Galatians 5:14 and the Fulfillment of the Law

“For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14)

Four questions for contemplation:

1. What does Paul mean when he says the Law is fulfilled in one word?

2. Is there any difference in Paul’s mind between “doing” the Law and “fulfilling” the Law?

3. How do we synthesize this with Jesus’ statement in Matt 5:17-18 that he came to fulfill the Law? In other words, if Jesus fulfilled the Law in what sense then do Christians fulfill the Law?

4. What are the implications for how Christians should view the Law based on Gal 5:14?

Take your pick and pontificate away.

11 thoughts on “Galatians 5:14 and the Fulfillment of the Law”

  1. Well, I am just now finishing a six month study on Galatians, and this is indeed a perplexing passage. What Paul is saying to the Judaizers and Galatian Christians is that instead of trying to fulfill the law through circumcision, works of the law that only by life led in the Spirit do we fulfill the law. This jives with the start of chapter 3 (vs. 3).

    2. I think this question is sticker because I think there is a difference between doing and fulfilling the law, but I can’t think of instances where Paul himself enunciated this teaching.

    3. This is a crazy passage that I am still stumped by, but I think that, along with other instances of pleero “fulfill” that the Mosaic Law has its eschatological fulfillment in the person of Jesus (Jesus coming of out Egypt, testing in the wilderness, baptized in the Jordan, etc). He fulfills it, because He was what the Mosaic economy pointed forward to. That second question I’d have to think about more.

    4. I think we need to start with the back in chapter 3:24-26. There Paul teaches the Mosaic Law was temporary and served a pedagogical role in the life of Israel, but now that the Messiah has come that law has been removed on new covenant believers (cf. his allegory at the end of 4). Life led in the Spirit has superseded life led under law. Now, it’s not that the New Covenant believer is not responsible to any law, but they are bound to the “Law of Christ” (Gal 6.2; 1 Cor 9.21).

    I’m putting finishing touches on my article: Why the Law Then?: A Biblical Theology of Law in Galatians that you might enjoy.


  2. I was thinking about this passage last week. Longnecker (Word commentary) says that there is a difference between “doing” and “fulfilling.” He quotes, “`doing` the law is what is required of those `under the law`; `fulfilling` the law is … the result of Christian living …”

    It is an issue of focus. Those under the law focus on its demands. Those in the Spirit focus on being led by the Spirit (to contrast “law” with “Spirit”)

    Christians are free from the law. Free to sin? No – free to love each other and to be led by the Spirit. Even though the Christian is “lawless” in the sense that he or she is free from the law, his or her life will not be sinful and destructive in contradiction to the law (Gal 5:22 – the fruit of the Spirit is not in contradiction to the law).

    The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t occur because the believer is following the law. Rather, it is a consequence of the life led by the Spirit. (Remember that those who are under the law are slaves, under a pedagogue, and spiritual Ishmaels. Those who are in the Spirit are free, fully sons, and spiritual Isaacs.)

    Jesus said that the law could be summed up as “Love God, Love your neighbor.” Paul agrees and says we are free to serve each other in love. He defines this as fulfilling the law.

  3. Fulfilling the law, without doing the law:

    When a person fulfills the law, he accomplishes what the law was put in place to accomplish, whether or not he follows the letter of the law.

    Take driving (since my youngest son just got his license today), for example. My son failed his first attempt at getting a license, two weeks ago. He got penalties for doing things I do all the time. He was being evaluated strictly on whether or not he DID the law (stop at the stop sign – not past it at the corner) while I have long ago stopped thinking about DOING some of the rules and simply focus on driving safely (FULFILLING the law’s purpose). I drive safely, though I don’t always stop before I come to the stop sign.

    David fulfilled the law when he ate the priest’s bread, even though that was violating the letter of the law.

  4. Dan,
    I agree with you but there is one thing that troubles me about your definition (the same problem exists in my earlier comment as well). How do you define the law’s purpose?

    Paul stated that the purpose of the law was to lead us to Christ. How do we reconcile the two purposes – 1) to lead us to Christ, and 2) whatever purpose that is fulfilled by loving our neighbor?

  5. Thanks for the comments thus far.

    I would add that Gal 2:20 is pertinent to the discussion: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

    In light of 2:20, I think Paul may have also conceived of Christ living in the believer to fulfill the Law, something that on our own we were incapable of. That at least seems to be the logic of the similar passage in Rom 8:3-4. Christ does this through His Spirit dwelling in us, leading us and manifesting His fruit.

  6. 1. “one word” seems to refer to love; which is mentioned both before and after this statement. So, the law is fulfilled in love; or perhaps better, through God’s reaching others through us. There is an interesting parallel in Rom 13:8-10.

    2. Yes and no. Loving another is doing the law, i.e., complying with the law. But it is also more than that. Loving another gives proof of faith which is the basis for justification; thus, fulfilling the law. The law is said to be our guardian until Christ and our faith in Him. Faith evidenced by love fulfills the laws purpose.

    3. I think this is addressed above. The law was our guardian until the coming of Christ. His coming fulfilled the law. Through faith we are justified, and no longer in need of a guardian; fulfilling the law. I would use this to respond to Matthews question also.

    4. Negatively, not to be relied upon for justification before God. Positively, a blessing that has been fulfilled; holy, revealing the character of God; practical, revealing the character of man.

    Sorry if those came across as being the “final word” or anything like that. Just some thoughts.


  7. legalists cannot love in the biblical sense i.e. free & unhindered from performance based meriting God’s favor. the love of God is shown from a free’d soul. A legalists’ whole perspective is one of meriting. Even in love it is meriting , so he thinks. even so –the pharisees. ‘God is so impressed with me when I give my alms’. A christian is free’d from meriting a righteous standing with God & can genuinely love from a free’d heart. We “ONLY” can demonstrate the Love of God . & that is what God is all about. The cross of Christ screams love of God & the justice of God satisfied in His Son on that cross. Yes,Yes & Yes. Robert Miller

  8. Romans 13:9-14 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law.And that, knowing the time, that now [it is] high time to awake out of sleep: for now [is] our salvation nearer than when we believed.The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to [fulfil] the lusts [thereof].

  9. John 14:15 “If you love me keep my commandments”

    Galatians 2:16
    Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

    It is because we have faith in God that we choose to obey His will for our lives and it is because we love Him that we choose to follow His commandments.Although Paul has summarized the fulfillment of the law as loving thy neighbor as thyself and so does Christ, really look into this meaning. Read Romans 13:9-14. God reveals the answer to us in His word. All of the commandments tie into one, for if we love our neighbors as ourselves than there is no need to steal, no need to commit adultery, no need to kill, no need to bear false witness, all because we claim to love, and God is love.

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