NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson V)
In another section of the Jewish Mishnah, we find that these individuals sent out by the Sanhedrin were called “messengers of the court.” As such, wherever they went into cities and synagogues they would identify themselves as “messengers of the court.” In other words, they brought a message on behalf of the court which they represented. They would then call out the name of the one whose name was attached to the house where the people met who vowed that they were performing the rites exactly as they were instructed to do. How true this must be of any church that identifies themselves as Christians. No assembly of believers wants to be known as true followers of the Anointed One whose name they use to identify themselves and not be doing exactly as He instructed them to do.
This also applied to the High Priest in the Temple when he placed the incense on the fire only after entering the Holy of Holies and did not change anything that Moses prescribed.1 Obviously, Paul did not want to be seen as the puppet of some higher ecclesiastical power within the church, but as a divinely called and commissioned voice of the Gospel to Gentiles and Jews alike. In keeping with that definition of “apostle,” today’s missionaries come closest to fulfilling that ministry. Furthermore, what makes Paul’s claim of being an apostle so potent is that he not only heard the risen Savior speak but repeated what he heard without changing a thing. That’s why his Gospel message to everyone was the same in every place.
This allowed Paul to say that he came with God-given authority and an Anointed One-centered message.2 Here he makes the distinction between his calling and his credentials. No matter what organization or denomination or church you practice your ministry with, they do not define you. Your calling from God defines you as one of His apostles. I’ve actually met pastors who were not in complete harmony with their denomination’s teachings but were afraid to make it known for fear of losing their ministerial license and endorsement. In addition, just in case the Judaizers weren’t sure about accepting Jesus as the Anointed One, he wanted them to know that the God they did believe in actually raised this Jesus from the dead. In other words, say what you will about me not being an apostle, says Paul, or what you think about Jesus not being the Messiah, but how will you explain that to your God who claims us both.
Another early commentary on Galatians, Haimo of Auxerre (840-870 AD), a member of the Benedictine Abbey in the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Germain d’Auxere in Paris.3 adds to this understanding. He notes that there are four types of Apostles. First, there are the ones who are called and not sent neither by human authority but by God alone. Among this sort were Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and a great many other prophets, but not all were prophets. This type included even Apostles sent by the Anointed One, the man who, while a human being, was still true God. The second is certainly from God but through a human being, such as Joshua, who, by God’s will was sent through Moses.4 There are many others who, again in keeping with God’s will, were chosen through a popular vote on account of their meritorious life. In these instances, therefore, the will of God and the will of the people coincided. The third sort is by human beings alone and not by God, as when some are chosen based upon the favor they won with people rather than their spiritual calling. Fourth, there are those who pay to take another’s place in the priestly ranks, of whom Saint Ambrose said, “O Bishop, you surely would not be a bishop today if you did not pay a hundred gold coins!”5
Another thing of importance is that Paul was quick to include the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. In another Medieval commentary by Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101 AD), a German monk who founded the Carthusian order. Pope Urban II was one of his pupils. Bruno was renown for his learning and his holy living. We read in his commentary about what was so important that Paul mentioned God the Father as the One who raised Jesus from the dead. He believes that if there were some way God the Father could have justified human beings through the Law, then He would not have wanted His Anointed One to die in vain. Yet, because God saw that the Law was powerless, He excluded the Law as a means for salvation so that it could be accomplished only through the work of the Anointed One.6
Then, medieval English scholar Robert of Melun (1100-1167 AD), gives us a little background on what was known about this teaching in his day. He discovered that the Apostle Paul addresses this Epistle to those who crossed into Greece from Gaul and were first called Gallogræcia by the Greeks themselves. Thereafter, they were called Galatians on account of their white bodies, while their province was known as Galatia. Furthermore, because these people were not well educated, the Greeks always labeled them as ignorant. Nevertheless, the Apostle went to convert them to having faith in the Anointed One for salvation. But unfortunately, they seemed to be falling back into spiritual ignorance again.
