NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson VI)
Pastor and writer Vincent Cheung agrees with what Chrysostom said about seeing Paul’s encounter with the Anointed One on the road to Damascus as his calling, and the Holy Spirit’s directions in the Antioch congregation and the laying on of hands as receiving his Apostleship. As Cheung sees it, Jesus was the one who called him into the ministry, but the Holy Spirit called him out to be a missionary. It is on this basis of his divine commission and not by any human recognition that Paul asserts the validity of his Apostolic ministry.1
Current Dutch Bible scholar Alfred E. Bouter (now living and ministering in Canada), notes that as he looks here at verse two, he notes that we are finally given the details of what happened in Jerusalem, and how, after much discussion, the conclusions were reached under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is wonderful to see this. This is the background to Galatians, chapter two. Paul first met privately with James, Peter, and John to make sure that they understood each other so that there would be no difference of opinion when they met with the congregation’s council. He purposely scheduled private discussions with those who held solid and respected reputations. And what was his purpose? He said it was to make sure that his ministry among the Galatians did not turn out to be a worthless effort. Paul realized that if this challenge of the enemy was not immediately countered, his mission would be in serious jeopardy, and so he was very wise, first by having a private counsel with the top three Apostles, and then later a public statement with them.2 This should be wise advice for all of us in dealing with outside or inside opposition to our ministry and message.
2:3-5 Titus was with me, even though he was a Gentile. But he did not go through the religious act of being circumcised. Some of those present, who call themselves Christians, were the ones who brought this up. They snuck into the meeting without being invited. They came there to find out if we were no longer preaching and practicing the Jewish rites, rituals, and ceremonies because we claimed the Anointed One set us free. They were only interested in getting us to go back under the Law instead of staying in Grace. But we did not listen to them nor do what they wanted us to do so the truth of the Gospel might be yours.
While the one reason for God sending Paul to Jerusalem involved sharing the news of his ministry among the Gentiles, the core reason for this visit might concern the cause of Titus being accepted as a valid member of the Congregation of the Anointed One without submitting to the rite of circumcision. But why is Paul putting this in his letter to the Galatian congregations? Perhaps he was sending a message to all the male Gentile members there, not to be pressured into being circumcised. If it was fine with the Council in Jerusalem to accept Titus that way, they need not be worried no matter what the Judaizers were telling them.3
Another striking thing about this meeting and the confrontation that took place there is that it appears Paul planned on meeting privately with the top Apostles. But somehow these legalists learned of his coming and begin plotting on how to sneak in undetected and then catch Paul off guard with their question about circumcision. They showed little interest in meeting with Paul privately to iron out any differences of opinion. They wanted to seize the right moment to openly embarrass Paul in front of the whole Council. Maybe then he would back down and give in to their demands that male Gentiles be circumcised like they demanded from their Jewish converts. So what better proof did they need than Titus standing there with Paul as a genuine born again child of God.4
Ben Witherington believes that Paul is not so much interested in exposing the identity of these Judaizers who came from Jerusalem to Galatia but wanted to offer and encourage them on how to properly respond to the false doctrine they were circulating throughout the congregations in the province.5 So Paul is now shedding more light on that meeting by sharing that not everyone was in agreement with letting the Gentiles go without being circumcised and observing Jewish holy days. In fact, Paul said he need not write this letter at all if it wasn’t for some of these individuals sneaking into the meeting and raising this issue. That’s what caused all the debate and the Council’s decision to write a response.
