesh The Holy Spirit, on his part, opposes your evil nature, and all your corrupt inclinations and passions. These The flesh and the Spirit; are contrary to each other There can be no agreement between them: so that ye cannot do, &c. Greek, ινα μη , α αν θηλητε , ταυτα ποιητε , that what things you would, or may desire, or incline to, these you may not do, that is, connecting it with the clause immediately preceding, “though the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, yet the Spirit desireth against and opposes the flesh; that, being thus strengthened by the Spirit, ye may not do the things ye would do if the Spirit did not thus assist you.” This seems to be the genuine sense of the passage. But if ye be led by the Spirit Of liberty and love, into all holiness; ye are not under the curse or bondage of the law Not under the guilt or power of sin.

Verses 19-21

Galatians 5:19-21. Now the works of the flesh By which that inward corrupt principle is discovered; are manifest Are plain and undeniable. He says works, in the plural, because those of the flesh are distinct from, and often inconsistent with each other. But the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned in the singular, (Galatians 5:22,) the graces thereof being all consistent, and connected together. Which are these He enumerates those works of the flesh to which the Galatians were most inclined, and those parts of the fruit of the Spirit of which they stood in the greatest need; adultery A crime to be considered in the first rank of enormities, as being the most prejudicial to society, destroying conjugal happiness, introducing confusion and ruin into families, alienating the affection of parents from their children, causing them to neglect their education; fornication Which, how light soever heathen may make it, is in the sight of God a very grievous offence; uncleanness Of every kind and degree; lasciviousness All immodesty, as the indulging of wanton thoughts, and reading lascivious books. The Greek word means any thing, inward or outward, that is contrary to chastity; idolatry The worshipping of idols; this sin is justly reckoned among the works of the flesh, because the worship paid to many of the gods consisted in the most impure fleshly gratifications; witchcraft Or sorcery, as Macknight renders φαρμακεια , observing, that the expression “being placed immediately after idolatry, means those arts of incantation and charming, and all the pretended communications with invisible and malignant powers, whereby the heathen priests promoted the reverence and worship of their idol gods, and enriched themselves. In this sense the word is used concerning Babylon, (Revelation 18:23,) εν τη φαρμακεια σου , By thy sorcery were all nations deceived; that is, by a variety of wicked arts and cheats, the nations were deluded to support Babylon in her idolatries and corruptions. Hatred Or enmities, as εχθραι signifies; variance Ερεις , strifes; emulations Transports of ill-placed and ill-proportioned zeal; wrath Θυμοι , resentments; εριθειαι , contentions, as the word appears here to signify; seditions Or divisions, in domestic or civil matters; heresies Parties formed in religious communities; who, instead of maintaining true candor and benevolence, renounce and condemn each other. Envyings Frequently manifesting themselves against the prosperity and success of others; murders Which are often the effect of such evil dispositions and practices as those above mentioned; and, to complete the catalogue, all kinds of irregular self-indulgence, and particularly drunkenness Which renders a man worse than a beast; and those disorderly and gluttonous revellings Or luxurious entertainments, by which the rational powers are, in a great measure, extinguished, or, at least, rendered incapable of performing their offices in a proper manner. Some of the works here mentioned are wrought principally, if not entirely, in the mind, and yet they are called works of the flesh. Hence it is clear that the apostle does not, by the flesh, mean the body, or sensual appetites and inclinations only, but the corruption of human nature, as it spreads through all the powers of the soul, as well as the members of the body; of which I tell you before Before the event; I forewarn you; as I have told you also in time past When I was present with you; that they who do such things Who are guilty of such evil practices; shall not inherit the kingdom of God Whatever zeal they may pretend for the externals of religion, in any of the forms of it. Awful declaration!

