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 XV)

Alfred E. Bouter (born 1943) offers an interesting description of where the believer stands in relationship to their new life in the Anointed One. As he sees it, this is the basis of everything, we are on resurrection ground, but how did we get there? It is only because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, without His sacrifice we have nothing, and what a tremendous sacrifice it was! He not only paid everything that was owed to God and the Law by giving His all! Who can fathom the greatness of His sacrificial gift, the immense ransom that He paid? Paul mentions to the Corinthians that even though God’s grace and salvation are free to them, it needed to be paid for.1 Who can calculate that price? No one can. Here we see how the Lord Jesus gave Himself for our sins, we see Him as the atonement offering without which we would be eternally lost. This is a wonderful reference to the work of the Lord Jesus, the redemption that He accomplished for us. And for what purpose? Paul tells the Galatians here in verse four, “So that He could deliver us out of this present immoral world.2

One highly respected British scholar and theologian Daniel Lancaster (born 1963), made this observation on the dialogue between Socrates, Philebus, and Protarchus which included the subject of being willing to sacrifice.3 As Lancaster sees it, for the One who sacrifices Himself for the good of others, did not sacrifice Himself that they may be saved from the persecution which He endured here on earth for their sake, but rather that they in their turn may be able to undergo similar sufferings, and like Him stand fast in the truth. While the Apostle Paul may or may not have read Plato, he certainly subscribed to this motto. No doubt that is why he admired and revered the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One on our behalf.

Philip Ryken (born 1966), eighth President of Wheaton College makes the point that when it comes to the facts about the Anointed One in the Gospel and His crucifixion, resurrection, cross, and an empty tomb, there is not one single word about asking for our help. The Gospel is not about what we do for God; it is about what God did for us. The Father is the One who came up with the Gospel plan. The Son is the One who made the willing sacrifice to fulfill His Father’s will. Although mankind put Jesus to death, the Father raised Him from the dead in order to provide the necessary power needed for our salvation. Therefore, all glory goes to God. If salvation is God’s work from beginning to end, then all the honor and majesty belong to Him forever. Ryken goes on to point out that if all glory goes to God, then what comes to us is only by grace. Grace is God’s favor shown to undeserving sinners as a free gift. The Jews thought that the Law was all they needed for salvation, but we know that as Christians, Jesus is all we’ll ever need.4

When wise young Daniel received his vision of the last days showing the Archangel Michael picking up his trumpet and announcing that all those whose names are found written in the Book will be transformed, and those who are asleep in the dust will awake to everlasting life. Daniel wrote: “And those who are wise – the people of God – will shine as brightly as the sun’s brilliance, and those who turn many to righteousness will glitter like stars forever and ever!5

1:6-7a But I’m astonished that you are so suddenly turning away from God, who out of His love and mercy decided to share with you everything He has given to the Anointed One. I can’t believe that you have transferred your allegiance to follow an imitation version of the “good news,” which in fact is really “bad news.”

What Paul is describing here sounds very familiar to what the Psalmist said about the children of Israel.6 And the Lord complained to Isaiah that His people showed respect to Him with their mouths, and honored Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. Their worship of Him is worth nothing. The teachings they now follow were made up by humans.7 And God told the prophet Jeremiah: “My people have done two sinful things: They have turned away from Me, the well of living waters. And they have cut out of the rock wells for water for themselves. They are broken wells that cannot hold water.8

Several scholars note that among the many papyri9 discovered in an ancient rubbish dump near Oxyrhynchus in Egypt at the end of the 1800s, among them were letters in which one person expressed dismay at not receiving a return letter from someone they wrote to earlier. In their remarks, they used the terms, “surprised” and “distressed,” to describe their feelings of disappointment. Some also believe that what Paul is explaining here is not so much surprise or distress, but his being “perplexed” by what he heard about the Galatians’ sudden abandonment of the Gospel brought to them by a proven man of God and adopting the teachings of those with no such endorsement from God or the Anointed One. Other commentators such as Norwegian Bible scholar Nils A. Dahl concluded that Paul did not purposely leave out his ordinary greetings, but exchanged it for an expression of astonishment and disapproval. Either way, the Galatians must have known right away that Paul was not rejoicing over what he heard.10

