June 24: Galatians 5:16-25

Galatians 5:16-25

Paul’s view of the Old Testament Law (Torah)—as expressed in Galatians and Romans—was striking and controversial enough that many Jewish Christians at the time opposed it vehemently. Even today, thoughtful and devout believers can find it difficult to accept. This is partly due to the apparent contradiction with the inspired character of the Torah, but of even greater (practical) concern is that freedom from the Law would seem to allow license for immorality. For this reason, many Christians would maintain that the moral/ethical regulations of the Torah (the Ten Commandments, etc) continue to be binding, even as other ritual/ceremonial requirements have fallen away. This, however, does not seem to be what the New Testament teaches, and I certainly do not find evidence in Paul’s letters that he taught anything of the sort.

The problem lies in confusing the specific regulations of the Torah with the existence of effective moral and religious standards for Christians. While stating that believers in Christ are free from the Law, Paul clearly expresses the view that believers are still expected to live in a pure and upright manner. But how is such a moral way of life to be maintained without the regulations of the Law to guide believers? The answer lies in the very nature of the new covenant, where the inner presence of God’s own Spirit takes the place of the external regulations of the Torah.

Given his unique teaching on freedom from the Law, it is somewhat surprising the Paul does not touch upon this matter more often in his letters. There must have been Christians at the time who were concerned about how one should maintain moral and religious rectitude without the Law. However, he does address the question clearly enough in the parenetic/exhortation (exhortatio) section of Galatians (5:1-6:10), especially the portion beginning with verse 13:

“For you were called upon freedom, brothers—only th(is) freedom (must) not (lead) to a rushing (out) from the flesh, but through love you must be a slave to each other.”

A distinctive teaching among early Christians, found throughout the New Testament, is that the regulations of the Torah have effectively been supplanted by a single command, or principle—that of love (a)ga/ph). It is a principle that goes back to Jesus’ own teaching (Mk 12:30-33 par; Matt 5:43ff par; John 13:34-35), and Paul clearly expresses the idea that the “love command” represents a fulfillment of the entire Torah (Gal 5:14; Rom 13:8-10, etc; cp. James 2:8; 1 Pet 1:22; 1 John 3:11, 23-24). The main point Paul makes here is that, instead of our freedom leading to a fulfillment of fleshly impulses, our choices should be guided by our love for each other. All that remains for believers from the Torah is this love-principle.

While the love-principle is authoritative and guiding, it is ultimately derived, not from any specific command or regulation, but by the presence of God’s Spirit. This is the essence of the New Covenant, and Paul expresses, in Gal 5:16-25, something of the manner in which the Spirit takes the place of the Torah for believers. Note the regulatory aspect of verse 16:

“I relate to you: you must walk about in the Spirit, and (then) you shall not complete (the) impulse [e)piqumi/a] of the flesh.”

To walk about (vb peripate/w) “in the Spirit” (pneu/mati) means to be guided by the Spirit in all that a person does. We saw this idiom expressed previously in the narratives of Luke-Acts, with the emphasis on being “in the Spirit” and guided/led by the Spirit (cf. the note on Luke 4:1, 14ff). The force of Paul’s exhortation implies that this does not happen automatically for believers, simply as a result of the Spirit’s presence; rather, it requires a willingness and attentiveness to accept and allow this guidance to occur (a point emphasized again by Paul at the close of v. 25). Even though Christians are freed from the power of sin, there remains a conflict with the “flesh” (v. 17), and the impulse (qumo/$) toward sin. Paul here uses the noun e)piqumi/a, which means something like an “impulse (to act) upon (something)”; in English idiom we might say “set one’s mind/heart upon” it. For the believer, it is possible to ignore, neglect, or even extinguish (i.e. quench, cf. 1 Thess 5:19) the influence and guidance of the Spirit.

While an impulse toward sin remains in our “flesh”, we are no longer enslaved by it, and we have the ability not to act upon it—to complete it, as Paul indicates here by the verb tele/w. Acting upon such an impulse results in “works of the flesh” (ta\ e&rga th=$ sarko/$); a representative list of these “works” is given in vv. 19-21, following the traditional “vice list” pattern in ethical instruction of the time. Thus, the kind of immorality which was prohibited and regulated by the Torah will be avoided by believers, simply by following the internal guidance of the Spirit, without any external legal standard being required. Not only will immorality be avoided, but there will be additional “fruit” that comes from the Spirit’s active guidance (vv. 22-23). It is most significant that this “fruit” does not consist in good deeds—not even acts of Christian ministry—but of fundamental attributes of a person’s character, which reflect the very attributes of God present in His Spirit.

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that this moral standard comes through the internal influence of the Spirit, and not by observance of the Torah nor any other external command. Paul makes this clear by two statements which punctuate the instruction in vv. 16-25:

    • “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under (the) Law” (v. 18)
    • “…against such (thing)s [i.e. the fruit of the Spirit] there is no Law” (v. 23b)

In other words, the New Covenant of the Spirit has nothing whatever to do with the Law. This is a uniquely Pauline development of the early Christian belief regarding the presence of the Spirit among believers. The new covenant motif was part of the application of the earlier Prophetic tradition (regarding the restoration of Israel in the New Age), interpreting the presence and activity of the Spirit among early believers as its fulfillment. Paul has sharpened the contrast between old and new covenant, emphasizing, more than any other Christian minister of the time, that the Spirit in the new covenant takes the place of the Torah in the old.

