Exegetical Exercise

Image fruit of the Spirit stained glass window

The fruit of the Spirit, as seen through the window of Christ Church, Dublin

Exegetical notes and questions on Galatians 5:18-6:10 (Uniform Series text for Sunday, February 26, 2017). This is the text:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. (19) Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, (20) idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, (21) envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(22) By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, (23) gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (24) And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (25) If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. (26) Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
(6:1) My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. (2) Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (3) For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. (4) All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. (5) For all must carry their own loads.
(6) Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.
(7) Do not be deceived. God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. (8) If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. (9) So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. (10) So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the [household] of faith.

Notes: Verses 18-26 lay out the contrast between “the works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit;” the consequences of the “Spirit” status continues in 6:1, and the contrast is picked up again in 6:8. The flesh “works,” the Spirit has “fruit” – in Greek there’s an interesting play of sound between sarkos (flesh) and karpos (fruit) – the difference between “works” and “fruit” is suggestive; it is probably not a difference in effort, because in v. 25, “being led” by the Spirit (stoichomen), while passive, still involves doing something – standing in line, in order, it sometimes refers to getting into military formation – but maybe the effort has a different focus? Also, since it is fruit – fruit is something people can cultivate, but actually indirectly: by taking good care of the plants, weeding, watering, fertilizing, pruning, etc.; people don’t work directly on fruit itself. If that analogy holds, we don’t work directly on things like love and joy – but maybe on the conditions for those things.

People usually treat the sin lists as a little bit random, but there may be a common denominator: they could all be identified as consequences or symptoms of people wanting to get their own way in things, to satisfy various appetites. There might be an emphasis on conflict (8 of the 15 terms) – and this might echo back to the conflict that precipitates the letter?

Developing the contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit also seems to echo back to the purpose of the letter – the quarrel between circumcision and uncircumcision being effectively a quarrel over a practice to be inscribed in the literal body, vs. the baptized body, where the only visible mark of baptism is (or should be?) behavioral, stemming from the guidance of the Spirit. V. 26 names both sides of that conflict, perhaps – conceit on the part of those who consider themselves more observant, envy on the part of those who now feel they are lacking something, both sides showing a spirit of competition that has more to do with social status than bearing the kind of fruit in 22-23.

6:1 – 5 constitute practical advice for dealing with a “transgression;” does this continue to address the dispute? V. 1 identifies “having received the Spirit” as a status, maybe an objective status; Paul wouldn’t have made an orthographic distinction between capital-S Spirit and the spirit or Spirit of gentleness, is there a justification for it? “gentleness” is fruit of the capital-S Spirit in v. 23. In v. 2 we are back to the “law” – the one we are supposed to fulfill – and an echo of being slaves to one another. There seems to be a double message between v. 2 and v. 5 – are we bearing one another’s burdens if everyone has to carry their own load? V. 4 seems clearly to be a reference to the circumcision quarrel again, with the focus on taking pride in someone else’s work, a theme that will show up again in 6:13.

Verse 6 seems to come out of left field. Why does Paul bring this up here? Why would we not capitalize Word here? Who is the teacher? (Paul?) Why do we think this is about money? Why don’t we think it is about sharing something else, like behavior? Share in “good things,” not bad things or things indifferent …

6:7-10 continue to play out the analogy of the fruit, introducing “sowing,” encouraging the Galatians not to grow weary and to anticipate the reaping or harvest – so again, “sowing to the Spirit” has to do with taking opportunities to do what is right, work for the good of all … which presumably cultivates the fruit of 5:22-23.

One possible summary: a life led by the Spirit is not a life of ignoring behavioral requirements; but the focus of people’s efforts shifts, from achieving things on one’s own personal agenda, to aiming for the good of all – transgressors, teachers, one another.

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About HAT

Heather Thiessen (HAT) is a happily married 60-ish, Bible-reading, Presbyterian Church Sunday School teaching and choir singing, small fuel efficient car driving, still pretty much 2nd wave feminist and generally out lesbian Hoosier mom. (There are no monochrome states.) From time to time she teaches religious studies to students at a small liberal arts college in Louisville, Kentucky.
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