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The Epistle to the Galatians

Author and Date

This Epistle is undoubtedly by St Paul[1] [2]. It preserves blunt and ambiguous language which a later editor would want to alter. Acts 16:6 and Acts 18:23 record missions to Galatia. Most scholars date Galatians to 49–58 CE and Paul's visit to Jerusalem in Acts 15 to 49–51 CE. It is not clear whether the letter was to churches in north or south Turkey. Jervis[3] pp.9, 15 argues that Galatians is early and concerns Greek-speaking south Galatia, while Acts 15 is a different meeting about churches established after the pagan north was opened up by Roman roads built around 70 CE. These notes reject Jervis' dating; the meeting in Acts 15 cannot be after 70 CE because it features James the half-brother of Jesus, who was martyred in 61 CE[4]. Many details of the meeting match, and it seems implausible that the tensions in Acts 15 took two decades to emerge after Paul's vision in Acts 9. Galatians 2:7–10 seems to describe the same visit as Acts 15, so the letter dates from the 50s.[2]

Audience and Content

Galatians 1:2 identifies the intended audience as Galatian Christians, and the arguments assume familiarity with the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) [2]. Galatia included much of modern Turkey, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Galatians was written hastily in response to an emergency[3] caused by itinerant preachers teaching the Galatians that Christians must obey the Law of Moses, including being circumcised; unfortunately the letter proved capable of being misunderstood[5]. The ideas are carefully re-stated in Romans. Paul was eventually successful in establishing that Christians need not keep the Law of Moses (cf. Titus 1:10–11), though the issue reappears from time to time[1].

Galatians argues that the Law of Moses was not given directly by God, but through Moses[13], and is inferior Abraham's promises from God, and Paul's vision of the risen Jesus. The Law was for the Jews; Abraham's promise and Paul's commission are for all. The Law restrained the flesh like a slave-master (a vivid metaphor in a culture whose economy depended on slaves), but Christ gives life and freedom.

The theology and moral teaching of the Epistles can seem remote from the Gospels, but the summary in Galatians 2:21 is consistent with John 1:17. John's Gospel is the only one to use the word grace, which is common in the Epistles. Paul mentions crucifixion (but not resurrection) making three points: firstly, Judaism opposed Christ; secondly, Christ achieved atonement by self-sacrifice; and thirdly, Christians have been crucified with Christ and should be dead to sin and the Law of Moses (Jervis[3] p.22).

Two aides-mémoire may be helpful:

  1. this "eGALitarian" book says we are all equal by virtue of union with Christ (3:28);
  2. a Bible student can learn that the New Testament starts with the four Gospels, then Acts and Romans, then 1 & 2 Corinthians, but then what? The American phrase Go Eat Pop Corn stands for Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, which come before 1 & 2 Thessalonians, etcetera.

Structure (based on Fitzmyer[2])

1:11–2:14 Source of Paul's Gospel
2:15–21Summary of Paul's Gospel
3:1–5Proof 1: the Galatians' experience of the Spirit
3:6–26Proof 2: God's promises to Abraham
3:27–29Proof 3: the experience of Baptised Christians
4:1–11Proof 4: experience of Christians as Children of God
4:12–20Proof 5: the Galatians' relationship with Paul
4:21–31Proof 6: the allegory of Sarah and Hagar




Paul starts the letter with minimal pleasantries, perhaps because he struggles to think of praise­worthy qualities in the Galatian church. Instead he adds three points to the usual beginning of a letter: verse 1 claims that he was appointed Apostle by Jesus Christ; verse 2 claims the support of others, possibly women as well as men[1]; and verse 4 introduces the idea that Christ is saving us from the present world. He rests his case not on human authority but on God.


This one letter is addressed to several churches in Galatia, so we can assume that it was meant to be circulated and to be read to each congregation[3]. Paul travelled in Galatia on more than one occasion (Acts 16:6, 18:23).


Maccabees 4 shows that the concept that one person's death could absolve another's sins was not a new one. Perhaps this verse was a phrase known to the Galatian churches and used here to emphasise common ground.[1],[3]


This verse implies that the letter was meant to read during worship. The crude language would then be particularly shocking.


