NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXVI)
It is interesting that Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), one of Martin Luther’s closest advisers and the first systematic theologian of the Protestant Reformation, spoke about this same issue. In writing about the question concerning the jurisdiction of bishops, he said that civil authority must be distinguished from ecclesiastical jurisdiction. They are certainly given the divine right according to the Gospel to oversee things related to people’s conduct in the ministry, the interpretation of the God’s Word, and the correct manner in which to use the ordinances of water baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and also the preaching of any doctrine contrary to the Gospel. Such ministers who misinterpret or stray away from the Word of God should be disciplined, and if they did not change, then have their ministerial license withdrawn and excluded from offices in the Church.
He goes on to say, that it is a necessity and by divine right that congregations must respect them as being over them in the Lord.1 Also, that congregations were to exercise the right given to them by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount.2 That’s why what Paul says here in verse eight, is just as important for them to remember. False prophets were not to be tolerated, not even those claiming to be sent directly from God.3
Jakob Arminius (1560-1609) has something to say about those who come around with a new revelation or insight into God’s Word that is unfamiliar teaching to the church body. When any believer finds out by whose authority what is being said becomes known, and when what is said blends in with the consciences of all those to whom the teaching or the writing is addressed or directed, they can then accept or reject it in the appropriate way. However, when those who are receiving any teaching or writing can be confident that what they are receiving has been delivered with God’s anointing on those that approve of it, publish, preach, interpret, and expound it, it is much easier to distinguish and separate it from words or writings which are suppositions and alterations of the Divine Word.
What these people say and write does not add one ounce of legitimacy to their claim that it is from God because their sole authority, whether contemplated on their own or with others, is only that of mortals. Things that have God’s anointing need no further confirmation, nor indeed can receive it from what humans may say about it. This whole concept of approving, preaching, explaining, and discerning the truth of God’s word and the ideas of mankind, even when it is discharged by the Church Universal, can only be taken to mean that she declares, holds, and acknowledges these words or writings under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit are from God and God alone4.5
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) poses a practical question on what Paul says here in verse eight: “How confident was Paul that the Gospel he preached to the Galatians was the only true Gospel?” It is clear that he was so fully persuaded that he pronounced condemnation on those who pretended to preach any other Gospel, and, to let them see that these instructions did not proceed from any irritableness or intense zeal in him. In fact, he repeats it again in verse nine. This does not mean that we are justified in thundering out condemnation on against anyone who differs from us in minor things. It is only against those who devise a counterfeit gospel, who remove forgiveness and justification from the solid foundation of the covenant of grace. Instead, they set up a program of good works in the place of the Anointed One’s work on the cross.
This is what the Judaizers were doing in corrupting Christianity with Judaism which Paul strongly denounces. He even asks the Galatians, Do you think I would do such a thing? Do you think that an angel would be sent down from heaven to do that? Paul was at ease asking such questions because he knew they were both impossible. But just in case, by some unexplainable reason, someone would come to Galatia saying that he sent them with a different version of his original Gospel, or someone saying that God sent them to preach an enlightened gospel rather than the one Paul preached, they would be lying! Anyone who would do such a thing puts themselves under a curse and is in danger of having the curse put upon those who accept them. So we can see why Paul was so worried about what was happening to his converts in the churches in Galatia.6
J. P. Lange (1802-1884) in his commentary mentions that these Judaizers were out to destroy the Gospel of the Anointed One that brought the Galatians out of the darkness of heathen ignorance into the marvelous light of understanding the Gospel. So Paul was saying, more or less, let these troublemakers be destroyed for what they are doing. It doesn’t matter if they do call themselves messengers from God. It was an effort on their part to counter Paul’s claim that he was commissioned by God to bring them the Gospel, don’t pay any attention to them, says Lange, they are only out to cause havoc not harmony.7
W. A. O’Conor does not believe that the persons referred to taught anything logically contrary to the Gospel, but they made what seemed to be a seemingly harmless addition that drained its life. If falsehood were openly opposed to the truth there would be no difficulty in detecting it. The danger is when it comes in the form of friendship, and advances the claims of coming from a longtime tradition. The teaching of the Judaizers, in its uncorrupted form, expressed at one time the relation between God and man. Circumcision and the observance of seasons were of heavenly origin. They were as the stringy ringlets on an ear of corn, which, when the grain is ripe, becomes chaff, and must be cast aside and burnt. The Apostle Paul communicated the pure sifted truth to the Galatians, and now other men were mingling straw and chaff with it. The evil of this mixture was, that the cross would become only another form like circumcision.8
Charles Spurgeon makes an interesting comment on what Paul said about not receiving anyone who comes preaching another gospel. For Spurgeon, it was a way of “fraternizing” with people with different views. But the modern way of saying this would be, “Let’s see if we can get along with them; they are people who think out of the box.” This comes from the idea that we shouldn’t tie people down to just one way of expressing themselves. After all, if they make mistakes we’ll just point it out to them and they will begin to see things our way. “No, no!” says Paul. “I’ve told you once and I’ll tell you again, if they preach any other gospel to you than what you received from me, let them be accursed.”9 In more up-to-date terms, treat them as persona non grata.
