In this letter, the apostle Paul battled against the imposition of a yoke of legalism. In various forms, this kind of legalism still exists. Numerous religious movements, though denying it in word, are more than mildly opposed to the spirit reflected in the letter to the Galatians.
To individuals who accept the words as if directed to them personally, this letter speaks in a powerful way about what Christ has done in setting them free to be free. They also come to recognize that a life in the realm of Christian liberty is a responsible life. It is a praiseworthy life that gives evidence of active concern, compassion, and love for all members of the one human family.
The opening word “Paul” leaves no doubt about sender’s identity. In style and subject matter, the letter to the Galatians reflects the apostle’s style in his other letters.
The Roman name “Paul,” meaning “little,” may have been his name from childhood. It was common for Jews in the first century CE to have both a Hebrew name and a Greek or Roman name. The Jewish name “Saul” had the proud distinction of having been the name of Israel’s first king, also of the tribe of Benjamin. Instead of using the name “Saul,” however, the apostle may have chosen to use his Roman name in view of his ministry to the non-Jews, identifying himself with them.
“Apostle” designates one who is sent forth and is in the service of the sender. The Greek word apóstolos is drawn from the verb apostéllo, meaning “to send forth” or “to dispatch.” Ancient Greek historians employed the term apóstolos to denote “messenger,” “ambassador,” or “envoy.” The sole occurrence of the term in the Septuagint is at 1 Kings 14:6 in the text of Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century CE. It there applies to the prophet Ahijah as a messenger of God.
Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin. His detractors, who were subverting the faith of the Galatians, evidently implied that his rank was lower than that of the apostles who had walked with Jesus Christ and had been chosen by him. When undermining Paul’s authority, these opponents may have represented him as being merely an apostle of the Antioch congregation — one who did not meet the qualification of having assembled with the other disciples from the time of Jesus’ baptism by John until the day of the ascension. (Acts 1:21, 22; 13:1, 2) Because the faith of the Galatians had been adversely affected, Paul emphasized that his apostleship was “not from men,” or by their appointment, “nor through a man,” that is, through the agency of any man. While God-fearing Ananias baptized Paul, he was not the agent through whom Paul received an apostleship. Paul had already been chosen, for the Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to Ananias when sending him to meet the former persecutor. (Acts 9:15, 16)
To introduce the true source of his apostleship, Paul used allá (“but”), a strong indicator of contrast. His appointment came “through Jesus Christ,” God’s Son, and the head of the Christian congregation. The resurrected, glorified Son of God revealed himself to Paul on the road to Damascus. Therefore, Paul was not a second-rate apostle, merely one sent out by the Antioch congregation. He was commissioned to be an apostle by the risen Lord, the one to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been granted. (Matthew 28:18; Acts 9:3-6, 10-16; 22:12-16; 26:13-20)
Furthermore, the apostleship was through “God the Father,” the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and of all who are his children by reason of their faith in his Son. The relationship of the Son to the Father is that of perfect oneness. (John 17:20-22) Consequently, Paul rightly spoke of his assignment to an apostleship as also coming through God. The Father is the One who “raised [Christ] from the dead,” confirming Jesus Christ’s sonship. (Romans 1:4)
By referring to “all the brothers” or the believers then with him, Paul showed that he was not alone in advocating the truth set forth in this letter. The brothers with him were in agreement with his words, adding persuasive power to what he was about to write. Nevertheless, in not mentioning any of them by name, the apostle may have been indicating that he was not dependent on certain ones to establish the correctness of his position. The truth of what he proclaimed was shared in common by all genuine disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul directed his letter “to the congregations of Galatia.” The Greek word ekklesía denotes an “assembly,” a “gathering of people,” or a “congregation.” Groups of Christians were to be found in various parts of Galatia, a region in the central part of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe were among the cities in the Roman province of Galatia where Paul had proclaimed the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. Likely only one copy of the letter was sent, with the intent that it be shared with the various groups of believers in Galatia. (Compare Colossians 4:16.)
The prayerful words “favor [cháris] to you” expressed Paul’s earnest desire for the Galatian Christians to continue enjoying the grace, favor, or kindness of the Father and his Son. This would indicate divine blessing, help, guidance, and protection. Everything received from the Father and his Son is really a favor or a kindness — something unearned or unmerited. By reason of human sinfulness, no one is entitled to any of the gifts that the Most High showers abundantly on all, even to the point of permitting the wicked to benefit from the sunshine and the rain. (Matthew 5:44, 45)
A Christian’s enjoyment of an approved standing before the Father and his Son is a favor. This is extended to all who have faith in the atoning value of Jesus’ shed blood. No one work, or a whole lifetime of works, could secure divine approval. In his kindness, however, the Father regards persons as righteous by reason of their faith or complete trust in him, his arrangement for salvation through his Son, and his “word,” the revelation of his will and purpose. Furthermore, the help he gives to safeguard believers for eternal life is a marvelous expression of his favor. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Paul also wanted the Galatians to enjoy “peace” (eiréne). For believers to have peace involves more than an absence of conflict. Peace is an inner sense of security, a calmness of mind and heart that results from absolute confidence in God’s love and care for his children and the never-failing aid that is available through his spirit. (Compare John 14:26, 27.) Because sin interferes with a person’s having an approved standing before his Creator, God’s forgiveness of sin on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood is essential for the enjoyment of peace. (1 John 2:1, 2; 3:19–21) This peace, or sense of well-being from recognizing the deep love and concern the Father and his Son have for them, enables Christians to resist yielding to the desires of the sinful flesh and allowing themselves to be consumed by worry about daily needs. (Matthew 6:25–34; Luke 21:34–36; Philippians 4:6, 7)
The apostle identified the favor and peace as coming “from God our Father,” indicating that the Galatians were children of God. The interaction of God’s word and spirit on the Galatians had effected a real change in their lives. Liberated from sin by reason of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians had become God’s free children. The godly manner in which they conducted themselves gave evidence that they were sons of God. Intense love for fellow believers in attitude, word and action confirmed that they had indeed experienced the new birth. (Compare John 8:31–44; 1 John 3:8–17.)
“Favor” or kindness and peace also come from “our Lord Jesus Christ.” Believers acknowledge him as their “Lord,” Master, or Owner because he purchased them with his own precious blood and is their Head, Bridegroom, and King. (1 Corinthians 7:23; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 5:22–24; Colossians 1:13, 18–20; 2 Peter 2:1; Jude 4) The Lordship of Jesus Christ is superior to that of all men who have been called “lord.” He is the “Lord of lords” whose authority extends over the angels and all humans, both living and dead. (Philippians 2:9–11; Revelation19:16)
Note: The reading “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ” has the support of certain ancient manuscripts, including the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. It also appears elsewhere in Paul’s letters. (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Philem. 3) The preponderance of manuscript evidence, though, attests the reading “from God [the] Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” This includes P46 (from about 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and the Majority text (represented primarily by Byzantine manuscripts). Since the usual reading in other letters of Paul is “from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ,” it appears likely that copyists inadvertently wrote the more familiar form instead of “from God [the] Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins,” surrendering his life willingly, not because of feeling compelled to do so by his Father. This voluntary act was an expression of Jesus’ superlative love for sinful mankind. (John 10:17, 18; 15:13; Philippians 2:5–8) When writing “our,” Paul was referring to believers, including himself, the brothers then with him, and the Christians in Galatia. The term “sin” (hamartía) is derived from the verb hamartáno, which in its basic sense means “to miss.” “Sin” is the missing or falling short of the mark of flawless uprightness in attitude, thought, word, and action. In giving “himself for sins,” Jesus Christ took upon himself such sins and the resulting penalty — death. Accordingly, he put himself in the place of sinners, dying sacrificially for their sins and thus making atonement. (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 1:3; 9:26–28; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)
Jesus’ giving himself “for our sins” made possible a marvelous deliverance. Paul continued, “so that he might rescue us out of the present wicked age.” By accepting, in faith, that Jesus Christ gave himself for their sins, believers are cleansed from such and cease to belong to the present “age” (aión) that is characterized by badness and, therefore, divinely disapproved. It is an age that mirrors the spirit of its god, Satan, for the prevailing standards and practices are contrary to God’s will. (Ephesians 2:1–7) As persons delivered from or “taken out” of the present wicked age and so no longer under divine condemnation, believers belong to a different age, the age to come, an age characterized by righteousness.
The words “according to the will of our God and Father” may be directly linked to what Paul said about the rescue from the “present wicked age.” It is the “will” or desire of the God and Father of believers that humans cease to belong to the present wicked age and be freed from a state of alienation with him. He made the provision for redeeming the human race by sending his own Son to the earth to die sacrificially. (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:13–18) Paul’s words, “according to the will of our God and Father,” could also be understood to mean that, in keeping with the Father’s will, Jesus Christ made possible the deliverance from the “present wicked age” by giving himself “for our sins.” Whether viewed from the standpoint that Jesus Christ did his Father’s will or that the whole arrangement was an expression of the Father’s will, the sense is basically the same.
Because of having been reconciled to the Supreme Sovereign of the universe on the basis of Christ’s shed blood, believers can address him as their God and Father. This is the same manner in which Jesus Christ referred to the One who had raised him from the dead. (John 20:17)
Various ancient manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, a corrector’s change in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and P51 (from about 400), read hypér (“for,” “on behalf of,” “for the sake of,” “because of”) “our sins.” The original reading of Codex Sinaiticus, however, is perí (“concerning,” “with reference to,” “because of,” “on behalf of”). It is also the word found in many other manuscripts, including P46 (from about 200) and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Since hypér and perí are very similar in meaning, it makes little difference in translation as to which word is the original one.
Manuscripts vary in the word order, the readings being “age of the present wicked” and “present age wicked.” This, however, does not affect the meaning of the expression and so has no bearing on translating the words.
With reference to “our God and Father,” Paul made the prayerful expression, “to whom the glory into the ages of the ages. Amen.” Although there is no verb in the Greek, the Latin Vulgate reads, “is glory,” indicating that “glory,” magnificence, grandeur, or splendor belongs to God for all time to come. Many modern translations, though, represent Paul’s prayer to be that glory or praise be ascribed to God for all eternity.
The apostle deeply appreciated what the Father did in redeeming humans. This appears to have prompted his prayerful expression that the Father be recognized throughout the ages to come — age upon age — as the glorious One deserving to be glorified or praised. The term “Amen” commonly concludes prayers and means “surely,” “truly,” “so be it.”
“I am amazed that you are so quickly departing from the One who called you in [Christ’s] favor.” The Greek word thaumázo means “to wonder,” “to marvel,” or to “be astonished,” “amazed,” or “surprised.” In this case, the amazement is coupled with disbelief. To Paul, it seemed incredible that such a development had occurred. He was dumbfounded that the Galatians, who had eagerly embraced the evangel, were being swayed by teaching that conflicted with the truth. The word “quickly” (tachéos) could either refer to the short time in which this happened or to the fact that the Galatians acted hastily and without careful thought or deliberation.
“Depart” is a rendering of the Greek term metatíthemi, which may also be defined as “turn away,” “abandon,” “desert,” “transfer,” or “remove.” The Galatians were turning away from the One who had called or chosen them — the Father. He had opened their hearts to embrace the message of salvation and drew them to himself to be his children. (John 6:44; Acts 16:14; 1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5) Accordingly, in abandoning or deserting the One who had called them, the Galatians were making a radical shift in loyalty. Since the Greek word metatíthemi is in the present tense, Paul apparently perceived this turning away by the Galatians as being in progress and, hence, as not yet completed.
The calling was “in favor” (cháris). This denotes that the Galatians either were (1) chosen to be in a state of favor or (2) called in the realm of favor. The tenor of Paul’s letter suggests that the preference should be given to the second meaning (“in the realm of favor”), the choosing being an expression of “favor,” kindness, or grace. This calling did not result from any works the Galatians had performed. They did not have any special merit so that they should have been so highly privileged. Rather, the choosing was totally unearned. It was made possible through Christ. The sole basis for gaining an approved standing before the Father proved to be faith in the atoning value of Christ’s shed blood. Hence, Jesus Christ is really the embodiment of “favor,” kindness or grace. (John 1:16, 17)
In view of Christ’s being intimately associated with God’s calling “in favor,” Paul may have written “Christ’s favor.” Ancient manuscript support for this, however, is not conclusive.
Although having been chosen “in” the element of favor, the Galatians were transferring “into” (eis) another sphere, one to which favor was foreign. Paul refers to this as “another evangel.” The word “evangel” is the anglicized form of the Greek euangélion, meaning “gospel,” “good news,” “glad tidings.” This “other evangel” stressed the necessity of observing the Mosaic law in order to gain full divine approval. Thus, this “other evangel” nullified the vital truth that faith in Jesus Christ was the sole basis for coming to enjoy the dignified status of God’s sons and all the associated rights and privileges.
Note: Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus of the fourth century and Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century support the reading “in favor of Christ,” as does the text of P51 (from about 400). While the text of P46 (from about 200) is not in a good state of preservation, the indications are that it says, “in favor,” with no reference to Christ. Three other variants found in ancient manuscripts are, “in favor of Jesus Christ,” “in favor of Christ Jesus,” and “in favor of God.”
As to this “other evangel,” Paul added, “which is not another.” The true evangel focuses on Jesus Christ. It is “good news” or “glad tidings” about him and what he accomplished. This other message was a corruption, a perversion, or a twisting of Christian truth. There was nothing good or gladdening about it.
Regarding what was actually happening, Paul continued, “except certain ones are unsettling you and want to change the evangel of Christ. ”
Although the apostle may have known the “certain ones,” he did not mention them by name. This may be because he did not want to give them any recognition. (Compare the case of the relative who selfishly refused to take Ruth as a wife and, therefore, is not dignified by having his name preserved in the Scriptural record [Ruth 4:1–6].)
The Greek word for “unsettle” (tarásso) may also be defined as “stir up,” “disturb,” “throw into confusion,” “disquiet,” “perplex,” or “upset.” By insisting that circumcision and obedience to the Mosaic law were essential for divine approval, “certain ones” disturbed the peace that the Galatians had enjoyed upon embracing the “glad tidings of Christ.” (Compare Acts 15:1, 2, 5, 24.) The fact that Paul used the present tense when speaking about the troublemakers suggests that they were still active in the Galatian congregations.
These “certain ones” wanted to “change” the “evangel.” The Greek word for “change” (metastrépho) basically means to “change from one state to another.” This, however, was not a change for the better. It was a corruption, a distortion, or a perversion of the “evangel of Christ” — the good news about him and his vital place in God’s purpose. By advocating circumcision and strict compliance with the Mosaic law, the troublemakers were drawing attention away from Jesus’ unique role. “Salvation is in no one else.” His is the only name “by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) The “certain ones” were distorting the truth that faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and as the one whom the Father resurrected from the dead was the all-essential requirement for being divinely approved. Their message emphasized human effort as the prime means to attain a righteous standing, whereas, in truth, it is the “work of God” and an expression of his kindness or favor.
Emphasizing the seriousness of any change in the evangel, the apostle said: “But even if we or an angel from heaven were to proclaim an evangel [to you] other than the evangel we proclaimed to you—cursed be he.”
Paul introduced his next statement with the words allá kaí (“but even”). As an indicator of strong contrast, allá serves to make a clear distinction between the “certain ones” and “we or an angel from heaven.” While kaí often means “and,” the context indicates that it here denotes “even.”
The “evangel” that Paul had declared while laboring in Galatia was the complete Christian message. It did not need any adjustments, or additions, but contained everything that was essential for being accounted as righteous from God’s standpoint. Hence, even if Paul or an angel were to proclaim a message that differed from the “glad tidings” that the apostle had declared to the Galatians, neither he nor such an angel should be given any attention. Because the term ángelos means “messenger,” the apostle added “from [ex, out of] heaven,” making it clear that he was referring to a heavenly messenger, an angel. The proclaimer of a different “good news” should come under a curse (anáthema, used in the Septuagint to denote something or someone “under divine ban” or “an accursed one or thing” [Lev. 27:28; Num. 21:3; Deut. 7:26; 13:16, 18; 20:17; Josh. 6:17, 18; 7:1, 11–13; 22:20; Zech. 14:11]). This would only be right, as such an “evangel” would be out of harmony with what Paul had received by direct revelation from the Father and his Son. (Although pará can mean “beyond” or “beside,” this expression here [as in verse 9] appears to have the sense of “other than,” “different from,” or “contrary to.”)
Since not even Paul nor an angel from the very heavens was to be believed in the event a different “evangel” was proclaimed by either one, the Galatians had even more reason to reject the teaching of those who were trying to tear down the apostle’s work — men whose credentials were far inferior to those of the apostle and an angel from heaven. The danger of listening to the supposed message of an angel when such contradicted a revelation from God is illustrated in the case of a prophet who lost his life because of doing so. (1 Kings 13:14–26)
Note: Manuscripts vary in their readings. The word “you” (hymín) does not appear in the original reading of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus but was added by a corrector after the verb euangelízetai. Although the text is poorly preserved, P51 (from about 400) seems to have the word “you,” but it precedes the verb (as it does in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus).
The apostle reemphasized the strong point he had made. “As we have said before, now, too, I say again, If someone proclaims to you an evangel other than the one you accepted — cursed be he.” The words “said before” could refer either to what Paul had earlier told the Galatians while laboring among them or what he had just stated in this letter. If referring to a previous occasion, the verb proeirékamen (“we have said before”) could be understood to mean what Paul and his associates had said to the Galatians. In view of Paul’s emphasis on his apostleship, however, it appears that the second person plural is an editorial “we,” agreeing with the “we” and corresponding plural verb in verse 8. Also, the apostle’s wonderment about developments among Galatian believers indicates that he, while with them, likely would not have used such strong language respecting another evangel. Therefore, his words about what had been said before probably relate to the similar statement previously made in this letter. Anyone attempting to proclaim a message that differed from the “glad tidings” that believers in Galatia had embraced was to be regarded as cursed by God, being under a sacred ban, or as one designated to be devoted to destruction.
Modern translations commonly render pará (par’), the preposition preceding hó parelábete (which you received, which you accepted) as “other than” or “different from.” In its basic sense, pará signifies “beside” and, therefore, Paul’s words have also been understood to mean a message that “goes beyond” the evangel (Wuest). Earlier, however, the apostle had specifically stated that the message being proclaimed by the troublemakers was not “another” evangel (that is, no glad tidings at all). So it appears that he was here referring to a proclamation of something that was “contrary to,” “different from,” or “other than” the true evangel rather than a mere addition thereto (1:7).
The original reading of the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus is, “I have said before” (proeíreka), not “we have said before” (proeirékamen). The first person singular form appears to have been a copyist’s error or a deliberate alteration made in view of the expression “I say” (légo) that follows.
The reading parelábete (literally “you received alongside”) is better attested than elábete (“you received”), found in P51 (from about 400). As both Greek words, in this case, signify “you accepted,” the variation has no bearing on translation.
“Now, indeed, am I trying to win over men or God?” The Greek term for “indeed” (gár) may also mean “in fact,” “certainly,” or “for.” Since Paul’s words are not presented as a reason for his previous statement, the apparent meaning of gár is “indeed.” The expression “win over” is one meaning for the Greek word peítho. Often this term has the sense of “persuade,” “conciliate,” or “convince.” In this context, however, the thought is that of “gaining approval or favorable recognition.”
If directly linked to Paul’s previous words, the question may be paraphrased as follows: “Does what I have just said sound as though I am trying to have men’s or God’s approval?” It may also be that Paul’s question served to answer the misrepresentation of the troublemakers, the Judaizers. They may have portrayed the apostle as advocating circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law when it suited his purpose and not doing so when non-Jews would have responded unfavorably. Possibly, to back up their contention, the Judaizers may have pointed to Paul’s circumcising Timothy. (Acts 16:3) In view of the strong language the apostle had used regarding proponents of a different “good news,” however, there should have been no doubt in the minds of the Galatians that his primary concern was to have God’s approval, not that of men.
Building on the previous question, the apostle raised yet another one that focused on men. “Or am I seeking to please men?” The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is, No. Paul was not attempting to please or to curry the favor of men, sacrificing truth so as to make the “good news” more acceptable to them.
Summing up his reason for not seeking human approval, Paul said: “If I were still pleasing men, I would not be Christ’s slave.”
An inordinate desire to please men makes one a slave to them. All words and actions are evaluated in the light of what others may think or feel, be they right or wrong. The individual who seeks to please men must be on constant guard that he does not give offense for any reason but does and says whatever wins him favor despite his having serious reservations. Since being a disciple of Christ requires that the Son be accorded superior love and the kind of obedience commensurate with his position as Lord, clearly the person whose aim is to have the favor of men cannot be a slave of Christ. Such a person’s efforts to please men would constitute a denial of Christ’s Lordship. (Matthew 10:37; Luke 6:46) Accordingly, as Christ’s slave or as one in the service of his Master, Paul could not, at the same time, be trying to please men. As a fanatic adherent to Jewish traditions, he evidently had been concerned about pleasing men. Upon becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, however, this ceased to be the case. Though he had once pleased the unbelieving Jews by his way of life and his violent opposition to Christ’s disciples, he incurred their wrath as a believer. He definitely was not “still pleasing men” as he once did.
Note: The Majority text (primarily Byzantine manuscripts) reads, “for [gár] if I were still pleasing men.” The word gár, however, is missing in P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century manuscripts Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, as well as other ancient manuscripts. Accordingly, “for” is missing from modern translations. The inclusion or omission of “for,” though, is really immaterial to the meaning of Paul’s words.
There was an aspect to which Paul desired the Galatians to give their attention. He introduced it with the words, “But I want you to know, brothers.” What Paul wanted the Galatians “to know,” to understand fully, or to be very clear on was the source of the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed. Even though they had permitted themselves to come under the baneful influence of false teachers, Paul did not treat them as enemies. He still called them his “brothers,” regarding them as fellow sons or children of God, and appealed to them on that basis.
The apostle continued, “the evangel which was proclaimed by me is not according to man.” In this case, the Greek term (euangelízo) for “proclaimed” or “preached” is a verb form of “evangel” and, therefore, means “preaching or proclaiming the good news.” The words “according to man” may be understood to mean “not of human origin” (NAB, NRSV, REB) or “not dependent on human authority.”
The opponents of Paul who were interfering with the spiritual growth of the Galatians by introducing a perversion of the “glad tidings” apparently tried to downgrade the apostle’s work. Judging from the language that Paul used in this letter, one may reasonably conclude that the false teachers (advocates of circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law for non-Jewish believers) made it appear that Paul was proclaiming a message that he received merely secondhand from the apostles who had been chosen by Jesus while he was on earth. The argument possibly was that Paul got his information from the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation and, therefore, was dependent on them for support and backing. By claiming firsthand knowledge of what the apostles at Jerusalem believed, the Judaizers could speak with authority and their utterances would carry weight with the Galatians. Getting to the heart of the matter, Paul disavowed any human dependence or influence respecting the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed.
Note: There is considerable support for the reading dé (but), the second word in the Greek text (including P46 from about 200); certain other ancient manuscripts read gár (for).
Focusing on what could not be said about the evangel that he was proclaiming, the apostle continued, “for neither did I receive it from man nor was I taught [it].” It was not a matter of Paul’s receiving the whole deposit of Christian teaching from any man or any human source or agency. He was, therefore, not just passing on secondhand information, but he was able to speak with the kind of authority characteristic of one possessing firsthand testimony. Furthermore, Paul was not taught the evangel by any man or group of men. Therefore, he was not in a subordinate position to the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation by reason of having learned the “good news” through a course of instruction that was conducted or authorized by any of them.
“But,” as Paul said respecting the source for what he proclaimed, the evangel was “through revelation of Jesus Christ.” In this case, “but” is a rendering of allá, a stronger indicator of contrast than the word dé, which also may be translated “but.” Like the apostles who were personally instructed by the Master, Paul received the “glad tidings” by “revelation” (apokálypsis, “uncovering,” “unveiling”) from Jesus Christ. The glorified Son of God appeared to him on the road leading to Damascus, and so the apostle could speak of having the evangel revealed, uncovered, or unveiled to him by Jesus Christ. Accordingly, Paul’s apostleship and teaching authority rested on the same solid basis as that of the “twelve.” The means by which the apostle had received the evangel was “through revelation,” and the source of that revelation was God’s Son, as indicated by the genitive construction, “revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Note: The reading oúte, “nor,” has superior manuscript support (including P46 from about 200) to that of oudé, “not even” (literally “not but”), “nor.”
Further establishing why he could not have received the evangel from a human source, Paul pointed to his previous manner of conduct as a zealous practicer of the Jewish religion. “For you have heard of my previous conduct in Judaism, that to an extreme I persecuted the congregation of God and devastated it.”
The apostle did not say from whom the Galatians had heard about his previous way of life. Perhaps the expression “you have heard” may be understood as meaning that what he had done was common knowledge and so could have been communicated to them by any of a number of believers. It is also possible that the apostle himself talked about his former life as a Pharisee, as he did when making his defense before Agrippa. Paul said: “My manner of life from youth, a life spent from the beginning among my own people and in Jerusalem, is common knowledge among the Jews. They have known me for a long time and could testify, if they would, that I followed the strictest party in our religion and lived as a Pharisee” (Acts 26:4, 5, NJB). With unflagging zeal, he, as a Pharisee, directed his efforts against the “congregation of God,” the people who were the special property of the Most High. In referring to it as the “congregation of God,” Paul called attention to the seriousness of what he did. Engaged in a vicious campaign against those who belonged to the Almighty, he was a fighter against God.
The extent to which Paul relentlessly persecuted the “congregation of God” is described by the Greek expression kath’ hyperbolén, meaning “beyond measure,” “utterly,” “to an extreme,” or “to an excess.” In Greek, the verbs for “persecuted” (dióko) and “devastated” (porthéo) are in the imperfect tense, indicative of a continual action that was not completed in the past. Accordingly, Paul’s objective had been to continue persecuting disciples of God’s Son until the “congregation of God” was annihilated. Since the total annihilation, destruction, or devastation of the congregation did not occur, however, a number of translations render porthéo as “tried to destroy” (NAB, NIV, REB) or “was trying to destroy” (NRSV).
Paul’s record as a persecutor is preserved in the book of Acts. He approved of the murder of the Christian disciple Stephen. (Acts 7:58–8:1) Thereafter he dragged believing men and women from their homes and saw to it that they were imprisoned. (Acts 8:3) Not content with his efforts against the followers of Christ in Jerusalem, Paul obtained authorization from the chief priests to bring believing Jews from Damascus to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 9:1, 2, 14, 21; 22:4, 5) Regarding his course as a persecutor, Paul, in his defense before Agrippa, said: “I once thought it was my duty to use every means to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene. This I did in Jerusalem; I myself threw many of God’s holy people into prison, acting on authority from the chief priests, and when they were being sentenced to death I cast my vote against them. I often went round the synagogues inflicting penalties, trying in this way to force them to renounce their faith; my fury against them was so extreme that I even pursued them into foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9–11, NJB) In a hateful, arrogant manner, Paul fought against the “congregation of God.” (1 Timothy 1:13)
Paul’s reference to his past course provided additional proof that he could not possibly have received the evangel through any human agency. The great change from a rabid persecutor to a faithful, self-sacrificing disciple of Jesus Christ could not have been effected by any human persuasion.
Note: Instead of the usual epórthoun (“devastated”), two ninth-century manuscripts read epolémoun (“fought”).
Comparing himself to many others in his age group, Paul continued, “and I progressed in Judaism beyond many of the same age in my race, being much more zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” The Greek verb for “progress” or “advance” (prokópto) literally means “to strike before” or “to cut before” (pró, “before”; kópto, “cut”). Since this verb is in the imperfect tense, the thought is that Paul kept on or continued to make progress or advancement in Judaism. Among other young Jewish men of his age, Paul stood out prominently because of his fanatical devotion to the traditions to which the strictest sect of Judaism clung tenaciously. (Compare Matthew 15:1–6; Mark 7:6–13.)
It was not zeal for the law as set forth in the Scriptures that prompted Paul’s violent attacks on the disciples of Jesus Christ, but it was his superior regard for human traditions — the rules and regulations formulated by the religious leaders of Judaism and transmitted from generation to generation. From his perspective, the disciples of Jesus Christ lived a life that was contrary to these cherished traditions. All who did not recognize the inestimable value of these traditions and observe them were, in his estimation, deserving of death. Paul had become thoroughly imbued with the Pharisaical spirit. This was a process that had started at the very beginning of his life, for he was “a son of Pharisees.” (Acts 23:6) When older, Paul had Gamaliel, the most notable Pharisee in Jerusalem, as his teacher. (Acts 22:3) In later times it was said of this highly esteemed man: “When Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.” (Mishnah, Sotah, 9.15) Even though Gamaliel does not appear to have been an extremist, his reasonable attitude seemingly did not influence Paul. Instead, Paul evidently was further confirmed in his unrestrained zeal for defending traditions at all costs.
His dramatic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ, however, produced a change in Paul that no human power could have accomplished. The apostle recognized this event as an expression of God’s kindness or favor, saying: “When, however, [it] pleased [God], who separated me from my mother’s womb and called [me] through his favor.…” Although Paul had been a fighter against Him, the Most High was “pleased” or “delighted” to act in harmony with his sovereign will respecting the vicious persecutor. Paul’s reference to being separated from his mother’s womb could mean that he attributed his life outside the womb to the One who made human birth possible—God. The Greek term for “separated” (aphorízo), however, may also be defined as “set apart,” and this appears to be the apostle’s meaning. By reason of divine providence, factors that influenced Paul’s life from birth, including his training and experiences, prepared him for the time when he was confronted by the Son of God. It was at a time when Paul was at his worst, while on a mission to harm Christ’s disciples in Damascus, that it “pleased” God to call the persecutor. This was indeed a call “through favor.”
Note: Since the words ho theós (“the God”) are missing in P46 (from about 200), the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and other ancient manuscripts, there is a question as to whether they were in the original text. They are, however, found in the Majority text (mainly Byzantine manuscripts), the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
Paul attributed the revelation of the Son to the Father, saying, “to reveal his Son in me.” Since the expression “in me” could denote that Paul was the instrument that God used to reveal his Son to others, the Revised English Bible conveys this thought with an expanded rendering of the text—“in and through me.” The apostle’s focus, though, had been on the source of the “glad tidings” that he proclaimed, and so it is unlikely that he meant “through me.” It appears preferable to regard “in me” as signifying “within me.” In his inmost self, Paul experienced a full revelation of the Son, and this revelation produced a radical change in his life. (Compare Matthew 16:16, 17.)
Commenting on the purpose respecting God’s revealing of the Son, Paul continues, “so that I might proclaim him among the nations.” The Greek term for “proclaim” (euangelízo) is the verb form of the word “evangel” and, therefore, means to proclaim or to preach the glad tidings or good news. The evangel is about Jesus Christ. Accordingly, Paul’s preaching of the evangel was to be a proclaiming of “him” — who Jesus is, what he has accomplished, and his vital role in God’s purpose. The primary realm of the apostle’s labors was to be in the midst of or among the non-Jewish nations.
Paul’s undertaking the commission to proclaim the glad tidings concerning Jesus Christ to the non-Jews proved that his apostleship could not have been of any human origin. Even the apostle Peter had considered it defiling to enter a Gentile home and, by means of a vision, was helped to see that it was acceptable for him to declare the evangel to the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Acts 10:10–29) Far greater would have been the aversion of a strict Pharisee, such as Paul had been prior to his conversion. (Compare Acts 11:2, 3.) From a human standpoint, the choice of Paul as an apostle to the nations would have been inconceivable.
Continuing to emphasize that he had received the evangel through revelation and apart from any human agency, Paul added, “I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood.” The reference to “immediately” (euthéos) apparently is to be understood as pointing to what the apostle did not do upon receiving the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” Paul did not at once feel compelled to seek advice from any human—“flesh and blood.” In this context, the Greek term for “confer” (prosanatíthemai) is understood to denote “consult with” or “ask advice of.” It literally signifies “to put or place” something before another for consideration (prós, “toward”; aná, “up”; títhemi, “put” or “place”). While his detractors may have claimed that he received instruction from others, Paul stressed that he did not seek the guidance or advice of men about what he should do to carry out his commission.
He did not even consult the apostles. Paul said, “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those [who were] apostles before me.” Jerusalem is located about 2,500 feet above sea level and, hence, it was common to speak about “going up” to the city.
Jesus Christ had specifically commanded the apostles to remain in Jerusalem until they received the holy spirit. For some years thereafter, they appear to have made the city their home. (Acts 1:4; 8:1; 15:4–6)
Since Paul had received the glad tidings by direct revelation, he did not immediately head for Jerusalem to consult with those who already were apostles. By referring to them as apostles “before” him, Paul ranked his apostleship with theirs. It was only a matter of their having been apostles for a longer period of time.
Instead of quickly going to Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “but [allá, an indicator of strong contrast] I went to Arabia and again returned to Damascus.” Although the term “Arabia” could apply to any area in the Arabian Peninsula, it probably is to be understood, in this case, as designating the Syrian Desert to the east of Damascus. In view of the fact that no mention is made in the book of Acts about the apostle’s going to Arabia, it cannot be determined specifically when this occurred. Paul may simply be saying that, during his early days as a believer, Arabia was the only place to which he went outside of Damascus. He may first have spent some time in Damascus, making public expression of his faith in the synagogues there. Then, for an undisclosed reason, he may have gone to Arabia and afterward returned to Damascus, remaining there until his forced departure from the city.
