Copyright © 1995 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.
THE APOSTLE PAUL'S REDEMPTIVE-HISTORICAL
ARGUMENTATION IN GALATIANS 5:13-26
THE brilliant Dutch Reformed exegete and theologian Herman Rid-
derbos has done NT studies an immeasurable service by underscoring
the fundamental redemptive-historical perspective of the apostle Paul. In
his lesser known works, in his magisterial work on Paul's theology, and in
his commentaries on some of Paul's epistles,1 Ridderbos consistently
illumined this basic framework of Paul's theology. Preceding the recent
emphasis on Paul's Jewish milieu by almost a generation, Ridderbos ap-
proached the whole of Paul's theology by emphasizing "the redemptive-
historical, eschatological character of Paul's proclamation":
The governing motif of Paul's preaching is the saving activity of God in the
advent and the work, particularly in the death and the resurrection, of Christ.
This activity is on the one hand the fulfillment of the work of God in the history
of the nation
hand it reaches out to the ultimate consummation of the parousia of Christ and
the coming of the
work within which the whole of Paul's preaching must be understood and all of
its subordinate parts receive their place and organically cohere.2
It is with a great personal debt to Herman Ridderbos that I owe my basic
understanding of Pauline theology. Largely through the lens of his per-
spective, I have come to appreciate the missiological and theological pas-
sion of the apostle. However, I have also found through my own study of
Paul's Epistle to the Galatians the need to apply his redemptive-historical
perspective even more extensively than he did. Specifically, Paul's argu-
mentation in Galatians 5-6 depends even more heavily upon a redemptive-
historical perspective than Ridderbos determined in his commentary on
1 H. Ridderbos, "The Redemptive-Historical Character of Paul's Preaching," in his When
the Time Had Fully Come. Studies in New Testament Theology (
repr. Jordan Station,
Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); The Epistle of Paul to the
het Nieuwe Testament; Kampen: Kok, 1959); Aan de Kolossenzen (Commentaar op het Nieuwe
Testament; Kampen: Kok, 1960); and De Pastoralen Briecen (Commentaar op het Nieuwe
Testament; Kampen: Kok, 1967).
2 Ridderbos, Paul, 39.
Galatians. Ridderbos' failure to follow through with this perspective may
reflect the fact that the commentary was written early in his Pauline work
(1953); it may also be due in part to Ridderbos' view of the spiritual life (cf.
his comments on Gal 5:16-18, pp. 202-5). Whatever the reason, we should
note that by underscoring the redemptive-historical framework of Paul's
reasoning in chaps. 5-6 and demonstrating its continuity with the same
reasoning in chaps. 1-4, the brilliance of Paul's argumentation stands out
even more, and Gal 5:13-26 takes on a very different hue.
My thesis is that correctly understanding Paul's redemptive-historical
argument in Gal 5:13-26 significantly undercuts the view that this passage
teaches a struggle within the Christian between internal parts or entities
called "the flesh" and "the Spirit." I suggest that Paul was using these
terms in this passage in a very different sense—in a redemptive-historical
sense—to represent modes or eras of existence. Such an understanding
simply extends Ridderbos' insight about Paul's use of flesh and Spirit:
That is why Spirit is opposed to "flesh." For in Paul flesh, too, is not primarily
an existential notion, but a redemptive-historical one. Flesh is the mode of exis-
tence of man and the world before the fullness of the times appeared. Flesh is man
and world in the powers of darkness. And opposing this is the Spirit, the Pneuma,
not first and foremost as an individual experience, not even in the first place as
an individual reversal, but as a new way of existence which became present time
with the coming of Christ. Thus Paul can say in Romans 8:9: "But ye are not in
the flesh but in the Spirit." This being in the Spirit is not a mystical, but an
eschatological, redemptive-historical category. It means: You are no longer in the
power of the old aeon; you have passed into the new one, you are under a different
An interpretation of the flesh/Spirit antithesis in light of redemption
history is not as unlikely as one may first think if we recognize the centrality
of the redemptive-historical framework in Paul's theology. Paul expresses
this framework by numerous perspectives or metaphors through which he
views the historical progress of redemption. For example, the following are
suggestive of the pervasiveness of this framework: from the first Adam to the
last Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:20-28), from childhood to adulthood in
the developmental periods of God's children (Gal 3:23-4:7), from the
Abrahamic to Mosaic covenants in the covenantal development (Gal 3:15-
22), from the present age to the age-to-come (Gal 1:4; Rom 12:1-2), from
the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his
beloved Son (
from mystery to co-heirs regarding the Gentile inclusion (Eph 3:1-13), and
from the natural body to the spiritual body (1 Cor 15:35-58). Paul's use of
the sa<rc /pneu?ma perspective as a redemptive-historical lens is even more
pervasive than any of the above schemas (e.g., Galatians 3-6; Romans 7-8;
Phil 3:3-4; 1 Cor 3:1-3; etc.). However, the interpretation of this schema
3 Ridderbos, "The Redemptive-Historical Character of Paul's Preaching," 52.
GALATIANS 5:13-26 335
as parts of persons rather than modes of existence has muddled Paul's
historical emphasis and contributed to an existential and dehistoricizing
understanding of the apostle.4
What we have apparently failed to understand is that Paul seems to have
inherited the term sa<rc ("flesh") from his Judaistic opponents, turned it
on its head, and begun to use it against them. Any understanding of the
sa<rc /pneu?ma conflict in Galatians must recognize at a foundational level
that this terminology grew out of the polemics of the Judaizing controversy.
To the Judaizers, the sa<rc was a term of endearment. Apparently, they
preached a gospel grounded upon the premise that God had an eternal
covenant through the circumcision of the flesh of Abraham and his heirs.
This " sa<rc-covenant" was referred to in LXX passages like Gen 17:13b:
kai> e@stai h[ diaqh<kh mou e]pi> th?j sarko>j u[mw?n ei]j diaqh<khn ai]w<nion.5
However, Paul demolished their theology of the sa<rc by emphasizing the
common OT sense of sa<rc as "human bodily existence in its weakness,
frailty, and transitoriness in contrast to God's eternal existence as spirit"
(e.g., Gen 6:3; 2 Chr 32:8; Job 10:4; Ps 56:4, 78:39; Isa 31:3; Jer 17:5).6
Paul's strategy in Galatians was to enrich this basic OT sense of sa<rc by
placing it in antithesis with penu?ma, as was done in OT contexts like Gen
6:3 and Isa 31:3. Paul began the sa<rc /pneu?ma antithesis in Gal 3:3 and
then carefully developed the value of both sa<rc and pneu?ma to within a
redemptive-historical framework throughout the rest of the epistle. While
such redemptive-historical reasoning has been widely recognized in Gala-
tians 3-4, it has seldom been underscored in chaps. 5-6. Actually, it is in
these last two chapters that we see the climax of Paul's redemptive-
Paul's consistent point in chaps. 3-6 is that sa<rc refers to life before
Messiah came or, now that he has come, life apart from faith in Messiah.
It is only at the crucifixion of Messiah Jesus that life in the sa<rc ended
(Gal 5:24; cf. Rom 8:2-4). While living in the sa<rc before Christ came was
not culpable, it was nevertheless life in a weak, frail, and transitory
4 Bernard Lategan noted Paul's pervasive historical emphasis through the widespread use
of temporal and spatial markers. Specifically, he noted that "the temporal indicators are a
specific feature of Paul's style. He often uses time to differentiate between alternative modes
of existence" ("Textual Space as Rhetorical Device," in Rhetoric and the New Testament: Essays
from the 1992
5 This was noted by Robert Jewett in Paul's Anthropological Terms. A Study of Their Use in
Conflict Settings (AGJU 10; Leiden: Brill, 1971) 96. See also Sidney B. Hoenig, "Circumcision:
The Covenant of Abraham," JQR n.s. 53 (1962-63) 322-34, for a treatment of this issue from
a Jewish perspective. For additional passages on the covenant in the flesh, see Gen 17:11, 14,
23-25; Lev 12:3; Ezek 44: 7, 9. Compare the additional references to sa<rc added to the
circumcision contexts of Gen 34:24 and Jer 9:26 in the LXX. In Jewish literature see Jub.
15:13-33; Jdt 14:10; 4 Ezra 1:31; Sir 44:20 and later in the rabbinic texts of b. Sanh. 99a and
b. Sebu. 13a.
6 See Baumgärtel, TDNT, sa<rc, 7.105-8.
condition because of the nature of sa<rc. For
under the Mosaic Law (Gal 3:19-4:10). Therefore, sa<rc and no<moj were
tandem members. From Moses to the Messiah, to be u[po> no<mon was also
to be e]n sarki< (cf. Rom 8:4). This is why the allegory of Sarah and Hagar
in Gal 4:21-31 is so instructive. Paul's brilliant polemical stroke in this
passage is that the Galatians' desire to be into u[po> no<mon (4:21) is the tragic
desire to return to the slavery of Hagar and Ishmael, which corresponds to
being under the
covenant of slavery is via an Ishmael-like birth kata> sa<rka (4:23, 29).
