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Bible Commentaries
Galatians 5

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


The apostle exhorts the Galatians to stand fast in the liberty

of the Gospel, and not by receiving circumcision bring

themselves into a yoke of bondage, 1-4.

Shows the superior excellence of Christianity, 5, 6.

Mentions their former steadiness, and warns them against the

bad doctrine which was then preached among them, 7-9.

Expresses his confidence that they will yet return; and shows

that he who perverted them shall bear his own punishment,


States that they are called to liberty, and that love is the

fulfilling of the law, 13, 14.

Warns them against dissensions, and enumerates the fruits of the

flesh, which exclude those who bear them from the kingdom of

God, 15-21.

Enumerates also the fruits of the Spirit, which characterize the

disciples of Christ, 22-24.

Exhorts them to live in the Spirit, and not provoke each other,

25, 26.


Verse Galatians 5:1. Stand fast therefore in the liberty — This is intimately connected with the preceding chapter: the apostle having said, just before, So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond woman, but of the free, immediately adds, Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. Hold fast your Christian profession; it brings spiritual liberty: on the contrary, Judaism brings spiritual bondage. Among the Jews, the Messiah's reign was to be a reign of liberty, and hence the Targum, on Lamentations 2:22, says: "Liberty shall be publicly proclaimed to thy people of the house of Israel, על יד משיחא al yad Mashicha, by the hand of the Messiah, such as was granted to them by Moses and Aaron at the time of the passover."

The liberty mentioned by the apostle is freedom from Jewish rites and ceremonies, called properly here the yoke of bondage; and also liberty from the power and guilt of sin, which nothing but the grace of Christ can take away.

Verse 2

Verse Galatians 5:2. If ye be circumcised — By circumcision you take on you the whole obligation of the Jewish law, and consequently profess to seek salvation by means of its observances; and therefore Christ can profit you nothing; for, by seeking justification by the works of the law, you renounce justification by faith in Christ.

Verse 3

Verse Galatians 5:3. He is a debtor to do the whole law. — Lays himself, by receiving circumcision, under the obligation to fulfil all its precepts, ordinances, &c.

Verse 4

Verse Galatians 5:4. Christ is become of no effect unto you — It is vain for you to attempt to unite the two systems. You must have the law and no Christ, or Christ and no law, for your justification.

Ye are fallen from grace. — From the Gospel. They had been brought into the grace of the Gospel; and now, by readopting the Mosaic ordinances, they had apostatized from the Gospel as a system of religion, and had lost the grace communicated to their souls, by which they were preserved in a state of salvation. The peace and love of God, received by Jesus Christ, could not remain in the hearts of those who had rejected Christ. They had, therefore, in every sense of the word, fallen from grace; and whether some of them ever rose again is more than we can tell.

Verse 5

Verse Galatians 5:5. For we, Christians, through the Spirit — Through the operation of the Holy Ghost, under this spiritual dispensation of the Gospel, wait for the hope of righteousness-expect that which is the object of our hope, on our being justified by faith in Christ. Righteousness, δικαιοσυνη, may here, as in many other places of St. Paul's epistles, mean justification, and the hope of justification, or the hope excited and inspired by it, is the possession of eternal glory; for, says the apostle, Romans 5:1-2, Being justified by faith, we have peace with God-and rejoice in HOPE of the GLORY of GOD. But, as this glory is necessarily future, it is to be waited for; but this waiting, in a thorough Christian, is not only a blessed expectation, but also a continual anticipation of it; and therefore the apostle says, απεκδεχομεθα, we receive out if it, from απο, from εκ, out of, and δεχομαι, I receive. This is no fanciful derivation; it exists in the experience of every genuine Christian; he is continually anticipating or receiving foretastes of that glory, the fulness of which he expects after death. Thus they are receiving the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls. 1 Peter 1:9.

That they could not have the Holy Spirit without faith, was a doctrine also of the Jews; hence it is said, Mechilta, fol. 52: "That faith was of great consequence with which the Israelites believed in Him who, with one word, created the universe; and because the Israelites believed in God, the Holy Spirit dwelt in them; so that, being filled with God, they sang praises to him." Cicero, De Nat. Deor., lib. ii., has said: Nemo vir magnus sine aliquo afflatu divino unquam fuit: "There never was a great man who had not some measure of the Divine influence." However true this may be with respect to the great men of the Roman orator, we may safely assert there never was a true Christian who had not the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit.

