NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXIV)
I was privileged to teach in Bible Schools and theological seminaries in the Europe and Asia, I often heard the term “Contextualize” concerning how to get the Gospel across to people not acquainted with Americanized forms of messaging, evangelism, and church planting. I saw that the Europeans were deductive reasoners, so I started with what they believed and helped them broaden their view and understanding of how it worked, why it worked, and what it worked to accomplish. Asians were mostly inductive reasoners, so I took all the various points of view and collated them so that we could start with one basic understanding to see if all those point of views were valid or not. That’s why, what they built up from there would then be a solid structure.
When I taught in the USA, to some degree, my American students were reductive reasoners so I needed to add back what they put aside, and take out what they put in, and show that without it the whole range and perspective of the Gospel could not be achieved and made relevant to their culture. Paul was doing a little bit of all these things with the Galatians who needed to be reoriented by keeping the truth in focus. Oft times I would hear one of my students say, “But my daddy didn’t preach it that way.”
There was an element of truth in the Judaizers’ suspicion of Paul, which he later admitted when writing to the church in Corinth.1 That was because Paul’s own understanding of the Law was earlier based on what he learned from the great Jewish teacher, Gamaliel.2 Yet, even though he was willing to make cultural concessions related to lifestyles and religious practices, he was adamantly against making any concessions with regard to the Gospel he preached that both Jews and Gentiles are saved by the same grace.
As I ministered around Europe and Asia I discovered there were certain no-no’s that minister’s needed to be aware of. In one country where I went to preach, I found out that the brethren there wore suits but without neckties because they considered it worldly attire. So out of respect I took off my tie and discovered that my messages were just as anointed without it as they were with it. Was I being a hypocrite? No! I never taught that a preacher must wear a tie in order for his message to be powerful.
On another occasion, one well known American healing evangelist I knew was preaching in India and spoke about “Standing on God’s Word” as our foundation. To illustrate his point he put his Bible down on the platform and stood on it. He then invited his Indian interpreter to do the same but the interpreter was horrified and would not comply. I found out later that all the ministers felt insulted that this evangelist did a dishonorable thing to God’s Holy Word.
1:12 No one just handed a manuscript to me, nor did I take notes while attending some teacher’s class. Instead, I received it directly from my teacher our Lord Jesus the Anointed One Himself.
To make his point even stronger Paul states emphatically that he did not sit under the tutelage of any man, not even the disciples to be taught the Gospel. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Am I not an Apostle; have I not seen Jesus our Lord?”3 When speaking of the resurrection and of the appearance of the Anointed One to the disciples and others, he says, “Last of all….he appeared to me also.”4 In other words, Paul asks incredulously, do you think I’d be such an idiot as to change or alter the Gospel I received straight from the Anointed One?
What Paul went through was not for him only. After all, several apostles experienced a revelation, such as Peter on the housetop with regard to Gentiles receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Would they be willing to question Peter’s integrity as to the validity of his revelation and whether or not it came directly from God through the Holy Spirit? But as for Paul, I like the way one version puts it: “I was not taught it or commissioned to preach it by the Apostles in Jerusalem, nor indeed any man. For the Good News that I preach was revealed to me by Jesus the Anointed One himself, who commissioned me to proclaim it. I did not receive it from any human.”5
In his travels around Galatia and Greece Paul often visited synagogues, and also on Mars Hill in Athens, challenged the local philosophers to debates over the true God. Perhaps he heard or even saw the inscription in the temple of Apollo at Delphi where the Lacedaemonians placed one of their most famous sayings that became part of everyone’s language, and considered as the first-fruits of their wisdom which simply said: “Know yourself.”6
In another ancient document they explain this saying as follows: “…the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are, and also serves as a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.”7 In other words, be sure of yourself; don’t have any doubts about who you are, whose you are, what you are, and how you became what you are. If anything, Paul wanted the Galatians and Judaizers to know that he was absolutely, positively, unequivocally sure about what he received his Gospel from the Anointed One first hand, no matter what others might say.
It’s time to recognize that every Christian is gifted by God for their special mission in life. Few, if any, claim to have received an extraordinary revelation similar to Paul’s. But each Christian is uniquely gifted by the Spirit and called to serve God in some exceptional way. In my travels throughout Asia I often found it necessary to contextualize my good news message, while not diluting the Gospel in the process. I tried my best to learn what Asians loved and hated; what made them happy and what demoralized them; what complemented them and what insulted them. The Gospel can address all these issues if explained properly. But you do not need to rewrite the Gospel just because it speaks against something that a particular culture accepts.
