Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Ga 5:1-26. Peroration. Exhortation to Stand Fast in the Gospel Liberty, Just Set Forth, and Not to Be Led by Judaizers into Circumcision, or Law Justification: Yet though Free, to Serve One Another by Love: To Walk in the Spirit, Bearing the Fruit Thereof, Not in the Works of the Flesh.
1. The oldest manuscripts read, "in liberty (so Alford, Moberley, Humphry, and Ellicott. But as there is no Greek for 'in,' as there is in translating in 1Co 16:13; Php 1:27; 4:1, I prefer 'It is FOR freedom that') Christ hath made us free (not in, or for, a state of bondage). Stand fast, therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage" (namely, the law, Ga 4:24; Ac 15:10). On "again," see on Ga 4:9.
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.
2. Behold—that is, Mark what I say.
I Paul—Though you now think less of my authority, I nevertheless give my name and personal authority as enough by itself to refute all opposition of adversaries.
if ye be circumcised—not as Alford, "If you will go on being circumcised." Rather, "If ye suffer yourselves to be circumcised," namely, under the notion of its being necessary to justification (Ga 5:4; Ac 15:1). Circumcision here is not regarded simply by itself (for, viewed as a mere national rite, it was practiced for conciliation's sake by Paul himself, Ac 16:3), but as the symbol of Judaism and legalism in general. If this be necessary, then the Gospel of grace is at an end. If the latter be the way of justification, then Judaism is in no way so.
Christ … profit … nothing—(Ga 2:21). For righteousness of works and justification by faith cannot co-exist. "He who is circumcised [for justification] is so as fearing the law, and he who fears, disbelieves the power of grace, and he who disbelieves can profit nothing by that grace which he disbelieves [Chrysostom].
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
3. For—Greek, "Yea, more"; "Moreover."
I testify … to every man—as well as "unto you" (Ga 5:2).
that is circumcised—that submits to be circumcised. Such a one became a "proselyte of righteousness."
the whole law—impossible for man to keep even in part, much less wholly (Jas 2:10); yet none can be justified by the law, unless he keep it wholly (Ga 3:10).
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
4. Literally, "Ye have become void from Christ," that is, your connection with Christ has become void (Ga 5:2). Ro 7:2, "Loosed from the law," where the same Greek occurs as here.
whosoever of you are justified—"are being justified," that is, are endeavoring to be justified.
by the law—Greek, "IN the law," as the element in which justification is to take place.
fallen from grace—Ye no longer "stand" in grace (Ro 5:2). Grace and legal righteousness cannot co-exist (Ro 4:4, 5; 11:6). Christ, by circumcision (Lu 2:21), undertook to obey all the law, and fulfil all righteousness for us: any, therefore, that now seeks to fulfil the law for himself in any degree for justifying righteousness, severs himself from the grace which flows from Christ's fulfilment of it, and becomes "a debtor to do the whole law" (Ga 5:3). The decree of the Jerusalem council had said nothing so strong as this; it had merely decided that Gentile Christians were not bound to legal observances. But the Galatians, while not pretending to be so bound, imagined there was an efficacy in them to merit a higher degree of perfection (Ga 3:3). This accounts for Paul not referring to the decree at all. He took much higher ground. See Paley's Horæ Paulinæ. The natural mind loves outward fetters, and is apt to forge them for itself, to stand in lieu of holiness of heart.
For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.
5. For—proof of the assertion, "fallen from grace," by contrasting with the case of legalists, the "hope" of Christians.
through the Spirit—Greek, rather, "by the Spirit": in opposition to by the flesh (Ga 4:29), or fleshly ways of justification, as circumcision and legal ordinances. "We" is emphatical, and contrasted with "whosoever of you would be justified by the law" (Ga 5:4).
the hope of righteousness—"We wait for the (realization of the) hope (which is the fruit) of the righteousness (that is, justification which comes) by (literally, 'from—out of') faith," Ro 5:1, 4, 5; 8:24, 25, "Hope … we with patience wait for it." This is a farther step than being "justified"; not only are we this, but "wait for the hope" which is connected with it, and is its full consummation. "Righteousness," in the sense of justification, is by the believer once for all already attained: but the consummation of it in future perfection above is the object of hope to be waited for: "the crown of righteousness laid up" (2Ti 4:8): "the hope laid up for you in heaven" (Col 1:5; 1Pe 1:3).
