Galatians 5:9
A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
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(9) A little leaven . . .—A pregnant expression, which leaves a good deal to the reader to supply. The proverb is true which says that a little leaven leavens the whole mass of dough. And so, in your case, the malcontents may be few, but they will soon ruin the whole Church. It seems decidedly more in accordance with the context to take the “little leaven” as referring rather to a few seceders than to a little bad doctrine.

5:7-12 The life of a Christian is a race, wherein he must run, and hold on, if he would obtain the prize. It is not enough that we profess Christianity, but we must run well, by living up to that profession. Many who set out fairly in religion, are hindered in their progress, or turn out of the way. It concerns those who begin to turn out of the way, or to tire in it, seriously to inquire what hinders them. The opinion or persuasion, ver. 8, was, no doubt, that of mixing the works of the law with faith in Christ in justification. The apostle leaves them to judge whence it must arise, but sufficiently shows that it could be owing to none but Satan. It is dangerous for Christian churches to encourage those who follow, but especially who spread, destructive errors. And in reproving sin and error, we should always distinguish between the leaders and the led. The Jews were offended, because Christ was preached as the only salvation for sinners. If Paul and others would have admitted that the observance of the law of Moses was to be joined with faith in Christ, as necessary to salvation, then believers might have avoided many of the sufferings they underwent. The first beginnings of such leaven should be opposed. And assuredly those who persist in disturbing the church of Christ must bear their judgment.A little leaven ... - This is evidently a proverbial expression; see it explained in the notes at 1 Corinthians 5:6. Its meaning here is, that the embracing of the errors which they had adopted was to be traced to some influence existing among themselves, and acting like leaven. It may either mean that there was existing among them from the first a slight tendency to conform to rites and customs, and that this had now like leaven pervaded the mass; or it may mean that the false teachers there might be compared to leaven, whose doctrines, though they were few in number, had pervaded the mass of Christians; or it may mean, as many have supposed, that any conformity to the Jewish law was like leaven. If they practiced circumcision, it would not stop there. The tendency to conform to Jewish rites would spread from that until it would infect all the doctrines of religion, and they would fall into the observance of all the rites of the Jewish law. It seems to me that the second interpretation referred to above is the correct one; and that the apostle means to say, that the influence which had brought this change about was at first small and unimportant; that there might have been but a few teachers of that kind, and it might have not been deemed worthy of particular attention or alarm; but that the doctrines thus infused into the churches, had spread like leaven, until the whole mass had become affected. 9. A little leaven—the false teaching of the Judaizers. A small portion of legalism, if it be mixed with the Gospel, corrupts its purity. To add legal ordinances and works in the least degree to justification by faith, is to undermine "the whole." So "leaven" is used of false doctrine (Mt 16:12: compare Mt 13:33). In 1Co 5:6 it means the corrupting influence of one bad person; so Bengel understands it here to refer to the person (Ga 5:7, 8, 10) who misled them. Ec 9:18, "One sinner destroyeth much good" (1Co 15:33). I prefer to refer it to false doctrine, answering to "persuasion" (Ga 5:8). This is a proverbial expression, which (as others of that nature) is applicable in more cases than one. The apostle made use of it, 1 Corinthians 5:6, to persuade that church to purge their communion, by casting out the incestuous person: he maketh use of it here to persuade them to take heed of admitting any principles of false doctrine, which he compareth to leaven, (as our Saviour does, Matthew 16:6,12), and that very fitly, both in regard of the sour and of the diffusive nature of it; the latter of which is here chiefly intended; the truths of God having such dependence one upon another, that he who erreth in any one doctrine of faith, seldom continueth long sound as to other points.

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. A proverbial expression pretty much in use with the Jews; see 1 Corinthians 5:6, respecting either persons or things; and is in answer to, or prevents an objection that might be made, or something that might be said, in favour of these churches; that their case was not so bad, or the danger they were in so great, as was represented by the apostle; since they were only a few persons that propagated this notion, and but few that received it, at least thoroughly gave into it; and that, if it was an error, it was but a small one, and only regarded a single ritual, or a few rituals of the law; to which the apostle replies, by supposing, but not granting this to be the case, since they were pretty generally declined, and the error was not a slight one, that as a little sour leaven influences and ferments a large mass, or lump of dough, and makes it of the same nature with it, so a small error in doctrine, as it may be thought to be, increases to more ungodliness, and eats as doth a canker; and though a few hands may be first concerned in propagating it, and but few be infected with it, yet these may soon spread the contagion through the whole society: wherefore errors and false teachers should be nipped in the bud, and stopped in their beginnings, how inconsiderable soever they and their tenets may be judged to be. {8} A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.

(8) He adds this, that he may not seem to contend upon a trifle, warning them diligently (by a metaphor which he borrows of leaven, as Christ himself also did) not to allow the purity of the apostolic doctrine to be infected with the least corruption at all.

Galatians 5:9. Leaven became a type of moral and spiritual corruption in virtue of the fermentation it engenders. A very small lump might readily form a centre of widespread corruption; so stringent precautions were adopted in Jewish households for the removal of every particle before the days of unleavened bread. Hence the origin of the proverb quoted here and in 1 Corinthians 5:6. It is clear that the taint of heresy had not yet spread widely through the Galatian Churches: it was more its insidious nature than its actual extent that alarmed the Apostle.