After minimal pleasantries Paul turns to the purpose of the letter. Apparently the Galatians were being taught, and quickly accepting, what Paul regarded as heresy. His words express frustration that the fruits of his evangelism were being spoiled by others. The language is emotive, to prompt action.


The false teachers' names are not mentioned. Paul might not have known their names; he might not want to "dignify them by naming them"[3]; or perhaps by naming some he risked leaving others free to continue spreading the heresy. The second option is consistent with 3:19 which avoids naming Moses.


If an angel contradicted a direct revelation from God, the angel should be disregarded[3]. The logic is clear, but how can one know whether a revelation or vision comes direct from God, or is mediated by an angel?


Paul uses the word anathema[6] in denouncing false preachers.


Paul seems concerned that some would see his Gospel of freedom as the easy option, avoiding the restrictions of the Law in order to attract converts[3].

Source of Paul's Gospel


The vision on the Damascus Road (Acts 9) which changed Saul the Jewish persecutor into Paul the Christian missionary shows three things:

  1. the Gospel is confirmed by Paul hearing it independently of the other Apostles;
  2. Paul's divine revelation and commission sets him above the false teachers;
  3. when he was a leading exponent of Judaism he found himself in conflict with Christianity, so Christians should not be taught to obey the Jewish Law.

Paul is so determined to declare that his faith is God-given that he fails to give Ananias and his companions any credit for their support immediately after his conversion (Acts 9:19–19).


This verse is the earliest instance of Judaism being contrasted with Christianity. Nevertheless, Paul does not call his life-changing experience a conversion; the one true God revealed his Messiah, and gave him a new mission.[1]

Perhaps the Christian claim that the Messiah died on a tree, making the Law seem foolish (see 3:13), made him want to destroy Christianity. Paul does not tell us...[1]


...because the important point here is that, in his experience, zeal for Judaism, which the false teachers promoted in Galatia, put him in conflict with Christ.


In claiming to have been set apart from birth Paul seems to deliberately echo Jeremiah 1:4–5 and Isaiah 49:1, claiming a calling comparable with theirs[1].


This passage describes the "period of several days" in Acts 9:19.


Paul emphasises not meeting the other apostles to show that he did not learn the Gospel from human sources but by independent revelation from God[1].


Paul did not visit Jerusalem to learn the Gospel, and did not spend long there[3].


This may mean that Paul went back to his home town of Tarsus for some time.[2]


This may be a direct quotation from Judean Christians because it describes Christianity as a "faith" rather than using Paul's preferred word "Gospel"[1].


Christians rejoiced when Paul abandoned Judaism.


Acts 12:25, 15:1–21, 21:17 show that Paul made several visits to Jerusalem. Fitzmyer[2] interprets this as fourteen years after Paul's conversion, and agrees with Stanton[1] p.1156 that this meeting was the one described in Acts 15. Verse 5 indicates a difficult meeting; afterwards both parties claimed victory and gave different accounts of what was agreed (compare verse 10 with Acts 15:20).


This verse may refer to two visits: one to bring practical help, and another to discuss beliefs and practices[1]. The "revelation" may have been prophecy about need in Jerusalem, due to the famine prophesied in Acts 11:27–30, which led Paul to visit Jerusalem taking a collection made among the churches. Perhaps Paul mentioned revelation to show that he was not summoned by the leaders in Jerusalem, though he acknowledged their power to denounce him and destroy his mission[3].


Stanton[1] p.1156 suspects that Paul took Titus to the meeting as a "test case". Jervis[3] agrees that since Titus, an uncircumcised Greek, was not compelled to be circumcised, nor should any Galatian Christian.


Paul felt intimidated by the intrigue and hypocrisy in the Jerusalem church[3].


Paul regarded himself the equal of the "big names" in Jerusalem, and would not submit to them. He had won a victory, but the Galatians' were throwing it away[3].


Again Paul emphasises that he did not receive the Gospel from human sources.