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
6. For—confirming the truth that it is "by faith" (Ga 5:5).
in Jesus Christ—Greek, "in Christ Jesus." In union with Christ (the Anointed Saviour), that is, Jesus of Nazareth.
nor uncircumcision—This is levelled against those who, being not legalists, or Judaizers, think themselves Christians on this ground alone.
faith which worketh by love—Greek, "working by love." This corresponds to "a new creature" (Ga 6:15), as its definition. Thus in Ga 5:5, 6, we have the three, "faith," "hope," and "love." The Greek expresses, "Which effectually worketh"; which exhibits its energy by love (so 1Th 2:13). Love is not joined with faith in justifying, but is the principle of the works which follow after justification by faith. Let not legalists, upholding circumcision, think that the essence of the law is set at naught by the doctrine of justification by faith only. Nay, "all the law is fulfilled in one word—love," which is the principle on which "faith worketh" (Ga 5:14). Let them, therefore, seek this "faith," which will enable them truly to fulfil the law. Again, let not those who pride themselves on uncircumcision think that, because the law does not justify, they are free to walk after "the flesh" (Ga 5:13). Let them, then, seek that "love" which is inseparable from true faith (Jas 2:8, 12-22). Love is utterly opposed to the enmities which prevailed among the Galatians (Ga 5:15, 20). The Spirit (Ga 5:5) is a Spirit of "faith" and "love" (compare Ro 14:17; 1Co 7:19).
Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?
7. Translate, "Ye were running well" in the Gospel race (1Co 9:24-26; Php 3:13, 14).
who, &c.—none whom you ought to have listened to [Bengel]: alluding to the Judaizers (compare Ga 3:1).
hinder—The Greek means, literally, "hinder by breaking up a road."
not obey the truth—not submit yourselves to the true Gospel way of justification.
This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you.
8. This persuasion—Greek, "The persuasion," namely, to which you are yielding. There is a play on words in the original, the Greek for persuasion being akin to "obey" (Ga 5:7). This persuasion which ye have obeyed.
cometh not of—that is "from." Does not emanate from Him, but from an enemy.
that calleth you—(Ga 5:13; Ga 1:6; Php 3:14; 1Th 5:24). The calling is the rule of the whole race [Bengel].
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
9. A little leaven—the false teaching of the Judaizers. A small portion of legalism, if it be mixed with the Gospel, corrupts its purity. To add legal ordinances and works in the least degree to justification by faith, is to undermine "the whole." So "leaven" is used of false doctrine (Mt 16:12: compare Mt 13:33). In 1Co 5:6 it means the corrupting influence of one bad person; so Bengel understands it here to refer to the person (Ga 5:7, 8, 10) who misled them. Ec 9:18, "One sinner destroyeth much good" (1Co 15:33). I prefer to refer it to false doctrine, answering to "persuasion" (Ga 5:8).
I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.
10. Greek, "I (emphatical: 'I on my part') have confidence in the Lord with regard to you (2Th 3:4), that ye will be none otherwise minded" (than what by this Epistle I desire you to be, Php 3:15).
but he that troubleth you—(Ga 1:7; Ac 15:24; Jos 7:25; 1Ki 18:17, 18). Some one, probably, was prominent among the seducers, though the denunciation applies to them all (Ga 1:7; 4:17).
shall bear—as a heavy burden.
his—his due and inevitable judgment from God. Paul distinguishes the case of the seduced, who were misled through thoughtlessness, and who, now that they are set right by him, he confidently hopes, in God's goodness, will return to the right way, from that of the seducer who is doomed to judgment.
whosoever he be—whether great (Ga 1:8) or small.
And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.
