NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
How it all began. . .
Back in 1966, I was given the privilege of becoming a faculty member at the European Bible Seminary in Wienacht, Switzerland. At that time, besides the King James Version of the English Bible, there were three other English Translations in my library. Each year I read the whole Bible through once and the Final Covenant twice. I noticed by reading different translations it forced me to pay closer attention to the text because I was so familiar with the KJV that the words and phrases became common to me.
This started me on the path that led to collecting almost two hundred English translations, some of the whole Bible, some with just the First Covenant (O.T.), some with only the Final Covenant (N.T.), and some with just the Gospels, Epistles, and some with only one particular book. As I read through the Scriptures in this manner, I began to jot down the various thoughts and revelations that the Holy Spirit flashed in my mind as I read familiar stories in unfamiliar translations, including German. I wrote each comment in whatever color ink I assigned to that particular translation. For instance, when I read using the New American Standard Bible, all my comments were in blue. That way I knew which translation I was reading when the thought occurred to me. It was then that a dream formed in my mind and ended up in my heart. I wanted to write a commentary using all these new items of inspiration.
For over the next eight years, my little notebook became thicker and thicker until the widest binder I found in the Swiss stationary store became crammed full of handwritten notes. When I returned to the United States, I often consulted my comments on the Final Covenant for sermon preparation when I pastored at Calvary Temple in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Then as Dean of Students at Northwest Bible College in Minot, North Dakota, I used it for some of my classes on Homiletics. I consulted it again when I pastored in Lemon, South Dakota. Then after being sent to Asia to help open the Asian Center for Christian Ministries in Makati, Metro Manila, again I found a use for my notebook for the classes I taught there as President and Professor for the Asian Seminary for Christian Ministries. When I left Asia, instead of the sponsoring Mission Department paying the cost of shipping my library back to the USA, I agreed to donate my two thousand book library to ASCM for their library and keep the shipping cost.
After returning to America in 1994, my career path changed when I was given the opportunity to join a Clinical Pastoral Education Group and Chaplain resident at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida. I would later earn my Board Certification as a Hospice Chaplain. I kept my notebook on my library shelf and never knew if I’d ever use it again. After retiring from the Chaplaincy, I ended up in New Orleans, Louisiana as Director of the American Cancer Society’s Patrick F. Taylor Hope Lodge. It was during my tour there that I received a request from my sister Joan living in Maryland to do a Bible Study on the internet. That’s when I reached for my notebook that was now forty years old. This drove me to do more research and I went on the internet looking to buy my best commentaries.
That’s when the Spirit opened my eyes to the fact that most of the commentaries I once possessed were now available online and through the Logos Bible Study Application. That made it even better because now I was able to employ the search engine to find the exact word or theme I was looking for. It wasn’t until I retired from the Hope Lodge and moved to Houston, Texas, that one day while looking at my commentary notebook, it was as if the Spirit spoke to me and said now you have time to do what you’ve always wanted to do: write a commentary. So I decided to choose two of my favorite books: Romans and Galatians. For the last seven years, I’ve enjoyed and felt privileged to see my dream come true.
Through all of this another concept was conceived with the Spirit’s help: to write a commentary that took into account the following factors: In my research, I decided to look for the earliest comments made on Romans and Galatians by ancient and early church writers. After all, Paul wrote his Epistles only some twenty years after meeting and talking with the Anointed One, Jesus of Nazareth, on the road to Damascus. There’s no one better to tell us what Jesus told him than Paul himself? Then I wanted to see what any disciples of the first Apostles wrote as a commentary on what the Apostles taught them. I wanted to trace these comments down through the centuries until today so that the reader would be able to see what was said back then and what was being said today. I was also blessed to have a book I published on the Fruit of the Spirit that came from my doctoral thesis to enhance Chapter Five.
The next thing I wanted to do was be conscious of the world these writers lived in, what were the things they felt forced to deal with and how it affected the tone and content of their works. I took this from my own practice after reading a text to my congregation or audience, I’d tell them before I started my sermon or teaching: Who wrote it? Who did they write it to? What was their reason for writing it? What were they writing it for? What issues were addressed in their letter? And finally, what effect does what they wrote have on us today? That’s the context I wanted the readers to know in writing this commentary here.
So for his letter to the Galatians, in answer to these questions: Paul wrote this letter; he wrote it to the churches in Galatia, just north of his hometown of Tarsus; he wrote it because he learned they were tricked into believing that he did not tell them the whole truth on how to be justified in believing that they were right with God. He left out the requirements of the Jewish Torah, Oral Traditions, and ceremonial laws that Jews believed were necessary for completing their salvation. In doing so, he attempted to persuade them to change their minds and stay in the grace of God. One of the main problems was that the Church consisted of converted Jews and Gentiles to Christianity; and one of the main issues was that some false teachers came from Jerusalem, claiming to be sent by James, the brother of our Lord, to make sure that the Gentiles became followers of the ceremonial laws of the First Covenant, especially the rite of circumcision for the male members. They were afraid that by accepting the Final Covenant from the Anointed One, they were opting out of the First Covenant that made them part of the spiritual family of Abraham as part of the Anointed One’s church.