Cultural differences between audiences warranted different approaches to mission, and different leaders. Paul may wish to limit Peter's authority to churches in Judea[3].


It seems that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem were James the brother (perhaps half-brother or step-brother[7]) of Jesus (1:19), Peter (Cephas in Aramaic), and John[1] (the Apostle?). James is mentioned first, so perhaps he was the overall leader[3]; Eusebius mentions "James the Just", the first bishop of Jerusalem[8]. But Paul describes his argument as being with Peter, not James.

Acts 15:1 says false teachers came from Judea, but does not say whether they were under the authority of the leaders who met with Paul. Acts 15:4–5 confirms that there was a faction in Jerusalem who argued that Christians should be circumcised. Acts 15:22–29 records that following the meeting the leaders categorically denied that the false teachers acted with their authority.


"The poor" probably refers to Christians in Jerusalem; see verse 2. Paul is pleased to record that the Jerusalem church sought his help.[3]


cf. Acts 15:22. The Galatians might have heard a different account of the meeting in Antioch, which this verse refutes; or they may have needed assurance that Peter and Paul were no longer in disagreement[3].


The text makes a distinction between the men sent by James and the circumcision faction. The meeting at Jerusalem settled the question of circumcision, but the Jewish dietary laws presented a new problem[2]. Stanton[1] p.1157 wonders whether it was at the Eucharist or ordinary meals that Peter withdrew from gentiles, but 1 Corinthians 11:20–21 suggests that the distinction is false for such an early date.


Paul singled out Peter for criticism, but the mention of others including Barnabas shows that Peter did not act alone or on impulse[1]. The way this incident is related presents Paul at least equal with Peter.


Paul's challenge to Peter may not end until verse 21. His attack on Peter seems at odds with 6:1 [1]; perhaps Paul came to think he had handled it badly. Peter's response is not recorded, unless it is the "certainly not" at the end of verse 17 [3].


Since Peter had defied Jewish tradition and eaten with the uncircumcised, it was hypocritical of him to subsequently argue for them to be circumcised.

Summary of Paul's Gospel


This phrase makes sense if Paul's challenge to Peter extends to, say, verse 20[1].


Jewish and Greek cultures both desired righteousness, cf. Psalm 143:2, but disagreed on how to find it. James 2:24 seems to contradict 2:16 (and Romans 3:28) yet both argue from Genesis 15:6! James reacted not to Paul's teaching, but a misunderstanding of it: Paul taught that Christians are not saved by keeping the Law; some thought this obviated works[9]. But as 1 Corinthians 13:2 agrees, the works of the New Covenant are those of love. Paul seldom met the other apostles, theological argument raged by means of emissaries and letters; the churches were caught in the cross-fire.

The first and third instances of "faith in Christ" may mean Christ's faithfulness to God, rather than a believer's faith[1], meaning that Christians are justified by Christ's faith; or a believer sharing, through their own faith, in Christ's faith.[3 p.103]


This verse makes sense if you accept the argument of Jervis[3] p.22 that Paul understood the Gospel as being about union with Christ.


Jewish Christians struggled to throw off the idea that the Law is God's will, so departure from the Law is sin, by definition[3]. Paul and Peter ate with gentiles because it seemed right, so the U-turn meant that Christianity leads one into sin.


Paul begins to discuss his own salvation by union with Christ (see comment on verse 17), but the context implies that the same is true of every Christian[1]. "faith in Christ": see comment on verse 16 and cf. 3:23–26.

A Christian is someone who has believed that Jesus is the Christ and has been baptised "into Christ" representing death and rebirth. God then dwells within them in the form of the Holy Spirit, God's "seal" (Ephesians 4:30). God is indivisible, so Christ dwells within the Christian. We are in Him and He in us; we are united with him and thus each other. The Holy Spirit does not control the Christian, who remains free to commit sins or abandon the faith.[10] In the New Living Translation verse 19 says "...I died to the law – I stopped trying to meet all its requirements – so that I might live for God."


Paul concludes this argument with a helpful summary[1]. He is in no doubt that the door to righteousness is opened by only one key; we do not need the Law in addition to Christ's death. cf. John 1:17.

