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 XIII)

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke interprets what he sees as Paul’s way of thinking about the situation there in Jerusalem. As far as Paul was concerned, he saw no difference between those who were of acknowledged reputation and himself; God is not influenced by any individual’s personality. That’s why in the meetings he held with them, they added nothing new – gave him no new light – to his ministry or doctrine. They also did not attempt to impose on him any restrictions, because they observed that God appointed him to the work he was doing and that God’s Spirit provided guidance for him. At the same time, they never brought up any suggestion that he alter his plan, or introduced anything new in his doctrine to the Gentiles. They plainly saw that his doctrine was the same as theirs, coming immediately from the same source; and, therefore, gave to him and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. They realized, much to their satisfaction, that Paul was as expressly sent by God to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, as Peter was to preach it to the Jews.[1]

In fact, one 19th century Catholic theologian named George Haydock (1774-1849) takes note of Calvin’s concept of Peter’s position juxtaposed to that of Paul’s. For him, Calvin pretends to prove that Peter and his successors are not heads of the whole congregation because Peter was only the Apostle to the Jews. But Paul does not speak here of power and jurisdiction, but of the manner that Peter and he were to be used by God’s Spirit. It was judged proper that Peter should preach chiefly to the Jews, who were the elect people of God, and that Paul is sent to the Gentiles. Yet, both of them preached to Jews and Gentiles. It was Peter, by receiving the Roman officer Cornelius, who first opened the gate of salvation to the Gentiles, as he says of himself,[2] that God chose him so that the Gentiles by his mouth should hear the Gospel, and believe.[3] He goes on to say that this confirms Peter as being the head of all congregations.

Philip Schaff (1819-1893) tells us why Paul generally commenced preaching in synagogues for two reasons. First, because it furnished the most convenient venue with a natural and historical connection to the announcement of the Good News, and, secondly, because it was the assembling place for numerous Gentile proselytes who formed the bridge to world missions.[4] On the other hand, Peter, though he was then, and continued to be, the head of the Jewish Christian branch of the Apostolic congregations, opened the door for the conversion of the Gentiles by the baptism of Cornelius.[5] His Epistles show that in his later years he did not confine himself to the Jews, for the congregations to which he wrote his letters were of a mixed character and partly founded by Paul. So, they were no enemies. They admired and loved each other as fellow Apostles of Jesus the Anointed One.[6]

George Whitefield Clark (1831-1911) shares his thoughts on the confrontation between the Apostles Peter and Paul in Antioch and notes that in verse eleven Paul writes that he needed to confront Peter because “he was to be blamed.” The KJV renders it, “because he stood condemned.” Other English versions say that Peter “was guilty,”[7]was very wrong,”[8] and “clearly out of line.”[9] Clark feels that these are Paul’s conclusions based on the reaction of the Gentile members at Antioch. As such, we can see why Paul must have felt the need to back them up with his own public condemnation of Peter’s actions.

Some, says Clark, erroneously think that this encounter was to discredit Peter’s position as a senior Apostle, especially for such a grievous error, but likewise, not excusing Paul for his use of severity in his denouncement of Peter’s actions. There’s little doubt that on both sides there were those who were ashamed that such a dispute between two transpired.  Apostles should quarrel out in the open. We see today how bad conduct on the part of a child, or member of the armed forces or police can cast a shadow over the whole family, unit, or force. But Clark insists that it must be understood that this misunderstanding did not involve the preaching of false doctrine, but in the inconsistency of conduct.[10] No one at Antioch thought either Peter or Paul were perverting the truth of the Gospel, but if not corrected would leave a dark scar on the character of one or even both of them. Both Peter and Paul were of one heart, says Clark, in defending the Gospel, as it is especially shown by Peter’s loving reverence several years later, to “our beloved brother Paul.”[11] Both Peter and Paul proved their worth and strong Christian character in this incident: Paul for standing up for the truth, and Peter for accepting the truth.

Bible writer and renown Greek scholar Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) comments on the emphatic opening of verse seven which gives importance to the contrasts Paul sees in his reaction and the reaction of James, Peter, and John to the cold stares of those suspicious and prejudiced opponents in Jerusalem who raised the issue of circumcision and ceremonial laws as being necessary for converted Gentiles. This way they could be accepted as legitimate members of the congregation. Rendall notes that where the KJV reads, “when they saw,” that in the Greek text “they” (which is referring to James, Peter, and John) are the subject of the next two verses. It was “they” who saw the marvelous success of Paul and Barnabas as a visible token of their divine commission by the grace conferred on them as called and anointed servants of God to make known Jesus the Anointed One as His personal emissaries to the world.[12] So the message to the Galatians is this: ignore those Judaizers in Galatia in the same way I ignored them in Jerusalem and concentrate on what brings unity between you and all the other true believers in the world.

