NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson X)
We learn from Jewish philosopher Philo (20 BC-50 AD) from Alexandria, Egypt, who adopted the Greek culture in place of his Jewish customs, that circumcision was already a hot topic in the Roman and Greek world. His discussions on circumcision, as the Jews clearly perceived it within their religion as a critical identity factor, may serve both to illustrate the tensions that existed in the early Church. This, no doubt, forced the debate that took place in Jerusalem with Paul there to defend his position that Gentiles converted to Christianity should not be forced to come in through the door after being circumcised.1 After all, Jesus said that He was the door but never mentioned the requirement of circumcision to enter. In one of his writings, Philo acknowledges that the ordinance of circumcision is ridiculed among many people, although it is an act which is practiced to a smaller degree among other nations, and most especially by the Egyptians, who appeared to him to be the most populous of all nations, and experts in all kinds of wisdom.
But Philo is puzzled that such an ancient custom continued in the spirit of advancement in wisdom and knowledge by Jews and other nations who practice this ritual. After all, this required that myriads of men must be circumcised in every generation, mutilating their bodies in a manner which is accompanied by severe discomfort. However, there are many reasons which might encourage men to persevere and continue a custom which was introduced by previous generations, and it would be most fitting for scholars to discard childish ridicule and investigate the real causes of this ordinance with more discretion and dignity so they might find the reasons why this custom still prevails. Furthermore, that they not be in a hurry in coming to a conclusion without a thorough examination of the facts and be laughed at for the results they present to the world. They must be persuaded to give such a study great weight and importance.
Philo then offers some suggestions that he thinks should be considered: First of all, it is a procedure which can control painful diseases which are difficult to cure. In Philo’s day one such disease was called a “carbuncle.”2 The Greek word is anthrax, which also signifies a hot coal because when it becomes inflamed it burns. And this disease is very apt to be generated among those who have not undergone the rite of circumcision. It is highly possible that some would confuse a carbuncle with syphilis. Philo goes on to say that circumcision can secure the cleanliness of the whole body in a way that is suited to the people consecrated to God; with which the Egyptian priests, being extravagant in their case, shave the whole of their bodies believing that some of these evils which ought to be gotten rid of colonate in and lodge under the hair and the foreskin.3 This should give us some insight into why the Jews held the ordinance of circumcision in such high esteem, in addition to it identifying them as descendants of Abraham and children of the Covenant between him and God.
While no Christian church demands that its male members be circumcised before they can join, the rite of water baptism has surely replaced this Jewish ritual with a Christian ordinance or sacrament. And the same disregard and belittlement have been directed toward such baptism, especially the Protestant form of adult baptism. It is a symbol full of spiritual meaning, and one that Jesus our Christ made clear was to go along with preaching the Gospel to the whole world.4 But to demand it before accepting a person as a real Christian would take away the importance of willingness in the message of the angel Jesus sent in John’s revelation.5
1:4-5 I want to remind you, that in order for Jesus our Christ to set us free from the imprisonment of this wicked world He freely offered Himself to die for our sins. So I say that all glory and honor belongs to God the Father both now and throughout eternity. Amen.
Paul makes a striking statement that would have more effect on the Jewish converts than the Gentile believers in Galatia. These Judaizers were trying to add the value of all the Jewish “trying to be good” laws, ceremonies, feasts, customs and ideology to the work of Jesus our Christ. They felt it made our Christ’s work more worthwhile and effective. But Paul declares in no uncertain terms, that Jesus “chose to die on our behalf.” In the Jewish religion, all the lambs, sheep, goats, cattle, and birds that were force ably sacrificed, not voluntarily, when they were placed on the altar against their will.
