NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LI)
1:18-19 It wasn’t until three years later I made a trip to Jerusalem. I went up there to get acquainted with Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. The only other Apostle I visited with during this time was James, our Lord’s brother.
Paul does not tell us what motivated him to finally make a journey to Jerusalem to meet the other Apostles. But it is clear, that he may have picked out Peter because of his reputation of how he handled their early persecution by the religious leaders in Jerusalem and Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. But in any case, Paul set his heart on staying with him for fifteen days. This may have been because his stay of two weeks would have included two Sabbaths on which travel was restricted. So if he arrived on Sunday, he could leave on Sunday fifteen days later.
When Luke tells this story, he mentions that when Paul arrived in Jerusalem many of the believers were still afraid of him and would not let him join them in fellowship or worship. But Barnabas was sympathetic to Paul’s situation and took him to see the Apostles. Barnabas then shared with them about Paul’s conversion and how, since then, he fearlessly preached the Gospel. Even though Paul mentions here that the only two Apostles he saw were Peter and James, yet Luke tells us that he took advantage of his stay in Jerusalem to go about the city freely sharing his testimony. He debated with Jews who adopted the Greek language and culture, with which he was very familiar. But this upset them so much they plotted to assassinate him. When the Christian believers, who at first did not accept him, heard about what was happening they took Paul and accompanied him over to Cæsarea when he could board and ship and return to Tarsus.1
The rest of what Paul says in verse nineteen raises one issue that to this day is still unsettled in Christendom as an accepted fact. That is, was James the biological brother of Jesus? The main sticking point is not whether Joseph was his father, but, was Mary the mother of Jesus his mother also. The Jews attacked the Apostles teaching that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, even claiming that it was a cover-up to a premarital affair she engaged in with a German mercenary. So the leaders of the assembly of believers felt that they must do something to counter these claims. Out of this came, centuries later, the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.
The earliest evidence for the teaching that Mary was a perpetual virgin occurs in the writings of the early church father Jerome who was born in 347 AD and died about 419 AD. Prior to Jerome, there is no evidence that the early church taught anything other than the scriptural record – that Jesus had siblings: flesh and blood brothers and sisters. Some have claimed that Origen was the first early father who wrote that Mary was a perpetual virgin, but a close examination of his statement reveals that is not true.
And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the first-fruit among men of the purity which consists in chastity, and Mary among women; for it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the first-fruit of virginity. His statement was simply that Jesus’ mother was a virgin, and not that she was a perpetual virgin.
You might say, that when Mary conceived, even though it was through the Holy Spirit, she was no longer a virgin. Also, as soon as she delivered Jesus in the stable, she was certainly no longer a virgin. But this is the biological, physical view. What they interpreted her virginity to be that she never had sexual relations with Joseph. Furthermore, Origen also says that in the Epistle to the Galatians, that when Paul visited Jerusalem he saw, none of the other Apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 2Not only that, but respect for James rose so high among both Christians and Jews that Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who wrote that the people of Jerusalem suffered such great a misfortune that even the Temple was razed to the ground as a result of God’s wrath over the things they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus the Anointed One3.4
This did not sit well with all the Catholic scholars. One named Helvidius wrote a pamphlet sometime around 380 AD in which he spoke against Mary’s perpetual virginity. He quoted Tertullian and Victorinus as sources for his argument. Then in 383 AD, Jerome wrote a pamphlet against Helvidius and rejected his claim that since the Bible mentions the sisters and brothers of our Lord,5 that constitutes solid evidence of Mary’s normal marital relations with Joseph and additional children were born after the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus.6 The debate has continued to this day.
In fact, one Jewish polemic writer dismisses any relationship based on the statement by John: “For neither did his brethren believe in Him,”7 as evidence that there was mutual discord between Jesus and His family.8 However, Church historian Eusebius tells us that according to his research and evidence, James was known to be the brother of Jesus and that he presided over the assembly of believers in Jerusalem, as was entrusted to him by the other apostles, and that he “was esteem by all as the most just of men” among the Jews.9 Even Jewish historian Josephus refers to him as “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Anointed One.”10 Since Josephus was a contemporary of James, and since he was particular about historical accuracy, it would seem strange that he would identify James as the full brother of Jesus if he knew it not to be true. So in a way, this gives us insight as to why Paul would include James in his visit to Jerusalem.
