by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



Early church theologian, Origen (184-253 AD), proposes that there are certain sins, however, which do not proceed from external forces but originate from their internal sinful tendencies which the Apostle Paul clearly declares in this passage: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you don’t do whatever you want.” If then, the lust of the flesh against the aspirations of the Spirit means we must wrestle against our sinful tendencies on occasions, although we continue to provide for the needs of the body, we are still capable of resisting those temptations that are greater than our human resistance since we are told, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” [1] [2]

Now, concerning these opinions, says Origen, let us discuss that there are some who hold the opinion that we have two souls. There is some heavenly good one of our souls and no earthly good in our other soul; that the superior soul is implanted within us from heaven, and was what Jacob received while still in the womb. It gave him the prize of victory in replacing his brother Esau, and in the case of Jeremiah was sanctified from his birth, and, as John says here, was filled by the Holy Spirit from the womb.

Now, that which they term the inferior soul is, as they alleged, produced along with the body itself out of the seed of the body, without which, they say, one cannot live or subsist outside the body. Then, they also say it is frequently termed “the flesh.” They take this expression here in verse seventeen, “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the spirit,” to apply not to the flesh, but to this soul, which they term the soul of the flesh. It appears that these individuals are trying to delineate between what it says in Genesis about God breathing His breath into Adam, who then became, in Hebrew, nephesh, a “living soul” as well as a “living being.” [3] [4] The Greeks use the noun psyche as the seat of feelings, desires, affections, likes, and dislikes, and it is often referred to as “the heart.”

Origen goes on to say that some are ready to present, in support of their assertion, the declaration of the Apostle Paul, “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, immorality, idolatry, poisonings,[5] hatred, contentions, rivalries, wrath, quarreling, dissensions, heresies, sects, envyings, drunkenness, partying, and the like;” [6] asserting that all these do not derive their origin from the habits or pleasures of the flesh so that all such movements are to be regarded as inherent in that substance which does not have a soul – the flesh.

Furthermore, the declaration “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth,” [7] would require to understand that there is one kind of wisdom, carnal and material, and another divine and spiritual, the former of which cannot be truly called wisdom, unless there is a soul of the flesh, which is wise in respect to what is called human logic. And in addition to these passages, they put forward the following from what Paul says here: “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want.” [8]

Then again, we ask them how are we to understand and interpret when Paul says, “that we cannot do the things that we would?” It is certain, they reply, that the spirit cannot be intended; for the will of the spirit suffers no hindrance. But neither can the flesh be meant, because if it has no soul of its own, neither can it assuredly possess a will. It remains, then, their intention is for us to believe that this second soul is capable of having a will of its own, and which certainly is opposed to the will of the spirit.[9] It does not take much for us to realize that such convoluted interpretation of Scripture by such false teachers was intended to make God’s Word say what they wanted it to say, not what it really said.

Another early church commentator of the medieval period, Marius Victorinus (268-271), believes that Paul is carrying over the theme of the children of the Final Covenant brought through Sarah instead of Hagar, and the eventual Seed of Abraham that brought deliverance. For him, the freedom by which our Anointed One freed us is clearly by that which our spiritual mother – Sarah is a free woman, having been set free by faith. For this is true freedom: to maintain faithfulness in our relationship with God, to believe God, and all God’s promises. It is according to our faith, then, that the Anointed One led us back to freedom, and He freed us by the freedom of faith.[10] That’s why Paul goes on to plead with the Galatian believers not to allow themselves to be led back into the captivity of the First Covenant, where they serve God out of fear, and maintain their legalistic salvation by good works in obedience to the Law.

Concerning the same subject of submitting to the yoke of the Law, early church scholar Jerome (347-420 AD) feels that Paul uses the adverb “again,” not because the Galatians previously kept the Law, but in their readiness to observe the lunar seasons, to be circumcised in the flesh, and to offer sacrifices. They were, in a sense returning to the cults they previously served in a state of idolatry.[11] In other words, they were trading a heathen cult for a Jewish cult.

