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 XVI)

Jewish Christian writer Ariel HaNaviy shares with us a portion from a Jewish Commentary on Scripture titled “Chazal” (Sages of Blessed Memory), that gives us deeper insight on their understanding of the word of the Lord. This is in reference to Paul’s quote here about Abraham from Genesis 15. It reads:

In Scripture “the word of the LORD” commonly denotes the speech addressed to a patriarch or prophet, but frequently it denotes the creative word: “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made.”[1] “For He spoke, and there it was; He commanded, and there it stood.”[2] “Then He sends His word out and melts them; He makes the winds blow, and the water flows.”[3] “…fire and hail, snow and mist, storm-winds that obey His word,”[4] In this sense it is said, “Your word continues forever, Adonai, firmly fixed in heaven;”[5]The Word,” heard and announced by the prophet, often became, in the conception of the prophet, an effective power apart from God, as was the angel or messenger of God: “Adonai sent a word to Jacob, and it has fallen on Israel.[6] “He sent His word and healed them, He delivered them from destruction.”[7] “He sends His word out over the earth, His command runs swiftly.”[8]

So, says HaNaviy, it is clear that the Word of the LORD is, in fact, the LORD, ADONAI Himself! So how much more then can we see the light when the Apostle John said: “The Word was in the beginning. The Word was with God. The Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. He made all things. Nothing was made without Him making it. Life began by Him. His Life was the Light for men. The Light shines in the darkness. The darkness has never been able to put out the Light.”[9]

Ronald Fung tells us it is obviously clear that in Paul’s own mind the case of Abraham receiving righteousness through faith provides a clear parallel to that of the Galatians receiving the Spirit through hearing and believing the Gospel and not by keeping the law. In other words, Paul takes it for granted that Abraham’s being justified by faith proves that the Galatians received the Spirit by faith also. But, this argument from Scripture is in danger of being flawed unless the indwelling of the Spirit is not in some sense associated with justification. Certainly, no one can stand justified for salvation before God unless they also are given the Holy Spirit to dwell in them. So, it would be unthinkable to suggest that first one is justification and then by faith, the indwelling of the Spirit would depend on works. That’s why we can take it for granted that Paul conceives of receiving the Spirit in such close connection with justification that the two must be regarded as synonymous so that in the Galatians’ receiving the Spirit their justification had already taken place.[10]

3:8  Not only that, but the Scriptures prophesied that God would accept all Gentiles as being right with Him because of their faith in the Anointed One. God shared this with Abraham a long time ago when He said, “Because of you, I will include every nation in my blessing.”

Paul knew that one thing his Jewish opponents could not dispute were the words of God to and through Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets. So, in response to any of those in Galatia who were doubting the proper place of Gentiles among the believers, he reminds them of God’s own promise to Abraham. So how could they dismiss God’s promise recorded by Moses? The message is clear, “All nations will be blessed through you.”[11] And after all, Abraham was raised as a Gentile in the country of Chaldea, in Babylon.

Furthermore, one of Jesus’ most memorable declarations was made during the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. “Whoever puts their trust in Me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from their innermost being!”[12] He did not specify that they must only be the genealogical descendants of Abraham. He made that same promise to a half-Israeli, half-Gentile woman he encountered at Jacob’s well in Samaria.[13] No wonder Paul was very confident in telling the Romans that he was assured that a person comes to be considered right with God on the ground of trusting which does not include any legalistic observance of Torah commands. It is clear that Elohim was not a deity for the Jews only. He also the God of the Gentiles. Yes, He is indeed the God of the Gentiles. Even the Jews will admit, God is one.[14] Therefore, He will consider anyone right with Him on the ground of faith, whether they be Jew or Gentile.[15]

Thomas Jones (1819–1882) was a Welsh Independent minister, known as “the Welsh Poet-Preacher.” In commenting on this verse, he illustrated the universality of the Gospel. Said Jones, salvation is for all the sinful family of mankind. The plan is vast, immense, worthy of God. The arms of Divine love are open to embracing all. Every nation is invited to the life-giving waters of God’s grace. Let the sons of wealth come, and they will be welcomed; let the hardy sons of toil come, and they will quench their thirsts; let the ignorant come, and they will be made wise  regarding salvation; let the young come, and God will be their Guide through life; let the aged come, and they will find peace in their final hours.[16]

Grant Osborne also notes that Paul’s quote, “All nations will be blessed through you,” combines Genesis 12:3 and 18:18, both reiterate what is said in the covenant, declaring that from the beginning the nations were called to join Abraham in faith. It is true that Genesis 12:1–3 itself emphasizes Abraham’s obedience in traveling to the promised land (see also 22:18, “because you obeyed Me”), but Paul sees Genesis 15:6 as having priority. Abraham’s faith both preceded his obedience and provided the basis for it. Like him, the Gentiles are justified entirely “by faith” and not “by works.” Obedience does not produce faith but is the byproduct of faith.[17]

3:9 That’s the way it is, everyone who puts their faith in the Anointed One will share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith in God.

