NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXV)
Medieval commentator Haimo of Auxerre points out that there is a difference between listening to the Gospel and learning the Gospel. When someone hears the Gospel, that person can accept the Gospel by faith. But when a person learns the Gospel, however, they comprehend the spiritual meaning of those things contained within the Gospel; what the Lord offered in mysteries and parables; whether it comes by way of divine revelation or human instruction. In other words, Paul was not just spouting off about what he heard but was rightly dividing the truth that he was given.1 As a trained Pharisee, Paul discovered the art of manufacturing one’s own philosophy about God and what God wanted people to hear.2 However, he learned that truth can come by way of manifestation as he sat in the house where Ananias was sent to find him in Damascus.3
Also, Medieval commentator Bruno the Carthusian adds to this when writing that Paul is trying to tell the Galatians that everything he knew about the Gospel came from Jesus the Anointed One who revealed it to him plainly, rather than speaking through parables as He did to teach the other Apostles. That was during the time He was still mortal and in the flesh and their understanding was still weak. So Paul did not learn it from a human being before the Anointed One’s death but after His resurrection.4 When we examine how the original disciples reacted to our Lord’s death, we can see that it took a great effort on the part of the Holy Spirit to get them to believe. But when Paul met the resurrected Lord he believed immediately.
Thomas Aquinas notes Paul’s insistence that his revelation did not come to him over a long period of time by way of a fellow believer, but instantaneously from the resurrected Anointed One. This was a two-fold operation. First, that he did not receive from man the authority to preach, but from the Anointed One. As he told the Romans: “And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”5 This was part of the message God sent to Paul through Ananias: “This man is to me a vessel of election, to carry my name to the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel”6 This is similar to Isaiah’s calling: “1 have given you as a light to the Gentiles, as a covenant for the nations.”7
Secondly, he did not receive a full understanding of the Gospel with the help of one or two individuals. It came by way of direct revelation from Jesus the Anointed One. The Anointed One clearly showed him everything he needed to know: “But God revealed them to us.”8 Paul could say like Isaiah, “Adonai has given me the ability to speak as a man well taught, so that I, with my words, know how to sustain the weary. Each morning He awakens my ear to hear like those who are taught. Adonai has opened my ear, and I did not resist or turn away.”9 Now this revelation was made to the Apostle when he was raptured up into paradise, where “he heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter.10”11
John Bunyan (1628-1688) takes a personal interest in what Paul says here about how he received the enlightenment and understanding of the Anointed One and His Word. Bunyan tells how he never endeavored to, nor did he try to, make use of other scholars writings so as to commit plagiarism.12 Although he doesn’t condemn those who quote other authors. But for himself, he found by experience that what he was taught him by the Word Himself, through the Spirit of the Anointed One, could be preached, maintained, and supported due to a sound and well-established conscience. He chooses not to go into all that at the moment of his writing because he doesn’t want to get into all the details at the moment. Yet, his experience sparked more interest in that text of Scripture than many of the men who came before him. So Bunyan too could say with the Apostle Paul that the Gospel he preached is not of human origin. He did not receive it from any man, nor was he taught it to him by other men. Rather, he received it by revelation from Jesus the Anointed One.13
British statesman Baron George Lyttelton (1709-1773), in a letter to his friend Esquire Gilbert West who lived in the town of Wickham, in the county of Kent, just outside London, emphasizes the fact that there was too much against the Apostle Paul for him to be a fraud or Apostolic pretender. As Lord Lyttelton sees it, there is no way Paul could have successfully carried out any such deception. For how could anyone become an expert in explaining the secrets of a religion they never belonged to with any authority, let alone be an accepted Apostle among others who were part of it from the beginning? Logic tells us, says Lyttelton, he would naturally depend on them for his special understanding about Yeshua the Anointed One, someone he persecuted as a bitter enemy. It must have come another way, and by his own account, he makes it plain by what he says here in verse twelve.
Lord Lyttelton goes on to point out that if Paul did fabricate his story of conversion, he certainly would have located it in a place so remote or hidden that there were no witnesses to refute his claims. Lyttelton then cites as an example Joseph Smith and the mysterious golden plates of the Book of Mormon. Instead, the miracle of Paul’s conversion, with its great light from heaven exceeding the brightness of the sun, is placed in the public highway near Damascus; at noonday when the senses of his companions could not be deceived. Were to there to have been any shadow of disproof, how promptly the Jews in Damascus would have nipped the falsehood in the bud by the testimony of the witnesses who were present with Paul at the time. Nor would he be able to point to Ananias as a first- hand witness to his conversion and commissioning.