Proof 1: the Galatians' experience of the Spirit


Paul now applies his argument to the "foolish Galatians" (a term used by other ancient writers also). Pagan imagery distances the argument from Judaism, and mention of the cross may challenge false teaching that ignored its scandal.[3]


The Galatians have seen evidence that God's Holy Spirit accepted them, a sign of being saved (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13, 4:30).


cf. John 6:63. The "foolish Galatians" are encouraged to think carefully.


Jesus did not judge by appearances (Isaiah 11:3–4), because we are justified by invisible faith[11] rather than works[12]; cf. John 5:24, Romans 3:24 and 10:9–10.

Proof 2: God's promises to Abraham


Paul may discuss Abraham because the false teachers did[3] or using a standard argument for Jewish missionary work[2]. Abraham was made righteous by faith (Genesis 15:6) before he was circumcised (Genesis 17:8–10, the covenant for living in the land of Canaan) and centuries before the giving of the Law. The parallel argument in Romans 9:25f is fuller.


The Law contained remedies for our relationship with God being disrupted by this fallen world. Laws do not completely abolish crime, but define what crime is, and what should happen when crimes are committed. Paul implies that nobody succeeds in fully obeying the Law throughout their life[1] (see 6:13), and Jesus was often exposed to impurity: he ate with tax collectors and sinners, and touched the dead. Ritual purity and practical goodness are often incompatible.

Rabbis resolved tensions in scripture by comparing passages to see which gives the principle and so sheds light on others[3]. Paul compares Deuteronomy 27:26, Habakkuk 2:4, Leviticus 18:5, and Deuteronomy 21:23 to show that salvation is fundamentally by faith. Jesus was cursed in dying in our place on a tree (v.13), so uniting himself with sinners who are cursed through disobedience (v.10). See also comment on Psalm 1:2.

These ideas are expanded in Romans 7:7–25.


Paul avoids saying that it is God who curses anyone hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22–23). The full weight of the Law fell on Jesus, and we are now free, but "just how he does not say"[2]. We serve not as slaves but because we love the Father and know his will (e.g. Isaiah 61, Micah 6). cf. John 15:15, Romans 10:4, 1 Corinthians 12:3. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37) contrasts goodness with religious service.


Jesus was descended from Abraham through Mary. By being born, killed, raised from the dead, and ascended to heaven, he has paved the way for all humanity to go to heaven. Thus he has brought Gentiles into the scope of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 26:4, and see 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 and 45). Green comments on Luke 3:8 "children of Abraham are identified not by birth into the covenant community but through response to God's gracious initiative."[14]


The Law of Moses lacks the authority to supersede God's promise to Abraham and his descendants (quoting Genesis 17:4) of salvation by faith[3]. ("Promise" was translated "Treaty" in Hebrew and "Will" in Greek.[2]) But Jesus's death has superseded (or fulfilled, cf. Matthew 5:18) the Law which preceded it; consequently he avoids conventional names for the Law which imply that it was given by God[13]. Verse 19 says that angels and Moses were involved in giving the Law[1]; God's promises direct to Abraham are superior to the Law, and outlive it.

Verse 16 seems to be stretching the point too far, because the word "seed" can be singular or plural. But perhaps the point being made is that the ancient scripture is consistent with a single inheritor of the promise to Abraham.

In verse 17 it is not clear which events mark the beginning and end of the period of 430 years; perhaps it is the interval between the promise of an heir to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3 and the giving of the Law in Exodus 19:3f.


Paul uses the Septuagint's translation of God's promise as a Will to introduce the idea of us inheriting the promises to Abraham; but unlike Hebrews 9: 17–18 he does not make a connection between Christ's death and a Will being activated. Perhaps he is focussed on Jesus, being eternal, holding the inheritance for ever.


The idea that the Law was given to a mediator (Moses, who like the false teachers is not named) by angels is supported by Acts 7:38 & 53, Hebrews 2:2–3. The all-powerful God needs no mediator, but the Law was mediated, so the Law was not [directly] from God[1]. The Law only applied for a limited time from Moses to Jesus[3].

