NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXVIII)
Paul concludes this part of his plea for the Galatians to reconsider their choice by, as some would say, “Make up your minds!” Since he was a Jew out to convert Gentiles, he faced the accusation of customizing his gospel to please both sides. So he confronts his critics face-to-face with a rhetorical question: “Was his mission in standing up for the Gospel an attempt on his part to win man’s approval, or God’s approval?” Before they could answer, he settles the question for them. If he were trying to become popular with people, he would certainly be out of God’s will. Paul knew what he was talking about. When he practiced as a committed Pharisee, he attempted to serve God and please people at the same time, but no such thing was possible for a Christian Apostle. It’s all about integrity and intention.
Whether or not Paul read all the Greek writings available in his day, there is a chance he heard some of them quoted or used in speeches. Thucydides, an orator who lived in Athens 460 years before the Anointed One came, made the observation that no good citizen should seek to win a debate by frightening their opponents, but by beating them fairly. After all, officials often give credit where credit is due to their best advisers. They don’t punish those whose advice turns out to be incorrect. This way, successful orators will not be tempted to cancel their convictions in order to gain popularity in hopes of winning even higher honors. Likewise, unsuccessful speakers will not be lured into saying something they don’t mean just to win over the crowd.
This is not our way, says Thucydides, and besides that, the moment that a person is suspected of giving advice for ulterior motives, however well-meant, should not be rewarded with any approval they did not merit. Therefore, both good and bad advice has become suspect because the person trying to perpetrate the most hideous deception will be no less tempted to do so in order to become popular than the best counselor will be tempted to lie in order to be believed.1 Not only should every preacher be required to memorize this pledge, but so should every politician.
After Chrysostom (349-407 AD) deferred being elected as a Bishop, he wrote six books on the priesthood. He wrote it much like Plato, where he formed a dialogue between himself and Basil, Bishop of Cæsarea. He wrote about the prevailing conception of a real priesthood, baptismal regeneration, the real presence of the Anointed One in the sacraments, prayers for the dead, but he was silent about promoting the pope and councils, orders to the clergy, prayers to saints, forms of prayers, priestly vestments, incense, crosses, and other doctrines and ceremonies of the Greek and Roman churches. He held up the Apostle Paul as a model for imitation. The sole subject of the preacher must be to please God rather than mankind.2 In Chrysostom’s mind, a minister should combine the qualities of dignity and humility, authority and sociability, impartiality and courtesy, independence and humility, strength and gentleness, with only one intent in mind: to do all for the glory and honor of Jesus the Anointed One and the welfare of the Church.3
As a footnote: Syrian born theologian Theodoret (393-466 AD), Bishop of Cyrrhus (near Antioch), tells us that during the time of Chrysostom’s ministry (344-386 AD), that a pastor named Leontius, a shining example of many virtues, pastored the assemblies in Galatia as a Bishop.4 The Bishops who followed him later were: Pancharius (Marcellus) of Ancyra (Ankara), Corconius of Cinæ (Palermo), Dicasius of Tavia (Turkey), Philadelphus of Heliopolis (Egypt), and Erechthius of Tmausont (Greece).5 This gives us some flavor as to how the congregations Paul deals with here in this letter survived and the influence they brought in their development in the southern Roman province in Galatia. Later, the Armenian Protestants in this area would come to the forefront for Christianity. Today, it is estimated there are roughly 200,000 to 320,000 faithful believers in that part of Turkey.
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) made it clear that in his mind no one can persuade God to think differently because God knows the whole truth, to begin with. On the other hand, someone who aims to make the truth acceptable to people even if they are unacceptable to them is persuading them in the right way. Likewise, someone who is acceptable to people who receive the truth in order that they may be saved, and who are not seeking personal glory for themselves, but the glory of God shining through them, are not only pleasing people, but God – or at least pleasing God and people at the same time, and not just people. It is one thing to please people, it is another to please both God and people. Similarly, in the case of someone the people find pleasing because they are telling the truth, it is not the person who pleases them, but the truth.6
As Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD) sees it, here we make note that the Apostle Paul, who taught that we ought to please God with all devotion, was not afraid to offend other people as long as he was promoting the glory of God. Laying aside everything for the present time, he devoted himself to the hope of future reward as a faithful servant of the Anointed One. Servants cannot be faithful if they look after their own interests while claiming to be working for their Master.7
Ambrosiaster goes on to point out that before the Anointed One came into the world, it was God’s will that the Law be preached. Consequently, there was a period assigned to it during which it was to be understood and followed. But when the Anointed One Who was promised in the Law came, it was time for the Law to cease – just as the prophets predicted. So it might be said that what Paul saw was that these false teachers convinced the Galatians to resurrect the dead Law so they could be subject to it again, and put the risen Savior back in the grave because He wasn’t needed anymore in order to fulfill the Law.
