NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LII)
So, was Paul being stuck-up or high-minded? Did he want to make a big deal out of the fact that Peter was not much more than an uneducated fisherman fortunate enough to be chosen by Jesus, while he was a noted scholar and high ranking Jewish zealot? No, I’m ready to believe that as he and Peter visited and ate together they laughed and shared a lot of good stories. No doubt they were curious about each other’s experiences and asked some very personal questions. Paul did not see himself as a disciple or subordinate to Peter; rather, they were equals in God’s sight. It’s just that Peter seemed more comfortable preaching to the Jews, while Paul was specifically sent to the Gentiles.
Chrysostom went through a period of testing his loyalty either to the Church of Rome or the Orthodox Church of Constantinople. As to the question of the papacy, it is reported by Rome that he saw no problem in accepting the Roman Church’s contention that the bishop of Rome was the successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles. It also appealed to him in his exile against the unjust condemnation of the Council at the Oak (Nicea).1 Such appeals from archbishops and priest furnished the popes in Rome with a welcome opportunity to act as judges in the controversies of the Eastern church, and greatly strengthened their claims of superiority.
However, after examining Chrysostom’s Epistle to Pope Innocent, we see it was also addressed to the bishops of Milan and Aquileia, and falls far short of the language of submission to any infallible authority. He conceded to the pope importance of honor, but not the supremacy of jurisdiction. He calls the bishop of Antioch (Ignatius and Flavian) likewise a successor of Peter, who labored there according to the express testimony of Paul. In order to justify his actions, Chrysostom appealed to what Paul said here in verse eighteen. He represents Paul (Father of the Eastern Orthodox Church) as equal in dignity to Peter (Father of the Western Roman Church).
In Chrysostom’s mind, what Paul said about not visiting Jerusalem until three years after he started his ministry in order to get acquainted with Peter, as a sign that although Paul saw his Apostleship as coequal to that of Peter’s, he attempted to build a bridge between the two of them. So it was, that Chrysostom wanted to follow Paul’s example of ecumenicism since he lived during the violent controversies between the successor to the Apostle Andrew, the Bishop of Constantinople,2 with Pope Linus of Rome which eventually brought about a complete schism in 1054 AD. There is no doubt on which side he chose to stand since he became Archbishop of Constantinople (398 AD).3 As we can see, Paul provided an example for all leaders of different denominations to follow.
Ambrosiaster, a contemporary with Chrysostom and Augustine, makes note that both Peter and Paul received their education directly from Jesus. Peter walked with the Lord for three years, while Paul, after his conversion, spent three years in the area outside Damascus, preaching to the people living there about the One who called him. Ambrosiaster feels that Paul wanted Peter to know that they both received a commission from our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Apparently, these callings gave their friendship a sense of comradery. So over the fifteen days, they spent in each others company, they found they shared more in common than any differences that the false apostles were whispering about Paul.4
One early Church scholar, Haimo of Auxerre, (820-865 AD) speculated about Paul’s staying in Jerusalem for fifteen days. He shares a theory, as espoused by other Catholic scholars, that was prevalent in his day, that the number “fifteen” pertains to both the First and Final Covenants on account of the numbers “seven” and “eight.” The number seven relates to the First Covenant because of the Sabbath, and eight to the Final Covenant because of the Lord’s resurrection celebrated on the eighth day. The Apostle was so filled with the teachings of both the First and the Final Covenants that he saw no reason to remain with Peter for more than fifteen days.5 However, I believe there is a simpler explanation in that Paul stayed two weeks (fourteen days), and then after the Sabbath left again for Damascus on the fifteenth day.
I wonder if Paul was familiar with Plato’s work, “Gorgios” in which we find Socrates asking Callicles if he believed that having knowledge implies one must also have courage and Callicles agreed. Socrates then asks Callicles if he thought knowledge and courage were two separate virtues, and Callicles said, “Certainly.” Paul knew that his willingness to stand up to the accusations and false charges against him required both knowledge and courage. The reason is simple: without knowing what you believe makes it hard to courageously defend what you believe. By the same token, without courage, whatever you believe in does not stand a chance of surviving against those who oppose you. To put it another way: it can be risky if you try to stand up for something you know in your mind but do not believe in your heart. Likewise, if you know something to be true in both heart and mind but fail to stand up for what you believe, it can be fatal. Paul was convinced both in heart and mind that what he received to preach to the Gentiles came straight from Jesus the Anointed One, and his critics could not shake his confidence.
