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Galatians 5

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Galatians 5:0


A Final Proof
(Galatians 4:21-1)(Galatians 4:21-1)
Christian FreedomChristian LibertyThe Nature of Christian LibertyPreserve Your FreedomChristian Liberty
Galatians 5:1-6Galatians 5:1Galatians 5:1
Galatians 5:2-6Galatians 5:2-6Galatians 5:2-6Galatians 5:2-6
Love Fulfills the Law
Galatians 5:7-12Galatians 5:7-15Galatians 5:7-12Galatians 5:7-10Galatians 5:7-12
Galatians 5:11-12
Liberty and Love
Galatians 5:13-15Galatians 5:13-15Galatians 5:13-15Galatians 5:13-15
The Fruit of the Spirit and the Works of the FleshWalking in the Spirit
Galatians 5:16-21Galatians 5:16-26Galatians 5:16-21Galatians 5:16-18Galatians 5:16-24
Galatians 5:22-26Galatians 5:22-26Galatians 5:19-26Galatians 5:25-26

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Chapter 5 articulates the crucial, practical aspect of Paul's justification by grace through faith. The Judaizers were concerned that the Gentile Christians would not conform to their conceptions of Mosaic godliness, therefore, they tried to force the OT regulations upon them. However, Paul was equally concerned with godliness, but he affirmed that it is not a result of external rules but of a changed heart (i.e., internal guidance, cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26, Ezekiel 36:27). It is correct to say that the Judaizers had all of the elements of true salvation but they had them in a reverse order. They felt that mankind's performance led to or gave evidence of an acceptable place with God. However, the gospel of the crucified Christ shows that it is a personal relationship with Christ by faith which leads to a life of godliness through gratitude. The new life in Christ is not the basis of one's right standing with God, but the evidence of it. Paul was also concerned with the children of God living moral, upright, service-oriented lives. Chapter 5 addresses this moral imperative.

B. The theme of freedom is expressed in chapter 5 in relation to two different perversions,

1. Galatians 5:1-12 deal with the legalistic (human merit) perversion of freedom

2. Galatians 5:13-15 deal with the antinomian (lawlessness) perversion of freedom (cf. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:0; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33)

C. This book could be called a message of absolutely free grace. Paul uniquely understood the problems of self-effort (i.e., Galatians 5:1-12). His gospel was a call to freedom, but not a freedom that leads to licensed excess (i.e., Galatians 5:13-15) but one that leads to loving service. In our day we need to see the balance that believers are truly free in Christ, but by being free from the Law they are now free to respond appropriately to God's freely-given love (cf. Romans 6:0). Romans 14:1-13 is a great example of the biblical balance between freedom and responsibility, as is 1 Corinthians 8-10. He (the Spirit) gives us the power to live godly lives.

D. Galatians 5:16-26 show us the supernatural source of Christian freedom which is the Holy Spirit. As salvation is a free act of God's love through Christ, so also is the Christian life through the Spirit. As believers must yield in repentance and faith to salvation, they must yield in repentance and faith to the ongoing leadership of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. Justification starts a process; it does not conclude it!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Outline chapter 5 in its relationship to the rest of Galatians.

2. Explain freedom and what it means in the Christian life.

3. Explain the contextual meaning of the concluding phrase of verse Galatians 5:4.

4. How does a gospel which is freely offered to us control our lifestyle?

5. What are the implications of verses Galatians 5:15 and 26 for the Church today?

6. Do verses Galatians 5:19-21 describe the churches of Galatia or the tendency of pagan worship?

7. How are the gifts of the Spirit related to the fruit of the Spirit?

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 4:21-1 21Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27For it is written, Rejoice, barren woman who does not bear; Break forth and shout, you are not in labor; For more numerous are the children of the desolate Than of the one who has a husband." 28And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30But what does the Scripture say? "Cast out the bondwoman and her son, For the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman." 31So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. 5:1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 4:21 "Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to law" Paul used the writing of Moses to combat errors based on Moses. This verse resumes the thought of verse Galatians 5:7. Verses Galatians 5:8-20 are another personal, emotional appeal by Paul. The concepts of "sonship" and "heir" in Galatians 4:7 and "seed" in Galatians 3:15-18 are the antecedents to this typology.

