Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Galatians/Chapter 5

Galatians 5 (NASB)Edit

Matthew 6: (NASB)

Walk by the Spirit

1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.

10 I 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. 11 But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For 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. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, 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. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Overview of Galatians 5Edit

Paul's Statement of Freedom (v. 1)Edit

To start the chapter off, Paul's opening statement in verse 1 is about freedom in comparison to slavery. This flows well as a transition from the previous chapter. Paul is stating that in Christ there is freedom and because of that freedom, we must not fall back into our old ways of slavery, here specifically serving as an introduction to the next section, which talks about freedom from the law.

Teachings against Gentile Circumcision (vv. 2-12)Edit

In verse 2, Paul states that Christ is no benefit for those who get circumcised. This is due to the requirement of circumcision to be under the entire law, or Torah (v. 3). Circumcision creates a separation between Christ and His justifying grace (v. 4). These living under the jurisdiction of the Spirit are to wait in anticipation of Christ's hope and righteousness (v. 5) and do this by faith, which working through love, matters, not circumcision or uncircumcision, once you are in Christ (v. 6).

In verse 7, Paul asks who have gotten in the way of the Galatians following the truth, as they were doing well when he, Paul, was with them. He points out, in verse 8, that the persuasion did not come from God to go away from the truth. In verse 9, Paul uses the familiar analogy of yeast, which is ruined by one bad spot. Paul reassures the Galatians in verse 10, that he believes they will choose the right way, but that the person who is leading them astray will face judgment. In verse 11, Paul refers to circumcision as the preventer of Christian life and that it makes Christ's sacrifice void. Paul's harshness is seen in verse 12 when he wishes self-emasculation on those leading the Galatians astray.

Walking by Freedom (vv. 13-15)Edit

Paul states that we are called to freedom, but not to turn into the ways of the flesh, but rather, serve each other in love (v. 13). Verses 14-15 continue on in this theme, saying that all the law is fulfilled by loving your neighbor and the opposite of loving one another will lead to destruction.

Living By The Spirit (vv. 16-26)Edit

Paul, in verse 16, says that living out of the resources the Spirit of God provides will make it possible for believers to resist contrary human desires. What "the flesh"--humanity left to its own resources--desires is contrary to the ways of the Spirit (v. 17). Christians, who live under the Spirit's control, are free from the law (v. 18). In verses 19-20, Paul outlines the activities of the flesh that are contradictions to the way of the Spirit. At the conclusion of the list in verse 21, he goes on to say that those who engage in the sinful activities prompted by the flesh will not inherit God's kingdom. Paul then lists the ways of the Spirit and states that those who belong to Christ are free from the flesh's passions and desires.

Paul finishes off both the section and the chapter in verses 25-26, in which he states the admonition to both live and walk by the Spirit in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ, not being boastful, challenging or envious.


  • Paul’s Statement of Freedom (5:1)
    • Freedom in Christ (5:1)
  • Teaching Against Gentile Circumcision (5:2-12)
    • Circumcision and Law (5:2-4)
    • Wait and Live by Faith (5:5-6)
    • Who is Hindering You? (5:7-8)
    • A Little Leaven (5:9)
    • Paul’s Full Confidence (5:10)
    • The Offence of the Cross (5:11)
    • Harsh Words of Self-Emasculation (5:12)
  • Walking by Freedom (5:13-15)
    • Love Rather than Flesh (5:13)
    • A Single Logos (5:14)
    • Harsh Realities (5:15)
  • Living by the Spirit (5:16-26)
    • Opposition (5:16-18)
    • Walking by the Flesh (v. 19-21)
    • Walking in the Spirit (v. 22-23)
    • Crucified Passions (v. 24-26)
  • Freedom in Service to Others (6:1-10)

Background InformationEdit


There isn't much intelligible contest to Paul being the author of Galatians. It is generally agreed upon that he is the author of the text. When compared with other letters and writings of Paul's, there is a clear similarity in writing style and usage of distinct language, which makes his authorship incontestable (Betz 1).

It is contested, however, as to precisely where Paul sent the epistle to the Galatians. And there is no obvious idea given in the letter as to where the letter was sent from. But "on the basis of Paul's itineraries in Acts, scholars argue for Ephesus, Macedonia or Corinth," all of which could be plausible places or origin. But these do not exhaust the list of possibilities of the location of Paul when he wrote Galatians (Betz 12). The letter to the Galatians was most likely written during the spring of AD 53, but this too is debatable (Murphy-O'Connor 185).

Paul had little, if any choice, as to where he would evangelize on his first visit to Galatia. Because he was ill at the time of his travels (see Gal 4:13), he had to stop where he was. He would probably have leaned more toward finding an urban-area. In such setting he probably felt that he would be most comfortable and effective, and would have the most access to the medical care he needed (Murphy-O'Connor 192).

Letter to the GalatiansEdit

The author, Paul, drew on his past experience to write the book we call Galatians. It was actually a letter addressed to Christian converts residing in the area of central Asia Minor (today's Turkey) referred to as Galatia. This letter had to be a painful one, due to its dealing with Paul's past and the judiazation of the Gentile people.

The letter must have played a significant role in Paul's intellectual development (Murphy-O'Connor 209-10). On Paul's writing of the letter to the Galatians, Murphy-O'Connor writes, "Reflection on the constraint imposed by the law brought to mind the pressures of society and obliged him to define more clearly the hitherto the difference between life in the world and life in the Christian church. For the first time he grasped the nature of authentic freedom" (Murphy-O'Connor 210). Writing the letter to the Galatians was largely a point of growth and learning for Paul.

