6:1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.
Restore – ‘The Greek word is ‘put him in joint again’. If a bone be out of joint, the surgeon must not use a rough hand that may chance break another bone. But he must come gently to work, and afterwards bind it up softly. So if a brother be through inadvertence overtaken, we must not come to him in a fury of passion, but with a spirit of meekness labour to restore him.’ (Thomas Watson)
The following passages deal with church discipline: Mt 18:15-18; 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2:5-11; Gal 6:1; 2 Thess 3:6-15; 1 Tim 5:19-20; Tit 3:9-11.
6:2 Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 6:3 For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 6:4 Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. 6:5 For each one will carry his own load.
Carry each other’s burdens – ‘Notice the assumption which lies behind this command, namely that we all have burdens and that God does not mean us to carry them alone.’ (Stott)
Burdens can include duties, responsibilities, weaknesses, deficiencies, and afflictions. We can ‘carry’ each others burdens by helping those who labour, comforting those who sorrow, and patiently bearing with those who are mentally or morally weak. At the same time, we should use all reasonable means for correcting in love the faults and deficiencies of others.
No doubt, the spirit in which this burden-carrying is performed makes a great difference: it can be done reluctantly, half-heartedly, out of a sense of bare duty or outward compulsion; or it can be done willingly and lovingly.
If we cannot remove entirely a brother’s burden, we can at least share it. We can contribute to the needs of the poor. We can stand alongside the person who is wrongfully accused or criticised.
But it is particularly mental and moral infirmities that the Apostle has in mind here, as is clear from v1. ‘Instead of despising and hating one another on account of their respective prejudices, mistakes, and faults, and find in these food for self-conceit and vain glorying, they are to assist one another, and to promote one another’s happiness and improvement’ (Brown).
‘To bear the mistakes and faults of our fellow- Christians does not by any means imply that we flatter them in their erroneous opinions or improper habits; but it does imply that we, cherishing a deep felt sense of our own intellectual and moral deficiencies and improprieties, bear patiently the inconveniences which their mistakes and faults occasion to us, and in a truly friendly disposition do everything in our power to remove these mistakes and faults’ (Brown).
According to Chrysostom, this includes an element of ‘bearing with’ others’ burdens: ‘He who is quick and irritable, let him bear with the slow and the sluggish; and let the slow, in his turn, bear with the impetuosity of his fiery brother: each knowing that the burden is heavier to him who bears it than to him who bears with it.’
Most churches have little emphasis on bearing one another’s burdens. Indeed, the people do not know one another’s burdens even exist, let alone be concerned enough to bear them. Erwin W. Lutzer)
The law of Christ –
The law of Christ
6:2 ‘Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’
See also Gal 5:14; 1 Cor 9:21, and James 2:8 (which refers to ‘the royal law’).
This difficult but important phrase has been variously understood as:
(a) the law of love (so most interpreters, including Brown, Bruce, Stott, Fung). ‘The ‘law of Christ’ is to love one another as He loves us; that was the new commandment which He gave (Jn. 13:34; 15:12). So, as Paul has already stated in Galatians 5:14, to love our neighbour is to fulfil the law.’ (Stott). ‘”The law of Christ” seems here plainly to be the law of mutual love, so often and so explicitly enjoined, and so powerfully and affectionately enforced, – Jn 13:34-35; 15:12.’ (Brown) Barrett states that the ‘law of Christ’ is ‘virtually indistinguishable from the law of love in 5:14’ (Cited by Jervis)
(b) the teaching of Christ (Dodd and Davies);
(c) the pattern set by Christ (Hays and others).
Relationship with the law of Moses
But is ‘the law of Christ’ to be understood in contrast with, or in continuity with, the law of Moses? For Brown, ‘there seems to be a tacit contrast between the law of Moses, and the law of Christ. It is as if the apostle had said, “This bearing one another’s burdens is a far better thing than those external observances which your new teachers are so anxious to impose on you.’
