NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCH
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson VIII)
Christian Jewish writer Avi ben Mordechai notes that the Hebrew word for an Apostle is Shaliach. This is one who is dispatched to carry out the will of the sender. He finds a comparison between the Shaliach and Apostle in Isaiah where it reads: “For just as rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return there, but water the earth, causing it to bud and produce, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so is my word that goes out from my mouth — it will not return to me unfulfilled, but it will accomplish what I intend, and cause to succeed what I sent it to do.”1
The Apostle Paul, being a Jew, knew much about being a Shaliach. He too insisted that he was sent by Yahweh to teach the truths found in the Torah that was now more fully revealed in the Gospel. Mordechai points to the words of John who said, “For the One whom Elohim has sent speaks the words of Elohim. For Elohim did not give Him the Spirit in a limited amount.”2 This means, of course, that the one who Yahweh sent must say what Yahweh wants Him to say. And since Yeshua was the replacement that Moses spoke about, that is, the Messiah,3 when the people saw what Jesus did they said that He must be the one Moses was promised.4 And just as Moses said to the people of Israel to pay attention to every word of warning he was giving them,5 so Yeshua warned His disciples of what was coming in the last days. So surely, says Mordechai, Paul saw the connection between what Moses taught as God’s Word and what Yeshua taught as God’s Word and that Paul was sent to pass on this same God’s Word to the world – the Gospel.6
Philip Ryken says that Paul’s epistle to the Galatians has been called the Magna Carta7 of Christian liberty. Its theme verse is a Declaration of Independence: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus the Anointed One.”8 Whenever the Jews understood this Gospel message, it brought life and freedom to recovering Pharisees of Paul’s era. But it has also worked the same down through history, such as in the case of Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, and others that God used to revitalize the Church as a beacon of freedom from sin through faith, not works.9
British scholar Ralph Martin (1925-2013 AD) noted that right at the beginning of his letter, Paul strikes the characteristic note. He is, by God’s own appointment, an Apostle, charged with an authority which no one can dispute. This appointment came to him on the Damascus Road as he both encountered and was commissioned by the living the Anointed One.10 That’s why Paul’s reference to God was the “One who raised Jesus from the dead.” The Gospel which Paul is commissioned to proclaim has a uniqueness which means that it can tolerate no rival,11 even though those spreading a false “gospel” claimed to have a special revelation12.13
Then Ronald Fung, professor of Biblical Studies at China Graduate School of Theology in Hong Kong, sees the emphatic contrast with which Paul describes his apostleship and that of others was intended to underline its divine origin. This was not to diminish the importance of the Apostles in the Jerusalem Church, reflects a controversial situation in which the dignity, indeed the validity, of his apostolic status is being challenged by the false teachers that invaded Galatia. There is also the possibility that the difference between “not from men” and “nor through man” in verse one might be a reference to the Church at Antioch who set him forth,14 along with Barnabas who came from Damascus to introduce him to the Church Council in Jerusalem15.16
Chinese preacher and writer Vincent Cheung points out that when Paul writes about how the Anointed One gave Himself for our sins, we must realize how relevant that is to us. For one thing, as a positive statement about the Gospel, it counteracts any false gospel that suggests we simply found mercy in God’s eyes because we knew what we did was wrong and wanted the guilt taken away. Cheung says emphatically that we have been “rescued” because, and only because, the Anointed One died to save us.17 That means, even if we could swim a little, that didn’t matter. It’s not like we were just floating in the river of sin, but without possibly being aware of it, we were floating toward a dangerous and fatal waterfall. The current was already beyond our ability to escape, it would have easily overwhelmed us. No! the Anointed One went over that fall and paid with His life on our behalf so that God could rescue us from eternal damnation.
And then Professor Don Garlington of Toronto Baptist Seminary and Tyndale Seminary tells us that because Paul’s opening is crisp and lacking in the usual mild complimentary greetings that are found in his other Epistles, it should have alerted the readers in Galatia of his dissatisfaction with their sudden turn from what he taught them to what others were teaching them to the contrary. That’s why he turns immediately to address the crisis that is causing him such distress and concern.
Dr. Garlington goes on to say that there are three matters are of importance in Paul’s opening. First, his assertion of the divine origin of his apostleship. The fact that he was commissioned directly by God the Father and the Lord Jesus the Anointed One precludes any human intermediaries or authorities who might want to place an imprimatur upon his mission, most notably the original apostles and/or the church in Jerusalem.
Secondly, Paul is committed to stressing the cross from the outset because of the way it was being downplayed by the Judaizers. It must be emphasized as a matter of great importance that the Anointed One’s death took place “according to the will of our God and Father,” not as an afterthought on the part of God, an accident of history or even a tragic mistake on the part of Israel. For Paul, no Cross, no Gospel.
