CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXIII)

It is clear from Scripture that once a person accepts salvation by grace through the Anointed One, they are responsible to seek and live by God’s will and purpose for their lives. But Paul suspected there were those who would take the freedom they gained through grace too far one way or the other way. Since no one could have accomplished what the Anointed One did; and no one can add any value to it; they also cannot diminish what Jesus did at Calvary. Some, therefore, argued that once you are freed from sin through grace then you are eternally secure in your salvation. So, they reasoned, you may limp or crawl or stumble into heaven, but you have a guarantee you will still get in. That doctrine is still alive today.

On the other hand, there were those that bound one’s salvation to their faithful adherence to strict religious practices and conformity. As such, you are eternally insecure until you actually arrive in heaven and only then you can relax. This doctrine suggests that someone who accepted salvation, but then through a violation of man’s holiness decrees are declared a sinner, they must be saved all over again. That means, if their violation of church rules is considered the same as original sin for which Jesus died, this would require that the Anointed One go back to the cross and die once more. In either case, it’s man’s vain attempt to add to or subtract from the work of the Anointed One on the cross. It suggests that God’s plan of salvation is lacking in some way or incomplete without man’s amendments. This concept is still in some churches today. No wonder Paul was all upset at this attempt to modify the Gospel of the Anointed One.

However, even the great Reformer Martin Luther, who credits Paul’s letter to the Galatians for leading him to the light on salvation by grace and not by works, felt an affinity with Paul over this dispute with the teachers who followed him to the churches in Galatia. Luther explains that this passage produces further evidence that the false apostles defamed Paul as an imperfect apostle and a weak and erroneous preacher. They condemn Paul, so Paul condemns them. Such warfare of condemnation is always going on in the church. The Vatican and the fanatics hate us, says Luther, the condemn our doctrine and want to kill us. We in turn hate and condemn their cursed doctrine.

Luther goes on. In the meanwhile the people are uncertain whom to follow and which way to turn, for it is not given to everybody to judge these matters. But the truth will win out. So much is certain, we persecute no one, neither does our doctrine trouble people. On the contrary, we have the testimony of many good individuals who thank God on their knees for the consolation that our doctrine has brought them. Like Paul, we are not to blame that the churches have trouble.1 Luther was no doubt convinced that he was being fair, but on many occasions he blamed the Anabaptists and other Reformers for causing his listeners to began questioning him on certain points.

John Calvin is convinced that the problem with the Judaizers is not so much that they brought another gospel, but that they were speaking contemptuously of the Gospel that Paul delivered to the Galatians. Paul was more interested in knowing on what grounds do they attacked the doctrine which he preached. In Paul’s mind, it was to confuse and disorient the Galatians, so that in their confusion these false teachers could sow the seeds of religious legalism in their minds. So they did not bring another gospel, they only brought trouble and deception. And by doing this, Calvin charges them with the additional crime of doing an injury to the Anointed One, by endeavoring to subvert His Gospel. Subversion is an enormous crime. It is worse than corruption. And Paul has every reason to charge them with this crime. When someone or something else is given the credit for justification, a trap is set for people’s consciences. The Savior no longer occupies His rightful place in their hearts and minds, and the message of salvation by grace is utterly ruined.2

Matthew Poole (1624-1679) believes that this verse should read that these Judaizers were trying “to pervert the Gospel of the Anointed One.” He explains, there was no other doctrine or teachings to replace the Torah and the Gospel of the Anointed One. It was all a matter of their wanting to offer a new interpretation to give them more peace about their salvation but were causing more doubt and confusion instead. Where are the instructions that Paul gave Timothy?3 They were attempting to replace the truth with personal opinion. What was most disrespectful was that they were doing in Jesus’ Name. They were trying to add the good works of the Law to what the Anointed One already fulfilled on the cross. It made no sense to require additional obedience to the Law since the Anointed One and the Anointed One alone was the One they put their faith in for a right standing before God and their salvation.4

A Roman Catholic commentator George Leo Haydock (1774-1849) offers us insight into how what Paul is saying here was accepted during his era of the 1800’s. He shares what he thought Paul meant by another gospel. It may not have been entirely “another” gospel just because they pretended to be Christians and teach the faith their way. Yet, in some measure it was another gospel because such teachers made changes that resulted in a lot of errors, particularly that all converted Gentiles were to observe the Jewish law. In this sense, they are said to be corrupting, or destroying the Gospel of the Anointed One. That’s why the Apostle hesitates in pronouncing and repeating a curse upon all that preach something else, that is, as a religious practice, not agreeing with what he taught about Grace.

