by Dr. Robert R. Seyda



There’s every reason to believe that these Galatian congregations found themselves in a state of great distraction causing continual altercations among themselves. By misusing their freedom received through the Anointed, they seemed to forget it was all made possible by the grace of God. Without the Anointed occupying the thrones of their hearts, their faith, hope, love, and kindness now disintegrated into pride, anger, ill-will, and all kinds of temper tantrums; as a consequence, they ended up trying to destroy each other. To put it another way, they seemed to be communicating the notion that if I can’t be happy, then you’re not going to be happy either.

Mid-medieval scholar Bruno the Carthusian puts what Paul is saying here in context. It is clear that the Law commands love, but if people reject the Law and start attacking one another and criticizing each other, you’ll end up completely destroying each other. Paul uses a truism that we all are aware of today. If you say you’re only going to just take a bite, before you know it, you’ve eaten the whole thing. And God forbid that taking bites out of each other’s reputation and character goes both ways because you’ll end up devouring one another quickly. But by Paul rejecting the Law, which cannot be totally adhered to, you are then free to accept the Anointed by faith who has fulfilled every part of the Law so that love is then based on God’s grace. That’s why the text may be interpreted this way: Watch that you are not picking each other apart based on differences of opinion concerning what foods to eat, what clothes to wear, what hairstyle you should have, or how many times you wash your hands before you eat. Soon, there will be nothing left of each other to do what God wants you to do.[1]

For sure, the Apostle was never able to read a nineteenth-century poem written by the witness of some internal church dispute that inspired these classic lines, but it sure does apply: “The cloth dog and the cloth cat, side by side at the table sat; ‘Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!), not one nor the other slept a wink! The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate [on the wall] appeared to know as sure as fate; there was between them a lot of hate. The next morning where the two had sat, they found no trace of the dog or cat; And some folks think until this day, that burglars stole that pair away! But the truth about the cat and pup: they ate each other up! Now, what do you really think of that!” [2] The key here is not the stuffed dog and cat but the moral of the story is that when people start picking on each other as Paul describes the situation in Galatia, that as the dog and cat when the fight is all over neither one is around to enjoy the meal.

John Calvin saw this already happening in the church back in his day. He explains that by biting and devouring Paul implies slanderers, accusers, rebukers, and every other kind of offensive speech, as well as, acts of injustice arising either from those who consider others as impostors or pretenders. And what is their end? To be destroyed to the point that any possible acts of brotherly love to produce mutual protection and kindness are also devastated. Calvin wishes that everyone will always remember that whenever the devil tempts them to dispute each other, that the disagreement of members within the church can lead to nothing else than the ruin and depletion of the whole body. How distressing, how mad is it, that we, who are members of the same body, should be mutually involved of our own accord, for mutual destruction![3]

Likewise, Adam Clarke also points out that Paul’s statement here shows that he was not being proactive with his advice, but that it came more as criticism for behavior that already evidenced itself among the churches. Clarke surmises that these Churches seemed to be in a state of great distraction; there were continual quarrels among them. They fell from the grace of the Gospel; and, as the Anointed no longer dwelt in their hearts by faith, pride, anger, ill-will, and all unkind and meanspirited tempers took possession of their minds, and as a consequence was destroying each other with their back and forth accusations. Nothing is so destructive to the peace of the church, and to the peace of the soul, as religious disputes; where they prevail, the light of Jesus the Anointed ceases to shine as a model of the born again, sanctified life.[4]

Messianic writer Thomas Lancaster opts to accept this citing by Paul of this commandment in the Torah as an indicator that all the other commandments should then receive equal attention and obedience. He notes that Paul pointed his Gentile readers to a long list of moral, ethical, and social commandments of the Torah. In essence, he handed all of the “do-unto-others” commandments to the God-fearing Gentiles for practice. All those commandments hang upon the command to love one’s neighbor, whether honoring one’s parents, not charging a brother interest on a loan giving to the poor, leaving the leftover grain in the field in order to care for orphans and widows, matters of civil responsibilities, justice, mercy, and fairness – the vast majority of the Torah’s commandments hang upon this one command to love your neighbor.[5]

There is no doubt that even Jesus quoted this verse from the Torah, but only to a Jewish follower who wanted to earn entrance into the kingdom of heaven through works.  Paul was giving no such inference to this quote either, that such behavior was part of the good works these Galatian believers were responsible for in order to secure their salvation.  When one reads our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, it is clear that our Lord integrated some of the Torah’s laws on moral behavior into the new covenant, but that gives no one the license to then say that all the laws are thereby included.  In fact, in our Lord’s answer to the erstwhile young follower, He reduced all the other laws into two.  Likewise, Paul is saying to the Galatians, out of all the laws you used to follow, this is one that you need to continue to keep.