One point that has not been discussed yet, in the context of Paul’s treatment of the Spirit, is how the presence and activity of God’s Spirit relates to the personal presence of Jesus Christ himself, in and among believers. This will be examined in the next daily note, with a comparison of several key passages in Galatians and Romans.

For more on the question of Paul’s view of the Law, cf. my extensive articles in the series “The Law and the New Testament”, including those on Galatians (spec. on 5:1-6:10), along with the separate article on “antiomianism”.

June 22: 2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (continued)

2 Corinthians 3:1-18, continued

Having established the contrast between the written word (gra/mma) and the Spirit (pneu=ma) in verse 6 (cf. the previous note), along with the motif of the Law (Torah) being written by the finger of God (Exod 31:18; Deut 9:10), in the remainder of chapters 3 (vv. 7-18) Paul embarks on an exposition of the difference between the old and new covenants (diaqh=kai). He draws upon the Moses narratives and traditions in the book of Exodus; in particular, Paul takes a midrashic interpretive approach to Exodus 34:29-35, which describes Moses’ return from Mount Sinai carrying the two tablets of the Covenant.

This contrast between the old and new covenants is centered on the idea of “glory” (do/ca). In Greek, the word do/ca has the basic meaning of “what one thinks” about something, how it is considered or regarded, often in the (positive) sense of “reputation, renown, honor, esteem, dignity”, etc. It can also carry the more objective meaning “appearance”, including various visual phenomena, especially involving light, brightness, and so forth. It can be applied to God in both primary senses—(1) as the esteem and honor which is (to be) accorded to him, and (2) the brightness and visual phenomena which is manifested by his presence. Do/ca is frequently used to render dobK* (lit. “weight”, i.e. worth, value) in Hebrew, a word which has a similar semantic range, especially when associated with YHWH.

In 2 Cor 3:7-11, Paul makes use of a series of qal wa-homer arguments—a traditional (Jewish) principle of interpretation, which argues from the lesser to the greater: if something is true in this (lesser) case, then how much more is it to be so regarded in the (greater) case. According to this mode of argument (a fortiori), Paul is working from the basic assumption that the new covenant is superior to the old covenant which God established with Israel at Sinai. The first two arguments (in vv. 7-9) involve the diakoni/a (“service, ministry”), that is, the administration of the covenant—in the case of the old covenant this began with Moses (and Aaron) and continued through the established priesthood and ritual apparatus (Temple, sacrificial offerings, purity regulations, etc), as well as through teaching and tradition. Note the contrast:

    • Vv. 7-8: service/ministry of death [h( diakoni/a tou= qana/tou]
      • service/ministry of the Spirit [h( diakoni/a tou= pneu/mato$]
    • Vers. 9: service/ministry of judgment against [h( diakoni/a th=$ katakri/sew$]
      • service/ministry of justice/righteousness [h( diakoni/a th=$ dikaiosu/nh$]

The characterization of the old covenant as “the ministry of death” is striking; for the uniquely Pauline view on the relationship between the Law, sin and death, read carefully Romans 5-7 (cf. the articles on 5:12-21 and 7:7-25 in the series “Paul’s View of the Law”), and note also in Gal 3:10-14, 19-22; 1 Cor 15:56. In vv. 7-8 here, the qal wa-homer argument is:

“If the ministry of death came to be in (such) esteem [do/ca]… how will the ministry of the Spirit not (even) more be in esteem?”

The old covenant came to have glory/esteem (perf. of the verb doca/zw), but now it has come to have no glory/esteem (again, with the perfect of doca/zw). It is hard to imagine a more antinomian statement by Paul—the old covenant, with its written Law, now has no glory. However, he makes clear that this is true only in one respect: because the glory of the new covenant goes so far beyond it (the verb u(perba/llw means to throw or cast something over/beyond, i.e. past a particular distance or measure). This is an important principle for understanding Paul’s apparently negative statements regarding the Law—its binding force has come to an end because of Christ. To neglect or ignore this overwhelming Christocentric emphasis leaves the commentator with no hope of properly understanding Paul’s thought.

If there was any doubt that, in his mind, the old covenant has come to an end, he makes this clear in verse 11, using the verb katarge/w—literally to “make (something) cease working”, i.e. render inactive, ineffective, often in the technical (legal) sense of “nullify, invalidate, make void”, etc. This word appears already at the end of verse 7 (and will be used again in vv. 13-14); for its use by Paul elsewhere (with regard to the Law), see Rom 3:31; 4:14; 7:2, 6; Gal 3:17; 5:4, 11; and also Eph 2:15. The second verb is me/nw, “remain (in place), abide”. The contrast is clear enough: the old covenant ceases to be in effect, the new covenant remains and lasts; one is temporary, the other permanent.

The new covenant (kainh\ diaqh/kh) is governed by the Spirit (vv. 6-8), and not by the Torah; indeed, the Spirit takes the place of the Torah, a principle which many Christians have been, and still are, unable (or unwilling) to accept, in spite of the clear teaching on the subject by Paul (and elsewhere in the New Testament). We will examine the point further in the next daily note (on his references to the Spirit in Galatians). However, the emphasis in 2 Cor 3:1-18 is on Paul and his fellow missionaries as ministers of this new covenant. In this light, in verses 12-18, he continues his contrast of old vs. new covenant, utilizing the motif of the covering (ka/lumma) that Moses kept over his face (cf. Exod 34:29-35) when he met with the people after speaking to God.

