Galatians 6:2 and 6:5: Biblical Contradiction or Admonishment Against Codependency?
Galatians 6:2 and 6:5
An attitude exists claiming psychology and the Bible are diametrically opposed and mutually exclusive that is just simply not true. While the discipline of psychology is not even 150 years old, and not especially friendly as a profession to Christianity, there is psychology in the Bible. There are also Christian therapists and psychiatrists, yet this attitude continues to be asserted.
The Bible is an instruction book for life that includes practical advice on relationships, boundaries, and mental health. Skeptics and critics of the Bible and the Christian faith love to attempt to point out alleged contradictions in the Holy Scriptures. Galatians 6:2 and 6:5 were the very first example of such claims pointed out to me many years ago as an alleged clear example of the Bible contradicting itself.
While these may sometimes be innocent comments, such things are also often said by those who are hostile to Christianity or even pretenders in the Church. The manner and tone in which this alleged contradiction between Galatians 6:2 and Galatians 6:5 was pointed out was meant to be disparaging and discouraging, if not flat out ridicule of my Christian beliefs. The man who did this many years ago stopped trying to disparage the Bible to me after a few years, and a few times of God turning it around on him.
So it turned out to be rather ironic these verses are so ripe with clear instruction, rather than contradiction, as the Holy Spirit then led me to discover. Galatians 6:2 and Galatians 6:5 often have two different words both translated as "burdens," depending on the translation.
Upon closer examination, Galatians 6:2 and 6:5 actually instructs us to gently restore a brother or sister caught in sin, and against practicing codependency, being enablers, becoming a masochist, and being apathetic to those under a "heavy crushing load."
Be sure to notice the Pharisee distinctions and the intentional pretenders in the church, too. Let the average Christian be warned, as the Bible also warns, that everyone who claims to be a Christian is not. This is something we advocate for regarding adult sons and daughters of narcissistic families of origin, those in the church who are anything but Christians who disparage Christianity and the church, and seek to ruin Christians. Churches are failing to keep the church house safe for Christians in this regard.
Translations of the Bible
Even with the skilled, dedicated, and scholarly teams often put together to translate the Bible into different languages, it is still an enormous task. This enormous task can be undertaken using a word-for-word translation or thought-for-thought translation as well.
- The more formal language to describe word-for-word translations of the Bible is formal equivalence or literal translation.
Instead of focusing on moving each word to English, thought-for-thoughters examine the whole sentence and do their best to move it over as an easily understood unit. That is, they rearrange the order of the words so that it makes the most sense to a modern English-speaking audience. They’re going for the meaning, not the exact wording. - Bible Study Tools
In addition to all of that, the original languages of the Bible are much richer than our own English. For example, there are four words for different kinds of love as opposed to our one word for love. Therefore, whenever one encounters what appears to be a contradiction in the Bible, the very first thing to do is to investigate further into the translation.
Galatians 6:2 and 6:5
Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...For each one shall bear his own load.
This appears in the plain meaning of the words to be an example of the Bible contradicting itself. First it tells us to bear one another's burdens, then it tells us each one shall bear their own burdens or load. However, the issue is in the translation of the words translated "burdens" or "load."
As so often seems to be the case, this is a verse that the experts sometimes claim the English language, as compared to the much richer original Greek, does not do it justice.
- Here, the word "burdens" in Galatians 6:2, is bare, which actually means "overburdens." "It implies a heavy, crushing load that is more than a man or woman could carry without help."1
- The word "load" or "burden" in 6:5 is phortion, which means a "normal emotional load." "It implies a load that is equivalent to a backpack carried by a soldier."2
The word "load" or "burden" in 6:5 is phortion, which means a "normal emotional load." "It implies a load that is equivalent to a backpack carried by a soldier."2
Proper Instructions of Galatians 6:2 and 6:5
So what these verses are actually saying to us is that each one of us is to:
- Bear or carry our own "normal emotional load;"
- Expect others to carry their own "normal emotional load;"
- Help others with their "overburdens" or "heavy crushing loads;" and
- Ask for help with our own "heavy crushing loads."
What Galatians 6:2 and 6:5 Exclude
Some of what these verses exclude:
We are not to be enablers by carrying someone else's "backpack" or "normal emotional load;"
- We are not to expect someone else to carry our "backpack." or "normal emotional load."
- We do not need to be masochistic refusing to ask for help with our "overburdens;" and
- We are instructed to get up under someone else's "overburdens" or "heavy crushing load" with them.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. - Wikipedia Definition of Codependency on 12/30/2019.
To learn more about codependency, see the Mother of the Codependency theory, Melody Beattie's website. While there is erroneous information online stating that the therapy was created about ten years ago, Melody actually wrote Codependent No More in the 1980's. Her first book was then followed up by Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time, of which I am quite certain because I read them when they came out!
Galatians 6:1-5 in Context
The Context of Galatians 6:2 and 6:5
This video by Redeemer Bible Church gives the larger context and another review of Galatians 6:2 and 6:5. It follows this basic outline:
- Religious v. Spirituality: Filled with the Holy Spirit, following the Spirit's direction, treating people the way God treats them. The fruit of the Spirit is not hidden in some secret garden. Spiritual people are humble, not provoking others, or always comparing themselves, do not have hearts full of envy.
Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Galatians 6:1 NASB
- "Nothing proves that a man is spiritual like his handling of other people's sins." Augustine
- This does not apply to the multitude of minor sins we commit against one another and are supposed to cover in love. These sins are unexpected, but they are bad enough to need restoration.
- Sympathetically reconstructing sin-scarred lives. There is no restoration unless there is recognition of sin, and repentance. Unrepentant sin needs confrontation, and that confrontation, and it could even mean church discipline, of a brother or sister's sin is meant to be done in love, with gentleness and the goal of restoring that person to right relationship with God and other people.
- Galatians is attacking legalism, which is trying to earn your salvation through your good works. [This invalidates the work of the Cross].
- Legalists do not respond to the sins of others with gentleness. Pharisees condemn, they are angry, they are judgmental, they pile a heaping load of shame and guilt on that person, they even shun people. They make them jump through hoops and grovel to evaluate your repentance. They refuse to help, they stand at a distance.
- That is what legalistic people do, not what Spirit-led people do. Spirit-filled people do not ignore the sin, they don't gossip about the sin, but they get involved helping the sinner reconstruct their lives after they have been caught in sin. The spiritual are supposed to help do that, in a spirit of gentleness.
Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 NASB
- "Burden" is only used four times in context like this one in the Bible, and does not refer to sin. (Matthew 20 reference). This is not the everyday difficulties or common issues of life, these are the especially tough times that people face.
- Selflessly relieving difficult lives: Verse 6:2 is a command, to make it a habit of your life to help other Christians with the burdens they carry in their life.These are all kinds of difficulties from false teaching, theological, persecution, relational, financial, physical, emotional. It is anything that is a burden for other people to carry.
- Let us see those who are carrying heavy burdens as divine appointments in our lives.
- These burdened Christians are in your life so you can love them without any thought of recognition or payback.
For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Galatians 6:3 NASB
Galatians 6:3 is the legalist again. You got yourself into this mess, so you can get yourself out. This is the opposite of bearing one another's burdens. They refuse to help because they think they are something. If I bailed you out of this you wouldn't "learn your lesson." This person is deceived. [This is distinct from enabling, but this arrogance might masquerade as claiming to refuse to enable].
But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. Galatians 6:4 NASB
Rather than examining their own lives, legalists are experts at examining other people's lives. The lower the opinion of your walk with Christ, the higher the opinion of their walk with Christ.
- A spirit-committed community is not a community of comparison.
- Christians examine themselves.
- Comparisons destroy relationships.
- We rejoice but not in ourselves, but because He is at work in us.
- What other people think of us should not concern us.
- It is God's assessment of us.
For each one will bear his own load. - Galatians 6:5 NASB
These are specific individual lives and obedience to the Lord. It does not matter what you think of me, but the assessment of God.
- Soberly reviewing our own lives.
- The Pharisee is an expert at focusing on the examination of other people's lives, that should be focused on their lives.
- We do not live our Christian lives to please other people, but to please God. If there is a conflict between pleasing others and pleasing God, it is pleasing God every time.
- Every Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, which has nothing to do with salvation, but has to do with rewards. It is the examination of a Christian's entire life.
- That's the examination that should matter most, rather than what anyone else thinks of us.
- Comparison cannot be allowed to contaminate our relationships, [which is precisely what stalkers relentlessly attempt to inflict on stalking victims].
- [Also note that we ourselves comparing ourselves to others is a source of much unhappiness].
Contrary to being what on the surface looks like an obvious contradiction in the Bible, is actually healthy balanced psychology. The first place to look when encountering an apparent contradiction in scripture is at the translation. Additionally, there are word-for-word translations and thought-for-thought translations of the Bible. Often a reliable Bible commentary can be helpful, too.
Galatians is countering legalism, the Pharisees to avoid becoming codependent, enablers, masochists, or apathetic to those under "heavy crushing loads." So be sure to carry your own load or "backpack," expect others to do the same, and get up under the "heavy crushing" "overburdens" of others.
While these were the very first verses someone bent on undermining my Christian faith pointed to as an obvious contradiction in the Bible, it is also one of the first of many positive and even life saving pieces of healthy, balanced truth I have learned from Dr. Paul Meier, Christian psychiatrist, theologian, and author, over the years.
1. - Drs. Frank Minirth and Paul Meier, Free to Forgive: Daily Devotionals for Adult Children of Abuse.
2. - Drs. Frank Minirth and Paul Meier, Free to Forgive: Daily Devotionals for Adult Children of Abuse.
Paul Meier, M.D., received an M.S. degree in cardiovascular physiology at Michigan State University and an M.D. degree from the University of Arkansas College of Medicine. He is also a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. Paul Meier is a Christian Psychiatrist of the previous Minirth-Meier Clinics, currently Meier Clinics, and I guess still based out of Dallas, Texas.
© 2019 Kelly Ann Christensen