This portrays the Galatians’ departure from the way that Paul led them to by the Gospel, is like a runner on an obstacle course headed toward the finish line and suddenly goes off course and starts running on a path that leads away from the finish line. That’s why he felt so perplexed by their decision. The path that Paul put them on was cleared of obstacles by Jesus who ran this course successfully, but the path they were now following retained all these obstacles so that the Galatians must now learn how to get over or get by each one of them in order to proceed. Unfortunately, they were not headed for the finish line but back to the starting line. It could also be seen in what we call a defector, someone who goes over the line into what is the enemy’s territory. In this case, they left God’s Gift of Salvation through Grace to go over to self-redemption through the Works of the Law. There is every indication that Paul never expected something like this to happen. So his surprise was enveloped with astonishment. This left him wondering how such a thing could happen.11

A. T. Robertson (1863-1934) draws, what he calls, a picture word in explaining what Paul meant by this sudden shift by the Galatians away from the Gospel he preached to them. The Greek verb metatithēmi means “to change places, to transfer.” But it isn’t someone else who is moving them, they are transferring themselves and doing it so quickly on very short notice. To this was not some gradual shift from the time of their conversion in their position concerning God’s grace. No, it began shortly after the Judaizers came to town and tempted them with their artificial doctrine of grace. Robertson mentions that even in his day there were some Christians that fell victim to similar perverters of the Gospel. If it was an amazement to the Apostle Paul, it is equally as much of a surprise to believers today that so many are so silly and so gullible to modern descendants of these ancient charlatans.12

To make this even more confusing, there seems to be uncertainty as to how much influence these false teachers were having on Paul’s converts in Galatia and the degree to which they became compliant by conforming to what they were being told to do. Paul fears that the Galatians seemed to have wanted to begin an alternate course that was often followed by Gentiles who converted to Judaism. As such, they obviously put plenty of value on this the things they were told would come their way by following the alternative path. No doubt that made Paul feel even more bewildered by their actions. Paul considered all of this quite ironic for the Galatian Gentiles seeing how God received them and counted them as being right with Him before they knew anything about the Law. So why would they now be persuaded to get involved with something that proved to be unnecessary in the first place? How could they give equal importance to the Good News of their freedom in Grace that Paul brought them with the bad news they were given on becoming prisoners of the Law by the Judaizers? No wonder Paul felt complexed and heartbroken.13

But just like he told the Corinthians, Paul was not writing this to shame them, but to let them know that a big mistake was being made and they needed to know how to turn things around. So what he is writing here he wrote out of love, not out of malice.14 And just as Paul wrote the Thessalonians, he also wanted to Galatians to know that God chose them because they accepted the Gospel Paul preached to them so that they could share in the glory that Yeshua was to receive as the Anointed One.15 Paul shared the same message with Timothy.16

Paul did not want the Galatians to forget that it was by the loving-favor of the Lord Jesus that they too were given the opportunity to trust God for their salvation from the punishment of sin that was coming on all the world as were others.17 This must have stuck in Paul’s mind when he later wrote the Romans where he told them the same thing.18 After all, Paul knew what he was talking about because it was what brought him into fellowship with God and the Anointed One.19

1 1 Corinthians 6:20

2 Alfred E. Bouter: An Outline of the Epistle to the Galatians, pp. 8-9

3 The Dialogues of Plato, Translated with Analyses and Introductions by Benjamin Jowett, Vol. IV, Oxford University Press, London, 1892, Vol. IV

4 Ryken, Philip Graham: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Location 289-303)

5 Daniel 12:3

6 Psalm 106:12-13

7 Isaiah 29:13

8 Jeremiah 2:13

9 Papyri is the plural form of papyrus made from a tall aquatic plant of the sedge family native to the Nile valley. Such papyrus thought to be common in ancient times, now occurs only in several sites. It was used as material on which to write, prepared from thin strips of the pith of this plant laid together, soaked, pressed, and dried, It was used mostly by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It was the material upon which Paul wrote his Epistles.

10 Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 40-41, 43

11 Ibid., Nanos, pp. 102, 111, 179,

12 A. T. Robertson: Word Pictures in the New Testament, loc cit.

13 Nanos, Ibid., pp. 194-195, 305

14 1 Corinthians 4:15

15 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14

16 2 Timothy 1:9

17 Acts of the Apostles 15:11

18 Romans 5:2

19 1 Timothy 1:14

About drbob76

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