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 XXX)

In one of Plato’s dialogues, Protagoras and Socrates were debating the attributes of man and how man uses them to keep from getting worn out making decisions. Socrates asks Protagoras to be honest and tell him whether virtue is a trait made up of honesty, discipline, and transparency; or whether they were only synonyms for virtue. After discussing it for a long time, they agreed that much like our eyes, nose, ears, mouth all make up what we call our “face,” so honesty, discipline, and transparency are what composes what we call “virtue.”

This was typical thinking in Paul’s day, and he saw a similarity in the way Peter lost control over his sense of virtue by being inconsistent and hypocritical with Jewish and Gentile believers. So, Paul confronts him and asks how he expected to be accepted as a spiritual leader and model of Christian ethics in a congregation, which consists of both Jews and Gentiles if he discriminates against the Gentiles by making them conform to Jewish traditions in order to be accepted?  Paul is telling Peter, either you follow the Gospel you preach, or you are a hypocrite; how dare you say you worship the Anointed One when you do not copy His virtues and grow in His likeness?

I imagine when Paul walked over from where he and the Gentile Christians were eating and confronted Peter face-to-face, he didn’t do it in lecture style with everyone looking on, but looked straight into Peter’s eyes and spoke in measured tones, knowing that only those close-by would be able to hear what he was saying. According to Biblical scholars, Peter was about nine years older than Paul. It is also known that Peter was not as educated or intellectually sharp as Paul. At the time of this encounter, Peter might have been around fifty-two years of age. During his era that already made him an elder. So, what did it look like when a younger man, considered a rebel by many outside Jerusalem, got into the face of an older man who was a personal friend of Jesus, and scolded him? Whatever it may look like to others, it didn’t slow Paul down.

What wrongful act was it that Paul wanted Peter to give an explanation for why he did what he did? The translation we read may be somewhat unclear, but basically, Paul wanted to know why Peter, who seemed to be completely free from any bias or racial discrimination against Gentiles, now acts as though they are unsuitable to eat with because they never underwent the religious rite of circumcision. In the eyes of a pious Jew, this made them unqualified to sit with at the same table.

Jewish Christian writer Avi ben Mordechai gives an interesting interpretation of what Paul is saying here that concerns Jews and Gentiles. In fact, his translation reads as follow: “If you who are Judeans, you Arameans, live as Arameans and not as Judeans, why do you urge the Gentiles who joined themselves to Judah to live as Judeans?” He basis this on the fact the word “Jews” is a derivative of “Judeans.” Then his use of “Arameans” was meant to remind Peter and his cohorts that Jacob’s offspring are of Aramean origin because Jacob married Leah and Rachael, daughters of the Aramean Laban. He did this to point out that Judeans should then not be contemptuous of other Arameans since they both claimed the same forefathers.[1] In fact, Moses referred to Jacob as a “wandering Aramean.”[2] This was violating the truth of the Gospel as reported to them by Isaiah.[3] [4] So it seems somewhat ironic that the proud Jews who referred to Elohim as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, all of whom were not Judeans but Chaldeans and Arameans! Today, this would be like the children of immigrants refusing to work or eat with someone because they were an immigrant.

It is not in the text here, but a study of Jewish Law shows that only certain foods could be consumed and that certain acts of hand washing and using certain utensils were required. But even more important, they were not to touch anything considered unclean as this would make the person themselves unclean and then they would need to undergo certain cleansing rituals to be considered clean again.  And guess what, Gentiles were considered unclean!

So, Paul concludes, after seeing Peter’s actions, if the Gentiles want to eat with him, they must first be circumcised, go through the washing rituals, and eat only kosher foods. But what about the fact that they were just as saved and redeemed as Peter? Were they not fellow citizens of God’s kingdom and fellow members of God’s congregation? Peter may feel comfortable in following those rituals and laws when in the company of fellow Jews, but not when fellowshipping with the body of the Anointed One.

I hear Paul saying, “So Peter, does this mean that you and your cohorts are the ‘real’ Christians here, and I and my Gentile brethren are not? You mean to tell me that even though you were born and raised a Jew but threw off Jewish customs as meaningless under the Anointed One, you now turn around and forcefully impose those very same Jewish customs on these Gentile believers?” I imagine Peter’s hair standing up on the back of his neck as his red face now turns pale making his black beard look even darker.

