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 XXX)

The Contextual Bible goes on to say that the way of Faith is very different from the way of the Law. The Law does not require faith or dependence on God, and in fact, does not involve faith. It requires total human strength and conscientious effort, for it says in Leviticus that a person will be given life forever if they obey every single law of God, without one slip. This, of course, is a humanly impossible task. But the Anointed One brought us out from under the doom of that impossible system, by taking God’s curse against lawbreakers upon Himself. He could never be cursed of God because He kept the Law perfectly and earned the life and blessings that come from the Law – and yet God’s curse did come upon Him when He was hung upon the wooden torture stake.

This should not be surprising because in the same Law in Deuteronomy it says: “Anyone who is hanged on a tree is under God’s curse.[1] The purpose was to pacify the Law’s demand for the curse to be lifted from off the heads of lawbreakers and to pay its penalty, to pay for all its claims against lawbreakers and give the bill to the Anointed One so He could pay the ransom for those who put their faith in Him, to remove the distinction of being God’s chosen people that the Jewish nation alone possessed, so that God can now bless the non-Jews too with the blessing He promised to Abraham. And because of their faith in the Anointed One Jesus, therefore, all of us, Jews and non-Jews, can now receive God’s powerful life-giving Spirit which He promised for all those having faith.[2]

3:15 My dear brothers and sisters let me draw an analogy from everyday life in everyday language. Once someone signs a binding contract with another person, they cannot individually amend it or void it. The same is true in this case. God made a promise to Abraham and to his child.

Paul now takes an example from everyday life and applies it to the Galatians’ spiritual life. He points out that a signed contract between two entities cannot be altered or amended by any one of them without the other party’s approval. Then the Apostle Paul points out that since God gave a promise to Abraham and Isaac, God was not going to change anything without Abraham’s approval and vice versâ. Paul was not questioning this principle, he was only using it as an example for the Galatians to understand that God stands by His word.

The term: “language of men,” a compound phrase of the Greek verb legō (“to speak”), the preposition kata (“according to”), and the noun anthrōpos (“ordinary people”). Putting something this way was not new to Jewish Rabbis (Masters) and Ravs (Teachers). When Paul was taught the oral teachings of Judaism, he no doubt heard this phrase, “The Torah uses the language of men.”[3] And in another place, Rabbis were talking about contracts between owners and those hiring animals for farming, milking, etc. When trying to explain certain policies, one listener to the Rabbi asked: “Now, if what you say agrees with our view, we do not say that the Torah employs human phraseology; but, on the other hand, when we do agree that the Torah is employing human phraseology, what do you say”?[4]

Then again, Rabbis were discussing the resurrection and that the Holy One, blessed be He, knows the future of those whom He resurrects. The Rabbi points out that it was taught by Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Jose, that resurrection cannot be reasoned as a fact from reading the Torah. In fact, Rabbi Eliezer misinterpreted his Torah and that his theory got no closer to finding the truth by maintaining that resurrection is not a Biblical doctrine. However, it is written that any individual who does something wrong intentionally, that person will be cut off from this world and the world-to-come because of their contempt for the Word of Adonai.[5] That’s when Rabbi Papa inquired if they really understood whether or not individuals cut off from this world were also cut off from the world-to-come? They might then reply that “The Torah employs human phraseology.”[6]

And on one other occasion, the Rabbis were discussing where murderers should be caught and executed in the city where they went for refuge or when they purposely or accidentally left the city of refuge? The delineation was between those who committed murder and those who were guilty of manslaughter. One of the Rabbis said that he didn’t find any difficulty here. For him, the statute applied equally except for the fact that slaying the murderer was in order but not for someone banishment from their country as punishment for being found guilty of manslaughter. That’s because the view found in the Torah occasionally used popular “figures of speech.”[7]

When put all together, I get the impression that what the terms language of men, human phraseology, and popular figures of speech – terms that the English translators of the Babylonian Talmud used, might be phrased as “street language” today in the Modern American English vernacular. In other words, how people on the street would say something in everyday lingo to ordinary people. That, of course, opens the door to any listener to understand it the way they perceive it.

This would not be the first or last time Paul would use this phrase when it came to explaining or drawing an analogy of every life explained in everyday language to make a spiritual point. In fact, he would write to the Roman believers about how they were freed from the bondage of sin, and he told them, “I speak with words easy to understand because your human thinking is shallow.”[8] The Complete Jewish Bible renders it: “I am using popular language because your human nature is so weak.” I would prefer the following, based on Paul’s use of the Greek noun asthenia: “Because it’s hard for you to understand,” even though Thayer in his Greek lexicon chose the “weakness of human nature.”

