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This is a verse-by-verse commentary on Paul's epistle to the Galatians, which was written to combat those Jewish Christians who were unable to leave the Old Covenant and adhere to the New Covenant. In their attempt to add the New Covenant to the Old, and to add Jesus to the temple system of animal sacrifices and other rituals, they had distorted the gospel.
Category - Bible Commentaries
Beginning in Galatians 1:10, Paul gives us his thoughts about his former life as a Jew in good standing. Keep in mind that Paul had just asserted that the distorted gospel, which merely added Jesus to the Old Covenant, would result in the curse of God, not His blessing.
10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
Paul knew that he was going against Judaism itself, and that the Judaizers had sided with the Jews in virtually every issue except in denying Jesus as the Messiah. Paul's revelation was that all are justified by faith equally and without partiality. It had been the revelation of Peter before him, of course, as we read in Acts 10 and 11. But Peter's mission was to the circumcision, and so he tended to downplay his earlier revelation. Paul, on the other hand, was bold and unafraid to assert the truth. He sought the favor of God, rather than of men.
11 For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul had spent three years at Mount Sinai in Arabia, praying and contemplating this new revelation and how it would affect his entire way of thinking. Then in returning to Jerusalem, he spoke with Peter, who no doubt confirmed the revelation by telling him the story of Cornelius and perhaps also how Philip preached to the Samaritans. When we understand the absolute importance of these stories, we can see why Paul would have instructed Luke to record those stories in the book of Acts. They served as witnesses to Paul's foundational teaching.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contem-poraries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
In his early days, when he was known as Saul, the young zealot of Judaism knew how to advance in Judaism. The most zealous persecutors of the Church were viewed as the most righteous in the eyes of the religious leaders.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort to put blame on the Church for its persecution of Jews, but such persecution did not exist for centuries. The Jews were the original persecutors, as the record clearly shows, and the Church merely retaliated against them when they came to positions of favor and power in the Roman Empire.
The Church should not have done so, because it is not a Christian virtue to repay evil for evil. But the problem of carnality in the Church is another issue for another time. In the first century the problem was Jewish persecution of the Christians. The problem of hatred was one-sided. An eloquent example of this is found in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, written in the second century:
For verily your hand is high to commit evil, because ye slew the Christ, and do not repent of it; but so far from that, ye hate and murder us who have believed through Him in the God and Father of all, as often as ye can; and ye curse Him without ceasing, as well as those who side with Him; while all of us pray for you, and for all men, as our Christ and Lord taught us to do, when He enjoined us to pray even for our enemies, and to love them that hate us, and to bless them that curse us.
Justin was a Greek philosopher of the school of Aristotle who became a Christian after discussing philosophy with an old man who was unnamed. Trypho was a Jew who had fought against the Romans in the second great revolt from Rome in 132-135 A.D. That revolt was led by Bar-Cochba with the help of Rabbi Akiba.
Justin’s forgiving attitude, as expressed in the quote above, is all the more striking when we understand that during this revolt, the Jews hated and persecuted the Christians with great vigor. Professor H. Graetz, Jewish historian and author, wrote in his History of the Jews, Vol. II, pp. 411, 412,
“Notwithstanding the deep hatred entertained by the Jews for their enemies, they did not avenge themselves upon such as fell into their hands. It was only against the Jewish Christians who lived in Judea that Bar-Cochba displayed his hostility, because they were considered as blasphemers and as spies. This hatred against the Jewish Christians was increased because they refused to take part in the national war, and were the only idle lookers-on at the fearful spectacle.”
So because the Christians submitted to Rome, as Jesus had done, the leader of this Jewish revolt hated them. In this revolt, Graetz tells us, the Jewish army killed a large number of civilians.
“The Egyptian Jews . . . first attacked the neighboring towns, killed the Romans and the Greeks, and avenged the destruction of their nationality on their nearest enemies.” (p. 395)
“The conquering Jewish troops felt themselves filled with a desire for revenge. In despair they invaded the Egyptian territories, imprisoned the inhabitants, and repaid cruelties with fresh cruelties. . . . In Cyrenaica 200,000 Greeks and Romans were slain by the Jews, and Lybia, the strip of land to the east of Egypt, was so utterly devastated that, some years later, new colonies had to be sent thither.” (p. 396)
“In the island of Cyprus . . . the Cyprian Jews are said to have destroyed Salamis, the capital of the island, and to have killed 240,000 Greeks.” (p. 397).
“The contest, however, must have been a bitter one, for a deadly hatred arose in Cyprus against the Jews. This hatred was expressed in a barbarous law, according to which no Jew might approach the island of Cyprus, even if he suffered shipwreck on that coast.” (p. 398)
Perhaps it was a “barbarous law” that forbade all Jews from setting foot on Cyprus. But one can hardly blame them for passing this legislation, after the Jews had killed 240,000 of them. If the situation had been reversed, the Jews would have done far more than mere legislation to the Greeks of Cyprus. One wonders if Prof. Graetz would have called their actions “barbarous.”
