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 VI)

Philip Ryken mentioned that when people visit the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia where he serves as senior pastor, they often wonder why there is no cross displayed in the sanctuary. In fact, Ryken feels that part of the church’s beauty is that there are no icons to distract the congregation from the worship of God. But in reality, says Ryken, every-time the Scriptures are opened and the Anointed One is preached, the message of the cross is lifted high for all to see. After all, this was John Calvin’s message to all those who desire to preach the Gospel: They must learn not only to give a sermon but carry a message that penetrates into the conscience of each listener. To do this, they must help the people to see the Anointed One crucified and that His blood still flows for the forgiveness of sin.[1] How unfortunate that in many churches there is a lighted cross behind the pulpit on the wall, but that’s the only time the people see the cross because it is seldom if ever, displayed out of the Scriptures.

A painting by the Flemish painter Jan August Hendrik Leys (1815–1869) illustrates what happens when Christians lose sight of the crucified Anointed One. The painting is called “Women Praying at a Crucifix near St. James in Antwerp.” The women themselves are portrayed with painstaking detail. Careful attention is paid to every fold in the fabric of their gowns. There is one thing missing from the painting, however, and that is the cross itself. Leys shows the women at worship, but not the Anointed One they came to adore. “So, what do we see?” asks the Dutch art critic Hans Rookmaaker (1922–1977). “People from a past period, full of faith, reverent, praying – but we do not see the object of faith, the crucified the Anointed One.[2]

I’m sure many evangelical believers would be opposed to having the crucifix on their church walls. They say that the cross is empty because the Anointed One died, was buried, and rose again. But what good does it do to preach a risen Savior if the people listening do not know under what circumstances He died? Paul told the Corinthians that he resolved to preach nothing else while he was with them except Jesus the Anointed One and Him crucified.[3]

Robert Gundry also expressed his opinion on what, “displaying the Anointed One crucified before the Galatians’ eyes” meant. The Galatians themselves did not see Jesus’ crucifixion. They didn’t take photographs in those days, and as far as we know, no artist was there to paint a picture. So, it’s not the actual crucifixion itself which they were able to witness. So, what was it?[4] It was the exhibition in words in Paul’s preaching that helped them see that crucifixion. Perhaps that’s why Paul speaks of their “hearing” of the Gospel instead of “seeing.”[5] This is another way of saying that Paul painted a word-picture of the Anointed One’s crucifixion that was so real that the Galatians were able to imagine it as being real in their minds.

Don Garlington tells us in his commentary on Galatians that Dr. Ben Witherington of England notes that in first-century Mediterranean culture a “fool” was not simply a person of moral failures but one who disrespected social boundaries, with the effect that they brought shame upon themselves (the same is true today). By way of application, writes Witherington, “The issue here in part is a violation of community boundaries, and in Paul’s view, by entering the community bounded by the Mosaic Law was to exit the community bounded by allegiance to the Anointed One. In short, Paul sees apostasy looming on the horizon and he will marshal his arsenal of arguments to prevent it.”[6] So we see that Paul did not use this term without it having its full impact on those who existed in the south Galatians culture.

In the 11th century, a Benedictine monk named Benedict of Nursia who was born around 480 AD, was immortalized with a medal showing him holding up the cross the ward off evil spirits. In fact, Pope Leo IX (1102-1045) used such a medal. Since then, when someone does not carry a Benedict Medal around their neck, they just hold up their fingers to make a cross and hold it out in front of them. You’ve no doubt seen this done in movies or on television. In a way, that’s what Paul is asking the Galatians, why didn’t you hold up the cross in front of these false teachers in order to protect yourself against their evil motives and plans to strip away your faith and make you scared that without them you would die in your sins?