Walter Adeney (1849-1920) gives his view on why Christians need to be aware of the fact that the various functions of Christian work are determined by the various gifts of the Christian workers. The Apostle Paul was most fitted for Gentiles, the Apostle Peter for Jews, the Apostle Philip for evangelizing. They wisely recognized their diversity of vocations. It is important to see that we are in the right ministry. What is the best work for one person may be very unsuitable for another? We will fail if we slavishly copy the most successful servants of the Anointed One in an area of service that may not be ours. We may be needlessly discouraged if we fail. Try some other function until the right position is discovered. The important point is to find our mission in our capacities rather than in our inclinations. We may not be necessarily fit for the work we like best. Having appreciation and interest in a particular work might be an aid to success. But we should never confuse our admiration with ambition.[13]

Lutheran Bible scholar Paul Kretzmann (1883-1965) believes that Paul wrote this portion of his epistle with great agitation. He points out how Paul breaks the construction of the sentence, again and again, apparently losing the thread of his discourse, but he never fails to bring out the central idea which he keeps in mind. He wants to emphasize that his apostolic commission was totally independent of the Council and congregation in Jerusalem. Not only that, but those reputed to be high up in the congregation, no matter who they were and how they got there, made no difference to him. In fact, Paul notes that they really never came up with anything to offer him as advice or instruction. In his anxiety to emphasize the point he wishes to make in the proper manner, Paul does not finish his first sentence, although he brings out the thought. Those that were esteemed highly in the congregation of Jerusalem uttered no word of disapproval for the content and manner of Paul’s preaching, and, on the other hand, they offered no instructions for him, they did not attempt to teach him anything as to his doctrine.

Furthermore, in order that this fact might be impressed upon the minds of the false teachers and their followers in the midst of the Galatian congregations, he explains his use of the Greek verb dokounton,ones-being-of-repute[14] by the parenthetical remark that the status of these people in no way impressed him. God does not judge according to outward appearance and station. Apostolic authority and power did not rest upon their being commissioned or approved by others. They never subscribed to preach the same form doctrine as his. This, he says, in order to show that he, in the judgment of the very Apostles of whom the false teachers boasted against Paul, taught correctly and that the apostles stood on his side against the false apostles, who boasted of the authority of men.[15]

Jewish writer David Stern observes a very critical factor in what Paul said about how he viewed those who came to the meeting that was acknowledged to be prominent figures in the Jerusalem congregation. As he sees it, Paul was calling attention to the fact that the office, position, eminence, distinction – that is, outward appearance, did not matter to him. What did matter, concerns the content and the truth of their Gospel? So, while they enjoyed a significant position of great importance within the Messianic Community in Jerusalem, that did not impress him as much by what they thought of his message and mission. Andrew Roth points out another nuance to what Paul says here in his translation from the Aramaic text: “Those who consider themselves to be great, although what they were, I really do not care about since Elohim does not discriminate among men. Furthermore, not even these men were able to contribute to my knowledge.[16]

Stern then goes on to say that Paul is going to great pains to show that although his distinctive form of preaching the Good News places a different emphasis on certain things than the other Apostles’ version. Nevertheless, they accepted him, his work, and his Gospel with the right hand of fellowship. That’s their way of saying that those who still insist on circumcision of Gentiles, therefore, do not possess a better, purer, more Jewish Gospel at all, but a perversion of the Gospel which denies its fruits to Gentiles and which is disapproved of by the very people to whose authority they appeal.[17]  In other words, were these visiting teachers to Galatia to offer a clearer and fuller explanation of the Gospel than that preached by Paul, he would no doubt be open-minded and opened-armed about it. But their efforts were to tear down, not build up.

Don Garlington makes a note on the distinction found in what Paul said about how God does not judge based on outward appearance in verse six. The KJV translates the Greek noun prosōpon as “person.” The word was used to denote a person’s face or countenance. Thayer, in his Lexicon, sees it being used here as a way of saying that people often judge others to be something or nothing just by the way they look. This was already part of Jewish customs and manners. Moses told the children of Israel to “Be fair in how you judge. Do not show favor to the poor or to the great. Be fair in how you judge your neighbor.[18] Later on, God caused Moses to repeat this dictum with some additions, “Do not show favor as you judge. Listen to the small and the great alike. Do not be intimidated any person, because you are judging for God. Bring to Me any problem that is too hard for you, and I will hear it.[19]

[1] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[2] Acts of the Apostles 15:7

[3] George Haydock, Catholic Bible Commentary, loc. cit.

[4] Cf. Acts of the Apostles 13:5, 46; 14:1; 18:6; Romans 1:16; 9:1, 3

[5] Acts of the Apostles, 10, 11, 15:7

[6] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 305

[7] New Life Version

[8] New Living Translation

[9] The Message

[10] See Acts of the Apostles 10:15; 11:3, 17; 15:9

[11] 2 Peter 3:15-16

[12] Frederic Rendall: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 160

[13] Walter Adeney: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] See Tyndale Interlinear Greek/English N. T. loc. cit. Strong’s concordance #G1380

[15] Paul E. Kretzmann: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[16] Andrew G. Roth: Aramaic Galatians, A Hebraic Understanding, op. cit., loc. cit.

[17] Stern, David H. Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Leviticus 19:15

[19] Deuteronomy 1:17; Cf. 10:17; 16:19

About drbob76

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