NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXVII)
I like the way retired Baptist minister and English professor Peter Pett describes Paul’s frustration over the Galatians’ so easily turning around and running away from the Gospel. For him, the double-stress and double-curse he felt brought out how much his emotions were being stirred up. These Judaizers who came preaching to the Galatians, and were wrongly stressing that they were given the backing of the Jerusalem church, unlike Paul (or so they said), were bringing a powerless message. Instead of seeking to bring the Galatians into the freedom of the Anointed One they were trying to bring them back into bondage to a rigid set of religious and ethical regulations and ceremonies.
They were entangling them in “do this, do that, and don’t do the other,” until it was not clear to them what they really ought to do. They were loading them down with burdens too heavy to carry. And the sad thing was that these things, that they were involving themselves in, possessed no ability to save them. They were simply man-made requirements which gave an outward show of being religious and substituted for the truth without a fundamental inward change of heart and mind. They imparted a certain satisfaction because people hoped that they were achieving something, but in fact, they were achieving nothing, for they left them worse off than they were before.1
Richard Longenecker believes that the Apostle Paul was using a bit of irony in suggesting that an angel from heaven might just bring such a corrupt gospel. In other words, Paul didn’t really think that would ever happen, however, he said it for another reason. It was no doubt meant to counter the Judaizer’s claim that they brought impeccable credentials showing them as members in good standing of the Jerusalem church council, or that to have the authority of the Jerusalem apostles supporting them was equivalent to heaven’s approval as messengers, or perhaps both. If they were from the Jerusalem church, then it is quite likely they were present, and even took part in, Paul’s defense of his Gospel before the council,2 and also being there when Paul rebuked Peter of hypocrisy in Antioch.3 Paul insisted that a preacher’s authority is derived from the Gospel, and not vice versâ. So his challenge to these Judaizers was on the basis of their claim of authority based on their own credentials and the approval of a higher church authority. All authority for preaching the Gospel comes from the Gospel, not from other human beings.4
Ronald Fung explores the “angelic messenger” aspect that Paul speaks of here. He pronounces, without exception, a serious condemnation upon any preacher of a message which is “at variance with” the original apostolic preaching, whether such a preacher is an angel from heaven or even Paul himself or one of his coworkers who first brought the Gospel to the Galatians. First of all, this implies that the Gospel embodies a standard core of fixed tradition so that no preaching deviating from it can be called “Gospel” in the proper sense of the word. Secondly, the authority of the Gospel resides primarily in the message itself and only secondarily in the messenger. The difference between these two points indicates that whereas a message implies the uniqueness and unchangingness of the Gospel, the messenger refers to more than a possibility of something they say turning out to be factual. There is one Gospel but many kinds of messengers. Perhaps the reference to an “angelic messenger” suggests that Paul has in mind specifically the Jewish understanding of a false messenger since the Judaizers might have stressed the connection between the Law and the angels through whom it was mediated5,6 though this remains uncertain.
As a current scholar, Vincent Cheung points out that since the purpose of the Gospel is salvation; since the Gospel of justification by faith in the Anointed One is necessary for salvation; therefore, anyone who preaches something different is not preaching the true Gospel. Unfortunately, it follows that anyone who believes something different fails to believe in the true gospel and, consequently, receives eternal damnation just as quickly as someone who preaches false doctrines. So we can see at least three points here that combine to narrow the ways to salvation to just one. First, turning to another “gospel” is the same as turning away from God. Secondly, there is, in fact, no other Gospel. Thirdly, anyone who preaches a different Gospel is condemned to suffer the same fate as those who believe it. This passage leaves no room for distortions, alternatives, or lenient interpretations of the true Gospel.7
This certainly addresses the growth of “religious legalism.” One Jewish writer came to the conclusion that it becomes clear in what Paul says next, that the particular bad news to which the Galatians have been exposed is religious legalism. Legalism can be defined as, “the false principle that God accepts people as being right with Him and worthy of being in His presence on the grounds of their obedience to a set of rules.” This means, that they can earn salvation apart from putting their trust in God through Jesus the Anointed One, and relying on Him, loving Him, and accepting His love for them.8
In his condemnation, Paul does not mince words. He uses the Greek noun anathema which carries a strong factor of condemnation to something that is dedicated to evil such as placing a curse. Here, it actually refers to a thing that guarantees excommunication from the congregation of believers. For instance, imagine you are a sky diving instructor and you tell your students that under no circumstances are they to jump out of an airplane without a parachute. However, someone comes along and says that since man’s arms are the evolutionary product of bird’s wings and can, therefore, be used for flight, and that makes a parachute simply an option. Needless to say, jumping out of the airplane without a parachute would guarantee their quick elimination from the club by their own foolishness.
