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 XIV)

American theologian and Greek professor at Yale Divinity School, Benjamin Bacon (1860-1932), has quite a lot to say about the doctrine of our Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, as stated here in verse four, which was one Paul “received” in his old life from the believers whom he persecuted.1 This led to the growth of his own primitive faith in Jesus our Christ that was able to survive the assaults of Judaism. But Paul always avoids the cruder form of the “substitutionary” doctrine. In this form, Jesus is said to have died “in our place,” as opposed to Paul’s own doctrine of His death being “on our behalf.2 In non-Pauline writings of the Final Covenant it rests upon the Isaiah doctrine of the Suffering Servant.3 This doctrine of substitution is pre-Christian. It was used by the authors of second and fourth Maccabees to explain the sufferings of the Maccabæan martyrs.4

For Bacon, Paul seems to take special pains to avoid both the phraseology and the implications of the substitutionary theory, which conceived the suffering of Jesus in a more moral sense.5 But to Paul, the sinful conditions out of which the children of God must be delivered were the consequence of “their own sins.” Therefore, these provides the ultimate explanation of our Christ’s suffering so that the First Covenant description of sacrifice “for sin” becomes appropriate.6 In other words, the substitutionary theory is that any of us could have died on the cross for our sins. But that is not the case. Jesus did not just substitute for us. He was, in fact, the only one who qualified to die on our behalf; to do something none of us could do in order to obtain something we could never obtained – God’s forgiveness and justification.

In fact, says Bacon, the whole story of Jesus’ earthly career and destiny is for Paul something he sees as almost lost in the excelling glory of the supernatural drama of His coming, death, and resurrection. For Paul, the Gospel consists essentially of nothing else but the transaction by which the preëxistent Son of God obediently humbled Himself through human incarnation and death, and was for this reason exalted to God’s right hand.7 This cosmic drama is conceived under the forms of Israel’s redemption from bondage in Egypt.8 That’s why verse one expresses Paul’s apostleship in a nutshell, and verse four his message.9

Also, the Vicar of West Hendren, London, England, Cyril W. Emmet (1875-1923 AD) discusses his understanding of the present evil world and the world-to-come. The Revised English Version has the word “age” in the margin to imply that the English word “world” not only means a period of time but includes the people who live in it and its characteristic features. That’s because in Jewish theology a distinction is made between “this age,”10 and “the age to come.” There was also the “age of our Christ,” and of the “kingdom of God.” These are not just periods of time, but periods of civilization and religious thought, also called dispensations.

No doubt, says Emmet, popular thought distinguished between the two ages as successive periods of time, divided by a definite crisis, or catastrophe, but the Christian interpretation the two æons overlap. In other words, one does not abruptly stop and the other immediately begin. The idea of such a distinction in time is still with us and hope looks forward to the future unmistakable establishment of the sovereignty of God at some definite date. But the distinction between the two ages becomes rather moral and spiritual; even in this era Christians enjoy the blessings and possess the powers of the dispensation to come; they are already in a sense delivered “from this present evil world,” and made ready for the spiritual world-to-come.11

As professor Vincent Cheung sees it, when Paul wrote that our Christ “gave Himself for our sins,” we may ask ourselves, “Why is this relevant?” Cheung believes that this is a good example of how a positive statement about the Gospel counteracts a false gospel, or how sound doctrine eliminates distorted teachings. We are “rescued” because our Christ “gave Himself,” and not because of our good works or how good we think we are. Once it is established that this is the Gospel of our Christ, that should settle the issue. This is because, as Paul will soon point out, if being right with God could be gained through the law, then our Christ died for nothing.12 That is, the idea that getting right with God can be done by simply following the law, that makes the sacrifice of our Christ null and void. In other words, the one cancels out the other. However, to be a Christian is to affirm that our Christ gave Himself on behalf of our sins. This was something we could not do. Therefore, that self-righteousness being gained through the law cannot be part of the Christian Gospel, nor is anyone a Christian who can affirm that their righteousness was obtained this way.13

Scholar Robert H. Gundry (born 1932), whom we quoted earlier, sees the term “wicked world” (KJV) in verse four this way: It defines the peace of God and of Jesus our Christ in terms of the health and glorious living that will distinguish this life from eternal life in the age-to-come. That’s because it will be free from the evil that characterizes mortal life in this day and age. Since we’re living in the present evil age, deliverance “out of it” looks to the future for an awaited deliverance in that the crucified and resurrected Christ now lives in the believer.14