11. Translate, "If I am still preaching (as I did before conversion) circumcision, why am I still persecuted?" The Judaizing troubler of the Galatians had said, "Paul himself preaches circumcision," as is shown by his having circumcised Timothy (Ac 16:3; compare also Ac 20:6; 21:24). Paul replies by anticipation of their objection, As regards myself, the fact that I am still persecuted by the Jews shows plainly that I do not preach circumcision; for it is just because I preach Christ crucified, and not the Mosaic law, as the sole ground of justification, that they persecute me. If for conciliation he lived as a Jew among the Jews, it was in accordance with his principle enunciated (1Co 7:18, 20; 9:20). Circumcision, or uncircumcision, are things indifferent in themselves: their lawfulness or unlawfulness depends on the animus of him who uses them. The Gentile Galatians' animus in circumcision could only be their supposition that it influenced favorably their standing before God. Paul's living as a Gentile among Gentiles, plainly showed that, if he lived as a Jew among Jews, it was not that he thought it meritorious before God, but as a matter indifferent, wherein he might lawfully conform as a Jew by birth to those with whom he was, in order to put no needless stumbling-block to the Gospel in the way of his countrymen.
then—Presuming that I did so, "then," in that case, "the offense of (stumbling-block, 1Co 1:23 occasioned to the Jews by) the cross has become done away." Thus the Jews' accusation against Stephen was not that he preached Christ crucified, but that "he spake blasphemous words against this holy place and the law." They would, in some measure, have borne the former, if he had mixed with it justification in part by circumcision and the law, and if he had, through the medium of Christianity, brought converts to Judaism. But if justification in any degree depended on legal ordinances, Christ's crucifixion in that degree was unnecessary, and could profit nothing (Ga 5:2, 4). Worldly Wiseman, of the town of Carnal Policy, turns Christian out of the narrow way of the Cross, to the house of Legality. But the way to it was up a mountain, which, as Christian advanced, threatened to fall on him and crush him, amidst flashes of lightning from the mountain [Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress] (Heb 12:18-21).
I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
12. they … which trouble you—Translate, as the Greek is different from Ga 5:10, "they who are unsettling you."
were even cut off—even as they desire your foreskin to be cut off and cast away by circumcision, so would that they were even cut off from your communion, being worthless as a castaway foreskin (Ga 1:7, 8; compare Php 3:2). The fathers, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, and Chrysostom, explain it, "Would that they would even cut themselves off," that is, cut off not merely the foreskin, but the whole member: if circumcision be not enough for them, then let them have excision also; an outburst hardly suitable to the gravity of an apostle. But Ga 5:9, 10 plainly point to excommunication as the judgment threatened against the troublers: and danger of the bad "leaven" spreading, as the reason for it.
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.
13. The "ye" is emphatical, from its position in the Greek, "Ye brethren"; as opposed to those legalists "who trouble you."
unto liberty—The Greek expresses, "on a footing of liberty." The state or condition in which ye have been called to salvation, is one of liberty. Gospel liberty consists in three things, freedom from the Mosaic yoke, from sin, and from slavish fear.
only, &c.—Translate, "Only turn not your liberty into an occasion for the flesh." Do not give the flesh the handle or pretext (Ro 7:8, "occasion") for its indulgence which it eagerly seeks for; do not let it make Christian "liberty" its pretext for indulgence (Ga 5:16, 17; 1Pe 2:16; 2Pe 2:19; Jude 4).
but by love serve one another—Greek, "Be servants (be in bondage) to one another." If ye must be servants, then be servants to one another in love. While free as to legalism, be bound by Love (the article in the Greek personifies love in the abstract) to serve one another (1Co 9:19). Here he hints at their unloving strifes springing out of lust of power. "For the lust of power is the mother of heresies" [Chrysostom].
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
14. all the law—Greek, "the whole law," namely, the Mosaic law. Love to God is presupposed as the root from which love to our neighbor springs; and it is in this tense the latter precept (so "word" means here) is said to be the fulfilling of "all the law" (Le 19:18). Love is "the law of Christ" (Ga 6:2; Mt 7:12; 22:39, 40; Ro 13:9, 10).
is fulfilled—Not as received text "is being fulfilled," but as the oldest manuscripts read, "has been fulfilled"; and so "receives its full perfection," as rudimentary teachings are fulfilled by the more perfect doctrine. The law only united Israelites together: the Gospel unites all men, and that in relation to God [Grotius].
