NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson III)
Paul finishes his awaited response to Nero by telling him that he also taught the assemblies of believers everywhere to reverence the one almighty, invisible, and incomprehensible God. And that this teaching was not something he devised on his own nor was it given to him by men, nor through men, but through Jesus the Anointed One who spoke to him out of heaven, and was the One who also sent him out to preach by sending Ananias of Damascus to tell him what God told him to say, namely, “I have chosen Saul for an important work. I want him to tell other nations, their rulers, and the people of Israel about me.1”2
According to the History of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it traces its beginnings back to Jesus the Anointed One and the Apostles. The original church or community of the East before the Great Schism comprised the following:
the Greek churches were founded by Saint Paul.
the Antiochian and Asia Minor churches were founded by Saint Peter.
the Coptic (or Egyptian) churches were founded by Saint Mark (including, at the time, the Ethiopian Empire historically known as Abyssinia.
the Syriac (or Assyrian) churches in Upper Mesopotamia grew out of the church in Antioch.
the Georgian church, traditionally founded by Saint Andrew and Saint Nino.3
the Armenian church, traditionally founded by Saint Jude and Saint Bartholomew.
the church of Jerusalem, founded by Saint James, as well as the churches of Samaria and Judea, together comprising “the Holy Land.”
The church of Rome by tradition was founded by both Saint Peter and Saint Paul.4
We also have John Cassian (360-435 AD), a Roman Catholic monk and theologian, in one of the books he wrote against the teachings of Nestorius, the Greek Orthodox Church’s Archbishop of Constantinople and talks about Paul’s writings and how Rome interpreted them one way and Constantinople interpreted them another way. This schism began when the Church began to grow out of the Church in Antioch, the branch that developed in Rome to the west was thought by them as being the official seat of Christianity, and the branch that developed in Constantinople to the east considered itself an equal seat of Christianity. So because of this impasse, they never came to an amicable agreement. It appears that there were some things coming out of Constantinople that were unacceptable to Rome.
Cassian began by comparing the church and heresy to the Greek mythical serpent-like creature known as Hydra. If one of Hydra’s heads was cut off, another one grew in its place. The same seemed to be the case with false teachings in the church. As soon as one was stopped, another false doctrine grew in its place. It was only when a fiery sword was used to cut out its inwards that it finally died. So, says Cassian, it will take the fiery sword of the Holy Spirit to cut out the inward parts of these dangerous heresy’s to end their reproduction power.
But Cassian was not shocked by this any more than a farmer is shocked to find weeds growing in among the seeds he sowed to produce good grains. But he can’t leave them alone to grow because they will take nutrients away from the good grain. He points to the Ebionites who flourished in the earliest part of Christianity. They were so over-anxious to prove the Anointed One’s humanity that they robbed Him of His divinity. Then along came the Roman priest Sabellius who began to teach against the plurality of three persons in the Godhead, followed by Pelagius who taught that Adam’s original sin was not passed on to his children; that the human will as created with its abilities by God, and that it was sufficient to live a sinless life, although he believed that God’s grace assisted every good work necessary to achieve it. So the difficulty Cassian confronted already proved to be a problem with a long history in the church.
But there was good news as well. It seems that a French monk named Leporius, who was one of Pelagius’ staunchest supporters and propagators of his doctrine on original sin and salvation by works and not by grace, finally came under the instruction of Augustine and Aurelius in Alexandria, Egypt. He was enlightened by them to see the error in the doctrine he believed and recanted all that he taught. He was accepted by the church and became a church elder under the guidance of Augustine. Cassian’s point was that while it is not good to be fooled by such erroneous teaching, it is even worse not to convert back to the real faith once you know the truth. So Cassian then makes his statement that true faith believes that Jesus the Anointed One is the Only Begotten Son of the Father and that with the help of the Holy Spirit He took on Himself human flesh to become the Savior of humans. As a result, He died on the cross but was raised back to life by God the Father and ascended into heaven where He now sits waiting for His return and gathers all those who believed in Him to have everlasting life. So we can see that long after the Galatian debacle, false theories still plagued the Church for centuries to follow.
So regardless of other things such as how to conduct baptism, serve communion, and other things, this one doctrine must be accepted by all Christians everywhere in the world. He bases this statement not only on what he is saying or what the Church believes, but he appeals to the Apostle Paul for confirmation of what he said. It appears that Cassian is hinting that one of the heresies he was dealing with was that Jesus the Anointed One was not God, therefore, Mary was only the mother of Jesus, not the mother of God in the flesh. He quotes Paul’s words to Titus, “…while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus the Anointed One.”