9. Leaven is that small portion of fermented dough which is introduced into the fresh lump of dough, and communicates lightness to the whole mass. It is employed figuratively in Scripture to denote the working of both good and bad influences, and is used both of persons and of principles or teaching—comp. Matthew 16:12; Luke 13:21. There is a reference, sometimes tacit, sometimes express (1 Corinthians 5:8), to the typical prohibition of the use of leaven in the law of Moses, Exodus 12:15-20; Exodus 12:34. This verse, which occurs again, 1 Corinthians 5:6, seems to have passed into a proverb. There the Apostle is condemning the toleration of a single act of open immorality in a member of the Church of Christ. It was the concession of a principle, and whether it be followed by other similar acts or not, the standard of Christian morality will be lowered, and a laxity of tone will gradually pervade the spirit, and degrade the practice, of those who are called ‘not unto uncleanness but unto holiness’. Here the warning is against the insidious nature of the false teaching of the Judaizing leaders. The difference between that teaching and ‘the truth of the Gospel’ may appear inconsiderable, and the teachers themselves may be insignificant in numbers or in authority. But error, once admitted, is a virus which will gradually spread and poison the whole system of doctrine, or the whole spiritual life of the individual or of the Church.

Galatians 5:9. Μικρὰ ζύμη, a little leaven) One turbulent person, Galatians 5:10. [One wicked man destroys much good, Ecclesiastes 9:18. The malice, cunning, or violence of a single person, often produces immense injury.—V. g.]

Verse 9. - A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump (μικρὰ ζύμη ὅλον τὸ φύραμα ζυμοῖ); a little leaven leaveneth the whole kneading. This proverb is cited again in precisely the same words in 1 Corinthians 5:6, with the words prefixed, "know ye not that." In both passages the leaven is an element of evil, and so also in Matthew 16:11; but our Lord applied it also to an element of good, which was to penetrate (apparently) the whole mass of humanity (Matthew 13:33). What has the apostle precisely in his view as the leaven in the present instance? In 1 Corinthians 5:6 it is unchastity, which, if once tolerated in a Church, especially amid so licentious a population as that of Corinth, would be but too likely to impregnate balefully the sentiment of the whole community. And here likewise, as there, the leaven does not appear to denote, as some have supposed, the individuals in whom some noxious element was conspicuous, but that noxious element itself; namely, to judge from the colouring of the immediate context, the "readiness to hearken" to" another gospel," which was promising comfort and sense of acceptance, more or less, in the practice of at least some of the outward ordinances of Judaism. This leaven had already begun to work, embodying itself in the observance, pedantically and ostentatiously, of the days and feasts of the Jewish calendar (Galatians 4:10). Now, a movement of mind manifesting itself in some form of external religionism, when once it begins to show itself in a Christian community, has a great tendency to spread. For always, in every Church, there are unstable souls, too often not a few, never able to come to the knowledge of the truth; which have never truly discerned Christ's all-sufficiency for their spiritual needs, or have lost any superficial persuasion of it once enjoyed; and which, consciously unsatisfied with what they as yet possess, and nevertheless only toying with spiritual things, are ready to adopt almost any novelty of religious behaviour offering itself for their acceptance. The particular form in which the external religionism of seekers after another gospel clothes itself varies according to varying tastes or circumstances. Among the Galatian Christians such persons were now beginning to feel attracted by that venerable kind of outward piety exhibited by devout or professedly devout Jews; but in their own practice committing the fatal blunder of mistaking the external shows of saintliness for the reality of saintliness, and but too willing to make the former serve in lieu of the latter. The danger of the leaven spreading was, in the present case, increased by the instability of character and the quick impulsiveness belonging to the Celtic temperament. The true antidote to this "leaven" is in every age the same; namely, that which the apostle in this Epistle strives to administer - the gospel of the righteousness and Spirit of Christ crucified. Galatians 5:9A little leaven (μικρὰ ζύμη)

A proverbial warning, which appears also 1 Corinthians 5:6. It refers, not to the doctrine of the false teachers, but to the false teachers themselves. Comp. Mark 8:15. With the single exception of the parable, Matthew 13:33, leaven, in Scripture, is always a symbol of evil. Comp. Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:19; Exodus 13:3, Exodus 13:7; Exodus 23:18; Leviticus 2:11; Deuteronomy 16:3. This, however, is no warrant for the nonsense which has been deduced from it, as that Jesus' parable of the leaven contains a prophecy of the corruption of Christianity. Because leaven in Scripture is habitually the type of corruption, we are "none the less free to use it in a good sense as Christ did. One figure need not always stand for one and the same thing. The devil is 'a roaring lion,' but Christ is also 'the lion of the tribe of Judah'" (Trench). It is an apt figure of secret, pervading energy, whether bad or good. A new interest is given to the figure by Pasteur's discovery that fermentation is a necessary consequence of the activity and growth of living organisms. A very few of these Judaising intruders are sufficient to corrupt the whole church.

Lump (φύραμα)

Po. See on Romans 9:21.

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