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 XXIV)

Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925) suggests that the Apostle Paul was dealing with the Galatians caught up in a perplexity between salvation by faith and salvation by works and salvation by faith and works. To make matters even worse, Burton says, the Greek verb tarassō suggests that the agitators were still there and working hard. So it wasn’t that the Judaizers troubled them earlier, but they were still troubling them as Paul wrote his letter. Burton points out that tarassō can be taken to mean “to disturb mentally” with perplexity or fear.1 And although the influence of these Judaizing missionaries did not win the Galatians over completely, their trouble-making remained an ongoing fact. They also knew that the Galatians were not yet irreversibly persuaded, but it was still their goal.2

Robert Gundry gives us the evangelical view of this “different gospel” theme. For him, any gospel that stands in opposition to believers being saved by “the grace of Jesus the Anointed One,” is a “different gospel.” That is to say, a different gospel displaces the Anointed One’s grace. Since this grace makes the Gospel what it is – namely, “good news” – the subversion of the Anointed One’s grace produces “a different gospel,” even a “non-gospel” (which isn’t even another gospel). Given our sins, the diluting of His grace makes for bad news, not good news.3

Gundry goes on to add that these Judaizers were stirring up the Galatians to defect from Paul’s Gospel. This implies that the defection was a kind of rebellion, a transfer of allegiance from the One who called the Galatians, to a different gospel that’s not really a gospel at all.4 Because of the preceding emphasis on his apostleship, we might have expected Paul to portray their defection as deserting him. But because both his apostleship and the grace of salvation stem ultimately from God, Paul portrays the defection as deserting God. And the description of God as “the One who called the Galatians in the grace of the Anointed One” makes the defection and desertion not only unwarranted, but also ungrateful.5

Gundry also believes that Paul takes exception to his own expression of astonishment at the Galatians’ ungrateful defection. For the blame shifts now from them to “some who are stirring you up and wanting to distort the Gospel about the Anointed One.” This deflection softens Paul’s tone so as to make the Galatians responsive to his upcoming defense of the Anointed One’s grace and his critique of the non-gospel. They know they’re changing the Gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Galatians. They haven’t corrected it, they’ve distorted it! The grace in essence is the grace of no less a personage than the One anointed by God to give Himself for our sins.6

1:8-9 But even if we – or, someone claiming to be an angel from heaven! – were to announce to you some so-called “Good News” contrary to the Good News we announced to you, let them be under a curse forever! I said it before, and I’ll say it again: if anyone announces “Good News” contrary to what you received from me, let him be under a curse forever!

Mark A. Nanos says that Paul is reminding the readers that since he was in Galatia preaching the Gospel, some time has passed since they separated.7 However, Paul did not feel that time pushed them apart as fellow believers in the Anointed One. They still shared their unbroken spirit of unity in the Anointed One. So this letter to the Galatians should not be looked at as some historical discourse dealing with supposed or imagined problems, but was a personal letter from some person to some people who shared a common love for God and His Word. And since Paul was inconvenienced from returning to Galatia at this time, such a personal letter provided the closest means for a face-to-face conversation, even though it was one-sided. So what Paul says here to his Galatian brothers and sisters should be read with feeling.8

Furthermore, the way Paul starts and writes this letter is similar to what is found in many ancient middle-east texts of someone who gave instructions before the letter was written but those guidelines were being ignored or disobeyed. If Paul sent such instructions before hand, no doubt he was still waiting for an answer. After all, he expected a lot more from them. In fact, he taught against the very false doctrine that was now being circulated among them. So it was understandable that he expected through his teaching, his instructions, and by the Holy Spirit that they would know and behave otherwise.9 He wants them to know that even though they’ve been apart, he has been fighting on their behalf to preserve the truth of the Gospel for a long time at great personal expense. That’s why, from his perspective, he possessed every right to be exasperated by their failure to remain faithful to the Gospel of the Anointed One10.11

