NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LIV)
But the desire to maintain the perpetual virginity of Mary caused Catholic priest, confessor, theologian, and historian Jerome to counter Helvidius by developing a theory known as the Hieronymian (Jeromian) Theory in 383 AD. According to Jerome, the brethren of the Lord were the sons of his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Alphaeus or Clopas, and, therefore, Jesus’ cousins. It was traditional during the time of the Anointed One for Jewish uncles, cousins, nephews, and even fellow countrymen to refer to each other as “brothers,” since they all came from the same Abrahamic family tree. This is something they did frequently. That’s no doubt why even today Christian men call each other “brother” since they are all part of God’s family.1
Another theory bears the name “Epiphanian Theory” in honor of Epiphanius, the Bishop of Salamis in Cyprus. He proposed that James was the brother of our Lord, by way of Joseph and his first wife who died, leaving him with several children. That is no doubt why Joseph proposed to Mary. This view was supported by Church Historian Eusebius. Epiphanius must have written his theory before his death in 403 AD. It also could be seen as a compromise theory between those of Jerome and Helvidius. The main dividing line between them all was the perpetual virginity of Mary which raised her from a simple handmaiden to a saint in the Roman Catholic Church.2
William G. Moorehead (1839-1913), was a Final Covenant professor at Xenia Theological Seminary for over forty years. Before this, he was a missionary in northern and central Italy. It so happened that a book titled The Millennial Dawn by Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, published in 1902 was a hot item in Moorehead’s day. The original book was followed by a series in which over 1600 Scriptures were examined and used from the First and Final Covenants. Moorehead called the teachings found in Millennial Dawn wicked and disastrous. For him, audacity and falsehood reached its final climax in Russell’s writings.
First of all, the essential, vital truth on which Christianity rests, namely, the absolute certainty of the Anointed One’s literal, bodily resurrection is denied, it is utterly twisted and misrepresented despite the overwhelming testimony of the Four Gospels, of all the Epistles, and of John’s Revelation, and the word of the glorified Son of God Himself. As the Apostle Paul said it best, if the Anointed One did not rise from the dead, then Christianity is wiped out as a supernatural system, and Christians are of all people the most pitiable, the most pathetically deceived.3 The heretics of the early centuries, Cerinthus, Marcion, Valentinus were not as daring nor more destructive in their wild speculations of what the Scriptures really say, than the author of these books.
For instance, the lie invented by the Jewish chief priests and elders that Jesus’ disciples stole His body away during the night while the soldiers slept is less shocking than the baseless and wicked conjecture that Jesus’ body dissolved into gas! To the devout, believing mind, nothing could be more profane or blasphemous than this slander. A thousand years before Yeshua appeared in human form, the Spirit of God promised Him that His flesh should rest in hope, that it should not decay.4 Also, there was the new tomb wherein no one ever laid before, the official seal, the angels watching, God’s mighty guard, all combined to protect and safeguard His sacred remains until the resurrection.
Moorehead’s point here is that it is recorded that the disciples, Mary of Magdala, Peter and John, then the two men on the road to Emmaus, then all the rest of the twelve disciples, but especially James, the Lord’s brother as Paul refers to him here in verse nineteen, all saw Him alive in His own resurrected body; talked with Him, walked with Him, even ate with Him.5 So to say that our Lord’s body dissolved into gas is not only shocking but disgusting! Wouldn’t you think that there would have been some among the followers of Jesus who knew of such deception if it really happened? Wouldn’t one of Paul’s old Pharisee friends have been disappointed at Paul’s conversion and told him the honest truth so that he would come back to his former faith? 6
Alfred Edersheim, the converted Jew who traveled to Palestine so he could better know the Yeshua he now believed in, also was struck by his own peoples’ reluctance to accept the resurrection of the Anointed One. For Edersheim, the real question was: since the Apostles and others evidently believed Him to be dead, and weren’t sure of His Resurrection, and since the fact of His Death was not a formidable challenge to His Messianic Character – causing them to invent or imagine His resurrection – how are we to account for the history of the Resurrection with all its details in all the four Gospels and by the Apostle Paul? The details, or “signs” are clearly intended as pieces of evidence to all of the reality of the Resurrection, without which it would not have been believed; and the many who actually saw Him cannot be dismissed. And the language of the Apostle Paul implies a careful and searching inquiry on his part7.8
Cyril W. Emmet (1875-1934), gives us a different sense of what he feels Paul is saying here. First of all, he does not believe that by saying “after three years,” he meant 36 months (1095 days). And if we count his time in Damascus after his conversion, his stay in Arabia both before his trip to Arabia and after, it would have been even shorter. Rather, that we should understand it saying: “in the third year since my conversion.” For instance, if Paul was converted in August of 38 AD and went up to Jerusalem for the first time in April of 40 AD, that would be one complete year and part of two others. Secondly, the Greek verb historeō translated by KJV as “to see” also means, “to learn more about,” “become acquainted with.” Today we would say, “I wanted to get acquainted with.” So this was an informal trip to Jerusalem to visit the Temple, some old friends, and get to know the Apostle Peter of whom he heard so much.9
Grant Osborne inspires some insight as to why Paul waited this third year after his conversion to go up to Jerusalem to have a chat with Peter and any other Apostles he might encounter. And of all places, why did he go into neighboring Arabia. First of all, Paul was forced to leave Damascus because he was turning the place upside down with his preaching and aggravating the Jewish leaders, who were his former comrades against the Christians. Then secondly, no doubt when word got back to Jerusalem of what happened to him even before he reached Damascus, those who authorized his mission were no doubt incensed by his betrayal. So going up to Jerusalem right away was not an option.
