1 Paul calls on the Galatians to act on the freedom they have in Christ. He appeals to them not to allow themselves to be persuaded to take up “again” the yoke of slavery. Whereas in their recent past they had been enslaved to “those who by nature are not gods” (4:8–9), in this instance Paul has in mind slavery to the Judaizers’ interpretation of the law (cf. 3:23). The verse begins grammatically in a rather abrupt manner, with no transitional phrase or particle connecting it to what has preceded. But Paul’s statement about freedom here echoes the expression “of the free woman,” which occurs throughout the latter portion of chapter 4 (cf. 4:22, 23, 30, 31). And in fact, Paul has emphasized freedom throughout Galatians (1:4; 2:4, 5; 3:26–28), so much so that freedom has been called the “basic concept underlying Paul’s argument throughout the letter” (Betz, 255). In a bold declaration of the result of the gospel, then, Paul exhorts the Galatians fully to appropriate the new identity they have in Christ.
Since it is true that they are free in Christ, the Galatians are now told to “stand firm” in that freedom. The means of achieving this “standing firm” is to resist being ensnared by the “yoke” of the law (cf. Ac 15:10–11), and thus having their freedom compromised by returning to slavery. The Galatians were in danger of doing just that if they continued to follow after the message of the Judaizers (cf. Martyn, 446–47).
1 This syntactically independent verse (a single sentence in the original)—with no connective particle to mark its relation to what precedes or follows—is in the nature of a “bridge verse” or “transition paragraph” (cf. AV, RSV, NEB, NIV). It is on the one hand a summary of 4:21–31, if not also of chapters 3–4 as a whole, or even of 2:14–4:31 or 1:6–4:31, and on the other an introduction to the exhortations of chapter 5.
Here the note of freedom is struck again before the exhortation is sounded: by offering up his life in substitutionary death for us (3:13; 4:4) Christ has set us free te eleutheria. The Greek phrase is probably to be taken, not as dative of purpose or destination (as in NEB),55 but as dative of instrument or description (RV “with freedom”), because (a) the article used with the noun marks the “liberty” as something specific (cf. AV, “the liberty wherewith …”), that is, the freedom Paul has been speaking of, and (b) for the idea of purpose or destination Paul employs a different expression in 5:13 (ep’ eleutheria; cf. Rom. 8:21, eis tēn eleutherian).
The freedom referred to is freedom from subservience to the law, “the freedom belonging to the heir, the natural son, the child of the free woman.” Hence the Galatians must stand firm in this freedom and refuse to submit again to “a yoke of slavery” (RSV, NASB, NIV). The “yoke” was used in current Jewish parlance in an honorable sense for the obligation to keep the law of Moses, and the Judaizers may well have urged the Galatians to “take the yoke of the law” upon themselves. But Paul bluntly points out that the ordinances of the law as demanded by the Judaizers constitute a slave’s yoke, so that he uses the word in the bad sense of an imposed burden, like slavery (cf. Acts 15:10; 1 Tim. 6:1). Here the principle of justification by faith is clearly involved, for freedom from the law means for the Christian first and foremost freedom from the law as a means of justification (and secondarily as a principle of life).
In this verse we are introduced to an essential aspect of Paul’s understanding of Christian salvation: the relation between the theological indicative and the ethical imperative. The two are concisely juxtaposed here: the indicative states that Christ has set believers free with the gift of freedom that is proffered in the gospel; the imperative imposes upon them the task of preserving that freedom or rather of continuing in that freedom. We shall have occasion to comment again on this question of the indicative and the imperative in Paul in connection with 5:6 and, more fully, 5:26.
1 Paul’s urgent goal for this communication is stated most clearly here as Paul directly appeals to his converts to choose against the course of action that the rival teachers promote: “Christ freed us to live in a state of freedom; maintain your stance, therefore, and do not again place your neck under a yoke of slavery.” This is not just a transitional verse, though it also effects an admirable transition by displaying the connection between the “indicative” of what God has done for the Galatians (the subject matter of 3:1–4:7; 4:21–31) and the “imperative” that the Galatians must now live out in light of God’s favor and gifts (preserving their “freedom” as children of God and heirs of the promised Spirit, and as people who have been redeemed from slavery to the principles and powers of this age). More important, the verse articulates the principal exhortation toward which all of the preceding argumentation has been leading. Its importance is highlighted by its syntactic isolation from what precedes and follows: “No particle or conjunction binds it to what precedes, and no conjunction or particle in 5:2 connects verse 1 to what follows.” The most pressing need, according to Paul, is for the Galatians to decide in favor of holding onto their freedom rather than putting their necks under Torah’s yoke or the yoke of any other worldly system of rules and values ever again.