Without doubt, more sheep have been led astray by those who offer “another route” or an “alternate path,” or a “shortcut,” or an “easy way,” or even the “most logical way,” to salvation and heaven, than by all the atheists and agnostics who ever lived. Some point to the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, Modernists, Moonies, and other cults as proof of that. One can be easily fooled into crossing over to a parallel track that appears to be going in the same direction as the one they are on. But if they could see around the bend up ahead it would reveal that they eventually part ways with the true path to God and are led off into a different direction. That “bend” usually occurs when the true path reaches the river labeled “the cleansing blood of Jesus” and on the other side the “land of sanctified living.” There is no bridge at this river, as some false teachers imply. Those who want to reach the other side must go through this river, led by the Holy Spirit.
Not only that, but the true path to righteousness always leads toward the light, while the other leads away from the light. As the psalmist says, His word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our pathway.9 The Apostle Paul just couldn’t believe that the believers throughout Galatia were so easily fooled and deceived. Perhaps, he thought, “What didn’t I tell them? What didn’t I make clear What didn’t I explain more fully? But the needed questions might have been, “What didn’t they take seriously? Why didn’t they ask questions about so they could be sure?” And, “Why didn’t they seek the truth more fully while I was with them?” It isn’t always the message or the messenger, sometimes it’s how the message is treated and received that will either cause it to make an indelible impression or only have a brief effect.
1:10 Do you think I’m now saying this just to be a crowd pleaser? Absolutely not! More than anything I want God’s approval. If I was trying to be popular with people I would not qualify to be called a servant of God.
Since these were strong words in the previous verses, Paul offers an explanation of why he is being so hard on those who are causing confusion and discord in the Churches in the province of Galatia. Knowing who to listen to is very important. After all, when Peter and John were told to never mention the name of Jesus when preaching, they said to their persecutors, “If it is better for us to listen to you instead of listening to God we’ll let you decide. But we are going to preach what we have seen and heard.”10 And when Peter and John were arrested again, Peter told them without flinching that they were going to obey what God says rather than what men say.11 After all, the most these Jewish leaders could do was kill their bodies, but God could do more than that to their persecutors.12
The point was that whether believers are standing before men or before God, they will be accountable for what they did while here on earth. So it is always best to do what pleases God instead of what delights mankind.13 That’s why Paul told the Thessalonians, “God has allowed us to be trusted with the Good News. Because of this, we preach it to please God, not man.”14 Paul knew that there were some who might doubt his conversion. But, as he told the Corinthians, after sharing the story of his experience of being taken up into the highest heaven and shown things that were impossible to describe or explain, that he gave credit for all the good he did and any miracles that were performed to the power of God. He was not trying to make himself look good but was doing everything to show the goodness of God for their benefit.15
And there was a good reason for that. All that God does for us in our calling, redemption, election, justification, and empowerment with the Holy Spirit is to live in such a way that others are blessed, not just ourselves. This was the example the Anointed One left us.16 And there is another factor. Paul told the Ephesians that they should not try to shine as a good servant of God while others are watching and then act differently when they were alone. After all, God is watching us every minute. We don’t do what we do for Him to please others but to please Him.17 Never forget who bought your freedom by the price of His blood. By working for Him, you work for others.18 No wonder Paul kept introducing himself as a “servant owned by Jesus the Anointed One.”19
1 Peter Pett: On Galatians, Truth According to Scripture, e-book
2 See Galatians 2:6-10
3 Ibid. 2:11-14
4 Longenecker, Richard N., On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Location 5939-5944
5 Cf. Galatians 3:19
6 Ronald Y. K. Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p.46
7 Cheung, Vincent: Commentary On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Stern, David H. op. cit, loc. cit
9 Psalm 119:105 (cf. Proverbs 6:23)
10 Acts of the Apostles 4:19-20
11 Ibid. 5:29
12 Matthew 10:28
13 See 2 Corinthians5:9-11
14 1 Thessalonians 2:4
15 2 Corinthians 12:19
16 Romans 15:1-3. See also 1 Corinthians 10:33
17 Ephesians 6:6
18 Colossians 3:22-23
19 Romans 1:1