In the works by Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), we find a letter he wrote to Theocrista (Theoktiste, in Greek), the sister of the Roman Emperor during Gregory’s time when he was Bishop of Rome. Apparently, she was a devout Christian who was distressed because of the way the people of Rome were living in immorality and sin. Gregory wondered how she could remain steadfast being so annoyed since her heart was fixed on heaven. He encourages her to continue her charitable work since it represents the lamp we were given to let shine before people.8 Gregory then points out what John the Baptizer went through in his efforts to announce the coming of the Anointed One, as an example.
It was said that John was not like a reed that could be shaken by the wind, and that should be the attitude and resolve of every believer. And he congratulates her on being a loyal student of the writings of the Apostle Paul who God called to be a teacher to the Gentiles. And he was sure that she read what Paul wrote here in verse ten that we should never live our lives just to win human approval. It is God’s approval that we should seek first and foremost. So he didn’t want her to feel that she needed to win the approval of those who were part of the wicked world. If she did this, then she would no longer be considered a loyal servant of Jesus the Anointed One.9 Since that was good advice back in Gregory’s time, it is equally good advice to all believers today.
Haimo of Auxerre (800-865 AD) wonders if Paul is not trying to say, that instead of him attempting to persuade people to believe in the Anointed One and hold on to their faith, that he is trying to persuade God to hold on to them as the practiced salvation by works and not let go of them as easily as they let go of Him. Haimo says “No!” Paul was not trying to persuade them to go back and reinstitute circumcision and the Law as part of God’s plan of salvation. Rather, he was attempting to persuade the Galatians that God took something that was broken and mended it so that it would work the way He wanted it to. The Law promised salvation but could not deliver it. It pointed out mankind’s sin but was given no power to forgive or cleanse it. So if God showed no immediate intention of changing things to please them, then Paul was in no hurry to do so either.10
Another Medieval commentator, Bruno the Carthusian (1030-1101), hears Paul saying this: “Do I speak in a persuasive manner just to please people for my own glory or am I trying to please God so that He receives all the glory?” It is as if he wanted to point out that there was a time before his conversion that Paul also tried to persuade people by preaching the Law for his own glory. But now in faith, he seeks to persuade people in pursuit of giving God glory. So he no longer tries to persuade people because he no longer seeks to please them. For Paul, if he is still trying to please people by preaching the Law, then he is no longer a servant of the Anointed One. For then what he would attribute to the Law would actually take away from the grace of the Anointed One.11
Martin Luther suggests that we carefully observe the masterful cleverness with which the false apostles went about to bring Paul into disrepute. They combed Paul’s writings for contradictions (our opponents do the same, says Luther), to accuse him of teaching inconsistent things. They found that Paul circumcised Timothy according to the Law,12 that Paul purified himself with four other men in the Temple at Jerusalem,13 that Paul shaved his head at Cenchræ.14 The false apostles cunningly suggested that Paul was talked into observing these ceremonial laws by the other Apostles, perhaps at Peter’s bidding.15 Since these Jews were unable to sufficiently repudiate the message of Paul, they decided to repudiate Paul the messenger.
1 Thucydides, History of Peloponnesian Wars, Bk. III, Ch. IX, Fourth and Fifth Years of the War – Revolt of Mitylene
2 See Galatians 1:10 above
3 John Chrysostom: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Prolegomena, Ch. 4, p. 18
4The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers op. cit., Vol 3, Theodoret: Ecclesiastical History, Bk 5., Ch. 27, p. 291
5 Syriac Miscellanies; Or Extracts Relating to the First and Second General Councils, and Various Other Quotations, Theological, Historical, & Classical, Translated into English by B. H. Cowper. Williams and Norgate, 14, Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London; and 20, South Frederick Street, Edinburgh. MDCCCLXI. (1861)
6 Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
7 Ambrosiaster: op. cit, loc. cit.
8 Matthew 5:16
9 Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vol. 13, Gregory the Great: Epistle 45, To Theocrista, Patrician
10 Haimo of Auxerre: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Bruno the Carthusian, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 Acts of the Apostles 16:3
13 Ibid. 21:26
14 Ibid. 18:18
15 Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 21