Monday, November 2, 2009

Galatians Journal: Chapter 5, verse 21

Galatians 5:21 “and 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. “

Paul concludes his list of specific examples of “acts of the sinful nature” here.

“and envy” There is apparently only one word that is equivalent to the original Greek here, and that is “envy.” But why the “and?” Only the NIV version includes it. Perhaps the original language implies this to be linked to the prior group of sins. Envy would obviously be at the root of selfish ambition, divisiveness, and factions. But there’s more. While the NIV, New American Standard, and Amplified Bibles all translate this as envy, the King James Version adds a second sin, an additional word to the list. So, just like in verse 19, there are 4 Greek words translated into three English words here. The KJV adds “murders” and that is indeed what the original Greek literally means. Why do the other translations leave this out? Not being a Greek scholar, I can’t say for sure. Obviously, murder is an act of the sinful nature, that would be so obvious as to go without saying. It would also seem to fit better tucked in amongst hatred, discord, jealousy, and fits of rage. Yet, this seems to be meant to intensify “envy.” The first murder in history was the result of envy (see Genesis 4: 4 through 8). This is more than just a desire to have something that belongs to someone else, or desire someone’s position, talent and the like. This is envy so deep that we want to kill the other person.

“drunkenness, orgies” The first word here simply means “intoxication.” The second word, “orgies” (translated as “reveling” in the KJV) is a special, specific word in the Greek that is tied to the worship of Bacchus, the Greek God of Wine, and it describes a feast or drinking party that lasts all night, involving music, dancing, parading in the streets with torches, sexual cavorting – in general, a loud, riotous revelry fueled by drinking. In a word, “partying,” as it’s understood in modern American slang, but this is over-the-top "partying" to be sure!

“and the like” A few verses back, I mused about whether this list might be conclusive – here it is obviously meant to be a list of examples, not a definitive list of sins. For other similar lists, see First Corinthians 6: 9-10; Ephesians 4:2 and 5:9, and Revelation 22:15.

“I warn you as I did before” In all of Paul’s letters, he emphasizes that this kind of behavior is unacceptable for Christians.

“shall not inherit the kingdom of God” Falling into or getting involved with one of these “acts of the sinful nature” does not disqualify us from salvation. Especially because this list includes sins that involve our thought life and emotions, the temptation in these areas are always great. But Paul is presenting and defining these “acts,” and then in the next few verses, compares them with the fruit of the Spirit, to emphasize that these are character traits more than they are individual actions. It is not in avoiding these acts of the sinful nature that we will get through – that is trying to obey the law all over again. But it is when we become a child of “the promise,” when we are changed and become a “new creation,” so that we no longer are known, in our character, by these traits. Plus, I don’t think the concept of “inheriting the kingdom of God” as that phrase is used in the New Testament, has anything to do with salvation. Paul only uses it to describe sinful behavior that will disqualify people from their “inheritance,” (here, and in First Corinthians 6:9-10 ) -- or to describe how the resurrection of our bodies in the next life will work (I Corinthians 15:50); James used it to describe how the poor get special consideration (James 2:5), and Jesus uses it, in the King James Version, to speak of the reward for those who use their talents well (Matthew 25:34). The Bible clearly teaches that there is a reward for good works that occurs in the judgment we will experience when as believers, we will eventually stand before God after we die and in the final judgment. In I Corinthians 3: 11-15, it states that we are judged for what we do AFTER we come to a saving relationship with God through the Promise. For the things that we do that emanate from our character as new creations, as the fruit of the Spirit, or the result of obedience, we receive a reward in the next life – in heaven. But if we continue to live selfishly, unrepentantly continuing to commit these acts of the flesh, Paul says in I Corinthians 3:15, such deeds will be “burned up, [we] will suffer loss, but [we ourselves] will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” If we have become children “of the promise,” our nature should change and we no longer indulge in the acts of the sinful nature, or at least we have the power in our lives to now avoid them. That is really Paul’s point here. Paul is being specific, so those of us who become Christians who have known only the “acts of the sinful nature” can clearly understand that there will be an eternal consequence to stubbornly cling to this kind of behavior.

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