The Bible is one of the most influential books in history; the New Testament, having been written almost two millennia ago, still has much to teach people about. To properly comprehend what it says, it is important to see the main principles taught there, as well as to understand the difference between these texts’ intended audience and today’s people. In this paper, the four steps for analyzing biblical passages as described by Duval & Hays (2008) are applied (p. 100-102); the analyzed text is taken from Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 5:16-18 New International Version).
Epistle to the Galatians is a letter written by Apostle Paul to some Christian churches of a Roman province of Galatia (de Boer, 2011, p. 3-4). The passage in question explains that the flesh and the Spirit are in conflict with one another, and urges the readers to follow the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-18).
The previous passage elaborates that people were granted freedom “not to indulge the flesh”, but to serve each other (Galatians 5:13-15); the next two passages explain what the acts of the flesh and the acts of the Spirit are (Galatians 5:19-24). The passages are a warning against the malevolent power, the flesh, possibly preached in Galatia (de Boer, 2011, p. 332-333).
The audience of Galatians lived in the environment where there worked a few groups of “agitators” who preached a number of teachings; it is likely that there were libertines who taught people to follow the desires of their flesh (Matera, 2007, p. 2-3). Clearly, Christianity as a newly emerged religion did not have very strong positions at the time.
Today, however, Christianity is one of the major world religions. Still, there exist many heresies, and numerous teachings, as well as some principles of the contemporary Western culture, state that it is not bad to follow the desire of the flesh. Therefore, the gap between the first-century audience and today’s readers is not very wide.
The key principle is often stated explicitly in the text of some New Testament letters (Duval & Hays, 2008, p. 101). This is the case with the paragraph in question; the principle is “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). The passage states that Galatians should lead their lives according to the Spirit (Tolmie, 2005, p. 189).
It elaborates that people should not submit to the desires of the flesh, which are, as it is explained further, “sexual immorality, impurity… idolatry… hatred… discord… selfish ambition… envy…” etc. (Galatians 5:19-21). On the contrary, the Spirit’s fruits are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who behave in accordance with the Spirit are “not under the law” (Galatians 5:18).
The principle given in the passage can and should easily be applied today. For instance, if someone urges a person to follow the desire of their flesh, e.g. stirs up a discord by advising to hate someone for something bad they have done, the person should forgive the offender and make peace with them instead.
Another example: if someone tries to persuade an individual that sexual immorality is a normal thing, the individual ought not to submit to such claims, but should remember that forbearance, faithfulness and self-control are the right types of behavior to be practiced; it is also worth attempting to dissuade the person from both preaching such things and participating in them.
Summing up, it is clear that the principle taught in the passage in question is to live according to the Spirit. Apostle Paul addressed the letter to the dwellers of Galatia; is stated that it was taught there that the desires of the flesh are to be followed. Nowadays, even though Christianity is one of the world religions, such teachings continue to be spread; therefore, it is easily possible to apply the principle given in the passage in today’s life.
De Boer, M. C. (2011). Galatians: A commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Duvall, J. S., & Hays, J. D. (2008). Journey into God’s Word: Your guide to understanding and applying the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Matera, F. J. (2007). Galatians. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.
Tolmie, D. F. (2005). Persuading the Galatians: A text-centred rhetorical analysis of a Pauline letter. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck.