The Pulpit Commentary

Galatians 5:7-12 (Galatians 5:7-12)

In these verses the language is remarkably curt and disjointed. Their style seems to betoken, either the mind of the writer musing in painful embarrassment, uncertain how best to grapple with the case before him through imperfect knowledge of the circumstances ("Who did hinder you?" ); or , possibly, the painful effort which it cost the apostle to "write with his own hand." In Galatians 5:13 he at length takes up a line of thought which he is able to follow on with fulness and fluency.

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Galatians 5:12 (Galatians 5:12)

I would they were even cut off which trouble you ( ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς ); would to God they would make themselves even as the apocopi of Cybele (Greek, would even mutilate themselves ), who are casting you out of country and home ! The word ὄφελον , originally a verb, had got, thus stripped of its augment, to be a mere particle of wishing. Its sense with an indicative aorist is seen 1 Corinthians 4:8 , ὄφελόν γε ἐβασιλεύσατε , "Would to God ye had come to your kingship [which is far from being really the case yet!];" Exodus 16:3 ; Numbers 14:2 ; Numbers 20:3 , ὄφελον ἀπεθάνομεν , "Would to God we had died!" with an indicative imperfect , 2 Corinthians 11:1 , ὄφελον ἀνείχεσθέ μον μικρὸν ἀφροσύνης , "Would to God ye were [ i.e. could be] tolerant of a little foolishness of mine! [might I hope for it?];" Revelation 3:15 , ὄφελον ψυχρὸς ἦς , etc., "Would that thou wert cold," etc. With an indicative future (an extremely rare combination), it may still be regarded as expressing a longing that something might be looked forward to, which in reality is not to be anticipated; different from a simple desire that a thing may be, unaccompanied by the feeling that it cannot be, which is its three with an optative, as in Psalms 119:5 . The tone of especially fervid aspiration, the vivacity, which usually marks wishes introduced by ὄφελον , is perhaps unduly tamed down by the rendering "I would that." In respect to the verb ἀποκόψονται , Greek scholars are pretty well agreed that the passive rendering of our Authorized Version, "were cut off," cannot be defended. There is no certain instance (Bishop Ellicott remarks) of a similar interchange of the middle ,voice with the passive. The sense of the verb is shown by the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 23:1-25 . 1, οὐκ εἰσελεύσεται θλαδίας καὶ ἀποκεκομμένος εἰς ἐκκλησίαν θεοῦ : where the word ' to the ἀποκεκομμένος answers Hebrew keruth shophkah , rightly rendered in the Vulgate and in our English Bible (cf. Gesenius's ' Thesaurus,' and Furst, under shophkah ) . "This meaning is assigned to ἀποκόψονται ," observes Bishop Lightfoot, "by all the Greek commentators, I believe, without exception (the Latin Fathers, who read ' abseimtantur' in their text had more latitude), and seems alone tenable." (See Grotius, in Peele's ' Synopsis.' ) This interpretation gives its full force to καί ( " not only circumcise, but even," etc.): it explains the form of the aspiration as one not likely to be realized; whereas the excision flora the Church of these extremely aberrant members, falling nearly if not quite under the anathema of the first chapter, was a thing quite within the apostle's own power: it harmonizes with the intense resentment which colours the phrase, οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ἡμᾶς (see below). The sentiment, it is true, seems one which it would be impossible for a public speaker, or even a writer, amongst ourselves to give such open expression to. Nevertheless, when viewed as framed in amid the surroundings which environed it at the time, it wears none of that aspect of coarseness which would confessedly be felt to attach to it under the conditions of modern life. That the worship of Cybele at Pessinus, one of the principal cities of Galatia, was deformed by the practice of such self-mutilation on the part of some of its devotees, was a matter of universal notoriety, and we may confidently assume that the apostle, when in the neighbourhood, heard frequent mention of those apocopi as they were called, and thus was led now to allude to it as he seems to do in this malediction. For it is a malediction, as Chrysostom describes it; a malediction, however, which in severity falls far short of the anathema which has been previously pronounced. Good were it (he means) for the Church, and even perhaps themselves, if they would have the rashness to go a little further with what they call "circumcision," which in their case is mere concision ( Philippians 3:2 ), and make it clear to all men how purely senseless and unchristian their action in this matter is. "Casting you out of country and home." The verb ἀναστατοῦν occurs besides only in Acts 17:6 ("turned upside down" ) and Acts 21:38 ("madest an uproar" ). It is not found in classical Greek, in which we have in its stead ἀναστάτους ποιεῖν or τιθέναι : the verbal adjective ἀνάστατος , when it is applied, as it frequently is, to populations, meaning, "made to rise up and depart," "driven from house and home;" applied to cities, "ruined," "laid waste" (Liddell and Scott). Chrysostom observes, "Well does he say, ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς : for they compelled them to abandon their own proper country and liberty and heavenly kindred, and to seek an alien and strange one; casting them out of ' Jerusalem which is above and free,' and forcing them to wander abroad as captives and perforce emigrants." The present tense of the participle points to the action of these perverters as one which. if successful, would have this result; which ( Acts 21:10 ) the apostle hopes to defeat. The selection of this particular verb, which goes far beyond the ταράσσοντες before used, and which the word "unsettle" adopted here by the Revisers, does not, as commonly used, completely represent, betokens the apostle's intense feeling of the ruinous consequences of the proposed Judaizing reaction. It shows that he adds the words aetiologically , that is, to justify his strong words, ὄφελον ἀποκόψονται . The energy of both expressions suggests the feeling that probably the apostle would not have written as he has here done except for his burning resentment on behalf of Christ's people threatened with so great a hurt. In 1 Car. Acts 6:4 indignant feeling carries him away beyond himself to an utterance which in the next verse he virtually retracts, remarking, "I say it to move you to shame." Perhaps we have here something of the same kind.

