NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson I)
BACKGROUND: “History of the Christian Church” writer Phillip Schaff, tells us that the date of the Epistle to the Galatians was being written by Paul between 56–58 AD.1 Some other scholars believe, however, it was written as early as 49 AD, not long after his visit with the Jerusalem Council and confrontation with Peter in Antioch. He goes on to inform us that his letter to the Galatians, with its sequel, the Epistle to the Romans, discusses the doctrines of sin and redemption and the relationship of the Law and the Gospel. It teaches salvation by free grace and justification by faith, Christian universalism – that all who believe may come, in opposition to Jewish particularism – only those of Jewish ethnicity were allowed in the family of God, and evangelical freedom versus legalistic bondage. Galatians is a rapid sketch written by an Apostle with deep emotions.2
Schaff also summarizes the Epistle to the Galatians in comparison to Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Romans an elaborate treatise and the mature product of calm reflection. Galatians is an argument against foreign intruders and seducers. Romans is ironical and composed in a serene frame of mind. Galatians rushes along like a mountain torrent and foaming rapids, Romans flows like a majestic river through a boundless prairie and the same river in Galatians that flows along slowly until it reaches a tremendous waterfall.3
Schaff also points out that in verse one we find the main point of the text for the first two chapters: namely, the divine mission and independent apostolic authority of Paul which the Judaizers told the Galatians not to accept, but which is clearly proven by the following narrative and testimony of the older Apostles themselves. One of the criticisms by the Judaizers was that no one possessed independent authority to preach or teach outside the original Apostles. Paul did not have such apostolic limitations and was, therefore, an intruder who did not belong in the presence of such Apostles as Peter and John. But Paul is not intimidated. The One who is over the Church and all Apostles is the One who called and commissioned him to preach the Gospel to the Jews first, and then also to the Gentiles.4
1:1-2 This letter is from the Apostle Paul, appointed directly by God the Father who raised Jesus the Messiah from the dead, and not by any one person or by any one group of men, and all the brothers who are with me send their greetings to the congregations throughout the province of Galatia.
So, who are these inhabitants of the southern portion of the Roman province of Galatia? Were they native people to that area? Or did they immigrate to this region from some other country? What racial and ethnic customs did they share with their homeland? And were there any physical or psychological characteristics that made easy to identify? The Apostle Paul most certainly knew most of the answers to these questions. He was born and grew up in the neighboring province of Cilicia in the city of Tarsus. One of the major trade routes of that day ran right through Cilicia and on into Galatia on its way toward Greece. As an apprentice tent maker with his father, he may even have visited this area to sell their products.
We can detect some of this familiarity in Paul’s opening remarks. First, He addresses himself as an Apostle in almost all of his epistles. The only other one to do the same is Peter.5 And in the Acts of the Apostles, the original disciples are also called Apostles.6 But the writer of Hebrews, who many think was Paul, also calls Jesus an Apostle and High Priest.7 So it was not a title to throw around lightly.
We should observe that this opening salutation does not follow the common decorum of starting out with a word of greeting to the recipients of a letter, something he frequently did in his other letters. Rather, he offers his credentials as being the one in authority to write this letter. As such, one can almost hear the stern sound in Paul’s voice as he dictates the letter. Even his greeting from himself and those with him is a very formal one. It’s almost like getting a letter from a council or board who have been examining charges against you. By separating himself from the Apostles in Jerusalem, Paul is saying that there would be no need to consult them as to his authority as an Apostle. His appointment by God did not require their approval. But he also implicates those Judaizers who came from Jerusalem as being false prophets because they, no doubt, claimed they were sent by the Apostle James and not directly from God.8
We should also notice that the letter is addressed to the ekklēsia in the province of Galatia. This Greek noun (“Churches” in KJV) does not mean buildings or converted synagogues, but rather an assembly of believers which may have been in homes, upper rooms, synagogues, etc.9 So not only is this letter addressed to several such assemblies, but it thereby indicates that most of them, if not all, were being misled by these false Jewish teachers. Some of these cities were Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Furthermore, Paul’s greeting to them makes the point that he and the persons with him are fellow believers in Jesus the Anointed One. This is important because of the many times he makes reference to those intruders who came to mislead them should not be thought of as fellow believers10.11
Furthermore, Marvin Vincent in his word studies says that the churches of Galatia which Paul addresses here in verse two are most probably meant the churches in the southern Roman province of Galatia; those namely in Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, and Derbe; and not the Christians living in the Galatian district lying to the north and east of Lycaonia and Phrygia, which formed only a part of the Roman province, and the chief cities of which were Ancyra, Tavium, and Pessinus. Historians tell us that Cæsar Augustus, (25 BC) formed this Roman province, and included the provinces of Lycaonia, Isauria, southeastern Phrygia, and a portion of Pisidia. All part of modern Turkey today. The churches in this province were founded by Paul in his first missionary tour, sent out by the assembly in Antioch12.13
As to Paul’s claim of having been appointed by God as an Apostle, some say that he may not have necessarily been referring to what happened to him on the road to Damascus, but what took place in the church at Antioch.14 However, in the very next breath he points out that this appointment was not done by any one person or group of persons but by God the Father and Jesus the Anointed One. So what happened in Antioch caused him to be a missionary and what happened in Damascus made him an Apostle.
