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 SIX (Lesson CXLV)

Benjamin W. Bacon (1860-1932) brilliantly summarizes this whole argument. According to a custom referred to in Paul’s other Epistles,[1] he takes the quill from his scribe into his hand.[2] On this occasion, he seems to be smitten half humorously with the contrast between his big untidy letters, and the excellent writing of the professional Greek scribe. Bacon suggests that while Paul could certainly speak and read Greek, he may not have mastered writing it without some difficulty.  Such seems to be the idea of the allusion to his handwriting here.

Grammatically, it is possible to render the words “how large a letter,” says Bacon. Taken in this sense to suppose Paul to be calling his readers’ attention to the length of the epistle, he felt obliged to write, though unable to command the services of a letter writer. But Galatians is not long enough to require very great manual effort for even an unpracticed hand. Moreover, on this interpretation, all connection with verse twelve is lost. It seems more probable that in this quaint touch, we have indeed a “token” of authenticity not dreamed up by Paul. Says Bacon, the words, “I have written,” are better rendering, “I’m writing.” However, the Greek idiom in such cases requires the past tense. The writer places himself as taking over at this point in the letter.[3]

Lutheran theologian Paul E. Kretzmann (1883-1965) says that these single admonitions in verses six through ten do not come to us as abruptly as might appear at first glance. Paul is still speaking of life in the Spirit, which is opposed to all the typical grumbling and complaining. And here he expresses a thought which he also emphasized elsewhere: Let those learning the Word communicate to those that teach such good things.

Those taught the Word of God, says Kretzmann, either in private sessions or through public teaching and preaching, should continuously interact with the instructor. They should share not only financial support but all other benefits as well, such as feedback. They that preach the Gospel make a living by the Gospel.[4] Thus the ministers, on their part, need not be reduced to making their ministry into a business, especially since they live on lower than average income. The parishioners, on their part, must not regard the money paid toward the minister’s support as charity, but as the proper support demanded by God.[5]

Kenneth Wuest (1893-1961) gives us a different look at Paul’s excuse for the large letters he was using to write this portion of his epistle. There were two styles of Greek writing, says Wuest, the uncial, which consisted of inch-high letters formed singly (AGAPE), and with no connection with other letters, and the cursive, using smaller ABC’s as script (agape), joined together. According to Sir Frederic G. Kenyon (1863-1952), a British paleographer and classical Biblical scholar, there were four classes of artistry in the style of the writing of the first century. Manuscripts that are penned by highly qualified professional scribes get top ranking, followed by documents written by ordinary expert hands. Next in line are projects penned by educated, not professional writers, using the standard vocabulary. Finally, scribbled notes of average writers.

Scholars believe that Paul dictated his epistles to Tertius, Sosthenes, Timothy, and Silvanus. These proved to be very educated men, but not professional scribes. Therefore, their writings would be that of the informed amateur. It is the opinion of Kenyon that Paul’s writers wrote in the cursive, that is, in small letters, joined together in a running hand. Wuest states it as his opinion also that if Paul dictated the Galatian letter, the prescribed portion would be in the small cursive letters, and the part he wrote in his handwriting, in standard Greek inch-high letters.[6]

Bible commentator Dr. Ann Nyland makes this point on Paul’s mention that this letter is in his handwriting. He says that Paul wrote this statement in the simple aorist tense.[7] He explains: “The sense of this is hard to bring out in English, but Paul is trying to make his point – Hey, you! Look at this! Get the point! Read my lips!” [8] Paul was contending with people who wanted to put on a good show and was trying to force circumcision on the Galatian Gentile believers. Their reasoning was because if they ended up persecuted because they believed in the cross of the Anointed One, they could point to their circumcision as a plea for understanding and tolerance.  However, these Jewish teachers didn’t obey the law themselves. So, their main aim was to brag about convincing Gentiles to submit to circumcision. That way, if this Jesus phenomenon didn’t work out, they still had their Jewish faith in the Law.

However, modern theologian Robert Gundry sees it differently. He writes that when Paul mentions big letters, he gave the assurance of authenticity. Still, it’s hard to know whether the big letters have to do only with emphasis or also with poor eyesight on Paul’s part or a lack of scribal expertise. He goes on to say there are other possibilities. That by his mentioning, “I’ve written to you,” almost certainly reflects the Galatians’ standpoint when reading the letter to them. Given this possible certainty, Paul’s handwriting covers 6:11-18. A scribal secretary will have written 1:1-1:10 at Paul’s dictation. We know from Romans 16:22, combined with 15:15, that Paul used such a secretary in writing to the Romans. Gundry points out that this was more or less Paul’s style of using his penmanship at the end of his letters.[9] [10]

I took the time and space to share with you the debate among scholars concerning whether Paul simply ended the letter with a personal note or wrote the whole manuscript and was apologizing for his bad handwriting due to the way he formed his words on purpose. That’s because when preaching or teaching on the Word of God, sometimes it’s the small bits of information that impress the listeners with the idea that you are a diligent student of God’s Word. That will increase their faith in what else you have to share with them.

