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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

1. Therefore The separation of this verse from the last chapter is unfortunate, as this therefore closely connects it therewith. Ye are free sons of the free, stand fast therefore in freedom.

Liberty From the old ritualism. It is not the high freedom from sin, guilt, and depravity, wrought by Christ, which is here specified; but the emancipation from old Judaism. This verse is perplexed with various readings, yielding slightly different meanings. With liberty Christ has made us free, stand fast therefore. Or, unto or for freedom Christ has made us free. Neither of these is to be preferred to the received translation. Stand fast. Opposed both to being moved and to bowing down. Keep both a firm position and an erect attitude; firm, as not being displaced by the onset of your assailants; erect, as not bowing to their yoke.

Yoke Like bondwoman in Galatians 4:30, is without the definite article. The Galatians had been mostly Gentiles; yet St. Paul’s again implies that their fall into a Judaism is simply a relapse into a ritualism now null, and essentially to be identified with the heathen ritualism they had left. Note, Galatians 4:31. Dead Judaism and ethnicism are equally Christless. And that the conclusion and seal of the whole argument is the basis of the following closing exhortation.

Verse 2



1. Admonitory warnings to maintain their freedom from circumcision and legalism, Galatians 5:2-12.

2. Behold, I Paul The apostle throws all his emphasis and all his authority into this warning. If this fail, his Galatians are lost. They would relapse into Ebionism, and in all probability become an apostate people.

If ye be circumcised Become circumcised; that is, as was now required as necessary to justification.

Shall Will.

Profit you nothing Seeing ye seek justification not from Him, but from the Law. Ye are Jews rejecting the Messiah. As Chrysostom (quoted in Greek, by Alford) says: “He that becomes circumcised, does it for fear that he cannot be justified without the law, and so disbelieves the power of grace; but the disbeliever in grace receives no salvation from grace.” So in Acts 15:1: “Certain men said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” This was a very different sort of circumcision from that of Timothy by Paul, Acts 16:3; a mere physical act performed in order to remove obstacles to his success in the ministry.

Verse 3

3. Debtor to do the whole law Debtor, or obligated thus, because the act of circumcision made the man not a “proselyte of the gate,” but a “proselyte of righteousness,” thereby taking upon him all the obligations of the Jew, rejecting Christ, (Acts 6:1,) and so making him debtor, not only to the ritual law, but the moral. So Galatians 3:10, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”

Verse 4

4. Christ… of no effect Literal Greek, Ye are abolished from Christ; a very energetic phrase. It states in very strong language the fact, that, however true their previous Christian faith and character, the act of circumcision, as required by the Judaists, involved a complete apostasy, and loss of both justification and regeneration.

Fallen from grace There is no grace from Christ for you, and you are under the law and complete condemnation.

Verse 5

5. Wait for the hope Hope, here, means the object hoped for; the hope - object. See notes, Romans 8:24; Colossians 1:5; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 6:18. Note also on promise, Galatians 3:14.

Righteousness As this righteousness is waited for, many commentators understand it of the final justification at the judgment.

Verse 6

6. For We as Christians wait this faith-justification for the following reason.

Nor uncircumcision The freedom from, or avoidance of, circumcision will not justify us, nor the performance of circumcision as a mere bodily act condemn us.

Worketh by love In Paul’s view the true faith always truly worketh. Good works are the direct and immediate effect of true faith. The work is the test of the trueness of the faith. The faith justifies the man before God, as by it the man comes into that position by which justifying grace can flow from God upon him, (see notes, Romans 4:6; Romans 4:24; Romans 6:1-23; Romans 10:10,) and works, by their evidence, justify him as being a man of true faith.

By love A faith might work evil through hate; but holy faith works good by love. For when we have true faith, God’s approving Spirit pours love into the heart, predisposing to works of all good.

Verse 7

7. Did run well Their faith was true, their love was sincere, their works were good. The term run is the apostle’s favourite metaphor of a Christian race. He whose spirit is full of faith, and heart is full of love, will run that race with divine vigour.

Hinder The Greek is a military term designating the impeding the march of an army by breaking up bridges and roads. The Galatian Christian army was marching at rapid rate when old Judaism blocked their course.

