Jan Lambrecht, «The Right Things You Want to Do. A Note on Galatians 5,17d», Vol. 79 (1998) 515-524
We can assume that the Spirit-filled Christians in Galatia want to do the right things. To be sure, they are in need of admonition and exhortation. In a realistic way Paul reminds them of their somewhat fragile condition. He points to the eschatological tension between the "already" and the "not yet", between the indicative and the imperative. They are still in the body, yet they live in this world. Some of these Gentile Christians are attracted to the "works of the law". But, as Paul has been arguing at great length in this letter, that is not a solution. On the contrary, the Spirit alone constitutes the really "empowering presence". Therefore, "if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (v. 25). It would seem that Gal 5,17, properly understood, fits very well into this context of admonition.
1. A First Comparision
Several solutions to the difficulties in v. 17 have been proposed. However, before presenting a survey of the main interpretations, it may prove useful initially to compare Gal 5,17 with the somewhat similar passage Rom 7,15b-16 2.
17ah9 ga\r sa\rc e0piqumei= kata\ tou= pneu/matoj,
17b to\ de\ pneu=ma kata\ th=j sarko/j,
17c tau=ta ga\r a0llh/loij a0nti/keitai,
17d i3na mh\ a4 e0a\n qe/lhte tau=ta poih=te.
15bou0 ga\r o4 qe/lw tou=to pra/ssw,
15c a0ll' o4 misw= tou=to poiw=.
16a ei0 de\ o4 ou0 qe/lw tou=to poiw=,
16b su/mfhmi tw=| no/mw| o3ti kalo/j.
As can been seen Gal 5,17d is very similar to Rom 7,15b. Both clauses have a negation: see mh/ and ou0. Both display a similar construction: a4 tau=ta and o4 tou=to. In each the resumptive demonstrative pronoun 3 takes up the preceding relative pronoun which lacks determination. Moreover, the two clauses utilize the verb qe/lw in a relative subclause. Finally, the verb poie/w in Gal 5,17d is almost certainly the equivalent of pra/ssw in Rom 7,15b (cf. 7,16a.19 and 20 with poie/w).
There are, of course, major differences, too. In Gal 5,17d the negative purpose clause introduced by i3na mh\ depends on v. 17c and thus completes this clause which itself explains (ga/r) v. 17ab. The ga/r-clause of Rom 7,15b, however, is the first half of a co-ordinated sentence (ou0 a0lla/) that rounds off v. 14: "I am carnal, sold under sin". Moreover, in Gal 5,17d the subjunctive (a4 e0a\n) qe/lhte points to a general possibility, a future eventuality ("what you would" or better? "whatever you would"); in Rom 7,15b, however, by means of an indicative Paul speaks of what actually happens in the present (I do not do "what I want": o4 qe/lw). We should also mention the use of the first person singular in Rom 7,15b-16b whereas in Gal 5,17 the third person is employed in the three first clauses while in the fourth (v. 17d), quite suddenly, the second person plural appears and is found throughout the surrounding verses 16 and 18.