CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XIX)

One of Augustine’s early contemporary scholars, Marius Victorinus (280-355 AD), views these non-divine deities of worldly and other imaginary powers, are all made up by the devil who tries to pass them off as being real.[1] Victorinus, no doubt, was concerned about all those who claimed to see visions, dreams, and apparitions of various saints to which they assigned special powers, but can find no backing in the Scriptures. He also goes on to say that all this relates more to pagans, who even think up gods for themselves from the elements of this world or make the elements themselves gods, to worship nature, wind, water, fire, sun, moon, and stars. For there is no doubt that they believe these single elements are gods or believe that these gods produced the elements themselves. So, it is not surprising that pagans use these very same elements to make gods which they worship as a substitute for the true living God. This belief spawned certain demons that operate in and through these elements. So, says Augustine, if the pagans do these things, it appears as if Paul is rebuking the Galatians for returning to their paganistic ways![2]

For me personally, I feel that Augustine and Victorinus are themselves culpable in promoting this type of belief while trying to explain it. There is no doubt that the devil and his demons are at work in the earth. Jesus Himself cast out several of these demons, one called Legion, because there were so many possessing one person. And we are also told that upon His death and resurrection, the Anointed One was given the keys (authority over) hell, death, and the grave.[3] But to say, as Augustine did, that by worshiping them or using them to glorify is unknowingly worshipping God violates the first and second Commandments.

The possibility that these Gentiles first converted to Judaism before becoming Christians seems clear by what Paul says later on. So, in effect, they traded one form of religious slavery for another. Now looking back, didn’t they see that even this exchange did not improve on their knowing God any better than the way they came to know Him after being born again in union with the Anointed One? Couldn’t they see that the bondage that enslaved them before they were set free to be one with the Anointed One was now demanding their obedience only under a new name? To Christian Reformers in Luther and Calvin’s day, the heathen idols that the converted Galatians worshiped before, were now being replaced by Christian icons of saints and beatified individuals who were being credited with helping them with prayers and petitions to Jesus and God the Father.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writing about whether or not we can refer to God as “Nature” or to Nature as “God,”  He specifies that since divine nature cannot be multiplied (or evolve), it follows that the name “God” cannot be transmitted in reality but in imagination; just in the same way as this name “sun” would be transmitted according to the opinion of those who say there are many suns. Therefore, it is written here in verse eight of Galatians: “You served them who by nature are not gods.” But that does not mean many gods exist in nature, only in the human imagination. Nevertheless, this name “God” is transmitted not in its full signification, but in similitude; so that those who are called gods share only in divinity by likeness. This is what the Psalmist said, “I have said, you are gods.”[4] [5]

If this seemed to be a problem back in Aquinas’ day, it is even more prevalent today. Some try to be civil and refer to God as “a Great Power,” or even dare to call Him “Our Creator.” But to the Israelites, the Hebrew noun “Elo’ah” means “Deity.”  Now we know why Moses asked the voice in the burning bush, “What is your name?” And Deity answered, “I AM who I AM and always will be.”[6]

As Reformer Martin Luther sees it, Paul concludes his discourse on justification at this point. From now to the end of the Epistle, the Apostle writes mostly about the Christian’s conduct. But before he goes on with his doctrinal discourse with practical precepts, he feels the necessity of once more admonishing the Galatians. He is very displeased with them for relinquishing their divine doctrine. He faults them for listening to teachers whose intention is to make them subject once more to the Law. He called them out of the darkness of ignorance into the wonderful light of the knowledge of God, he led them out of bondage into the freedom of being children of God, not by using the Law or writing more laws for them to follow, but by the gift of heavenly and eternal blessings through the Gospel of the Anointed One Jesus. So, why did they so suddenly forsake the light and return to darkness? Why did they so quickly stray from the open pasture of Grace back into the sin-pen of bondage?[7]

Luther goes on to make the point that God will and can be known in no other way than in and through the Anointed One. Some of those who did not know God through the Anointed One drew this erroneous conclusion: I will serve Him by doing this or doing that. I will become a member of this or that ministry. I will be active in this or that not-for-profit charitable organization. They were certain that God would endorse their good intentions and reward them with everlasting life. After all, He doesn’t just love me, He’s in love with me.

