Galatians Chapter 5:1-15 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, June 28, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series

Books referenced in these notes are:

1.) Grace in Galatia, by Ben Witherington III

2. ) The Epistle to the Galatians, NIGTC by F.F. Bruce

3.) IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, by Craig Keener

Gal 5:1
“For freedom Christ has set us free”: Witheringtonsays the context here is sacral redemption of slaves, who could not actually be involved a contract. Thus legal fictions like “For freedom Apollo the Pythian bought from Soribus of Amphissa a female slave named Nicaea. The purchase, however, Nicaea has committed unto Apollo for freedom”. The slave gives the money to a temple, thereby making the slave property of a god, and it’s servant. Paul thus suggests human beings are slaves to sin, and Christ the God who redeems humans, since slaves cannot free themselves. (Witherington)

Why did Gentiles find the Mosaic Law tempting? Certainly circumcision was considered repellent. But Judaism’s rituals and holy days much more resemble paganism than Christianity, which only had baptism and the Lord’s Supper for rites.(Witherington)

Why is Paul waiting so late in Galatians letter to openly speak of circumcision? Witherington sees Paul as practicing a rhetorical strategy called “insinuato”, saving direct comment about issues until the end of an argument in order to be more forceful.(Witherington)

Gal 5:2
“I, Paul”: Paul speaks with the authority of an apostle– indeed THE apostle for the Galatians, but here instead of laying down the law, Paul might instead be invoking familiarity “I, Paul, whom you know well, tell you”. (Bruce)

For Paul, the Mosaic Covenant was made void by Christ on the cross, bearing the penalty of Law-breaking for His people. Thus a new covenant is in effect. If the Galatians clung to the old covenant, Christ’s new covenant would not avail them at the end of the age aka Judgment Day.(Witherington)

Gal 5:3
Paul’s “again” is a rhetorical repetition to stress his point: circumcision leads to following the whole Law and losing Christ’s intervention. There is no partial Law: all or nothing. See 4 Macc 5:20-21; Sir 7:8; and James 2:10 for similar views.(Witherington)

One might be circumcised involuntarily, as Jewish male infants were, but to choose circumcision as an adult Gentile meant to choose to follow the whole Law. Accounts in Josephus’ “Antiquities” show circumcision was the standard rite for Gentile admission into Judaism in that day (Ant. 13.257;20.139;20.145; 20.44-88)(Bruce)

Is this circumcision a step toward the whole Law for the Judaizers, or completion of necessary rites to becoming a Christian?(Bruce)

Most Jewish sages considered that righteous Gentiles could be saved by following the seven laws given to Noah after the Flood. However, if one converted to Judaism, one was then required to keep all 613 commandments in the Torah.(Keener)

Ancient Jewish sages had mixed opinions on the necessity of keeping the whole Law. Gamaliel II (active post 70 AD) felt Ezk 18:5-9’s 13 commandments required one to keep the whole Law. Akiva (c. 50-135 AD) on the other hand felt one could gain entrance into the world to come by a single good deed, thanks to God’s mercy.(Bruce)

Gal 5:4
To follow the Law is to part from Christ, who has replaced the Law with His own law. You are obligated for perfect works, no longer justified by grace at final judgment.

Most Jews felt they were born into the old covenant, but believed one could “alienated, cut off” from the Law by refusing to keep its commandments.(Keener)

Gal 5:5
“We” presumably was, as before in the letter, “We Jewish Christians”. Thus even former Jews, followers of the Law, now await the final judgment in the Spirit in hope of being acquitted by faith in Christ.(Witherington)

Most Jews believed the Spirit of God was active in OT times, and would be especially active in the end times. (Keener)

The Spirit’s part in making the future justification of believers part of the now is also written of in Rom 5:1-5; 2 Cor 5:5; Eph 1:13. (Bruce)

Gal 5:6
Under Christ’s new covenant, it isn’t ritual that does the trick, rather faith working in love. “Love” is never passive for Paul, but always expressed in action.(Witherington)

J. B. Lightfoot felt this phrase “faith working through love” bridged the gap in thought between Paul and James, both of whom thereby speak of faith as an active principle, not just an idea. (Bruce)

Gal 5:7
This is a racing metaphor, about a runner stepping close in front of another runner and thus ruining their stride. There were rules against such tricks in ancient sports.(Witherington)

Ancient writers often compared living the moral life to a race. (Keener)

Gal 5:8
Greek peismone means persuasion, seduction, or corrupt. “Obey” in 5:7 comes from the same root, peitho, as this word. Thus Paul is playing with words here. Chrysostom and Epiphanius both equate “persuasion” with flattery and empty rhetoric. Paul implies here that his own argument comes from God.(Witherington)

Gal 5:9
Paul quotes a typical proverb here, also used by him in 1 Cor 5:6. Leaven is synonymous with corruption or evil (Mk 8:15, 1 Cle 5:6, Ign Mag 10:2). Paul is likely warning a few bad people could corrupt the whole Galatian assembly given time.(Witherington)

Gal 5:10a
Paul expresses confidence the Galatians will win through. This is both an encouragement to the Galatians to stay true and Paul’s surety that God is greater than the Judaizers. (Witherington)

Gal 5:10b
Whoever, singular, is agitating the Galatians will pay in the end. More Judgment Day, aka the eschaton, language.(Witherington)

Gal 5:11
Puzzling verse. Preaching circumcision and persecution are seen as mutually exclusive.

