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 THREE (Lesson I)

3:1 My foolish friends in Galatia, are you that naïve? Has some strange power confused your thought process? I made the meaning of Jesus the Anointed One’s death as clear as if you were there yourself to see Him dying on the cross.

 We are not told by Luke in his Acts of the Apostles or the Apostle Paul in his Epistles what happened in Galatia after this incident, but we are able to take a look at how the church there eventually dealt with such turning away from the faith. English historian and member of the British Parliament, Edward Gibbon (1737-1749), writing about the progress of the Christian religion in the Roman Empire, tells how wayward believers were treated by the Church.

Gibbon concurs that it is the indisputable right of every society to exclude from its membership and benefits those who reject or violate those rules and regulations that are established by mutual consent. So, it is not out of order for the Christian church to take similar action against what he calls scandalous sinners, and particularly those who were guilty of murder, or fraud, and especially those who authored or followed heretical doctrines. This especially involved those who whether from choice or compulsion polluted themselves after their baptism by any act of idolatrous worship.

This, says Gibbon, resulted in excommunication, whether it proved physical as well as spiritual in nature. The fallen Christian against whom charges were brought were deprived of any part in the worship, communion, and sacraments provided to faithful. There were even cases where both religious and private friendships were dissolved. As such, they found themselves considered an abomination to the persons whom they most highly esteemed, or by whom they were the most tenderly beloved.

So, the situation of these unfortunate rejects proved to be very painful and grievous. Nevertheless, the door to reconciliation always stood open. However, Gibbon tells us, with regard to the treatment of these repentant souls, two opposite opinions were taken, one of justice and one of mercy divided the primitive church. The very rigid and inflexible members of the Church refused them forever, and without exception, leaving them to suffer their remorse of a guilty conscience on their own. On the other hand, a milder opinion was embraced in practice as well as in theory, by the humblest and most respectable of the Christian churches. For them, the gates of reconciliation and of heaven were seldom shut against the returning backslider; but a severe and solemn form of discipline was nevertheless instituted, which, while it served to offer forgiveness for their failure, was also devised to become a powerful deterrent to those who might follow their bad example.

Gibbon then tells us that they were first humbled by a public confession, then they were ordered to fast wearing sackcloth as they lay prostrate at the door of the sanctuary, imploring with tears the pardon for their offenses, and requesting the prayers of the faithful. If their backsliding resulted in some very atrocious acts of immorality, then one whole year of penance was considered inadequate to satisfy the divine justice they deserved. According to the circumstances or the number of the guilty, the exercise of the Christian discipline was varied based on the discretion of the bishops.

At this same time, one ecclesiastical council convened in Galatia in the city of Ancyra (Ankara, the capital of Turkey), and another in Spain in the Archdiocese of Seville, but the outcomes were conducted in a very different spirit. If a Galatian who went back into idolatry after their baptism might obtain their pardon by a penance of seven years. Unless, however, they seduced others to imitate their example, three more years were added to the term of their excommunication. But if a Spaniard committed the same offenses, they were deprived of the hope of any reconciliation. In fact, idolatry was placed at the top of the list of seventeen other failures as a Christian, against which a death sentence was also pronounced. Among these were the unpardonable guilt of defrocking and defame a bishop, a presbyter, or even a deacon.[1]

We do not know to what degree Paul’s admonition of the Galatians for their sudden and unadvised turn from Grace to the Law affected the churches at this time, but it does seem to have tempered it into a much more compassionate approach than what the church in Rome order in Spain. Perhaps this is because Paul never made his desired trip there and so was unable to share his approach to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The New Century Version (1976) renders this first verse as, “You people in Galatia were told very clearly about the death of Jesus the Anointed One on the cross. But you were foolish; you let someone trick you.” This same verse from the Aramaic Version reads: “Oh! You foolish, deficient Galatians! Who bewitched you from your faith after Yeshua the Messiah, crucified, was shown before your eyes?” Paul uses the Greek adjective anoetos (“foolish” KJV) to describe the Galatian’s dealings with the Judaizers. It actually means “without understanding” and refers to someone who didn’t get the point. We would say today, “They don’t have a clue about what happened!”

