CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XIII)

Methodist Bible scholar Adam Clarke (1760-1851), has an interesting explanation of what he feels Paul is talking about when he refers to “this wicked world.” From Clarke’s perspective, these words cannot mean created nature, or the earth and its system, nor even worldly people. Created nature is the environment in which we live; worldly people cannot be avoided. In fact, they are those who, when converted, form the Church, and by the successive conversion of sinners the Church grows and is maintained. The followers of God must live and labor among sinners in order for them to be converted. As Clarke sees it, the Apostle, therefore, must mean the Jews, and their system of legal ordinances; laws based on their customs and teachings that makes life hard to live,1 including their whole religious structure, which mandated burdens of obligations that neither they nor their ancestors were able to carry2.3

John Edmunds (1801-1874) touches on a point here in verse four not often seen in commentaries on Galatians. From what he writes, we can conclude that because God the Father “gave His Son for us,”4 it must be seen as different than, “He gave His Son on our behalf,”5 or to put it another way, “on our account.6 This distinctly declares the death of our Christ to be a “sin-offering,” a willing sacrifice for the sins we committed. It is only here in Paul’s salutation that the Doctrine of the Atonement is introduced, says Edmunds, and it appears that Paul did so for a special reason. His argument with the Judaizers involved convincing the Galatians to exchange the sacrifice of our Christ under grace for the sacrifices of animals under the Law. How could they come up with any rite, ritual, or ceremony that could overshadow what Jesus did for them on the cross.7 Furthermore, once the animals are sacrificed they were then eaten by the priests, but after the Lamb of God was sacrificed, the Father raised Him from the grave to live forever. Why, for one thing, because He never needed to be sacrificed again.8 Perhaps this is what passed through our Christ’s mind when He told His disciples, this is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you as a sacrifice on your behalf.

Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) feels that it is better to retain the article (“the”) in verse five of the original text before the word “glory.” That would mean that “the glory” referred to must be either that which is due to God for His gracious will in the work of redemption, or that which “especially and alone belongs to God,” and is, therefore, a definitive glory. In this way the Apostle enriches his address and salutation to the churches of Galatia with the principal truths which he is about to defend as the only true Gospel. Among these truths are the sacrificial death of our Christ, His resurrection by the power of God, His divinity and union with the Father, His direct agency in making Paul an Apostle, and the fact that all this was done in obedience to the Father’s will.9 That is “the eternal glory” of God the Father that Paul is referring to.

Irish professor and theologian W. A. O’Conor (1820-1827) sees the leading doctrine of the Gospel and its practical result distinctly stated in here in verse four. It was the tendency of the Judaizers to lower the death of our Christ to the normal level of a common death. This was the reason why Paul was so vigorously opposed the introduction of Jewish practices into Christianity. Our Christ died for our sins, not in the way that a Jew, accustomed to rely on formal offerings in the Temple, would suppose, but with the view of delivering us from the kingdom of evil. Furthermore, for O’Conor. “Age” or “eternity” primarily relates to time, and is used to express the duration of this world or the next. Here it means the spirit or fashion of this world, and deliverance from it means acquiring the tastes and spirit of the world-to-come. Our Christ died to enable us to live according to the laws of eternity, not according to the immediate and urgent claims that our life here on earth is all we’ll ever have.10

American Baptist clergyman and missionary George Whitefield Clark (1831-1911), makes a good point here in verse four that we should always keep in mind. When Paul noted that the Lord Jesus our Christ “gave Himself for our sins.” But let us not forget that He also gave Himself to His ministry; gave Himself to ridicule; gave Himself to be beaten; gave Himself to be hung on a cross; and yes, gave Himself to die as a sacrifice for OUR sins. Not that He substituted for us, there was no place for us on Mount Calvary; only a spotless Lamb qualified for that cross in the middle, and so He gathered up all the sins of the world and took them to the cross as a willing sacrifice to pay the price for forgiveness and freedom from the death sentence that hung over OUR heads, not HIS head11.12

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) is quick to point out that when Paul talks here in verse four about how our Christ gave Himself for us that we could be saved from the influence of this sinful world, it is in an ethical sense, involving the course and current of this world’s affairs as corrupted by sin.13 That’s why Paul uses the Greek verb enistēmi which means “close at hand, present.” He does this in contrast with the world-to-come. We see this same word used again and again.14 Furthermore, Vincent disagrees with those expositors who say that this world implies the period of wickedness and suffering that will precede the second coming of our Christ. This would imply a limitation on our Christ’s atoning work meant only for the period before He returns to set up His millennial kingdom. It’s more than that, it is our eternal salvation tied to eternal life.15