It seems more likely, however, that Paul left Damascus immediately after his baptism, going to Arabia to meditate on what his taking up the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ would mean for him. Even God’s Son, after his baptism, spent 40 days in the wilderness of Judea before beginning his ministry. (Mark 1:9–13) In the event Paul headed for Arabia right after his conversion, his preaching in the synagogues of Damascus occurred upon his return to the city. (Acts 9:20–25)
Note: Although anélthon (I went up, I did go up) appears in printed editions of the Greek text, there is very ancient manuscript evidence for apélthon (I went, I did go).
“Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.” The fact that three years passed indicates that Paul was in no hurry to meet the apostles and that he did not consider it necessary to have their validation of his apostleship. This period of three years may either count from the time of Paul’s conversion or his return to Damascus after his stay in Arabia. Since the apostle provided no indication about when he departed from Arabia, likely the three years are to be counted from the time of his conversion. It was then, for the first time as a believer, that he “went up to Jerusalem.” “Three years” could mean either complete years or one full year preceded and followed by some months (parts of three years).
Cephas, the Semitic equivalent for the Greek name “Peter,” means “rock.” It was the name that Jesus Christ gave to Simon upon being introduced to him by Simon’s brother Andrew. The name evidently reflected Jesus’ confidence in Peter’s rocklike or firm conviction upon accepting him as the promised Messiah. (John 1:41, 42)
The Greek term for “visit” (historéo) is not found elsewhere in the Scriptures, not even in the Septuagint. Based on the way the term is used in other writings, it may be defined as “visiting with the objective of becoming acquainted with someone or something.” Since Paul’s purpose, as evident from his words to the Galatians, was not to learn something from Peter, apparently his visiting would have been to get acquainted with him.
The book of Acts reveals that Paul desired to associate with believers in Jerusalem, but found this difficult because they greatly feared him. It seemed inconceivable to them that this vicious persecutor could have become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Barnabas, though, came to Paul’s aid and apparently introduced him to Peter. Likely it was after this that Paul remained with Peter for fifteen days. Paul’s stay in Jerusalem, however, ended quickly, as Jews of the dispersion plotted to kill him. (Acts 9:26–30) Moreover, in a trance, he was given direction by Jesus Christ to leave the city. (Acts 22:17–21)
The short period of fifteen days was not enough for Paul to have been given extensive instruction by Cephas (Peter). Besides, during much of the time, Paul was boldly witnessing to others about Jesus. (Acts 9:28) His mentioning the specific number of days involved supported the argument that the evangel he proclaimed had not been taught him by any human agency.
Note: The most ancient manuscripts support the reading of the Semitic name “Cephas” instead of the Greek equivalent “Peter.”
Paul did not see any other of the twelve apostles. He said: “But another of the apostles I did not see, except James the brother of the Lord.” This may be understood to mean that, besides Cephas, he did not see any other apostle. The only other disciple of note whom he did see was “James the brother of the Lord.” Since, though, Acts 9:27 reports that Barnabas introduced Paul to the apostles, the meaning probably is that the only apostles whom Paul saw were Cephas and James. In this case, James would be regarded as an apostle of the Jerusalem congregation.
This James is evidently the one to whom the people of Nazareth referred when saying about Jesus: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3, NRSV). As a prominent elder, James had an active part in making vital decisions that affected the growing Christian congregation. (Acts 12:17; 15:13–29; 16:4) He also wrote the letter bearing his name. (James 1:1) That he was widely known in the Christian community is apparent from the fact that Jude (Judas) introduces his letter with the words, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” (Jude 1:1, NAB)
Paul’s contact with James must have been even more limited than that with Cephas, as he did not stay in the home of James during the fifteen-day period. In view of Paul’s brief association with Cephas and James, no one could say that he had received the whole deposit of Christian teaching from the apostles.
Emphasizing that he had not concealed anything, Paul added: “But what I am writing to you — Look! before God, I am not lying.” Up to this point, the apostle had written specifics, establishing that it would have been impossible for him to have received the evangel in any way other than revelation. To show that he was not hiding anything but was presenting matters truthfully, Paul made God his witness to the fact that what he wrote was no lie. It was the whole truth.
Continuing with the presentation of his personal history, Paul said: “Then I went into the regions of Syria and of Cilicia.” Upon his hurried departure from Jerusalem, Paul was conducted by fellow believers to the seaport of Caesarea. From there, he left for his hometown, Tarsus in Cilicia. (Acts 9:30) Later, based on reports about a growing number of non-Jewish believers in Antioch, the Jerusalem congregation sent Barnabas to this capital of Syria. Recognizing the need for a qualified companion to help him there, he located Paul in Tarsus. Both men then served together in Syrian Antioch. (Acts 11:22–26) Accordingly, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, he did go into the regions of Syria (an area north of Galilee) and of Cilicia (the narrow strip of land in the southeast corner of Asia Minor). Syria and Cilicia were neighboring regions, separated by mountains.
Regarding the congregations in Judea, Paul wrote: “But I was unknown by face to the congregations of Judea, those in Christ.” Believers in Judea did not know Paul “by face,” or personally, because circumstances prevented the apostle from making their acquaintance. In Jerusalem, great fear of him existed, as the disciples of Jesus Christ found it inconceivable that this one-time persecutor had indeed become a believer. Hence, initially, Paul’s efforts to associate with them proved to be fruitless. Not until Barnabas came to his aid was there a change. Soon afterward, though, Paul’s stay in Jerusalem was cut short because opposers sought an opportunity to kill him (Acts 9:26–30). So there really was insufficient time for the congregations in Judea to come to know him personally.
Distinguishing these congregations from the Jewish synagogues in Judea, Paul referred to them as being “in Christ.” To be “in Christ” means to enjoy a oneness with him. Believers are themselves members of the body of Christ, united to him as head. (John 17:20–23; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 4:15, 16)
The apostle’s mentioning his being personally unknown to the believers in Judea contributed to his argument that he was not indebted to them for any help in coming to know the evangel. He, like the twelve, was taught the glad tidings by Jesus Christ.
Still, news about Paul did spread in the congregations of Judea. He continued: “But they only were hearing that the one who formerly persecuted us now is proclaiming the faith which he formerly devastated.” The Greek expression for “were hearing” (akoúontes ésan) indicates that there must have been successive reports about Paul’s activity as a believer. Doubtless news of the amazing change in the man who had spearheaded the persecution against them caused quite a sensation in the congregations of Judea. According to Paul’s words, these believers recognized that the “faith” (that which is the object of faith) he proclaimed was the same one that he once tried to destroy. It was the faith in Christ as the sole basis for having sins forgiven and attaining the status of beloved sons or children of God, with all the attendant blessings. (Compare Peter’s words at Pentecost with those of Paul when preaching in Pisidian Antioch [Acts 2:29–39; 13:32–41].)
The Greek word euangelízo, often translated “proclaiming” or “preaching,” signifies “to proclaim the evangel.” It is the verb form of euangelíon, meaning “evangel,” “good news,” or “glad tidings.”
As in verse 13 (see comments on that verse), the verb for “devastate” (porthéo) is in the imperfect tense, indicative of a continued action. Thus, the very “faith” that he had again and again tried to destroy, Paul was then proclaiming as “good news.”
Regarding the effect the change in him had on the congregations of Judea, Paul continued, “and they glorified God in me.” Unlike those who were trying to discredit Paul in the eyes of the Galatians, believers in Judea were moved to “glorify,” praise, extol or magnify God “in” him. Divine power had transformed Paul from a vicious persecutor and would-be destroyer of the congregations of God into a believer and zealous advocate of the evangel. So, as the apostle says, “in me,” or “in my case,” the congregations of Judea “glorified God,” the One who worked mightily within him. (Although the Greek preposition en (in) has been rendered “because of” and “for,” it appears preferable to preserve the meaning “in” and understand it to mean “in Paul’s case.” [Compare 1 Corinthians 4:6, Philippians 1:30, and 1 John 2:8 for this significance of en.]) Paul himself — what he had become and was doing — caused believers in Judea to extol the Most High.
In the apostle’s case, the prayer of the dying Stephen had been answered: “Do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60; REB) Believers in Judea acted in harmony with the forgiving spirit of this prayer. There was no harboring of ill-will toward the former persecutor for all the injury that he had caused. By their attitude toward the apostle and their heartfelt praise of God for the wondrous change that he had effected within their persecutor, the Judean believers acknowledged that Paul was proclaiming the “faith” that he had once so viciously opposed.
Thus, the apostle made it clear to the Galatians that the evangel he preached was the complete message of salvation. Though he had not received it from the apostles or anyone else associated with the congregations of Judea, the evangel he proclaimed was the same one that the apostles declared. Hence, the contention of the Judaizers was wrong. They had no basis for claiming that the evangel proclaimed by Paul was an incomplete or defective message, one that needed to be supplemented with the teaching that non-Jewish believers should be circumcised and submit to the requirements of the Mosaic law in order to enjoy the fullness of divine approval. (Compare Acts 15:1, 5; Galatians 5:1, 2, 10–12.)
A literal translation of the first few words would be, “Then through fourteen years.” The Greek preposition diá (through) is here usually translated “after,” as the expression “through fourteen years” evidently is to be understood as signifying that this period had passed. (Compare Mark 2:1 and Acts 24:17, where diá also has the sense of “after.”) Since there is no direct link to the apostle’s earlier fifteen-day stay with Peter, likely the fourteen years are to be counted from the time of Paul’s conversion.
The apostle continued: “I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking also Titus along.” Based on the book of Acts, Barnabas accompanied Paul on two of his visits to Jerusalem. (See, however, the Notes section.)
The purpose of the first one of the two trips was to bring a contribution to Jerusalem for the believers who would be affected by the adversities of a foretold famine. It was the Antioch congregation that sent Barnabas and Paul with the collected funds. The fact that the Acts account mentions Barnabas first suggests that he, not Paul, had the prime responsibility in connection with this mission. (Acts 11:30) Nothing in the book of Acts suggests that Paul had in mind discussing the evangel that he proclaimed. In fact, there would have been no reason for him to give an account about his activity in Syrian Antioch. The Jerusalem congregation had sent Barnabas there and, at his request, Paul joined him. So the apostle would not have felt compelled to take Titus along for the purpose of making a test as to whether there would be any insistence on this believing non-Jew’s being circumcised. It may also be noted that the Acts account does not mention that anyone else accompanied Barnabas and Paul to Jerusalem. (Acts 11:29, 30)
Years earlier, the apostles had decided to devote themselves exclusively to the “ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2–4) It may well be, therefore, that other elders were responsible for overseeing the relief efforts. This would agree with what is reported in Acts 11:29, 30: “The disciples decided to send relief, each to contribute what he could afford, to the brothers living in Judaea. They did this and delivered their contributions to the elders through the agency of Barnabas and Saul.” (NJB) Paul and Barnabas may simply have talked to the elders who accepted the donated funds.
There may not have been any opportunity for association with the apostles during the brief stay in Jerusalem. If, as considerable manuscript evidence might suggest (see the Notes section), the developments narrated in Acts 12:1-24 may have preceded the arrival of Paul and Barnabas. According to the Acts account, Herod Agrippa I had executed the apostle James, and Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, thwarting Agrippa’s apparent plan to have him killed after the Passover. Therefore, the apostles may have chosen to stay away from Jerusalem until some time had passed after Agrippa’s death. At least Peter must have lived elsewhere during all the time his life was in danger. He certainly would have exercised due caution. (Compare Matthew 2:13–15, 22, 23.)
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul would not have been misrepresenting matters by omitting any reference to the trip with Barnabas. The purpose of that trip really had no bearing on Paul’s ministry to the nations and may well have involved no contact with the apostles.
What occasioned Paul’s going to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion evidently was a situation that developed in Antioch upon his return with Barnabas following an extensive mission on Cyprus and in parts of Asia Minor. Certain men from Judea, with no authorization from the Jerusalem congregation, stirred up no little trouble by insisting that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law were essential for salvation. (Acts 15:1, 24) Because of this development, according to the book of Acts, “Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.” (Acts 15:2, NRSV) Unlike the mission involving the relief effort, there is specific reference to the apostles and mention is made of others who accompanied Paul and Barnabas. Furthermore, the fact that Paul’s name precedes that of Barnabas suggests that the apostle was the most prominent in the discussions. Since an issue had arisen about uncircumcised Christians like Titus, it was most appropriate for Paul to take him along to Jerusalem.
A twelfth-century manuscript reading of tessáron (four) is evidently a copyist’s error, as there is no support for it in any extant older Greek manuscripts.
The most ancient manuscript evidence supports the reading pálin anében (“again I went up”). This includes P46 (from about 200), the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. There is also evidence for the reading anében pálin (“I went up again”). The reading pálin anélthon, however, has limited support. As both anében and anélthon signify “I went up,” the variations in manuscripts are really insignificant.
There is uncertainty about the reading of Acts 12:25. Numerous manuscripts, including the fourth century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, read eis Ierousalém (into or to Jerusalem), suggesting that Paul and Barnabas made another trip to Jerusalem after completing their relief mission. This particular section of Acts is not preserved in any of the papyrus manuscripts dating from before the fourth century. Other later manuscript readings indicate that Paul and Barnabas returned from Jerusalem upon completing their assignment. Among the various ancient manuscript readings are the following: ex Ierousalém (out of Jerusalem), apó Ierousalém (from Jerusalem), eis Antiocheian (into or to Antioch), ex Ierousalém eis Antiocheian (out of Jerusalem into Antioch). According to these later manuscripts, the events narrated in Acts chapter 12 could have preceded the arrival and departure of Paul and Barnabas.
While the Acts account indicates that the Antioch congregation sent Paul, Barnabas, and some others to Jerusalem, the apostle added a clarifying detail: “But I went up according to a revelation.” The Greek term katá (according to) here has the sense of “in response to,” “in accord with,” or “as the result of.” Although the manner in which it was conveyed is not stated, this divine revelation (apokálypsis, “unveiling,” “uncovering”) doubtless was one of the many that the apostle received personally to guide and strengthen him in his service as an apostle to the nations. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
Paul knew that what he had taught Jews and non-Jews about salvation was correct and, therefore, had no reason to discuss the content of his preaching with the apostles. A divine revelation, however, indicated to Paul that it was then appropriate for him to do so. The apostle’s mentioning his going to Jerusalem “in response to a revelation” fitted his argument that he had not received the evangel from a human source and so was not inferior to any of the twelve apostles then living. He did not need their authorization or confirmatory response but always acted under divine guidance as the chosen apostle to the nations.
As to what he did at that time, Paul continued, “and I laid before them the evangel that I am preaching among the nations.” The Greek word anatíthemai denotes “to lay before,” “to present,” or “to explain.” Paul set forth the substance of the glad tidings. Since the Greek verb for “preaching” (kerysso,) is in the present tense, this indicates that the apostle continued to proclaim the same evangel among the nations or the non-Jewish peoples. No change in the content of his preaching occurred after the trip to Jerusalem.
Apparently the ones designated by the pronoun “them” are identified by what the apostle added, “but in private to the noted ones.” The expression “noted ones” (dokoúntes [form of dokéo]; literally, “seeming ones”) signifies those who appeared to be something in the eyes of others—persons of repute or prominence. Later, Paul identified them by name—James, Cephas (Peter), and John (2:9). The words “in private” are a rendering of kat’ idían, literally meaning “according to own” and signifying “apart from others,” “alone,” or “privately.”
The book of Acts does not mention such a private meeting. This is understandable, as the writer Luke focused on the final resolution of the issue that had been raised concerning uncircumcised believers. That there must have been a discussion with those held in high esteem by the congregation is only logical. For there to have been a meeting of all the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation about a particular matter, those responsible for convening such a gathering needed to be approached.
Apparently at a private meeting, the apostle Paul, acting in harmony with a divine revelation, set forth the evangel he proclaimed among the non-Jewish peoples. The basic content of this evangel was that faith in Jesus Christ, the unique Son whom the Father had raised from the dead, constituted the sole basis for salvation. Besides relating what he proclaimed, the apostle doubtless also must have mentioned how God had blessed his efforts and those of Barnabas and how, through them, many miracles had occurred among the uncircumcised Gentiles. (Compare Acts 15:4, 12.) Thus, it would have been made clear to all present that Paul was preaching the true evangel that he had received by revelation and that his firm stand not to impose circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law on non-Jewish believers had the backing of holy spirit.
Regarding the reason for the private discussion with those of repute, Paul continued, “not that somehow I might be running or had run in vain.” The apostle here refers to his tireless efforts or sustained exertions in declaring the evangel among the nations as “running.” He had thus “run” from the start of his conversion and continued doing so at the time he spoke to the prominent ones of the Jerusalem congregation. His apprehension was that all he had accomplished and continued to do in ministering to non-Jews might be “in vain,” or prove to be for nothing.
Since Paul had received the evangel “through revelation of Jesus Christ,” he had no doubts about the content of his preaching among the non-Jews. As evident from his other letters to believers, however, he was deeply concerned that all whom he aided to become disciples of Jesus Christ would continue to be such. If any were led astray, the diligent efforts that Paul expended in their behalf would have been for nothing. For example, when the apostle was forced to leave Thessalonica because of intense opposition, he was fearful about the effect persecution might have on the new believers. He wrote: “When I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless.” (1 Thessalonians 3:5, NIV)
Paul knew that advocating circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law as essentials for salvation constituted a perversion of the evangel. Hence, he was rightly apprehensive that a wrong decision respecting this could do untold spiritual harm. His experience with Jewish believers who had come to Antioch from Jerusalem forcefully demonstrated how persuasive they were. Even though he and Barnabas were personally present and set forth sound counterarguments, this did not resolve the issue. At least some members of the Antioch congregation apparently gave credence to the erroneous views propagated by Jewish believers from Judea.
Paul continued: “But not even the Greek Titus, the one with me, was compelled to be circumcised.” By having the uncircumcised Titus accompany him to Jerusalem, Paul likely had in mind using the example of this Greek brother as a test case. The fact that James, Peter, and John did not insist on the circumcision of Titus proved undeniably that they were in full agreement with the manner in which Paul discharged his responsibilities as an apostle to the nations.
In Greek, the word for “compel” (anankázo) signifies “to constrain,” “to drive to,” “to put under necessity,” “to force.” Such compelling could be accomplished by means of threats, persuasion, or entreaty. It could also be achieved by subtle pressure to gain group approval or acceptance. There was, however, no compelling of any kind in the case of Titus. Though uncircumcised, he was accorded full acceptance as a beloved brother. Both the indicator of strong contrast (allá, “but”) and the strong negative (oudé, “not even”) serve to emphasize that the “noted ones” neither said nor implied that Titus should get circumcised.
According to Paul’s other letters, Titus continued to be a close associate in subsequent years. At the apostle’s request, he ministered to Christians in Corinth, developing intense love for them on account of their commendable response to correction. Upon leaving the city and rejoining Paul in Macedonia, he returned to Corinth to complete the task of getting a contribution ready for the poor believers in Judea. (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6, 7, 13–15; 8:6, 16, 17, 23; 12:17, 18) During the final years of Paul’s life, Titus had the assignment of handling problems in congregations on the island of Crete. Thereafter Paul encouraged him to join him at Nicopolis, probably the city located on a peninsula in northwestern Greece. (Titus 1:4, 5; 3:12) During the apostle’s second imprisonment and doubtless at his request or with his approval, Titus headed for Dalmatia. (2 Timothy 4:10)
Despite the concurrence of James, Peter, and John that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law were not to be imposed on non-Jewish believers, an element within the congregation opposed the correct position. Paul stated, “But because of the brought-in false brothers who came in to spy on our freedom, which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us.” In view of the expression “false brothers,” the Greek adjective pareísaktos (brought in) has generally been understood in a sinister sense—“smuggled in” or “brought in quietly, secretly, or under false pretenses.”
Paul did not disclose who was responsible for bringing false brothers into the congregation. In view of Jesus’ parable or likeness about the weeds and the wheat, Satan evidently planted these sham believers among genuine Christians. (Matthew 13:24–30, 37–39) This would agree with what Paul said in his letter to the Thessalonians about Satan’s interfering with his efforts to strengthen fellow believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:18) Similarly, out of great concern for the spiritual welfare of the Corinthian congregation, the apostle wrote: “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NIV)
The “false brothers” were those who maintained that salvation was dependent on circumcision and compliance with the Mosaic law. If permitted to go unchecked, they would have made Christianity but another sect of Judaism. In Jerusalem and Judea, the Mosaic law was binding on all Jews as a civil law. Therefore, the apostles and other genuine believers continued to observe the law, nonetheless recognizing that they could never attain salvation thereby. The false brothers, however, were still Pharisaical at heart, insisting that all persons must become Jews and live as such in order to be saved. (Compare Acts 15:5, 10, 11; 21:20–26.)
Because wrong motivations were involved, the verb pareisérchomai, defined as “come in,” here is commonly viewed as having the sense of “slip in,” or “sneak in.” The objective of the “false brothers” was to “spy on” the freedom genuine believers enjoyed. By reason of being “in Christ Jesus” or members of his body united to him as head, believing Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles freely associated with one another. Since fleshly distinctions no longer counted, genuine Jewish believers had no objection to entering the homes of their non-Jewish brothers and eating with them. These believing Jews no longer viewed non-Jews as unclean and close contact with them as defiling. (Compare Acts 10:28, 29; 11:2, 3.) The false brothers, however, spied on this marvelous freedom. They apparently made it their business to determine whether all the believers who associated freely with one another were really circumcised. On finding out that certain ones were not, these false brothers must have questioned the propriety of freely associating with uncircumcised Gentiles. (Compare Acts 11:2, 3.) In this way, they wished to destroy the unity that had come about between Jews and non-Jews on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ as God’s sole means for salvation.
Respecting the false brothers, Paul wrote, “to whom not even for an hour did we yield in submission.” The false brothers evidently insisted that Titus be circumcised, but the apostle refused to give in to what they expected. Paul’s use of the first person plural verb eíxamen (“we did yield”; “we did give in”; “we did surrender” [preceded by the strong negative oudé, “not even”]) probably included Barnabas and Titus. While circumcision in itself was not wrong, insistence on it and on observance of the Mosaic law for gaining salvation was contrary to Christian teaching. There was no room for compromise in an effort to preserve peace, but a firm stand had to be taken. In no way was Paul going to pacify the false brothers.
The apostle (evidently also Barnabas and Titus) did not waver. Not even for the briefest period—an hour—did he yield in submission (the dative te hypotagé [“to the submission, obedience, subordination, or subjection”] here evidently signifying “to the submission that was expected or demanded”). Paul did not succumb even momentarily to the pressure exerted by the false brothers and give some indication of perhaps submitting to what they advocated. (Compare Revelation 17:12 and 18:10, where “hour” designates a short period.)
Pointing to the noble, unselfish aspect for the unyielding stand, the apostle added, “in order that the truth of the evangel might remain with you.” The evangel is the truth, untainted by any falsehood, and the expression “the truth of the evangel” signifies the truth that is embodied in the glad tidings.
As a Jew, Paul would not personally have been affected by requirements that might be imposed on non-Jewish believers. He was not waging a personal battle. His firm stand was for the benefit of the Galatians and all other believing non-Jews. If the apostle had compromised with reference to Titus, the false brothers could have pointed to this as a precedent. This would have put into their hands a persuasive argument for their contention, especially since it would have appeared that all the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation agreed with them. As a consequence, circumcision and compliance with the Mosaic law could have been imposed on all uncircumcised believers, including those in Galatia. In that case, “the truth of the evangel” would not have “continued” or “remained” with them. The introduction of circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law as vital for salvation would have perverted the evangel, implying that faith in Jesus Christ was insufficient for gaining an approved standing with God. The false brothers were attacking the very foundation of Christian teaching. Any compromise with them for the sake of peace would have been destructive to the truth embodied in the evangel.
Note: The original reading of the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus does not include the words hois oudé (“to whom not even”). This is either a copyist’s error or a deliberate adjustment, as all other extant Greek manuscripts include the words. If a deliberate omission, the copyist may have felt that a correction was needed in view of Paul’s circumcising Timothy. (Acts 16:3)
With reference to James, Cephas, and John, Paul wrote, “But from those who seemed to be something.” As in verse 2, the Greek word rendered “seemed” is a form of the term dokéo. In designating James, Cephas, and John as “those who seemed to be something,” the apostle was not downgrading their significant place in the Christian congregation. Instead, he was emphasizing that they were highly regarded. These faithful brothers were men of repute. Certain members of the congregation, though, apparently viewed them as being more than they actually were.
Paul then interrupted the sentence. Two intervening parenthetical phrases follow before the apparent thought with which the apostle began is completed. From a strict grammatical standpoint, however, the sentence starting with “but from” remains incomplete. This appears to be indicative of the rapid flow of Paul’s thoughts—thoughts impelled by the depth and intensity of his feelings.
Regarding James, Cephas, and John, Paul added, “whatever they were formerly does not matter to me.” In the Jewish community, James, Cephas, and John never enjoyed the distinction Paul had. Cephas and John were fishermen, “uneducated and ordinary.” (Acts 4:13, NRSV) Though not illiterate, they had not received any rabbinical instruction (as had Paul). Cephas and John were reckoned as being among the common people. To believers, however, they had the distinction of having been in intimate association with God’s Son. In the eyes of many, this in itself made the apostles special. As for the disciple James, he was the “brother of the Lord.” Such a distinction would have been very impressive and must have filled many with a measure of awe. After the violent death of the apostle James (the brother of John), it seems that Jesus’ half brother came to occupy a similar place of prominence.
Paul, though, looked at James, Cephas, and John spiritually and so did not attach undue importance to such outward distinction or to what these men formerly were by reason of their close association with Jesus Christ while on earth. Outward appearances did not overawe the apostle and make him feel inferior.
The Greek word diaphéro, here having the sense of “is of importance,” “does matter,” or “makes a difference,” is preceded by a strong negative (oudén), signifying “not at all,” “in no way,” or “in no respect.” Since the verb diaphéro is in the present tense, this indicates that Paul continued to have this view when writing to the Galatians.
Pointing to the spiritual reason for his statement about those who “seemed to be something,” Paul said, “[the] face of man God does not accept.” Since the “face” (prósopon) is an individual’s most distinctive feature, the expression “face of man” signifies man’s outward appearance. God’s not accepting the “face of man” is indicative of divine impartiality. Unlike humans who are impressed by what appears to the eyes, God does not accept anyone on that basis. The Most High revealed this very forcefully to the prophet Samuel in connection with Jesse’s son Eliab: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature.… Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but [YHWH] looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7; NAB) Distinctions brought about by circumstances over which one has no control do not make one special. The Most High is not swayed by such distinctions, and the apostle knew that this truth was clearly set forth in the inspired Scriptures.
Respecting James, Cephas, and John, the apostle concluded, “to me, indeed, the noted ones presented nothing.” The Greek word gár denotes “for,” “indeed,” “in fact,” or “certainly.” As there appears to be no linkage of gár with the preceding words, its meaning apparently is “indeed” or “in fact,” not “for.” Paul used the strong negative oudén (here denoting “nothing”) to modify the verb prosanatíthemai (prós, toward; aná, up; títhemi, lay, put, or place). This verb may be understood in its basic sense—“lay, put or place before,” “present.” James, Cephas, and John did not “lay before” or “present” to Paul anything new that he needed to consider. They added absolutely “nothing” to the evangel that he had preached and continued to proclaim. The implication is that James, Cephas, and John were declaring the same evangel. (Regarding “noted ones” [form of dokéo], see comments on verse 2.)
Note: Many manuscripts, including the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, omit the definite article ho (the) before theós (God). It is, however, found in P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.
As to what they “saw,” “recognized,” or “perceived” about his commission, Paul continued, “But contrariwise [that is, instead of imparting anything new], seeing that I had been entrusted with the evangel for the uncircumcised as Peter [had] for the circumcised.”
Based on the evidence presented to them, James, Peter and John “saw” or recognized that Paul had been entrusted with the commission to declare the evangel to the uncircumcised or to the non-Jews. In no respect did they view what Paul was preaching as a different evangel. It was the same “good news” that they themselves declared. Paul’s role in making known the “glad tidings” to the non-Jews was the same as that of Peter in proclaiming the evangel to Jews and proselytes.
On the day of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter was the principal spokesman in bearing witness to the reality of the resurrection and what the Father had accomplished through his Son. (Acts 2:1–40) With the exception of his acting at divine direction in bringing the evangel to the Italian centurion Cornelius, his household and friends, Peter served primarily among the Jews. The apostle Paul, though, preached extensively among the non-Jews. This was in keeping with his being called by God through Jesus Christ to be “an apostle to the nations.”
Pointing to the same source for what he and Peter were able to accomplish, Paul added, “for the One working in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised also worked in me for [an apostleship to] the nations.” The Father is evidently being referred to as “the One.” In this case, the verb for “work” (energéo) seemingly has the sense of “empower” or “grant the ability,” and the objective of the divine working or empowering concerned the apostleships of Peter and Paul. While eis, the preposition preceding “apostleship” (apostolé), often means “in” or “into,” the apparent significance here is “for.” Thus, from the Most High, by means of his spirit, Peter and Paul received everything that they needed to discharge their respective ministries as apostles. Indicative of God’s working in them was their bold proclamation of the evangel and the many miracles that occurred through them. Clearly, Peter and Paul had the identifying marks of apostles—“signs and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (2 Corinthians 12:12, NAB). The sphere of their labors, though, was different, with Peter ministering to Jews and proselytes and Paul laboring chiefly among the non-Jewish peoples.
James, Cephas, and John, based on their discussion with Paul, came to “know” (ginósko), discern, or recognize that he had been granted divine favor. This is the point the apostle made when he said, “and having recognized the favor given to me.” Paul’s accomplishments simply could not have been attributed to human effort. They were the product of the powerful operation of God’s spirit within him. There was no question about the fact that the apostle was a recipient of God’s “favor” or “grace” in a superabundant way. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul made this acknowledgment: “For I am the least of the apostles and am not really fit to be called an apostle, because I had been persecuting the Church of God; but what I am now, I am through the grace of God, and the grace which was given to me has not been wasted. Indeed, I have worked harder than all the others—not I, but the grace of God which is with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10, NJB) Especially in view of his past record as a persecutor, the “favor” or “grace” given to Paul revealed the greatness of divine mercy. This divine favor or kindness was unearned, unmerited, and undeserved.
In view of what the leading ones perceived about him and his preaching, Paul wrote: “James and Cephas and John, the ones who seemed [form of dokéo] to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas [the] right [hands] of fellowship in order that we [would serve] among the nations but they among the circumcised.”
“James the brother of the Lord” (1:19) and the apostles Cephas (the Semitic equivalent of the Greek name “Peter,” meaning “rock”) and John were regarded as “pillars” or outstanding supports of the congregation. According to Acts 15, James evidently presided when the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation discussed whether circumcision and compliance with all the requirements of the Mosaic law were to be imposed on believing non-Jews. Probably because James figured so prominently at that time, Paul chose to mention his name first.
In referring to James, Cephas, and John as appearing to be pillars, Paul did not mean that they merely seemed to be such but, in actuality, were not prominent supports. Instead, he was calling attention to their reputation. They were highly esteemed as men who took the lead.
Fully convinced by the evidence presented to them, James, Cephas, and John acknowledged Paul and Barnabas as doing the same work and extended to them their right hands. (The Greek term for “right” here is plural.) This was an expression of their full acceptance of Paul and Barnabas as partners. Appropriately, therefore, the apostle referred to the “right [hands] of fellowship.” Complete concord existed among all. The five men evidently shook hands when agreeing upon the fields in which they would labor.
The book of Acts shows that Paul thereafter expressed great concern for the Jews living in the regions where he proclaimed the evangel. On the sabbath, he would customarily go to the place where they assembled for worship, using the opportunities extended to him to share the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. Accordingly, the division of territory is not to be viewed as meaning that Paul and Barnabas agreed to preach exclusively to non-Jews, whereas James, Cephas, and John would limit their activity to Jews and proselytes. Instead, Paul and Barnabas would declare the evangel in regions with predominant non-Jewish populations, while James, Cephas, and John would concentrate on those areas where the Jews were in the majority.
Manuscripts differ in the order of the names. The most ancient manuscripts list James first. This includes P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. A number of later manuscripts use the Greek form “Peter” and place it first. Possibly this change in the positions of the names occurred because Peter was mentioned in verse 8. Although this James was not the brother of John, copyists’ familiarity with the combination “James and John” may have been a factor in transposing the order of the names.
The words “and Cephas” are missing in the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. This is evidently a copyist’s error. In P46 (from about 200), the Greek name “Peter” appears instead of the Semitic equivalent “Cephas.”
Although laboring among non-Jews, Paul and Barnabas were not to forget about the needs of fellow Jewish brothers. The apostle commented on this aspect, “only that we remember the poor.” Evidently these were mainly the poor or needy among the believing Jews in Jerusalem and Judea. To “remember” them would signify keeping ever in mind their needy condition and compassionately coming to their aid.