In addition to the reference of Matthew 13:55-56 above, there are two other sources that are often quoted to back up Paul’s contention here that James was the brother of Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel, he too repeats what Matthew said. So if Matthew was wrong and misspoke, certainly Mark would have corrected it, or vice versa.11 When Paul wrote the Corinthians, he mentioned that many of the Apostles took their wives along on their journeys, including the Lord’s brothers and Peter.12 To this we may add the witness of a Jewish historian who wrote during the time of Jesus. He stated: ”...and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called the Anointed One, whose name was James.”13 So does it matter? It didn’t seem to phase the Galatians, so we should see no need to argue over it at present.14 Eternity will reveal the truth.
What Paul pointed out up until now is that God gave no man, or any group of men, nor any one in the assembly of believers organization the authority to be the final judge in approving a person’s claim to be a disciple of Jesus the Anointed One. Jesus Himself pointed this out to His disciples when they wanted to stop others who were preaching His gospel but didn’t belong to the original group of twelve.15 Paul received his revelation directly from the Anointed One, and even though the Apostles were at first uncertain about him, he stuck with it. Same say when John was given the “Revelation,” he didn’t send out draft copies for the other Apostle’s approval. So we must ask ourselves, how can the validity of true discipleship be authenticated? As Paul said, if anyone, even an angel, preaches another gospel other than one that proclaims Jesus the Anointed One as the Son of God and the only Savior of the world, and that our salvation comes through faith in the work of the Anointed One, not any work that we may do, then they are false disciples and need to be identified as such.
One thing I’ve experienced is that when I meet someone who belongs to a different denomination than I do, or is independent of any church organization, I still feel a kindred spirit and accept them wholeheartedly without reservation. Yes, I may find out that they may practice water baptism differently than I was taught, or view the gifts of the Spirit in a different light, but our spirits bear witness with His Spirit that we are part of the same spiritual body of the Anointed One. But if they take away from any of the true core truths that Jesus taught, then I do not accept them as a brother or sister in the Anointed One, but lovingly let them know where I disagree with their gospel.
Paul now puts to rest another possible gossip tidbit, that he was so aloof and so self-absorbed that he was unwilling to submit to the supervision of apostolic leaders. He makes it clear that he voluntarily went to Jerusalem, a place he visited many, many times before, just to get acquainted with Peter. He admits, he did not go there to get Peter’s blessing or be instructed, but to get to know the apostolic Rock better. Paul does not tell us what they discussed, but you can be assured that spending fifteen days with someone will provide plenty of opportunities for sharing notes and ideas.
What could they have talked about? Since Peter was part of the inner circle and spent a lot of personal time with Jesus, I’m sure Paul wanted to get a firsthand account of what it was like to walk and talk with the Lord. Peter may have shared about his walking on water, or his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, or his three denials, or cutting off Malchus’ ear in the garden, or even his encounter with the risen Lord in the upper room. But one thing for sure, Paul did not go there to get Peter’s approval of his ministry. If anything, he went to share with Peter what happened on the road to Damascus, then in Damascus, while out in the Arabian Desert, and after his return to Damascus.
Early church scholar Marius Victorinus believes that if the foundation of the church was laid on Peter’s shoulders, as the Gospel says, Paul knew that he ought to see Peter first. When he speaks of seeing Peter, it is as one to whom the Anointed One committed so much authority, not as one from whom he needed to learn anything. Victorinus suggests that below the surface, Paul may have implied that only fifteen days would not be long enough to gain any great depth of knowledge of God from Peter in such a short time?16
1 Acts of the Apostles 9:26-30
2 Galatians 1:19
3 Flavius Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, Ch. 9.1, p. 1252
4 Origen: Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Gospel of Matthew, Bk. 10, Ch. 17, p. 702
5 Matthew 13:55-56
6 See Fathers of the |Church: Against Helvidius, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary by Jerome
8 Chizuk Emunah by Isaac ben Abraham of Troki, Second Part, Ch. 29
9 Eusebius, Church History, Bk. 2, Ch. 23
10 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, Ch. 9:1
11 Mark 6:3
12 1 Corinthians 9:5
13 Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Bk. 20, Ch. 9, Sec. 1
14 For those interested in reading an extensive treatment of this subject see Over 30 Parallel Bible Commentaries in One Volume: Study God’s Word Verse-by-Verse Alongside History’s Great Theologians (Kindle Location 16635-17619)
15 Luke 9:49-50; cf. John 10:16
16 Marius Victorinus: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), p. 14