Ironically, a covenant birth according to the sa<rc is exactly what the
Judaizers were preaching.
It is essential to clarify at this point that sa<rc is not inherently evil in
either the OT or Paul's writings. Rather, it is simply a part of the creational
limitations of being human. We can see this perspective in Paul's diverse
uses of sa<rc in Galatians. The sa<rc is a part of general human identity
with its implied inadequacy of human knowledge in 1:167 and its accom-
panying illnesses and humbling frailties when Paul first visited the Gala-
tians (4:13-14). This term is further qualified when applied to the identity
of Israelites. Paul asserts that no sa<rc will be justified by works of the
Mosaic Law (2:16), yet that sa<rc is also the realm of his discipleship by
Christ (2:20). Both of these statements must be interpreted within their
immediate context, namely, Paul's correction of the Jewish Christians in
of sa<rc in this passage is that it refers to the Jewish Christians whose bodies
are distinguished by circumcision. No circumcised flesh will be justified by the
works of Torah, but rather life in circumcised flesh is to be lived by faith in
the Messiah, else the grace of God is nullified and Christ died needlessly
The inherent weakness, frailty, and transitoriness of the sa<rc takes on
negative moral qualities when it is viewed instrumentally in relation to sin.
Most scholars include the usages in Galatians 5-6 in this list, along with
those in Romans 7-8, 13:11-14; Phil 3:3-4; 1 Cor 3:1-3; 2 Cor 1:17, 5:16,
11:18; Eph 2:1-3; and
2 Cor 7:1 to this list of moral or ethical occurrences of sa<rc.9 While
7 W. David Stacey observed the general theological significance of sa<rc kai> ai$ma
in Paul's usage: "In l Cor 15:50, this phrase is used for humanity in its transience and mortality.
In Gal 1:16, it is used for humanity with the stress on the inadequacy of human knowledge. Both
imply limitation, but not the same limitation" (The Pauline View of Man [
8 See the discussion of Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms, 97-98, for these same conclusions
with supporting argumentation.
9 For example, see George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (
mans, 1974) 469; W. D. Davies, "Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Flesh and Spirit," in The
Scrolls and the New
(ed. Krister Stendahl;
GALATIANS 5:13-26 337
the non-Galatian passages are beyond the scope of this article, I would like
to turn my attention to Gal 5:13-26 and to the validation of a redemptive-
historical understanding of sa<rc and pneu?ma in this crucial passage.
II. Gal 5:13-15 and 5:25-26—The Choices in Use of Freedom
These two passages will be dealt with together because of their function
as brackets or bookends in Paul's argument. They bracket the antithetical
sets of behavior of the sa<rc and the pneu?ma that are described in 5:16-24.
The first bracket in 5:13-15 is preceded by the epistle's first overt warning
about the danger of submitting to circumcision in 5:1-12. While Paul has
been building to this warning throughout the entire epistle, this is the
clearest confrontation yet. Paul ends Galatians with an equally ringing
warning in 6:11-17, which shows that this topic is obviously very much in
his thinking in chaps. 5-6.10 Clearly in this context also, circumcision is the
official symbol of taking up the yoke of Torah (Gal 5:2-3). It is the most
obvious act that ties the body as sa<rc to no<moj. Therefore, when Paul
follows his warning about submitting to circumcision in 5:1-12 with an
exhortation about the sa<rc, it is most natural to read it as an exhortation
about Judaistic behavior.
The structure of Gal 5:1-6:10 underscores this understanding of sa<rc in
Gal 5:13 also. This section is an argument proving the superiority of the
Galatians' present deliverance in Christ over what the Judaizers could offer
by contrasting the relational dynamics within the two communities. Paul's
point in 5:1-6:10 is that "his gospel alone provided them true deliverance
from sin's powers through their receiving of the Holy Spirit":
5:1-12 Paul warns and exhorts about the antithetical consequences of identity
choice for their continued deliverance from sin's powers.
5:13-26 The fundamental manifestation of deliverance from sin's powers in the
community of God's people is loving service, not competitive striving.
5:13-15 (Front bracket) The Initial Expression of the Antithetical Choices: Mani-
festation of freedom from the constraints of the Mosaic Law within the com-
munity of God's people should not be used as an opportunity (a]mormh<) for
continued fleshly failure, which is vitriolic and self-consuming, but rather as an
opportunity through love to serve one another, which is the summation prin-
ciple of the whole Mosaic Law.
A. T. Robinson, The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology (SBT 5; London: SCM, 1952) 22-26;
and W. David Stacey, The Pauline View of Man, 158-64.
10 Frank J. Matera notes that Gal 5:13-6:10 is itself bracketed by the warnings against
circumcision in 5:1-12 and 6:11-17 ("The Culmination of Paul's Argument to the Galatians:
Gal. 5.1-6.17," JSNT 32  84-88). However, the second warning is really the postscript
for the entire epistle, and functions as a summarizing exhortation. Therefore, while this un-
dercuts the bracketing observation, it nevertheless demonstrates the importance of the issue
of circumcision by its domination of the postscript.
5:16-24 The Antithetical Manifestations of the Two Choices: Those who insist on
living according to the past standards of fleshly behavior within the community,
under the Mosaic Law will share in the sins of a community composed of those
who will not inherit the
community of the Spirit will be enabled by God's Spirit to manifest the fruit
of loving unity apart from the daily constraints of the Mosaic Law.
5:25-26 (Back Bracket) The Closing Expression of the Antithetical Choices: Being a
part of the community of the Spirit means that one should choose to live
according to the rule or standard of the Spirit and not according to the com-
petitive striving that characterizes the community of the flesh.
6:1-10 Some specific manifestations of the deliverance from sin's powers which
fulfill the relational goal of the Law within the community of the Spirit are seen
in the gracious restoration of sinning members and in the generous financial
sharing with appropriate persons within the community.
Paul's argument takes a strong relational turn in Gal 5:6 that con-
tinues through 6:16. In this discussion the relational standard that Paul
holds up is "faith working through love" (5:6b). This standard is intro-
duced as a strong contrast (a]lla<) to making distinctions in Christ accord-
ing to circumcision or uncircumcision (5:6a). This contrast signals that the
following relational discussion harnesses the antithetical contrasts between
Paul's community and the Judaizers' seen in 3:1-5:5. Specifically, the
antithesis discussed in 5:1-5 of the freedom of Paul's gospel versus the
bondage of the Judaizers' nongospel is continued in the relational dis-
cussion of 5:6-6:16.
In 5:13 Paul reiterates in an explanatory fashion (ga<r) the Galatians' call
to freedom of 5:1. The u[mei?j is emphatic in 5:13a and heightens the contrast
between the disturbers of 5:12 and the Galatians. However, he also uses the
additive, yet specifying, use of mo<non to qualify further their freedom re-
lationally:11 u[mei?j ga>r e]p ] e]leuqeri<% e]klh<qhte, a]delfoi<: mo<non mh> th>n
e]leutqeri<an ei]j a]formh>n t^? sarki<, a]lla> dia> th?j a]ga<phj douleu<ete
a]llh<loij Gal 5:13b-c gives the purpose for their freedom in negative, then
positive terms. Negatively, Paul says, "Do not use [mh> plus an understood
imperatival verb]12 the freedom for [ei]j] an opportunity for t^? sarki<."
Positively, and contrastingly (a]lla<), they have the freedom from sin's pow-
ers so they can serve one another through love. Both the negative and
positive statements of the purpose are really more forceful and more overtly
relational restatements of the same two aspects, first set in antithesis in 5:6:
11 Paul uses mo<non in Gal 1:23, 2:10, 3:2, 6:12, and 4:18 (with mh>) in some type of qualifying
sense also (cf. Phil 1:27).
12 E. D.
no general consensus as to what verb should be supplied (The Epistle to the Galatians [NIC;
offer a good choice, the simplest verb and voice seem wisest. Cf. BAGD 517 (III.A.6).
GALATIANS 5:13-26 339
5:6a For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything…
5:13b you do not have your freedom for an opportunity for the flesh…
5:6b but faith working through love.
5:13c but through the love serve one another.
Paul circumscribes the focus of "love" in this context as the treatment of
others apart from the distinctions based on circumcision and uncircumci-
sion. Therefore, the use of sa<rc in 5:13b is a continued use of the physical
term with the continued ethical cast of the Judaizers' emphasis on circum-
cised bodily tissue. This is the same sense of sa<rc begun in Gal 3:3, after
being foreshadowed in 2:15-21, then carefully developed in 4:21-31. There-
fore, the occasion or opportunity for t^? sarki< in 5:13b is an occasion to
emphasize circumcised flesh or bodily tissue. This is the same sense of sa<rc
in 6:12a: "Those who desire you to make a good showing e]n sarki< try to
compel you to be circumcised."
