NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson V)
On the other hand, says Calvin, the agreement of all who teach in the congregation is a powerful aid for the confirmation of faith. Since, therefore, Satan was laboring so maliciously to hinder the progress of the Gospel, Paul resolved to meet him head-on. Once he knew that he succeeded in demonstrating that he held the same views with all the other Apostles, every hindrance was removed. Weak disciples were no longer perplexed by the inquiry, who should we emulate. His meaning may be summed up this way: I did this so that all my hard work might not be thrown away as trash, I put to rest the question which distressed many minds, it helped prove that both Peter and I deserve your confidence; for in all that I taught he and I were in perfect harmony. Calvin stated that if many teachers in his own day were as heartily desirous as Paul was to edify the congregation, they would take more pains to be in agreement among themselves. To that, we all say “Amen” for our day as well.
One main underlying factor that compelled him to go to Jerusalem was to ensure that all of these new Gentile converts would be accepted as part of God’s one true congregation as fellow brothers and sisters to the believers throughout Judea and elsewhere. Paul mentions a fourteen-year time period here, and that’s a lot of sermons, a lot of conversions, and a lot of new believers in Jesus the Anointed One, the Son of God. It was Paul’s prayer that all of his preparation and all of his travels and hard work would not prove in vain. Revivalist John Wesley (1703-1791), suggests a paraphrase of Paul’s comments on his running in vain, and has the Apostle saying: I want to find out whether or not I should keep running the race, or had already run it in vain; I didn’t want to lose all the fruit that came out of my past and present labors. I didn’t want any disagreement to hinder the spread of the Gospel, I wanted them to be fully satisfied both of my mission and my doctrine. How beautifully, says Wesley, these words run together in expressing the swift progress of the Gospel in that day.
How many times did you stay up late praying and working on a sermon, then got into your car and drove several hours to a meeting; stood behind the pulpit in front of a small congregation, and after delivering an inspired message no one came forward for salvation; no one was moved to rededicate themselves to the Lord, so you asked yourself later, “Was it worth it?” Truth is, we may not know until the books are open in heaven. Paul wanted to make sure everyone understood that he was carrying out the mission given to him by the Anointed One. But more importantly, he wanted to make sure that those brought into the Kingdom of God benefited from the long hours he spent, by knowing that his conversion with the Apostle was accepted as valid by congregations everywhere.
The great Greek storyteller Æsop (620-564 BC) told this fable that might be used to illustrate the point that Paul makes here about his willingness to listen but an unwillingness to bow to pressure. The Wind and Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly they saw a traveler coming down the road, and the Sun said: “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever one of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak will be regarded as the stronger. Wind, you begin.” So the Sun retired behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But the harder it blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak round him, till at last the Wind gave up in despair. Then the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler, who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. The Sun succeeded where the Wind failed. What can never be done by a violent confrontation may often be accomplished by gentle persuasion. That was Paul’s attitude, and he won!
Literary churchman John Edmunds (circa 1800-1874), Fellow of the University of Durham, points out that the purpose of Paul’s visit to see the Jerusalem congregational Council was that the Judaizers held two things against him upon which they made their complaint. One was that he preached justification without any involvement of the Mosaic Law. And second, that he offered salvation with justification before God to both Jew and Gentile alike, putting them on the same level in God’s eyes. However, this visit was well planned by Paul. He met openly with the Council after he met privately with James, Peter, and John. In the private meeting, he was able to discuss details, argue any sticking points, and answer any objections they might offer. As Edmunds sees it, this is the right way to settle many disagreements peacefully. Officers in the congregation need to understand the details while the public need only be informed of the outcome.
Joseph Beet (1840-1924), offers a compelling argument on why we need to understand the importance of the visit by Paul to Jerusalem. Paul’s purpose implies that upon the approval of his teaching by the other Apostles depended on the permanent success of his past and present labors. If it turned out that a great difference existed between the teaching of Paul and the earlier Apostles, Christianity would perish in its cradle. For, the sole and sufficient proof that the Gospel as preached in the early congregation was actually taught by the Anointed One, and was the unanimous testimony of the leaders of the congregation. That principle holds true today.
