d) Gal 5:13-18 (NRSV) 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.

Pauline Theology: Gal 5:13-18 (NRSV)


The Apostle Paul authored the biblical passage of Gal 5:13-18 (NRSV) after witnessing the power of God’s son and the fact that despite his many works, people, especially from Galatia, were engaging in corrupt practices. Paul was initially called Saul of Tarsus and was born in Cilicia, in present-day Turkey. Before Paul’s call, he was at the helm of persecuting Christians of all ethnicities, creed, and social strata. The reason behind Paul’s persecution of Christians is unknown since he was a member of the Pharisees who were not known to possess any enmity for Christians. However, Paul led numerous campaigns against Christians until his calling. One of his most notable works was his numerous letters to people from all regions about their works and their reward. The apostle Paul authored 13 books during his time. However, this paper shall only discuss one letter and a certain verse in part and its significance. Thus far, the article shall elaborate on Gal 5:13-18 (NRSV), its historical context and theological aspect.

Historical Context

The verse was written when the Apostle was struggling with trying to get non-believers to convert to Christianity without success. The main impediment was that the Judaic followers (Judaizer’s) were imposing their religion on the gentiles forcing them to choose between embracing Christianity and embracing Jewish customs (Wright, Elliott, Hafemann & Frederick, 2014). Such tribulations were a common phenomenon during Paul’s time. Since the Jewish religion was highly revered, most people wished to be associated with the faith as opposed to Christianity. The following issue was made worse because there was no authentic evidence to reveal that the Christ the Messiah sent Paul. As such, most of his revelations, teachings, and even rebukes tended to fall on deaf ears. This forced him to author the letter to the Galatians and also the verse of Gal 5:13-18 (NRSV).

Theological Context

The theological aspect of the verse is that people are being asked to refrain from departing from the faith and embracing false religions. During Paul’s time, most Jews were mingling with gentiles openly and freely to an extreme level, making them forsake their religion and its subsequent practices. This was resulting in higher rates of false worship and loss of trust in the Messiah and his teachings. Consequently, the Apostle realized that it would be necessary to write letters to the people from across the region (Galatia) to deliver his gospel (Nwanguma, Galatians 5: 13-18). The verse was created to affirm that indeed, the people did have a high degree of freedom awarded to them by God, but by no means were they to disrespect this gift. Embracing the desires of the flesh was an issue that was adopted by most gentiles as they believed that there was no life after death. As such, they chose to engage in all activities, unaware of the watchful eye of the creator. Thus, the verse is delineating how Christians are supposed to live, which is by following the examples set for them by both Abraham, Moses and now Jesus Christ.

Similarly, the verse was also authored by the Apostle Paul as a warning and advice to both present and future generations and even religious leaders about deceiving followers into practicing a false religion. At the time of authoring the verse, Galatia, to whom the letter was addressed, was in a state of disarray as the religious leaders had been tricked into convincing the gentiles to practice Judaism and its subsequent practices (Kruse, 2006). These practices included circumcision and embracing the old testament as opposed to the new testament, which was symbolic of Jesus Christ. As such, the Apostle saw it necessary to correct such a view by authoring a letter to dissuade the believers from being led astray by some Jewish rabbis who were trampling on the role, power, and divine authority of Jesus.

Equally, the Apostle Paul wrote the verse to the Galatian and the subsequent letter to try and educate both Jews and Christians on what was acceptable behavior and what was not in terms of worshipping God. In verse, the Apostle mentions the word flesh to illustrate that most of the believers had strayed from practicing religious fellowship in the spirit in favour of the flesh.

The embrace of circumcision was actualizing such a concept as a sign of spiritual purity and devotion. According to the Judaizers, who were the most vocal supporters of Judaic law, they believed and wanted to share their belief that works and grace could also acquire salvation (Kruse, 2006). However, the new testament, which was ushered in by Jesus, placed a higher value on spiritual works as opposed to the actions of the flesh, which had been rampant before Jesus’s coming (Nwanguma, Galatians 5: 13-18). According to the Apostle, all the works necessary for salvation were done by Jesus, and thus there was no need to continue them any longer. The emphasis on circumcision was an act supported by the Judaic law, which had now passed away according to Jesus’s teaching. On the other hand, the word spirit was meant to symbolize faith in the word and in the acceptance of God’s existence and the divine power, which ranked higher than other actions meted out by the flesh (Wright, Elliott, Hafemann & Frederick, 2014). Paul’s message in verse, and his entire letter, sought to drive people into attaining a higher form of spiritual self by embracing faith, practicing it, nourishing it, and finally living lives of faith. Such a lifestyle was meant to mirror that of Abraham who allowed his life to be led by faith.


Apostle Paul was facing a severe quagmire in his attempt to keep the people from departing from the faith, which he had now come to see as being inseparable from his life’s virtues and calling. During his visit to Galatia, he had witnessed alarming practices that threatened to derail the works of the Saviour and his ultimate sacrifice of death upon the cross. His authority was not only challenged but even the works and divinity of Jesus. Paul was displeased by the fact that the Galatians had easily given the doctrine of Christ for false practices. Consequently, he authored the verse and the letter to the Galatians to warn them against their unfruitful reliance on works as opposed to the spirit (flesh). Additionally, the verse and the letter in its entirety was also intended to warn the Judaizer’s from understating the work’s and sacrifices of Christ in ushering in the New Testament and a new age of salvation.


Kruse, C. G. (2006). Paul, the Law and the Spirit. Paul and his theology, 109-130.

Nwanguma, C. I. Paul’s Idea of Conflict between the Spirit and the Flesh (Galatians 5: 13-18) in Relation to Plato’s Concept of Soul with Reference to Freud’s Psychology of the Mind.

Wright, N. T., Elliott, M. W., Hafemann, S. J., & Frederick, J. (Eds.). (2014). Galatians and Christian Theology: Justification, the Gospel, and Ethics in Paul’s Letter. Baker Academic.

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