Galatians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. From: Sha’ul, an emissary — I received my commission not from human beings or through human mediation but through Yeshua the Messiah and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — also from all the brothers with me
Rabbi Sha'ul from Tarsus is Paul (Ac 13:9&N).
Emissary, Greekapostolos, "someone sent," usually rendered "apostle" (Mt 10:2-4N).
I received my commission, etc. The basis of Sha'ul's authority as an emissary of the Messiah Yeshua is one of the two main topics of this letter (see 1:10-2:14, 5:11, 6:12-14).
Who raised him from the dead. This shows that God's power and authority surpass those of any human claimant, and that Yeshua1 s power and authority did not cease when he died (compare Ro 1:3-4).
Also all the brothers with me. What Sha'ul writes to the Galatians on the very important issues raised in this letter carries not only his authority but that of all the fellow-believers with him.
2. To: The Messianic communities in Galatia:
Messianic communities or "congregations," Greek ekklisiai, usually rendered "churches" (see Mt 16:18N).
Galatia. a region in what is today central Turkey where Sha'ul established congregations (Ac 13:51-14:23) and later returned to strengthen them (Ac 15:36, 16:1-6).
3. Grace and shalom to you from God our Father and from the Lord Yeshua the Messiah,
Shalom. A greeting; denotes more than just "peace" (see Mt 10:12N).
4. who gave himself for our sins, so that he might deliver us from the present evil world-system, in obedience to the will of God, our Father.
5. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.
Together with v. 1, this epitomizes the Good News — Yeshua the Messiah's atoning death, forgiveness of sins, salvation, obedience to God's will, resurrection and continuing authority, all for God's glory. This is the standard against which to measure the false "supposedly 'Good News'" of vv. 6-9. Amen. Intended to prompt a congregational response, when the letter is read aloud; see Ro 9:5N. The Galatians' "Amen" is a public statement of affirmation and agreement with Sha'ul's version of the Good News, contrasting with the version described in the following verses.
6. I am astounded that you are so quick to remove yourselves from me, the one who called you by the Messiah’s grace, and turn to some other supposedly “Good News,”
7. which is not good news at all! What is really happening is that certain people are pestering you and trying to pervert the genuine Good News of the Messiah.
8. But even if we — or, for that matter, an angel from heaven! — were to announce to you some so-called “Good News” contrary to the Good News we did announce to you, let him be under a curse forever!
9. We said it before, and I say it again: if anyone announces “Good News” contrary to what you received, let him be under a curse forever!
Is Sha'ul a martinet with an uncontrollable temper, or is he filled with venom against anyone whose opinions differ from his own? The answer depends on whether one believes there is such a thing as a true Gospel, God's genuine Good News, summed up in vv. 1 and 3b-5, answering the deepest questions of human existence. If in fact Yeshua called Sha'ul by his grace to proclaim God's Good News, then this is the true Good News that saves. Any other "gospel" is not good news at all but misleading bad news, capable of drawing off to perdition people who began on the road to salvation. This unique truthfulness of God's Good News is a presupposition of the entire letter to the Galatians. Moreover, the idea that there is absolute truth which matters absolutely is the constant presumption of both the Tanakh and the New Testament. Any other view relegates the Bible to the category of "great literature" or "valuable historical evidence" or "wise sayings of great men." It is all of these, but, more than that, it is God's unique word to humanity, containing the only completely reliable guide toward everlasting life and away from everlasting death.
It becomes clear in what follows that the particular bad news to which the Galatians have been exposed is legalism. Legalism I define as the false principle that God grants acceptance to people, considers them righteous and worthy of being in his presence, on the ground of their obedience to a set of rules, apart from putting their trust in God, relying on him, loving him, and accepting his love for them.
On Sha'ul's use of the word "curse" (Greek anathemd^set Ro 9:2-4a&N and 1С 16:22&N. As the man responsible for establishing the Galatian congregations on the right path, Sha'ul has no choice but to condemn in the strongest possible language those who try to destroy what is not merely his own work but God's work. Those who wilfully and in defiance of the truth choose for base reasons (2:3-5,6:12-13) to preach a sub-gospel should not be spared; they have earned their punishment (5:7-10) and deserve accursedness if they will not repent; elsewhere Sha'ul teaches that repentance remains open to them (Ro 2:4, 10:13; 2 Ti 2:25; compare 2 Ke 3:9). Therefore I conclude that Sha'ul's animosity is not personal in this passage (whether the same is true at 5:12 is a separate question; see note there).
10. Now does that sound as if I were trying to win human approval? No! I want God’s approval! Or that I’m trying to cater to people? If I were still doing that, I would not be a servant of the Messiah.
