The Restoration of the Galatians
March 25, 2013

While controversies over the writings of Paul continue in various corners of the intellectual globe, the word of God given through Paul and his scribe and all of the church’s interpreters and translators over the last two millennia is still readily available to the lofty and the lowly. Paul, as Peter so eloquently put it “is hard to understand,” at times, but his words still pierce the soul, bewildering and comforting at the same time. They provide a firm foundation for the church as well as its intricate and fascinating architectural details.

J. Louis Martyn states in his commentary on Galatians that the third section of the Paul’s letter, 5:1 – 6:10, does not strictly need to be in Paul’s argument. He suggests that Paul could reasonably have ended his argument with the strong statement of 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” inserted the bit about his large letters, and given his conclusion and farewells. Drop the mic, Paul out. As Martyn goes on to point out, however, 5:1-6:10 holds vital instruction for how the Galatians are to live as sons and heirs, in “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.”[i]

It is a truth generally acknowledged that where there is a will there could be a chiasm. At the center of this section is a chiasm that has been noted – with slight variations – by more experienced chiasm-hunters than me. Both Dr. Peter Leithart and E. Michael Rusten, Ph.D (of Bethlehem College Seminary) have identified a clear chiasm in 5:16-25:

A 16This I say then, Walk in the Spirit,

B …and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh and these are contrary to one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

C 18But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

D 19Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:

E  of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

D’ 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 meekness, temperance

C’ …against such there is no law.

B’ 24And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

A’ 25If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. [ii]

 Given this straightforward structure and its pedigree, I believe we can safely assume this chiasm is not a figment of careless interpretive imagination but part of Paul’s original structure. It is helpful in underscoring the vital connection between walking in the Spirit and inheriting the kingdom of God, the latter’s importance being obscured in linear readings because of its location in the middle of lists of attributes often whisked right out of their context, one for greeting cards, and the other for confession lists.

The inheritance of the kingdom of God, I believe is the central idea of this whole section of the argument, so I will attempt to identify a wildly ambitious, though, I believe not entirely baseless chiasm around it starting with 5:2 and ending in 6:10. While the structure itself may be over-extended, I will attempt to prove that the connections it encourages are consistent with Paul’s overall argument in the letter and are helpful for clarifying some otherwise phrases of his which are otherwise difficult to decipher.

First, I suggest that 5:2-6 and 6:7-9 form small, related chiasms within the larger chiasm of the section:


A –  Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

B –  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace

B’ – For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.

A’ – For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.


A – Be not deceived; God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap

B – For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption;

B’ – but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

A’ – And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not;

With these chiasms, Paul flanks the central argument of this section with two brief, related points which taken together, reinforce one another. Let’s compare the two:


A – No profit in circumcised flesh; debtors to law

B – Justification by law keeping: fallen from grace

B’ – Spiritual waiting: faithful hope for righteousness

A’ – In Christ, faith working through love profits


A – The one who sows, reaps

B – Sowing to Flesh reaps corruption

B’ – Sowing to Spirit reaps eternal life

A’ – No fainting or growing weary: Well doing reaps life

Both of these deal with the idea of investment and reward. Paul really wants the Galatians to understand that by being circumcised, they are not gaining anything, nor are they just backsliding to a former state of immaturity, but actually turning their backs on Christ’s life-giving Spirit, through whom they are heirs of the Kingdom of God and without whom they will be headed down to death and corruption.

These two chiasms are the bookends for the central chiasm of this section, which I will now lay out (Fig.1), abbreviating the central part I laid out in detail above. The general motion of chiasm is from the particular argument between Paul, the Galatians and the Teachers, beginning

with explicit warnings against circumcision and moving to what Paul believes to be the heart of the matter, the inheritance of the Kingdom of God. From that center, the implication of coming of the Spirit is described and the verbs change from indicative (how things are) to perfect and imperative (how things ought to be done based on work accomplished in the past).

Teacher Voice: The (A) sections both have to do with how the Galatians received the word: through a teacher, through Paul. In v. 7 – 10a, Paul writes in a teacher-ly tone about the condition in which he left the Galatians (“running well”), his certainty that the ideas they are now embracing did not come from “him that calleth you,” but came from outside and spreads in them like yeast in dough. He expresses hope that the Galatians will forsake their false teachers and continue running well. This conversational tone is aligned in the chiasm with 6:6, which seems out of place when read linearly. If we read it through this earlier section as I suggest, it can be understood not only as a general precept for those in Christ, but also as a particular request from Paul to the Galatians, asking them to communicate good things with him to justify his confidence in them.

Fig. 1

A – 7 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? 8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. 9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded:

B - …but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.

C - 11And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased.

D – 12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.

E - 13For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled (plairao – present, passive, indicative) in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

F – 15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.

G – Walk in the Spirit

H – Flesh and Spirit at an impasse

I – If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law

J – Works of the flesh

K - of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

J’ – Fruits of the Spirit

I’ - against such there is no law.

H’ – In Christ, flesh is crucified

G’ - If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

F’ – 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another.

E’ - 1Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law (anaplairosate – aorist, active, imperative) of Christ.

D’ – 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.

C’ - 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.

B’ – 5 For every man shall bear his own burden.

A’ – 6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.

Individual Bearing of Burdens: The word bastasei appears in both 5:10b and 6:5, the first referring to the judgment the false teachers will bear, the second in contrast to the bearing (bastazete) of burdens that fulfills the law of Christ in 6:2. Sections B and B’ both deal with the burden of individual judgment before God that each person must bear. In the middle of a passionate polemic, he exhorts them strongly to love one another and restore erring brothers, but adds that, especially in their situation, they should not acquiesce to the requirements of the Teachers. Instead, they must “stand fast…and do not bear the yoke of bondage.”

Proving Work: For Paul, the proof of his work for Christ is the resistance he encounters. Part of his argument to the Galatians is that the Gospel he delivered to them first has brought him no praise from man, and he did not receive that Gospel from man. The proof of his work is the suffering he has undergone, so that suffering is a glory, a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. As Paul says elsewhere, he fills up in his own body what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings and that sharing in the mission of Christ is a glory because it is particular to Paul and the source of his boasting.

The offence of the cross is the proof of Christ’s work as well. Paul’s argument is that his message and Christ’s is not a religious system but a scandal. To insert circumcision into that message would be a complete contradiction, an attempt at making something of oneself when even Christ did not grasp at his equality with God, but scandalously made himself nothing instead.

Nothing of Something and Something of Nothing: Paul has said that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision “is anything,” so in 5:12 he rather violently muses that the Troublers would be doing everyone a favor if they rid themselves of that member about which they trouble the Galatians; if they made it nothing, so to speak. Paul could be venting his feelings while making an oblique reference to Jesus advice to “cut off your right hand if it causes you to stumble.”  This is paralleled by 6:3, in which Paul contrasts those who “restore one another in a spirit of meekness” with those who Pharisaically impose laws on those they deem less mature than themselves. The law of Christ is what matters, and the mark of maturity is self-giving, the mark of immaturity, self-deception.

Fulfilling Love: Christ has fulfilled the law by being the one, as Paul says in the beginning salutation, “who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is one of the most crucial points in this section of Paul’s argument. Christ has fulfilled the law, so we must not use our liberty to serve our own flesh, but to serve one another in the Spirit, coming under the “law of Christ.”

Law of Christ: Pairing 5:13-14 with 6:1-2 has interesting implications which will take some time to unpack. 5:14 states that “the law is fulfilled in one word: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’” and 6:2 states in the imperative: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” A possibility I will explore is that Paul is referencing Luke 10 in which Jesus is asked by a lawyer what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus answers with a question: “What does the law say? How do you read it?” The lawyer replies, “Love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might; and love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jesus says, “Do this and live.” Lawyer (significantly, wishing to justify himself): “Who is my neighbor?” And Jesus replies with the parable of the man ambushed by thieves, left for dead by the Pharisee and Levite, and whose burden is born by the Samaritan.

Evoking this parable in which a helpless man is brought to health fits with Paul’s use of the verb plerow, which has connotations of restoration and completion, which Paul then echoes in 6:2 when he instructs the Galatians to restore the man overtaken in a fault, and in so bearing his burden, fulfills the Law of Christ. Some commentators take this phrase to mean “the teachings of Jesus,” which given the above connection is a plausible understanding. Martyn argues that it means “the Law as it has now been taken over by Christ,” and I tend to agree with him, although he seems to interpret this more as Christ starting over with his own Law than restoring the Law of Sinai, about which Martyn has questionable theories.[iii] The parable of the Good Samaritan was at one time in the church’s history understood not only as an example of Christian love, but also an allegory of Christ’s rescue of the Law of God after it had been abused by thieves and its true nature ignored by Pharisees and Levites. Christ not only takes it from the side of the road but willingly pays whatever it might require out of his own bounteous righteousness.

The Law of Christ in light of the parable and Paul’s use of the phrase suggests that lawful self-giving is part of what it means to fulfill the Law of Christ. Now that Christ has come, staying aloof from those who struggle to follow Christ is not an option. How did Christ deal with us when we were hopelessly in error and dead in our trespasses and sins? He restored us and made us heirs with him.

Serve One Another, Consider Thyself: Paul’s instructions are not only how to love the neighbor, but also the self. The teaching here is very nuanced. We are to love each other with humility and meekness, and yet we are to stand firm in liberty. We are to bear burdens, but not always. By reading “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and “restore such a one…considering thyself” together, the permeable life of the individual in the community is highlighted. I need to be loved as much as my neighbor, and I need to be restored just as much as my neighbor. Paul is resisting the dichotomy between law breakers and law abiders by emphasizing our unity in the Spirit, in which human need for love and restoration is not weakness to be avoided but a gift that enriches our lives together.