Inextricably linked to this emphasis on bodily tissue via circumcision is
the way of life where bodily deeds are constrained by Torah. The Judaizers'
nongospel includes this total package (5:2-3). However, this life of circum-
cision and Torah-observance is not a proper use of Christian freedom. For
the Galatians to think that they have their freedom for such an occasion is
fallacious. To have freedom ei]j a]formh>n t^? sarki< is to attempt to be
perfected by the Judaizers' bodily emphases (3:3) by emphasizing birth into
God's family kata> sa<rka (4:23, 29), which is wanting to be under Torah
But why should Paul need to repeat in 5:13 the overt freedom statement
of 5:1 and the overt love statement of 5:6? This repetition seems necessary
because Paul is launching into the antithetical contrast of the internal
dynamics of the Judaizers' and his communities in
restatement of the freedom of the Galatians' calling in 5:13a, his reiteration
of the inappropriateness of circumcision-oriented living in 5:1.3b, and the
repeat of the lifestyle of loving service in 5:13c all introduce Paul's climactic
point: his communities, not the Judaizers', manifest true freedom from the
stoixei?a14 and are able to engender the relational ideal of neighbor-love
that truly fulfills the Mosaic Law.15 While the Judaizers' communities bite
13 See G. Walter Hansen, Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary and Rhetorical Contexts
(JSNTSup 29; Sheffield: JSOT, 1989) 152, for a similar conclusion.
14 Eldon Jay Epp has argued that the unifying theme in all of Paul's diverse imageries of
what God has done in Christ is that "God has set his people free, has moved them from
bondage into freedom . . . his one paramount point that God, through Christ, has brought
freedom to humankind" ("Paul's Diverse Imageries of the Human Situation and His Unifying
Theme of Freedom," in Unity and Diversity in New Testament Theology [ed. Robert A. Guelich;
15 In a very insightful article, Stephen Westerholm concludes that "the harried apostle
appears to have been consistent in at least" these points: "Paul never derives appropriate
Christian behavior by simply applying relevant precepts from Torah"; he "never claims that
and devour one another (5:15) and are boastful and challenging and en-
vying one another (5:26), the Pauline communities are seeking to serve one
another in love (5:13c) and to walk according to the Spirit (5:25). While the
Judaizers' communities manifest the deeds of the flesh and give evidence
that they will not inherit God's kingdom (5:19-21), the Pauline commu-
nities manifest the fruit of the Spirit and the true fulfillment of the Mosaic
Law (5:22-23). This relational fulfillment of neighbor-love (5:14) is seen in
the handling of the difficult issues of believers' sinning (6:1-5) and the
sharing of material resources within and without the community (6:6-10).
In both of these areas, the churches Paul planted are to manifest the be-
havior appropriate for the new creation that is living according to the
standard of the Spirit, rather than according to the standard of the flesh
In Gal 5:14 Paul relates the Mosaic Law as a whole or entire unit (o[ pa?j
no<moj) in an explanatory way (via ga<r again) to both th?j a]ga<phj of 5:13c
and t^? sarki< of 5:13b. Paul's use of Lev 19:18 in Gal 5:14 as a summarizing
relational statement of the Law (a]gaph<seij to>n plhsi<on sou w[j seauto<n)
connects very obviously with his love statement in 5:13c. However, the
no<moj/sa<rc tandem also plays a significant role in Paul's use in 5:13-26
(e.g., 5:13-14, 17-18, 19-23). The connection between the whole Law
which "has been fulfilled in one word" 16 and t^? sarki< in 5:13b is an ironic
connection. Its irony rests in the Judaizers' attempt to persuade the Gala-
tians to fulfill the Mosaic Law through emphasis on the (circumcised) sa<rc .
However, inherent in this emphasis is the central distinction between those
who are circumcised and uncircumcised in Christ (5:6a). This may have led
the Judaizers to redefine who their neighbor was by using their freedom as
an occasion for fleshly distinctions and thereby greatly restricting those who
qualified as their "neighbor" in Christ.17 If this is the case, then Jesus'
words about neighborliness to the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37 are germane:
such fleshly distinctions and concerns lead to casuistic lovelessness and
Christians ‘do’ (poiei?n) the law; they—and they alone—are said to ‘fulfill’ (plhrou?n) it"; and
he "never speaks of the law's fulfillment in prescribing Christian conduct, but only while
describing its results" ("On Fulfilling the Whole Law (Gal. 5:14)," SEA 51-52 [1986-87] 237).
16 Compare Rom 8:4 and especially 13:8-10 for Paul's connection of plhro<w and the Law
in the sense of "fulfill," not "sum up," although this latter sense may be encompassed in the
former. The immediate context in Gal 5:13-15 is one of behaving appropriately and thereby
fulfilling the Law's basic tenet. See Fung, Galatians, 245-46. In spite of this sense, however,
there seems to be a purposeful ambiguity in Paul's choice of plhro<w, which is less exact than
"observe" or "do" (cf. John M. G. Barclay, Obeying the Truth: A Study of Paul's Ethics in
Galatians [Studies of the New
Testament and Its World;
17 The issue of those who qualified as a "neighbor" may have been a part of the issue of
social intercourse in Gal 2:11-14, although it cannot be definitively proven at this point. See
E. P. Sanders, “Jewish Association with Gentiles and Galatians 2:11-14,” in The Conversation
Continues: Studies in Paul and John in Honor of J. Louis Martyn (ed. Robert T. Fortna and
interpretations of this incident.
GALATIANS 5.13-26 341
negate the Law's central tenet of neighbor-love. Nevertheless, if the Gala-
tians should choose to follow the Judaizers in their emphasis on t^? sarki<
in order to fulfill the Mosaic Law, the tragic irony is that they will risk
negating its central tenet about human relationships.
It is important to note that Paul is not advocating a love-antinomianism
in Gal 5:13-14 any more than he is advocating a Spirit-antinomianism in
5:16-18. Rather, he is contrasting the Judaizers' Torah-centered nomism
with a Christ-centered nomism of love, which he apparently already had
taught them. Therefore, he can appeal to and enhance to>n no<mon tou?
Xristou? (6:2) and a previously given set of standards about the kingdom
of God (e.g., 5:21b). The Pauline churches were given a kanw<n (Gal 6:16)
and a tu<poj (Phil 3:17) to follow. Therefore, Paul can confidently assert in
Gal 5:14 that the Christ-centered law he had taught fulfilled Torah. This
Christ-centered law is fulfilled in Christians when they walk kata> pneu?ma:
"He condemned sin e]n t^? sarki< in order that the requirement of the Law
might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk kata> sa<rka, but kata> pneu?ma"
By contrast (5:15, de>), the risk the Galatians run if they enter into the
communities and attach themselves to
annihilate themselves through an animalistic type of biting and devouring
of one another. As Betz has noted, "comparisons of bad conduct with the
behavior of wild animals were commonplace in the diatribe."18 Is Paul
describing the Galatians' rivalries and behavior, as some advocate,19 or is
he merely speaking in hypothetical and hyperbolic language?20 If these are
the only two options, then the latter one seems preferable. However, while
Paul may be using some hyperbolic language, it seems unlikely within the
terse antithetical argumentation that he has been using that he would
choose to describe a hypothetical situation. Therefore, a third option is
preferred: Paul is describing concrete instances of the relationships within the
Judaizers' communities. They have created intensely competitive communi-
ties where distinctions based on the sa<rc breed rivalries and animosities.21
In Gal 4:17 Paul noted that their exclusive mentality first shut out the
Galatians (a]lla> e]kklei?sai u[ma?j qe<lousin) for the purpose that the Gala-
tians would be motivated to seek them (i!na au]tou>j zhlou?te). This kind of
group exclusion to group-oriented people engenders deep and powerful
emotions. It is not the least bit unreasonable to see how such a highly
18 Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul's Letter to the Churches in
19 E.g., Walter Schmithals, Paul and the Gnostics (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972) 43-46, and
S. Duncan, The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (MNTC;
20 Betz, Galatians, 277.
21 Sheldon R. Isenberg, "Power through
in Christianity. Judaism and Other Greco-Roman Cults (ed. Jacob Neusner; 2 vols.; Studies in
in Late Antiquity 12;
competitive core and such an exclusive mentality have great potential for
"animalistic" interpersonal behavior. The most likely option for the de-
scription of Gal 5:15 seems to rest with the Judaizing group against whom
Paul is competing. While his language is obviously somewhat hyperbolic,
it must have had some correspondence in observable fact with which the
Galatians could relate.