Paul addressed Galatians to the "churches of Galatia." Many interpreters believe that he was writing to a group of house-church type congregations within a "rather restricted area" (Murphy-O'Connor 191).

Historical ContextEdit

The people most often referred to as the Galatians were "members of the Celtic tribes in the area of Pessinus (modern Balahissar)" (Murphy-O'Connor 185). These people came from a complex, ethnic background. Classical sources used the name Galatians and Celts synonymously, as people, made mostly of families, which included the wives, children and the elderly, rather than the typical warrior / mercenaries nomadic tribes of the day, who moved into the area of Asia Minor around the time of 278 BC looking to find a place to settle in and call their homeland (Murphy-O'Connor 185). They would settle in at about 164 BC and bring with them their ancient Celtic traditions (Murphy-O'Connor 186-188).

One intriguing fact about the Galatians is that their main sources of income and prosperity were determined by the marker on their gravestone (Murphy-O'Connor 190). More on this subject: "The hint that viticulture was important is confirmed by representations of a vine or bunches of grapes. Wine may have made life in that desolate area more bearable, but it is unlikely to have made the same contribution to the economy as the cultivation of cereals .... Grain kept the province alive, wood brought it wealth" (Murphy-O'Connor 191).

The Galatians were not immune to Roman rule and faced levels of destruction, especially while in their nomadic state. They too fell to the hands of Romanization. On the area of geography, "'Galatia' can refer to two adjacent territories in Asia Minor," but "It is more probable that the Galatian churches were located in Central Anatolia" (Betz 4-5).

However, "Nothing in Paul's letter points to the Celtic origin of the Galatians" (Betz 2). It is unclear whether Paul was writing to the Galatians that were direct descendants of the nomadic Galatia Celts or if they were representative of "the ethnic mixture which was found in most Hellenistic-Roman towns" (Betz 2). Much of this confusion is due to scarcity of knowledge available about the churches to which Paul wrote his letter. It is clear, however, that Paul's letter to these people was "well-composed and, both rhetorically and theologically, sophisticated." This leads some scholars to believe that the churches in Galatia Paul founded were "not among the poor and the uneducated but among the Hellenistic and Romanized city population" (Betz 2).

Literary ContextEdit

Paul writes Galatians as a letter, or epistle, to a body of churches in a distinct area. In this, especially seen in sections such as Galatians 5:2-12, there is a lack of a smooth structure (Cousar 112). This is due to a large portion of the letter being made up of "personal entreaties" to the people in these church bodies (Cousar 112) . The letter seems to have a different emphasis than many other Pauline writings (Riches 121). Paul uses characteristically strong language in the writing of Galatians (Cole 151). It is a well-written letter and is both literary and theologically sound, meant for a more sophisticated, most likely educated audience (Betz 2). Paul employs a transitional form of writing (Betz 255). This makes the letter flow conversationally to take more of an epistle-form in contrast to many other types of Biblical writings and is seemingly characteristic of Paul's style. Paul also uses formulaic language, such as "stumbling block of the cross", which fits with his knowledge of Jewish procedure and ritual (Betz 269).

The impact that the letter of Galatians had was astounding, especially in the Christian literary world. It is considered to be "one of the most fruitful writings of the [New Testament]." (Riches 115). It became a "foundational document of the Reformation" as well as serving as a large influence "throughout church history." (Riches 115). "Chrysostom, Jerome and Augustine all composed commentaries on it within a few decades and a few hundred miles of each other at the turn of the fourth/fifth centuries as Christianity began to expand under official recognition." (Riches 115).

Commentary on Galatians 5Edit

Paraphrase on Galatians 5:1-12Edit

1-It is for the sake of freedom that Christ has set us free; stand in that freedom and do not return to the yoke of slavery. 2- Listen! I, Paul, have to remind you that if you are counting on circumcision, the law, to carry you through, then Christ will be of no value to you. 3- Let me reiterate to you that a man who has received circumcision is under the umbrella of the entire law. 4-You have been separated from Christ in your search for justification through the law; you have fallen and forgotten grace. 5- Through the Spirit and by faith, we wait and we hope for justification in righteousness and grace. 6- When our faith is in Christ, there is no weight placed in circumcision or lack thereof. Circumcision falls into the shadows of faith manifested through love. 7- You were running the race strong and swift. Who prevented your running to the truth? 8- This derailment did not come from the one who has called you by name. 9- A small amount of yeast can work through the entire lump of dough. 10-I have confidence that the Lord will show you the path of perspective and that you will stay true to the teachings I have laid out; but the one who is standing in the way and troubling you will be given due judgment. 11- Brothers, I am still in favor of circumcision, so why am I being persecuted? If this was so then the roadblock of the cross has been removed. 12- I would go far as to desire those who are crossing you would embrace self mutilation.

Freedom in Christ (v. 1)Edit

The letter that Paul writes to the Galatians is one that shows a marked amount of care and compassion for its audience; and this can be seen in chapter 5. Paul cares for the lives of the Galatians. He does not want them to fall under the trap of the law and observance to it when they have been set free through Christ (Riches 115).

The letter to the “Galatians presents us with one of the sharpest statements of the giftedness of Christian existence, its dependence not on human effort but on gratitude and faith in God’s grace in Christ, a life lived in union with Christ” (Riches 122). This union was threatened when the Galatians started considering being circumcised. Paul feared the Galatians were returning to a state comparable to their pre-Christian slavery.

