NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XLII)
It was the characteristic of a Pharisee to hold these traditions as being of equal authority with the principles of the Law. Not only that but in many cases, they awarded them preference. That’s why our Lord told them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”1 These are the traditions that Paul mentions and admits his zeal for observing them to the very letter. After all, in his mind, these things were absolutely necessary for salvation. That why he now tried to convince the Galatians, that his preaching of justification without works of the Law could be attributed to nothing less than the force of truth communicated to him through a revelation from God’s Son by the Holy Spirit.2
James Haldane felt that it was worth mentioning back in the late 1700s in Europe, what corrupted the Jewish religion in Paul’s day, corrupted the Christian religion in Haldane’s day. Both religions held doctrines attributed to the same Holy Scriptures. Both believed that they were given by inspiration of God through the Holy Spirit. Once the educated Rabbis began teaching their understanding of the Scriptures, the Torah was put away, and only what the Rabbis said about the Torah was taught in their synagogues. This was done as a way of preserving the true message of what Moses taught and was seen as an honor to God. In England, the church clergy was doing the same thing by putting their words above the Word of God.
But Haldane believes by doing so they took away the key of knowledge. Jews even forbid the reading of the Torah least someone misinterpreted it. When Rabbis disagreed in their interpretations, it was not on what the Torah said but on what the other Rabbi said. Unfortunately, the same thing happened to the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Only priests were allowed to read the Scriptures, but even they never read the Gospels through to see what was said. They took the word of the Vatican teachers and most of all, the Pope. What he said became “ex-cathedra.”3
Believe it or not, even in Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, the creeds and Declarations of Faith that they composed were the final interpretations of whatever Scriptures were attached to them. More people were dismissed from local church roles over violation of church rules than any offence against the Scriptures. But today, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. While church rules have been softened and not enforced to the letter, the Bible still seems to be a sealed book to many ministers and believers. It is a sad thing that so many Christians are ignorant of even the fundamentals of God’s Holy Word.4
Johann Lange believes that Paul is talking here about more than just what he was taught as a Pharisee. His education included the whole Jewish religion. Lange notes that J. B. Lightfoot’s paraphrase of verse thirteen: “My early education is proof that I did not receive the Gospel from man. I was brought up in a rigid school of ritualism, directly opposed to the liberty of the Gospel,”5 is proof enough that Paul’s training in Judaism left no room for the Gospel, which came later. Being subject to the constant repetition in memorizing the principles of his Jewish faith is what led him to become a relentless persecutor of the Christian faith. So his conversion to Christianity did not come from some splinter group within Judaism, which was more tolerant of opposing views.6 He became a member of the “called out ones” who followed Yeshua of Nazareth because He was the true Messiah.
Alfred E. Bouter (born 1943) sees a comparison between Paul’s fanatic commitment to the principles of Jewish Pharisaism and the Law, and his ultimate commitment to the Gospel of Yeshua the Anointed One and the Cross. Bouter offers a paraphrase of verses thirteen and fourteen to make his point. “For you have heard what was my conversation formerly in Judaism, that I excessively persecuted the assemblies of believers, and ravaged them and advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my nation, being exceedingly zealous of the doctrines of my fathers.”
So when the Lord came to earth, His problem was not with the Law itself that God authorized for Moses to mediate with the children of Israel. Yeshua proved to be a perfect Jew. He lived His life according to the Law God gave through Moses. He Himself said, “Don’t misunderstand why I came. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the Writings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them all perfectly.”7 He was a law-abiding Jew, the only One who ever kept the Law to perfection. Even a zealot like Paul could not compare to Him. His conflict was not with the Law but with the Jews’ interpretations of the Law and their man-made traditions (later recorded in the Mishnah, the Talmud), and in other rabbinical writings.