Flesh and Spirit: In the new creation of the Spirit-born man, the Spirit is the status quo and the flesh is the odd-ball. The flesh is still working, still has desire and power of its own, but it is not the native populace and it does not know the terrain anymore. By receiving circumcision and assenting to the accusation of the law, the Galatians would not be striking a blow against the flesh, but giving it a foothold.

The Law is Fulfilled, now Fulfill it: In 5:14, Paul uses the word peplhroutai to speak about the law. In 6:2, he uses anaplerwsate. Peplhroutai (it has been fulfilled) is in the perfect tense, meaning it refers to an action that has been completed but still has lasting implications. Paul says the law has been fulfilled and that colors the rest of his argument, but it can seem like a contradiction when he says to the Galatians: anaplerwsate (you will fulfill) what has already been fulfilled. This is an instance of the “already” and “not yet” in Paul’s writings. It has already been done, therefore you can do it and you must.

Consuming Love: Love wants to give itself away, but must be trained. Contrasted with the love that Christ showed to us and that we show to one another, Paul now describes the way of the flesh: conflicts arising from envy. As C.S. Lewis has so ably illustrated in The Great Divorce and many of his other works, an all-consuming human love can easily turn into an all- consuming, envious hatred. So, on either side of the description of a loving community life, we have warnings against the temptations that arise when people are close to each other: “biting”, “devouring”, and “consuming” in F and “desiring vain-glory”, “provoking”, and “envying” in F’. Those listed in F are visible actions used metaphorically, and in F’, Paul lists sins of the mind and motives, with his description Flesh/Spirit conflict between them. As we move closer to the center of the chiasm, we have a tighter scope of discourse as well, moving in from horizontal conflicts with fellow believers towards conflicting forces within the individual.

Live in Spirit, Walk in Spirit: Within the chiasm, the Spirit is introduced as the means by which we access the heart of the chiasm. From the top of the chiasm down, the motion is inward, and then outward, bottom to top. The Spirit is re-introduced as the guide that leads away from the rather gruesome cannibalistic image, and the basis on which Paul can say in the imperative voice to the Galatians: Let us not even think towards one another in provoking, vain-glorious or envious ways.

The War Within: Paul describes the internal struggle of flesh against Spirit. In v. 16, Paul commands the Galatians (especially those who believe observance of the law will help them in this struggle) to walk in the Spirit so that the flesh is no longer an issue. As he concludes in v. 24 (B’), those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh; its affections and lusts dying with it. The language he uses is to describe both the flesh’s war against the Spirit and the crucifixion of the flesh are active to the point of oddity, as Martyn points out.[iv] Concerning the phrase here translated “lusts against” he says, “Aside from the present text, there is no instance known to us of the Greek expression epiqmeo kata and the genitive.” He goes on to suggest that Paul is referencing the Hebrew tradition of speaking of moral decisions in martial terms, painting the Flesh as the besieger, not the besieged, as I said before.

Martyn also points out in his notes on v.24 that Paul’s language about the believer’s role in the crucifixion of the flesh is surprisingly active.[v] Where one might expect him to say, “You believers participate in the crucifixion of Christ’s flesh” or “Christ has crucified your flesh for you,” Paul instead says those who belong to Christ have crucified (estaurosan - aorist indicative) the flesh. The affections and lusts that war against the Spirit are already the defeated party, not the incumbent.

Led by Spirit, not Law: The law has no accusation for those who are led by the Spirit. The Galatians are neither under nor against the law. The effects of the Spirit Paul describes are characterized by harmony and balance (temperance, meekness, longsuffering), the words themselves even feeling and sounding more judicious and wise than the contentious works of the flesh. In the context of his larger argument, Paul is saying, “Because you have the Spirit of Christ, the hopeless conflict between the flesh and the law has nothing to do with you. Now quit poking that old dog (the flesh) with that stick (the law)!”

Works and Fruit: Martyn stresses the fact that these are not simply lists of vices and virtues applicable to individuals, but rather describes the characteristics of communities led by the flesh and communities led by the Spirit of Christ. His translation of the works of the flesh is helpful: “and these effects are: fornication, vicious immorality, uncontrolled debauchery, the worship of idols, belief in magic, instances of irreconcilable hatred, strife, resentment, outbursts of rage, mercenary ambition, dissensions, separation into divisive cliques, grudging envy of neighbor’s success, bouts of drunkenness, nights of carousing, and other things of the same sort.” [vi]

These things all reflect the restlessness of the flesh-law struggle in a community. Self-giving in the flesh is a violent, all-and-nothing affair. The flesh attempts to give itself completely, regrets, and then withholds. The individual without the Spirit is always divided against himself and so is the community that follows the flesh.