Paul was in complete heart harmony with the encouragement expressed by James, Cephas, and John. He added, “which very thing I also was eager to do.” The Greek verb (spoudázo) for “to be eager” basically means “to hasten” or “to hurry.” In this case, the term conveys the idea of earnest or diligent effort, coupled with strong motivation. It signifies “to do one’s best,” “spare no effort,” “work hard,” or “act quickly, eagerly.” Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Corinthians reveal that he did his best in keeping the poor in mind. He encouraged making contributions in behalf of needy Jewish believers and assumed personal responsibility for getting the donated funds to Jerusalem. Even the prospect of being arrested and deprived of his freedom did not deter Paul from discharging this responsibility. (Acts 21:11–14)
The apostle’s speaking in the first person appears to reflect the circumstance that he was no longer working with Barnabas as his partner. A sharp difference of opinion about having Mark accompany them on a second evangelizing trip led to their laboring in different areas. (Acts 15:36–41)
Further emphasizing his equality with the apostles, Paul continued: “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I withstood him to his face.”
No time indicator is given about Cephas’ (Peter’s) visit in Antioch. Since, up to this point, Paul’s account has followed a chronological order, it is reasonable to conclude that Peter went to Antioch after it was unanimously agreed that circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law were not requirements for non-Jewish believers.
The Greek term for “withstand” (anthístemi) has the sense of “resist,” “oppose,” or “stand one’s ground.” A direct confrontation was involved. It was face-to-face and public. By not holding back from correcting Peter in this manner, Paul showed that he did not regard himself as an inferior.
The apostle’s firm stand, however, was motivated by deep concern for the preservation of the evangel in purity. In no way did Paul try to elevate himself at Peter’s expense.
Commenting on the reason for his speaking out, Paul said of Peter, “because he was condemned.” The Greek word for “condemn” (kataginósko) can signify being condemned by one’s own actions or words. It may also be, however, that Paul meant that others, particularly non-Jewish believers with whom association was discontinued, could see that Peter was in the wrong.
Note: While the Greek “Peter” appears in many manuscripts, the Semitic equivalent “Cephas” is found in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, as well as the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
Explaining why Peter was condemned, Paul continued: “For before certain ones came from James, he used to eat with non-Jews [metá ton ethnón, with the nations]; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing the ones from among the circumcised.”
Paul did not reveal why these certain ones came to Antioch. The words “from James” could mean that James had actually sent them. In view of Peter’s already being in Antioch, however, it seems unusual that James would have sent a delegation to Antioch to check on how believers responded to the decision about what was required of non-Jewish believers. Possibly these men were “from James” because they closely identified themselves with him. Believers from Jerusalem and Judea may have had a great interest in the Antioch congregation, since the Jerusalem congregation had originally sent Barnabas to Antioch. (Acts 11:22)
A later incident mentioned in the book of Acts provides some indication about the thinking of the certain ones “from James.” On what proved to be Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem, he saw James and the elders of the Jerusalem congregation. At that time the apostle was told: “Brother, you see how many thousands of believers there are from among the Jews, and they are all zealous observers of the law. They have been informed that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to abandon Moses and that you are telling them not to circumcise their children or to observe their customary practices. What is to be done? They will surely hear that you have arrived. So do what we tell you. We have four men who have taken a vow. Take these men and purify yourself with them, and pay their expenses that they may have their heads shaved. In this way everyone will know that there is nothing to the reports they have been given about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law.” (Acts 21:20–24, NAB)
Understandably, Jewish believers with such great zeal for the law that they continued to share in the sacrificial services at the temple would not be inclined to associate freely with uncircumcised believers whose very presence in the sacred precincts would have been a capital offense. Strict separation from all non-Jews was part of their customary way of life. From childhood, they had been taught that it was sinful to eat with anyone other than Jews and proselytes. (Compare Acts 11:2, 3.) Although believing that Jesus was indeed the Christ, they continued to live as Jews in the Jewish community. Their view of non-Jews basically remained the same. Since, in Jerusalem and Judea, the congregations were Jewish, association with fellow believers did not result in regular contact with non-Jewish believers as it did in congregations elsewhere.
A traditional account recorded by Eusebius in the early part of the fourth century presents a picture of James that would have appealed to believing Jews who faithfully followed the requirements of the Mosaic law. Eusebius quoted the words of Hegesippus, who lived in the second century: “The charge of the Church passed to James the brother of the Lord, together with the Apostles. He was called the ‘Just’ by all men from the Lord’s time to ours, since many are called James, but he was holy from his mother’s womb. He drank no wine or strong drink, nor did he eat flesh; no razor went upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not go to the baths.” (Ecclesiastical History, Book II, chap. XXIII, translated by Kirsopp Lake) To what extent, however, this traditional account preserves an accurate portrayal of James cannot be determined.
Before “certain ones from James” arrived, Peter had no scruples about eating with non-Jewish believers. Years earlier, he had been taught by means of a vision that he should not regard anyone as defiled or unclean. (Acts 10:28) Therefore, he had unhesitatingly entered the home of Cornelius and, for the first time in his life, eaten with uncircumcised people. (Acts 11:3) From then onward, Peter no longer considered it sinful to associate with non-Jews.
Not all Jewish believers, however, grasped the full significance of what Peter had been taught. While recognizing that non-Jews could become believers, many believing Jews did not abandon the view that freely associating with any uncircumcised people was wrong. Peter was fully aware that this was the opinion of certain Jews “from James.” So he began to distance himself from believing non-Jews. The Greek words for “withdraw” (hypostéllo) and “separate” (aphorízo) are in the imperfect tense, suggesting that Peter did this gradually or progressively. Apparently he started to limit his association with non-Jewish believers and progressively confined all close fellowship to Jewish believers. Thus, he began to treat his non-Jewish brothers as if they were unfit companions.
Peter did this, as Paul noted, “fearing the ones from among the circumcised,” that is, those Jews who had come “from James.” It may be that Peter feared losing esteem in their eyes, as they would have judged his associating freely with non-Jewish believers as sinful. Apparently concern about his standing with certain fellow Jews caused him temporarily to disown his non-Jewish brothers.
The reading of P46 (from about 200) seems to be tina (certain one) instead of the plural tinas (certain ones) appearing in most ancient manuscripts.
The plural élthon is generally regarded as the correct reading, even though the singular élthen (he came) is found in P46 (from about 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus. It is not likely that Peter would have been moved to change his conduct toward non-Jewish brothers on account of just one visiting Jewish believer. So, there appears to be sound reason for accepting the plural élthon as the correct reading.
Peter’s wrong course affected Jewish believers in the Antioch congregation. Paul added: “And the remainder of the Jews also joined him in [this] hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” The Greek verb synypokrínomai denotes “acting hypocritically along with others,” or “joining others in dissembling or putting on a pretense.” In its basic sense, the noun hypokrités signifies “one who answers” and came to be the designation for an “actor,” “one who plays a part on the stage.” Since actors wore large masks equipped with devices for amplifying the voice, the term hypokrités came to have a metaphoric sense—“a person who plays a part, puts on a pretense, or dissembles.”
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, Peter was highly respected and occupied an influential position. Therefore, his withdrawing from non-Jewish believers and separating himself had a bad effect on other Jewish believers in Antioch, prompting them to imitate his example in giving the group of Jews from Jerusalem the impression that they were in heart sympathy with a separatist stance regarding all non-Jews. Even Barnabas, who had labored with Paul in bringing the evangel to uncircumcised peoples, did not resist the pressure to act out this lie. He may have justified his course by concluding that it was but a temporary measure to avoid giving needless offense to fellow Jews. All, however, apparently failed to recognize the seriousness of their pretense or hypocrisy. The word for “lead astray” (synapágomai) can also denote “to be carried away.”
Note: The word kaí, translated “also” in this case, is found in numerous manuscripts. It is, however, missing in P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus. The omission of kaí, however, does not change the meaning of Paul’s words.
Paul acted quickly. He continued: “But when I saw that they were not walking in line with the truth of the evangel, I said to Cephas before all: ‘If you, being a Jew, like a non-Jew [ethnikós, nation-like] and not like a Jew [ioudaikós, Jewish-like] live, how can you compel non-Jews [literally, nations] to Judaize?’”
Indicative of the sharp difference between his firm stand and the action of the others is the apostle’s use of the conjunction allá (but), a marker of strong contrast. Paul “saw” or “recognized” the wrongness of what Peter, Barnabas, and other Jews in the Antioch congregation were doing. The Greek verb orthopodéo (orthós, straight, upright; podós, foot) denotes “to walk uprightly or straight,” “to conduct oneself aright.” It is in the present tense and, therefore, indicates that the “walk” or “course” was then in progress. The verb is followed by the preposition prós, meaning “toward” but here having the significance of “according to” or “in line with.” Peter, Barnabas, and the others were not “walking” in harmony with the “truth” embodied in the evangel. Their course negated the vital truth that both Jews and non-Jews could enjoy a clean standing before God on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ. A refusal to fellowship and eat with uncircumcised believers implied that they were still defiled or unclean and, hence, unacceptable companions.
It is inconceivable that believing Jews who refused to join their non-Jewish brothers at common meals would have been willing to eat from the same loaf and drink from the same cup in remembrance of Christ. Left unchecked, a deliberate withdrawal and separation from non-Jewish believers would have divided the congregation, the body of Christ. It was only by joint fellowship, partaking of the same loaf and the same cup, that believing Jews and non-Jews; men and women; slaves, freemen, and masters could demonstrate their unity as members of Christ’s body with an approved standing before God as his children. (1 Corinthians 10:16, 17) Far too much was at stake for Paul to have tolerated any compromise in order to keep from offending certain legalistic-minded Jews. The apostle knew that a failure to accept, on the basis of race, tribe, sex, or social standing, any believer as an approved child of God constituted a rejection of the truth that was clearly revealed in the evangel. (Colossians 3:11)
Paul, therefore, publicly reproved Peter. While all the other Jewish brothers were guilty of playing false, Peter’s example had been responsible for inducing them to adopt the same behavior. So Paul’s directing his words of reproof to Peter served well in correcting everyone.
Though a Jew, Peter had earlier conducted himself like a non-Jew, not adhering to Jewish separatism but eating with uncircumcised believers and treating them as brothers with an approved standing before God. Peter’s discontinuing association with uncircumcised believers, however, suggested that his non-Jewish brothers would only be acceptable companions if they got circumcised and submitted to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Rightly, then, Paul spoke of Peter’s action as “compelling” and “forcing” Gentile believers to become Jews. Peter’s course was self-contradictory, and Paul’s pointed question made this forcefully clear.
The words that follow this question (verses 15–21) may be a continuation of Paul’s words of reproof, or his further development of the subject, the objective being to correct the Galatians.
While many manuscripts contain the Greek name Peter, the Semitic equivalent Cephas has more ancient manuscript support (including P46, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, and Codex Alexandrinus).
Manuscripts vary in the placement of zés (live). In the Majority text (represented mainly by Byzantine manuscripts), the term follows ethnikós, whereas zés follows ioudaikós in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, as well as the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. The difference in the position of the verb, however, does not alter the meaning.
The reading pós (how) has the support of P46 (from about 200), the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and numerous other ancient manuscripts. The Majority text (represented chiefly by Byzantine manuscripts), though, reads tí (why). This variation does not materially affect the meaning of Paul’s words.
Evidently with the situation at Antioch in mind (if not part of the reproof directed to Peter), Paul included himself, “We, by nature, Jews and not sinners from the nations.” Like Peter and other believing Jews, Paul was a Jew by nature, that is, by birth. The Jews viewed all people who were uncircumcised and without the law as defiled sinners. The law was an expression of the divine will, setting forth what God required for one to be “holy” as he is “holy,” clean, or pure. Therefore, the non-Jews who had not accepted the law as their guide were unclean sinners.
Regarding the basic truth that believing Jews knew or recognized, Paul continued: “But knowing that a man is not justified by works of law but only through faith in Jesus Christ, also we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of law, because by works of law no flesh will be justified.”
The term “justify” (dikaióo) here denotes coming to have an approved relationship with God, not having sin reckoned against one. Believing Jews “knew,” recognized, or were fully aware that they could never hope to prove themselves wholly righteous before God by “works of law,” that is, by their efforts to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic law. Regardless of their diligence and zeal in observing the law, they would still miss the mark of perfect obedience and, therefore, be condemned by the law as sinners. Since flawless obedience was impossible, they could not be justified on the basis of personal merit.
The Greek proposition (ek), commonly rendered “by,” means “out of.” Accordingly, justification is not “out of”—neither having its source in nor resulting from—“works of law,” the kind of actions that the Mosaic law prescribed and which sinful humans could not carry out perfectly.
The only way in which any human can be justified or counted as righteous or guiltless by God is “through faith in Jesus Christ” or, more literally, “through faith of Jesus Christ.” This linkage of faith to God’s Son is not to be understood as meaning the “faith” belonging to him. Rather, it denotes the “faith,” or unqualified trust, that has Jesus Christ as its object. This faith is the means for obtaining forgiveness and, therefore, the righteous standing before God that is made possible through Christ’s sacrifice. (Acts 13:38, 39)
In Greek, the word kaí means “and,” “also,” or “even.” Because of the apparent contrast with non-Jews, the expression kaí hemeís probably means “also we.” Paul included himself when using “we,” with apparent reference to other believing Jews. Like the believing non-Jews, “we, too,” as Paul expressed it, “have believed in Christ Jesus.”
The Greek word for “believe” (pisteúo) is the verb form of “faith” (pístis). Therefore, “to believe in Christ Jesus” means “to put or have faith in” or “to place full trust in” him. Such putting of faith in God’s Son is of such a nature that the individuals doing so bind or attach themselves completely to Christ, resulting in a marvelous union with him.
Such a faith or implicit trust has a direct bearing on justification. As Paul added, “so that we might be justified out of faith in Christ.” The apostle had previously written “through” (diá) faith but now used “out of” (ek) and thus contrasted the true source for justification with the invalid one—“and not out of works of law.” Faith that has Christ as its object did result in justification, but justification does not have its source in or result from “works of law.” For the third time, Paul stressed that works of law could not lead to justification, concluding with the words, “because out of works of law no flesh will be justified.” “Flesh” (humans in their sinful or fallen state) cannot be pronounced guiltless on the basis of “works of law.” When attempting to prove themselves righteous by strict adherence to a particular code of law, all sinful humans are doomed to failure.
At the time consideration was given to whether believing non-Jews needed to be circumcised and charged to submit to the requirements of the Mosaic law, the apostle Peter (based on what he had witnessed in the home of Cornelius) expressed the same thought about the way in which both Jews and non-Jews gain divine approval. He said, God “made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now, then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:7–11, NIV)
The “but” (dé) is missing in many manuscripts, including P46 (from about 200). It is, however, found in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and other manuscripts. Neither the inclusion nor the omission of the term affects the basic meaning of Paul’s words.
Manuscripts vary in reading either “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.”
The most ancient extant manuscripts read hóti, whereas dióti is found in many other manuscripts. Since both words can be understood to mean “because,” the variation is insignificant.
Continuing his argument, Paul raised the question: “But if we who seek to be justified in Christ were ourselves also found [to be] sinners, really Christ a servant of sin?” To be justified “in Christ” evidently means having a guiltless standing before God by reason of being “in Christ,” at one with him. Paul’s question apparently relates to believing Jews. They had turned their backs on the law as being totally ineffectual in gaining a righteous standing with God. If their seeking to be justified exclusively “in” Jesus Christ did not lead to the desired result, they would prove to be worse sinners than they were while trying to gain righteousness by means of the law. They would find themselves outside the law like the Gentile sinners. That would mean that Jesus Christ had actually contributed to their sin and was serving the interests of sin.
The introductory “really” is a rendering of the Greek ara. Depending on the accent, this term can (1) point to a negative response to a question and have the significance of “really,” “indeed,” “then,” or “even,” or (2) may mean “thus,” “consequently,” or “therefore.” Since there is no verb in the phrase, “really Christ a servant of sin,” translators commonly insert “is” or another verb.
Paul began his sentence with the conditional “if” (ei). Accordingly, the phrase “really Christ a servant of sin” is evidently to be regarded as a deduction from the conditional statement and may mean, “indeed, would not Christ be a servant of sin?” The question form appears to be the preferable choice, as Christ is never the servant of sin.
The expression, “May it not happen,” provides a strong negative answer. It is impossible for the Son of God ever to be the promoter of sin. Paul’s negative exclamation may signify that such a thing should never be attributed to Jesus Christ—“perish the thought.” (See also comments on 3:21.)
Apparently highlighting how inconsistent it would be for a believing Jew to teach or to imply that believing non-Jews needed to follow the precepts of the Mosaic law, Paul said: “For [gár] if what I tear down is what I again build up, I show myself [to be] a transgressor.” Although the Greek word gár can also mean “indeed” or “certainly,” it evidently here has the sense of “for,” linking what follows with Paul’s previous statement about justification and the impossibility of Christ’s ever being a servant of sin.
The “tearing down,” “destroying,” or “breaking down” (katalyo, a combination of katá [down] and lyo [loose]) apparently relates to the manner in which Jews, upon becoming believers, came to view the Mosaic law. They came to recognize that it could not help even one member of the sinful Jewish nation to be considered as guiltless by God. In thus representing the law as valueless from the standpoint of justification, believing Jews “tore” it down.
Consequently, when believing Jews implied (as Peter and others did when separating themselves from believing non-Jews) that uncircumcised peoples needed to submit themselves to the requirements of the law in order to enjoy full fellowship with them, they were building up the law. Their course indicated that, in the case of non-Jews, faith in Jesus Christ had to be supplemented by obedience to the Mosaic law in order for them to have the same standing before God that believing Jews enjoyed. Those involved in such building up would show that they had been wrong when tearing down the law with reference to justification. As Paul, continuing to speak of himself representatively, concluded: “I show myself to be a transgressor,” one who oversteps fixed limits.
Regarding the Mosaic law, Paul noted: “For I, through law, died to law so that I might live to God.” In the Greek text, “I” (egó) is the first word and so occupies an emphatic position. Evidently the apostle was thereby stressing that he was speaking from personal experience. Although not preceded by the definite article, “law,” as indicated by the context, designates the Mosaic law. As in the previous verse, the word gár apparently means “for.” It serves to introduce why Paul would be a transgressor if he were to “build up” the law. The reason is that the law itself indicated that he could not gain a righteous standing through it.
The Mosaic law revealed to Paul that he was a sinner. Despite all his efforts to gain merit before God through observance of the law, he found himself condemned, falling short of its righteous requirements. The apostle’s experience with the law made him realize that he could never hope to gain a guiltless standing before God. As a result, Paul died to the law insofar as trying to gain a right relationship with God through or by means of it. It was “through” or “by means” of the law itself that this occurred. Since, however, he acquired an approved standing before God through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul was no longer under the condemnation of sin and dead in God’s sight by reason of his failure to live up perfectly to the requirements of the law. (Compare Ephesians 2:1-5.) The expression “live to God” may also signify to “live for God,” that is, to live a life that reflects submission to the divine will in attitude, word, and action. It is the kind of life that Jesus Christ exemplified. His will was his Father’s will.
Revealing why the law had no hold on him, Paul wrote: “I am crucified with Christ.” The apostle Paul employed the Greek term systauróo. While the prefix can indicate one’s being executed alongside another on a separate staurós (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:32; John 19:32), the apostle evidently viewed himself as being put to death on the same staurós with Christ. Because of his having become a member of Christ’s body, Paul could speak of sharing in the experience of the head of this body—the Christ. Hence, he, as one who had put forth extraordinary efforts to prove himself righteous by strict adherence to the law, died as if he had been nailed with Christ on the staurós. In his being put to death with God’s Son, Paul ceased to be under the control of the Mosaic law. He was discharged from the obligations imposed by a legal code. (Rom. 7:1–6)
Note: Ancient Greek writers used the word staurós to designate an upright pale or stake. The verb stauróo, therefore, meant “to attach to, suspend from, or affix to a stake [staurós] or timber [xylon]” (as it does in the Septuagint in the account about the sentence imposed on Haman [Esther 7:9, 10; compare Acts 5:30 and 10:39]). According to the minority view (expressed, for example, in Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, under “Cross, Crucify”), Jesus died on an upright pale. In the highly allegorical Epistle of Barnabas (probably written early in the second century), Jesus’ staurós is associated with the letter tau (T). Archaeological evidence, though very limited, indicates that the Romans did use a stake with a cross beam, but not in the position commonly associated with the stylized Latin cross.
Commenting on the result of this kind of death with Christ, Paul added: “Living, however, no longer am I, but Christ is living in me.” The old “I” (egó) was dead. The zealous Pharisee Saul (Paul) who had outstripped others of his age in his devotion to tradition and progress in Judaism ceased to exist. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Paul was not the same man. All his vain striving to gain merit with God came to an end. The apostle had fully thrown himself upon the Father’s mercy and trusted unreservedly in the atoning power of Christ’s sacrifice. The clean standing that he enjoyed before God was due to his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Through God’s Son, Paul began enjoying a newness of life, and that life was so intimately bound up with Jesus Christ that the apostle could speak of Christ as living “in” him. Paul perceived that the Son of God had fully taken possession of his very being.
With reference to his new life, the apostle continued: “But the [life] which I am now living in [the] flesh I am living in faith, the [faith] of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” Though still “in the flesh” or a human, Paul lived “in” the element of faith. He had absolute confidence in the cleansing that God’s Son had effected. The apostle did not doubt that he had been justified through his faith in Jesus Christ. His new life reflected complete reliance on what God’s Son had accomplished. Faith, not a desire to prove himself righteous, was the motivating force in Paul’s life. His was the faith “of the Son of God.” The genitive construction “of the Son” does not mean “belonging to the Son” but signifies “resting on the Son.” It is the faith that has Jesus Christ as its object.
Paul was filled with gratitude for what God’s Son had done for him. The apostle viewed the love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in a very personal way. He did not merely speak of being included in this love and being among those for whom God’s Son gave himself up or sacrificed his life. Instead, Paul referred to Jesus Christ as the One “who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
Note: The reading “of Son of God” (huioú toú theoú) has the support of many manuscripts, including the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Other manuscripts, though read “of God and of Christ” (theoú kaí Christoú). These include P46 (from about 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus.
Therefore, it was unthinkable for Paul to return to an arrangement that rested on observing a legal code in order to gain divine approval. He continued: “I am not setting aside the favor of God; for if righteousness is through law, then Christ died for nothing.” In Greek, the “not” (ouk) precedes the verb meaning “I am setting aside,” adding emphasis to the negation. He firmly resisted any conduct suggesting that faith in Christ was insufficient to gain an approved standing before God. The Greek verb “set aside” or “nullify” (athetéo) is in the present tense, indicating that Paul’s not “setting aside the favor of God” continued to be his determination. For the apostle to have returned to proving himself righteous by striving to live up to the law or teaching that others should do so would have meant voiding the favor of God—the unmerited kindness shown in being justified through faith in Jesus Christ. It would have been like saying to the Father that his favor or grace was insufficient for attaining a righteous standing. The apostle, however, knew that, on his own merit, he could never hope to be righteous or guiltless before God. Paul’s life as a zealous Pharisee had amply demonstrated that to him. Never could he return to a legalistic observance of the law or, by word and action, imply that non-Jews needed to do so upon becoming believers.
If it had been possible for sinful humans to prove themselves righteous by perfect obedience to the law, there would have been no need for God’s Son to die. It would simply have been necessary to teach obedience to the law, making the sacrifice of Christ superfluous. As Paul said, “then Christ died for nothing” (Greek, doreán, derived from doreá, gift; hence, meaning “as a free gift,” “for nothing,” “needlessly,” or “purposelessly”). Righteousness, that is, being viewed as righteous before God, however, was not attainable by sinful humans “through law.” Instead, the Mosaic law condemned them, clearly identifying them as guilty of sin before the Almighty.
Shocked, dumbfounded, and indignant about their turning aside from the true evangel, Paul addressed the Galatians as “senseless.” The Greek word anóetos is the opposite of possessing understanding, perception, or discernment. It signifies “foolish” or “stupid.” When giving credence to false teaching, the Galatians proved themselves to be gullible, lacking good sense or sound reasoning. By using such strong language, Paul evidently wanted to bring the Galatians to their senses.
Unable to fathom what had happened to them, the apostle wrote, “Who bewitched you, [you] to whom, before [whose] eyes, Jesus Christ was depicted [as] crucified?”
In this context, the Greek word baskaíno is commonly understood to mean “bewitch,” “put under a spell,” or “exercise a malign influence upon.” In the Septuagint, this term is used regarding the eye that begrudges or is inclined toward evil—the “evil eye.” (Deuteronomy 28:54, 56) The related Greek adjective báskanos appears in a context that points to a similar meaning—“stingy,” “greedy,” “grudging,” or “ungenerous.” (Prov. 23:6; 28:22)
In other ancient writings, however, báskanos also can denote “slanderous.” Since the malicious lies of a slanderer can deceive others, there is a possibility that, in the context of Paul’s words, baskaíno simply means “deceive.” Puzzled and distressed, the apostle raised the question as to who could possibly have had such a baneful influence on the Galatians.
The Greek expression kat’ ophthalmoús (“according to eyes”) is an idiom that signifies “before or in front of the eyes.” In this case, the reference, however, is not to a vivid portrayal of the manner of Jesus’ death. Rather, Paul’s preaching about the meaning of Christ’s death was so clear that it could be compared to making the Galatians actually see Jesus Christ nailed to a staurós in order to atone for sins.
“Depict” is one definition of the Greek term prográpho, which literally means “write before.” Besides being used in the sense of “write before or above,” prográpho may also denote “put on public display,” “set forth publicly,” “depict openly,” or “set forth in a public announcement” for all to read. Paul left no doubt in the minds of the Galatians about God’s arrangement for salvation through Jesus Christ. So they had no reason to believe anyone who insisted that, in addition to faith in God’s Son, circumcision and observance of the Mosaic law were needed to be divinely approved.
Numerous later manuscripts, after ebáskanen (bewitched), add the words té aletheía mé peíthesthai (found in Galatians 5:7), meaning “the truth not to obey.” These words are, however, not included in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. For this reason, they are missing in modern translations.
Many later manuscripts add en hymín (in you; here having the sense of “among you”) after proegráphe (depicted). The words en hymín are absent from the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, accounting for their not being found in modern translations.
The apostle continued: “This only I want to learn from you, did you receive the spirit out of works of law or out of a hearing of faith?” To rescue them from the trap into which they had fallen by listening to the words of a Judaizing element, Paul tried to stir up the reasoning faculties of the Galatians. In effect, he told them, “Answer my question.”
Regarding their receiving the spirit, the Galatians could give only one answer to Paul’s question. God’s spirit had not been imparted to them “out of works of law.” This had not taken place as a result of their observing the precepts of a legal code. What had happened to the Galatians did not have its source or origin in their seeking to conform to the requirements of the Mosaic law.
The Greek word akoé may be defined as “report,” “news,” “message,” or as “hearing” or “listening.” Hence, the expression “hearing of faith” can signify either a message that has faith as its prime focus or the responsive hearing that led to faith. Both meanings may be found in the various renderings of modern translations. Since the message could either be accepted or rejected, the emphasis is more likely on the response in faith to what was heard. Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the Galatians received God’s spirit. That faith was expressed after they heard Paul proclaim the glad tidings. (Compare Romans 10:17.) Not even in a limited way was observance of a legal code involved in their coming under the influence of God’s spirit. As uncircumcised non-Jews, they never had been subject to the Mosaic law, and Paul did not impose its requirements on them. Their experience in receiving the holy spirit was like that of Cornelius and others who put faith in Jesus Christ upon hearing Peter declare the evangel.
Besides having the basic meaning of “wind” or “spirit,” the Greek word pneúma can designate the “prevailing attitude” or “disposition”—that aspect of a person’s inner life that influences thought, words, and actions. In Greek, this term is neuter. Because of the predominant theological view about “God’s spirit,” translators usually use the pronoun “he” (not “it”) and capitalize “spirit” when the reference is to the “holy spirit.” A number of versions, however, read “spirit” (without an initial capital) at Joel 2:28, 29, [3:1, 2, in some translations], and a few translations follow through consistently without capitalization in Peter’s quotation of this passage.
The angel Gabriel is quoted as using the words “holy spirit” in parallel with “power of the Most High.” (Luke 1:35) This reveals that the “holy spirit” or “God’s spirit” is the power proceeding from the Almighty and is at his disposal for the accomplishment of his will. An examination of the use of pneúma in the Septuagint corroborates that the spirit of God is an influencing, guiding, and energizing power. At times, God’s spirit operated mightily in the case of Israelite judges, prophets, and others, enabling them to accomplish extraordinary feats, enhancing their abilities, or impelling them to reveal or express the divine purpose or will. All (not just some) who put faith in Jesus Christ were filled with God’s spirit, and it continued with them, not being limited to specific times only. The holy spirit produced marvelous changes in their lives and empowered them to be courageous in proclaiming the glad tidings. Additionally, through the spirit, a variety of miraculous gifts were imparted.
In view of what the Galatians had experienced, the apostle tried to bring them to their senses with strongly worded, pointed questions. He wrote: “Are you so senseless? Having begun with spirit, are you now ending with flesh?”
The Galatians had received God’s spirit while they were in an uncircumcised state. This was unmistakable proof of their being divinely approved. Therefore, Paul asked them how they could be so foolish as to accept the idea that they did not enjoy a proper standing with God but, to be fully approved, needed to get circumcised and submit to the regulations of the Mosaic law. The apostle repeated the word anóetos, meaning “foolish,” “senseless,” or “stupid,” which he had earlier applied to the Galatians (3:1). It was hard for Paul to comprehend how they could be so stupid, yes, so dull in their perception.
Upon accepting the glad tidings as God’s word or message, the Galatians came under the influence of holy spirit and thus were impelled to make changes in their lives in order to be more like their Lord or Master, Jesus Christ. They began their course in or with spirit, since the spirit prompted them to conform themselves ever closer to the example of God’s Son. Hence, the Galatians were cooperating with the work that the Father was doing within them by means of his spirit.
Under the influence of false teachers, however, they ceased to look to the Most High to aid them to attain the full stature of his children. The Galatians started a process that was fleshly, one that had its source in the “flesh,” not in the “spirit.” They began to think in terms of what they could do on their own to prove themselves righteous. By legalistic observance of the outward forms of worship set forth in the Mosaic law, including the keeping of certain days or festivals, they imagined that they would gain God’s favor. Such legalistic observance was fleshly, that is, it relied on the flesh (human effort) and not on what God was doing by means of his spirit. Legalistic observance of a code of law also appeals to the sinful flesh. It promotes pride in human achievement and gives rise to feelings of contemptuous superiority in relation to those who seriously fall short. (Compare Luke 18:11, 12.) By means of his question, Paul emphasized how foolish it was for the Galatians to start their life as Christians by yielding to God’s spirit and, then, to abandon this course—to seek being completed as Christians through fleshly means, through personal efforts alone.
The apostle raised yet another question: “Did you suffer so much in vain, if indeed even in vain?”
Generally, the Greek word páscho denotes “to suffer.” It can, however, refer to anything that a person might undergo—both good and bad. If understood in a favorable sense, the experiences would include receiving God’s spirit and all the blessings resulting from being divinely approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. While the context does not specifically mention suffering, there also are no qualifying words to indicate that páscho here means having favorable experiences. Therefore, it appears preferable to understand páscho in its usual sense (suffer), especially since it was common for believers to undergo difficulties because of being disciples of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts reveals that believers in the Roman province of Galatia were no exception.
When the Galatians embraced the evangel and abandoned all attempts to prove themselves righteous by legalistic conformity to a code of laws, they became an object of hostility. The unbelieving Jews would not accept the fact that a person could be divinely approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and without having to become a Jewish proselyte. Upon discerning that Christians did not insist on circumcision and adherence to the Mosaic law as being essential for gaining God’s approval, the unbelieving Jews started a campaign of persecution to stop the spread of Christianity. For example, in Pisidian Antioch, the unbelieving Jews, upon seeing non-Jews taking an interest in the evangel, became jealous and began to contradict Paul’s teaching. The apostle and Barnabas then told them: “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.” (Acts 13:46, NRSV). As more non-Jews became disciples of Jesus Christ, the unbelieving Jews succeeded in stirring up the influential people in Antioch to such a degree that Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave. Later, in Iconium, the opposition of the unbelieving Jews reached the point that they and those who sided with them made plans to stone Paul and Barnabas. Then, in Lystra, unbelieving Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium stirred up the native non-Jewish population. Paul was then actually stoned. Believing he was dead, those responsible dragged him outside the city. (Acts 13:50–14:19)
The forced departure of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch and other cities did not eliminate persecution for the disciples who remained behind. (Acts 14:22) These disciples continued to face opposition from the unbelieving Jews and those who supported them.
If the Galatians initially had submitted to circumcision and taken upon themselves the yoke of the Mosaic law, they would have escaped persecution from the Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Christ. Therefore, the apostle rightly asked the Galatians whether their experiences of the past had been “in vain,” without any purpose or reason. Paul did not believe that what they had undergone was in vain and indicated this by expressing himself in a conditional sense—“if indeed [gé] even [kaí] in vain.”
The Greek term gé is an expression of emphasis and here evidently limits the conditional assertion that begins with “if” (eí). The Greek expression eí gé would, therefore, denote “if really” or “if indeed.” While kaí usually means “and” or “also,” it can signify “even,” and this meaning would fit the context.
