NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XIX)
In William Burkitt’s (1650-1703) commentary we read that there are three things we can learn from what Paul’s says here. First, there is nothing new or unique for us to be told that needs to be added to the Gospel. Secondly, that adding anything to the Christian faith as being necessary to be believed and practiced in order to bring salvation, is perverting the Gospel of the Anointed One, and substituting another gospel. And thirdly, there is no authority in the Christian church, in all or any of its ministries with the power to impose upon Christians anything as a necessity for salvation which is not already included in the Gospel. The Apostles themselves were given no authority to add anything to the Gospel, much less any of those that came after them. Jesus the Anointed One commanded them to teach all nations, to observe all things whatsoever He commanded.1 If the Apostles themselves added any point of faith and practice to what the Anointed One gave and charged them to do, they would fall under the curse themselves that Paul denounces here as false teachers.2
Perhaps this is why Adam Clarke (1760-1851) gave his revivalist view of what Paul is saying here. For him, it was a matter of surprise and wonder that a people, so soundly converted to God, should have so soon a shipwreck of their faith. But when it comes to changeability, there is nothing more susceptible to modification than the human heart. We know that the interaction between different passions is continually either changing the character or giving it a different coloring. The Word of God is divine reasoning, not passion, nor the philosophy of mankind. It alone must be consulted concerning our salvation and everlasting life.3
Clarke goes on to give us some interesting insight into the lingering battle between what Jesus said in the true Gospel and what others were saying in their versions of the Gospel. Clarke notes that it is certain that in the very earliest ages of the Christian Church there were several spurious gospels in circulation, and it was the volume of these false or inaccurate renderings that motivated Luke to write his own. We have the names of more than seventy of these spurious narratives still on record, and in ancient writers, many fragments of them still remain. Many of these were collected and published by Fabricius,4 in his account of the apocryphal books of the Final Covenant. In some of these gospels, the necessity of circumcision, and subjection to the Mosaic law in unity with the Gospel were strongly combined. Even as early as Paul’s day he may have heard about some of these.5
James Haldane (1768-1742) points out that while the Gospel is the Good News of pardon, peace, and eternal life, without works, moral or ceremonial rites, but through faith in the Anointed One alone, Paul was surprised that the Galatians so quickly abandoned this Rock of Salvation for the slippery slope of adding the ceremonial laws of the Jewish faith to the Gospel. In other words, these Judaizers convinced the Galatians that while their trust in the Anointed One gave them certain assurances of salvation, it was not complete. They need to add the Law, rites, rituals, regulations, and ceremonies of Jewish customs and manners to make it absolute.
The Gospel was a revelation of a long-held mystery of God, but the legal system of salvation was already out-of-date. the Anointed One came to complete what God started with Abraham and Moses. The water of life through the Gospel was filtered and pure, no mixture of other man-made taste enhancing elements were permitted. To drink such a concoction was to invite spiritual sickness and death. Paul was not so concerned about what it did to their bodies, but its harmful effect on their souls. The days of earning one’s salvation were over, now it was a gift of God through grace. So why did the Galatians so quickly discarded such a wonderful gift from God? Paul could not comprehend it.6
John Brown (1800-1874) feels that one of the contributing factors in the sudden turning away from the Gospel by some of the Galatians was due to the fact that they were Christians in name only. Brown states emphatically, “No man is ‘born again’ till he is ‘born of the Spirit’.”7 As far as he’s concerned there is very little, if anything, that exposes the religious and moral depravity of some church-goers than this. Pretending to be what something or someone you are not is bad enough, but pretending to be a child of God is even worse. This is caused by the fact that no one can ever really understand and believe and live a holy Christian life until they become a new creation through the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. It cannot be rationalized, manufactured, or successfully imitated. The principles of the Christian faith cannot be memorized or mimicked by constant practice. They are built from within by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God.
I like the way John Edmunds (1801-1874) paraphrases verse six: “I marvel that you are so soon changing sides.” That certainly encapsulates what was going on between the “works” crowd and the “faith” crew. And we know who the Apostle Paul was rooting for. But what caught him by surprise was their “couldn’t care less” attitude about losing him as a mentor and so willingly to let these intruders steal the joy the Gospel brought to them by faith in Jesus the Anointed One. Instead of walking forward by faith, they were backsliding into heresy.8 On top of that, they were forsaking the One who called them out of the sin’s slavery in heathenism into the light of sonship through the Anointed One.
