Galatians 5:19-21 Question

Good day in The Lord, to all of ya! Regarding these verses in Galatians I have a question about one word specifically for which I have not been able to find an answer after searching the web for quite some time. The word I’m unclear on is “impurity”.

“19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Bold lettering from me. :slight_smile:

I know it may seem like a no brainer, but if it’s part of sexual immorality I have to wonder why it’s even mentioned as it would seem redundant to my modern mind. Is it specifically referring to a type of sexual immorality or something else? Lewd speech and conduct, perhaps? Any help in understanding this word is greatly appreciated! And please pardon any typos. It’s late for me and my mind is a tad tired.

Genuinely appreciate all of you!

In Him!


Hello @BretG

Great question! Let me just add a brief response here.
Impurity in the Bible is very vital concepts in alignment to holiness. Impurity means being defiled and the contaminant itself. When we heard or read the word “impurity”, immediately we think about some sense or type of sexual immorality.

The Bible makes it clear that impurity includes any kind of acts that defiled us or contaminate us, whether an impure thoughts, impure language, impure desire, impure behavior, etc. Impurity also is the default state of humanity and every individual because of Adam’s sin (Romans 3:23) No one is perfect, only God. We all fall short of the glory of God. We distort our sacredness and the image of God on us.

Yet, the Bible makes it clear, that the gospel is about Jesus who is sinless and pure who died for those who are sinful and impure, so that those who are impure may be made pure in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And after we have been saved, we are cleansed and renewed, but we are not perfect, so we still need to have the daily confession of our sin to Christ (1 John 1:9) (1 John 1:6-7)

I hope this helps!


@BretG. Interesting observation, Bret.
Sexual immorality has it’s root meaning from the Greek “porneia”, from which you can see our word “pornography”. It includes a selling of sex, as in whoredom and pornographic media; fornication, idolatry (making sex an idol, in this case).

“Impurity” , in its OT sense, referred to ritual impurity such as touching a corpse, or leprosy, etc. However, in this NT use, it is referring to overall immoral living dealing with sensuality (which includes sexual immorality), but extends to profligate living–a life of reckless extravagance and abandonment; indulging in immoral activity.

Hopefully, you can see the difference. Paul was making and highlighting a distinction between sexual immorality and other forms of immoral living.


@BretG Great question :slight_smile: It appears that the Greek word used here refers to a state of uncleanness that arises from impure motives or immorality, so it is not the exact same thing as sexual immorality but they are related. I don’t think these sin lists are intended to either be complete or for every sin listed to be distinct - for example, at the end of verse 21 Paul says ‘and similar things’ - implying the list is not complete.

Gloss: impurity, a state of moral filthiness, especially in relation to sexual sin

Definition: uncleanness; lewdness; impurity, of motive, 1 Thess. 2:3

Matthew 23:27 - “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of filth (akatharsias | ἀκαθαρσίας | gen sg fem).

1 Thess 2:3 - For our appeal was not based on deceit, nor did it rise from impure motives (akatharsias | ἀκαθαρσίας | gen sg fem)


@SeanO, @sgewehr, @domingoosabel…thank you all for your help with this. I must now ponder and reflect. :slight_smile: Paul’s warning at the end of that is very sobering indeed.


Good question!

In the OT, which was the cultural/spiritual background of Paul, there was ritual impurity and moral impurity. Ritual impurity did not necessarily or automatically mean moral impurity. Many forms of ritual impurity were unavoidable e.g. touching a dead person or animal corpse; others were quite “natural” like menstruation or giving birth.

One synonym for impure is “defiled.” Another is “corrupt.” Both of these words have specific connotations in our cultures and languages - i.e. depending on where we live, these words conjure up different things. But if you go back to the OT here are some scriptures that may show the wider scope of the concept.

Leviticus 19:31
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.”

Leviticus 20:2-3
“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name.

Numbers 35:33-34
“‘Do not pollute the land where you are. Bloodshed pollutes the land, and atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it. Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell, for I, the Lord, dwell among the Israelites.’”

Jeremiah 2:22-23
Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign Lord.
How can you say, ‘I am not defiled; I have not run after the Baals’? (Defilement by idolatry)

Ezekiel 36:17
“Son of man, when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions…" (This implies that there were many behavioural patterns that God viewed as impure.)

Morally speaking, any breaking of God’s command (by commission or omission) would be a corruption, a defilement, of our essential being, created in the image of God. There is also a link (see above) to profanity (making unclean) - which we connect to our speech - whether the specific words we use, or the sinful use of our talk in slander and gossip. Like Peter at the last supper, we may have been bathed, figuratively, in the blood of Jesus and therefore clean, but we need “our feet washed” on a very regular basis.