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 LXXXVII)

Now comes a different product of our fallen human nature, “strife.” We should be able to see how each of these seems to build one on the other. There are several words in Hebrew for this bitterness, but one that catches my attention is the Hebrew verb garah. It means to cause conflict, to stir things up, contend with, meddle with, to excite oneself against another. We find this expressed by God to the Israelites that they should not argue with the descendants of Esau who live in the plains of Seir, because they are not to take any of their lands. Treat them with respect. Pay them well for all the drinks and food they give you.[1] He gave them the same instructions when they passed through the land of the Moabites, the descendants of Lot,[2] also the Ammonites.[3] So we can imagine in Paul’s mind that they must guard against this same ingratitude because of the strife it causes.

Paul uses the Greek noun eritheia (“strife” KJV), which means the friction caused by those who desire to put themselves forward in a partisan and fractious spirit that will use any means possible no matter how low or contemptuous. In Greek writings, it is often associated with electioneering or challenging for office. Paul warns the Romans not to become like those who insist on getting their way and take the path of least resistance to get what they want while denying the other side from making any progress.[4] And Paul was somewhat hesitant to revisit Corinth because the factions there might throw a fit of jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.[5] Sometimes this is the way people act when they lose self-control, especially of the sinful tendencies that influence their mind and heart.

Then Paul tells us that another product of our fallen human nature of giving in to our sinful tendencies: sedition, meaning division, and discord. Rather than bringing people together, it drives them apart. The Aramaic equivalent is ‘eshtadduwr, which means revolt, rebellion, and revolution. We find this used two times in the First Covenant, where Ezra the scribe records that he advised King Artaxerxes that if he searched the records of the kings who ruled before him, he would see in their writings that Jerusalem always rebelled against other kings. Much trouble developed between them and surrounding kings and nations. Many rebellions started in this city since ancient times. That is why God allowed the destruction of Jerusalem.[6] In other words, they were not content until they had their way in everything.

And here in Galatians, the Greek noun Paul uses is dichostasia (“seditions” KJV, from which we get our English term “dichotomy”). The way Paul uses it here can mean taking sides, or even, double-mindedness. That’s why Paul told the Romans that he wanted to make one last appeal: Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to your religion. Stay away from them.[7]

And to the believers in Corinth, Paul also appealed to them because they were still not following the Spirit. They are jealous of each other and are always arguing with each other. It shows that they are yet following their selfish desires.[8] In other words, Paul could see that they were not letting themselves be guided by their new sanctified spirit but by their old sinful tendencies. There is no such thing as harmony when all the instruments in the orchestra are out of tune. Not even the most excellent conductor can arrange a concerto except the once called “pandemonium.” Where the Spirit is, there is liberty,[9] but not out of control liberalism.

And then we are given the sinful effort of uncontrolled sinful tendencies called heresies (KJV). Among the Jews, it referred to believing in ideas contrary to those advocated by religious authorities. Because Judaism has no one approved formulation of dogma, such as a creed, against which heresy can be defined, it has no clear-cut definition of heresy. A heretic may be distinguished from an apostate in that, although he holds beliefs that are contrary to currently accepted doctrines, he does not renounce his religion and often believes that he represents the true tradition. Since the heretic is still a Jew, various lawful questions concerning his relationship to the Jewish community arise, such as whether he may offer a sacrifice, be known as a minyan (heretic), or have his testimony admitted as evidence in a Jewish court.

We read in the Talmud, incidents where such a person is considered a minyan. Especially among Jews or Gentiles. Those devoted to the worship of idols, or ministers as a priest to false gods are called heretics.[10] Also, any scroll of the Law, which has been written by a minyan, should be burned.[11] And if any Israelite goes on a pilgrimage [to idols], it is permitted [to do business with him] on his journey there, for he may change his mind and not go. Nevertheless, on his return, it is forbidden, for as he has already become attached to it, he will go again and again. Some Rabbis taught it is prohibited [to do any business transactions] with an Israelite going on a pilgrimage of idol worship either on his journey there or back. To this Rabbi, Ashi says that refers to a non-practicing Israelite, who is sure to go.[12]

Although the Jewish Tanakh does not have a specific term for heretics, regards a heretic as one who “whores after foreign gods.”[13] It sets forth procedures to suppress idolatry and prescribes stoning for anyone who introduces idol worship into a community. Moses spoke strongly against false gods of those who lived around them, and those whose lands were far away.