“The phrase ‘yoke of slavery’ may reflect a common rabbinic expression ‘yoke of the torah,’ used of proselytes as they assumed the responsibility of Judaism, but understood by Paul as a wearisome burden.” (Cousar 111). “The Jews spoke of ‘taking the yoke of the law’ upon oneself; and it is highly likely that the Judaizers whether from inside or outside the church, had used this sort of language in Galatia. To Paul this was a slaves yoke, and he says so bluntly. But there may have been in his mind the memory of a saying of Christ where the contrasted such heavy burdens with the ‘easy yoke’ of following Him (see Matthew 11:30)” (Cole 136).

Every issue has two sides and two perspectives from which it can be looked at. Verse 1 is a “ringing declaration of Christian freedom” as well as a statement warning the Galatians against falling into the trap of Jewish law (Longenecker 235). The concept of freedom is not a new one to Paul, but he now employs it and “emphatically places it at the beginning of the section on ethical exhortation and thus is the center of the argument” (Betz 255).

Circumcision and the Law (vv. 2-4)Edit

This section of the passage is addressing the Galatians who are facing and contemplating the decision of circumcision (Cousar 112). “It is no doubt with some irony that the former Pharisee Paul informs the Gentile Christians about the implications of receiving the Jewish ritual of circumcision” (Betz 257). Paul is knowledgeable of the custom of circumcision and its importance as an identity-marker in Jewish culture, as the mark of those living under the law (Cousar 113).

Paul sees circumcision in a different light than the average Jew. Paul sees it as the act that was a seal of faith to Abraham and that was the “assurance of that righteousness which was already his by faith” (Cole 141). The Jews of Paul’s day saw circumcision as what marked Jews as following the law in every part of their lives. It allowed them to find favor with God, and, therefore, was directly related to Moses at Sinai rather than to Abraham’s covenant (Cole 141).

In Paul's view, “when a Gentile receives circumcision, he declares his own identity in terms of the Torah; 'he is bound to keep the whole law'” (Cousar 113). Paul saw this as a crucial issue because Gentiles were not called to be under the law. They were under the freedom brought through Christ. Circumcision was a direct contradiction to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

However, “Paul was not so naive as to believe that the deeply ingrained habits of a lifetime were completely eradicated by the act of conversion” (Murphy-O’Connor 209). He doesn’t say that Jews should completely abandon their views, but that their age-old customs should not be forced upon the Gentiles, who had been saved by the grace of Christ alone. The two are like oil and water.

To Paul, the only way to be justified was by grace. Seeking any other resolution would be to separate oneself from the saving grace provided by Christ’s sacrifice. Oil can’t mix with water as circumcision cannot mix with salvation by grace alone. To put it plainly, “there is simply no way to tack circumcision on the gospel of grace” (Cousar 113).

There were two distinct problems Paul saw in Galatia as he was writing this letter. First, “was the acceptance of Jewish nominism[check spelling] as a lifestyle for Gentile Christians, which in effect brought one right back to the basic question of whether righteousness was to be gained by ‘works of the law’ or by a response of faith to ‘the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’ (see Galatians 2:16); the second was the corruption of the Christian life by reliance on ‘the flesh’ rather than the spirit”, which is a theme seen in verses 7-11 (Longenecker 235).

Despite the issues of his past, “Paul is never anti-Jewish even when he is in his most controversial moods .... Yet even such a Jewish patriot [as Paul] sees clearly the comparative unimportance of circumcision” (Cole 139).

Paul thought he made the issue plain to see: in order to accept circumcision, the Galatians had to see it as a necessary action of salvation, which would mean that their trust in Christ alone to save them was not a complete trust (Cole 140). They are trusting that their actions, instead of Christ's, would save them. However, with grace, it is all or nothing. You are either in or out. You can’t be on both ships at the same time and not expect to fall into the lukewarm water below that just might have sharks, but who is willing to take that chance?

Wait and Live by Faith (vv. 5-6)Edit

Here Paul addresses the “situation of Christians (“we”) who in Christ await the completion of God’s plan and thus find the circumcision-uncircumcision distinction irrelevant” (Cousar 112). He is clear in his message of justification through faith alone.

It is equally by the work of the Spirit that we are convinced of the impossibility of commending ourselves to God by our own activities, whether by obedience to the Jewish law, in the case of the Jews, or obedience to the dictates of conscience, in the case of Gentiles. Further, it is by the work of the Spirit that we see Christ as our savior. (Cole 194)

By stating the term “we,” Paul identifies himself along with those “who anticipate God’s righteousness in the future who no longer wonder about the importance of circumcision” and this perspective leans towards the case that Paul is here speaking from personal experience (Cousar 112). Paul is well aware of the arguments for justification by the law. And he rejects them all.

In this section, Paul also points out that

the truly worthwhile accomplishments, however, are God’s. His hoped-for righteousness cannot be forced by human achievements as if it were only the accumulation of so many kindly deeds. God will act to set things right in the world and to confirm the favorable judgement on his people, but it will happen in his own good time. (Cousar 116).

In all of this, Paul does not see the issue as being one-sided. Paul

equally admits that uncircumcision is valueless too-a point often forgotten by those filled with reforming zeal as it was probably forgotten by many a Gentile Christian. He [Paul] will not allow the Gentile to boast of his uncircumcised state, any more that he will allow the Jew to boast of the "sign of the covenant." Both states are now irrelevant in Christ. (Cole 143)

Who is Hindering You? (vv. 7-8)Edit

“Let’s cut to the chase, who did this to you?” is what a modern day Paul might say to the Galatians. The distraction of the Galatians from the truth was not God’s work and Paul wants to know who did this to his faithful followers that he had left behind. The action taken by the Jews leading the Galatians astray has turned “the Galatians away from following the plain truth of the gospel, whether they know it or not” (Cole 143).