The phrase about the Law "being added because of transgressions" is puzzling[1]. Did people sin, so a firmer regime was needed? Did people not know what sin was, so the Law defined it? Did the Law provide a remedy for the sins people were committing? Was the Law a sinful idea? Verse 24 indicates the first option[1], though in Romans 3:20 Paul argues from the second.

Augustine wrote "We do not say that the Law is necessary except for those for whom bondage is a good thing. It was laid down with good reason because human beings, who could not be won from their sins by reason, had to be coerced by threats and terrors of penalties which even fools can understand." [16] Medieval Christianity, contrasting obedience to the church or eternal damnation, seems to have followed his advice. But Augustine went on to say in the same passage "It is not the Old Testament that is abolished in Christ, but the concealing veil, so that it may now be understood through Christ." Thus the Old Testament is to be understood as an allegory.


God can speak for himself, but Moses as mediator represented the people to God (Exodus 32:11) as well as representing God to the people[3]; cf. Jesus's comment that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath (Mark 2:27).


Paul is not arguing that the Law of Moses was useless or ungodly. It was a stage in the relationship between people and God, albeit an imperfect one.[1] See also comment on Psalm 1:2.


Paul now contrasts the Law, which demands strict obedience, with freedom. "All": the Gospel may affect not only all people, but indirectly all creation[2].


It was Jesus that was revealed; see 2:19–20. Faith: see 2:16.


The Gospel proclaims that slavery under the Law (v.22) is ended.


See 1:17 above. Some claim that these three verses quote the earliest surviving liturgical description of a Christian[3].

Proof 3: the experience of Baptised Christians


Circumcision (cf. Romans 6:3) was for men, but baptism is for all[3]; thus baptism brings the equality mentioned in the next verse, and the fulfilment of the imperfect Law. "Baptised into Christ" is clarified by comparing it with 1 Corinthians 10:2 which says that the Hebrews were "baptised into Moses". The phrase "put on..." (cf. Romans 13:14) was not new (it is found in Psalm 132:9 and Isaiah 61:10) and meant adopting the character of something; in this case, baptism unites the believer with Christ's character and death.[3]

"Put on Christ": early Christians may have emerged from the water of baptism naked, making their dressing afterwards meaningful; but all of us who have been baptised, whether by immersion or pouring, should put on the "adornments" [18] of godly behaviour.


See comment on Colossians 3:11 and cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 2:14. The freedom that Christ has won for us includes freedom from distinctions of gender, race and status; Paul rejected prejudices against gentiles, slaves and women. The thrust of the argument is not that we are equal before God (though we are) but that we are united with each other and with Christ by baptism.[1] "Male and female" (not "or" in this instance) quotes Genesis 1:27 in the Septuagint[3].


The discussion of children who will one day inherit illustrates the point that the Law of Moses was a temporary stage in the relationship between people and God[1], now (present tense) superseded by union with Christ when the Father considers that the time is right. The implication is that by going back to the Law the Galatians are swimming against the tide of God's plan [3 pp.22 & 108f].

Proof 4: experience of Christians as Children of God


"Elemental Spirits" is not a euphemism for demons. The Jews believed that everything in the cosmos had a "god" determining its properties[1]; we would talk in terms of the Laws of Nature. Paul seems to mean that those who are not led by the Holy Spirit or constrained by Law are subject to their animal instincts.


Paul summarises the ministry of Jesus as a mission to live with us, as one of us, to save us. The Good Shepherd leaves the flock to find the lost (Luke 15:4).

The word "sons" might seem politically incorrect, but in the ancient world only sons could inherit[3]. All Christians will inherit with God's Son (3:28).


The use of the Aramaic "Abba" in a letter to Greek speakers is unusual and suggests that Christians adopted Jesus's word for God the Father (Mark 14:36).[1]


Paul reminds the Galatians of some of the bonds that Christ has broken.[3]


This seems a weak argument against circumcision, because Abraham was the first to be circumcised under a covenant with God (Genesis 17:10); cf. verse 28.


The special times and seasons may include pagan as well as Jewish traditions.[3] Hebrews 4:7 declares that the Christian should enjoy Sabbath Rest every day, implying that every day is equally holy.

Proof 5: the Galatians' relationship with Paul


Paul's infirmity could have been a sign that God was not blessing his mission, but the Galatians received him compassionately. See comment on 6:11.


Ironically, those who accepted Paul's message when he was ill rejected it when he was well.


The false teachers wanted to draw the Galatians away from Pauline Christianity.[1]


Paul saw the tussle with the false preachers as a life-and-death struggle.[3]


Paul was not sure that this letter would succeed, but felt compelled to try.[1] The traditions of rhetoric required an orator to conclude on a positive note[15].

Proof 6: the allegory of Sarah and Hagar


The long discussion of Genesis 21 suggests that the false teachers used it.[3]


Paul bases his argument on scripture.[3]


The text implies that Isaac's birth was miraculous while Ishmael's was ordinary.[3]

Hagar was an Egyptian (Genesis 16:1), who Abraham took to Canaan (Genesis 16:3). She was abused and fled, but an angel sent her back into servitude (Genesis 16:9). Abraham had sons by both Hagar and Sarah. Sarah resented the boys playing together as equals, and persecuted Hagar so that she and her son fled into the wilderness near Beer-Sheba (Genesis 21:14). But God promised Hagar that Abraham's child born to her would be blessed (Genesis 21:18f).

Paul's allegory links Hagar with Mount Sinai, which stands here for the Law (Exodus 24:16, 31:18); there is a tenuous link in that Mount Sinai was in Ishmaelite territory.[2] Perhaps Paul assumed that they went to Arabia together.


The argument is basically about legitimacy[3] of children, promises and covenants. Hagar's son Ishmael settled in Arabia (Genesis 25:18); Ishmael and the place where the Law was given are both associated with servitude rather than Romans 8:1. Paul also implies that the Jerusalem church was as much enslaved as the Jews there[1], so false teachers claiming support from Jerusalem can only teach slavery.


Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1 (hope for Zion whose inhabitants had been exiled[2]) to support his interpretation of Genesis 21 as an allegory, and Isaac's birth as miraculous[3].

The two sons are an example of Jesus's saying "The last shall be first" (e.g. Matthew 19:30, cf. Genesis 17:19).


God promised to bless Abraham's offspring (Genesis 15:4). Hagar's child Ishmael, conceived in servitude by Abraham, was promised God's blessing (Genesis 21:18f), but Abraham's heritage was through Sarah's child Isaac (Genesis 21:12). But the argument that the inheritance through Isaac is independent of circumcision is weak because Isaac and Ishmael were circumcised (Genesis 17:26, 21:4)—​as was Jesus.


See Genesis 16:12.


The quotation from Genesis 21:10 says that only the free can inherit, so the law-keeping that Paul has characterised as slavery is not the route to salvation. It is ironic that Paul quotes from the Law to urge expulsion of those who teach adherence to it[2].


"We" refers to all who inherit the promises to Abraham (3:6–10).



In this chapter Paul first calls the Galatians back to freedom in Christ, and then from verse 13 onwards he clarifies what this means.


Circumcision was the sign of belonging to God in the covenant made through Abraham. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the sign of belonging to God in the covenant made through Jesus, so circumcision is now redundant. The Galatians must decide which covenant they rely on.


Stanton suggests that those who urged the Galatians to be circumcised did not warn them that they would then be obliged to keep the whole Law[1] though this ignores the fact that circumcision first appeared in the promises to Abraham which Paul says are available in Christ (Genesis 17:10). Jervis[3] p.3 thinks the Galatians wanted to become "god-fearers" rather than full converts to Judaism.


If Christians decide to be circumcised, they imply that what Christ has done is incomplete or insufficient[3].


Sarah was impatient for the heir promised to Abraham and arranged for him to have a child by her slave girl (Genesis 16:1–4). God's timing can be frustrating.