To Paul, it was inconceivable that the Galatians would conclude that their sufferings meant nothing to them, that they had made a big mistake in not taking a course that could have spared them persecution. His question was designed to cause them to think seriously, to make them see that what they had endured was because of their having taken the right course. The apostle’s words anticipate that the Galatians would be moved to say that their faithful endurance under suffering had not been in vain but was purposeful.
Continuing to reason with them, Paul said: “The [One] then giving you the spirit and working powerful deeds in you, [does he do this] out of works of law or out of a hearing of faith?”
Although the spirit is imparted to believers through Christ (Acts 2:33), the ultimate source or the Giver of the spirit is the Father. (1 Thessalonians 4:8; Titus 3:4–6) The Greek verb epichoregéo may be defined as “give,” “furnish,” “supply,” or “provide.” It is an intensified form of choregeó, which in its basic sense means (1) “to lead a chorus or dance,” or (2) “to care for the expense of a chorus.” The idea of providing a chorus at one’s own expense is the basis for the meaning “to supply,” “to furnish,” or “to provide.” Since epichoregéo is intensified by the prefix epí, it can mean “to supply fully or abundantly.” Thus, Paul called attention to God’s abundant or generous providing of the spirit to the Galatians.
The Greek expression “in (en) you” is commonly translated “among you.” When thus understood, the “mighty deeds” could refer to the miracles that were occurring among the Galatians, probably including the expelling of demons, healing the afflicted, and speaking in tongues or languages that they had never learned. If, however, the Greek en means “in,” the “mighty deeds” would designate the powerful workings of God’s spirit within the Galatians. They must have been aware of the tremendous effect on their lives and sensed the impelling, energizing, and motivating power working within them. (Compare Ephesians 1:19.)
What the Galatians had previously experienced did not come about “out of works of law.” The abundant supplying of God’s spirit to them did not result from or have its source in their getting circumcised and submitting themselves to the requirements of the Mosaic law. God’s working “mighty deeds” in their midst or within them personally began while they were in an uncircumcised state and without their having taken upon themselves the yoke of any legal code.
There was only one answer to the apostle Paul’s question. What had happened to the Galatians with reference to God’s spirit and “mighty deeds” was “out of a hearing of faith.” While the expression “hearing of faith” can mean either (1) responding in faith to the message that was heard or (2) “the message which proclaims faith” (Wuest), the first meaning is preferable, as it best fits the point the apostle made with his question. Once the Galatians responded in faith to the evangel (the glad tidings which revealed that an approved standing with God was possible solely on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished by dying sacrificially), the holy spirit became operative toward them, miracles were performed in their midst, and marvelous changes began taking place within them individually. Accordingly, all this occurred “out of” or as a result of a response in faith. That faith was an unqualified trust in Christ, the one on whom the message declared to the Galatians focused.
Their coming to be regarded as righteous was on the same basis that God counted the forefather of the Jews as righteous. Paul continued: “Just as Abraham ‘put faith in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” The Greek verb pisteúo is commonly translated “believe,” since English has no verb form for “faith” (as does Greek). This term denotes to “put faith, trust, or confidence in.” Sinful humans cannot attain “righteousness” on their own merit. They are flawed and not without guilt before God. Hence, righteousness must be “credited,” “reckoned,” or “counted” to them. The preposition preceding righteousness (eis), often meaning “into,” here points to the result of the “counting” or “reckoning.”
Even Abraham did not gain an approved standing before God by getting circumcised and starting to live up to the requirements of a legal code. While yet uncircumcised, Abram (Abraham) was told: “Look up at the skies and count the stars, if indeed you can count them. … So shall your seed be.” (Genesis 15:5) It was then that the words Paul quoted were applied to Abraham. The Genesis account reads: “He put his faith in YHWH, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6) The case of the Galatians was just like that of Abraham. God reckoned them as righteous because of their faith in the seed of promise, Jesus Christ, and Abraham was counted as righteous on account of his faith in the divine promise about the seed.
Identifying the true sons of Abraham, Paul continued: “Know, therefore, that the ones out of faith—these are sons of Abraham.”
In this case, the Greek verb for “know” (ginósko) may be either indicative or imperative. If indicative, this would mean that the Galatians knew who the real sons of Abraham were. It is more likely, however, that, instead of merely acknowledging what the Galatians already knew, the apostle was continuing to develop his argument regarding who is reckoned as righteous. Therefore, “know” evidently has the imperative sense of “recognize,” “understand,” “perceive,” or “see.”
The expression “the ones out of faith” indicates that those thus described have their origin in faith. It is their faith, their complete trust, that has made them what they are.
Sonship is not necessarily dependent on fleshly descent. John the Baptizer pointed this out to certain Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to be immersed. They imagined themselves to be children of Abraham and thus automatically in line for God’s special blessing. John, though, disabused their minds of such thinking: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Matthew 3:7–9, NAB) Similarly, Jesus Christ said: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God; Abraham did not do this.” (John 8:39, 40, NAB) Abraham put faith in God’s promise about the seed, but the Jews whom Jesus addressed rejected the very one to whom the promise that Abraham believed pointed. Because these Jews acted contrary to the ways of Abraham, they had no right to call themselves his children. Instead of having the faith of Abraham, they manifested the murderous spirit of Satan. Hence, Jesus Christ could say to them: “You are from your father the devil.” (John 8:44, NRSV)
Abraham was what he was—the friend of God and one counted as righteous by him—on account of his faith. Since Abraham thus sprang from faith, all who (as divinely approved persons) likewise have their origin in faith are the real sons of Abraham.
Note: Manuscripts vary in reading either huioí eisin (sons are) or eisin huioí (are sons). This variation is immaterial when translating.
Paul continued to reason with the Galatians: “But the Scripture, foreseeing that God justifies the nations [non-Jews] out of faith announced the evangel beforehand to Abraham that, ‘in you, all the nations will be blessed.’”
Many translations render the Greek word “but” (dé) as “and.” The term itself can also mean “now,” “then,” or “so.” Possibly dé is to be understood as introducing an implied contrast that being children of Abraham “out of faith” was not a new thought. It was announced centuries earlier to Abraham. The term graphé (from grápho, to write), “Scripture,” is here personified and evidently denotes the written expression of God’s purpose. Since “Scripture” is the word or message of God, the apostle represented it as doing what its Author did—“foreseeing” and “announcing” the evangel. Scripture pointed forward to the time when God would count as righteous, upright, or guiltless people other than the chosen nation that descended from Abraham. This would be “out of” their faith, that is, the basis for justification would spring or result from their faith, their absolute confidence and trust in God, his promises and his arrangements.
That people of the nations would be blessed “in Abraham” was indeed “good news,” as special blessings only could come to those whom God views as approved, righteous, or upright. Being holy or pure, the Almighty could never bestow his favor on those who are unclean or defiled in his sight.
The glad tidings about blessing people of the nations was announced beforehand to Abraham. Paul used the term proeuangelízomai, (pro, before; a verb form of the noun euangélion, evangel, good news, or glad tidings), which only appears once in the Scriptures and denotes “to declare the glad tidings in advance.” In proof of the fact that people of the nations would be reckoned as righteous on account of their faith, the apostle quoted part of God’s statement to Abraham. (Genesis 12:3) The Greek words, however, do not correspond exactly to the reading of the Septuagint. While Paul wrote “all the nations,” the extant reading of the Septuagint is, “all the tribes of the earth.” Nevertheless, the sense of the apostle’s quotation is the same.
Since the apostle had already made it clear that the real children of Abraham are such “out of faith,” their being blessed “in” Abraham appears to mean that people of the nations share in the blessing by reason of belonging to Abraham. He is their spiritual forefather or ancestor. As his spiritual children, they share in his blessing.
Concluding his argument, Paul added: “Therefore, the ones out of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” The Greek term hóste (therefore) links what follows with the previous words that, “in Abraham,” people of the nations would be blessed. Accordingly, as a consequence of being blessed “in Abraham,” they are also blessed with Abraham, the man of faith.
“The ones out of faith” are all whose identity has its source in or springs from faith—complete trust or reliance on God and his promises. They are persons of faith.
In being described as “faithful” (pistós), Abraham is being designated as a possessor of faith, or a man of faith. Because of fully trusting the Almighty, never doubting the divine promises, Abraham came to be richly blessed. The inspired psalmist sums up what the Most High did for Abraham and other faithful patriarchs: “When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in [the land of Canaan], they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. [God] allowed no one to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: ‘Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.’” (Ps. 105:12–15, NIV) All persons with a faith like Abraham’s become recipients of God’s blessing, thus sharing with him in being reckoned as righteous or guiltless from the divine standpoint and experiencing other accompanying favors.
Drawing a contrast, Paul continued: “For as many as are out of works of law are under a curse.” All whose identity is “out of works of law” (that is, has its source in the observance of the Mosaic law) are under a curse, not a blessing. Anyone who endeavored to prove himself righteous before God by adherence to a legal code was doomed to fail. No matter how conscientious and scrupulous a person might be in such observance, he would be unable to measure up perfectly to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Instead of being blessed as was believing Abraham, the transgressor of the law would come under a curse. The law would condemn him as a transgressor deserving to be punished.
To back up his point, the apostle appealed to the Scriptures with the words, “for it is written.” He then quoted from Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed is everyone who does not persevere [in] all the [things] written in the scroll of the law [so as] to do them.” Paul’s quotation differs from the extant Septuagint text. It reads: “Cursed is every man who does not persevere in all the words of this law [so as] to do them.” Nevertheless, Paul’s quotation, the present Hebrew text, and the extant text of the Septuagint make the point that a failure to live up to the law leads to coming under a curse. The word for “persevere” (emméno) basically means “remain” or “abide” and, in this context, denotes to continue to heed or obey.
Note: While en (in) appears after emménei (abide, remain, persevere) in many manuscripts, the word is missing in such ancient manuscripts as P46 (about 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus (though later added by a corrector).
Presenting additional Scriptural proof that it is impossible to gain a righteous standing before God on the basis of adherence to a legal code, Paul added: “But that in law no one is justified before God [is] evident, because ‘the righteous one will live out of faith.’”
Since the Greek dé can mean “but,” “so,” “now,” or “then,” translations vary in the terms used. If understood in the sense of “but,” the word introduces an additional argument and signifies “moreover” or “on the other hand.”
The Greek expression “in law” is commonly rendered “by the law” or “by means of the law.” This would signify that the Mosaic law is not the instrument through which one is justified before God. It is possible, however, that “in law” signifies “in the realm” or “in the sphere” of the law, indicating that justification belongs to a distinctly different realm or sphere. In the sphere of the Mosaic law, a person cannot be justified, declared guiltless, or pronounced as righteous before God. Since efforts to keep the law perfectly would not succeed but only expose one in line for a curse, no sinful human could prove that he is righteous and deserving of life.
To show that justification had no connection with the Mosaic law, Paul used the word délos, meaning “evident,” “clear,” “plain,” or “manifest” and then quoted from Habakkuk 2:4. (See the notes and comments in the commentary on Habakkuk.) The Greek word introducing the quotation is hóti, which can mean either “that” or “because.” Translators have commonly rendered the term as “because,” thus presenting the quotation as giving the reason for its being evident that justification does not originate from the Mosaic law.
Paul scripturally identified the sphere out of which justification does come—faith. The Hebrew term rendered “faith” in the Septuagint is ’emunáh, also meaning “faithfulness,” “steadiness,” “reliability,” or “trustworthiness,” but here evidently having the sense of “trust” or “faith.” The passage in Habakkuk follows a statement regarding the Chaldean, a corporate man that was ruthless, inflated with pride, and acted wickedly, not uprightly, in conducting aggressive campaigns of conquest. During the trying period of the Chaldean heyday, a person would be sustained by his trust in God and his steadfastness in the conviction that the divine promises would be fulfilled. Thus, through his “faith,” the individual would “live.” This “living” would not be a mere existence or a continuance of life, but it would be a meaningful living as one enjoying divine help, blessing, and approval despite the distressing circumstances. (Habakkuk 3:17–19) Accordingly, Paul’s use of the text from Habakkuk is in full harmony with the spirit of the passage.
The part of the passage quoted by Paul reads as follows in extant manuscripts of the Septuagint: “But the righteous one will live by [literally, out of] my faith.” These words establish that the living of the righteous one is by or has its source in faith and, therefore, cannot be linked to the observance of a legal code. By reason of his faith, the believer comes to live in the real sense of the word. He is no longer under condemnation as are those who refuse to put faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ. Whereas unbelievers are dead in trespasses and sins, believers are alive—justified, declared guiltless, pronounced righteous. (Compare Ephesians 2:1.)
As to the relationship of faith and the law, Paul added: “But the law is not out of faith.”
Again, as in verse 11, the Greek dé has been variously rendered. It likely is to be understood as contrasting with the previous quotation about faith, and probably means “on the contrary.” This conjunction is, however, missing in the text of P46 (c. 200).
Because of not being “out of faith,” the law does not spring from or have its source or origin in faith. For a person to obey a code of laws, faith is not an essential. It is not dependent on faith, but is solely a matter of following through on what the legal code prescribes. Even a person who had no faith in God or his promises could make an effort to heed the dictates of the law.
In verification of his statement, Paul quoted from Leviticus 18:5, “the one having done them will live in them.” He introduced the quotation with allá, an indicator of strong contrast and meaning “but,” “rather,” or “on the contrary.” Thus, Paul contrasted faith with what Scripture says about the law.
The present text of the Septuagint reads, “[the] man having done [them] will live in them,” and the term “man” is also found in certain Greek manuscripts of Galatians 3:12. Thus the condition for living, prospering, or thriving, according to what the law outlined, is works—doing. The individual who would be able to obey the law perfectly would continue to live in the sphere of obedience to the commands contained in the law. Since his life would be dependent upon heeding the requirements of the law, he would be living “in them.” Obedience to the legal precepts would be his life. He could no more continue living without obedience to the legal precepts than he could in an environment lacking needed oxygen.
Note: Instead of simply reading “the one” (as do P46 [c. 200] and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus) many later manuscripts add ánthropos (man; accordingly, “the man having done them”). The variation, however, does not affect the meaning of Paul’s words, which are quoted from Leviticus 18:5. In the Septuagint, ánthropos does appear in the Leviticus passage. Therefore, if ánthropos is an addition to the original text of Paul’s letter, possibly the Septuagint reading influenced copyists to include the word.
Regarding what God’s Son accomplished for those under the curse of the Mosaic law because of their inability to keep it perfectly, Paul said: “Christ purchased us [freedom] from the curse of the law.”
The Greek term exagorázo basically means “to buy out” and is, in this case, commonly rendered “redeem.” In the Septuagint, this word appears only once. It is used in relation to time and signifies to “gain” time. (Daniel 2:8) While also linked with time at Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5, the expression has the sense of “making the most” of the time or the opportunity, as if “purchasing” it for beneficial use.
Since the law is manifestly the Mosaic law, Paul, when writing “us,” included himself with all others who were subject to its terms. Because of being unable to live up flawlessly to the law’s requirements, all the Jews came under the curse that it prescribed for disobedience.
Christ, by laying down his life sacrificially, bought transgressors of the law freedom from being under its curse. God’s Son, as Paul wrote, “having become a curse for us.” The preposition rendered “for” is hypér and has the basic meaning of “over” but may also signify “on behalf of” or “for the sake of.”
Again, establishing his point scripturally, the apostle quoted from Deuteronomy 21:23. He introduced the quotation with the words, “because it is written.” Although hóti can denote either “that” or “because,” the apparent meaning here is “because,” pointing to the scriptural reason for what Paul had said previously. The quotation that follows (“Cursed is everyone hanged on a tree” [xylon, wood or tree]) differs from extant Hebrew and Greek (Septuagint) manuscripts in not referring to the one hanged as accursed of God. Perhaps the apostle chose to omit the reference to God since the beloved, sinless Son of God (in harmony with his Father’s will) took upon himself the curse resting on disobedient ones and, hence, could never be spoken of as divinely accursed.
According to the law, a dead criminal suspended from a tree or pole was regarded as cursed of God. Therefore, no corpse was to remain in this condition as a public warning for a period extending beyond the daylight hours, but was to be buried.
Emphasizing that what Jesus Christ did went beyond benefiting those who were under the law, the apostle continued, “in order that, into the nations, the blessing of Abraham might come to be in Christ Jesus so that we might receive the promise of the spirit through faith.”
The introductory hína apparently is an indicator of purpose. Jesus’ sacrificial death opened the way for non-Jews to receive the “blessing of Abraham,” evidently the very blessing that the patriarch enjoyed—being justified or counted as righteous by God because of his faith. While believing Jews came to share in the blessing by being liberated from the curse of the law, this blessing was not to be restricted to them but was to be extended to non-Jews who put faith in God’s Son. Paul, therefore, spoke of the blessing as coming to be “in Christ Jesus,” not through adherence to a particular legal code. Only after non-Jews were cleansed from sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ would God count them as guiltless and recognize them as his approved children.
The apostle again used the word hína (so that), pointing to what results to believing Jews and non-Jews because of having the blessing of Abraham extended to them. This result is their receiving the “promise of the spirit.” Since Paul established that both Jews and non-Jews were approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ, the first person plural verb lábomen (“we might receive”) is evidently referring to all believers. By repenting of their sins and accepting the deliverance from sin that God’s Son effected, believing Jews and non-Jews received the spirit.
The apostle used the expression “promise of the spirit.” It is the spirit which God, through his prophets, had promised. (Joel 2:28, 29; Acts 2:38, 39; note that the language of Joel’s prophecy is broad enough to include non-Jewish peoples, as is the wording of Peter’s statement made on the day of Pentecost.) Only “through faith” or absolute trust in Jesus Christ—accepting him as God’s Son and the one through whom forgiveness of sin is made possible—did Jews and non-Jews become recipients of God’s spirit, and this proved that they were indeed approved children of God. (Compare Romans 8:14–17.)
The reading epangelían “promise” has the most extensive manuscript support, including the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus and the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus. In a number of manuscripts, the oldest being P46 (c. 200), the word is eulogían (blessing). Possibly the variation resulted from a scribal repetition of the previous reference to the “blessing [eulogía] of Abraham.”
Developing the significance of the “blessing of Abraham,” the apostle continued: “Brothers, I am speaking in human [terms (literally, according to man)], a covenant, though validated by a man, no one nullifies or adds [to it].”
Paul addressed believers as “brothers,” as all of them were “sons of God.” On the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ, they were justified and experienced the new birth through the operation of God’s spirit upon them. Even though the Galatians had been influenced by the persuasive words of false teachers, the apostle still regarded them as his brothers, members of his beloved spiritual family. This indicates that Paul desired to help the Galatians in a spirit of love.
When speaking “according to man,” the apostle drew on an example common to ordinary life. Paul’s objective was to assist the Galatians to recognize the relationship of the Mosaic law to God’s promise to Abraham. In the Greek text, the phrase “though validated by a man” precedes the term covenant (diathéke). This emphasizes that a man-made formal, solemn agreement is involved.
Still, though ratified merely by a man, the covenant is binding in its originally validated form. The Greek verb for “validate” (kyróo) is derived from the noun kyros, denoting “power” or “authority.” Hence, the verb means “to invest with power or authority,” “ratify,” “put into effect,” or “confirm.” No individual can unilaterally “nullify” (athetéo) a man-made covenant or “add” (epidiatássomai) to it. For any valid changes to be made all the parties involved must give their consent. The Greek term athetéo commonly has the sense of “nullify” or “set aside.” It can, however, also signify “reject” or “disregard”—a meaning that would, in this case, not fit the context of the apostle’s words. In the Scriptures, including the Septuagint, the word epidiatássomai (epí, upon; diá, through; tásso, arrange, designate, direct, appoint, or set) appears only once and conveys the sense of “add” or “supplement.”
Building on the point he made, Paul continued: “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. It does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as [meaning] many, but as [meaning] one, ‘and to your seed,’ who is Christ.”
The Greek term commonly rendered “now” in this case is dé and has the basic sense of “but.” What follows, though, does not contrast with Paul’s preceding words. Evidently, therefore, the expression dé is to be viewed as pointing to an additional thought and not to a contrasting concept as would the rendering “but.”
Through his representative angel, God (not man) spoke the promises. The plural “promises” harmonizes with the fact that Abraham heard expressions of divine promise on several occasions. (Genesis 12:2, 3, 7; 13:14–17; 15:5–18; 17:1–8; 22:15–18) As formal, solemn expressions of what God would do, the “promises” constituted a divine covenant or agreement with Abraham.
Like the English term “offspring,” the Hebrew word for “seed” (zéra‘) may designate a single individual, or it can be understood as a plural in the collective sense. Paul’s argument focusing on the singular “seed,” not the plural “seeds,” must be understood in the context of the Scriptures as a whole. The manner in which the Scriptures speak of the “seed” indicates that just one “seed” (not many “seeds”) is involved. For example, after Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac, only one of these came to be associated with the “seed.” Abraham was told, “through Isaac your seed will be called.” (Genesis 21:12). The Scriptures point to one special seed—the “Anointed One,” the “Messiah,” or the “Christ”—through whom blessings would flow. (Isaiah 11:1–5) Accordingly, Paul’s argument about one seed agrees fully with what is set forth in the Scriptures. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to the special seed—Christ.
Note: Most manuscripts read hós (who). The variants ho (the one) and hou (genitive form of hós) found in some manuscripts do not affect the meaning of Paul’s words.
Focusing on the unchangeable aspect of the covenant that God made with Abraham, Paul wrote: “Moreover, this I say, [the] covenant previously validated by God is not invalidated [by] the law [that] came to be 430 years later, making the promise ineffectual.”
A number of modern translations do not include a rendering for the Greek dé, basically meaning “but.” Since what follows this conjunction builds on Paul’s argument, the meaning is not affected by leaving dé untranslated. The conjunction dé appears to have the sense of “further,” “additionally,” “moreover,” and not the meaning of “but.”
The covenant is the one that God concluded with Abraham. Since no one could unilaterally nullify or change a covenant, the introduction of the law had no effect on the Abrahamic covenant and the promise incorporated therein. God’s promise to Abraham continued in force and remained unchanged.
The expression “previously validated” is a rendering of the Greek word prokyróo (pró, before; kyróo, put into effect, ratify, validate, confirm; see also comments on 3:15). While not yet in the land of Canaan, Abraham (Abram) first heard God’s promise: “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2, 3, NIV) When Abraham responded in faith, leaving behind his country and relatives, and later entered Canaan, God confirmed the covenant promise. (Genesis 12:7). Abraham was then 75 years old. (Genesis 12:4)
From that time until the giving of the law a period of 430 years passed, 215 years of which Abraham and his descendants lived in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 12:4–6; 21:5; 25:26; 47:9) During the remaining 215 years, Abraham’s grandson Jacob and his descendants resided in Egypt. This agrees with the reading of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint that the Israelites lived in “Egypt” and “Canaan” 430 years. (Exodus 12:40; the Masoretic Text, however, omits the mention of Canaan.) With seeming reference to Exodus 12:40, the first-century Jewish historian Josephus presents the same chronology: “They [the Israelites] left Egypt in the month of Xanthicus, on the fifteenth day of the lunar month; four hundred and thirty years after our forefather Abraham came into Canaan, but two hundred and fifteen years only after Jacob removed into Egypt.” (Antiquities, Book II, chap. XV, par. 2; Whiston’s translation) The law covenant was concluded with the Israelites in the year they left Egypt. Accordingly, Paul could speak of the law as coming into being 430 years after God made a covenant with Abraham.
Paul’s mentioning the passage of so many years may have served to provide additional proof that the law did not “invalidate” (akyróo, negative form of kyróo) the covenant God made with Abraham. By the time the law was given, the Abrahamic covenant had already existed 430 years.
An integral part of the Abrahamic covenant is the promise that, “in Abraham,” all the nations would be blessed and that his seed would be given the land of Canaan. This promise was made before the law covenant came into being and, therefore, the law did not change it. Regarding what the law did not do respecting the promise, Paul used the Greek word katargéo, meaning to “cancel,” “abolish,” “destroy,” “render ineffective,” or “make useless.” This compound consists of katá (down) and argós (idle), which is a negative adjective form of érgon (work).
Note: Many later manuscripts add the words eis Christón (into [in] Christ) after “God.” These additional words are, however, missing in P46 (c. 200) and the fourth century Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, the fifth century Codex Alexandrinus, and numerous other manuscripts.
Regarding the inheritance, Paul wrote: “For if out of law the inheritance [is], [it is] not out of a promise, but God has graciously given [it] to Abraham through a promise.”
If God’s giving of the inheritance had been “out of law” (had its source in scrupulous observance of the Mosaic law), it would have been earned as a right and could not be spoken of as the receipt of a promised gift. The inheritance, however, was not granted on the basis of merit. Moses made this very clear when telling the nation of Israel: “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations [YHWH] your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that [YHWH] made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deuteronomy 9:5, NRSV) As Moses’ words confirm, the inheritance was “out of a promise,” having its source in the God-given oath-bound promise.
Abraham did not personally receive a land inheritance. The cave of Machpelah and the surrounding field that he bought for a burial site could not be regarded as such. Still, the patriarch did receive the favor and blessing that the land inheritance represented. Because of his faith, Abraham was granted an approved standing before God, being reckoned as righteous. (Genesis 15:6) This righteous standing, accompanied by divine blessings, was Abraham’s precious inheritance. (Compare Psalm 16:5, 6.) It was not something that Abraham earned. Because the Almighty God promised to bless Abraham, he did so as an expression of “grace” or “favor.” Rightly, then, Paul spoke of the inheritance as being “graciously given to Abraham through a promise.” The Greek term for “graciously given” (charízomai) incorporates the noun cháris, meaning “favor,” “grace,” or “kindness.”
Note: Most manuscripts read ek (out of), whereas P46 (c. 200) says diá (through). The basic meaning, however, is conveyed regardless of which preposition appears in the text.
Directing attention to the Mosaic law, Paul raised the question: “Why, then, the law?” The interrogative introductory word tí means either “why” or “what.” In this case, it is commonly rendered “why,” or “what was the purpose of.” Since there is no verb, the question could also be translated: “What, then, the law?” Rather than focusing on the reason for the law, the question could be understood as referring to the nature or significance of the law.
The apostle provided the answer: “Thanks to transgression it was added until the seed would arrive to whom the promise had been made, and [the law] was enacted through angels at [the] hand of a mediator.”
“Thanks” is a rendering of the Greek word chárin, which is related to the noun cháris, meaning “favor,” “kindness,” or “grace.” In its basic sense, chárin denotes “in favor of” but here apparently signifies “on account of,” “because of,” or “for the sake of.”
The Greek word for “transgression” (parábasis) literally means an “aside stepping” (pará, beside or aside; básis, foot, step, or stepping) or an “overstepping.” For there to be such an “overstepping” or “transgression,” a law, rule, or regulation must exist. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (4:15, NIV): “Where there is no law there is no transgression.” If no deeds, expressions, and attitudes had existed that, in the light of a legal code, could be called transgressions, the law would have been unnecessary. Paul made this point in his first letter to Timothy (1:9, 10, NAB): “Law is meant not for a righteous person but for the lawless and unruly, the godless and sinful, the unholy and profane, those who kill their fathers or mothers, murderers, the unchaste, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is opposed to sound teaching.” In a sense, the law owed its existence to transgressions, and transgressions owed their existence to the law, which made the Israelites painfully aware of their wrongdoing by identifying it.
In Greek, the word for “add” (prostíthemi) literally means “toward [prós] to put [títhemi].” It here refers to placing something additional alongside the promise made to Abraham. There was no change in the promise but merely an adding of something alongside it.
The Mosaic law was designed to be temporary, continuing in effect “until the seed would arrive.” That “seed” proved to be the promised Messiah or Christ, Jesus. As “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2), Jesus Christ is the one “to whom the promise had been made.” (In Greek, the expression “promise had been made” is one verb, epéngeltai, meaning “has been promised.”) In fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, Jesus Christ is the heir and the seed through whom people of all nations would be blessed. (Genesis 22:18)
Both angels and a mediator were involved in the giving of the law. In connection with the role of angels, the Greek verb used is diatásso (diá, through; tásso, arrange, order, or appoint), meaning “give instructions,” “order,” “command,” “assign,” “arrange,” “ordain,” or “enact.” The context lends itself to the sense of “ordain” or “enact.” Angels are not portrayed as the originators of the law but as the instrumentalities “through” whom it was put into effect, ordained, or enacted.
The Exodus account implies that angelic ministration was involved in giving the law to the Israelites. When God first revealed himself to Moses in the wilderness of the Mount Sinai region, an angel did the speaking. “The angel of Yahweh appeared to [Moses] in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush.” (Exodus 3:2, NJB). Thereafter, the words of the angel are represented as those of YHWH. Since the initial revelation involved an angel, it follows that God’s later communication at Mount Sinai, where the law was given, occurred through his representative angel. Accordingly, Paul’s words about the enactment of the law “through angels” agree with the record contained in Exodus.
The enactment of the law was not limited to the participation of angels. A human instrumentality played a significant role. As the apostle added, “at [en] hand of a mediator.” Here the preposition en (in) evidently has the sense of “at” or “by,” and so the expression “at hand” apparently means “through the instrumentality of.” The Greek word for “mediator,” “go-between,” “arbitrator,” or “umpire” (mesítes) is drawn from the verb mesiteúo, meaning “to bring about an agreement.” Mesiteúo can also signify or include the idea of “guarantee” or “confirm” (as appears to be the case in its sole occurrence in the Scriptures [Hebrews 6:17]). Moses was the mediator at or by whose hand the law was enacted. The Biblical record states: “Moses went and told the people all Yahweh’s words and all the laws, and all the people answered with one voice, ‘All the words Yahweh has spoken we will carry out!’ Moses put all Yahweh’s words into writing, and early next morning he built an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve standing-stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent certain young Israelites to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice bullocks to Yahweh as communion sacrifices. Moses then took half the blood and put it into basins, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then, taking the Book of the Covenant, he read it to the listening people, who then said, ‘We shall do everything that Yahweh has said; we shall obey.’ Moses then took the blood and sprinkled it over the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which Yahweh has made with you, entailing all these stipulations.’” (Exodus 24:3–8, NJB)
The best manuscript evidence supports the reading parabáseon (transgressions). A few manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200), read práxeon (deeds, practices, or acts). The reading paradóseon (traditions) in one sixth-century manuscript is manifestly a copyist’s error.
The majority of manuscripts have the word hou (which) after áchris (until). In the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a few other manuscripts, the word is án, which, in this context, would have the sense of “whenever.” The variation has little bearing on the significance of Paul’s words.
Pointing to the distinct difference between the law and the promise made to Abraham, Paul wrote: “The mediator, however, is not of one, but God is one.” The apostle here stated the general principle that there is no mediator for just one entity. A mediator functions only for more than one party. In the case of the law covenant, Moses served as the mediator between God (represented by angelic ministration) and the nation of Israel, and the people obligated themselves to observe the terms of the covenant. When the Almighty gave his covenant promise to Abraham, however, there was no mediator. God dealt with Abraham directly, apart from any human instrumentality.
Whereas the law covenant required strict obedience from the Israelites in order for them to become recipients of the promised blessings, the covenant promise given to Abraham had no such stipulation attached. So no one could make any changes at a later time that would require the performance of certain works in order to earn the blessings promised to Abraham and his seed. Not even the mediator Moses could introduce changes.
It was the Most High who used the mediator Moses in concluding a covenant with Abraham’s descendants 430 years after his giving the covenant promise to their forefather. Since the Almighty God would not be working at cross-purposes with himself, the law covenant did not in any way alter the promise made to Abraham. Instead, the law covenant served a special purpose for a specific time.
To counteract any wrong conclusion about the Mosaic law, Paul wrote: “[Is] the law, therefore, against the promises of God? May it not happen.”
All who seek to live up to the law cannot do so flawlessly. Hence, they stand as disapproved before God and are condemned as undeserving of life. This is the negative aspect of the Mosaic law that Paul had previously stressed in his letter. Some readers or hearers of the apostle’s words, therefore, could have wrongly reasoned that the law actually stood in opposition to God’s promises made to Abraham. Evidently anticipating this possibility, Paul raised the question about whether the law was “against the promises of God.”
The apostle then answered this question with the Greek expression mé (not) génoito (may it happen). Being in the optative mood, génoito (form of gínomai [happen, occur, take place, become, or come to be]) implies a wish or desire. Consequently, a literal translation of the expression mé génoito would be, “may it not happen.” In the Septuagint, the words mé génoito are sometimes found as a rendering of the Hebrew chalíláh, which is a strong negative interjection conveying the sense of “far be it from,” or “it is unthinkable.” (Genesis 44:7, 17; Joshua 22:29; 24:16; 1 Kings 21:3 [20:3 LXX]). As in Paul’s earlier use of the expression mé génoito (2:17), it may be understood as signifying “perish the thought.”
By next calling attention to what the law could not do, the apostle showed that it did not contradict God’s promises, the fulfillment of which did not depend upon scrupulous observance of a legal code. “For if a law had been given that could impart life, indeed out of law righteousness would be.” Here the conjunction gár (for) functions as an indicator of reason, introducing why the law could not be “against the promises of God.”