But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
15. bite—backbite the character.
devour—the substance by injuring, extortion, &c. (Hab 1:13; Mt 23:14; 2Co 11:20).
consumed, &c.—Strength of soul, health of body, character, and resources, are all consumed by broils [Bengel].
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
16. This I say then—Repeating in other words, and explaining the sentiment in Ga 5:13, What I mean is this."
Walk in the Spirit—Greek, "By (the rule of) the (Holy) Spirit." Compare Ga 5:16-18, 22, 25; Ga 6:1-8, with Ro 7:22; 8:11. The best way to keep tares out of a bushel is to fill it with wheat.
the flesh—the natural man, out of which flow the evils specified (Ga 5:19-21). The spirit and the flesh mutually exclude one another. It is promised, not that we should have no evil lusts, but that we should "not fulfil" them. If the spirit that is in us can be at ease under sin, it is not a spirit that comes from the Holy Spirit. The gentle dove trembles at the sight even of a hawk's feather.
For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
17. For—the reason why walking by the Spirit will exclude fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, namely, their mutual contrariety.
the Spirit—not "lusteth," but "tendeth (or some such word is to be supplied) against the flesh."
so that ye cannot do the things that ye would—The Spirit strives against the flesh and its evil influence; the flesh against the Spirit and His good influence, so that neither the one nor the other can be fully carried out into action. "But" (Ga 5:18) where "the Spirit" prevails, the issue of the struggle no longer continues doubtful (Ro 7:15-20) [Bengel]. The Greek is, "that ye may not do the things that ye would." "The flesh and Spirit are contrary one to the other," so that you must distinguish what proceeds from the Spirit, and what from the flesh; and you must not fulfil what you desire according to the carnal self, but what the Spirit within you desires [Neander]. But the antithesis of Ga 5:18 ("But," &c.), where the conflict is decided, shows, I think, that here Ga 5:17 contemplates the inability both for fully accomplishing the good we "would," owing to the opposition of the flesh, and for doing the evil our flesh would desire, owing to the opposition of the Spirit in the awakened man (such as the Galatians are assumed to be), until we yield ourselves wholly by the Spirit to "walk by the Spirit" (Ga 5:16, 18).
But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
18. "If ye are led (give yourselves up to be led) by (Greek) the Spirit, ye are not under the law." For ye are not working the works of the flesh (Ga 5:16, 19-21) which bring one "under the law" (Ro 8:2, 14). The "Spirit makes free from the law of sin and death" (Ga 5:23). The law is made for a fleshly man, and for the works of the flesh (1Ti 1:9), "not for a righteous man" (Ro 6:14, 15).
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
19-23. Confirming Ga 5:18, by showing the contrariety between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
manifest—The hidden fleshly principle betrays itself palpably by its works, so that these are not hard to discover, and leave no doubt that they come not from the Spirit.
which are these—Greek, "such as," for instance.
Adultery—omitted in the oldest manuscripts.
lasciviousness—rather, "wantonness" petulance, capricious insolence; it may display itself in "lasciviousness," but not necessarily or constantly so (Mr 7:21, 22, where it is not associated with fleshly lusts) [Trench]. "Works" (in the plural) are attributed to the "flesh," because they are divided, and often at variance with one another, and even when taken each one by itself, betray their fleshly origin. But the "fruit of the Spirit" (Ga 5:23) is singular, because, however manifold the results, they form one harmonious whole. The results of the flesh are not dignified by the name "fruit"; they are but works (Eph 5:9, 11). He enumerates those fleshly "works" (committed against our neighbor, against God, and against ourselves) to which the Galatians were most prone (the Celts have always been prone to disputations and internal strifes): and those manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit most needed by them (Ga 5:13, 15). This passage shows that "the flesh" does not mean merely sensuality, as opposed to spirituality: for "divisions" in the catalogue here do not flow from sensuality. The identification of "the natural (Greek, 'animal-souled') man," with the "carnal" or fleshly man (1Co 2:14), shows that "the flesh" expresses human nature as estranged from God. Trench observes, as a proof of our fallen state, how much richer is every vocabulary in words for sins, than in those for graces. Paul enumerates seventeen "works of the flesh," only nine manifestations of "the fruit of the Spirit" (compare Eph 4:31).
Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,
20. witchcraft—sorcery; prevalent in Asia (Ac 19:19; compare Re 21).
variance—Greek, "strife"; singular in the oldest manuscripts.
emulations—in the oldest manuscripts, singular—"emulation," or rather, "jealousy"; for the sake of one's own advantage. "Envyings" (Ga 5:21) are even without advantage to the person himself [Bengel].
wrath—Greek, plural, "passionate outbreaks" [Alford].
strife—rather as Greek, "factions," "cabals"; derived from a Greek root, meaning "a worker for hire": hence, unworthy means for compassing ends, factious practices.
seditions—"dissensions," as to secular matters.
heresies—as to sacred things (see on 1Co 11:19). Self-constituted parties; from a Greek root, to choose. A schism is a more recent split in a congregation from a difference of opinion. Heresy is a schism become inveterate [Augustine, Con. Crescon. Don., 2,7].
Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
21. tell … before—namely, before the event.
I … told you in time past—when I was with you.
you—who, though maintaining justification by the law, are careless about keeping the law (Ro 2:21-23).
not inherit … kingdom of God—(1Co 6:9, 10; Eph 5:5).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
22. love—the leader of the band of graces (1Co 13:1-13).
gentleness—Greek, "benignity," conciliatory to others; whereas "goodness," though ready to do good, has not such suavity of manner [Jerome]. Alford translates, "kindness."
faith—"faithfulness"; opposed to "heresies" [Bengel]. Alford refers to 1Co 13:7, "Believeth all things": faith in the widest sense, toward God and man. "Trustfulness" [Conybeare and Howson].
Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
23. temperance—The Greek root implies self-restraint as to one's desires and lusts.
against such—not persons, but things, as in Ga 5:21.
no law—confirming Ga 5:18, "Not under the law" (1Ti 1:9, 10). The law itself commands love (Ga 5:14); so far is it from being "against such."
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
24. The oldest manuscripts read, "They that are of Christ Jesus"; they that belong to Christ Jesus; being "led by (His) Spirit" (Ga 5:18).
have crucified the flesh—They nailed it to the cross once for all when they became Christ's, on believing and being baptized (Ro 6:3, 4): they keep it now in a state of crucifixion (Ro 6:6): so that the Spirit can produce in them, comparatively uninterrupted by it, "the fruit of the Spirit" (Ga 5:22). "Man, by faith, is dead to the former standing point of a sinful life, and rises to a new life (Ga 5:25) of communion with Christ (Col 3:3). The act by which they have crucified the flesh with its lust, is already accomplished ideally in principle. But the practice, or outward conformation of the life, must harmonize with the tendency given to the inward life" (Ga 5:25) [Neander]. We are to be executioners, dealing cruelly with the body of sin, which has caused the acting of all cruelties on Christ's body.
with the affections—Translate, "with its passions." Thus they are dead to the law's condemning power, which is only for the fleshly, and their lusts (Ga 5:23).
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
25. in … in—rather, as Greek, "If we live (see on Ga 5:24) BY the Spirit, let us also walk (Ga 5:16; 6:16) BY the Spirit." Let our life in practice correspond to the ideal inner principle of our spiritual life, namely, our standing by faith as dead to, and severed from, sin, and the condemnation of the law. "Life by (or 'in') the Spirit" is not an occasional influence of the Spirit, but an abiding state, wherein we are continually alive, though sometimes sleeping and inactive.
Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.
26. Greek, "Let us not BECOME." While not asserting that the Galatians are "vainglorious" now, he says they are liable to become so.
provoking one another—an effect of "vaingloriousness" on the stronger: as "envying" is its effect on the weaker. A danger common both to the orthodox and Judaizing Galatians.