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 LXXXV)

What Paul wanted the Galatians to know was that unconfessed and unrepented adultery was one of the reasons why a person is not welcome into the Kingdom of God.[1] But as far as the commission of an adulteress affair is concerned, the persons are confronted and must ask forgiveness with the resolve to never do it again. Then, there is no reason to bar them from the kingdom of heaven. Jesus proved this when the city’s elders brought a woman who was “caught” in the act of adultery to Him. Our Lord knew that the Jewish law did not require any evidence or witnesses, only the accusation. So, Jesus turned the charges against her accusers by telling them that if she did deserve punishment, let those among them who never sinned throw the first stone. When they all walked away, Jesus then said to her that He felt no reason to condemn her if she would go back to her husband and never commit this sin again.[2]

The next sinful tendency to perform illegal sexual acts comes after fornication (KJV). The Hebrew term is zanah, and the Rabbis often defined it as having sexual relations outside marriage. But from the earliest times, it was seen as the trade of prostitutes.[3] It also was used as an act of worship with gods other than Elohim – Yahweh.[4] But it also was defined as having sexual relations outside of one’s religion.[5] In many places in the KJV, the terms “whore” or “whoring” define fornication.

The Greek noun is porneia, (from which we get our English word “pornography”) and refers to illicit sexual relations. Jesus made a statement we must read carefully to comprehend. He said: “Any man who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of fornication, makes her an adulteress. Any man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Paul uses the Greek porneia here. Porneia includes homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, and bestiality (intercourse with animals). Therefore, we can see why the KJV translators employed the term “whoring.” Paul wrote the Colossians and referred to it as “sexual immorality.” [6] And in his letter to Timothy, Paul mentioned that it included homosexual sexual sins.[7] He also included those who have immoral relations with their father’s other wife (not their mother).[8] For Paul, the best way to stop fornication was to get married.[9]

Then we come to uncleanliness (KJV). Writers in the First Covenant generally used this word for physical uncleanliness, such as touching a carcass, not washing one’s hands, a woman’s menstrual period, etc. But Paul meant it here as moral uncleanliness. The Hebrew noun tum’ ah is the one used for this type of uncleanliness. We find it expressed that way in the act of the high priest applying the blood behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies. It reads: “The high priest makes atonement for the Holy Place because of the uncleanliness of the people of Israel and because of their multiple transgressions. And this he does for the tabernacle which is there with them right in the middle of their uncleanliness.” [10]

The Greek noun that Paul uses is akatharsia, and it means uncleanliness in the moral sense such as lustful desires, impure motives, luxurious living, and extravagant lifestyle. Jesus put His finger right on the problem when He described the scribes and Pharisees as whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.[11] So when Paul wrote the Romans, he spoke about uncleanliness that was the result of whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.[12]

And then Paul lists lasciviousness (KJV) – meaning “lustfulness.” In the First Covenant, we find the Hebrew verb pachaz (“light” KJV), which means to be malicious, reckless, indecency. It is used only two times in the First Covenant. We find this illustrated when Abimelech who wanted to succeed Solomon as king, went and hired “reckless scoundrels” (NIV); “reckless troublemakers” (New Living Translation); “good-for-nothing thugs” (Complete Jewish Bible).[13] It is also employed when God’s pronounced doom upon Jerusalem for their rebellion against Him. There they are called “treacherous people” (NIV); “opportunists” (NLT); “reckless, treacherous men” (CJB). In other words, they have no morals, especially when participating in sexual orgies.

The Greek noun is aselgeia, meaning filthy,[14] lasciviousness,[15] and wantonness,[16] As Jesus taught His disciples, He pointed out that it is not what contaminates us on the outside that defiles a person. It is what comes in from the outside that causes pollution. Among other things, Jesus mentions doing morally wrong things (indecency).[17] Paul puts it another way when he wrote the Romans and told them that they should not be involved in sexual sin or any kind of immoral behavior.[18] So we can see that the first four of these sinful efforts of humanity’s sinful tendencies being in control of their hearts and minds deal exclusively with immoral living.

