NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXVI)
Obviously, the Apostle Paul and his ministry are a prime example of just the opposite of what Brown describes. Paul’s dedication to his calling and ministry rose above all other things in his life. He willingly suffered end endured many things that he called small in comparison to what awaited him in heaven. Pleasing the One who called him was more important than pleasing himself or his admirers. The angels in heaven rejoiced over each new member born into God’s spiritual family.1 And I agree with Brown, that the angels in heaven probably weep each time they see one of His chosen servants indulging in personal delights and ego trips rather than carrying their cross to the glory of God.
Johann Lange (1802-1884) sees a clear distinction made here by Paul as to his calling and his revelation. His calling came on the road to Damascus and later with the laying on hands by Ananias. But his revelation was soon to be described as three years in the Arabian desert before he ever went to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles.2 So it appears that Paul must first meet the Anointed One, receive his calling, and then his anointing before he can understand anything about the Gospel the Anointed One was going to send him out to preach, especially to the Gentiles.3
James Barr Walker (1805-1887), professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, makes the comparison between a traveler being told by another traveler of a spring by the roadside. There is no reason to doubt someone who has been there and drank from the spring with water that strengthened them as it did many others. In the same way, the Apostle Paul says that what he knows about the Anointed One and the Gospel, was shared with him by the Holy Spirit.4 And that spring represented the promises of the First Covenant about who the Anointed One would be, all of which was fulfilled in Jesus the Anointed One. It’s not so much that Paul was given insight and knowledge that none of the other Apostles learned from Jesus. It was only that this was what made Paul believe what Jesus told him as opposed to not believing the Apostles when he was persecuting the Church.5
William O’Conor (1820-1887) touches on a point that so far has not been fully explored by other commentators. Paul was given the privilege of sitting in Jerusalem at the feet of the venerated Sanhedrin member, Rabbi Gamaliel. So he was very familiar with the Jewish form of teaching. In fact, when the Mishnah was composed by Rabbi Judah HaNasi (the Prince), the oral teachings of the Rabbis were finally committed to writing following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. The first known printed edition of the Mishnah was published by Joshua Solomon ben Israel Nathan Soncino on May 8, 1492.6
Before the times of Rabbi Judah, it was forbidden to write a public record of the Oral Law, although notes for teaching and private use were permitted. This prohibition existed for several reasons. First, because new situations always arise, writing down the Oral Law would limit its scope. Second, just as any complex body of knowledge, such as surgery, cannot be learned from textbooks alone but also requires interaction with a master teacher, so, too, the Oral Law cannot be fully understood without a living Rebbe to explain its meaning. Third, Gentiles could claim it as their own, saying they are the chosen Jewish people, much as they attempted to do based on their translation of the Bible. Without the oral interpretation of the Written Torah, it remains a sealed book, thus forestalling such claims. All those important ideas to the contrary, Rabbi Judah realized that Roman rule was only temporary. Eventually, times would become unstable again, and Jews would scatter throughout the world. It was thus necessary for every Jew to have a guidebook spelling out the major points of all the mitzvim (Laws).
So the Apostle Paul was very much aware of how these oral traditions slowly replaced the Torah as the guiding light for Judaism around the world. So he expressed no interest in seeing the Gospel, which contained the teachings of the Anointed One, following the same route. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has happened the last few years where Ministers cite a Scripture but never read it, and the text for their sermon is not from the Bible but from book or audio tape. No wonder Paul wanted the Galatians to know that he did not arrive at his understanding of the Gospel after years of listening to any oral traditional teaching. It was a revelation, just like John’s revelation on the Isle of Patmos, made possible by the Holy Spirit.
Theologian Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) thinks that Paul included the I as an unexpressed reference to the older Apostles; “for neither did I,” any more than the other Apostles, received it from a man, such as Peter, James, or John. But German Reformed theologian Friedrich Sieffert objects to this as improbable, because Paul makes no reference to the other Apostles up to this point. The Greek noun apokalypsis used here in verse twelve and translated “revelation” (KJV) signifies, literally, an uncovering, laying bare, unveiling, disclosing. And here in the Final Covenant it always denotes a disclosure of religious truth which was before unknown to the individual. This disclosure is made to the soul either by God himself or by the ascended Anointed One, especially through the operation of the Holy Spirit,7 and is in that way distinguished from other modes of instruction.