In this section,

Paul speaks of the irrational phenomenon that people may know the truth; but for inexplicable reasons they decide against it. The matter may be proverbial in origin, but Paul interprets in relationship to the "truth of the gospel." At any rate, it is the mark of foolishness not to obey the truth when one knows it, since we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth (see 2 Corinthians 13:8). (Betz 265)

At this point in time, as seen in verse 8, the Galatians are not completely grounded in their theological beliefs and Paul sees this as his opportunity to sway them towards Christ and the truth of the gospel (Betz 265).

A Little Leaven (vv. 9)Edit

“A small amount of yeast affects an entire loaf (see 1 Corinthians 5:16), and what has been advocated by these agitators has the potential of changing the whole face of the Christian community in Galatia.” (Cousar 114). However, the reworking of thought done by agitators of the Galatians doesn’t cause Paul to give up on the Galatians. There is quite a bit of history imbedded in this verse. Some of this history, explained:

Such a proverbial usage was particularly congenial to Israel, for whom the use of "leaven" or "year" was forbidden in sacrifice. ... Not only so, but on certain ceremonial occasions, such as the Feast of unleavened bread (which immediately followed Passover), the removal of all leaven from the house had become a solemn ritual.... While this may be served the hygienic purpose of ensuring that the whole process of breadmaking began again de novo at least once a year (by the creation of fresh "leaven" from natural sources), to the Jews this was a symbol of the putting-away of sin. It is probable that the reason for the prohibition of the use of leaven in sacrifice came from an analogy between the "leavening" activity of yeast whereby the bread ‘rises,’ and the natural process of putrefaction. (Cole 147)

Bread-making was an art familiar to the people of that day, especially the Galatians, who dealt heavily with grain as it was one of their major agricultural outputs. The idea of "a little leaven" is one seen throughout the New Testament and is a reoccurring thought in the writings of Paul. The idea that a little leaven will spoil the whole batch is basically the principle in breadmaking that if one spot of yeast is remaining, the bread is unusable and is far from the desired product of which the bread-maker desired. The bread-maker then has to start over with an entirely new bread batch. This analogy applies in both the individual and corporate spheres. On the individual level, one sin can affect the entire life of a person and on the corporate level, one bad person will spoil the entire group. It's a sugar-coated way of saying, "Get rid of the weakest link." Paul is addressing those who are agitating the Galatians, comparing them to bad yeast that needs to be thrown out.

Paul’s Full Confidence (v. 10)Edit

Paul takes this opportunity to tell the Christians in Galatia that he is confident in them in that they “will finally resist the approach of the agitators” (Cousar 112). The Galatians are at this point stuck in between two belief systems. They are in the middle of the see-saw, going back and forth. Paul feels the need to point this out in verse 10. Paul doesn’t give up hope though.

[T]he Galatian Christians have been sufficiently dislodged from their Paulinist position, but they have not yet made up their mind finally and have not yet closed the door to Paul irreversibly. Still, one wonders how much of Paul’s optimism is due to convention and how much due to reality. Ignoring that the Galatians may have already taken another view, his hope can only be that having read his letter they may change their mind again” (Betz 267).

Paul sees that Galatians may have made up their mind in the other direction, but refuses to give up his fight for them to follow the truth of Christ.

The Offense of the Cross (v. 11)Edit

Paul was, at one time in his life as Saul, an advocate for the position of those urging circumcision. This allows him to have the full knowledge to at this time, as Paul, argue against it and “to state how incompatible the position is with the gospel.” (Cousar 113). Paul, a reformed Jew, sees the death of Jesus on the cross not as the average Jew would, that it would be a contradiction, but rather, sees it as a confirmation of the power of Christ and the radical nature of the whole deal of the crucifixion (Cousar 118). “It can be scarcely be claimed that in his early days of gospel-preaching Paul found a greater place for the Jewish law and its observances in his gospel, for we have seen that the lines of Paul’s preaching had hardened very early.” (Cole 150). The subject of verse 11 is the offense of the cross, which is a theme seen in much of Paul’s writings. Paul sees Christ death not of shame, but as something that cancels everything else out. Christ’s death and resurrection leaves no room for any other observances, circumcision included in this case, and cancels out any form of salvation except through grace (Cole 151). Paul states that “it is inevitable that both Gentile and Jew will find it [Christ’s death and resurrection; providential saving grace] a ‘stumbling-block’; because it is not a human way of salvation, but a divine. It is thus unavoidable that ‘natural man’ should find God’s way of salvation ‘staggering’, transcending his natural powers of comprehension and acceptance.” (Cole 151).

Harsh Words of Self-Emasculation (v. 12)Edit

Paul expresses here his definite wish that the people responsible for leading the Galatians astray would receive judgement. In his statements, Paul was not meaning entirely to be harsh, but to come across the issue in a somewhat sarcastic way while still getting his disdain of the agitators across the Galatian audience. “[...] castration is mentioned in the torah as a cause for excommunication (Deuteronomy 23:1). Paul may be expressing his disgust in a way that has pointed meaning for the advocates for circumcision. Instead of ensuring inclusion in the people of God, let them carry their message further and be totally excluded.” (Cousar 114). Emasculation is a fairly big deal to the male population (or so I’m told). In this final section dealing with circumcision, Paul is putting a finishing touch by talking about the Jewish enthusiasm for mutilation of flesh (which in all fact, circumcision is) as if it were comparable to going “the whole way”, a castration ritual seen in the Asia Minor region by eunuch priests as ritual honor to their “strange, barbarous gods.” (Cole 151). At one point, God did use this mutilation of flesh as sign of His covenant with Israel, but He was not employing its use any farther and should from that point on been seen as a ritual custom of the past, rather than a salvation alternative of the present. Paul’s language in this verse can be seen as being harsh, but it was a necessary tactic to show circumcision as a strange cutting custom to the Gentile people (Cole 151).