While Gal 5:13-15 functions as the initial bracket of the whole section of
5:13-26, vv. 25-26 function as the closing bracket. While the front bracket
sets forth the initial expression of the antithetical relational choices between
the two competing communities in
same choices. While Gal 5:13-15 appeals to the Galatians to continue as
they had begun in freedom, in 5:25-26 Paul appeals to them to continue as
they had begun in living out corporately the life according to the rule or
direction of the Spirit: ei] zw?men pneu<mati, pneu<mati kai> stoixw?men. mh>
ginw<meqa keno<docoi, a]llh<louj prokalou<menoi, a]llh<loij fqonou?ntej.
The contrast between the Pauline and Judaizer communities in these two
verses centers on the life of relational unity that the Spirit brings forth
versus the life of competitive strife that communities devoid of God's Spirit
manifest. Paul again refers to the beginning of life in Christ as life beginning
according to the direction of the Spirit (ei] zw?men pneu<mati; cf. 3:2-3). This
beginning has shaping priority and dominance over the whole life that
follows. Hence, the Galatians should seek to walk in agreement with or
in step according to the same rule or direction of the Spirit. This is
similar to the appeal in Eph 4:1-3 to preserve the bond of the Spirit (cf.
(Gal 5:22-23) and this crop is one that brings strong relational unity.
However, the Galatians will never experience the fullness of the Spirit's
relational fruit and the walking in agreement with his standard if they
enter the Judaizers' communities. This is because of the Judaizers' com-
petitive core that seems to produce division and unhealthy individualism in
the form of boasting, challenging one another, and envying one another
(Gal 5:26). Again, Paul must have been appealing to characteristics of the
Judaizers' communities that the Galatians had been able to observe, at
least in part. The hierarchical sense of distinctions (5:6a; 6:12-13, 15) and
the fleshly means of being perfected within the Judaizers' communities
(3:2-3) must have fueled the relational dynamics described in Gal 5:26.
Gal 5:13-15 and 5:25-26 lay out the relational choices that the Galatians
face in deciding how to, use their freedom. At the core of Paul's argument
in these verses is some potent and ironic redemptive-historical reasoning. If
the Galatians use their freedom for Abrahamic circumcision and Mosaic
Torah-observance, then they will bite and devour one another. However, if
they choose to love one another and walk according to the Spirit, then they
will fulfill the whole Mosaic Law. Jesus Christ's provision of the Holy Spirit
and ability to love is more than adequate to fulfill the Law. However,
GALATIANS 5:13-26 343
getting circumcised and taking up the yoke of all of Torah will not lead to
fulfillment. Surely this amazing irony was not lost on the Galatians.
III. Gal 5:16—18—The Opposition of Flesh and Spirit
Within the bracketing passages of Gal 5:13-15 and 5:25-26, which sum-
marize the antithetical relational dynamics of the Pauline and Judaistic
communities, Gal 5:16-24 functions as Paul's fuller delineation of the in-
ternal dynamics of the two groups. As one would expect with Paul's rhe-
torical approach begun in Gal 3:1, these two competing communities are
delineated in an antithetical manner. In fact, within Gal 5:16-24 we reach
the climax of the antithesis of the community of the Spirit with the com-
munity of the flesh.
The logical linkage of 5:16-24 to 5:13-15 is one of means to the desired end.
In Gal 5:13-15 Paul expressed the desired end of the Galatians' freedom in
Christ: loving service of one another, not making fleshly distinctions or
biting and devouring one another. It is in Gal 5:16-24 that Paul now
explains the means of achieving this desired relational end. Grammatically,
the linkage is with le<gw de< in 5:16 ("But I say"), which is probably used
in an adversative sense for continuing a discussion, and especially for em-
phasizing an aspect of the previous argumentation (cf. Gal 1:9; 3:17; 5:2;
and especially 4:1). The adversative sense sets the contrast with the un-
desired relational end described in 5:15. Rather than this animalistic an-
nihilating of one another, Paul offers the sure means to avoid completing
this kind of fleshly behavior. While in 5:13 he described this behavior as "an
opportunity for the flesh" (a]formh>n t^? sarki<), in 5:16 he describes it in
a parallel fashion as "the desire of the flesh" (e]piqumi<an sarko<j). Walking
according to the rule of the Spirit (pneu<mati peripatei?te) is the gracious
and sure means of not fulfilling (ou] mh> tele<shte) the desire associated with
the sa<rc way of life.
If the e]piqumi<an sarko<j of 5:16 is truly parallel to the a]formh>n t^?
sarki< of 5:13, and it appears to be in context, then Paul's focus upon this
desire of the sa<rc is not upon its manifold sinful passions, which correspond
to ta> e@rga th?j sarko<j in their behavioral manifestations (5:19-21).
Rather, Paul may be underscoring the primary intent of the Judaizers'
passionate emphasis on sa<rc, i.e., on circumcised bodily tissue. The desire
of the sa<rc is the as the opportunity for the sa<rc: to place the
Galatians under Torah via circumcision so that the Judaizers' nomistic
distinctions between the circumcised and uncircumcised will be brought to
bear. Paul's antidote is, therefore, to walk according to the rule of the Spirit
so that the Judaizers' passion for the circumcision of the sa<rc will not be
Gal 5:17 explains this clash of the desire of the sa<rc and the desire of the
pneu?ma to and v. 18 gives the resolution to the conflict: "But if you are led
according to the rule of the Spirit, you are not u[po> no<mon." The antithesis
of pneu?ma is and no<moj in 5:18 must surely parallel the antithesis of pneu?ma
and sa<rc in 5:16-17, or else Paul's resolution to the conflict of verses 16-17
is meaningless. If this is the case, then the e]piqumi<an sarko<j of 5:16 is the
desire to place people u[po> no<mon. To this threat Paul offers the same an-
tidote in first the active, and then the passive, voice: walk according to the
rule of the Spirit (5:16) and be led according to the rule of the Spirit (5:18).
The imperative peripatei?te in 5:16 is a very common and extremely
important term in both Jewish and Greek ancient ethics, as Betz has noted
in this insightful passage:
The term expresses the view that human life is essentially a "way of life." A human
being must and always does choose between ways of life as they are presented in history
and culture. For ancient man, ways of life are more than "styles of life": they are not
only different in their outward appearance, but their different appearance is the
result of different underlying and determining factors. These factors influence
human behavior by providing the "way" in which human beings "walk." There-
fore, the way of life of human beings determines the quality of their life. More than
merely a matter of outward style, the way of life provides continuity, guidance and
assistance for the task of coping with the daily struggle against evil.22
Betz's insights help inform us how the Galatians would have related to
Paul's command to "walk according to the rule or direction of the Spirit."
Given the clear pneu?ma/ sa<rc antithesis of 5:16-18, the Galatians would see
that their choice was between two "ways of life," or, as we have been
translating the dative pneu<mati, between two "rules" or "directions" in
life. Apparently both of the communities had promised the Galatians the
necessary continuity, guidance, and assistance for coping with the daily
struggle with evil that Betz describes. In Gal 5:16-24 Paul appeals to the
observable behavior of the two communities to convince the Galatians that
walking as sarki< (or u[po> no<mon) will not result in the kind of behavior that
they desire in Christ (5:17) and is tantamount to walking in the way of those
Perhaps a further word about understanding pneu<mati as a dative of rule
or direction in 5:16 (and also in 5:18 and 5:25) is appropriate at this point.
John Eadie and J. B. Lightfoot are in the minority of commentators who
agree with this article's perspective that pneu<mati is a dative of rule or
direction (Lightfoot) or a dative of norm indicating rule or manner
(Eadie).23 Specifically attacking this view is Elinor Rogers, who says that
pneu<mati does not mean here in [v.] 16b "by the rule or norm of the Spirit"…
simply because stoixe<w ‘walk’ in 5:25b and 6:16a implies certain information,
dictates, rules, or principles, and such a rule is explicit in 6:15a-b. With
22 Betz, Galatians, 277 (emphasis mine).
23 John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians (
Paul to the Galatians (10th ed.;
GALATIANS 5:13-26 345
peripate<w ‘walk’ that idea probably would have been expressed as kata> pneu?ma
‘according to the Spirit’.24
agency ("walk by the Spirit").25 While this view is very appealing and
widely held, it has two difficulties. First, there is the obvious parallelism of
the antitheses in Gal 5:16 and 5:18 and the associating of sa<rc as in v. 16 with
no<moj in v. 18. As
pneu<mati a@gesqe in 5:18 are a "sandwich structure." 26
view of the ethical uses of sa<rc as "your naturally evil selves" 27 tends to
lessen the impact of Paul's parallelism and negates the effect of the sand-
wich structure by making the issue internal and individualistic rather than
external and corporate.