Dr. David A. Brondos, professor at the Augsburg Lutheran Seminary in Mexico City finds it easy to see why Paul was such an expert on the crucifixion of the Anointed One. He states that the Jews killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets,[7] although for different reasons. It is also clear that Paul was acquainted with the narratives of Jesus’ passion, because he recites the tradition about Jesus’ words and actions over the bread and cup at the Last Supper,[8] and mentions Judas Iscariot’s betrayal. Then, when writing to the Romans he quotes from Psalm 69:9 and refers to the abuse the Anointed One endured during His trial and crucifixion.[9] He also mentions Jesus’ burial and the testimonies of the many of Jesus’ first disciples concerning Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.[10] Not only that, but Paul affirms that Jesus “gave Himself up,”[11] and was “crucified in weakness” to prove that He was aware that Jesus went to His death passively and not trying to defend Himself or flee.[12] These and other passages show beyond doubt that Paul was very acquainted with the same traditions of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection that we find in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles.[13]

Duncan Heaster makes an interesting comment on what Paul was really trying to say to the Galatians about his making the Anointed One crucified very real to them, almost as though he painted a picture or carved a statue. He says: When Paul preached the Gospel to the Galatians, he was the embodiment of the crucified Anointed One. People should see in us, in our sufferings and “weakness,” something of the crucified Anointed One at the time of His death.[14] I’m not sure how the Apostle Paul would square this with what he said earlier in the letter: “I was put up on the cross to die with the Anointed One. Therefore, I no longer live. the Anointed One lives in me.”[15]

Messianic writer Thomas Lancaster doesn’t think that the sudden shift in the way the Galatians looked at their faith in light of the Law was overnight. When the Judaizer’s came in from Jerusalem, they somehow persuaded the Christians that Jews and Gentiles were all like, there was no difference between them. They all believed in God and accepted Yeshua as the Messiah. And since Yeshua said He did not come to abolish the Law but to make it complete, then it must contain some value and purpose for the Christian life. Lancaster says that this is how the Judaizers duped the gullible Galatians into adding some of the Law’s requirements to their faith. Perhaps it started with honoring the Sabbath and then abstaining from certain foods because they were not kosher. But apparently it reached the place where many of the Gentile men were not submitting to being circumcised in order to make them true children of the covenant.[16] This is often the same way many Christians are duped into taking up certain ancient rites and rituals in order to be a really happy and secure Christian.

Jewish Christian writer David Stern does not hold back in giving his understanding of what Paul says here in verse one. He calls them “stupid Galatians!” We will find that down in verse six Paul will display his amazement at their going astray, and in 4:19-20 express his pain and confusion over what to do with them. But here he seems exasperated. He tries to arouse the Galatians’ interest in learning what they need to do right with ridicule and shame. Yet, it was all done in the context of his loving them dearly. One piece of evidence for this is that he calls them “brothers,” a favorite term of endearment among the early believers. In fact, he calls them “brothers” no less than nine times in this letter.[17]

Andrew G. Roth in his Aramaic translation points out that here is a clear wordplay between galatya, “those who live in Galatia,” and galoot, “those who are exiles, the dispersed or captives.” Roth does not translate the phrase “You foolish Exiles,” but it is very obvious that Rabbi Paul is writing to both groups. Another key point lexically is that galatya is derived from the root gelah, which means “to reveal or uncover,”[18] and this includes direct manifestations of Elohiym. It is also the root from which we get the name of the place Galilee. Finally, even though the spelling between galatya and galoot is not exactly the same in Aramaic, the wordplay exists on an audible level. Such same sounding layers of cleverness are extremely common throughout the Aramaic New Testament and are one of the strongest pieces of evidence we have for declaring its originality and primacy.[19]

[1] Ryken, Philip Graham. On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle location 1514

[2] Ibid. Kindle Location 1665

[3] 1 Corinthians 2:2

[4] Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17-25; 2:2

[5] Robert H. Gundry: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Location 540

[6] Don Garlington: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., 92

[7] 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

[8] 1 Corinthians 11:23-24

[9] Romans 15:3

[10] 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

[11] Galatians 1:4

[12] 2 Corinthians 13:4

[13] David A. Brondos. Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle’s Story of Redemption, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2006, (Kindle Location 1014-1022). Kindle Edition.

[14] Duncan Heaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 1922

[15] Galatians 2:20

[16] D. Thomas Lancaster: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 110

[17] David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, op. cit., (Kindle Location 15474)

[18] Genesis 9:21; 35:7

[19] Andrew G. Roth: Aramaic New Testament, 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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