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 LXXXVI)

With this in the background, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians in Greek. So, the Greek noun he chose for witchcraft was pharmakeia (from which we get our English word “pharmacy”), which means the administering of drugs in poisoning, magic tricks, deception, seductions, and often a part of idol worship.

The Apostle John mentions this in his revelation, where he reports that when the sixth angel blew his trumpet, it was a signal to let loose four private armies camped along the great Euphrates River. They were kept there for this very mission, to go out and destroy one-third of the earth’s population with troops and artillery that fired shells filled with fire, smoke, and sulfur. They had two-hundred million rounds.

But that’s not all, the people who did not die in this bombardment still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood – idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts.[1] And again, when talking about the fall of Babylon in the end times, another angel coming down from heaven, illuminated by his splendor and a mighty voice,[2] announcing that a lamp would never shine light in Babylon again. The spoken vows of a groom and bride you will never hear. The world considered your merchants as the greatest. You tricked many nations with your fraudulent salesmanship. You also put to death many of God’s prophets, and God’s holy people were among those slaughtered here on earth.[3]

The Apostle Philip also ran into this type of witchcraft when he went through the province of Samaria, north of Judea, and encountered someone named Simon the Sorcerer.[4] Then the Apostle Paul and Silas went to the city of Philippi in Macedonia, and as they made their way down by the river to find a secluded place to pray. There they met Lydia, who already believed in the true God. When Paul and Silas went back again to this place of prayer, this time, they encountered a servant girl. She possessed a spirit of clairvoyance, giving her the power to tell what would happen in the future.[5] By so doing, she earned a lot of money for the men who owned her.[6] So not only was this a form of witchcraft, but it became a business in many places.

To this, Paul adds another sinful effort of careless sinful tendencies called hatred (KJV). In Hebrew, we have the noun ‘eybah, meaning “hatred” or “a hostile mind.” God foretold this when He said to the serpent that He would put animosity between him and the woman, and between his descendant and her descendant; He will bruise the serpent’s head, and the snake will bruise His heel.[7] Paul found this same hatred or animosity existing between people who are always fighting each other.[8] That not only included neighbors, but also nations.[9] We also learn that God announced such hostility against Mt. Seir, a mountainous region stretching between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba, demarcating the southeastern border of Israel and Jordan, because of their perpetual hatred of God’s people.[10]

The Greek noun echthra that Paul uses means “hostility.” We find that such hostility existed between Pilate and Herod before they became friends.[11] But Paul is more interested in those who are hostile to God.[12] Writing to the Ephesians, Paul mentions that Jesus the Anointed abolished all such hostility between humankind and God through His sacrifice for sin on their behalf. That’s why he could take the Jews and Gentiles and combine them into a new person so that they all acquired peace with God.[13] Even the Apostle James rebuked such hostility that occurs when believers return to their old way of sinful living to become friends with the world.[14]

Next, Paul lists the sinful effort due to the lack of self-discipline as a variance (KJV). In Hebrew, we find a word that embodies such discrepancies. In Hebrew, they call such individuals nabiy’ (“prophets”) combined with sheqer (“false”), which refers to false or heathen prophets. We see this illustrated in a story about King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Ahab of Israel. They assembled four-hundred prophets to tell them whether or not they should go to war against the king of Aram to recapture the town of Ramoth in Gilead. But King Jehoshaphat was not convinced. He said there was one prophet, one he despised, but one who was reliable for telling the truth. That was Micaiah, son of Imlah.[15]

The Greek noun he uses is eris, which means: contention, strife, wrangling. When Paul wrote the Romans, he also used this term that was understood by them as endless, worthless debates.[16] He told them to put such strife aside and live as honest, law-abiding believers.[17] But it wasn’t only in Rome; it was rampant in Corinth as well.[18] Some preached the Gospel to cause envy and strife, while others used it to promote goodwill.[19] So Paul did not waste time with his two prodigies, Timothy and Titus, about those who teach against what Paul told them about the Gospel, it will do nothing but cause jealousy, quarrels, insults, and mistrust.[20] They should avoid getting involved with such worthless and futile controversies.[21] Paul included this to help the Galatians see that the Judaizers were part of this group.

Now Paul points to another sinful effort of too much freedom is given to a person’s corrupt tendencies, which are called emulations (KJV). It means to be zealous for some cause or in satisfying some want. In Hebrew, it is the verb qana’ used in plural form means one who is zealous on behalf of God. But there were also Zealots working for political gains and initiating civil wars against the Romans. So to harmonize with Paul’s meaning here in Galatians, the term zealots must always be spelled with a lower case “z.” However, if they work for a political group, it is spelled with an upper case “Z.” Paul was not talking about Zealous defenders of the Law and of the social life of the Jewish people belonging to a party opposing with relentless rigor any attempt to bring Judea under the dominion of idolatrous Rome, and especially of the aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada.

