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Love as the Fulfilling of the Law in Gal. 5.14

Ever wondered what Paul meant when he said that the Law is fulfilled through obeying Leviticus 19.18 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”)? Can the Law really be “fulfilled” without reference to the first Table? Don’t worry, Niels Hemmingsen is here to help. Below are his notes on the verse from his commentary on Galatians.


“For the whole law is fulfilled1 in one word, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

The Apostle adds a reason from the scope, or sum, or chief point, of the Law to his statement of exhortation [that immediately precedes, i.e., “through love serve one another”]. “The Law is fulfilled by love of neighbor. Therefore it is right to serve your neighbor through love”–since it is established that man was created in order to obey his Creator. But how does it come about that he says that the whole Law is fulfilled by love of neighbor? Isn’t the first Table concerning the true worship of God, which is part of the Law, to be preferred to the second Table? If you will say that the whole Law here should be restricted to the Law of the second Table (for he who loves his neighbor as himself does not deny to his neighbor whatever he would wish to have done to himself), then it will seem compulsory to give an explanation as to why we say this is a synecdoche. For this trope is not infrequent in Scripture, through which, under the name of the effect, the cause is also understood, of which cause the effect itself is a most certain proof. For charity toward one’s neighbor is a proof of the fear of God and of true piety toward God. For through love of God, as Gregory rightly says, love of neighbor is begotten, and through love of neighbor love of God is nourished.2 But what does the word “fulfill” mean, since no one satisfies the Law? The Law is said finally to be fulfilled at that time when obedience to it is made evident, and that in respect of men, who whom the piety of the heart toward God is hidden until it is made evident by love of neighbor as though by a manifest sign.3

  1. I translate Hemmingsen’s present impletur, though the Greek text has the perfect here.
  2. The quotation comes from Gregory’s Moralia in Iob 7.24.28 (see here, col. 780). It is also found in exactly the same English rendering as mine, though I had not yet seen it when I translated the sentence, in Smaragdus of Saint-Mihiel’s The Crown of Monks (the author is there quoting Gregory–or, rather, is quoting someone else quoting Gregory–, and the translator’s footnote directed me to the original). You can find this passage from the Moralia in English here.
  3. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.