Galatians 5

False Faith vs. Authentic Christianity

Binding Contracts

I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised, that he is obligated to keep the whole law (Galatians 5:3).

The Mosaic Law is a comprehensive covenantal arrangement. This may be compared to the binding agreement between a debtor and loaner. Those who are under the Law cannot pick and choose which part they keep, any more than a debtor can choose how much he repays. Records of debt and repayment have been recovered from all over the ancient world, including this document from the Roman city of Pompeii, pictured here. This document, transcribed on wood, was burnt in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, but ultimately preserved by its ash. It was recovered from the house of Cecilio Giocondo.

Ancient Foot Races

You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? (Galatians 5:7)

Running was a popular sport in the Greco-Roman world, as attested by the many depictions of running athletes and the construction of stadiums for competition. Paul utilizes the activity of running as a metaphor for the Christian life. The starting line for racers, marked by pillars, can be seen in this photo of the stadium at Epidaurus. Epidaurus is located about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Corinth.

The Art of Imitation

This persuasion did not originate with Him who calls you (Galatians 5:8).

Although Paul’s adversaries were attempting to convince the Galatians that their teaching was the way that leads to life, Paul argued that it was a false way that did not originate with God. This is illustrated here by two Mycenaean stirrup jars; the one on the right is an authentic jar, while the one on the left is an ancient imitation. Although they share similarities, when placed side-by-side, it becomes evident that both are not authentic.

The Leaven of the Law

A little leaven leavens the whole lump (Galatians 5:9).

Paul uses the word picture of leaven in bread to again argue that the Law is a whole, and requiring adherence to one part of it will inevitably lead to the requirement to follow all of it. Leavened bread was a staple of the Roman diet in Paul’s day. This fresco depicts a baker’s shop in the Roman city of Pompeii; the baker is selling the typical round loaves that were common at that time. About 34 bakeries have been discovered so far in Pompeii, some large enough to bake 80 loaves at a time in a single oven.

Greco-Roman Idolatry

Now the works of the flesh are evident: . . . idolatry (Galatians 5:20).

One example of the “works of the flesh” is idolatry, which would have been well-known to Paul’s audience. Shown here is the interior of the Pantheon in Rome. The name means “of all the gods,” although most scholars are doubtful that the temple was actually dedicated to all the gods. The building was constructed by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus (27 BC – AD 14), so it would have been standing when Paul wrote this letter. It is, however, uncertain exactly what it looked like in his day.

Paul's Fruit Metaphor

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness . . . (Galatians 5:22)

Paul uses the metaphor of sweet, nourishing, life-giving fruit to describe the work of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Throughout the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean, the pomegranate was associated with life and divine blessing, even being depicted sometimes as the tree of life. Its numerous seeds, the blood-red color of its juice, and even its medicinal properties contributed to its use as a symbol of life. This photograph was taken at Yad HaShmonah in the Judean hills west of Jerusalem.

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