NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXI)
1:11 Mark my words, brothers and sisters, the message of salvation that I preached to you was not invented by some human being.
The Gospel that Paul brought to the Galatians was certainly new to the Jews and foreign to the Gentiles. But Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians made it plain as to where it came from. He told them, “The Holy Scriptures say, ‘No eye has ever seen or no ear has ever heard or no mind has ever thought of the wonderful things God has made ready for those who love Him.’ God has shown these things to us through His Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit Who looks into all things, even the secrets of God, and shows them to us.”1 This is the teaching from the Lord2 that Paul was bringing to them for their salvation.3
Paul presented a similar revelation to the Ephesians when he wrote them, “In a special way, God showed me His secret plan. When you read this, you will understand how I know about the things that are not easy to understand about the Anointed One. Long ago men did not know these things. But now they have been shown to His missionaries and to the early preachers by the Holy Spirit. Let me tell you that the Good News is for the people who are not Jews also. They are able to have life that lasts forever. They are to be a part of His church and family, together with the Jews. And together they are to receive all that God has promised through the Anointed One. God asked me to preach this Good News. He gave me the gift of His loving-favor. He gave me His power to preach it. Of all those who belong to the Anointed One, I am the least important. But this loving-favor was given to me to preach to the people who are not Jews. I was to tell them of the great riches in the Anointed One which do not come to an end.”4
Here we get a glimpse of the gossip being spread throughout the Galatian churches. Paul’s critics suggested that whatever Gospel he received from the original apostles, he customized to fit his audiences; that it was all in his head; an hypnotic form of persuasion. But Paul did not stand back and let such garbage go unchallenged. The Gospel he preached was not home-made, custom-made, or man-made, but God-made – divinely organic. In other words, he’s not making this stuff up.
As Augustine of Hippo (351-430 AD) made clear, human beings are anointed and sent to deliver the Gospel, and when they claim that the gospel they bring is of their own invention, then consider it false. In other words, if anything they say differs from what God said in His Word then it is to be considered a lie. The truth is not found in mankind, it is only found in God. Mankind does not invent the truth, what truth they do preach is sent to and through them by God’s Spirit.5
One of Augustine’s contemporaries, the great preacher Chrysostom, tells us to take a look at how insistent Paul was that they understand that he was taught by the Anointed One Himself; who, without human involvement, came down to reveal to him all he needed to know in order to preach the Gospel. And if someone were to ask Paul to prove that God Himself revealed all these indescribable mysteries to him, all he needed to do was point to his former life, arguing that his conversion would not have been possible, or so sudden, were it not for Divine revelation. For when people are zealous and eager in their opposition to some other point of view, their conversion will not come overnight. It will require much time, ingenuity, and patience.
It is clear, therefore, that Paul, whose conversion was sudden, and who was brought to his senses while at the very height of his madness, was only possible by a Divine revelation and teaching in order for him to regain complete sanity. On this account, he is obliged to relate stories of his former life and to call the Galatians as witnesses of past events. He wanted them to know that the Only-Begotten Son of God Himself spoke to him from heaven. And even those who were not present at the time, and did not know what happened, were still very much aware of what a persecutor he was of the Christians. In Paul’s words: “For my violent persecution even reached your ears.6 And seeing that the distance between Palestine and Galatia is so great, no such report would been breaking news if it wasn’t for acts of persecution that exceeded all expectations with great impact.7
An unknown scholar given the name Ambrosiaster (366-384 AD), in honor of Aurelius Ambrosius, better known as Saint Ambrose, who was also in the peer group of Chrysostom and Augustine, proposes that at this point in his letter Paul begins to explain the underlying principles of his message to the Galatians. Ambrosiaster feels that Paul wanted to make it very clear that he did not learn what he was teaching from other disciples or Apostles, even though it may cause some people to doubt what he was teaching them. Nor did he devise his preaching style just to suit their own religious thinking, which would make it seem unworthy of having divine authority. Rather, Paul insisted that he learned it from the Son of God by way of revelation since after the resurrection Jesus was already in heaven, and the things which Paul learned fit well with the will and majesty of the Anointed One from whom he said he learned them.