‘Dispensationalism treats law and gospel as strictly antithetical, placing them in the distinct dispensations of Israel and the church. Most modern dispensationalism teaches that while justification is by grace in every dispensation, the Mosaic law served a binding regulatory function for Israel’s sanctification that is not binding on the church. Consequently, the law is not a guide for the Christian life; rather, the ‘law of Christ’ is written on the heart of the believer. However, as a biblical revelation of God’s holy nature, the law points out sin and the need for grace, but is itself antithetical to grace.’ (D.A. Gilland, NDT:HS, art. ‘Law and Gospel’)
Augustine, however, emphasises the continuity between the demands of the old and new testament. The right keeping of both, he says, is summed up by ‘love’: ‘The “law of Christ” means the law of love. The one who loves his neighbor fulfills the law. The love of neighbor is strongly commended even in the Old Testament [Lev 19:18]. The apostle elsewhere says that it is by love that all the commands of the law are summed up [Rom 13:10]. If so, then it is evident that even that Scripture which was given to the covenant people was the law of Christ, which, since it was not being fulfilled by fear, he came to fulfill by love. The same Scripture, therefore, and the same law is called the old covenant when it weighs down in slavery those who are grasping after earthly goods. It is called the new testament when it raises to freedom those who are ardently seeking the eternal good.’ (Cited in ACCS)
‘The Galatians and their teachers had been eager to keep the law of Moses; but here was a higher way by which they might not keep it but fulfil it, by keeping the law of Christ.’ (Cole)
Schreiner (DPL) asks: ‘Is the “law of Christ” for believers limited to the law of love? Yes and no. Love is the heartbeat and center of the Pauline ethic. And yet even in Galatians Paul unfolds the true nature of love by delineating what is not loving (Gal 5:15, 19–21, 26) and what is (Gal 5:22–23; 6:1–2, 6–10). A comparison of Galatians 5:14 with Romans 13:8–10 shows that for Paul the moral norms of the OT Law must be included when one is defining love. Otherwise love collapses into sentimentality and vagueness. Nevertheless, the focus must remain on the affections in the heart and the power of the Spirit so that believers will not be satisfied with outward conformity to a norm.’
Douglas Moo finds strong continuity between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. Indeed, he says, 9 out of 10 commandments of the Decalogue are re-asserted in the New Testament. At the same time, love is pre-eminent in the law of Christ.
Cf. Php 2:4
Rudolf Gwalther (1519–1586; successor of Bullinger in Zurich) applies this teaching to our care of those suffering from poverty, sickness, and exile: ‘If we have to bear the vices of others so as not to break the law of love and stir up trouble and unnecessary dissension, how much more should those people be borne who are harmful and dangerous to us not because of their own fault but on account of the burdens that God has placed on them, like poverty, exile, disease and other things of that kind? Therefore those who run into such people ought to consider how much greater the burden is that they have to bear and how much more blessed it is to give than to receive. for if it is a hard and expensive thing to feed the poor, to house or grant asylum to the outcast and exiles, to tend and cure those who suffer from serious illnesses, those who require these services from us because they suffer from poverty, exile and disease are oppressed by a much greater burden than ours.’ (Cited in RCS)
‘Paul does not eliminate the law; he transposes it to another key: the law of Christ, the Spirit-enabled obedience of those in the new covenant relationship through Christ (2 Cor. 3:6).’ (Kent Brewer, Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics, art. ‘Legalism’)
‘Jesus’ teaching, although standing in continuity with the law given at Sinai, nevertheless sovereignly fashions a new law. In some instances Jesus sharpens commandments (Matt. 5:17–48) and in others considers them obsolete (Mark 7:17–19). On one occasion, having been asked to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus concurs with the Jewish wisdom of his time (Mark 12:32–33) that the greatest commandments are to love God supremely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mark 12:28–31). He breaks with tradition, however, by defining the term “neighbor” to mean even the despised Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37)…Paul’s own admonition to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens provides both a pithy restatement of Jesus’ summary of the law and an indication that Jesus’ teaching fulfills prophetic expectations.’ (Thielman, EDBT, art. ‘Law of Christ’)
Load – The word is different from the one used in v2. There, is refers to burdens that are too heavy for one person to carry on his own. Here, the thought is of a pack that a man would carry on his back, and the sense is that each of us has to bear responsibility before God on the day of judgement: no one else can do that for us.
6:6 Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. 6:7 Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, 6:8 because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 6:9 So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. 6:10 So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.
God cannot be mocked – The underlying picture is of turning up one’s nose at something or someone, and thus expressing sneering contempt. We show such contempt for God when we ignore the rule of sowing and reaping.
