CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIANS

 CHAPTER THREE (Lesson II)

As Paul himself stated on occasions of being familiar with the classical writings of the Greek philosophers. Whether or not he took the time to read the Dialogues of Plato we don’t know, but living in a society influenced by these works, it’s possible to assume he was aware of their message. In Plato’s “Euthyphro,” there is a dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates in which they are discussing the good old days when people were honored for their righteous living and were thereby loved and favored by the gods. Socrates reminds Euthyphro: Remember when we talked about how people who are holy or dedicated are the ones loved by the gods, or did they forget? Oh no, replied Euthyphro, I still remember. And do you agree, Socrates continues, that the gods’ love and hold dear that which is holy? That’s true, said Euthyphro. Even to the Greeks, people who dedicated themselves to that which was holy were seen as desired role models and inspired great admiration.

Paul struggled with the fact that the Galatians forgot so quickly the very thing that made them new creatures in the Anointed One; it was not their piety or efforts that filled their hearts with joy but their love and faith in the Anointed One. Given the same phenomenon in today’s churches, when comparing them to congregations as far back as 100 years ago, what do we see that’s been lost over time?  Certainly we don’t recommend going back to wearing the same clothes, singing the same songs, following the same formats for worship services, enforcing the same strict codes of outward holiness to please church authorities instead of God, or holding the same biases and expressing the same animosity toward other denominations; but what about the fire, the revivals, the mighty move of the Holy Spirit turning villages, towns and even cities upside-down? Where did that go?

Was it the same thing that made Paul’s heartache? Is it the same that makes those who remember the church they belong to and the church they heard about from their parents, are teary-eyed with sorrow as they sit through church services today? If anything, it may be that the saints of days gone by were seen as totally, entirely, completely, and wholeheartedly sold out to God. The Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and the Word of God was the number one priority in their lives. Everything else took second place. Each time they attended church it was with the expectation that something miraculous was going to happen. They were laughed at and ridiculed as Holy Rollers but held their heads high. Not out of pride, but with courage and virtue; to honor God who reigned supreme in their hearts and minds, regardless of the consequences.

Paul delivered a similar message to the wavering Corinthians when he wrote: I preach that the Anointed One died on a cross to save people from their sins. These words are hard for the Jews to listen to. The Greek people think it is foolish. But the Anointed One is the power and wisdom of God to those who are chosen to be saved from the punishment of sin for both Jews and Greeks.[1] When Paul arrived in the province of Galatia, he aimed for the same goal as the one he aimed at when he went to the area of Corinth.[2]

Apparently, Paul also shared with the Galatians a very graphic illustration of how the Anointed One died on the cross for their sins.  It almost makes you wonder if Paul was in the crowd to watch Jesus die in order to make the crucifixion so detailed. Not only was Jesus the Anointed One the center of Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, but the Anointed One and the cross became the main theme of all Paul’s sermons. Since Paul never minced words, it appears he spoke of the Anointed One’s suffering and death with His beatings, hanging, bleeding, crying out, and dying on a cross made of splinter filled logs, which left little to the imagination.

One of the earliest Church writers, Tertullian (155-240 AD), thought it was incredible to think that the Apostles were either ignorant of the whole scope of the message which they were to declare or failed to make known to all men the entire rule of faith, as the heretics were claiming. They base their criticism on Paul’s rebuke of the Galatians.[3] They also offer what Paul told the Corinthians because of their constant quarreling.[4] So it may not be what the Apostles were preaching but that the churches, through their own fault misinterpreted what the Apostles were telling them. When these heretics raise their objection to the churches being rebuked, let them not forget that because of these rebukes the churches were also corrected. After all, it was over those same churches that Paul said he kept thanking God, through Jesus the Anointed One, for all of them because the whole world knew of their faith in the Anointed One.[5]

You would think that after this impassioned plea to the Galatians that they not turn away from their faith in the Gospel and also not turn toward each other in contention and debate that it would have quieted down. But we read in a letter by Basil, Bishop of Caesarea (329-380 AD), to Petrus II, the Bishop of Alexandria (c. 340-381 AD), that even up until his day there was friction and strife among the Churches in Galatia by outsiders. He wrote that the Arians[6] to the detriment of the Church has nevertheless been endurable to me, because of their being the work of open foes and enemies of the word of truth. It is when these men do something unusual that I am astonished, not when they attempt something great and daring against true religion. But I am grieved and troubled at what is being done by men who feel and think like me.

So, I was not agitated, says Basil, at the recent disorderly proceedings because I preferred to wait for somebody else to give you such disagreeable news. Also, I did not think it reasonable that I should show indignation at such proceedings, as though I were annoyed at being ignored. To the actual agents in the matter, I have written in encouraging terms, exhorting them, because of the dissension arising among some of the brethren there, not to fall away from being kind, but to wait for the matter to be set right by those who have authority to remedy disorders due to ecclesiastical problems. I am grateful to the Lord that you are a staunch supporter of ancient discipline, and that the Church has not lost her own might in my persecution.

