NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XVII)
These faithful church scholars then pointed out to the heretic Manes what else Paul said to the Galatians about those who came in after he left and called them false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into Apostles of the Anointed One. However, that shouldn’t surprise anyone, they told him, because Satan often transforms himself into an angel of enlightenment.1 What a great thing it is, therefore, when true ministers are transformed into real messengers of the light of the Gospel! They also informed Manes that Paul further points out just what kind of people these Judaizers were so they could understand how they were being misled. So just as Paul expressed surprise that the Galatians were so quick to turn away from the true Gospel, so the Bishop warned his congregation that such people as Manes might do the same to them.2
What makes it even more touching, is that, as Chrysostom said in his writings, Paul would not have been so moved and devastated by their falling away were it not for the fact that he thought so highly of them to begin with. Chrysostom marveled that in Paul’s reprimand, especially after seeing how quickly and how far away they fell from the truth, that he still held a favorable and highly exalted opinion of them.3 And in another place, Chrysostom writes that any believer who is carried away after a long time is worthy of censorship, but the one who falls at the first attack and in the initial skirmish shows that they are weaklings in their faith. That’s why Paul expresses his frustration by saying “What is this, that those who deceive you do not need much time, but their first assault on the Gospel sufficed to defeat and capture you?” If Paul thought of them as mere nobodies and easily deceived, says Chrysostom, he would not have been surprised by what occurred. So it’s no wonder he fought back so hard to get them to turn around and go the way he originally showed them.4
Ambrosiaster, an early church commentator (366 AD), was also stunned by the Galatians’s behavior. He wondered how often does a person run away from happiness to unhappiness. No wonder Paul was astonished at the stupidity of people who deserted their place of safety and subjected themselves to the pointless grief of getting lost. Ambrosiaster likens it to a confused sailor who was safely anchored in port as a terrible storm approaches but decides to set sail and be tossed about by the strong winds and huge waves. It seems that the Galatians were acting the same way because their foolishness caused them to be cut loose from the Rock Jesus the Anointed One, and consequently be made to endure the pains of shame under the yoke of the Law with no hope of relief in sight.5
The way Ambrosiaster sees it, this turmoil was all caused because although what these false teachers preached was essentially additional teachings added to what all the Apostles proclaimed, nevertheless they were being turned away from the truth. So it wasn’t that Paul was being jealous, it was that he was depressed that they were such easy prey for these Judaizers. I respectfully disagree with Ambrosiaster in that Paul was jealous that the Galatians found these Judaizers so much more convincing than he was.
Augustine of Hippo was clear in his explanation of the Gospel that Paul spoke about. As he sees it, any so called gospel of human origin is false, for every human being is capable of not telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.6 Whatever divine revelation that is shared by any person must first come through that person from God, not from any human source. And so the term “Gospel” cannot be applied to what is of pure human origin. Such were the claims put forward by those who sought to lead the Galatians in a different direction. God called them out from sin’s slavery into the joy of freedom in Grace through Paul, now the Judaizers were pulling away from that freedom of Grace back into sin’s terrible slavery.7
Medieval commentator Haimo of Auxerre feels that these Judaizers wanted to alter the Gospel by changing it from addressing eternal things of the Spirit into daily duties of the flesh under the Law. They are unable to do this by using the Gospel because the Gospel is unshakable and true. Indeed, if any gospel is so easily changed, it cannot be the true Gospel. Therefore, while there are some people who can be moved away from the correctness of the Gospel, the Gospel itself remains forever unchangeable because the One who brought it is unchangeable8.9
Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr, believes that Paul is saying that the Judaizers did not cause the Galatians to depart from the Gospel given to them by the One who then called them. For the same God who gave the Law is the One who gave the Gospel. He is the author of both. So how could they be turned away from one to the other and say that one was good and the other bad? There is no other Gospel. God would not say one thing in the Law and another thing in the Gospel. Neither would the Holy Spirit inspire Paul and the Apostles to preach one Gospel and then inspire others to preach a different gospel. The Galatians came up with no alibi or excuse for changing. For the Lord does not preach some things through us and others through the other apostles. What these Judaizers were doing was trying to get the Galatians to trade in their being yoked together with Jesus the Anointed One to then be yoked to the Law alone. The yoke of the Anointed One gave Jesus the opportunity to lead them on the path to everlasting life, while the yoke of the Law by itself led them on the path to condemnation and death.10 While I appreciate the Bishop’s point of view, Paul did call the preaching of the Judaizers “another gospel.” It was this “other” gospel that caused them to discard the yoke of Jesus for the harness of the Law.
