By Dr. Robert R Seyda



My, oh my, how that differs from the accepted idea of so many on what it means to be righteous! To the Galatians and Judaizers, it meant being circumcised, wearing certain clothes, eating certain foods, following particular rituals, ceremonies, and customs in order to become one of God’s favored believers. The genes of those Judaizers must be quite robust because they’re still producing followers to this day. God have mercy on us if we attempt to help believers grow on the basis of how many verses of Scripture they read each week; whether they pray standing up, kneeling, or sitting down; pray in unison or are led in prayer; whether they participate in foot washing, or how they conduct themselves in church rather than how they act on the outside in order to win points with God. Do God’s commandments and laws promote righteous living? Yes! Should they be followed? Yes, but not when we use them just to impress others; without knowing what God really said and His reasons for asking us to do them.

Early Church writer Tertullian (155-240 AD) responds to some heretical teaching in his day on what Paul says here in verse seven about those who are the true spiritual children of Abraham. It appears that some of the eminent early Church fathers who objected to using the celibate Jesus, to support the church’s stand for unmarried priests. What about Peter? So, Paul’s statement here that all believers are the spiritual children of Abraham, it must be remembered that the promise was given to Abram before he fathered any children. The only reason that Abram became a father was because of Sarah’s urging that he cohabitates with her maid, Hagar. But this was also done before he was circumcised. So, to be a spiritual child of Abram it must be tied to him before he even engendered Isaac.[1]

Early church writer Cyprian the Bishop of Carthage (200-258 AD), was writing on the subject of why the Jews see to be unable to understand anything in the Scriptures. After all, Isaiah made that prediction a long time ago: “Without firm faith, you will not be firmly established.”[2] I like the way the NIV renders it: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Perhaps our Lord was thinking of this when He told His Jewish listeners: I told you that you would die in your sins. Yes, if you don’t believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.[3] These truths are well-grounded in what the prophet Habakkuk said, “The just will live by faith.”[4]

This, said Bishop Cyprian, was proven by Abraham who by faith believed what God said and it was credited to him as being right with God. Paul agrees by quoting what the Torah said.[5] [6] That makes it clear that if we who are born again are the spiritual children of Abraham, we also must take what God says and not only accept it by faith but act on in faith. In that way, Paul is telling the Galatians that God removed the wall the Jews erected to keep Gentiles out of the family of God. So why now do the Galatians want to return to a system that doesn’t work?[7]

Needless to say, being spiritual sons and daughters of Abraham does not affect our spiritual status with God. It was Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise that his son with Sarah would be next in line to continue this physical and spiritual relationship with their descendants. Early Church writer Thascius, Bishop of Cypria (200-258 AD) – a suburb of Tunis, Tunisia today, became convinced that what Paul said about the Jews in his Apostle’s day concerning Abraham, that he was justified, not by works but by faith, remained largely unchanged over time.[8] Thascius was convinced that the Jews would not understand the Holy Scriptures even in his day, but that they would be understandable to them in the last days after that the Anointed One returns. In fact, writing to his son Quirinus, he explained to him that the prophet Isaiah told the people living in Ari’el that the whole prophetic vision became like a message in a sealed-up scroll. When one gives it to someone who can read and says, “Please read this,” they’ll answer, “I can’t because it’s sealed.” if the scroll is given to someone who can’t read with the request, “Please read this,” they’ll say, “I can’t read.”[9]

No doubt the Bishop was describing the Jews in Cypria and their not being able to understand the Gospel. But Isaiah wasn’t the only one with such news for the Jews. The prophet Jeremiah told the people of Judah and Israel that the Lord will not turn back until He did what He planned in His heart to do. In days to come, you will understand this.[10] Furthermore, God told Daniel that as for him, he must take the words God gave him and locked up the book until the end of time. Many will travel here and there and knowledge will be more and more.[11]

The Bishop of Cypria then tells his son that even the Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians and told them, brothers, I don’t want you to miss the significance of what happened to our forefathers. All of them were guided by the pillar of cloud, and they all passed through the sea.[12] And the next time he wrote them he let them know that after all God did in leading them out of Egypt and through the Sinai Desert, that up until then they didn’t comprehend what Moses said, let alone the Gospel. He told them that the Jews’ minds were not able to understand. Even to this day when the Law is read, there is a covering over their minds. They do not see that the Anointed One is the only One who can take the covering away.[13]

However, it was not all bad news because after He rose from the grave Jesus told His followers that all the things written about Him in the Law of Moses and in the Books of the early prophets and in the Psalms must happen as they said they would. Then He opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.[14] Then He informed them that it was prophesied that the Messiah would suffer death and be raised from the dead after three days.[15] [16] Now we look around us today and find that a large majority of the Jewish population not only remain unresponsive to the Gospel, especially the more orthodox Jews who still hold tight onto what Moses said and continue to be impenetrable to the light of truth in their own Scriptures about the Messiah.