They were now allowing themselves to be led into error by false apostles and so believed that they needed to keep the Law as well as the Gospel on the grounds that apart from the Law the Gospel was insufficient for salvation. In fact, he said the same to the Romans, though not so subtly, because the Galatians were not as competent in understanding. Even as the subject matter of this Epistle clearly pertains to the particular situation of the Galatian church, it is still a situation common to every church. The Apostle’s intention, therefore, is to rectify their error by showing them that the Gospel is all they need. As such, he gets their attention by announcing his message and the power of that message, as well as his own authority as an Apostle. He prayed that this would persuade the Galatians to come back to the Gospel they first received from him.7
Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 AD) makes an interesting comment at this point and says something I’m sure the Apostle Paul would agree with wholeheartedly. It gives us some insight into how the medieval church viewed the relationship between the teachings of Jesus in the Final Covenant and what is found in the First Covenant. Aquinas believes that Paul wrote the Galatians this epistle to emphasize that the coming of free grace through the Final Covenant made the legality of the First Covenant no longer necessary as their gospel. The truth of the Gospel replaced the symbolism of the Law. And when grace and truth were combined, a person can then go on to everlasting life and glory. But this can only be accomplished when observance of salvation through the Law is abandoned, and the ceremonial precepts of the Old Law were replaced by a fervent reverence for the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One.8
As Reformist Martin Luther (1483-1546 AD) pointed out, we must also remember that Paul wrote this epistle because he was upset that after he left this area, false teachers moved in who perverted the Gospel that he preached on man’s free justification through grace and faith in the Anointed One Jesus. Luther also makes another point, he felt that the world’s grudge against the Gospel was because the Gospel condemns the religious wisdom of the world. And since the world is jealous over its own religious views, they, in turn, charge the Gospel with being a radical and discriminatory doctrine, a doctrine to be persecuted as the worst plague on earth. As a result, we have this paradoxical situation: The Gospel supplies the world with salvation through Jesus the Anointed One, peace of conscience, and every blessing. Yet the world despises the Gospel for that very reason.9
This led fellow Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564 AD) to declare we should always keep this in mind: that through our guide the Holy Spirit the Body of the Anointed One should listen to God alone, and to Jesus the Anointed One whom He appointed to be our teacher through the Holy Spirit.10 Therefore, anyone who assumes the position of preacher, teacher, or prophet, must speak to us in the name of God or of the Anointed One. But he also made an interesting comment on Paul’s contention that his apostleship was not conferred on him by any man. To some degree, this raised a problem. How could Paul claim that he was not called by men, while Luke records that Paul and Barnabas were called by the church at Antioch? He then explains.11
Some have replied, says Calvin, that he previously discharged the duties of an Apostle, and that, consequently, his apostleship was not founded on his appointment by that church. But here, again, an objection would be proper because the reason he was sent out was to go to the Gentiles, among whom the Galatians were counted. It would be more correct to understand that Paul did not intend here to entirely dismiss the calling of that church, but merely to shew that his apostleship came from a higher source. This is true; for even those who laid their hands on Paul at Antioch did so, not of their own accord, but in obedience to the express will of the Holy Spirit.12 When it comes to those accepted as preachers, teachers, and apostles in the church, Calvin indicates that while their individual calling may be unique, they all share one thing in common with the Apostle Paul: “One cannot faithfully perform the duties of their office unless they are called by God.”13
Dutch theologian Jakob Arminius (1560-1609), who followed in the footsteps of John Calvin and was an important participant in the Reformation Movement in Holland, was discussing the authority of sacred Scripture. For him, the authority of the Word of God lies both in the truthfulness of the whole text, and in all its declarations, whether they be those about things past, things present, or things to come. Also, in the power of the commands of what to do or not to do in order to follow God’s divine word and will. All such of authority can depend on no other than on God Himself, who is the principal author of His Word, both because He is truth without any suspicion of what He said to be false, and because He is of unbeatable power. Because of this, understanding that His word is divine is a must in our belief system and obedience to what He said. It must also be so strongly ingrained in us that this our obedience cannot be increased or decreased by any other authority.
1 Ibid., Second Division: Mo’ed, Tractate Yoma, Ch. 1:5, p. 163
2 See Acts 9:5-16
3 Saint Germain l’Auxerrois was built in the early 11th century near the royal residence of the king. Hence it became known as the Royal Parish church of the kings of France.
4 Joshua 1:7
5 Haimo of Auxerre: The Letter to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Bruno the Carthusian: The Letter to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Robert of Melun: The Letter to the Galatians, op. cit.,loc. cit.
8 Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians by Thomas Aquinas, Translated by F. R. Larcher, Magi Books, Inc., Albany, N.Y., 1966, loc. cit.
9 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 108
10 John 14:26
11 John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., p. 1
12 Calvin, John: Commentary on Galatians, Titus Books, loc. cit.
13 Calvin, John: Institutes of the Christian Religion, op. cit., p. 1097