Second, the sense of stoixe<w in 5:25b and 6:16a is not to be understood
as arguing against a similar sense for pneu<mati in 5:16 and 5:18, but rather
as arguing for a similar sense of a dative of rule or norm because of the
widely recognized parallelism between these verses (e.g., Delling in TDNT
7.667-69). Even more important within this parallelism is the fact that the
categorizing of the dative pneu<mati flows out of its attachment to the
specific verbs peripatei?te, a@gesqe, stoixw?men in Gal 5:16, 18, and 25,
respectively. These verbs of rule or direction give the dative its ad hoc catego-
rization as a dative of rule or direction.28 The fact that Paul simply uses the
dative pneu<mati instead of kata> pneu?ma (as in Gal 4:29) could be explained
as a stylistic alternative, or even better, as an overt attempt to show how life
"according to the rule or direction of the Spirit" is inextricably linked to
the life "begun by the Spirit" (e]narca<menoi pneu<mati in Gal 3:3). The
continuity in the use of pneu<mati would help to establish this linkage.
Within the argument of Galatians, the command pneu<mati peripatei?te
in Gal 5:16 and the unpacking of this command in 5:17-24 is really the
rhetorical and emotional pinnacle of all of Paul's persuasion using the
sa<rc/pneu?ma antithesis. In a sense, the following two sections are a "cool
down" of sorts because they are a very specific application of this general
way of life (in 6:1-10) and the conclusion to the entire epistle (in 6:11-18).
But Paul is also reaching a theological climax in his description of the work
of the Spirit in this section. In 5:16-24 we now see more clearly how walking
according to the rule or direction of the Spirit is the divine means of de-
liverance from sa<rc. Earlier Paul asserted that the Spirit is the One who
mediates within the Christian the fullness of time that the Messiah has
24 Elinor MacDonald
25 Ibid., 170.
26 Ibid., 169.
27 Ibid., 170.
28 I am indebted to Professor Moisés Silva for this crucial insight.
brought (Gal 4:4-6). Therefore (w!ste), the Christian is no longer a slave to
the stoixei?a tou? ko<smou, but rather a ui[o<j and klhrono<moj (4:7). Paul's
point in Gal 5:13-6:10 is now to reveal in relational terms what this pneu?ma-
centered deliverance looks like when contrasted to the sa<rc-centered
promises of the Judaizers. Their "deliverance" is anachronistically bound
to the preparatory and inferior aeon of the Mosaic Law (3:19-4:3). There-
fore, the best they can promise the Galatians is more infantile bondage to
the stoixei?a tou? ko<smou (4:3). Ironically, since the Judaizers are the Ish-
maelites, they will not live out the Abrahamic blessing kata> pneu?ma; only
the Spirit-born Isaacites will enter into this blessing ,(4:21-31; cf. 3:13-14).
In light of these promises of inheritance which are intimately connected
to the work of the Spirit, Paul's promise to the Galatians in 5:16 is that if
they will but walk according to the rule of the Spirit, there is absolutely no
way (ou] mh<) that they will carry out (tele<shte) the Judaistic emphasis
(e]piqumi<an sarko<j).29 He reiterates this promise from the nomistic side of
the sa<rc/no<moj tandem in 5:18 when he bluntly states that if the Galatians
are being led (a@gesqe, present passive) according to the rule of the Spirit,
then they are not in the state of being u[po> no<mon (cf. 3:23; 4:4, 5, 21). But
what about Paul's hard-to-understand statements about the mutual oppo-
sition in 5:17?
At least five major views of the exact nature of the sa<rc/pneu?ma oppo-
sition in Gal 5:17 have been set forth in recent decades:30
1. sa<rc = physical part of humans according to Hellenistic dualism31
2. sa<rc = the lower principle in man, and pneu?ma= the higher32
3. sa<rc = the realm of man's earthly-natural existence or the merely human,
4. sa<rc = the evil impulse, and pneu?ma = the good impulse paralleling the
rabbinic doctrine of the two inclinations34
29 With the aorist subjunctive or future indicative, of ou] mh< "is the most definite form of
negation regarding the future" (BDF 184).
30 I am indebted to Ladd (Theology, 470-74) for this basic delineation.
31 Otto Pfleiderer, Paulinism: A Contribution to the History of Primitive Christian
Theology (2nd ed.;
32 George B. Stevens, The Pauline Theology (rev. ed.;
33 Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (New York: Scribner, 1951) 233-38.
34 W. D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism (4th ed.;
view is applied to Romans 7 by Davies in Jewish
and Pauline Studies (
1984) 24-27. Additionally, see Frank Chamberlin Porter, "The Yecer Hara: A Study in the Jewish
Doctrine of Sin," in Biblical and Semitic Studies (New York: Scribner, 1901); C. G.
Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (New York: Schocken Books, 1974) 295-314;
J. L. Martyn, "Apocalyptic Antinomies in Paul's Letter to the Galatians," NTS 31 (1985)
415-16; and especially Joel Markus, "The Evil Inclination in the Letters of Paul," IBS 8 (1986)
8-20. Relating Qumran parallels to Paul's antithesis, see Karl G. Kuhn, "New Light on
Temptation, Sin, and Flesh in the New Testament," in The Scrolls and the NT, 94-113; Davies,
"Paul and the
GALATIANS 5:13-26 347
5. sa<rc = unregenerate human nature believers still possess (now the predomi-
The above survey reveals that there has been a wide divergence of views
of the sa<rc/pneu?ma conflict in recent decades ranging from an earlier
Hellenistic interpretation of a duality between materiality and immateri-
ality to the presently dominant duality-of-natures perspective. Rather than
respond individually to each interpretation, I will add to the bewildering
array of views by proposing a sixth interpretation of the conflict, a
Viewing the sa<rc/pneu?ma conflict of Gal 5:17 within a redemptive-
historical perspective sheds light on the exact nature of how they "set their
desire against" one another (e]piqumei? kata<) and stand in opposition
(a]nti<keitai) to one another. The opposition of sa<rc and pneu?ma is at least
threefold. First, they are opposed in scope or ethnic inclusion. After the
changes wrought by Jesus Christ's crucifixion (Gal 6:12-.16 and 3:28),
boasting in the racial distinction of their sa<rc is an inappropriate boast for
the Judaizers (6:13-14). On this side of the cross, sa<rc now represents a
wrongly exclusive era in redemptive history that is diametrically opposed
to a universally inclusive era through faith in Jesus Christ (3:6-8, 13-14).
The Judaizers were perpetuating this wrong-headed exclusiveness in con-
tradistinction to "the truth of the gospel" (2:5, 14) with its absence of
Judaistic practices (2:1-21).
Second, sa<rc and pneu?ma now oppose each other temporally: sa<rc
represents an earlier, preparatory, and now inferior era of redemptive his-
tory because of its linkage to Torah (3:19-4:11). To advocate living kata>
sa<rka as the Judaizers were doing (e.g., 4:23, 29) is to advocate an anach-
ronistic set of standards, namely, living according to the rule of the sa<rc
instead of according to the rule of the pneu?ma. Such an anachronistic rule
negates the eschatological effects of Christ's crucifixion (1:4; 2:19-21; 3:1;
6:12-16). His crucifixion negated sa<rc (6:15) and its power over Christians
Last, and probably closest to Paul's reasoning in Gal 5:17c, is not just the
temporal and ethnic opposition of sa<rc and pneu?ma, but also the ethical oppo-
sition. This opposition exists because of the negating effects of the Judaizers'
nongospel on Christ's crucifixion. Since they advocate righteousness dia>
no<mou, then they effectively advocate that Christ's death was needless
(dwrea<n, 2:21). Therefore, they boast in circumcision (6:13) rather than in
the cross of Christ (6:14). The ethical result of the effective negation of the
35 Ladd, Theology, 472-3. See also, E. D. Burton, Galatians, 492-5 and D. E. H. Whitely,
The Theology of Paul (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1966) 39.
usage of sa<rc (e.g., in Gal 5-6) as "that element of man's nature which is opposed to
goodness, that in him which makes for evil; sometimes thought of as an element of himself,
sometimes objectified as a force distinct from him, this latter usage being, however, rhetorical"
benefits of Christ's death is living as if one were still a part of this present
evil age (1:4; cf. 5:2-4). Even more importantly, the Judaizers essentially
lived as if the sa<rc had not been crucified with Christ (5:24). This meant
living according to the rule or direction of the sa<rc not the pneu?ma.
Choosing not to walk according to the rule of the pneu?ma removed the only
means of not fulfilling the desire of the sa<rc (5:16). Therefore, ethically, the
Judaizers were living a life in opposition to the Spirit and in conformity
with the flesh. While individually the Judaizers were apparently Christians,
corporately they identified with and lived attached to the Jewish community.
Therefore, they embraced the fleshly set of behavior that flowed out of this
community of the sa<rc (5:19-21). Therefore, while individually they may
have wished to do certain things, they could not (5:17c). This is the result
of possessing the Spirit, but not walking according to the Spirit (5:16).
