NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XX)
J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) agrees that during the time period Paul mentions here, many were left to deal with things that were not present when he was there, so the quickness with which they fell victim to the Judaizer’s deceit astounded him. But what happened to the Galatians is an even more disturbing matter. Some scholars see the trouble that the Judaizers were making as causing doubt in the Galatians’ minds. But Lightfoot believes it was more like rebel rousing. They were stirring up the believers against Paul for hiding certain truths that the Torah teaches. This then dissolved their allegiance to Paul as their spiritual father. So instead of continuing on the path that Paul outlined for them, the reversed course and went back in the direction they were going in, to begin with. For Lightfoot, this was the prominent thought in the Apostle Paul’s mind when he called this heresy a “turnabout,”1 or “turncoats” as we would say today of those who become traitors to their country.2
Anglican scholar Frederic W. Farrar (1831-1902), makes a good point when he says that it appears that Paul planted the seed of the Gospel in shallow and rocky soil. And Eugène Reuss believes that these Judaizers were part of the same contingent that antagonized Paul when he was in Jerusalem,3 something they no doubt would have disputed.4 They also fashioned themselves to be the true disciples of the Anointed One,5 and in His name imposed, as a condition of salvation, circumcision and all the rites of the Law.6 In Antioch, they fellowshipped with the Gentiles until Peter came, and thereafter they would have little to do with them.7 They loved to be called “brethren,” but they gave no reciprocal greeting to the Gentile believers.8 So we can see why Paul wanted nothing to do with them, let alone encourage the Galatians to fellowship with these troublemakers.
Edward Huxtable (1833-1893) points to the wording in verses six and seven where it read, “following a different gospel – not that there really is another gospel,”9 and seems to imply a change in the quality of the Gospel into a “strange new-fangled character.” The Greed adjective allos (“another” KJV) in verse seven sometimes does display this shade of meaning of something being contorted, distorted, twisted, etc. Huxtable likens it to what Paul said to the Corinthians about strange tongues and lips of strangers.10 Also, when Paul talks about a Jesus other than the real Jesus, and a different spirit than the Holy Spirit, and a different gospel from the gospel they received from him.11 He also wrote to Timothy about letting anyone with a false doctrine come in and teach something different than the doctrine that Timothy learned from Paul12.13 What Huxtable is driving at is that Paul suspected that this teaching of the Judaizers was no so blatantly different from his Gospel that the Galatians were able to dispute what they were saying. That’s what may have fooled them.
I remember my father, who was a preacher, telling about what was called the “Jesus Only” movement, starting in California around 1913, and then the “Latter Rain Movement,” that came sweeping through the country in 1947 right after the Second World War, and that it was the signal that the return of the Anointed One was close at hand. So there was no need for those seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit to tarry as the Apostles did in the Upper Room, but that the gift of tongues and gifts of the Spirit could be imparted from one believer to another simply by the “laying on of hands.” After I entered the ministry in 1964 I didn’t have to wait long before other doctrines began to swirl around such as the Prosperity Gospel, The “Rhema” movement, also known as the “Word of Faith” doctrine where if you speak it, it will happen, followed by the hierarchy of demons ruling over the earth and the casting out of demon obsessing and oppressing believers. This should also serve as a warning for every believer to test these spirits to see if they harmonize with the spirit of God’s Word and the witness of the Holy Spirit in unity among believers.14
Cyrus I. Schofield (1843-1921), American Theologian and minister and writer of the Annotated Bible, makes the point that God used the Apostle Paul to call the Galatians into the grace of the Anointed One here in verse six. This is important because grace means unmerited, uncompensated favor. It’s not something one is getting paid for. Scofield believes that it is essential to get this clear. No options or factors are to be added to grace. That’s why Paul rejected good works, circumcision, adherence to the Law such as obedience to commandments. But just like oil and water, grace and works do not mix.15 This is so true, that grace cannot even begin with us until the law has reduced us to speechless guilt.16 So long as there is the slightest question of utter guilt, utter helplessness, there is no place for grace. If a person feels that they are not good enough for heaven but too good for hell, they do not seek help in God’s grace but in the “Do-it-Yourself” manual for justification. Unfortunately, that is the beginning of a dead end road to nowhere.
