NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XI)
We see that later on in John’s revelation, he was able to see that when the Lamb took the Book of Life from the hands of God, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders knelt before Him and begin to sing this song: “It is right for You to take the Book and break its locks. It is because You were killed. Your blood bought people for God from every family and from every language and from every kind of race from every nation. You made them to be a Holy Nation of religious leaders to work for God. They will be the leaders on the earth.”1
Then John looked again and saw a multitude of people from all around the world, and they too stood before the throne and before the Lamb and they sang their song to Him: “We are saved from the punishment of sin by our God Who sits on the throne and by the Lamb!” Then all of the angels standing around the throne and around the leaders and the four living beings got down on their faces before God and worshiped Him. They said, “Let it be so! May our God receive worship and shining-greatness and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength forever. Let it be so!”2 So our question should be, who in their right mind would surrender such freely given eternal joy for the temporary pleasures which this temporary world offers by selling their soul to Satan? Remember, Paul said that the wages of sin was eternal spiritual death.
All of this, says Paul, is not by happenstance or accident, it is all part of God’s eternal will. Like David said, “I am happy to do Your will, O my God because your Word in my heart is guiding me from within.”3 Paul told the Romans that this guidance from within is due to the indwelling Holy Spirit.4 Not only that, but by having the Holy Spirit living and operating in us, we are given a taste of what’s to come.5 And this did not come by chance. No, it came because we were chosen to be partakers in God’s promises and glory.6 In other words, it is all a gift. It did not come to us because of anything we were, did, or deserved. Oh how wonderful is the love, mercy, and grace of God through our Christ!
So we can only imagine how happy Paul was when he wrote the Romans and told them that they too were chosen to be part of God’s eternal plan of salvation, not only now but forever.7 And to the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “May our God and Father make your hearts strong and without blame. May your hearts be without sin in God’s sight when our Lord Jesus comes again with all those who belong to Him.”8 So we do not need to wait until the day of resurrection to feel like we belong to Him, we are already His, and His as long as we allow Him to hold us and claim us as His own.
From Augustine of Hippo’s (354-430 AD) point of view, how much more should people refuse to claim the credit for themselves if they perform any good work, when the very Son of God in the Gospel said that He did not brag on Himself.9 Nor did He come to do His own will but the will of Him who sent Him!10 This Will and Glory of the Father, the Apostle now commemorates so that he also, by the example of the Lord who sent him, may signal that he does not seek his own glory or the performance of his own will in the preaching Gospel. Just as he says a little later, “if I were to seek to please people, I should not be called a servant of our Christ.11”12
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster (335-397 AD) represents our Christ’s free offer of Himself to redeem us this way: When the human race was still held captive by the devil, the Savior offered Himself to him on our behalf, and the devil was willing to take Him. Our Christ’s purpose was to deceive Satan by the strength of His power. The devil was willing to take Him but would be unable to hold Him, and in that way our Christ was able to remove from the serpent what he wrongfully held captive.13 In other words, after Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, the devil held all of Adam’s descendants hostage while they waited for a Savior to come and redeem them by paying the required ransom. So Jesus showed up and offered Himself in their place so that they could go free. But Satan was the loser because not only did Jesus escape three days after He was taken, but by doing so provided a way of escape for any other of Adam’s descendants who are held hostage to sin as long as they believe in Him and accepted Him as their deliverer.
Furthermore, “It was God the Father’s decision” for Jesus to die. So no matter how hard the self-righteous Galatians tried to be good by their own efforts, and observe all the ceremonies, feasts and customs to be set free, they could never outdo what Jesus did for them in giving His life as a ransom for their freedom, nor improve on God’s decision to provide salvation through the obedience of our Christ. So if they were offended by Paul’s teaching that our Christ’s sacrifice superseded all the animal sacrifices of the Jewish religion, they were in fact questioning God’s decision.
In these remarks, Paul helps us better understand the difference between being certain of who we are, as opposed to being proud of who we think we are. In order to be certain of anything, we must know for a fact what we believe. I cannot remember how many times I’ve encountered believers who were not sure they were really redeemed and set free. They found too many things in their lives that did not measure up to the expectations of others, or the standards of holiness their church taught them to attain and then maintain.