The great preacher of the early church theologian, Chrysostom (349-407), hears Paul asking the Galatians if they found a way to work out their deliverance, and that’s why they ran back again to work in the stone quarry of good deeds as they did before. Or perhaps, Paul surmises, you found another messiah to redeem you, or you found someone else to pay your ransom for you. Chrysostom tells us to observe how many ways Paul leads them away from the error of Judaism by showing, first, that the worst they could do, especially for those who were freed as sons, to remain as slaves. To desire to become slaves again instead of remaining free makes no sense. Secondly, that they allowed themselves to be found guilty of neglect and ingratitude toward their Divine Benefactor – the Lord Jesus. They despised Him, who delivered them and loving Him, who enslaved them. And thirdly, the Law lost its power over them once they were freed by the Grace of God. By using the phrase “stand fast,” says Chrysostom, Paul “indicates that they were wavering in their faith, but were not yet blown over by the gale winds of false doctrine.” [12]

Augustine of Hippo (354-430), one of the earliest medieval Christian writers, agrees that by Paul saying “stand fast,” he implies that the believers in Galatia were not yet wholly committed to believing the misrepresentations of the Judaizers. So, he suggests that Paul might have more appropriately said: “Arise.” This might indicate that some of the believers in Galatia were knocked down but not knocked out. So there remained enough time for them to reject the yoke of bondage these false teachers wanted to put around their necks, forcing them to submit to mandatory circumcision and the many laws and ceremonies.[13] This is a needed warning appropriate to the Church today when man-made rites and rituals are enforced as part of maintaining one’s salvation.

We see this concept developing in the commentary by an early medieval Catholic scholar, Haimo of Auxerre (800-865 AD), who leaves no doubt that in his mind, the Anointed One set us free through His passion and the grace of baptism. Everyone who exercises the faith of Abraham and lives as an imitator of Abraham’s deeds of faith must surely be a spiritual child of Abraham. They are not so by nature but by imitation. Yet anyone who has the sort of faith that remains unequipped to do good deeds for the Lord can hardly be expected to be counted among the children of Abraham, nor receive the heavenly inheritance along with them. That’s why we all must strive to become clothed with the faith we have by doing good deeds that He said we should do and, in that way, become His true imitators.[14] [15]

 Another Medieval writer, Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101), points out that although the Anointed One came and lived under the Law, the Law did not apply to Him because He was without sin. Whatever our Lord did, He did by the freedom of His will, which was in harmony with God’s plans. Therefore, if we are in union with Him, we too can take hold of His freedom and do not need to consult the Law before we act. Since it is clear, therefore, says Bruno, that people are bound by the Law, it would be madness of those who are free through faith in the Anointed One to reduce themselves to slavery through the Law. So, now that you stand free, that is, persevere in this freedom of faith, do not be constrained again by the yoke of slavery. Do not be worn down by the burden of the Law again.[16]

Martin Luther has an excellent presentation on the freedom we have in the Anointed One. He, too, asks: “What liberty does Paul mean?” He’s sure it isn’t civil liberty (for which we have the government to thank), but the liberty which the Anointed One procured for us. At one time, the emperor felt compelled to grant the bishop of Rome certain immunities and privileges. This is civil liberty. That liberty exempts the clergy from certain public charges. Then there is also another kind of “liberty,” when people obey neither the laws of God nor the laws of men but do as they please. This carnal liberty the people want in our day. We are not now speaking of this liberty. Neither are we speaking of civil liberty.

Paul is speaking of far better liberty, he is talking about the liberty “by which the Anointed One set us free,” but from the eternal wrath of God. Where is this liberty? In the conscience! Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the blessing that comes to a person when they have the blessed assurance that God will never again be angry with them, but will forever be merciful to them for the Anointed One’s sake? This is indeed marvelous liberty to have the sovereign God for a Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in the momentary life we have now, and in the everlasting life, we will inherit.[17]

[1] 1 Corinthians 10:13

[2] Origen: De Principiis, Bk. III, Ch. 2:3

[3] Genesis 2:7

[4] Origen: De Principiis, Bk. III, Ch. 4:2

[5] Latin “Veneficia” meaning “Witchcraft” – KJV

[6] Galatians 5:19-21

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:26

[8] See verse 17

[9] Origen: De Principiis, Bk. III, Ch. 4:2

[10] Marius Victorinus: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[11] Jerome: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., p. 73

[12] Chrysostom: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[13] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] John 14:12

[15] Haimo of Auxerre: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[16] Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 2354)

[17] Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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