Marvin Vincent in his Word Studies tells us that many Roman Catholic interpreters insist that the Greek preposition para should be rendered as “contrary to,” since their Vulgate uses the Latin “præterquam“ which means “not comparable, beyond, besides, except.” Even some Protestant interpreters insist on the word “besides” as being against supplementing the true Gospel with traditions. The explanation is found in the previous words, “a different gospel.” Any gospel which is different from the one true Gospel,10 is both beside – as noted in the margin, and contrary to – as contradicting the original.11
Sir Robert Anderson, in his own police detective way, supposes that a stranger suddenly shows up in metropolitan London claiming to be the bearer of a Divine revelation to mankind. And in order to give any credence to his claim, he proceeds to display miraculous power. Let us assume, for the moment, that after a thorough examination by experts, the miracles are unanimously established as genuine. That would certainly allow for people to believe them. Now in like manner, everyone must come face-to-face with this question: If the “Christian message” is also found to be sound, the Gospel preached by this Apostle must also be accepted without question. However, anyone who knows anything about human nature would doubt that any such unanimous agreement could be reached on even in the best of times and on the best of days.
The Christian, however, would certainly be cautious about accepting the words of a doubter over that of believers. Does not Paul say here that when even one claiming to be an angel from heaven came preaching any gospel other than that which was preached by a true servant of God, let them be considered an abomination? Any serious Christian would insist on taking any new miracle-accredited gospel and testing it with God’s Holy Word. And if they found it to be inconsistent with the Gospel they already received, would reject it. That is to say, they would test the message, not by the miracles, but by the Bible they accept as a revelation from God.12 Could it be that Anderson is curious as to whether or not Paul’s reference here to “another angel” being an undercover jab at Peter for what he did in Antioch? Also, could Paul’s reference here to “other gospel,” be a hint at what he would say later on in the letter about his confrontation with Peter in Antioch?13
As Cyril Emmet (1875-1924) sees it, Paul’s reason for calling what the Judaizers were teaching “another gospel” is because Paul’s Gospel was built upon the revelations from the mind of God expressed in the First Covenant. However, the gospel of the Judaizers was built upon the revelations of the human mind found in the writings of the Rabbis. It is true that the essential principles of salvation by the love of God and the free grace of the Anointed One can be presented in different forms, but what these Judaizers was spreading was a radically different concept of salvation based on adherence to a temporary law. Emmet warns that the same thing can happen when preachers today try to lay down these same principles of God’s love and grace in terms of modern thought. The Gospel will always be the Gospel the way it was taught by the Anointed One and preached by the Apostles.14
1 See Luke 10:16
2 Matthew 7:15
3 Philip Melanchthon: The Augsburg Confession, Article 28, pp. 32-33
4 John 15:22, 24; 8:24; Galatians 1:8, 9; Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14; John 1:6, 7; 5:33-36; 1 Thessalonians 2:13
5 Jakob Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 1, Disputation 1, pp. 346-347
6 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible-Book of Galatians (Kindle Location 288-297). Graceworks Multimedia. Kindle Edition.
7 Lange, John Peter: Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical, Trans. Philip Schaff, Galatians – Colossians, Vol. VII, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1870, p. 19
8 O’Conor, W. A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 9
9 Charles Spurgeon: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 See Galatians 1:6
11 Marvin Vincent: Word Studies, op. cit., Vols. 3&4, p. 86
13 Anderson also makes reference to a work in circulation during in his day by William Paley (1743-1805), an English Clergyman who was a philosopher and Unitarian who argued for the existence of God, the intelligent creator of the world. as being in conflict with another work called “Essays on Religion.”
14 Cyril Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 4-5