Therefore, they would fulfill the desire of the flesh. As a result (i!na in the
consecutive sense), they could not do those things that they would wish or
please to do. That is, those who follow the Judaizers' way of life will still
wish/desire (qe<lhte) to do the right things (e.g., loving service of others).
However, they will be unable to do so because they are not walking according
to the Spirit's rule or direction.36
Encompassed in the Spirit's way of life is the enablement to live this
new-covenant life (Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 36:26-27) since he is the divine
means of mediating this life (cf. 2 Cor 3:5-6). This is why Paul can
immediately contrast the debilitating failure of Christians within the
Judaizers' communities in Gal 5:17c with the personal terminology of 5:18a:
ei] de> pneu<mati a@gesqe. As many commentators have noted, "to be led
pneu<mati" is simply another way of saying "to walk pneu<mati."37 Note that
the contrast between 5:17c and 5:18 is one of the failure of Judaistic living
according to the sa<rc (5:17c) versus the freedom of Christian living ac-
cording to the pneu?ma in reference to the Mosaic Law (5:18). Those Gala-
tian Christians who choose to be led according to the rule of the Spirit are
not under the rule of Torah and its accompanying fleshly failure. How else
can the contrast of 5:18 with 5:17c be understood?
To recap the logical flow of Gal 5:16-18 and to summarize the lengthy
discussion of it, the following main points can be reiterated about Paul's
36 See Barclay, Obeying the Truth, 112-17, and Fung, Galatians, 250-51, for up-to-date in-
teractions with the three main interpretations of the i!na clause of Gal 5:17: (1) the sa<rc frustrates
the pneu?ma-inspired desires of the Christian; (2) the two forces of sa<rc and pneu?ma equally
frustrate one another; (3) the pneu?ma frustrates the desires of the sa<rc. Additionally, Barclay
(pp. 112, 115-17) sets forth a fourth view: (4) the pneu?ma will morally limit their freedom and will
morally define the moral choices they must make. While his view is more appealing than the
previous three, none of these seems adequate in light of the contextual
definition of sa<rc advocated in this article. Therefore, the view represented here actually
qualifies as a fifth interpretation.
37 E.g., Heinrich Schlier, Der Brief an die Galater (5th ed.; MeyerK; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1971) 250, and Pierre Bonnard, L’epitre de Saint Paul aux Galates (2nd ed.; CNT 9;
Neuchâtel and Paris: Delachaux & Niestle, 1972) 112.
GALATIANS 5:13-26 349
1. sa<rc = bodily existence in frailty and weakness apart from God's
indwelling Spirit, particularly in the circumcised state under Torah, when
referring to Judaizers. Therefore, sa<rc represents the redemptive-historical
era of the Mosaic Law when used in this context.
2. pneu?ma = the Holy Spirit and represents living in the freedom that
Christ's crucifixion brought, which ended the mode of existence called
sa<rc for God's people (cf. Gal 5:24; Rom 7:5-6; 8:9).
3. Gal 5:16 = the command to walk according to the rule or direction of
the Holy Spirit to avoid carrying out the desire of the sa<rc which, in
context, is the desire to be circumcised and to be under Torah. Choosing
the way of life according to the Spirit would prevent the Galatians from
carrying out the submission to circumcision (the desire of the crap).
4. Gal 5:17 = an explanation (ga<r) of the final phrase of 5:16 ("and you
will not carry out the desire of the flesh"). Therefore, the perspective is from
within the sa<rc. This means v. 17 explains the dynamic at work on Chris-
tians who become a part of the Judaizers' communities and attach them-
what Paul warned them about in Gal 5:1-4. They will live out the now-
inferior conditions of life under the Law (Gal 4:1-3, 8-11) because of the
opposition of the Judaistic way of life to the Spirit-led way of life.
5. Gal 5:18 = the contrast (de<) to life within the sa<rc community. This
contrast is being led according to the rule of the pneu?ma. This means being
within the Pauline communities and not being under Torah in the Judaizers'
IV. Gal 5:19-24—The Corresponding Opposing Lifestyles
While Gal 5:13-15 and 5:25-26 act as brackets to the central section of
5:16-24, 5:16-18 functions as the main statement of Paul's antithetical
contrast of his and the Judaizers' communities. After the two elements of
the antithesis (each representing a community) are clearly identified in
5:16-18, the resulting "ways of life" that flow out of each element/com-
munity are then set forth in antithesis in 5:19-21 (the sa<rc way of life) and
5:22-23 (the pneu?ma way of life). Gal 5:24 then functions as the definitive
historical and theological conclusion of the antithesis: sa<rc as an entity and
its resulting way of life is no longer appropriate for those who belong to
For the first-century person, choosing a way of life brought a correspond-
ing way of behaving with it. Therefore, first-century authors could appeal
to the family or group identity of persons in order to inform or reinforce the
38 Epp raises the interesting possibility
that this Pauline imagery may recall
from the bondage of
that the Spirit brings is contrasted to the slavery of being under the Law ("Paul's Diverse
behavior appropriate for the way of life that corresponded to that identity.
These appeals occur quite overtly in other Pauline epistles (e.g., Rom 6:1-
11; 1 Cor 6; Eph 4:1-3). The entire passage of Gal 5:13-26 fits this type of
appeal. The uniqueness of this ethical exhortation, however, is that it is
antithetically structured throughout as Paul contrasts the way of life of the
Pauline/pneu?ma communities with that of the Judaizer/ sa<rc communities.
The crucial exegetical question when confronting the deeds of the flesh
in Gal 5:19-21 is the identity of those who do these deeds. To say that the
Judaizers are in view is to beg the question somewhat. The stance of this
article is that the Judaizers were Christian Jews from the Jerusalem/Judea
area.39 If Paul is referring only to the Judaizers in Gal 5:19-21, then he is
implicitly saying that Christians are capable of doing the deeds of the flesh.
The exegetical difficulty with this is that Paul culminates his description of
the behavior of the community of the flesh in 5:21b with the ringing
statement "that those who practice such things will not inherit [ou]
almost identical form in 1 Cor 6:9-10 and Eph 5:5 as the conclusion to brief
catalogs of vices. Both of the broader contexts of these passages (1 Cor 6:1-11
and Eph 5:3-14) clearly describe the conduct of non-Christians in contrast
to Christians (cf. Rom 8:1-11). Therefore, one must conclude that Paul's
straightforward statement in 5:21b means what it appears to say: the de-
scription of those who do the deeds of the flesh in 5:19-21 is a description
of non-Christians (i.e., pagans).41
39 For a defense of this view, see Walt
Russell, "Who Were Paul's Opponents in
BSac 147 (1990) 329-50, and
Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians
(WBC 41; :
40 M. Martínez Peque ("Unidad de forma y contenido en Gal 5.16-26," EstBib 45 
105-24) has noted that antithesis is the most appropriate literary genre that explains Gal
5:16-26 and he has suggested the following inner structure for the passage (p. 109):
A….pneu<mati v. 16a
B…….sarko<j v. 16b
C………..no<mon v. 18
D………….ta> e@rga th?j sarko<j vv. 19-21a
E ……………..basilei<an qeou? v. 21b
D'………….o[ de> karpo>j tou? pneu<matoj vv. 22-23a
C'………..no<moj v. 23b
B'…….sa<rka v. 24
A'….pneu<mati v. 25
According to Peque's structuring of the passage (pp. 112-13), Gal 5:21 b is the focal point
of Paul's masterful use of antithesis. While I would include Gal 5:13-15 within this structure,
its inclusion would not change the focus of Paul's emphasis on the exclusion from the
basilei<an qeou? of those who practice (oi[ pra<ssontej) the deeds of the sa<rc. Compare the
similar conclusions of Nils A. Dahl, "Paul's Letter to the Galatians: Epistolary Genre, Con-
tent, and Structure" (unpublished paper for the SBL Paul Seminar, 1974) 69.
41 Peder Borgen has noted in reference to Gal 5:19-21 and 1 Cor 6:9-11 that "Paul uses
catalogues of vices to illustrate the pagan way of life, which for the converts belonged to the
past" ("Catalogues of Vices, The Apostolic
Decree, and the
GALATIANS 5:13-26 351
The simultaneous description of the Christian Judaizers and the non-
Christian sarkic practitioners in Gal 5:19-21 is easily understood from Paul's
previous identity of the community of the sa<rc in Gal 4:21-31. Especially
in 4:23-25 Paul identifies the sa<rc community as the Jewish community
still under the Mosaic or Sinaitic covenant (4:25). Again, sa<rc and no<moj
are seen by Paul as an inextricable tandem. Therefore, while the identity
of those who practice the deeds of the sa<rc in Gal 5:19-21 would normally
refer to pagans in most of the proselyte literature of Paul's day,42 Paul now
Paul as a homogeneous whole still being under Torah, and thereby still "in
the flesh" along with all pagans. The term sa<rc is doubly appropriate to
describe this community because of both the Judaizers' and the Jews' em-
phasis on sa<rc in kinship and in circumcision.