To pick up the storyline of Paul, Bar-Nabba [Barabbas], and Titus who were being sent at God’s command to Jerusalem to straighten out whether or not Gentiles should be forced to start practicing Judaism along with Christianity, the Council in Jerusalem decided to write a letter to the congregation in Antioch, and along with the letter they sent two leaders of the Jerusalem congregation. One was named Bar-Sabba and the other Sila. Basically, the letter said circumcision not necessary. All they asked them to do was “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication.”6
Alfred Edersheim tells us that as a former Jew, his understanding of this restriction on meats was not new for the Apostle Paul. For instance, when the Corinthians inquired about the lawfulness of meat sold in the marketplace or served as part of a dinner,7 Paul told them it could gladly be eaten without making any fuss. However, if it was revealed that this meat came out of the heathen temple after being sacrificed to idols, then politely say “No,” both for the good of the one who informed you and for your own conscience. It is obvious, says Edersheim, that Paul was aware of the Rabbinical law on this subject. For, according to Rabbi Akiba, meat that is on sale where idol worship is permitted is lawful to eat, but meat that is brought out after it being offered in idol worship, that is forbidden, because it is like the sacrifices for the dead8.9
This is not the first time these things came up in Paul’s ministry. When he met with the Elders of the congregation in Ephesus Paul told them that although they’ve heard him preach the true Gospel, yet they should be careful because, “after I depart, hungry wolves will come in among you. They will try to destroy the congregation. Also men from your own group will begin to teach things that are not true. They will get men to follow them.”10 Paul also warned the Corinthians about people who would come claiming they possessed the proper credentials and training and bragging about their résumé. But don’t trust them, says Paul, they are fakes, pretending to be commissioned by the Apostles when in fact they are self-appointed.11 Even the Apostle John warned his readers of such false preachers.12
We like to think of the Apostolic-age congregations as being harmonious, pure, holy, and on fire for God. But it was not so. In fact, Paul warned Timothy: “They will do things to make it look as if they are Christians. But they will not receive the power that is for a Christian. Keep away from such people.”13 But Paul was not alone. The Apostle Peter also warned of false teachers. He said they would come in under false pretenses so that they could introduce nonbiblical teachings. This will lead to behavior that was previously forbidden.14
And Jude spoke of similar things that would happen to test the believer’s faith. He wrote: “I must write to you and tell you to fight hard for the faith which was once and for all given to the holy people of God. Some sinful men come into your congregation without anyone knowing it. They are living in sin and they speak of the loving-favor of God to cover up their sins.”15 Not only did those things happen, but there is no reason for us to believe we must still wait for it to come. It is already here and having a great effect on congregations. The only thing that will drive out such insects of darkness is the light of the Gospel.
Perhaps Paul remembered the prayer David prayed when he said: “Let the joy of Your saving power return to me. And give me a willing spirit to obey you.”16 This was also the thought of another Psalmist who told the Lord that if I never stop obeying your Word, I’ll be able to walk in freedom and not worry about being in sin’s bondage again.17 That’s why Paul told the Corinthians that wherever the Spirit of the Lord is in control the believers’ hearts are free to worship God in spirit.18 However, be constantly on the lookout for those with only one goal in mind and that is to take control of your spiritual life for the purpose of making money for themselves. This is nothing but a trap. And when you realize what really happened it will be like a slap in the face.19
Tertullian (155-240) made a comment about Marcion of Sinope (85-160), the son of the Bishop of Sinope, a port city in Turkey. As a result of being thrown out of his earthly father’s house, Marcion took his anger out on his heavenly Father. Some of his beliefs became that the God of the Jewish Holy Scriptures was an evil creator god that Jesus came to destroy. He also believed that this evil god did, in fact, reveal his will through the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Thus he believed in the “inspiration” of the Jewish Holy Scriptures being from a divine source, although from an evil source. For him, the Jewish Holy Scriptures themselves were a purely human invention, pseudo-oracles of an imaginary god. Marcion accepted only the Gospel of Luke to the exclusion of the other three Gospels. He also accepted all of Paul’s writings but he would “cut out” any Jewish Holy Scriptures quotes or anything else that contradicted his theological views. He rejected all other books of the Bible.
Although Marcion firmly believed that the Jewish Holy Scriptures revealed God’s existence as the Creator of the world. The problem was that his creation was evil, and he himself, therefore, was an evil being; it was precisely the role of Jesus, and of the Unknown God now revealed in Him, to deliver humankind from the malice of the evil creator. Tertullian believes that since Marcion rejected the Gospels and Epistles, but accepted the Jewish Holy Scriptures – the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, that his fight with the congregation was much the same as Paul’s fight with Peter.
1 Cheung, Vincent. On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Alfred E. Bouter: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 147
4 Ibid. Nanos, p. 150
5 Grace in Galatia by Ben Witherington III, Published by Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1998, p. 23
6 Acts of the Apostles 15:22-23a.
7 1 Corinthian 10:25, 27
8 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Avodah Zarah, folio 29b
9 Alfred Edersheim: Sketches of Jewish Social Life, op. cit., Ch. 2, pp. 31-32
10 Ibid 20:29-30
11 2 Corinthians 11:12-15
12 1 John 4:1
13 2 Timothy 3:5
14 2 Peter 2:1-3
15 Jude 1:3-4a
16 Psalm 51:12
17 Ibid. 119:45
18 2 Corinthians 3:17
19 Ibid. 11:20