Thursday, April 11, 2013

Exegetical notes on Galatians 5:13-26


Text

13 Ὑμεῖς γὰρ ἐπʼ ἐλευθερίᾳ ἐκλήθητε, ἀδελφοί· μόνον μὴ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν εἰς ἀφορμὴν τῇ σαρκί, ἀλλὰ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης δουλεύετε ἀλλήλοις. 14 γὰρ πᾶς νόμος ἐν ἑνὶ λόγῳ πεπλήρωται, ἐν τῷ· ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν. 15 εἰ δὲ ἀλλήλους δάκνετε καὶ κατεσθίετε, βλέπετε μὴ ὑπʼ ἀλλήλων ἀναλωθῆτε. 16 Λέγω δέ, πνεύματι περιπατεῖτε καὶ ἐπιθυμίαν σαρκὸς οὐ μὴ τελέσητε. 17 γὰρ σὰρξ ἐπιθυμεῖ κατὰ τοῦ πνεύματος, τὸ δὲ πνεῦμα κατὰ τῆς σαρκός, ταῦτα γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντίκειται, ἵνα μὴ ἐὰν θέλητε ταῦτα ποιῆτε. 18 εἰ δὲ πνεύματι ἄγεσθε, οὐκ ἐστὲ ὑπὸ νόμον. 19 φανερὰ δέ ἐστιν τὰ ἔργα τῆς σαρκός, ἅτινά ἐστιν πορνεία, ἀκαθαρσία, ἀσέλγεια, 20 εἰδωλολατρία, φαρμακεία, ἔχθραι, ἔρις, ζῆλος, θυμοί, ἐριθεῖαι, διχοστασίαι, αἱρέσεις, 21 φθόνοι, μέθαι, κῶμοι καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις, προλέγω ὑμῖν, καθὼς προεῖπον ὅτι οἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράσσοντες βασιλείαν θεοῦ οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν. 22 δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις 23 πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια· κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος. 24 οἱ δὲ τοῦ Χριστοῦ [Ἰησοῦ] τὴν σάρκα ἐσταύρωσαν σὺν τοῖς παθήμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις. 25 Εἰ ζῶμεν πνεύματι, πνεύματι καὶ στοιχῶμεν. 26 μὴ γινώμεθα κενόδοξοι, ἀλλήλους προκαλούμενοι, ἀλλήλοις φθονοῦντες.

Translation

13 For you have been called for freedom, brothers: only not freedom as a pretext for the flesh, but serving through love one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' 15 But if you bite and devour one another, see that you are not destroyed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by spirit and do not complete the lust of flesh. 17 For the flesh desires contrary to the spirit, but the spirit contrary to the flesh, for these are opposed to one another, so that the things you dont even will, these very things you do. 18 But if you are led by spirit, you are not under law. 19 As the works of the flesh are manifest, which are porneia uncleanness licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, passions, selfishnesses, dissensions, factions, 21 envies drunknesses, orgies, and the things like to these, 21 which I pronounced to you, just as I said earlier, that those doing these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 For the fruit of the spirit is love joy peace, long-suffering kindness goodness, faith 23 humility self-control; against such things is no law. 24 But those of Christ [Jesus] crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. 25 if we live by spirit, let us also conform to the spirit. 26 Do not become vainglorious, provoking one another, envying one

Comments

V13 Just as 5:1 indicates that we are liberated 'for freedom', v13 renews this idea with 'For you were called for freedom'. Paul having rebuked them in the first half of this chapter renews the call to gospel-shaped living which in Galatians is specifically shaped by freedom in the Gospel, from the Law, and in renewing that call here he goes on to ethical teaching that is grounded in the Christ's redemption of us from both sin and law.
This vocation to freedom is negatively categorised as not 'as a pretext for the flesh.' Here Paul draws us to the ready distinction between licence and liberty. It would be easy to mistake the freedom the gospel delivers us into as a freedom to indulge our flesh. Indeed the history of the church has seen many such heresies, and in our own lives we can be prone to such thinking. If grace has set me free, why not sin? Paul's point is that this is a misreading of 'liberty'. Liberty is always characterised both by freedom from and freedom to. Freedom in Christ is exactly freedom from sin, and its attendants, and freedom to worship, serve, love, rightly for the first time. To be 'free from sin' only to serve sin in the flesh, is not freedom at all, it is merely the pretext, the 'form' of freedom. Instead Paul tells us that the freedom is that 'you serve (slave) one another through love'. That Paul can readily employ douleuete, the verbal form corresponding to doulos, slave, in such close connection to his freedom language reveals how complex the thought about freedom here is. Freedom to be a slave! And yet willingly, 'freely', we choose to do this, and so our service is characterised, is conducted 'through love'. So absent is the idea of compulsion here from the concept of 'slaving'.

V14 Paul’s teaching here picks up and echoes Jesus’ own teaching on the two great commandments (Matthew 22:35-40), and we should not be surprised at this. In context Paul is linking his injunction to serve one another in love with the OT teaching of loving one’s neighbour. But Paul is doing more than this, he is giving this as a summary statement for the whole law.