Representing the Greek text more woodenly in English, we would read “for freedom Christ freed us.” The prepositional phrase is fronted for emphasis. “Freedom” is the destination or purpose behind Christ’s liberating action.12 Adolf Deissmann found this expression used in documents recording “sacral manumission,” a procedure for freeing a slave in which a slave was liberated from his or her human master, with “ownership” passing to a particular god. Hence, Paul is saying that Christ freed us from bondage to the demonic stoicheia in order to allow us to live as free persons (“for freedom”), though still in service to the God and Father of Jesus (as Paul will go on to develop in 5:13–6:10). Freedom speaks here of the new quality of relationship with God and the new level of personal responsibility that comes from being sons and daughters who have come of age (4:1–7).
Indicative and imperative play an important role here in Paul’s argumentation (see excursus “Indicative and Imperative in Paul” on pp. 473–76). The word “therefore” in 5:1b signals that this verse as a whole presents itself as an enthymeme, an abbreviated form of syllogistic argument (often simply a statement supported by a single explicated rationale). The action being urged in the imperative clause is presented as the logical conclusion (5:1b) derived from the premise that opens the verse (5:1a). Audiences would be trusted to supply, often intuitively, the missing premise or premises that completed the syllogism (see Aristotle, Rhetoric 2.21.2). Paul has given significant attention in the preceding chapters to establishing the premise “for freedom Christ set us free.” While the language of freedom and slavery was most prominent in the immediately preceding allegory of the Sarah and Hagar story (4:21–31), freedom, slavery, and release from enslavement (or confinement) have been focal topics in 2:4–5; 3:23–25; and 4:1–11. In the first passage, Paul simply describes his and his converts’ state as freedom enjoyed “in Christ”; in the latter two he speaks of God’s purposes and the specific results of Christ’s death as ending a period of slavery (whether under Torah or under other regulatory principles) and bringing liberation to those who have trusted in Jesus.
What would the audience need to supply in order for the argument to work, that is, in order to effect the all-important transfer of assent to the premise (“Christ freed us to live in a state of freedom”) to assent to the conclusion (“Keep standing firm and do not again take up a yoke of slavery”)? The audience would readily recognize “freedom” as a good and “enslavement” as an evil, potentially supplying “freedom is better than slavery” as the premise that completes the syllogism, or the even more general premise that “good things are to be preserved wherever possible.” The implicit argument would thus utilize the deliberative topic of expediency.17
Paul has also set up the audience, however, to think in terms of costly acts of beneficence and the obligations of beneficiaries. The supporting arguments that will immediately follow (5:2–4) move explicitly in this direction. By stating “Christ freed us” (5:1) rather than “you are free,” Paul invites the audience to remember that this condition of freedom was conferred on the believers at significant personal cost to Christ, who “gave himself on account of our sins” (1:4), who “loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20), who “became a curse on our behalf” by being left hanging on a cross (3:13). The addressees would thus also be poised to complete the syllogism by drawing on their awareness of what is appropriate in response to costly gifts and exceptional benevolence (e.g., “that which cost the giver so dearly must be dearly preserved”). The audience would infer its obligation to protect and preserve this state of freedom that was conferred on them at such personal cost to Christ. This implicit premise would utilize the deliberative topic of what is just, which includes “repaying one’s benefactors” appropriately (Anaximenes, Rhetoric to Alexander 1421b38–40; see also Pseudo-Cicero, Rhetoric for Herennius 3.3.4).
Paul has facilitated his audience’s assent to his proposal by strategically labeling the course of action he wishes for them to reject as submission to a “yoke of slavery.” This is a striking way for a Jew to describe the Torah-observant way of life promoted by the rival teachers, but it is potentially effective in nurturing aversion to that way of life. Jewish authors used the image of the yoke to speak about their submission to the Torah (m. Ber. 2:2), but this is a yoke that brings freedom from more oppressive burdens. Rabbi Nehunya ben Haqqaneh, a slightly later contemporary of Paul, is reputed to have said: “From whoever accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah do they remove the yoke of the state and the yoke of hard labor” (m. ʾAbot 3.5; Neusner). Wisdom teachers like Ben Sira and Jesus used the image of taking on a yoke as they invited people to learn wisdom from them (Sir 51:26; Matt 11:29). In Ben Sira’s case at least, “wisdom’s yoke” is the equivalent of Torah’s yoke. In all such instances, the “yoke,” while signaling submission, is nevertheless beneficial. Paul assures that his hearers will understand the image negatively by describing it as a “yoke of slavery.”21 This yoke is a burden that brings no benefit and, more specifically, is a burden that God does not wish for people to continue to bear—to such an extent that he even sent his Son to die to redeem people from every “yoke of slavery.”
