NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER ONE (Lesson LXVI)
Collector of anecdotes, British Sunday school teacher J. L. Nye offered this story as an illustration of verse twenty-three where Paul relates how so many were talking about the difference in meeting the Anointed One face to face made a change in him from a Persecutor of the Gospel into a Preacher of the Gospel.
One of Martin Luther’s most fierce enemies was Count Eberhard of Erbach, Germany. At a scheduled meeting of Church officials in Heidelberg, Germany, Count Eberhard heard that Martin Luther would be attending. So leaving a sick daughter at home, he rushed to get to the city in time. While staying at a Gasthaus, he conversed with several men, who were all strangers to him, about Luther staying there. Count Eberhard was struck by the learning and piety of one of them, an unknown monk. After their talk, Count Eberhard quietly told them of his plan to get rid of Martin Luther and invited them to join him.
When the other men left, the monk stayed behind. He looked steadfastly into the Count’s eyes and said, “You can spare yourself with any further trouble in this matter. The man you desire to seize and put in prison is standing in front of you. I am Martin Luther.” Thunderstruck and bewildered by this sudden revelation, the Count fell to his knees and in a choked voice said to Luther, “You are a much better man than I am. May God in His mercy forgive me of my evil intentions.” In a calm and reassuring voice Luther took his hand and said to Count Eberhard, “Rise and go in peace. The one who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus the Anointed One.” As a result, Count Eberhard became on of the staunchest supporters of Luther and the Reformation Movement.1
What a model for faith and faithfulness that Martin Luther gives us to emulate. His core belief that came from the Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians. And in the same manner, we should all be ready to become an Apostle Paul or a Martin Luther when it comes to any persecution or hardships we may have to endue because of our faith in the Anointed One. We must stand fast in the belief that we are “called of God,” “called by God,” until we are “called away by God” to our rest to await the resurrection.
Andrew Roth shows us that the Aramaic version of Galatians gives us a slightly different nuance on what Paul is saying here in verse twenty-four about praise going to God. His translation reads: “And they turned their praise to Elohim on my account.”2 The translation from Aramaic by John Etheridge has: “And in me they glorified Aloha.” (Hebrew “Eloah.”). And James Murdock’s translation reads, “And they glorified God in me.” Edger J. Goodspeed renders it as, “…and they praised God for me.”3 In the Contextual Bible it is rendered, “And they praise God because of me.”4 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 believed by earlier congregations. This caused the Judæan Christians to be cordial in their attitude towards him. 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.5
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 to full conversion by first becoming converts to Judaism. This is what the false teachers were doing in the Galatian congregations of believers. But Paul refused to follow this model. Instead, he taught the new believers to remain as non-Jews as far as being circumcised was concerned, and, as well as the observance of the Jewish 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.”6
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 convert to Judaism with circumcision, and then accept Jesus of Nazareth as the true the 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.7
Charles B. Stevens (1854-1906) offers a paraphrase of verses eighteen through twenty-four that serves as a summary of Paul’s message and mission. Here’s the way Stevens puts it:
After my conversion, my course was such as to prove my independence of human teachers. For three years I did not see Jerusalem and the authorities of the church there. At the expiration of that period, however, I went there to interview Peter, but my visit was a brief one. I saw only one other apostle. I solemnly assert the truth of these statements. I next returned through Syria to my native province. My brief stay in Jerusalem and Judæa brought about, indeed, a new interest and rejoicing at my conversion, but I was not there long enough so that the congregations of believers at large even knew what I looked like.8
We should all be humbled by Paul’s example of standing true to God’s calling and God’s Word. At the same time, we should all be proud that the Holy Spirit gave us such a model to emulate by inspiring Paul to write these words. But none of this means anything if we do not dedicate ourselves to adopting the same attitude and action in standing up for the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One. Otherwise, by reading these words we will be like the person who saw themselves in a mirror, realized what a weak and helpless person they were, but then turning away to go down the same old path they were following. They apparently concluded, that the image they saw the mirror was a part of their imagination, or, that it was a defective mirror that did not show their true self.9
But one thing is for sure. One day we will all stand before the judgment seat of the Anointed One, and what He sees will determine whether or not we go through the gate into everlasting life, or are thrown down into the pit with Satan into everlasting damnation. The choice is not His, it is ours.
THE END OF CHAPTER ONE
1 J. L. Nye: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 108
2 Aramaic Galatians by Andrew G. Roth, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Edgar J. Goodspeed: An American Translation, University of Chicago Press, 1923, loc. cit.
4 The Contextual Bible Series: Galatians, loc. cit., Sylvanus Publishing, New York, 2003; Cf. James Moffett: The New Testament, A New Translation; Harper and Row Publishers, Inc, 1964
5 Ronald Y. K Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 83-84
6 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
7 D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p.40
8 George Barker Stevens: The Epistles of Paul in Modern English, a Paraphrase, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1899, p. 25: Redacted by RRS for clarity of vocabulary.
9 James 1:24