NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson IX)
1:3 We ask God our Father and Jesus the Messiah our Lord to grant you grace and peace.
It’s interesting to note that Paul greets the recipients of this letter by combining a Gentile greeting and a Jewish greeting. He uses chairo (grace) in Greek, which was the way Greeks said hello and goodbye, and shalom (peace) in Hebrew which the Jews used for the same purposes. Although it is not listed here, I’m quite sure that those Jews in the congregation knew of the traditional greeting that King David taught his young men to say once they reached the house of Nabal: “Say, ‘Long life and shalom to you, shalom to your household, and shalom to everything that is yours!’”1 Nevertheless, this seems to be Paul’s greeting throughout his epistles.2
In one English version of Galatians where the translator attempts to contextualize the thought behind the words from a Jewish perspective, he renders the verse this way: “May Yahweh God our Father always keep you under the constant shower of His free, healing and unconditional forgiveness, infusing you always with the power to live according to His will, making you grow in holiness, keeping you standing in an approved condition before Him at all times, because of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.”3 St. Augustine offers this insight: “It is by God’s grace that our sins are forgiven so that we may be reconciled to God; it is by peace, however, that we are reconciled to God.”4
According to South African Jewish Professor William A. Liebenberg, the noun “grace,” as used in the Final Covenant was better known in the First Covenant as “favor.”5 Alvah O’Conor (1820-1903), professor and then President of Newton Theological Institution in Newton, Massachusetts also derives the same understanding by stating that “Favor is reconciliation with God effected by the Messiah, and Peace is the spiritual rest that accompanies it. One is the sunshine, the other is the calm.”6
But Paul adds a special note to his greeting. He wants the readers to know that he does not speak on his own behalf, but for the One who called him, commissioned him, and anointed him to preach the Gospel. Let’s look at it this way: if you received a letter in the mail signed by someone named, “I. M. Nasty,” you might laugh. But if at the top of the page you see the letterhead: Internal Revenue Service, I’m sure you’d suddenly take agent I. M. Nasty a little more seriously. That’s what the Apostle Paul attempted to do here. He made sure they understood that even though he signed the document, the divine letterhead read “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster, whom we quoted earlier, give us his input on what Paul says here. For Ambrosiaster, Paul is pointing out that the human race has been blessed by both the Father and the Son. This is important because the Son is not inferior to the Father when Paul calls Him our Lord, and that the Father is not greater than the Son when Paul refers to Him as our God, because the Father will not truly be the Father unless He is also Lord, and the Son will not truly be Lord unless He is also God.7
Early church scholar Haimo of Auxerre pointed out that it is not a house, or a nation or an era in itself cannot be called evil, only if its inhabitants are evil. This is why Paul is praying for their grace and peace because in the next verse he sees them living in a wicked world. He also is puzzled why Paul does not make mention of bishops, priests, or deacons in the churches in Galatia as there were in other churches to whom he wrote epistles. So Haimo concludes that this is the very reason why they were so easily led astray; there was no authority there to guide them and confront these Judaizers.8
Bruno the Carthusian believes that part of Paul’s prayer for grace extended to those in Galatia who fell so easily for the false doctrine delivered to them by these Judaizers, and peace to those who persevered and remained faithful to the Gospel. The fact that both grace and peace were being requested from both God the Father and the Messiah the Son is because they were the only ones who could grant such love and mercy.9
Martin Luther finds the greeting of the Apostle refreshing. Grace settles sin rage in the mind, and peace quiets the conscience. Sin and conscience torment us, but the Messiah has overcome these monsters now and forever. Only Christians possess this victorious knowledge given them from above. These two terms, grace and peace, constitute Christianity. Grace involves the remission of sins, peace, and a happy conscience. Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to all the requirements of Law. The Law reveals guilt, fills the conscience with terror, and drives men to despair. And even less can sin be taken away by man-invented undertakings. The fact is, the more a person seeks credit for themselves by their own efforts, the deeper they go into debt. Nothing can take away sin except the grace of God. In actual living, however, it is not so easy to persuade oneself that it is by grace alone that we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and peace with God.10
I like the way that Matthew Poole presents his picture of what Paul is saying about Jesus the Messiah sacrificing Himself for sin on our behalf. Even though Jesus was put to death by Pilate at the request of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, yet He was not compelled to do so, He did it freely. He laid down His life without anyone taking it from Him by force. In doing so, it is said that He died for our sins,11 or that He gave Himself up for us.12 It was like a sequence of gifts: He was given as a gift to the world by His Father, then He gave Himself to the world as a gift to pay the price for their sins13. So is it any wonder that Jesus would ask His followers to be willing to give themselves up for Him to the glory of God the Father14?15
John Bunyan ties what Paul is saying here into his thoughts on the work of the Messiah as our advocate with the Father. There is no reason why Paul could not have heard the Apostle John say that if a believer sins they have Jesus the Messiah as their advocate to plead their case before God.16 This was one of the offices of the Messiah as our High Priest before the throne of God the Father. And who better than the one who offered Himself on the cross on our behalf as a sacrifice for our sins. Bunyan says that even those convicted of a crime may be properly represented before a judge to plead their case so as to prove them innocent of the charges. So how much better are we represented by the one who forgave us in the first place?