In the initial period of the old covenant, the people were wholly dependent on Moses as the prophet or spokesperson (ayb!n`) who communicated the word and will of God to them. Apostles and missionaries such as Paul served a similar role in the new covenant, but with a major difference: the communication of the Gospel of Christ took place without any covering, the ‘veil’ having been removed. The implication of this is that the people (i.e. believers) now are able to experience the presence and glory of God directly, without any intermediary. This is due to the fact that, with the communication (and acceptance) of the Gospel, believers receive the very Spirit of God. Paul’s wording in verse 16 is striking (and rather controversial) in this regard:

“But whenever (one) would turn about toward the Lord, the covering is taken (up from) around (him).”

This removal of the covering (symbolized by the veil of Moses) has two aspects in its meaning:

    • people are able to experience the full revelation of God, and
    • it signifies that the old covenant (of Moses and the Torah) has come to an end (cf. Rom 10:4)

The latter aspect means that believers in Christ are freed from the old covenant and its Torah, and this freedom (e)leuqeri/a) is due to our contact with the Spirit of God:

“And the Lord is the Spirit, and that which (is) of the Spirit of (the) Lord, (is) freedom [e)leuqeri/a].” (v. 17)

Insofar as we turn to God’s Spirit, we have complete freedom—meaning, in this context, primarily, freedom from the Law (Torah). Use of the title “the Lord” (o( ku/rio$) in such passages can be somewhat ambiguous, as a result of the dual-use by early Christians, where the title can refer to God the Father (YHWH) or to Jesus Christ, interchangeably. Here the expression “Spirit of the Lord” presumably means the Spirit of God, though Paul does, on occasion, also use the expression “Spirit of Christ“. Among first-century Christians the dual point of reference regarding the Spirit—whether of God the Father or Jesus (the Son)—reflected a complex theological understanding which was still in the process of development. This will be discussed further in the upcoming notes. There can be no doubt, however, that the idea of turning to the Spirit of the Lord entails acceptance of the Gospel, and of conforming our lives to the presence of Christ dwelling in us.

This latter point is emphasized especially in the famous concluding words to this section (v. 18). Given the overall focus of the passage, one might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

In prior notes, we discussed the idea of the “democratization” of the Spirit in the New Age of Israel’s restoration, in which God’s Spirit (and the prophetic spirit) would come upon all people, the nation as a whole, rather than upon specific chosen/gifted individuals. This was reflected most notably, for early Christians, by the citation of Joel 2:28-29 in Peter’s Pentecost speech (Acts 2:17-18). The reference to Moses, here in our passage, brings to mind the tradition in Numbers 11:16-30 (discussed in an earlier note), in which seventy elders were allowed to share in the prophetic spirit—the Spirit of YHWH—that had been upon Moses exclusively. For believers in Christ, the inclusivity extends even further—to all of God’s people, essentially fulfilling the very wish, expressed by Moses himself:

“…who would (not) give (that) all (the) people of YHWH (would be) <ya!yb!n+ [i.e. prophets], (and) that YHWH would give His spirit [j^Wr] upon them!” (Num 11:29)

“Gnosis” in the NT: John 8:32 (cont.)

John 8:32 (continued)

In the previous study, I examined the context and setting of the saying of Jesus in Jn 8:31-32; today, I will be giving attention to several key points regarding the saying:

    • The conditional relationship between the first and last clauses
    • The use of the terms “truth” and “free(dom)”, and
    • What it means to know the truth

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly [a)lhqw=$] my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the truth will make/set you free.”

This saying is a conditional sentence, made up of two parts—the second (apodosis) is based on the condition established in the former (protasis):

Protasis—”If [e)a/n] you remain in my word [logo/$]”
Apodosis—”(then) you are truly my learners [i.e. disciples]…”

The apodosis actually has three components—that is, three things which will occur if the condition is met; note how each component involves the word truth (cf. below):

    1. you are truly my disciples
    2. you will know the truth
    3. the truth will make/set you free

It is significant that Jesus does not say “you will be my disciples”, but rather “you are my disciples”—that is, remaining in Jesus’ word demonstrates what these believers (already) are, namely, his true disciples. The verb me/nw (“remain”) is especially important, and is part of the key Johannine vocabulary—more than half of the NT occurrences are in the Gospel (40) and letters (27) of John. It occurs most notably in the famous illustration of the vine and the branches in chapter 15 (vv. 4-7, 9-10, 16). The orientation is eschatological: believers will continue in faith, united with Christ, until the end. This is all the more clear here, by Jesus’ use of the verb in 8:35:

“the slave does not remain [me/nei] into the Age, but the Son (does) remain into the Age”

The expression “into the Age”, often obscured in translation as “forever, eternal(ly)”, etc, specially means into the Age to Come, which in an early Christian context, refers to the return of Christ, the last Judgment, the resurrection and the entry of believers into eternal life. We could paraphrase here as: “the slave (to sin) does not enter into eternal life…”; only the Son possesses this life (5:26, etc), and he gives it to those who trust in him. This is expressed by the phrase “remain in my word“. In the discourses and sayings of Jesus in John, the reference can be: (1) to believers being in Christ (his word, light, etc) [5:35; 8:12; 12:46; 15:9-10; 16:33], and also (2) to his word, etc, being in believers [4:14; 5:38; 6:53; 11:10; 14:17; 15:2ff, 11; 17:10, 13]—for the two mentioned together, cf. Jn 6:56; 14:20; 15:4ff; 17:20-26. Paul has the same two-fold aspect of being “in Christ” and Christ being “in you”. With regard to the term lo/go$ (usually translated “word”), the more common idiom is of the lo/go$ being or remaining in the believer (5:38), and Jesus uses this in our passage as well (8:37, cf. also v. 44)—so both aspects are present in the discourse. Primarily, the lo/go$ refers to the “account”, i.e. the things Jesus said, the substance of his teaching, and so forth; but clearly, in the context of the use of this word in John (1:1ff, etc), it also refers to the presence and power of Christ (the Son) himself.

