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TNIV and Galatians 6:1

As I studied to teach the Galatians class with our church, I came across a definitively unique rendering of Galatians 6:1. First, here is the typical translation:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1; ESV)

However, the TNIV goes an entirely different direction:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1; TNIV)

Notice the difference between the ESV, which represents most translations, with its rendering of “you who are spiritual” while the TNIV reads, “you who live by the Spirit.”

The NRSV moves similarly to the TNIV with the reading, “you who have received the Spirit.”

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. (Galatians 6:1; NRSV)

Now, I do not think that either translation gets one to the same answer. “You who are spiritual” has been typical taught to mean those who are successful in the Christian life. For example, the NLT Study Bible note says of this verse, “But those who are truly godly (literally spiritual) are not proud of their accomplishments but humbly help others.” The ESV Study Bible notes says somewhat similarly, “This does not refer to an elite class of Christians but rather to those who have more maturity and experience in the Christian life and who are therefore in a position to help their beleaguered brother or sister.” I think these notes reflect the common view of this text.

However, if the TNIV translation is correct, then the apostle Paul is commanding ALL Christians to restore those caught in sin with a spirit of gentleness. The contrast reaches back to chapter 4. Jewish Christians were troubling the Gentile Christians over the need to be circumcised (2:3;6:12). Paul taught in Galatians 4 that those troubling Jewish Christians were “born of the flesh” and were not “born of the Spirit.” Chapter 5 then shows how we know we are born of the Spirit, by the fruit born of the Spirit, rather than the works of the flesh. Therefore, Paul is saying in Galatians 6:1 that those who do not submit to circumcision but show the fruit of the Spirit in their lives are the ones “who have received the Spirit” (TNIV). They should restore those caught in sin (perhaps, contextually, those who are considering submitting to circumcision or turning back to the law of Moses).

I think the TNIV rendering is more in keeping with the context of the letter. Rather than Paul asking for successful Christians to be the ones who restore those caught in sin, Paul is instructing ALL Christians who are walking by the Spirit and not the flesh are to restore those who are caught in sin.

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