Ambrosiaster goes on to say, the things Paul was sharing with the Galatian believers were spiritual principles, that, if believed, would find favor with God. It was an attempt by Paul to show those who were still enamored with the Law of the First Covenant, and continued to observe them necessary, they would neither earn merit or demerits from God. However, if they considered them still valid, then they would certainly receive the punishment outlined because they were not all kept. That was the curse of the Law that Paul tried to show them what the Anointed One freed them from. Did they not understand that keeping the commandments of the old Law was a burden, not a blessing?8
The well-known Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), sees a connection here between what happened to Paul and what happened to Isaiah, and points to where the prophet said: “The Lord God gave me the ability to teach, so now I teach these sad people. Every morning He wakes me and teaches me like a student. The Lord God helps me learn, and I have not turned against Him. I will not stop following Him.9”10 In other words, the truth and revelation from God being transmitted to man was dispensed through many means, either by God’s voice, by an angel’s voice, by dreams or visions. But that message must then be communicated to others by way of human vessels that receive it. So in Paul’s case, he experienced an on-the-spot revelation from Jesus that he was being called to go preach the Gospel to the non-Jews, but he also received further information from Ananias in Damascus. Now he delivered what he heard and learned to the believers in Galatia. But the source still remains the same, it all came directly from God.
Reformer, Martin Luther comments about his own experience. He says that when he first took over the defense of the Gospel, he remembered what Doctor Staupitz said to him.11 Staupitz told him that he liked what Paul was doing, and that the doctrine which he proclaim gave glory to God alone and none to man. For never can too much glory, goodness, and mercy be ascribed to God. These words of the worthy Doctor comforted Luther. The Gospel is true because it deprives mankind of all glory, wisdom, and righteousness, and turns over all honor to the Creator alone. It is safer to attribute too much glory to God than to mankind.12
Reformer John Calvin puts his stamp on this concept by pointing to those who objected to Paul’s claim of direct contact with the Anointed One. They believed he actually received his revelation from Ananias who was his teacher while in Damascus.13 But Paul kept ready an easy answer to give them. His divine instruction, communicated to him by divine inspiration, did not make it any less valid just because God used another human being in teaching it to him. Calvin pointed out earlier that Paul received a direct call from God by revelation, and ordained by the votes and the solemn approval of brethren in Antioch and Jerusalem. So these statements that it came directly from God and through one of His ministers are not inconsistent with each other.14
The outstanding theologian of the Wesleyan revival era, Adam Clarke (1760-1832), believes that Paul was being insistent that the Galatian believers understood that the Gospel he preached to them contained “not a spark of human invention in it, nor the slightest touch of human cunning.”15 No doubt, Paul was hoping that the brethren in these churches would see that when it came to the teaching of the Judaizers, that’s exactly the problem with their Gospel. In a way, they tried to crossbreed the seed of their thinking with the pure divinely organic seed of God’s Word brought by Jesus, the Son of God from His Father in Heaven, and that was an unforgivable error. In other words, we could put this in modern terms by saying that the gospel by these false teachers was genetically modified seed. It could also be represented as taking some of the words of Moses and mixing them with some of the Words of Jesus and coming up with a “fusion gospel.”
Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925) points out that Paul’s opening here suggests that he was making a somewhat formal or solemn assertion that he is more than willing to back up what he claimed with evidence.16 This should be a model for all of us to follow when we declare any doctrine as being genuine and stamped with the approval of the Holy Spirit. If we are not totally convinced and strongly believe that the Word of God is true, and that the message we preach is not because of who we are, but because of whose we are, then don’t expect any who hear what we preach to be convicted and come to Jesus the Anointed One for salvation?
1 1 Corinthians 2:9-10
2 Ibid. 11:23a
3 Ibid. 15:2
4 Ephesians 3:3-8
5 Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians (p. 10)
6 Galatians 1:13
7 Chrysostom, St. John: Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit.,loc cit.
9 Isaiah 50:4-5
10 Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Johann von Staupitz (1460-1524), was Martin Luther’s supervisor in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz had a direct influence upon Luther’s spiritual and theological development and Luther later attributed much to his former monastic superior. It was Staupitz who heard Luther’s confessions, served as his spiritual advisor during the spiritual struggles of his early career, and eventually directed him to channel his prodigious intellect and personal scrupulosity into his teaching at Wittenberg. It was also Staupitz who would impress upon Luther an Augustinian understanding of sin and grace that contributed to his criticisms and rejection of the Roman Catholic philosophical view of salvation.
12 Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 23
13 Acts 9:10
14 Calvin, John: Commentary on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Translated by William Pringle, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit
16 Ernest DeWitt Burton, On Galatians, op. cit., loc, cit. p. 35