A key term in 8:31-32, and also the discourse of vv. 31-59, is a)lhqei/a (“truth”), which is likewise a common Johannine word—of the 100+ occurrences in the NT, nearly half are in the Gospel (25) and letters (20) of John. Key references elsewhere in the Gospel are 1:14, 17; 3:21; 4:23-24; 5:33; 14:6, 17; 15:26; 16:7, 13; 17:17, 19. It occurs five more times in this discourse:

    • v. 40: Jesus speaks the truth he has heard from God (the Father)
    • v. 44: the people (Jews) who oppose Jesus are actually children of the devil, of whom Jesus says that from the beginning “he has not stood in the truth” and “the truth is not in him” (note the two aspects)
    • v. 45: Jesus states, “because I give account of [le/gw, rel. to lo/go$] the truth, you do not trust [i.e. believe, have faith in] me”
    • v. 46: again, “if I give account of the truth, through what [i.e. for what reason] do you not trust (in) me?”

The use of the verb e)leuqero/w (“make/set free”) in v. 32 (and 36) is actually quite rare in the New Testament, occurring only in Paul (Rom 6:18, 22; 8:2, 21; Gal 5:1); similarly the adjective e)leu/qero$ (“free”) in vv. 33, 36 is primarily found in the Pauline letters. Indeed, Paul frequently makes use of the idea that God, through Christ, has freed human beings from bondage to sin, delivering (or ransoming, i.e. purchasing) them from the control and dominion of sin and darkness. The dualistic imagery is common in the Gospel of John, connecting Christ’s death with salvation from the dark and evil “world”, but not with this specific language of redemption, which is essentially unique to this passage in John.

What does it mean to know the truth? First, in the context of the discourse, the truth is something which Jesus has heard from the Father and speaks to the people (vv. 40ff). Thus it is intimately connected to the relationship between the Son and God the Father, which is expressed (by Jesus) in the Gospel of John, and which is formulated at the very beginning (1:1ff, using the term lo/go$, “word”). It is not so much the specific content of his teaching, but that his teaching reflects the very word ‘spoken’ by the Father. Elsewhere in the Gospel, knowledge (that is, knowing, ginw/skw/oi@da) means knowledge of the Son (Christ) who reveals the Father. This will be discussed further in the next study (on John 17:3). Here, 8:47 effectively summarizes Jesus’ (and the Johannine) meaning:

“The one being out of [i.e. from] God hears the words/utterances [r(h/mata] of God; through [i.e. because of] this, you [i.e. the Jewish opponents] do not hear, in that [i.e. because] you are not out of [i.e. from] God”

This saying is vital for a proper understanding of the “gnostic” aspect of Jesus’ teaching in John, as it conveys a very distinctive sense of salvation—the person who hears (that is, receives/accepts) Jesus’ words, which are the words of God the Father, does so because he/she actually comes from [lit. out of, e)k] God. In other words, the believer who is “born” as a child of God through faith (1:12-13) has ‘already’ come (i.e. been born) out of God. There is a paradoxical sense to this understanding, which will be explored further in the article in the series “Gnosis and the New Testament” dealing with election and predestination. Jesus says virtually the same thing in his famous dialogue with Pilate in Jn 18:37:

“…unto this [i.e. for this purpose] I have come to be (born) and unto this I have come into the world: that I might (bear) witness to the truth—every one being out of [e)k, i.e. from] the truth hears my voice.”

If we compare the parallel statement in 8:47 and 18:37, we see that the “truth” is essentially equivalent with God Himself. It is no wonder that Pilate, like the Jews of the discourse, responds with a lack of understanding: “What is (the) truth?”

“Gnosis” in the NT: John 8:32

John 8:32

“you will know the truth, and the truth will make/set you free”

This is one of the most famous and well-known statements in the New Testament, yet it is often cited out of context, without realizing that it is only half of a saying by Jesus in vv. 31-32:

“If you remain in my word [lo/go$], you are truly [a)lhqw=$] my learners [i.e. disciples], and you will know the truth [a)lh/qeia] and the truth will make/set you free.”

Even less familiar to the average Christian or student of the New Testament is the is the overall context of this saying—the discourse of Jesus in 8:31-59, part of larger sequence of discourses spanning chapter 7 and 8 (not including 7:53-8:11), and set during the festival of Sukkoth (Booths/Tabernacles) in Jerusalem. All of the discourses of Jesus in John follow a basic pattern, involving:

    • A statement/saying by Jesus
    • A response or question by those hearing him, indicating that they have misunderstood his true meaning
    • An explanation/exposition by Jesus

The longer discourses sometimes repeat the question-explanation format. There is a definite homiletic style at work, which suggests that actual (historical) teaching by Jesus has been carefully edited and given a layer of interpretation by the author of the Gospel (and/or his sources). It is not a mere stenographic record. The discourse in 8:31-59 begins according to the pattern cited above:

    • Statement by Jesus (vv. 31b-32)
    • Response/question with misunderstanding (v. 33)
    • Explanation by Jesus (vv. 34ff)

Here the question/explanation pattern is repeated several times, creating a heightened level of dramatic tension not found in the other discourses:

  • Response #1 (v. 33)
    Jesus’ answer #1 (vv. 34-38)
    • Response #2 (v. 39a)
      Jesus’ answer #2 (vv. 39b-41a)
      • Response #3 (v. 41b)
        Jesus’ answer #3 (vv. 42-47)
        • Response #4 (v. 48)
          Jesus’ answer #4 (vv. 49-51)
          • Response #5 (vv. 52-53)
            Jesus’ answer #5 (vv. 54-56)
            • Response #6 (v. 57)
              Jesus’ answer #6 (v. 58)

This chain involves a kind of step-parallelism—where the start of the next element builds upon the end of the previous one—which is fairly common in the Gospel of John. The initial misunderstanding by the people (“the Jews”) involves the sort of freedom referred to by Jesus:

“We are (the) seed of Abraham and have been enslaved to no one (at) any time; (so) how do you say that ‘you will come to be free’?” (v. 33)

They understand freedom and slavery in terms of personal and national liberty—that is, of material, physical freedom—much as people tend to use the terms today. A similar nationalistic sentiment is expressed by Eleazar at Masada in Josephus’ Wars VII.323. However, Jesus is actually referring to freedom from sin, as is clear in his explanation in vv. 34ff:

“…everyone doing sin is a slave [of sin].”

It is (only) the Son (o( ui(o/$) who can set people free from the power and control of sin:

“The slave does not remain [me/nei] in the house into the Age [i.e. forever], (but) the son remains into the Age; therefore, if the Son sets/makes you free, you (really) will be free!”

In the remainder of the discourse, Jesus draws upon the Jewish people’s claim to be sons (“the seed”) of Abraham, and sets it in the context of the relationship between the Father (God) and the Son. These two interlocking themes continue, with the tension and conflict building, until the climactic end, in which Jesus identifies himself (the Son) with the Father: “before Abraham came to be, I am!” (v. 58, cf. the similar climax in 10:30-39). In so doing, he has circumvented entirely the span of Israelite/Jewish history and tradition—the one who was with the Father before Abraham, is now here among the people. Instead of being sons/children of Abraham in the ethnic and religious sense, they (i..e the elect) now are called to be sons/children of God (1:12-13).

Returning to the initial saying of vv. 31-32, there are several key points which should be examined. I will do so in the next study.

August 9: 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

This the last of three daily notes on 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, which will look at vv. 12-18, and verse 17 in particular.

2 Corinthians 3:12-18 [verse 17]

After the exposition and application of Exod 34:29-25 in verses 7-11 (cf. the previous note), using a series of qal wa-homer arguments to contrast the old covenant (and the Law) with the new, Paul returns to the primary theme of his role as an apostle:

“Therefore, holding such (a) hope, we use much outspokenness [parrhsi/a]…” (v. 12)

The word parrhsi/a indicates something “uttered with all (openness/boldness)”; it can refer specifically to speaking openly in public, or openly as “with boldness”, or some combination of the two. Paul contrasts the openness of ministers of the Gospel (such as he and his fellow missionaries), with Moses who put a covering (ka/lumma) over his face. The implication is that Moses put the veil over his face when he met with the people after speaking to God; however, this is not entirely clear from the Exodus narrative (34:29-34)—it may be inferred from vv. 34-35, but at least once Moses addressed the people without the veil, i.e. before putting it on (vv. 31-33). In 2 Cor 3:13, Paul essentially repeats what he said in verse 8, though here the language is more difficult, since he is effectively summarizing the entire line of argument from vv. 7-11 in a single verse:

“…and not according to (the way) that Moses set a covering upon his face, toward the sons of Israel (so that they) not stretch (to see) [i.e. gaze] into the end/completion of the (thing) being made inactive…”

For the verb katarge/w (“make [something] cease working”, i.e. made inactive, render ineffective), which Paul uses on other occasions in relation to the Law, see the previous note on vv. 7-11. The word te/lo$ (“completion, finish, end”) is also used in reference to the Law, especially in Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end [te/lo$] of the Law”); Paul typically means it in the sense of the termination of a period of time, or of the state of things at the end of such a period. Elsewhere, it is clear that the Law (Torah) of the old covenant is only binding and in force until the coming of Christ (see esp. the illustrations in Galatians 3-4 and in Romans 7:1-6). The idea here in 2 Cor 3:13 seems to be that the covering makes it so the Israelites cannot see that the old covenant has come to an end in Christ. This uniquely Christian interpretation is then applied in verses 14-16 to the people of Israel as a whole: even as they continue in their religious devotion to the Law and the old covenant, a covering remains over their eyes (and their heart), and they cannot see that the old covenant finds it end (and fulfillment) in the person and work of Christ. There are exceptions, of course, as the number of Jewish believers (even in Paul’s time) attest, and as is expressed in verse 16: “but if they turn toward the Lord, the covering is taken (away from) around (their eyes)”. Paul uses traditional Old Testament language here (of “turning [back] to the Lord [i.e. YHWH]”), though, in context, of course, turning to the Lord (YHWH) involves turning to the Lord (Jesus Christ), cf. Acts 3:19, etc.

