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 XXIII)

Thomas Aquinas gives a somewhat philosophical answer to the question of whether during the reign of the Law, the ceremonies prescribed by the Law possessed any power to justify? He answers that it did up to a certain point. They were justified as being called right in that they met the demands of the Law, but it did not justify them before God, making them eligible for everlasting life. They passed the test with the Law but failed the test with God. The Law required physical cleanliness but not spiritual purity, something the Law was unable to do. The sacrifice of lambs satisfied the Law, but only the death of the Lamb of God could satisfy God. The blood of animal sacrifices only covered their sins while it required the blood of the Lamb of God to wash away their sins.

Aquinas goes on to say that these animal sacrifices and physical washing possessed no power of purging uncleanness from the soul, namely, from the filth of sinful tendencies. The reason for this was because sin is only removed through the death and blood of the Anointed One.[1] And since the mystery of the Messiah’s Incarnation and Passion was not yet revealed, those ceremonies of the Old Law contained in them no power flowing from the Anointed One as being already incarnate and crucified, such as the sacraments of the New Law would include. Consequently, they failed to cleanse from sin. That’s why the Apostle Paul says, “…it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats’ sin is taken away.”[2] That’s why here in verse nine, Paul calls them “weak and lacking elements.” Weak indeed, because they cannot take away sin; but this weakness results from their being needy, namely, from the fact that they do not contain any love, grace, and forgiveness within themselves.[3]

Paul was also targeting the Gentile believers and those pagan holidays used to worship their idol gods.  Later on, in his letter, he admonishes the Jewish believers and asks them why they continued to observe those Jewish holidays and feasts in order to merit favor from God. He wanted them to know that when they celebrate Jesus, all the intentions of those feasts are fulfilled in Him. Therefore, as Christians, we must ask ourselves why we celebrate our Christian holidays? What is our purpose for all the decorations and displays used to show our gratitude for those days that make them holy? Do we honestly feel that God is moved to grant us more favor and give us special attention when we do so?

As a matter of fact, it is hard to find anywhere that Jesus points to any single day and tells His followers to make it a special holiday. The only ordinances that our Lord gave special meaning to were water baptism, communion, and washing each other’s feet. These were all meant to serve the purpose of reminding us of what He did for us through His suffering and death on the cross, but never intended to become holy days. Therefore, it seems logical that no matter which day we choose to stop and reflect on what happened in the life of the Anointed One, that the emphasis is on remembering Him for all He did for us, not just memorializing the day itself. Furthermore, the days we do celebrate are meaningless unless we do them out of love and gratitude for the One who saved us, and the One we serve.

Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) addressed this same issue. He mentions that he plans no condemnation to such observance of dates as part of civil society. This is all fixed based on the way nature works and is permanent and constant. How else can months and years be computed if it were not for the revolution of the sun and moon? What distinguishes summer from winter, or spring from autumn by the appointment of God, – an appointment promised to continue to the end of the world?[4] The traditional observation of days contributes not only to agriculture, matters of politics, and ordinary life, but is even extended to the government of the church. So, we must ask, what was the nature of the observances which Paul disapproves of? It was that which binds the conscience in a religious context thought necessary to the worship of God. And those Paul mentions in his Epistle to the Romans as being given important religious emphasis one day over another.[5] [6] We see this today in the practice of the Seventh Day Adventists that worship on Saturday in contrast to the Catholic and Protestant churches who worship on Sunday.

Wesleyan theologian Adam Clarke (1760-1832) makes the point that if the Galatians were going back to their former way of righteous living worship, it is evident that they were still addicted to them as formalities making their salvation more holy based on works. This certainly was possible seeing that they converted from heathenism to Judaism, and from Judaism to Christianity.[7] Clarke feels that Paul’s disappointment was in fact that such rites were too weak to counteract their sinful habits and too poor to purchase pardon and eternal life for them, so why push aside the Way, the Truth, and the Life for something so anemic and powerless. Clarke goes on to note that Paul identifies these useless rituals as those tied to days, months, and years. But none of this should be taken as a license to stop singing, praying, worshipping, and fellowshipping together as the family of God.

Catholic writer Cornelius à Lapide (1567 -1637) uses verse nine to take a poke at others around him. He begins by pointing out that Paul regards all people without distinction as having been under the Law as their tutor, and accuses the Galatians of again setting up, by their actions, the obsolete rites of Judaism. But it’s necessary to look at the word slavery again, not to the whole but to the part, as signifying only that slavery was restored in general, not particularly in this or that. The Galatians at one time served idols, and afterward, Judaism, and they are here exhorted not to become slaves once more, whether to demons or to Jewish illusions. Lapide takes a Calvinist, for example, who embraced the Catholic faith and afterward slipped back into Calvinism. The question may be asked: How can you lapse again into Calvinism, that is, into protestant teaching? It is not Calvinism that is the significant word, but lapse and the force of the question lie in its appeal against deserting the Catholic faith for the heresy of any kind whatsoever.[8] Obviously, Lapide did not realize the opposite was true. Reform means made better.

Church of England priest William Law (1686-1761) who lost his position at Emmanuel College, Cambridge because he refused to take an oath of allegiance to any king other than the King of Kings, appealed to other clergy to be aware of what Paul says here in verse nine concerning the “bondage of the weak and beggarly elements of the world.” When the Anointed One was here on earth, He instructed the disciples in heavenly truths, enabling them to work miracles in His Name while yet unqualified to know and teach the mysteries of His kingdom. After his resurrection, while conversing with them, He breathed on them and said, “receive the Holy Spirit.[9]” Yet, even this was not enough to qualify them to preach or bear witness to the truth.

Law says that the reason for this was their need for a higher anointing to come. For although He told His disciples the necessity of being born again of the Spirit, He also told them that it was necessary that He go away because until He goes away the comforter, they needed in order to minister will not come. But He promised that once He went away, He would send the Comforter to them, who was the Spirit of truth, the One to guide them into all truth that will glorify Him.[10] In the meantime, there were not to go out and preach or teach but remain in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high; that they would receive power, after that the Holy Spirit came on them. Then, and only then would they share their testimony about Him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the furthest part of the earth.[11]

From this, says Law, there are two essential and fundamental truths to be learned. First, that the truth and perfection of the Gospel dispensation could not begin until the Anointed One was glorified, and His kingdom in the world resulted in an immediate, continual outreach of the Holy Spirit. That everything up until now was subservient to the Law for a period of time in preparation for this last dispensation of Grace. Everything else was communicated through types, figures, and shadows of the real thing, leading to the actual possession and enjoyment of that which is the spirit and truth of divine life. For an ending is not possible without a beginning; that is, the future God holds for mankind will not become a reality until an end is brought to the “bondage of weak and beggarly elements,” that Paul speaks of here. It ends up restoring the human race to that personal relationship with God they enjoyed in the beginning.[12]

In other words, after that close and personal kinship humanity experienced before Adam’s fall was broken, they’ve attempted for centuries to reestablish it on their own from the Tower of Babel using objects in the sky and on the ground to represent the God they lost touch with, using the forms of objects and idols. God even gave the Law to Moses to bring them closer, but only the children of Israel were given that privilege. It wasn’t until He sent His Son, the Messiah came that this bond was reestablished, putting an end to all their idols, altars, ceremonies, feasts, rites, rituals, festivals, laws, and moral laws. Now there is but One who is able to clear away the debris and cement that fusion with the Almighty, His name is Jesus the Anointed One.

Another Roman Catholic writer, George Haydock (1774–1849), agrees that the same conflict that Paul finds here between the Christian believers in Galatia and the Messianic Jewish teachers who came to instruct them on the necessity of continuing Jewish observances, now caused friction between the Catholic and Protestants that continued up to his day. He mentions that some of the later reformers used Paul’s text here to criticize the feasts and holy days kept by Roman Catholics. Jerome, in his commentary on these words, tells us that some already made a similar objection in his time (347–420 AD).

Haydock believes that Jerome’s answer to such criticism as a key to defusing such contention and put a stop to this unnecessary rashness. That is that Christians continue observing Sunday as their day of worship instead of Saturdays as the Jews do. Also, Christians are to continue keeping certain holy days and days on which great saints suffered martyrdom. Let everyone take note that while the dates may be different, the motives of keeping them is the same.[13] (It is also important to take note that the Jews observe no holy days that celebrate Moses’ birth or death. In fact, neither the day they were led out of Egypt, and the day they entered the Promised Land is not celebrated as a national holiday.) What Haydock does not address is the idea that keeping such holy days is important to one’s salvation and loyalty to the Church that will save them.

[1] John 1:29

[2] Hebrews 10:4

[3] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, op cit., Part 2a-Question 103-Answer 2, p. 1224

[4] See Genesis 8:22: “So long as the earth will exist, sowing time and harvesting time, summer and winter, day and night will follow a regular pattern.”  – The translation used by Rabbi Abraham Saba in Tzror Hamor.  The Rabbi goes on to say that this is meant to tell mankind that retribution, when it does come, will not be delayed as it was until the deluge occurred.  May must remain on his guard day and night not to offend his Creator by his conduct. p. 159

[5] See Romans 14:5

[6] John Calvin: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Adam Clarke: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[8] Cornelius à Lapide: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] John 20:22

[10] Ibid. 16:1-15

[11] Acts of the Apostles 1:8

[12] William Law: Address to the Clergy, op. cit., pp. 12-13

[13] George Haydock: Catholic Bible Commentary, loc. cit.

About drbob76

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