Not only that but hasn’t He been known to give blessings to the unworthy and ungrateful to show His love? How much more will He grant them everlasting life as a due reward for their hard work? Luther says this is the religion of human reasoning. This is the natural thinking of the world. The way a worldly person expects things from God, they will never realize. It’s their wish, not the desire of the Spirit of God.[8] They don’t seem to understand this is not the way to God.[9] That’s why there’s really no difference between a Jew, a Muslim, and an Atheist. There may be differences between people of different countries, races, ethnicities, religions, manners, and customs, but as far as their fundamental beliefs are concerned, they are all alike.[10]

Then Luther continues by sharing his reaction to the situation in the church in his own day. He notes that God promised to save anybody for their religious observance of ceremonies and ordinances. Those who rely upon such things do serve a god, but it’s one of their own imagination and not the Living God. The true God says that no religion pleases Him that does not come through His Son Jesus. In other words, all who put their faith to His Son will have Him as their God and Father. Those are the ones He redeems, calls justifies, sanctifies, and makes them His chosen people. Everyone else is still sitting under His curse upon sin because they worship creatures instead of Him. Without the doctrine of justification, there can be only ignorance of God. Those who refuse to be justified by the Anointed One are idolaters, says Luther. They remain under the Law, sin, death, and the power of the devil. Everything they do is wrong and worth nothing as far as God is concerned.[11]

Reformer John Calvin explains how God is distinguished from idols so that He may be the exclusive object of worship. He wants to get down to the bare facts and brings in what Paul says here in verse eight to the Gentiles reminding them that before they knew God, they were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. Calvin then points out that Paul does not use the Greek verb latreia, meaning “worship” – a form of reverence directed only to the Holy Trinity. Instead, he used the Greek verb dulia, which means “veneration.” This is the same distinction that the Roman Catholic Church uses to defend that while they worship God, they only venerate the blessed Virgin Mary. While such adoration expressed in praise and worship belongs only to God, Mary is deserving of adulation – excessive admiration and praise because of her unique role in the mystery of Redemption, her exceptional gifts of grace from God, and her preeminence among the saints. Unfortunately, she has replaced her Son as the object from whom alone grace and salvation is received.

Calvin then goes on to say that when the Anointed One repelled Satan who came to tempt Him, He did so as an insult by reminding the devil of the Scriptures where it says that we are to worship the Lord our God and serve only Him![12] Here, there is no question that worship and adoration are involved, not veneration and adulation. All Satan was asking our Lord was for proskyneō[13] (“worship” KJV), which means to fall on one’s knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence. This was a sign of great respect for someone highly admired and honored. This is what happened to the Apostle John when he fell on his knees before the angel to worship him and was rebuked by the angel because he was not divine, only a servant of the Divine.[14] Calvin says it wasn’t the case of John being so wrapped up that he forgot that it wasn’t possible for him to transfer the honor due to God alone through an angel. It wasn’t until later he realized that to show the angel adoration instead of adulation, he denigrated the glory of God.[15]

This is a problem between Protestants and Catholics, both of whom think highly of the great saints in Scripture. A Roman Catholic priest will tell you that they “do not” pray to the saints, they only ask the saints to pray to God or the Anointed One on their behalf. In Calvin’s eyes, as it was in the eyes of the Apostle John, to do so denigrates the glory of God, who sits in His beautiful throne-room of grace and mercy where our prayers are delivered by the Holy Spirit to the Anointed One who then intercedes for us.[16] To ask anyone lower than the Spirit of God to deliver our prayers is an insult to the merciful intercession of God’s Son and God, our Heavenly Father.

John Owen (1616-1683) is writing in defense of the Trinity and how the Scriptures fully express this divine truth as to leave no doubt about the makeup of the Godhead: – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which are divine, distinct, intelligent, voluntary, principles of operation and working together. So, Owen is not writing to prove it but to substantiate what is already proven. He goes on to say that this oneness involves nothing more or less than the essence of God. The Father, Son, and Spirit are one in their shared essence. The reason why words such as Triune Godhead, Omnipotence, Omnipresence, and Omniscient are not used in Scripture is that it’s impossible to explain the unexplainable. They are of the same importance and significance, and none of them, include anything of imperfection, are properly used in the declaration of the unity of the Godhead.

[1] Marius Victorinus, Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Revelation 1:18

[4] Psalm 82:6

[5] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 1, The First Part, Whether this name “God” is a name of nature?” Part 1, Question 13, Answer 9, p. 168

[6] Exodus 3:13-14

[7] Martin Luther: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[8] I Corinthians 2:14

[9] Romans 3:11

[10] Martin Luther, ibid

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 4:10

[13] Ibid. 4:19

[14] Revelation 19:10; see 22:8-9

[15] John Calvin: Institutes, op. cit. loc. cit., Ch, 12, p. 136

[16] Cf. Acts of the Apostles 7:55-56; Romans 8:24; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1

About drbob76

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