NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXII)
One Jewish writer hears Paul saying this to the Galatians: Because there is only one Good News, and no other way exists of being guiltless, righteous, and holy before God, other than the one we told you about, that of faith in Jesus the Anointed One alone, I must tell you that you are being led astray by those who pervert the truth concerning the Anointed One, those who try to adulterate the Good News of free forgiveness by faith alone with the teaching that we must earn our righteousness. Those who say that while dependence on Jesus the Anointed One and His sacrifice is important, we must also conscientiously keep some of the requirements of God’s Law in order to have a perfect standing with Him.1 I’m sure Paul would say “Amen!” that’s exactly what I’m trying to convey.
One Messianic Gentile writer feels that these troublemakers and distorters that are commonly referred to as “Judaizers,” should rather be called “influencers.” He accepts that the influencers were most likely believers in Yeshua of Nazareth. Their only error at this point is that as teachers within the Galatian Christian communities they were attempting to influence the non-Jewish believers to undergo circumcision as part of their conversion. As such, Paul does not like their influence, and has some harsh words for them. Lancaster gives his view of how these influencers were perceived. As he sees it, when you are a leader and a teacher – a spiritual leader and a Bible teacher – there is nothing more devastating than the presence of “influencers” in your flock. Influencers always have a contrary agenda. They are always dissatisfied with the leadership; they always have a critical spirit; they are always trying to be leaders without leading, by spreading discontent and planting seeds of dissension.2 As such, Lancaster agrees that the distorting of the Gospel is hazardous to the soul, and even though they were fellow Christians, Paul wished them nothing but bad luck.
One Jewish commentator asked whether Paul was a disciplinarian with an uncontrollable temper, or is he filled with venom against anyone whose opinion differs from his own? The answer depends on whether one believes there is such a thing as a true Gospel, God’s genuine Good News, summed up in verses 1 and 3b–5, answering the deepest questions of human existence. If in fact Yeshua called Paul by His grace to proclaim God’s Good News, then this is the true Good News that saves. Any other “gospel” is not good news at all but misleading bad news, capable of drawing people off into perdition who began on the road to salvation. So Paul has every right to come down hard on these Galatians for being so foolish.3
Jewish writer Avi ben Mordechai Paul expressing his surprise that the Galatians so quickly started combining Jewish religious customs with their religious faith in Jesus the Anointed One. Mordechai asks: “What did the Anointed One teach that the Galatians community so quickly forgot?” He points to what Yeshua said to His followers: “I’m telling you, as long as heaven and earth last, not one dot over an ‘i’ or an accent mark over an ‘à’ will be erased out of the Law of Moses until it has all been completely fulfilled. Anyone who breaks even the least important law in the Torah and teaches people not to do what it says, will be called the least in the holy nation of heaven. He who obeys and teaches others to obey what the Law of Moses says, will be called great in the holy nation of heaven.”4
The reason for this strong reminder by Yeshua was no doubt due to the fact that even the Jews long ago ceased using the Torah as their basis for deciding what was right or wrong in God’s eyes, and instituted the Mishnah commentary and Talmud interpretation based on various Rabbi’s perceptions of what the Torah said. So the Written Torah – the true Word of God, was exchanged for rabbinic oral laws (the word of men). So for Paul, the same happened in Galatia. They perverted the Gospel of the Anointed One. Mordechai explains that any teaching that leads people away from the Written Torah requires that they submit to the man-made laws of the Mishnah and Talmud and is turning people’s attention away from the Word that Yahweh approved of to teachings and customs that rabbis approved of5.6 If Paul were to enter any church today and listen to the sermon, I wonder if he would be as equally shocked and outraged at how far from the True Gospel churches have strayed.
Commentator Vincent Cheung makes the point that Paul mentions the reason for his letter right away. At this point we are not provided with details about the problem, but the Galatians know what Paul is writing about. He begins by referring to the issue in general terms, describing the problem and noting its consequences. Some people are trying to pervert the gospel, and convince the Galatians to affirm another gospel. We will be able to infer from the rest of the letter the nature of the doctrinal perversion and this “other gospel” – what Paul says in this passage belongs to that context, but there are some points here that demand application everywhere.7
For Cheung, it all boils down to a simple test: when the true Gospel of the Anointed One is preached it will lead to conviction and conversion as well as sparking a greater love for God, His Word, His Son, His Holy Spirit, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The one thing that seems to attract so many Christians to these dubious prophets of today is the fact that no leap of faith is required to accept their doctrine. Their words appeal more to human reasoning than spiritual insight. But these questionable teachings also tend to enforce doing things to impress God with one’s own spiritual strength, rather than exposing one’s weaknesses so the believer can depend more on God’s strength. These populist theories are fads for awhile, but they soon fade into history because they lack the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s truth to keep them going.
