19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions; 21and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:19-23).
In this article we will take a look at some of the key terms in these two lists (the list of vices and the list of virtues). Let us begin with the three sins of Galatians 5:19:
* Sexual immorality
These three terms are grouped together, and all have sexual overtones.
* Porneia (sexual immorality or fornication) is any sex outside marriage. In its various forms, this word appears more than fifty times in the N.T., which never allows sex outside the marriage relationship. In classical Greek (before NT times), pórnē was a female prostitute, pórnos was a male prostitute, porneia was prostitution, porneîon was a brothel, and pornotróphos was a pimp. By NT times the term had taken on much broader connotations.
* Akatharsia (impurity, uncleanness, rottenness, filth) is quite a broad term, and there is no reason to restrict it to a single definition, as some define "impurity." The word also appears in Romans 6:19, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Ephesians 5:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:7, and five other locations in the N.T. In the O.T. (the Greek LXX) the word appears often, especially (not surprisingly) in Leviticus.
* Aselgeia (sensuality -- NAS, lewdness -- NKJV, lasciviousness -- KJV, indecency, vice) is occasionally rendered debauchery in the NIV. While it is true that figuratively speaking one can "debauch" himself in many ways, the term is decidedly sexual in content and context.
Now let us tackle verse 20. Notice how the sins are grouped. Verse 19 has three sexual offenses grouped together. Verse 20 begins with idolatry and witchcraft.
* Eidololatria is idolatry. It is not used in a figurative sense (as in idolizing another person or one's career), but in its literal, original sense (worship of idols). To call on any god but the true God is idolatry. It is a sin and such a practice must be repented of. Whether a false "God" or false gods, when one is converted to Christianity, he must relinquish the worship of idols.
* Pharmakeia is witchcraft or sorcery. The term goes closely with eidolatria. In both testaments we find consistent condemnation of séances, divination, mediums (as in "channeling" with the dead), astrology, etc. Note: the fact that pharmakeia is the obvious root of the word pharmacy does not prove that drug abuse is wrong. (Such arguments from etymology are often weak. Use another scripture!)
The remaining terms in verse 20 are not sins of false religion, as is the case with the first two. These words deserve to be examined at closer hand:
* Echthrai is the plural of echthra, the term for hostility, ill will, hatred. It is from the word for enemy.
* Eris is strife, fighting, selfish rivalry.
* Zelos is jealousy, in this context, though in others it can mean zeal. (Jeal- and zeal- are essentially the same.)
* Thumoi is the plural of the word for anger, rage, fury, intense feeling.
* Eritheiai means selfishness, selfish rivalry, or selfish ambition. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 the NIV renders it "factions," while the NAS translates it "disputes."
* Dichostasiai, the same word as in Romans 16:17, means divisions or dissensions.
* Haireseis is similar to dichostasiai, and means divisions, factions, sects, false teachings, etc.
All these sins mar and scar relationships. They separate us humans from one another. They are common words in the Bible, and sadly all too common in this world. All of them describe the meaningless of society without God (or "under the sun"), as in Ecclesiastes 4:4.
Now let's focus on the terms and teaching of verse 21.
* Phthonoi -- there's a good word to try pronouncing! -- is the plural of phthonos, meaning envy, jealousy, spite.
* Methai is the plural of methe, meaning drunkenness. See also Romans 13:13.
* Komoi is the plural of komos, meaning carousing, orgy, revelry. See also Romans 13:13 and 1 Peter 4:3.
In terms of thought, phthonoi really belongs with the previous list in verse 20 (starting with hatred). Methai and komoi go together, as one leads to the other.
When Paul insists "those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom," he isn't saying, "Hey, if you commit even one of these sins, you will go straight to hell." Nor is he saying, "If you slip up several times, that's it, baby -- no more grace." Rather, he is talking about a lifestyle of sin. And why would such a lifestyle lead us to forfeit salvation?
Quite simple. Practicing these things erodes faith. Any sin, theoretically, can destroy our faith if we indulge it enough. Once faith has been lost, where is salvation? Are we not saved by faith? That's why Paul warns against these "works of the flesh" (literal translation). It's not that God is up in heaven waiting for us to slip so he can enter the misdemeanor in his ledger! The truth is, the acts of the sinful nature (NIV) erode faith. They can take us where we don't want to go. We can indeed forfeit the wonderful inheritance stored up for us in Christ. Who would want to do that?
We have studied the vices of Galatians 5:19-21, and also discussed why they are so damaging to salvation. Now we will examine the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-23.
Let's begin with the word "fruit" (karpos). The Greek word means fruit, harvest, grain, etc. Note that the word in Galatians 5:22 is singular: fruit, not fruits. In other words, these nine may be understood to be representative of many more possible "fruits." To put it another way, love is not so much a unique fruit of the Spirit -- though doubtless it does come from the Spirit -- as one of the items in the fruit-basket.
What is the fruit/result/harvest of the Spirit? It's a virtuous life. A life characterized by joy and peace. Karpos is singular. Paul is not aiming to comprehensively list the virtues that flow from godly living; rather, he is painting a picture. Paul mentions nine virtues in the list, just as he mentioned fifteen vices in the previous list.
* Agape -- love (commitment, not feeling). This is a distinctively Christian word -- extremely rare before Christianity. Agape appears several hundred times in the N.T. In Classical Greek, only the verbal form (agapao) appears.
* Chara -- joy, gladness. (Ch as in Loch Ness, not chance)
* Eirene -- peace. In Greek thought eirene is the absence of conflict, while in the OT Hebrew, shalom is positive, entailing the perfection of relationships.
* Makrothumia -- patience. God is makróthumos (in the Greek LXX of the OT, Exod 34:6; Psalm 103:8.
* Chrestotes -- kindness, goodness, mercy. In early documents, Christ (Christos) is occasionally spelled Chrestos.
* Agathosune -- goodness, generosity
* Pistis -- faith, trust, belief. In this context, it more likely should be understood as faithfulness.
We finish our analysis of Galatians 5:19-23 with the final two virtues (gentleness, and self-control).
* Prautes -- gentleness, humility
* Engkrateia -- self-control.
In classical times, self-control was considered a virtue among such groups as the Stoics. Yet humility was not at all one of the classical virtues! A man was entitled to boast about what he had accomplished. The mindset reminds me of what one of my schoolmates said back in junior high school: "It's okay to be conceited -- if it's true." In other words, if you're that impressive a person, it is fine to be "stuck-up." Fortunately, not all will agree!
Paul has contrasted flesh and Spirit (which are locked in mortal combat with one another, Galatians 5:16-18). Having listed 15 representative vices and 9 representative virtues -- which are the respective fruits of two lifestyles, or paths -- he concludes by saying, "Against such things there is no law." The term nomos (law) has here a double entendre. Paul is referring back to the fruitlessness of aiming to be justified by rule keeping. He is also highlighting the openness with which a spiritual man or woman can live. Is anyone ashamed lest others see his love, joy, or gentleness? And yet there is much to hide when living by the flesh. What a contrast (John 3:20-21)!
As Paul will continue to reason, it is because our old self has died with Christ in baptism that we are able to go forward as crucified individuals, walking in the Spirit. This parallels his argument in Romans 6-7. At any rate, we have a choice. To follow the flesh -- and reap its harvest, or to follow the Spirit --and reap its harvest. To this theme Paul will return in Galatians 6:7-8.