Let me illustrate this in another way: Consider life’s journey like a map, and the Gospel is a compass given to us upon our encounter with the Anointed One in our new birth. We are all headed in the same direction toward the same goal. But some may go by sea, some by land; some slosh through water, some through snow; some endure rain, some hail, some sleet, some fog; some climb mountains, some through valleys; some tolerate heat, some cold; but all are kept on course by the same identical source – their Gospel compass. We don’t change the Gospel’s direction; the Gospel changes our direction.
When Paul refers to his revelation from Jesus the Anointed One, he is making a clear reference to his Damascus Road experience where he encountered the risen Anointed One, from whom he received his commission to go to the Gentiles. This revelation convinced Paul to accept the inescapable reality that the Crucified One was the Anointed One. According to Luke, Jesus “appeared” to Paul for this very purpose.8 Paul didn’t see a mere angel, but the Lord Jesus Himself. To describe his experience as a “revelation” tells the Galatians that he was having more than a dream, vision, or trance.
While few, if any, will ever experience their “revelation” of who the Anointed One really is in a similar manner such as Paul, we all have experienced our own revelation. It came through the Gospel; and it is just as real, and just as dynamic as that of Paul. It changed our lives. When we tell people how we came out of the darkness of ignorance about salvation into His marvelous Gospel light redemption, and how we became a new creation in the Anointed One Jesus, they may try and convince us that it’s all a fantasy; a hallucination, something we’ve been duped into believing. However, we know better. We know it is real because we were there; we felt the burden of sin lift off of our shoulders; we experienced the dramatic change, we felt the joy and love of God flood our hearts upon being forgiven.
In Paul’s case, what he once hated he now loved; what he once spoke against with all his vigor, he now preached with all his strength. Jesus told Paul to take this message of salvation to the Gentiles, and in spite of the difficulties he encountered, Paul was not about to change course and adopt the Gospel as espoused by these legalistic teachers. If you go back and read the sermons of early Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal preachers, and compare them to what we hear today you’ll see that many have changed course and soften their stance on worldly living and worldly lifestyles, heaven and hell. If it took old fashion, Spirit anointed, sound gospel preaching to bring revival and evangelism in the past, it will take the same for it to happen again. Let us not mistake numbers and popularity for revival, but how society is fundamentally changed because of the number of people who have been transformed by the power of the Gospel.
An early church leader of a local church in Cæsarea and great Bible scholar, named Pamphilus, made the point that Jesus proved He was not an ordinary human by doing what He did when He confronted Paul on the road to Damascus, therefore, there is no doubt that He was divinely human.9 And Chrysostom adds that when people who are fierce and hot tempered in their opposite to any cause, require time and much ingenuity for their conversion. But since Paul was so suddenly converted and was rendered clean and sober at the very peak of his madness, he obviously received a divine vision and teaching.10
And Theodoret Bishop of Cyr believes that it was very shrewd of Paul to mention that he received this message of the Gospel by revelation. The Lord Jesus already ascended into heaven and was no longer visible to all.11 But to Paul He appeared on the road and made him worthy of the ministry of proclamation.12 So Paul takes this as a defense against the slander of the Judaizers showing that in this too he did not fall short of the other Apostles. For just as the Galatians received the Gospel from him, so likewise he received it from the Anointed One by way of revelation.13
1 See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
2 See Acts of the Apostles 22:3
3 I Corinthians 9:1
4 Ibid. 15:8
5 Aiyer, Ramsey, The Contextual Bible Galatians, loc. cit.
6 Dialogues of Plato: Protagoras
7 The Suda (or Stronghold): a massive 10th century Byzantine Greek historical encyclopedia covering the whole of Greek and Roman antiquity and also including Biblical and Christian material; See Adler numbers: gamma 333 and 334, a saying of Chilon; also Adler numbers: sigma 1280 and theta 17
8 Acts of the Apostles 9:17; 26:16
9 Pamphilus: Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), On Galatians, Apology for Origen, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 10
10 Chrysostom: Ibid. Homily on Galatians 1:12, p. 10
11 Cf. Luke 24:44-53
12 See Acts of the Apostles 9:1-19
13 Theodoret: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.) p. 10)