March 21: Romans 8:15

Romans 8:15

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again, unto fear; but (rather), you received (the) Spirit of placement as sons, in which we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!'”

This verse builds upon the statement in v. 14 (discussed in the previous note), emphasizing that all believers, led and guided by the Spirit, are sons (ui(oi/) of God. Two key points of Paul’s thought are brought together here: (1) the association of the Spirit with freedom, and (2) the contrast between sonship and slavery. This means, of course, that there is also a close connection between sonship and the Spirit.

Paul dealt with both points extensively in Galatians, and treats them again in the probatio of Romans (esp. chapters 58). The sonship/slavery contrast—whereby the son is understood as the heir of a free person—is central to the illustrations Paul uses in Galatians 4. The Spirit/freedom association is more general, and fundamental, to Christian identity. The Spirit characterizes the new covenant in Christ, and is set in stark contrast with the bondage experienced by humankind under the old covenant. The bondage is, first, to the power of sin (and death); and then, secondly, to the binding authority of the Torah regulations. The believer in Christ is freed from both kinds of bondage, which Paul combines in the expression “the law of sin and of death” in Rom 8:2, to which is contrasted “the law of the Spirit of life”.

The association of the Law (Torah) with sin and death is a complex (and controversial) aspect of Paul’s theology. He deals with it in Galatians 3-4 (esp. chapter 3), but more extensively here in Romans 5-8 (esp. chapter 7). In Galatians (and also in 2 Corinthians 3) Paul emphasizes freedom from the Law, while in Romans his focus is on freedom from bondage to the power of sin. The Spirit-freedom connection features prominently in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. the earlier article), especially the climactic declarations in vv. 17-18.

Let us see how Paul utilizes these themes here. The first statement in v. 15 is:

“You did not receive a spirit of slavery again”
ou) e)la/bete pneu=ma doulei/a$ pa/lin

The expression “spirit of slavery” (pneu=ma doulei/a$) seems something of an oxymoron, since, as noted above, the Spirit is associated with freedom (e)leuqeri/a), the exact opposite of slavery. Paul is, of course, here referring to a very different kind of “spirit”, one which is altogether opposite of the freedom believers have in the Spirit. The use of the expression “spirit of slavery” was doubtless intended to strike the reader’s attention in this regard, much like the different ways he makes use of the term “law” (no/mo$) in verse 2. The qualifying expression “unto fear” (ei)$ fo/bon), emphasizes the effect of being a slave: it leads to a pervasive sense of fear. The person who is free does not live under this fear.

The verb lamba/nw (“receive”) alludes to the fact that believers received the Spirit, upon coming to trust in Jesus (symbolized by the baptism rite). It is the Spirit of freedom, and shows that believers have been set free from bondage, both to the power of sin and to the Law (cf. above). The implication is that we, as believers, ought not to think and act as though we are still in bondage, nor allow ourselves, in any way, to come under such bondage again. The latter point, in particular, is emphasized here by Paul, with his use of the qualifying adverb pa/lin (“again”).

As mentioned above, Paul is focusing primarily in Romans on bondage to the power of sin, and this is the principal context here. In this regard, verse 15 echoes his exhortation in vv. 12-13, which is worth examining again briefly:

“So then, brothers, we are not (one)s owing [i.e. debtors] to the flesh, (so as) to live according to the flesh” (v. 12)

Here bondage is defined in terms of debt, of something one owes (vb o)fei/lw) to another. Paul uses the noun o)feile/th$, “one who owes, debtor”, which would characterize the condition of believers prior to faith in Jesus—i.e., as ones in bondage to the power of sin. The debt-motif suggests, in some respects, a softer form of bondage, and this may be intentional. For Paul is referring, not to bondage under sin, but to believer’s relationship to the flesh (sa/rc).

The “flesh” concept in Paul’s thought is multifaceted and complex. Even though believers are set free from bondage to sin, we are not entirely freed from the negative influence of the flesh. We still must grapple with the flesh, as a source of temptation, of an impulse toward sin. It is as though the “flesh” of a person retains the ‘muscle memory’ of what it was like to be in bondage to sin, of being compelled to serve it (as a slave). In verse 12, Paul makes clear that we, as believers, do not owe anything to the “flesh”, and are not obligated to follow its impulses toward sin. However, it is only by being “in the Spirit,” of ‘walking’ by it, and allowing the Spirit to lead us (v. 15), that the “flesh” ceases to have any effective influence on us. Paul emphasizes the volitional side of this dynamic, of the need for believers to be willing to follow the Spirit, rather than the flesh, in v. 13:

“If you live according to (the) flesh, you are about to [i.e. you will] die away; but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of body, you will live.”

The inflected noun pneu/mati (dative case), being without a governing preposition, could also be translated “by the Spirit”, or even “through the Spirit”. Paul says very much the same thing in Gal 5:16:

“Walk about in the Spirit [pneu/mati], and (the) impulse [e)piqumi/a] of (the) flesh you shall not complete”

The noun e)piqumi/a essentially means an impulse (qu/mo$) toward something; in English idiom, we would describe this in terms of setting our heart/mind “upon” (e)pi/) something. Here, in this religious-ethical context, it clearly refers to an impulse toward sin. The expression “deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13 is more or less synonymous with “works of the flesh” in Gal 5:19ff.

However, in Galatians, Paul also warns his readers specifically against allowing themselves to be put under bondage to the Law (i.e., the Torah regulations of the old covenant). He states this most clearly in Gal 5:1, and the wording “yoke of slavery again” (pa/lin zugo/$ doulei/a$) is similar enough to Rom 8:15, that we can assume that Paul would include the idea of bondage to the Law as part of the “slavery” (doulei/a) referenced there. This is also confirmed by the entire line of argument in chapter 8.

In the next daily note, we will discuss the second part of verse 15.

March 20: Romans 8:14

Romans 8:14-17

As part of the recent article on Romans 8:1-17ff (in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”), I will be presenting a short set of exegetical notes on verses 14-17. These verses are an integral part of Paul’s discussion on the role of the Spirit in chapter 8. They must be understood in light of the main proposition of the chapter, stated in verse 2, and then expounded in the verses that follow:

“The law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, (has) set you free from the law of sin and death”

I have summarized the theme of chapter 8 as an announcement of Life in the Spirit; this follows the theme in chapters 67, of the announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin.

Romans 8:14

“For as (many) as are led by (the) Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

This is perhaps the clearest and most succinct statement by Paul regarding the central place of the Spirit for believers, in terms of their new religious identity as God’s people. In this regard, Paul is drawing upon earlier Old Testament tradition, whereby Israel, as God’s chosen people, was identified as God’s “son(s)” —cf. Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; Isa 1:2; Hos 11:1; Jer 3:19ff; 31:9; Wisd 18:13, etc. It is clear from the context in Romans (e.g., 9:4) that Paul was fully cognizant of this religious background.

The declaration here in v. 14 is parallel with Galatians 4:6a, where Paul states the identity of believers even more bluntly: “you are sons” (e)ste ui(oi/)—that is, sons of God. The role of the Spirit is also emphasized in Gal 4:6, though it must be said that the idea of the Spirit as a witness to the essential identity of believers is not unique to Paul’s thought, since it is found at several points in the Johannine writings (1 Jn 3:24; 4:13; 5:6), where it can also be connected with the idea of believers as “children of God” (cf. Jn 1:12; 3:5-8; 1 Jn 3:1ff; 4:4).

