Galatians 5

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Galatians 5:1

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)

Galatians 5:2

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.

Galatians 5:3

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 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 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.

Galatians 5:4

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.

Galatians 5:5

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.

Galatians 5:6

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).

Galatians 5:7

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”) (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).

Galatians 5:8

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.

Galatians 5:9

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 () before phyrama (lump).

The original reading in the sixth-century Codex Claromontanus is doloí (deceives), which departs from the usual zymoí (leavens).

Galatians 5:10

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 (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.

Galatians 5:11

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 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.

Galatians 5:12

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).

Galatians 5:13

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).

Galatians 5:14

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).

Galatians 5:15

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.

Galatians 5:16

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 (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).

Galatians 5:17

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 (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 (but).

After (what), manuscripts vary in reading either eán or án, both of which particles are indicators of contingency and, in this context, equivalent terms.

Galatians 5:18

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 (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.

Galatians 5:19

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 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.

Galatians 5:20

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).

Galatians 5:21

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 (“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.

Galatians 5:22

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 (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.

Galatians 5:23

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).

Galatians 5:24

“But those of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with [its] passions and desires.” The conjunction (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, 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).

Galatians 5:25

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”).

Galatians 5:26

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.