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 XX)

John Wesley (1703-1791) tells a compelling story about one of his evangelistic outreaches in England. He starts by noting that he traveled throughout the central part of England, and on Monday the 28th of May, 1759 he arrived in Greater Shelford, four miles south of Cambridge and 20 miles from Everton to the west. All the traveling made him quite ill, and he got so tired of riding the horse that he decided to walk part of the way. When he got there, he found that a platform was placed for him in a big open space that the residents shared for common use. What surprised him, even more, was that nearly ten thousand people were standing in a big circle. He also noticed that a number of them were faculty members from Cambridge University.

Wesley was hardly able to stand on his feet, and extremely hoarse with a cold. When he went to step up on the platform, he felt overwhelmed by his travels and now the expectancy of so many thousands of people. So, he decided to stand there as though it didn’t bother him. He announced that his text was taken from Galatians 3:10, 11. As some of the people were turning in their Bibles, he tried to think of something funny he could say that would put them at ease. But the Lord would not allow him to consider anything. In fact, he later agreed that it was best that way because he was trying to make himself look good to the people instead of to the Lord. Besides, the people were waiting for him to continue so he needed to get going right away with his sermon or otherwise get off the platform.

So, he uttered the first words that came to mind, not knowing if he would be able to think of anything else to say. Then he felt the anointing of the Holy Spirit come upon him that enabled him to speak for nearly an hour without any kind of difficulty, and so loud that everyone standing in the big circle could hear him. The audience was very attentive, and when the sermon was over, he found himself relaxed and in a cheerful mood, and wonderfully strengthened in his body. They invited him into a house and spoke again nearly an hour to approximately two hundred people. Then on Tuesday morning, he preached again to about a thousand.[1] His message on Galatians taught Wesley that no preacher should think that they can get people to respond to God’s Word by their works, no matter how well-intended they may be. Only the Holy Spirit can take the word into a person’s heart and fill their mind with its convicting truth.

John Brown (1784-1858) sees verse ten as a new paragraph, not a continuation of what was said before. But it does imply the condition of those already mentioned in the first nine verses. They turned back to the Law expecting justification because they were now working hard to qualify under the precepts of the Law. Brown accuses them of “indulging in a most unfounded expectation.” In other words, it is like a prisoner who was found guilty of a crime worthy of the death sentence, who now in prison was trying to act like a responsible and trustworthy citizen in hopes he will be found innocent of murder because of his behavior in prison, just like the Jews who were already condemned to die by the Law because they failed to meet its expectations and demands. As Paul puts it here, “they are under a curse.”[2] [3] The sad thing for the Galatians is that even though they were guilty, the Messiah put their punishment on His shoulders, took it to the cross and paid the penalty, which is death, on their behalf.

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910), a Scottish Protestant minister expresses how this verse impacted him. He saw a metaphor running through the entire question of why the Galatians were so easily fooled. It involved the old superstition of the Evil Eye, almost universal at the date of Paul’s letter and in the Middle East and Orient, and lingered among those in Maclaren’s day. Certain persons were supposed to possess the power, just by a glaring stare, to work mischief, and by fixing their gaze on their victims to suck the very life out of them. So, Paul asks who the evil sorcerer is who fascinated the fickled Galatians, and drained all the sparkle of their Christian life right out of their eyes.[4] Dr. Thomas Constable from Dallas Theological Seminary adds in his notes here that it is folly to mix Law and Grace. The Galatians were behaving as though they were under some kind of spell and not in full use of their rational faculties.[5]

Joseph Beet (1840-1924) reacts to what Paul says about Christ and the curse. It is reasonable to assume, says Beet, that the Anointed One was crucified in order that God’s purpose of mercy might be accomplished in us, a fundamental doctrine which no Christian should deny. But, by being crucified, He fell under a curse pronounced by the Law upon all mankind, for none have fully obeyed all its commands. Consequently, the Anointed One fell under the curse of the Law in order to rescue us from it. And only by Him and through Him, and to those who believe the Gospel, can God’s original promise made to Abraham be fulfilled. For all others, unless they do the same that is eternally eliminated from all God’s blessing through His Son by the curse of the Law. Therefore, the Anointed One paid off the Law and eliminated the curse with a ransom payment by submitting to its curse on our behalf. Moreover, the Spirit given to those who believe is then themselves a fulfillment of the first promise made to Abraham. Therefore, assuring this gift was the main aim and purpose of the Anointed One’s death on the cross.[6]

Benjamin W. Bacon believes that Paul takes a worldwide view of redemption. Its historic stages to his mind are three only: (1) Adam, in consequence of whose fault the birthright of humanity to dominion and eternal life; was lost;[7] (2) Abraham, in consequence of whose faith it was conditionally restored; (3) The Anointed One, through whose victory and gift of the Spirit believers enter into their inheritance. The Mosaic dispensation of Law was a temporary measure adapted to special requirements; it merely “came in alongside” as a helper.[8] This was to prove that the Law is not a superior prerogative of the “holy seed” enabling “children of God” who know and “do the will” of their Creator to secure the “inheritance” meant only for them. Paul advances this startling paradox that the Law results always and only in a “curse,” and was intended to do so on purpose![9] This is the same idea behind placing a death penalty on certain crimes. By knowing that one could die in the electric chair if they commit such a crime, it may prevent them from doing such an evil deed.