Again, using the word fruit evokes the idea of a process, the visible result of a healthy ecosystem. Martyn emphasizes that, while the fleshly community is characterized by violence, the community in Christ is rooted, steady, and unshakable.[vii] Its giving of itself is not out of impulsive desire, but out of a deep well supplied by the self-gift of God himself.

Inheritance: The center of the chiasm is Paul’s warning that the community of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. Martyn thinks it strange that Paul follows the works of the flesh with a warning, but does not follow the fruits of the Spirit with a promise, as the usual pattern goes.[viii] I suggest that Paul does not do so because this is a reiteration of a point he argued very thoroughly before (chapters 3 and 4: “you Galatians are heirs, not slaves”), and so does not need to explicitly state the implied inversion: those who are led by the flesh and its works will not inherit the Kingdom, but those who are not led by the flesh will. Its location at the center of the chiasm would have been sufficiently communicated the importance of the inheritance of the Kingdom of God to the rest of the passage.

The importance Paul places on the inheritance of the Kingdom of God in this section of his argument complements his argument in the rest of the letter, and is also evidence of his wisdom as an apostle. Even in a heated polemic, he never loses sight of the goal of his ministry: the coming kingdom, and he even uses the Galatian’s sorry (and for him, personally frustrating) situation to teach them their identity in Christ. Paul’s letter to them is about life in the Spirit and is itself an example of life together in the Spirit.

Cool Chiasm. So What? The community for which Paul lays the foundation in this passage is not simply a religious community or an ideological movement. It is the rebirth of a nation that proclaims the resurrection and rule of Christ.[ix] An important characteristic of that nation which we find in this passage is that it is not a utopian society[x], but one based on repentance, as Israel always was.

In his book, The Rage Against God, Peter Hitchens identifies one of the most chilling statements by radical atheists, the assertion that any religious instruction by parents of their own children is child abuse and ought to be stamped out by the right-thinking members of society. The “reasoning” for this assertion is based on the premise that religious instruction poisons the mind against “honest” inquiry, the highest good for a human being.[xi] Aside from the obvious creepiness of this line of thought, Hitchens also points out that this is typical modernist-utopian thinking, another of man’s attempt to base a community on anything other than the restoration found in Christ.

In the atheist utopian dream enacted in Communist Russia and described by Hitchens, repentance and restoration plays no part in the life of the community. A child is either brought up correctly, with no “mind poison,” or he is an incomplete being. There is no hope for restoration in that system, which is one of the primary reasons they always collapse on themselves. Where there is no grace, power and manipulation are the only alternatives and only the cunning survive.

By contrast, at the heart of Paul’s description of the community of heirs of the Kingdom of God, he instructs them in wise self-giving and restoration of erring brothers. Israel was the only community on earth that had been given not only the Law, but the foreshadowing of total reconciliation in Christ in the sacrificial system. In this passage, Paul is not giving new instructions to a new ideological movement, but rather reiterating that the Galatians are fully part of the people of God, whose main characteristic was always repentance, forgiveness of sins, and restoration of fellowship. This is the firm foundation of the Church and its continuing glory.

Grace Langness is a graduate student at New St. Andrews College.

[i] Martyn, J. Louis, Galatians,  p.468

[ii] This chiasm is a synthesis of my own observation, Rusten’s, Leta Sundet’s, and Dr. Leithart’s.

[iii] Martyn, Comment #38: “The Genesis of the Sinaitic Law,”, p.364-370. “…Paul tells [the Galatians] that God’s covenant is the Abrahamic promise and not the Sinaitic Law, an indication the covenantal God played no role in the genesis of that Law.”

[iv] Martyn, 493.

[v] Ibid., 500.

[vi] Ibid., 496

[vii] Ibid., 498

[viii] Ibid., 499

[ix] Wright, N.T., Paul in Fresh Perspective, p.79.

[x] Milbank, John, “Paul against Biopolitics,” in Paul’s New Moment, p. 71.

[xi] Hitchens, Peter, The Rage Against God, p. 208, quoting atheist psychologist Dr. Nicholas Humphrey, The Mind Made Flesh:Essays from the Frontiers of Pschology and Evolution: “Children, I’ll argue, have a human right not to have their minds crippled by exposure to other people’s bad ideas – no matter who those other people are. Parents, correspondingly, have no god-given license to enculturate their children in whatever ways they choose: no right to limit the horizons of their children’s knowledge, to bring them up in an atmosphere of dogma and superstition, or to insts they follow the straight and narrow paths of their own faith. In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their children’s teeth out or lock them in a dungeon. That’s the negative side of what I want to say. But there will be a positive side as well. If children have a right to be protected from false ideas, they have too a right to be succored by the truth. And we as a society have a duty to provide it.”  

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