‘God’s justice stands forever against the sinner in utter severity. The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions. It hushes their fears and allows them to practice all pleasant forms of iniquity while death draws every day nearer and the command to repent goes unregarded. As responsible moral beings we dare not so trifle with our eternal future.’ (A. W. Tozer)
Sowing to the flesh
‘To ‘sow to the flesh’ is to pander to it, to cosset, cuddle and stroke it, instead of crucifying it. The seeds we sow are largely thoughts and deeds. Every time we allow our mind to harbour a grudge, nurse a grievance, entertain an impure fantasy, or wallow in self-pity, we are sowing to the flesh. Every time we linger in bad company whose insidious influence we know we cannot resist, every time we lie in bed when we ought to be up and praying, every time we read pornographic literature, every time we take a risk which strains our self-control, we are sowing, sowing, sowing to the flesh. Some Christians sow to the flesh every day and wonder why they do not reap holiness. Holiness is a harvest; whether we reap it or not depends almost entirely on what and where we sow.’ (Stott)
Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers – ‘Our first responsibility is to our own families and relations (1 Timothy 5:8), and our second responsibility is to other members of the community of faith (Galatians 6:10). However, the Bible is clear that Christians’ practical love, their generous justice, is not to be confined to only those who believe as we do. Galatians 6:10 strikes the balance when Paul says: “Do good to all people, especially the family of faith.” Helping “all people” isn’t optional, it is a command.’ (Keller, Generous Justice, p50)
‘The New Testament shows a certain “in-group” mentality by making a distinction between members of the household of faith and outsiders. (Gal 6:10) But the writers never press this distinction, and they often make the point that Christian friendship should not appear only within Christian circles. While Paul, for example, encourages special concern for believers, he does so in connection with encouragement to “do good to all.” (Gal 6:10) Jesus encourages his followers to invite needy strangers, not friends, to their tables, (Lk 14:12-14) and in the parable of the Good Samaritan he extends the concept of neighbor to include anyone in need.’ (Lk 10:25-37) (EDBT)
Final Instructions and Benediction, 11-18
6:11 See what big letters I make as I write to you with my own hand!
My own hand – cf. Rom 16:22
6:12 Those who want to make a good showing in external matters are trying to force you to be circumcised. They do so only to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 6:13 For those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves, but they want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh.
To avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ – It is possible that Christians were suffering persecution at the hands of Jewish zealots, and that this would have been eased if they had accepted circumcision. See the discussion in NAC.
6:14 But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 6:15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation! 6:16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God.
Why boast in the cross of Christ?
Because it is:-
The measure of man’s guilt, Acts 3:13-15.
The manifestation of God’s love, Rom 5:6-8.
The means of salvation, Jn 3:14-15.
The mark of separation, Gal 6:14.
The motive of service, 2 Cor 5:14-15.
The melody of heaven, Rev 5:8-10.
May I never boast in the cross – ‘Boast’ is kauchasthai, ‘to boast in’, ‘to glory in’, ‘to take pride in’. ‘Our kauchema is our obsession. It engrosses our attention, it fills our horizons, it dominates our mind. For Paul this was the cross. The cross of Christ was the centre of his faith, of his life and of his ministry; it should equally be the centre of ours. Let others be obsessed with money, success, fame, sex or power; those who follow Christ should be obsessed with him and with his cross.’ (Stott, Evangelical truth, 81f)
The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ – By this Paul means the message of Christ’s atonement for sins. This is the subject he loved to preach about, 1 Cor 15:3. It is a subject he loved to dwell on in his writings. It is something he lived all his life, Gal 2:20.
‘Wonder not then that all the true followers of Christ, the saints of every age, have so gloried in the cross of Christ, have imputed such great things to it, have desired nothing so much as to be partakers of it, to live in constant union with it. It is because his sufferings, his death and cross, were the fulness of his victory over all the works of the devil. Not an evil in flesh and blood, not a misery of life, not a chain of death, not a power of hell and darkness, but were all baffled, broken, and overcome by the process of a suffering and dying Christ. Well, therefore, may the cross of Christ be the glory of Christians!’ (William Law, The Spirit of Love)
The cross was central not only to the mind of Paul, but to the mind of Christ himself. He repeatedly predicted his passion, Mk 8:31 9:12,31 10:34,45 etc. He spoke of the time of his death as the ‘hour’ for which he had come to the world, Jn 12:23,27 etc. He gave instructions for a memorial service that would focus on his broken body and shed blood.
