NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XVI)
The Apostle Paul was very much aware of certain Messianic Jews who were going around trying to convince believers to observe all their Jewish customs and manners to reinforce their new Christian beliefs. He warned the Romans of the same thing.1 And Paul was afraid that the Corinthians might fall into the same trap that brought down Adam and Eve. He told them, “I am afraid that you will be fooled and led away from your pure love for the Anointed One. You listen when someone comes and preaches a different Jesus than the One we preached. You believe what you hear about a different spirit and different good news than that which we preached.”2
So his message to the Galatians was that there was no other Gospel than the one he received from the Anointed One and preached to them. Paul knew that such false teaching would only bring disharmony and discord in the Church. Such preachers didn’t want the people to know what God thought, but what they thought.3 In fact, Paul called them false evangelists, who not only lied about the Gospel but also made up stories about their success.4 The last thing Paul wanted was for all the work he accomplished in the churches throughout Galatia to be squandered away because of false doctrine.
Kenneth Wuest gives us a very perceptive definition of what Paul meant by “another gospel.” The Apostle uses two Greek adjectives, both of which mean “another,” but distinctly “other” in kind. In verse six he uses the Greek adjective heteros, which means “not the same in nature, a different class, a different kind.” Then in verse seven, he uses the Greek word allos, which means “another of the same kind.” So the adjective heteros denotes qualitative differences, while allos quantitative differences. Therefore, heteros distinguishes one out of many, and allos denotes one along with many others.
Let’s put it in today’s language by using a modern item as an example. You go down to your local bakery to buy a pie. There in the glass case, you see a variety of pies made with various ingredients and flavors. You pick out one that reads, “Home-made Apple Pie.” But when you get it home, and after you’ve made a hot cup of coffee, taken out the vanilla ice cream, and heated the pie in the microwave, you begin to eat it. But there’s something different about it. Yes, it looks like apple pie, smells like apple pie, but when you eat it you notice an unfamiliar taste. It isn’t until you read the ingredients that you discover the crust was made of rice flour and artificial ingredients flavored to taste like apple.
So what the Apostle Paul is telling the Galatians about his Gospel and the gospel of the Judaizers is that these false prophets are trying to sell their gospel as being a new and improved version of Paul’s Gospel when in fact it is an artificial gospel at best. And for Paul, anything different from what he brought them as the Good News cannot be good at all. Actually, it is misleading and, therefore, misguiding. Paul’s doctrine of grace is God’s truth, and anything that differs in kind from it must necessarily be false doctrine.5
Can you imagine the listeners throughout Galatia hearing their Bishop read the opening salutation of Paul’s letter and thinking, oh my goodness, he really wants us to know that he’s the man of the hour and we are privileged to get a letter from such a highly regarded Apostle. And there’s little reason to believe they weren’t shocked by his sharp and sudden accusation of their backsliding and believing in heresy.
Paul leaves no doubt that he is overwhelmed and appalled that after all he went through to preach to them the Gospel that so completely changed their lives, now he hears they are deserting it. What hurts even more, is that they were also turning their backs on him and becoming followers of an imitation gospel. In other words, Paul felt jilted and rejected; he was truly heartbroken. That’s why he wrote this epistle, he wanted a fair debate with the Judaizers who were using his absence to say whatever they needed to say to redirect the Galatians back to their point of view.
There is an interesting allegory in Jewish literature about four men named, Azzai, Zoma, Aher, and Akiba who entered Paradise.6 Akiba told his three colleagues ahead of time that when they arrive at the desert mirage of pure marble, don’t yell, water, water! For God said that anyone who sounds a false alarm will not be accepted in His sight. We are told that as soon as Azzai took a look, he died, for it is said: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”7 Then Zoma took one look and became demented, for it is said: “When you find honey, eat enough to be satisfied, but don’t overeat and end up vomiting.”8 Then Aher looked and became disillusioned and began trying to destroy the reeds surrounding the mirage in order to get to the water. Jewish scholars explain that this was a reference to his backsliding and becoming a Christian heretic. But Akiba looked but kept going unhurt. Some say that in Paul’s mind, these were represented in the congregations throughout Galatia. But the worst of all were the ones who acted like Aher, whose full name was Elisha ben Abuyah, an erratic scholar who twisted God’s word and gave it his own meaning.
