NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson L)
When Paul returned to Damascus, in the very city he was headed for to hunt down Christians for execution, and begin preaching Jesus of Nazareth as the Anointed One some people were astonished, some were outraged, and some tried to kill him.1 “So,” exclaims Paul to the Jews and Gentiles in Galatia, “I am one of God’s chosen instruments; how do you feel about treating one of God’s anointed the way you are doing?” And can you imagine how the good ole boys back in Jerusalem felt about this upstart not coming to explain himself and get their blessing right after his conversion? Why did he wait so long? Who did he learn from? Who gave him their blessing? If these Judaizers thought Paul could be scared if they raised objections to his calling as an Apostle to the Gentiles; or that the higher-ups in the assembly of believers might object to his style of preaching and teaching, they were in for a big shock.
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) outlines some of the things that made Paul such a confident Apostle of the Anointed One to the Gentles. His calling and commission were not accomplished in an ordinary way, says Henry, nor by simple, ordinary means. First of all, God established this plan for him long before he exited his mother’s womb, and before he did anything to qualify himself for such a calling. The next thing, he was called by God’s grace, not as a favor or reward from the Believers’ Assembly Council in Jerusalem nor any of the other Apostles. Nor did he receive such a revelation to announce himself an emissary from God after meditating under a fig tree like Buddha, or in a cave, like Mohammad.
There was something peculiar in the case of Paul, both in the suddenness and in the greatness of the change that occurred in him, and also in the manner by which it was brought about by Jesus the Anointed One’s personal appearance to him, and the immediate command to follow the Lord’s instructions to initiate his calling. As such, it was rendered a more special and extraordinary instance of divine power and favor. Furthermore, the Anointed One not only revealed Himself to Paul but was revealed as dwelling in Paul. This goes for all Christians, comments Henry. It will be of little help to us if we have the Anointed One revealed to us if He is not also revealed in us. We may say that we’ve seen Jesus, but can others see Jesus in us? And finally, this was all designed by God for him to preach among the Gentiles whom, as a Jew, he once hated, and, among Christians whom he once persecuted. For such a radical Jewish Pharisee to suddenly become a Christian and an Apostle by direct revelation from God was something only God could do.2
John Bengel (1687-1752) makes a good point by noting that the good pleasure of God is the farthest point which a man can reach when he is inquiring with respect to the causes of his salvation. Paul attributes nothing to merit, not even his years of study as a Pharisee under the tutelage of the venerable Rabban Gamaliel.3 However, Joseph Benson attributes Paul’s mastery of the Gospel to his three years in Arabia during which time he employed himself in studying the Jewish Scriptures more carefully than ever, with the help of a new light which was bestowed on him; in searching into the true nature of the Law of Moses, and in attending to such revelations as the Anointed One was pleased to give to him. And by these revelations, he acquired a complete knowledge of all the Anointed One’s doctrines, sayings, miracles, sufferings, resurrection, and ascension, and of the design both of the law and of the Gospel, and of the confirmation which the Gospel is derived from the writings of Moses and the prophets.4
Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), a Jewish convert to Christianity and Biblical scholar, made a trip into Palestine sometime before 1876 and shares what he found there. Upon reaching the city of Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, he noticed that the busiest road in Palestine, was the one on which the publican Levi Matthew sat at the “receipt of custom,” and when our Lord came by and called him into the fellowship of the Gospel. Matthew then made that great feast to which he invited his fellow-publicans, that they also might see and hear Him in Whom he found everlasting life and peace.5 For, it was the only truly international road of all those which passed through Palestine; indeed, it formed one of the great highways of the Middle East’s commerce.
At the time during which Paul wrote, it may be said, in general, that six main arteries of commerce and communication traversed the country of Israel, the chief objective points being Cæsarea, the military encampments, and Jerusalem the religious capital. One was the southern route, which led from Jerusalem, by way of Bethlehem, on to Hebron, and then westwards to Gaza, and branched off northeastwards into Arabia, from which it then led directly north to Damascus. It is by this road we imagine that the Apostle Paul traveled when retiring into isolation in Arabia immediately after his conversion that he mentions here in verses seventeen and eighteen.6 It helps us understand why the Evangelists and Luke gave little time to such detailed directions of where Jesus walked and where Paul traveled. But to know that it did not change all that much in 1800 years is remarkable. How would you like to have today’s technology and be able to travel back in time and visit that area? If you find a way, take me and my wife with you.
Edward Huxtable (1833-1893) sees here in verse twelve, the effects that perception has on the reception of teaching or a message. I remember when studying Psychology at the University of North Dakota that we were told how a teacher wanted to prove this point so he chose a young fellow professor to help him. He picked out a good number of students from Freshmen to Seniors, equal men and women, and of various age groups to attend a seminar on government policies on education. When the first group came in, the older professor introduced young professor as a Senior Student Associate. To the next group he was introduced as a Graduate Student; to the next as a Post-Graduate Student with a Master’s Degree. And finally, to the last group as an Official from the Federal Government’s Department of Education. At the end of each session, the students were asked to fill out a form in which they expressed their confidence in the speakers level of believe-ability. The speaker introduced as a Senior Student Assistant got the lowest score and the government official got the highest score, even the young professor said the very same things to all the groups.
Huxtable believes that Paul is doing a similar thing here to establish his credentials as a bonafide expert on the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One. In Paul’s own words he told the Galatians: I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus the Anointed One. You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion – how I violently persecuted God’s assembly of believers. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him to reveal His Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.
When this happened, says Paul, I did not rush out to consult with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were Apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.7 Paul was the only one among the Apostles with that kind of history. The Judaizers who came from Jerusalem were no match for Paul in his knowledge of the Torah and Oral Teachings. Nor were they able to claim any special revelation from Jesus the Anointed One Himself. So isn’t it a shame that the Galatians were ready to believe these pretend apostles instead of a God-ordained and Jesus-taught the Apostle with his great testimony of deliverance and empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
George B. Stevens (1854-1906) spoke earlier about Paul’s disappointment in how the Galatians didn’t seem to appreciate all he went through to bring them the freedom-giving Gospel of the Anointed One. Now here in verses eleven through seventeen, it appears that Paul was led to believe that part of this rejection of him is because they were being persuaded that the Good News he brought them was something he borrowed from someone else or thought up and invented on his own. So with strong language, Paul writes them that the teaching he gave them was not composed by human hands and minds. Rather, it came to him by a personal revelation of Jesus the Anointed One.
Now, just in case they weren’t fully aware of what that meant to him and eventually to them, he reminds them that at one time, not too long ago, he was a zealous defender of the Jewish religion that led him to become a fanatic persecutor of the assembly of believers. So it should be obvious to them that this sudden transformation could not have happened without God working a miracle. And the reason his abrupt change occurred is that God already had plans for him to serve the great purpose of revealing the Anointed One as the truly risen and glorified the Anointed One, Yeshua of Nazareth, to the Gentile world. That’s why this persecutor became a preacher and missionary to the whole world, That is the only way to explain it because that’s what really happened.
Furthermore, after his conversion and anointing by Ananias in Damascus, he didn’t head for Jerusalem to get instructions from the Apostles. Rather, the Spirit led him into the remote regions of Arabia where this was all further revealed to him. Paul is more or less saying, it’s alright if you want to reject me, but you are on dangerous ground by rejecting the Gospel I brought you because it came directly from God.8 This is a lesson for all of us who have been chosen and called to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One. Let people know it’s alright with you if they don’t want to accept you as a person, they should be careful that they do not reject the message God gave you to share with them.
Then Grant Osborne has an interesting point to make. It is an interesting question whether the Greek preposition/dative pronoun en emoi in verse sixteen should be translated as “in me” (KJV, NIV) or as “to me” (New Living Translation, Good News Translation), which seem more natural. Is the emphasis on the internal change in Paul (in me) or on the vision itself (to me)? Likely the revelation to Paul is implicit in the verb itself, and the unusual language “in me” should be taken literally as a reference to the internal change in Paul – his conversion. It is hard to imagine a more complete transformation. Paul was transformed from an Anointed One-hater to an Anointed One-believer, then an Anointed One-worshiper, and finally to a missionary to the despised Gentiles – all as the result of a single vision! No wonder he spent the next three days blind and isolated in Damascus.9 It took him that long just to begin to process the radical alteration of everything he ever believed and thought.10
1 Cf. Acts of the Apostles 9:19b-25
2 Henry, Matthew: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 348-361)
3 John Bengel: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 575
4 Joseph Benson: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Luke 5:29
6 Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of the Anointed One, Ch. 4, p. 41
7 Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Galatians, Exposition, Edward Huxtable, p. 20
8 The Messages of the Bible, Edited by Frank K. Sanders and Charles F. Kent, Vol. XI, The Messages of Paul by George Barker Stevens, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1901, p. 68
9 Acts of the Apostles 9:8-9
10 Osborne, G. R: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 37