Galatians 5:19-21 includes a list of the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality... There are 14 of them, and in both Greek and English they are separated by commas.*

In vv. 22-23, there is a list describing the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace... As far as I can tell, in every English translation the items are also separated by commas. However, the NA28 does something weird:

ὁ δὲ καρπὸς τοῦ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἀγάπη χαρὰ εἰρήνη, μακροθυμία χρηστότης ἀγαθωσύνη, πίστις πραΰτης ἐγκράτεια ... (NA28)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love joy peace, patience kindness goodness, faithfulness gentleness self-control ... (ESV, with punctuation altered to match the NA28)

Is there a reason to think the items should be grouped as threesomes as the NA28 punctuates it?

* I realize these are not original; the editors have interpreted them to form a list which is properly denoted (in English and most modern representations of Koine Greek - whatever that means) using commas between items.

  • Good question! NA had been mostly following Tischendorf and Wescott/Hort until 1979 (see nestle-aland.com/en/history ), but even Tischendorf had all commas (see studybible.info/Tischendorf/Galatians%205 ) and WH had none (studybible.info/LXX_WH/Galatians%205 ). Luther is another source for NA punctuation notes, but it has all commas too.
    – fumanchu
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 22:55
  • As I am sure you already know the early manuscripts had virtually no punctuation so what this question seems to be about is an attempt at mind reading in regard to the editors of NA28. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:24
  • Apologies for not reading the *note at the bottom. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 19:01
  • 1
    @C.StirlingBartholomew I guess I see it differently. To me, the editors of the NA28 are basically commentators. I’m asking if there is any validity to the claim they are making that the meaning of the text is appropriately represented by this punctuation. To me it’s similar to asking why a translation chose a particular rendering or asking for explanation of a statement made in a commentary. Anyway, I tried to clarify my intent by re-stating the question. Thanks for the feedback.
    – Susan
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 23:38
  • Is it possible they just didn't have a good editor?
    – Daisy
    Commented Apr 14, 2016 at 15:25

1 Answer 1


This question has intrigued me for a while now, and so far I have found the following points that are relevant.

Textual History

First, according to the history of the NA text, "In 1898 Eberhard Nestle published the first edition of his Novum Testamentum Graece." I have tracked online an 1899 copy that had all the commas. This was still true as of 1923, which was soon before the next phase when "Eberhard Nestle’s son Erwin ... provided the 13th edition of 1927." So it was not divided that way in the early NA text.

Second, at least since NA26 it has been divided as three triads, assuming that the statement holds from NA26 to NA27 (I have an NA27 and confirmed it also had three triads like NA28; I do not have NA26):

The text of this edition is identical to that of the 26th edition, but the critical apparatus and the appendices have been thoroughly revised.

I have not been able to find enough online sources (nor do I currently have easy access to other sources) to track the various editions to see where the change occurred between 1923 and 1975 (UBS 3rd ed., which was the text of the NA26 published in 1979 [see again here]).*

* If anyone knows of some online sources of the NA text 13th through 25th edition, please let me know.


As best as I've tracked so far, the earliest reference to a division is in J. B. Lightfoot's commentary St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in 1870. He states of v.22-23 (emphasis added):

The difficulty of classification in the list which follows is still greater than in the case of the works of the flesh. Nevertheless some sort of order may be observed. The catalogue falls into three groups of three each. The first of these comprises Christian habits of mind in their more general aspect, ‘love, joy, peace’; the second gives special qualities affecting a man’s intercourse with his neighbour, ‘long-suffering, kindness, beneficence’; while the third, again general in character like the first, exhibits the principles which guide a Christian’s conduct, ‘honesty, gentleness, temperance.’

Lightfoot's ideas have been used in later commentaries:

  • Quoted directly by a contemporary, John Peter Lange in his A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Galatians in 1870.
  • John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985) are definitely influenced by Lightfoot's thoughts, though they do not explicitly credit him, so they may have picked up the ideas elsewhere without realizing the source. They state (emphasis added):

    The first three virtues are habits of mind which find their source in God. ... The second triad reaches out to others, fortified by love, joy, and peace. ... The final three graces guide the general conduct of a believer who is led by the Spirit.

  • Noted in Timothy George, Galatians, Vol. 30, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), where he states (emphasis added):

    Paul grouped these nine graces into three triads that give a sense of order and completion, although here too there is no attempt to provide an exhaustive list of the Christian virtues:

        Love, joy, peace
        Patience, kindness, goodness
        Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

        Various interpretations have been given about the meaning of this threefold structure of threes. Three, of course, is the number of the divine Trinity, signifying in this case the perfect unity and loving reciprocity that has existed from all eternity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Lightfoot suggested the following categorization of the nine graces: the first three comprising habits of the Christian mind, the second reflecting social intercourse and neighborly concern, and the third exhibiting the principles that guide a Christian’s conduct. More simply still, J. Stott has described this list as a cluster of nine Christian graces that portray the believer’s attitude to God, to other people, and to himself.

    Note that he mentions John Stott as well, of which n.94 associated to the statement above references Stott's work "Only One Way, 148". That note also says to see "the excellent article and literature cited in D. S. Dockery, 'Fruit of the Spirit,' DPL, 316–19." I believe DPL refers to: Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1993); so that may contain more thought about the triads.


So it appears that Lightfoot's triad ideas (if such is indeed original to him) influenced someone involved with the Nestle-Aland text editing after 1923, such that the editions began to reflect this triad idea in the Greek text punctuation as you have seen in the NA28 text.

There is nothing I am aware of in the Greek or the context of Galatians itself to necessarily consider them in the triad Lightfoot sees. His observation is merely that, and it seems a leap to actually codify that into the textual punctuation itself.

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