One might be inclined to translate the expression ui(oi\ qeou= here as “children of God,” since Paul does use the more inclusive term te/kna (“offspring, children”) in vv. 16-17. However, in light of the parallel with Gal 4:6, it is better to retain the more literal translation “sons of God” here in v. 14, as it relates to the specific Pauline motif of believers as God’s heirs. The (eldest) son is the heir to the Father, and Paul unquestionably has this concept in mind here, just as he does in Galatians 34. Christ is the Son, but believers through union with him, also receive the same status and identity as sons. This also is very much part of Johannine thought, except that the noun ui(o/$ is explicitly reserved for Jesus, with te/kna always being used for believers.

The demonstrative pronoun ou!toi (“these”) refers back to the first clause, clearly identifying the “sons of God” with those who are “led [a&gontai] by the Spirit of God”. The demonstrative ou!toi is parallel with the correlative pronoun o%soi (“as [many] as”). Essentially this means everyone who is led by the Spirit of God is a son of God. It is a statement of fundamental identity.

The verb a&gw (“lead”), a common verb in narrative, is relatively rare in Paul’s writings, occurring just seven times. In 1 Cor 12:2 (and also 2 Tim 3:6), it is used in a negative sense, of people being “led away/astray” by evil influences. More important for our study are the other instances where God is the actor, leading believers (Rom 2:4; 1 Thes 4:14). The use of the passive in v. 14 also means that God is acting, specifically through the presence of the Spirit. The parallel usage in Gal 5:18 is most relevant:

“if you are led [a&gesqe] by (the) Spirit, you are not under (the) law”

This is precisely the context of Romans 8, emphasizing the freedom of believers from the law (no/mo$), by which is meant (primarily) the Torah regulations of the Old Covenant. In place of the Torah, believers are now guided by a different law (no/mo$)—that of the living and indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. This is what Paul means by the expression “the law of the Spirit of life” (o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$) in verse 2.

However, this guidance of the Spirit does not take place without the willingness of the believer. There is a volitional component—we must allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. This is central to Paul’s instruction in Galatians 5, where he twice specifically exhorts his readers to “walk” in the Spirit; this exhortation frames the instruction in vv. 1625, where he first uses the verb peripate/w (“walk about”) as an imperative, and then the verb stoixe/w (“walk/move in line”) as a subjunctive (with imperative/cohortative force).

The volitional aspect is perhaps emphasized even more forcefully here, as expressed in the preceding verses 12-13, where believers are exhorted not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka), as though still under bondage to the power of sin (and the law), but instead to “put to death” (vb qanato/w) the “deeds of the body”. This is done by living and ‘walking’ “in/by the Spirit” (pneu/mati)—or, using the language of v. 14 (and Gal 5:18), by letting ourselves be led by the Spirit.

This will be discussed further, in the next daily note (on v. 15).

March 17: Romans 8:10

This note on Romans 8:10, is supplemental to the discussion on Rom 8:1-17ff in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. It largely reproduces an earlier note included in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.

Romans 8:10

Verse 10 cannot be separated from the context of verses 9-11, which form the culmination of the exhortation in 8:1-11, regarding the conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. The announcement of freedom from the Law in vv. 1-4 means that the believer must rely upon the Spirit for guidance—Paul characterizes believers as “the ones walking about according to the Spirit” (cf. Gal 5:16, 25). Deliverance from sin also means that believers are no longer under its enslaving power, and now have the freedom and ability to follow the will of God; however, the flesh remains as a source of struggle and conflict.

This is the emphasis in verses 5-11, which correspond in many ways to the exhortation in Gal 5:16-25. According to Paul’s anthropology, the flesh itself remains opposed to the “Law of God” (vv. 7-8). The main argument in verses 9-11 is that believers are, and should be, guided and influenced by the Spirit, and not the flesh:

“But you are not in (the) flesh [e)n sarki/] but in (the) Spirit [e)n pneu/mati]…”

The preposition e)n here has the specific sense of “in the power of” —in a manner similar to the expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|). However, this is only one aspect of union with Christ and the Spirit; in the rest of vv. 9-11, the focus shifts from believers “in the Spirit” to the Spirit “in believers”. In other words, the power which guides and controls believers is based on the presence of the Spirit in them. Living, thinking, and walking “according to the flesh” is not, and should not be, characteristic of believers. This is reflected in the conditional clause which follows in v. 9a:

“…if indeed [ei&per] the Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

The particle ei&per is somewhat difficult to translate; literally, it would be something like “if (indeed) about (this)”, with the sense that “if (indeed) it is so that…”. It indicates a condition, but one that is generally assumed to be true: “if it is so (as indeed it is!)”, i.e. “since (it is so that)”. For true believers in Christ, the condition would be true: the Spirit dwells in them. A series of sentences follow in vv. 9b-11, each beginning with the conditional particle ei) (“if”) and the coordinating particle de/:

V. 9b: “But if [ei) de\] any (one) does not hold the Spirit of God, that (one) is not of him.”
V. 10: “But if [ei) de\] (the) Anointed is in you…”
V. 11: “But if [ei) de\] the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you…”

The first (9b) is a negative condition: “if any one does not have [lit. hold] the Spirit of God”. Most likely the genitive au)tou= (“of him”) means “of Christ”, belonging to Christ—i.e. a true Christian has the Spirit of God. The last two sentences have positive conditions, and the two are closely related, connecting Christ with the Spirit of God:

    • V. 10— “the Anointed is in you [e)n u(mi=n]”
    • V. 11— “the Spirit of (God)… dwells in you [e)n u(mi=n]”

In each instance, the apodosis, indicating the fulfillment or result of the condition (“then…”), involves the theme of life vs. death. I begin with the last verse (v. 11):

    • “If the Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua out of the dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then)…
      • …the (one) raising (the) Anointed out of the dead also will make alive your dying [i.e. mortal] bodies through his Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] in you”

The reference here is to the bodily resurrection of the end-time, which represents the culmination and completion of salvation for believers, according to early Christian thought. Note the repetitive symmetry to this sentence:

the Spirit of the one raising Jesus from the dead dwells in you
——will make alive your dying bodies
the one raising Christ from the dead…through his Spirit dwelling in you

This brings us to verse 10:

    • “If (the) Anointed (is) in you, (then)…
      • …the body (is) dead through sin, but the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness”

Here the apodosis is expressed by way of a me\nde/ construction:

    • me\n (on the one hand)—the body is dead through sin
    • de\ (on the other hand)—the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness

If verse 11 referred to bodily resurrection at the end, verse 10 refers to a dynamic that is already realized in believers presently. It still involves life and death, but not one following the other (as in the resurrection); rather, the two exist at the same time, side by side—the body is dead, the Spirit is life. This anthropological dualism is typical of Paul’s thought; however, it is interesting to note that he has here shifted away slightly from the flesh/Spirit conflict emphasized in vv. 1-8. The “flesh” (sa/rc) relates to the impulse toward sin, the “body” (sw=ma) to death itself. It may be helpful to consider the anthropological terms Paul makes use of in Romans:

    • sw=ma (“body”)—that is, the physical (human) body, which is subject to death (“dying/mortal”, Rom 6:12; 8:11), according to the primeval judgment narrated in Gen 3:3-4, 19, 22-23. In Rom 7:24, Paul refers to it as “the body of death” (cf. also Rom 4:19). For believers, the redemption of the body, i.e. the loosing it from the bondage of death, is the final, culminating event of salvation—the resurrection (Rom 8:23).
    • ta\ me/lh (“the [bodily] parts”)—the different components (limbs, organs, etc) of the physical body, which should be understood two ways: (1) the sensory/sensual aspect of the body, which is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin, and (2) the means by which human beings act and work in the body. The first of these is expressed in Rom 7:5ff, 23—it is specifically in the bodily members that sin dwells and works. The second is indicated in Rom 6:13ff, as well perhaps by expression “the practices/deeds of the body” in Rom 8:13.
    • sa/rc (“flesh”)—a wide-ranging word and concept in Paul’s thought, it refers principally to the physical/material aspect of human nature (the body and its parts), but also within the specific context of sin. The “flesh” indicates human nature as enslaved under the power of sin (throughout Rom 7:7-25 and 8:1-11ff [cf. above]). Believers in Christ are freed from the enslaving power of sin, but can still be affected, in various ways, by the flesh and the impulse to sin which resides in it (Rom 8:1-11, and see esp. Gal 5:16-25).
    • nou=$ (“mind”)—according to Rom 7:13-25 (esp. vv. 23-25), the mind, representing intellectual, volitional and ethical aspects of human nature, is not enslaved by the power of sin the same way that the flesh is. Though it can come to be dominated entirely by wickedness (cf. Rom 1:28), in Rom 7 (where Paul likely is speaking for devout Jews and Gentiles), the mind is torn, wanting to obey the will (or Law) of God, but ultimately overcome by the power of sin in the flesh. For believers, the “mind” is to be renewed (Rom 12:2), through “walking in the Spirit” (not according to the flesh or the things of the world), so that we may be transformed more and more into the likeness of God in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3:18).
    • o( e&sw a&nqrwpo$ (“the inner man”)—Paul uses this expression in Rom 7:22, contrasting it with the “(bodily) parts”; it is best, I think, to understand it as representing a human being in the exercise of the mind, as opposed to following the (sinful) impulse of the flesh. That it is largely synonymous with the “mind” (nou=$) for Paul is indicated by his use of the expression in 2 Cor 4:16, compared with Rom 12:2. For believers, it reflects that aspect of the person which recognizes the will of God and experiences the work of the Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).
    • pneu=ma (“spirit”)—it should be noted that Paul rarely applies this word to ordinary human nature; it is reserved for believers in Christ, and there it refers, not to the human “spirit”, but to the Spirit (of God and Christ), i.e. the Holy Spirit. However, at the inmost “spiritual” level, believers are united with the Spirit (cf. above) and it becomes the guiding power and aspect of the person.

With regard to Rom 8:10, it is interesting to observe that, after the phrase “the body is dead”, Paul does not say “the Spirit is alive”, but rather, “the Spirit is life“, using the noun zw/h. This is because it is not a precise parallel—as indicated, above, pneu=ma is not the human “spirit” but the Spirit of God (and Christ); as such, it is not alive, it is Life itself. What then, does it mean that the Spirit is life “through justice/righteousness”? Here again, it is not an exact formal parallel:

    • dia\ a(marti/an (“through sin”)—the power and work of sin results in death for the body
    • dia\ dikaiosu/nh (“through justice/righteousness”)—the power and work of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ) results in the believer experiencing the life that the Spirit brings

Some commentators would say that Paul does mean pneu=ma in v. 10 as the human “spirit”. I disagree completely. While this, admittedly, would allow for a more natural parallel, it contrasts entirely with Paul’s use of the word throughout Romans. The whole emphasis in 8:1ff is on the Spirit of God (and Christ), not the human “spirit”.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8:1-17ff

Romans 8 represents Paul’s most extensive and concentrated teaching on the Spirit. It is thus central to a proper understanding of his spiritualism. In this chapter, Paul touches upon many of the themes and ideas expressed in the earlier passages we have studied, bringing them together in a more systematic way. This article will focus on verses 1-11, while vv. 12-17, though included in the discussion below, will be dealt with in more detail in a set of supplemental daily notes.

Chapter 8 is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

    • Rom 1:18-3:20: Announcement of God’s (impending) judgment, according to the Law (of God)
    • Rom 3:21-5:21: Announcement of God’s justice/righteousness (in Christ), apart from the Law (Torah)
    • Rom 6:1-7:25: Announcement of Freedom from the Law and Sin

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

    • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
      8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
      8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
      8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
      8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
    • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25 (discussed in the previous article in the current series)—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Two main themes are present in the discussion on the Spirit here in Rom 8:1-11:

    • The presence of the Spirit marks the New Covenant for God’s people (believers), taking the place of the Old Covenant Law (Torah) as the guiding and governing principle
    • The Spirit is tied to believers’ union with Jesus Christ, as symbolized in the baptism ritual
Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations in vv. 1-2:

“(So) then, now (there is) not any judgment against the (one)s in (the) Anointed Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in (the) Anointed Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” (vv. 1-2)

    1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
    2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set you free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—the majority text reads “set me free”, by which Paul would be personalizing the matter, much as he does in 7:7-25—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers.

The entirety of the old order of things—bondage of humankind under the power of sin, and the corresponding bondage under the power of the Torah (with its regulations regarding sin)—has been swept away for believers in Christ. We are truly set free from both—sin and the Torah. Paul plays on the word no/mo$, which typically in his letters refers to the Old Testment Law (Torah), though occasionally he uses the expression “the law [no/mo$] of God”, which has a wider meaning—i.e., the will of God for His people, as expressed (specifically) in the Torah. Paul uses the word in both of these ways here in vv. 1-11, but also in two specialized expressions:

    • the law [o( no/mo$] of the Spirit [tou= pneu/mato$] of life [th=$ zwh=$]
    • the law [o( no/mo$] of sin [th=$ a(marti/a$] and of death [kai\ tou= qana/tou]

Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

The formal parallelism shows that here “the Spirit” is parallel with “sin”, and is meant as an absolute contrast; in light of the overall discussion in Romans, this would be defined as “bondage under sin” vs. “freedom in the Spirit”. Thus, in addition to the Torah itself, there is a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of sin” —two great guiding principles for all of humankind. Believers in Christ follow the law of the Spirit, while all other people are bound to continue following the law of sin. The Torah, which previously played a kind of intermediary role between these two principles, no longer applies for believers. Since it is sin that leads to a sentence of judgment (kri=ma) from God, and believers are freed from the power of sin (and all its effects), there is no longer occasion for any such sentence to be brought down (kata/) against us. Life is the opposite of death, which would be the ultimate punishment (judgment) for sin.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.” (vv. 3-4)

These powerful verses are dense with key elements of Pauline theology, expressed in language that can be difficult to translate (as the glosses in brackets above indicate). There are two especially important ideas that define Paul’s line of thought:

    • it is in the “flesh” (sa/rc) that the power of sin is localized and manifest in human beings, evident by a universal impulse toward sinful thoughts and actions; even for believers, this impulse to sin remains in the flesh (to varying degrees), though we are no longer enslaved by its power—i.e. we have the ability not to respond to the impulse
    • it was the sacrificial death of Jesus that enables believers to be free from the power of sin (and the judgment of God against sin)

Paul uses the verb katakri/nw (“judge against, bring down judgment [against]”), which is cognate to the noun kata/krima in verse 1 (cf. above), to make the point that the judgment against sin was realized in the death of Jesus—not against the human beings who sinned, but against sin itself, stripping it of its death-yielding power over humankind. The matter of the relationship of Jesus’ death to sin is highly complex, and cannot be discussed in detail here (cf. my earlier note on these verses [along with 2 Cor 5:19-21]). The main point of emphasis here, in term of Paul’s view of the role of the Spirit, is twofold:

    • Christ’s death freed humankind (believers) from the power of sin, located in the “flesh”
    • Believers are likewise freed from the Law—and we effectively fulfill the Law completely (and automatically) insofar as we “walk according to the Spirit” (cf. the previous article on Gal 5:16-25)

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh.