The standard conversion rites for Gentiles to enter Judaism were circumcision for males and baptism for males and females.(Keener)

Paul likely did preach circumcision when still a Jew, in synagogue to God-fearers and proselytes. This doesn’t likely refer to Timothy, because the dating for Galatians in relation to Acts (chp 11 or chp 15) put it before Timothy’s circumcision(chp 16).

Greek skandalon, originally meaning “a trap”, came to mean by this time something offensive, repulsive, or icniting opposition. (Sir 7:6; 27:23; Jud 5:20)(Witherington)

For Jews the scandal of the cross was in the OT curse on anyone hung on a tree. For Gentiles it was the idea that a savior could be someone who allowed himself to die the most dishonorable death known. A third, continuing scandal is how the cross eliminates the possibility of an individual contributing to their own salvation in any way, thus puncturing most people notions of self-worth. (Bruce)

Gal 5:12
Paul resorts to biting irony, because being castrated excluded men from participation in Judaism. Thus the Judaizers are wished to remove themselves from Judaism rather than the Galatians from Christianity. This may also refer to the cult of Cybele of Galatia, which had an emasculation rite, thus also implying the Judaizers might desert Galatian Christians, but for paganism. (Witherington)

Ancient Jews and Gentiles alike tended to a revulsion toward eunuchs. Roman emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD; reigned 117-138) passed an anti-castration law. (Keener)

Gal 5:13
“Brothers” is a rhetorical attempt to separate the Judaizers from the Christian Galatians, to show they are not proper members of assembly.(Witherington)

“Freedom” is an odd word to use in ancient times of slaves and emperors. And in such a setting might be interpreted as an anarchist “do what you will”.(Witherington)

“Opportunity, occasion”, Greek aphorme, was originally the word for a military base or the home base of an expedition. It shifted over time to “occasion” in later Koine Greek.(Witherington)

What is the “flesh”, Greek sarx? Some people relate it to the Jewish concept of every human having within him an evil impulse and a good impulse. That’s not so far off. For Paul, the flesh is the one part of Christians not renewed after conversion. It awaits the new body at the end time. Thus Paul takes “the Spirit is willing, the flesh is weak” seriously.(Witherington)

“Serve one another” might well be better translated something like “be enslaved to one another”. Paul is being paradoxical here, suggesting Christ-given freedom should result in self-sacrifice in service to fellow believers.(Witherington)

Gal 5:14
Paul again puzzles on first glance, speaking of fulfilling the Law after arguing so long against Christians practicing the Law. But with Paul there is a difference between practicing the Law and fulfilling the Law. Practicing the Law is the way of the old covenant; fulfilling the Law the way of Christ and his followers. Proper Christian behavior, as exemplified by Jesus in his life and death on the cross, does what the Law aims. (see Rom 8:4; 13:8-10, Mat 5:17) Christians, by leadership of the Spirit, can also fulfill the Law without performing it. Lev 19:18 is cited in the NT in Mat 5:43, 19:19; Rom 13:9; Jam 2:8; and also Did 1:2.(Witherington)

The difference between here and Gal 5:3 is that 5:3 speaks of the sum of the commandments of the Law, while here the subject is instead the aim or goal of the Law. Paul here isolates the basic principle of his quoted OT commandment to illustrate the commandment’s purpose. This was common rabbinic practice.(Bruce)

Gal 5:15
Here Paul is making an obvious, standard comparison to possible behavior in the controversy at Galatia and the behavior of wild animals, warning the assembly members not to go so far as to become so hateful they destroy their church. The progression is just like that of wild animals: bite, then devour/eat, finally consume/ eat up.(Witherington)

Ancient peoples found the notion of cannibalism even more disgusting than we moderns, if possible. (Keener)


One thought on “Galatians Chapter 5:1-15 Sunday School Notes

  1. Are you sure about your conclusion? Paul identifies what he is preaching against in Galatians 1. It is not the written Torah of Yahweh. It is Judaism with its additions and subtractions. What is written in Torah is pure and holy, good, just, and delightful, according to Paul and David. You are making the mistake of lumping the written Word (Torah) of God in with the oral torah of the Pharisees and Scribes and sages. It is what they did as well and what Paul is preaching against. Every Word of Torah is God breathed and meant for instruction, correction, reproof, and to make one complete for every good work, according to Paul in 2 Tim 3. He also says in the same portion of text that the Scripture makes on wise unto salvation, echoing David in the Psalms. The only Scripture they had was Torah, the Prophets and the writings and Psalms. Please consider that your conclusion is simply regurgitating a traditionally held view that is not consistent with the text of the Bible in whole, from Genesis to Revelation.

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