Freedom in Christ is offered to both the circumcised and the uncircumcised. Thus two main themes of this letter are linked: Romans 8:1 contrasted with Law, and the unity of all Christians regardless of their background.

This letter does not teach salvation by faith without works; this verse says faith should express itself in loving work; cf. James 2:14–24.


The false teaching would naturally spread.


Perhaps some claimed that Paul had preached circumcision; he cites his persecution by Jews (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24) as evidence that this was not so[3]. See comment on 3:10–13 regarding the offence of the cross.


cf. Deuteronomy 23:1; under the old Law (which the false teachers sought to uphold) Paul's suggestion would make the false teachers outcasts[3].


Having denounced the false teachers Paul contrasts slavery to the Law with Christian Romans 8:1 that should be used to obey the principles of Christian love.


cf. Jesus's summary of the Law in Matthew 22:36–40 (and its parallel Mark 12:28–31) and also John 13:34.


See comment on 5:19–23.


Ancient writers viewed people as ruled by their carnal desires, and sought methods of becoming truly free; the Gospel frees us from such slavery[3].


This verse may have encouraged monastic asceticism, but onerous Rules of Life seem at odds with the freedom proclaimed in verse 1. Since one should "love one's neighbour as oneself", one should love oneself as one loves others[3].


If no law applied to Christians, there could be no trespass against it; Christians could not sin because there would be nothing to sin against. But there is a "law of Christ" (6:2) obliging us to show God's character and do what pleases God. Under the New Covenant, this is achieved not by the external Law but by the internal Holy Spirit[2], and proved by the visible results discussed in the following verses.


Good and evil may be theological and ethical ideas but they have practical implications. The evils that come first to Paul's mind are sexual ones.


Verse 15 implies that some of the evils listed here were found in the Galatian churches[1]. Paul wants the Galatians to judge false teaching on its results, to see that the false teaching is incompatible with the summary of the Law in verse 14.


Paul warns the Galatians that inheriting through Abraham is incompatible with the sins emerging among them, because the sinful nature of someone who does such things has not been crucified with Christ[3].


The words "fruit of..." are used in the Old Testament and seem to mean "output", for example "fruit of the womb" in Deuteronomy 7:13. Fruit, which is given away by the plant that produced it, is in contrast with selfish hoarding[3].

Ephesians 5:9 gives a similar list of Fruit of the Spirit; both use the word "fruit" (singular) for a set of items. The set is one fruit; one should not expect to produce some parts without the others. A Christian may show some godly behaviours better than others, but the indwelling Spirit works to produce all them in all of us.

Jesus spoke about bearing fruit in John 15:2, and St Peter gives a different list in 2 Peter 1:5f.

Meekness: see Appendix 2 Meek.

The Fruit of the Spirit differs from the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). Fruit appears automatically wherever there is life and sufficient maturity, though it might vary in quantity and ripeness. Gifts come in various kinds, all of which are undeserved, and can be rejected or neglected.

'Instead of looking at the works of the flesh, seek out in your life the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Take stock regularly of the growth of love, joy, peace and so on that is evidently happening and your thanksgving will water its growth.' [17]


Paul expects Christians to be immune to carnal passions, just as corpses are.


Perhaps these vices were provoked in the Galatian churches by the false teaching.


What should be done about the vices (5:26) evident in the Galatian churches? The would urge exclusion of the disobedient, but Paul urges a response compatible with the Fruit of the Spirit (5:22–23) [3]. Treating sinners cruelly would be unchristian, making the critic as much a sinner as those they criticise (cf. Matthew 7:3f).

Meekness: see Appendix 2 Meek.


Paul develops the argument against the Law of Moses into a new law of Christ[3]. Unlike the old Law with its rigid and complicated rules, the law of Christ is expressed in broad principles which can be applied flexibly to any situation.


cf. Matthew 11:29–30; a yoke is a load-bearing device that is custom-made for the wearer, but would not fit others. We have different Christian duties, and different strengths and weaknesses. We should try not to be a burden on each other, but one Christian's need allows others to show Christian love.