“For the (one)s being [i.e. who are] according to the flesh give mind (to) the (thing)s of the flesh, but the (one)s (who are) according to (the) Spirit (give mind to) the (thing)s of the Spirit. For the mindset of the flesh (leads to) death, but the mindset of the Spirit (leads to) life and peace, through (the fact) that the mindset of the flesh (means) hostility to God, for it is not put in order under the law of God, and (indeed) it is not able to be; and the (one)s being [i.e. who are] in (the) flesh are not able to please God.” (vv. 5-8)

These verses essentially expound the contrast between “walking according to the flesh” and “walking according to the Spirit”, the ethical and religious aspect being broadened to cover the anthropological (and ontological) dimension of humankind. We are dealing with two kinds of people: (1) faithful believers in Christ, and (2) all other human beings. The first group is guided by the Spirit, the second by the flesh (and the impulse to sin that resides in the flesh). This shows how deep the flesh vs. Spirit dichotomy (and dualism) was for Paul.

Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”).

“And (yet) you are not in (the) flesh, but in (the) Spirit, if indeed (it is that the) Spirit of God houses [i.e. dwells] in you. And if any (one) does not hold (the) Spirit of (the) Anointed, that (person) is not his [i.e. does not belong to Christ].” (v. 9)

The condition of being and “walking” (i.e. living/acting) in the Spirit depends on the Spirit being in the believer. The reciprocity of this relationship is stressed by Paul no less than in the Johannine writings. What is striking is the way that this is expressed by the dual identification of the Spirit as both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ“. The latter expression is rare in Paul’s letters, but, as this verse indicates, “Spirit of Christ” is used interchangeably with “Spirit of God”, as though both refer equally to the same Spirit. For more on this point, see the supplemental notes on vv. 12-17 (and cf. also the earlier note on 1 Cor 6:17ff; 15:44-46).

In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

    • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
    • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
    • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 is discussed further in a separate daily note; but here we may consider briefly vv. 10-11 as a unit:

“And if (the) Anointed (One is) in you, (then on one hand) the body (is) dead through sin, but (on the other hand) the Spirit is life through justice/righteousness. And if the Spirit of the (One hav)ing raised Yeshua out of (the) dead houses [i.e. dwells] in you, (then) the (One hav)ing raised (the) Anointed out of (the) dead will also make alive your dying bodies, through His Spirit housing [i.e. dwelling] (with)in you.” (vv. 10-11)

Again, the Spirit dwelling in the believer means Christ dwells in the believer, since the Spirit of God is also the Spirit of Christ. This means that, when we are united with the exalted Jesus through faith (and symbolized by baptism), and his Spirit unites with our spirit, we are also united with the Spirit of God.

The baptismal symbolism involves our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul only alludes to this here, having addressed the point earlier in 6:1-11; indeed, it is one of the most distinctive aspects of his theology. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection is communicated to us through our union with his divine Spirit. The power of his death puts to death the sin in our “flesh”, while the power of his resurrection transforms our entire being with divine life, so that even our decaying bodies will be raised to new life—just as his own body was raised by the power of God’s Spirit. The Spirit is literally to be understood as the very life of God.

Verses 12-17

Verses 12-13 are transitional to vv. 14-17ff, but they also serve to bring the discussion on the Spirit in vv. 1-11 to a close. Paul’s statement in v. 13 could not be more direct or to the point:

“for if you live according to the flesh, you are about to die away, but if, in (the) Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.”

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

    • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
    • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
    • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6 —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
    • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

These verses will be given a more detailed exegetical treatment in a set of supplemental notes.

Verses 18-25ff

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new— “the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification— “the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

    • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
      sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
      u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
    • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
      proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
      prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
      e)ka/lesen, “he called”
      e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
      e)do/casen, “he esteemed/honored [i.e. granted honor/glory]”

For more on description of the Spirit’s role in vv. 26-27, cf. my recent discussion in the “Notes on Prayer” feature (along with an earlier study); on the parallels with 1 Cor 2:10-16, cf. the article on that passage in the current series.

March 16: 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) [note 1]
    • Conflict—Flesh vs. Spirit (vv. 17, 24) [note 2]
    • 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 the 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=); I discuss this expression in an earlier note (part of the series “Paul’s View of the Law”).

March 15: Galatians 5:17, 24

In the previous note, I discussed the pair of statements which bracket vv. 16-25 (see the chiastic outline for this section), the first of three concentric pairs (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) surrounding the central lists of vices (“works of the flesh”) and virtues (“fruit of the Spirit”). 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 second pair.

Conflict for believers (Flesh vs. Spirit)—Gal 5:17, 24

This conflict is expressed two different ways by Paul: (1) the current conflict (v. 17), and (2) its resolution (v. 24).

Verse 17:

aFor the flesh sets (its) impulse against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh—bfor these lie (stretched out) (one) against the other, so that you might not do the (thing)s which you might wish (to do).”

On the juxtaposition of flesh and Spirit in Galatians (and elsewhere in Paul’s letters), see the previous note; on the “impulse [e)piqumi/a]” of the flesh, cf. also the previous note. Here, in verse 17, we find the related verb e)piqume/w, which I have translated by way of conflating two valid renderings: (a) “have an impulse toward (something)”, and (b) “set (one’s) mind/heart upon (something)”.

The principal statement is 17a, which juxtaposes “flesh” and “Spirit”, setting them against each other. Previously in Galatians kata\ sarko/$/pneu/mato$ meant “according to the flesh/Spirit”, here it means, more precisely and fundamentally, “against the flesh/Spirit”. The opposition and mutual incompatibility (even hostility), indicated throughout Galatians, is here expressed directly.

Verse 17b expounds the essential statement with two, related, explanatory clauses:

    1. “for these [i.e. flesh and the Spirit] lie out (one) against the other…” —The particle ga/r relates this clause to what came before (the statement in 17a). The verb Paul uses is a)nti/keimai, “to lie (stretched out) against”, as two opposing animals or armies, etc; the preposition a)nti, like kata, means “against”, but in the more precise sense of two opponents facing each other.
    2. “…so that you might not do the (thing)s which you might wish (to do)” —The subordinating conjunctive particle i%na could indicate either a purpose or a result clause, i.e. “so (in order) that…” or “so that (as a result)…”; formally, a result clause is more appropriate, however, there is clearly the sense of a will being imposed, whether that of the opposing forces, or the overriding will/purpose of God (or both). The two verbs—qe/lhte and poih=te—are both subjunctive forms (“might wish”, “might do”); in other words, each opposing force obstructs and resists the will and action of the other.

Anyone familiar with Paul’s letters will recognize the similarity between verse 17 and Romans 7:15-25 (for a discussion of this passage, cf. the articles and notes in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”). Even though, by consensus of most commentators, in Romans 7, Paul is dramatizing the situation of human beings prior to faith in Christ, while Galatians 5 relates specifically to believers as they live in Christ and by the Spirit, the dynamic he describes in each letter is very similar. The main difference, I believe, is that, in Romans 7, the flesh is additionally bound up under the enslaving forces of the Law and sin; in Galatians 5, on the other hand, only the flesh (the “impulse of the flesh”) is involved. The believer, as Paul teaches repeatedly in Galatians (and in Romans, for that matter) is free from both the Law of the Old Testament and the “law of sin”.

