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 FIVE (Lesson LXIX)

Chrysostom points out that Paul tells the Galatians that he still has confidence in the Lord to bring them back to Him through reconciliation. He also goes on to say that Paul connects complaints with praises each time. Here it is as if he said, I know you are my disciples, I know you are ready to be set right. I have good hopes, partly because of the Lord who allows nothing, however trivial, to perish, and partly because of you who can recover yourselves very quickly. At the same time, says Chrysostom, Paul encourages them to be tireless on their part. They know from what Paul taught them that it is not possible to obtain assistance from God if they are lazy in their efforts and not contributing to getting back on track.[1] Augustine of Hippo agrees that from the way Paul is addressing this issue, “…it is quite clear that such persuaders have not yet gained control over the Galatians.” [2]  So this was not exactly a do or die proposition. Therefore, Paul not only concentrated on the Galatians but also on the perpetrators of this confusion.

Jerome tells us that some in his day were saying that Paul is implicating the Apostle Peter here, whom he says he “opposed to his face.” But he doesn’t feel that Paul would speak with such offensive hostility about the head of the church, nor did Peter deserve to be held to blame for disturbing the church. Perhaps he’s speaking of someone known by the other Apostles, or likely, someone from Judea, or one of the believing Pharisees in Jerusalem. At any rate, someone highly respected among the Galatians.[3] I agree with Jerome on one point, that is, that Paul did not have Peter in mind here as being the one who was throwing them into confusion. However, some of those involved might have been in attendance at Antioch when Peter and Paul clashed. Perhaps, and this is only a thought, they were trying to take revenge on Paul for what he did to Peter. But one thing is for sure; Paul seemed to know who some of these Judaizers were.

Ambrosiaster, a contemporary of both Chrysostom and Jerome, also comments on Paul’s hope that he can trust the Galatians in dealing with these matters. Says Ambrosiaster, in Paul’s mind, these believers would find their way back onto the correct path by avoiding any errors that were mean to lead them astray. That’s why he was going to such lengths to point out the right pathway to them, so it would be easier to find than if they had to do it on their own.  Ambrosiaster also points out that the reward for someone who manages to help a person fallen into error to recover is spelled out by the Apostle James in his epistle. He writes: “Anyone who redirects a sinner from going the wrong way will save that person from eternal death and the forgiveness of many sins.” He also adds that in the same manner, someone who forces a person who is walking in the right way to deviate from that path will guarantee damnation for themselves, whoever that may be.

Ambrosiaster further believes that Paul added this because of those who defended their merit on the grounds they were the descendants of Abraham. Jesus encountered this same attitude when He walked the earth.[4] [5] That’s why Paul goes on to say that he wishes these troublemakers a double dose of their effort to inflict pain on the non-Jewish converts through circumcision, by having to endure castration. Ambrosiaster feels Paul was using this term symbolically. He implied that they should remain cut off from associating and fellowshipping with the believers in Galatia and cut out of the family of God entirely.

Consequently, Paul issues another stern warning that the person causing all this discord is racing toward eternal punishment, and if the Galatians were not careful, they could suffer the same penalty. Believe it or not, some despicable people in this world will persuade an innocent person into committing a wrong that even they would not do, so that if the virtuous person is successful and doesn’t get caught, they can share in the bounty. Still, if the innocent party is detected, then the worthless person who talked them into it will simply point their finger and say, “They were stupid enough to do it, not me!”

In the Galatian situation, there’s evidence that Paul did not believe the Judaizers would succeed, and they did not; all efforts to mingle Judaism with Christianity were thwarted and checkmated by this very Epistle. The Judaizer (whether one or more) would end up bearing the judgment Paul wrote about a few paragraphs earlier, that of being “severed from Jesus the Anointed One” and “fallen from grace.” But there must have been a lot of moaning and groaning over the Galatians who fell with them.

Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was addressing the question of whether or not the evil contained in sinning should be the object of fear? He responded by saying that it would seem that the curse of sin can also be the object of fear. He notes that Augustine says that out of pure terror, a person fears separation from God. Now we know that nothing but sin can separate us from God, according to the prophet Isaiah.[6] Furthermore, hope is contrary to fear. But the goodness found virtues can be the object of faith, and even as the Greek philosopher Aristotle declares that a virtuous and good man wishes to live in contentment with himself, for he does so with pleasure since the memories of his past acts are delightful. His hopes for the future are good, and therefore pleasant.[7] So the Apostle Paul says here in verse ten that he is confident in the Lord that the Galatians will take no other view. As such, then fear can see the evil in sin.[8]

Also, by using the clause “whoever that may be,” Martin Luther notes that this seems to indicate that the false apostles in outward appearance at least appeared to be outstanding and devout men. It may be that among them was some outstanding disciple of Paul, a man himself of fame and authority. The Apostle must have felt to be a target of disdain in this situation; otherwise, his fierceness would have been unnecessary. No doubt, many of the Galatians were taken back with the intensity of the Apostle’s words. They perhaps thought: why should he be so upset by such a small matter? Why is he so quick to pronounce damnation upon his brethren in the ministry?[9] Of course, the answer may be that Paul knew their lives and salvation were at risk, not his, and he was determined to do everything he could to prevent them from being misled into judgment.