Verse 8

8. This persuasion The Greek for persuasion is another form of the word faith, and is here used as an antithesis to the true faith named above. It may, like the English persuasion, be taken in an active or passive meaning; that is, it may mean this proselyting you by Judaists, or this credulity in believing Judaism. Very clearly it here means the former of the two, as referring to the who, and the did hinder of the last verse. The who is the same as the he that troubleth in Galatians 5:10. The did hinder is the present persuasion to become circumcised, coming from the who. And this who is the little leaven of the next verse.

Him… calleth you God, or Christ. Note, Galatians 1:6. The present term implies that God is in permanent act of calling the Christian. The whole passage implies, that such calling neither secures the necessary first obedience of the called nor his perseverance. In that sense, no calling of God is an “effectual calling.”

Verse 9

9. A little leaven St. Paul now hints from what quarter this Judaistic persuasion comes. It seems to have been derived from a single person, ( who, Galatians 5:7; he, Galatians 5:10,) aided by a small party at first, ( they, Galatians 5:12,) who produced the trouble. This is so obvious that we wonder that the great body of commentators refer the leaven to circumcision, on the ground that circumcision, though a little matter, would infect their whole religious state.

Leaven See note on 1 Corinthians 5:6.

The whole lump Small in numbers as was the party originating the Judaistic schism in the Galatian Church, it was in danger of converting the whole body, as leaven impregnates the whole loaf.

Verse 10

10. I… but Mark the antithesis of this verse. I have confidence in you, the lump; but woe to the little leaven, the disturbers. Paul says this partly to soften his tone to the Church, and partly to induce a division between the Church and its seducers.

Have confidence His purely personal feeling, expressed as strongly as he was able. It expressed no inspired assurance that they would prove true, nor any theological dogma that all Christians do persevere.

In you Wavering as you show yourselves.

Through the Lord Literally, in the Lord. Same sense as in Ephesians 6:1.

Confidence in… the Lord, is simply not inspired but Christian confidence. Had there been a failure it would have proved St. Paul’s human fallibility, but would not have disparaged his inspiration or apostleship. Far less does it imply that the Lord inevitably secures the perseverance of all who put their faith in him.

Otherwise Than your acceptance of my gospel.

He that troubleth you Not necessarily, but probably, the one leader and head of the schism.

Bear his judgment Divine condemnation, which, for so grievous a sin, would be grievous to bear.

Whosoever he be Even though he came from Jerusalem and pretended to be commissioned by James the apostle. All this is too pointed and severe not to indicate an individual.

Verse 11

11. And I, brethren In antithesis to the above whoever.

If I yet I preach circumcision As charged by this whosoever. The original charge was probably at first based on the case of Timothy. See notes on Acts 16:3 and Galatians 2:3. Paul’s policy of becoming, in nonessentials, all things to all men even a Jew to Jews treating the mere act of circumcision, where it involved no vital concession, as admissible enabled the Judaist to pretend that in the other Pauline Churches Paul preached circumcision.

Yet Since my conversion, as I did before my conversion.

Why… suffer persecution His endurances and scars were ample proof that he was a most consistent and uncompromising opponent of the foundation rite of Judaism.

Yet Continually, while I am continually preaching circumcision.

Then In case I preach justification by circumcision I make the cross a mere appendage.

Offence… ceased There is no ground for all these hostilities of Judaism toward me. The attacks of these Judaizers are my defence. They persecute me, and, therefore, they are untrue when they say that I preach circumcision elsewhere than in Galatia.

Verse 12

12. I am so far from preaching circumcision, that I would they might inflict upon themselves excision. There is clearly an antithesis between the circumcision and the excision; but the question is, what excision is meant? A large number of modern expositors understand, with our English translators, excision from the Church. And Bengel sustains the antithesis under this interpretation in words which we shall leave in their original Latin: “Quemadmodum preputium per circumcisionem abscinditur, ut quiddam, quo carere decet Israelitam; ita isti tanquam preputium rejiculum de communione sanctorum rejicientur et anathema erunt.”