Any giving or bestowing of life falls outside the scope of law. As to the Mosaic law, it delineated what was divinely approved and disapproved. Since sinful humans could not live up to its requirements perfectly, they were exposed as condemned sinners, undeserving of life. Unable to effect a person’s having a righteous standing with God, the Mosaic law never had as its purpose to grant life to any sinful human. Because life is dependent on being righteous from the divine standpoint, a law that could impart life (zoopoiéo, make alive [zoé, life; poiéo, make]) would of necessity have to be the source of a person’s ceasing to be a sinful human. If such a law had been given, righteousness (as Paul said) would have been “out of” or from that law.
The words toú theoú (“of God”) after epangelión (promises) are missing in P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus. They are, however, found in the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and most other manuscripts.
Instead of óntos (really, certainly, or indeed), two ninth-century manuscripts read alétheia (truth). The variation is insignificant, as the words “truth” and “certainty” express the same basic thought.
Instead of ek (out of), found in most manuscripts, P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus read en (in). The order of the next three words, however, is not the same in both manuscripts. Still different is the word order in the Majority text (represented primarily by Byzantine manuscripts). Nevertheless, these variations do not affect the basic meaning of Paul’s words.
Drawing a sharp contrast, the apostle continued: “But the Scripture shut up all under sin.” In this case, the introductory Greek word for “but” is allá, which is more emphatic in pointing to a contrast than is dé (also meaning “but”). The term allá may denote “instead,” or “on the contrary.”
“Scripture” (graphé, from grápho [to write]) apparently includes the Mosaic law, which is a significant part of the sacred writings. Paul evidently personified “Scripture,” attributing to it what the divine Author of “the Scripture” had actually done.
The expression “shut up” is synkleío (syn, with or together; kleío, shut, close, lock, or bar). In the context of Paul’s words, the prefix syn may have an intensifying sense rather than the literal meaning of “with” or “together.” Besides numerous occurrences in the Septuagint, the term synkleío appears only four times in the Scriptures. (Luke 5:6; Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22, 23) Based on its use in the Septuagint and the four other occurrences, synkleío can denote “enclose [fish in a net],” “confine,” “hem in,” “trap,” “shut,” and “close.”
The words “under sin” evidently signify being “subject to” or “under the power of sin.” All find themselves in this condition. While the Greek word for “all” is a neuter pronominal plural adjective in this case, the context indicates that the application is to persons, not to things. The neuter case appears to indicate that “all” is general, leaving no room for any exceptions.
In revealing that it is impossible for imperfect humans to gain divine approval by trying to live up to a legal code, Scripture completely “shut up all under sin.” Instead of opening up the possibility of gaining a righteous standing before God and, hence, life, Scripture assigned all those under the law to the helpless state of confinement or imprisonment to sin, with death in view.
Presenting the reason for what Scripture did, Paul continued, “in order that, out of faith of Jesus Christ, the promise can be given to the ones having faith.” Since all were confined to the power of sin, this revealed that the receipt of everything included in the promise had its source in faith. No one could obtain the promised blessings by any means other than the basis on which Abraham was originally given the promise. In Abraham’s case, this basis was faith.
The genitive construction—“faith of Jesus Christ”—is not to be understood as faith belonging to Jesus Christ. Instead, it is the faith that has him as its object. This faith is an unqualified trust in him and what he accomplished by dying sacrificially for sinful humans. All those putting their faith in Jesus Christ are given the promise, that is, they share in what the promise embraces—a righteous standing before God and all the blessings this makes possible, both present and future.
Explaining what the law did, Paul continued: “But before the faith came, under law we were guarded, shut up, for the faith destined to be revealed.”
The coming or arrival of the faith was when Jesus appeared as the promised Messiah or Christ. It was then possible, through faith in him and his sacrifice, to be declared righteous or guiltless. Before the arrival of this faith, law (evidently meaning the Mosaic law) served a specific purpose. With reference to that purpose, the apostle used the Greek term phrouréo, meaning “keep watch over,” “hold prisoner,” “confine,” or “hold in custody.” Thus, the function of the Mosaic law was comparable to that of a jailer on guard duty. Besides “guarding” or “keeping watch over” those under its control, the law also “confined” (synkleío; see comments on 3:22) them, not granting any release from its unyielding requirements.
The Greek preposition eis, which starts the phrase about the revealing of the faith, usually means “into.” It can, however, also denote “to” or “till” when the reference is to time (Matthew 24:13; 2 Timothy 1:12), or “for,” as in the expressions “for the future” (1 Timothy 6:19) and “for the defense” (Philippians 1:16). Since Paul’s emphasis seems to have been on the purpose or reason for the law, rather than on time (until), eis is probably to be understood as meaning “for.” Accordingly, the law’s “guarding” and “confining” served “for the faith destined [méllo, be about] to be revealed.”
At the time the law was given, the faith (centering on Christ and his sacrifice) had not yet been “revealed,” “uncovered,” or “unveiled.” The revealing of that faith, however, was “going” to come. There was no uncertainty about its arrival. Thus, while the faith had not yet been revealed, the law had fulfilled its work “for” this faith, preparing individuals to embrace the freedom made possible through it. The law’s guarding, coupled with its confining, was of such a nature that rightly inclined ones would have longed for the time when they could be righteous from God’s standpoint, liberated from all feelings of guilt and unworthiness.
Note: Variations in the form of the verb synkleío (shut up, confine)—synkleiómenoi and synkekleisménoi—convey a slightly different meaning. The participle synkleiómenoi, (which is the reading of P46 [c. 200], fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and other ancient manuscripts) expresses a continuing action. On the other hand, synkekleisménoi (found in many more recent manuscripts) is indicative of completed action.
With reference to the law, Paul continued: “Therefore, the law has become our pedagogue for Christ so that out of faith we might be justified.”
In the first century, the “pedagogue” (paidagogós), “tutor,” or “guide” commonly was a slave. His assignment was to supervise the conduct of a child and to administer needful discipline. Instead of doing the actual teaching, the pedagogue took the child to the instructor. Similarly, the Mosaic law, with its penalties for wrongdoing, functioned as a strict disciplinarian and prepared those who responded properly to accept Jesus Christ as the one who could release them from the law and its consequences for disobedience. Focusing on the function of the “pedagogue,” translators have variously rendered the apostle’s words, “the law was our disciplinarian” (NRSV), “the law was thus put in charge of us” (REB), and “the law was serving as a slave to look after us” (NJB).
The Greek preposition preceding Christ is eis, basically meaning “into.” It can also mean “to,” “until,” or “for,” and translators vary in their renderings. A number of modern translations emphasize the time element—“until Christ.” Others render the preposition as “to” and “for.” Since the result to which Paul pointed (“so that out of faith we might be justified”) does not focus on the time element, “until” does not appear to be the preferable rendering of eis. While “to” is an acceptable meaning, it requires the addition of “to lead,” and Paul’s words do not stress Christ’s role as teacher. The thought expressed is not that of a pedagogue leading individuals to the real teacher—Christ. Accordingly, “for” may convey the best sense. The law served “for” Christ. Its intent, purpose, or objective was to point to him.
Persons who were fully convinced of their sin and the hopelessness of being divinely approved through personal effort or merit were moved to embrace the only means for gaining the righteous standing with God that they so greatly desired. Their being “justified” or declared “guiltless” would be “out of faith,” or would have its source in faith. By putting their full faith or trust in or reliance on Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sin made possible through his sacrificial death, they were justified or put right with God.
Note: The majority of manuscripts support the reading gégonen (has come to be, has become), whereas P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus read egéneto (came to be, became).
The role of the pedagogue is temporary. Calling attention to this fact, Paul noted: “Now [that] the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a pedagogue.” The arrival of the faith is to be linked with the coming of Jesus as the promised Messiah or Christ. He is the object of this faith or unqualified trust. As soon as individuals could be justified by their faith in Jesus Christ, the law had served its purpose. It was no longer needed as a strict supervisor and disciplinarian, convincing those under its guidance of their guilt and utter helplessness with reference to meriting divine favor. A pedagogue (as was the law) suited the needs of children, but did not have a place in the lives of responsible adult sons.
Pointing to the relationship with God that had been made possible through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul wrote: “For you are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus.” The conjunction gár (for) introduces a reason for not being under a pedagogue, which reason is that believers enjoy the standing of fully responsible, approved “sons of God.” Instead of remaining condemned sinners, all (not just a few or a select group) who put faith in Jesus Christ are forgiven of their sins and granted this noble standing. The “faith” of these believers is an absolute trust in Jesus Christ and the value of his sacrifice applied in their behalf.
In P46 (c. 200) the definite article tés is missing, but it is to be found in other ancient manuscripts. Its inclusion or omission, however, is immaterial to the meaning of the text.
Instead of en Christó Iesoú (in Christ Jesus) supported by the majority of ancient manuscripts, P46 (c. 200) reads Christoú Iesoú (“of Christ Jesus”). The expression písteos (faith) Christoú Iesoú denotes the faith that has Christ Jesus as its object and, therefore, does not differ significantly from the reading “faith in Christ Jesus.”
Regarding these “sons of God,” the apostle continued: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” The plural Greek word hósoi may be translated “all” or “as many as.” Since the Greek verb for “baptized” is a second person plural, hósoi is restricted to those addressed, requiring the rendering “all of you,” or “as many of you.” Water baptism or immersion is the outward symbol of baptism into Christ. To be baptized into Christ signifies becoming part of his congregational body, being incorporated with all the other sons of God into a unity with Christ as head.
The Greek term endyo means “to put on,” or “to clothe.” All who are “baptized into Christ” “put on” or “clothe” themselves with Christ in the sense that they reflect what he is. They take on the characteristics and the standing of Jesus Christ. As he is the Son of God, so they are sons of God. In attitude, speech, and conduct, they are like Jesus Christ. Thus, the conjunction gár (for) serves to introduce why all having genuine faith in Jesus Christ are sons of God. The reason is: they have “put on Christ.”
Pointing to what all believers enjoy, Paul wrote: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor freeman, there is not male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In connection with rights and privileges in the first century, a tremendous gulf separated Jew from Greek, slave from freeman, and male from female. These fleshly distinctions resulted in marked inequality.
At the temple in Jerusalem, uncircumcised non-Jews (Greeks being representative of this group) were not permitted to pass through the openings in the stone barrier that separated the Court of the Gentiles from the Court of Women. While Israelite women could go beyond the stone barrier, they were prohibited from entering the Court of Israel. Only ceremonially clean males could do so.
In the Roman world, the slave was regarded as a thing, not as a person. His master had absolute control over him and could treat him as he pleased.
Paul’s words, however, emphasize that fleshly distinctions had absolutely no bearing on the spiritual standing the individual could enjoy. Race, social condition, and sex were no barrier to a person’s becoming a full-fledged son of God. In the spiritual family, there are not two distinctly different kinds of children—male and female. All are “sons of God.” Accordingly, as the apostle wrote, “there is not male and female.” Unlike the two previous combinations, which are joined by a contrasting oudé (meaning “nor” in this case), the terms “male” and “female” are linked by kaí (and).
The weight of manuscript evidence favors heis, the masculine form of the Greek word for “one.” This is indicative of one corporate whole, or one person. Genuine believers are “one in Christ Jesus,” inseparably united to him as their head. Because of their forming a corporate whole, all enjoy spiritual equality. There are no second-rate sons of God. All have been made part of Christ’s body in the same manner.
Pántes (all) has the support of most ancient manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200). Codex Sinaiticus, a later alteration in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, however, read hápantes (all, possibly an intensified form).
P46 (c. 200) reads hymeís este Christoú (you are of Christ), meaning “you belong to Christ.” While a few manuscripts have the neuter form for “one” (hen), the majority include the masculine plural form heis and read, hymeís heís este en Christó Iesou (you are one in Christ Jesus).
Identifying the true seed of Abraham, Paul continued: “But if you are Christ’s, you are indeed Abraham’s seed, heirs according to [the] promise.” As the apostle had shown earlier, the seed of Abraham is Christ (3:16). So all who belong to Christ—those whom he acknowledges as his own and incorporated into his body—are part of Abraham’s seed. By reason of their faith in God’s Son, the Galatian believers became true children of Abraham. Therefore, they were in line to inherit everything that is embraced in the promise made to Abraham (3:7). No legalistic keeping of the law had put the Galatian believers in the position of heirs. As the apostle expressed it, their being heirs was “according to the promise.”
Further emphasizing the changed status of full sonship, Paul wrote: “Now I say [that for] whatever time the heir is a babe, he differs [in] nothing [from] a slave, [though] being lord of all [things].”
In this case, the Greek conjunction dé (but) apparently does not introduce a contrast and so may be translated “now.” The word links what the apostle said before with another illustration of the same basic point.
As evident from the context, the term “babe” (népios) is not limited to the brief period of infancy. Instead, it describes the state of the heir during the entire period of his minority. While a minor, the heir is treated as a subordinate. In this respect, he differs in nothing from a slave or bondservant (doúlos). By reason of his being the heir, the minor is “lord” or “owner” of “everything” (plural of the Greek pás, all). Nevertheless, as a minor, he is not permitted to exercise the authority of an owner or lord.
Paul continued: “But he is under guardians and stewards until the time set by the father.” The conjunction “but” (allá) indicates a strong contrast. Slaves commonly filled the positions of guardians and stewards. Therefore, the heir, though lord, is actually subservient to slaves. In view of the tremendous contrast between the state of lordship and that of subordination, the conjunction allá is most appropriate.
“Guardian” translates the Greek term epítropos (epí, [upon] and trépo, [turn or direct]). The basic meaning of this word suggests that the “guardians” had the authority to direct and guide the minor. “Stewards,” on the other hand, were “house administrators,” caring for the property or the estate. The Greek term for steward (oikonómos) is a compound of oíkos (house) and nómos (law). Accordingly, both as to his person and his inheritance, the heir could not exercise independent authority until the time that his father had previously set.
Evidently the apostle’s illustration was based on a legal arrangement with which the Galatians were familiar. The father had the authority to determine just when the son would be old enough to assume the full responsibilities of an adult and the management of the inheritance. The Greek word having the sense of “time set” is prothesmía (before appointed; pró [before] and títhemi [appoint, set, place, put, ordain, establish]) and refers to a time fixed in advance.
Applying the illustration, Paul wrote: “Thus, also we, when we were babes, were enslaved to the elements of the world.” In view of the apostle’s previous reference to the Mosaic law, the word “we” (hemeís) evidently is to be understood as referring to him and his fellow Jews. While “babes,” or in their minority, they did not enjoy the dignified status of adult sons. Instead, they were subject “to the elements of the world.” Commonly rendered “to,” the preposition hypo (under) points to being under authority.
The Greek word for “element” (stoicheíon) appears to designate something that is a part of a row or series. A related term (stoíchos) denotes “row” and is drawn from the verb steícho, meaning “to march in line.” The expression stoicheíon was used to designate the letters of the alphabet and those which formed a word. Thus, the plural of stoicheíon conveys the thought of “rudiments,” “elements,” or the “ABCs.” The Mosaic law, with its focus on animal sacrifices and a material altar and sanctuary, belonged to the “world” (kósmos; see Hebrews 9:1, where the adjective kosmikós [worldly] is used with reference to the material sanctuary).
Under the law arrangement, the Jews were treated as minors, subject to the ABCs or only the basic elements of the fullness of the truth that was to be revealed through Jesus Christ. (Colossians 2:17; Hebrews 8:5; 10:1) Since the law was binding, the apostle could speak of being in servitude or “enslaved” to the “elements of the world.” The state of servitude contrasts sharply with that of full freedom as sons.
Note: Manuscripts vary in using either hémen (we were; active voice) or hémetha (we were; middle voice, indicative of sharing in the results of the action). This difference does not affect translation.
Pointing to the time for the change from a condition of enslavement to freedom, Paul continued: “When, however, the fullness of the time came, God sent his Son, [who] came to be out of a woman [and] under law.”
The “fullness of the time” designates the time determined beforehand by God for the sending of his Son to the earth. When Jesus Christ arrived on the earthly scene, the Jews were awaiting the Messiah (Luke 3:15), suggesting that the prophecy of Daniel, with its specific time features, may have provided the basis for their expectation. (Daniel 9:25, 26) With the coming of God’s Son to the earth, no more time needed to pass. The allotted time for waiting in the state of minority was completely “filled up.” While on earth, Jesus was fully a man, for he came to be out of a woman, Mary. As the son of Mary, he was a born Jew and subject to the Mosaic law.
Commenting on what Jesus was able to accomplish by reason of being “out of a woman” and “under law,” Paul added, “in order that he might redeem those under law so that we might receive the sonship.”
The apostle used hína twice. This conjunction initially introduces the purpose for Jesus’ coming to be “out of a woman” and “under law,” and so has the sense of “in order that.” The second occurrence points to the result of the redemption (the receiving of sonship) and thus can appropriately be rendered “so that” or “that.” As evident from the context, the law is the Mosaic law and, therefore, those under it or subject to its requirements were the Jews. As a perfect man under the law, Jesus flawlessly lived up to it. So he could take upon himself the penalty for disobedience—death—and thereby purchase freedom for those who were under the condemnation of the law. The Greek word exagorázo, commonly rendered “redeem,” literally means to “buy out.” Bound by the law and yet condemned by it as sinners unable to live up to its requirements, the Jews found themselves in a hopeless state of slavery. (John 8:34) By dying sacrificially in the place of condemned sinners, Jesus Christ bought them out of this state of slavery. Nevertheless, only those who responded in faith to this loving provision benefited. (John 8:31, 32, 35, 36)
Sonship was granted to those who accepted Jesus as the Son of God who died sacrificially for them. When using the first person plural verb apolábomen, meaning “we might receive,” Paul doubtless meant to include both Jewish and non-Jewish believers, not limiting the bestowal of sonship to those who had been “under law.” The Greek word for “sonship” is huiothesía and signifies an “adoption as son.”
Focusing on sonship, the apostle continued: “Now that you are sons, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father.’”
The Greek word dé (often meaning “but”) is not introducing a contrast. Since the apostle is building on the point about sonship, the word “now” is an appropriate rendering.
In Greek, the term hóti can denote either “that” or “because.” Rendering hóti as “that” points to the receiving of the Son’s spirit as a proof of sonship, whereas translating the term as “because” indicates the reason for receiving that spirit. A number of modern translations are explicit in conveying the sense of proof. “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts.” (NAB; see also REB and TEV.) Other translations, however, render hóti as “because.” Since, however, the apostle already established that believers have been adopted as sons, the preferable meaning for hóti appears to be “that.”
As the Christ and the Son of God, Jesus possessed the fullness of his Father’s spirit. In fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, God’s spirit was upon him, and the miracles Jesus performed proved that he was indeed the Son of God. (Matt. 12:28; John 5:36; 10:37, 38). Because of his having the spirit of his Father in all its fullness, that spirit belongs to him. Thus, believers can be spoken of as having the spirit of God’s Son sent into their hearts.
The “heart” is representative of the deep inner self. Since the spirit has profoundly influenced the inmost self of believers, establishing their identity as God’s sons, it is the compelling power behind the outcry, “Abba, Father.” Jesus Christ is quoted as using this very expression when praying with great intensity on the final night of his earthly life. (Mark 14:36)
The transliterated Semitic designation appearing in the Greek text, abbá, means “father.” It imitates one of the first, simple sounds a baby makes and therefore can convey the intimacy, submission, trust, and affection of a young child when saying “papa” or “daddy.” The word abbá is followed by ho patér (literally “the Father”). Since the words ho patér are evidently not added to explain the meaning of abbá, the expression may be regarded as vocative and so could be rendered “O Father.” The designation “Father” could appropriately express the believer’s relationship to God as a son and the privileges and responsibilities associated therewith.
Though missing in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the words ho theós are found in nearly all other extant Greek manuscripts.
In P46 (c. 200), the words toú huiou (of the Son) are missing. Because of the preponderance of other manuscript evidence, however, there is reason to believe that the words are part of the original text.
The oldest manuscripts (P46, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, and Codex Alexandrinus) support the reading hemón (our), whereas the majority of more recent manuscripts read hymon (your).
Focusing on sonship, Paul continued: “Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son; and since a son, also an heir through God.” The apostle initially addressed the Galatian believers collectively, using the second person plural verb este (in verse 6), meaning “you are.” Then, evidently drawing attention to the individual standing of the believer, Paul employed the second person singular verb ei (you are), the singular “slave” or “bondservant” (doúlos), and the singular “son” (huiós). Upon becoming believers both Jews and non-Jews were set free from enslavement to sin and an arrangement of servitude to rules and regulations. Hence, the individual believer is “no longer” or “not still” (oukéti, a term indicating that what has been the case up to a certain point is so no longer) a slave. The great contrast between the position of slave and son is suggested by the word “but” (allá, a stronger term of contrast than dé, which also can be translated “but”).
The coordinating conjunction hóste (therefore, as a result of, or accordingly) links what Paul wrote about the sending of the spirit into the heart and the resultant outcry, “Abba, Father.” That outcry undeniably establishes the status of the believer.
Paul’s next statement builds on what sonship includes. Because there is no indication of contrast, the coordinating conjunction dé (but) here evidently means “and” or “now,” not “but.” In view of the apostle’s reference to the status of “son” as a fact, the word ei apparently does not have the conditional sense of possibility (if) but is to be understood as meaning “since.” A son, not a slave, customarily received the inheritance. So, because of being a son, the believer is also an heir, entitled to all the rights and privileges associated with the covenant promise made to Abraham.
According to the earliest manuscript evidence, being an heir is “through God.” It is the Father who has accepted the believer as his Son and thus also constituted the individual as an heir. (Note also the seeming link to verse 2, where the reference is to the “time set by the father.”)
The majority of manuscripts read ei (you are), but two ninth-century manuscripts omit this word.
Among the manuscripts attesting the words kleronómos diá theoú (“heir through God”) are P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Many later manuscripts read kleronómos theoú diá Christoú (“heir of God through Christ”). Other variants found in manuscripts include kleronómos mén theoú synkleronómos dé Christoú (heir indeed of God, but fellow heir of Christ [much like Romans 8:17]), kleronómos diá theón (heir because of God), kleronómos diá Christoú (“heir through Christ”), and kleronómos theoú diá Iseoú Christoú (“heir of God through Jesus Christ”).
Directing his attention to the non-Jewish believers, Paul wrote: “But then, indeed, not knowing God, you slaved for those who by nature are not gods.” The coordinating conjunction allá (but) points to the great contrast between the condition of sonship and the former state of not even knowing God. In this case, the Greek word for “know” is oída (perceive, recognize, or know), not ginósko, which can include the sense of having a relationship with someone. To the non-Jews, the true God was completely unknown and unrecognized. (The Greek particle mén [indeed, in fact] apparently serves to emphasize their former condition of being without knowledge of the true God.) Their gods, on the other hand, were mere figments of human imagination—unrealities. These deities were by “nature” (physis) or in actuality no gods. Therefore, when conforming to the humanly prescribed rituals that honored nonexistent deities, the Galatians had slaved for those who were no gods at all.
Developing his point further, Paul appealed to the Galatians’ sense of reasoning: “But [dé] now [nyn] having come to know God—or [dé] rather having come to be known by God—how can you again turn to the weak and poor elements to which you are again willing to be enslaved anew?”
The conjunction dé (but) introduces a contrast to the former state of ignorance, whereas nyn (“now”) points to the existing condition of knowing God. Although the expressions oída and ginósko both mean “know” and can be employed synonymously (see John 8:55), Paul’s use of ginósko may be significant, as this term can include (though not necessarily) the thought of relationship with someone. (Matthew 7:23; compare Acts 19:15, where no relationship is implied by the word ginósko.) The Galatians had indeed come to know God as the “living and true God” and as their Father. This, however, occurred because God drew them to himself through Christ on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice. (John 6:44; Titus 2:11–14) Therefore, the apostle evidently clarified his initial statement, introducing the point about the Galatians having come to be known by God with the words mállon dé (rather but). It was not the Galatians who had taken the initiative in coming to know God. Only through his favor did they receive his recognition as sons. The fact that the Galatians had come to be known by the living and true God made it even more serious for them to return to the kind of slavery to which they had been subject when serving nonexistent gods according to humanly devised regulations and ceremonies.
As in verse 3, the “elements,” “rudiments,” or “ABCs” evidently designate the legal requirements of the law. While the Galatians had never been in servitude to the Mosaic law, they did observe certain prescribed ordinances and rituals to gain the favor of nonexistent gods. Thus, when willingly taking upon themselves a yoke of servitude to an unyielding law in an effort to have God’s approval, they would have been returning to an arrangement similar to the one that they had formerly abandoned. It is no wonder, therefore, that the apostle raised the question of how they could do this—and willingly at that.
Paul described the “elements” as “weak and poor.” They were weak in the sense of being completely ineffectual, inadequate, and powerless with reference to gaining a righteous standing before God. These elements were also “poor,” destitute of any potential for supplying true spiritual riches and blessings. The Greek word for poor (ptochós) is descriptive of extreme poverty. Although having enjoyed a state of freedom, the Galatians were willing to become enslaved anew to valueless “elements.”
Focusing on the ritualistic aspect of the enslavement, Paul wrote: “You are observing days and months and times and years.” The Greek word for “observing” is parateréo, an intensified form of teréo. Combined with pará (beside), teréo is indicative of a careful or close watching, the object of the watching or observing being in the proximity. Accordingly, the Galatians were closely, carefully, or scrupulously observing days, months, times, and years. They did so with the objective of gaining divine approval.
Having willingly placed themselves under the yoke of the Mosaic law, the Galatians evidently adopted the seventh day as the Sabbath. Because the first day of each Jewish month was a festival day (the new-moon festival), they doubtless made this a day of special observance and thus kept months.
The Greek word for “time” (kairós) also means “season.” Under the Mosaic law, the prescribed three annual festivals were closely associated with the seasons. Passover and the subsequent festival of unleavened bread came in early spring, at the start of the barley harvest. Pentecost or the festival of weeks coincided with the beginning of the wheat harvest in late spring. The festival of booths was celebrated in the fall, at the end of the major part of the agricultural year. By then, grapes, dates, and figs had usually been harvested. The “seasons” the Galatians observed apparently are to be linked to the Jewish festivals.
Insufficient time had passed between Paul’s visit and the writing of the letter for the Galatians to have kept “years.” Nevertheless, their willingness to submit to the law indicated that they would be treating certain years as special.
In itself, there was nothing improper about keeping the Sabbath or other days prescribed by the Mosaic law. Obligatory observance of special days with a view to gaining divine approval, however, was wrong, as it constituted a denial of the truth that faith in Jesus Christ was the sole basis for attaining an approved standing before God.
In view of the spiritually hurtful developments among the Galatians, Paul said: “I fear for you, that somehow I have labored in vain for you.” The apostle was afraid or filled with apprehension. In Greek, the word “you” is in the accusative case and, in combination with the verb, could be rendered, “I am afraid of you.” This, however, evidently is not the sense of the Greek. Paul was not afraid of the Galatians but feared on their account or for them. His concern was for their spiritual welfare. The Greek verb for “labor” (kopiáo) can signify “hard work” or “toil.” In the Septuagint, this term often has the sense of wearying or exhausting laboring. The preposition eis (into [but here having the sense of “for”]) indicates that the Galatians were the object of Paul’s efforts. Despite his diligent efforts, the danger existed that he had expended himself fully on their behalf “in vain” or for nothing. By adopting a perversion of the evangel, the Galatians would experience spiritual harm, counteracting the wholesome effect of Paul’s labors for them.
Paul appealed to the Galatians: “Brothers, I implore you, become as I [am], because I also [am] as you [are]. You did not wrong me.” In the Greek text, the words, “brothers, I implore you,” do not appear at the start of the sentence. Since, however, the words that follow do not constitute a request, the beseeching evidently relates to the preceding plea, “become as I [am]…” Even though the Galatians had erred seriously, the apostle still regarded them as his brothers and, hence, fellow sons of God.
The Greek word for “implore” (déomai) often implies an urgent petitioning on account of need. In view of his great apprehension for them, Paul begged the Galatians to take corrective action. His plea evidently was that they become as he then was—free from scrupulous law observance in an impossible effort thereby to prove himself righteous before God. The apostle understood fully what it meant to be under the yoke of the law and the contrasting state of freedom as a son of God, justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Because verbs are missing in the Greek text, translators commonly insert present tense English verbs, representing Paul as saying that he, though a Jew, was like the non-Jewish Galatians in not being subject to the requirements of the Mosaic law. Since, however, the Galatians had willingly placed themselves under the law, perhaps Paul was referring to a past situation. Kenneth Wuest, for example, translated the apostle’s words, “because I also became as you were.” According to this rendering, the apostle became free of the law as had been the case with the non-Jewish Galatians before they yielded to the influence of false teachers. Still another possibility is that Paul could be saying that he used to be what the Galatians had become by willingly submitting themselves to the law, requiring that they heed his appeal to change and again become free of the law as he was.
Seemingly, with reference to the past, Paul said of the Galatians, “You did not wrong me.” The Greek verb for “do wrong” is adikéo, which may also be defined as “treat wrongly” or “unjustly.” This may mean that the Galatians had not wronged the apostle in the past, but treated him with the greatest kindness. In harmony with their past noble spirit, he supplicated them again to become as he was. Perhaps Paul meant to imply that, although the Galatians had not treated him in the wrong way formerly, they then did so or should not do so. Another possibility is that the Galatians were hurting themselves, not the apostle. If the reference to the past (“You did not wrong me”) implies that the attitude of the Galatians had changed toward the apostle, it appears more likely that he would have regarded this development more as an injury to the Galatians and the cause of Christ than as a personal wrong.
Commenting on his physical condition at the time he first preached to the Galatians, Paul wrote: “You know, in fact, that because of an illness of the flesh I proclaimed the evangel to you the first time.”
Because the conjunction dé (but) does not introduce a contrast, a number of modern translations do not use any equivalent term in their renderings. In this case, the word dé may have the sense of “indeed” or “in fact.”
The Greek expression for “illness” (asthéneia) is descriptive of any kind of weakness or infirmity. Because the word is in the accusative case, translators commonly take the phrase hóti di’ asthéneian to mean “that because of an illness.” While the preposition diá, when used with the accusative, can mean “through,” and has thus also been rendered here (KJV), this would not be the usual significance. Elsewhere in Paul’s letters, when the meaning of diá is definitely “through,” the term is followed by words in the genitive, not in the accusative, case. (See, for example, 2 Corinthians 6:7, 8.) Even in Luke 17:11, where diá means “through,” manuscript evidence varies regarding the case of the word that follows, “midst” (mésou [genitive], méson [accusative]). If the meaning is “through” (an exception to common use in Paul’s letters), the apostle would be saying that he was physically ill while preaching to the Galatians. When, however, the apostle’s words are understood to denote “on account of an illness,” the emphasis would be on the circumstance that was responsible for his being and preaching in Galatia—his illness. This would suggest that Paul’s affliction prevented him from going to another region. The sickness, infirmity, or weakness is described as being “of the flesh,” that is, of a bodily or physical nature.
To indicate when he proclaimed the evangel in his afflicted state, Paul used the words tó próteron, signifying “the former,” “the previous,” or “the first” time. If the apostle had preached in Galatia on one occasion only, his thus specifying the time of his activity would have been unnecessary.
Regarding the response of the Galatians to him, the apostle said, “and your test in my flesh, you did not despise nor reject, but you received me like an angel of God, like Christ Jesus.” Paul’s affliction evidently was so severe that its effect on his “flesh” or physical organism made his bodily condition a test or trial to the Galatians. This may mean that the illness caused the apostle’s physical appearance to be repulsive. If so, the Galatians could have found it difficult to listen to a man whose affliction was of a nature that gave rise to feelings of revulsion. Moreover, the infirmity may have prompted the question of how a teacher of truth could be so terribly afflicted. In any event, the test to the Galatians would have been whether to accept a physically afflicted man as being in God’s service and ultimately, therefore, whether to embrace his message as the truth. According to the reading of other ancient manuscripts (including P46 from about 200), however, the affliction was a trial for Paul. In keeping with the alternate reading, W. J. Conybeare rendered the apostle’s words, “the bodily infirmity was my trial.”
Regarding what the Galatians did not do, Paul used two very strong terms—exouthenéo and ekptyo. The word exouthenéo is a compound of ex (out) and oudeís (nothing, nobody, or worth nothing) and means “account as nothing,” “hold in contempt,” or “despise.” A literal meaning of ekptyo is “spit out.” The term, therefore, signifies a rejection that is coupled with disdain or disgust. The kind of treatment that might be experienced by one who was terribly afflicted is revealed in the words of suffering Job: “They abhor me, they stand aloof from me, they do not hesitate to spit in my face.” (Job 30:10, NAB)
The Galatians, however, accepted the apostle as a person who was divinely appointed and a proclaimer of truth. Paul made the contrast distinct by using the conjunction allá (but), a stronger term than dé (often meaning “but”).
Although the Greek word ángelos can refer either to an angel or a human messenger, most translators favor the rendering “angel.” Paul, of course, was a messenger of God. Therefore, the meaning “angel” evidently is preferable, especially since Jesus Christ is greater than the angels. The Galatians accepted the apostle not just as an angel of God, but as the Lord Jesus Christ himself. This indicates that they welcomed and accorded him the highest regard. They were genuinely concerned about his welfare and eagerly embraced the truth that he proclaimed.
The reading hymón (your) is supported by fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus; P46 (c. 200), however, reads mou (my). In addition to moú, the majority of later manuscripts also add the dative tón, meaning “which” in this context (which in my flesh). Still other manuscripts include neither hymón nor mou, but tón only.