Verse 6

Verse Galatians 5:6. For in Jesus Christ — By the dispensation of the Gospel all legal observances, as essential to salvation, are done away; and uncircumcision, or the Gentile state, contributes as much to salvation as circumcision or the Jewish state; they are both equally ineffectual; and nothing now avails in the sight of God but that faith δι' αγαπης ενεργουμενη, which is made active, or energetic, by love. God acknowledges no faith, as of the operation of his Spirit, that is not active or obedient; but the principle of all obedience to God, and beneficence to man, is love; therefore faith cannot work unless it be associated with love. Love to God produces obedience to his will: love to man worketh no ill; but, on the contrary, every act of kindness. Faith which does not work by love is either circumcision or uncircumcision, or whatever its possessor may please to call it; it is, however, nothing that will stand him in stead when God comes to take away his soul. It availeth nothing. This humble, holy, operative, obedient LOVE, is the grand touchstone of all human creeds and confessions of faith. Faith without this has neither soul nor operation; in the language of the Apostle James, it is dead, and can perform no function of the spiritual life, no more than a dead man can perform the duties of animal or civil life.

Verse 7

Verse 7. Ye did run well — Ye once had the faith that worked by love-ye were genuine, active, useful Christians.

Who doth hinder — Who prevented you from continuing to obey the truth? Ye could only be turned aside by your own consent. St. Paul here, as in 1 Corinthians 9:24, compares Christianity to a race. See the notes on the above text.

Verse 8

Verse 8. This persuasion — Of the necessity of your being circumcised and obeying the law of Moses, is not of him that calleth you. I never preached such a doctrine to you; I called you out of bondage to liberty, from a galling yoke to a cheerful service. Some translate πεισμονη, obedience or subjection. This subjection of yours to the Mosaic law is opposed to the will of God, and never was preached by me.

Verse 9

Verse 9. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. — A proverbial expression, see 1 Corinthians 5:6, very aptly applied to those who receive the smallest tincture of false doctrine, relative to the things essential to salvation, which soon influences the whole conduct, so that the man becomes totally perverted. They might have argued, "It is a small thing, and should not be made a subject of serious controversy, whether we be circumcised or not." Granted, that in itself it is a small matter; but, as every man who is circumcised is a debtor to do the whole law, Galatians 5:3, then your circumcision leads necessarily to your total perversion; as the little portion of leaven, mixed with the batch, soon leavens the whole lump.

Verse 10

Verse 10. I have confidence in you — I now feel a persuasion from the Lord that I shall not be permitted to expostulate with you in vain; that ye will be none otherwise minded - that ye will be aware of the danger to which ye are exposed, that ye will retreat in time, and recover the grace which ye have lost.

But he that troubleth you — The false teacher, who sowed doubtful disputations among you, and thus has troubled the repose of the whole Church, shall bear his judgment - shall meet with the punishment he deserves, for having sown his tares among God's wheat.

Verse 11

Verse 11. If I yet preach circumcision — it is very likely that some of the false apostles, hearing of Paul's having circumcised Timothy, Acts 16:3, which must have been done about this time, reported him as being an advocate for circumcision, and by this means endeavoured to sanction their own doctrine. To this the apostle replies: Were it so, that I am a friend to this measure, is it likely that I should suffer persecution from the Jews? But I am every where persecuted by them, and I am persecuted because I am known to be an enemy to circumcision; were I a friend to this doctrine, the offence of the cross-preaching salvation only through the sacrifice of Christ, would soon cease; because, to be consistent with myself, if I preached the necessity of circumcision I must soon cease to preach Christ crucified, and then the Jews would be no longer my enemies.

Verse 12

Verse 12. I would they were even cut off which trouble you. — This saying has puzzled many, and different interpretations of the place have been proposed by learned men.

At first sight it seems as if the apostle was praying for the destruction of the false teachers who had perverted the Churches of Galatia. Mr. Wakefield thought οφελον αποκοψονται might be translated, I wish that they were made to weep; and in his translation of the New Testament the passage stands thus: "I wish that they who are unsettling you may lament it." I believe the apostle never meant any such thing. As the persons who were breeding all this confusion in the Churches of Galatia were members of that Church, the apostle appears to me to be simply expressing his desire that they might be cut off or excommunicated from the Church. Kypke has given an abundance of examples where the word is used to signify amputating; cutting off from society, office, c. excluding. In opposition to the notion of excommunication, it might be asked: "Why should the apostle wish these to be excommunicated when it was his own office to do it?" To this it may be answered: The apostle's authority was greatly weakened among that people by the influence of the false teachers, so that in all probability he could exercise no ecclesiastical function; he could therefore only express his wish. And the whole passage is so parallel to that, 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, that I think there can be no reasonable doubt of the apostle's meaning: Let those who are unsettling the Church of Christ in your district be excommunicated; this is my wish, that they should no longer have any place among you."

