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The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the churches of Galatia, urged the members to, “Bear ye one
another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Three verses later, however, he
plainly states, “For every man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6:S). These two statements
appear to be contradictory. Yet, when the student of the Scriptures takes time to examine the
Greek words translated “burden”, he will clearly understand the relationship between these
verses.

In verse 2, the word translated burden is “baros” which refers to the weight of the load and not to the actual burden or load. To illustrate this meaning, notice how this word is used in an ancient papyri. In a fourth century letter to Flavianus from Demetrius his servant, Demetrius informs him that his wife is sick. He uses the word baros, translated oppressed, to refer to the burden of the sickness and not to the sickness itself. “For by your own safety, my lord, which chiefly concerns me unless my son Athanasius had then been in a sickly state of body, I would have sent him to you along with Plutarchus, at the time when she was oppressed by the sickness” (‘Selections from the Greek, Papyri’ by George Milligan, p. 130). From this example, we are assisted in understanding that Paul meant we are to help each other bear the pressure of weight of the burden. This can be accomplished through prayer and encouragement.

In contrast to this is the use of “phortion” (In some texts phortos), translated burden in verse 5. This word refers to the actual burden itself. This is shown in the following letter dated 41 AD, in which phortion is used to refer to the financial obligations owed by an individual. “With the exception of a talent, I have made you to pay my burdens” (Milligan, p. 40).

Phortion was also used to refer to the load on a wagon, the unborn child in a mother’s womb, and the lading or freight of a ship. This last use is found in Acts 27:10 that states, “And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading (phortion) and ship, but also of our lives.

Thus, as has been demonstrated, the word the Apostle Paul used in verse 5 refers to the actual burden and not to the weight of the burden. The teaching the Apostle was expressing in these two verses is that we are to encourage, strengthen and in every way possible help bear the weight of each other’s burdens; however, each man is responsible for taking care of his own burdens.