Although having overwhelming manuscript support, the words oudé exeptysate (nor despise; nor treat with contempt) are missing in P46 (c. 200).
In view of the Galatians’ change in attitude on account of the influence of false teachers, Paul raised the question: “Where, then, [is] your happiness?” Evidently they experienced great “happiness” because of the apostle’s labors in their midst and found delight in ministering to his needs. This former joy had manifestly ceased to exist, prompting the apostle to ask them what had happened to it. That their happiness included coming to the apostle’s aid is indicated by his next words: “For I bear you witness that, if possible, [after] gouging out your eyes, you would have given [them] to me.” Although the Greek literally reads, “I bear witness to you,” the attestation or favorable witness was about the Galatians and not testimony directed to them. A number of translations simply read, “I can testify.”
If the Galatians could have brought relief to Paul from his distressing affliction, they, regardless of any great personal sacrifice involved, would have done so. Because the eyes are specifically mentioned in the context of the apostle’s infirmity, the view has been advanced that he suffered from an extreme eye affliction. There is, however, no clear evidence in the apostle’s other letters or in the book of Acts to confirm this. Therefore, it appears preferable to regard the “eyes” as meaning something that is very dear, precious, and irreplaceable. Accordingly, Paul could testify that the Galatians would have been willing to undertake anything within their power to help him, no matter how difficult or costly it might have been.
The word poú (where) is found in P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. Many other more recent manuscripts read tís (what).
While the oldest extant manuscripts (P46, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus) do not have a verb after oún (then), many later manuscripts include én (was).
The past kindly spirit of the Galatians prompted the apostle to raise another question: “So, have I become your enemy [for] speaking truth to you?” The apostle’s first word, hóste, is an indicator of result and may be rendered “so,” “therefore,” “consequently,” or “accordingly.” By giving ear to false teachers, the Galatians were actually rejecting the truth that Paul had declared to them. This also meant that they no longer regarded him as a trustworthy friend. As Paul’s question indicated, his speaking the truth was the reason for the change in attitude toward him.
Unlike English, Greek has a verb form for “truth.” This Greek term (aletheúo) signifies to communicate, speak or tell the truth. Paul’s use of aletheúo here manifestly relates to his proclamation of divine truth—the genuine “good news.”
Regarding the false teachers, the apostle observed: “They show great interest in you, [though] not [in a] good [way], but they want to exclude you in order that you may show great interest in them.” Paul’s words indicate that the false teachers had no real concern for the Galatians. The words, “show great interest in,” are a rendering of the verb zelóo, which in its basic sense means “to be jealous.” In this context, however, the word denotes “be greatly concerned about,” “show great interest in,” “to be the object of another’s zeal.” There was nothing commendable about the zealous attention that the false teachers were giving to the Galatians. It was not “good,” fine, right, honorable, or proper.
Regarding the desire of these false teachers, Paul used the word ekkleío, meaning “exclude,” or “shut out.” Although the apostle does not mention from what or whom they wanted to “exclude” the Galatians, possibly the implied thought is that these false teachers desired to shut them off from all who upheld the truth and were genuinely concerned about their spiritual welfare. By thus excluding or isolating the Galatians, the false teachers wanted to get their complete attention. It was their objective to be regarded as spiritual guides, occupying the position of an exclusive spiritual authority. They selfishly sought to be the sole object of the Galatians’ “great interest,” “concern,” or “zealous seeking.” When referring to what the false teachers wanted for themselves, Paul again used the verb zelóo.
Note: A number of manuscripts do not end the sentence with zeloúte, but read zeloúte dé tá kreítto charísmata (may be zealous [for] the greater gifts). This addition probably arose from copyists’ familiarity with 1 Corinthians 12:31.
To show the Galatians that he was not jealous because they had become the object of others’ “great concern,” Paul wrote: “But good [it is] to be shown great interest in good always, and not only when I am present with you.”
The apostle used the conjunction dé (but) to contrast the ignoble attention of false teachers with the proper concern. It was “good”, right, or proper at all times for the Galatians to be “shown great interest” (zelóo; see the previous verse). The apostle, however, specified that being the object of great concern must be within proper limits. He used the expression en kaló (in good), which may be understood to mean “in a good or commendable thing or way,” “for a good purpose” (NRSV), or “for good reason” (NAB). The attention given must be rightly motivated, based on genuine concern for the welfare of those to whom it is directed. Never is there a time when it is wrong to manifest such great concern for others. Paul, therefore, added the modifying adverb pántote, meaning “always” or “at all times.”
The apostle did not want to be regarded as the only one who genuinely cared about the Galatians, requiring his personal presence for them to experience being the object of someone’s zealous attention. Rather, he desired that the Galatians be the object of others’ noble concern at all times, not just when he could be with them in person.
A number of translations, though, render the apostle’s words in such a way that the Galatians are the ones being encouraged to manifest the proper zeal. “It is always good to give your attention to something worthwhile, even when I am not with you.” (CEV) “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you.” (NIV). The contrast with the previous verse, however, makes it preferable to understand Paul’s words to refer to zealous attention being given to the Galatians.
Moved by great love for the Galatians, Paul continued, “My little children, [for] whom I am again in labor pains until Christ is formed in you.”
The expression tekníon, a diminutive of téknon (child), means “little child.” (Ancient manuscripts vary, with plural forms of either word [tékna (children) or teknía (little children)] being used.) By reason of his having been instrumental in their becoming Christ’s disciples, Paul was a spiritual father to the Galatians. In addressing them as “my little children,” or “my children,” the apostle revealed the close relationship he had with them. His affection for them was like that existing between a loving, caring father and his children.
So great was Paul’s concern for the Galatians and so keenly distressing to him was their spiritual plight that he spoke of “again” being in labor pains for them. He used the Greek verb odíno, which denotes experiencing the pain of childbirth. The apostle had given fully of himself when he first aided the Galatians to become disciples of God’s Son. They were the object of Paul’s loving care and attention during their development as spiritual babes, drawing heavily on his strength. The anxious care Paul felt for them as the evangel initially began to affect the Galatians was comparable to the pain of childbirth. Because they had come under the influence of false teachers and their spiritual development was in jeopardy, Paul experienced the same distress or anxious concern and therefore spoke of “again” experiencing labor pains. Since the verb odíno is in the present tense, this indicates that his distress continued.
For the apostle, relief from anxious concern would not come “until,” as he wrote, “Christ is formed in you.” Only as mature disciples of God’s Son would the Galatians properly reflect what he is. Christ’s example and teaching would thus be the sole guiding principle of their life. Their thoughts, words, and actions would be those of their Lord, for they would have his mind. By reason of their oneness with Christ, he would be a part of the Galatians’ inmost selves, influencing every aspect of their lives, and thus be fully “formed” in them.
Revealing his great concern for the Galatians and indicating how difficult it was for him to understand what had happened to them, Paul continued: “But I would like to be with you now and to change my tone, because I am perplexed about you.”
The conjunction dé (but) may serve to contrast the apostle’s being a considerable distance from the Galatians and his unrealizable desire to be with them in person. His circumstances apparently prevented him from immediately going to Galatia. When speaking of his desire, Paul used the verb thélo in the imperfect tense, evidently indicative of a desire that, though felt, could not be fulfilled. Paul very much would have wanted to be with the Galatians in person. The infinitive pareínai (which he used) signifies “to be present,” and is the same expression found in verse 18. Adding immediacy to his unfulfilled desire, the apostle employed the adverb árti (now).
Prompted by great love and concern for them, Paul had used very strong language in an effort to bring the Galatians to their senses. Therefore, his reference to “changing” his “tone,” literally “voice” (phoné), may point to his adopting a milder manner when speaking to the Galatians.
Evidently the apostle sees himself as being personally with the Galatians and changing the tenor or tone from that reflected in his letter. His being in their presence would have enabled him to ascertain firsthand how they had individually been affected by false teaching and then to observe their reaction to his admonition. Apparently Paul believed that the Galatians would respond favorably, making it possible for him to use a milder approach than he had in his letter.
As to his reason for wanting to be with them and change his tone, the apostle said, “I am perplexed about you.” The Greek verb for “perplex” (aporéo) is a combination of a negative prefix and a verb form of the noun póros, meaning “way.” So the word literally signifies “without a way” and may be defined as “at a loss” or “perplexed.” Paul’s being “at a loss” could relate both to his not comprehending how the Galatians could have so quickly deviated from the truth and his not knowing just what to do and say in an effort to help them spiritually.
To arrest their attention and stimulate their thinking, Paul raised a question: “Tell me, those [of you] wanting to be under law, do you not hear the law?” The apostle’s words were specifically directed to all among the Galatian believers who were willing to subject themselves to the requirements of a legal code. This is indicated by his use of the plural hoi, (the ones; here translated “those”) after the imperative expression “tell me” (légeté moi). Evidently, therefore, he recognized that not all the Galatians had been persuaded to place themselves under the demands of law, that is, the Mosaic law.
The import of Paul’s question appears to be: “Do you not actually hear or perceive what is stated in the law?” His question also seems to imply that they had not really “heard,” because if they had, they would not have wanted to be under the Mosaic law. In view of what follows, the designation “law” (nómos) applies to the entire Torah or Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—and not just the commands constituting the legal code.
Note: The word akoúete (hear) has the best manuscript support. A number of manuscripts, however, read anaginóskete (read).
Paul directed attention to the historical account found in Genesis: “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one from the slave [woman] and one from the free [woman].” The conjunction “for” (gár) links the apostle’s previous question to the historical example found in the Torah. Accordingly, the question is really continued and could be understood to convey the following sense: “Because of what is written in the Torah, do those of you wanting to be under law actually hear what the Torah says?”
After the death of Sarah, Abraham did have other sons by Keturah, his concubine. (Genesis 25:1, 2) The apostle, however, focused only on the time when Abraham had but two sons—Ishmael and Isaac. At the request of Sarah, Abraham had relations with her maidservant, Hagar. Thus, “out of” or “from” the slave woman, Abraham came to have a son, Ishmael. Later, his wife gave birth to Isaac. Sarah had never been a slave but was herself the mistress of Hagar. So Paul referred to Sarah as the “free one,” using the feminine form of the word eleútheros.
Calling attention to yet another difference, the apostle continued: “But, in fact, the one from the slave [woman] was begotten according to the flesh, but the one from the free [woman] through a promise.”
Evidently to contrast what he just said about the “free woman,” Paul used a strong indicator of contrast, allá (but). The apostle may also have employed the word mén (see Notes), a term used to express emphasis, contrast, or continuation. It may be understood to mean “in fact,” “indeed” or “on the one hand.” If translated “on the one hand,” the term dé (but), which introduces the thought about the “free woman,” could be rendered “on the other hand” (Wuest).
Although commonly rendered “born,” the verb gennáo often signifies “become father to,” “generate,” or “beget.” It may well have the significance of “beget” in this passage. If so, the begetting “according to the flesh” would mean according to the usual manner of procreation. No divine promise and no miracle were involved in the birth of Abraham’s son by Hagar. Instead, in the procreative process, the usual functioning of the “flesh” or human organism was at work.
The son whom Abraham received “out of” Sarah, the free woman, however, came into existence in a different way. From a physical standpoint, Abraham and Sarah were unable to become parents to a baby boy. The Genesis record reports: “Abraham and Sarah were old, well on in years, and Sarah had ceased to have her monthly periods.” (Genesis 18:11, NJB). Nevertheless, according to the God-given promise conveyed through an angel, Sarah gave birth to a son. (Genesis 18:10–15; 21:1–7; Romans 4:19). Isaac was born “through” or on the basis of a promise. His being conceived, though involving the usual manner of procreation, required a miracle—the reviving of the reproductive powers of Abraham and Sarah. If it had not been for the promise of God, there would have been no miracle, and Sarah would not have given birth to Isaac.
P46 (c. 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus omit mén (in fact, indeed), which is found in the majority of other manuscripts.
P46 is an exception in omitting the word ek (out of, from) in connection with eleútheras (free one).
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and many other later manuscripts have the definite article tés before epangelías (promise). Among the manuscripts where tés is missing are P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, as well as other later manuscripts.
With reference to the historical facts, Paul then made an application, introducing it with the words, “which [things] are allegorized.” The pronominal adjective hóstis appears in the plural form and may be understood to mean “which things,” or “which class of things,” the reference being to the historical facts to which Paul had pointed. When using the expression “class of things,” translators are able to preserve the singular estin (is). For example, Kenneth S. Wuest renders the words, “which class of things is allegorical.”
The verb allegoréo (allegorize) is a combination of állos (other) and agoreúo (speak in the place of assembly). Paul used the expression to denote a sense other than the literal one. Yet, though using the historical facts to illustrate something else, the apostle presented matters in full harmony therewith. The allegorizing was consistent with historical truth. It did not spring from human ingenuity or fanciful imagination.
At this point, Paul continued with the allegorical explanation, “these are two covenants.” The conjunction gár (for) that is linked to these words does not have the sense of “because” or “since.” This term basically is an indicator of a new sentence. Therefore, though gár could be understood to mean “and,” a number of modern translators simply omit it in their renderings. Being in the feminine gender, the word haútai (“these”) applies to the two women—Hagar and Sarah. These women “are” or “represent” two covenants.
The apostle Paul does not identify which covenant Sarah represents but focuses on Hagar, saying, “one, in fact, from Mount Sinai, bringing forth [children] into slavery, which is Hagar.” Because “one” (mía) is not specifically identified, some translators have added either “woman” or “covenant.” In view of the emphasis on the covenant and its consequences, the preference probably should be given to covenant. Often, mén (indeed, in fact) is left untranslated.
At Mount Sinai, God concluded the law covenant with the nation of Israel, using Moses as the mediator. Because the Israelites, as sinful humans, were unable flawlessly to observe the terms of the covenant, they were condemned by it and exposed as slaves of sin. As Jesus Christ pointed out to the unbelieving Jews who refused to admit their slave status: “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, NRSV). Like Hagar, the law covenant could not produce free children. It could not liberate even one Israelite from enslavement to sin. Thus, as Paul wrote, there was a bringing forth “into slavery.”
Under the terms of the new covenant, however, forgiveness of sin is possible on the basis of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Through Christ, a person could gain the status of a free son. (John 8:36; Hebrews 8:7–12; 10:16–22) Perhaps the apostle regarded Sarah as representing the new covenant. In his letter to the Galatians, however, Paul made no previous reference to the new covenant but highlighted the Abrahamic covenant. According to the promise incorporated in the Abrahamic covenant, blessing would come to peoples other than the natural descendants of Abraham. So there is reason for concluding that Sarah represents the Abrahamic covenant, under which the blessing would be granted to free sons, not slaves. (Galatians 3:16, 29)
Continuing the allegorical explanation regarding Hagar, Paul wrote: “Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the Jerusalem [of] today, for she is enslaved with her children.”
The conjunction dé, commonly meaning “but,” does not introduce a contrast. Therefore, the word may be understood to signify “now.” Numerous manuscripts, however, read gár (“for”), which could here have the sense of “indeed” or “in fact.”
Because the law was given at Mount Sinai, Hagar “is” or represents the eminence that belongs to the earthly sphere in Arabia, an extensive arid region situated to the south and east of Israel. The exact location of Mount Sinai cannot be established with absolute certainty. In the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula, there is a red granite ridge with two peaks—Gebel Musa (Mountain of Moses) and Ras Safsafa. According to the traditional view, Mount Sinai is Gebel Musa. Only in front of Ras Safsafa, however, lies an extensive plain that could have accommodated a large number of people, suggesting that this peak is the more likely site.
The Greek word rendered “and” (preceding the words about Jerusalem) is dé, which often means “but.” Because there is no contrast but a continuation of the thought, “and” appears to give the correct sense.
Common renderings for systoichéo are “correspond” and “represent.” The word consists of the prefix syn (with) and stoíchos (row, line, file), thus denoting “to be in the same line, row, or file.” Hagar, as Paul stated, “corresponds to the Jerusalem of today [nyn, now].” At that time, Jerusalem with its temple served as the Jewish center for worship. As such, the city represented the entire Jewish nation that was subject to the Mosaic law.
Because the inhabitants of a city are the children thereof, the apostle spoke of Jerusalem and her children. The entire nation was bound by the law and exposed by it as sinful. So Jerusalem was not a free city but in bondage, as were her children (the individual members of the nation).
Note: There are a number of variant readings. While many read dé (but), others read gár (for). In certain manuscripts neither dé nor gár are found in the text. Another omission is the name Hagár.
Genuine disciples of Jesus Christ are justified on the basis of faith and cease to be condemned sinners. They are citizens or children of another city, or have another mother. As Paul wrote, “But the Jerusalem above is free, which [city] is our mother.”
The conjunction dé (but) introduces a contrast. Unlike the nation of Israel and the individual members thereof (Jerusalem and her children), the “Jerusalem above” is a free, royal city. In this heavenly city, God reigns by means of his Son. Because the Father and the Son are personally present, the “Jerusalem above” is also the center of pure worship. This holy, royal city is the mother of all believers who are free sons of God. (Compare Hebrews 12:22–24.)
Note: In many manuscripts the word pánton (of all) follows méter (mother), but it is not found in the oldest extant manuscripts—P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.
Backing up his statement, Paul appealed to the Scriptures, “for it is written.” The passage to which he referred is Isaiah 54:1: “Rejoice, barren [woman], the one not giving birth, break forth [in jubilation] and cry aloud, the one not having labor pains, because more [are] the children of the desolate [woman] than of the one having the husband.”
As clearly evident from verses 2 through 8 of Isaiah 54, this prophecy pointed to the time when Jerusalem would be desolated and, eventually, restored to favor. While Jerusalem lay in ruins without any inhabitants, the city proved to be a childless, barren woman. She was then in a state of “rejection.” Prior to this pathetic condition, however, Jerusalem enjoyed the status of a mother with sons, bound as a wife to YHWH by reason of the law covenant. After completing the period of rejection, however, the number of sons would prove to be greater than had been the case during the former time when Jerusalem had a “husband.” (Compare Zechariah 2:1–5; 8:3–8.) Because these sons would be acknowledged by the Most High as his, the fulfillment relates to the time when such sons—true Israelites—would come into being. Such sons would be children of the city of God, the true Jerusalem.
Sarah similarly had long been barren and, when Hagar became pregnant, felt rejected. (Genesis 16:5) Still, the children of the long-barren free woman—Sarah—were to be more numerous than those of the slave woman Hagar. (Compare Genesis 16:10; 17:16; 19, 20.)
Because the main point of Paul’s argument pertains to earthly Jerusalem and her children, the barren woman manifestly is to be understood as the “Jerusalem above,” which long appeared to have no earthly children that could be called free “sons of God.” The situation, though, was to change dramatically, giving rise to the rejoicing foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy. The Greek word for “rejoice” (euphraíno) is a combination of eú (well) and phrén (mind).
After having identified the mother of believers, Paul wrote: “Now you, brothers, according to [the manner of] Isaac, are children of the promise.”
The conjunction dé (but) could be regarded as serving to contrast the children of the woman having the husband with the “children of the promise” Since, however, Paul’s apparent objective in quoting from Isaiah was to point to the “Jerusalem above” as the mother of believers, the word dé may simply be an indicator of continuation and may be rendered “now” or “and.”
Although certain Christians in Galatia had allowed themselves to be influenced by false teachers, the apostle still recognized them as his “brothers,” or fellow sons of God. This is the fourth time in his letter that Paul addressed the Galatians in this way (1:11; 3:15; 4:12), and he continued to do so five more times (4:31; 5:11, 13; 6:1, 18).
Isaac’s birth occurred in fulfillment of God’s promise. Without that promise and the divine miracle needed to bring about its realization, there would have been no Isaac. Similarly, God promised to bless peoples other than the natural descendants of Abraham. To be thus blessed required that they come to enjoy a divinely approved standing—an impossibility for sinful humans. The Most High, however, made possible the fulfillment of the promise by sending his Son to the earth and letting him die sacrificially on behalf of sinners. Through their unconditional acceptance of the divine provision for forgiveness of sins, genuine believers are counted as righteous by God and adopted as his sons. Hence, not on the basis of natural descent from Abraham but by reason of the promise of God, believers have been constituted sons and are blessed accordingly. As in the case of Isaac, their existence as “sons” must be attributed to God’s promise and his loving act in effecting its fulfillment.
Note: The reading hymeís … esté (you are) has the support of P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, as well as other later manuscripts. Many other extant manuscripts, however, read hemeís … esmén (we are). These manuscripts include fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus.
Commenting on the way in which Ishmael treated Isaac and then making an application to unbelievers and believers, Paul said: “But even as then the one begotten according to the flesh persecuted the one [begotten] according to the spirit, so also now.”
The conjunction allá (but) serves to introduce a negative aspect that contrasts with the previously mentioned dignified status of being “children of the promise.”
Ishmael was begotten by Abraham and conceived by Hagar “according to the flesh”—the human function of procreation. No divine promise and no miracle were involved in the birth.
The Greek word for “persecute” (dióko) is in the imperfect tense, suggesting repeated action. Ishmael’s hateful attitude manifested itself fully on the day Isaac was weaned. During the feast Abraham arranged to celebrate this event, Sarah observed teenage Ishmael “playing” (paízo, LXX) with Isaac. Since the incident so disturbed Sarah that she immediately requested Abraham to dismiss Hagar and Ishmael from the household, the “playing” must have taken the form of “jesting,” “jeering,” or “taunting.” (Genesis 21:8–10) Rightly, then, Paul referred to Ishmael as persecuting “the one [begotten] according to the spirit.” Isaac’s birth was miraculous and fulfilled the divine promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a son. The words “according to the spirit” could mean “according to the operation of God’s spirit” that made the birth of Isaac possible. (Regarding “begotten,” see verse 23.)
Paralleling what had occurred in the past with the then-existing situation relative to persecution, Paul simply said, “so also now.” As in the case of Ishmael and Isaac, the unbelieving natural descendants of Abraham persecuted the free sons—believers who had been justified and experienced a new birth through the operation of God’s spirit.
Again pointing to the historical example of Ishmael and Isaac, Paul wrote: “But what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the slave [woman] and her son, for the son of the slave [woman] will not inherit with the son of the free [woman].”
The conjunction allá (but) apparently indicates the great contrast between the seemingly strong position of the persecutor and the final outcome of his being expelled from the household. Paul quoted the words of Sarah directed to Abraham as “Scripture.” Since Abraham acted upon her words in harmony with divine direction, the apostle rightly referred to them as “Scripture” or God’s words. (Genesis 21:10–14). The quotation itself basically corresponds to the extant Septuagint reading of Genesis 21:10. In Genesis, however, Sarah is quoted as saying “the son of me, Isaac” (or, “my son Isaac”). The apostle, in keeping with his argument and the historical facts, identified Isaac as the “son of the free [woman],” Sarah.
Note: Apparently to conform the quotation to the Septuagint, some later copyists changed tés eleuthéras (of the free [woman]) to mou Isaák (of me Isaac)—a reading found in a number of manuscripts.
Having established that genuine believers are sons and thus in line for the inheritance, Paul concluded: “Therefore, brothers, we are not children of a slave [woman], but of the free [woman].” The conjunction dió, may be understood as introducing a summation and here evidently denotes “therefore,” “accordingly,” or “for this reason.” Likewise, the word ára (found in many manuscripts) may be rendered “consequently,” “thus,” or “therefore.”
Though the Galatians had erred, Paul again addressed them as “brothers,” acknowledging them as fellow sons of God. Not bound by the obligations of the law covenant and not under condemnation for failure to live up to its requirements flawlessly, disciples of Jesus Christ are not children of an arrangement represented by the slave woman Hagar. Children of a slave woman would themselves be slaves, not free sons. It may be significant that Paul did not use the definite article with “slave [woman],” as this could suggest that believers are not the children of any enslaving system. The fact that the definite article does precede “free [woman]” lends some weight to this conclusion.
To introduce what believers are, the apostle used the conjunction allá (but) as an indicator of contrast. Without qualification, Paul included all genuine believers as being children of “the free [woman].” They are the free sons of “Jerusalem above,” citizens of the royal city, where “Christ is seated at God’s right hand.” (Colossians 3:1, 4; compare Psalm 2:6–8; 110:1, 2; Acts 2:33, 36; Philippians 3:20.)
Note: The majority of manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200), read ára (therefore). Besides a number of later manuscripts, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus have the word dió (therefore, for this reason). Two other variants are ára oún (for this reason then) and hemeís dé (but we).
In view of their being sons of the “free woman,” Paul admonished the Galatians: “For freedom Christ has freed us. Stand [firm], therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
By laying down his life, Christ made possible a liberation from enslavement to sin. The Son of God did this so that believers might enjoy this marvelous freedom. They are freed to be free, not freed in order to come under another kind of servitude. The definite article in the dative case precedes “freedom” (eleuthería), indicating that this is a specific freedom and not one of a general kind.
If the original text included the conjunction oún (therefore) after stékete (stand), the meaning would be that Christ’s freeing them gives believers the reason for standing firm in their granted freedom. A failure to do so would mean acting contrary to the purpose of what Jesus did at great cost to himself.
The verb stéko can have the literal sense of “stand,” the opposite of “sit.” In this context, however, it has the figurative sense of “standing firm” in the state of freedom.
As former worshipers of false gods, the Galatians engaged in prescribed ceremonies and rituals to placate the deities. So they were subject to an enslaving arrangement. For them willingly to submit themselves to the terms of the Mosaic law would have meant again coming under a yoke. The Greek word that here denotes “to be subject to” or “submit to” is enécho. This word is a combination of en (in) and écho (hold) and literally means to “hold in.” The sense conveyed is that of confinement. Accordingly, Paul urged the Galatians not to allow themselves to become captives.
When under a yoke, an animal is deprived of its freedom and impressed into service. Similarly, slaves often had to carry heavy burdens suspended from yokes borne on their shoulders. In a figurative sense, the word “yoke” (zygós) can refer to anything that obligates or forces an individual to serve. The term is not preceded by a definite article and so could signify any yoke—any arrangement that could result in a position of servitude. In depriving the individual of freedom, the yoke, as Paul said, is a “yoke of slavery.”
Note: For this verse there are a number of variant manuscript readings, including the following: Té eleuthería oún hé Christós hemás eleuthérosen stékete (For the freedom, therefore, for which Christ freed us, stand). While a form of the verb for “free” is found in the majority of manuscripts, one late manuscript (fourteenth or fifteenth century) reads exegórase (purchased, redeemed)
Calling attention to an important truth, Paul wrote: “Look! I, Paul, tell you that, if you get circumcised, Christ will not benefit you.”
The word íde (look) evidently served to get the attention of the Galatians and to stress the vital point that follows. They, of course, knew that Paul had written the letter. Therefore, the words, “I, Paul,” evidently are designed to emphasize Paul’s position as a divinely appointed apostle and thus to add solemnity to his next words.
Circumcision was linked to the Mosaic law. Hence, for the Galatians, as non-Jews, to get circumcised would have indicated their acceptance of the requirements of the law. (Acts 15:1, 5, 10, 11) At the same time, this would have meant adopting the belief that faith in Christ Jesus was insufficient to enjoy the fullness of divine approval. Instead of relying on the divine arrangement through Christ as the sole basis for having a righteous standing before God, the Galatians would have begun depending on their own efforts to prove themselves righteous by trying to live up to the law. Thus, by their course of action, they would have signified that they did not need Christ. As Paul said, “Christ will not benefit you.”
The Greek verb translated “benefit” (opheléo) may also be defined as “aid,” “help,” “be of advantage,” or “be of use.” It is preceded by a strong negative oudén, which may be rendered “absolutely not,” “not at all,” “by no means,” or “in no respect.” Though the Galatians had greatly benefited from Christ, their getting circumcised and taking upon themselves the concomitant obligation to obey the Mosaic law would have meant that the Son of God would no longer be of any benefit, help or advantage to them.
Developing this aspect further, Paul continued: “And I affirm again to every man getting circumcised that he is under obligation to obey the entire law.”
In this context, the conjunction dé apparently does not mean “but.” Evidently being an indicator of continuation rather than contrast, the word may have the sense of “additionally,” “moreover,” or “and.” Because the meaning of Paul’s words remains unchanged when dé is not rendered by an English equivalent indicating continuation, numerous modern versions simply do not incorporate it in their renderings.
The Greek word for “affirm” (martyréo) also denotes “bear witness,” “testify,” or “attest” and, in this context, conveys the sense of “declaring in a solemn way.” Although Paul had not made this exact statement previously, it was implied when he told the Galatians that Christ would be of no benefit at all to them if they got circumcised. The apostle had introduced that important truth in a solemn manner—“I, Paul” (5:2). So, “again” (pálin), or “once more,” he was “attesting,” “affirming,” or “solemnly declaring.”
For any non-Jew to get circumcised would have meant identifying himself with the natural Jews. Circumcision would have constituted a physical sign that he was a Jewish proselyte. When accepting the law’s requirement of circumcision, non-Jews imposed upon themselves the duty to “do” (poiéo) everything commanded in the law. The word rendered “under obligation” is “debtor” (opheilétes). Thus, the one getting circumcised would burden himself with the debt of the “whole” or “entire” law—a debt or obligation that he would be unable to fulfill.
Note: Though missing in a number of manuscripts, the reading palín (again) has overwhelming manuscript support.
Continuing to refer to the serious consequences of such a course, Paul said: “You, who in law are [seeking to be] justified, are separated from Christ; from favor you have fallen.”
To seek to be justified “in law” would mean attempting to gain a righteous standing before God in the realm or sphere of law. This would require flawless observance of everything prescribed therein.
The verb for “justify” (dikaióo) is in the present tense and here, in the form of a second person plural, means “are being justified.” Since, however, actual justification is impossible in the domain of law, Paul’s meaning evidently is “attempting or seeking to be justified.”
The Greek word for “separated” (katargéo) is a combination of katá (down) and argós (idle, inactive, unemployed). It here denotes being in a state of estrangement or separation from Christ—in a domain where he is not active.
Any arrangement that relies on law observance for gaining a righteous standing with God constitutes a rejection of what Christ accomplished by laying down his life sacrificially. Accordingly, the individual attempting to be justified in the realm of law places himself in a domain where Christ’s cleansing work and any relationship with him are nonexistent. One’s having a righteous standing before God is completely outside the sphere of law. The sole basis for justification is faith in Christ Jesus and what he accomplished by sacrificing his life. Because no one work or a combination of efforts can secure an approved standing with God, the arrangement through Christ is an expression of divine favor, kindness, or grace—unearned or unmerited.
The Greek word ekpípto, commonly rendered “fallen away from,” literally means “fall out” (ek, out; pípto, fall). To choose the Mosaic law (and, by extension, any legalistic arrangement) as the means for gaining divine approval signifies to fall or drop out of the sphere of favor and to enter into the realm of legalism.
Highlighting the conviction of genuine believers about justification, Paul wrote: “For we by spirit, out of faith, are eagerly awaiting [the] hope of righteousness.”
Legalism relies on works, not faith. The conjunction gár (for) may be viewed as introducing what contrasts with seeking to be justified “in law” and thus could mean “but.” There is, however, a possibility that gár has the sense of “because” or “on the other hand,” indicating that those seeking to be justified “in law” had “fallen from favor” for the reason that righteousness has its source in faith.
When using the pronoun “we” (hemeís) Paul evidently meant to include all genuine believers and was not using the word editorially.
The word “spirit” (pneúma) is in the dative case, giving it the meaning “by or by means of spirit.” Since the believer’s own spirit, disposition, or inner motivation is not the initial source for the eager awaiting of the “hope of righteousness,” the reference apparently is to God’s spirit. The operation of holy spirit on the believer engenders the hope for and impels a yearning for righteousness. While genuine believers enjoy a righteous standing before God, this is an imputed righteousness only. Their having absolute righteousness or sinlessness is yet future. As in the case of imputed righteousness, faith is the basis for coming into possession of the fullness of righteousness. As Paul said, it is “out of faith,” having its source in unqualified trust in Christ and the divine arrangement for gaining the Father’s approval. Evidently because complete righteousness is a promised future possession, Paul spoke of the “hope of righteousness” or a “hoped-for righteousness” (Wuest).
Being an intensification of déchomai (accept, receive, take,), apekdéchomai conveys the sense of “reaching out in expectation of receiving something” and so may be rendered “eagerly await.” This waiting is made possible because the holy spirit gives rise to the “hope of righteousness” and impels a longing for its realization. Because the fullness of righteousness is future, faith is needed to wait for it and then, finally, to attain it.
Building on his point about the importance of faith, Paul said: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision has power nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love [does].”
The conjunction gár (for) evidently is to be viewed as introducing the reason for waiting “out of faith.” Because of being “in Christ Jesus”—incorporated into the body of which he is the head—circumcised believers have no advantage over uncircumcised ones nor is there greater benefit in being uncircumcised.
In effecting a righteous standing before God, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any power. The Greek verb ischyo denotes “having might or strength.” Preceded by the negative, the word has the sense of “no force,” “no avail,” or “no value.” Since the verb is in the present tense, this indicates that the state of having no strength continues. One’s being circumcised or uncircumcised simply has no bearing on the close union that is enjoyed with Christ Jesus. Neither state has any merit or value.