And thirdly, the threefold mention of God the Father. If we read this greeting in the light of the whole epistle, the repeated reference to the Father is intended to pave the way for one of its outstanding themes, namely, the adoptive sonship of believers in the Anointed One. Thus, our Father is none other than the Father of the Lord Jesus himself. He is the Father who lavished grace upon us through His uniquely beloved Son18.19
And Duncan Heaster feels that Paul is really pointing out the authority for his spiritual ministry. That’s why he does not point to any human authorization. As such, he links it specifically to the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. That resurrection led to the great commission and the Lord’s empowerment of all witness to Him as risen and exalted. But this empowerment is given not only to Paul. Any ministry that is authorized to perform baptisms, offer communion, and declare that a repentant sinner’s sins are forgiven must have God’s blessing and the Anointed One’s approval. Not everyone was given the great commission, only those who learned the teachings of the Anointed One and are empowered by the Holy Spirit have such authorization.20
The Contextual Bible Version renders these first two verses this way: “This letter is from Paul, an Apostle of Jesus the Anointed One, appointed directly by Yahweh God the Father who raised the Anointed One from the dead, and not by any human or by any body of men; and from all the other brothers with me. To the congregations in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe and other cities in the province of Galatia.”21 Another Jewish scholar renders these verses as follows: “Sha’ul, an emissary – not from men, nor by a man, but by Yeshua Messiah and Elohim the Father who raised Him from the dead – and all the brothers who are with me, to the assemblies of Galatia.”22
Aramaic scholar Andrew Roth in translating verse two has: “To all the brothers who are with me in the congregations that are in Galatia.”23 This may suggest that there were a number of Galatian believers who went with Paul on his way back to Jerusalem. So now its time for Paul to pray his prayer. J. B. Lightfoot seems to agree.24 Irish professor and scholar Alvah Hovey also believes that this does not mean all the members of the church where Paul was or all the Christians that happened to be present with Paul when he dictated this letter, but rather “all the brethren who are at present my companions in travel and preaching.” Thus, when writing to the Thessalonians, he associated himself with Silvanus and Timothy in his salutation to the church. In the present case, he holds back giving out the names of his associates in the ministry, though he must have communicated to them his purpose of writing the letter, and very likely the substance of the letter itself.25
One reason for their not being mentioned may have been not to jeopardize their position with the Galatians should they be given an opportunity to go back with Paul’s blessing to help their fellow believers in Galatia to reconnect with the Gospel Paul brought them. That way, they would not be seen as spies or undercover agents sent to cause chaos in their thinking and commitment to Jesus the Anointed One. In any case, it was Paul’s decision not to publish their names and no doubt for a very good reason.
1 Isaiah 55:10-11- Complete Jewish Bible; See also Genesis 19:13; Exodus 7:16; Isaiah 6:8; Ezekiel 3:6
2 John 3:34 – Jewish Translation
3 Deuteronomy 18:15, 18-19
4 John 6:11-15
6 Galatians Quick Reference Pocket Commentary by Avi ben Mordechai: Millennium 7000 Communications, 2006, p. 1
7 Magna Carta, which means “The Great Charter”, is one of the most important documents in history as it established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.
8 Galatians 2:16
9 Ryken, Philip Graham. Galatians (Reformed Expository Commentaries) (Kindle Locations 138-141). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.
10 Acts 9:5,15; 22:14; 26:16
11 See Romans 1:6-7
12 Ibid. 1:8-9; see 2 Corinthians 11: 4
13 Martin, Ralph P.; Lane, William L.; Morris, Leon. The Shorter Letters of Paul: Galatians to Philemon (Open Your Bible Commentary, New Testament Book 8) (Kindle Locations 428-432). Creative 4 International. Kindle Edition.
14 Acts of the Apostles 13:1
15 Ibid. 9:7
16 Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, Published by William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1988, p. 36
17 Cheung, Vincent. Commentary On Galatians, Kindle Edition: Kindle Location 91-97
18 Ephesians 1:6
19 Don Garlington: A Shorter Commentary on Galatians, p. 23
20 Heaster, Duncan. New European New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Kindle Locations 23-24). Kindle Edition.
21 Aiyer, Ramsey. The Contextual Bible Galatians (Kindle Locations 95-98). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
22 W. A. Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 19
23 Andrew Gabriel Roth: “Aramaic Galatians.” Word for word translation of the Epistle to the Galatians from the Ancient Aramaic Peshitta Text, For Millennium 7000 Ministries, no date
24 J. B. Lightfoot: St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Published by Warren F. Draper, Andover, 1870, p.216
25 Hovey, A.: Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians. Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society. 1890, p. 14