Though aggravated again by the Galatians, I was never able to give them an answer, because I waited for your decision. Now, if the Lord so will and they will consent to listen to me, I hope that I shall be able to bring the people back to Church. It cannot then be thrown back in my face that I have sided with Bishop Marcellus of Ancyra (c. 300-374 AD)[7] and they will not become limbs of the body of the Church of Christ. Thus, the disgrace caused by such heresy will be made to disappear by the method I adopt, and I shall escape the condemnation of having gone over to their side.[8]

Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) sees Paul’s calling out the Galatians for being so foolish, is because it appeared that having begun in the Spirit, they were now claiming to be perfect through the works of the flesh. But the faults of those who are ashamed he reprimands as though sympathizing with them, saying, rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last you have succeeded again in wanting to care for me, as indeed you do care, even though an opportunity to do so was lacking.[9] Paul did this says Gregory so that hard scolding might uncover the faults of those who have turned away from the truth, and a milder scolding to somewhat hide the negligence of those who were still faithful, even though there were unstable in their faith.[10]

As Chrysostom sees it, after having established himself as a trustworthy teacher, Paul now speaks with great authority in comparing the Law and Faith. Having chided these foolish Galatians earlier for having departed so quickly from his teachings,[11] he questions their capability to comprehend what he told them about the Anointed One dying on the cross since before their very eyes he clearly portrayed Yeshua the Messiah as having been put to death as a criminal! In doing this, says Chrysostom, Paul does not transgress the Anointed One’s law, which forbids calling his brother a fool.[12] No one deserved more to be called foolish than the Galatians after hearing and seeing so many great things they still held onto their former Jewish ways as though nothing happened!

Then Chrysostom asks since the Anointed One was not crucified in Galatia but in Jerusalem, what did Paul mean by this phrase “before whose eyes?” The answer, he was illustrating the power of faith, which is able to see even those things far off. And he said not “crucified” but “portrayed as crucified,” showing that with the eyes of faith they saw more accurately than those who were there and witnessed the events. This was said in an attempt to both reprimand and to commend them. He praises them for having listened to his messages with enthusiasm but reprimands them because, having seen the Anointed One stripped, crucified, nailed, spat on, mocked, drinking vinegar, insulted by thieves, and pierced with a spear, they forsook Him with such haste in order to run to the law. How could they not be moved by seeing the Anointed One suffering on their behalf?[13]

And in another one of his homilies, Chrysostom points out that although Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, not in Galatia, still they were able to see the events from a distance. That’s because they were looking at the scene of the crucifixion Paul displayed for them through their spiritual eyes. Says Jerome, “They saw more distinctly than some who were present as spectators.” As such, the Galatians became eye-witnesses by faith. It is sad that rather than what Paul said to them about their seeing the crucifixion was expressed as praise, it was, unfortunately, placing blame on their lack of faith and dismissal of the Anointed One’s death on the cross on Mount Calvary as less important than Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Horeb in the wilderness of Sinai.[14]

[1] 1 Corinthians 1:23-24

[2] Ibid. 2:2

[3] Galatians 3:1

[4] 1 Corinthians 3:3

[5] Tertullian, Part 2, Bk. 1, A Treatise on the Soul, Ch. 27, p. 462

[6] Arianism in the doctrine of Christ the Anointed One, is that Jesus, as the Son of God, was created by God. It was proposed early in the 4th century by the Alexandrian presbyter Arius and was popular throughout much of the Eastern and Western Roman empires, even after it was denounced as a heresy by the Council of Nicaea (325).

[7] Marcellus of Ancyra was a staunch opponent of the Arians. St. Epiphanius observes, that there was a great deal of dispute with regard to the real tenets of Marcellus; but as to his followers, it is evident that they did not own the three hypostases; for Marcellus considered the Son and Holy Ghost as two emanations from the divine nature, which, after performing their respective offices, were to return again into the substance of the Father; and this opinion is altogether incompatible with the belief of three distinct persons of the Godhead.

[8] Basil of Cæsarea: Letter to Petrus, Bishop of Alessandria, Letter 266, pp. 676-678

[9] Cf. Philippians 4:10

[10] Gregory the Great, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12, The Book of Pastoral Rule, Part 3, Ch. 7, p. 539

[11] Galatians 1:6

[12] Matthew 5:22

[13] Chrysostom: Homily on Galatians, op. cit., Edwards, M. J. (Ed.)., p. 35

[14] Chrysostom: The Complete Works of St. John Chrysostom, (Kindle Location 64083)

About drbob76

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