The individual’s incorporation into the body of Christ has its source in faith—faith in him and what he accomplished by dying sacrificially. Thus, what counts is faith or unqualified trust. Paul introduced the thought about faith with a strong indicator of contrast—allá, meaning “but.” This faith is a powerful motivator, finding its expression in attitudes, words, and deeds that are a product of love. (John 13:34, 35; 1 John 3:16–18) It is “through” (diá) love or by means of love, therefore, that the reality of a genuine faith becomes manifest.
Though contained in the majority of manuscripts, gár (for) is missing from P46 (c. 200).
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus omits Iesoú (of Jesus), but this departs from the reading of the majority of manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200).
Focusing on the past experience of the Galatians, Paul said: “You were running well. Who stopped you from obeying the truth?”
The verb “run” (trécho) here is in the imperfect tense, indicative of past activity in progress. While trécho basically means “run,” the expression can denote to “exert oneself” or to “make progress” (as does a runner). In the past, the Galatians were “running well” or “making good progress.” After Paul proclaimed the evangel, they were convinced that what they heard was the truth, and their way of life began to reflect this. As the evangel continued to have a wholesome effect on their attitudes, words, and deeds, the Galatians were making commendable strides forward.
Good progress in their Christian course, however, had been adversely impacted, giving rise to Paul’s question as to who was responsible for placing an obstacle in their way. The Greek word that may be rendered “stop,” “prevent,” “hinder,” or “obstruct” (enkópto) literally signifies to “cut into” (as if by putting an obstacle in the path or tearing up the road).
The “truth” embraces Christian teaching as a whole, with the primary focus being on God’s Son and what he accomplished through his sacrificial death. Initially, the Galatians had yielded responsively to this truth. Then, some person(s) stopped them from continuing to do so by inducing them to accept a legalistic system instead of relying solely on Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death as the means to have an approved standing before God. The Greek word commonly translated “obey” (peítho) basically signifies to “convince,” “persuade,” or “win over.” In the passive voice (as here), peítho has the sense of “obey,” “heed,” or “yield to.” The fact that here the infinitive form of this verb is in the present tense reveals that the Galatians continued in their failure to obey the truth, particularly as it related to the means by which a righteous standing before God was made possible.
Note: The definite article (before “truth”) té (the) is missing in the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus. It is, however, found in many other manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200).
Drawing attention to the One who was not the source of the change in the Galatians, Paul wrote: “The persuasion [of not obeying the truth] is not from the One calling you.”
The noun peismoné (persuasion) is related to the verb peítho (used in the previous verse and basically meaning “persuade,” “convince,” or “win over”). Thus, there exists a seeming play on words. The failure of the Galatians to obey, as though no longer convinced or persuaded to do so, was not a persuasion that had its source in the One calling them. Paul used the preposition ek, commonly translated “from,” and here is an indicator of source or origin.
As earlier, the apostle does not identify the one doing the calling (1:6). Manifestly, however, Paul meant the Father, the One who had also called him while he was still a persecutor of Christ’s disciples (1:15). The persuasion to which the Galatians had yielded simply was not from God. His call had been an expression of favor—unearned and unmerited. It was independent of any requirement to observe a legal code.
Evidently to illustrate the corrupting influence that had affected the Galatians, the apostle used the proverbial saying: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”
In Paul’s day, fermented dough from a previous baking served as leaven. Adding just a small amount of leaven to a lump of dough ferments the entire batch. Likewise, seemingly insignificant error or a comparatively small number of false teachers can pervert truth. Jesus Christ referred to the false teaching of the Pharisees and others as leaven. (Matthew 16:6, 12; Mark 8:15) Paul’s use of the proverb may apply to the false teachers or to their doctrine. If viewed from the standpoint of teaching, the reference would be to the adulteration of truth. On the other hand, taking the leaven to mean the false teachers would point to the pernicious effect that they (though of insignificant number) could have on an entire body of professing believers.
Note: P46 (c. 200) differs from the majority of manuscripts in omitting the definite article (tó) before phyrama (lump).
The original reading in the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus is doloí (deceives), which departs from the usual zymoí (leavens).
Paul, however, did not believe that genuine disciples of Jesus Christ would experience spiritual ruin. “As for me, I am confident about you in [the] Lord that you will not think otherwise, but the [one] who is upsetting you will bear the condemnation, whoever he may be.
As the opening word, the emphatical egó (I) has the sense of “as for me.” Because his conviction was completely dependent on the Lord, the head of the corporate body composed of all genuine believers, the apostle used the verb peítho (as in 1:10 and 5:7, which see) to express his “feeling sure” or “being confident about [Galatian believers] in the Lord.” Paul had no doubt that Jesus Christ would look out for the spiritual interests of his disciples, safeguarding them from succumbing to faith-destroying influences. (Luke 22:32; John 10:27–29; 17:12)
The apostle did not add a clarifying expression when writing “that you will not think otherwise.” He may have meant (1) deviating from what he had presented in his letter, (2) differing from their initial correct response to the glad tidings he proclaimed, or (3) departing from the truth. In any event, the basic sense is that of not accepting beliefs contrary to what was right.
Paul had earlier used the word tarásso (1:7), which means to “unsettle,” “stir up,” “disturb,” “throw into confusion,” “disquiet,” “upset,” or “perplex,” and indicated that “certain ones” were responsible for unsettling the Galatians. Here, however, the apostle appears to single out the chief and most influential troublemaker. Thereby Paul may have implied that all others who were involved would share in being recipients of condemnatory judgment. The proponent of teaching that conflicted with the glad tidings could not escape condemnation. As the apostle said, he would have to “bear the condemnation” (kríma, [judgment, punishment]).
The words “whoever he may be” could suggest prominence, high social standing, or an elevated position. On the other hand, the expression “whoever he may be” could be regarded as all-embracing—high or low station or rank. Absolutely nothing would shield the troublemaker from experiencing divine condemnation.
After the emphatical egó (I [as for me]), a number of manuscripts read dé (but), including P46 (c. 200).
Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus omits en kyrío (in [the] Lord), thus departing from the usual reading of the text.
Manuscripts vary in reading either eán or án. This variation has no bearing on translation, as both words here function as a conditional particle having the same significance.
Calling attention to his own stand on the matter of circumcision and law observance, Paul said: “But as for me, brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? Then the offense of the cross has been abolished.”
As in the previous verse, the first word in the Greek text is egó. This emphatical “I” denotes “as for me.”
The conjunction dé here evidently means “but.” This term serves to focus on the apostle’s being markedly different from the advocates of circumcision.
Despite the fact that the Galatians had allowed themselves to be unsettled by false teaching, Paul continued to reason with them as his beloved “brothers,” fellow sons of God.
While a fanatical Pharisee, Paul was a promoter of circumcision, insisting that any non-Jews who wanted God’s favor needed to be circumcised and comply with the requirements of the Mosaic law. Certain individuals apparently were contending that, when it suited his purpose, he “still” proclaimed the need for circumcision. They may have supported their claim by pointing to Paul’s circumcising Timothy, who was from Lystra and therefore well known in congregations of the Roman province of Galatia. (Acts 16:1–3)
Proving that he was not teaching circumcision as having a bearing on getting an approved standing with God, Paul raised the question, “Why am I still being persecuted?” The Galatians were familiar with the intense opposition that the apostle faced from the Jews because of his not advocating circumcision and law observance as essential for divine approval. (Acts 13:44–50; 14:1–7, 19; 17:1–14)
In the first century, Jews held widely divergent beliefs, with the Sadducees even rejecting the teaching of the resurrection and the existence of angels. (Acts 23:8) So, in time, Christians could have become just another tolerated sect of Judaism if they had insisted that non-Jewish converts needed to be circumcised and live by the precepts of the Mosaic law. In fact, certain Pharisees who sat in judgment of Paul were, on one occasion, willing to pronounce him innocent despite his belief in Jesus’ resurrection. (Acts 23:9) The issue that caused the irreconcilable rift, however, was Paul’s preaching that non-Jews could be divinely approved on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ without their being circumcised and having to obey the law. Accordingly, the fact that the apostle was “still” being persecuted by the Jews undeniably proved that he had ceased preaching circumcision.
If Paul had preached circumcision as essential for non-Jews “the offense of the cross” would have been abolished (katargéo). Twice before (3:17; 5:4) the apostle had used the word katargéo. It here conveys the sense of “abolished,” “made ineffective,” or “destroyed.”
For the Jews, the problem was not the implement on which Jesus died, but what it signified as respects gaining divine approval. The “offense” (skándalon), “obstacle,” or “cause for stumbling” was accepting that, for Jews and non-Jews, Jesus’ death atoned for sins and that faith in him and what his death accomplished constituted the sole basis for being pronounced guiltless by God. This was highly offensive, since it placed Jews and non-Jews on the same level with reference to gaining the status of approved children of God. It was a tremendous blow to Jewish pride, removing any advantage in being a direct descendant of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. So, for Paul to have continued preaching circumcision would have abolished this cause for offense, as it would have upheld the prevailing Jewish view that, ultimately, circumcision and legalistic observance of the law determined a person’s standing before God.
Notes: Though omitted in a number of manuscripts, éti (still) has the support of the majority, including the oldest.
Regarding “cross,” see the note on Galatians 2:19.
Revealing how strongly he felt about the advocates of circumcision, Paul said: “[I] wish that those who are upsetting you would also castrate themselves.” The Greek word óphelon expresses a wish without any thought of its actually being fulfilled. By insisting on the necessity of circumcision, the false teachers were creating disturbance among the Galatians. In describing the effect of their false teaching, Paul used the word anastatóo, which can mean “agitate,” “stir up” (as when inciting to revolt) and, as here, “upset” or “unsettle.”
The Greek word apokópto can simply mean “cut off.” J. B. Phillips adopted this rendering (“cut themselves off”) and added the words “from you altogether.” This would signify that Paul’s wish was that they cease being associated with the congregation. Ancient commentators who spoke Greek as their native tongue, however, understood Paul to mean “self-mutilation,” “castration,” or “emasculation,” and there is no contextual indication suggesting that the reference is to cutting themselves off from the congregation.
When wishing that they “also” or “even” [kaí] go to the point of emasculation, Paul apparently expressed great disdain for the false teachers and their unspiritual view of circumcision. In reality, what these men were insisting upon and representing as meritorious amounted to nothing more than a mutilation of the flesh. Because they took such pride in this comparatively minor operation, Paul’s wish was that they choose a complete mutilation for themselves.
Note: P46 (c. 200) departs from the usual reading óphelon (wish) and says ára (then), possibly an inadvertent repetition of the previous ára (vs. 11).
Pointing to the reason for his strong words, Paul continued: “For you have been called to freedom, brothers, only not freedom [serving] as an occasion for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Evidently the Greek word gár (for) is to be viewed as introducing the reason for the apostle’s previous statement directed against the proponents of circumcision, men who were intent on depriving the Galatians of their freedom and inducing them to accept an enslaving legalistic arrangement.
Again, Paul addressed the Galatians as “brothers,” continuing to acknowledge them as fellow sons of God.
The apostle did not specify who did the calling. In other letters, however, he identified the Father as the one doing so. (Romans 8:28–30; 1 Corinthians 1:26, 27; 7:17–24; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 4:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14; 2 Timothy 1:9) God’s call was one to a state of freedom, not servitude to a legalistic system. Believers were to enjoy the status of free sons of God, persons declared guiltless on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished through his death. Their freedom, though, was not to be unbridled. It did not give them license for indulging sensual desires having their source in the sinful flesh (fallen human nature).
The Greek word aphormé denotes “occasion,” “opportunity,” “excuse,” or “pretext.” It can designate a “base of operations” (as in war). Accordingly, freedom was not to serve as an opening or starting point for giving in to degrading fleshly desires.
Instead of indulging their passions, the Galatians were to render noble service. Paul used a strong indicator of contrast, allá (but), when making this point. The apostle’s words “through love” indicate that love was to be expressed by serving one another, responding to the needs of fellow believers. Evidently false teaching had caused serious divisions among believers in Galatia, and this would have interfered with their showing love for one another. Paul’s admonition to serve one another out of love was truly needed.
Note: A number of later manuscripts add tou pneúmatos (of the spirit) after agápes (love, genitive case).
Whereas the false teachers were responsible for creating dissension and a dampening effect on the manifestation of love, the very law that they were so eagerly trying to impose on non-Jews promoted love. Pointing to the true spirit of the law, Paul wrote: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one saying, that is, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The Greek preposition gár (for) links Paul’s counsel to “serve one another” with the proof he presented from the law. While commonly having the sense of “fulfill,” pleróo, in this case, may be understood to mean “sum up,” “provide the real import,” or “convey the full significance.” “One saying” or precept expressed the real meaning of the law, and that precept required loving one’s neighbor as oneself, displaying the kind of concern and care for others that one has for self.
Kenneth Wuest, however, renders the apostle’s words to mean that “fulfilling” denotes “heeding” or “obeying.” “The whole law in one utterance stands fully obeyed, namely, in this, Love your neighbor as you do yourself.” An alternate reading found in a few manuscripts (in you in one word [saying] is being fulfilled) does, in fact, relate the fulfilling to the Galatians and their living in harmony with the precept set forth in the law.
Paul’s quotation from Leviticus 19:18 corresponds to the extant text of the Septuagint. The Greek word for “neighbor,” plésion basically means “one who is near,” and the corresponding term in the Hebrew text, réa’ denotes a “companion,” “fellow,” or “friend.” As members of the Christian congregation, the Galatians certainly were “neighbors,” and they should have been treating fellow believers in a manner that they would have chosen for themselves. This, however, was not the case.
Some later manuscripts read lógos (word) instead of the usual nómos (law).
A few later manuscripts read en hymín en hení lógo (in you in one word). The words en hymín (in you), however, are missing from the majority of manuscripts.
P46 (c. 200) departs from the usual reading, omitting sou (of you, your) after plesíon (neighbor).
Paul’s next words give an indication of a serious loss of love among the Galatians. “But if you bite and devour one another, see that you may not destroy one another.”
The baneful influence under which the congregations of Galatia had come must have created serious rifts, with individuals taking strong positions for or against errant teaching. This would have disrupted the peace of the congregations and given rise to bitter arguments and feelings. Apparently the controversies and divisions had developed to a point where they could be described in terms of beastly biting and devouring of prey.
In Greek, “bite” (dákno) and “devour” (katesthío) are in the present tense, indicating that the Galatians were continuing to inflict serious injuries on one another. They were wounding others as if by biting them and then callously giving no thought to the terrible hurt they were causing, acting much like beasts that devour pieces bitten off from their prey.
With reference to the destructive spirit that had developed among the Galatians, Paul gave his sobering warning. The Galatians needed to watch that the continuance of the deplorable, loveless situation might not lead to mutual annihilation. They simply could not survive as congregations if those associated kept on harming one another.
The Greek word for “destroy” (analísko,) can also convey the sense of “consume.” At Genesis 41:30, for example, the word appears in the Septuagint with reference to the effect of a seven-year famine in the land of Egypt.
Paul followed up his warning with the admonition that called for positive action: “But I say, walk [by] spirit and you will not carry out [the] desire of the flesh.”
The conjunction dé (but) may be regarded as introducing “walking by spirit” as a contrast to “biting and devouring”—descriptive of an unspiritual, destructive course. Since the Greek word for “walk” (peripatéo) is in the present tense, it denotes to keep on or to continue walking. Such walking refers to following a course of life. The verb peripatéo also is an imperative, indicating that this walk requires an assent of the will.
Since an individual’s own spirit (pneúma), disposition, or prevailing attitude would not consistently counteract the desires of the sinful flesh, pneúma here is God’s spirit. The Greek word is in the dative case, showing that the spirit is the means by which the walking is accomplished. Therefore “walking by spirit” would mean living in harmony with its leading or under its guidance. Such a walk would be distinguished by uprightness in attitude, word, and deed.
The Greek verb for “carry out” (teléo) means “finish,” “complete,” or “end.” Whereas a believer may come to have wrong desires, the holy spirit will prevent such from coming to fruition, provided that the individual continues to yield to the spirit’s influence. This does not happen automatically. The believer must, as Paul said, “walk by spirit,” which necessitates a determined effort to cooperate with the guidance of God’s spirit. While thus walking or living, believers will not be carrying out desires of the sinful flesh (fallen human nature).
Presenting the reason for his previous statement, Paul continued: “For the flesh desires [what is] against the spirit, but the spirit [what is] against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, in order that you may not do what you wish.”
In this case, the initial conjunction gár (for) serves to introduce why those walking by the spirit would not be carrying out desires originating with the sinful flesh. The word gár here has the sense of “because.” Since what the flesh and the spirit want stand in direct opposition to each other, the spirit-directed believer does not yield to the lusts and passions of fallen human nature.
The preposition katá is an indicator of direction. In this case, as evident from the context, the word points to an opposite direction and, therefore, signifies “against.” As a marker of contrast, the conjunction dé (but) points to the fact that the spirit wants what is the very opposite of what the flesh desires. There is an irreconcilable enmity between the sinful flesh and the spirit of God. Thus, within the believer a conflict rages. Fallen human nature tries to assert itself and regain dominance, whereas God’s spirit opposes the cravings of the sinful flesh. Apparently with reference to this conflict, Paul said, “for these are opposed to each other.”
According to the most ancient manuscript evidence, the apostle used the conjunction gár (for) to show why the desires stemming from the sinful flesh and the spirit lead in opposite directions. It is because fallen human nature and God’s spirit are antagonists. The plural pronominal adjective “these” (taúta) refers to the flesh and the spirit. Describing the opposition, Paul used the verb antíkeimai, which means to be “hostile toward” or “oppose.”
The expression hína (in order that) evidently is to be regarded as an indicator of result. Thus, the words “in order that you may not do what you wish” point to the outcome of the conflict between the sinful flesh and God’s spirit. When yielding to the direction of God’s spirit, the believer does not do what the sinful flesh craves. On the other hand, though desiring to do what is right, the individual, in a time of weakness, may give in to the powerful craving of fallen human nature. Because of possessing only an imputed righteousness, the believer’s walk is not flawless. (Compare Romans 7:21–25.) The antagonism of flesh and spirit is such that, depending on what the individual does, the result will always be diametrically opposed to the powerful influence of either the flesh or the spirit. Both simply cannot be satisfied at the same time.
The reading of P46 (c. 200) appears to be, in the second occurrence, gár (for), as is that of fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and the original text of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus. Many other manuscripts, though, read dé (but).
After há (what), manuscripts vary in reading either eán or án, both of which particles are indicators of contingency and, in this context, equivalent terms.
Having emphasized the role of God’s spirit, Paul shows how this affects the relationship of believers to “law.” “But if you are led by spirit, you are not under law.”
It seems that dé (but) serves to contrast the consistent effect of being led by spirit with the uncertain outcome of the conflict between flesh and spirit that differs from the wishing. To be “led” by spirit means to be guided by or to be under the influence of God’s spirit.
Being holy or pure, that spirit could never be the source of any attitudes, words, or actions that require the restraints and penalties of any law or legalistic system. The purpose of law is to define wrongdoing and to restrain it by enforcing penalties for infringements. Law does not produce upright people but simply serves to restrain lawlessness. Because believers do not possess the fullness of righteousness, their being under law would mean being subject to it and its penalties for disobedience. As Paul pointed out earlier in his letter, however, believers are not under the control of law and in the position of condemned slaves by reason of failure to live up to it. They are a free people. Although the word law (nómos) is not preceded by a definite article and so could refer to any law, the reference is doubtless to the Mosaic law.
Instead of being under the control or power of the Mosaic law, believers have a more powerful guiding force affecting their conduct. Unlike law which imposes requirements upon the individual, God’s spirit produces results within the believer’s deep inner self. The holy spirit thus accomplishes what no legalistic system can, namely, the transformation of the inner self, leading to the abandonment of God-dishonoring conduct.
Paul next lists actions that must be attributed to the sinful flesh. “But the works of the flesh are manifest, which are sexual immorality, impurity, indecency.”
Because the conjunction dé is not viewed as introducing a contrast, it is commonly rendered “now” or left untranslated. If, however, the meaning is “but,” the contrast would be between being led by spirit (which results only in good) and the ruinous works of the flesh.
Only bad results from the works of fallen human nature. Accordingly, it is manifest or obvious that sinful flesh is the source of such “works,” deeds or acts. “Sexual immorality” is a rendering of porneía, which term embraces every kind of illicit sexual intercourse. There is considerable manuscript evidence, however, for the separate listing of moicheía, meaning “adultery.” The word akatharsía signifies “uncleanness,” “filthiness,” “impurity,” and here likely relates to sexual wrongs. This term is followed by asélgeia, which is descriptive of shockingly indecent behavior. The word may be defined as “licentiousness,” “debauchery,” “sensuality,” “insolence,” or “unbridled lust.” In this case, too, the apostle may have meant sexual sins.
Note: Many manuscripts include moicheía (adultery), but this word is not found in Codex Vaticanus, the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and a number of later manuscripts.
Paul continued listing “works of the flesh,” “idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, [outbursts of] rage, [deeds of] selfishness, divisions, factions.”
Closely associated with the previously mentioned sexual wrongs is idolatry (eidololatría), the “service of idols.” By means of representations made of wood, stone, or precious metals, gods and goddesses were venerated and supplicated. Ceremonial prostitution often formed a prominent part of the religious ritual. (Numbers 25:1; 1 Kings 14:23, 24; Romans 1:20–27)
The term pharmakeía, in its basic sense, means “druggery,” the use or administering of drugs. Evidently because sorcerers employed drugs in connection with their occult art, pharmakeía designated the practice of magic or sorcery. A concomitant of idolatry, sorcery gave the appearance that nonexistent deities, represented by images, had power and could inflict injury or bestow blessings.
Apparently to indicate repeated manifestations of “enmity” or “hostility,” Paul used the plural of échthra (échthrai). The word conveys the sense of “hate” and so is the opposite of “love” (agápe). At Genesis 3:15 (in the Septuagint), échthra is the “enmity” between the woman and the serpent and their respective seeds.
The noun éris means “strife,” “wrangling,” or “discord.” In the Septuagint, the verb form erízo is found at Genesis 26:35, where the reference is to the peace-disturbing, distressing impact Esau’s wives had on Isaac and Rebekah.
While the word zélos can mean zeal, it here signifies “jealousy,” an envious and contentious rivalry. Jealousy is the antithesis of “love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Being in the plural, thymoí is descriptive of outbursts or fits of rage. Persons given to anger have a disposition that is quick to flare up uncontrollably for temporary periods.
The expression eritheía has been defined as “selfishness,” “selfish ambition,” “contention,” and “hostility.” Based on its use in ancient Greek writings, eritheía can describe the disposition that puts self first and is willing to use the basest means to achieve its ends. In its plural form (eritheíai), the word evidently describes manifestations of this disposition.
A compound of “in two” (dícha) and “standing” (stásis), dichostasía has the literal sense of “standing apart.” It appears here in the plural form (dichostasíai) and is commonly rendered “dissensions” and “divisions.” These divisions would be ignoble acts of separation that are rooted in selfishness.
The plural form of haíresis (hairéseis) has been translated “factions,” “party intrigues,” “heresies,” and “sectarian parties.” Thought to be derived from the verb hairéomai (choose), haíresis denotes that which is chosen. Accordingly, those who identify themselves with a particular choice in belief and practice constitute themselves a sect, party, or faction. As a work of the flesh, such “choosings” are not based on love of truth.
The singular éris (strife) has the support of the oldest manuscripts. Many other manuscripts, however, contain the plural éreis ([cases of] strife).
Manuscripts vary in reading either zélos (jealousy) or zéloi (jealousies).
Completing his list of the “works of the flesh,” Paul added, “envies, drunkenness, carouses, and things like these, [concerning] which I tell you beforehand, as I told you beforehand, that those who practice these things will not inherit God’s kingdom.”
“Envy” is a common rendering of phthónos. The plural phthónoi (envies) denotes displays of a spirit that begrudges and resents what others are or possess. Position, influence, recognition, possessions, or any perceived advantage (whether real or imagined) may give rise to envy. This “work of the flesh” stems from wanting for self what others have.
The word for drunkenness (méthe) is in the plural (méthai). This plural form indicates habitual intoxication, or repeated overindulgence in drinking alcoholic beverages.
Drunken bouts are frequently associated with “carouses” (kómoi, the plural form of kómos). The word kómos means “revelry,” “carouse,” or “orgy.” Under the influence of intoxicants, individuals cast off restraints, becoming noisy and boisterous, and often engage in immoral behavior.
The apostle Paul did not intend to make his listing of the “works of the flesh” exhaustive. Those he did mention are examples, the rest being included by the words “things like these.”
Modern versions commonly do not translate há (“which”). The word “which” evidently relates to the things Paul had said beforehand in connection with the “works of the flesh.”
The term prolégo basically means “say or tell before” (pró [before]; légo [say, speak, tell]). Since Paul mentioned serious future consequences, numerous translations render prolégo as “warn.” The sense of the expression evidently is that already before the time comes for inheriting God’s kingdom, the apostle had told the Galatians who would not share in the inheritance. This was not the first time that Paul had done so. His words, “as I told you beforehand,” evidently relate to what he had said earlier while ministering to believers in Galatia.
The word prásso (practice, do, carry out, or perform) is in the present tense, suggesting a habitual doing. Accordingly, “those practicing these things” are persons habitually carrying out what the fallen flesh craves. Such persons are not led by God’s spirit and simply could not be his sons. (Compare John 8:34–44.) As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “all who are led by God’s spirit are God’s sons.” (Romans 8:14) Only sons of God share in the inheritance, excluding all practicers of what the fallen flesh craves.
Whereas believers are already in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Colossians 1:13) and conduct themselves in a manner revealing that they are submissive to him as their king, the reference here is to an inheritance yet to be received. This is evident from the fact that the verb for “inherit” (kleronoméo) is in the future tense. In its basic sense, kleronoméo means “gain possession of by lot.” Here, however, the word signifies “inheriting” or “receiving as a possession.”
Inheriting God’s kingdom would mean participating in all the blessings and privileges that God’s appointed king, Jesus Christ, shares with his brothers—all of whom are spirit-led sons of God. With reference to that future inheritance, Jesus Christ said to his apostles (in language that accommodated their perception of the kingdom): “At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28, NRSV; compare Acts 1:6.) The Son of God also spoke in advance respecting those who would not inherit the kingdom. “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” (Luke 13:28, NIV)
Many manuscripts also list phónoi (murders) either before or after phthónoi (envies). The word phónoi, though, is not found in the oldest manuscripts—P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus.
After kathós (as) many manuscripts read kaí (here evidently meaning “also”). But kaí is not contained in P46 (c. 200) and the fourth-century Codex Vaticanus.
Referring to what God’s spirit yields, Paul wrote: “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness.”
The conjunction dé (but) evidently serves to introduce a contrast between the debased works originating with sinful flesh and the good fruit produced by God’s spirit. Because a variety of acts have their source in fallen human nature, this may be why the “works [érga] of the flesh” are referred to in the plural. The “fruit [karpós] of the spirit,” however, is spoken of in the singular, indicative of a collective whole stemming from the same pure source.
In this context, “love” (agápe) denotes an unselfish concern for the welfare of others regardless of their attitude or moral condition. (Matthew 5:43–48) God’s spirit enables believers to look at others from the standpoint of persons for whom Christ died and of people they could be—fellow sons of God—and to respond compassionately to genuine needs.
“Joy” (chará) here is a gladness or a delight of a spiritual kind. Regardless of distressing outward circumstances, this joy continues because it is based on knowing that one is a beloved child of God and can depend on his care and blessing.
“Peace” (eiréne) is an inner tranquillity that comes from enjoying an approved relationship with God. It liberates believers from anxiety about their needs or external circumstances. Never will the heavenly Father fail to sustain his children in their distress. (Philippians 4:6, 7)
Commonly translated “patience” or “long-suffering,” makrothymía denotes forbearance, self-restraint, or a calmness and steadfastness when facing provocation, injury, or adversity. A combination of makrós (long) and thymós (temper, rage, or anger) makrothymía is the opposite of being easily irritated, quick to flare up in anger, and hasty in retaliating or punishing.
The expression chrestótes means “kindness” or “benignity.” In the Septuagint, this word often signifies “good” or “moral uprightness.” (Psalm 13:1, 3; 24:7; 30:20; 36:3; 84:13; 118:65, 66, 68; 144:7 [14:1, 3; 25:7; 31:19; 37:3; 85:12; 119:65, 66, 68; 145:7]) Chrestótes is the opposite of harshness and conveys the sense of a loving and compassionate spirit. (Compare Matthew 11:28–30, where the adjective chrestós [kindly] describes the yoke.)
“Goodness” is a rendering of agathosyne. This word is descriptive of moral uprightness in attitude, speech, and action. It may also convey the sense of generosity, or a readiness to go beyond what mere duty may require.
In this context, pístis apparently does not have the specific sense of “faith.” Not until putting faith or trust in Jesus Christ and the arrangement for having sins forgiven on the basis of his sacrificial death does the believer become a recipient of God’s spirit. Accordingly, the fruit God’s spirit produces would not be the faith in God and Christ that the believer already possesses. Since the other qualities involve actions or responses to persons or situations, pístis could include the thought of “fidelity,” “trustworthiness,” or “reliability” in dealing with others. It may also signify “trustfulness,” the opposite of suspicion. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, love “believes [verb form of pístis] all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) This would include full trust in God and all his promises and dealings. Also, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, fellow humans, especially believers, would be accorded trust or confidence.
Concluding his description of the spirit’s fruit, Paul wrote, “gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
“Gentleness” or “mildness” is the basic sense of praútes. This word is descriptive of a mild disposition when responding to and dealing with others even if they are stubborn, belligerent, or demanding. Praútes also includes a willing submission to what is right. It is the opposite of harshness, severity, unreasonableness, and anger. Because of being manifest in unfavorable circumstances, praútes reveals strength.
Incorporating the word krátos (strength), enkráteia means “self-control,” the use of strength on oneself. It refers to keeping impulses, passions, and desires in check, restraining oneself from indulging in any kind of excesses or resorting to violent words or actions.
The preposition katá, as a marker of direction, here has the sense of an opposite direction and thus denotes “against.” Unlike the “works of the flesh” which are always injurious and have to be proscribed by law, the spirit’s fruit consistently results in good. The admirable qualities making up this fruit do not conflict with any legal code. No law is required to limit or prohibit the qualities for which God’s spirit is responsible. There simply is no law “against such things.”
Note: In a number of later manuscripts, enkráteia is followed by either hagneía (chastity, purity) or hypomoné (patience, endurance).
“But those of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with [its] passions and desires.” The conjunction dé (but) introduces why believers are not under the control or condemnation of a legal code—they are not dominated by the fallen flesh with its associated passions and lusts. In this case, dé seemingly serves to contrast with the implied thought that, unlike what is the case with the fruit of God’s spirit, there is law against the “works of the flesh.”
Being an indicator of possession, the genitive construction “of Christ” (toú Christoú) denotes belonging to him. Therefore, those “of Christ” are his disciples, enjoying favorable recognition as such and acknowledging him as their Lord in attitude, word, and deed. (Matthew 7:21–23; 25:40, 45)
True disciples of Jesus Christ “have crucified [stauróo] the flesh with its passions and desires.” The verb stauróo is in the aorist tense and points to something that has happened. (Regarding this verb, see the note and comments on 2:19.) Here used figuratively, stauróo refers to the act of deadening the fallen flesh, rendering it inactive or depriving it of controlling power in one’s life. Jesus Christ also spoke figuratively of making the flesh lifeless with reference to wrong desires. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into [Gehenna]. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into [Gehenna].” (Matthew 5:29, 30, NRSV, footnote) The apostle Paul expressed a similar thought to Christians in Colossae: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NIV)
When Paul referred to the “flesh” (sárx) in his letter to the Galatians, he meant sinful flesh, or fallen human nature. Any “passion” (páthema) or “desire” (epithymía) having its source in sinful flesh is contrary to the leading of God’s spirit. Therefore, when believers put to death the flesh, they also crucify fleshly passions and desires. No longer is there life governed by degrading passions and lusts. Whereas páthema can denote “suffering,” it here means “passion,” probably of a sexual kind. The expression for “desire” (epithymía) can include any “lust,” “craving,” or “longing.”
Note: Iesoú (Jesus [genitive case]) is missing in P46 (c. 200) and numerous other later manuscripts. The original reading of fourth century Codex Sinaiticus is kyríou Christoú Iesoú (Lord Christ Jesus).
Regarding the changed life of believers, Paul continued: “If we live by spirit, also let us walk in line by spirit.”
Being in the present tense, the verb for “live” (záo) indicates a continuance of living. The word pneúma (spirit) is in the dative case and here apparently signifies that the spirit is the means by which believers live. Their new life as children of God has its source in the spirit. Therefore, the word ei (if) serves as an introduction to the logical consequences—the outer life should be a reflection of the new life as sons of God. The expression “walk in line” is a rendering of the verb stoichéo. This verb basically means “to move in a row or in order,” as the noun stoíchos signifies “row” or “series.” In conjunction with spirit, stoichéo denotes living in harmony with God’s spirit, conducting one’s life according to the spirit’s guidance or direction. Again, pneúma is in the dative case, indicating that the spirit is the means by which an upright outer life becomes possible.
Although the majority of manuscripts have no preposition before pneúmati (spirit [dative case]), there is very limited manuscript support from the ninth century for either en (in) or syn (with).
P46 (c. 200) departs from the majority of manuscripts, omitting kaí (here having the meaning of “also”).
