John Kilgallen, «The Strivings of the Flesh (Galatians 5,17)», Vol. 80 (1999) 113-114
Galatians 5,17 can be read in such wise that 17d is related directly, not to 17c, but to 17a; in this scheme 17b and 17c are a parenthesis. By this syntactical adjustment, what was often a puzzling reading, that the struggle between flesh and spirit leaves a Christian unable to do the good he desires, is resolved. The Pauline warning is not to let the flesh have its way (16), for the flesh strives (17a) so that what you do want to do, these things you do not do.
other; 17c belongs, then, within the parenthesis I propose to insert into this verse.
The benefit from this reading is clear: Paul affirms that the not doing what you want to do is a result or purpose of the fleshs influence on you. It is not a characteristic of the reciprocal struggle of flesh and spirit.
Moreover, v. 17 can be seen now to clearly enlighten Pauls encouragement (v. 16) to walk in the spirit and not complete the strivings of the flesh; v. 17, with its "for", explains the danger that the flesh poses: to follow it is to not do the things you want to do. The spirit, then, no longer need be considered one of the elements which together in strife leave the Christian powerless to do good. Thus v. 17 should be read:
"For the flesh strives against the spirit
(but the spirit strives against the flesh,
for these [two] are opposed to each other)
in order that (with the result that) the things you want to do,
these you do not do."
This reading of v. 17 also helps one understand why Paul continues, in vv. 18-214, to speak of the evils which take the place of "those things you want to do". Of course the evils described in vv. 18-21 and the goods of v. 22 can be read in chiastic relationship with v. 16. But v. 17, with its emphasis on the danger of the strivings of the flesh (again, the matter of the spirit is in parentheses), offers the opportunity to continue the discussion with mention first of the evils of the flesh, then of the goods of the spirit. Paul (v. 16) ends with the negative command: "¼and certainly do not complete the urging of the flesh"; it is upon this order that v. 17a and 17d follow.
From a syntactical re-reading of v. 17 the uncomfortableness associated with a Christians supposed state as one of powerlessness to do good (v. 17d) is removed. Perhaps all that is needed, therefore, is to read v. 17 with a parenthesis within it. Thus, 17d follows directly on 17a, with the other two elements of the verse (17b and 17c) only a parenthetical statement by Paul.