NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LIII)
As expected, Doctor of the Church Thomas Aquinas was eager to answer the question of whether or not Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth?1 In one of his responses, he contends that the woman “Mary” who is called the mother of James and John is not to be mistaken for “Mary” the mother of Jesus. However, “Mary” the wife of Alphaeus whose son was James the less, known as the “brother of our Lord,” is the one mentioned here in verse nineteen. In other words, Paul was referring to another James, not to the brother of Jesus. However, Aquinas goes on to answer whether Mary the mother of Jesus took a vow of perpetual virginity?2 He writes that it would seem that the Mother of God did not take a vow of virginity. For it is written, “You will be blessed more than all other peoples; there will not be a sterile male or female among you.”3 For Aquinas, sterility is a consequence of virginity. Therefore, the keeping of virginity was contrary to the commandment of the Law. The Law was still in effect before the Anointed One was born. Therefore, at that time the Blessed Virgin could not lawfully take a vow of perpetual virginity.4
Martin Luther also makes a point about the fact that Paul went to Jerusalem uninvited, not to be instructed, but to visit with Peter. Another thing to make note of is, that Paul says he visited with Peter, but he only “saw” James. Furthermore, he makes no reference to learning anything from them. There are some who might argue that when we say “I saw” somebody, it not only means we spotted them but that we interacted with them. For instance, today I saw the boss to discuss my salary. But in Greek verb eidō used here, it only means to perceive with the eyes, also, to perceive, and, to come to the realization of.
Luther also wonders why does Paul emphasize this seemingly unimportant fact? Perhaps it was to convince the churches of Galatia that his Gospel was the true Word of the Anointed One which he learned from no man other than the Anointed One Himself. Paul was forced to affirm and re-affirm this fact several times. His significance to all the churches that enjoyed his ministry as their pastor and teacher were at stake. Paul knew, now that he was away from Galatia and perhaps never to return again, it was absolutely necessary that he not allow what he preached to them to be discounted or even declared false.5
Reformer John Calvin writes about how the problem of corruption in the church administration in the early years led them down the road to effecting the way the church was being governed in the Middle Ages by Rome. Shouldn’t it be that the high officials of the Church should surpass all other levels of leadership in terms of dignity and authority over the whole body? Furthermore, should those who flaunt the Gospel of the Anointed One and deviate from the teachings of the Final Covenant be allowed to turn their personal ideas into becoming perpetual church law? Or how could they assume that what the Anointed One told Peter about whosoever he bound on earth would be bound in heaven and vice versâ6 could be twisted to mean that they also possessed the same power? Not only that, but they can find nowhere else where Jesus said the same thing to any of the other disciples. So how can they take what was said to one Apostle and claim it as their own?
The truth is, says Calvin, only the Holy Scriptures can resolve these questions. When we look at all the passages that show what office and power Peter held among the Apostles, how he acted among them, how he was received by them,7 and compare them with each other we will find that Peter was just one of twelve, their equal, and colleague, not their master. He indeed did bring matters before the council in Jerusalem when decisions were to be made and shares what he thinks is necessary. But when a letter was written to the Gentiles, it was signed by James. Now, if James was just another Apostle, how did he achieve such a high status? It seems that being known as “the Lord’s brother,” may have something to do with it. But, at the same time, Peter listens to the others, giving them an opportunity to express their opinions and options, sentiments, and allows them to decide. And once they’ve decided, even he follows and obeys.
As a matter of fact, when Peter wrote a letter to the pastors of assembly of believers abroad, he did not do so authoritatively as a superior, but addresses them as colleagues, and courteously advises them as co-equals on what needed to be done.8 When he is accused of joining in with the Gentiles, he accepts the responsibility and stands ready to clears his name.9 When being ordered by his colleagues to go with John into Samaria, he did not decline to do so.10 The Apostles, by sending him, declare that they by no means regard him as a superior, while he, by obeying and undertaking the deputation committed to him, confesses that his association with them as possessing no authority over them.
However, even if none of these facts existed, this one Epistle to the Galatians would easily remove all doubt. There are two chapters devoted to the fact that when it came to the honor of the Apostleship, Paul is co-equal to Peter.11 That’s why he states, that he went to visit Peter, it was not to acknowledge his subjection to him, but only to solidify their agreement on doctrinal matters and do it openly. Furthermore, Peter did not demand that he must give such approval, but merely shook hands with Paul as a fellow believer. This way, others could see that they were common laborers in God’s vineyard; that less grace was not bestowed on Peter than on Paul. They both acknowledged that Paul was called as an Apostle to the Gentiles and Peter as the Apostle to the Jews.
