Galatians 5 — Works of the Flesh and the Fruit of the Spirit

Christ-followers often come back to Galatians 5 because of the beautiful simplicity of the Fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23. I know I do. However, that is only a fraction of how much is going on in this chapter. Paul really goes after his opponents and tells them things like they’ve rendered Jesus useless, they should castrate themselves, and they will face judgment for the troubles they are causing. This was fun translating.

Below is my rendering of Galatians 5 from the Greek New Testament. Behind that are translation notes (*) and then five study questions which can be used for personal or group study. I will post Chapter Six next week. Enjoy!

Galatians: Chapter Five

1. Messiah freed us to live* free. Stand strong, then, and do not get tangled up again in a yoke of slavery.

2. Look, this is me, Paul, talking. If you let yourself be circumcised, then Messiah will be of no use to you. 

3. I solemnly swear to you again, everyone who has been circumcised is obligated to observe the whole law. 

4. All who are made right by the law were cut** off from Messiah. You lost grace. 

5. We eagerly await in the Spirit, by belief, for the hope of rightness.

6. In Messiah Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters, but belief working through love. 

7. You began running so well; who slowed you down to not be persuaded by the truth?

8. That persuasion is not from the one called you. 

9. A small amount of yeast leavens the whole batch of dough.

10. I myself am persuaded about you, in the Lord, that you will not think any other way. The person who troubles you will bear the judgment, whoever he is. 

11. Brothers and sisters, if I preach circumcision then why am I still being persecuted? If that were so, then the scandal of the cross would be cleaned up.***    

12. Oh, how I wish those upsetting you would castrate themselves.**** 

13. Brothers and sisters, you were called into freedom, only do not use freedom as an excuse to indulge in the flesh. Instead, serve one another with love.

14. For the whole law has been fulfilled in one saying, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’

15. But if you bite and chew on one another, watch out that you do not destroy yourselves.***** 

16. I say, you must walk in the Spirit. Do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 

17. For fleshly desires are against the Spirit, and spiritual desires are against the flesh, for these oppose one another so much so that you do what you do not want to do. 

18. If you are led by the Spirit, then you are not under the law.

19. It is obvious what he works of the flesh are: sexual immorality, nastiness, indecency, 

20. idolatry, sorcery, quarreling, rivalries, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, divisiveness, factions******  

21. envy, drinking binges, orgies and things like that. As I said before when I told you, people who do these kinds of things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

22. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, belief, 

23. gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things. 

24. But those who are in Messiah Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.*******  

25. If we can live in the Spirit, then the Spirit can keep us in line. 

26. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another. 

Translation Notes

*The word ‘live’ is not found in the text, but it makes sense and must be what Paul is implying. Messiah did not free us to live as slaves, but as free people.

**I find no small amount of word play with the use of ‘cut off’ from Messiah in the context of a discussion about circumcision.  

***Scandal here is commonly rendered as stumbling block, which it is. However, the Greek word here is so close to our word scandal and it means roughly the same. Stumbling block makes sense with the ‘running’ metaphor of v. 7, but he is three metaphors removed from that (argument, yeast, and now cleaning something up). I don’t see any need to use the stumbling block as being in the way of a runner metaphor any longer. 

****Again, the wordplay. The troublers advocated circumcision; Paul thinks they didn’t cut off enough when they were circumcised. It is a rather provocative and graphic statement that seems to imply they will no longer be able to reproduce, spiritually speaking, followers of their bad teaching.  

*****It is actually a repetition of the phrase ‘one another  — watch out that you don’t destroy one another’ but I chose to differentiate this from the biting and chewing with a different word. 

******There is a religious component to the word used by Paul to describe factions. He is speaking of religious divides such as the Pharisees and Sadducees, or in modern times perhaps he might mean Calvinist and Arminian, as an example of religious factions. There is apparently no limit to human beings and our divisive tendencies.  

*******The word I render as ‘passions’ is in the same group as the familiar Greek word ‘pathos’ and therefore carries a feeling of passion that is mixed with suffering – you feel it! 

Study Questions

1. In verse 2 Paul says if the Galatian Christians carry through with circumcision, then Jesus is of no use. Is there a modern equivalent to this line of thinking – something we might engage in that nullifies the work of Christ in us? 

2. Verse 7 is a clunky read, but the line of thinking is clear. Which part speaks to you most – the implication that you formerly were doing well but now aren’t, that someone specific has slowed you down, and the trick they are using is to persuades you against the truth? 

3. A little yeast makes the whole batch rise. This powerful metaphor in verse 9 is used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 to describe how sin infects a congregation while here he means legalistic teachings. Are there other ways we could use this metaphor, and are any of them positive rather than negative?

4. There are two possible ways to understand verse 10. One is that Paul is convinced the Galatians will eventually see things as he does, and the troubler will be judged. The other is to view Paul’s words as being about the stubbornness of the Galatians and so the meaning is something like “I’m certain you will not change your mind no matter how much I try to persuade you, but the person who did this to you will bear the judgment for what he has done.” It seems to me both are possible in the grammar of the text. Which one do you lean toward? Why? 

5. Can you connect the desires of the flesh in verses 19-21 with a correlating fruit of the Spirit in verses 22 and 23? How does that clarify meaning, or does it muddy the waters more?