The church might have chosen any of a number of options as symbols for Christianity – a crib (symbol of incarnation), a carpenter’s bench (symbol of the dignity of manual labour), a boat (symbol of his itinerant preaching), a towel (symbol of humble service), an empty tomb (symbol of his resurrection), a throne (symbol of his sovereignty), a dove, wind or fire (symbols of the Holy Spirit). But, rightly, it chose a cross. (See Stott, Evangelical truth, 82f)
All the major writers of the NT bear witness to the centrality of the cross, Rom 5:8; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4; Eph 1:7; Heb 10:19-22; 1 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 4:10; Rev 5:9.
‘If you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a keystone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil…Beware, I say again, of a religion without the cross.’ (J.C. Ryle)
Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world – It is evident from this that we glory in the cross not only as our means of acceptance with God, but for our daily walk with him. ‘Notice that, although Paul mentions only one cross, he refers to three crucifixions on it. First, there is of course the crucifixion of Jesus. Secondly, “the world has been crucified to me.” Thirdly, “I have been crucified to the world.” Thus Jesus Christ, the godless world and we ourselves have all been crucified on the same cross.’ (Stott, Evangelical truth, 96) The crucifixion of self has already been mentioned in Gal 2:20 and Gal 5:24. The Christ who dies as our substitute also died as our representative. Paul is here echoing the command of Jesus to take up our cross and follow him, Mk 8:34.
‘This teaching is extremely important today, because the church has a constant tendency to trivialise Christian discipleship. People think of it as if is means nothing more than becoming a bit religious, and adding a thin layer of piety to an otherwise secular life. Then scratch the surface or prick the veneer, and underneath is the same old pagan. Nothing fundamental has changed.
But no! Becoming and being a Christian involves a change so radical that no imagery can do it justice but death and resurrection with Christ, namely dying to the old life of self-indulgence and self-will, and rising to a new life of self-control and self-giving, in which the world has been crucified to us and we have been crucified to the world.’ (Stott, Evangelical truth, 97f)
Peace and mercy – ‘Almost deafened by the babel of voices in the contemporary church, how are we to decide whom to follow? The answer is: we must test them all by the teaching of the apostles of Jesus Christ. “Peace and mercy” will be on the church when it “walks by this rule.” (Gal 6:16) Indeed, this is the only kind of apostolic succession we can accept – not a line of bishops stretching back to the apostles and claiming to be their successors (for the apostles were unique in both authorisation and inspiration, and they have no successors), but loyalty to the apostolic doctrine of the New Testament. The teaching of the apostles, now permanently preserved in the New Testament, is to regulate the beliefs and practices of the church of every generation. This is why the Bible is over the church and not vice versa. The apostolic authors of the New Testament were commissioned by Christ, not by the church, and wrote with the authority of Christ, not of the church. “To that authority (sc. of the apostles),” as the Anglican bishops said at the 1959 Lambeth Conference, “the Church must ever bow.” Would that it did! The only church union schemes which can be pleasing to God and beneficial to the church are those which first distinguish between apostolic traditions and ecclesiastical traditions and then subject the latter to the former.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 287f)
All who follow this rule – ‘The Greek word for ‘rule’ is kanōn, which means a measuring rod or rule, ‘the carpenter’s or surveyor’s line by which a direction is taken’. So the church has a ‘rule’ by which to direct itself. This is the ‘canon’ of Scripture, the doctrine of the apostles, and especially in the context of Galatians 6 the cross of Christ and the new creation. Such is the rule by which the church must walk and continuously judge and reform itself.’ (Stott)
The Israel of God – On the question of who, or what, constitutes ‘the Israel of God’, see the following note.
The 'Israel of God'
6:16 ‘And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God.’
I think that the meaning implied in the NIV and most other modern translations, is probably correct. ‘The Israel of God’ refers to the people of God in their entirety; to all those who ‘follow this rule’. This interpretation is made explicit in the paraphrase of Today’s English Version – ‘May peace and mercy be with them-with them and with all of God’s people.’
The alternative interpretation – that ‘the Israel of God’ refers to Jews who believe (or will believe) – is regarded by some (see the relevant discussion in Hard Sayings of the Bible) as having merit. The context lends some support, in that Paul may be stressing that there are some Jewish believers who have not succumbed to the Judaizers, and approve of his’rule’ in v15. Support for this would come from a comparison with Rom 11:1,5, where Paul identifies an Israelite remnant within ‘Israel’ as a whole.