In verse 17, Paul adds a third aspect to the word ku/rio$ (“Lord”):

“And the Lord is the Spirit; and (the place) in which the Spirit of (the) Lord (is), (that is) freedom”

Here we reach the climax of Paul’s argument, with two central points of emphasis: (1) the Spirit (pneu=ma), which is the Spirit of God (and Christ), and (2) freedom (e)leuqeri/a). With regard to the last point, in Galatians Paul speaks of “freedom” specifically in terms of freedom from the Law (Gal 2:4; 4:21-31; 5:1ff, 13), while in Romans the emphasis is primarily on freedom from the power of sin (Rom 6:7-23; 8:2, 21), though this too is related to freedom from the Law (Rom 7:1-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, sin is not part of the discussion, but the Law is—the contrast between the old covenant, with its written (tablets of the) Law, and the new covenant makes it likely that freedom from the Law is to be affirmed here as well. And yet, it is also clear that something more is meant: a freedom that is centered on the presence and power of the Spirit. Paul can identify the Spirit with either God (the Father) or Jesus Christ; generally, the emphasis is on the latter—the Spirit represents Christ and communicates his presence (and power) to believers, both individually and collectively. Just as believers are “in Christ”, so we live and walk “in the Spirit”; and, as Christ is in us, so the Spirit is in us. The presence of the Spirit means freedom—the same freedom that we have in Christ (Gal 2:4).

It has been somewhat puzzling to commentators just why Paul chooses to compare himself (and other apostles) with Israel as he does in 2 Cor 3:1-18. One theory is that his opponents were Jewish Christian “Judaizers”, as in Galatians (cf. also Phil 3:2ff). This would perhaps be supported by the context of 2 Cor 10-13 (see esp. 11:22ff). If there were influential “apostles” working at Corinth who stressed the importance of continuing to observe the old covenant, then the application of Exod 34:29-35 in 2 Cor 3:7ff is especially appropriate. In Jewish tradition, the “glory” (do/ca) associated with Moses and the Sinai covenant does not fade, but continues (forever), see e.g. 2/4 Esdras 9:37; Deuteronomy Rabbah 11:3. Paul declares quite the opposite, in the sense that, with the coming of the new covenant (and its overwhelmingly greater glory), the old covenant has ceased to be active or effective any longer (use of the verb katarge/w, cf. above).

However, there is, I think, a more precise reason for the illustration contrasting the old and new covenants; it has to do with an emphasis on external criteria which Paul seems to associate with his opponents, especially in chapters 10-13. Note how he begins the long polemical discussion in 10:7 with a reference to looking at things “according to the face” (kata\ pro/swpon), i.e. according to outward appearance. Throughout, Paul feels compelled to compare himself with certain “extra important” (u(perli/an, “over-abundant”) apostles, though it clearly makes him uncomfortable to do so (10:12ff; 12:11, etc). He emphasizes various missionary labors (10:1211:15, 27-29), physical hardships (11:23-33, also 6:4-10), special visionary experiences (12:1-7), miracles (“signs of an apostle”, 12:12), skill in speaking and writing (10:9-11; 11:6), but also his own natural ethnic-cultural and religious pedigree (11:22ff). From all of this, we may infer that there were “apostles” at work among the Corinthians who could make claim to some of these sorts of things, and who may well have denigrated Paul’s own credentials and abilities. The reference in 3:1-6 to letters of introduction/commendation could indicate that these were itinerant or visiting missionaries (or dignitaries) who possessed (and/or relied upon) such letters to establish their external credentials as well. While Paul does engage in some rhetorical/polemical “competition” and comparison of credentials, it is important to note two key qualifying arguments he introduces in chapter 10 at the start:

    • that Paul and his associates (as true apostles) do not live and act “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka), vv. 2-3—this expression is sometimes used specifically in the sense of sin and immorality, but here, more properly, it refers to a worldly manner of acting and thinking, worldly standards, etc., and, as such, is parallel with “according to the face” (kata\ pro/swpon) in v. 7.
    • that his true “boasting” (as an apostle) resides in what God has given to him for the proclamation of the Gospel, vv. 8, 12ff; in this regard, note also the discussion in 12:7-10.

The connection between chapters 10-13 and 1-7, 8-9 remains much debated; however, this analysis may help to elucidate the force of Paul’s argument in 3:7-18. The old covenant was manifest in external form—written on tablets of stone, along with a visible aura of light which could be covered up by a veil—while the new covenant is internal and invisible (cf. also 4:16-18). The new covenant is written in the heart and its glory comes from within. The Spirit operates from within, giving to believers freedom and the power to live according to God’s will; it is also the source of the apostles’ authority and boldness. That the new covenant does not depend on external criteria is confirmed by the famous conclusion in 3:18. One might expect Paul to end with another reference to the role of apostles—persons called to represent Christ and preach the Gospel—and yet, following the association of the Spirit and freedom in verse 17, he moves in an entirely different direction: “but we all…” The glory of the old covenant was associated with a special person—Moses—who was set apart to represent God for the people; only he spoke directly with God, and the glory shone only from his face. How different is the new covenant, where every believer in Christ beholds the glory of the Lord, and is transformed, in a permanent manner, far greater than the transfiguration that Moses experienced. The true apostle and missionary does not emphasize his (or her) own abilities and accomplishments—ultimately the new covenant is administered and shared by all believers together.

Paul’s View of the Law: Galatians (Chaps. 5-6)

The bulk of chapters 5 and 6 (5:1-6:10) makes up the exhortatio—that is, the section where, according to classical (deliberative) rhetoric, 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) as well.

Exhortatio (Galatians 5:1-6:10)

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

Galatians 5:1

The main exhortation in this verse 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 (cf. 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, to be discussed).

Galatians 5:2-12

This first section may be summarized as an exhortation (warning) regarding circumcision and Torah observance, which is, of course, the main reason (or cause) for Paul writing to the Galatians.

Vv. 2-6The Law vs. Christ. Paul begins directly, with a solemn asseveration:

“See—I, Paulus, relate to you that if you should be circumcised…”

In other words, if the Galatians allow themselves to be circumcised, and persuaded to be bound by the Torah commands, then the following will be the result:

    • Christ will be of no value to you (“will benefit/profit you nothing”), v. 2
    • You will be obligated (“one in debt”) to keep (lit. “to do”) the whole Law, v. 3
    • You will be made inactive (i.e. useless) (and will be) away from Christ, v. 4a
    • You will fall out of favor (with God), [i.e. will fall from grace], v. 4b

The first two results (vv. 2-3) use the language of commerce and debt, from two vantage points—(a) losing the value/profit of Christ, and (b) becoming indebted to the Law. The second two results (v. 4) are parallel expressions of loss, falling (a) “away from Christ” [a)po\ Xristou=], and (b) “out of favor/grace” [{e)c} th=$ xa/rito$]. From a modern-day Christian (or secular) standpoint, one might be inclined to view observance of the Torah as a relative matter of indifference, and yet, for Paul, as vv. 2-4 indicate, the consequences for the Galatians in so doing would be dire indeed. Why should this be? Is Paul simply indulging in some rhetorical exaggeration to make his point? The answer, I think, can be glimpsed by what follows 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!). An even more decisive declaration against keeping the Law comes in verse 6:

“For in (the) Anointed Yeshua circumcision does not have any strength, (and) neither (does having) a foreskin, but (rather) trust working in (you) through love

The Law, especially in its ritual/ceremonial aspects (the foremost being circumcision), has no strength; in this regard, see the description of the “elements [stoicheia] of the world” as “weak and poor” (4:9), as well as the basic proposition that the Law is not able to make/declare people just before God (2:15-16, etc, cf. also Paul in Acts 13:38-39). For the first time in Galatians, faith/trust in Christ is connected with love, and this will become an important emphasis in the instruction throughout chaps. 5 and 6. Also, there can be little doubt that we have here an intentional and specific contrast between “works [e&rga] of the Law” and faith/trust (by the Spirit) “working in [e)nergoume/nh]” us. For other Pauline formulations parallel to v. 6, cf. my upcoming note on Gal 6:15.

Vv. 7-12The ones influencing the Galatians. Here Paul breaks off to engage in a direct attack against his Jewish-Christian opponents, that is, the ones who are influencing the Galatians to be circumcised and to observe the Torah (cf. also further on in 6:12-13). It must be admitted that such polemic as Paul uses here, while generally acceptable within the standards of ancient (Greco-Roman) rhetoric and ‘diatribe’, makes for rather uncomfortable reading today. The specific language and style ought to be treated with considerable caution by commentators and preachers.

In many ways, verses 7-10 parallel vv. 2-4 (cf. above); while the earlier passage laid out the consequences for the Galatians if they accepted circumcision, here Paul describes the character (and fate) of those who have been encouraging them to be circumcised (i.e. the so-called “Judaizers”)—they are said:

    • to be contrary to the truth (v. 7)
    • contrary to the one calling people to faith (i.e. God) (v. 8)
    • troubling the peace and unity of believers (v. 9-10)
    • they will come under the judgment of God (v. 10b)

In some ways, vv. 11-12 serve as a parallel to the declaration in verse 6 (above); there Paul stated the unimportance of circumcision compared with faith/trust in Christ, here he contrasts proclaiming circumcision (and the Torah) with proclaiming the Gospel (especially the cross, i.e. the death of Christ). The exact logic and context of verse 11 is a bit difficult to determine; it may be that Paul’s opponents accused him of inconsistency, of advocating for circumcision even while denying its requirement for Gentiles (cf. Acts 16:3). In Gal 6:12-13, he also alludes to the fact that some (Jewish) Christians were embracing circumcision and the Torah so as to avoid persecution; here, however, he makes clear that the persecution he (and his fellow missionaries) have endured is because of the Gospel (the “cross of Christ”). After experiencing the transformative revelation of the Gospel message in Christ, through faith and the Spirit, to turn again to the Law (and circumcision) would effectively rob Christ’s death of its power and significance, as stated previously in Gal 2:21. Verse 12 concludes with a terse bit of darkly ironic wordplay, a kind of “bloody joke”:

“I owe [i.e. I wish] (it to them that) they will even cut themselves off, the ones stirring you up!”

Commentators are generally agreed that here the verb a)poko/ptw, “cut (away) from”, i.e. “cut off” is used in the sense of (self)-mutilation or amputation—i.e., castration. The ones troubling (“stirring up, upturning”) the Galatians are doing so by encouraging them to be circumcised, that is, to have the foreskin cut off; in more vulgar modern idiom, we might translate verse 12 as: “the ones (who are) unsettling you, I wish that they would cut off their {blank}!” Take Paul’s expression for what it is worth in context, it certainly is another example of how seriously he takes the issue.

Galatians 5:13-25

If vv. 2-12 was an exhortation (and warning) against observing the Torah, this section provides rather the opposite: regarding the freedom (i.e. freedom from the Law) which believers have in Christ. Verse 13 states the primary exhortation, similar to that in verse 1:

V. 13: “For you have been called out (to be) upon [i.e. for] freedom, brothers! only (do) not (let) the freedom (be) unto a rushing (away) from (God) to the flesh, but (rather) be a slave to one another through love.”

