NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CONGREGATIONS OF BELIEVERS
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson VIII)
Medieval scholar Bruno the Carthusian believes that Paul decision on a private meeting with the leading Apostles before they met the whole Council, was to make sure that when he got up before the Council to share his ministry and they began to question why he took it upon himself to exempt the Gentiles from Jewish ceremonial laws and customs, he’d be able to turn to Peter and James for them to say they supported Paul’s decision because it was the right thing to do and did not violate the Gospel in any way.1
In addition to all that Paul dealt with concerning these false teachers, some psychologist find an inconsistency here between Paul’s earlier confession that the grace and mercy of God is what made him who he was and helped him accomplish all that he was able to do, and yet being so adamant about proving that he received both a blessing and approval from Peter and James in order to protect himself from being branded as a religious rebel without a cause. What these psychologists fail to see is that Paul’s humility is based on his being such a physically weak human being who was mentally bound to the slavery of the Law, but upon whom God showed mercy; that Paul’s spiritual assertiveness is founded on his personal encounter with the Anointed One and the anointing and Gospel message were given to him along with his appointment as God’s emissary to the Gentiles.
Paul certainly does not hide the fact that he touts his educational achievements, his Roman citizenship, his familiarity with Greek writers, and his outstanding success as a rising star in the ranks of the Pharisees. What Paul is really trying to do, however, is distinguish between what he is as a person, and what he’s become as a minister of the Gospel. In the flesh, Paul takes ownership of his attainments and standing as a result of his long hours of study and hard work. But as a servant of Jesus the Anointed One, he is what he is by the grace of God. There is no doubt that from time to time Paul unconsciously relies on his own strength to be competitive in the ministry, while consciously declaring that we should not take sides or form groups in competition with one another. It’s all part of the ongoing conflict between the flesh and the spirit in all of us.2
But Paul did not let this distraction get in the way of following the commission of the Anointed One to preach the Gospel of salvation through faith in His work on the cross. I often told my colleagues in seminary and in ecumenical gatherings that I learned more about sin, worldliness, immoral living, debauchery, and how to get to hell fast from sermons I heard in church rather than out in the world. It’s proper to preach against sin, but not at the expense of being silent on the tremendous work of God through the Anointed One on the cross to bring us salvation. Believe me, when a person is truly born again, the Holy Spirit is quick to convict them of any act or deed or word that does not please their Father in heaven. They do not need to be beaten over the head each Sunday to get the point.
These Judaizers were looking to provoke a fight and Paul refused to give it to them. They believed in being saved to the old way. But according to Paul’s theology, if it’s not necessary to get saved by your own efforts then why should it be necessary to stay saved through spiritual hard labor? That was one of his main themes, as we will see. As he would write later to the Corinthian believers, anyone who is in union with the Anointed One is already a new creation, the old passed away and everything became new.3 You may be surprised to find out how many believers today put down other believers because they only receive communion on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, or hold baptismal services only twice a year. Yes, these things are important but should never become a point of contention dividing them into groups, each one believing they are better than the other.
Now, in order to show the Judaizers that his method worked, Paul shares with them that when he went to Jerusalem to meet privately with the leaders there he took a new Gentile convert along named Titus. If you read Paul’s personal letter to Titus you’ll see that Paul already had many reasons for involving this young man in the controversy that was going on about being obedient to Mosaic Law and traditions in order to enhance one’s standing in union with the Anointed One. Although Titus was a Greek Gentile, after his conversion Paul did not insist on him being circumcised according to Jewish tradition.
Venerable Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas offers that Timothy was circumcised and Titus was not, is that Timothy was born of a Gentile father and Jewish mother, whereas Titus’ parents were both Gentiles. And the opinion of the Apostle was that those born of a Jewish parent on either side should be circumcised, but those born entirely of Gentile parents should on no account be circumcised. If you want to read the whole story on this confrontation, you’ll find it in Acts 15:1-11. Aquinas also believes that by taking Barnabas and Titus with him, since Barnabas was a Jew but Titus a Gentile, is because they both stood as bonafide witnesses to his teaching and showed that he neither leaned to the side of the Jews or the Gentiles.4
Martin Luther uttered some strong words for those who opposed his separating from the Roman Catholic Church and preaching that the mass did not impart grace since the bread and wine were not transformed into the body and blood of the Anointed One. As far as Luther was concerned, if his opponents would not accept the fact that faith in the Anointed One alone justifies, he would not yield to them. On the question of justification, Luther insists that his followers must remain adamant, or else they would lose the truth of the Gospel. It is a matter of life and death. It involves the death of the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world.