Now Paul really gets brave in his illustration with Abraham. He takes a passage from Genesis where God spoke to Abraham about this.[18] So, states Paul, God said “all” families. That means Gentiles as well as Jews. Therefore, says Paul, Gentiles do not need to become Jews first in order to receive this blessing of salvation. Paul repeats this same truth to the believers in Rome.[19] Again he emphasizes that the most important virtue God saw in Abraham in order to make the promise of blessing everyone who came to believe in Him, was Abraham’s faithful obedience to what God deemed to be right.

What Paul wanted most of all for the Galatians to see was the error they were making by listening to these Judaizers.  Abraham was a forerunner in faithfulness, setting a pattern the Messiah would follow. God gave Abraham this promise before he was even circumcised; before he was willing to offer up his son Isaac in obedience to God’s request. Mosaic Law was only given as a teaching tool until the Son of God, Abraham’s Seed, could come and fulfill God’s perfect plan of salvation.  So, anyone with true faith – not beliefs or personal efforts, to believe in what God said and what God wanted done can join Abraham as a person of faith in faithfulness.

I wonder what the Galatian believers were thinking by the time they reached this part of Paul’s letter.  Here was a highly educated Jew, a former fanatical Pharisee, who once persecuted Christians in scorching campaigns, now coming to them as a committed convert, preaching the very Gospel he once despised with such conviction that they became believers in the Anointed One he preached. If anybody knew how to obtain a good standing with God through their own efforts it was Paul. He observed every ritual, every custom, and every tradition. But it was all wiped away when he met Jesus. Jesus told him, I did all that work for you, just accept my work in place of yours and my Father in heaven will be pleased with you.  By accepting Me, My Father accepts you. And to show your love and appreciation for My Father’s grace and mercy, do what He asks you to do. Be faithful in your commitment to carrying out His will for your life by following my teachings and my example.

Chances are that these Judaizers were of the same mind that Rabbi Abraham Saba reports was the general view of Rabbis in the past. For them, God’s promise that all the families of the earth would experience blessings because of Abraham’s faithfulness and trust in God is not to be understood that they would be blessed, rather, than in the sense of “refining,” as in “improving in quality.” They reckoned that a person of Abraham’s quality would exert a morally uplifting effect on the whole of mankind. This effect would be similar to that of grafting a branch of a superior strain of fruit into a tree with average or below average fruit.[20] But Paul sees things differently. For him, it was the inferior branches that would be grafted into the superior olive tree whose fruit grew from roots traced to Abraham.[21] No wonder the Galatians and their Judaizing false prophets were getting it all wrong.

Early church scholar Theodoret of Cyrus (393-466 AD) makes an interesting point here by saying that Paul was praising faith, in that, all those with faith will be happy, along with Abraham who showed great faith. From this then the gracious gifts of the Spirit may flow. Paul also showed that Faith is older than the Law from the witness of the Torah itself – for the First Covenant describes the events concerning Abraham’s faith. Finally, the Apostle sets the law alongside faith, showing what a big difference there is.[22]

[1] Psalm 33:6

[2] Ibid. 33:9

[3] Ibid. 147:18

[4] Ibid. 148:8

[5] Ibid. 119:89

[6] Isaiah 9:7

[7] Psalm 107:20

[8] Ibid. 147:15

[9] John 1:1-5

[10] Ronald Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 136

[11] Genesis 12:3

[12] John 7:38

[13] Ibid. 4:10

[14] Deuteronomy 6:4

[15] Romans 3:30

[16] The Biblical Illustrator: op. cit., Vol. 48 (Kindle Location 7209)

[17] Osborne, G. R. On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 91)

[18] See Genesis 12:1-3; cf. 18:17-19

[19] Romans 4:16

[20] Tzror Hamor: by Abraham Saba, trans. Eliyahu Munk, Vol. 1, Lambda Publishers, New York, Genesis 12:2, pp. 182-183

[21] Romans 11:11-31

[22] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 40

About drbob76

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