But those who best knew the true meaning of the Greek term for this excision the old Greek commentators give another sense of the word; a sense which the decency which Christianity has created in modern times induces many to believe that the apostle could hardly have intended. The same Greek word is in the Septuagint version of Deuteronomy xxiii, 1, for one made a eunuch. The rite of circumcision undoubtedly symbolized the cutting off the sensual from our nature; and it is wonderful that among some heathen the same rite was so increased in severity, perhaps with a similar meaning, at first, as to produce a complete, relentless emasculation. Now in Galatia it was probably no more repulsive to name this excision than to speak of circumcision. The city of Pessinus, capital of Galatia, was the seat of the worship of Cybele, whose priests mutilated themselves as a religious rite. In literature, in public discourse, and in conversation, the thought and the name were familiar. St. Paul, therefore, in language at that time entirely inoffensive, indignantly preferred that these circumcisionists should go the whole extent, and turn excisionists, priests of Cybele, and the salvation of his Church would no longer be endangered. Circumcision was now as useless as this excision; both had better be abandoned to pagans, and Christians abstain from and contemn both alike. And this indignant expression of contempt for both Paul now follows with a lesson of Christian spiritual purity.

Verse 13

13. Called unto liberty From the burdensome artificialities of the old system ye are emancipated into a pure and simple heart-deep religion.

Use not liberty… to the flesh St. Paul’s liberty offers no man an exemption from the law of right. Let no man say, that under Paul’s gospel I am lawless, and nothing I do is sin. Such make their liberty an occasion, that is, means, or chance, or pretext, for indulging the flesh. By flesh here is meant, all opposed to the spirit; all that is unholy in man, whether of mind or body. It does not imply that all evil lies in matter or in the body. But as flesh is the transitory element of man, so the word is used for all that is low, earthly, or unholy.

By love serve As faith works by love, so actions produced by love have a true freedom in them. If we serve another from love we feel that in that service we are free.

Verses 13-26

2. But this freedom from circumcision, legalism, and ritualism must not pass into license, Galatians 5:13-26.

Now follows a beautiful section on Christian morals. Absolved from old stereotype forms, let your Christian holiness be based on pure and simple right. Yet not natural and economic rectitude merely, but love, under aid of the divine Spirit, will lift you into the region of a divine purity. And then St. Paul draws us, under the contrast of spirit and flesh, two opposing pictures. The one is the summation of Christian virtues, the other of fleshly vices. Look first on this picture and then on that, and see how a true Christian morality in the midst of heathenism is shaped, and how a true Christian life may be lived. Ages may progress, civilization may advance, the same virtues may be variously modified, but the virtues themselves are eternal, and the character formed by them is truly immortal.

Verse 14

14. Law… love From the law of Moses we are emancipated into the law of love. While that love inspires us to run in the way of the law, there is a perfect unity of love, law, and liberty. We act not from compulsion of law; we are in that sense not under law; because our heart freely and spontaneously runs with the law. Yet if, when our love grows cold, or when temptation appeals to our lower nature, we sin and grow discordant, the law revives and we die. It is when our hearts and will vary from the law, because not springing from love, that we feel first the slavery, and then the condemnation, of law.

Fulfilled Not summed up, but obeyed and carried out. When Paul says that all the law is fulfilled in love to our neighbour, we think, contrary to most commentators, that he means all the duties of man to man. This is not “arbitrary” limitation, for it is in the sphere of mutual human duties ( one another, Galatians 5:13; Galatians 5:15) that Paul is speaking. So, also, in Romans 13:8-11. Paul there enumerates several commandments, and then adds, that if there is any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Of course in that passage, as in this, we must understand Paul as speaking within the scope of the second table of the Decalogue. It is no doubt true, that the holy love which in a man fulfils one table, will also fulfil the other. But that is what Paul is here neither saying nor assuming.

Love thy neighbour as thyself From this clause we may assume, 1. That it is right to love thyself. Self-love, not exaggerated into selfishness, is right. Such a renunciation of self as does not desire one’s own safety, happiness, wellbeing, present and eternal, forms no part of religion. 2. We owe duties to ourselves which others do not owe to us. We cannot demand that others should perform for us those duties which we owe to ourselves. Such a demand would, on our part, be selfish and tyrannical. 3. We owe relative duties to wife, husband, parents, children, which we cannot demand others to perform for us and in our stead. We must love our neighbour so well as not to demand that he perform for us those duties that belong to us. We must leave him time and liberty to perform those duties for himself and his which belong to him. 4. Reciprocally, what we do not rightfully, and by this constitution of things demand, of our neighbour, our neighbour cannot demand from us. We do not claim to love him better than ourselves; and if we so love him as to release him from performing these strictly personal duties for us, we may relieve ourselves from performing his for him. If we claim to reduce the scale of duties to be performed by ourselves for others, we must reduce the scale of duties we demand from others. We adopt thereby the rule that is right and fair for all.

