NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XLVIII)
Even though Paul saw the bright light in the sky with his eyes, and heard the Lord speaking to him with his ears, that was not the whole revelation. It wasn’t until Ananias’ prayer and prophesy caused the scales to peeled away from Paul’s eyes after he heard what the Lord said to his repentant heart and mind that the revelation began. So as Paul says, it was not flesh and blood that reveals the Anointed One to us. Without the teaching of the Spirit, what we see and hear will only be like the letters of the alphabet in a book to a child that cannot read.1 Both Strong and Matheson are joined by W. E. Channing who stated, we must never forget that being able to perceive and understand things we see and hear is a great gift from God, and for this we should give Him our grateful gratitude.2 Channing goes on to say that he is surer that his mental reasoning nature is from God more than those things written in a book is the expression of His will.3 Channing is referring to books written about God’s will by philosophers and scholars.
Paul’s treatment by the Judaizers after he converted to Christianity makes one think of how the Roman Catholic Church handled Martin Luther and John Calvin, who, after their conversion, went out to preach the Gospel without first going to Rome to get approval. One Jewish commentator says that while Paul was in Arabia, he began putting together his revolutionary version of the Gospel. It was revolutionary in that for the first time a Scriptural and theological basis was given for presenting the Gospel to Gentiles without their having to become Jews first.4
Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918), notes that what happened to Paul has been true down through the ages. The open revelation of God to mankind has varied again and again, but His secret revelation to the soul that turns a person away from sin to Him has always been the same. That’s what the Psalmist said: “He brought me up from the roaring pit, up from the muddy ooze, and set my feet on a rock, making my footing firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will look on in awe and put their trust in Adonai.”5 That’s why even as His saints sang this three thousand years ago so we can sing it again today.6 Anderson goes on to note that Paul’s words here in verse sixteen, “It pleased God to reveal His Son in me,” is Paul’s personal testimony. So if Peter recognized Paul as a child of the Living God, what he said was certainly a revelation from the Father in heaven.7 And it was with the rest of those with Peter, they needed to listen to the words of Paul as if they were being spoken by God.8
Bible scholar Walter F. Adeney (1849-1920) focuses on what he sees as Paul’s teaching on destiny. It is clear that the Apostle Paul feels that from his birth he was set apart for the great apostolic work of his later years. In fact, there is a destiny in every life. God has His purpose of calling us into being. This destiny is determined for us, not by us. We do not choose the circumstances in which we are born, nor our own gifts and attitudes. We can sometimes escape from our surroundings, but we can never escape from ourselves. Whether a person discovers the world as a prince in a palace, or as a parentless child in an orphanage, is entirely beyond their control. It is equally impossible for them to determine whether they will have the genius of Einstein or confined to the mind of a two-year-old up until adulthood.
Yet, says Adeney, these differences have a huge effect a person’s necessary future! They may unaware of their destiny for a long time. No doubt the Apostle Paul never dreamed, while he sat at the feet of Gamaliel nor while he was harassing Christians, that he would one day be a Champion for the Anointed One. Our destiny is controlled by the providence of God who gradually reveals it to us. But it is our duty to walk in the path we have been assigned to until our destiny is finally realized. God may show you your destiny but He will not carry you to it. To resist God’s leading is to insinuate He doesn’t know what He’s doing. This often happens, because although we have been set apart for a particular job in His vineyard, we may refuse to follow it by our free-will,9 but at great cost.10
Charles B. Stevens (1854-1906) confesses here in verses fifteen and sixteen that as a radical Pharisee Paul was closed minded to any instruction, critique, or intervention by outside sources. For him, it was the Torah and the oral Teachings of the Pharisees that occupied his mind constantly. However, now that the Anointed One revealed Himself to Paul in such an indisputable and miraculous way, he was now just as closed-minded to any other gospel or teaching that might try and persuade him differently. All his understanding of the Jewish way of approaching God was dependent upon what his natural eye could see and comprehend which required good works in order to show one believed. But this unveiling of the Anointed One on the road to Damascus and the witness of Ananias was seen and comprehended by his spiritual eye. The first one required works, this last one required faith in order to believe.11
Jewish scholar Adriaan Liebenberg offers us some insight into how this verse can be understood in a somewhat different way when we see how it was written in the Aramaic text, the language Jesus and Paul spoke. The Aramaic verb negla, which is akin to the Hebrew verb glah means to “uncover, disclose, reveal,”12 but in Aramaic, it can also mean “manifested,” as in revealing through a visual process. Paul told Timothy how Jesus was manifest in the flesh to be seen and heard.13 This was how the disciples saw Him. So Paul wanted everyone to know that Jesus revealed Himself to him through a visual process. So there could be no doubt that his calling was as valid as that of the other Apostles.14
Several current Bible scholars made a very salient point when they wrote that we should praise God that it was His will to show us grace, not our will. That’s what Paul says: “So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy.”15 Paul didn’t deserve mercy; he didn’t even ask for it. It pursued him. The same holds true for us: we do not deserve God’s mercy, nor do we even know how to seek it. It seeks us. And it finds us. Mercy comes running, and by His grace, God pursues you with His love. His pleasure in you is not dependent on your pursuit of Him, but His pursuit of you. That’s one of the reasons the Judaizers were criticizing the Gospel of free grace that Paul was preaching, and, therefore, tried to discredit his ministry.16
There’s an old Puritan saying that goes, “God does not break all hearts in the same way.” In other words, we all may have our hearts set on what we think God should do for us, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Because of that, it is necessary that anyone chosen by God for a special ministry, like Paul’s should be willing to include their joys and disappointments in their story and do so honestly. For Paul, his story occurred during the period when God chose to unveil Jesus of Nazareth as the true Anointed One; it paralleled the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of our LORD and Savior. As a result, Paul’s life, his vocation, his whole identity was impacted by the original Gospel message being carried out in his lifetime. Therefore, since he already received God’s approval and direction, he did not need to get any critic’s stamp of approval.
1:16b-17 But I didn’t rush off right away to get approval from anyone. I didn’t even go up to Jerusalem to visit with those who were apostles before I became one. Instead, I took a trip into the Arabian Desert for a while. After that, I returned to Damascus.
Underlying the attitude that Paul expresses here about not feeling obligated to run up to Jerusalem to get the approval of the Apostles for his conversion is expressed very well in the Book of Hebrews: “It is true that we share the same Father with Jesus. And it is true that we share the same kind of flesh and blood because Jesus became a man like us. He died as we must die. Through His death He destroyed the power of the devil who has the power of death.”17 In other words, Paul entered the arena of the ministry on the same level as the Apostles, and his calling to be an Apostle by the Anointed One Himself was no less important than the calling of the others.
What happened in Damascus after Paul’s conversion was proof enough that his calling was genuine. Luke tells us that once Saul began to preach in the Jewish synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God, all who heard him were surprised and amazed. They wondered if this was the same man who beat and killed the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem; the same person who came to Damascus and shackled the followers of the Anointed One in chains and took them to the head Jewish leaders for interrogation. But this didn’t keep Saul from growing in influence. The Jews living in Damascus were astonished by Saul’s preaching. He was proving that Jesus was the Anointed One.18 Later, Paul told the Corinthians that in the city of Damascus the leader of the people under King Aretas put soldiers at the gates to arrest me. But I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and I got away.19
Augustine of Hippo has a very Roman Catholic view on this part of Paul’s story. For him, if Paul visited Peter after preaching the Gospel in Arabia, it was not for the purpose of learning the Gospel from him. Were that the case, he would surely have seen Peter first. Rather, he visited Peter so that by meeting him in person he might build up brotherly love between them. But he did not see any of the other Apostles except James the Lord’s brother.20 James is understood to be the Lord’s brother because he was one of Joseph’s sons by another wife or perhaps one of the relatives of the Lord’s mother Mary21.22
1 George Matheson: Moments on the Mount, 4th Ed., A. C. Armstrong and Son, New York, 1904, Ch. XXIII, pp.52-53
2 The Centennial Edition of the Complete Works of W. E. Channing, Williams and Norgate, London, 1880, p. 219
3 Ibid. p. 269
4 Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary
5 Psalm 40:2-3 – Complete Jewish Bible
6 See the hymn “He Brought Me Out,” by Henry J. Zelley, 1898
7 Cf. Matthew 16:17
8 Sir Robert Anderson: The Gospel and Its Ministry, James Nisbet & Co, London, 1876 , p.48
9 See Matthew 21:29-31
10 Walter F. Adeney: Expositors Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Charles B. Stevens: Pauline Theology, op. cit., pp. 8, 10-11
12 See Leviticus 18:7; Isaiah 26:21; Job 20:27
13 1 Timothy 3:16
14 Adriaan Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 25
15 Romans 9: 16
16 Platt, David; Merida,Tony. Exalting Jesus in Galatians, (the Anointed One-Centered Exposition Commentary). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, p. 9
17 Hebrews 2:14
18 Acts of the Apostles 9:20-22
19 2 Corinthians 11:32-33
20 Galatians 1:19
21 The question of the Lord’s `brothers’ was hotly debated in the fourth century. Of the two views mentioned here, the former is associated particularly with Epiphanius, the latter with Jerome. Both were intended to safeguard the perpetual virginity of Mary. A third view, associated with Helvidius, Jovinian and Vigilantius but not mentioned here, held that the brothers were sons of Mary and Joseph born after Jesus.
22 Augustine, op. cit.