July 23: Galatians 5:18, 23b

In the last two daily notes, I discussed the first two pairs of statements which bracket vv. 16-25 (see the chiastic outline in the earlier notes). As previously indicated, these pairs may be summarized:

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

Today’s note will examine the third and final pair.

Affirmation for believers (regarding Freedom)—Gal 5:18, 23b

Here, again, Paul makes specific reference to freedom from the Law, which is the primary theme running throughout the letter. The two verses, looked at in tandem, are:

V. 18: “But if you are (being) led in the Spirit, you are not under (the) Law
V. 23b: “…(but) against these (thing)s [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit] there is no Law

A casual reading of vv. 16-25 might easily miss the connection between these statements, the parallel being as much conceptual as it is formal. A close examination, however, demonstrates that Paul is making very similar claims; we can best see this by dividing each verse into two parts—the first presenting a conditional clause or phrase involving the Spirit, and the second being a conclusive affirmation regarding believers and the Law.

Part 1: Conditional

V. 18: ei) pneu/mati a&gesqe (“{but} if you are led in the Spirit…”)
V. 23: kata\ tw=n toiou/twn (“against these things…”)

Technically, only verse 18 properly contains a conditional clause, as indicated by the particle ei), “if” (I have left out the coordinating particle de/ [“but”] to better show the condition). The expression pneu/mati (“in/by the Spirit”) has been discussed in the prior two notes. The verb a&gw essentially means “lead”, but often specifically in the sense of “lead away, carry off, ” etc. Some commentators have thought that Paul’s use here may indicate a charismatic or “mantic” experience, i.e. being “carried away” by the Spirit. This is possible, but the overall context of Galatians strongly suggests that the basic sense of being led (i.e. directed/guided) better applies here. If so, then it fits with the similar language and symbolism Paul uses throughout regarding believers and the Spirit:

    • walk about in the Spirit” (v. 16)
    • walk in line in the Spirit” (v. 25)
    • “sow (seed) into the Spirit” (6:8)

Believers act in (and by) the power of the Spirit, being guided (willingly) by the Spirit; note in this regard:

    • Believers, through faith in Christ, receive Spirit from God and begin “in the Spirit” (3:2-3, 14; 4:6)
    • God works in believers through the Spirit (3:5; 4:6)
    • We live in the Spirit (5:25)

There is a close formal parallel between v. 18a and 25a:

ei) pneu/mati a&gesqe, “if we are led in the Spirit, (then)…” (v. 18a)
ei) zw=men pneu/mati, “if we live in the Spirit, (then)…” (v. 25a)

Both, I believe, represent actual conditions, reflecting the reality of the Spirit in the lives of believers. In this regard, let us turn to verse 23, which, as I indicated, is not precisely a conditional clause. In fact, it is dependent upon vv. 22-23a, the list of “fruit of the Spirit” (karpo\$ tou= pneu/mato$)—the demonstrative pronoun toiou=to$, “these (thing)s”, refers to the nine items representing the “fruit”. Effectively, Paul is establishing a condition—i.e., if you exhibit the “fruit” of the Spirit, if the Spirit is working and you allow yourself to be led and guided by it, then know that “against these things…” The use of the preposition kata (“against”) is significant, as it reflects the conflict for believers described in vv. 17 and 24. Throughout Galatians, Paul has mentioned three related forces related to this conflict: (1) the flesh, (2) the Law,  and (3) the power of sin.

Part 2: Affirmation

V. 18: ou)k e)ste\ u(po\ no/mon (“…you are not under Law”)
V. 23: ou)k e)stin no/mo$ (“…there is no Law”)

This is, for Paul, perhaps the fundamental message he wishes to deliver to the Galatians, an affirmation of Christian identity, stated simply, and by way of negation. In verse 18, this relates back to the condition, “if you are led in the Spirit…”, and indicates the result: “…(then) you are not under the Law”. It is hard to imagine a simpler, more definite statement that believers are no longer bound and obligated to observe the commands of the Old Testament/Jewish Law (Torah). This is especially so when one considers the normal view of Torah precisely as (authoritative) instruction, a set of rules and precepts by which one is led and guided in the way of truth and to fulfill the will of God. For believers, it is rather the Spirit which provides the guidance traditionally ascribed to the Torah.

The statement in verse 23 is especially interesting by comparison, as it has to be understood in the context of vv. 22-23, providing a conclusion to the list of the “fruit of the Spirit”—”against these things [i.e. the fruit] there is no Law”. At first glance, it is not entirely clear what Paul means by this statement. Contextually, and upon examination, one may consider it according to the following aspects:

    1. There is no law against the fruit of the Spirit since they are all good and holy and, practically speaking, there is no law against doing good.
    2. The Law is principally about doing, i.e. “works” (cf. Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10-13), but the fruit of the Spirit are not works (as contrasted with “works of the flesh”).
    3. For believers the conflict is now between the Spirit and the flesh (cf. throughout Gal 5:1-6:10)—we are dead to the Law (2:19-20) and freed from its commands (2:4; 3:13, 23-25; 4:1-7, 21-31; 5:1ff), so it no longer applies.
    4. The guidance believers receive (from the Spirit) in governing or regulating attitudes and behavior in ethical (and religious) matters is not “Law” in the sense that the Torah commands are considered “Law”

Arguments can be made in favor of each of these viewpoints, however, I would say that the last two best capture Paul’s meaning and intent. While the context of vv. 22-23 is primary, I believe it is also appropriate, in this instance, to take the clause ‘out of context’, as a separate, independent statement (as I have essentially done above). This yields an especially clear and decisive statement that, for believers (those who are in Christ and in the Spirit), there is no Law. While such a conclusion, in one respect, accurately represents (and punctuates) Paul’s teaching about believers and the Torah, it is not the end of the story. Further on, in Gal 6:2, Paul does refer to a “Law” for believers: “the Law of Christ” (o( no/mo$ tou= Xristou=); and it is this expression which I will be discussing in the next daily note.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *