NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XLIV)
Then Theodoret of Cyrus (393-466 AD), writing to John the finance officer for the diocese of Cyrus,1 notifies him that he received information that fresh attacks are being made against the Faith of the Gospels, and, therefore, concluded that there may be more danger by not saying anything against such opposition. He heard that worshipers attending services saw that after certain church elders offered prayer, and concluded it in the customary manner, there were some who then continued the prayer with the benediction of, “For to You belongs glory and to Your Anointed One and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.” At the same time, some others said: “By the grace and lovingkindness of Your Anointed One, with whom belongs glory to You and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
But then, an archdeacon in the assembly prohibited the use of the expression, “Anointed One” and stated that only the term “Only Begotten Son” is the one that should be used. Theodoret says, that if this is indeed true, it would be impossible not to speak out against such lack of reverence for the Anointed One. It seems that this archdeacon was either dividing the One Lord Jesus the Anointed One into two Sons and regards the “only begotten Son” as lawful and natural in referring to Jesus, but “Anointed One” was a title that was adopted and is, therefore, illegitimate and should not be used in any benediction.
Theodoret then gets to the main point for breaking his silence. Let no one then foolishly suppose that the Anointed One is any other than the only begotten Son. Let no one imagine themselves wiser than the gift of the Spirit. The wise Apostle Paul fixed no other foundation for his faith other than our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. How then can they think of any other foundation when the great Apostle stated clearly, “I am crucified with the Anointed One, nevertheless I live.”2 So why fix another foundation on which to stand than that which is already laid? And again “For me to live is the Anointed One and to die is gain,”3 and again “For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus the Anointed One and Him crucified.”4 And a little before that, he says, “But we preach the Anointed One crucified to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed One the power of God and the wisdom of God.”5
Then Theodoret points to what Paul says here in verse fifteen. It was not the twelve apostles, nor Ananias, nor even Paul himself who predetermined that he would end up being the Apostle to the Gentiles, it was Jesus the Anointed One Himself who placed His mark on him before he was even born. And when writing to the Corinthians, Paul did not say, “We preach the Only Begotten Son crucified,” but, “We preach the Anointed One crucified.” This was not meant to show any disrespect to his commission as an Apostle, but that the Anointed One is the only begotten Son of God and the embodiment of God the Word.6 It’s amazing how such doctrinal errors found their way into the assembly of believers so early. So we can understand that what is happening in Galatia is already signs of Satan fighting back because he lost the battle on Calvary.
Another early church scholar Haimo of Auxerre (820-865 AD), points out that Peter and the other Apostles, after having been called by the Lord, were not prepared to preach right away. Furthermore, they did not do so right after His resurrection but were told to wait to receive the Holy Spirit. Paul, on the other hand, immediately after he was baptized, entered the synagogue of the Jews and began preaching publicly without any delay. It is true that one can connect the “immediately” to what follows, but it is better to link it to his remark that “God revealed the Son in me:” that is, through me. It is true that Paul began immediately to preach in Damascus. But after a short pause, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit out into the Arabian wilderness for three years to learn more about the Anointed One, just as the disciples follow Jesus for three years before they began their full-time ministries.
To put it another way, the living Word of the Father, namely, the Son, together with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, contains heaven and earth and fills all things. There is no place that the Son does not fill up through the fullness of His power. Because the Son is everywhere through the power of His divinity and fills all places, so He was also in Paul even though he did not realize it. Therefore, when God the Father gave the faith of His Son to Paul, it was at that time that He disclosed His Son to him. The Son Himself was already present there, however, when the Father made this revelation. Just as, for example, the Son was already present in the womb of the Virgin Mary, where He assumed flesh.7
This same thought is repeated by Thomas Aquinas 200 years later, but with this explanation of, “from my mother’s womb.” The Jewish synagogue, says Aquinas, was the womb of the synagogue – the college of Pharisees, who trained Paul in Judaism. Did not our Savior say of the Pharisees, “You’ll sail over high seas and journey overland just to make one proselyte.”8 Therefore, the synagogue was his womb. Aquinas could almost hear the words of Solomon in Paul’s thinking, “The sons of my mother have fought against me.”9 The womb here is the Pharisees. And from this womb, he was separated by the Holy Spirit into faith in the Gospel – “Separated to the Gospel of God.10”11
In another of his writings, Aquinas was dealing with the question of whether it was proper for any person to ask for the outcome if they didn’t what the story is? Nature does not supply us with two means of coming to a conclusion, says Aquinas, when only one of which will work. The question must come first before an answer can be found. If humanity tries to examine the effects without a cause, how much less does God do so? Just like a farmer firsts sows the seed in the ground before he looks for a harvest, so God sowed the seeds of virtue and ethics in our souls. Therefore, it is unfitting for Him to implant virtues simply by means of infusion.12 In other words, He plants the seeds of virtue and then watches them grow. That’s why Paul said, that first God separated him from his mother’s womb, then called him by His grace to reveal His Son to him that he might preach Him among the Gentiles, That’s why he didn’t go to anyone to get their approval.13 How foolish it would have been for Paul to go out to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles without first being called by God to do so.
Reformer Martin Luther has a similar story about his transition from the old way of looking at his faith by works and to the new way of experiencing and living it through faith by grace. Here’s what he said:
“We also have come to the knowledge of the truth by the same kindness of God. I crucified the Anointed One daily in my cloistered life and blasphemed God by my wrong faith. Outwardly I kept myself chaste, poor, and obedient. I was much given to fasting, watching, praying, saying of masses, and the like. Yet under the cloak of my outward respectability. I continually mistrusted, doubted, feared, hated, and blasphemed God. My righteousness was a filthy puddle. Satan loves such saints. They are his darlings, for they quickly destroy their body and soul by depriving them of the blessings of God’s generous gifts. I tell you I stood in awe of the pope’s authority. To dissent from him, I considered a crime worthy of eternal death. I thought of John Huss as a cursed heretic. I counted it a sin even to think of him. I would gladly have furnished the wood to burn him. I would have felt I did God a real service . . . Did God call me on account of my holy life? Or on account of my Pharisaical religion? Or on account of my prayers, fastings, and works? Never. Well, then, it is certain God did not call me on account of my blasphemies, persecutions, oppression. What prompted Him to call me? His grace alone.”14
John Calvin offers some advice on how to interpret Paul’s words here. The evidence Paul offers for his Apostleship does not appear strong on the surface. Although, when he was converted to Christianity so quickly, without consulting the Apostles he began preaching the Gospel without one of the Apostles as a mentor. So it might be concluded that he assumed that he was appointed to that office by the revelation of the Anointed One. But while the arguments he employs are various, when they are all collected, will be found sufficiently strong to establish his conclusion. He argues, first, that he was called by the grace of God; next, that his Apostleship was acknowledged as valid by the other Apostles; and the other arguments follow. Let the reader, therefore, remember to read the whole narrative together, and to draw the inference, not from single parts, but from the whole.15 This is good advice for any preacher or teacher. Always check the context before you try to interpret the text.
John Bunyan (1628-1688) was writing on the topic of being saved by grace, and begins by asking what does it mean to be saved? This involves a person being saved for the purpose for which God created them as part of His eternal plan. This leads Bunyan to ask quizzically, does that mean a person can be saved before they were converted? No! To serve that purpose one must be converted. Therefore, it requires that they be brought to the Anointed One first because no one is able to save but the Anointed One.16 But more than that, to be saved requires that the individual be willing to persevere until the end.17 Furthermore, only by persevering to the end would they be eligible for the resurrection and safe transfer to their new bodies and soul to heaven for eternity.18
Bunyan then focuses in on what does it mean to be “saved by grace?” Of all the meanings that Bunyan could find he chose, “God’s unmerited goodwill and favor.” This definition of grace seems best expressed by Paul when he chose an unusual Greek verb didōmi in speaking of God’s glorious grace having been “bestowed”19 or “freely given”20 to us.21 As far as Bunyan is concerned, the Galatians were trying to earn what was freely given to them so that they could claim that it was by their works they are save.
1 Cyrus is located near the city of Shira, in what is now Iran. Today it is an archaeological site and one of Iran’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. A limestone tomb there is believed to be that of Cyrus the Great.
2 Galatians 2:20
3 Philippians 1:21
4 1 Corinthians 2:2
5 Ibid. 1:23
6 Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus: Letters, To John the œconomus (Finance Officer), p. 657
7 Haimo of Auxerre, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Matthew 23:15
9 Song of Solomon 1:6, New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition
10 Romans 1:1
11 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc .cit.
12 Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Volume 2, Part (2a), Question (63), Article (3), Objection (3), p. 675
13 Galatians 1:15-16
14 Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., p. 25
15 John Calvin, Bible Cabinet, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 19-21
16 Ephesians 2:8
17 Mathew 24:13
18 1 Peter 1:9
19 2 Corinthians 8:1
20 1 Corinthians 2:12
21 John Bunyan: The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded, Ch. 5, pp. 234-235