CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson IV) 07/18/19

Ernest DeWitt Burton takes special note of what Paul said here about how he “laid before them the Gospel which he preaches among the Gentiles.” It goes without saying, that this was not done in a short amount of time. Paul was not one to be short on words. Burton doesn’t think Paul spent much time explaining the practical method he used in sharing the Gospel with Gentiles, but he focused on the doctrinal portion. This included the significance of the work of Christ on the cross to make us right with God instead of the work people do to be right with God, the conditions upon which salvation was to be received as a gift, not earned, and the consequential obligations of believers once they accepted the Anointed One as their personal Savior, instead of the Law. But the real emphasis, as far as getting the Apostles to understand, was that this was his message to Gentiles. That way, they could compare it to their message to Jews. As Paul himself said, he hoped that after they listened and reacted, all his efforts among the Gentiles would not end up being in vain.1

Jewish writer Avi ben Mordechai is of the opinion that when Paul spoke of the Gospel that he preached to the Gentiles, it was the same Word Yahweh sent to His people, exiled and scattered abroad2.3 If these people were to know the true Yahweh, then they must know Him through the Torah and the Prophets from which He preached,4 because it mirrored Yahweh’s character and reputation.5 He was to do what Yeshua did, go to the Jews first,6 show them God’s divine mercy and call on them to have faith in Him as the Messiah,7 in order to reestablish them in the spirit of the Law as one nation – Jews and Gentiles under one God.8 In Mordechai’s mind, the Law of Moses and the Gospel of the Anointed One together would be their guiding light,9 As such, they were to become a spiritual house unified under the contract10 and referred to in the Final Covenant as the “congregation in the wilderness.”11 12

2:2b I did so because I wanted to make sure that all my work did not end up being a waste of time.

Paul feared that if the Apostles in Jerusalem felt that all of his hard work wasn’t worth the time and trouble, then his call from God to be the Apostle to the Gentiles was a worthless endeavor. What he was hoping and praying for is that it would be accepted by the congregation leaders so that these Gentiles could become equal members of the congregation-at-large. When Jesus told His disciples that He was sending them out like sheep among wolves, Paul wanted to make sure that some wolves who infiltrated the believers were not considered a part of the congregation so as to devour his efforts for Jesus the Anointed One.13

He prayed the same prayer for his work among the Philippians.14 It was for that same reason Paul sent Timothy to the Thessalonians.15 Another thing that drove Paul toward Jerusalem to seek confirmation for his teachings, came from what he was taught by his great teacher Gamaliel about finding a good teacher who will help you stay away from doubt. Don’t become accustomed to doing things by guesswork.16

Either way, Paul did not want to make his visit a big deal. So he contacted several of the leaders and requested a private meeting with them. If Paul needed to feed his ego and do something to show everyone that God chose him and Jesus called him, why not staged his visit with maximum publicity. No, Paul is sending a hidden message to the Galatians that showed his great respect for the leaders of the congregation in Jerusalem, and their great respect for him. One converted African Christian commentator felt that Paul’s concern here was to consult in case he was not preaching the full Gospel. If he were to preach anything less, it would all have been in vain. If it could be proven that circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, and the rest of the Jewish rites and rituals were, in fact, advantageous to salvation, would that not eliminate the grace of God through the Anointed One? If that happened, then running his race to spread the Gospel meant nothing.17

Again, we do not know how many of the Greek classics Paul read, or whether he became familiar with the opening of Plato’s “Apology,” where Plato laments that those he thought supported him were persuaded to turn against him. However, perhaps Paul felt what the great Orator of Athens experienced. It begins this way: Plato says, “O Athenians, I don’t know if you changed your mind about me because of my accusers; but one thing I know, their persuasiveness almost made me doubt myself; even though nothing they said about me was true. But out of all the lies they told about me, the one that really amazed me, was when they told you to be careful and not allow themselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They already knew that as soon as I opened my mouth their lie would be exposed since I am anything but an eloquent speaker. This falsehood struck me as being an insult – unless, of course, they were implying that the power of the truth I speak is my real eloquence.”