When a person is committed and convinced to do something they want to do because they have the right to do so, even if God forbid it as self-destructive, that is, “out of control zeal.” Look what it did to King Saul.[22] We see it in the attitude of Jehu, who was on his way to Samaria to complete his genocide of the house of Ahab when he met Jehonadab, a supporter of Jehu. Then Jehu reached out and pulled Jehonadab up into the chariot. Jehu said, “Come with me. You can see how strong my zeal is for the Lord.” [23] Such is the case of one person wanting to be idolized by others who see how devoted they are to God. So, we can see how this fits with the previous sinful actions of uncontrolled emotions and feelings.

The Greek noun that Paul uses is zēlos which means having an excited mind, a fiery of spirit, an unceasing zeal. From this, we get our English word “zeal.” The Apostle Paul exemplified this more than any other Apostle. Before his conversion, he was a fanatic with fierce anger at those who preached Yeshua of Nazareth as the Anointed. His zeal for his Jewish religion became punitive. Then once he converted to Christianity, he became zealous for the Gospel and the Cross. But most Bible scholars agree with Thayer in his Greek Lexicon, who believes that what Paul meant here were those who were envious and contentions in their rivalry and jealousy of others. The previous four sinful actions we looked at illustrate this best. We might label such people as “fans,” which is short for “fanatics.”

Then comes the sinful effort of “wrath.” We examined a similar term “hatred” earlier, which was more like hostility. There are many Hebrew words translated as “wrath” in English. I chose the one that came closest to the spirit of wrath, about which Paul is writing. It is the Hebrew noun chemah, which means to become enraged, burning with anger, become furious. God warned about this type of displeasure among the Israelites concerning their refusal to listen to Him. If they continued to turn against Him, then He would show His wrath by punishing them seven times for their sins.[24] Many Bible scholars believe that the fulfillment of this prophecy came during the siege of Jerusalem by Roman General Titus in 70 AD.

The Greek noun that Paul employs here is thymos (“wrath” KJV, which reminds us of the English prefix, “thermo,” which relates to heat). Here, we see the emotions of passion, anger, fierceness, and resentment exhibited. Thayer places thymos in the category of “anger boiling up to a peak and then subsiding.” The reaction in the synagogue in Nazareth when they invited Jesus to read a scripture and make comments illustrates this. But when he read from Isaiah what was prophesied for the coming Messiah and then said, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture comes true.” [25] Luke tells us that all the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, pushed Him to the brow of a hill on which they built the village, and ordered that He be over the cliff.[26]

The Apostle Paul was involved in a similar incident in Ephesus, where he caused the silversmiths who made shrines and idols to Artemis to lose business. Luke tells us that the people were so filled with rage that the whole city was in an uproar.[27] No wonder that Paul wrote to the Romans that such people only look out for themselves and refuse to obey the truth will experience the wrath of God. When people don’t live the way you think they should, or treat you the way you want them to, or do things that you favor, or take attention away from you, Paul tells the Ephesians that this will only result in bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander.[28] So when people’s unrestricted sinful tendencies are running wild, anyone and anything that tries to stop them or compete with them will experience such wrath.

[1] Revelation 9:13-21

[2] Ibid 18:1

[3] Ibid. 18:23-24

[4] Acts of the Apostles 8:9-11

[5] Clairvoyance was practiced by using horoscopes, reading palms, a premonition of events, and fortunetelling.

[6] Ibid. 16:16

[7] Genesis 3:15 – Complete Jewish Bible

[8] Numbers 35:21-22

[9] Ezekiel 25:15

[10] Ibid 35:5

[11] Luke 23:12

[12] Romans 8:7

[13] Ephesians 2:15-18

[14] James 4:4

[15] 1 Kings 22:1-9

[16] Romans 1:29

[17] Ibid. 13:13

[18] 1 Corinthians 1:11; 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20

[19] Philippians 1:15

[20] 1 Timothy 6:3-5

[21] Titus 3:9

[22] 2 Samuel 2:2 – The Message (MSC)

[23] 2 Kings 10:1-34

[24] Leviticus 26:27-28

[25] Luke 4:21

[26] Ibid. 4:28-29

[27] Acts of the Apostles 19:28-29

[28] Ephesians 4:31; See Colossians 3:8

About drbob76

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