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 XXXIII)

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) views what Paul says here in verse eleven from a different angle. Not only was Paul aggravated, disappointed, and surprised by the sudden turn the Galatians made from the Gospel he brought them after days and days on the road, in bad physical condition, and putting up with some handicap that he called a “thorn in the flesh,” but now it looked like all that he went through to bring them freedom from sin and the Law, was no longer appreciated. Today we might illustrate this with seeing someone walking along a highway on an extremely hot day carrying a large suitcase, having to stop every few steps to rest, and you offer them a ride. You lifted the heavy suitcase and put it in the trunk, made them comfortable by adjusting the passengers seat, turned up the air-conditioning to cool them down. But when you got to their destination of over 75 miles down the road, pulled out a $100 bill and press it into their hand after you got their heavy suitcase for them out of the trunk they don’t say “Thank you.” And as they turned and walk away don’t even say, “Goodbye.”

You can almost feel the desperation in Paul’s heart, says Stevens, as he begins writing this part of his letter when he writes, “Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand.”1 The Complete Jewish Bible renders it, “Let me make it clear to you brothers.” Stevens believes it should read, “I would impress it upon you.” That sure sounds like someone speaking to another person who apparently didn’t get the point they were making or the instructions they were given. But, apparently, says Stevens, this may not have been the first time the Apostle Paul’s efforts were unappreciated. In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul needed to recall for them the value of the Gospel message he brought them.2 And in his second letter, he felt led to let them know how grateful and graceful the believers in Macedonia were when he did the same for them.3 This certainly should add to our understanding of what Paul was going through upon hearing the bad news about how these Galatians were now abandoning everything he taught them.4

As Benjamin Wisner Bacon (1860-1932) sees it, the beginning of verse eleven in the Authorized Version (KJV), which reads, “But I certify you,” is too rough and would make the Galatian believers defensive. He prefers the Revised Version which renders it as, “For I would have you know.” This better reading of the R.V. connects the argument begun with verse ten. Paul’s Gospel tolerates no supplementation in principle because it is not composed by human intellect which needs constant updating. This conviction is the basis of Paul’s never-say-die attitude and reverend authority, which in verse twelve is emphatic, “I neither received… neither was I taught.” Paul then points out in verse thirteen that he was, in fact, a former persecutor of such teaching and doctrine.

When Paul wrote Timothy He spoke openly about his unique personal experience, which, to his mind, was susceptible of no other explanation than the miraculous intervention of God.5 Paul, much like Peter, also received his manifestation of the Anointed One by revelation from God and not from “flesh and blood.”6 The fact that this revelation about Jesus being the Son of God was given to Peter by God was fully substantiated when Jesus rebuked Peter for not knowing the will of God.7 Both Peter and Paul were taught by a “voice from heaven.” In Peter’s case it was before the resurrection and ascension of the Anointed One, and in Paul’s case it was after.8

Robert Gundry sees Paul’s insistence on making sure they understood that what he taught them came directly from God was important. When Paul said: “For I did not at all receive it from a human being, nor was I taught [it by a human being]” really means “it isn’t in accordance with human thinking or point of view.” Then when Paul says: “Through a revelation of Jesus the Anointed One” he identifies the means by which he received the Gospel he proclaimed to the Galatians. The contrast with receiving the Gospel from a human being suggests that it came “through a revelation of Jesus the Anointed One,” as it was when the Galatians received it from Paul. It means that God revealed Jesus the Anointed One to Paul directly. Verses fifteen and sixteen confirm this meaning.9 Since the Gospel that Paul proclaimed to the Galatians came to him by divine revelation, they ought to reconsider where they are going. In other words, by turning away from the Gospel as preached by Paul, he wants them to know that it wasn’t his Gospel, but the Gospel given to him by Jesus the Anointed One Himself. So they were not just rejecting Paul’s message, they were rejecting God’s message.

