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 LXXV)

5:14a In fact, God’s will for your life is summed up in this one statement: “Lovingly care for those around you the same way you care for yourself.”

 Just as Jesus summed up all the commandments into one,[1] here, Paul sums them up in verse fourteen into one.[2] Paul bases his statement on Jesus’ own words of saying that “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [3] But as Paul told Timothy, the goal of this command is to be fulfilled by a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.[4] This reduction of the list of laws into a smaller number was no surprise to someone like Paul. After all, when Moses wrote down the ten commandments that God gave him on the mountain, it tells us that all he wrote in Hebrew was `eser dabar when translated means “ten words.” [5]

In a universally accepted paraphrase of the Pentateuch, we read: “And the Lord said to Moses write these words, for through the expression of these words I have etched my covenant with you and with the people of Israel. And Moses was there before the Lord forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread, nor did he drink water, and he wrote upon the tables the same ten words of the covenant written on the previous tablets [that he broke].” [6]

An interesting question was asked of Rabbi Akiba, “Why were the Ten Commandments not listed at the beginning of the Torah?” The Rabbis told a parable, said Rabbi Akiba, about a king who entered a province and said to the people, “May I be your king?” But the people said to him, “Have you done anything good to us that you should rule over us?” What did he do then? He built the city wall for them, he brought in the water supply for them, and he fought their battles. Then when he said to them, “May I be your king?” they said, “Yes!” Likewise, God. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt, divided the sea for them, sent down the manna for them, brought up the water for them, sent in the quails for them, fought for them the battle with Amalek. Then He said to them, “Am I to be your king?” and they said to Him, “Yes! Yes!” [7]

These words, “You should love your neighbor as yourself” taken from Leviticus 19:18 and which Rabbi Akiba, who was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, says that this is “the grand general rule in the Law;” or “the grand encompassing of the Law.” The object of love – our neighbor, signifies not only, as the Jews explain it, those of their nation, or new converts to their religion; but all sorts of people, whether in a social, civil, or spiritual relationship.[8]

Cyprian (200-258 AD), the Bishop of Carthage, wrote on the subject of how Love and brotherly love are to be religiously and steadfastly practiced by all believers. In recalling what the Apostle Paul said about love never failing,[9] ties it to what Paul says here in verse twenty-four. In other words, Paul is saying that it does absolutely no good to do such good deeds when we do them without Love. In that case, it also applies to how we love our neighbor as ourselves. Because things not done in Love, rather than bringing harmony and peace, it leads to backbiting and accusations that end up ruining everyone involved.[10]

Kenneth Wuest has some enlightening things to say here about the basis of freedom into which believers were called. Paul’s statement becomes intelligible and consistent when we recognize the following points; first, that believers, through their new relation to the Lord Jesus, are released from the whole Law and from the obligation to obey its statutes. Second, that all which God’s law as an expression of His will requires, is included in love. And third, when believers act on the principle of love, they are fulfilling in their actions toward God, their neighbor, and themselves. That’s all the Mosaic Law requires of them in their position in life was that Law to be enforced.

The believer will normally obey the statutes of the Law so far as love itself requires such a course of action for them, and in no case will they follow them as compulsory decrees. The individual is thereby released from one Law consisting of a set of ethical principles. To these principles was the attached blessing for obedience and punishment in the case of disobedience. Such a law that gave them neither the desire nor the power to obey its commands, and is brought under another law, the law of love. This law is not a set of written commandments but an ethical and spiritual dynamic, produced in the heart of the yielded believer by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit then gives them both the desire and the power to live a life in which the dominating principle is love. Not just any love, but God’s love, which exercises a stronger and stricter control over the heart and is far more efficient at putting out sin in the life than the legalizers think the thunders of Sinai ever were.[11]

Christian Jewish writer Ariel ben Lyman HaNaviy takes note of what Paul says here in verse fourteen about reducing the whole Law into one sentence – “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If Paul thought that the Torah was done away with in Yeshua, as the prevailing Christian interpretation would have us to believe, says Lyman, then how in the world is it also fulfilled (summarized) in a single command to love our neighbor as ourselves? First, in stating that we can fulfill the entire Torah by a single command, Paul follows in a tradition not uncommon among Jews of his day, a culture Yeshua Himself seems to have also observed. Recall that when questioned about the greatest commandment, Yeshua stated that to love God was the greatest and that a second is just like it: love your neighbor as you love yourself. He went on to explain that on these two hang the entire Law and the Prophets – namely the fulfillment/summary.[12]