Commentary on Galatians 5:13-26Edit


Verses 13- 26 are considered to be the second half of Paul’s writing on freedom. He begins the chapter with discussion, or rather a verbal beating, on freedom from the law through Christ. The second half focuses on freedom from the flesh through life in the Spirit and love. Here Paul is countering his argument in the first half of the chapter. He has stated in v.v. 1-12 that there is freedom from the law, but in v.v. 13-26 Paul is reminding that although there is freedom from the law it is not freedom design so that a person can do whatever they want, “Paul found it necessary to counter the abuse of Christian freedom in libertinism as well as the squelching of it in legalism (George 375). Our actions affect those around us, and Paul is saying that we are to live into freedom through loving those around us. Being freed from the law is not grounds for justification of any and all actions, morality still applies. He is warning the church in Galatia about the effects that being enslaved to the law has on a person and congregation, but is also reminding them of the effects of total disregard for the law of love. Paul addresses the slavery that man has to the ‘flesh.’ The use of the term flesh brings with it several different meanings, be it the body, earthly, or human nature. Paul is asking that the Galatians, along with all followers of Christ, seek to live life through the Spirit rather than through the flesh. The rest of the chapter is spent defining and deepening the understanding of the difference between life in the Spirit and life in the Flesh. Paul gives specific examples of both life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Where the beginning section of the chapter is marked by almost a rebuking and has sarcastic elements, the second half of the chapter seems to conclude in genuine concern for the believers in Galatia but also for all believers. There is a delicate balance, rules and doctrine without love and grace do not allow for freedom; however, freedom without morality and concern for others is enslavement to the flesh.

Paraphrase of Galatians 5:13-16Edit

13- You are called so that you may be free, my brothers and sisters. Do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but rather marry it to service in love for each other. 14- The entirety of the law is summed up in the single logos of, “love your neighbor as yourself.” 15- But if you keep biting and clawing at each other; watch yourselves, you will be consumed by each other. 16- Live life in the Spirit, walking in love, and the desires of the flesh shall have no hold on you. 17- For the Spirit and the Flesh are in opposition and it makes it difficult to live by the Spirit and enact the love of the Spirit. 18- But if you walk and live through the Spirit, you are no longer subjects of the law. 19- Life through the flesh is committed to fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20- the worship of idols, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, indignation and rage, selfish ambition, dissension, heresy, 21- envy, drunkenness, rioting, and other things along these same lines that I have previously warned you about, and those who practice these things are not ushering in the kingdom. 22- But the life that lives by the Spirit is focused on love, rejoicing, oneness and peace, longsuffering, gentleness and uprightness, goodness, assurance, 23- meekness, temperance, there is no law that stands against these things. 24- Those who belong to Christ have willingly crucified their own flesh and desires. 25- And if we are to live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26- And let us act in love and resist all of the arrogance, and the envious eyes, and the provoking actions.

Love Rather than Flesh (v. 13)Edit

The thirteenth verse may be divided into three parts: the call to liberty, the temptation of license, and the service of love (George 376). Paul is reminding the Church of Galatia that they have been freed in Jesus Christ, they are no longer bound by the law, but they still need to have an understanding of the effects of total unrestrained freedom. They are to abandon legalism, “In 5:1 freedom in Christ was threatened by a relapse into legalism, and so the apostle warned against assuming the yoke of slavery. However, here in 5:13 Christian freedom is in danger of being undermined by presuming on the grace of God through licentious living resulting in moral chaos” (George 376). Moral chaos may be too strong of a term for an individual, but certainly fits for the community of believers if they should choose utter license. For the individual, the result may be inner confliction and a lack of peace and resolve, or conviction for that matter. This has deep effects then the Galatians realize; the effects are that of separation from the community and separation from the Spirit. Choosing the flesh, choosing the path of the rugged and selfish individual, leads to the collaborative moving away from the gift of Christ and to the pursued self without love. Paul is reminding the Galatians that there are rules of moral conduct that still apply and that those are viewed in the light of brotherly love. The use of the term brother, or brethren, here implies a love for others that is deeper than simple civility. Douleuó is the word used when referring to how to serve others, meaning to enter into slavery and to render service. Along this line of thought is, if one is concerned with the flesh how might one render total service to their brothers? As Paul explains more in depth later, life in the flesh is not concerned with others, or with the Spirit for that matter, but is concerned with self as primary.

A Single Logos (v. 14)Edit

Paul reduces the entire law to a single command, as does Jesus, and that is to love others as you would love yourself. This has deep implications for a community, deeper then we probably realize. How many of us can say that we truly love others as we love ourselves; or may be a better way of looking at is, do we love others more than we love our selfish desires. The community cannot function without this single logos. It seems simple, especially in light of the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, but removing oneself from the flesh is not as easy or as idealistic as it sounds. There is a daily surrender, sometimes a moment by moment surrender that is required of those of live by the Spirit. It takes strength to love others, the strength of the Spirit. Just as the Christ fulfilled the prophesies of the Messiah, so to love fulfills the whole of the law. The whole law is satisfied within the outpouring of love on to one’s brother but this verse is not a command in and of itself (Longenecker 243). The rules and rituals all boil down to this. Christ, as Paul argues aggressively in the first section of the passage, has fulfilled the law in the outpouring of love through the cross; if we are to be like Christ let us continually fulfill the law with acts of sacrificial love to our brothers.