The word a)formh/ literally refers to a movement or sudden/violent impulse away from something (or someone) and toward something else. More abstractly, it can also indicate a tendency or opportunity to move/act in a particular direction. There is, perhaps, a modern tendency to think of the “flesh” as personal (carnal) sin, but the immediate context (and also the list of “works of the flesh” in vv. 19-21), rather emphasizes self-centered (and/or violent) behavior against others (that is, other believers). Such fleshy action and attitude disrupts and destroys the peace and unity of the body of Christ (believers as a whole). In this respect, it is indeed striking that Paul introduces the idea of true and proper slavery for believers—of serving one another through love. This prepares the way for the similarly surprising idea of Christians following the “Law”, but in a special, qualified sense.

Verses 14-15—After spending all of the first four chapters of Galatians setting Torah observance (“works of Law”) in contrast to the Spirit and faith in Christ, treating it in terms of slavery, Paul now turns to describe the way in which Christians are still under Law. This is done in a manner common, it would seem, in many parts of the early Church, by bringing together the entire Law under a single command:

“For all the Law is filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in one word, in the ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (v. 14)

The quotation is from Lev 19:18 (LXX), a verse established in early Christian tradition through the teaching of Jesus, as part of the two-fold “greatest commandment” (Mark 12:31 par; Matt 5:43; 19:19)—also related to the so-called “golden rule” (Matt 7:12; Luke 6:31)—as a ‘summary’ of the Law. Paul offers a more precise contextual statement in Rom 13:8-10; for other instances in early Christian writings, see James 2:8; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5; and Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 93:2. It is sometimes referred to as the “love command”, under the influence of similar language in the Gospel and letters of John (Jn 13:34-35; 14:15-24; 15:10-17; 1 Jn 2:7-11; 3:23; 4:21; 5:1-3). It is likely that this particular teaching and use of Lev 19:18 is not original with Jesus, but may have been part of contemporary Jewish tradition, as associated with first/second-century Rabbis Hillel and Aqiba (cf. b. Shabbat 31a; Genesis Rabbah 24:7, etc). Paul actually does not refer to this as a command, nor as something which is to be “done”, but as something fulfilled (cf. Jesus’ words in Matt 5:17). Such love is identified by Paul, paradoxically, as slavery (that is, labor and service), but he does not refer to it in terms of “work” (as the observance of the Torah commands would be, “works”); any work that is done, in Paul’s thought, surely would be ascribed to Christ and the Spirit, cf. vv. 5-6, and the famous statement that Christ is the “end/completion of the Law” (Rom 10:4). In verse 15, Paul indicates what is opposite, i.e. behavior which violates the love-command—namely, antagonistic behavior toward one another, described in crude, “beastly” terms of biting, tearing, eating, etc.

Verses 16-25—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/$), an expression clearly intended as parallel to “works of (the) Law” (e&rga tou= no/mou), Gal 2:16; 3:3, 5, 10. These are all generally actions, reflecting sinful, selfish and immoral behavior; and, even though the Law would appear to guard and regulate against such things, according to Paul it actually serves to make manifest and increase the very sinfulness expressed by this list (as discussed previously). This is not to be taken as an exhaustive catalog (or checklist), but one that fairly comprehensively represents human wickedness. As might be expected, Paul does not use the corresponding term “works of the Spirit” for the opposite list in vv. 22-23, but rather “fruit [karpo/$] 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.

Galatians 5:26-6:10

This section properly presents specific religious and ethical instruction (parenesis), making up a very small (but significant) portion of the letter.

5:26-6:6—Here Paul offers basic direction and encouragement in terms of dealing with fellow believers. It is here that Christian “Law” (that is, the ‘love-command’) is most clearly expressed. Verse 26 describes behavior which is opposite of that governed by the love-principle, in a manner similar to that of verse 15. Gal 6:1, by contrast, gives more positive instruction in how believers (according to the fruit of the Spirit) deal with such negative, sinful behavior, the goal being to restore/repair (katarti/zw) the life of the offender, and, in so doing, restore the body of believers (the body of Christ) as a whole. This is stated more generally in verse 2 as bearing each others’ burdens, and is also another way of stating the love-command (or principle), cf. 5:14 above, and my supplemental note on 6:2.. The expression “the Law of Christ” is significant, and will be discussed in a separate note. Verses 4-6 give practical advice and encouragement along these lines, in more conventional ethical terms, as can be found in other of Paul’s letters—for v. 4, cf. 1 Cor 11:28; 2 Cor 10:13, 15; 13:3, 5; for v. 5, cf. 1 Thess 4:11; 1 Cor 3:8; 7:7; Rom 14:5, 12; for v. 6, cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Rom 12:13; 15:27; 1 Cor 9:11; 2 Cor 9:12-14; Phil 4:15-17.

6:7-10—Paul concludes his exhortation with a proverbial illustration (vv. 7-9) involving the harvest, returning to the contrast and conflict between flesh and the Spirit—the warning is ultimately eschatological: however a person sows, whether “into the flesh” or “into the Spirit”, so he or she will reap in the end (i.e. the Judgment before God). This serves as a serious ethical warning. Freedom from a set of religious regulations and commands, means that it is absolutely necessary for believers to be guided by the Spirit, and, most importantly, to be willing to walk according to this guidance. It certainly may be tempting to resort to a set of (written) regulations to help in this regard, but, to do so will effectively cut off our reliance upon the Spirit of Christ. Paul was well aware of this, but believers throughout the centuries, it must be said, have generally been reluctant to accept his “antinomian” teaching.

In the final verse, Paul at least introduces a positive sense of “work” for Christians, in terms of doing good—that is, showing and demonstrating love and concern—for all human beings, but especially, and particular, toward fellow believers. This is the essence of the “love command” as taught by Christ in the Gospel of John (cf. throughout the discourses in chaps. 13-17).

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