July 21: Galatians 5:16, 25

The notes for the next few days will be supplemental to the current article on Galatians 5:1-6:10 (“Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”), specifically the exhortation/warning section 5:13-25, and, in particular, verses 16-25. I have outlined the structure of these verses as follows:

  • Exhortation: “walk [peripate/w] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
    • Conflict for believers: “flesh against the Spirit” and “Spirit against flesh” (v. 17)
      • Affirmation for believers: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Law” (v. 18)
        • Works of the flesh (vv. 19-21)
        • Fruit of the Spirit (vv. 22-23a)
      • Affirmation for believers: If the fruit of the Spirit is present, “there is no Law” (v. 23b)
    • Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
  • Exhortation: “walk [stoixe/w] in the Spirit” (v. 25)

With three concentric pairs (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) surrounding the central lists of vices (“works of the flesh”) and virtues (“fruit of the Spirit”). These pairs may be summarized thus:

    • Exhortation (vv. 16, 25)
    • Conflict—Flesh vs. Spirit (vv. 17, 24)
    • Affirmation regarding freedom (vv. 18, 23b)

Each of these will be discussed in turn. Today’s note deals with the first:

Exhortation for believers—Gal 5:16, 25

These two exhortations are similar and closely related:

V. 16: “But I relate (to you): walk about in the Spirit and (no) you will not complete the impulse of the flesh”

V. 25: “If we live in the Spirit, (so) also we should walk in line in the Spirit”

To begin with, the expression “by the Spirit” in Greek is the dative form pneu/mati (pneu¡mati), from pneu=ma (pneu¡ma)—there is no preposition. On the basis of other instances in Paul’s writings (Rom 2:29; 8:9; 9:1; 14:17; 15:16; 1 Cor 12:3; 2 Cor 6:6; Gal 6:1; Col 1:8), it may be filled out as e)n pneu/mati, “in the Spirit”, though this ought to be understood primarily in an instrumental sense, i.e. “in the (power) of the Spirit”, or “through the Spirit”, “by the Spirit”—by the power and guidance, etc., of the Spirit. Of the seven uses of this form in Galatians, all but one occur in the Exhortation (5:5, 16, 18, 25 [twice]; 6:1)—in other words, the Christian manner of life and behavior, etc, is (to be) governed by the Spirit. It will be helpful to study in detail several of the words and expressions in these verses:

Verse 16

peripatei=te (“walk about”)—this is a common verb, which may, of course, be taken in the concrete, literal sense of physically walking/moving about an area; however, it is frequently used in a more abstract philosophical and ethical sense of a regular/habitual mode of behavior, lifestyle, etc. This is how it is used in much of the New Testament, especially in the letters; it occurs 32 times in the Pauline letters, with this particular imperatival form also appearing in Col 2:6; 4:5 and Eph 5:2, 8.

pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”)—this expression has been discussed above; it may be useful to consider the references to the Spirit (pneu=ma) in Galatians:

    • Believers receive the Spirit (from God) through faith/trust (in Christ), 3:2, 14
    • Believers begin their new life “in the Spirit” (contrasted with “flesh”), 3:3
    • God supplies the Spirit for believers (context of miraculous power), 3:5
    • The Spirit represents the ultimate (end-time) promise of God for his people, 3:14
    • God sends the Spirit into the hearts of believers, allowing them to realize their identity as sons of God (in/with Christ), 4:6 (“born according to the Spirit”, v. 29)
    • It is by/through the Spirit (and faith) that we expect to be declared/made just/righteous before God, 5:5
    • The Spirit works to bear “fruit” in believers, i.e. Christian/Christlike virtues and characteristics, 5:22f; 6:1
    • Believers ‘cooperate’ with the Spirit, allowing it/him to work in their lives, according to the image of willingly “walking” (5:16, 25) and “sowing” seed (6:8)—again, contrasted with the flesh

Consider also, for comparison, the other uses of the imperative form peripatei=te, parallel to peripatei=te pneu/mati here, “walk about in the Spirit“:

    • Colossians 2:6—”walk about in him [i.e. in Christ]”
    • Colossians 4:5—”walk about in wisdom
    • Ephesians 5:2—”walk about in love
    • Ephesians 5:8—”walk about as offspring [i.e. children] of light
    • Note also the one non-Pauline occurrence, in John 12:35 (Jesus speaking): “walk about as (ones) holding the light

e)piqumi/an sarko\$ (“impulse of the flesh”)—I translate the Greek work e)piqumi/a as “impulse [upon/toward something]”; however, in anthropological terms, it often covers a similar range of meaning as “heart” and “mind”, the verb e)piqume/w being rendered, “set (one’s) heart/mind upon (something)”. Often in the New Testament (and similar religious-ethical writings), it carries the sense of illicit, sinful longing or desire. The word sa/rc (“flesh”) is used quite often by Paul in his letters, and with a fairly wide range of meaning, from physical/material flesh to a power/principle of sin and wickedness at work in human beings (and to which they are in bondage). Frequently, for Paul, it seems to refer specifically to the selfish or self-centered aspect of human beings, the corrupt/wicked ego (“I”) which thinks and acts contrary to God and Christ. In Galatians, Paul regularly contrasts the “flesh” with the Spirit (of God/Christ); it is also closely connected with the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah), the “works of the flesh” being parallel (and at least partly synonymous) with “works of the Law”.

ou) mh (“no, no” or “no…not”)—the double negative particle serves to strengthen the denial, i.e. “not at all”, “in no way”, “by no means”, “certainly not”, etc.

telesh/te (“complete”)—the verb tele/w, related to te/lo$ (“end, goal”), fundamentally means “finish, complete”; here it specifically refers to the completion of the “impulse of the flesh”. In modern English terms, we might describe this as acting out, or acting on, one’s desire. The verb is relatively rare in the Pauline letters (Rom 2:27; 13:6; 2 Cor 12:9, and 2 Tim 4:7), with the use in 2 Cor 12:9 expressing the opposite context: of believers being “made complete” by (and in) Christ. A dynamic similar to that indicated by Paul here, i.e. response to temptation and sinful desire, is vividly described, though with quite different language, in James 1:14-15.

Verse 25

ei@ (“if…”)—this particle marks v. 25 as a conditional statement, but one based on real or actual condition.

zw=men (“we live”)—the verb za/w (“live”) carries a two-fold sense in Paul’s letters, and particularly here in Galatians: (a) the divine/spiritual life we have (as believers) in Christ, and, properly (b) living in the world (as believers) in Christ. This double-meaning (a kind of wordplay) is expressed powerfully in Gal 2:19-20; in Gal 3:11-12 (citing Scripture), “life” is used specifically in the sense of salvation, of being made/declared just before God. The use of the present indicative here in v. 25 shows that this life/living is currently real and active for believers.

pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”)—on this expression, see above. As indicated, the protasis of this (conditional) statement (“if we live in/by the Spirit…”) is based on a real condition—i.e., “if we live in/by the Spirit, (as indeed we do, then)…”

kai\ (“and”)—a similar coordinating conjuctive kai-particle appears in verse 16—formally similar, but with a different use and significance:

V. 16: “walk in the Spirit, and (then, i.e. as a result)…”
V. 25: “live in the Spirit, and (also, i.e. in addition)…”

Readable English requires that in verse 25 kai be translated “also”; this establishes the apodosis of the conditional statement—”if… (then) also…”

stoixw=men (“we should walk in line”)—this is a different verb (stoixe/w, “go in line”) than that used in verse 16 (peripate/w, “walk about”), the difference being obscured in translations which render both simply as “walk”. There is probably not a great deal of distinction of meaning, though stoixe/w is a more precise, forceful verb to use, i.e. “walk/step in line, in an orderly manner”. If peripate/w in verse 16 refers to believers’ “walk” generally, here stoixe/w likely indicates a “walk” that is properly governed and regulated by the Spirit. The first verb in v. 25 (zw=men, “we live”) is a present indicative form, suggesting the current reality of believers’ situation; on the other hand, stoixw=men (“we should walk in line”) is a present subjunctive form, i.e. “we should…”, “we ought to…”, etc. A life regulated and guided by the Spirit still requires something from us—a willingness to allow and accept the guidance, and so to “walk” in it.

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