According to Eusebius (Eccl. Hist., IV, ii) the Jewish side was led by Lucuas, whom they recognized as their “King of the Jews.” They were all too willing to follow a Messiah who had the ability to massacre a half million Greeks and Romans. They admired such characteristics in a Jew, but when such things were perpetrated upon the Jews, they complained. This double standard is, no doubt, just another aspect of human nature, but this history makes it clear—at least to non-Jews—that Judaism had done nothing to change the moral perceptions among its adherents.
It is important to note that the Christians did not take part in these massacres. They submitted to the Iron Kingdom and made no attempt to overthrow the Romans. Even in the face of persecution by Rome, they submitted as if to God Himself. And when the Jews revolted and put to death many Christians for their refusal to take up arms against Rome, they made no violent response against them either. One would be hard pressed to find a single account where a Christian killed a Jew.
Such is the distinct nature between Judaism and Christianity as Jesus taught it. Paul knew of Jewish hatred personally, both because he was consumed with it as a zealous Jew and also later when he was persecuted by his countrymen.
Paul comments on the persecution that the church had received at the hands of Judaism in 1 Thess. 2:14-16,
14 For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, 15 who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, 16 hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost.
Paul says that the Jews were “hostile to all men,” thinking of the way they despised non-Jews, even proselytes to Judaism. Hostility to others was simply a reflection of their hostility to God, as Moses had prophesied in Lev. 26. This chapter speaks of how God would judge Israel if they forsook the covenant and refused to abide by their vows of obedience—the terms of divine blessing.
Persistent rejection of God, we read, would result in divine judgment and even captivity in a foreign land until such time that they would repent. Lev. 26:40-42 says,
40 If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me [Jesus]— 41 I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies—or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, 42 then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.
Jewish hostility to Jesus in His ministry from 30-33 A.D. ultimately brought about God’s hostility forty years later from 70-73 A.D. The divine hostility is expressed in Jesus’ parable in Matt. 22:1-7, culminating with His verdict:
7 But the king was enraged and sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and set their city on fire.
In other words, Jesus prophesied that the Roman armies who destroyed Jerusalem and the temple were God’s armies. God had called them (without their knowledge) to carry out the judgment upon Jerusalem and Judea for their hostility against Him—Jesus.
There are those who insist that the Romans crucified Jesus. Paul says otherwise, and Peter bears witness to this as well in his Pentecostal sermon in Acts 2:36, saying, “whom you crucified.” This is repeated in Acts 5:30, where Peter tells the high priest,
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
Stephen, too, bore witness of this toward the end of the sermon which resulted in his martyrdom. He says in Acts 7:51-53,
51 You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 52 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.
The divine Law makes it clear that the priests of Levi were called to make the sacrifices. Jesus was the great Sacrifice, and all of the lambs, goats, bulls, and doves sacrificed in the Law prophesied of Jesus Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Jewish leaders from the day of Pentecost to the present day have tried to divert the responsibility to the Romans. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders, who, unlike Paul, are men-pleasers, have been induced to agree with them.
If they can get us to believe that the Romans crucified Jesus, then they will argue that Jesus was NOT the final Sacrifice for sin, for the Romans were not called to make sacrifices to God. The prophetic type would be broken, and they could then destroy the very foundation of Christianity.
But Peter, Stephen, and Paul never bear false witness against the Romans for crucifying Jesus. Modern preachers should be aware that bearing false witness is a crime punishable by the same penalty that one falsely attempts to place upon an innocent party (Deut. 19:16-19).
One should also keep in mind that Jesus Himself prophesied of His death at the hands of the priests of Levi. Matt. 21:38 says,
38 But when the vine-growers saw the Son, they said among themselves, “This is the Heir; come, let us kill him and seize His inheritance.”
The Romans were not the keepers of the vineyard by any stretch of imagination. I find it disturbing that so many Christian leaders would deny Christ and call Him a liar so that they can please the Jews. Paul would have none of that, as he says in Gal. 1:10. In fact, the book of Acts shows Paul speaking in the synagogues until they were offended by his insistence that Greek believers were equally beloved in the sight of God.
Paul recognized that it was his primary mission to preach the gospel to the other nations in order to bring the gospel of the Kingdom into a world-wide setting. He was called to wrench it from its local setting and (like Isaiah) proclaim not only the God of Israel, but “the God of the whole earth” (Isaiah 54:5).
This was not an easy mission. It involved persecution not only from Judaism but also from Judaistic Christianity. Paul understood this and expected persecution, because he knew that old mindset well, having been raised and educated in that setting. But he had decided to please God rather than men.