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 CXLVII)

Jewish writer Mark D. Nanos looks at the kind of complexity that would inevitably arise for Jews living in cities outside of Israel in Roman territory. These would often involve civic tensions that arose between Jews and Roman authorities. Romans, as well as Jews, obeyed the wishes of the Emperor as good citizens. Since Galatia was a Roman province, these certainly may have been the matters at hand for Paul to address. Of course, he aimed to discredit the Judaizers as unwanted intruders. However, the Judaizers were having problems with the Gentile Christians for not conforming to their legal requirement of circumcision and observing Jewish ceremonial laws. From Paul’s point of view, the Gentiles felt locked in a squeeze between satisfying the Jews and Romans. Either way, they would be persecuted because of the cross of Jesus the Anointed One. So, the Judaizers put pressure on them to at least remove any persecution from Jews by being circumcised.

Nanos goes on to say that verse twelve is one of those situational passages where Paul’s accusation that the Judaizers were trying to convince the Gentiles of the benefits of avoiding any persecution for the cross of the Anointed One. They told them to convert to Judaism, avoid being shunned by the Jews and persecuted by the Romans. It clearly shows that the Judaizers were not merely sympathizers for these Galatians, but were all out opponents of calling themselves believing-Christians without circumcision. The Romans hated pagans going around glorifying in the death of a Jewish martyr by His own people’s hands, lifting Him as the Messiah above the Emperor of Rome. But it all boils down to this: The Jews viewed the Cross as a stumbling-block that kept them from believing that this heretic from Nazareth was the Son of God, while the Romans did not like a criminal, they put him to death for being exalted above their god, the Emperor of Rome.[1]

6:13 I think you should also know, these same people who claim to observe all the religious rituals and follow all the regulations themselves are incapable of doing it to perfection. All they’re after are bragging rights that they finally convinced you to get circumcised and can count you as their disciples.

 EXPOSITION

Paul now zeros in on the Judaizers who’ve come to the province of Galatia to accomplish what they couldn’t get done during the Council meeting in Jerusalem when Paul and Timothy were there. Jesus saw the same thing among the Pharisees, to which Paul once belonged. They expected everyone to believe and follow everything they taught. But Jesus advised His listeners: But their lives are not good examples for you to follow. They tell you to do things, but they don’t do those things themselves.[2]

Some of those Pharisees, like Paul, converted to Christianity and became part of the assemblies of believers. They may be the ones Paul wrote to in the congregation in Rome. He asked them what were they doing? You say you’re a Jew. You trust in the Law and yet proudly claim to be close to God. You know what God wants you to do. And you know what is essential because you have learned the Law. You imagine you are a guide for people who don’t know the right way, a light for the Gospel for those who are still in the dark of heathenism.

You assume you can show foolish people what is right. And you claim you are a teacher for those who are just beginning to learn. You’re familiar with the Law, and so you conclude you know everything there is to know. You try teaching others, so why don’t you try educating yourself? You tell people not to steal, but you are robbers.[3] You preach, “You must not commit adultery,” but you are guilty yourself. You say you hate pagan temples, but you go in and loot them.[4] You are so proud that you have God’s Law, but you bring shame to God by breaking His Law of Love. As the Scriptures say, “People in other nations insult God because of you.” [5]

But Paul isn’t finished. Not thinking he’s been harsh enough; he goes on to put them on the spot by asking: “Are we Jews better than other people?” No, we have already said that Jews and non-Jews are the same. They are all guilty of sin. Now Paul heaps Scripture after Scripture like hot coals upon their heads.[6]  He begins with, “There is not one person doing what is right, not even one. No one cares. Not a single individual is trying to be near God. They have all turned away from Him, and now they are of no use to anyone. I cannot find one soul who lives right, not even one.” [7]

Then the rest follows like falling bricks: “Their words come from mouths that are like open graves. They use their lying tongues to deceive others.” [8]Their words are like the poison of snakes.” [9] “Their mouths are full of cursing and angry words.” [10]They are always ready to kill someone. Everywhere they go, they cause trouble and ruin. They don’t know how-to live-in peace.” [11]They have no fear or respect for God.” [12] What the Law says is for those who are under the Law. It does not allow anyone to make excuses. And it brings the whole world under God’s judgment because no one can be made right with God by following the Law. The Law only showed us our sin.[13]