There’s a difference between being certain and being conceited. I remember being asked to address a Minister’s meeting outside the United States where about one hundred pastors gathered. The Lord laid it on my heart to speak on the subject of Salvation and Sanctification being simultaneous works of the same grace; which I knew a great number of ministers anguished over but felt the need to stick with the denomination’s view because they didn’t want to be criticized or questioned about their theology. When the meeting was over many of them came up to me and said: “For the first time I understand that doctrine, why don’t some of our church leaders preach it the same way?” Afterward, as we were riding back to the hotel, the lead bishop of that area said to me, “I’m in full agreement with what you said, but I don’t have the guts to preach it.”
Paul was not the least bit intimidated by Peter; he willingly told Peter what the Lord Jesus revealed to him. Perhaps Peter was able to confirm what he heard by saying, “Yes, that’s the same thing the Lord Jesus taught us.” At the same time, I’m sure there were plenty of reasons why Paul wanted to meet Jesus’ brother, James. Possibly he wanted a firsthand account of how Jesus grew up and for James to tell him of the miracles he saw his brother, Jesus, perform. Whatever they talked about, James took the opportunity to better understand Paul’s commitment and dedication in carrying out the message he received from the Anointed One on that Damascus Road, followed by his baptism by Ananias. I’m confident that since James knew his brother Jesus better than anyone else, he would have been able to tell if Paul was talking about the same Jesus he knew. It also gave Paul even more assurance that they were all preaching the same Gospel.
The fact that Paul calls James the brother of Jesus, touches on a subject well discussed and dissected, but to no sure and final conclusion. As early as the time of John Chrysostom of Constantinople (349-407 AD), this great preacher assesses the reason why Paul referred to James that way. Paul was showing what a sincere person he was by honoring James when he referred to him as “the Lord’s brother,” although he was not by birth His brother.6 Jerome comes to the conclusion that even cousins and other close relatives were called “brothers” in Jewish culture. Therefore, even while James may have been related to Jesus, he was not a flesh and blood brother borne to Mary and Joseph.7 One early Catholic scholar came to the conclusion that James was the son of Mary, wife of Clopas, the Lord’s maternal aunt8.9 This view is shared by most Catholic scholars and many Evangelical scholars as well.
Roman Catholic scholar Ambrosiaster addresses this topic as well. For him, Paul also saw James at Jerusalem because he was appointed the city’s bishop by the Apostles. He too was once an unbeliever, as the Evangelist says: “Even Jesus’ brothers did not believe in Him.”’10 This James was the son of Joseph, which is why he is called the brother of the Lord. Joseph was his father and is also called the father of the Lord.
This is what Mary says to Jesus in Luke’s Gospel: “Why have you done to us, son? Look, your father and I have been searching for you anxiously and worried.”11 And Philip says to Nathanael: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”12 It is in this way, that Jesus is said to be the brother of James and the others, for he too was called the son of Joseph.13
But then Ambrosiaster goes on to say something very interesting. As he sees it, there were some people insane enough to make the ungodly claim that these men were the Lord’s brothers because they were born of Mary. These are the same ones who say that Joseph was not our Lord’s true father. But if they were really His brothers, then Joseph was their real father because whoever said that Joseph was His father also said that James and the others were His brothers. Ambrosiaster is not making the case here for Joseph being Jesus’ biological father the same way James and the others were his fathered sons. It is that the term “father” is used here in the parental sense, thus making James and the others our Lord’s step-brothers, but not his cousins.
1 While Archbishop at Constantinople, Chrysostom preached against the degenerate morals of people in the capital, especially at the imperial court and Empress Eudoxia. She convened a court and condemned Chrysostom. He was deposed as Archbishop and exiled to Armenia. He was then ordered to be transferred to the desolate Pityus in Abkhazia on the Black Sea. After traveling for three months in rain and frost, he died along the way, on September 14, 407 AD. His last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”
2 Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew occupied the First Throne of the worldwide Orthodox Christian Church, presiding in historical honor and fraternal spirit as “first among equals” of all Orthodox Primates. These include the ancient Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, as well as the more recent Patriarchates of Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia. Beyond these, the Ecumenical Patriarch has the historical and theological responsibility to initiate and coordinate common activity among the Orthodox Churches of Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Albania, the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Finland, Estonia, as well as various Archdioceses and numerous Metropolitan dioceses throughout the world, such as in Europe, America and Australia. https://www.patriarchate.org
3 Chrysostom: Prolegomena, Nicene Fathers, op..cit., Ch. 13, His Theology and Exegesis, p. 39
4 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc cit.
5 Haimo of Auxerre: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series), op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Chrysostom, St. John: Homilies on Galatians, loc. cit.
7 The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary, against Helvidius
8 John 19:25
9 Haimo of Auxerre: The Letter to the Galatians (Medieval Bible Commentary series), op. cit., loc cit.
10 John 7:5
11 Luke 2:48
12 John 1:45
13 Ambrosiaster, op. cit.