NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson VII)
If this were a drama, who ought to play the part of the congregation and who might be seen in the role of Marcion, early church scholar Tertullian doesn’t leave much doubt. He speaks of Peter and the others as real pillars of the congregation being blamed by Paul for not behaving properly according to the truth of the Gospel. Yes, the same Paul who is just beginning to understand the fundamentals of the Doctrine of Grace, and the one afraid that all his work in Galatia might be in vain. Here he is now for the first time conversing with those who were Apostles before he was called. Therefore, because of the eagerness of his zeal against Judaism and a newcomer to Christianity, he thought that there was something wrong with so-called pillars of the congregation in the way they were acting in Antioch. Yes, the same Paul that would say later that he owed no allegiance to anyone, that he was willing be like those he was with in order for them to accept his Gospel.1 Yet, here he was censuring Peter for the same conduct. How could he do this after they earlier joined hands in agreement and fellowship as believers in the Anointed One, that each one would accept the other’s views on the Gospel?2 It’s obvious whose side Tertullian is on.
Then early congregation scholar Epiphanius (310-403 AD), Bishop of Salamis writes a scathing rebuttal to all the heresies current in his day. And in one section, he singled out Cerinthus (50-100 AD), a Greek agnostic who early spoke against everything that Christians claimed about the Anointed One. He tried to refute their claim that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. That in fact, He was the son of Joseph and Mary by natural means. Furthermore, the dove that landed on Jesus at His baptism was the Holy Spirit who turned Him into a miracle worker. Also, Epiphanius reveals that when Paul went to Jerusalem with Titus, it was Cerinthus who caused all the trouble that led to the Council writing the letter to the congregation in Antioch.3
Paul also sent out a warning to the Colossians telling them that preachers would come along with the goal of changing their minds. They would do this by sounding authoritative and well-informed. The Greek noun pithanologia that Paul uses means “speech adapted to persuade.” But it also means being persuasive in a bad sense. In other words, to convince someone that what they’ve been told and believed from the beginning is wrong.4 This is what the Jews tried to do with the Apostles belief in the virgin birth of the Anointed One through Mary. They knew that if they could disproved the virgin birth, it would make it a lie and destroy the disciples’ and the congregations’ message.
Paul wanted the Galatians to know that the Gospel they received from him was the truth. That’s why they were able to put their trust in the Anointed One and receive forgiveness for their sins. God then put His stamp of approval on that Good News by giving them the Holy Spirit to dwell within for guidance, strength, and wisdom. This is the same thing Paul told the Ephesians.5 No wonder that Paul seemed to repeat the same message for the Colossians.6 And Paul was equally thankful that he was able to deliver the same Word of God to the Thessalonians.7
We know from Paul’s own words that he studied at the feet of the esteemed Jewish Rabban Gamaliel in Jerusalem. So it is possible that he may recall an incident where Gamaliel was confronted by his students when they saw him doing things that went directly against what he taught. For instance, he taught that on one’s wedding night the groom need not recite the she-ma, (“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”).8 But on his wedding night, Gamaliel recited the she-ma. So when his students confronted him, his excuse was, “I will not listen to you to remove from myself the Kingship to Heaven even for a moment.” He did the same then when his wife died and when his servant died. Making excuses for violating his own teachings.9 This may also be part of what Paul was warning about.
As if the doubters in Galatia didn’t hold enough proof in their hands that Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was in harmony with what the original Apostles taught and preached, he blasts another hole in their sinking ship. Some of these Judaizing brethren apparently came around to hear Paul preach his liberation theology. They wanted proof to take back to Jerusalem so they might return with a real strong memorandum from the Apostles, telling the Galatians to oppose Paul and his fellow workers in their preaching and teaching the Anointed One to the Gentiles; and not to allow them into the congregation without obliging them to observe the conservative teachings on circumcision and keeping the Jewish feasts and ordinances. But Augustine believes “...they were keeping an eye on the apostle Paul, whom they envied and wanted to be viewed with suspicion because he once served as the main persecutor of the congregations.”10
Chrysostom knew that Paul viewed these people as spies, and the sole object of a spy is to obtain information to bring about devastation and destruction. They do so by becoming acquainted with the adversary’s position. And this is what they tried, wishing to bring the disciples back to their old slavery under the Law. Also, it is apparent how contrary their purpose was to that of the Apostles, who made concessions to tolerate them until they could be removed from their positions. But the spies continued to plot even more sinister plans. Therefore, they looked around and observed closely and made themselves busybodies to find out who were uncircumcised. As Paul says, “they came in secretly to spy out our liberty.” This not only identified their conspiracy as that of spies, but by their stealthy entrance and creeping in they showed their method to be that of spies.11
I found it interesting that one Jewish scholar agrees with Paul that there’s no need for Gentiles to become Jews in order to believe in Jesus. To the contrary, today the shoe is on the other foot. Messianic Jews are having to insist that a Jew need not become a Gentile in order to put their trust in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. This point, irrelevant for Jews in Paul’s day, and, therefore, not part of the Gospel as it was presented to them, is essential for Gentiles because it removes a major barrier, namely, the requirement, in addition to trusting God and the Good News, to leave one culture and join another. Paul saw not only that this was unnecessary, but that insistence on it was a grave danger to the truth of the Good News. Circumcision quickly became the token of the entire controversy, precisely because when a Gentile allows himself to be circumcised, he obligates himself to obey the entire Torah, plus all the oral teachings and traditions. In other words, they obligate themselves to join the Jewish people as a Jew, to become fully Jewish.12 That’s why Paul kept telling them that their full commitment to the Anointed One, was all they needed to be in full compliance with the Torah. After all, Jesus was a Jew by birth.
