NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LV)
1:20 Believe it or not, what I’m telling you in front of God that this is the truth, and I’m not lying.
These words to the Galatians were already on Paul’s mind when he defended himself to the assembly of believers in Rome: “I am telling the truth because I belong to the Anointed One. The Holy Spirit tells my heart that I am not lying.”1 Not only that, but Paul felt obligated to tell the Corinthians twice that they should believe what he was saying.2 This does not raise any doubts about Paul’s honesty, rather, it points to the hardheadedness of those to whom he was telling the truth.
Now Paul really gets to the heart of the issue. It appears that the Judaizers and other critics were passing the word around Galatia that Paul was a maverick who claimed to be accepted and respected by the original apostles, when in fact he wasn’t. They inferred that all Paul wanted to do was drop names in order to gain their trust and open doors for him; that Paul wanted all the credit for starting this new Jesus Movement. In fact, they charged that he was just short of being a heretic and could not be believed or depended on, to tell the truth, even though he knew what the truth was.
Augustine of Hippo has an interesting take on Paul’s oath here. If a person has to say, “Before God, I am not lying!” is undoubtedly taking an oath. And what is more sacred than this oath? But an oath is not against the Lord’s command if the reason the person feels obligated to make such an oath because the person they are talking to is more or less calling them a liar. We see that the Lord prohibited swearing if it lies within a person’s power not to do so. Unfortunately, many disregard this prohibition by our Lord, keeping an oath on their lips as if it were some great delicacy.
There can be no doubt that the Apostle Paul knew the Lord’s command, Yet he still swore an oath. Those who do not regard these as oaths are not to be taken seriously. For what will they make of this: “By your glory, brethren, which I have in the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord: I die every day!”3 which the Greek text clearly proves to be an oath. Therefore, the Apostle does not swear so far as it lies within in his power, for he does not resort to swearing because it gives him pleasure or enjoyment. It is more than “Yes, Yes” or “No, No,” and, therefore, comes from evil, but the evil lies in the weakness or unbelief of those who are not otherwise moved to faith.4
Perhaps the Judaizers were taking a cue from Plato where Socrates and Hippias are discussing the difference between lying on purpose and getting things wrong out of ignorance. So the question is asked: If someone unschooled and uneducated makes a guess at answering a question and gets it wrong are they guilty of lying? On the other hand, if someone schooled and educated also guesses at an answer, are they also lying? Socrates and Hippias concluded that neither one should make a guess, but admit that they don’t know the answer; otherwise, they are lying when they pretend to know, whatever their answer.5
Socrates then asks Hippias to answer another question: Since you are known for being such an honest and fair-minded person, tell me, if a person were to ask you what 700 times 3 equals; and you have the intellectual capacity to give the correct answer; and you know that the person asking the question will believe your answer no matter what you say, doesn’t this put you in the enviable position of being able to decide whether or not to give a truthful answer or knowingly tell a lie?
By the same token, if a man who does not know how to multiply decides to make a guess when he has no idea if it is true or not, is he also not considered a liar? It may be by sheer luck his answer may turn out to be right after all. However in your case, since you know the answer and are capable of giving a correct or incorrect answer, then you can knowingly lie on purpose anytime you want. Paul now invokes an oath that no one would dare use unless they were absolutely, positively, and unquestionably certain that what they claimed to be true, was true.
Today you might hear someone say, “I swear to God, I’m telling the truth.” I’ve even heard some say, “I swear on my mother’s grave.” But Paul gave a more dramatic assurance to the Galatians and the Judaizers that can be expressed today as something like this: “God will kill me if I’m not telling you the truth.” What Paul faced should not surprise us, we see a similar phenomenon today in our assembly of believers’ world of competing views over the Gospel of the Anointed One, similar to what Paul encountered in Galatia.
Many people today know John Bunyan (1628-1688) as the author of his famous work “Pilgrim’s Progress.” But Bunyan wrote many other books which you don’t hear much about today. It is quite remarkable that Bunyan became one of the most successful English writers in the days of Richard Baxter and John Milton. These men, who were well off, could afford to write because they didn’t need to earn a living. But Bunyan, a traveling tinsmith who made household utensils like his father, was nearly penniless before becoming a most famous author. His wife was also destitute. In those days, when women were selected for marriage, their families would show their joy and respect for the groom by giving her a dowry to take to her new husband. The only thing she brought were two books written by Puritans. But they were much greater in value than what they cost because it affected Bunyan’s life in a marvelous way.
