Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, November 14, 2022

Why would any law be against Virtues? (Gal 2:23)?

Paul ends his list of the fruits of the Spirit with the general, “against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:23). Most likely, it is meant to parallel the conclusion to the list of “the works of the flesh in v 21. “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!” But what exactly does v 23b mean?

As you compare the various translation, the CSB (and NLT) should catch your attention: “The law is not against such things. This is possible because of the ambiguity of the Greek. “κατὰ τῶν τοιούτων οὐκ ἔστιν νόμος.”

1. τῶν τοιούτων could be masculine, referring to people, but all translations agree that it is neuter, “things,” in reference to the virtues.

2. νόμος could be the Mosaic law or the law in general. Given the emphasis in Galatians on the Mosaic law (see vv. 14 and 18), νόμος most likely is the Mosaic law.

3. οὐκ could modify ἔστιν (“is not”) or νόμος (“no law”).

4. What is the subject of ἔστιν? νόμος (“law is not”) or is it contained in the verb (“there is”)?

So what is Paul saying? In contrast to the Mosaic law that condemns the fruits of the flesh just listed, there is no law, Mosaic or otherwise, that condemns these positive virtues.

Moo comments, “This point may appear to be a truism, but it might make sense as an ad hominem riposte to the kinds of claims the agitators are making for the law. Barrett paraphrases, ‘You want to observe the law, don’t you? You will not find any law that forbids these things’ .... The Spirit produces fruit in the lives of believers and thereby provides for all that the law itself requires.”

I suspect that the mention of there being no law is meant to emphasize the contrast between the fruits of the flesh (condemned by the Mosaic law) and the fruits of the Spirit. Obviously, there is no law against “love, joy, peace ...” and this hardly needs to be stated, but it does contrast with the (unexpressed) Mosaic law and its condemnation of the vices.

For this reason, I prefer the CSB, “The law is not against such things.” If νόμος were articular, I would even prefer “The Law” (capitalized), but best to leave a little ambiguity and go with “The law.”

As we live by the Spirit and enjoy the growth that comes from such obedience, we can do so without any fear of condemnation. Of course, as western culture continues to deteriorate and good is called bad and bad good, I would not be surprised if virtues such as “gentleness and self-control “are not someday soon seen to be undesirable weaknesses.

We live in a grace-less culture in which power and anger and loudness are more often than not the determiner of who wins an argument. I wonder when true love, biblical love, will be seen as an undesirable weakness, something even that the law is against.

If this sounds impossible, I am reminded of a tv show (I used to watch) where the whole point of an episode was to ridicule virginity. Good is bad and bad good.