One way to help them understand was by asking if there was any doubt in their mind about their biological birth. Did they have a birth certificate? Did they have the witness of their doctor, their mother and father? Maybe they didn’t turn out to be what their parents hoped for, and in some cases completely disappointed their family; but that does not cancel out the fact they were born into that family. Perhaps some don’t feel that they are all God wants them to be or that they’ve disappointed their heavenly Father. But that does not change the fact they were born again into His family. Paul was certain about his conversion, his calling, and his commission, and so should we. Is there any way a person who is uncertain can change? The Apostle Paul believes so.14
Most recently, with the growth of the Messianic Jew congregations around the world, their study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians raised concern about how converted Jews are supposed to treat the Torah and Law of Moses in light of what Paul says to the Jews who become believers in our Christ. This is why Messianic Jews are often asked: “Have you read Galatians?” One Messianic Jewish commentary notes that Paul’s use of the Hebrew term “shaliach” (English “apostle”) which means “sent one,” refers to someone on a mission. Such shaliachim were not new, since the Sanhedrin sent out such apostles to Jews who were scattered all around in the nations of the known world at that time.
So Paul was quick to point out that he was not sent by the Church’s Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, of whom James and Peter were high ranking members. But when Paul mentions all the brethren who are with him, some scholars point out that there was a synagogue in Antioch called the “Synagogue of the Christians”, or as it might be rendered, “Synagogue of the Messianics.”15 So it is important, says the Jewish writer, for any believer, whether they be of Jewish or non-Jewish backgrounds, to understand what was going on here in Galatia.16
So perhaps we can see why the Jewish converts throughout the churches in Galatia were so irritated by the presence of a growing number of non-Jews in their midst. Could it be that they were the ones who sent for these emissaries from Jerusalem and invited them to come in order to straighten out the situation. The non-Jews were sticking by Paul’s Gospel that the Law was void and no longer necessary for a believer to be true follower of our Christ, but the Jewish members were sure that circumcision and the Torah should still be followed. As a matter of fact, in many Messianic Jewish congregations today, at the beginning both Jews and non-Jews were told to keep the Torah. However, recently, the non-Jewish converts were given a reprieve and may follow the Torah only if they want to.
The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen from the time of Abraham, while the non-Jews claimed no calling whatsoever, and were only invited in and treated responsibly as the Torah commanded all Jews to do, even to any stranger or foreigner who came to their village. So the Messianic Jews saw themselves as somewhat superior. Why else would they join Peter for a meal and leave their non-Jewish brethren to eat with Paul? We saw some of this in what happened to Paul as recorded in Acts of the Apostles.17 And perhaps even more, the non-Jews were proud to include the cross as a sign of their deliverance, while for the Jews it was an offensive object. This animosity seemed to follow Paul everywhere he went to establish congregations of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as the Messiah.18 Therefore, we can conclude that this friction between the Jewish and non-Jewish believers started long before these teachers from Jerusalem ever showed up.
We see that the Judaizers accused Paul of being big-headed. That involves having an inordinately high opinion of oneself; being arrogant or haughty. However, they were not with Paul on the road to Damascus; they did not see the vision he saw and did not hear the voice he heard. Yes, they accepted that he went from a flaming persecutor of the Church to a fiery preacher of the Gospel, but dismissed his claim of being appointed by God. Paul doesn’t spend time putting them down or calling them liars. He offered them the evidence, gave them the facts, and left it up to them whether to accept it or not. As long as God and Jesus knew who he was and that he was telling the truth, that was enough for Paul.
1 Revelation 5:7-10
2 Ibid. 7:9-12
3 Psalm 40:8
4 Romans 8:27
5 Ephesians 1:3
6 Ibid. 1:11
7 Romans 1:7
8 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:16
9 John 5:50
10 John 6:38
11 See Galatians 1;10
12 Augustine: On Galatians, 3[1B. 13:5] op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Ambrosiaster, ibid. loc. cit., p. 3
14 Romans 12:1-3
15 See “The Formation of Christianity in Antioch” by Magnus Zetterholm, Published by Rutledge, NY, 2003
16 Daniel Thomas Lancaster: The Holy Epistle to the Galatians, Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach, Published by First Fruits of Zion, 2014, pp. 9-12
17 Acts of the Apostle 13:45
18 Ibid. 17:4-5