Once he converted he began to preach and drew large crowds. But Bunyan was not part of the State Church of England, he began to worship and preach in the independent churches that sprang up in the spirit of the Reformation. But when Charles II took the reigns of government, he shut down these separatist churches and Bunyan was hauled off to jail where he sat for the next 16 years. But just like the Apostle Paul, Bunyan took the time to read and write. While in prison he wrote nine books. He was granted his freedom for a short while but was soon imprisoned again for six months. It was after that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.
In one of his earlier books, he dealt with the resurrection of believers. He stated emphatically that any persons who denied the resurrection of the Anointed One are worthless to Christianity and the Church. He was making reference to some churchmen in his day who did question whether or not the Anointed One was resurrected from the dead or was revived after being in somewhat of a coma for several days. Says Bunyan, they not only cause many believers to doubt and can lead to the destruction of the church. He calls them cankerworms. They are a caterpillar-like insect whose newly hatched larvae eat the soft tissue of young leaves at the tips of branches, giving them a skeletonized appearance. And the older they get the more destructive they become.
For Bunyan, it proved that such individuals were ignorant of God’s power, faithfulness, and His Word. He points to where God said to Abraham and his descendants that He would be their God 6 So we who are the spiritual descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are counted as part of the living under a threefold consideration. First, being that they are in the Lord and He is in them; that He is the head and they are part of the Body of the Anointed One, all of the elect may be said to be alive in the Anointed One. They have been from eternity chosen by Him who also is their life, although possibly many of them yet unconverted. Yet it can be said that the Anointed One is their life, by the eternal purpose of God. Secondly, the children of the new covenant live here by faith, but in glory, they will live in the Spirit because of their eyes being opened and because of grace they remained in communication with the Anointed One since He was Lord of their souls.7
I remember hearing about ministers and ministries on the periphery labeled: “Independents.” They did not owe allegiance to any of the big denominations. Yet strangely enough, they seemed to be more successful and better known than traditional churches. Ministers from mainline denominations would debate over whether or not these people were genuine, while reluctantly admiring them for their success. Paul found himself in the same situation. He was “Independent” of Peter, James, and John as a minister of the gospel. No wonder the Galatians were leery of him and the Judaizers were distrustful as well. But Paul was adamant in demanding that they acknowledge his personal acquaintance with Jesus the Anointed One, rather than whether or not he made connections with the original disciples.
In other words, the Judaizers were telling the Galatians: Paul knows the truth but he just won’t admit it. And since he’s an educated man and has no excuse to tell anything other than the truth, then he is knowingly telling you a falsehood, and that makes him a liar. So don’t believe him, listen to us! In his letter, Paul shares how he coped with this, and it should give us great admiration for his willingness to be persecuted for defending his calling and the Gospel he preached.
As believers, there are times when we are asked why we believe what we believe. If we don’t know, then say so, and apologize because you haven’t made more of an effort to find out. This doesn’t make you a doubter of your faith or doctrine. And since you don’t know, then don’t pretend you do and give some answer that is more of a guess than solid truth. However, if you do know, then share it with confidence. But whatever you do, don’t purposely mislead them because you’re afraid your answer may offend them. Once you tell them the truth, and then they attack you anyhow, let them know that’s something they will need to settle with God, because you are at peace with your belief.
While pastoring in South Dakota I answered the knock on the door of my pastor’s office and saw a well-dressed young man with several magazines in his hand. A quick glance told me he was a Jehovah’s Witness. I welcomed him and told him how glad I was to see him. He seemed surprised by my cordial invitation to come. After he was seated, I told him I had a burning question for him. I reached for two books on my library shelf, the New World Bible and the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures Jehovah’s Witness. Everywhere else in your Greek Final Covenant, I pointed out, the word “kyrios” is translated as “Jehovah,” but here in Philippians 2:1 it is translated as “Lord.” It really should read: “And every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus the Anointed One is Jehovah to the glory of God the Father.” He wiggled in his chair and then picking up his material said he needed to go, but that he would send his superior to talk with me. I told him that would be fantastic because I want to learn more about their Bible. Nobody ever came.
1 Romans 9:1
2 2 Corinthians 11:10, 31
3 1 Corinthians 15:31
4 Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Plato. Lesser Hippias,
6 See Isaiah 54:13; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10-11
7 John Bunyan: