NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LVIX)
John Edmunds (1801-1874) takes note of how in verses twenty-one through twenty-four Paul describes to the Galatians the reaction among the congregations of believers scattered outside of Jerusalem in Judæa. It was another way of saying that he was popular everywhere else except in Judæa. Many of them never saw him or heard him teach. But they had heard about him, and why not? He may have been famous elsewhere, but he was infamous in Jerusalem and Judæa. As we can vouch for today, what people hear about you depends entirely upon whose telling them about you. So we can imagine that Paul was ready to accept the news that he was still persona non grata, and that would be understandable. Edmunds points out that the Thessalonian brethren became so famous that it was a high commendation to compare Judæans with them.1
Now, it is most likely that Paul did not persecute any of those in these outlying areas of Judæa. Many sprung up so quickly after Pentecost and grew rapidly there wasn’t time to visit them all. Nor did he visit any of them on his quick stops in Jerusalem. That’s why they were only hearing about him.2 As the New Living Translation puts verse twenty-three, “All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” Then comes the real surprise in verse twenty-four, “And they praised God because of me.” That’s the difference that the Anointed One makes in a person’s life. No matter how bad the notoriety of their past life, once Jesus moves in and the Holy Spirit takes up residence it’s the wonderful restoration taking place that has everyone praising the restorer for turning something headed for the trash pile of broken dreams into a treasured heirloom in God’s Hall of Faith.3
Johann P. Lange (1802-1884) points out that by Paul saying that he was unknown among the congregations of believers throughout Judæa is further proof that he was never a disciple of the Apostles. If he studied under them, they most certainly would have taken him with them when they visited these congregations of believers. Based upon Paul’s testimony, he walked for years in the footsteps of the Pharisees, but now he was walking in the footsteps of the Anointed One, Jesus of Nazareth. Before he was headed for everlasting destruction, now he is headed toward everlasting life. He was also once bound to his religion as a form of obligation, now he is yoked together with the Anointed One in the form of faith. Because of God’s grace, the prosecutor became a preacher. What a wonder, it was as though a dead man was raised to life. This shows that God is more interested in saving His enemies than destroying them.4
J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) points out that Paul did not go directly home to Tarsus. He stopped in Syria for a while. This is where the congregation of believers in Antioch was. Perhaps he got acquainted with the brethren there and that’s why they later sent Barnabas up to Tarsus to persuade him to return to teach. He no doubt would have visited the congregations of believers in Judæa were it not for his being suddenly hurried off from Jerusalem to Cæsarea just to save his life. Lightfoot also points out that the congregation of believers became synonymous with the Gospel. In other words, it is not the name over the door, the membership, the type of building being worshiped in, but that it is the loudspeaker of the Gospel that makes it a Church – No Gospel, no Church!5
After reading this, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) was inspired to say: “Brothers and sisters, may you and I so live that Christian people may glorify God in us! May they often wonder at the mighty grace which has wrought such a change in us; and as they see us zealous and fervent, may they marvel at the amazing grace of God which has brought us to be so consecrated to the Anointed One!”6 In the same vein we can see a correlation between the spirit of King Saul and Saul of Tarsus. King Saul heard about the deception with which the Gibeonites tried to fool Joshua just to save their skin.7 So when Saul became king, he decided to pay them back. He thought so much of the sons of Israel that he took revenge on them for lying and slaughtering many of them.8 So it seems that Saul of Tarsus shared the same feeling about Jesus and His disciples, especially Stephen. They were lying and deceiving the children of Israel. King David remembered what Saul did and tried to make recompense. Now Paul was trying to repay God for his foolishness as Saul of Tarsus.
Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) in looking at the translation of verse twenty-two feels that it is not correct in explaining what Paul was saying about his reputation among the congregations of believers in Judæa. Instead of the way the KJV and NIV translate the Greek verb agnoeō as “unknown,” it should be “I was becoming unknown.” By the time Paul wrote this letter, because of his absence from Jerusalem his name was no longer familiar to the believers in Jerusalem, let alone out in Judæa. Rendall also suggests that certain Greek manuscripts describe the believers in Judæa, Samaria, and Galilee were considered as one congregation of believers in multiple locations.9 In fact, the Greek verb agnoeō is translated as “be ignorant” and “ignorant of,” “not know,” “unknown,” or “ignorantly” twenty our of twenty-two occurrences.10
The key to understanding this is found in what Paul said earlier about how after the Council Meeting in Jerusalem he left and traveled to Syria and Cilicia, (where Paul’s hometown of Tarsus was located). And it appears that he did not go up through Judæa, Samaria, and Galilee because no one knew him personally and may not have welcomed him as warmly as he may have wished. But Paul did skip those congregations of believers with some assurance because he was told that once they heard the story of his ministry that was now leaking out of Jerusalem after the meeting, and rejoiced and praised God for what they heard. I can personally testify that when going to preach or teach in a church I’ve never visited before, it brought a different kind of smile to my face when someone came up and said, “I’ve heard some good things about you.” I can imagine that same type of smile was on the face of the Apostle Paul.
Current Torah teacher Andrew Gabriel Roth shows us that the Aramaic version of Galatians gives us a slightly different nuance on what Paul is saying here about praise going to God. His translation reads: “And they turned their praise to Elohim on my account.”11 The translation from Aramaic by John Etheridge has: “And in me they glorified Aloha.” (in Hebrew it is, “Eloah.”). And James Murdock’s translation reads, “And they glorified God in me.” In the Contextual Bible it is rendered, “And they praise God because of me.”12 When we put all of these together it is clear that Paul was saying that when they saw what God was doing through me they gave Him all the praise. That’s the way it should be for all of us.
Ronald Fung has another insight as to why the congregations of believers in Judæa rejoiced because of Paul’s conversion and the ministry God gave him. Not only was it because of what they saw in him that was truly attributed to God’s transforming grace, but because it also showed that the Gospel he was preaching was in harmony with that of the primitive congregation of believers. This caused the Judæan Christians to be cordial in their attitude towards him, and, therefore, the Judaizers whom he is opposing are both of recent development and out of harmony with the original Gospel and with the original attitude of the Judæan Christians. In other words, it was the Judaizers, not Paul, who deviated from the right path.13
Messianic scholar Lancaster explains that when Paul ended up in Antioch, it would have been very easy for him to begin teaching them about Judaism and guide them along the path of full conversion until they became proselytes. This is what the false teachers were doing in the Galatian congregations of believers. But Paul did not follow this model. Instead, he taught the new believers to remain as non-Jews as far as being circumcised was concerned, as well as the observance of the holidays and feasts.
Lancaster believes that Paul’s message in Antioch was the same as that he would share with the believers in Corinth: “But each one of you should continue to live the way the Lord God has given you to live—the way you were when God chose you. I tell people in all the congregations of believers to follow this rule. If a man was already circumcised when he was chosen, he should not change his circumcision. If a man was without circumcision when he was chosen, he should not be circumcised. It is not important if anyone is circumcised or not. What is important is obeying God’s commands. Each one of you should stay the way you were when God chose you. If you were a slave when God chose you, don’t let that bother you. But if you can be free, then do it. If you were a slave when the Lord chose you, you are now free in the Lord. You belong to the Lord. In the same way, if you were free when you were chosen, you are now the Anointed One’s slave. God paid a high price for you, so don’t be slaves to anyone else. Brothers and sisters, in your new life with God, each one of you should continue the way you were when God chose you.”14
Lancaster goes on to say that Paul wanted the Galatian believers to know that the Gospel he preached teaches that a non-Jew can become a full member of the body of the Anointed One without having to go through the Jewish process of first being a proselyte to Judaism with circumcision, and then accept Jesus of Nazareth as the true Anointed One. Lancaster concludes that Gentiles would not be present in the community of faith today, nor in any congregation of believers, if it were not for the revelation from Heaven that God granted His servant Paul. God set him apart before he was born, called him by His grace, and was pleased to reveal His Son to him, in order that he might preach the Anointed One among the Gentiles.15
Hans Dieter Betz raises a good question, why did Paul feel it necessary to confirm with an oath before God that he was telling the Galatians the truth? As we know, it is the function of such oaths, in speaking or writing, to offer proof to cover what others may have doubts about what is being said or written. For instance, the story we find in Actions of the Apostles about his first meeting with the Apostles,16 shows a different version of the same story than what Paul is telling here in Galatians. This may be the reason Paul wants to assure them that he has nothing to hide of what happened in Jerusalem. What we don’t know is whether his version in Acts of the Apostles may have included left out some of the stories that the Judaizers were telling the Galatians, making it look like he was trying to hide something. But Paul is adamant by saying, “I am telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.17
11 Thessalonians 2:14
2 Acts of the Apostles 8:16
3 John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., pp. 27-28
4 Johann P. Lange: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 27
5 J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 228-229
6 Charles Spurgeon: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Joshua 9:1-27
8 2 Samuel 21:1-6
9 See Acts of the Apostles 9:31
10 Frederic Rendall: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 157
11 Aramaic Galatians by Andrew G. Roth, op. cit., loc. cit.
12 The Contextual Bible Series: Galatians, loc. cit., Sylvanus Publishing, New York, 2003
13 Ronald Y. K Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 83-84
14 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
15 D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 38-39
16 Acts of the Apostles 9:26-30
17 Hans Dieter Betz: On Galatians, op. cit., p.79