So Paul exhorts the Galatians not to “bear again a yoke of slavery,” signaling once more his equation of the Torah that dominated Jews alongside the stoicheia that dominate gentiles (4:8–11). The gentile Christians among the Galatians formerly bore the enslaving yoke of the latter; for them to turn to the Torah is to return “again” to an enslaving yoke. While Paul’s characterization of the Torah contrasts sharply with his contemporary Jews’ assessment of the same, his position on the ethnic law code of the Jewish people as enslaving would resonate with popular Stoic philosophy. The philosopher and statesman Dio Chrysostom, who was born about the time Galatians was written, defined freedom as “the knowledge of what is allowable and what is forbidden, and slavery as ignorance of what is allowed and what is not” (Discourses 14.18). Freedom is not autonomy, nor is it absolute license to do what one wishes in every situation (14.3–6), but rather an opportunity to conform to the absolute law of God. Slavery, in contrast, consists in being unclear on the laws God has laid down for humankind, and in being bound instead by ever-multiplying human-made laws (80.5–7). For Dio, following local, ethnic, national laws while remaining ignorant of “the ordinance of Zeus” is “the grievous and unlawful slavery under whose yoke you have placed your souls” (80.7). Paul now classes the Torah with such second-rate law codes, calling it also a “yoke of slavery,” relegating it to the period of humanity’s ignorance of the law of God written on the heart by the Spirit.
5:1 / The means by which the Gentile Galatians have become children of the free woman is through Christ. This is another way of saying what Paul said earlier—that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law” (3:13). Paul declares that the purpose of Christ’s work was for freedom. The concept of freedom, which is a basic theme of Galatians, is connected throughout Paul’s letters primarily with freedom from: freedom from the law (Rom. 7:3–4), from sin (Rom. 6:18–22), or from death (Rom. 8:2). Freedom is also equated with the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17) and is used as a way to describe the Christian life (Gal. 2:4). In an expansive command, Paul directs his readers to stand firm against the influence of the rival evangelists. Underscoring the point he has made repeatedly, Paul charges his converts not to put themselves in a position of submitting to a yoke of slavery. To such a fate, Paul warns, his readers’ attraction to the alternative gospel leads.
Throughout the letter Paul has described the adding of law to faith and the Galatians’ former life (4:8–9) as enslavement, which is why he can warn that the Galatians’ attraction to the rival evangelists’ message will mean that they are slaves once again.
- Maintain your freedom!
5 1 For freedom Christ has set us free; continue to stand firm, therefore, and do not be loaded down again with a yoke of slavery.
- For freedom Christ has set us free. There is every reason to agree with modern versions when they print Gal. 5:1 as a little paragraph all by itself, the first paragraph of a new chapter. That something new begins here is clearly evident from the contrast between the argumentative style of the earlier chapters, including the immediately preceding context, and the hortatory language that begins here in 5:1. Having been taught that in Christ we are free, we (here specifically the Galatians) are now encouraged to maintain that freedom (verse 1) and to interpret and apply it properly (verse 13 ff.). But this very statement also indicates the close connection between chapters 4 and 5. The truth stated and vigorously defended in the preceding chapters is applied to life in chapters 5 and 6.
That the idea of freedom is very much in the foreground is clear not only from verse 1 but also from verse 13 ff. The question arises: Just what does Paul mean when he speaks of freedom? It implies first of all deliverance. This deliverance is sometimes conceived of as rescue from the guilt and power of sin (Rom. 6:18); hence, from an accusing conscience (Heb. 10:22), from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:1; cf. Heb. 10:27), and the tyranny of Satan (2 Tim. 2:26; cf. Heb. 2:14). Nevertheless, although all of this is probably implied in Paul’s use of the term here in Gal. 5:1, 13, the context indicates that he is thinking particularly of freedom from “the law,” that is, deliverance from the curse which the law pronounces upon the sinner who had been striving—unsuccessfully, of course—to achieve his own righteousness (Gal. 3:13, 22–26; 4:1–7), but has now, by grace, turned to Christ and salvation in him. Cf. Phil. 3:4–9. For God’s chosen one this freedom includes rescue from the results of the law’s inability to make alive what is dead (Gal. 3:21). Implied is also freedom from fear, the fear that arises from a. the erroneous idea that both the moral and the ceremonial law must be strictly obeyed if one is to be saved, and b. the oppressing awareness of inability to meet this demand (Gal. 3:23; 4:21–31; Rom. 7:24–8:2).