Galatians 4:22 "Abraham had two sons" Abraham had more than two sons, but the ones spoken of here are contrasted: his first son, Ishmael, recorded in Genesis 16:0, and his second son, Isaac, recorded in Genesis 21:0. The whole point of the typology is that one was born by natural means by a servant girl and one was born by supernatural means according to the promise of God by a free woman, his wife. The emphasis throughout this context has been, as in Galatians 4:23, on the promise of God versus human effort.

Galatians 4:23-24 The Jews would have agreed with Paul's typology until verse Galatians 5:23, where he said that in the sense of human effort, the Jews were really the descendants of Ishmael, while the Church was the true descendant of Sarah because of "the promise."

Galatians 4:24 "allegorically" This is not "allegory" as used by Philo, Clement or Origen, but rather typology. Paul saw the current situation as analogous to the two children of Abraham; one by social custom, one by divine promise. One corresponds to works righteousness (Ishmael), the other to free grace (Isaac)! For Paul, the Law could not save but had become a death sentence on sinful mankind (cf. Colossians 2:14). Only in Christ could true salvation be found. The essence of OT faith was not found in Mosaic Law but Abrahamic faith.


Galatians 4:25 "Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia" There have been two ways of interpreting "is" here: (1) "it represents" or (2) there is some kind of popular etymological connection between Hagar and Mount Sinai. The name "Hagar" is spelledmuch like the Hebrew term for "rock" (metonymy for mountain). Most commentators choose option #1. Hagar stands for the Mosaic Law given on Mt. Sinai and, thereby, Judaism.

Arabia was a far wider geographical designation in Paul's day than today.


"corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children" The metaphor here is between the current system of Judaism centered in Jerusalem and the coming, eschatological city, New Jerusalem. This city, not made with hands, exists eternally in the heavens (cf. Hebrews 11:10; Hebrews 12:22; Hebrews 13:14 and Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:10).

Notice that Paul made the Jerusalem above apply to the Church. NT apostolic writings change the focus of the OT (Jews vs. Greeks) to believers vs. unbelievers. The NT reorients the OT geographical promises from Palestine to heaven (earthly Jerusalem vs. heavenly Jerusalem). It is this basic change of focus that allows the book of Revelation to refer to (1) believers, not Jews or (2) a universal kingdom, not a Jewish kingdom.

Galatians 4:26 "free" Freedom here refers to the believer as being released from the obligation of both Judaism (i.e., free from the curse, cf. Galatians 3:13) and paganism (the stoicheia). Freedom is not related to the believer becoming self-directed, but

1. we are free to serve God (cf. Romans 6:0)

2. we are free from the terrible tyranny of the fallen self

To put it another way, believers are free "to serve" and free from "self." It is a dual freedom! We willingly serve the Father and the family as sons and daughters, not slave and servants!

Galatians 4:27 This is a quote from Isaiah 54:1. In context it refers to the restoration of the city of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. The New Jerusalem is mentioned specifically in chapters 65 and 66. Paul projected this eschatological understanding into his typology.

Galatians 4:28 The believers in the Galatian churches were the true descendants of Abraham by faith (cf. Romans 2:28-29).

Galatians 4:29 Paul associated all true followers of Jesus with the true descendants of Isaac through God's promise. Although the OT does not specifically mention persecution (i.e., Jewish tradition), it does mention Hagar's haughty attitude toward childless Sarah (cf. Genesis 16:4-5), but also Sarah's mistreatment of Hagar (cf. Genesis 16:6). The rabbis interpreted Genesis 21:9 as Ishmael mocking Sarah and her child. The Hebrew text itself reads "playing" or "laughing" (BDB 850, KB 1019). Possibly Paul was referring to the later animosity between Jews and Gentiles.

The last phrase of Galatians 4:29, "so it is now also," implies that the physical descendants (i.e., children of the Mosaic Covenant) of Abraham are still persecuting the spiritual children (i.e., faith children) of Abraham. There is conflict between the two mountains!

Galatians 4:30 "But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son'" This is a quotation from Genesis 21:10 (quoting Sarah, Peil imperative, BDB 176, KB 204). The Greek verb is aorist active imperative meaning to "drive off the slave girl" and in the context of Galatians would mean "kick the Judaizers out!"

Scripture is personified (cf. John 7:42; Romans 9:17; Galatians 3:8; 4:36; James 2:23; James 4:5). This may be a metaphorical way of referring to the Father or the Spirit speaking, which would be a way of referring to "inspiration" (cf. Matthew 5:17-19).