Verse 24:

“But the (one)s of (the) Anointed [Yeshua] have put to the stake [i.e. crucified] the flesh (together) with the sufferings and impulses (it brings)”

If the conflict (between flesh and Spirit) was stated in verse 17 (above), the way of resolution to the conflict (if believers are willing to accept it) is presented in verse 24. Each of the important expressions in this verse ought to be examined, at least briefly:

de\ (“but”)—the adversative conjunctive particle de/ properly relates to the prior verses (vv. 19-23), but it could just as well connect back to the statement of conflict in verse 17; in many ways, it is more appropriate and makes better sense in this context.

oi(tou= Xristou= [ )Ihsou=] (“the ones of the Anointed [Yeshua]”)—here Christian identity is described with a genitival expression, i.e. believers as the ones belonging to Christ, “of Christ”. Certainly this should be understood in relation to the familiar Pauline expression “in Christ” (e)n Xristw=|).

e)stau/rwsan (“have put to the stake”)—the reference of course being to the believers’ identification with, and symbolic/spiritual participation in, the death (crucifixion) of Christ. This was already stated, famously and most powerfully, by Paul in Gal 2:19f:

“…I died away to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been put to the stake (together) with the Anointed…”

For other mention of the death and cross of Christ in Galatians, see Gal 1:1, 4; 2:20-21; 3:1, 13; 5:11. Through identification with the crucifixion (at the spiritual level), believers are freed from the Law, and, with it, from the power of sin (the “curse” of the Law, cf. 3:10-14). This freedom is expressed vividly in terms of dying—becoming dead to the Law; in Col 2:13-14, we find the even more dramatic image of the Law (and sin [debt/trespass]) itself dying, being nailed to the cross.

th\n sa/rka (“the flesh”)—on Paul’s use of sa/rc (“flesh”) see the previous notes and articles on the relevant passages in Galatians (“Paul’s View of the Law in Galatians”). Interestingly, while Paul declares that, in Christ, believers are free from the Law and the power of sin, he never goes so far as to extend this freedom to the flesh. As he indicates repeatedly in his letters, and specifically here in Gal 5:17 (cf. above), believers face a regular conflict and daily struggle against the “impulse of the flesh”. For more on this thought, see below.

su\n (“with”)—the conjunction su/n, “(together) with” also appears in Gal 2:19, but prefixed to the verb stauro/w (“put to the stake”) in the compound form sustauro/w (“put to the stake [together] with”). There the conjunction connects the believer with Christ; here, in a different, opposite direction, it connects the flesh with its “sufferings and impulses”

toi=$ paqh/masin kai\ tai=$ e)piqumi/a$ (“the sufferings and the impulses”)—on the word e)piqumi/a (translated here as “impulse”), cf. the previous note; the expression e)piqumi/a sarko/$ (“impulse of the flesh”) was used in verse 16. The word is fairly common in Paul’s letters (cf. 1 Thess 2:17; 4:5; Rom 1:24; 6:12; 7:7-8; 13:14; Phil 1:23; Col 3:5, also Eph 2:3; 4:22, etc), and can be fairly rendered “desire, longing”, sometimes in a positive sense, but more often in the negative sense of fleshly/carnal or sinful desire.

The word pa/qhma refers to pain or (painful) suffering, hardship, affliction, etc., often indicating a strong emotion or impulse, i.e. “passion”; as such, the word (or the related noun pa/qo$) may be connected semantically with e)piqumi/a, cf. 1 Thess 4:5; Col 3:5. The nouns are plural, and should be seen as both deriving conceptually from the singular “impulse [e)piqumi/a] of the flesh” —the “impulses” (pl.) reflect the reality that believers will experience the “impulse” of the flesh on different occasions and in various forms, along with the effects (the “pains/sufferings”) they bring.

There is an important implication in the language of verse 24, when Paul states that believers (“the ones of Christ“) have put to death (crucified) the flesh—in other words, it does not happen automatically (or magically) as a result of Christ’s death; it requires involvement by the believer, in at least two respects:

    • Identification/participation with the crucifixion at the symbolic/spiritual level, through faith and the work of the Spirit—see esp. Gal 2:19-20 (cf. above)
    • The daily life of the believer, whereby the flesh—both its “impulse” and its “works” —are regularly “put to death” in a practical, habitual sense, cf. Rom 6:6ff; 8:13; Col 3:5; also Gal 6:8-9, 14; and note Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34 par. In traditional theological language, this is sometimes referred to as (self-)mortification.

Just as we are exhorted to “walk” in the Spirit (even though we already live in the Spirit), so we are exhorted to put the flesh to death (i.e. “crucify” it), even though we have already been “crucified with Christ”.

The final pair of verses (vv. 18, 23b) to be considered will be discussed in the next daily note.

March 14: Galatians 5:16, 25

The notes for the next few days are supplemental to the current article on Galatians 5:16-25 in the series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”. Because of the importance of this passage, in terms of the central place of the Spirit in the religious life and experience of believers, it is worth examining it in greater exegetical detail. (This largely replicates the exegesis earlier published/posted in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”.) 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)

There are thus 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—there is no preposition specified. 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); cf. the prior article in this series.
    • 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.

The next pair of verses (vv. 17, 24) will be discussed in the next daily note.

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Galatians 5:16-25

Galatians 5:16-25

In the previous article (on Gal 4:21-31), we saw how Paul’s understanding of the Law is framed by a Flesh-Spirit dualism. This is part of a broader contrast between the old covenant (of the Torah regulations) and the new covenant (in Christ). The old covenant belongs to the flesh (despite what Paul says in Rom 7:14), while the new covenant is characterized by the Spirit (cf. Rom 7:6; 8:2ff). This same contrast is central to the discourse in 2 Cor 3:7-18 (discussed at length in a prior article and set of notes), though with the dualistic contrast defined there as Letter-vs-Spirit (cf. Rom 2:29).

Another point of contact between 2 Cor 3:7-18 and Gal 4:21-31 is the theme of freedom (e)leuqeri/a), which characterizes the new covenant, and is closely connected with the presence of the Spirit. In being set free (from bondage to the power of sin), believers in Christ are also freed from the binding authority of the old covenant (and its Torah). This is the sense of the freedom Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians and Galatians, while in Romans the emphasis is on freedom from the power of sin.

But this freedom creates a difficulty for believers. Without the Torah regulations, what guide is there for how one should think and act? What ethical and moral standards are believers to live by? Paul addresses this in the next section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), referred to (in rhetorical terms) as the exhortatio—that is, the section where the author/speaker exhorts his audience to action or to a decision; in a religious or philosophical context, as here, this may be accompanied by ethical-moral instruction (parenesis).

I divide and outline the exhortatio into three main sections, prefaced by a primary exhortation:

    • 5:1—Exhortation regarding freedom vs. slavery
    • 5:2-12—Exhortation/warning regarding the Law (circumcision)
      —vv. 2-6: The Law vs. Christ
      —vv. 7-12: Those who are influencing the Galatians to observe the Law
    • 5:13-25—Exhortation/warning regarding freedom in Christ, which specifically includes:
      —vv. 16-21: The works of the flesh
      —vv. 22-25: The fruit of the Spirit
    • 5:26-6:10—Instruction related to Christian freedom (“walking in the Spirit”)
      5:26-6:6: Dealing with fellow believers—the “law of Christ”
      6:7-10: Harvest illustration and concluding warning

Before proceeding to a discussion of the portion most relevant to Paul’s spiritualism, let us consider the main exhortation in verse 1, as it picks up with the previous freedom vs. slavery theme used throughout the arguments in chapter 4:

“To freedom (the) Anointed has set us free; therefore stand (firm) and do not again have held (down) on you a yoke of slavery”

The dative of th=| e)leuqeri/a| is best understood as a dative of goal or purpose, i.e. “to freedom” , “for freedom”, parallel to the expression e)p’ e)leuqeri/a| in verse 13. For Paul, there is a fundamental connection between freedom and the Spirit (as we saw in 2 Cor 3:17). The exhortation is expressed according to two verbs:

The first is active, exhorting the Galatians to action (or continuation of action); the second is passive, implying something which is done to them by others, but which the Galatians may be allowing to happen. The image related to slavery is especially vivid—that of someone holding a yoke down upon their shoulders. This expression (“yoke of slavery”) is found in 1 Tim 6:1; a burdensome “yoke” is related to the Law in Acts 15:10 (Peter speaking), which may be contrasted with ‘yoke of Christ’ (Matt 11:29f)—cf. a possible parallel in the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Again, the question must be asked: what guidance is there for the believer without the Torah regulations? Paul gives us an initial answer in verse 5:

“For we, in/through (the) Spirit [pneu/mati], out of trust [e)k pi/stew$], look to receive from (God) (the) hope of justice/righteousness [e)lpi/da dikaiosu/nh$]”

This is another powerful declaration of Christian identity, bringing together in compact form several of the key terms and expression Paul has been using in Galatians. In particular, it is another clear statement of the fundamental premise that righteousness comes only through the Spirit and faith (in Christ), and not by observing the Law (indeed, quite the opposite!). And, more to the point, righteousness is defined, not by the Torah regulations, but by the guiding presence of the Spirit (“in/by the Spirit”). 