If we do not surrender in faith to the Anointed One as the only One who justifies us, says Luther, the death and resurrection of Jesus are without meaning. Then the Anointed One as the only Savior of the world would become a myth. God would be a liar because He didn’t fulfill His promises. However, our insistence on believing that all of this is the true Gospel is the right thing to do because we will preserve the liberty which we have in the Anointed One. Only by preserving will our liberty be able to retain the truth of the Gospel inviolate.5
Let’s look a Reformer John Calvin’s insightful summation of how the Gospel should be understood. For him, the truth contained in the Gospel is what proves its genuine purity in doctrine. The false apostles did not altogether set aside the Gospel but attempted to mix it with it their own notions so as to give it a false and disguised meaning, which it always does when we make the smallest departure from “the simplicity that is in the Anointed One.”6 What upset Calvin is that the Vatican had the audacity to boast that only they possessed the true Gospel, which they not only corrupted with many human inventions but more than adulterated it with many false doctrines.
Let us remember, notes Calvin, it is not enough to retain the name of the Gospel, and some kind of summary of its doctrines, if it’s sterling purity does not remain untouched. Where are those who, by pretended moderation, endeavor to bring about a reconciliation between us and the Vatican? It seems that for them, the doctrine of religion, like a matter affecting money or property, could be compromised. With what abhorrence would such a transaction been regarded by Paul, who affirms that it is not the true Gospel if it is not pure!7
Calvin also makes a note on the subject of Christian liberty. He begins by pointing out that it deals with every believer’s conscience that is guarded by the Holy Spirit. But he claims that this is only one factor in the decision process, and it begins by our relationship with congregation laws. Doing what a religious origination says adds nothing to one’s salvation. Rather, it is meant to teach discipleship and discipline. The second factor is the matter of God’s mercy. This involves what the believer does for themselves and what they do for others in their service to the Anointed One. And the third factor is the believer’s calling to be sanctified and holy in all that they do for the Anointed One, others, and themselves.8
With this in mind, it is obvious how absurd the charges were against Paul that he was teaching freedom from the Law in order to promote promiscuity. This debate between those who believe that when it says that those the Son sets free are free indeed,9 it means freedom from being tied to obey the Law in order to be justified to stand forgiven before God. Others conclude that those who follow such an interpretation are left without any guidance or structure by which to guide their lives and that God gave the Law exactly for that reason. The one thing that seems to be forgotten is that no matter how much obedience one gives to the Law, the Law cannot justify, the Law cannot forgive, and the Law cannot save. The freedom spoken of is, therefore, the freedom to serve the Anointed One without serving the Law because the Anointed One justifies, the Anointed One forgives, and the Anointed One saves. In fact, by serving Him, the believer is fulfilling the Law perfectly.
That’s why the debate in Jerusalem by Paul and some members of the Council was so ludicrous. The reason he did not require that Titus be circumcised, is because it would add nothing to Titus’ standing with God. God did not say anywhere in the Final Covenant, “Thou shalt not be circumcised.” That lies within the purview of the believer’s freedom to choose. And since Jesus didn’t say anything against it, the believer can choose to be circumcised or not. Either way, they will be no more a child of God if they, and no less if they don’t.10
1 Bruno the Carthusian: On Galatians, The Bible in Medieval Tradition, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 I Corinthians 15:9-10
3 2 Corinthians 5:17
4 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 31
6 2 Corinthians 11:3
7 John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:5
9 John 8:36
10 Ibid. Institutes, op. cit., Vol. 4, Ch. 19, p. 872