Galatians 4:31 "So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman" This was the summary of the argument. We who trust in Jesus Christ are full heirs of the Abrahamic promise and not simply those who are of racial, or natural Israel. This same truth is expressed in Romans 9-11.

Verses 2-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 5:2-12 2Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. 7You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 10I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. 11But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

Galatians 5:2

NASB"Behold I, Paul, say to you" NKJV"Indeed I, Paul, say to you" NRSV"Listen! I, Paul, am telling you" TEV"Listen! I, Paul, tell you this" NJB"It is I, Paul, who tells you this"

This is the imperative form of "behold" with the strong, personal pronoun (egô). "I, Paul" shows the authoritative emphasis of Paul's remarks. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, is giving revelatory information!

NASB"that if you receive circumcision" NKJV"that if you become circumcised" NRSV"that if you let yourselves be circumcised" TEV, NJB"if you allow yourselves to be circumcised"

This is a third class conditional sentence meaning potential action. This would suggest that the Galatian Christians had not yet been circumcised but were tending to submit to the new prerequisites for obtaining salvation (or at least perfection, cf. Galatians 3:1) given by the Judaizers. Yet circumcision was not the fundamental issue (cf. Galatians 5:6; 1 Corinthians 7:18-19). Circumcision was only one aspect of the entire Jewish system of works righteousness. Paul circumcised Timothy in Acts 16:3 in order that he might minister to Jews. But Paul reiterated that true circumcision is of the heart (cf. Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4), not the body (cf. Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:11). The issue was not circumcision but how a person is brought into right standing with God (cf. Galatians 5:4).

"Christ will be of no benefit to you" Paul is contrasting two ways of being right with God: (1) human effort and (2) free grace. The theme of the entire paragraph is that these two ways are mutually exclusive: to choose human effort is to negate free grace; to choose free grace is to exclude human effort. One cannot mix them as a basis of salvation as Galatians 3:1-5 clearly shows.

Galatians 5:3 "he is under obligation to keep the whole Law" If one chooses the way of human effort, then he must adhere perfectly to the Law from the age of moral responsibility (bar-mitzvah, age 13 for boys, bath-mitzvah, age 12 for girls) to death (cf. Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). The Bible asserts that since no one has ever done this (except Jesus), everyone is in the category of law breakers, sinners (cf. Romans 3:9-18, Romans 3:22-23; Romans 6:23; Romans 5:8 and 11:32).

Galatians 5:4 "who are seeking to be justified by law" The theological theme of chapters 3 and 4 is that our acceptance by God is based solely on His character, the empowering of the Spirit, and the work of His Messiah. This is the essence of Paul's radical, new gospel of justification by grace through faith alone (cf. Romans 4-8).

NASB"You have been severed from Christ" NKJV"You have become estranged from Christ" NRSV"You. . .have cut yourselves off from Christ" TEV"have cut yourselves off from Christ" NJB"you have separated yourselves from Christ"

This Greek verb (an aorist passive indicative of katargeô) is translated in many ways: (1) to render useless; (2) to render powerless; (3) to render unproductive; (4) unprofitable; (5) empty; (6) cancel; (7) make null and void; (8) bring to an end; (9) annihilate; or (10) sever from. It was used by Paul more than twenty times. See Special Topic at Galatians 3:17. One can see some of its flavor from Galatians 3:17 (to abolish) and Galatians 5:11 (to annul). If one tries to be right with God through human effort, he/she cuts himself/herself off from grace righteousness as a means of salvation (cf. Galatians 5:12):

1. in an initial salvation (when the Galatians first received the gospel)

2. in a works-oriented life (when the Galatians were thinking of now pursuing the Mosaic Law)

NASB, NKJV, NJB"you have fallen from grace" NRSV"you have fallen away from grace" TEV"You are outside God's grace"

Those who seek God by human performance have lost the free grace approach which is found in the finished work of the crucified Messiah. This context does not deal primarily with the modern theological question about the possibility of those who had salvation and have now lost it, but how humans find salvation. However, notice that salvation involves an initial and an ongoing response. It is a point and a process, both of which involve grace and faith. Both are crucial (cf. Galatians 5:7).