While Paul does not name those who are with him at the time of this writing, it is safe to say that he spoke of those who accompanied him on his journeys such as Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Mark, etc. If Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem for his first visit with the council, then he may have stopped in Antioch for a rest. And upon hearing about the trouble brewing in the churches in Galatia, for which he expressed surprise that it happened so soon after his visit there, he may be including those in the church in Antioch as part of those who were with him. Could it be that those who followed Paul into Galatia with their insistence on adoption of Jewish customs and manners were the same converted Pharisees that sneaked into Paul’s visit with the Council in Jerusalem?15
Another thing Paul reveals is that he is not writing to just one assembly, but many located in the Province of Galatia. What makes this so interesting is that some of what he has to say may apply to one assembly more than to another. It is also informative that we know these Galatians were referred to in history as far back at 124 BC.16 Jewish insurgent Judas Maccabee heard of how mighty, valiant, and noble the Romans were, and one of the things that convinced him was what he learned about their wars and noble acts done among the Galatians, and how they conquered them and brought them under their control, even forcing them to pay taxes. And later on, stories were told of a battle that 8,000 Jewish militants fought in Babylon with the Galatians and 4,000 Macedonians. When the battle concluded, the Jewish militants destroyed 120,000 of the enemy with the help they received from heaven and plundered much treasure.17
Needless to say, the Galatians did not seem to put up much of a fight when confronted. So no wonder these few Judaizers from Jerusalem were able to take control over the assemblies in such little time. But Jewish historian Flavius Josephus adds another bit of information that may help us focus more sharply on where the Galatians got their character and world view. Josephus says that Gomer, the first son of Japheth, Noah’s son, whose descendants inhabited what would become Europe, settled in the land the Greeks called Galatia [Galls], but who were also called Gomerites.
From Roman history, we see that the Galls (Gauls) were a constant source of aggravation for the Emperors of Rome. So the characteristics of Gomer were already well embedded in the Galatians. Many of these Galls moved further east and settled in what we know today as France.18 Josephus also tells us that when King Herod went down to Egypt to meet Caesar, and as a present gave him four hundred Galatians who were Cleopatra’s guards.19 Also, when Herod died, during the funeral procession, representatives from various countries marched ahead of the ornate golden bier. First were Herod’s guards, then came the Thracians (Greeks), followed by the Germans, and then the Galatians. Seems like they never were in first place.20
1 Schaff, Philip: History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1, p. 191. See also, pp. 176-177
2 Ibid. p. 602
3 Schaff, Philip: op. cit., Commentary on Galatians, p. 602
4 A Popular Commentary on the New Testament, edited by Schaff, Philip, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1882, Vol. III, p. 293
5 1 Peter 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1
6 Thirty times in the Acts of the Apostles, beginning in Acts 1:2
7 Hebrews 3:1
8 Mark D. Nanos: The Irony of Galatians, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2002, pp. 32, 112, 126-127, 151-152
9 See Matthew 18:20
10 See Galatians 1:9, 13; 3:1; 5:3, 21
11 Mark D. Nanos: ibid., pp. 19,43,75,145
12 See Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 13 & 15
13 Vincent, Marvin R: Word Studies in the New Testament by Marvin R. Vincent, The Epistle to the Galatians, Introduction, p.75, Charles Schribner’s Sons, New York, 1900
14 Acts of the Apostles 13:2-4
15 See Jewish Mishnah: Division Kadshim, Tractate Menachot, Ch. 10:3; and Division Mo’ed, Tractate Yoma, Ch. 1:5
16 Apocrypha: First Maccabees: Books for the Ages, AGES Software, Albany, Oregon, Chapter 8:2, p. 164
17 Second Maccabees, Ibid., Chapter 8:20, p. 237
18 Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, The Ages Digital Library, 1999, Bk. 1, Ch. 6:1, p. 84
19 Ibid., Josephus, Bk. 16: Ch. 7:3, p. 951; Ch. 20:3, p. 1336
20 Ibid., Josephus, Bk.16, Ch 8:3, p. 1080