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:
- sthkete— “stand (firm)”, cf. 1 Thess 3:8; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Cor 16:13; Phil 1:27; 4:1
- e)ne/xesqe— “(do not) have held (down) on you”
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)
- Resolution of conflict: the flesh has been crucified (with Christ) (v. 24)
- Exhortation: “walk [stoixe/w] in the Spirit” (v. 25)
- Exhortation: “walk [peripate/w] in the Spirit” (v. 16)
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 ).