In verse 13, Paul goes on to warn the Galatians that freedom in the Spirit does not mean that believers can behave immorally. In fact, the ethical injunctions of the Torah are still valid, even if the injunctions themselves are no longer binding. Paul follows early Christian tradition (and Jesus’ own teaching) in summarizing all of the Torah instruction under a single command (or duty)—that of showing love to one another (the ‘love command’), vv. 14-15. Yet, even in this, believers are not bound by a command or law per se, for the simple reason that fulfilling our duty to love is achieved through the guiding presence of the Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5; 15:30; Col 1:8).

This brings us to Paul’s key teaching in verses 16-25, where he ties Christian ethics and morality specifically to the presence of the Spirit. The injunction (and declaration) in verse 16 comes straight to the point:

“Walk about in/by (the) Spirit, and you shall not complete (the) impulse of (the) flesh.”

We could fill out the literal meaning of the noun e)piqumi/a, in context, by saying “…the impulse [qu/mo$] of the flesh over [e)pi/] sin.” That is to say, the “flesh” (sa/rc) leads a person toward sin. Here Paul embeds within his exhortation and basic teaching (vv. 16-18, 23b-25) what is often described as a list (or catalog) of “vices and virtues” (vv. 19-23a). Such lists were traditional and basic to Christian instruction; Paul did not create these, but rather adapted them, drawing upon the traditional language and terminology, in his letters (lists of “vices” being much more common)—cf. Rom 1:19-31; 13:13; 1 Cor 5:10-11; 6:9-10; 2 Cor 12:20-21; Col 3:5, 8; also Eph 4:31; 5:3-4; 1 Tim 1:9-10; 2 Tim 3:2-5; Titus 3:3.

For other examples in the New Testament and early Christian literature, see Mark 7:21-22f par; 1 Pet 2:1; 4:3, 15; Rev 21:8; 22:14; Didache 2:1-5:2; Barnabas 18-20; the letter of Polycarp 2:2; 4:3; Hermas, Commandments 5.2.4, 6.2, 8.3-5; Similitudes 6; 9.15, etc. Of the many examples in Greco-Roman literature and philosophy, one of the earliest is in Plato’s Gorgias 524-525. Instances can also be cited from Hellenistic Judaism (works of Philo, etc) and the texts of the Qumran community, most famously the treatise of the “Two Spirits” in the Community Rule (1QS 4:3-11). For more on the subject, see the excursus in Betz, Galatians, pp. 281-3.

The list of ‘vices’ (vv. 19-21) are referred to specifically as “works of (the) flesh” (e&rga th=$ sarko/$), an expression clearly intended as parallel to “works of (the) Law” (e&rga tou= no/mou), Gal 2:16; 3:3, 5, 10. These are all generally actions, reflecting sinful, selfish and immoral behavior; and, even though the Law would appear to guard and regulate against such things, according to Paul it actually serves to make manifest and increase the very sinfulness expressed by this list. This is not to be taken as an exhaustive catalog (or checklist), but one that fairly comprehensively represents human wickedness.

Paul does not use the corresponding term “works of the Spirit” for the opposite list in vv. 22-23, but rather “fruit [karpo/$] of the Spirit” —for it is the Spirit that does the working (vv. 5-6), and, indeed, the items in the list are not actions, but rather personal characteristics, attitudes, and (one might say) modes of behavior, generally corresponding to the term virtue (a)reth/) in Greek philosophical and ethical thought.

Commentators have noted a formal difference in the lists—the “works of the flesh” show little clear order, perhaps intentionally reflecting the inherent disorder of carnal behavior and lifestyle; the “fruit of the Spirit”, on the other hand, can be grouped neatly into three sets of three (cf. the similar famous triad in 1 Cor 13:4-6). To see how these two lists fit in the overall structure of this section, I would suggest the following (chiastic) outline:

    • 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)

Because of the importance of verses 16-18 and 23b-25, these will be discussed in more detail in separate notes.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

Spiritualism and the New Testament: Paul: Galatians 4:21-31

The first two Pauline passages discussed in this series were 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 and 2 Corinthians 3 (with a focus on the discourse in vv. 7-18). Because of the importance of the latter passage, and the complexity and diversity of Paul’s thought expressed therein, I have supplemented the study with a set of detailed exegetical notes.

We now turn to Paul’s letter to the Galatians. An important underlying component of Paul’s spiritualism—his view of the Torah and the associated contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant of the Spirit—was already discussed in the previous article (and notes). It is, of course, also the principal subject addressed throughout Galatians. As such, I have discussed it at length in the earlier series “Paul’s View of the Law”, with a set of articles that cover virtually the entire letter.

The central proposition that Paul expounds in Galatians, is that the Torah regulations—the Law of the old covenant—are no longer binding on believers in Christ. He relates this proposition principally to Gentile believers, but the arguments he uses apply just as well (and even better) to Jewish believers. In the main expository section of the letter (chapters 3-4), Paul put forward six main arguments, using a variety of rhetorical methods and techniques to make his point. The last of these arguments (4:21-31) is the one which is most relevant as an expression of Paul’s spiritualism.

Galatians 4:21-31

The final argument Paul presents is an argument from Scripture, utilizing portions of the Abraham narratives (in Genesis 16 and 21), taking the form of an allegory (a)llhgori/a, v. 24). It is one of the more familiar portions of the letter, but, as with Paul’s other statements regarding the Law in Galatians, the full force and significance of his argument are often ignored or softened by commentators. The section may be outlined thus:

    • V. 21—Opening question (challenge)
    • Vv. 22-23—Summary of the story from Scripture
    • Vv. 24-27—The (allegorical) interpretation: Two Covenants
      —Vv. 24-25: Jerusalem below—the earthly Jerusalem (Sinai)
      —Vv. 26-27: Jerusalem above—the heavenly Jerusalem
    • Vv. 28-31: Believers as children of the promise & freedom—conflict

Verse 21—Paul uses the interrogatio rhetorical method, as he questions his audience, prompting them and allowing them to bring forth a determination themselves. See Gal 3:2ff for a similar use of this technique. The question actually serves as a challenge to the Galatians:

“Relate to me [i.e. tell me], (you) the ones wishing to be under (the) Law [u(po\ no/mon], will you not hear the Law?”

The expression “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon) has been used repeatedly (Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, also 5:18; Rom 6:14-15; 1 Cor 9:20), along with the parallel expressions “under (the) curse” (3:10), “under sin” (3:22), “under a paidagogos” (3:25, cf. also 4:2), “under the elements [stoicheia] of the world” (4:3). It refers, of course, to Jews (and Jewish Christians) who are (or who feel) obligated to observe the commands and regulations of the Torah; but, as the parallel terms indicate, Paul uses it as a shorthand for the bondage human beings are under prior to faith in Christ. The expression “hear the Law” has a two-fold meaning: (1) to obey the Law, and (2) literally, to hear the words of the Law (i.e. of Scripture). The latter is what Paul means primarily here, but he may also be saying, “if you want to be under the Law, are you willing to obey the Law (i.e. the true Law of Christ)?”