When Paul wrote the Ephesians he put it this way, “Live with love as our Christ loved you. He gave Himself for us as a gift on the altar to God which was as a sweet aroma to God.”6 In writing to Timothy, Paul made it clear that our Christ gave Himself in exchange for those held by the chains of sin so they could go free.7 Then our Christ conquered sin so it could no longer have unbridled and unchallenged power over those whom our Christ set free. To Bishop Titus, Paul wrote: “He gave Himself for us. He did this by buying us with His blood and making us free from all sin. He gave Himself so His people could be clean and want to do good.”8
The writer of Hebrews emphasizes the same theme. He wrote that by paying the required price with His blood, our Christ’s sacrifice frees us from the worry of having to obey the old rules and makes us want to serve the living God out of love.9 And the Apostle Peter describes this exchange graphically by noting that our Christ took our sins and transferred them to His own body, and then went to the cross to suffer the penalty for our sin, which is death.10 By so doing, we then benefited from the wounds that He received for the spiritual healing of our own infected souls to make them whole and clean again. And the Apostle John takes it a step further by saying that the price our Christ paid to ransom us from sin’s bondage was not just for a few individuals but for the whole world.11
When we compare what the Apostle John wrote in his Gospel in 3:16, and compare it to what he wrote in his first Epistle 3:16, we see a comparison. In John 3:16 the Apostle told us that our Christ gave His life for us and in 1 John 3:16 he tells us that we should be ready to give our lives for our spiritual brothers and sisters. What exactly does that mean? In my mind, it is another way of saying that any believer should be willing to defend their brothers and sisters even if it means their death. This has been done over the centuries in Rome’s Colosseum, Hitler’s concentration camps, Soviet Russia’s internment camps in Siberia, China’s prison camps, and in numerous other places. I wonder if it ever came to that in the USA, how many of us would gladly step forward?
When Paul talks about our being saved from this present wicked world, he was not talking just about our present salvation from the chains of wickedness that holds the world in bondage, but also according to His promise through Isaiah: “I will make new heavens and a new earth. The past things will not be remembered or come to mind.”12 When it comes to living free in our present world Paul also explained it this way to the Romans,13 and defined it for the believers in Corinth,14 as well as the Ephesians.15 So this is not just something Paul thought up because he was upset with the Galatians for becoming so lukewarm in such a short period of time.
Other Bible writers were just as adamant about keeping ourselves from the impurities of the world. In fact, James accused those who did not guard themselves against the contamination of this world as being “a friend to the world and an enemy of God.”16 And the Apostle John went so far as to say that once a person falls in love with this world they fall out of love with God and His world.17 John says that all of this is unnecessary since the power of faith within us is greater than all the power of sin in the world.18
As far as our future salvation from this world in order to be with our Redeemer is concerned, the writer of Hebrews points out that God did not select angels to be leaders in the world-to-come, but that the reason our Christ came into the world was to lower Himself below the status of angels so that in the end He might elevate us to a level above the angels so that in heaven we could share in His shining brightness.19 The author goes on to say that anyone who disowns this and turns their back on such a great gift is nailing the Son of God to the cross again and again.20 And the Apostle John let his readers know that we have been given the understanding to know that what we have now through our Christ is not only for this world but for the life that will last forever.21
1 Acts of the Apostles 15:1-2
2 A carbuncle is a red, swollen, and painful cluster of boils that are connected to each other under the skin. A boil (or furuncle) is an infection of a hair follicle that has a small collection of pus (called an abscess) under the skin. Usually single, a carbuncle is most likely to occur on a hairy area of the body such as the back or nape of the neck. But a carbuncle also can develop in other areas of the body such as the buttocks, thighs, groin, and armpits.
3 Philo of Alexandria, On the Special Laws, 1.1-11; See also, On the Migration of Abraham, Ch. 16.91-92
4 Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16
5 Revelation 22:16-17
6 Ephesians 5:2
7 1 Timothy 2:6
8 Titus 2:14
9 Hebrews 9:14; See 10:9-10
10 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18
11 1 John 2:2; See Revelation 1:5
12 Isaiah 65:17
13 Romans 12:2
14 2 Corinthians 4:4
15 Ephesians 2:2; 6:12
16 James 4:4
17 1 John 2:15-17
18 Ibid. 5:4-5, 19
19 Hebrews 2:5-10
20 Ibid. 6:4-8
21 1 John 5:20