So we can see, that when Peter got out of line in Antioch and acted in a hypocritical way by separating himself from the Gentiles to join his fellow Jews from Jerusalem for a meal, Paul showed no hesitation in rebuking him, and he submitted to the rebuke.12 All these things make it abundantly clear that either there was equality between Paul and Peter, or, at least, that Peter exerted no more authority over the other Apostles than they did over him. Calvin is quick to point out that he congratulates Paul’s professional and spiritual handling of this situation, without making it appear that he was above Peter and would expect the same preferential treatment from others. Peter, James, John, and Paul were colleagues, without one master among them except our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. Perhaps that will explain why Paul tells the Galatians that it took him fourteen years before he went up to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the others.13 No doubt, Calvin would agree, that Peter was a very assertive person and just by his nature took control of the situation. Not only that but when Jesus came walking on the Sea of Galilee, there must have been a reason why it was Peter He called to walk out and meet Him.
In another writing, Calvin adds that almost all the early church scholars agreed that James was one of the disciples, whose surname was “Oblias” and called, “James the Just,” and that he presided over the assembly of believers at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by his first wife, and others scholars that he was the cousin of the Anointed One on his mother’s side as he is counted among the Apostles, Calvin does not hold that opinion, however. Nor does he accept the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve. This subject under consideration is the highest rank of Apostleship, and we will see that he was considered one of the chief pillars of the assembly of believers.14 Calvin concludes that is it most probable, that the person of whom Paul is speaking is the son of Alphaeus15.16 Even John Wesley, notes that James the brother of Jesus, should read “the kinsman” of the Lord.17
James Haldane (1769-1851), brings up something that should give us reason to consider it as one of the main reasons why Paul was so hated by the Jews in Jerusalem. No doubt, some of them, having been his fellow Pharisee friends before, perhaps one or two that were students with him, not to mention the influential Sanhedrin member and Paul’s highly venerated teacher Gamaliel, found it hard to accept a former comrade who so suddenly switched sides. Saul of Tarsus could not have been such an ardent persecutor of this Christian sect called “the Way,” and have received letters from the High Priest to go after them in Damascus, without it having impressed many other zealots in Jerusalem.
So now Paul returns after a three-year absence with a new name and a new religion. We all know what people think when a good or close friend changes from one Christian denomination to another, such as having been a Baptist they suddenly announce they have converted to Catholicism. Or a long-serving Senator or Representative in one political party makes the decision overnight to join the opposition party. Paul, a stellar Pharisee, a student of Gamaliel, a persecutor of the Christian sect, who when off to Damascus to have them jailed and beaten, now comes storming back as a crusader for these same followers of the Anointed One.18
Marvin Vincent gives us the historical perspective on the argument of just who James, the brother of our Lord, was envisioned to be. First of all, Paul has already taken the step of calling him the brother of our Lord here in verse nineteen in order to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee,19 who was still living, and from James the son of Alphaeus.20 The Lord’s brother means that James was at least a son of Joseph, Mary’s husband. There were several theories that contended for acceptance by the early assembly of believers. First, there was the Helvidian Theory. This was a paper written around 380 AD by Helvidius, a church layman in the Church in Rome against the belief of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Helvidius maintained that the biblical mention of “sisters” and “brothers” of the Lord constitutes solid evidence that Mary engaged in normal marital relations with Joseph and additional children after the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus. Secondly, he was also against “Mariolatry” and required celibacy of the clergy that was a growing trend in the Church at that time. He supported his opinion by the writings of early church scholars such as Tertullian and Victorinus. While this has nothing to do with our salvation, it still remains a sticking point between Protestants and Roman Catholics to this day.
1 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Vol. 5, Part (3)-Question (28)-Article (3)-Response/Objection (6), pp. 374=-375
2 Ibid. Part (3)-Question (28)-Article (4), p. 375
3 Deuteronomy 7:14 – Complete Jewish Bible
4 Thomas Aquinas, ibid., Vol. 5, Part (3)-Question (28)-Article (4)-Objection (1), p. 375
5 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 34
6 Matthew 18:18
7 Acts of the Apostles 15:7
8 1 Peter 1:5
9 Acts of the Apostles 11:3
10 Ibid. 8:14
11 Galatians 1:18, 2:8
12 Ibid. 2:11
13 John Calvin: Institutes, op. cit., Vol. 4, Ch. 6, pp. 1135-1140
14 See Galatians 2:9
15 See Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13
16 Calvin, John: Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 John Wesley, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 James Haldane: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 51-52
19 Matthew 4:21; 10:2; Mark 10:35
20 Matthew 10:3