So the ultimate question is this: Is the Lamb of God the one from whom, or through whom, the grace of God comes to us? Bunyan sees it like this, God’s grace proceeds from His throne and down through the Lamb, who now becomes the donor. So when Paul says here in verse three to the Galatians: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah,” it certainly paints a vivid picture for us to contemplate whenever we are tempted to stray from His abiding presence into the presence of sin.17
James Haldane points out that grace is important when God deals with mankind because it not only allows God to communicate with mankind but mankind with God. Furthermore, such communication goes both ways through the Messiah. God speaks to us through His Son and we speak to God through the Messiah. That’s why God spoke to Abraham, but the Messiah spoke to Paul. It was the death and resurrection of the Messiah that made all the difference. Therefore, says Haldane, grace reigns through the work of Jesus the Messiah on the cross resulting in our being given eternal life. Haldane indicates that all of the gifts were done by the giver’s free will as a spontaneous act.18
American theologian, Grant Osborne, Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School implies that the true agents behind Paul’s apostolic authority were God the Son and God the Father. Paul is always Trinitarian in his theology, picturing the Godhead as acting in harmony at all times. Notice that the Messiah and the Father are found twice in this greeting – as joint agents of Paul’s apostolic commission, and as the true greeters of the Galatians. Everything Paul will say in this letter stems from the Three-in-One concept. To the Greek way of thinking, any superior could send an Apostle but Paul makes it absolutely clear that it was God and the Messiah who sent him, and they alone. His apostleship is not of human origin but is derived entirely from their divine commission.
Osborne goes on to say that Paul’s authority is attributed to the God “who raised the Messiah from the dead.” The center of Paul’s theology is not the Mosaic law or circumcision, as is the case with his opponents, but the Risen One. Behind his Gospel is the power of the resurrection. The power in the true Gospel is exclusively centered on the Lord Jesus who was raised as the firstfruits for God’s people and inaugurated the new age of the Spirit and the church.19 When the Galatians surrendered to the false teachings of the Judaizers and returned to the law, they were rejecting this new age and the law’s fulfillment in the Messiah for the unenforceable promises of the Mosaic commandments.20
1 I Samuel 25:6 – Complete Jewish Bible
2 See Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; II Corinthians 1:2; I Thessalonians 1:1
3 The Contextual Bible Series, Galatians, Sylvanus Publishing, New York, 2007, loc. cit.
4 St. Augustine, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
5 W. A. Liebenberg: On Galatians, Distributed by Hebraic Roots Teaching Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, p. 19
6 O’Conor, W. A.: A Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians: With a Revised Text. London: Hatchards. 1876, p. 3
7 Ambrosiaster, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 2-3
8 Haimo of Auxerre: On Galatians, op cit., loc. cit.
9 Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 9
11 John 10:17-18
12 Romans 5:8
13 Ephesians 5:2, 25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14
14 Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35
15 Matthew Poole: On Galatians, op. cit., Location 223-229, Kindle Edition.
16 1 John 2:1
17 John Bunyan: The Work of Jesus the Messiah as an Advocate, Ch. 3, p. 311
18 James A. Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 29
19 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23
20 Osborne, G. R.: On Galatians, Verse by Verse. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press., 2017, pp. 20-21