The Apostle Peter undoubtedly ascribed to this same condemnation of those false teachers who promise people freedom while still tied to the Law. They are slaves to a mindset that has been ruined by sin. Yes, people are slaves to anything that controls them. So, as we can see, Paul now begins privately to confide in them his real feelings about these Judaizers. Much like a father cautions his daughter about some man she met, or a mother warns her son about a woman he’s dating, Paul does not hesitate to tell the Galatian believers that these “so-called” teachers are scoundrels operating with hidden agendas. They are only interested in how they, the teachers, look to others, especially the higher-ups in the Jewish community. They don’t want the rabbis and other Jewish leaders turning against them and treating them as outcasts, making them unwelcome to visit their synagogues.

Today we call this being two-faced or even disingenuous. More than that, forcing these Gentile believers to be circumcised under Jewish Law, they demanded them to follow all the religious rituals and regulations of their faith. Still, they do not obey flawlessly; Paul exposes their hypocrisy. Again, we have an expression today that comes very close to this type of approach: “Don’t do as I do, do as I say do.” So often, they catch religious leaders doing what they tell others not to do; or fail to do what they insist every believer should do. These leaders always come up with some kind of excuse that exempts them from such requirements. This same type of emphasis on requiring one thing for their followers, while exempting themselves, continues to the present.

Paul also touches on what we might call “token adherence” to these strict laws, done to please their fellowman, not God. They are motivated by the passions of the sinful-self, not the spiritual oneness with the Anointed One. It was the “popular” thing to do to avoid undergoing criticism and possible sanction by church authorities. However, it also proved to be one of the most persistent causes of disagreements, disputes, debates, dissidence, and disharmony in the church.

Those who championed such spiritual legalism pretended to be motivated by standing up for and encouraging Christians to follow the practical teachings of holy living.  In reality, however, Paul saw it as their selfish attempt to seek commendation for being such champions of their version of holiness.  Every convert they convinced to give up things they felt were against the church earned them badges of honor, with each newly persuaded believer becoming an accomplishment to list in their résumés.

Paul saw another twist to this irony, in that these Judaizers were not offering conformity to Mosaic Law as an option, they were “compelling” the Gentile believers to comply. To be accepted by them, they force Christians to conform if they expect inclusion among the saints, whether they were convicted by the Holy Spirit or not. You cannot find more unhappy Christians than those forced to abide by some teaching they are unconvinced comes from the Word of God or the Holy Spirit.

No wonder Paul became outraged. These Judaizers might as well be saying, “The blood of Jesus is not strong enough to wash away all your sins, so add this ingredient to make it more powerful.” Or, “Jesus’ faithfulness to the will of the Father did not go far enough, so walk this extra mile to ensure that what Jesus did becomes more potent.” Could it be that the voice that spoke out of the sky, and the dove that came down from heaven to identify Jesus as the Messiah not convincing enough? Were the nail prints in His hands and an empty grave insufficient to prove Him being the Anointed One? These Judaizers put Moses’ tablets in one hand and Aaron’s rod in the other to make Jesus a more imposing figure.

COMMENTARY

Theodoret, Bishop of Cyr (393-466 AD), shares with us a good point. How can anyone keep the Law without failure while they are traveling far from Jerusalem? How can they observe the feasts with everything that is needed: How can they offer the sacrifices when there is no altar; how can they be cleansed after inadvertently touching all the contaminated things around them? That’s impossible! These Judaizers conspired to have the Galatians circumcised in their desire to boast about having made them change to the legal religion of Judaism.[14]

[1] Nanos, Mark. D. On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 264-265, 284

[2] Ibid. 23:3

[3] Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19

[4] Romans 2:22-23

[5] Ibid. 2:17-24

[6] Proverbs 25:22

[7] Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3

[8] Ibid. 5:10

[9] Ibid. 140:3

[10] Ibid. 10:7

[11] Isaiah 59:7-8; Proverbs 1:16

[12] Psalm 36:1

[13] Romans 3:9-20

[14] Theodoret of Cyr: On Galatians, Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). op. cit., p. 102

About drbob76

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