Another thing that Osborne brings up is that it must have felt strange for Paul to consider seeking the acquaintance of these two former archenemies, the leaders of the assembly of believers. We can only imagine that Paul was enamored with James, asking him question after question about having grown up with Jesus. The two men would find a lot in common, for James, like Paul, was not a believer until Jesus’ postresurrection appearance.10 James went through his childhood and early adulthood rejecting Jesus, as Paul did.11 The terse rendering of this verse implies that Paul’s time with James was quite brief. The point again is that Paul wanted to get to know these men but did not come to solicit their imprimatur to authenticate his ministry.12
One commentator makes a good point here, in that when Paul says he saw none other than Peter and James, he was not saying that he avoided all contact with the other brethren, especially Barnabas and his own family members, but that of the original twelve disciples, he visited only with Peter and James. This may not mean he did not hope to meet John or the others, but they may have been out of town ministering in the immediate area. If you have ever visited Jerusalem you know why this is possible.13
Theologian Robert Gundry points out that Paul does not say that he spent three years meditating in the Arabian desert away from Damascus so as to figure out the Gospel in view of God’s having revealed His Son to him. In fact, Paul started proclaiming Jesus as God’s Son immediately in Damascus.14 and it remains unclear here in Galatians 1:17–18 how much of the three years Paul spent in Damascus and how much in Arabia. Since he’d started proclaiming the Gospel three years before going up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas (Peter), he couldn’t have gotten the Gospel from Cephas. Besides, he stayed with Cephas only fifteen days; and he didn’t see any of the other Apostles so that they weren’t the source of Paul’s Gospel any more than Cephas was.
Gundry also believes that Paul’s reminding the Galatians of this to underline how very delayed, short, and limited were his Christian contacts in Jerusalem and, therefore, how impossible it was for him to have learned the Gospel of grace by any means other than divine revelation, Paul assures the Galatians that he’s not lying. The words “Believe it or not” (“Behold” – KJV) in our text punctuates this assurance, and “in front of God” (“before God” – KJV) implies that the assurance is given in full awareness that God will punish him if he’s not telling the truth.15
Maria Mavromataki tells us that Aretas IV Philodemus held Damascus and other areas of Judæa between the years 37 and 40 AD. This fact leads to the conclusion that the conversion of Paul to Christianity took place in 35 – 36 AD, while his escape from Damascus must have been before 40 AD. Paul next visited Jerusalem, where, as he tells us himself, he arrived three years after he was called by God. There, through the good offices of Barnabas, he met the Apostles and formed a close relationship with them. Here his life was threatened for a second time and, after seeing a vision of Christ, he fled to Cæsarea and Tarsus. Later, he visited Antioch and, after delivering, together with Barnabas, funds collected to support the assembly of believers in Jerusalem, returned there. It was from Antioch that the spread of Christianity throughout the world was to begin. The Apostle Paul, having now believed in Christ with his heart and mind, set a new and single purpose in his life: the preaching of Christianity. As he told young Timothy, “Of this Gospel, I have been appointed herald, apostle, and teacher.”16
1 See Acts of the Apostles, 1:16, 2:29, 37; 3:17, 22; 6:3, et. al.
2 Marvin Vincent: Word Studies, op. cit., Vols. 3&4, p.91
3 1 Corinthians 15
4 Psalm 16:9,10; Cf. Acts of the Apostles 2:26-28
5 Luke 24:42
6 William G. Moorehead: The Fundamentals – A Testimony to the Truth, Vol. 4, Ch. 9, pp. 98-99
7 1 Corinthians 15:13, 14, 20
8 Alfred Edersheim: The Life and Times of Jesus the Anointed One, Vol. 2, Bk. 5, Ch. 16, p. 493
9 Cyril W. Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 9
10 1 Corinthians 15:7
11 John 7:5
12 Osborne, G. R: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 41
13 Ernest De Will Burton, op. cit., p.60
14 Acts of the Apostles 9:19–22
15 Robert H. Gundry: On Galatians, op. cit., (Kindle Location 295)
16 Mavromataki, Maria: Journeys in Greece, op. cit., (Kindle Locations 269-276)