NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson LI)
The woman’s accusers were stunned. The Law never raised such a question. But the Anointed One brings in power and comprehensiveness and searching of character which was never shone before, which can now be seen only in and through Him. The Law simply said, punish adulteresses with stoning. But it never said, “He that is without sin should throw the first stone.” The Law knew there were no sinless people? He alone who came not to condemn was without sin. The Law might denounce, but with this fact, there were none to execute the sentence. So they retired in hopeless confusion, and the woman was left in the presence of the Son, who shines as the Word of God, as light upon the soul. Jesus did not excuse her sin, but by grace forgave her sin and told her to go and never do it again. We can only imagine the freedom she felt in her heart and soul.
James Nisbet (1823-1874), in his commentary, quotes Anglican priest James Vaughan, the Dean of the diocese of Achonry in Ireland (1662-1683), who observed what Paul says here about the freedom by which believers are set free and what this situation was in England at that time. Everyone has things in their past, says Vaughan, that they drag around like chains. There are things in a person’s life which they can scarcely dare look back on, and when they do, they see what they are chained to. They feel that so long as those things stay there, it is of little or no use to try and live a better life. They see nothing in their future that can break those chains.
However, says Vaughan, just to remove those chains, they must go to the Cross of the Anointed One and have Him cancel all the guilt because He paid the penalty in full. The moment a person believes and accepts their pardon, the chains are cut off from all their sinful past! It is placed out of God’s sight. It is cast into the depths of the sea. It is as though they never existed. They can start life afresh and anew. No shadow, no fear, need come up from the years gone by. They stand a liberated person! Now they can go as a freed slave by the Anointed One. The God of their terror is now the God of their love! And that’s because they’ve been liberated from the past by His purchase of the freedom on the cross.
Well-known English writer, translator, and theologian, J. B. Lightfoot (1828-1889) makes the point that Paul assumes a very severe tone in condemning the Galatians for returning to the Law. Not only because it was a useless imposition or even a very heavy burden, but it was a harmful and fatal mistake. But there was another side to Paul’s tough talk. He was not speaking on behalf of a Church or Council, but he was called of God and commissioned by Jesus the Anointed One to take the Gospel to these people, and he was willing to suffer for the Gospel’s sake. So, the Galatians needed to know that the Good News was not cheap, it was bought with the blood of the Son of God and brought to them with great strain and inconvenience. For that reason, don’t throw away such a precious gift.
In one of his sermons, the great evangelist D. L. Moody (1837-1899) told a story from his era that illustrates this confusion over freedom, when he quoted a former slave from the South right after the Civil War. She confessed to being very confused over her change in status. “Am I free, or am I not?” she asked. “When I go to my old slave master, he says I’m not really free, but when I ask my fellow slaves, they say I am, so am I free or not? My people tell me that Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation to free me, but my old slave master says Lincoln didn’t have the right to sign such a thing, so am I free or not?” Paul is trying to tell the Galatian believers they are indeed free; Jesus, our Anointed One, signed their Emancipation Proclamation with His own blood. So, don’t listen to these Judaizers; they are only working for your old slave master under Mosaic Law, who doesn’t want you to be free.
Frederic Rendall (1840-1906) looks back at verse thirty-one in the previous chapter and notes that when properly translated, it reads: “Wherefore, brethren, we are not children of a handmaid, but the Anointed One set us free with the freedom of the freewoman.” He believes that Paul made this threefold alliteration to emphasize the importance of this Christian birthright that supports his statement in the first verse of the fifth chapter that we were born to live in freedom. Paul did this to show the stark difference between the liberty granted to Christians in contrast to the bondage which the Jews inherited. So it should be easy to see how the freedom of being born again to serve God freely out of love cannot be matched by the slavery of sin in which hold every sinner hostage until they are freed by the Anointed One.
Ernest DeWitt Burton (1856-1925), proposes that this first sentence of chapter five is “the epitome of the argument of the whole letter.” Thus, Paul cautioned the converted Jews in Galatia not to become encumbered again in the dictates of the Law with its rites and rituals designed to earn salvation. But unfortunately, we find a parallel among some Christians today. It is a shame that so many having been set free by our Anointed One voluntarily re-chain themselves to the post of religious habits! Our Anointed One broke the shackles, and yet many put them right back on, out of tradition. This then leads to the resurrection of the desires of the flesh, as well as the habits of the sinful nature and its corrupt mind. This is voluntary slavery, so when the Anointed One beckons for us to follow Him in order to do His will, we cannot. Oh, that believers once set free and allowed themselves to go back into slavery will offer themselves as unchained servants of the God Most High.
Not only did the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt set the Jews free from slavery under Pharaoh, but Paul reminds the believers in Galatia that the blood of the Passover Lamb on Calvary set them free from slavery under Mosaic Law. That way, their salvation will no longer be based on faith in their own efforts but based on their faith in the works of our Anointed One. As Jews, they were not born free down in Egypt but needed to be set free by the miraculous power of God through Moses. Likewise, as believers, they were not born free under Mosaic Law but needed to be set free by the miraculous power of God through the Messiah.
In both cases, they did not earn their freedom by merit, righteous living, or bargaining; it came as a result of an innocent lamb being slain. But the first lamb involved the offspring of an animal, while the second Lamb is the Son of the Living God. In the first sacrifice, whose calculated value came in the form of silver shekels, but in the second sacrifice, the value of the Lamb is priceless. After freedom through the first lamb in Egypt became the sacrifice, many more lambs died in a reenactment of that first sacrifice. However, after freedom through the Lamb of God became a reality, no more lambs are needed to be sacrificed because this Lamb said, “It is finished!”
Could anyone give the Jewish people any credit for coherent reasoning were they to decide to go back into Egyptian slavery and bondage? No! They’d be the laughingstock of the world. So why should the Galatian believers even consider returning to slavery and bondage under ceremonial law? That’s why Paul almost screams at them, “Make sure you stay free and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the old Mosaic Law!” Paul uses two words in this challenge that help us understand the impact of his demand. The first is the Greek verb stēkō, which means to “stand firm, to be persistent, to persevere; don’t give in easily to words that criticize with the intent of lowering one’s resistance, or words of enticement with the intent on lowering one’s standards.” In other words, don’t let them intimidate you.
The second is the Greek noun zygos that refers to a yoke used to bind two animals together so that they are forced to go in the same direction. Paul uses these words to tell the Galatian believers to resist with all their might any effort to break their commitment to staying in the freedom given to them by our Anointed One. Don’t let these Judaizers yoke you together again with ceremonial laws and make slaves out of you. You are free, put on the shoulder yoke of the Anointed One so you can carry the Living Water. Perhaps Paul remembered his discussion before the Council in Jerusalem when he asked them, “So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear?”
In speaking about free will, Paul touches on a subject that’s all the rage in our world today. People all around us seem to be in a race to obtain independence, but what kind of independence? When you listen to them, you get the distinct impression that what they want is the freedom to do whatever pleases them without censure or wise counsel and to satisfy any desire they have no matter what the outcome. They don’t realize that this is not being liberated to live above dependency and debauchery, but the freedom to surrender to it. How can you consider yourself free when you’ve chained yourself to powers you can’t overcome? This is not freedom; this is forfeiture.
J. L. Nye (1881-1965) tells us about the great English writer John Milton (1608-1674), who was the chief of poets and held the post of Latin Secretary under Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector of the Commonwealth. After the English Civil War (1642-1646) and peace was restored, he was dismissed from his office by King Charles II for his political views on freedom. By that time, he was blind and fell into poverty. King Charles, nevertheless, fined and ordered his writings on liberty to be burned in public. This great poet then withdrew from public life and retired to the countryside. Not being discouraged by all the fierce and multiplied trials he was forced to go through, he ended up writing his now masterpiece, “Paradise Lost.”
King Charles then had a change of heart and offered Milton the opportunity to resume his former post with all its honors, compensation, and court favors. But Milton knew that the price of accepting this honor would require that he remain silent on the great question of human liberty. So, without hesitation, he decided to graciously refuse the offer despite it being a strong temptation and excellent bribe. For him to remain silent on liberty, he was guaranteed honor, an abundant compensation, and a high position instead of remaining in poverty, persecution, and neglect.
But this venerated poet loved truth too much. His soul was too noble, too sincere, too firm in its allegiance to God and liberty that he was not willing to exchange it for membership in King Charles’s court of tyranny and the promise of gold that could be rightly called fool’s gold. So, he turned down the royal offer and clung to his principles and his poverty up until his death. That’s when his freed soul was called to enter his welcoming place of rest to await the resurrection.
 William Kelly: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 119-120
 James Nisbet: Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
 J. B. Lightfoot: On Galatians, p. 284
 Frederic Rendall: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 183
 Ernest DeWitt Burton: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 270
 Acts of the Apostles 15:10
 J. L. Nye: Anecdotes, p.117