Martin Luther adds a life-experience to what Paul is saying here about Abraham. Luther tells us to learn to understand the constitution of our Christian righteousness. Faith is weak, but it means enough to God that He will not issue the charge of sin against us. He will not punish nor condemn us for it. He will forgive our sins as though they amount to nothing at all. He will do it not because we are worthy of such mercy. He will do it for Jesus’ sake in whom we believe. Paradoxically, sometimes a Christian can be both right and wrong, holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God. These contradictions no person can harmonize who does not understand the true way of salvation. According to the Vatican, says Luther, we were supposed to toil until the feeling of guilt left us. But the authors of this deranged idea were frequently driven to despair in the hour of death. And it would have happened to me, admits Luther, if the Anointed One did not mercifully deliver me from this error.”[17]

Martin Luther goes on to make a valuable point here. Let’s begin, he notes, Paul is saying to the Galatians, look at Abraham and learn how this friend of God was justified and saved. Not because he left his country, his relatives, his father’s house; not because he was circumcised; not because he stood ready to sacrifice his own son Isaac in whom the promise of posterity was embodied. Abraham was justified because he believed. Paul’s argument goes like this: “Since this is the unmistakable testimony of Holy Scripture, why do you take your stand upon circumcision and the Law? Was not Abraham, your father, of whom you make so much, justified and saved without circumcision and the Law by faith alone?” Paul, therefore, concludes: “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.”[18]

John Edmunds (1800-1874) sees the proven theory of “cause and effect” being used here by Paul in response to the “effect and cause” taught by the Judaizers. Let’s explain: by using a match to cause the wood to burn in a stove, the effect will be heating the cold water in a pan on the stove. So, what would you say if someone told you that the effect of putting hot water on the stove would cause the wood to catch fire? The same goes for the Judaizers and their doctrine of receiving the Holy Spirit. They were telling the Galatians that by being faithful and obedient to the Law, they would receive the Spirit. But Paul is reminding them that it was by their rejection of the Law as a source and putting their faith and trust in Jesus Messiah, the Spirit was given to them. So, Paul is, more or less, daring them to prove him wrong.

So, in verse three Paul asks them if they are so foolish to think that after starting their new lives in the Spirit, they were now trying to become perfect by their own human effort? Later in verse five, Paul will ask them if they believe God gave them the Spirit to work miracles because they followed the law?[19] No, they are about to do these things because they first heard the Good News and believed it and received the Spirit as a gift to dwell in them. Edmunds goes on to comment on what he thought were the things that they were able to do as a result of receiving the Spirit. In addition to miracles and healing Edmunds includes “speaking with tongues.”[20] The important thing was for the Galatians to keep in mind that it was God through His Spirit that brought such power into their spiritual lives, so if they now turn to the Law, the Spirit will not use such gifts to promote the Law. They are only meant to promote God and Jesus the Messiah.[21]

Plymouth Brethren leader, William Kelly (1821-1906) finds several reasons in these first six verses why the Galatians were rightfully called, “foolish.” Paul cannot refrain from rebuking the Galatians because despite all he pointed out to them in chapter two, they just don’t seem to understand how grievous it was to him, to the Holy Spirit, to Messiah, and to God the Father. Their actions in going back to the old way of working for justification and believing that they were right with God by all the works they might do, was what frustrated the Apostle and made him shake his head in disbelief.

[1] Tertullian: op. cit., Part 4, On Monogamy, Ch. 6, pp. 126-127

[2] Isaiah 7:9 – Complete Jewish Bible

[3] John 8:24

[4] Habakkuk 2:4

[5] Genesis 15:6

[6] Galatians 3:6

[7] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, The Treatises of Cyprian, On the Exhortation to Martyrdom, Treatise 12, First Book. 1, Testimonies, pp. 1042-1043

[8] Galatians 3:6

[9] Isiah 19:11-12

[10] Jeremiah 30:24

[11] Daniel 12:4

[12] 1 Corinthians 10:1

[13] 2 Corinthians3:14

[14] Luke 24:44

[15] Ibid. 24:46

[16] Treatises of Cypria, Treatise 12, Bk. 1, para. 4, p. 1042

[17] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 64

[18] Ibid. p. 65

[19] See 1 Corinthians 12:6; Philippians 2:13

[20] 1 Corinthians 12:28

[21] John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 41

About drbob76

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