Jewish writer W. Adriaan Liebenberg gives us a perspective on serving the Law as opposed to salvation by the Law. Because of a misunderstanding of what Paul says in Galatians about Law and Grace, there are a lot of people who believe that anyone attempting to obey YaHWeH’s commandments is “under a curse.” But if this was true, we would be cursed every time we tried to honor our parents. We would be cursed for refraining from adultery or even choosing to worship YaHWeH alone. But the truth is that we are no more cursed for doing those things than we would be if we kept the Sabbath.

So, what does verse ten actually mean? Brother Adriaan says: that we see Paul is comparing those who live by faith, with those which walk by sight. In other words, those who are saved by Grace and those seeking to be saved by the Law. Here we see the two versions of the “Good News,” the “Gospel of the Circumcision” and the “Gospel of the Cross.” The gospel of circumcision says that we do not receive salvation through faith in Yeshua alone, but we receive salvation when learning and keeping the Torah and are circumcised. But this brings up the point again that if we require Torah obedience as a prerequisite to salvation by grace, then none of us would be found faultless before the throne of YaHWeH on the Day of Judgment. We would be relying on our Adam-Man and his abilities in the flesh to obey the Torah rather than trusting in what the Adonai-Man – Yeshua, already did for us.

Therefore, anyone attempting to trust in the Adam-Man for their righteousness is a member of the “Works of the Law Club,” and is under a curse because the Torah itself says “cursed is everyone” who did not do the things written in the Torah. And since no one followed them to a 100% completion, none will receive salvation by them. Anyone attempting to be declared righteous (justified) by them will find themselves condemned. But those who look to the God-man for their righteousness are members of the “Grace by Faith Congregation.” All that the Law demands is already fulfilled and just by being in union with the Anointed One we are given eternal life with God.[10]

Thomas Lancaster is of the opinion that there is no Faith-verses-Works or Grace-versus-Law in the Bible. This was never an issue for the Apostles, nor was it a matter of controversy. The real faith-versus-works argument was over the question, can an uncircumcised Gentile be saved by faith or does he need to keep the ceremonial laws to first become Jewish? Likewise, the real grace-versus-Law question was: Can an uncircumcised Gentile be considered a son of Abraham and recipient of the grace Abraham received, or does he need to keep the Torah as a Jew to attain that status?

Lancaster agrees with Paul when he said that a person is not justified by works of the Law but through faith in Jesus the Anointed One…not by works of the Law because by works of the Law no one will be justified.[11] It is clear then, that the Law is not done away with as though it is irrelevant to a believer’s life. The Ten Commandments are still valid for Christians to show their moral, as well as, their spiritual maturity in ethical behavior. But what the Law cannot do is replace the Anointed One as the only One who can justify us before God as being in right-standing with Him. It was the animal sacrifices demanded by the Law that were done away with because the Anointed One was the Lamb of God who died to cover and get forgiveness for our sins.

Andrew G. Roth sees this from a Jewish perspective. The “curse” referred to here is not the Torah itself as many Christian pastors falsely teach, rather it is the penalty and consequences of disobeying the Torah. Many Christians stop reading at this point and try to make out that the Torah is a curse, but Paul immediately refutes that foolish accusation and goes on to say that the “curse” is the penalty for rejecting the Torah. This is also backed up in the Book of Revelation,[12] where those who do His commandments (Torah) have the “right” to the Tree of Life, whereas those who reject or change the Words/Meaning of the Book will suffer the eternal consequences and penalty. Similarly, every citizen is subject to the laws of their own particular nation, and, therefore, can be described as being under a “curse” (penalty) if they break their own peculiar Laws, namely, they will soon be dealt with and brought to justice when caught. How utterly foolish, therefore, to say that God`s eternal and precious Word/Law which is far more important than the laws of any Land is a Curse.[13]

[1] The Complete Works of John Wesley: Volume 2, Journals 1745-1760, p. 548

[2] Deuteronomy 27:26

[3] John Brown: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 123-124

[4] Alexander MacLaren: Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vol. 14, Second Corinthians, Chaps. VI to End, Galatians, and Philippians, Hodder & Stoughton, New York, No date, p. 100

[5] Dr. Thomas Notes on Galatians, 2019 Edition, loc. cit., p. 48

[6] Joseph Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 84

[7] Genesis 1:26; 6:3; Cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:23

[8] Romans 5:20; cf. ver. 19–22 below

[9] Benjamin W. Bacon: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 77

[10] W. Adriaan Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 57

[11] D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., loc., cit., p. 129

[12] Revelation 22:14-19

[13] Andrew G. Roth: Aramaic Translation, op. cit., loc. cit.

 

About drbob76

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