Harsh Realities (v. 15)Edit

Paul’s language is harsh, but it gets the point across. Previously Paul seems content to allow the community to destroy themselves in v.12 as he expresses his care and concern through anger. The tone shifts in verse 15, with an essence of serious truth Paul speaks his concern as a very tangible reality, and there is no more exaggeration only honest truth. If the entire congregation were to enter into the acts of the flesh in license the foundation of love would be lost as selfish desire prevailed. There is also a possibility, that while the concern is genuine, there is a layer of sarcasm that is the icing over the cake and assumes that this is already the case for the church in Galatia; calling them wild animals fighting to the death and rebuking them as he did the Judaizers for their own, “indigenous and loveless libertine attitudes” (Longenecker 244).

Opposition (vv. 16-18)Edit

Paul warns that the way to avoid the flesh is to live through the Spirit. We do not live through the Spirit just for the sake of avoiding the flesh, but rather pursue right relationship with the community through the avoidance of the flesh. In verse 17 it is made clear that the flesh and the Spirit are in opposition, this makes the statement in verse 16 even more profound. The latter half of 17 expresses the idea that man should not give into their desires but allow the Spirit to transform their desires. Paul speaks of the Spirit in this light as if it is a preventative measure, but to leave it at this is to do injustice to the Spirit. To walk by the Spirit is to engage in partnership with the Spirit. It is not as if the Spirit magically takes away all of the desires of the flesh, but that the Spirit is continually journeying with us towards the denial of the flesh. There is a real danger of making the Spirit into a mere correctional voice and movement, “But where does the believer acquire the recourses for this kind of victorious Christian living? Modern religious pedagogy offers many answers: a winsome personality, one’s innate abilities, advanced degrees in theological education, special seminars on the higher Christian life, social activism, spiritual psychotherapy and others. Paul’s answer is the Holy Spirit” (George386). To walk with the Spirit is not to have an automatic fix, nor does it promise that all desires will be gone, only that the desires of the flesh will not be carried out. With the expression of the opposition of the Spirit and the Flesh, Paul is almost dualistic in his approach to life with the implications of the constant battle between the Spirit and the Flesh. There is a divide in that, “Paul sees two ethical forces that seek to control a person’s thought and activity” (Longenecker 245) There is also a touch of Augustinian theology that can be gleaned, although not originally intended, in the senses that either the latter half of v.17 refers to humans as innately bad, or that they desire to do good but are derailed by choices. Paul then returns to his previous subject of being freed from the law. It is as if he is reminding, yet again, that the law can be reduced to love. Paul seems to be making his point by bouncing back and forth between what he is frustrated at and warning against.

Walking by the Flesh (vv. 19-21)Edit

There are 15 listed attributes of the flesh. These can be divided into four sections, sensual passions, unlawful dealings in things spiritual, violations of brotherly love, and intemperate excesses (George 392). The idea of virtues and vices are borrowed from Greek ethical teachings and the ‘Two-Ways’ tradition (Longenecker 251). Paul echoes the ‘Two Ways’ in v.v. 16-18 with the notes on the fight to do good over evil and the opposition.

  • Immorality, Impurity, Sensuality

Paul speaks out against sexual acts that lead to discord with God. For some of the churches that Paul writes to, this is more of a challenge to abstain from than others. “It is not because these sins are more intrinsically heinous than the others but rather because they display more graphically the self-centeredness and rebellion against god’s norm that mark all of the others as well” (George 392). Paul suggest that these things are what lead to discord from God due to sensual passions.

  • Idolatry, Sorcery

Paul addresses the issues with participating in pagan practices. The invasion of these rituals, without the rebirth that the 1st century church often engaged in, will bring division. The context in which this is being read would have provided for an intense separation from the body

  • Hatred, Discord, Jealousy, Fits of Rage, Selfish Ambition, Dissentions, Factions

These are listed as parts of the flesh that bring separation from a Brother. They are destructive to community and are destroyers of the Kingdom, as they disregard love for the sake of individual grasping for life outside of the Spirit.

  • Envy, Drunkenness, Carousing

These are issues of greed as the individual is desiring so much of something that it is taking away from others within the community. Too much want, and too much desire to find or achieve that want.

Walking in the Spirit (vv. 22-23)Edit

In contrast to the 15 descriptions of walking in the flesh, Paul lists out the 9 ‘fruits’ of the Spirit in triads (George 399). They are not limited to these 9, nor should the Spirit be viewed as a fruit tree for one to pick desired qualities off of the tree and embody them. They are born from the journey with the Spirit and are not possessions to be held, but realities of the Kingdom that are to be lived into.

  • Love, Joy, Peace

We are to love as the Father has loved us. We are to love as Christ has loved us in the death and resurrection. We are to love as the Spirit loves in guiding our walks. Joy in the sense of rejoicing not in circumstance but in the life that has been given. Peace, a concept so many of us wish that we had and understood. It is more of a resting and trusting in God then a feeling that is given to calm our nerves. These fruits are unpacked over and over again in scripture, showing their deep value and significance to all generations not just the church in Galatia.

