NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson VII)
I like the way Bible scholar Walter F. Adeney (1849-1920) defines apostolic authority, especially in the Apostle Paul’s case. For him, apostolic authority must be conferred. It does not originate in the person who possesses it. They are “sent,” a messenger, a missionary, an ambassador. As the prophet is the man who “speaks for” God, a Divine spokesperson, so the Apostle is the one sent by the Lord, the messenger of Jesus the Anointed One. Thus the apostolic authority is very different from that of the philosopher which depends entirely on his own intellectual powers, and that of the religious founder which grows out of the man’s own spiritual ideas, and all purely personal authority. It is derived from the authority of the Anointed One. Natural gifts can no more make a man an apostle than they can give a legionnaire the right to command a national army.1
A funny story was told to me on one of my visits to churches in Yugoslavia back in the late 1960s. It seems that Bishop Pavlov Milivoj heard of a gentleman who was introducing himself as an Ordained Bishop of the same denomination, but someone Bishop Milivoj never heard of. So he went to visit him. When the man was asked when, where, and by whom was he ordained, the man pointed to a picture of a well-known American healing evangelist on the wall. The man said that after he got the picture, he placed it on his head and prayed a prayer of ordination. I wonder if one might be able to do that with a picture of the President of the United States?
Methodist scholar G. G. Findlay (1849-1919) believes Paul knew about the qualifications for one to be named an Apostle, that they must be a witness to the resurrected Lord.2 His coming into the ranks of the Apostles was the most unusual of all the Apostles. It did not involve the voice of a man summoning him out of the ranks of his former enemy, the Church, to become a servant of the Anointed One. It was not an earthly teacher who gave him the message he was to proclaim the Gospel to those despised by the Jews – the Gentiles. Nevertheless, both in Damascus and Jerusalem his calling was acknowledged and gracefully welcomed into their Christian fellowship.
Then again, it wasn’t the church in Jerusalem who sent him out as a missionary, but the church in Antioch, Syria, telling him to go in the power of the Holy Spirit on their behalf to the regions beyond their borders. But this was not his first calling, nor the one to which he looked for validation of being chosen by God to be His elect servant to carry the Gospel to the world. Yet there were those who disputed his claim that he was an Apostle because no hands were laid on him in Jerusalem announcing such an ordination. But to his critics, he gave only one answer: “I am an apostle because I have seen the risen Savior our Lord Jesus the Anointed One!”3
There was no doubting that the signs of a true Apostle were seen in him and his ministry. No other Apostle performed more miracles than he. No other Apostle persuaded more souls to follow the Anointed One than he. Every moral and spiritual quality of a true minister of God were equal to all the others. And for the exercise of his ministry, he was responsible neither to “those of repute” at Jerusalem nor to his censures at Corinth. Only to the Anointed One did he bow in submission as the one he should follow and emulate.4 I wonder how many of us were considered as qualified for the ministry using the same criteria as that the Apostle Paul faced?
But why does Paul say that he was sent by God the Father and Jesus the Anointed One whom God raised from the dead? Because it wasn’t the dead Jesus they carried to the grave that he saw, but it was the risen Jesus that appeared to him. It was this revelation that stopped him in his tracks before he reached Damascus, and at the same moment convinced him that Jesus has risen, that he himself was called to be His servant. These two convictions were inseparably linked in Paul’s recollections. As surely as God the Father raised His Son Jesus from the dead and glorified Him in heaven with the position of being at His right hand, so surely did this glorified Jesus revealed Himself to Saul His persecutor to make him His Apostle. He was, not less a true Apostle than Peter or John, as witnesses of His resurrection. Being a witness to the Resurrected Anointed One was the key principle in anyone’s qualification for Apostleship.5
Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961), notes something in verse one that was part of the Apostle Paul’s vision that should be a part of our world scope as well. For Wuest, Paul conceived that his apostleship was related to the Church universal, and thought of Christianity as an organic whole, not simply isolated centers of effort.6 By looking at it that way, Paul could see how his divine appointment related to it. Wuest also points out that the Greek noun apostolos, is a combination of two words. “apo,” meaning “from” and “stello,” meaning “to send.” This should give us a clear word picture that as ministers, teachers, or laymen, we are sent from God out into the world. As such, this refers to the act of sending someone on a mission to represent the sender. Says Wuest, our English word ambassador would be a good translation. Therefore, the word “apostle” as Paul uses it here does not merely refer to someone who has a message to announce, but to an appointed representative with an official status who is provided with the credentials of their office which is the Holy Spirit.7
Robert H. Gundry (1932), American Bible scholar who studied under British professor F. F. Bruce in Manchester, England, and wrote his commentary during my own early ministry years, gives his reason why Paul worded his opening this way. Bruce notes that Paul puts “Jesus the Anointed One” ahead of “God the Father” because he has in mind Jesus the Anointed One’s commissioning him to apostleship in connection with his appearance as Paul was traveling on the road to Damascus.8 By saying “Who raised Him, Jesus the Anointed One, from among the dead,” Paul describes God in view of the circumstance that like the twelve Apostles, Paul’s apostolic commissioning occurred after Jesus’ resurrection.