Mark D. Nanos doesn’t want the reader to miss a somewhat hidden point in what Paul is saying here about loving their neighbor. For Paul, this was a traditional declaration that lay at the center of a Jew’s life in being obedient to the Torah. Even though the Gentiles were not under the Law, they were still being called upon to follow this commandment. But here is the irony, the moral authority of the Judaizers broke down over the fact they were not seeking the welfare of the Galatians, but only themselves. Paul is doubtful that these Judaizers were keeping all the ceremonial laws. So instead of just telling the Galatians what they ought to do, he instructs them to exemplify it with their behavior.[13] Unfortunately, this attitude is still prevalent among some Christian leaders to this day. As the old saying goes, “Practice what you preach!”

Another Christian Jewish Bible scholar, David Stern,[14] and Messianic Jewish writer Tim Hegg[15] say that Paul is not negating the Torah, or reducing it to just one command, as though the other claims of the Torah are now no longer applicable. Anyone aware of the prevailing tendencies of Rabbis to summarize the Torah would acknowledge Paul’s point. For instance, consider the well-known passage from the Talmud, which speaks of summing the Torah commandments:

Moses gave the children of Israel in the Torah six hundred and thirteen commandments. During King David’s reign, he decreased the number to eleven.[16] Micah came and reduced them to three [principles], as written in Micah, “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: [1] only to do justly, and [2] to love mercy and [3] to walk humbly before thy God. ‘To do justly,’ that is, maintaining justice, and to love mercy,” that is, rendering every kind service of your office, “and walking humbly before your God,” that is, walking in funeral and bridal processions. And do not these facts warrant the conclusion that if in matters that are not generally performed in private the Torah enjoins “walking humbly,” is it not even much more needed in matters that usually call for modesty? Again, came Isaiah and reduced them to two principles, as it is said, “That’s why the Lord said, [1] Keep ye justice and [2] do righteousness [etc.].” Amos came and reduced them to one principle, as it is said, “For thus saith, the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye Me and live.” To this Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac questioned, asking: [Might it not be taken as] Seek Me by observing the whole Torah and live? – But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one [principle], as it is said, But the righteous shall live by faith.[17]

It is apparent that the Talmud did not record that the Messiah came and also agreed that the fulfillment of the Law could be accomplished in one commandment. When asked what were the greatest commandments, Jesus replied to the inquirers: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” [18] This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.[19] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [20] So, here it appears that the Apostle Paul uses the first and greatest commandment that the Master gave – love.

In the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, we find the quotes from Jesus about the two great commandments. But it is buried in Part Three, Section Two, Chapter Two. This is not a criticism of the Catholic Church. In the Catechism of the Episcopal Church, it is found in Part IV, The Ten Commandments, Number 260. But look at the teachings of any Church or denomination and see if loving God and loving one’s neighbor is even included.

[1] Matthew 7:12; See 22:39-40

[2] Also see Romans 13:8

[3] Mark 12:31, 33; see Leviticus 19:34; Luke 10:27-37

[4] 1 Timothy 1:5-7

[5] Exodus 34:28

[6] Targum on the Pentateuch: Onkelos and Jonathan, op. cit., Exodus 34:28

[7] Mekhilta De-Rabbi Ishmael by Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Vol. I, Ch. 5, (Exodus 20:2), Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1933, pp. 313-314

[8] See Rabbi Rashi Commentary on The Complete Jewish Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

[10] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5., op. cit., The Treatises of Cyprian: Treatise 12, Third Book, Testimonies, p. 1092

[11] Wuest, Kenneth: Word Studies, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Matthew 22:36-40

[13] Mark D. Nanos: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 228

[14] Stern, David H.. On Galatians, op. cit., Kindle Locations (16112-16120)

[15] Tim Hegg: Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Torah Resource, Tacoma, WA, 2002, pp. 193, (Updated 2010), pp. 233-234

[16] Psalm 15

[17] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Makkoth, folio 24a

[18] Deuteronomy 6:5

[19] Leviticus 19:18

[20] Matthew 22:37-40

About drbob76

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