6:12 Believe me, I’m aware there are people among you wanting to make themselves look good on the outside to others, who are trying to talk you into performing religious rituals and following regulations. But I must tell you; they have an ulterior motive: they are merely trying to avoid the persecution that comes from believing in the Anointed One and the Cross as the only right way to salvation.

EXPOSITION

What Paul says here in verse twelve will never grow old as long as the Church is around. Even before there were assemblies of believers, Jesus saw this same pretense among the Jews. So, He told His disciples that when they give to those who are poor, don’t announce that you are donating. Don’t be like hypocrites. When they are in the synagogues and on the streets, they blow trumpets before they give so that people will see them. They want everyone to praise them. Jesus goes on to tell them that when they pray, don’t be like the pretenders. They love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners, praying loudly. They want people to see them. To put it bluntly, that is all the reward they will get. And when you fast, says our Lord, don’t make yourselves look sad like the phonies Pharisees. They put a look of suffering on their faces so that people will see they are fasting. Their reward will not increase beyond what they get for their self-centered prayers.[11]

But that’s not all, Jesus also told them not to try making themselves look good in front of people. God knows what is really in your hearts. What people think is important is worth nothing to God.[12] Some say our Lord takes a small part of what they have to share with the less fortunate. Then they try to make themselves look good by saying long prayers. God will punish them severely.[13] But the Master is still not finished. Using Himself as an example, He said that if I only taught my ideas, I would just be trying to get honor for myself. But if I am trying to bring honor to the One who sent me, I can be trusted. Anyone doing that is not going to tell you something that’s not true.[14]

So, we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul also informed the Corinthians that he was not interested in comparing himself with those who think they are essential. There was no reason for him to compare himself to them. They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they are. It shows that they know nothing.[15] You can count on them being false apostles, lying workers. They only pretend to be apostles of the Anointed One.[16] Some people, says Paul, only do it to make themselves look better than anyone else. So, don’t copy them, don’t be interested only in what you get out of it. Be more concerned about what they get out of your teaching.[17]

COMMENTARY

Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) makes an interesting comment on Paul’s notion here in verse twelve about accepting circumcision to avoid being persecuted because of the Cross of the Anointed One. It was Paul’s way of revealing a new aspect of the Judaizers and those who joined them in mixing the Law with Grace. They were not only zealots for the Law but in terror of those who were even stricter. So, the Galatians complied out of both fear and boastfulness as motives for their conduct. It was a case of not wanting to be loved and hated by the same people. It’s like being beloved by church leaders for listening and living the way they should but hated because they weren’t doing it their way.

And it all came down to the Cross of the Anointed One, says Jowett. It boiled down to this: no matter which way a believer lived, were they living in harmony with the Cross of Calvary? It caused them to fear that persecution would come to them. Jowett says we might translate this to say, “so that they would put to death on a cross like the Anointed One.” That means they were not willing to be crucified with the Anointed One on the Cross. That means the way of the world would die to them and them to the world. Everything then will be done by faith and not by works. The Anointed One would receive all the praise, honor, and glory for the work He did to bring salvation. We deserve no recognition for the good works we tried to add. Apparently, for some Galatians, that would be too much to bear. Let the Anointed One carry His cross, but they didn’t feel it was necessary to bring theirs.[18]

[1] 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; and 2 Thessalonians 3:17

[2] See Romans 16:22

[3] Bacon, Benjamin W: On Galatians, pp. 108-109

[4] 1 Corinthians 9:14

[5] Paul E. Kretzmann: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 257

[6] Wuest, Kenneth: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 94

[7] The aorist tense expresses action, especially past action, without indicating its completion or continuation.

[8] Nyland, Ann, Galatians: The Source New Testament with Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning, (Kindle Location (1097-1099)

[9] See 1 Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18; Philemon 19

[10] Gundry, Robert H.: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[11] Matthew 6:2, 5, 16

[12] Luke 16:15

[13] Ibid. 20:47

[14] John 7:16-18

[15] 2 Corinthians 10:12

[16] Ibid. 11:13

[17] Philippians 1:15; 2:4

[18] Benjamin Jowett: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 390-391

About drbob76

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