They must never make a treaty with them. Don’t listen to or let yourself feel sorry for those people. Don’t let them go free or protect them. No, you must kill them with stones. You are the first one to pick up rocks to throw at them. Then everyone must throw stones to kill them because they tried to pull you away from the Lord your God. And it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, where you were slaves. Then all the Israelites will hear about it and respect you. And they will not do those evil things anymore.[14]

The Greek noun that Paul uses is hairesis from which we get our English “heresies.” Among its many meanings in Greek, one identifies it as the personal teachings of one sect or party. The Pharisees and Sadducees were such a group. These differences are never meant to unite but designed to separate. Paul knew this first hand from his visit to the brethren and council in Jerusalem. He reported what Luke mentions that during the meeting, some of the believers in Jerusalem, who once belonged to the Pharisees, stood up and said, “The non-Jewish believers must be circumcised. We must tell them to obey the Law of Moses![15]

Heresy does not necessarily mean something thoroughly wrong, but it is an opinion or belief that is contrary to orthodox doctrine. So, we judge false doctrines by some generally accepted creed or teachings of a particular group. In this case, these were Jewish Pharisee Christians who opposed Paul who himself was once a Pharisee in high standing over a simple belief concerning the importance of the Jewish rite of circumcision as part of salvation by works and Paul’s rejection of this as necessary for those Gentiles who accepted salvation by grace, not works.

Paul also addressed this same situation with the believers in Corinth. It also had to do with customs such as women covering her head in church or men not having long hair. So, when he wrote them, he told them that he heard that when you meet together as an assembly, you sit in groups. And this is not hard to believe, says Paul, because of your idea that you must have separate groups to show who the real believers are![16] In other words, it was one believer trying to be holier than the other. The critical point Paul is trying to make here is that such things are a sinful effort by sinful tendencies guiding believer’s attitudes rather than their new-born spirit. I don’t think that anyone would attribute an argument or position that ends up dividing a church congregation as the work of a renewed mind.

Paul was direct and to the point when advising Titus on such things. He told him to give such people who cause arguments to stop such divisiveness. If they continued to cause trouble after a second warning, then don’t associate with them. You know people like that who are guided by their sinful tendencies. The corrupt efforts of sin prove that they are wrong.[17]

The next sinful effort of being controlled by sinful tendencies is envyings (KJV). The Hebrew verb qana’ basically means to become angry and envious out of jealousy. We see this clearly illustrated in the brothers of Joseph becoming envious because of their jealousy due to his status as their father’s favorite son. So, when Joseph told them about his dream, their envy turned into anger.[18] We know what happened next. They tried to get rid of him, which they did for a while, but it came back to haunt them when they were sent down into Egypt to buy grain to make bread for their father back home.

Augustine makes a good point here in telling us that no one should suppose that envy is the same thing as jealousy. They are indeed neighbors because they are of the same neighborhood, either of them is often freely substituted for the other. But because each is distinguished here, they require us to make a distinction. Jealousy is the mind’s anguish when someone achieves something that two or more were seeking but which can only be had by one. Peace cures resentment, in which all may obtain that they desire, and thus they become one. Envy, on the other hand, is the grief one feels in one’s mind when an unworthy person appears to have obtained something, even when not sought by others. Humility overcomes Envy, when all who yearn for more appeal to the judgment of God and do not resist his will, trusting instead in the justice of what he does than in one’s estimate of what people deserve.[19]

[1] Deuteronomy 2:5

[2] Ibid. 2:9

[3] Ibid. 2:19

[4] Romans 2:8

[5] 2 Corinthians 12:20

[6] Ezra 4:15, 19

[7] Romans 16:17

[8] 1 Corinthians 3:3

[9] 2 Corinthians 3:17

[10] Babylonian Talmud: Seder Kaddishim, Masekhet Ḥullin (also Chullin), folio 13a, (see footnote 22)

[11] Ibid. Seder Nashim, Masekhet Gittim. 45b

[12] Ibid. Seder Nezikin, Masekhet Abodah Zarah; folios 32b-33a

[13] Deuteronomy 31:16

[14] Ibid. 13:7-11

[15] Acts of the Apostles 15:5

[16] 1 Corinthians 11:18-19

[17] Titus 3:10-11

[18] Genesis 37:11

[19] Augustine: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.), op. cit., p. 88

About drbob76

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