So why should anyone in Galatia question if Paul should expect more from them than what he heard about their conduct. What seemed to surprise Paul was that all the trust he put in them to follow what he taught was apparently misplaced. We all know the feeling that comes when after we have given instructions to someone on how to operate a piece of equipment or how to find a certain location by giving them all the left and right turns to get there, and then to hear that they got all mixed up because they failed to write our instructions down or decided to do things their own way. If that would cause frustration, then we can understand why Paul was not only astonished but perplexed and stunned that they did the same with his instructions and guidelines. In fact, some think that Paul was reiterating what he told them before, only this time in an ironic, ridiculing tone, something he would not do were he still with them. Certainly Paul felt constrained to ask them to reconsider who they are and who they want to become even after all this took place in spite of his attempts to prevent it.12

When Paul warned about someone claiming to have a new revelation from God, even if they were to call themselves an angel, do not be fooled. When Paul warned the Corinthians about false evangelists, he told them not to be surprised because even the devil can make himself look like an angel of light. And so it is no surprise if his servants also make themselves look like preachers of the Good News.13 Paul felt the need to caution young Timothy against several such impostors in their day.14

And to Bishop Titus Paul gave this advice, “Do not argue with people about foolish questions and about the Law. Do not spend time talking about all of your early forefathers. This does not help anyone and it is of no use. Talk once or twice to a person who tries to divide people into groups against each other. If he does not stop, have nothing to do with him. You can be sure he is going the wrong way. He is sinning and he knows it.”15 From the context of Paul’s comments it seems obvious that those annoying Judaizers were still on his mind.

Then Paul brings up a custom that was well-known in Jewish writings and stories. It all began in the Garden of Eden after the serpent fooled Adam and Eve, causing them to disobey God and not only lose fellowship with Him but also were evicted from the Garden. Then God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all livestock and wild animals.”16 In other words, the worst will come to him and he will not be spared with any mercy.

The Hebrew verb ‘arar (meaning “cursed”) is used, and it’s a way of wishing the worst on someone. As such, a person who has been cursed will be detested and treated badly by everyone around them. No matter how bad things may get, they will be looked on without compassion by everyone. Unfortunately, the next person to suffer this horrible curse was Canaan who violated the privacy and decency of his grandfather Noah.17 Rabbi Saba tells us that when Noah contemplated how to curse Canaan, he decided to forever place him in a subordinate position to all the rest of his siblings and relatives. This meant neither he or his descendants would ever rise to a position of power and authority.18 So in a sense, Paul was saying that anyone who perverted the Gospel should never be respected or given a position of authority in the Church.

This same curse was wished upon anyone who would make an idol, or image, or icon meant to replace God in their worship.19 This is also what happened to those who decided they would try to fool Joshua into thinking they were in need when they were not, and they came because they heard about His God. In reality, they only wanted to keep Joshua from conquering their land. When Joshua found out he called them together and told them, “Now you are cursed. You will never stop being servants, cutting wood and bringing water, for the house of my God.20

1 See Matthew 2:3; John 14:1; Acts of the Apostles 15:24

2 Ernest DeWitt Burton: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 24-25

3 Gundry, Robert H: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Location 155-180

4 Cf. Galatians 5:4

5 Ibid. Gundry

6 Ibid. Gundry

7 See Galatians 1:13; 3:1; 4:12-20

8 Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians op. cit., p 25

9 See Galatians 3:1-5; 5:3, 7-10, 21

10 See ibid., 2:2, 5, 11, 14, 20-21; 3:1-5; 4:11-20; 5:1-3, 7-11; 6:9, 14-17

11 Ibid., Nanos pp. 45, 145

12 Ibid., Nanos pp. 53, 215

13 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 14-15

14 1 Timothy 1:19-20

15 Titus 3:10-11

16 Genesis 3:14

17 Ibid. 9:25

18 Tzror Hamor: by Rabbi Avraham Saba, Translated by Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers, Jerusalem, 2008, Vol. 1, Genesis, p. 168

19 See Deuteronomy 27:15

20 Joshua 9:23

About drbob76

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