The importance of this tug-of-war between Paul and the Judaizers was vital. Apparently his opponents gave the impression that they were there by the authority of the Apostle James, and perhaps mentioned the Apostle Peter as well. Paul wanted to pull the rug out from under them by stating categorically that James and Peter were in harmony with what he was doing. Therefore, the Judaizers’ claims were false, which now made them subject to questioning as to their validity and authority. Hence, Robert Gundry renders verse three this way: “However, even Titus, who [was] with me, wasn’t forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.”13 Gundry points out that it actually was the result of some false brethren who came in and raised the question of circumcision and used Titus as a way of accusing Paul of being two-faced. But Paul was very clear when he said: “We didn’t yield by way of submission even for an hour, in order that the truth of the gospel might stay with you throughout.”
A contemporary of Bishop Epiphanius, Ambrosiaster, seems to take the same attitude toward Paul that Paul did toward Peter in Antioch over his eating with the Jews at the disdain of the non-Jewish believers there. Ambrosiaster notes that both history and the Epistle tell us that Paul once gave in to the pressure. Paul just said that Titus was not forced to be circumcised because he was a Greek, to which he added, because of the false brethren secretly allowed into the meeting. So it does sound like Paul gave in for a moment because of the false brethren who snuck in unawares? Otherwise, what sense would the sentence make? It is clear that Paul says, Titus did not need to be circumcised. What else does it sound like, except that Paul gave in?14
Ambrosiaster goes on to make the charge that Paul must deny that he didn’t give in even for a moment, when it is known that he caused Timothy to be circumcised because of the Jews, and went up to the Temple after purifying himself according to the Law? Why say more than that he didn’t give in even for a moment, unless they offered proof that he did? Either he wavered on giving in and did not do so because of the false brethren, or never considered giving in but did so because of them. Also, if Paul never gave in because of the false brethren’s charges, why then give in for the sake of the true believers? These are some things to consider, says Ambrosiaster, in understanding what happened there in Jerusalem.15
So it appears that Ambrosiaster was not necessarily opposed to Paul one way or the other, it only involved Paul’s statement here as being too ambiguous for the average reader. This no doubt prompted Catholic scholar George Haydock to mention that Jerome took notice that some Latin copies of Galatians read: to whom we yielded, but that was not the true reading by the Greek and Syriac texts.16 So even if Titus did end up being circumcised, Haydock follows the commentaries of Jerome and Theodoret in showing that no pressure being brought by the false brethren would have caused it to happen. No wonder that at the end of his ministry Paul said, “I fought a good fight! I have kept the faith!”
1 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
2 Tertullian: Ante-Nicene Fathers, op. cit., Bk. 1, Ch. 20, p. 517
3 The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: Naghammadi & Manichaean Studies, Trans. Frank Williams, Published by Koninklijk Brill NV, Leiden, Netherlands, 2009, Vol. 63, Bk. I, Sec. II, Ch. 281,1-7,1, pp. 116-121
4 Colossians 2:4-8
5 Ephesians 1:13
6 Colossians 1:5
7 1 Thessalonians 2:13
8 Deuteronomy 6:4; Cf. Mark 12:29
9 Mishnah, Division Zeraim, Berakoth, Ch. 2, sects. 5-7
10 Augustine, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Chrysostom, Homilies on Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit.
12 Stern, David, Jewish New Testament Commentary, loc. cit.
13 Robert H. Gundry: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Location 376-351
14 Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
15 Ibid. Ambrosiaster
16 George Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.