And on the subject of the resurrection, Paul told the Corinthians. It’s a fact that every day I feel like dying just as much as I’m thrilled at your growth in the Lord. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts – those people in Ephesus – if it was only for what I gain in this life down here? If we will never live again after we die, then we might as well go and give ourselves a good time: let us eat, drink, and be merry. What’s the difference? Who knows, tomorrow it might all come to an end and they are right we’ll find out that living right all this time meant nothing![9] Paul’s reference to those people in Ephesus was a backhanded compliment to people who were so carnally-minded they didn’t understand a thing when he spoke to them about spiritual matters. That was not a language they were familiar with. Believe me, things have not changed in the 21st century.

Martin Luther shares his thoughts on verse fifteen. He notes that after what Paul said in the previous verses of a well-accepted argument, Paul now offers another based on the similarity between a person’s testament and God’s Testament. Luther admits that a human’s testament seems too weak a premise for the Apostle to argue from in confirmation of so important a matter as justification. I believe, says Luther, we ought to prove earthly things by heavenly things, and not heavenly things by earthly things. However, where the earthly thing is a regulation of God, we may use it to prove divine matters. For instance, in Matthew the Anointed One Himself argued from earthly to heavenly things when He said: “If you who are earthly know how to give good things to your children. How much more will your Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him?”[10] [11] Today, this practice of using everyday occurrences in making a frame fitted for the word-picture being painted from Scripture for the listeners is well documented. Illustrations have become part of many sermons and teachings.

John Trapp (1601-1669), an English Anglican Bible commentator who became identified with the Puritan movement, tells us a story about an incident that illustrated what Paul said about how no one on their own can change a contract sign by another. There was an attorney named William Tracy, Esquire, high sheriff of Gloucestershire, England, during the 22nd and 23rd years King Henry VI’s reign, who wrote in his will, that neither his funeral or interment was to be the cause of making a spectacle out of the situation. He also says he would forego any Mass at the Church. And further, that he trusted in God only, and hoped by Him to be saved, and not by any saint. When this gentleman died, his son as executor brought the will to the Bishop of Canterbury to be validated, which was then shown to the Assembly. Upon reading the will, they declared that he be taken out of the ground and be burned as a heretic.[12] That was ridiculous! Even Williams’ son knew that he possessed no such authority to change his father’s will. The same is true of our heavenly Father’s will in which we are included.

George B. Stevens (1854-1906) comments on Paul claiming no divine inspiration in verse fifteen as he tries to define how people enter into a covenant with each other. Apparently, it was a commonplace occurrence in Paul’s day, otherwise, he would not have said it came from everyday life.[13] Paul is intending to show the superiority of the covenant of promise with Abraham to which the Law was subordinate. This would be what is called an “a fortiori” argument, meaning that if a covenant made between two people is so binding, then how much more will a covenant between God and people be even more binding.

Then Stevens notes that the Greek noun diathēkē is a proper translation of the Hebrew noun bĕriyth which both signify a solemn compact or agreement. Only twice in the King James Version is diathēkē translated as “testament.”[14] This came about because, in the Latin Vulgate, it was translated as “Testamentum” and thereby passed into common usage as an English equivalent. But the Revised Standard Version corrects this by translating it “will” as in “Living Will” or “Last Will.” The New American Standard Bible renders it, “covenant.” But Dr. Stevens, with whom I agree, calls this an inaccuracy when applied to what is now called “The New Testament.” This Final Covenant is more than just a will or testament, it is a binding, unchangeable, agreement that neither time, conditions, religion, mankind, or God will ever change. Furthermore, a last will or testament can only be probated by the executor when the testator of the will dies. As far as we know, God is not dead.[15]

[1] Deuteronomy 21:23 – NIV

[2] Aiyer, Ramsey. On Galatians, Kindle Locations 252-264

[3] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Kodashim, Masekhet Kerithoth, folio 11a

[4] Ibid. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Baba Mezi’s, folio 94b

[5] Numbers 15:30-31

[6] Ibid. Masekhet Sanhedrin, folio 90b

[7] Ibid. Masekhet Makkoth, folio 12a

[8] Romans 6:19

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:31-32

[10] Matthew 7:11

[11] Martin Luther: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 78

[12] John Trapp: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 581

[13] Translated as such by the New International Version (NIV), New Living Translation (NLT), New Century Version (NCV), New English Translation (NET), and Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

[14] Hebrews 9:16,17

[15] George B. Stevens: Shorter Exposition of Galatians, op. cit., pp. 132-133

About drbob76

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