But Paul was not alone, even Moses encountered the same thing with the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. The prophet was stunned that while he was worshiping with God up on the mountain, they were worshiping a golden calf down in the valley. So, when Moses came down with a shine on his face, he noticed the shame on the faces of his brother Aaron and the people bowing before the golden calf. So, he said to them, “Is this the way you repay the Lord for all He has done for you? You are stupid, foolish people. He is your Father and your Creator. He made you, and you are what you are because of Him.”[2]

Now, since King Saul was not in the wilderness to learn this lesson, God taught it to him and people who were following him. When Samuel didn’t show up to make a gift offering of lamb and grain, Saul took it upon himself to do so. When Samuel did finally arrive, he said to King Saul, “You committed a foolish act. You did not keep the Law that the Lord your God gave you. If you would have, the Lord would have made your rule over Israel last forever.[3] It wasn’t that offering a sacrifice of praise for their victory over the Philistines was wrong, nor were the sacrifices chosen out of line, it was because Saul was not the one chosen by God to offer sacrifices. He acted “foolishly.”The same way with the sacrifice on the cross for our sins. It would have been a gallant deed if any of the disciples offered to do such a valiant thing, but it would not have worked because only Yeshua Messiah was ordained by God to do so.

Then the Lord Jesus told a story about two men who built houses, one on low sandy soil and the other on higher solid ground. A storm came and the house on the sandy soil was blown over and carried away by floodwaters, while the house sitting on the higher solid ground remained standing. In explaining His parable to the people, he called the man who built on low sandy soil, “foolish.” His whole point was that those who hear his teachings and do not build their lifestyle based on His words are like this foolish man.[4] Later on, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he called Lazarus’ two sisters and their neighbors, “foolish” because not only did they doubt His word, but the words of Moses and the Prophets who foretold about the Messiah coming and the wonders He would perform.[5]

No wonder then Paul called the Galatians “foolish” for turning their backs on Paul and the Gospel he was sent to deliver to them. What they didn’t realize was that by turning their backs on Paul, they were turning their backs on the One who sent him. That’s why Paul warned the Ephesians not to forsake the security and guidance that comes from the light of the Gospel and begin wandering around in the darkness of worldly living as they did before.[6]

Then Paul uses another fascinating word to describe what happened to the Galatians. The Greek verb baskainō translated as “bewitched” in the KJV and NIV may be used in several ways. It was also known in Paul’s day among the Jews, Greeks, and Romans as the “evil eye.” In Hebrew, it is called ayin ha’ra. As a matter of fact, in the Jewish Talmud, it is mentioned in one paragraph six times.[7] When we read its history and definition, we could come away with a feeling that this is what we call today “hypnosis.”

That it may be employed to define how one’s mind is changed by defaming another person’s reputation, even someone you once admired and respected. It may also be used to gain favor with someone by flattery and false praise. Then, it may be utilized to charm or spellbind someone into doing or believing something they normally would not do or believe. It appears that the Judaizers did all three to the Galatians in fooling them to accepting their point of view instead of Paul’s.

I’m not inclined to believe that these Judaizers weren’t anything like what Philip faced when he evangelized in Samaria, Luke tells us that a man named Simon practiced witchcraft there. The people of Samaria were surprised at the things he did. He pretended that he was a great man.[8] All the people watched and listened to him. There didn’t seem to be any magic performed like that to get the Galatians to believe the Judaizers. Rather, he was thinking of what he warned the Ephesians about thinking like children whose thought process is like boats blown around on big waves by a strong wind.[9]

Paul then points out what he feels is an obvious barrier in being made fools of like the Galatians were by the Judaizers. It was simple, just believe what’s true! By obeying the truth there comes spiritual prosperity, but by believing what is untrue may only bring severe punishment.[10] Not only that but then a person becomes vulnerable to the power of sin. To hold on to the truth will allow a person to be victorious through the power of God.[11] And with that power it allows the believer to, “…break down every thought and proud thing that puts itself up against the wisdom of God. We take hold of every thought and make it obey the Anointed One.”[12]

[1] Gibbon, Edward: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1, Progress of the Christian Religion, Ch. 15, Part 7, pp. 428-430

[2] Deuteronomy 32:6

[3] 1 Samuel 13:13

[4] Matthew 7:26

[5] Luke 24:25

[6] Ephesians 5:13-15

[7] Talmud: Tractate, Berakoth, folio 55b

[8] Acts of the Apostles, 8:9-11

[9] Ephesians: 14-16

[10] Romans 2:8

[11] Ibid. 6:17

[12] 2 Corinthians 10:5

About drbob76

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