Before he came preaching this good news, these people knew nothing of God’s new plan of salvation through Jesus the Anointed One, that replaced the old plan of covering their sins by way of animal sacrifices. If Paul had not come, they may have all died unrepentant in their sins. Could it be that he travel that far as a sick man, lived under the most spartan conditions to bring them the Gospel, and now they’re about to throw it back in his face? We can almost pick up a sense of panic in Paul’s writing. It’s like listening to a counselor trying to talk someone out of a suicidal jump. What’s even more startling is that in doing such a thing they were also turning their backs on God. It would be one thing if Paul wrote this letter year’s after he last saw them, but it appears that Paul just recently talked to visitors from that area. No sooner did he depart and these false teachers arrived. Apparently, they were skillful at persuading people; these Christians were not yet mature, and the situation was very serious.
It wasn’t that these false teachers traveling through Galatia were preaching a completely different gospel involving another the Anointed One; nor were they declaring diverse doctrines offering another salvation without the Anointed One. They were simply distorting the real Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One so that it fit their own particular brand of belief. Today some are doing the same thing, but with greater insult. Instead of “adding” to the Gospel that Paul preached, as the Judaizers did in Galatia, today’s false prophets are “deducting” from that Gospel. To give an alternate interpretation to the Gospel here and there may be reconcilable, but to teach that “God is dead,” and “deny the virgin birth of Jesus,” and question or even eliminate the existence of the “Holy Trinity,” and even “doubt that the Anointed One died to atone for our sins so we can be acquitted of God’s wrath, but that His death was only to cover them up so they can’t be seen but they are still there:” and then “argue that the Bible is not the ‘inspired Word of God’ but mere stories, allegories, and myths,” is not only insulting to the message but also taints the messenger as being a reprobate.
We find an astonishing confession in Church History by Eusebius (260-339 AD) where he notes that in the writings of the earliest pillars of the Church, as well as the Apostles themselves, all received and taught those things which they and others maintained through the centuries. In one of the writings of these men was the account of the heresy of Artemon (230 AD) who was a nontrinitarian in Rome who believed that Jesus was a man whom God adopted to be His Son. In fact, even Paul of Samosata the Bishop of Antioch (200-275 AD) became a believer in this adoptionism of Jesus doctrine. So it appears that the error of the Galatians in accepting another gospel kept being repeated.
Eusebius goes on to say that up until Pope Victor I (189-199 AD), the thirteenth Bishop of Rome, came to power the truth of the Gospel the Apostles preached was preserved in its original form. But once he died and Pope Zephyrinus succeeded him in 199 AD and ruled until 217 AD, the truth of the Gospel started being corrupted by the inspiration of men, not by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even though what they begin to teach was contradicted by Holy Scriptures, as well as the writings of certain brethren older than the times of Victor, who wrote against Greek and Roman philosophers in defense of the Gospel truth, and against the heresies of their time.
Among these writers were a Christian scholar named Justin Martyr (100-165 AD); Tatian the Syrian Christian writer (120-180 AD); Titus Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD); African scholar Miltiades (244-314 AD), and many others, all of whom ascribed divinity to Jesus the Anointed One. By that time most church scholars knew of the works by Irenaeus and Melito, and the rest, which declared that Jesus the Anointed One was both God and man. Plus, there were the psalms and hymns which were written from the beginning of the founding of the church, celebrating Jesus the Anointed One as the living Word of God, ascribing divinity to Him. Since the doctrine of the Church, then, was proclaimed for so many years, how was it possible that those who preached Paul’s Gospel up until the time of Pope Victor, in the same manner as the apostles before them, were now being replacing the inspired words of Paul and others by the ideologies of men?9
In 278 AD, Archelaus Bishop of Carrhae held a public dispute with a well-known heretic named Manes who was a manic follower of the Persian prophet named Mani. He was the son of the leader of a Jewish Christian sect called the Elcesaites, part of the Gnostic10 movement which prevalent at that time. But at the age of twenty-four, he saw a vision in which his “heavenly twin” told him to leave his father’s sect and preach the true message of Jesus. So he went to India where he studied Hinduism and soon his gospel was quite different than what Jesus taught. So when he came to Carrhae, a prominent city in Persia, a debate was held with Manes and top church thinkers. The main topic of the debate was obedience to the commandments in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus concerning sin. They reminded him of Paul’s warning about those who came preaching another gospel without Jesus the Anointed One.
1 Romans 10:2-3
2 2 Corinthians 11:3-4
3 See Romans 16:17-18
4 See 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
5 Kenneth Wuest: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Hagigah, folio 14b
7 Psalm 116:15
8 Proverbs 25:16
9 Eusebius of Cæsarea: Church History, Bk. V, Ch. 28
10 A very mystic group who believed that there is no such thing as sin, only ignorance. So to achieve salvation, one needs to get in touch with the sacred knowledge they taught.