Verses 22-23

Galatians 5:22-23. But the fruit of the Spirit He says the fruit of the Spirit, to signify that the graces here mentioned are the natural, genuine product of the influences of the Spirit upon the mind of man. It is not possible to give a higher praise to any temper of mind, or course of life, than to say, it is the fruit of the Spirit of God; is love To God, his people, and all mankind, the source of all the other fruits; joy Arising from a sense of the remission of sins, of the favour of God, of adoption into his family, and being constituted his children and his heirs; from a lively hope of the heavenly inheritance, the testimony of a conscience void of offence toward God and man, (2 Corinthians 1:12,) communion with God, and an earnest of heaven in our hearts. Peace Namely, with God, and in our own consciences, and a disposition, as far as possible, to live peaceably with all men; long-suffering That is, patience in bearing with the infirmities, and faults, and even injuries of others; gentleness Toward all men, ignorant and wicked men in particular, implying sweetness of speech and manners; goodness A benevolent and beneficent disposition, with all that is kind, soft, winning, and tender, either in temper or behaviour, as the Greek word αγαθωσυνη implies; faith Or rather fidelity, as the word here evidently signifies, namely, in engagements, promises, and trusts, or what we call good faith and uprightness in men’s dealings, neither, in any instance, imposing upon others, nor failing in any of those engagements which it is in our power to fulfil; meekness Or calmness under provocations, holding all the affections and passions in an even balance; temperance In the use of meats and drinks, and all animal gratifications: Against such holy and happy dispositions, there is no law By this observation, the apostle intimates that the graces and virtues here mentioned are so manifestly excellent, that they not only never were forbidden by any human law, but that there never hath been any nation which did not acknowledge their excellence, and give proofs that they did so, by making them objects either of their public or their private institutions. And those who in the general course of their lives bring forth these amiable and benign fruits of the Spirit, are, by the grace of the gospel, freed from the condemning sentence of the divine law.

Verse 24

Galatians 5:24. And they that are Christ’s Who are true believers in him, and therefore possessed of union with him, and shall be finally owned as belonging to him; have crucified the flesh Have doomed it to a certain death, like the body of one that is nailed to a cross, and left to expire upon it; with the affections and lusts All its evil passions, appetites, and inclinations. The word affections, or passions, as παθηματα should rather be rendered, as distinguished from the lusts of the flesh, are pride, self-will, discontent, anger, malice, envy, revenge. “This is a beautiful and affecting allusion to our Lord’s sufferings on the cross. The restraining of our fleshly lusts may be very painful to us, as the word crucify implies. But the same word, by putting us in mind of Christ’s suffering much greater pain for us, touches all the generous feelings of the heart, and excites us, from gratitude to him, to disregard the pain which so necessary a duty may occasion to us.”

Verses 25-26

Galatians 5:25-26. If we live in, or by, the Spirit If we are indeed raised from the death of sin, and made alive to God by the operation of his Spirit, and if this spiritual life is continued to us by his indwelling presence in our souls; let us walk by and in the Spirit Being under his influence, and following his guidance in all our thoughts, tempers, words, and actions. See on Galatians 5:16. Let us not be desirous of vain glory Of the praise or esteem of men. They who do not carefully and closely follow the drawings, and attend to the leadings, of the Spirit of God, easily slide into this: the natural effects of which are provoking to envy them that are beneath us, and envying them that are above us. Reader, art thou indeed a true believer in Christ? and dost thou, therefore, live in the Spirit of God, so that his gracious influences are the very life of thy soul? then make it thy care also to walk in the Spirit, to regulate every action of thy life, and every sentiment of thy heart, by a becoming regard to him; guarding solicitously against any thing that would grieve him, and encouraging those friendly offices of his, by which thou mayest be trained up in a growing meetness for the society of the blessed spirits above, and for that world where the polluted flesh, the corruptible body, having been laid aside for a season, shall be raised as pure as it shall be glorious, in the image of that Saviour whose discipline teaches us to seek the victory over it, and whose grace enables us to obtain it.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Galatians 5". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/galatians-5.html. 1857.
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