  • Patience, Kindness, Goodness

These counter the acts done against a brother or in violation of a brother. They are the sweet essence of the Spirit. May it not be suggested however that one who is not always kind, does not always walk with the Spirit or that they are of the flesh. Patience is an act of trust and kindness that of love as goodness is enriching.

  • Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control

We are called to be loyal and to speak and enact truth. Paul reminds us, somewhat hypocritically when taking into account the language of the chapter, that we are to deal with one another in love and with humbleness, and live the blessed life of the meek. Perhaps the greatest counter to the flesh is that of self-control in temperance of knowing your desires and turn the other way. This seems to drive the point home in regards to abstaining from the flesh and walking with the Spirit.

Crucified Passions (vv. 24-26)Edit

This final statement serves as a conclusion to the chapter. Paul has given a firm outline of the ethics of a follower of Christ in the freedom of love. Walking with the Spirit requires an element of sacrifice, a dying to self daily, moment by moment making the choice to live in the freedom of love. Verse 24 expresses the intensity to which Paul is calling the church in Galatia. He is likening living with the Spirit to the life that is seen in the Cross. The beauty that is brought from brokenness requires surrender, “daily dying to the flesh, and vivification, continuous growth through the new life of the Spirit” (George 404-405). In verse 25 Paul shows the depth of connection between living in the Spirit and Walking with the Spirit, “He does not suggest that it is possible to do the former without the also doing the latter” (Bruce 257). They are central to each other as also life in the Spirit is central to a life of love. Paul’s final statement is a reminder of what it looks like to not live into wholeness. After discussing the beauty of life in the Spirit, Paul reminds the Galatians of what the picture of the Flesh looks like. He doesn’t come across as being quite as angered or sarcastic, but is reminding in truth.

Word StudyEdit


Greek Root: περιτομή, ῆς, ἡ (Bauer)

CIRCUMCISION: the act of circumcising esp : a Jewish rite performed on male infants as a sign of inclusion in the Jewish religious community; the condition of being circumcised (Merriam-Webster’s)

Places where CIRCUMCISION is found in Galatians 6: Gal 5:2 say to you that if you receive circumcision,

Gal 5:3 again to every man who receives circumcision,

Gal 5:6 circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything,

Gal 5:11 if I still preach circumcision, why am I still

(taken from Logos 3.0)

CIRCUMCISION: “The act of cutting off the foreskin (prepuce) of the male genital. Among the Hebrews circumcision was a religious ceremony performed on the eighth day after birth, as a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel (Gen. 17:10-14). Not only Israelite children were circumcised, but also slaves owned by Israelites, whether they were bought or were born into slavery; furthermore, any resident alien who wished to keep the Passover had to undergo circumcision (Exod. 12:48-49). […] Circumcision was a bitter source of contention in Christianity of the NT [New Testament] period. Both John the Baptist and Jesus were circumcised (Luke 1:59; 2:21). Those early Christians who were Jews had doubtless been circumcised, but when Christianity spread among the Gentiles, particularly away from Palestine, the question arose whether it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be Christian. Some Judean Christians taught that circumcision was necessary. The Jerusalem council which is reported in Acts 15 was summoned to deal with the question; the decision reached was that circumcision was not obligatory for Christians.” (Buttrick 629-630)

Ephesians OutlineEdit

  • Personal: Paul’s Apostolic Authority (1-2)
    • Salutation and introduction (1:1-9)
    • Apostolic Credentials (1:10-24)
    • Apostolic Commendation (2:1-10)
    • Apostolic Confidence (2:11-21)
  • Doctrinal: Salvation only by grace through faith (3-4)
    • Confirmed by Experience (3:1-5)
    • Affirmed by Scripture (3:6-4:31)
  • Practical: Living in Christian Freedom (5-6)

(MacArthur, xii)

Verse-by-Verse CommentaryEdit

Freedom in Christ: Vs. 1-15Edit

Verse 1Edit

Many commentaries lump verse one of chapter five with the final verses of chapter four. Some say it is a transition, made of two parts: the first is a declaration of Christ’s purpose in saving us, and the second is an appeal based upon that purpose (Boice, 486)

Verse 2Edit

Paul here asserts his authority as an apostle, as a former Jew and Pharisee. He is speaking from personal experience, that circumcision is not a merit that will gain you salvation. His intention isn’t to completely slam circumcision and exclude it from culture all together: God intended circumcision to be a representation of discarding sin from a man’s life, and as a physical reminder of his work. Paul is objecting what the legalistic goal circumcision had become.

Verse 3&4Edit

Paul is clear here: those who choose the law cannot choose so half-heartedly. If one is to choose the law over grace they are to follow the law to a point of exact. MacArthur is clear in his commentary that law and grace do not mix at all. He writes, “To mix law with grace is to obliterate grace. For a believer to start living again under the law to merit salvation is, in fact, to reject salvation by grace (135).”