Paul was dealing in this letter with a legalism connected to salvation. Today most legalism within the church relates to the Christian life (cf. Galatians 3:1-3). Most legalistic Christians are similar to the "weak brothers" of Romans 14:1-13. They are unable to accept the freedom and liberation of the gospel. They are not trusting in their performance for salvation, but are afraid they will somehow offend God. This attitude, however, issues in judgmental criticism toward other believers. This disruption of fellowship occurred in the Galatian churches and is still occurring in the churches of our day.

At this point in the discussion of a fully free, but cost-everything salvation, I would like to mention three Special Topics. The first deals with salvation as a process and the second deals with salvation as a relationship to the end of like, and the third the theological issue of apostasy. See Special Topic: Greek Verb Tenses Used for Salvation at 1 Thessalonians 5:9.



Galatians 5:5 "For we through the Spirit, by faith" This phrase shows the two necessary qualifications (i.e., covenant) involved in our salvation:

1. the drawing/wooing of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 6:44, John 6:65; John 16:7-13)

2. human response (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16, Acts 3:19; Acts 20:21)

These phrases are placed first in the Greek sentence for emphasis.

"are waiting for the hope of righteousness" "Hope" is often used in the NT for the Second Coming. The Second Coming is the time when believers will be completely saved. The NT describes our salvation as

1. a completed act

2. a state of being

3. a process

4. as a future consummation

These four attributes of salvation are complimentary not mutually exclusive. We are saved, have been saved, are being saved, and shall be saved. The future aspect of salvation entails the believers' glorification at the Second Coming (cf. 1 John 3:2). Other passages describing the future event of salvation include Romans 8:23; Philippians 3:21 and Colossians 3:3, Colossians 3:4. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (GREEK VERB TENSES) at 1 Thessalonians 5:9.


Galatians 5:6 This verse encapsulates the theme of the book of Galatians: we are right with God by faith, not by human rituals or performanceincluding circumcision, the food laws, and/or moral living.

The concluding phrase has been understood in either a passive or middle sense (Barbara and Timothy Friberg, Analytical Greek New Testament, p. 584; Harold K Moulton [ed], The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, p. 139). Roman Catholicism has mostly interpreted it as passive which means that love is the source of faith. However, most Protestants have understood it in a middle sense which means that love issues out of faith (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3). This term is used regularly in the NT as middle (cf. Romans 7:5, 2 Corinthians 1:6; Ephesians 3:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:13, and 2 Thessalonians 2:7). Faith is primary.

This was Paul's answer to the false teachers concerning the lifestyle of pagans who are accepted freely in Christ. It is Spirit-motivated love (after salvation) that sets the standard of conduct for believers and gives the ability to obey. It is the new covenant, a new heart and new mind (cf. Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Galatians 5:7 "who" The singular pronoun used of a false teacher is also found in Galatians 5:7 and twice in Galatians 5:10. However, the plural form occurs in Galatians 5:12. It may be a collective use of the singular. But because of Galatians 3:1, the use of the singular may imply

1. a local ring-leader who was converted to the Judaizer's point of view and was now pulling the church in that direction

2. a persuasive visiting leader of the Judaizers

NASB"You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth" NKJV"You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth" NRSV"You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth" TEV"You were doing so well! Who made you stop obeying the truth" NJB"You began your race well: who made you less anxious to obey the truth"

"You were running well" is an imperfect active indicative. This means that for a period of time the churches of Galatia were doing so well in Christian maturity. Paul often used athletic metaphors. He was especially fond of "running" (cf. Galatians 2:2; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 4:7).

The verb "hindered" or "prevented" (aorist active indicative) commonly had military and athletic connotations. In the military sense, the word meant the act of destroying a road in the face of an oncoming enemy. In the athletic sense, it meant the act of one runner cutting in front of another, thereby causing them both to lose the race.

Paul was engaging in a word play between "obeying the truth" in Galatians 5:2, and "persuasion" in Galatians 5:8. This does not imply that the Galatians were not personally responsible, but that they had been influenced.

Paul uses "obeying the truth" as a way of expressing "obeying the gospel." See Special Topic: Truth in Paul's Writings at Galatians 2:5.

Galatians 5:8 "Him who calls you" Often the pronoun antecedents are ambiguous. As in Galatians 1:6, this phrase is always used of the electing choice of God the Father. See note at 1 Thessalonians 2:12.