Haydock then goes on to offer his own reflection on something that Chrysostom said about the seventh verse. Where are they, he asks, who condemn us (Roman Catholics) for the differences we have with heretics [Protestants]? The same ones who pretend there is no essential differences between us and them, except that they are excluded from the communion of the Catholic Church, out of which there is no salvation, unless perhaps through ignorance. (This shows the closed-mindedness that existed between Roman Catholics and Protestants for centuries).

Haydock continues by pointing to something the Apostle Paul says, that they destroyed the Gospel who made any such innovations: that is, by introducing again as necessary some of the Jewish ceremonies, even at a time when the Christians, who were Jews at one time, might lawfully use them, and even they who were once heathens. Paul says, this is to change and destroy the Gospel, repeating anathema against them.5 Let them hear, and take notice of this, who pretend that the unity of the one Catholic faith is sufficiently maintained by all Christian societies, that agreeing, as they say, in fundamentals, their faith is a saving faith: that the council of Trent, without reason, pronounced such anathemas against them: that all Catholics are uncharitable for denying them to be in the way to salvation, when they make Scripture alone, as interpreted by their private judgment, the only rule of their faith. They may as well accuse not only Chrysostom but also St. Paul, of uncharitableness.6

In the case of Chrysostom, Haydock may have read some of the sermons this great early church preacher offered in his day against believers in the church joining in with the Jews to celebrate their holidays. In one homily, Chrysostom notes now that the Jewish festivals are close by and at the door, if he should fail to cure those who are sick with the Judaizing disease, he was afraid that, because of their ill-suited association and deep ignorance, some Christians may join the Jews in their transgressions. Once they have done so, he feared that his sermons on these transgressions would be in vain. For if they hear no word from him today, they will then join the Jews in their feasts; once they have committed this sin it will be useless for him to apply any remedy.7

Many scholars believe that Chrysostom was referring to the same condition that faced Paul in Galatia. That members of the church were joining the Jews because they thought it would enhance their salvation. On the other hand, Haydock may have encountered a similar problem with Catholics insisting that Protestants adopt Catholic rites and rituals in order to make their salvation more secure. In either case, this has been going on for centuries between various denominations. But the main point here is that under no circumstances must the truth of the Gospel be compromised.

George Whitefield Clark (1831-1910) points to the Greek verb tarassō which the KJV translates as “trouble.” As used here in the Final Covenant it has but one meaning, and that is to “agitate.” But there are different ways a person can be agitated. One is to cause inward commotion so as to “take away one’s calmness of mind.” Another is to “make restless,” another to “stir up,” another means “striking fear or dread in one’s mind,” another is to “cause anxiety or distress,” and yet another, “to perplex the mind so as to cause doubt.” It is obvious that these are tied together in a sequence. That means, no matter which one is the root cause of one’s trouble, the others will automatically follow suit. Thayer in his Greek Lexicon says that as used here in verse seven, it all begins by causing someone to become anxious, distressed, perplexed by suggesting doubts about what they believe.8

So it appears that Paul clearly understood that the Judaizers did not come to Galatia from Jerusalem to call Paul a liar, or to denounce the Gospel he preached as a fake hearsay. No, their first attempt was to cause the Galatians to doubt what Paul said as being the only way to God and salvation. That there were other ways besides free grace. If they worked a little harder and did all that the Law said they should do it would enhance their standing with God and make their salvation more certain. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see why this would cause them to become fearful, anxious, restless, distressed and perplexed. With Paul no longer around, they turned to the Judaizers for help. Now Paul was writing them to assure them that the Gospel he preached was received from God. So by rejecting the Gospel he brought them from God, they were rejecting God Himself.9

1 Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 18

2 John Calvin: Bible Cabinet, On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp.10-11

3 2 Timothy 2:12

4 Matthew Poole: Commentary on the Holy Bible (Annotations), 1659-1667, Still Waters Revival Books, 2015, p. 641

5 Anathema is a Greek noun that indicates being cursed by ecclesiastical authority accompanied by excommunication. As Paul used it here in Galatians 1:8, it meant to be placed beyond redemption or reconciliation.

6 George Leo Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859, loc. cit.

8 George Whitefield Clark: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., pp. 57-58

9 Cf. Verse twenty

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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