The term sa<rc is also appropriate as a description of the Jews/Judaizers
within this context because of the contrast of humans as sa<rc to God as
pneu?ma and because of the focus of sa<rc on humanity in its frailty and
transitoriness. Specifically, the Judaizers want to attach the Galatians to a
community that is "in the flesh" and is thereby not indwelt with God's
Spirit. The Jewish (and Judaizer) belief that Torah is God's gracious gift
that will adequately constrain their bodily behavior has already been in-
directly assaulted by Paul in the description of the sa<rc/pneu?ma is opposition
in Gal 5:16-18. Now in 5:19-21 he directly assaults the Jews' and Judaizers'
fallacious belief about Torah's constraining power by describing the set of
practices produced by living u[po> no<mon and sarki<. The tragic irony of
these practices is that they are not divergent from the behavior described
in contexts that are clearly Gentile and pagan (e.g., 1 Cor 6:9-11).43
What Paul is not saying in Gal 5:19-21 is that the Christian Judaizers or
pious Jews presently do all of the sins that he enumerates in this list of vices.
Rather, Paul's point is redemptive-historical in nature in that the list of sins
in vv. 19-21 is a litany of the deeds of
behaviors which are "evident" (fanera< in 5: 19a) throughout her history.
Neither Torah nor circumcision prevented the practice of these fleshly
deeds. Paul makes this same point in Eph 2:3 when he includes himself and
World of Formative
Christianity and Judaism [ed. Jacob Neusner et al.;
42 Borgen, "Catalogues," 131-33.
43 Charles H. Cosgrove has also noted that these behaviors are weighted in a certain
direction: "One gets the impression that Paul has loaded a traditional vice list (cf. 1 Cor
6:9-10) with sins of community strife, in order to make the point that rivalry is to be taken
seriously as the more obvious ‘sins of the flesh’ ”(The Cross and the Spirit: A Study in the
Argument and Theology of
For a helpful fourfold sub-division of the list of the deeds of the sa<rc and the various English
translations of these fifteen vices, see Fung, Galatians, 253-62.
his fellow Jews ("we") with the Gentiles ("you") as united in bondage to
the sa<rc: "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh,
indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature
children of wrath, even as the rest" (NASB). Neither Torah nor circumcision
will prevent the Galatians from continuing to do these deeds if they attach
do not, and will not compensate for the absence of God's Spirit and of the
effects of Christ's crucifixion on the sa<rc (5:24). Is Paul "
Not at all!44 Rather, he is again showing the inferiority of life under the
Mosaic Law (cf. 3:19-4:11) in light of the eschatological changes wrought
by Christ's death (e.g., 1:4) and by the giving of the Holy Spirit to those
who believe in Jesus (3:1-5). Those Jews who resist life according to the
Spirit by not believing in Christ therefore live according to the flesh un-
aided by God's Spirit and excluded from his kingdom. Hence, Paul's stark
point to the Galatians in 5:19-21 is simply: "Why would you want to attach
yourselves to a community which has a very evident history of the deeds of
the cap and which is a community that is now devoid of God's Spirit and
outside of his kingdom?"
Elsewhere, I have sought to underscore the corporate dimension of the
Galatian conflict and the central issue of group identity to the Galatian
Christians.45 At this point I can only note that we see one very important
aspect of this kind of sociological thinking in Gal 5:19-23 in the catalog of
vices (5:19-21) and virtues (5:22-23). They are given a concrete embodi-
ment in the Judaizer/Jewish and Pauline communities, respectively. Paul
is contrasting in stereotypical terms how members within these two com-
munities would be expected to behave as they sought to walk in the way of
that community. This "way" would be that which was modeled and
patterned for the Galatians by the leaders of the respective communities.
the community of the sa<rc has a long history in
checkered history, at best, that the Judaizers are representing. By contrast,
Paul must have appealed to Jesus and his early followers in his patterning
of the community of the pneu?ma, and he certainly was not reticent about
appealing to his own previous behavior while he was in their midst
(4:12-20) or elsewhere (e.g., 1:11-2:21; 5:11; 6:14, 17).
Paul used de< to link the list of vices in 5:19-21 both to the previous section
and to vv. 22-23. Gal 5:24 is also linked to the list of virtues in 5:22-23 with
44 See Luke T. Johnson, "The New Testament's Anti Jewish Slander and the Conventions
of Ancient Polemic," JBL 108 (1989) 419-41, for an insightful treatment of the NT's alleged
"anti-Jewish slander." One of his four main conclusions is that "by the measure of Hellenistic
conventions, and certainly by the measure of contemporary Jewish polemic, the NT's slander
against fellow Jews is remarkably mild" (p. 441). See also Donald A. Hagner, "Paul's Quarrel
with Judaism," in Anti-Semitism and Early Christianity: Issues of Polemic and Faith (ed. Craig
A. Evans and Donald A. Hagner;
45 Walt Russell, "Paul's Use of sa<rc and pneu?ma in Galatians 5-6 in Light of the Argument
of Galatians" (Ph.D. diss., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1991) 106-12.
GALATIANS 5:13-26 353
de>. These linkages give the flow of Gal 5:16-24 a steady, even rhythm and
a sense of connection. In spite of this flow, it is obvious that the sense of the
linkage of the fruit of the Spirit in 5:22-23 to the deeds of the flesh in
5:19-21 is adversative and intended as an obvious contrast. This contrast
is heightened by the use of the singular karpo>j tou? pneu<matoj in v. 22
versus the plural e@rga th?j sarko<j in v. 19. Additionally, the contrast is
strengthened by the shortened list of nine virtues versus the longer list of
fifteen vices and the sense that "fruit" versus "deeds" engenders. Fung has
remarked about Paul's use of karpo>j tou? pneu<matoj "the phrase
directly ascribes the power of the fructification not to the believer himself
but to the Spirit, and effectively hints that the qualities enumerated are not
the result of strenuous observation of an external legal code, but the natural
product ('harvest') of a life controlled and guided by the Spirit." 46
While the sense of "fruit" does not exclude the believer's active involve-
ment in its cultivation (e.g., 5:16 and 5:25-26), it nevertheless carries with
it a tremendous sense of divine enablement for exhibiting such qualities of
life: "The expression ‘fruit of the Spirit’ means that the nine concepts
should be taken as ‘benefits' which were given as or together with the Spirit.
In other words, when the Galatians received the Spirit, they were also given
the foundation out of which the ‘fruit’ was supposed to grow."47
Inherent in such a contrast between the behavior of the sa<rc /no<moj way
of life versus that of the pneu?ma way of life is the redemptive-historical
contrast between life under the Mosaic covenant versus life under the new
covenant. In fact, the two major OT announcements of the new covenant
in Jer 31:31-34 and Ezek 36:26-27 are given as
gracious contrasts to
failure under the Mosaic covenant. The placing of the Law within God's
people, and the giving of a new heart and God's Spirit made unthinkable
the returning to life under the former covenant.
It is also no accident that Paul begins this list of new covenant or Holy
Spirit fruit with a]ga<ph, since he had already used this virtue as the con-
trasting element to Judaizing or old-covenant distinctions twice in the
preceding context: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncir-
cumcision means anything, but faith working through love [a]ga<ph]"
(Gal 5:6). "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your
freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [dia> th?j a]ga<phj]
serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the state-
ment, ‘You shall love [a]gaph<sei] your neighbor as yourself’ " (Gal 5:13-14).
Life according to the Spirit is to be characterized by a]ga<ph as the first
and perhaps foremost virtue of those that should be produced in believers'
lives. In a very real sense, a]ga<ph could be called the distinctive of the
new-covenant life (Gal 5:6, 13-14;
13:34-35). However, Paul does not just single out a]ga<ph, but refers to the
46 Fung, Galatians, 262.
47 Betz, Galatians, 286.
nine virtues of Gal 5:22-23a (and others like them) as a unit in v. 23b: kata>
tw?n toiou<twn ou]k e@stin no<moj. What does Paul mean when he says
"against such things there is no law"? Two clarifying observations can be
made from the immediate context that answer this question. First, this
statement is obviously analogous to the parallel summary statement in
5:21b regarding the deeds of the flesh. The repetition of toiou?ton (neuter
in both cases) from v. 21b to v. 23b signals this analogy, and the term
functions in a summarizing fashion at the end of both lists. This is not
unusual because toiou?ton was used to recap vice and virtue lists in Greek
ethical writings (examples in BAGD, 821, s.v., 3 a,b).