The Reverend Frederic Rendall (1810-1906) believes we need to understand that by simply using the term “sacrifice for sin” to define what our Christ did on the cross, it does not carry the full impact that it should. The writer of Hebrews felt the need to make it clear that there were various sacrifices made on the altar in the Temple.16 He quotes from the Psalms where it says that God was not pleased with many of the sin offerings made through the sacrifice of animals.17 It involves the difference between “Forgiveness” and “Atonement.” Under Jewish ceremonial law, forgiveness was repeated each time a sin was committed, but atonement was made only once a year. The penalty one paid to cover one’s sins could be anything from a small dove to a lamb or goat. But the sacrifice for Atonement is clearly stated in Levitical Law.18 The blood of the daily sacrifices were poured out next to the Altar within the Temple Inner Court, but the blood of the Atonement sacrifice was taken into the Holy of Holies. So when John the Baptizer pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world,”19 he was talking about the Lamb to be slain for Atonement. And as in the case of Jesus our Christ, it would not be done once. His one sacrifice was sufficient for all time from that day on Mount Calvary on into eternity.20

Scottish theologian and preacher James Denny (1856-1917), comments with admiration on the central place the death of our Christ on the cross has in the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostle Paul. But another thing that amazes him was that over time there have been many attempts made that, although Paul teaches what he does about the cross, try to dampen it down, to make it less important. This, Denny believes, can be traced to a purely individual interpretation of the death of Jesus. But what these interpreters have come up with has no Scriptural authority behind it because it is, what Denny calls “a theologoumenon.21

Even a casual examination, says Denny, of what they are saying is inconsistent with itself, it represents patchwork made up of ideas from here and there with incompatible elements as an answer to what they see is as a crisis of controversy over their cloaking the cross of our Christ with doubt. But there is no denial that the words of the Apostle Paul have such virtue in them that they combine to lift us up to a higher unity in Christian testimony and theology. But it is important to point out certain characteristics in Paul’s presentation of his teaching which place an impressive barrier in the way of those liberal-minded professors and preachers who try to get around it.

Foremost is the assurance with which Paul expresses himself. The doctrine of the death of our Christ and its significance was not merely Paul’s theology, it was his Gospel as we see here in verse four. It was at the core of everything he preached. It is constantly on his mind – immediately after the mention of the Lord Jesus our Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present world with all its evils – that, he says to the Galatians later, even if we or an angel from heaven should preach another kind of good news to you that is not the one we preached, let him be cursed22.23

1 See Ezekiel 20:25

2 Acts of the Apostles 15:10

3 Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

4 John 3:16; Romans 8:32

5 Hebrews 5:1; 10:12

6 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 10:26; 13:11

7 Cf. Galatians 3:1

8 John Edmunds: St. Paul’s Epistle to Galatians; with Explanatory Notes, Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, 1874, pp. 18-19

9 Hovey, A.: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 15

10 O’Conor, W. A.: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 4–5

11 See Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 7:27; 9:25-28; 10:10, 12, 14; 1 Peter 2:24

12 George Whitefield Clark: Clark’s Peoples Commentary, American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1903, On Galatians, p. 56

13 Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4

14 Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 3:22, 7:26; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 9:9

15 Word Studies by Marvin Vincent, op. cit., Vol. 3 & 4, p. 84

16 Hebrews 10:6, 8

17 Psalm 40:6

18 See Leviticus 23:26-32; Leviticus 16:1-34; Numbers 29:7-11

19 John 1:29, 36

20 The Expositor’s Greek Testament: W. Robertson Nicoll (ed.), Vol III, The Epistle to the Galatians, Frederic Rendall, Hodder and Stoughton, New York, 1902, pp. 150-151

21 A theologoumenon is a theological statement or concept that lacks absolute doctrinal authority. It is commonly defined as “a theological assertion or statement not derived from divine revelation,” or “a theological statement or concept in the area of individual opinion rather than of authoritative doctrine.”

22 Galatians 1:8

23 James Denney: The Death of our Christ, Ch. 3, p. 82

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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