It is important to keep in mind that the One who called the Apostle was not Paul himself, nor the Anointed One alone, but God Himself through the Anointed One, through Ananias, then to the Apostle Paul.9 This should not seem strange to us because Jesus said that He was sent to do His Father’s will, and Paul was called by the Anointed One to do the same Father’s will. So instead of these misguided Galatians thinking that they were only severing their ties with Paul, or planning to serve the Anointed One by a different way, Paul reminds them that they are disobeying their One True God. The same goes for all of us who for some reason do not feel that the Bible is relevant for today, or that the emphasis on the Anointed One’s crucifixion and resurrection as important in making people feel loved by God are doing the same thing.10
Philip Schaff (1819-1893) cautions that we must understand what Paul means by “another” gospel. The Greek adjective heteros can be used either to mean “another of the same, another kind, or any other,” when it comes to quantity. It can also be used to mean “another, one not of the same nature, form, class, kind, different,” when it comes to quality. Heteros is the root word from which we get the English word, heterosexual. Whether the person is of the male or female gender, they are both a type of human being in quantity. Yet, you can tell them apart because when it comes to procreation, one can do what the other cannot do. That’s what makes them different in quality.
Schaff agrees with Thayer’s Greek Lexicon that points to heteros as something not of the same nature, form, class, or kind. This is a different conclusion than what some other scholars came to. They say it was more of an imitation or modification of the true Gospel. In Paul’s Gospel, the work of Jesus the Anointed One led to salvation, while in the Judaizers version works of the Law facilitated one’s salvation. Schaff says that what the Judaizers produced was not deserving of the term “gospel” – namely, the Good News of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life with God. Both the Law and the Anointed One, – the Word made flesh, were both ordained of God. But the Law was the prototype while the Anointed One was the finished product.11
W. A. O’Conor (1820-1887) has an interesting analogy on what the Judaizers were trying to do in Galatia. As he sees it, perversion of doctrine is usually one in a long line of circumstances that succeed each other by a fixed law. Men corrupt their creed in order to bring it into consistency with their degenerate conduct. There was not enough time for this process in the case of the Galatians. Paul wonders at their change from real to token religion before a sufficient period of time elapsed for their zeal to cool, and their faith to be infringed upon by the world. He expected much better things from them.12 This would really make suspect their change in faith to begin with. It looks like Christianity was nothing more than a substitute for heathenism for some of them.
That’s what happened after the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity in 312 AD ended Roman persecution of Christians and began imperial patronage of the Christian churches. A public holiday celebrated around December 25th in the family home was a time for feasting, goodwill, generosity to the poor, the exchange of gifts and the decoration of trees. This was Saturnalia, the pagan Roman winter solstice festival. So in order to get the Romans to convert to Christianity, December 25th was declared a religious church holiday in honor of the birth of Jesus the Anointed One. So a mass was started in honor of Christ. That’s how it became known as Christ-mass.
For Alvah Hovey (1820-1903), the abruptness with which Paul introduces the occasion for his Epistle reveals his intense and painful anxiety – an anxiousness mingled with surprise that was hard to express. The Greek verb thaumazō which is translated “marvel,” occurs very often in the Final Covenant, and in the KJV is frequently rendered as “wonder,” once each as “admiration” and “admire.” It may denote either a joyful or a painful surprise,13 a sudden and powerful emotion occasioned by something that is very admirable or very dreadful, and in either case unexpected. Whether Paul meant he was astonished at how quickly the Galatians changed their minds due to the shortness of times since he left them around 53 AD and when he wrote this letter in 56 AD or the time between when the Judaizers arrived and the Galatians yielded in some measure to their new doctrine. In any case, it happened faster than Paul would have ever expected it to.14
1 Matthew 28:19
2 Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament: by William Burkitt, Published by James Dinnis, London, 1832, Vol. II, p. 301
3 Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Johann Albert Fabricius (1668-1736) was a German classical scholar who published the Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti in 1703 which included such works as the Gospel of the Ebionites, the Egyptians, Marcion, Peter, Twelve Apostles, Barnabas and Bartholomew, etc.
5 Ibid. Adam Clarke
6 James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 36-37
7 John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 37
8 Cf. Philippians 2:19, 24
9 See Galatians 1:15; 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 5:4; 2 Timothy 1:9
10 John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 19-20
11 Popular Commentary, (Ed.) by Philip Schaff, op. cit., p. 296
12 O’Conor, W. A.: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 5–6
13 See Matthew 8:10; Mark 6:6
14 Hovey, A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 15 (See also J. B. Lightfoot, loc. cit.)