Secondly, both of the toiou?ton phrases in Gal 5:21b and 23b summarize
the ethical consequences of following the contrasting ways of life of the sa<rc
and the pneu?ma. Those who live sarki< will practice the deeds of the flesh
and will not
be accused of breaking the Mosaic Law because they will possess the rela-
tional qualities that fulfill and enhance the neighbor-love core of the Law
(Gal 5:13-14). As the new covenant promised, however, the impetus to
fulfill the Law does not come from Torah itself, but from the new Spirit,
God's Spirit, that he puts within his people (Ezek 36:26-27). Betz beauti-
fully summarizes this Mosaic Law/Spirit contrast:
In view of the situation which the Galatians have to face, Paul suggests that it is,
more important to be enabled to act with ethical responsibility than to introduce
a code of law which remains a mere demand. In other words, the introduction
of Torah into the Galatian churches would not lead to ethical responsibility, so
long as the people were not motivated and enabled ethically. If they were not
motivated and enabled, however, the Torah is superfluous.48
Paul's point in commending the way of the Spirit and his fruit in a negative
manner regarding the Mosaic Law is a safeguard against the possible
Judaizers' criticism about walking pneu<mati. Such criticism is now neu-
tralized in a programmatic manner. The virtues that the Spirit produces in
the lives of believers will violate none of Torah's ordinances.
In keeping with his oscillation between the members of the tandem of
sa<rc and no<moj, Paul now moves from his discussion of behavior and its
constraints in terms of no<moj (5:23b) to a description of behavior in terms
of sa<rc in Gal 5:24. Since 5:13, this is the beginning of the fourth move-
ment from sa<rc to no<moj: (1) sa<rc (5:13) to no<moj (5:14); (2) sa<rc
(5:16-17) to no<moj (5:18); (3) sa<rc (5:19) to no<moj (5:23b); (4) sa<rc (5:24)
to no<mon tou? Xristou? (6:2). Because this fourth movement is expressed in
terms of the victory of walking pneu<mati, the movement is from the death
of sa<rc for those identified with Christ Jesus in 5:24 to the fulfillment of the
new Law—to>n no<mon tou? Xristou? in 6:2.
48 Ibid., 289.
GALATIANS 5:13-26 355
However, the power of Paul's description in Gal 5:24 of those attached
to Jesus Christ (oi[ tou? Xristou? [ ]Ihsou?]) has been largely negated with the
traditional understanding of sa<rc. For example, Gerhard Ebeling is typi-
cal of commentators when he writes:
For Paul, therefore, the ethical realm as such is far from being a realm of tri-
umphs; it is rather a realm of repeated defeats, in which, however, the Spirit cries
out "Abba," making this clear: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified
the flesh with its passions and desires" (v. 24). This execution has been com-
manded and introduced. But the process lasts as long as life e]n sarki< (en sarki,
in the flesh) endures, not in order to subjugate it by violence or even shorten it
arbitrarily, but in order to allow the fruit of the Spirit to gain the upper hand over
the works of the flesh. From advocates of death we are to be made witnesses on
behalf of life.49
Central to this understanding of the crucifixion of the sa<rc is the assump-
tion that it has an ongoing presence in the life of the Christian. Therefore,
the death of th>n sa<rka in 5:24 has supposedly been merely "commanded
and introduced," and thereby has set in motion the life-long process of
flesh-death. The manifold difficulties with such a view of sa<rc are lexical,
theological, contextual, and cultural in nature.50 However, at this point, it
will have to suffice to note that Paul is again appealing to the eschatological
(or redemptive-historical) significance of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. His
crucifixion has decisively changed the identity of the people of God (cf.
The definitive contrast between the former identity of the people of God
as Israelites and the present identity as those belonging to Christ was most
pointedly begun in Gal 5:1-6. The contrast is
between those "of
who take up the yoke of Torah and submit to circumcision and those of
"Christ Jesus" (e]n Xrist&? ]Ihsou? in 5:6) who recognize that circumcision
and uncircumcision now mean nothing for the identity of the people of God
(cf. 6:12-16). Apparently the Judaizers were repeating the traditional Jewish
belief that circumcision and Torah would adequately restrain the bodily
behavior of the Galatian Christians.51 Ironically, they emphasize fleshly
marks to restrain fleshly behavior (cf.
course, Paul's rejoinder is that walking according to the Spirit and his
enablement frees the Christians from this former way of life (5:16-18). This
avoids the fleshly deeds that Israelites have made evident (5:19-21) and
opens up the Spirit-fruit for those attached to Christ (5:22-23).
49 G. Ebeling, The Truth of the Gospel: An Exposition of Galatians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985)
50 See Russell, "Paul's Use of sa<rc and pneu?ma in Galatians 5-6," 1-170.
51 See Hans Dieter Betz, "Spirit, Freedom, and Law: Paul's Message to the Galatian
Churches," SEǺ 39 (1974) 145-60, and Bernard C. Lategan, "The Argumentative Situation
of Galatians," Neot 26 (1992) 257-77.
In Gal 5:24 Paul asserts his crowning piece of evidence to the superiority
of life "in Christ" versus life "in
has ended for those "of Christ Jesus" because of the aeon-changing effects
of Christ's crucifixion. In this context the death of Christians’ sa<rc is the
ending of their bodily frailty under the dominion of sin and the stoixei?a
(4:3) when they were without the indwelling enablement of God's Spirit.
For the Jews, the additional dominion of the no<moj over them while they
were in the sa<rc led them to wrongly emphasize deliverance through their
covenant in the sa<rc with God. Paul's point in Gal 5:24 is that all of this
Gentile/Jewish bondage to the sa<rc and all of the Jewish emphasis on the
sa<rc-covenant is now ended at the cross of Jesus Christ. It is now anachro-
nistic for those belonging to Christ Jesus to talk about life e]n sarki< or to
be bound to manifest the set of behaviors that accompany life e]n sarki< with
its passions and lusts. Jesus Christ's death ended the normativeness of the
e@rga th?j sarko<j (5:19-21) and replaced them with the karpo>j tou?
pneu<matoj (5:22-23). Because of the Christian's corporate identity in
Christ (oi[ tou? Xristou? [ ]Ihsou?]), Paul can say in 5:24 that they cruci-
fied their sa<rc (e]stau<rwsan is an aorist active). Logically, this oc-
curred at the time when they put their faith in Christ and became sons
of God (Gal 3:26).
Culminating Paul's redemptive-historical argumentation in Gal 5:13-26
is perhaps his most powerful redemptive-historical point about the sa<rc:
the crucifixion of the sa<rc is a real death that definitively ended forever the
real life of the sa<rc and its mode of existence for the people of God (5:24).
The crucifixion of Christ ended the age of bodily frailty for the people of
God because it broke sin's power over their bodies (3:19-4:11) and led to
the enabling indwelling of God's Spirit (3:1-5). Therefore, it is unthinkable
(though obviously not impossible) that the Galatians should want to iden-
tify with a community that stubbornly continues in the now culpable state
of sa<rc and manifests the deeds of the sa<rc (5:19-21). The better alter-
native of Spirit-enabled life is normative for those who belong to Christ
This is Paul's point in Gal 5:13-26 as he exhorts the Galatian Christians
to choose to walk according to the rule or direction of the Holy Spirit, not
according to the rule of the flesh. Should they choose the latter option,
however, it would be as Paul earlier stated: Christ would have died need-
lessly, and God's people would continue to live in the frail and enslaved
state of the sa<rc (Gal 2:19-21). This is the same choice between the old
sa<rc-way-of-life and the new cross-way-of-life that Paul will conclude with
in Gal 6:12-16. Separating these two great redemptive-historical eras and
their corresponding ways of life is the aeon-changing event of Jesus Christ's
crucifixion that definitively ended the old sa<rc-state for God's people:
GALATIANS 5:13-26 357
"Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its
passions and desires" (Gal 5:24).
Clearly understanding Paul's redemptive-historical argumentation
underscores this pivotal fact. While there continues to be a struggle in living
the Christian life, Gal 5:13-26 does not validate the view that the struggle
is against an internal moral entity called "the flesh." Rather, because we
once were "in the flesh" (Rom 8:9), we will still struggle against the effects
of that former condition (i.e., against being sarkikoi< or "fleshly" in
1 Cor 3:1-3). However, Paul's redemptive-historical argument in Gal 5:13-26
clarifies that Christ truly set us free from living a life under the tyranny of
the flesh. Rather than something we brought with us into the Christian life,
the flesh as a moral entity is a condition that was left behind in our pre-
Christian life. Now, we are empowered by the Spirit to put to death the
effects of that former moral state which we manifest bodily: "but if by the
Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body [ta>j pra<ceij tou?
sw<matoj], you will live" (Rom 8:13b). Now, like the Galatians, we can
choose to walk according to the standard of the Spirit because of God's
gracious work in redemptive history.
This material is cited with gracious permission from: x
report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:
Thanks to Larissa Boehmke for proofing.