NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson II)
There were others who spent time examining these citizens of the Roman province of Galatia to learn more about them. For instance, Lucius Lactantius (250-326 AD), a Christian writer and adviser to Roman Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) on religious policies, in his third volume to former Roman Emperor Probus (232-282 AD) on the subject of the Gauls shares what his investigation found. From his research, the inhabitants of this area were from ancient times called Galatians, because of their “white skin.” In fact, an early Greek writer of oracles named Sibyl cited the Galatians and told how gold collars decked “their milk-white necks.” It is plain that from this the province became known as Galatia, in which, on their arrival, the Gauls united themselves with Greeks which led to that region being called “Gallogræcia,” and afterward Galatia. In fact, some Roman historians believe that the forefathers of the Galatians were Celts from the north who moved to that area to get away from the harsh winters.1 So it was their descendants to whom Paul came to preach the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One. But it does not mean that all Galatians where direct descendants of the Celts. This should help us better understand what Paul dealt with concerning Gomer’s descendants.
In light of what Paul said about being sent as an ambassador to the Gentiles to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah, Yeshua of Nazareth, already arrived, Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, makes note of an incident that is very relevant to what Paul did as an ambassador of Jesus the Anointed One. He points to the treatment of Jews, as well as Gentiles, by Arabs of his day, and calls it “an instance of the grossest wickedness.” It involved Jewish ambassadors being beheaded by the Arabs while the Gentiles protested, calling them sacred emissaries that should never be assaulted.2 And for ourselves, says Josephus, we learned from God our most outstanding doctrines and the most holy part of our Law. They were brought to us by angels (or ambassadors). This name “ambassador” brings the knowledge of God to all mankind and has enough respect to reconciling enemies one to another.3 In other words, messenger bringing the Gospel should be treated as an ambassador from God.
Early church scholar, Ignatius of Antioch (50-117 AD), who may have known Paul personally, says of the Apostle that this ministry was given to him for the benefit of many, “not from himself, neither by men, nor through boastfulness,” but by the love of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Ignatius was also struck with admiration by Paul’s ability to accomplish more by saying little than those who were unable to do anything in spite of their conceited talk. He found Paul in harmony with the commandments of God, even as the harp is with its strings. That impressed Ignatius so much that he became convinced that Paul’s thinking was completely in harmony with God’s will, knowing that what Paul said he meant, and that he believed what he said. That Paul could be trusted to remain calm despite what he faced, followed the example of the infinite meekness of the Living God.4 The wording makes it clear that Ignatius must have read this epistle of Paul to the Galatians.
Another early church scholar, Polycarp (69-156 AD), a disciple of the Apostle John and the Bishop of Smyrna, used Paul’s epistle to the Galatians in his own epistle to the Philippians by writing: May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, and Jesus the Anointed One Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, faithfulness, and purity;5 and may He bless you with a place among His saints, including all of us and on all that are under heaven, who believe in our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, and in His Father, who raised Him from the dead.6 So what Paul is writing here was known early on in the church and respected as the writings of a revered and respected Apostle.
Also, early church writer Tertullian (155-240 AD), follows the same theme by noting that when Paul wrote to the Roman Church, he gave thanks to God through our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. This is consistent with Paul’s joining Jesus the Anointed One and God the Father together in a mutual mission. This comes after Tertullian pointed out that the Apostle Peter used these same words for the same effect.7 The Apostle John also calls anyone a liar who denies that Jesus is the Anointed One. By doing so, they reveal the spirit of antichrist in denying the Father and the Son.8 That’s why he exhorts us to believe in the name of the Father’s Son, Jesus the Anointed One. John’s effort involved encouraging all believers to develop the same spirit of fellowship among themselves that the Father enjoys with His Son Jesus the Anointed One.9
Later on, early church African scholar Marius Victorinus (280-355 AD) believes that not only did Paul insist that his call to the ministry came “through” the Anointed One with the full consent of His Father in heaven, but that it was the Anointed One whom the Father “raised from the dead.” Paul knew that people were being told that he was not a follower of Jesus the Anointed One while He lived on earth, in fact, he persecuted the followers of the Anointed One. So he expected the question, “How did you learn from the Anointed One that He was calling you?” To this, he stood ready to reply that he spoke to the Anointed One after His resurrection. And since God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, this proves that God is also involved in his calling.10
Early church preacher Chrysostom (349-407 AD), envisions a dialogue between himself and the Apostle Paul about his message in Galatians. “Why is it,” Chrysostom asks Paul, “if it was your wish to convert the Judaizers to the true faith you did not bring it up in those great and illustrious topics which occurred in your Epistle to the Philippians, such as, ‘Who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equal basis with God?’11 Or what you declared afterward to the Hebrews, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being?”12 Or how about what John, one of the sons of thunder,13 thundered forth in the opening of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God?”14 Why didn’t you repeat what Jesus Himself oftentimes declared to the Jews “that His power and authority was equal to the Father’s?”15 Why did you omit all these, and only make mention of His incarnation, and emphasizing His cross and dying?
Chrysostom imagines that Paul answered him this way: Were I to have addressed my letter to the Judaizers, whom I considered as having blasphemous conceptions of the Anointed One, that way, it would have been a good idea to mention those things. But, since the problem lies with those who fear being punished if they abandon the Law, I thought it best to point out that the Law is no longer needed for salvation. By that I mean, the benefit conferred on every believer through the Cross and the Resurrection is sufficient. If I would have said with the Apostle John that in the beginning was the Word and included what I told the Philippians that even though He shared the same nature with God, He did not consider that something to hold on to, certainly then, says Paul, I would have declared that He was the Divine Word of God in the flesh. But it would have not addressed the problem at hand. The reason I included the statement that God raised Him from the dead was to show the importance of believing in Him that much clearer. That way they now know that the Law can only condemn, it cannot save and promise everlasting life.
Chrysostom imagines Paul also saying to him that people, in general, are less interested in hearing about the majesty of God’s person than learning about the mystery of God’s promise. Certainly, the reverence that comes by recognizing God’s majesty will inspire us to heap praise and worship on Him. But what is there about God that will be of benefit to us humans? I wanted the Galatians to know that their sudden turn away from Grace as the means of salvation in order to earn it, was of no benefit to God. But by doing so, they were removing themselves from receiving all the benefits God promised to those who believe on His Son for salvation.16
Bible historians also tell us that somewhere between 300-400 AD, a manuscript appeared titled, “Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul,” also known as “The Passion of Peter and Paul.” In the text of this apocryphal document, we find that Paul appeared before Emperor Nero and was asked to answer the charges being brought against him by Simon the Magician. Nero wanted to know who was Paul’s teacher or by whose authority he taught in the cities and what happened as a result of his teachings? Since Paul remained silent up until then, Nero said, “I have the impression that you are not a person with great wisdom and that you were not able to accomplish any work of great consequence.”
Now Paul felt free to respond. Paul explained that he never intended to defend himself against a desperate magician like Simon. After all, he was on his way to hell in a hurry. Who wants to listen to someone pretending to be something they are not. Claiming to have the power of the Holy Spirit to explain his magic tricks.17 Paul recalled how the Egyptian magicians Jannes and Jambres led Pharaoh and his army astray until they were swallowed up in the Red Sea, so Nero should be aware of this deceiver.
Paul then goes on to tell Nero about the teachings of his Master, Jesus the Messiah. Things that pertained to peace and love, those were the things Paul taught from Jerusalem over to Illyricum. His message always was one of peace. For instance, he taught that in honor they should prefer one another; that those that are rich and famous should not be idolized; not to put their hope in the uncertainty of riches, but to place their hope in God. He taught those who have what the need to be content with the food and covering they already have instead of being envious of those who have more. He taught fathers to teach their children to reverence the Lord God, and to obey their parents. He taught wives to love their own husbands and to respect them as husbands and heads of the house. He also taught masters to treat their slaves with leniency, and slaves to serve their own masters faithfully.
1 Lactantius: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Fragments of Lactantius: pp. 678-679
2 Josephus, Bk. 15, Ch. 5.3, p. 2033, footnote 491, “Herod says here, that as ambassadors were sacred when they carried messages to others, so did the laws of the Jews derive a sacred authority by being delivered from God by angels [or divine ambassadors]; which is St. Paul’s expression about the same laws Galatians 3:16.”
3 Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 15, Ch. 5.3, p. 938
4 The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians, Ch. 1
5 See Galatians 5:22-23
6 Polycarp: Epistle to the Philippians, Ch. 12
7 Acts of the Apostles 2:36
8 1 John 2:22
9 Tertullian: The Ante-Nicene Fathers, “Against Praxæs,” Ch. 28, p. 1134
10 Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p. 2
11 Philippians 2:6
12 Hebrews 1:3
13 Mark 3:17
14 John 1:1
15 Ibid 5:19, 27
16 Commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, pp. 19, 20, loc. cit.
17 See Acts of the Apostle 8:9-25