Galatians 5:9 "a little leaven" Yeast is a common NT proverb in the Bible, often used in a negative sense (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15; 1 Corinthians 5:6, though not always (cf. Matthew 13:33). Here the metaphor may be underscoring the pervasive power of the doctrine of works righteousness (cf. Matthew 16:6,32).


Galatians 5:10 "I have confidence in you" This is a perfect active indicative which implies that Paul has, in the past, and continues to have, confidence in the Galatian Christians (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:4; Philemon 1:21).

"that you will adopt no other view" See note at Galatians 4:12.

NASB"but the one who is disturbing you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is" NKJV"but he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is" NRSV"But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty" TEV"and that the man who is upsetting you, whoever he is, will be punished by God" NJB"and anybody who troubles you in the future will be condemned, no matter who he is"

Believers are responsible before God., but they can be influenced (cf. Galatians 1:7; Acts 15:24). The severity of punishment for those who lead God's new believers astray can be seen in Matthew 18:6-7.

Galatians 5:11 "if I still preach circumcision" This is a first class conditional sentence which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes (this usage shows that the construction is not always true to reality). Paul is using a rather unusual grammatical construction to say "since they are still accusing me of preaching circumcision," which may be a reference to

1. his circumcision of Timothy (cf. Acts 16:3) and his unwillingness to circumcise Titus (cf. Galatians 2:2-5)

2. Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 7:18-19

Whatever the background, Paul was declaring the Judaizers to be inconsistent, because if he preached circumcision they should have enthusiastically accepted him, but since they were persecuting him, it is a good evidence that he was not advocating circumcision for Gentiles.

"then the stumbling-block of the cross has been abolished" "Stumbling-block" or "hindrance" [skandalon] means "a baited trap-stick used to capture animals"(cf. Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 1:23). The cross was an offense to the Judaizers because it gave freely that which they were working so hard to achieve (cf. Romans 10:2-5).

"has been abolished" This is a perfect passive indicative. See Special Topic at Galatians 3:17.

Galatians 5:12

NASB"I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves" NKJV"I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off" NRSV"I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves" TEV"I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves" NJB"Tell those who are disturbing you I would like to see the knife slip"

"Mutilate" is used in the sense of "castration." It is known from history that the cult of Cybele, which was present in the province of Galatia, castrated all of their priests (eunuchs). Paul was making a sarcastic hyperbole of circumcision (as is Philippians 3:2, where he calls them "dogs").

Verses 13-15

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 5:13-15 13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:13 "For you were called to freedom, brethren" This begins a new stage of the argument. The term "brethren" usually marks a change of subject. As vs. Galatians 5:1-12 have dealt with the perversion of legalism, Galatians 5:13-15 deal with the perversion of antinomianism. We must not use our freedom as a license for indulging the sinful passions of fallen human nature (cf. Romans 14:1-13).

NASB"only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh" NKJV"only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh" NRSV"only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence" TEV"But do not let this freedom become an excuse for letting your physical desires rule you" NJB"but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence"

"Opportunity" is a military term for a military, assault-staging area (cf. Romans 6:1-14). Several English translations translate "flesh" with the phrase "lower nature." This latter rendering agrees with Paul's use of "flesh" (see Special Topic at Galatians 1:16) in this context as the natural propensities of mankind which have been twisted toward the self ever since the fall, recorded in Genesis 3:0. The same polarization between the Adamic nature and the Spirit-led life is expressed in Romans 8:1-11.

"but through love serve one another" This verb is present active imperative. Previously Paul asserted that they should not be slaves to legalism, but he now balances this with the command that they must be slaves to one another in love (cf. Galatians 5:6; John 13:34-35; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:3-4). This entire context is communal (the church), not individual (cf. Gordon D. Fee, To What End Exegesis? pp. 154-172). Modern western interpretation has been deeply influenced by individualism. The Bible is primarily a corporate book.

Galatians 5:14

NASB"For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word" NKJV"For all the law is fulfilled in one word" NRSV"For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment" TEV"For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment" NJB"since the whole of the Law is summarized in a single command"

This same truth is expressed in Romans 13:8; James 2:8. This is the "law" as God's revealed will (cf. Matthew 5:17-20), not a works righteousness system of salvation. There is still a proper function for the OT in Christianity! This was a quote of Leviticus 19:18 from the Septuagint. It may have functioned as a rabbinical summary regarding the purpose of the Law. It was also used by Jesus in a very similar way in Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 22:39 and in Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:25-28. This is a Perfect tense verb, which emphasizes a culmination of a past act into a continuing state or condition. It can be understood as (1) a summary of the law or (2) a fulfillment of the law.