Furthermore, says Lord Lyttelton, when the Apostle stood on the castle steps of King Agrippa palace and told the whole story, why did not the Jewish authorities silence him at once and forever by showing that nothing of the kind ever took place, and proved it was not true by the abundant evidence of the competent witnesses who were with him? It was an event that took place before the eyes of the world and would be made at once a matter of the strictest scrutiny. And the truth of the matter is that it was so incontestably established that it became a matter of common knowledge. The Jews said the utmost they could against Paul before the Roman court, and yet Paul appealed directly to King Agrippa in presence of Festus as to his own personal knowledge of the truth of the story.14 In fact, the Jews tried to hide the truth about the resurrection of our Lord by calling the disciples liars, but they made no attempt to silence Paul as a liar. They have been forgotten, but Jesus and Paul are remembered and talked about to this day.
James Haldane (1768-1851), points out that this importance of Paul’s conversion and his commission as the Apostle to the Gentiles was so vital that it is recorded three times in Scripture.15 But rather than this leading to Paul being venerated and lifted up to a high position in the church, which was later claimed by the church for Peter’s sake, Haldane tells us to look at Paul’s calling as being connected to another aspect of his life he shared with the Corinthians.16 There he talks about being in prison, whipped, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, long tiring trips, confronted by robbers, sleepless nights, hungry, thirsty, left out in the cold, and not having sufficient clothes. For Paul, that should be reason enough for anyone to accept the fact that without his receiving a divine calling directly from the Anointed One, none of those things would have been tolerated.17
Greek Bible scholar Maria Mavromataki sees the divine intervention which occurred in the life and activities of Paul as truly beyond the comprehension of human reasoning, which finds it difficult to understand how a fanatical enemy of the Christians could so suddenly accept the word of Christ and, moreover, subsequently become the most tireless herald of it. Paul himself describes his conversion here in verses eleven to seventeen as a miracle from God: “I must make it clear to you, my friends, that the Gospel you heard me preach is not of human origin. I did not take it over from anyone; no one taught it to me; I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ … But then in His good pleasure, God, who from my birth set me apart, and who called me through His grace, chose to reveal His Son in and through me, in order that I might proclaim Him among the Gentiles …”18
John Brown (1800-1874) must have encountered some situations where ministers’ egos got in the way of their calling and began to promote themselves rather than the One they served. As far as he is concerned, this is a sign of someone with an enlarged mind and shrunken heart.19 One of the things ministers must always keep in mind is that they will most often be judged, not by their preaching, but by their character. Ministers are not just independent representatives of the Gospel, they are also privileged to hold their office as one of God’s chosen, and sent out as a special messenger with the Good News of His Kingdom.
Brown feels that there is something inconsistent and distasteful about a person whose mind ought to be habitually employed with the glory of God’s Character; the order and stability of the God’s kingdom; the restoration of a ruined world to purity and joy; the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God; the transforming and comforting influence of the Holy Spirit; the joys and the sorrows of eternity; and whose focus should be to bring all of these things in their reality and importance to the attention of their fellow believers. But somehow they only have time for themselves, their personal interests, and promoting their particular ministry.
1 2 Timothy 2:15
2 Haimo of Auxerre: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series) by Ian Levy, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Acts of the Apostles 9:8-9
4 Bruno the Carthusian: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series) by Ian Levy, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Romans 10:15
6 Acts of the Apostles 9:15
7 Isaiah 42:6
8 1 Corinthians 2:10
9 Isaiah 50:4-5
10 2 Corinthians 12:4
11 Thomas Aquinas: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 See Romans 15:18
13 John Bunyan: Grace Abounding to the Chief of sinners, Vol. 8, para. 285, p. 87
14 Sir George Lord Lyttelton: Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul, in a Letter to Gilbert West, Esq, Printed by R. and J. Dodsley, London 1754, pp. 43-45
15 Acts of the Apostles, 9: 22-26; 1 Corinthians 15:8, and here in Galatians.
16 2 Corinthians 11:23-33.
17 James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 46-47
18 Mavromataki, Maria. Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles – Journeys in Greece (Kindle Locations 225-234). Haitalis Editions. Kindle Edition.
19 John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 53-54