Verse 5&6Edit

Here Paul switches from speaking specifically to the Galatians to speaking to Christians as a whole; he changes from using the pronoun “you” to the pronoun “we.” It is as if he is saying that we as Christians in the same way are not to choose legalism, but to hold to the righteousness brought through Christ, and in his grace find salvation (Expositors, 488) He goes onward to pen that faith, not law, expresses love. This is the first mention in this letter of Paul’s of the important term “love” (agape) (Beacon, 86). It is in these two verses, 5&6, that the three great terms “faith…hope… and love” appear together (Expositors, 489)

Verses 7&8Edit

Paul uses the marathon metaphor he’s so fond of (he uses it also in Romans 9, 1 Corinthians 9, and Galatians 2) Paul has made clear who the spiritual enemy is, and as such his question of “who cut in on you” is rhetorical. He goes forth to clarify that legalism is not from God (the one who calls you), for God is of grace not law (MacArthur, 140)

Verse 9Edit

In Scripture, yeast is often representative of sin directly (note Matthew 16). This verse is to say simply that a small amount of falsehood can corrupt a large group of people (MacArthur 140). The Expositors Bible Commentary writes the following about false teachings: “it is permeating, insidious, and therefore dangerous (490).”

Verse 10Edit

Paul reassures his confidence in the Galatians, and his confidence in the Sovereignty of the Lord. It is certain in the mind and writings of Paul that those who preach false teachings will ultimately pay their just dues to the Lord who holds whole power.

Verses 11&12Edit

Those who are accusing Paul tell that he is preaching circumcision, this rumor originates from Paul having Timothy circumcised. Paul has this done because Timothy is half Jewish, and he was circumcised to appeal to and better minister to the Jewish people. Paul clarifies his stance in Galatians 2, saying that to preach circumcision would nullify the grace of God. Paul seems to let his frustration run with his letter, and expresses his desire for those accusers to not only continue in circumcision, but to go the whole way and castrate themselves (MacArthur 139-140; Expositors 490).

Verse 13Edit

The “you” beginning this verse is emphasized in the Greek, alluding to an important new portion in the letter. It seems that this freedom is the same freedom spoken about in verse one. The irony that indulges in this verse is the call to slavery to one another following the demand to be set free from slavery to law. It is a paradox that forms in this, for the Christian form of freedom is a form of slavery - although the slavery is a different form of slavery than the slavery spoken about earlier in the passage in reference to the law (Expositors, 492). Beacon Bible Commentary writes that the new slavery is possible through the Greek agape form of love. “The context reveals the significance of agape is clearly that of benevolence, desire for the well-being for others, leading to efforts on their behalf (90).”

Verse 14Edit

There is clarification in this verse of what is means to be a follower of Christ. Whereas we are not to fall under the rule of the law, particularly pharisaic law, we are to fall under the law of love. If we truly love one our neighbors as we love ourselves, then we shall do our neighbor no wrong and we no longer need the laws of do not steal, murder, lie, covet, etc.

Verse 15Edit

Paul offers a final word of warning. MacArthur writes that it would be tearing Paul apart to see his converts bringing each other down and not loving each other (142). He writes to those Christians who are still living according to the law, and have yet to accept and learn living according to love - that they will destroy, and demolish each other.

Verse 16Edit

The Expositors Commentary makes a note that is vital to the understanding of this verse, “The Spirit is not natural to man in his fallen state (494).” This statement explains plainly why the there is such a fight between the nature of man and his flesh, and following (or walking in) the Sprit of the Lord. We must remember that the Spirit is the primary God-head member in leadership of sanctification; it is this sanctification that cleanses the soul of the sinful desires (MacArthur, 151)

Verses 17 &18Edit

Paul emphasizes the differences between the Spirit and the flesh. The MacArthur commentary makes some distinct notes and observation referring to the flesh: the flesh in a theological sense refers to the fallenness of man, his unredeemed and sinful self; also, Paul uses this term to refer to the “unredeemed humanness,” that which is the “remains of the ‘old man’ after a person is saved (154-155)” In closing, Paul sums up his past few sentences, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.”

Verses 19-21Edit

This first list Paul makes (he soon makes one in contrast) is that of the sinful nature. He writes they are “obvious;” this isn’t meaning that they are all visible in public (some are, some are not), but that they all clearly originate from the sinful nature and are not of God (Expositors, 496). The closing of these verses, “that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God,” has caused some to doubt their own salvation; it leads one to wonder, ‘who hasn’t done one of these things.’ MacArthur writes, that the key word in Paul’s warning is practice - the Greek word noting that it is the continual practice of such things (162).

Verses 22-23Edit

MacArthur notes that the Fruit of the Spirit is the outward sign of inward salvation (164). It is important to note the difference in plurality between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the spirit. When it comes to the flesh, there are many results, however when living in the spirit there is one result: these are that result (MacArthur, 163-4). It is highly appropriate that “love” is the first to begin the list, for God is love (Expositors, 498).

Verse 24Edit

In conclusion to the previous lists, Paul makes a bold statement that he relates to very well: crucify the flesh. Crucifixion is a form of execution, and he means this in the most dramatic of possible ways (MacArthur 170-1); we are to fully destroy that which produces the sinful nature, and drench ourselves in the what is righteous.

Verse 25-26Edit

Paul concludes this portion of his letter to the Galatians, “If we live by the sprit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” This verse is to say that while we know the spirit and find our righteousness in God, we are also to continue on in our journey listening and heeding the Spirit (Beacon, 112) The final verse, verse 26, is up for debate on wether it belongs in line with verse 25, or more in line with the sixth chapter; it is almost a transition between chapters (Expositors, 500).


Historical ContextEdit

The name of “Galatia” is found to have originated from the barbaric Gauls or Celts. They settled in Asia Minor after several centuries of plundering the Greek and Roman empires. During the time of Paul, the name of Galata was used for the original smaller region as well as the province. While Paul was in Galatia he nearly lost his life. He had been stone and left for dead by antagonistic Jewish leaders who followed him from Antioch and Iconium to Lystra. (MacArthur, xi-xii)


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