When I served in the military back in the late 1950s, one of my best friends was an African-American from New York. We were sent for training from our base in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a base in Fort Bliss, Texas. Along the way, the bus stopped for lunch in Oklahoma City. The small diner in the bus station wasn’t equipped to let all passengers eat at the same time, and since we were last off the bus and given only thirty minutes to eat, I suggested we walk up the street to get something to eat. We entered a nice-looking cafe, sat down in a booth and picked up the menu. The waitress kept walking by, and since we were in a hurry, I finally called her over. She looked scared to death when we began to order. Finally, she said in a quivering voice to me, “I’m sorry, but I cannot serve him out here,” pointing to my black friend; “he has to eat in the back.” I was livid! I told her we were both soldiers in the same army and if sent to war would fight together for her freedom. As she backed away with teary eyes, she apologized and said it wasn’t her idea, but the manager.

My friend told me that he understood and he’d go to the back. But I told him either we both ate together out front or both ate together in the back. So, we both got up and walked back to the kitchen area. Never in my life did I feel so embarrassed to be a member of the white race. After we finished and went up to pay, I let the cashier know how disgusted I felt when white people act this way. I totally disapprove of someone being best friends with a black man on a military base but not out in public. Today, we are still best friends.

2:15-16 Both you and I know we were born into believing Jewish families, not unbelieving Gentile families; we also know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus the Anointed One, not by obeying the religious rituals and regulations given by Moses. That’s why we both put our faith in Jesus the Messiah to make us right with God, not by obeying these religious rituals and regulations given by Moses. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying such religious requirements.

Paul’s argument in favor of the Gentile converts being accepted as co-equals in the Body of the Anointed One by the Jewish converts is the heart of his defense for them. Who dares diminish the status of anyone “known to God” in light of their faith in the Anointed One[5] Why make them feel out of place just because they didn’t embrace all the Jewish rites, rituals, and ceremonies practiced by the converted Jews? Those were done to enhance the Jews identity as being right before God. But why should the Gentiles believers be forced to do the same when they already believed they were right before God by faith?[6] From the beginning of this letter, Paul calls on the Galatians to stop implementing these unnecessary rituals just to legitimize themselves before the Jews that they were genuine Christians.[7] In doing so, they would be putting up barriers on the course set by the Gospel of the Anointed One that they already successfully began to run.[8] [9]

So now Paul uses Peter to give a little history lesson. Although Paul does not say it here, he did treat the same subject in his letter to the Romans. That’s where he reminded them that the Jews glorified God while they lived among the Gentiles,[10] and then quoted David who said, “So I give thanks to you, Adonai, among the nations [Gentiles]; I sing praises to your name.”[11] That’s why even the Gentiles respected their faith and rejoiced with the Jews,[12] and then Paul quoted from the Song of Moses where Moses called on the Gentiles to rejoice with the Jews because God will punish those who fight against him.[13] Furthermore, Paul called on all the Gentiles to join the Jews in giving honor and thanks to the Lord,[14] just as they were invited to do in the Psalm of Praise.[15] And finally, Paul pointed out that one day the Anointed One will reign over both Jews and Gentiles,[16] and then quoted Isaiah who stated: “In that day the nations will turn to the One from the family of Jesse. He will be honored by the people as someone special to see. And His place of rest will be full of His shining-greatness.”[17]

So that led Paul to draw an obvious conclusion. Since he, Peter, and all the others came to realize that no one is justified before God as being right with Him based on their good works in obedience to the Law but only by faith in Jesus the Anointed One, and just as the Gentiles who possessed no Law to follow and did not involve themselves in any good works in order to find favor with God, were also justified as being right with God by their faith in Jesus the Anointed One as their Savior, how could Peter now be so foolish as to think that by following the Law when it came to Kosher foods was going to please God and cause the Gentiles to doubt their faith in the Anointed One because they ate whatever was placed before them?

After all, even Job, a believer before there was any Law asked how could any person be right and good before God on their own. If they were asked questions by God in order to justify their position as being right with Him, Job said they would not be able to answer even one out of a thousand arguing their case before Him. In fact, Job was convinced that nothing he suffered so far would be good enough to earn him forgiveness.[18] In other words, nothing mankind does will ever be accepted by God as a substitute for faith in His Son Jesus as the one and only true sacrifice for sin.

[1] Exodus 22:21

[2] Deuteronomy 26:5 – NIV

[3] Isaiah 11:12-13

[4] Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 21

[5] Galatians 4:8-9

[6] Ibid. 3:1-4:9, 21; 5:1-12; 6:12-13

[7] Ibid. 1:6-9; 3:1-5; 5:7-12

[8] Ibid. 5:7

[9] Mark A. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 80

[10] Romans 15:9

[11] Psalm 18:49

[12] Romans 15:10

[13] Deuteronomy 32:43

[14] Romans 15:11

[15] Psalm 117:1

[16] Romans 15:12

[17] Isaiah 11:10

[18] Job 9:1-3, 29

About drbob76

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