This love is a moral principle. It has different degrees of the emotional in different temperaments. And when expressed in intellectual and practical terms it becomes the Golden Rule.

This principle of love needs the blessed Spirit of God to quicken it into a true life. Nevertheless the law of the second table is often, apparently, more completely fulfilled by natural men than the law of the first. There are men who, in practical life, are just, fair, and benevolent to their fellow-man, but who are little reverent, grateful, or devout to God, their true benefactor. Judged by man, they are all that is right; judged by God, what are they?

Verse 15

15. But The contrast to the love of Galatians 5:13-14.

Bite… devour… consumed Terms drawn from the habits of wild beasts in the order of climax. Bite designates the momentary outbursts; devour, the steady purpose of injury; consume, the final result probable to both parties. For all these the true remedy is a revival of love, powerful enough to purge away angers, hates, and strifes. These strifes are the results, not of religion, but of the want of it.

Verse 16

16. This I say On this rule I lay special emphasis.

Walk in the Spirit As the true preventive of the internal strife of Galatians 5:17.

Walk Live and act.

In the Spirit In obedience to conscience and Scripture enlightened by divine influence.

Verses 16-18

16-18. Traces the inward struggle between the spirit and flesh, with the remedy. The remedy is given first, Galatians 5:16, and last, Galatians 5:18.

Verse 17

17. For Reason for the need of so walking. We now have a passage similar to Romans 7:14-25, describing the struggle alike of a low religious life and a state of unregenerate conviction, from which a self-surrendry to the Spirit delivers us.

The Spirit against the flesh The verb lusteth does not bear to be repeated after Spirit; but some other verb, as stirreth, should be supplied.

And Greek, for.

So that More expressively, the Greek is, in order that. That is, the Spirit impels you one way in order that you may not do the evil you would, and the flesh impels you the other way in order that you may not do the good you would.

Ye cannot Greek, ye may not.

Ye would Your resolutions for good and your plans of sin are alike upset. You enjoy neither religion nor the world. The Lord does not allow you ease in sin, the world does not allow you enjoyment in God. You are a miserable whiffler both ways. What is the remedy? St. Paul has already given it.

Walk in the Spirit That Spirit is already doing all for you he can. By his aids you must do for yourself what he will not do for you. Your selfhood your self as a free agent must exert its energies and put forth the decisive act by which you commit yourself to the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit. It is this free selfhood that Calvinism ignores, and expects that the Spirit, by securing power, will fix the result, and thus it destroys the very foundations of free agency, probation, and responsibility. One man is saved because the Spirit secures his assent and salvation; another man is damned, because the Spirit does not secure his salvation. The present passage clearly shows that between the Spirit doing all he will, and the flesh doing all it can, it is the free agent, by aid of the Spirit, who decides his own destiny. The Spirit urges and enables, but does not secure.

Verse 18

18. Led By your submission and following of his drawings.

Not under the law Not that the obligations of the moral law cease to rest upon you, but that by the full accordance of your heart with the law you feel not the presence of the law.

Galatians 5:19-21 present the summation of the works of the flesh, in contrast with Galatians 5:21-26, which present the fruits of the Spirit.

Verse 19

19. Works of the flesh are manifest Are made by God obvious to the human conscience; yet St. Paul gives them both to show the shape of the new Christian morality and to impress it upon the newly-converted Galatians. He doubtless selects those transgressions to which the Galatians were most prone. This verse gives that list of vices that specially belong to the sensual nature.

Adultery The lawless intercourse of the married. Omitted by the best readings.

Fornication Of the unmarried.

Uncleanness General impurity, and violations of sexual nature.

Lasciviousness Wantonness, recklessness of consequences in sensualities.

Verse 20

20. Wicked supernaturalisms are two.

Idolatry Worship of fictitious deities.

Witchcraft Or sorcery, the use of spells, charms, herbs, and manipulations, to produce preternatural effects. These were based partly in falsehood, partly in preternatural power over the nervous system, and partly in demoniac agency. Their whole was adverse to God and religion. Modern spiritualism is unquestionably a development of the same thing. Where experiments are made for scientific purposes, to bring out and publish to the world the truth in the case, a proper thing is done; but the truly devilish indulgence in these secret workings results in all the base consequences for which both the Old Testament and the New condemns them.

