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 X)

John Edmunds (1800-1874) who noted earlier that Paul was telling this story about his encounter with the Judaizers in Jerusalem with the ulterior motive of teaching the Galatians on how to deal with the Judaizers who came to them with the same argument. So, when Paul gets to the point here in verse five where he describes how he dealt with the opposition. He uses the same ulterior motive they did to teach the Galatians on how to handle any arguments the Judaizers might start in trying to persuade them to go all the way back into the teachings of Judaism as a supplement or attachment to their salvation by grace through Jesus the Anointed One.

So, Edmunds says that the Galatians are hearing Paul say, more or less, we gave in on all the points where we could find common ground, but when it came to their demand that Titus must undergo circumcision, we drew a line and would not go past that line. But Paul qualifies their actions by saying that they didn’t do it out of spite or to make the Judaizers mad, that’s a coward’s way of doing things. They did it as taking a stance to defend the privileges that were to be extended to all Gentiles who became followers of Jesus, and the only way to do that was to preach a consistent, unadulterated, Gospel message without fail.[1]

Johann Lange (1802-1884) believes that Paul’s fear of having “run in vain,” came from the fact that he proved unwilling to agree that all he taught the Gentiles was about the elimination of Jewish Law, rites, rituals, and ceremonies from having any impact on their salvation. To do that, then all he did might rightfully be considered as nothing more than a waste of time. His preaching would have been labeled as false. Not only would his credibility be ruined, but the Galatians’ faith in his teaching would also be lost.[2] Like a marathon runner who comes to what he believes is the Finish Line, only to find out he ran the wrong course. Hence, there is no medal to be given him for his efforts. In other words, all of his runnings was in vain.

William O’Conor (1820-1887) sees Paul’s insistence on the purity and perfectness of the doctrine which he originally communicated to his converts in Galatia might be rendered more difficult to defend if he couldn’t tell them that the Apostles examined and approved it. There’d be nothing left but his word against that of the Judaizers. It was Paul’s way of saying to them, “I took the step I described, in order that I may now be able to say that I did so to establish that the Gospel which I preached to you as being genuine.”[3]

Alvah Hovey (1820-1903) suggests that in addition to understanding what Paul was saying about these individuals sneaking into the meeting and then rising to disrupt the discussion with their accusations of Paul’s misleading teachings to the Gentiles about Jewish Law, rites, and rituals, that we consider another view. It could also be that these brethren joined the discussion because they were known to the others, but somehow, they were able to “secretly introduce” their objections. This might have been planned to catch everyone off guard so that their defenses were not already in place. It is that Paul discerned that these were false brethren. Hovey says that it is difficult to decide between this and the preceding interpretation. Either of them is consistent with the language and the situation, but neither of them is obvious. Scholars thus far labored in vain to reach a perfectly satisfactory interpretation of it. So that means either one will do. In fact, they both may be right.[4]

George Whitefield Clark (1831-1911) English Anglican cleric and evangelist who was one of the founders of Methodism and the evangelical movement, finds in verse five that Paul gives us the first glimpse of the freedom of grace which he supports and the bondage of works he opposes. Obligation to the Law as a means of salvation based on justification was nothing short of slavery. Freedom is found only in union with the Anointed One and consequent service to Him out of grateful love. There are works, but they are works of love, not forced labor. Paul was very much opposed to the Pharisaic form of bondage they were trying to trick the Gentile Galatians into accepting. He knew that once they yielded, it would become almost impossible to break free again. So, by taking a stand against this teaching, Paul was able to secure an immortal victory on behalf of the Gentile world. We are thankful to the Apostle to this day.[5]

In fact, one of the theologians that Clark uses in his commentary as a resource, written by George Barker Stevens (1854-1906) American Congregational and Presbyterian clergyman, theologian, author, educator, and Yale Divinity School professor, says that the Galatian Christians, being predominately Gentile, would be included as a priority in maintaining the principle of freedom from the Law. One cannot overestimate the importance of the Apostle Paul’s position on this issue. Stevens states that “He was a great champion of the independence, completeness, and sufficiency of Christianity.” He made it clear that justification by grace and salvation by faith should not, and must not, be mixed with legality or obligation to man-made rules.[6]

Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925) notices what may be called the spark that set off the fiery debate that resulted from this uninvited interruption of the proceedings before the Apostles and council. It’s Paul’s words that “not even Titus, who was with him and who was a Gentile, was compelled to be circumcised.” That’s when the fireworks went off. It wasn’t that Paul wanted to make a big show out of his stance on the non-necessity of circumcision for the Gentiles, but to present Titus, obviously a very talented young man since he ended up being a bishop,[7] as an example of a dedicated servant of the Anointed One. So, if God was willing to accept him as one of His children, certainly the Apostles could not object to his being counted among all believers as genuine, even among the Jewish believers. Could it be that some of these interrupters were among those Judaizers that were now causing havoc in Galatia?[8]

Cyril Emmet in his comments on those who were soon to be proven as “false brethren” got into the meeting so they could interrupt the proceedings highlights the fact that they were “privately brought in” through the back door. Paul Kretzmann says, “smuggled themselves in.”[9] And Duncan Hester suggests that there were Judaizers already embedded in the Jerusalem congregation purposefully to disrupt the proceedings.[10] The Greek adjective pareisaktos that Paul uses here either means, “secretly or surreptitiously brought in,” or “one who was stolen in.” So, if we accept the idea that Paul is relating an incident that happened earlier back in Galatia, then perhaps those who tried and failed there, relayed the information to their comrades in Jerusalem to try it again.

In either case, they were not invited. They got in with someone’s help. That means that some individual who was already in the meeting because they were recognized as part of the group, worked in cooperation with these scoundrels to sneak them in without anyone noticing or seeing. No doubt after they interrupted the meeting with their questions, it didn’t take Paul long to recognize that their sole purpose was to discredit the believer’s freedom in the Anointed One so that they might bring them back into bondage to the Law. What was Paul’s response? He said, “not for a minute did we give in to them.”[11]

One Messianic writer makes an interesting point on the fact that Paul was under pressure to force Titus’ circumcision. He notes that the Greek verb anagkazō used here means to necessitate, compel, drive to, by force, threats, etc. It suggests that even Titus, a Gentile believer, did not want to be circumcised and Paul respected his decision. Ronald Fung notes that he and others feel that it would seem preferable, to take what Paul says here as referring to an event which took place not at this Jerusalem meeting but on a subsequent occasion – as we gather, at Antioch[12] – and of which Paul is reminded by his mention of Titus and circumcision.[13]

Messianic Rabbi Avi ben Mordechai shares several thoughts on what Paul meant by “truth of the Gospel.” He believes the word “truth” used here is a reference to Hebrew Scriptures where “truth” is defined as the teaching of Mosaic Law.[14] Of course, says Mordechai, here it is implying that the “truth” in his Gospel is derived from the Torah and the Prophets.[15] This is all confirmed by Yeshua in His statement that God sent Him to the Jews who were lost in their sins.[16] As Mordechai sees it, by combining the truth in the Torah, Prophets, and Wisdom Writings, along with the enhanced teachings of Yeshua, was a way of combining believing Jews and Gentiles into one flock under one Shepherd to do what God instructed His people to do starting with Moses and finishing with the Messiah.[17] This is what the forefathers were promised in a blood oath taken at Mount Horeb in Sinai.[18] [19]

Since it is a clear command of Torah, why wouldn’t Paul and Titus want to exercise that in order to become a seasoned member of the community, accepted by Jews and Gentiles alike? Paul was surely aware of the prevailing rabbinic teaching that Gentiles were not considered covenant members until after conversion and circumcision. Thus, his motives for accepting or refusing circumcision at that time were a reflection of his taking a stand with Paul to send the right signal to the newly formed Gentile faction within Apostolic Judaism. If the pressure wasn’t put on him, there’s every reason to believe that Titus might be more amenable to the idea. As long as Paul was satisfied with it, Titus felt no need to bow to the pressure.

[1] John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p.31

[2] Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Galatians, Vol. 8, loc. cit.

[3] O’Conor, W. A On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 22

[4] Hovey, A: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 27.

[5] George Whitefield Clark: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 68

[6] George B. Stevens: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., pp. 61-62

[7] See Titus 1:4

[8] Ernest DeWitt Burton: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 75

[9] Paul A. Kretzmann: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[10] Duncan Hester: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.,

[11] Cyril Emmet: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 15

[12] Acts of the Apostles 15:1, 24

[13] Ronald Y. K. Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 91

[14] Psalms 119:142, 151, 160; Malachi 2:6; Daniel 9:13

[15] See Deuteronomy 30:1-4; Isaiah 11:12; Jeremiah31:10; Ezekiel 37:21-23; Amos 9:11; Hosea 1:10-11; Micah 2:12.

[16] Matthew 15:24; Acts of the Apostles 1:6-8

[17] Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36;27; John 16:11

[18] Exodus 24:3-8

[19] Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 15

About drbob76

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