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Galatians 5:12 (Galatians 5:12)

A fierce stroke of apostolic irony.

The apostle had been so profoundly stirred by the false accusations of the Judaizers and their fanatical zeal for circumcision, which was, after all, a mere "glorying in the flesh," that he throws out a wish that those who were trying to unhinge Galatian Christianity would themselves exemplify this "glorying" to the extent that was so familiar among the worshippers of Cybele at Pessinus, one of the towns of Galatia. His readers would have no difficulty in understanding the allusion. If circumcision was good, the priests of Cybele had something better to offer. It was a piece of contemptuous sarcasm, which exhibits the passionate feeling of the apostle caused by their unceasing efforts to undermine the gospel for the sake of a mere mark in the flesh,

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Galatians 5:2-12 (Galatians 5:2-12)

Falling from grace.

Paul in the present section exposes the legal and ceremonial spirit as a tall from the moral magnificence of grace. It has been well said that "it is harder to abolish forms than to change opinions. Ceremonies stand long after the thought which they express has fled, as a dead king may sit on his throne stiff and stark in his golden mantle, and no one come near enough to see that the light is gone out of his eyes and the will departed from the hand that still clutches the sceptre." Circumcision was such a form, and against its improper use Paul has all through this Epistle to protest. The thought of the present section is elevating and sublime. Let us follow the outline.

I. PAUL HERE IMPLIES THE MORAL MAGNIFICENCE OF SALVATION BY GRACE , ( Galatians 5:4 , Galatians 5:5 .) For when we consider how this plan of salvation turns our minds away from self to God in Christ, giving all the glory to the Saviour and taking all the blame to self, we see that it is morally magnificent. Self-confidence is destroyed, and confidence in Christ becomes all in all. The whole sphere of activity is illumined by devotedness to him who has lived and died for our redemption. Gratitude thus is the foundation of morality, and all idea of merit is put out of sight. The more the gospel is studied as a moral system, the more marvellous and magnificent will it appear. This will further exhibit itself if we consider what the working principle of the gospel is. It is, as Paul here shows, "faith working through love" ( Galatians 5:6 , Revised Version). And faith is the mightiest factor in the world's progress. Suppose that faith were supplanted by suspicion, and men, instead of trusting one another, lived lives of mutual suspicion, the world's progress would come speedily to an end. The gospel, then, takes this mighty principle of faith and, turning it towards Christ, it secures love as its practical outcome. Love to God and consequent love to men becomes the law of our lives. All that is lovely is thus evoked, and the system proves its moral magnificence and practical power.