For believers to conduct themselves in harmony with the spirit’s leading requires heeding Paul’s admonition: “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
A combination of kenós (empty or vain) and dóxa (glory or honor), kenódoxos is descriptive of conceit, false pride, or an empty, vain or baseless glory. The word prokaléomai has the basic sense of “call before” (pró [before]; kaléo [call]) and refers to a calling of another to fight. It may be defined as “irritate” or “provoke.” To “envy” (phthonéo), or to be jealous of, denotes wanting for self what another might have and feeling a strong resentment toward that one. Conceit (a tendency to provoke or irritate others by unkind words or actions) and envy stand in opposition to love. Spirit-led children of God should resist all loveless attitudes and actions. Destructive false teaching, however, disrupts peace and is the breeding ground for conceit, provocation, and envy. In view of the influence of false teachers on the Galatians, the apostle’s admonition was timely.
The apostle Paul again addressed the Galatians as “brothers,” acknowledging them as beloved fellow sons of God. He then focused attention on those needing spiritual help. “Even if a man be overtaken in some misstep, you, the spiritual ones, set that one right in a spirit of gentleness, watching yourself lest you also be tempted.”
In conjunction with eán (if, though, or when), kaí may be defined as “even.” A number of modern versions, however, leave the word untranslated.
The word ánthropos (man) is not to be understood as applying in a general sense to any man. Its meaning, according to the context, is restricted to a fellow believer.
In its basic sense, the verb for “overtake” (prolambáno) denotes “take before” (pró [before]; lambáno [take]). Here the expression apparently has the sense of being taken or caught by surprise. The misstep, therefore, would not be deliberate but would stem from a failure to be on guard. Accordingly, the word for “misstep” (paráptoma) here seemingly has a milder sense than in numerous other passages (Romans 4:25; 5:15–20; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Ephesians 1:7; 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13) and may be understood to mean “fault,” “blunder,” “error,” or “mistake.” The related verb parapípto has the basic meaning of “fall beside” (pará [beside]; pípto [fall]).
The “spiritual ones” (pneumatikoí) are those whose lives demonstrate that they are being led by God’s spirit. Its fruit would be clearly manifest in their attitude, words, and conduct. Their responsibility toward the erring brother would be to help him recover from his serious mistake in judgment. The verb katartízo can mean “repair,” “mend” (Matthew 4:21; Mark 1:19), “fully instruct,” “fully train” (Luke 6:40), “prepare” (Romans 9:22, Hebrews 10:5), “arrange,” “form,” “make” (Hebrews 11:3), or “equip” (Hebrews 13:21). In view of the man’s fall, he would need to be “set right” or be brought back to a proper condition as a member of Christ’s body, requiring “mending,” “repairing,” or “adjusting.”
Paul admonished the spiritual ones to set such a man right in a “spirit of gentleness.” Instead of being harsh or severe, they were to reflect a mild or gentle disposition. Then the apostle added a specific caution about watching oneself. The word for “watch” (skopéo) has the sense of giving careful attention to something. Paul used the second person singular form of the verb skopéo, indicating that the focus is on the spiritual one providing the needed aid. Individually, the spiritual ones could not relax their guard with reference to their own conduct, for they were not immune to temptation, or the strong pull of a wrong desire that, if not vigilantly resisted, would lead to their being overtaken in a wrong. A recognition that they, too, could fall in the same manner as the erring one would prevent them from assuming a superior attitude and would contribute toward dealing kindly and lovingly with him.
Note: After ánthropos, a number of later manuscripts add ex hymón (from among you).
Encouraging mutual concern, Paul wrote: “Carry the burdens of each other, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.”
In view of the admonition he had just given to the spiritual ones, the “burdens” evidently include personal failings that weigh heavily on the individual. These burdens, however, are not necessarily limited to missteps but could be anything that proves to be a weight—trials, discouragement, disappointments, distress, suffering, and affliction. Through sympathetic identification with their brother weighed down by anything of a painful nature, believers could share in carrying his burden. In this case, Paul did not limit the directive to the spiritual ones, but encouraged everyone to participate in this loving effort. All in the Galatian congregations were to consider what they could do and say that would express concern, care, and comfort. As evident from his words to the Corinthians, Paul displayed this rightly motivated, genuine care. “Is anyone weak? I share his weakness. If anyone brings about the downfall of another, does my heart not burn with anger?” (2 Corinthians 11:29, REB)
The commandment that Jesus Christ gave to his disciples was for them to love one another as he had loved them. (John 13:34) Additionally, by the example he set and by what he taught, Jesus revealed the kind of care, concern, and compassion that his disciples should have for others. In the fullest sense, therefore, the example and teaching of God’s Son constitute his law. Accordingly, when believers lovingly respond to one distressed by a burden, they fulfill or carry out what Jesus Christ commanded. They also reveal that they are not self-centered, concerned only about their own or immediate family’s problems and cares.
Evidently with reference to an attitude that would not be conducive to one’s carrying the burden of another, Paul said: “For if anyone considers [himself] to be something, though being nothing, he is deceiving himself.”
The conjunction gár (for) indicates that what follows relates to the admonition to be mutually supportive in fulfillment of the law of Christ. The focus is on the disposition that would stand in the way of one’s acting in harmony with this law.
When an individual imagines himself to be truly a somebody, not recognizing personal limitations and failings, he cannot possibly respond in a kind, sympathetic way to those carrying heavy “burdens.” Blind to his own pathetic state, such a prideful person would not have come to appreciate how very much loving assistance from genuinely concerned believers can mean. Not having experienced firsthand the benefit of kindly support, he would not be particularly moved by the distress of others.
Since believers enjoy only imputed righteousness, they should of necessity be aware of personal failings and have an ardent desire for the absolute righteousness that is yet future. Additionally, no one is immune to the problems and trials that are a part of life in a sinful world. Thus, the person who “considers himself to be something” is but a frail, helpless, and sinful human—in reality, “nothing.”
In imagining himself to be something, he is guilty of a great self-deception, a delusion. The Greek word for deceive (phrenapatáo) conveys the sense of deluding one’s mind (phrén [mind]; apatáo [mislead, deceive]). An example of such prideful self-deception was the situation of the congregation in Laodicea toward the close of the first century. To that congregation, God’s Son directed these words: “You say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17, NRSV)
Note: Instead of the usual ei gár (if for [that is, for if]), fragmentary P46 (c. 200) appears to read eíper (if indeed).
Instead of an evaluation of self that is a mere delusion, the apostle points to what can rightly be examined: “But let each one test his own work; and then, with reference to himself alone, he can take pride, and not with reference to another.”
Paul introduced the contrasting thought with the conjunction dé (but). The work to be carefully examined or tested is evidently the whole of one’s activity. In the phrase eis heautón mónon (into himself alone), the eis (into) evidently has the sense of “with reference to.” (Compare Acts 2:25, where eis is used similarly.) It is only “with reference to himself alone” that the individual may take “pride” (kaúchema, also meaning “ground for boasting”) in “work” that examination or testing reveals as good. On the other hand, any feeling of satisfaction derived from making a comparison with the activity of someone else would have the wrong basis. As Paul said, “not into another.” Again, the word eis (into) denotes “with reference to” or “in comparison with.”
Though omitted in P46 (c. 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, hékastos (each one) is found in the majority of manuscripts.
Fragmentary P46 (c. 200) omits the second kaí (and), thus departing from the reading of the majority of manuscripts.
Pointing to the reason for not drawing a comparison with another person and then making one’s perceived superior accomplishment the ground for boasting, Paul added, “for each [one] will carry [his] own load.” The preposition gár (for) is an indicator of reason. Previously (5:1), the apostle had used the term báros (burden) but here employed the word phortíon (load). Whereas phortíon could be understood to be more specifically a load of responsibility, this is not necessarily the case. The expression could denote any type of load that the individual must carry. No human knows the true nature of another person’s load, and how it is affecting that one’s activity. So there is no valid basis for comparing one’s own work with that of another and then using the results of this flawed comparison as the ground for personal boasting.
Although believers individually have their personal “load” to bear, they were not to neglect their duty toward those who were teaching in the congregation. “But the one being instructed [in] the word should share in all good [things] with the [one] doing the instructing.”
In the Greek text, the first word is the imperative of “share” (koinonéo), indicating that this sharing is obligatory—a responsibility that should or must be assumed. The conjunction dé (but), therefore, appears to contrast the “load” that must be borne individually with the duty to respond appreciatively to those who teach. Believers were not to become so preoccupied with carrying their own “load” that they forgot about the needs of their teachers.
Being in the present tense, the passive participle of katechéo (instruct, teach) indicates that ongoing instruction or teaching is being received. In this context, katechéo apparently refers to oral teaching, not just “informing” (a sense that the word can also have). The one benefiting is being instructed or taught “the word.” This “word” (lógos) evidently is to be understood to designate God’s “word” or “message,” with particular reference to the glad tidings about Jesus Christ.
The active participle of katechéo is also in the present tense and refers to the one doing the instructing or teaching. While the sharing of “all good things” with this one could include responsive spiritual expressions prompted by the teaching received, it doubtless relates to sharing food and other necessities with the teacher. In order to devote himself fully to instructing others, the teacher had to limit the amount of time he spent in working for life’s necessities. Therefore, the one being taught should rightly assume his responsibility to provide material assistance—“good things”—to the one doing the teaching. A similar thought was expressed by Paul in connection with the contribution of non-Jewish believers for their poor Jewish brothers. The apostle wrote: “Macedonia and Achaia have resolved to raise a fund for the benefit of the poor among God’s people at Jerusalem. They have resolved to do so, and indeed they are under an obligation to them. For if the Jewish Christians shared their spiritual treasures with the Gentiles, the Gentiles have a clear duty to contribute to their material needs.” (Romans 15:26, 27, REB; see also 1 Corinthians 9:6–14 and 1 Timothy 5:17.)
Next, Paul gave a warning: “Be not deceived, God is not [to be] mocked; for whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”
The Greek word planáo can signify “deceive,” “lead astray,” or “cause to wander.” Possibly because he had earlier discussed lovingly coming to the aid of a man overtaken in a misstep, the apostle wanted to make it clear that this did not diminish the gravity of sin nor excuse giving in to the desire of the sinful flesh. In that case, Paul’s warning would be that believers should not deceive themselves respecting sin and its consequences. On the other hand, he may have been giving admonition to recognize the seriousness of not fulfilling obligations toward others. Because of not being guilty of gross acts of sin, the individual could deceive himself, wrongly concluding that he was divinely approved while he was actually in line for adverse judgment on account of his sins of omission. (Compare Matt. 25:41–46.)
Drawn from the word “nose” (myktér), the verb for “mock” (mykterízo) conveys the thought of “turning up the nose,” making light of someone or something. While humans can make a fool of others by resorting to deception, they cannot do so with reference to God. No pretense or plea of supposed ignorance will fool him. The real motives for action or inaction cannot be concealed from the Most High or justified by any kind of argument or reasoning that could cause him to accept a lie. The inspired proverb expresses this sobering thought: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Proverbs 24:11, 12, NIV)
Because God is not to be mocked, the end result will always correspond to whatever course was actively pursued. Just as seed that is sown never produces anything other than its kind, so moral wrongs will never yield moral good. What is reaped at harvesttime will consistently be exactly what had been sown earlier.
Note: Instead of toúto (this), a number of manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200), read taúta (these [things]).
Building on the principle of sowing and subsequent reaping, Paul continued: “Because the one sowing with reference to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who is sowing with reference to the spirit will reap life eternal from the spirit.”
“Sowing” denotes following a particular course of action. The preposition preceding “flesh” and “spirit” is eis (into). Because the flesh and the spirit exert powerful influences respecting the choices made, they are here evidently more than just passive fields for doing sowing. It appears preferable to regard eis as meaning “with reference to” or “with respect to.” Thus, the flesh and the spirit may be regarded as objects of the sowing. It is a sowing for the flesh or for the spirit. The “one sowing with reference to his flesh” is pursuing a way of life that yields to his sinful flesh or fallen human nature. Evidently because the flesh is not that of someone else, the apostle used the expression “into the flesh of himself” (eis tén sárka heautóu), that is, the individual’s own sinful flesh. Because the flesh craves to be satisfied without regard for the eventual hurtful consequences to the individual or to others, nothing good can come from it. Instead, at harvesttime, the sower will reap “corruption from the flesh.” His fallen human nature will prove to be the source of his ruin. In view of the contrast with “life eternal,” “corruption” (phthorá) here evidently is to be understood as the very opposite—the eternal ruin from which there is no recovery. The reference apparently is to the ultimate end of a life controlled by the sinful flesh. It is a life where the individual’s thoughts, words, and actions are always subservient to the lusts and passions of his fallen human nature.
When, on the other hand, the spirit of God is allowed to motivate one’s attitude, thoughts, words, and actions, the result is “life eternal.” This is the real life, not just because it is an age-abiding life, but primarily because this is the kind of life God purposed it to be—a life that flawlessly reflects his image. Although only possessing an imputed righteousness by reason of faith in Jesus Christ and having accepted the atoning value of Christ’s death on his behalf, the “one sowing with reference to the spirit” already enjoys a newness of life. His is a spiritual life no longer dominated by satisfying the cravings of his fallen human nature. In his deep inner self, his longing is for the future absolute righteousness, and so his “sowing” harmonizes with the spirit’s direction. Therefore, he will reap “life eternal from the spirit,” this life having its source in God’s spirit.
Continuing to encourage the right kind of “sowing,” Paul wrote: “But in doing good let us not give up, for [in] due time we will reap, [provided] we do not tire out.”
The Greek word commonly rendered “good” is kalós and denotes that which is right, noble, or praiseworthy. In the context of bearing the “burdens” of fellow believers, kalós evidently applies to moral good that benefits others. Since the participial form for “doing” (poiéo) is in the present tense, the thought conveyed is that of continuing action. Believers were not to “give up” (enkakéo), become discouraged, or tire out in extending aid to those in need. Faced with their own trials, difficulties, and disappointments, disciples of God’s Son may find it hard to give generously of themselves in response to the distress of others. Nevertheless, if they keep on doing what is right, the time will come when they will “reap” a reward.
Paul introduced the thought about reaping with the conjunction gár (for), which functions as a marker of reason for not giving up. This reason is the certainty of reaping. The word translated “due” in a number of versions is ídios, meaning “own.” “Time” (kairós), when modified by ídios, may be understood to mean its own appropriate or proper time (when a mature crop is ready for harvesting).
Although providing positive assurance about “reaping,” the apostle concluded with the conditional element that there be no “tiring out.” The Greek expression for “tire out” is eklyomai,, a compound consisting of ek (out) and lyo (loose). It here conveys the thought of having one’s strength “loosed,” that is, drained or weakened. In certain contexts, eklyomai signifies to reach the point of fainting from exhaustion. (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:3) Christian service is not something confined to occasional spurts of activity. It is a way of life. Lest there be no reaping of a reward, believers need to give serious attention to the admonition not to tire out or grow weary in doing what is right or beneficial.
Building on the admonition already given about doing good, the apostle said: “So, then, while we have time, let us do good toward all, but particularly toward members of the household of the faith.”
The words ára oún (so then) point to the action to be taken in view of what Paul had just stated. “While,” as long as, or whenever the “time” (kairós), opportunity, or occasion existed, the Galatians were being encouraged to “do good toward all,” or “work” (ergázomai) for the “good” (agathós) of all. By using the expression for “we have” (échomen), Paul included himself. Disciples of Jesus Christ are not to blind themselves to the needs of fellow humans. They have a duty to respond in a loving, caring way to all persons.
Nevertheless, “members of the household of the faith” have a prior claim. The apostle introduced this aspect with the contrasting dé (but) and the adverb málista, meaning “particularly,” “primarily,” “especially,” or “above all.” This adverb is a superlative form of mála. In its three occurrences in the Septuagint, mála serves as an intensifier and has the sense of “indeed.” (2 Samuel 14:5; 1 Kings 1:43, 2 Kings 4:14)
“Members of the houshold” is a rendering of the plural form of the word oikeíos (from oikía, [house, household]). The relationship of believers as household members is not based on fleshly ties. Instead, theirs is a household or family of “the faith” (pístis)—the faith that has Jesus Christ as its object. All of them are sons of God and brothers of Christ. In view of their being members of the same spiritual family, believers have a special obligation to come to the aid of one another.
At this point, Paul apparently called attention to his style of writing: “See what large letters I have written with my hand.” The imperative form of idoú (see) indicates that the apostle wanted the Galatians to take special note. In Greek, the word grámma can refer either to a letter of the alphabet or a writing. Since, however, the letter which the apostle wrote to the Galatians was not exceptionally long, evidently the descriptive pelíkos (what large, how great, or how large) is to be understood as applying to the size of the “letters” that Paul used and not the “writings.” Some commentators have concluded that the apostle may have used large letters for emphasis or that this is an indication of his poor vision. Nothing in the context, though, gives support to either conjecture. Moreover, the size of a person’s handwriting is not really an indicator of limited eyesight, as many people with good vision naturally use large letters. It may well be that the apostle’s object was to emphasize that the letter was indeed a genuine one from him, as evident from the distinctive style of writing.
Based on other letters, Paul commonly used an amanuensis to do the actual writing. (Romans 16:22; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17) Therefore, his calling attention to the size of the letters may indicate that, from this point onward, he used the writing implement (probably a pointed, slit reed pen) to complete the letter. There is also a possibility that the reference to the size of the letters applies to the entire epistle, which would mean that he did not use a penman in this case but wrote everything himself.
Although Paul was then in the process of writing with his own hand, the aorist tense of grápho (write) is perhaps to be understood as indicative of a past event from the standpoint of the recipients of the letter.
Again focusing on the proponents of circumcision who had disrupted the peace of the congregations in Galatia, the apostle wrote: “As many as want to make a good showing in [the] flesh, these try to force you to get circumcised, only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”
Being in the present tense, the verb for “want” (thélo) expresses a continuing wish or desire. According to the context, the object of this desire was to preserve an outward appearance that would placate the unbelieving Jews so that they would not become hostile.
The verb for “make a good showing” (euprosopéo) is a compound of eú (well, good, or fair) and prósopon (face). Since the expression prósopon often denotes the appearance (Matthew 16:3; James 1:11), euprosopéo conveys the thought of making a good appearance or showing. It was an appearance or showing “in flesh,” that is, relating to that which is external and unspiritual. This outward appearance was designed to look good to the unbelieving Jews.
Paul did not specify the manner in which the advocates of circumcision tried to “compel” or “force” (anankázo) a non-Jewish believer to get circumcised. Their arguments for circumcision likely included the misapplication of the Scriptures and claims respecting teachings of the apostles in Jerusalem. They may also have resorted to subtle pressure, implying that free association in all respects with Jewish believers depended on circumcision because the fullness of divine approval or acceptance was only possible for persons who were circumcised.
The real motivation of the proponents of circumcision was self-interest—the desire to avoid being persecuted by the unbelieving Jews. For these unbelieving Jews, the obstacle was the “cross [staurós] of Christ,” not the implement on which he died, but what the death of God’s Son signified (see note on 2:19 regarding staurós). They were enraged about the teaching that uncircumcised non-Jews could enjoy complete forgiveness of sins and an approved standing with God. To be placed on the same level as non-Jews insofar as what was needed for divine acceptance—faith in Jesus Christ and the sin-atoning value of his death—was highly offensive to them. Although beliefs among first-century Jews varied considerably (Acts 23:8), they were united in the view that no uncircumcised non-Jew could enjoy God’s approval. Close association with uncircumcised non-Jews was, in fact, unlawful and defiling. (John 18:28; Acts 10:28) Therefore, by representing themselves before unbelieving non-Jews as being of the same persuasion as they in teaching that divine approval was dependent on circumcision and obedience to all the other requirements of the Mosaic law, the proponents of circumcision sought to avoid persecution.
Note: Manuscripts differ in the order of some of the words. Additionally, P46 (c. 200) follows the abbreviated form of Christoú (“of Christ”), with the abbreviated form of Iesoú (Jesus [genitive case]).
Further drawing attention to the wrong motives of the troublemakers, Paul said: “For not even those who are circumcised keep [the] law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they might boast in your flesh.”
Modern translations commonly leave the conjunction gár (for) untranslated. This conjunction does, however, serve to introduce a statement confirming that the primary reason for advocating circumcision was the desire to avoid persecution.
If preserving the original reading of the text, the word peritemnómenoi (the present tense participial form of the verb peritémno and meaning “are circumcised,” “are being circumcised”) evidently is not limited to non-Jews who accepted circumcision and then became active proponents of the practice with a view of gaining the fullness of divine approval. Rather, this term (as suggested by the context) would apply to all advocates of circumcision who were themselves circumcised.
The fact that the proponents of circumcision did not truly keep the law proved that their desire to impose circumcision and the accompanying requirements of the law did not have a noble purpose. Emphasizing their failure, the apostle (according to most manuscripts) used the strong negative oudé (not even).
Although there is no definite article in the Greek text before “law,” the linkage with circumcision indicates that the reference is to God’s law given through Moses. As sinful humans, the advocates of circumcision did not and, in fact, could not have lived up faultlessly to the law even if they had been sincere in their efforts. Yet, they were insistent on imposing on others the very law that they themselves did not observe as required of them. Thus, what they themselves failed to obey and what they endeavored to induce others to follow proved to be wholly inconsistent.
The apostle introduced what these troublemakers desired with the conjunction allá (but), a strong indicator of contrast. Their reason for wanting others to get circumcised was so that they could “boast.” The basis for their boasting or taking pride was the “flesh” of non-Jews whom they had converted to their persuasion, for that “flesh” bore the visible marks of circumcision. In view of their desire to escape persecution, the proponents of circumcision probably pointed to their success in getting non-Jews to accept their view as proof of having even greater zeal in honoring Moses and the law than did the unbelieving Jews. There was nothing spiritual or praiseworthy about their boasting. It was a mere taking of pride in having succeeded in getting non-Jews to bear the mark of circumcision “in [their] flesh.”
Instead of oudé (not even) found in the majority of manuscripts, P46 (c. 200) reads outé (not).
Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, and many other manuscripts read peritemnómenoi (“are circumcised,” “are being circumcised” [present tense]). On the other hand, peritetmémenoi (perfect tense participial form of peritémno [circumcise], indicative of the circumcision having been undertaken in the past but its results continuing to exist) is found in P46 (c. 200) and fourth-century Codex Vaticanus.
Paul, however, completely rejected their basis for boasting: “But, as for me, may it never happen that I boast of [anything] other than the cross [staurós] of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to [the] world.”
For the apostle, the only ground for boasting or taking pride, was the staurós of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Regarding staurós, see note on 2:19.) That it was unthinkable for Paul to conceive of any other valid basis for boasting is evident from the words mé génoito, “may it never happen.” The focus of Paul’s reference to the staurós is not on the implement itself but on what Christ’s death on the staurós effected—liberation from the condemnation of sin and an approved standing with God for all who put faith in Jesus Christ and accept his sacrifice for them.
In referring to God’s Son as Lord, Paul acknowledged him as his Owner or Master, the one who had bought him with his precious blood. The example and teaching of Jesus Christ was the guiding principle of his life. Because his whole life centered on Christ—having his Lord’s approval—any kind of boasting based on self was ruled out. Paul only boasted or took pride in what Christ had done for him, and this was accompanied by the humble recognition that everything he had received and had been able to do was completely dependent on grace or favor. (1 Corinthians 15:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:12–17)
The word that follows the contracted form of día (through) is hoú and may be rendered “whom” or “which.” When hoú is understood to mean “whom,” the reference is to the Son of God. On the other hand, if hoú denotes “which,” the antecedent is staurós. Either through the Lord Jesus Christ (by reason of being made one with him as a member of his body) or through the staurós (acceptance of Christ’s sacrificial death on his behalf), Paul experienced a tremendous change in his life.
The “world” (kósmos) may be understood as being the totality of the attitudes, principles, standards, and practices existing in the world of mankind alienated from God. As a zealous adherent to Jewish traditions, Paul had not led a spiritual life. His attitude, goals, and conduct had been patterned according to the prevailing standards among legalistic-minded Jews. At that time, the apostle’s striving was to gain merit with God on the basis of personal effort, which produced a feeling of pride and outright hatred for those who appeared to devalue the cherished traditions. In that state, Paul was of the world and described himself as being “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man.” (1 Timothy 1:13) As part of the “world,” he enjoyed its favor and recognition.
Because of the radical change that came about upon his becoming a believer, the “world” of which Paul had been a prominent and respected part ceased to hold any attraction. To him, it was now crucified as something accursed. The depth of his feeling is reflected in his words to the Philippians: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God, depending on faith.” (Philippians 3:7–9, NAB)
On the other hand, the “world” that had once regarded Paul favorably viewed him with extreme abhorrence as an outcast. To those of that “world” he appeared loathsome—as a vile criminal fastened to a staurós. Their attitude was expressed in the screams of an enraged mob, “Rid the earth of the man! He is not fit to live!” (Acts 22:22, NJB)
Apparently to introduce a confirmatory reason for not taking pride in anything other than what Jesus Christ accomplished through his sacrificial death, Paul used the conjunction gár (for). He wrote, “For neither circumcision is anything nor [is] uncircumcision, but a new creation [counts].”
The apostle had earlier argued strongly that imposing circumcision on non-Jewish believers was wrong. Perhaps, therefore, some could have reasoned that there was value in being in the uncircumcised state. Paul, however, here made it clear that neither the outward sign of circumcision nor the lack thereof provided any advantage or benefit regarding an individual’s standing with God. Pointing to what did count, the apostle used allá (but), a strong marker of contrast, and added the words “new creation.” Instead of primarily being the opposite of “old” and thus describing something that had newly or recently come into existence, “new” (kainós) is indicative of a newness in quality. The “creation” is of a new kind.
This “new creation” is not distinguished by a mark from an operation performed on the physical organism, nor by the absence of such a mark. Instead, the “new creation” comes into being through the operation of God’s spirit within the person who puts faith in Jesus Christ and what he made possible by dying sacrificially. Because of the tremendous change in outlook, attitude, and behavior that God’s spirit effects, the believer comes to be a new person. The old self that was controlled by the passions and cravings of fallen human nature ceases to be. (Ephesians 4:22–24; Colossians 3:9, 10) Accordingly, what counts with God is nothing external. Rather, it is the inner transformation produced by his spirit and which transformation is manifest in the believer’s upright conduct and unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
Many manuscripts contain the expanded reading of the text—en gár Christó Iesoú oúte (for in Christ Jesus neither). Modern translations, however, generally follow the shorter reading of the passage (oúte gár [for neither]), which has the support of P46 (c. 200), fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and a number of later manuscripts.
The reading estin (is) has the support of P46 (c. 200), the original reading of fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, fourth-century Codex Vaticanus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus, as well as numerous later manuscripts. On the other hand, many other later manuscripts read (as in Galatians 5:6) ischyei (“has strength”).
Emphasizing the importance of recognizing what truly counts, the apostle said: “And as many as will follow this rule—peace and mercy upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”
The verb here commonly translated “follow” is stoichéo, which has the basic sense of “moving in a row or in order.” Thus, to follow the rule or precept enunciated by Paul is to let it serve as a guide.
Although the word kanón can designate a reed for measuring, it here refers to a “rule,” principle, or a standard for conduct. As evident from the apostle’s previous statement, this guiding principle is that externals mean nothing but that what does count with God is the transformation of the inner life through the operation of his spirit. For “as many as” choose to regulate their attitude, words, and deeds in harmony with this “rule” or standard, Paul prayed that “peace and mercy” be “upon them,” suggesting that this blessing came upon them from above—from God.
“Peace” is a divinely given inner sense of security and calmness that believers enjoy because of knowing that they are approved children of God. As such, they are assured that the heavenly Father will lovingly sustain and care for them in all their trials. (See comments on 1:3.)
The word éleos means “mercy,” “compassion,” or “pity.” It is expressive of an active response to a real need. Believers possess only imputed, not absolute, righteousness and, therefore, depend on God’s continued forgiveness of their sins—an expression of his boundless mercy. (Matthew 18:21–35) Additionally, they experience trials and distress. In his compassion, the Most High comes to their aid, sustaining them with his spirit so that their faith does not give out. Never does he permit the situation to develop to the point where faithfulness to him would be humanly impossible. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Only those recognizing that externals are of no value in the eyes of God and that he is the source of what makes it possible for them to be his beloved children are recipients of the needed peace and mercy. A reliance on externals, on the other hand, assigns the ultimate value to self and personal effort, leading to obscuring the reality that the creature is totally dependent on the Creator for everything.
In this context, those being designated as the “Israel of God” depends on how the word kaí is to be understood. It may be rendered “and,” “even,” or “also.” When translated “even,” the “Israel of God” is the same group as those designated by the expression hósoi (as many as). If, however, kaí here has the sense of “and,” two groups would be in view—“as many as” and the “Israel of God.” Throughout the Scriptures, a clear distinction is drawn between mere natural descent from Abraham and truly being a member of the “Israel of God.” (Isaiah 6:13; 10:20–22; John 8:37–41, Romans 9:6–13) Thus, Paul perhaps was here limiting his use of the expression “Israel of God” to the believing remnant of natural Israel. In that case, the expression hósoi would apply to any believers who choose to follow the “rule” or “standard,” but who would not of necessity be members of the “Israel of God.” In view of the apostle’s earlier emphasis on their being no distinctions in the spiritual family (3:28, 29), however, this meaning is questionable. A more likely possibility is to regard the word hósoi as applying to a part of the entire body of believers making up the “Israel of God.” Regardless of how kaí is to be understood, the “Israel of God” is a composite body of people whom God recognizes as belonging to him, all of whom share in the blessing of “peace and mercy.”
At this point, Paul added a personal note: “Henceforth let no one cause me troubles, for I bear the marks of Jesus in my body.”
Whereas the basic meaning of loipós is “rest” or “remaining” (Acts 2:37; Galatians 2:13; Ephesians 2:3), the expression toú loipoú here has the sense of “for the time remaining,” “henceforth,” “from now on,” or “after this.” So, from then on, the apostle requested not to be submitted to the kind of troubles that he had experienced on account of false teachers in the congregations of Galatia.
The term that has been rendered “cause,” “make,” and “give” is parécho—a compound consisting of pará (beside, near) and écho (hold). Accordingly, the thought of giving is expressed by the basic idea of holding something out or toward the recipient. In this particular context, however, the term parécho denotes “causing one to experience something.”
Paul had been caused to experience troubles, and this he wanted to stop. The word kópos can mean “labor” or “toil,” particularly from the perspective of its wearying or exhausting nature. (Genesis 31:42, LXX; 2 Corinthians 11:27; 1 Thessalonians 2:9) In this case, the main focus of kópos is on the wearying aspect and so it has the sense of “trouble.” As evident from the apostle’s letter, the troubles he had to bear included insidious attacks on his apostolic authority and the undermining of his devoted service in helping the Galatians spiritually, resulting in his having great concern for their eternal welfare. Since the false teachers were responsible for the stress he had experienced, Paul evidently directed his words to anyone who did and might start to proclaim something other than the true “glad tidings” and thereby endanger the spiritual well-being of those who might lend an ear to error.
The apostle introduced the reason for making his imperative statement with the preposition gár (for). This reason was the “marks” he bore “in his body.” The word stígma is the designation for a “brand mark,” which mark is indicative of ownership. Evidently the “marks” came to be on Paul’s body on account of his being an apostle of Jesus Christ. These “marks” also proved that he was owned by God’s Son, thereby clearly establishing whose servant he was. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he had already experienced much of what he enumerated in his second letter to the Corinthians: “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor. 11:23–28, NIV) Especially the stoning at Lystra and the beatings to which Paul was submitted must have left scars on his body. (Acts 14:19; 16:22, 23, 33) Because these “marks” were a direct result of Paul’s being in the service of his Lord, they were indeed the “marks of Jesus.” How wrong it therefore was for anyone to cause him the kind of troubles for which the false teachers were responsible!
Note: Manuscripts vary in reading Iesoú (of Jesus), Christoú (of Christ), kyríou Iesoú (of Lord Jesus), kyríou Iesoú Christoú (of Lord Jesus Christ), kyríou (of Lord), and kyríou hemón Iesóu Christoú (of our Lord Jesus Christ).
Paul concluded his letter with the prayerful expression, “The favor of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” In this context, “favor” (cháris) apparently includes the approval of Jesus Christ. Believers recognize him as their Lord who bought them with his precious blood and demonstrate their submission to him by letting his example and teaching guide their attitude, thoughts, words, and actions. His favor is bestowed upon believers in the form of aid, guidance, and protection. For the Galatians to have Jesus’ favor on their spirit would have assured them of all the blessings believers share in common. The “spirit” of the Galatians would be their disposition or prevailing attitude. It would be the motivating power at work in their inner life, manifesting itself to others in their daily conduct.
Although the Galatians had erred in allowing themselves to come under the influence of false teachers, Paul, to the very end of his letter, addressed them as “brothers,” fellow sons of God and brothers of Christ. He accepted them as beloved members of the same spiritual family. Evidently because this was a general letter for all the congregations in Galatia, Paul did not include any personal greetings to individuals.
As was common when invoking a blessing on others, the apostle used the word “Amen.” This expression means “surely,” “truly,” or “so be it.”
Note: A number of manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus, omit hemón (our).