Scofield then goes on to note that this misconception was brought on by false apostles bringing to them a gospel different than the one Paul gave them. It wasn’t so much “another gospel,” as it was an in direct opposition to the Gospel that Paul used, by adding anything that cannot be found in the Gospel so as to make it complete in their mind. But the deception came when they claimed it was part of a revelation that Paul failed to preach. The Gospel preached by Paul was known as the “glad tidings,” that brought forgiveness, joy, peace, and salvation. Nowhere is the Law referred to as “glad tidings” of “good news.”17 As Scofield put it, “Surely that is no good news. The law, then, has but one language; it pronounces “all the world” — “good,” “bad,” and “goody-good” – “guilty!”18
Bible scholar extraordinaire William Ramsey (1851-1939), expresses his thoughts on what Paul says here in verse six about the sudden switch by the Galatians from Paul’s Gospel to the Judaizer’s enlightened version. Some, says Ramsey, try to blame this movement from Grace to Law as part of the fickleness of the Galatians. That would certainly make any changes superficial. But no large group of people changes its moral, political, or religious position because they can’t make up their minds about what they already possessed. They only change because they believe a new and better form of belief and worship is clearer and truer and more advantageous than the old one. Such a sudden redirection does not come easy.19
Ramsey is prone to believe that Paul was on many long journeys since leaving Galatia and was not that reachable by Timothy or others with the latest news. It was only after he stopped for rest either in Ephesus or Corinth that the news was waiting for him when he arrived. So the sense of the sudden, unexplained movement by the Galatians away from Paul’s Gospel of Grace to the Judaizer’s Gospel of Law was not overnight. But it was done without any consultation or any attempt to reach him for counseling before they made their decision. That’s what really bothered Paul. That’s why he is trying now to give that counseling through this letter.
Presbyterian pastor, theologian, educator, and Yale Divinity School professor, George Barker Stevens (1854-1906), suggests that the one thing that left him speechless is “how quickly you have moved away from the One who redeemed you.” It almost seems as though Paul could hardly wait to finish his greeting and tell them what he really was feeling. When we try to envision such a scene, who would be surprised at what was happening, the Galatians or Jesus? We already know that Jesus dealt with the plague of unbelief.20 Stevens points out that Christian writers such as Chrysostom (349-407 AD) and German theologian Wilhelm Martin Leberecth de Wette (1780-1849) who believe that they seized hold of false doctrines that drew them away. But other scholars such as John Calvin (1509-1564), Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752), and Karl Georg Wieseler (1906-1945), believe that their moving away was initiated by Paul’s departure, and yet others such as J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889), Heinrich August Wilhelm Meter (1800-1873), and Hermann Olshausen (1796-1839) see it as something that happened not too soon after their conversion .
It is obvious that even the top theologians of centuries past were unable to agree upon one single reason why the Galatians moved away from the Anointed One. Perhaps there were some who fit into each of these categories. But in any case, the key factor is that it caused them to leave the side of Jesus to join the side of the Law. The sad thing is that God gave them a gracious invitation which they accepted but then exited unceremoniously. But there is no evidence that the Law issued them a more gracious invitation to embrace them. Didn’t they know they were freed from the prison of sin under the management of the Law by their Savior, Jesus the Anointed One, and turning around and willingly went back into bondage. Stevens marvels that the Gentile Galatians so quickly forgot that the Anointed One first went to the Jews, and when they rejected Him He turned to the Gentiles, now they were repeating the sin of the Jews and becoming just like them,21
1 See Galatians 3:3
2 J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p.219
3 2 Corinthians11:5; Galatians 2:6
4 Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:5
5 See 1 Corinthians 1:12; 10:7
6 Galatians 2:3; 3:3; 4:10,11; 5:2; Romans 14:1; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:21, etc.
7 Galatians 2:2
8 The Biblical Illustrator – Vol. 48 – Pastoral Commentary on Galatians (Kindle Location 1263-1272)
9 New English Translation
10 1 Corinthians 14:21
11 2 Corinthians 11:4
12 Edward Huxtable: Pulpit Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., p. 10
13 1 Timothy 1:3
14 1 John 4:1-6
15 See Roman 11:6
16 See Ibid. 3:19
17 See Romans 3:19
18 C. I. Scofield: The Fundamentals – A Testimony To The Truth, Vol. 3, Ch. 7, The Grace of God, pp. 85-86
19 Ramsay, Wm. M. Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. New York. Putnam’s. 1900, p. 225
20 See Mark 6:6
21 George Barker Stevens: A Short Exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, The Student Publishing Company, Hartford, 1890, pp. 22-23