NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXI)
In another place, Professor Stevens notes that Paul couldn’t understand why the Galatians were having trouble with him and his message. Didn’t they realize that his mission and theology came as a package, they cannot be separated.1 It all begins with Yeshua of Nazareth being the Anointed One, the Anointed One sent from God, and the Anointed One then sent him to the Gentiles to share the Anointed One’s message. It was not something Paul dreamed up. It was all about how every sinner can stand justified as right before God in Faith by Grace, not by any good works of their own. Today, we might say it would be like trying to separate the film from the camera and hope to take pictures. They go together, you can’t use one without the other. So by rejecting Paul and the Gospel – the man from his mission, they were actually rejecting God who planned this ministry for him and the Anointed One who called and commissioned him. No doubt, Paul was thinking that if they just understood this they would stop turning away from Jesus and turning back to Jesus in repentance.2
Earnest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925), Biblical scholar and president of the University of Chicago points out that the Greek verb metatithēmi is in the present tense, thereby indicating that the Galatians turning away from Paul’s Gospel was not over, it was only in progress. This would certainly prove that Paul didn’t think it was too late and hoped that his letter would stop them from turning and make them think it over and turn back around. However, the mind of Paul wavers somewhat between hope and fear, as he writes this letter, concerning to the final outcome3.4
Arno Gaebelein (1861-1945), also focuses on Paul’s claim that these Judaizers were perverting the Gospel by teaching that the finished work of the Anointed One was not sufficient for salvation, but that a person must add their good works by keeping of the law and becoming circumcised. It was a God-dishonoring denial of the completeness and perfection of the work of the Anointed One in His life on earth and in His death on the cross. Not only was it a perversion of the Gospel, but more than that it was the setting aside of that Gospel altogether. Unfortunately, says Gaebelein, it was almost a universal thing in Christendom in his time. People were hearing a lot about “salvation by character,” but not “salvation by Christ,” which is Satan’s invention.
Ritualism, which makes church ordinances the necessary means of salvation, is another perversion of the Gospel of Grace. The phrase one hears so much, “God has done His part and we must do our part,” is another phase of a perverted gospel. A human is a lost sinner, helpless and hopeless in themselves. They can do nothing for they are without strength.5 The doing is all on God’s side; all the sinner can do is to accept what the grace of God in Jesus the Anointed One offers to them. “For by His loving-favor you have been saved from the punishment of sin through faith. It is not by anything you have done. It is a gift of God. It is not given to you because you worked for it. If you could work for it, you would be proud.6”7
Cyril Emmet (1875-1923), adds another aspect as to why Paul thought the forsaking of the Gospel that he brought to the Galatians came so suddenly. In addition to the fact that it may have been soon after his last visit there or so quickly upon the arrival of the Judaizers who misled them, that Emmet adds their hastiness may have surprised Paul because it was done without any serious consideration of the consequences.8 And even more frustrating for the Apostle, they did not turn to a “different” Gospel message the way it may be preached by Peter, James, or John, but “another” gospel that seemed to cancel out the Gospel that Paul delivered to them. Paul’s Gospel was one based upon God’s Love, this other gospel was based upon God’s Law. The one based on Love set them free, the one based on Law would only put them back in bondage again. How could they have done that so quickly without thinking?9 Didn’t they realize that complete Love replaced the Law which was incomplete; a person’s works were replaced by the work of the Anointed one?
Arthur Pink (1886-1952) makes a clear and important point when he notes the central issue raised in the letter to the Galatians is not “what is the basic conduct for the believer’s life,” but “what is the basis for conduct in the believer’s life.” The proof needed to make this assertion is found here in what Paul says in verse seven that there is not another kind of gospel, even though some who would like to lead them to God by a different but wrong way. They’re trying to do this by substituting or subtracting from the Good News about the Anointed One. Furthermore, Paul was not hesitant in pointing out that it was the Judaizing troublemakers who were the ones corrupting the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One. They wanted to take the believer’s faith in their salvation from believing in the Anointed One as their Savior to believing in the Law as their Savior.10
Lutheran theologian Otto Paul Kretzmann (1901-1975) makes note that in many prior commentaries dating back to the early church scholars, the unstableness or undependability of the Gauls (from France) and Celtics (from mainland Europe) who migrated to this part of the world was often the cause for their irrational actions. This then made them easy targets for the Judaizers. For Kretzmann, the result of this deception was twofold: First, they were disturbing and troubling the minds and consciences of the Galatians, causing them to become doubtful as to the doctrine which they were taught by Paul. Secondly, they were incidentally doing their best to distort and pervert the real Gospel of the Anointed One, the glorious message of salvation through His name. If they succeeded in their design, it would mean the end of pure evangelical preaching in the affected congregations. Kretzmann also notes, that this verse must be kept in mind at all times against the perverters of the message of sin and grace, no matter what disguise may be use. This is what the Reformers exposed in their day in order to reject the claims of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages.11
Jewish writer W. A. Liebenberg looked at the Greek verb thaumazō translated as “marvel” (KJV) in verse six from a Hebrew perspective, and he parses it out to literally mean, “left speechless.”12 In other words, when Paul first got the message of the Galatians falling prey to the Judaizers’ corrupt message, Paul was absolutely stunned for a moment or two. Of course, as soon as he could recover he wrote this blistering opening as part of a letter he sent after hearing the grieving news. It would be one thing if these Judaizers came wearing a badge identifying them as such, but they came disguised as a delegation from the Church in Jerusalem. Perhaps that’s why the Galatians didn’t listen very carefully and were so willing to comply with their message because they thought it was already approved. If this fooled people back in Paul’s day, who says it won’t fool people today?13
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy puts a different twist on the commonly held belief in what Paul meant by “another” gospel being taught by the Judaizers. Ben-Lyman makes note that pertinent to the study of Galatians is the historical fact that 1st century Judaizers were not teaching salvation by following Torah (as the emerging Church might assume). The “other gospel” that gave Paul such consternation was the prevailing Rabbinic view that only Isra’el alone shared a place in the world-to-come, that is, only Jews were granted covenant membership through Abraham. Taking this view meant that the Gentiles must first convert to Judaism before being considered full-fledged members of God’s kingdom. Looking at it this way, the Torah was not the means of salvation; “works of the Torah” (defined elsewhere in this commentary) were the prerequisite to “salvation.” In this view, the Torah was used to help maintain membership granted to native born Jews and proselytes alike. Rabbi ben-Lyman personally disagrees with this central tenets of this Rabbinic view.14
Philip Ryken has an enlightening and sobering assessment of the “other” gospel factor in today’s church. He wants to know if we can distinguish between the “true” gospel and the “other” gospels in today’s contemporary churches? In some churches, you may hear the gospel of material prosperity, which teaches that Jesus is the way to financial gain. In other churches you might hear the gospel of family values, which teaches that Jesus is the way to a happy home. Then there is the gospel of self value, which teaches that Jesus is the way to personal fulfillment. There is also the gospel of religious tradition, which teaches that Jesus is the way to respectability. There is the gospel of morality, which teaches that Jesus is the way to be a good person. What makes these other gospels so dangerous is that the things they offer are all benefits. It is good to be prosperous, to have a happy home, and to be well behaved. Yet as good as all these things are, they are not the Good News. When they become for us a sort of gospel, then we are in danger of turning away from the only Gospel there is.15
Grant Osborne reminds us of just who the Judaizers were in those days. The descriptive term “Judaizers” was used for a group of Jewish Christians who wanted to make all Christians practitioners of Judaism. Rejecting the conclusion of the Jerusalem Council in Acts fifteen, they continued to believe that Gentile converts to Christianity must become Jews before they can become Christians. Today we would call them “hardliners.” For them, becoming circumcised and following all Torah (the Mosaic law) regulations was necessary for Christians to attain salvation. In effect, they were replacing the cross with ceremony; Jesus with Moses. This group sent missionaries to the Christians in Asia Minor whom Paul evangelized on his first missionary journey,16 trying to convince them that Paul was wrong and to get them to join the Judaizing movement in the church. They were all about going back to the basics of the Jewish religion.17
1 See Romans 2:16
2 George B. Stevens: The Pauline Theology, A Study of the Origin and Correlation of the Doctrinal Teachings of the Apostle Paul, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1892, pp. 25-26
3 See Galatians 4:20, 5:10
4 Ernest DeWitt Burton: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1920, pp. 18-19
5 Ibid. 5:6
6 Ephesians 2:8-9
7 Arno Gaebelein: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 5:22
9 Cyril Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 3-4
10 A. W. Pink: The Law and the Saint, The Negative Side, p. 20
11 Paul Kretzmann: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 In Andrew G. Roth’s Aramaic Galatians his literal translation of verse 6 reads: “In surprise (dead of speaking) I (am).” And in his paraphrase he renders it, “I am stunned into silence.”
13 W. A. Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 20-21
14 Rabbi Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy: Exegeting Galatians, A Messianic Jewish Commentary, e-book, p. 92
15 Ryken, Philip Graham: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Locations 401-408)
16 Acts of the Apostles, Chapters thirteen and fourteen
17 Osborne, G. R: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 26