II. IT IS THE CHARACTERISTIC OF LEGALISM TO DEPRECIATE THE CROSS . ( Galatians 5:11 .) In a scheme of free grace the cross of Jesus Christ is central and all-important. How could selfish hearts be emancipated from their selfishness, had not the Holy Spirit the cross of Christ to move them? The cross is the self-sacrifice of incarnate love, and the grandest appeal of all history for self-sacrifice in return. It is, moreover, a fact and not a ceremony; a fact which bears no repetition, and which stands in its moral grandeur alone. But legalism conies in to depreciate if possible its moral value, The insinuation is thrown out that circumcision is essential to the efficacy of the cross. The cross is made out to be a mere adjunct to the Jewish ceremonial. Its offence ceases. It is no such instrument of self-sacrifice as it was intended to be. The brave apostle who preaches "Christ crucified" as the only hope of salvation is persecuted for doing so, and the whole legal band arrays itself against him. It is thus that the legal spirit depreciates and dishonours the Crucified One.

III. ALL THIS IMPLIES IN THE LEGAL SPIRIT A FALL FROM GRACE . ( Galatians 5:4 .) This is the key of the present passage. The soul, which so depreciates the cross as to go away and to try to save itself by ceremonies, has fallen from a moral grandeur into deepest selfishness. Christ profits in nothing the soul who is bent on saving himself. The righteousness of Christ, which is unto all and upon all them that believe, cannot consist with the self-seeking and self-confidence which self-righteousness implies. We must choose our saviour and adhere to him. If our saviour is to be ceremony, which is only another way of saying that our saviour is ourselves, then we may as well renounce all hope of salvation by Christ. We sever ourselves from Christ when we seek to be justified by the Law (Revised Version). We have descended in the scale of motive; we have taken up the selfish plan; we have "fallen away from grace."

IV. PAUL ANTICIPATES THAT HIS EXPOSURE OF LEGALISM WILL CURE THE GALATIANS OF IT . ( Galatians 5:10 .) He believes that legalism will be destroyed and rooted up by laying bare its real meaning. The leaven will not be allowed to spread. It is most important in the same way to be meditating constantly upon the magnificence of the gospel system as a moral system. Thus shall we prize it more and more, and never think of surrendering it for any rival and selfish system.—R.M.E.

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Galatians 5:2-12 (Galatians 5:2-12)


I. PAUL SOLEMNLY PUTS BEFORE THE GALATIANS THE TRUE STATE OF THE CASE . "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that, if ye receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing." Commencing with an arresting word, he introduces his own name with all the solemnity of oath-taking, witness-bearing. "Behold, I Paul say unto you." What the weight of his testimony is directed against, is their submitting to circumcision. This was what the Judaizing teachers were aiming at, and, seeing that they were making false representations, he declares to the Galatians, as if their destinies were at stake, the real state of the case. For them, Gentiles, and at the instigation of the Judaizers, to submit to circumcision would be excluding themselves from all advantage by Christ. It was either circumcision or Christ with them. There was no middle ground for them to take up. There was no submitting to circumcision and clinging to Christ at the same time. If they submitted to circumcision, they must make up their minds to forego all that they had hoped for from Christ.

1 . How he makes it out that circumcision excluded them from Christ.

2 . The case of Christians stated.


1 . They were hindered in a good career. "Ye were running well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?"

(a) That it be directed to a right end. This is brought out in connection with their obeying the truth. Their career in heathenism was vitiated by their being involved in error. The true idea of life had not been revealed to them. But when they obeyed the truth they took Christ to be their end and undertook to shape their career according to the rules of Christ. And that is necessary to the commencement of a good career.

(b) That it be commenced early. If the Galatians did not commence in early life, yet they commenced as sore as an opportunity in providence was presented to them, and so far they can be cited as an example of commencing early. It would have been a great advantage to them to have been taught and moulded as Christians in youth. There would not have been their heathen education to unlearn and undo. The laws of association and habit would have been working all along in their favour. And there would have been more time in which to advance to excellence and usefulness.

(c) That it be pursued with enthusiasm. In the Galatians the warm Celtic temperament was warmed under the influences of the cross. It was this especially that called forth the admiration of the apostle. They did run well; among his converts none had displayed greater enthusiasm in the Christian race.

(d) That it be pursued with steadiness. It was with regard to this that there was danger to the Galatians. Would they continue in their ardent attachment to the gospel? Would time cool their ardour, or would it be transferred to some other doctrine? Especially would they continue steadfast in the face of hindrances that made trial of them? It was that which was now being tested.