Beet goes on to say that if Paul’s Jewish opponents in Jerusalem, or Corinth, or Galatia were able to successfully appeal to Peter, their appeal would prove irresistible. It would either discredit his teaching or create serious doubt as to what his actual teaching of the Anointed One involved. Discord between Paul and the Apostles would shake the faith of his converts and prevent the congregation from spreading outside of Israel, making his years of labor totally in vain. His claim of a direct calling from the Anointed One would then be met with scorn and ridicule.
While Beet does make a valid point, it is difficult to imagine that a person as feisty as Paul and as full of zeal in response to the Anointed One’s personal calling on his life, would pack up his documents and go back to Tarsus to take over his father’s tent-making business. It is my opinion, Paul’s response to such a charge would not earn for him the authority to do to Peter in Jerusalem, and in Antioch, having been thought of as a crybaby who folded so quickly in the face to criticism from his Jewish counterparts. Rather, Paul would have gone off and with the backing of the Antioch congregation and continued to spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Meanwhile, Peter and the others on his side would have seen everything crash around them when the Roman General Titus came in 70 AD to destroy the city of Jerusalem. So praise God for Paul and Peter seeing the need to stay unified.
James Denny (1856-1917), again speaking about the death of the Anointed One, but this time he focuses on Paul’s reference to an angel who might come preaching another Gospel. But this does not set up a confrontation between Paul and some heavenly being. Rather, it is the logical conclusion drawn from the very first commandment God gave to Moses, “I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You are to have no other gods before me.” So if anyone, even an angel, came bearing a gospel other than the one Yeshua the Messiah brought, which was given to Paul, let them be treated like the angels who rebelled against God under the leadership of Lucifer. That would not only make them a fallen angel but one bound for the bottomless pit like Satan. That’s why Paul says in chapter one, verse eight, let them suffer the timeless curse of everlasting punishment.
Denny then goes on to point out that the Prophet Isaiah also spoke of the day coming when ADONAI will punish the powers of the high heaven, and the kings of the earth here on earth. This certainly presents a picture of two ruling forces, those in the unseen world and those in the seen world. They are not at war with each other. In fact, they are in league with each other. That’s why the forces which Jesus faced when He came to earth were so formidable. And that’s the reason He must defeat the human forces against Him as the Son of Man, but also, as the Son of God take the keys to hell, death, and the grave and hold them only in His hands.
Kenneth Wuest wants us to understand this fear on the part of the Apostle Paul most certainly does not mean that his past fruitful labors which resulted in the conversion of many sinners and the establishment of a number of congregations would be rendered null and void simply because they would not get the approval of the Jerusalem congregation. It must be that Paul attached great importance to the esteem that his preaching to Gentiles would be held by the Jewish Jerusalem congregation and the Council. Wuest says, that when we think of the strong biases and prejudices among some of the converted Pharisees in the congregations in Jerusalem and in Judea, this feeling of anxiety that his work may be disowned, would be a natural thing.
His real fear, says Wuest, was that those in authority in the Jerusalem congregation, by insisting on the Mosaic ritual of circumcision might spoil his past and present efforts at establishing congregations that would be free from all connections with the Mosaic Ceremonial Law being set aside at the Cross. Paul saw that in the existing situation, there was a danger that his work would be rendered as having no value to Christianity by the opposition of the Jerusalem congregation; that the disapproval of the Twelve would earn such repercussions in the congregation to seriously handicap his work. He took great care to prevent Jewish ceremonial law from being forced upon the Gentiles and the unity of the Christian congregation broken into Jewish and a Gentile branches.
Thomas Lancaster also sees Paul’s anxiety about running the race in vain as similar to a runner who takes off from the starting line like a flash and soon leaves the rest out of sight far behind. Even when he slows down they don’t seem to be catching up. But he continues for miles, so he assumes that he’s in the lead until someone yells at him, “Hey, you’re off course and you’re running in the wrong direction.” So in Paul’s case, nothing good comes out of expending one’s whole effort to proclaim a Gospel proven to be formulated in error? And not only in Paul’s case but in our case as well. Make sure you understand it, are able to prove it by the Scriptures, and feel the anointing of the Spirit when you share it before you propose any different understanding of God’s Word than the traditional interpretation.