The conflict the Lord encountered with rabbinic Judaism, was not the Law of Moses, and its oral laws of the Rabbis of which He was always in disagreement. As for Paul, before his conversion he promoted rabbinic Judaism and was, therefore, by definition, in conflict with the Lord, as he was “exceedingly zealous of the doctrines of his forefathers.”8 It was not until Paul gave up his oral law and traditions of the Pharisees to accept the Teaching of Yeshua the Anointed One that he finally saw the light. The Messiah’s teachings agreed with the Law of Moses – which spoke of the Messiah as the successor to Moses,. Based on that Paul was able to reject his errant ways.9
Avi ben Mordechai (born 1960) points out that it was exactly this departure by Paul from enforcing the oral laws of the Rabbis and his return to the pure words of the Written Torah and the Prophets,10 that stirred up so many of the Jewish leaders wherever he went to become his avid enemies,11 and attempt to do to him what they did to Yeshua.12 So Paul is painting a picture of himself as one time being a great rabbinical master of Jewish oral law, who is now seen by his former friendly friends and colleagues as nothing but a traitor and needed to be silenced. Not because he was breaking the Law, but because they didn’t want to let the truth get out.13
As mentioned before, when Paul speaks of the traditions of his forefathers he is talking about oral Rabbinical teachings that later became part of the Mishnah and Talmud. Jewish scholar Adriaan Liebenberg (born 1970) enforces that concept by noting that Paul is revealing who he was before the Anointed One appeared to him. He tells us that he was a very learned man in the oral teachings of the Rabbis.14 Although he did study the Torah and knew it exceptionally well, many of the teachings and traditions of Judaism were based on the traditions of the elders. Many of these teachings and traditions contradicted the Written Torah. The reason why Paul persecuted the “Assembly of Elohim” is because the Pharisaical law, which was based on Oral Law, was the Law of the State of Israel. Anyone rejecting the Oral Law and following only what is written in the Hebrew Scriptures was persecuted by the Pharisaical rulers.15
Another Jewish writer, Tim Hegg, asks if Paul’s use of the word “Judaism” here to identify a split between “Judaism” and “Christianity” that already occurred in his time? No! Not in the normal understanding of the word “Christianity.” But it does indicate that the people of “The Way” already had a different view of what membership in the covenant of Abraham really meant and that this fell outside of the boundaries of the Judaism defined according to a Pharisaic view of covenant membership status. Paul uses the Greek noun loudaismos to identify what the KJV calls, “the Jews religion.” It is interesting that the Complete Jewish Bible renders it, “the traditions handed down by my forefathers,” even though the earliest Orthodox Jewish Bible used Yahadut – Judaism.
Unfortunately, during the time following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, early church writer Ignatius already identified this word Judaism as “that which stood opposed to” Christianity. For instance, in his Letters to the Magnesians, he pits “Judaism” against “Christianity,” which he defines as those who believe in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah. In the short version of this letter, Ignatius wrote: “Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divine prophets lived according to the Anointed One – Jesus.”16 So for early Jewish converts, according to Ignatius, “It is absurd to profess Jesus the Anointed One and to live under Judaism. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism embraced Christianity, so that tongue which believers might use be in union with God”17.18
We have a similar situation with the history of Protestantism. At first, it was not an outside organization or cult opposed to the Roman Catholic Church. Many of its early leaders, like Martin Luther, we devout Catholics. The more they read the Scriptures the more they saw that the Church needed reform. So they attempted to reform it from within. It was only when the Roman Church authorities rejected their reforms that they were excommunicated and forced to struggle to stay alive on their own. But before then they tried their best to get the Church’s leadership to see the light. But all for naught. Some of the individual state governments were allowed to choose between Luther’s point of view and that of the Vatican. But that was also denied and religious freedom died. As a result, the followers of Luther and others filed a “Protest” against the cancellation of this freedom. Hence they became known as “Protestants.” So it might be in error for any church organization to refer to themselves as “Protestants” when, in fact, they are not protesting anything the Roman Catholic Church does in the realm of ecumenism.
1 Mark 7:9
2 Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Ex cathedra is a Latin phrase which means “from the seat.” That seat was the throne on which the Pope sat and his words were considered binding and infallible. There was no court of appeal. What he said, was final.
4 James A. Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 48-53
5 See J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 224
6 Johann P. Lange: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 24
7 Matthew 5:17
8 Alfred E. Bouter: Outline of Galatians, op. cit., pp. 17-18
9 Deuteronomy 18:15; see Acts of the Apostles 3:22
10 Acts of the Apostles 24:14
11 Ibid. 25:2-3
12 John 7:1; Matthew 26:57-68
13 Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 10
14 The Oral Law is man’s opinions and theories of YaHWeH’s Written Law and the Pharisees taught that it carries more weight than YaHWeH’s Written Law, the Torah.
15 Adriaan Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 24
16 The Ante-Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Vol. 1, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians, Ch. 8, pp. 124-125
17 Ibid. Ch. 10, p. 127
18 Tim Hegg: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 40 [p. 31]