Jervis[2] p.155 says this verse is a common Greek philosophers' comment[3]. Its use here implies that Paul saw himself as the Galatians' teacher.


cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6. Ralph Waldo Emerson has said "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny."


"Flesh" seems to mean mortal human nature, which is inferior to the eternal spirit; the promotion of circumcision is correspondingly inferior to Paul's teaching.


The closing verses do not follow the conventions for a letter, so perhaps Paul saw it as a sermon. Winter[19] identifies "large letters" with the effects of his own bad eyesight (cf. 4:15), but Stanton[1] p.1164 argues that it relates to bold statements.


See comment on 5:11; the false teachers avoided the persecution Paul suffered.


Paul repeats the assertion in 3:10–12 that nobody succeeds in obeying the Law of Moses in every respect throughout their life[1].


In Genesis 32:28 Abraham's grandson Jacob was renamed Israel, and this became the name of the nation he founded. Here "Israel of God" is a way of describing those who inherit through Abraham[2].


The word stigmata may mean that Paul had wounds in his hands, feet and side like those of Jesus[1]. Fitzmyer[2] disagrees, saying that the word was used in connection with branding marks that identified slaves and animals with their owners; here it could mean the scars of Paul's persecutions, and his other medical problems (4:13–15; the "thorn in the flesh" in 2 Corinthians 12:7 may be the same thing, cf. Acts 9:8, 12 and 18). Whatever it was, it meant much more to him than his circumcision.


  1. Stanton, G. "Galatians" in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (eds) The Oxford Bible Commentary (OUP, 2001) pp.1152f
  2. Fitzmyer, J. "The Letter to the Galatians" in Brown, R., Fitzmyer, J., and Murphy, R. (eds) The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Upper Saddle River NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1990) pp.780f
  3. Jervis, L. Galatians (Carlisle: Paternoster New International Biblical Commentary series, 1999)
  4. Reiner, R. "James" in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (eds) The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP 2001) p.1256
  5. Drane, John Introducing the New Testament (Oxford: Lion, 1986 & 1999) p.297
  6. http://www.greekbible.com/ (accessed 19 January 2015) defines αναθεμα n {an-ath'-em-ah} as:
    1) a thing set up or laid by in order to be kept 1a) specifically, an offering resulting from a vow, which after being consecrated to a god was hung upon the walls or columns of the temple, or put in some other conspicuous place;
    2) a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction 2a) a curse 2b) a man accursed, devoted to the direst of woes.
  7. Reiner, R. "James" in Barton J & Muddiman J (eds) The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP 2001) p.1255f
  8. Eddy, P. & Boyd, G. The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (2007: Baker) p.189
  9. Brown, R. An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997) p.733f
  10. see Dunn, J. The Theology of Paul the Apostle (London & New York: Continuum, 1998 & 2003) pp.494 et al
  11. Amos 1–2 implies that God judges non-believers on morals but Judah trusted the Law and was judged on observance
  12. Jews saw righteousness as keeping the Law[3] and called gentiles "law-less"[2] so Sirach 44:19–20 claims Abraham kept the Law[3]
  13. Deuteronomy 4:12–14, 5:22 say only the Ten Commandments came from God; see also Collins, J. "Deuteronomy" in Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004) p.173
  14. Green, J. The Gospel of Luke in "The New International Commentary on the New Testament" series (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1997) p.176
  15. Betz, H. Galatians (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979) p.237, quoted in Jervis[3] p.121
  16. Augustine of Hippo "de utilitate credendi" III 9 quoted in McGrath, A. (ed.) The Christian Theology Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 2nd edn 2001) p.83
  17. John Twistelton writing in New Daylight 22 September 2015, quoting a member of the Anglican Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, Yorkshire
  18. Andy John writing in New Daylight 7 August 2018
  19. Revd David Winter writing in Church Times "Diary" 3 May 2019
  20. Cowan, J. Andrew "The Curse of the Law, the Covenant, and Anthropology in Galatians 3:10–14; An Examination of Paul's Use of Deuteronomy 27:26", in Journal of Biblical Literature Vol 139 no 1 2020 (Atlanta, USA)

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