Verse 13

Verse 13. Ye have been called unto liberty — A total freedom from all the burthensome rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Only use not that liberty for an occasion to the flesh. By flesh, here, we may understand all the unrenewed desires and propensities of the mind; whatsoever is not under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. Your liberty is from that which would oppress the spirit; not from that which would lay restraints on the flesh. The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law: but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.

By love serve one another. — Having that faith which worketh by love, serve each other to the uttermost of your power: δουλευετε, serve each other, when necessary, as slaves serve their masters. Several excellent MSS. and versions, instead of δια της αγαπης, by love, have τῃ αγαπῃ του Πνευματος, in the love of the Spirit serve one another.

Verse 14

Verse 14. For all the law — Which respects our duty to our fellows, is fulfilled-is comprehended, in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 19:19; Matthew 19:19, and "Romans 13:9".

Verse 15

Verse 15. If ye bite and devour one another — These Churches seem to have been in a state of great distraction; there were continual altercations among them. They had fallen from the grace of the Gospel; and, as Christ no longer dwelt in their hearts by faith, pride, anger, ill-will, and all unkind and uncharitable tempers, took possession of their souls, and they were in consequence alternately destroying each other. Nothing is so destructive to the peace of man, and to the peace of the soul, as religious disputes; where they prevail, religion in general has little place.

Verse 16

Verse 16. Walk in the Spirit — Get back that Spirit of God which you have grieved and lost; take up that spiritual religion which you have abandoned.

Ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. — If the Spirit of God dwell in and rule your heart, the whole carnal mind will be destroyed; and then, not only carnal ordinances will be abandoned, but also the works and propensities of the flesh.

Verse 17

Verse 17. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit — God still continues to strive with you, notwithstanding your apostasy, showing you whence you have fallen, and exciting you to return to him; but your own obstinacy renders all ineffectual; and through the influence of these different principles, you are kept in a state of self-opposition and self-distraction, so that you cannot do the things that ye would. You are convinced of what is right, and ye wish to do it; but, having abandoned the Gospel and the grace of Christ, the law and its ordinances which ye have chosen in their place afford you no power to conquer your evil propensities. It was on this ground that the apostle exhorted them, Galatians 5:16, to walk in the Spirit, that they might not fulfil the lust of the flesh; as without the grace of God they could do nothing. Who can suppose that he speaks this of adult Christians?

Verse 18

Verse 18. But, if ye be led of the Spirit — If ye receive again the Gospel and the grace of Christ, and permit yourselves to be influenced by the Holy Spirit whom you are now grieving, ye are not under the law-ye will not feel those evil propensities which now disgrace and torment you; but they must prevail while you are not under the influence of the grace and Spirit of Christ.

Verse 19

Verse 19. Now the works of the flesh are manifest — By flesh we are to understand the evil and fallen state of the soul, no longer under the guidance of God's Spirit and right reason, but under the animal passions; and they are even rendered more irregular and turbulent by the influence of sin; so that man is in a worse state than the brute: and so all-commanding is this evil nature that it leads men into all kinds of crimes; and among them the following, which are manifest-known to all, and most prevalent; and, though these are most solemnly forbidden by your law, the observance of its ordinances gives no power to overcome them, and provides no pardon for the guilt and condemnation produced by them.

Adultery — μοιχεια. Illicit connection with a married person. This word is wanting in this place in the best MSS., versions, and fathers; the next term often comprehending both.

Fornication — πορνεια. Illicit connection between single or unmarried persons; yet often signifying adultery also.

Uncleanness — ακαθαπσια. Whatever is opposite to purity; probably meaning here, as in Romans 1:24; 2 Corinthians 12:21, unnatural practices; sodomy, bestiality.

Lasciviousness — ασελγεια. Whatever is contrary to chastity; all lewdness.

Verse 20

Verse 20. Idolatry — Worshipping of idols; frequenting idol festivals; all the rites of Bacchus, Venus, Priapus, c., which were common among the Gentiles.