This isn’t to be read as Paul overriding the other ‘great’ commandment, i.e. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul. Rather, as his focus here is on the community relations of believers, of their ‘one-another’ ethical comportment, so too he takes the aspect of what is not so much two commandments as a double-commandment and applies it here. In light of Paul’s earlier teaching on the Law, we see that there is indeed a positive and continuing place for the Law, but note carefully Paul’s choice of ‘is fulfilled’. Even the moral use of the law is fulfilled summarily in something like a teleological reading – this was the goal of the Law, to promote neighbour love.

V15 While this is both the call of freedom and the goal of the law, it is not the reality of relations among Galatian believers. While technically a first class conditional, leaving open ended whether the antecedent is true or not, the context of Paul’s writing seems to be that this at least is some kind of issue in the church. Instead of serving, there is ‘biting’ and ‘devouring’, graphic metaphors for a way of life that is parasitic and cannibalistic upon each other. Paul’s ‘see that’ functions imperatively, almost to ‘limit’ this behaviour, at the point of mutual destruction. Paul’s words function rather as a warning – this kind of internal community strife will rip the community asunder.

v16 in the mild contrast of “But I say”, Paul offers an alternative. Here is a way out from mutually-devastating community-destroying behaviour. The way out is to walk, i.e. conduct one’s life, in the sphere or realm of the spirit, instead of accomplishing and bringing to fulfilment the flesh’s lust. In this and the verses that follow, Paul outlines a spirit/flesh conflict, but it is not the same as that of Romans 2. In 17a it’s very clear that Spirit and Flesh are opposed to each other, but the construction of “the things you don’t even will [to do], these very things you do” is not a re-run (well, a pre-run given the dating of the letters) of Romans 7 – the ego that cannot do what is right. No, Galatians is more radical in a sense, in that the ego, the “I”, itself does nothing. The Spirit is at work in the sphere of the spirit, the Flesh is at work in the realm of the flesh. There is no independent self that is ‘you’. You never do what ‘you’ want, but what the sphere you’re in wants, either Spirit, or Flesh.

V18 However in keeping with Paul’s earlier arguments, being led by the Spirit precisely removes one from being ‘under’ the Law. Being in the Spirit is thus aligned with the freedom language. Those controlled by the flesh are still under Law, and so under condemnation. And here Paul begins to make explicit the typical acts of the flesh, in the list of v19-21. The list is notable particularly for how frequently relational and communal vices make an appearance – hostilities, strife, jealousy, selfishness, dissensions, factions, envies; these are all primarily relational sins. Even drunkenness, orgies, and the earlier sexual sins, can be considered under their relational dimensions.

And yet the list is not an imperatival list, not a “don’t do this, it’s bad” categorisation, but a descriptive indication, saying “this is what those who live in the sphere of the flesh act out”. The application is not “don’t do these things”, but more foundationally, “don’t live in the flesh”.

V21 I take the first verb in a spatial sense, “I pronounce before you”, but the second in a temporal sense, referring to Paul’s earlier teachings. The conclusion Paul brings is that living in the flesh ultimately excludes from the Kingdom. Why? It’s an evidence, a proof, that the work of salvation by grace was not actually at work, did not exist. Those liberated by Christ from the realm of flesh/law ough to see the Spirit at work spiritually for service through love to others. Where that is ultimately lacking, salvation will be absent.
In stark contrast to the vice list, Paul offers the ‘fruit’ list. Others have well noted that ‘fruit’ is singular here, Paul is not providing a pick-and-choose list. I want to draw attention to something else though – this is not a list of virtuous action, unlike the vice list. The list of the deeds of the flesh is contrasted with a list of qualities or attributes, not actions. We should also note the strong references to the first three terms - love, joy, peace – in John 14-17; again, echoes of Jesus’ own teaching. With respect to ‘self-control’, it was the aim of secular pagan philosophy, but one that is unattainable without the Spirit. Regarding ‘humility’ it is again noted that this was no virtue outside the Christian faith. Paul sums up his list with “against such things there is no law”, as if to say ‘you won’t violate the Law if you live out of the Spirit’; Spirit-living does not oppose the Law, but being liberated from the Law it actually fulfils the goal of the Law.

Vv24-26 round out this section, with Paul’s strong image in v24 of those who belong to Christ having crucified the flesh. Drawing upon the death of Christ himself, our flesh-nature has died with Christ there on the cross since that is the locus not only of our redemption, but of our radical change of living. Our flesh died there, with its passions and lusts, so that flesh is dead. Thus v25 contrasts the deadness of the flesh with life. Since we died in Christ on the cross, we do now live by the Spirit. And the corollary is that being made alive, having life, by the Spirit, ought to issue in a life lived in conformity to that very same Spirit. This is in every way opposite of the vainglorious, relationally destructive way of life characterised by the flesh and being enacted in the Galatian community.

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