“It is a striking coincidence, if nothing more, that sorceries were condemned by a very stringent canon of the Council of Ancyra, the capital of Galatia, about A.D. 314.” Lightfoot.

Now follow nine vices of the malign nature.

Hatred The general opposite of love, and so generally including all the rest of the nine. These follow in a degree of climax ending in murder.

Variance Predisposition to dissent, even without self-interest.

Emulations Strife for selfish ascendency.

Wrath Selfish strife carried to an angry pitch.

Strife Cliques and cabals angrily maintained.

Seditions Rather, strife developed into distinct and hostile parties, becoming permanent in heresies, which are not doctrinal errors, but separations into hostile organizations.

Verse 21

21. Envyings Distinguished from emulation. The latter is a desire to equal or excel another; the former to reduce another below ourselves.

Murder The completion of all the previous malignities. Next follow the indulgences of appetite.

Revellings Inclusive of drinking, feasting, dancing, etc. And here we record our testimony against all dancing, even in private circles. It is a branch of a whole system of connected revelry, just as card playing is a branch of a whole connected system of venture and gambling. Precisely to the degree that these prevail, especially with the connivance of the Christian Church, will frivolity, gliding into revelry, extravagance, and irreligion, prevail. It is never conducive to health, and in the best sanitary institutions is not practised.

Told you in time past Referring, doubtless, to his testimonies in his earlier preaching in Galatia. They had been warned already in vocal announcement; they are now warned in recorded testimony. It is a deep and solemn warning.

Inherit Note on 1 Corinthians 6:9.

Verse 22

22. Three inward graces.

Love Placed at the head, (as hate is placed at the opposite head of malign emotions, Galatians 5:20,) as fountain of all the rest.

Joy Springing from sense of love from and to God and man.

Peace The calmer state of quiet and permanent joy. These are the three felicities and blessednesses of Christian life, giving existence and strength to all the Christian virtues.

Next come the three active graces of longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness.

Longsuffering Enduring from others, as being sustained by a central love and peace within.

Gentleness A kindly disposition and dealing with others.

Goodness In active benevolence.

Next, the manifest qualities of character.

Faith Good-faith, fidelity, trustiness, and trueness.

Verses 22-23

22, 23. The cluster of the fruits of the Spirit, in reverse to the above works of the flesh. It is works that are produced by the flesh, and fruit by the Spirit; both by influence, for it is the man himself who responsibly produces both. Romans 7:4.

There is a grouping of these “fruits” into three parts. The first includes the inner graces, as love, joy, peace; the second, their action upon others, as longsuffering, gentleness, goodness; the third, manifold traits of character, as faith, meekness, temperance.

Verse 23

23. Meekness The reverse of arrogance, gentle, unassuming firmness.

Temperance Self-control in the gratification of appetites. See note on Acts 24:25.

No law So that those who possess these graces by the power of the Spirit come in collision with no moral obligation. They are lawless by doing without law all that the law requires.

We suppose that these lists of vices and virtues were prescriptions carefully prepared and adjusted to meet the case of the Galatians, enumerating the faults to which they were liable, and the graces by which they might best be corrected.

Verse 24

24. They that are Christ’s Who once gave themselves over to him, as you, Galatians, once did.

Have crucified The Greek aorist crucified, (without the have,) that is, when you became Christ’s. And having so done we are bound not to let the flesh, with its affections and lusts, revive again and produce works. And in the next verse he shows how.

Verses 24-26

24-26. From this contrast of graces springing from love, with works springing from the flesh, Paul deduces the lesson placed at the head of the section, Galatians 5:13. Keep free from the law by subduing the flesh through the Spirit, and doing all the law requires, not by law, but by love.

Verse 25

25. In the Spirit Rather, by the Spirit. If, at our conversion and since, our regenerate life has been by the power of the Holy Spirit. Walk in (rather by) the Spirit Let our practice and progress be by, not the flesh but the Spirit.

Verse 26

26. Vainglory, provoking… envying Pointed allusions again to these traits in the Galatians, which were ruining their Christianity.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/galatians-5.html. 1874-1909.
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