According to Messianic commentator Thomas Lancaster, it’s important to remember that most scholars believe that the non-Jews who were part of the congregations in Galatia were previously converts to Judaism, which were historically called “God-fearers.” So this second step from the Jewish synagogue to the Christian church was not as drastic or dramatic as some scholars make it out to be. That’s why their acceptance of circumcision was only a passive act of obedience to Jewish law in order for them to become authentic Jewish proselytes. But this suggest that this subject should have never come up? To the contrary, since Paul was called to the Gentiles he no doubt ministered among the non-Jewish population as well as the Jewish congregants at the local synagogues in whichever city he visited. It was Paul’s intention to combine the two so that there would no longer be Jews and non-Jews, but both would be called Christians – namely, followers of the Anointed One.10

So it was the visit by these false teachers that caused a division because the non-Jewish converts were misinformed that they needed to take the route of first becoming a God-fearer in order to be called a genuine Jesus-follower. So this Epistle is more directed to them as a rebuke of these false teachers and an admonition to the Galatians for so quickly being drawn away from what Paul preached to them, namely, that salvation comes solely through faith in Jesus the Anointed One as the Savior of the World. Lancaster goes on to say that he hears Paul saying that this “Judaizer’s gospel” is in fact a “false gospel,” even a “corrupt gospel,” and, therefore, a “worldly gospel.” His point was to differentiate between the way that he became a believer and the way that people ordinarily became believers in that day, He also wanted to differentiate between his Gospel message and the other gospel that others were preaching in his day.

Lancaster goes on to say that in Paul’s day, which may apply to the areas of Judæa and Galilee, people who became followers of Yeshua of Nazareth were mostly Jewish. Such were the Apostles themselves, who went out and told other Jewish people about Yeshua: His miracles, His teaching, His messianic claims, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His imminent return. That’s how people were converted from Judaism to Christianity. Lancaster points to this as “a gospel preached by men.” In other words, it was the good news brought by someone they trusted, and that’s how they became followers of the Anointed One. Lancaster says: “It was mostly a Jewish phenomenon.”11 But because Paul preached about the same Messiah and the same things to the heathens, it can be called “a Gentile phenomenon.” However, both received it from the same source, Jesus the Anointed One Himself.

Ronald Fung points out that the different tenses in verse eleven reveal that, according to Paul, the Gospel given to him as a result of God’s revelation of the Anointed One, which he preached to the Galatians in the beginning, is the same as that which he still preaches at the time of this writing and to which he is now calling the readers to return to.12 This, as the content of the entire letter will attest to, is none other than the Gospel of Justification by faith.13 Thus, according to these verses, it was the Gospel of justification by faith which came to Paul as the result of a direct revelation of Jesus the Anointed One.14 Unfortunately, some of the Jewish preachers were adding Justification by Works to make their message complete. It was the case of mixing lieberty with legalism.

But when we read what Paul goes on to say in the next verse, it appears that the Apostle has more in mind when he refers to the teaching of these false apostles as “man’s gospel.” Paul knew that most of the Jews in those Galatian churches clearly understood the difference between what the Torah said and what the Rabbi’s were saying. The Torah contained the Law as it was given by God to Moses and the Prophets. The Rabbis’ teachings merely added details to these laws. Unfortunately, when Jesus came most of the Pharisees, Scribes, and other Jewish leaders ascribed to the Rabbis’ teachings instead of to the teachings of the Torah. They felt justified because they said that the Rabbis’ teachings were grounded and built upon the Torah. But for Paul, the Torah was from God and the Rabbis’ teachings were from man. So in the same sense, the Gospel that Paul brought to the Galatians was given to him by Jesus the Son of God. But these false teachers were now adding their version of what the Christian Rabbis told them to what Paul taught.

The Judaizers accused Paul of contextualizing the good news of the Anointed One that he preached to the Jews and then to the Gentiles; that he modified it to fit the practices and customs of his listeners. However, what he contextualized was how the unchanged, pure Gospel of the Anointed One could be learned by the Gentiles comprehending it from their perspective, not that of the Jews. With the Jewish believers Paul took the aspects of salvation as obtained through obedience to the Law and broke it down into the Anointed One’s fulfillment of the Law and, thereby, bringing it to completion. This made it possible that by believing in the work of the Anointed One would be fulfilling all of the Law. As to the non-Jews, Paul endeavored to dispense with their many gods and idols and help them focus on One person, Jesus the Anointed One. As such, they were not to worry about pleasing all their gods because by pleasing the One True God who is above all through His Son Jesus who our all in all, they need not fear any punishment or retribution.

1 Galatians 1:11 – The New Living Translation (NLT)

2 1 Corinthians 15:1

3 2 Corinthians 8:1

4 George B. Stevens: Shorter Exposition on Galatians, op. cit., pp. 30-31

5 1 Timothy 1:12-16

6 Matthew 16:17-19

7 Mark 8:33

8 Bacon, B. W: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 52

9 Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:8

10 See Galatians 3:28

11 D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 9ff

12 cf. Galatians 1:6; 3:1

13 Ibid. 2:15–4:11; 5:2–12; 6:12–16

14 Ronald Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p.53

About drbob76

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