Also, “in accordance with the will of God, means that just as a son should do what his father requests, in like manner Jesus our Christ obeyed God His Father in giving Himself up on our behalf for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age. God’s will for Him to do so leads Paul to designate God also as “our Father,” for a father looks out for the welfare of his children.15 And this benevolent fatherhood of God leads Paul to declare that eternal glory, which means the eternal praise and honor that belongs to God alone, will also be shared with us.16

What better way to end this first salutatory section than giving praise, glory, and honor to God and our Christ forever and ever? When King David announced to his people that Solomon would be building the new Temple and asked for their donations to help in the construction, before thanking them he thanked God and praised His glorious Name.17 And in the psalm written for Solomon, after describing his qualities, and extolling his future, then David turns and says, “Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, the only one who does wondrous things, and blessed be His glorious Name for ever, and let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.18 And when it came to Paul’s gratefulness for what our Christ did for him, Paul was quick to say, “Therefore, unto the King forever, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”19

This was quite common for Paul to give God the glory in all things and for all things. He told the Romans, “For of Him and by Him and in Him are all things. To Him be the glory for the ages. Amen.20 And to the Ephesians Paul said, “In Him in whom likewise we have obtained an inheritance, having the way already marked out beforehand according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will, so that we should be to the praise of his glory, those of us who first trusted in our Christ.21

Richard N. Longenecker (born 1930), long-time professor of theology at Wycliffe College, notes that when Paul says here in verse four that our Christ “gave Himself for our sins,” he was either thinking of our Christ’s redemptive work,22 or of being given by God for that purpose.23 Longenecker believes that Paul’s statements are rooted in Jesus’ own statement about the purpose of His mission.24 In addition, Jesus’ statement seems to have been derived from Isaiah’s fourth Servant Song,25 which our Lord used to highlight His own consciousness of being God’s Righteous Servant.26 Longenecker helps us see where so much of what the Evangelists say that Jesus said is often rooted in the writings of the First Covenant.

Professor Ronald Y. K. Fung (born 1937) informs us that God’s “glory” (Greek doxa) in general denotes His divine and heavenly radiance, His loftiness and majesty, but since it appears here with article the, it may refer to that unique glory which belongs to God alone. When it is examined in this context, “the glory” may be more specifically taken as God’s fatherly character and the union of perfect wisdom, holiness, and love manifested in the redemption of mankind through our Christ according to His will

Fung continues to say that the description of this glory as being “forever and ever” implies that in the eternity which is comprised of endless successive generations, that union of wisdom, holiness, and love will continue to be a fundamental aspect of God’s glory.27 So it is only right that Paul would add the word “Amen,” which enhances the force and confirms the veracity of his declaration. The declaration may contain at the same time a summons to acknowledge God’s glory and to live in its light. Seeing this is so, the listeners’ responded “Amen” to Paul’s “Amen.28 Then as the letter is read it would take on added significance as a pledge to endeavor to ascribe glory to God by their lives, as well as an endorsement of Paul’s ascription of glory to God at this point in the letter.29

1 1 Corinthians 15:3

2 Galatians 2:16

3 Isaiah 53:4-6, 11

4 2 Maccabees 7:37f.; 4 Maccabees 6:29). See also Mark 10:45; 14:24; 1 Peter 2:24

5 See on Galatians 2:21; 3:13ff

6 Cf. Ephesians 5:2

7 Cf. Philippians 2:5–11

8 Cf. Ephesians 1:5–14; 1 Corinthians 10:1–6; 5:7

9 Bacon, B. W.: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians. New York: The Macmillan Company. 1909, pp. 48-49

10 2 Corinthians 4:4: cf. Ephesians 1:21, 2:2

11 Cyril W. Emmet, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Published by Robert Scott Roxburghe House, London, 1912, p. 3

12 Galatians 2:21

13 Cheung, Vincent, Commentary On Galatians, op. cit., loc cit.

14 See Galatians 1:20

15 Cf. Galatians 4:4-7

16 Robert H. Gundry, On Galatians, op. cit., loc cit., Kindle Location 157

17 1 Chronicles29:13

18 Psalm 72:18-19

19 1 Timothy 1:17

20 Romans 11:36

21 Ephesians 1:11-12

22 Cf. Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:2, 25; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:14

23 Cf. Romans 4:25; 8:32

24 Mark 10:45

25 Cf. Isaiah 53:5-6, 12

26 Longenecker, Richard N.. Galatians, Volume 41 (Word Biblical Commentary) (Kindle Location 5643-5650). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

27 Ephesians 2:7

28 Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16

29 Ronald Y. K. Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 42

About drbob76

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