Bruno the Carthusian takes a somewhat different view. Not only was Paul astonished at the speed and ease by which the Galatians were misled, but was also astounded that they so quickly discarded all that he told them about God’s plan of salvation. The Gospel he preached lifted such a great weight off their shoulders, only to have them turn around and allow these Judaizers to weigh them down again. The tragedy was that none of this old burden was of any use. In a way, Paul saw them as being so insensible to the point that they became senseless. Their call to salvation through the Gospel was by grace, now they so quickly exchanged it for salvation by works that was the cause for them being so lost in the first place.11
Years later, the venerable Thomas Aquinas would offer these comment:
Paul refutes their error by showing the authority of the Gospel teaching: First, by showing their instability by lightly dismissing the Gospel teaching he does three things: First, he enlarges upon the guilt of those who were misled for their instability of mind. Hence Paul says, I’m astonished. As if to say: Although you are aware of the many good things already mentioned that were given you through the Anointed One, and although I instructed you well, nevertheless you have migrated so far that you’ve completely removed yourself in such a short time from where you were to where you’ve migrated. With this word he alludes to their name, because Galatians were known as “migrants.” It’s as though Paul is calling these believers “migrants” because they moved away from what they were taught.
Secondly, by commending the authority of the Gospel’s teaching, he suggests that in view of the precious value of that which they so lightly regarded the Good News, their error is seen to be so much the greater. He amplifies their guilt in contrast to that which they abandoned. For if one’s intellect withdraws and is removed from evil, it is worthy of praise and does well; but when it departs from the good, it must bear the guilt. And this is how they were removed from good. So Paul says to them: Although it is amazing that you are so quickly and so far removed, there is additional reason for wonder, namely, because you have removed yourselves from God, and from faith in Him that called you into the sharing of the eternal good which we have through Jesus the Anointed One.
Thirdly, he amplifies their guilt on the part of that to which they have turned, because they have been turned not to good but to evil. Hence he says, unto another gospel, namely, of the Old Law, which is a good message only insofar as it does announce some good things, namely, temporal and carnal. Yet it is not completely perfect as is the Gospel, because it does not announce the wholesome and loftiest goods, but small and slight ones. But the New Law is perfect in the full sense a Gospel, namely, a good message can be because it announces the greatest goods, namely, heavenly, spiritual and eternal. And although it is another gospel according to the tradition of the deceivers, yet according to Paul’s preaching it is not. For it is different in the promises, but not in its representation, because the same thing is contained in the First Covenant and in the Final Covenant: in the First, indeed, it is a representation, but in the Final it is the real thing. Therefore it is another gospel if you consider the outward appearances; but as to the things that are contained and exist within, it does not qualify as another gospel.12
Reformer Martin Luther takes a pastoral approach in dealing with the situation in Galatia. He shows such patience in dealing with his seduced Galatians! He does not pounce on them but, like a father, he tries to help them see the consequences of their error. With parental affection he talks to them, yet he does it in a way that also lets them see how upset he is. On the other hand, he is highly indignant at the seducers whom he blames for the defection of the Galatians from the truth. Paul’s indignation flares up in a manner expected from any sorely disappointed father. “If anybody else comes around preaching any other Gospel than the one you received from me, let them be shunned as demonic.” What drives Paul to do what he’s doing is a spiritual rule which he himself will explain more fully later on. That’s where he says: “Brethren, if someone is entrapped by a serious mistake, those of you who spiritually strong, restore that person to spiritual health in the spirit of meekness. Always keep in mind, the same thing might happen to you.13”14
1 2 Corinthians 11:14
2 Archelaus: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., The Acts of the Disputation, p. 385
3 Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
4 Chrysostom: Homily on Galatians 1.6, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 6
5 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Psalm 116:11; Romans 3:4
7 Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
8 Hebrews 13:8
9 Haimo of Auxerre, The Letter to the Galatians, loc. cit.
10 Theodoret of Cyr: Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press., 1999, p. 6.
11 Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Thomas Aquinas: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Galatians 6:1
14 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 15