W.S. Campbell (Dictionary of Paul and his Letters), doubts the correctness identification of ‘the Israel of God’ with the Christian Church. Noting the word kai, he says that the verse might best be translated, with P. Richardson, ‘May God give peace to all who will walk according to this criterion, and mercy also to his faithful people Israel.’
Fung agrees that it is ‘certainly more natural to take the kai as a simple copulative.’
I’m not competent to comment on the linguistic aspects of this (which also include the question of how the English translation should be punctuated, given that there is no punctuation in the original). But that doesn’t stop me ‘comparing scripture with scripture’ to see if Paul’s meaning can be clarified.
Some think that the identification of ‘the Israel of God’ with ethnic Israel is consistent with the teaching of this letter as a whole. Vlack (Has the Church replaced Israel?), for example, thinks that Paul is commending those Jews who have embraced the gospel of grace and rejected the Judaizers. He cites Johnson: ‘What more fitting thing could Paul write, it is said, in a work so strongly attacking Jewish professing believers, the Judaizers, than to make it most plain that he was not attacking the true believing Jews. Judaizers are anathematized, but the remnant according to the election of grace are ‘the Israel of God.’
Timothy George thinks that it would be surprising if Paul had introduced so revolutionary a concept (as equating Gentile believers with Israel) at this late stage in his epistle.
Vlack argues that this if Paul identifies ‘Israel’ with the church here, then it is the only place where he does so. But consider the following:-
Rom 2:29 – ‘A man is a Jew if he is one inwardly’
Rom 9:6 – ‘Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel’
Rom 9:7 – ‘Not because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children’
Gal 3:7 – ‘Those who believe are children of Abraham’
Gal 3:28 – ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek…’
Gal 3:29 – ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’
Both in Romans and in Galatians Paul argues that righteousness come through faith, not by works of the law. In Rom 4 he shows that this has been the case from the beginning: Abraham was right with God before the sign of circumcision was given, Rom 4:9-11. Abraham is therefore ‘the father of all who believe’ – both Jews and Gentiles, Rom 4:11-12. Since the father of Israel Abraham – is also the father of all who believe, the designation of this company as ‘the Israel of God’ would be apt. Indeed, in Gal 3:7, ‘those who believe’ are designated ‘children of Abraham’, and these include Gentile believers, Gal 3:8. All who are in Christ both Jews and Gentiles – are Abraham’s offspring, Gal 3:27-29.
‘Whether the expression ‘the Israel of God’ in its one appearance in the NT (Gal. 6:16) denotes believing Jews only, or believing Jews and Gentiles without distinction, is disputed; the latter is more probable, especially if the expression is to be construed in apposition to ‘all who walk by this rule’. But that the community of believers in Jesus, irrespective of their natural origin, is looked upon as the new Israel throughout the NT is clear. They are ‘the twelve tribes in the dispersion’ (Jas. 1:1), ‘the exiles of the dispersion’ (1 Pet. 1:1), who are further designated, in language borrowed from OT descriptions of Israel, as ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people’ (1 Pet. 2:9).’ (F.F. Bruce, NBD)
Sizer (Zion’s Christian Soldiers, p49) says that the identification of ‘the Israel of God’ with Jews, or at least believing Jews, ‘flies in the face of everything [Paul] has said in the first five chapters of this letter.’ We might add that it flies in the face of the immediate context: it stretches credulity to think that Paul envisions two groups of people in this verse, those who ‘walk by this rule’ (and are presumably not Jews) and those who are ‘the Israel of God’ (and presumably do not ‘walk by this rule’).
Stott says: ‘All who walk by this rule’ and ‘the Israel of God’ are not two groups, but one. The connecting particle kai should be translated ‘even’, not ‘and’, or be omitted (as in RSV). The Christian church enjoys a direct continuity with God’s people in the Old Testament. Those who are in Christ today are ‘the true circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3), ‘Abraham’s offspring’ (Gal. 3:29) and ‘the Israel of God’.
Wright (Paul and the Faithfulness of God): ‘The noble, evocative word ‘Israel’ itself now denotes, however polemically, the entire faith-family of the Messiah, defined by ‘faith working through love’ (5.6) and ‘new creation’ (6.15).”
