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 XXXVIII)

Obviously, God found something wrong with His people. So, He told them: The time is coming when I will make a new agreement with the people of Israel and to the people of Judah. It will not be like the First Covenant I gave to their forefathers. That was the contract I approved when I took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt. But they did not continue following the agreement I gave them, so I turned away from them. This is the Final Covenant I will give the people of Israel. I will give this agreement in the future, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write my laws on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Never again will anyone need to teach their neighbors or their family to know the Lord. All the people – the greatest and the least important – will know me. And I will forgive all the wrongs they committed, and I will not remember their sins. God called this a Final Covenant, so when it comes to salvation, He made the First Covenant obsolete. And anything that is old and useless is ready to be done away with.[1]

So, in the final analysis, the Anointed One is the One who was sent to give us this new way of becoming right in His eyes. All those called by God are offered a life that lasts forever, just as He promised them. The Anointed One bought this new life for us with His blood when He died. This made us free from our sins, which were atoned for under the old way of sacrifice. When a person wants to give their estate to someone after they die, they write it all down on paper beforehand. That piece of paper means nothing as long as they are alive. Therefore, the old method of getting right must end so that the new process of becoming righteous may begin.

Under the old method, the blood of animals was used. Moses told the people all the things they needed to do in order to obey the Law. Then he took the blood of animals together with water and put it on the altar and on all the people using special branches and red wool as he sprinkled it on them. Moses said, “This is the blood of the Way of Worship, which God said you must obey.” In the same way, Moses put the blood on the tent and on all the things used in worship. The Law says that almost everything is made clean by the blood. Sins are not forgiven unless blood is given. The tent to worship in and the things inside to worship with were copies of things in heaven. They were made clean by putting blood on them. But the things in heaven were made clean by a much better gift of worship. The Anointed One did not go into the Holy of Holies made by men, even if it was like the true one in heaven. He went to heaven itself, and He is right now before God on our behalf.[2]

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, you are coming to Jesus – the One who brought the Final Covenant from God to His people. You are coming to the sprinkled blood that tells us about better things than the blood of Abel.[3] God is a God of peace. He raised the Lord Jesus from the dead. Jesus is the Good Shepherd of the sheep. His blood made a new Way of Worship, which will last forever.[4] As the old hymn, written in 1876 by Robert Lowry, an American professor of literature and Baptist minister, goes: “What can wash away my sins, nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus. Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

In his investigation of what he called a “toxic text” from the Pauline tradition, psychologist Charles Davis suggests that this section qualifies as such. Basing his argument on principles of narrative theology, he proposes that stories can be identified as fairytales or toxic texts, based on whether the story serves to suppress or to support the development of one’s own personal “authentic” story.[5] It is not too difficult to see that Davis’ theory is a coercive attempt to silence or discredit a person’s stories of faith. Therefore, it is a form of tyrannical censorship. That may sound like tough talk to describe one person’s attempt to illegitimately silence another person’s legitimate right to speak. This is accomplished by faulty character assassination. This is done invariably by bringing up questions about that person’s judgment being their only resource for discerning reality. When people are finding themselves in such a position, self-doubt may develop to the point they are not sure of the veracity of their stories, and thus their voices are silenced.

 The differing points of view between psychologist Davis and his critics involve the following issues: Davis is basically saying that Paul wasn’t able to come up with a good enough argument to prove his case with his facts and evidence, so he borrows a story from the past, which the Judaizers didn’t have a rebuttal for, and claims that the story proves his point.  His critics disagree by saying that attempts like those of Davis are nothing more than wanting to dismiss Paul’s illustration of Abraham as an effort to make up something, thereby telling Paul to shut up unless he’s got something more substantive to offer. If we accept Davis’ point of view, then preachers and teachers could never use Biblical texts to prove their points, and that would spell the end to expository preaching. No doubt there were those among the Judaizers in Galatia who felt the same way about Paul as psychologist Davis did. But Paul refused to be deterred, and so should we.

Whether or not Paul was talking to the non-Jewish converts to Christianity or the new Jewish believers, here he makes it quite clear whom he addresses. Early church theologian Thomas Aquinas imagines Paul asking the Galatians to justify their wanting to go back to serving the Law instead of serving the Anointed One. Paul may ask: Tell me, those of you that want to go back under the Law, surely you’ve read the Law, right? This is Paul’s way of putting them on the spot to decide if they are competent enough to refute Paul’s objections, and if not, then admit that what he is charging them of is true. Paul wants an answer but not an argument. So, he asks them straightforward to give him an honest answer whether or not what He’s been saying about their decision is true or false.