Verses 22-23—In these two verses, Paul summarizes the Scriptural narrative found in Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-14, citing Gen 16:15; 21:2-3, 9. That Hagar was a slave or “servant-girl” (paidi/skh) is indicated in the narrative (Gen 16:1ff; 21:10ff, also 25:12); the contrast of Sarah as a free woman (e)leuqe/ra) can be inferred/implied naturally from the context. This sets the stage for the theme of freedom (e)leuqeri/a) in Christ to follow in 4:31/5:1ff.

The Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac contrast is also expressed by the me\nde\ (“on the one hand…on the other…”) construction in verse 23 (cf. also vv. 8-9) [Note: some MSS (Ë46 B f vg) omit me\n]. As we shall see, the juxtaposition of these characters is ultimately meant to show the contrast/conflict between “promise” (e)paggeli/a) and “flesh” (sa/rc); and, of course, the promise is closely connected with the Spirit (Gal 3:14). The expression “according to (the) flesh” (kata\ sa/rka) is used elsewhere in Paul’s letters (Rom 1:3; 4:1; 8:4-5, 12-13; 9:3, 5; 1 Cor 1:26; 10:18; 2 Cor 1:17; 5:16; 10:2-3; 11:18), and a Spirit-Flesh dualism is an important aspect of Paul’s thought in both Galatians (Gal 3:3; 4:29; 5:16-17; 6:8) and Romans (Rom 8:1-17) [cf. also Phil 3:3]. The Spirit-Letter dualism in 2 Corinthians 3 (cf. the previous article) is certainly similar, though not identical.

Verses 24-27—Paul interprets the Genesis story as an “allegory” (a)llhgori/a), that is, a description of one thing under the image of another; the verb a)llhgore/w (in v. 24) in this context means to speak/interpret by way of allegory. Familiar from Greco-Roman and Hellenistic-Jewish literature and philosophy, it is also similar to the creative midrash interpretive tradition in Judaism; for other examples in Paul’s letters, cf. 1 Cor 10:1-13; 2 Cor 3:7-18 (discussed in the previous article and notes). The contrast/conflict between Hagar/Ishmael and Sarah/Isaac in the narrative is coordinated and aligned together (sustoixe/w, v. 25) as follows:

Slave-girl vs. Free (woman) [v. 22b]
Flesh vs. Promise [v. 23]
(Old) Covenant vs. (New) Covenant [v. 24]
Jerusalem (on earth) vs. Jerusalem above [v. 25-26]
Hagar/Ishmael vs. Sarah/Isaac [v. 28-29]

As indicated in verse 24, Paul gives prominence and priority to the idea of two covenants—the Greek word rendered “covenant” (diaqh/kh) is literally something “set through (in order)”, often in the legal sense of a will or testament (as in Gal 3:15-17), but here corresponding to the Hebrew tyr!B= (“agreement”), that is, the agreement (covenant) established between God and his people (Israel). The two covenants—old and new (cf. the recent notes on 2 Cor 3:6 and 14)—are contrasted syntactically by way of another me\nde\ formulation (see above):

    • me\n: one (the old) from mount Sinai into/unto slavery [ei)$ doulei/an]… (vv. 24-25)
    • de\: (the other), the Jerusalem above, (which) is free [e)leuqe/ra e)stin]… (vv. 26-27)

Paul establishes this line of association first by equating Sinai with the (current) earthly Jerusalem in verse 25; he does this by way of (allegorical) correspondence, even though he recognizes that Mt. Sinai is actually in “Arabia” (presumably the Sinai peninsula). This equation has the following interpretive relationship:

    • The Sinai covenant (the Law/Torah) leads to slavery [doulei/a]
    • Jerusalem is currently serving as a slave [douleu/ei]

The last point could be taken either in a socio-political (i.e. under Roman occupation) or religious-spiritual (bondage under the Law and sin) sense, or both. This contrasts sharply with the traditional Jewish self-understanding of freedom related to the Torah and the covenant with God (cf. m. Abot 6:2, also e.g. John 8:33), which Paul reverses completely. Here is the associative logic as a whole:

    • The Old Covenant (the Law/Torah) given at Mt. Sinai
      • Sinai = earthly Jerusalem
        • The Jerusalem below | Slavery
        • The Jerusalem above | Freedom
      • Jerusalem (above) = believers in Christ
    • The New Covenant (the Spirit/promise) realized in Christ

Verses 26-27 describe the “Jerusalem above” (h( a&nw  )Ierousalh\m), which is clearly to be understood in a spiritual sense; for similar examples of Jewish identity being appropriated/fulfilled by believers at the spiritual level, cf. Rom 2:28-29, and previously in Gal 3:7-9, 14, etc. This idea of a heavenly Jerusalem came to be well-established in early Christian thought (cf. Hebrews 12:22; 13:14; Revelation 3:12; 21:2-22:5), and generally builds on the (eschatological) Old Testament and Jewish tradition of a “new Jerusalem”—e.g. Isa 54:10ff; 60-66; Ezek 40-48; Tobit 13:9-18; Jubilees 4:26; 2/4 Esdras 7:26; 10:40ff; 2 Baruch 4:2-7; 32:2-23; 1 Enoch 90:28f; 2 Enoch 55:2; for an interesting ‘Gnostic’ interpretation, along the same lines as Paul in Galatians, see in Hippolytus, Refutation of Heresies 5.7.39, 8.37. Cf. Betz, Galatians, pp. 246-7.

Another familiar, and related, Jewish tradition was Jerusalem/Zion as a mother (v. 26). As such, this image is parallel to that of the Jewish concept of freedom associated with the Law and Covenant; and, again, Paul reverses this traditional association, by way of citing Isaiah 54:1 (LXX), a passage which came to be used in Judaism in the context of the rebuilding of Jerusalem (cf. the Targum; Pesiqta Rabbati 32:2). The context of Paul’s citation (v. 27) rather suggests a correlative juxtaposition between physical barrenness and spiritual life.

Verses 28-31—These verses begin and end with statements of Christian identity, related to the parallel concepts of promise and freedom:

V. 28: “But you {some MSS read “we”}, brothers, according to Isaac, are offspring of (the) promise
V. 31: “Therefore, brothers, we are not offspring of the (slave)-girl, but of the free (woman)”

Verses 29-30 stand in between, and are descriptive of conflict for believers:

V. 29: External—drawing upon Jewish tradition of conflict between Ishmael and Isaac (not indicated specifically in the Scripture narrative itself), cf. t. Sota 6:6; Genesis Rabbah 53 (34a), etc. This is interpreted by Paul according to two aspects:

    1. Jewish hostility and persecution toward early Christians, attested to amply by Paul in his letters and in the book of Acts.
    2. The dualism of kata\ sa/rka (“according to the flesh”) vs. kata\ pneu=ma (“according to the Spirit”).

Here the conflict is still external—i.e. the issue being that regarding circumcision and actual observance of the Torah commands; for an internal expression of this dualism in the hearts/minds and lives of believers (before and after conversion), cf. Romans 7-8.

V. 30: Internal—quoting Gen 21:10 and applying it primarily in a religious-spiritual sense: believers are the heirs in Christ (Gal 3:29; 4:1, 7; cf. also Rom 4:13-14; 8:17), and should no longer wish to come under a yoke of slavery. That Paul may here be expressing the rejection of Jews is certainly possible (cf. 1 Thess 2:14-16; Rom 9-11), but I do not believe that this is his emphasis—it rather relates more properly to his exhortation to the Gentile Galatians that they “cast away” the yoke of bondage (i.e. observance of the Torah) which they are considering placing upon themselves.

In summary, I would illustrate the thematic structure of these verses as follows:

    • V. 28—Believers are children of the promise
      • V. 29—Conflict for believers: Flesh vs. Spirit
      • V. 30—Action for believers: “Cast out” the son of the slave-girl (i.e. slavery)
    • V. 31—Believers are children of the free woman

While Paul’s emphasis is clearly on the contrast between the old and new covenants, this cannot be separated from the Flesh-Spirit dualism that he employs to express it. As in 2 Corinthians 3 (Letter-Spirit), this dualistic mode of expression is an important aspect of Paul’s spiritualism. The new covenant for believers in Christ is realized spiritually, and is not bound by any physical or external factors.

The implications of this way of thinking were radical for early Christians. To emphasize freedom in the Spirit, against the slavery of being bound by the Torah regulations (and other external religious elements), represented a sea-change of thought for early believers. It is not surprising that Paul’s view of the Law (and his spiritualism) were quite controversial—and remain so even today. The implications of it will be examined in the next article, as we turn to Galatians 5, with specific attention being paid to the discourse in verses 16-25.

References marked “Betz, Galatians” are to: Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians, in the Hermeneia series (Fortress Press [1979]).

March 3: 2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:6

[This is the final note in the series on 2 Corinthians 3, supplemental to the current exegetical study series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”; the previous note concluded our discussion on 4:3-6; for an overview of the passage, cf. the main article.]

CONCLUSION (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6)

Following our discussion in the previous note, we shall now consider how Paul understands the seeing of God by believers. The focus will remain on the statements in 3:18 and 4:6 in light of Paul’s line of argument and exposition throughout the passage (2:14-4:6). Mention was made of the juxtaposition of the seeing/image motif with the fundamental idea of the believer’s encounter with God taking place spiritually, at the level of the Spirit. How, indeed, does one ‘see’ God in the Spirit?

In answering this question, we must begin with the overall context of the passage—namely, a description (and defense) of the apostolic ministry by Paul, with specific emphasis on the mission of proclaiming the Gospel. This is very much the focus in 2:14-17, and Paul returns to this point of reference at the conclusion of the passage (4:1-3); note, in particular, how 4:3 reflects the earlier wording in 2:15, as an example of the way that Paul deftly blends together the thematic strands of his discussion.

Thus, we may say that the process of ‘seeing’ God, begins with the believer receiving the Gospel of Christ. The ‘blindness’ of the world is defined specifically in terms of being unwilling (or unable) to accept the Gospel and to recognize its truth (4:3, par 3:14-15). The missionary/minister plays a vital role in bringing the light of the Gospel, at first, to the believer. Note, again, the parallel expressions used by Paul in 4:4 and 6:

    • the good message [eu)agge/lion] of the splendor of Christ //
      the knowledge [gnw=si$] of the splendor of God

The Gospel leads to the knowledge of God’s glory; for more on this parallelism, cf. the previous notes on vv. 3-6.

Once a person has received the Gospel, trusting in Jesus Christ, then he/she receives the Spirit. The locus of the Spirit’s presence within the person is usually referenced as the “heart” (kardi/a), as here in 4:6. Traditionally, the giving/sending of the Spirit by God is expressed in terms of liquid (water or oil) being poured. This would have been reinforced by the symbolism of the baptism-ritual. Paul fully embraces this imagery, referring repeatedly to believers receiving the Spirit in their hearts (Rom 5:5; 2 Cor 1:22; Gal 4:6; cf. also the context of Rom 2:29; 8:27; and here in 2 Cor 3:3ff). He does not often describe the presence and activity of the Spirit through light-imagery, but there can be little doubt that here in 4:6 the light that shines in the heart is the same as the Spirit that is poured, etc, into the heart (Rom 5:5). For a similar reference to light shining in the heart, cf. 1 Cor 4:5.

In a number of passages in his letters, Paul describes various aspects of the Spirit’s activity, in and among believers. Some of the key points may be summarized as follows:

Thus, according to Paul, the Spirit’s role within the believer covers the full range of religious experience. However, it is important to remember that the specific references to the Spirit here in 3:17-18 are fundamentally Christological—particularly in terms of our ‘seeing’ God through the Spirit. Indeed, the ‘image’ (ei)kw/n) which we see in the Spirit is Christ’s image. Paul makes explicit in 4:4 what is implied in 3:18, essentially explaining that “the same image” (th\n au)to/n ei)ko/na) which we behold—and into which we are transformed—is that of Christ as “the image of God” (ei)kw\n tou= qeou=, cf. also Col 1:15 and Rom 8:29).

What is specifically involved in this transformative beholding of the image of Christ? There are several key aspects which should be emphasized:

    • Noetic—i.e., the mind of the believer is transformed, to become like that of Christ himself. In this regard, Paul follows Philo’s application of the Moses traditions in Exod 34, even so far as his use of the mirror (ka/toptron) motif and the rare verb katoptri/zomai; cf. the discussion in the prior note. By allowing ourselves to be guiding by the Spirit within, the way we think is changed, and this leads to fundamental (ethical/moral) changes in the way we act. Cf. Rom 8:5-7; 12:2; 1 Cor 2:16; Phil 2:5; and note the context of Gal :16-25. See also the recent study in this series on 1 Cor 2:10-16.
    • Mimetic—along with the ethical transformation that comes from the renewal of our minds and allowing ourselves to be guided by the Spirit, there is the specific idea of following the example of Christ. The conscious imitation of Jesus should be viewed as a specific aspect of ‘walking in the Spirit’ (Gal 5:16, 25). Cf. Phil 2:5ff. Often Paul frames this in terms of following his own example, as he himself imitates Christ—1 Thess 1:6; 2:14; 1 Cor 11:1; 4:16; Phil 3:17.
    • Mystical Union—Paul defines the believer’s union with Christ in a very distinctive way, in terms of participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The key passage is Romans 6:3-4, but the idea is expressed all throughout his letters; most notably, cf. Rom 7:6; 8:2ff, 10-11ff; Gal 2:20; 5:24-25; 1 Cor 15:20-24ff, 49; 2 Cor 4:10-11; 5:14-21; Phil 1:21; 3:10-11. Paul’s association of this concept with the symbolism of the baptism ritual is quite clear; in addition to Rom 6:1-11, cf. Gal 3:26-27; Col 2:12. However, this union is realized through the presence and power of the Spirit.
    • Spiritual Union—Paul also hints at a union of the believer with God, realized through our union with Christ, in the Spirit. Cf. 1 Cor 6:17, and various allusions throughout his letters; typically, the idea is couched in terms of the future glory that awaits believers (with the resurrection).

The knowledge (gnw=si$) of God that begins with receiving the Gospel, culminates in the union of believers with God Himself (theosis). To ‘see’ God in this respect entails a conscious awareness, and a volitional (willing) exercise of our heart/mind. The greatest form of knowledge is union, illustrated by the idea of knowing fire. One can know something about fire by hearing it described; then, one can know it better by actually seeing it and feeling its warmth; it can be known even further once a person is burnt by it; however, one cannot fully know fire until one is united with it, being completed consumed by fire.

It is through Christ’s presence that we are able to ‘see’ God’s image in this way; and his presence is realized through the Spirit. Our ‘seeing’ does not take place through the eyes (or any of the senses), but is spiritual. So also our union with Christ (the Son), and so ultimately with God (the Father), is realized through the Spirit. This Christological and mystical dimension of Paul’s spiritualism is well expressed here, at the climax of his expository discourse, in 3:17-18. First, he emphasizes that “the Lord is the Spirit,” meaning that God can only be experienced through the Spirit—which is also the Spirit of His Son Jesus (Gal 4:6). This is clarified through the declaration in verse 18, which concludes emphasizing that our transformation (vb metamorfo/w) into the image of God (in Christ), takes place through the same Spirit of God— “…just as from (the) Lord (the) Spirit.”