Wright adds: ‘If it were the case that Paul, suddenly at this late stage, meant something else by ‘God’s Israel’ – meant, for instance, to refer either to all Jews, or to all Christian Jews, or to some subset of either of those whether now or in the future – then he would, quite simply, have made nonsense of the whole letter. Why write Galatians 3 and 4, if that was where it was going to end up? Why not settle for two families, two ‘inheritances’, instead of the single one? Why not allow that people who want to follow Moses can do so, and that those who want to follow Abraham without Moses can do so too? Why not, in short, behave as if the Messiah had not been crucified? That is what such a position would amount to.’
Luther: ‘The Israel of God consists of both Jews and Gentiles, provided that they live by the rule of faith and the Spirit.’
Schreiner, having reviewed the alternatives, concludes that the meaning here is that ‘believers in Christ, members of the new creation, are the true Israel.’ This is consistent with Paul’s teaching that believers in Christ are the true sons of Abraham; that Jewish and Gentile believers are equal in Christ, Gal 3:28; and that together they constitute the true circumcision, Phil 3:3.
Keener (NCBC) writes: ‘Paul normally uses “Israel” to mean the Jewish people, but in at least one instance qualifies this label (Rom 9:6), and once he speaks of “Israel according to the flesh” (1 Cor 10:18). Calling anyone else Israel is not, then, Paul’s usual language. It is, however, a fitting climax in this polemical letter. Paul is not, however, adopting the later Christian supersessionist practice of a group claiming to replace ethnic Israel. Rather, he is thinking of believing gentile branches grafted into the single eschatological people of God (Rom 11:17, 24); these are the eschatological converts promised by the prophets (e.g., Isa 56:3-8; Zech 2:11). Granted, for Paul, unbelieving branches, whether Jewish (Rom 11:17, 19) or gentile (11:21-22), are broken off. But Paul also affirmed that in the end time Israel as a people would also convert to faith in the Messiah, convincing by the obedience of so many gentiles to their God (Gal 11:25-26; cf. 11:11, 14). Far from discarding historic Israel, Paul is seeking to anchor his gentile converts clearly in connection with it.’
According to R.E. Ciampa (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, art. ‘Galatians’), ‘Paul seems to understand the church as the eschatological Israel in whom God’s prophetic promises are being fulfilled. His reference to ‘the church of God’ (Gal 1:13) strongly suggests that the church is the eschatological equivalent of the OT assembly of the Lord or assembly of God (Deut. 23:1–3, 8; 1 Chr. 28:8; Mic. 2:5; Neh. 13:1; see esp. the LXX). In Qumran the equivalent Hebrew expression was used to refer to the eschatological company of God.
‘The Galatian churches have been ‘redeemed’ and ‘called’ by the God of Israel (Gal 3:13; 1:6), terms which evoke the exodus of Israel from Egypt (Hos. 11:1–2). They have received the gospel (Gal 1:6–9), the good news which Israel had been waiting to hear (Is. 40:9–11; 52:7–10). The Christ (Messiah) is their Lord and they have received grace and peace from him and from God their Father (Gal 1:3). They are the children and heirs of Abraham (Gal 3:7, 29) and the children and heirs of God (Gal 3:26; 4:5–7). They have received the Spirit (Gal 4:6) whom God promised to pour out on his people Israel (Is. 44:3; Ezek. 36:26–27). Although the point has been debated, given the theological background above it seems most likely that the reference to the ‘Israel of God’ in Gal 6:16 is a reference to the church as the eschatologically restored people of God, which now clearly includes both Jews and Gentiles.’
It is notable that our Lord himself recognised a ‘true’ Israel that extended beyond national boundaries: see Lk 3:7-9; Mt 8:11f.
6:17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
I bear on my body the marks of Jesus – It would entirely contrary to Paul’s thought to suppose, as some in the church subsequently supposed, that these ‘marks’ (stigmata) were visible marks on his body, corresponding to the wounds of Christ. It is likely that Paul is alluding to the branding that would distinguish a slave as belonging to a certain master. These marks were the scars resulting from various beatings (cf. Acts 14:19; 2 Cor 11), and which marked him out as belonging to Christ (in contrast to circumcision, which marked a man out as a Jew).
6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.