Mark D. Nanos sees an underlying message for the Galatians here in verse ten. The news that the Apostle received about the situation in Galatia struck him as already underway. The Gentiles felt strongly influenced to comply and conform to the Judiazers’ form of the Mosaic gospel and begin the rite of passage into the family of Abraham by submitting to Jewish ceremonial laws, including circumcision. So, Paul wanted to express confidence in the Galatians that they would not give in easily. Stay steadfast in their faith will eliminate a lot of confusion. But even more significant, they will be spared the penalty of all those who fail to keep the Law completely. How sad that Jesus the Anointed One took that penalty upon Himself for their benefit, but they are on the verge of throwing it all away.[10]

Paul’s experience should help us all learn how to keep from making errors in judgment when it comes to distinguishing between discipleship and doctrine. Since so many ways and customs and cultures exist where the Gospel takes root, we must all be open-minded when it comes to how fellow believers in those areas practice discipleship. I experienced this myself when I went to North India, I immediately saw that the men wore long skirts and the women wore pants. It was their culture. To them, it equated modesty.

In some parts of India, they have baptismal services in the morning so that believers walk into the water with the sun behind their backs, and when they come up out of the water, they face the sun to signify a new day in their lives. Yet they do not fault other believers who baptize in church baptismal pools or at a later hour in the day. However, when it comes to doctrine, it must be the same everywhere. It must remain unaltered due to customs or cultural norms. That seems to be at the heart of Paul’s admonition to the Galatian believers.

5:11-12a My brothers and sisters, I don’t teach that a man must be circumcised. If I do promote circumcision, then why am I still being persecuted? If I always taught circumcision, then my message about the cross would not be a problem for you? I wish these people who are bothering you would add castration to their circumcision.

 Paul now addresses the note of caution that the Judaizers were sending to him through the Galatians, that if he would only be more cautious in his denouncing of circumcision, they would find less reason to oppose him. As Paul mentioned to the Corinthians, it seems that no matter what he says, it always gets him in trouble.[11] Despite all Paul’s been through and all that he suffered on behalf of the Gospel, he still was pushed into saying things he thought were unnecessary. In other words, why did he continuously remind his opponents of his dedication to the cause of the Gospel so that they might agree he had the right to say what he said.[12]

Paul knew he was in good company with those who suffered for dispensing the Word of God in the past. Didn’t Isaiah once say to his opponents that the Lord All-Powerful is the One they should fear? He is the One they should respect, the One who should frighten them. If everyone reverences Him, God is a safe place for them to find comfort. But they didn’t recognize Him, so He became like a stone that they stumbled over. The Messiah is a Rock that caused both Judah and Israel to fall because they wouldn’t listen. He became a snare that caught all the people trying to bypass Him with their self-righteous search for salvation under the Law.[13]

Paul had to warn the Roman believers not to fall into the same pit. The reason that all of Israel met such a terrible end is that they failed by trying to make themselves right with God by the things they did. They did not trust in God to make them right. They fell over the stone that makes such people fall. The Scriptures talk about that stone which the Romans should know is none other than Jesus, the Anointed Son of God.[14] Paul also reminded the Corinthians that the teaching about the cross seems foolish to those who are lost. But to those saved by His grace, it is the power of God.[15]

[1] Chrysostom: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] Augustine of Hippo: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[3] Edwards, M. J. On Galatians, op. cit., p. 78

[4] See John 8:33

[5] Ambrosiaster: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 28

[6] Isaiah 59:2

[7] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Bk. 9 (4)

[8] Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, op cit., Vol. 2 – The First Part of the Second Part, Part (2a), Question (11), Article (3), Objection (2), p. 468

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

[10] Nanos, Mark D., On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 194-195

[11] 1 Corinthians 15:30

[12] 2 Corinthians 11:23-26

[13] Isaiah 8:13-14

[14] Romans 9:32

[15] 1 Corinthians 1:18

About drbob76

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