Paul himself admitted that he was anything but a great speaker,18 but more talented as a teacher. Yet it appeared that the Judaizers were just as smitten by how the truth of the Gospel Paul taught changed the hearts and minds of the Galatians in an amazing way. So like the accusers of Plato, the accusers of Paul cautioned the Galatians to be careful what Paul said and not be misled by his supposed eloquence and claims that it was inspired by God Himself. Early church writer John Cassian says that even Paul would not be so presumptuous and blind as to trust his own insights without seeking assurances from his co-apostles.19

Then Paul gives his readers another private peek inside his purpose for going to Jerusalem. The last time he was there only Peter and James were privy to his visit, but now there were others who wanted to hear firsthand his account of how God called him and Jesus ordained him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles; and all the good that came out of that missionary ministry. It was so important that they personally hear how he acted according to God’s will in every respect and received many blessings in his obedience to his calling. And Augustine believes that Paul is also assuring the Galatians that he experienced no difficulty in getting the approval of the Apostles in Jerusalem for what he did by exempting them from Jewish laws so that his mission to bring them this Good News would not end up being a futile effort because they began to doubt.20

Peter Lombard (1096-1160 AD), Medieval Bishop of Paris, drew a comparison here between Paul’s going to Jerusalem and the command Jesus gave some lepers after He healed them. As Lombard sees it, the decision by the Council at Jerusalem cast out every variety of heretical leprosy. Therefore, they declared Paul’s Gospel as pure. One reads in the Gospel how the lepers cured by the Lord were sent to the priests so that they might show themselves to them.21 It is not far-fetched to take this to mean that those without sufficient knowledge of the true faith may profess various erroneous doctrines. Furthermore, no false doctrine should be allowed to intermingle with things that are true. When this is allowed to happen, it is analogous to those with leprosy being allowed to mingle with those who are healthy. Thus, it was in order to prove that the Apostle’s preaching was free from every corruption of heretical leprosy that he discuss the Gospel with the other Apostles.22

From what Martin Luther says here, we might conclude that one of the roadblocks in the way of converted Jews giving up their circumcision requirement and adherence to the long-held Jewish Law’s rites, rituals, and regulations came as a result that neither their Prophets nor their Rabbis and Sanhedrin offered such choices as an option. After all, wasn’t Jesus circumcised? And where did Jesus say anything about giving up circumcision? Apparently, the word of Paul and the Apostles was not enough for them.23

John Calvin finds two things here in what Paul is telling the Galatians that we need to take notice of and heed his words. On the one hand, it possessed the potential to be an alarming weapon against Paul if his opponents could shake the weak consciences of the Galatians causing them to believe that the doctrine Paul preached was false and at variance with the doctrine of the Apostles. Many were misled this way. The confidence one has in their faith does not necessarily depend on everyone else agreeing with you. However, it is our duty to be part of a consensus with other believers on what is the truth according to God’s Word. That way, neither men nor all the angels together could shake our faith. Believers weak in their faith are fair game for such irresistible persuasion when presented by people with a large following. But strong believers are more likely to resist such a powerful strategy often used by Satan to bring strife and divisions.24 With their spirit bearing witness with the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, and the spirit of like-minded believers, they will not be so easily misled.

Paul gives us a beautiful example of how to address any issue that may be reported back to us that something we are preaching or teaching does not fit the standard, orthodox, doctrine of evangelical Christianity, and how to deal with it. Don’t become angry at those who object, but schedule a meeting with them, present your solid reasons for interpreting the Scriptures the way you do. Don’t be apologetic when you have the Word of God to back you up. But at the same time, don’t hesitate to consider their objections or differences. In the end, you may not fully agree on every factor, but at least you will both understand each other’s point of view. And don’t forget, the Holy Spirit is there to help.

1 Ernest DeWitt Burton: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp 70-71

2 Isaiah 43:5-7, 52:6

3 Acts of the Apostles 9:15

4 Malachi 3:22, 4:4

5 Deuteronomy 28:58

6 Matthew 15:24

7 Hosea 2:23

8 Hosea 1:10; Amos 9:11

9 Psalm 119:105

10 Deuteronomy 29:15

11 Acts of the Apostles 7:38

12 Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 13

13 Matthew 10:16

14 Philippians 2:16

15 1 Thessalonians 3:5

16 Pirkei Avot: Ethics of the Fathers, 1:16

17 Marius Victorinus’ (c. 355 AD): Commentary on Galatians, Introduction, Translation and Notes by Stephen Andrew Cooper, The Oxford Early Christian Studies, Oxford University Press, 2005, loc. cit., p. 269

18 I Corinthians 11:6

19 John Cassian: Conferences 2.15, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., loc. cit., p. 19

20 Augustine: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., loc. cit., p. 20

21 Luke 17:14

22 Peter Lombard, op. cit., loc .cit.

23 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 29

24 1 Corinthians 3:3

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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