1:7b Someone is trying to make fools out of you with this nonsense. They have gotten the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One all mixed up.
Paul must have felt the same sense of frustration over the sudden turn by the Galatians to entertain these Judaizers8 as the Lord felt when He told Jeremiah, “How long will there be lies in the hearts of those who speak false words in My name, who speak the lies of their own heart?”9 It could also be that some of Paul’s consternation with these Judaizers came from his recollection of what he ran into in Paphos in Cyprus when he confronted Elymas and called him a false preacher and trouble-maker.10 And what about those Paul heard about in Macedonia who were only in it for the money?11
Because of what he learned in dealing with impostors, Paul wrote to young Timothy and warned him to be on the lookout for those who claimed they received a special revelations from the Lord to back up what they taught.12 And Paul’s warning is also relevant for us today. So we must ask ourselves, has the time come when people will not listen to the truth? Rather, they look for teachers who tell them only what they want to hear. They won’t listen to witnesses in the Scriptures. Instead, they will listen to stories made up by self-proclaimed prophets.13
The Apostle Peter must have run into similar individuals. He told his readers to remember that God’s Word was inspired by the Holy Spirit, not by man’s imagination. Furthermore, they will not tell the people where they got their revelation or inspiration anymore than a magician will tell the audience how they work their magic. Unfortunately, many will be misled and run after them as though they are true emissaries of God.14 But the Apostles Paul and Peter were not the only ones. The Apostle John gave a warning to believers in his day that applies to us today.15 However, God did not leave us without discernment, John also told his readers to test the spirits to see if they are from God. And one way to test those spirits is to see if they can pass the test of being in harmony with God’s Word.16
It is interesting that in Jewish writings, a fool is compared to a deaf man and a child. Fools, like a deaf man, cannot hear and, therefore, obtain no knowledge; fools, like a minor, are incapable of understanding anything above the simplest of matters.17 Sounds like Paul agrees with the Rabbis in that the Galatians were treated like responsible adults when he taught them, but now act children who didn’t hear or understand a thing he said. Bruno the Carthusian explains it this way: These Judaizers are stirring up trouble. It resembles stirred muddied waters in which nothing can be clearly discerned. It is in this sense that Paul’s opponents have confused the understanding of the Galatians since they are now unable to distinguish good from evil.”18
Ambrosiaster does not hold back on his support of Paul’s outrage. Nobody should be surprised that the Apostle, who was known for taming wild behavior, should be so worked up about this, but it was for the sake of the Galatians’ salvation that he was so angry with the enemies of Christian discipline. He believes the intensity of his anger showed that he considered it a serious mistake to turn back to the Law as a duty after having received the Gospel in faith. Paul asserted that the Gospel which he preached to them was so firm and true that even if some of Apostles were to change their minds and begin preaching something different, they should not be listened to, even if their reputation as Apostles reached the ends of the earth.19
What rattled Paul so badly, besides being dumped for leaders of less stature and even less credibility, was their attempt to mix Law with Grace. This made their Gospel man-centered rather than the Anointed One-centered. Forcing believers to religiously observe ceremonial rituals in order to reach spiritual perfection was an attempt to add value to the work of the Anointed One on the cross. Either He paid the full price, or He didn’t. What these false teachers preached is often referred to as “legalistic gospel.” This teaches that although they were saved by grace, they could only remain saved through their own efforts. But it is useless to consider such nonsense. No one can live a perfect life on earth, only Jesus the Anointed One was capable of that.
1 Aiyer, Ramsey: The Contextual Bible Galatians (Kindle Locations 111-116)
2 D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p.23
3 Stern, David H.: Jewish New Testament Commentary, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., loc. cit
4 Matthew 5:18-19
5 See Mark 7:1-8
6 Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 6
7 Cheung, Vincent: Commentary On Galatians, loc. cit.
8 Acts of the Apostles 15:1, 24
9 Jeremiah 23;26
10 Acts of the Apostles, 13:6-10
11 2 Corinthians 2:17
12 1 Timothy 4:1-2; See 2 Timothy 2:18
13 2 Timothy 4:3-4; See Titus 1:10,11
14 2 Peter 1:20-21 – 2:1-3
15 1 John 2:18-21, 26
16 Ibid. 4:1-6; 2 John 1:7-8
17 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Hagigah, folio 2a
18 Bruno the Carthusian, The Letter to the Galatians, loc. cit.
19 Ambrosiaster, op. cit.