2 . It was not God who was seeking to persuade them to be circumcised. "This persuasion came not of him that calleth you." Persuasion may mean either the state of being persuaded or the act of persuading. The latter seems more in keeping with the context. The course to which the Judaizers would have persuaded the Galatians would have been, in its consequences, disobedience to the truth. They would not attempt, we may suppose, to get them to set aside the cross. Their policy was rather to get them to add circumcision to the cross. This persuasion came not of him that called them. It was not in accordance, either with the idea that was in the Divine mind in calling them, or with the idea that was in their own minds in choosing the calling, which was in both cases making Christ everything in the road to everlasting happiness. It did not come from above, from the God who saved them and called them to everlasting glory, but it came from beneath—from the enemy of mankind.

3 . He was afraid of the spread of error among them. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump." On the one hand, the Judaists, in order to gain their point, would be inclined to minimize its importance. On the other hand, the Galatians might think the Judaistic teaching had made very little way among them. The apostle puts them on their guard by telling them that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. This saying also occurs in i Corinthians Galatians 5:6 . The reference there is to a case of gross immorality in the Corinthian Church. By tolerating such immorality, there would be danger of the whole Corinthian Church being lowered in its moral tone and practice. So by the introduction of a little Judaistic leaven, such as the toleration of the circumcision of a single Gentile convert, there would be danger of the Christian communities of Galatia becoming Judaistic, i.e. communities upon which the blessing of God would not rest, from which the Spirit of God would depart. And so a little leaven of carelessness in the household, in companionship, leavens the whole lump.

4 . He had confidence in them that they would remain unchanged. "I have confidence to you-ward in the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded." He had confidence that they would not change from a Christian to a Judaistic way of thinking. His confidence was not founded on reports received regarding them. For these, as we have seen, threw him into a state of perplexity. But he had confidence to them-ward in the Lord. He had confidence in the use of appointed means. He had confidence in the rower of prayer. He had prayed to God on their behalf, that they might be none otherwise minded. He had confidence in bringing proper representations before their minds, as he had endeavoured to do. He had confidence especially in the great Head of the Church making use of the means in the interests of the Galatian Churches and of the whole Church.

5 . The troubler would bear his judgment. "But he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be." One is separated here, not as ringleader, but for the sake of individualization. He is represented as a troubler. He acts over the part of Satan who, seeing the happiness of Eden, envied our first parents its possession. So he, spying the peace and prosperity of the Galatian communities, cannot let them alone; he must introduce his Judaistic leaven. But this troubler, whosoever he be (thus searched out and held up before them), shall bear his judgment. God, indeed, makes use of him in making trial of them. And they shall be judged for the manner in which they have dealt with his representations—testing them or not testing them. But let him know that he shall have the sentence, and the burdensome sentence, of a troubler passed and carried out upon him.

6 . It was evident that he was no preacher of circumcision. "But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? then hath the stumbling-block of the cross been done away." We are not under any danger of attaching a materialistic meaning to the cross. Whilst the wood to which were nailed Christ's hands and feet has now long ago mouldered away, and has no existence unless in the imagination of the superstitious, the spiritual associations of it remain. It is the greatest tact that was ever accomplished on earth or ever brought to the knowledge of earth's inhabitants, and which will not decay in time or in eternity—that the adorable Son of God, coming down to our human condition, once became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. It is this which is set forth in Scripture as the Divine and only instrument of salvation. It was this which Paul made the great burden of his preaching. Whatever remedies or methods were proposed or advocated by others, "We," says he, who was himself a wonderful trophy of the cross—"we preach Christ crucified." But it was said in Galatia for a purpose that he preached circumcision, i.e. in addition to the cross. He could easily have given an explanation of the circumstance on which this charge was founded, viz. his having circumcised Timothy; but taking the representation as it was—that he was actually a preacher of circumcision—he puts a question and draws a conclusion.

(a) The cross is an offence because it does not merely please the imagination. Men are fond of ritualism in religion. Now, the cross is singularly simple and unadorned. In this respect it stands markedly in contrast with what preceded it. This is not pleasing to many. They would put ornaments upon the cross to take away its offensive simplicity. But that is a wrong tendency. The most beautiful rites and gorgeous shows, instead of drawing to the cross, as the meaning sometimes is, are more likely to usurp its place. The worshipper, instead of having his heart reached, is likely to have only his imagination pleased. Let the cross be left to its own simple power, though the imagination should be offended. It can do without ornaments on it in our day as well as it did in Paul's day.