It is a method borrowed from the wise man Job when he asked his friends: “Think it over, please; see if what I said was right.”’[6] If you read the Law, you ought to know the things written in it. But those things prove that it should be abandoned. If you did not read it yet, you ought not to accept what you do not know: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze on what lies in front of you.”[7] Paul talks about being “under the Law,” namely, under the heavy burden of trying to be obedient to each letter of the Law. For to shoulder something light is not a heroic feat, but to assume a heavy burden, such as the burden of the Law, seems to be trying to carry something that exceeds one’s strength, which is another way of being stupid.

That’s why Christians are to fix their eyes upon Jesus, the Pioneer, and the Perfecter of our faith.[8] Then accept His invitation to place His yoke on us and learn from Him, for He is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls.[9] Listen to what the Apostle Peter said to the Judaizing element present at the Jerusalem Council trying to incriminate Paul: “So now, why are you putting a heavy burden around the necks of the non-Jewish followers of Jesus? Are you trying to make God angry? We and our fathers were not able to carry that burden, so why should they?”[10] [11]

Clement of Alexandria (153-193 AD), in writing about the need for reprimand and rebuke believes that the original understanding did not imply physical punishment, but strips being applied to the soul as a way of correcting wrongdoings, preventing injury, and leading to the blossoming of self-control for those whose lifestyles were carried away with immoral living. He notes that even the Greek philosopher Plato ascribed to this concept.[12] So if rulers and leaders are no threat to doing good, why is God to be thought of as a threat to those who do not sin? What Paul is telling the Galatians is that if they do wrong, they must be aware of what will come as a result.

Clement believes that Paul is speaking of sin and waywardness the same way the Lord Jesus spoke about it with strong language and boldness. That’s why he did not hesitate to ask the Galatians, “Do you hate me now because I’m telling you the truth?”[13] Would someone tell a physician I’m angry with you because you told me I was sick? Just because they didn’t need the doctor when they were strong and well, doesn’t mean they don’t need the doctor now that they are sick. That’s why people who become spiritually and morally ill following their passions in excess need a savior. The healer who prescribes medicine that tastes good must sometimes administer medicine that tastes bad.

Clement then says that while the taste of fear may be a bitter pill to swallow, it may still end up helping us heal the sores of sins. Sometimes the more the fear of judgment may leave a sour taste in our mouths, the worse the taste my indicate a more pleasing degree of benefit and healing. There is nothing more true about this than our need for a Savior. Anyone who wandered in darkness knows the value of a light, a map, and a compass. Likewise, those who are thirsty need someone to lead them to the fountain of living water; sheep who have gone astray need a Good Shepherd to find them and bring them back to the fold, and children who are spiritually uneducated need a Divine Tutor. In the same way, humanity stands in need of a Redeemer who will deliver them from sin’s bondage and bring an end to their walk toward eternal condemnation.[14]

Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 AD) also experienced problems with those who went to great pains to corrupt the meaning of the divine Scriptures, and especially by following what the Apostle Paul does here in using an allegory concerning two women and two mountains to explain those under the Law and those free from the Law. They took this as a license to take any scripture, then use an allegory to remove the sense of the literal Scripture in their aspirations to speak “allegorically,” as if they were the Apostle. They failed to see the big difference that existed between their own position and that of the Apostle in this passage.

[1] Ibid. 8:6-13

[2] Ibid. 9:15-24

[3] Ibid. 12:24

[4] Ibid. 13:20-21

[5] Davis III, C.T., 2007, ‘Defining a Toxic Text’, in W. G. Rollins & D. A. Kille (eds.), Psychological Insight into the Bible. Texts and Readings, pp. 232–236, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids.

[6] Job 6:29

[7] Proverbs 4:25

[8] Hebrews 12:2

[9] Matthew 11:29

[10] Acts of the Apostles 15:10

[11] Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[12] Phaedrus by Plato: Trans. by Benjamin Howett, “I told you about the charioteer and his two stallions, the one a noble animal who is guided by word and admonition only, the other an ill-looking villain who will hardly yield to blow or spur. Together all three, who are a figure of the soul, approach the vision of love. And now, a fierce conflict begins. The ill-conditioned stallion rushes on to enjoy, but the charioteer, who beholds the beloved with awe, falls back in adoration, and forces both the stallions on their haunches; again, the evil stallion rushes forwards and pulls shamelessly. The conflict grows more and more severe; and at last, the charioteer, throwing himself backward, forces the bit out of the clenched teeth of the brute, and pulling harder than ever at the reins, covers beast’s tongue and jaws with blood, and forces him to rest his legs and haunches with pain upon the ground. When this has happened several times, the villain is tamed and humbled, and from that time forward, the soul of the lover follows the beloved in modesty and holy fear. And now their bliss is consummated; the same image of love dwells in the breast of either, and if they have self-control, they pass their lives in the greatest happiness which is attainable by man—they continue masters of themselves and conquer in one of the three heavenly victories.”

[13] Galatians 4:16

[14] Clement of Alexandria: The Instructor, Bk. 1, Ch. 9, p. 444

About drbob76

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