Hovey contends that a partial revelation of Christian truth, before unknown, was made to Paul when Jesus appeared to him on the way to Damascus; but we cannot suppose that his knowledge of the Gospel was completed at once. The most natural opinion would certainly seem to be this: that as, on the one hand, we may reverently presume that all the fundamental truths of the Gospel would be fully revealed to the Apostle Paul before he commenced preaching. So, on the other hand, it might have been ordained that its deepest mysteries and most profound harmonies should be seen and felt through the practical experiences of his apostolic labors. One cannot avoid speculating that during the first three years of Paul’s conversion a great part of the truth, which he was to preach as the only Gospel, was revealed to him with divine clearness and evidence.8
Prominent Northern Irish member of the Plymouth Brethren Movement, William Kelly (1821-1908) states there may be some who object to Paul’s claim of being an independent Apostle apart from the approval or ordination of the other Apostles. After all, they say, we do read of believers setting apart and laying on of hands in the Final Covenant. That is not to be argued, all Bible scholars accept that as being Scriptural. But in some cases, a person who exhibits excellent qualifications for the work of sharing and spreading the Gospel can be chosen by a local congregation and put in charge. They may lack the formal manner in which the church authorities appoint such pastors, but they are clothed with a certain dignity in the eyes of the saints to serve their needs.
For instance, says Kelly, we see that elders are not called “teachers” in Scripture, but simply that they are “likely to teach.”9 Their primary function is to oversee the work without being required to get a higher degree in teaching. The power in their teaching will make itself felt. Saints of God will always, in the long run, be obliged to accept it. That’s why when a person receives a gift from the Lord, they need not be worried about having the endorsement of those higher up in the Church just to make it valid. Since God gave the gift He will make it respected. But when there are ministers who have highly respectable qualities as teachers but without ministerial power, they may need to be invested with authority by those above them to be accepted by unspiritual people. Therefore, it seems we read of an Apostle going around and taking the lead in governing, appointing, advising, where certain insights were lacking among the saints.10
What Kelly is saying, is that a minister or teacher must, first of all, receive a calling from God before they accept a calling from church authorities. And where such individuals are planted in the Body of the Anointed One, but who are without any higher church authority to set them forth, their local congregation can recognize God’s calling on their life and receive them as preachers and teachers. But even as Paul did three years later, he sought out the senior Apostle Peter to get his recognition as being one sent by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. And if Peter suspected or detected that Saul of Tarsus was not a genuinely called servant of God, neither he, James, John, or the Council would have approved of his ministry, for he was equal to them in all facets of the ministry. This can be seen both in his calling and his instruction, even though he never mentions any other individual as being his teacher in the desert except the Spirit of Anointed One Himself.11
Joseph Beet (1840-1924) feels that what Paul is trying to explain here is that the preaching of the true Gospel is not possible based on the powers of human intellectual discovery alone. It must be accompanied by a revelation received from God through the Anointed One. Just because someone tells you something they think the Bible says, it is not enough unless the Holy Spirit makes it clear to you.12 Paul is referencing back to the revelation conveyed to him13 by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit14 of wisdom and revelation received at Damascus though15 the agency of Ananias. There is no reason to believe that all of this was instantaneous, but that it came progressively. He certainly knew of Jesus before his conversion, that’s why he persecuted Jesus’ followers and saw Stephen martyred. But he was ignorant, like Nicodemus, and needed to be born again before he could fully comprehend the kingdom of God.16
J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) sees Paul’s explanation of how he received the revelation of who Jesus really was and the Gospel that He brought to be transmitted to all mankind through preaching, was no different than that of the other Apostles. They too received this revelation directly from Jesus without it going through another medium such as John the Baptizer. Their three years of walking with Jesus was also similar to Paul’s three years in the Arabian Desert. So Paul was not trying to distinguish himself from the other Apostles as being better than they were.
1 Luke 15:7
2 See verses 16-20
3 Lange, John Peter: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 27
4 Hebrews 10:15
5 James B. Walker: Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Vol. II of “The Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation,” Published by Henry A. Sumner, Chicago, 1870, pp. 120-121
6 O’Conor, W. A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 13
7 1 Corinthians 2:10
8 Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 18–19
9 See 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9
10 William Kelly: Lectures on the Epistle of Paul, the Apostle to the Galatians With a New Translation, Published by G. Morrish, London, 1865, p. 7
11 J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 223-224
12 See Romans 1:17; Matthew 11:27; 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:7, 13; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1
13 Ephesians 3:5
14 Ibid 1:17
15 Acts of the |Apostles 9:17
16 Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 23-25