Witchcraft — φαρμακεια, from φαρμακον, a drug or poison because in all spells and enchantments, whether true or false, drugs were employed. As a drug, φαρμακον, might either be the means of removing an evil, or inflicting one, etymologists have derived it from φερον ακος, bringing ease, or φερον αχος, bringing pain. So spells and incantations were used sometimes for the restoration of the health; at others, for the destruction of an enemy. Sometimes, these φαρμακα were used to procure love; at other times, to produce hatred.

Hatred — εχθραι. Aversions and antipathies, when opposed to brotherly love and kindness.

Variance — ερεις. Contentions, where the principle of hatred proceeds to open acts; hence contests, altercations, lawsuits, and disputes in general.

Emulations — ζηλοι. Envies or emulations; that is strife to excel at the expense of another; lowering others to set up one's self; unholy zeal, fervently adopting a bad cause, or supporting a good one by cruel means. Inquisitions, pretending to support true religion by torturing and burning alive those who both profess and practise it.

Wrath — θυμοι. Turbulent passions, disturbing the harmony of the mind, and producing domestic and civil broils and disquietudes.

Strife — επιθειαι. Disputations, janglings, logomachics, or strife about words.

Seditions — διχοστασιαι. Divisions into separate factions; parties, whether in the Church or state.

Heresies — αιρεσεις. Factions; parties in the Church separating from communion with each other, and setting up altar against altar. The word, which is harmless in itself, is here used in a bad sense. In stead of αιρεσεις the Slavonic has σκανδαλα, scandals, offences or stumbling-blocks.

Verse 21

Verse 21. Envyings — φθονοι. "Pain felt, and malignity conceived, at the sight of excellence or happiness." A passion the most base and the least curable of all that disgrace or degrade the fallen soul. Romans 13:13.

Murders — φονοι. Similarity of sound to the preceding seems to have suggested the word in this association; it is wanting in several MSS. Murder signifies the destruction of human life; and as he who hates his brother in his heart is ready to take away his life, so he is called a murderer. After all the casuistry of man, it does not appear that the right of taking away a human life on any pretence, except for the crime of murder belongs to any but the Maker and Judge of all men.

Drunkenness — μεθαι. Taking more wine or any kind of inebriating liquor than is necessary for health; whatever unfits for public, domestic, or spiritual duties; even the cares of the world, when they intoxicate the mind. Romans 13:13.

Revellings — κωμοι. Lascivious feastings, with obscene songs, music, c. Romans 13:13.

And such like — και τα ομοια τουτοις. All that proceeds from the evil passions of a fallen spirit, besides those above specified and all that the law of God specifies and condemns.

Of the which I tell you before — When I first preached the Gospel to you.

As I have also told you in time past] When I paid my second visit to you; for the apostle did visit them twice. See Acts 16:6; Acts 18:23; and see preface, p. 385.

Shall not inherit — They are not children of God, and therefore cannot inherit the kingdom which belongs only to the children of the Divine family.

Verse 22

Verse 22. But the fruit of the Spirit — Both flesh-the sinful dispositions of the human heart and spirit-the changed or purified state of the soul, by the grace and Spirit of God, are represented by the apostle as trees, one yielding good the other bad fruit; the productions of each being according to the nature of the tree, as the tree is according to the nature of the seed from which it sprung. The bad seed produced a bad tree, yielding all manner of bad fruit; the good seed produced a good tree, bringing forth fruits of the most excellent kind. The tree of the flesh, with all its bad fruits, we have already seen; the tree of the Spirit, with its good fruits, we shall now see.

Love — αγαπη. An intense desire to please God, and to do good to mankind; the very soul and spirit of all true religion; the fulfilling of the law, and what gives energy to faith itself. See Galatians 5:6.

Joy — χαρα. The exultation that arises from a sense of God's mercy communicated to the soul in the pardon of its iniquities, and the prospect of that eternal glory of which it has the foretaste in the pardon of sin. See Romans 5:2.

Peace — ειρηνη. The calm, quiet, and order, which take place in the justified soul, instead of the doubts, fears, alarms, and dreadful forebodings, which every true penitent less or more feels, and must feel till the assurance of pardon brings peace and satisfaction to the mind. Peace is the first sensible fruit of the pardon of sin. See Romans 5:1, and the notes there.

