- Locate the Passage
5:1-12 is the first preaching unit in Galatians 5. It connects closely with the latter part of Galatians 4 (see “free” in 4:30-31 and “freedom…free” in 5:1).
- Identify the Genre
The macro level is epistolary. The micro level is expository/hortatory.
- Determine the Structure of the passage
This passage has three key divisions. In verse 1, Paul instructs his readers by offering two urgent and specific commands.
The second division (2-6) contains Paul’s admonition concerning the issue of circumcision. Submitting to this rite because of the pressure exerted by the Judaizers would mean moving away from the gospel of grace.
The third division (7-12) reveals Paul’s assessment of the current situation with the churches of Galatia. He expresses confidence in the Galatian believers and conveys his contempt for the deceptive practices of the Judaizers in a particularly vivid fashion.
- Exegete the Passage
Verse 1 contains two imperative commands. Because Christ has set them free (eleutherosen-aorist), the Galatians are commanded to stand firm (stekete-present active imperative) and not to submit (enechesthe-present middle imperative-“entangle”) themselves again to a yoke (zugo-instrument of means) of bondage.
Verse 2 begins with the word “behold,” which has imperatival force (ide-aorist active imperative-“Look!”). This command is followed immediately by the emphatic self-identification of Paul (ego Paulos-“I, Paul”). He says that if (note that the use of hoti ean in this verse describes a contingent or potential situation) the Galatians accept circumcision (peritemnesthe-present middle subjunctive-“If you are being circumcised”), Christ will profit (ophelesei-future active indicative) them “not one thing.” Here, Paul is offering a strong admonition/warning to his readers. As Dr. Jack MacGorman reminded his students in Greek class: “Admonition is love’s authentic declaration of danger.” Paul expresses a profound love for his spiritual children. Verse 3 continues the admonishing tone with the reminder that accepting circumcision makes one a debtor (opheiletes) to keep (poiesai-aorist infinitive-“do”) all the law. Verse 4 often has been misunderstood and misapplied with reference to eternal security (losing one’s salvation). However, Paul’s use of “brothers” in referencing his readers and his statement of confidence in them (5:10) would mitigate against such a perspective. In context, Paul is stressing that yielding to the influence of the Judaizers, as it relates to circumcision, will not bring them closer to Christ. Rather, it will result in their moving away from the gospel of grace. Verse 4 emphasizes that those who are seeking to be justified by the law are severed (katergethete-aorist passive-“cut off”) from Christ and have fallen (exepesate-aorist active) away from grace. In verse 5, Paul stresses that believers, through the Spirit by faith, wait eagerly (apekdexometha-present middle-“expect”) for the hope (elpida) of righteousness. Then, according to verse 6, in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails (ischuei-“is able” or “has power”), but only faith working (energoumene-present middle participle) through love.
Verses 7-12 offer insight into Paul’s assessment of the threat posed by the Judaizers. In verse 7, He tells the Galatians that at one point they were running well (etrechete-imperfect-“run” or “make good progress”). This assessment is followed by the question: Who hindered (enekopsen-aorist-“cut into”) you from obeying the truth? Verse 8 refers to the persuasion (peismone) of the Judaizers. It is not from the One calling (kalountos-participle) the Galatians. In verse 9, Paul employs the illustration of a little (mikra) leaven and its capacity to leaven (zumoi-“cause to rise”) the whole lump. Verse 10 is an expression of confidence. Paul trusts in the Lord that his readers will take no other view (phronesete-future active-“will think” or “will have in mind”). He is also confident that the one troubling them will bear (bastesai-future-“carry”) the judgment (krima). Apparently responding to false accusations regarding his message, Paul, in verse 11, asks why he is still being persecuted (diokoma-present passive) if he still preaches (kerusso) circumcision. If this is the case, the offense (skandalon) of the cross has been canceled (katergetai-perfect passive). In verse 12, the passage concludes with Paul’s graphic wish for those agitating (anastatountes-participle) his readers. He wishes (ophelon-aorist) that they would emasculate (apokopsontai-future middle indicative-“cut off”) themselves! In the Galatian region, the mystery cults were quite popular and priestly status in them often necessitated self-emasculation. Possibly applying the idea to the Judaizers, Paul implies that, since the Judaizers think circumcision accomplishes so much, they should “cut off” everything!
- Let the Structure of the Text Drive the Sermon
- Instruction: Stand firm and avoid entanglement. (1)
- Admonition: Heed the warning about circumcision. (2-6)
- Assessment: Consider the apostolic perspective. (7-12)