Galatians 5:15 This is a first class conditional sentence, assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. This verse uses violent imagery describing wild animals devouring each other, which is a picture of the terrible reality the false teachers had caused in the Galatian churches. This interpretation is reinforced by the equally strong statement in Galatians 5:26. This is a corporate problem, not an individual focus.

Verses 16-24

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 5:16-24 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:16 "walk by the Spirit" A present active imperative, Paul urged the Galatians to live a life supernaturally and continuously controlled by the Spirit of God (cf. Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:15-18). A primary idea in Galatians was that the Spirit is He who brings initial salvation. Thus, this verse meant that which was begun by the Spirit (cf. Galatians 3:3), is also that which is perfected by the Spirit (cf. Romans 8:16-25). The related term "law of the Spirit," Romans 8:1 and implied in Galatians 5:18, is exactly the same as the "law of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 9:21 and James 1:25; James 2:8, James 2:12. The law of love serves others as well as self (cf. Philippians 2:1-4).

"and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh" The strongest negation possible in Koine Greek utilizes the double negative with an aorist subjunctive, which means "never under any circumstances." This is found in this verse, followed by a very strong Greek word for "gratify." The Christian life and eternal salvation are of supernatural origin. Believers are not only called to be savedbut called to Christlikeness (cf. Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4). The contrast between "flesh" and "spirit" is common in Paul (cf. Romans 8:1-11). "Flesh" [sarx] is used in two senses by Paul: (1) the physical body; and (2) mankind's fallen, sinful, Adamic nature. Here it is obviously #2. See Special Topic: Flesh (Sarx) at Galatians 1:16.

Galatians 5:17 This contrast between the two ways of life is also found in Romans 8:1-11. Paul presented the two supposed ways of being saved: (1) human effort; and (2) God's free grace in Christ. There are then two ways to live a godly life: (1) human effort (which is affected by the Fall) and (2) God's free power in the Spirit. The Judaizers were asserting human effort in both salvation and the Christian life, but Paul asserted God's supernatural provision in both.

Galatians 5:18 "But if you are led by the Spirit" This is a first class conditional sentence, assumed true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Those who are led by the Spirit are not subject to the law (cf. Romans 6:14; Romans 7:4, Romans 7:6). This does not imply that Christians will not sin (cf. Romans 7:0 and 1 John 2:1), but rather that their lives are not characterized by rebellion (cf. 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9).

"you are not under the Law" No article precedes "law" in the Greek text, so the word may have a wider connotation than just the Jewish law. Here, the law has the sense of a way of life used to approach God. Here again is the contrast between the two ways of being pleasing or acceptable to God: self-effort and God's free grace.

Galatians 5:19 "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident" Many commentators see several distinct categories in this list of sins. However, there is a unity here based primarily on pagan worship excesses. People reveal their true selves in their actions and motives (cf. Matthew 7:16, Matthew 7:20; Matthew 12:33). The results of the Fall are seen in our lifestyle choices.

The KJV adds the term "adultery" to this list. It is only supported by the Greek manuscript D, Codex Bezea, which is from the sixth century A.D. It is also included into some Old Latin and Vulgate manuscripts.

For "flesh" see Special Topic at Galatians 1:16.


NASB"immorality, impurity" NKJV"fornication, uncleanness" NRSV"fornication, impurity" TEV"immoral, filthy" NJB"fornication, gross indecency"

This first Greek term [porneia] originally meant "harlot," but it came to be used for sexual immorality in general (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9). We get the English term "pornography" from this Greek word. The second term [akatharsia], "impurity," is also a general term for sexual immorality, though originally used in the OT in the sense of ceremonial uncleanliness or moral uncleanliness. Paul intended the latter meaning.

NASB"sensuality" NKJV, NRSV"licentiousness" TEV"and indecent actions" NJB"sexual irresponsibility"

This implied a public flaunting of sexual desires (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:21). This kind of sexual activity knew no bounds or social inhibitions. Pagan worship was characterized by sexual activity (as were some later Gnostic false teachers, cf. 1 Timothy 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:6; Titus 3:3).

Galatians 5:20 "idolatry" This refers to the worship of anything in place of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:14; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5; 1 Peter 4:3). It especially related to acts of worship to statues or inanimate objects.

"sorcery" This was the Greek term pharmakia from which the English word "pharmacy" is derived. Sorcery may have referred to the practice of using drugs to induce a religious experience. It was later used for magical practices of any kind.

NASB"enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions" NKJV"hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies" NRSV"enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions" TEV"People become enemies and they fight, they become jealous, angry, and ambitious" NJB"feuds and wranglings, jealousy, bad temper and quarrels; disagreements, factions"

This litany describes the attitudes and actions of angry, fallen, selfish people. Remember Galatians 5:15 and 26.

"enmities" This word (echthra) describes the condition of being characteristically hostile toward people.

"strife" This means "fighting for prizes."

"jealousy" This word (zçlos) can have positive or negative connotation, but in this context it means "self-centeredness."

"outbursts of anger" This Greek term (thumos) means "a sudden, uncontrollable outburst of rage."

"disputes" This implies conflicts based on self-seeking or ambition which knows no bounds.

"dissensions, factions" These two terms go together. They describe a factious dogmatic division within a larger group, something akin to political parties (cf. 1 Timothy 5:15 and 26). It is used to describe churches, like the Corinthian Church (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 12:20).

Galatians 5:21 "envyings" A common Stoic proverb of the day said "envy is to grieve at another's good."

Some older Greek manuscripts add the word "murders" after the word "envy." It is included in manuscripts A, C, D, G, K, and P, yet it is excluded in P46, א, and B. It is also excluded in the writings of the early heretic Marcion and the early church fathers, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Chrysostom, Jerome, and Augustine. Scribes may have added it from Romans 1:29.

"drunkenness, carousing" These last two words describe the drunken orgies associated with pagan worship (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9).

"and things like these" This phrase indicates that this list is not exhaustive but representative (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5). As a warning, it may have reminded the Galatians of Paul's preaching on a previous occasion. This verse, in tandem with 1 John 5:16, is the source of the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins. However, this interpretation is very dubious, in light of the overlapping definitions of the terms, as well as the fact that these sins are even committed by Christians. These verses warn that though Christians could sin in these areas and still be saved, if their lives are characterized or dominated by these sins, they have not really become new creatures in Christ (1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9).

"of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" One's lifestyle choices reveal the heart. Those who are truly redeemed still struggle with sin, but their lives are not characterized by sin (cf. 1 John 3:6, 1 John 3:9). It is not that these sins cannot be forgiven or that true Christians do not commit these sins, but that in a true believer the process of Christlikeness has begun. The Spirit, who drew believers to Christ, is now forming Christ in them (cf. Galatians 4:19; John 16:8-13). Jesus was very clear about the lifestyle of believers in Matthew 7:0, "by their fruits you shall know them" and John 15:0.

The "kingdom of God" is the subject of Jesus' first and last sermons and most of His parables. The reign of God in men's hearts now will someday be consummated over all the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5).


Galatians 5:22 "But the fruit of the Spirit is" Paul described human effort as works of the flesh, but he described the Christian life as the "fruit" (cf. John 15:0) or product of the Spirit. He thereby distinguished human-focused religion and supernatural-focused religion. Obviously, the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are different. While spiritual gifts are given to every believer at salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 1 Corinthians 12:11), the fruit is another metaphor to describe the motives, attitudes and lifestyle of Jesus Christ. As the gifts are the distribution of the different ministries of Christ among the body of Christ, the fruit is the collective attitude of Christ in performing these gifts. It is possible to have an effective gift and not have a Christlike attitude. Therefore, Christlike maturity, which the fruit of the Spirit brings, gives ultimate glory to God through the various gifts of the Spirit. These are both brought about by the filling of the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:18).

It is also interesting to note that fruit is singular in this verse. The use of the singular can be understood in two ways: (1) love is the fruit of the Spirit, described by the varying terms that follow; or (2) it is a collective singular like "seed."

"love" This Greek form for love, agapç, was used in a unique way by the early church of God's self-giving love. This noun was not used often in classical Greek. The church infused it with new meaning to describe God's special love. Love here is theologically analogous to hesed (BDB 338), God's covenant loyalty and love, in the OT.