Long-suffering — μακροθυμια. Long-mindedness, bearing with the frailties and provocations of others, from the consideration that God has borne long with ours; and that, if he had not, we should have been speedily consumed: bearing up also through all the troubles and difficulties of life without murmuring or repining; submitting cheerfully to every dispensation of God's providence, and thus deriving benefit from every occurrence.

Gentleness — χρηστοτης Benignity, affability; a very rare grace, often wanting in many who have a considerable share of Christian excellence. A good education and polished manners, when brought under the influence of the grace of God, will bring out this grace with great effect.

Goodness — αγαθωσυνη. The perpetual desire and sincere study, not only to abstain from every appearance of evil, but to do good to the bodies and souls of men to the utmost of our ability. But all this must spring from a good heart-a heart purified by the Spirit of God; and then, the tree being made good, the fruit must be good also.

Faith — πιστις, here used for fidelity-punctuality in performing promises, conscientious carefulness in preserving what is committed to our trust, in restoring it to its proper owner, in transacting the business confided to us, neither betraying the secret of our friend, nor disappointing the confidence of our employer.

Verse 23

Verse 23. Meekness — πραοτης. Mildness, indulgence toward the weak and erring, patient suffering of injuries without feeling a spirit of revenge, an even balance of all tempers and passions, the entire opposite to anger.

Temperance — εγκρατεια. Continence, self-government, or moderation, principally with regard to sensual or animal appetites. Moderation in eating, drinking, sleeping, &c.

Several very respectable MSS., as D*EFG, with the Vulgate, most copies of the Itala and several of the fathers, add αγνεια, chastity. This we are sure cannot be separated from the genuine Christian character, though it may be included in the word εγκρατεια, continence or moderation, immediately preceding.

Against such there is no law. — Those, whose lives are adorned by the above virtues, cannot be condemned by any law, for the whole purpose and design of the moral law of God is fulfilled in those who have the Spirit of God, producing in their hearts and lives the preceding fruits.

Verse 24

Verse 24. And they that are Christ's — All genuine Christians have crucified the flesh-are so far from obeying its dictates and acting under its influence, that they have crucified their sensual appetites; they have nailed them to the cross of Christ, where they have expired with him; hence, says St. Paul, Romans 6:6, our old man-the flesh, with its affections and lusts, is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. By which we see that God has fully designed to save all who believe in Christ from all sin, whether outward or inward, with all the affections, παθημασι, irregular passions, and lusts, επιθυμιαις, disorderly wishes and desires. All that a man may feel contrary to love and purity; and all that he may desire contrary to moderation and that self-denial peculiar to the Christian character.

Verse 25

Verse 25. If we live in the Spirit — If we profess to believe a spiritual religion, let us walk in the Spirit-let us show in our lives and conversation that the Spirit of God dwells in us.

Verse 26

Verse Galatians 5:26. Let us not be desirous of vain glory — κενοδοξοι. Let us not be vain glorious-boasting of our attainments; vaunting ourselves to be superior to others; or seeking honour from those things which do not possess moral good; in birth, riches, eloquence, c., c.

Provoking one another — What this may refer to we cannot tell whether to the Judaizing teachers, endeavouring to set themselves up beyond the apostle, and their attempts to lessen him in the people's eyes, that they might secure to themselves the public confidence, and thus destroy St. Paul's influence in the Galatian Churches or whether to some other matter in the internal economy of the Church, we know not. But the exhortation is necessary for every Christian, and for every Christian Church. He who professes to seek the honour that comes from God, should not be desirous of vain glory. He who desires to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, should not provoke another. He who knows that he never deserved any gift or blessing from God should not envy another those blessings which the Divine goodness may have thought proper to bestow upon him. May not God do what he will with his own? If Christians in general would be content with the honour that comes from God, if they would take heed to give no provocations to their fellow Christians, if they would cease from envying those on whom either God or man bestows honours or advantages, we should soon have a happier and more perfect state of the Christian Church than we now see. Christianity requires us to esteem each other better than ourselves, or in honour to prefer one another. Had not such a disposition been necessary to the Christian character, and to the peace and perfection of the Church of Christ, it would not have been so strongly recommended. But who lays this to heart, or even thinks that this is indispensably necessary to his salvation? Where this disposition lives not, there are both the seed and fruit of the flesh. Evil tempers are the bane of religion and totally contrary to Christianity.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Galatians 5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/galatians-5.html. 1832.
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