Now Paul calls out idol worship as one of the sinful efforts accompanying total lack of self-control over one’s sinful tendencies. The Hebrew term for idolatry is tĕraphiym and simply means the worship of idols in the home of a shrine erected for such false gods.[19] But when a person puts their trust in earthly goods more than God,[20] that can become a form of idol worship. But there is a Hebrew noun ta’avah that seems to fit this idea very well. It means to desire, wish for, be the longing of one’s heart, things, and objects desired. Eve fell into the form of idolization when she visited the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, and it led to her and Adam’s downfall.[21] And David talked about those who brag about their evil desires and praise the greedy and curse the Lord.[22]

We find a curious example of such idolization when the prophet Amos tells us about the worshipers of the god Baal[23] and the goddess Astarte.[24] The people sinned again and again by selling honorable people as servants for silver, and needy people for a pair of sandals. They trample helpless people in the dust and shove the oppressed out of the way. Both father and son sleep with the same woman, corrupting God’s holy name. At their religious festivals, they lounge in clothing their debtors put up as security. In the house of their gods, they drink wine bought with unjust fines.[25]

The Greek noun eidōlolatria that Paul uses seems very clear on the surface for us as the root word for our English word “idolatry.” In the spiritual sense, it means worshiping and making sacrifices to idols and false gods. However, moral factors related to the vices that arise from making anyone or anything an icon of adoration are present. In so doing, they use them to replace their unswerving devotion to God.

When Paul wrote the Colossians, he states that they should put everything evil out of their lives: sexual sin, doing anything immoral, letting sinful thoughts control them, and desire all the wrong things. And by wanting more and more for themselves, it is the same as worshiping a false god.[26] One of these, says Thayer in his Greek Lexicon, is greed and the love of fortune. When we look at those sinful efforts, Paul mentions up until now, while it does not eliminate idol worship, neither does it rule out the admiration of fame and fortune.

Paul did not mince words when he warned the Corinthians that when you see people reducing God to something they can use or control, get out of their company as fast as you can.[27] Even the Apostle Peter reminded his readers that they, too, were once such idolaters when they wasted too much time doing what those who don’t know God liked to do. They were living immoral lives, doing the evil things they wanted to do. They were always getting drunk, having wild drinking parties, and doing the same shameful acts they saw their idols do.[28]

That brings us to the next sinful effort, which is witchcraft (KJV). This term is found only twice in the KJV version of the First Covenant, as a translation of two different Hebrew nouns. The first occurrence is qecem means to practice prediction, which we would refer to today as fortune-telling, using a crystal ball or tarot cards to forecast future events. That’s what Balak’s messengers, who were elders of Moab and Midian, set out with money to pay Balaam to place a curse upon Israel.[29] Their fortune-tellers were not adequate for the job, so they went to one of Israel’s prophets. But this was forbidden by the Levitical laws. The prophet Samuel defined this type of witchcraft as a form of rebellion [30], yet they ended up doing it anyway.[31] Even the prophet Jeremiah ran into this type of occultism,[32] as did the prophet Ezekiel to an even higher degree.[33]

The second Hebrew occurrence is the Hebrew verb kashaph, which means to practice sorcery in the form of magic, such as that practiced by magicians and witches. Moses ran into such magicians down in Egypt.[34] As a consequence, Moses forbid its practice in Israel.[35] Yet it too was practiced by the Israelites.[36] And Daniel was confronted by both types of witchcraft in Babylon.[37] And in the end, says the prophet Malachi, such workers of witchcraft will stand before the LORD of hosts on judgment day.[38]

[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9

[2] John 8:11

[3] Genesis 34:51; 38:15, 24

[4] Exodus 34:15, 16

[5] Numbers 25:1

[6] Colossians 3:5

[7] 1 Timothy 1:10 – NIV

[8] 1 Corinthians 5:1

[9] Ibid. 7:2

[10] Leviticus 16:16, 19

[11] Matthew 23:27

[12] Romans 1:24

[13] Judges 9:4

[14] 2 Peter 2:7

[15] Mark 7:22; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:19; 1 Peter 4:3

[16] Romans 13:13; 2 Peter 2:28

[17] Mark 7:20-23

[18] Romans 13:13

[19] See Genesis 31:19

[20] Proverbs 11:28

[21] Genesis 3:6

[22] Psalm 10:3

[23] Baal, a god, worshipped in many ancient Middle Eastern communities, especially among the Canaanites, who apparently considered him a fertility deity and one of the most important gods in the pantheon. As a Semitic common noun, Baal (Hebrew Ba’al) meant “owner” or “lord.”

[24] Astarte was connected with the fertility of crops and cattle, sexuality, and war. Her symbols were the lion, the horse, the sphinx, the dove, and a star within a circle indicating the planet Venus.

[25] Amos 2:6-8

[26] Colossians 3:5

[27] 1 Corinthians 10:14

[28] 1 Peter 4:3

[29] Numbers 22:7

[30] 1 Samuel 15:23

[31] 2 Kings 17:17

[32] Jeremiah 14:14

[33] Ezekiel 13:6, 23; 21:18, 21, 22

[34] Exodus 7:11; 22:18

[35] Deuteronomy 18:10

[36] 2 Chronicles 33:6

[37] Daniel 2:2

[38] Malachi 3:5

About drbob76

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