We are reminded that there are two things that Paul wanted the Galatians to avoid in using their Christian freedom. One was legalism – trying to compensate their faith by earning acceptance before God by their good works. The other license – misapplying the doctrine of grace as unbridled freedom to do as they pleased since they were covered by God’s grace. This then becomes the Apostle’s focus here. People who are justified in being called right before God are freed to do what the Anointed wants, not what their sinful tendencies want.

Freedom from the ceremonial laws of Judaism does not mean freedom from living a holy, sanctified life. This freedom that the Anointed purchased fulfills the Law for the believer, so all they have to do is serve Him and their obligations to the Law are taken care of. If someone insists on doing things according to works, there is a great possibility that the weeds of works of the flesh will start to grow in their conduct, instead of the Fruit of the Spirit being generated by the indwelling Holy Spirit. So, we then are freed to love God as well as love one another and our neighbors as ourselves.[6]

5:16-17a Here’s my reaction to your behavior: let your new spiritual oneness with the Anointed guide your conduct. That way you won’t end up giving in to the wrongful desires of the old sinful self.

 After telling the Galatian believers to stop bickering and badmouthing each other, Paul tells them where the problem really lies. Even after being born again and living a life fueled by the Spirit, and exercising the freedom given to them through the Anointed, there is still a battle going on inside between their new spiritual oneness with the Anointed in control, because the old sinful-self, keeps trying to remain control.

Dutch Bible scholar Alfred E. Bouter tells us that the King James translation of verse seventeen that reads, “so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” but that is a mistaken translation. The new translation and other versions clearly show that. The point is that “you should not do those things that your flesh desires.” The Greek conjunction particle hina mē can actually allow this rendering: “whether or not you should do the things your flesh desires.” What we really desire, according to the Spirit, according to the new nature, is opposed by the flesh, but it is not impossible, for we have the new nature connected with the Spirit: He will do those things that God asks, loving and serving one another, for example. So, this verse is a description of the conflict between the flesh and the Holy Spirit, but also a new spirit in the believer connected with the new birth or the new nature while the flesh is still in us and thus there is this conflict.[7]

Jewish Messianic Bible scholar W. A. Liebenberg offers this side-by-side comparison of the two opposing views of gaining justification before God to be called His children. I have made several changes for poetic purposes.[8]

•    Repent and accept Yeshua as Savior


•    Learn the entire Torah and obey it over a three-year proselyte process.


•    Get circumcised


•    You are Abraham’s seed and are declared right before God

•    Repent and accept Yeshua as Savior


•    You are Abraham’s seed and are Declared Right before God.

Unsuccessful attempt to be “justified by the Law.” Successful attempt to be “Justified by faith.”
Still “Bound under the Law” Now “Free under Grace”

It is clear to see that the Gospel of Grace eliminates several steps required under the Gospel of Circumcision. But they are only transferred after justification, and being right with God is established. All that we do in terms of baptism, communion, fasting, praying, and so on are done out of love for being freely justified by God. I like the way Liebenberg phrases what happens after a person is justified by Grace, especially a Jewish believer. He says that the standard of righteousness does not change when a person accepts Yeshua as Savior, but their standing before Yahweh does.[9] In doing so, we give Him all the honor, praise, and glory.

[1] Bruno the Carthusian: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Field, Eugene: “The Duel” (1850-1895); Redacted by RRS

[3] Calvin, John, op. cit.

[4] Clarke, Adam: op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Lancaster, D. Thomas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 250

[6] Platt, David; Merida, Tony. Exalting Jesus in Galatians, op. cit., pp. 103-104

[7] Bouter, Alfred E., On Galatians, op. cit., p. 75

[8] Liebenberg, W. A., On Galatians, op. cit., p 88

[9] Ibid. p. 96

About drbob76

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