Deliverance is, however, a negative concept, though the positive is clearly implied. Freedom is more than deliverance. It is a positive endowment. What the law could not do God has accomplished through Christ and the Spirit (Rom. 8:3, 4). Positively, then, freedom, as Paul sees it, is the state in which a person is walking and living in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), so that he produces the fruit of the Spirit (5:22, 23), and with joy and gratitude does the will of God (5:14; Rom. 8:4), in principle fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), even “the law of liberty” (James 1:25). This liberty amounts to delighting in the law of God in one’s inmost self (Rom. 7:22). The person who is truly free no longer acts from constraint but serves his God willingly, with cheerfulness of heart. Freedom of access to the Father is implied, of course, for the blessing of which Paul speaks is enjoyed by sons (Gal. 4:6; Rom. 8:15).
Such true freedom is therefore always a freedom plus. It is with freedom as with justification. See p. 98. When an accused man is declared not guilty, he is free. Likewise when a slave has been emancipated, he is free. But the judge or the emancipator does not, as a rule, adopt the acquitted individual as his son. But when the Son makes one free, he is free indeed (John 8:36). He then rejoices in the glorious liberty of sonship, with all that this implies as to “access,” right to the inheritance, etc.
Paul emphasizes that it was Christ himself—not our own merits or our own deeds—that set us free. He did it by becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13); hence, by his blood (Heb. 10:19, 22); and he did it and is constantly doing it through his Spirit (Gal. 3:2, 3, 14; 4:6, 29; cf. Rom. 8:4). Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Cor. 3:17).
The thoroughly human Paul expresses himself in a manner which could almost be described as containing a bit of humor when he says, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” as if to say, “Is it not ridiculous to imagine that Christ would have opened for us the gate of our prison—at such a cost!—merely to transfer us to another prison? Surely, he set us free in order that we might indeed be and remain free!” Continued: continue to stand firm, therefore (cf. 2 Thess. 2:15). Perseverance in the fight against re-enslavement is here prescribed. The Galatians had been running beautifully (5:7), but they had failed to carry on. They had, in fact, reversed their course. What Paul is saying, then, is that over against the opponents they should stand firm and should so continue. This standing firm is not that of a well-nigh unassailable fenced-in statue, but rather that of a tree firmly rooted in the midst of the raging storm. Even better, it is that of the soldier on the field of battle, not fleeing but offering stout resistance to the enemy and defeating him (Eph. 6:10–20). The very fact that it was no one less than Christ himself who had set the Galatians free, so that by standing firm, they are voluntarily continuing in the sphere of his activity, should encourage them; hence, “Continue to stand firm, therefore.” The crown of valor is victory (Matt. 10:22; Rev. 2:10).
Paul adds: and do not be loaded down again with a yoke of slavery. Peter had spoken about an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10). He was referring to the yoke of the law, including its many regulations, augmented subsequently by man-made “traditions.” Under that yoke Israel had groaned. The Galatians, mostly of pagan origin (4:8), had been similarly subjected to rules and regulations pertaining to their former pagan religion. Ramsay speaks of “a highly elaborate system” of such burdensome stipulations, prevalent in Galatia. Hence, what the apostle is saying is that those who were delivered from this unbearable yoke of paganism should certainly not try to shoulder another similar yoke, that of Judaism. See also on 4:9. Having escaped from one ritualism are they now going to bow before another? Rather, let them flee for refuge to him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Matt. 11:29, 30).
1. The assertion (verse 5:1a). Verse 1, which should be read in a translation other than kjv, is in two distinct parts. The first part, which many look upon as the final statement of the preceding paragraph, is transitional. It summarizes the argument which has preceded and prepares the reader for the exhortation which follows. For freedom did Christ set us free (verse 1a, asv). The manner of expression may be intended to emphasize the completeness of the liberty believers have in Christ. Weymouth’s rendering brings this out: “Christ has made us completely free.” However, it is probably better to follow the asv. The thought then is that Christ has liberated us for the purpose of freedom.
The freedom of which the apostle is thinking is that which has been under discussion in the preceding chapter, namely, freedom from the law of Moses. This of course does not mean that the Christian is free from the moral demands of the law. It does mean that he is freed from its curse (3:13, 24), and from the deadening power of its rule.
 Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 620–621). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Fung, R. Y. K. (1988). The Epistle to the Galatians (pp. 216–217). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 deSilva, D. A. (2018). The Letter to the Galatians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (pp. 410–414). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Jervis, L. A. (2011). Galatians (pp. 126–127). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Galatians (Vol. 8, pp. 191–193). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Vaughan, C. (2005). Galatians (p. 93). Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press.