"joy" Joy is an attitude of life that rejoices in who we are in Christ regardless of circumstances (cf. Romans 14:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16; Jude 1:24).

"peace" Peace may mean

1. our sense of well-being because of our relationship to Christ

2. our new world-view based on the revelation of God that does not depend on circumstances

3. tranquility in our relationship with other people, especially believers (cf. John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:7)

Peace with God brings peace within and without (i.e., covenant brothers and sisters).

"patience" Longsuffering was proper even in the face of provocation. This was a characteristic of God the Father (cf. Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22; 1 Timothy 1:18; 1 Peter 3:20). As God has been patient with us, we are to be patient with other people (cf. Ephesians 4:2-3), especially believers (cf. Galatians 6:10).

"kindness, goodness" "Kindness" describes not only the life of Jesus, but His yoke (cf. Matthew 11:30). Together the two terms describe a positive, open and accepting attitude toward others, especially believers (cf. Galatians 6:10).

"faithfulness" Pistis is used in its Old Testament sense of loyalty and trustworthiness. It was usually used of God (cf. Romans 3:3). Here it describes the believer's new relationship with people, especially believers.

Galatians 5:23 "gentleness" Sometimes translated as "meekness," praotes is characterized by a submissive spirit. It was a metaphor taken from domesticated animals. Gentleness was not included in the Greek or Stoic lists of virtues, because the Greeks saw it as a weakness. It is uniquely Christian (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2). It was used of both Moses (cf. Numbers 12:3) and Jesus (cf. Matthew 11:29; Matthew 21:5).

"self-control" The capstone of the list, self-control characterizes Christlike maturity (cf. Acts 24:25; Titus 1:8; 2 Peter 1:6). This term was used in 1 Corinthians 7:9 for the control of our sexual drive and that may be alluded to here because of the list of the sexual abuses of pagan worship.

"against such things there is no law" There is a new inner law in the life of a believer which shows its presence by living in godliness (cf. Romans 6:19; James 1:25; James 2:8, James 2:12). This is exactly the goal of the new covenant (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:22-32). Christlikeness is the goal of God for every Christian (cf. Romans 8:28-29; Galatians 4:19; Ephesians 1:4).

Galatians 5:24 "those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh" This is aorist active indicative which speaks of completed action in past time. This passage, and others which imply mystical union, can be interpreted within theological categories (cf. Romans 6:6). Throughout the book of Galatians, particularly Galatians 2:20, "crucify" is used to characterize our relationship to the Law. Once we accept God's free offer of grace in Christ as our only means of salvation, we decisively cut ourselves off from the evil of our fallen nature and the fallen world system. This personal decision of cutting ourselves off is the biblical metaphor of "crucifixion" as seen in Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:4 and 6:14.

This is often characterized as "death to self." God has made us individually (cf. Psalms 139:0) to serve Him and not ourselves (cf. Romans 6:0). This new life in Christ means death to the fallen, self-centered lifestyle of rebellious mankind (cf. Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 3:16).

For "Flesh" see Special Topic at Galatians 1:16.

"with its passions and desires" The Greeks identified the body as the source of sinfulness because they did not have supernatural revelation about creation and the fall of mankind (cf. Gen. 1-3). Therefore, they blamed the morally neutral physical body as the source of evil. Believers understand from Paul that the body is morally neutral (cf. Romans 4:1; Romans 9:3; 1 Corinthians 10:18). Jesus had a real human body (cf. John 1:14; Romans 1:3; Romans 9:5). Its goodness or wickedness depends on how we use it, for God or for evil. Once we become believers, we must yield our fallen, self-centered tendencies to the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 7:0 and 1 John 2:1).

Verses 25-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Galatians 5:25-26 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Galatians 5:25 "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" This is a first class conditional sentence, assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. It summarizes the entire section (cf. Galatians 5:16; Romans 8:1-11). Since believers have been given free grace, they ought to live appropriately (cf. Ephesians 4:1, Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:2, Ephesians 5:15-21).

Galatians 5:26 This is parallel to Galatians 5:15 and shows the terrible consequences of the false teachings of the Judaizers among the churches of Galatia and the absence of the Spirit's control in the disruptive attitudes within the congregations.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.