Also, God was pleased to reveal His Son to Paul in order that he could proclaim the Gospel among the Gentiles. Paul includes “God the Father” with “Jesus the Anointed One” as the source of his apostleship and thus doubles his apostolic authority. Because of the placement of God and His Son in 1:15–16, here in 1:1 “God the Father” refers to God as the Father of the just-mentioned “Jesus the Anointed One,” though Paul will shortly widen God’s fatherhood to include Christian believers.9 The pairing of Jesus the Anointed One with God the Father, the designation of Him as God’s Son, and the further designation of Him as “our Lord” in verse three imply the deity of Jesus the Anointed One.10 In other words, Paul wanted to make sure everyone understood that when Jesus called him and sent him out, the Father was in total agreement.
Paul’s affirmation of his divine appointment should encourage us to confirm our own divine calling. We may not all be considered apostles, or evangelists, or even teachers, but we are all given work to do by God’s special assignment. If we view our work as just another position in the church instead of a calling, we will soon be discouraged. But if by faith we see that God gave us work to do for Him, we can overcome even the most difficult obstacles. All work is sacred if it has been given to us by God. That’s why Paul was able to endure through all the hardships and persecutions he faced.
I like what Vincent Cheung writes about the importance of having a divine call to the ministry. For him, there is a lesson here on how Christians should respect their ministers and how ministers should regard themselves. He notes, that although denominational ordinations, seminary degrees, and apprenticeships under approved mentors often have something to do with the spiritual equipping of a minister and could add to their credibility in the eyes of others, credentials from a denomination can never impart the authority and power that comes from a divine calling. If any minister thinks that they are authorized to preach because they have received credentials hanging on the wall of their office, what happens when they face a congregation that belongs to another denomination, and especially one that rejects the authority of his own denomination? Lack of credentials alone do not undermine a person’s ministry, but it is their conscious reliance on credentials that is self-defeating.11
As one Jewish commentator points out, this was intended to show that God’s power and authority surpass those of any human organization and that Yeshua’s power and authority did not cease when He died.12 Another Jewish commentator notes that Paul’s designation of the recipients in Greek as ekklēsia (which means “assembled brethren”), was done to distinguish them from the synagogai where the non-messianic Jews gathered.13 So it clearly shows that by this time, the Gospel was no longer being preached solely in synagogues as before. Jewish theologian W. Adriaan Liebenberg tells us that Paul was sent to Galatia to spread the truth to his Israelite brothers and sisters about the Scriptures by the Messiah and His Father, God Almighty. Galatia literally means “the Exiles of YaH.” The Hebrew root for the Greek word “Diaspora” is Galut. That’s how we get the Hebrew term GalutYaH (Galatia). According to Peter,14 these were the Chosen People of the Dispersion (Ten-Tribes) scattered through modern Turkey and the former area of Aremea.15
1 Adeney, W. F. The Century Bible. Vol. IX, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Galatians, loc. cit., Edinburgh and London. T. C. & E. C. Jack. No date
2 Acts of the Apostle 1:22
31 Corinthians 9:1
4 Ibid. 4:3-4
5 Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 11, On Galatians by G. G. Findlay, pp. 14-15
6 See Mark 16:15
7 Kenneth Wuest: Galatians in the Greek New Testament, Derivative Works 3.0, loc. cit.
8 See Galatians 1:12; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8; Acts 9:1–6, 15; 21:40–22:15; and especially 26:12–20
9 See Galatians 1:4; 4:6
10 Gundry, Robert H: Commentary on Galatians, Baker Academic, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, 2010, Kindle Location 124
11 Cheung, Vincent, Commentary On Galatians, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2007, pp. 5-6
12 Jewish New Testament Commentary, A companion volume to the Jewish New Testament by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, 1989
13 The Jewish Annotated New Testament, New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., Oxford University Press, 2011
14 1 Peter 1:1
15 W. A. Liebenberg: At Last, Galatians Understandable to Every Christian!, Distributed by Hebraic Roots Teaching Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, 1998, p.19