In doing research on the older commentaries and other writings, I noticed that most of them were translated into English from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew manuscripts. The English vocabulary and grammar used by these centuries-old translators was much different than our English words and sentence structure today. Furthermore, they followed Latin grammar and made reading the English text more difficult. My thought was, that since these were English translations, I would be doing no harm in choosing the English vocabulary we use today. I did not want my readers to constantly stumble over unfamiliar antique words thereby causing them to lose interest.
My precious wife Aurora was a great help to me. Since English is her second language, she knew better than I what vocabulary made reading the text easier and more interesting to people like her. So she did the proofreading, giving me the opportunity of changing the language to make it clearer and more engrossing. Also, after teaching in Bible Schools and a Seminary I developed the language of the classroom which most laypeople do not understand without an explanation. So I rebaptized them in the pool of simplicity to make them easier to comprehend. For instance, I once spoke of an early church exegete. She was unfamiliar with that term, so I baptized it and gave him a new title: early church interpreter of the Scriptures.
And lastly, most of the over one hundred commentaries in my former library were written for Bible students, pastors, and teachers. I wanted mine to be for those who were not given the opportunity to attend a Bible College or Seminary. I wanted to make those whom I quoted from the past and from my own comments as though they and I were speaking directly to the reader in a language they understood. No, this is not dumbing down, it is exhorting and lifting up their Biblical understanding to a new, higher level.
The Scriptural text used predominantly throughout this commentary is mostly my paraphrase aided with the help of the New Life Translation, New Living Translation, Living Bible, Easy-to-Read Version, and The Complete Jewish Bible. There is one more factor I considered, I wanted the reader to know whether any Hebrew or Greek words used were nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs. Whether or not they were used in the past, present, future, or continuous tense. This would help in seeing how these apply to the meaning and intent of the sentence. Are the verbs used in the Indicative Mood – stating an actuality or fact such as “I will go;” the Imperative Mood – making a request such as “I must go;” or the Subjunctive Mood – expressing a doubtful condition, contrary to a fact such as “If I were going.” Furthermore, to choose the right meaning for such words since they are often applied to many different English words and definitions. Sometimes parsing1 of words can be used as an excuse, but in Scripture, they help immensely in grammatically identifying an important part of the speech and how certain words are to be understood in their tense and mood.
In addition, I faced the choice of either using the common “past perfect tense of verbs” to indicate action completed at some point in the past before anything else happened. I chose rather to use the “imperfect past tense” instead. For example, instead of saying that the Jews had rejected Yeshua as the Messiah to say that the Jews rejected Yeshua the Messiah because they still reject Him today. Also, instead of saying that because of faith we were saved, I chose rather to say that because of faith we are saved. In other words, that is not something in the past but it is ongoing until the end when we are taken out of this world. The past participle “had” is one of the worst culprits.
Any and all resources quoted or alluded to in this commentary are meant to enlighten the reader as to the comments on Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians as close as possible to the earliest disciples following the original twelve Apostles. By sharing what they said does not indicate that I necessarily agree with anything or everything they wrote in sharing their interpretation of Paul’s writings. This required including some who were no doubt diametrically opposed to some of Paul’s points of view.
This is meant to alert the reader to what was being said at that time so they can look to see who among their contemporaries agreed or disputed their point of view. This is how we learn to decipher and discern those in harmony and those out of harmony with traditional understanding. This will make it easier to do the same as part of today’s exposition of Paul’s letter. Let the Holy Spirit, your conscience, and your learning be your guide.
In addition, I agree with those Bible scholars who feel that the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” do not reflect the real property of these two covenants. First of all, they are neither old or new since they were in God’s mind from eternity. It is only that one was given before the other. But there’s another factor. There were no other covenants before them nor will there be any after them. That’s why I have chosen to use the term “First Covenant” instead of Old Testament, and “Final Covenant” in place of New Testament. I hope you can get used to it instead of it causing confusion. If it does, forgive me.
Furthermore, we have become so accustomed to saying “Jesus Christ” in English that we do not know exactly what we are calling Him. Yes, His name was “Yeshua” (a proper masculine noun – Jesus, but His name was never “Christ” (an adjective) because He was the Christ, the Messiah – a title. In Greek, Christos literally means, “anointed.” I have no argument against calling him “Christos” with the Greek understanding that He is Jesus the “Anointed One,” it’s just the misunderstanding of calling Him “Christ” in English as though that was His last name. So here in Galatians, I have chosen to designate Him as, “Jesus the Anointed One.”
1 Parsing a word means to analyze the word as part of a component that links it with meaning or function