No wonder Paul was so shocked that the Galatians turned so quickly away from the Gospel he brought them. How could they see Jesus as only an anointed prophet and not the Son of God? How could they be fed the same garbage fed to them by the Judaizers that, like the head of Hydra, grew back again and again until it was still staring at believers up until Cassian’s time? The idea that salvation can be gained by good works with the Anointed One’s help was still alive. How could they reject the Gospel brought to them by an Apostle who was not sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus the Anointed One and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead.5 So if it was God who sent His Son into the world to preach the Gospel, and it was His Son who called Paul and sent him out with the blessing of the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel. The Gospel he preached was not from him or anyone else but God.6
That’s why Paul could tell the Corinthians that God was reconciling the world to Himself in the Anointed One, and not that, Paul was also said that the life he now lived in the flesh was the Anointed One living in him. That’s why we all who teach, preach, or witness to others the Word of God and the message that the Holy Spirit gives us is God and the Anointed One speaking through us. That’s why it is so important to be sure that we say what we believe and believe what we say.
One of the earliest commentaries on Galatians (366-384 AD) by Ambrosiaster is quick to point out that Paul quickly inform those who said that since he was not chosen and sent out, like other Apostles who were selected by the original Apostles and sent to churches in order to strengthen them, nor was he like others who were sent by the Jews in order to upset the churches, whom he calls false apostles. Rather, he was sent by the Son of God. By this means, he indicated that he was a good, solid preacher because a person whom God chose was much better than one chosen by men.7 This commentator makes a note that by Paul speaking about the Anointed One in this fashion, it’s almost as though Paul did not recognize Jesus as a man, but as God, because He issued His command in God-like fashion and not as a man, and chose whom He wanted by divine assessment, not human reasoning.
This same writer then addresses some errors in his own day. He goes on to note that another reason why Paul insisted that people understand that he was not ordained by some church council, is because some heretics went to Galatia with such a claim and forced the Galatians to be circumcised because they thought that Jesus the Anointed One was only a man. But Paul was sent by Jesus the Anointed One, that is to say, by the one who is both God and man. That is clear from what follows, namely, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead. In saying this he condemned two heresies, that of Mani8 and that of Photinus.9 Mani denied that Jesus was a man but did not deny that he was crucified. Photinus, on the other hand, did not accept that the Anointed One was God and yet did not dare deny that he came back to life from the dead.10 So we can see it did not take long after the church began for these false doctrines to spread. It is quite likely that the root of all these heresies can be traced back here to what was being taught to Paul’s converts throughout Galatia by these dubious teachers from Jerusalem.
Early church Bishop Theodoret (393-466 AD) focuses on Paul’s statement that his appointment came from God the Father “through” Jesus the Anointed One, His Son. Paul was not making the Anointed One simply some assistant who was carrying God’s work for Him, but rather that it was the Anointed One who appointed him with the full support of His Father. Paul applied the word “through” to both divine deities, teaching that this usage does not imply any difference of nature or essence. And the phrase “the One who raised Him from the dead” does not hint at any defect in the Son’s divinity, for the suffering happened to the Godhead as a whole, which illustrates the harmony of the Gospel. It was not the Son who bestowed the mystery of His divine incarnation, but the Father Himself is a sharer in this dispensation, as well as the Holy Spirit who came upon Him at His baptism by John the Baptizer.11
1 Cf. Ibid. 9:15
2 Acts of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul: Christian Classics Ethereal Library
3 Saint Nino was a Russian woman who preached Christianity in the country of Georgia resulted in the Christianization of Spain.
4 Eastern Orthodox Christianity: Supplemental Texts by Bryn Geffert and Theofanis G. Stavrou, A Companion to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the Essential Texts, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2016
5 Galatians 1:1
6 John Cassian: Incarnation of the Lord, Against Nestorius, Bk. 3, Ch. 4. pp. 1133-1134
7 Ancient Christian Texts, Commentary on Galatians by Ambrosiaster, Translated by Gerald L. Bray, InterVarsity Press, 2009, p.2
8 Mani was a Persian Christian who lived in the mid-third century and preached a dualistic doctrine which claimed that good and evil were equal forces battling one another for supremacy.
9 Photinus was a Christian bishop of Sirmium in Pannonia (today the town Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia), who is best known for denying the incarnation of the Anointed One.
10 Ambrosiaster: Ancient Christian Texts, ibid, p. 2
11 Theodoret of Cyr: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), ibid, p. 2.