(b) The cross is an offence because it is humbling to pride of reason. It was to the Greeks foolishness, and so it is apt to be to intellectual people still—to the Greeks of the present day, to literary men, to the reading portion of the community. That is at least what all such have to surmount. The cross seems foolishness to them. They would like a difficult problem on which to exercise their intellects. Now, in one sense, the cross is above reason, inasmuch as reason could never have found it out. But in another sense it is below human reason; it is a revelation, a doctrine all found out for man, and a doctrine which is level to the meanest understanding. The result of the philosophic craving was, at a very early period of the Church, the rise of Gnosticism. It was very much a blending of the Greek philosophy with Christianity. It was the religion of mind, those embracing it professing to have a deeper insight into Christian facts than the common people, who took them in their obvious sense. And since the disappearance of Gnosticism, there has been, again and again, and is at present in some quarters, an effort to consider the literary and reading class so as to give the cross a philosophic cast, with the view of attracting them. Now, there are some ways of speaking to intellectual people better than others, and nothing is to be hoped for from irrational or dry discourse, yet, if the cross is turned into a philosophy, it may attract some, but it is not likely to benefit them. Let the cross be presented as level to the lowest intellect; let it be presented as a simple, divinely revealed fact, speaking to the heart more than to the intellect; let there be no fear to offend pride of intellect, which must be humbled before the soul can be saved.

(c) The cross is an offence because it is humbling to self-righteousness. It is a strange infatuation of the natural heart that, with no righteousness to lay claim to, it is yet so natural to it to flatter itself with having a righteousness. The cross, going upon the supposition that we have no righteousness of our own, and that all the praise of our salvation is due to God, is an offence. In the Roman Catholic system there is a place given to works alongside of the merits of Christ, which is very pleasing to the feeling of self-righteousness. We are all apt to construct a theory of salvation in which there is a place left for self. Now, the cross must never be presented to please self-righteous people; that would be a fatal compromise. Let the cross be proclaimed as the impossibility of our own righteousness, as the grace of God in a righteousness freely provided for us. That is a doctrine which must offend, but it is the only doctrine that can satisfy the conscience.

(d) The cross is an offence because of its large demands. It demands that we forsake cherished sins. And that cuts into natural liking, that is painful like a crucifying, and therefore an offence. But the cross must be presented as giving no quarter to sin, as the most tremendous proof that sin is not to be permitted, as showing how sin is utterly abhorred and condemned of God. And to be acknowledging the cross, while tolerating sin in ourselves, is crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting him to an open shame. It demands self-sacrifice. The cross-life is characteristically a life of self-sacrifice. Christ was sacrificing all along, and when he came to the cross he sacrificed his all—sacrificed his life in the most awful circumstances. And those who would take up the cross must be prepared to follow Christ in his course of self-denial. And there, again, is where the offence of the cross arises. Its requirements are too high. But as the cross of Christ can never be blotted out, so its requirements can never be lowered. It is the standard up to which our life must be brought if we are to attain to our perfection. There is one blessed way in which the offence of the cross ceases, and that is, when we have been humbled by it as sinners, and have been led to own its power. Then we admire it for the light it throws on the Divine perfections, and for the power there is in it over human hearts. And we say, "Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ."

7 . He wishes the Galatians deliverance from the unsettling teachers. "I would that they which unsettle you would even cut themselves off." In the case of the offender against morality in the Corinthian Church, the apostle issued a decree that he should be cut off by the Church. That could not be done in this case, because these teachers were not under the jurisdiction of the Galatian Churches. They came to teach them as they were free to do; and all that the Galatians could do was to refuse them a hearing. That this was the apostle's mind may be gathered from the wish he expresses that they would cut themselves off. As they could not be cut off by the Church, let them cut themselves off. As they were only unsettling the Galatian order, let them leave Galatian soil. But he does no more than wish. It was certainly by itself desirable; but it might be the purpose of God that these unsettling teachers should be left there to make trial of the Galatians, and, it might be, thereby to purify and to strengthen them.—R.F.

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