Sha'ul was evidently being accused by certain other Messianic Jews of trying to win human approval, in this case Gentile approval, by setting forth an "easy" Gospel which did not demand that Gentiles become Jews and thus be required to observe the Torah as non-Messianic Judaism understands it and as considerable numbers of Messianic Jews were practicing it.
Sha'ill's response is to establish from the start the dichotomy between winning human approval and winning God's approval: one cannot aim at both, and Sha'ul's interest is only in the latter (compare Ro 2:29). Or, to emphasize a different side of it, if Sha'ul catered to people, he would not in fact, indeed could not possibly, be a servant of the Messiah, since, no less than God the Father, the Messiah demands exclusive loyalty.
11. Furthermore, let me make clear to you, brothers, that the Good News as I proclaim it is not a human product;
12. because neither did I receive it from someone else nor was I taught it — it came through a direct revelation from Yeshua the Messiah.
The Good News as I proclaim it was revealed directly (compare 2:2) by the risen Yeshua. The fact that it is not a human product and that neither did he receive it from someone else nor was he taught it means that he had no reason to try to win the approval of or cater to his teachers (v. 10); for those who had been his teachers, Rabban Gamli'el (Ac 22:3) and other non-Messianic Jews, had taught him something very different (vv. 13-14).
13. For you have heard about my former way of life in [traditional] Judaism — how I did my best to persecute God’s Messianic Community and destroy it;
Traditional Judaism. Literally just "Judaism," transliterating the Greek word "loudaismos" which occurs in the New Testament only here and in the next verse; it means "the Jewish religion," and here it can only mean non-Messianic Judaism. I have added the adjective "traditional" to the text in order to make it absolutely clear that Sha'ul was not speaking about what is today called Messianic Judaism, that is, Judaism which accepts Yeshua as the Messiah and the New Testament as Holy Scripture alongside the Tanakh.
Some would take the absence in the Greek text of an adjective such as "traditional" or "non-Messianic" as evidence that the New Testament regards Judaism in all its forms as a religion distinct from Christianity, that Sha'ul considers himself now a Christian and no longer a Jew, and therefore that Messianic Judaism is Christianity and not Judaism. But Sha'ul, writing to the Gentiles in Galatia around 50 C.E., was addressing an altogether different issue than whether Judaism can have a Messianic form. His point was that the Galatians were not required to become Jews in order to join God's people and share in God's promises. It is clear from 2:13&N that he assumed Jews can be either Messianic or non-Messianic. It is only because many modern readers have been taught the opposite that I have added the term "traditional" to the text. Had Sha'ul intended to emphasize the Jewish unity of Messianic and non-Messianic Jews, he very well might have added "traditional" or "non-Messianic" before the word "Judaism" in these verses. But his job as emissary to the Gentiles (v. 16) was to stress a no less important unity, that of Messianic Jews with Messianic Gentiles on the ground of trusting in the Good News and being faithful to it (2:16). This he does throughout the entire letter, especially from 2:11 onwards, and most forcefully at 3:27-28&NN, where he writes that with the Messiah, "there is neither Jew nor Gentile."
I did my best to persecute God's Messianic Community and destroy it. Luke reports this at Ac 7:58-8:3; 9:1-2,13-14; 22:4-5,19-20; 26:9-12; and Sha'ul mentions it again himself at 1С 15:9, Pp 3:6 and 1 Ti 1:13-15. These passages confirm that he regarded his persecution of Jewish believers in Yeshua as a measure of his zeal for non-Messianic Judaism, although it was a zeal "not based on correct understanding" (Ro 10:2; compare 4:17-18 below). One occasionally finds the same kind of zeal among non-Messianic Jews today. Some Christians magnify it above its real importance, letting it frighten them into not telling Jewish people about Yeshua. On the other hand. Jews involved in ecumenical dialogue with Christians find such zealotry, sometimes accompanied by intolerance of Christianity, an embarrassment; to protect Judaism's good name they tend to minimize it, correctly pointing out that very few Jewish zealots engage in physical violence against Christians and Messianic Jews — especially when compared with the violence that has emanated from Christendom against Jews over the centuries. Two incidents of modem persecution of Messianic Jews by Jewish zealots are the "deprogramming" of Ken Levitt, recounted by him with Ceil Rosen in their book, Kidnapped For My Faith (Van Nuys, California: Bible Voice, Inc., 1978), and the disruption of a concert of Messianic Jewish music by the Jewish Defense League, reported in Chapters 12-13 of David Rausch, Messianic Judaism: Its History, Theology and Polity (New York: The Edwin Mi-lien Press. 1982). Despite such opposition, believers continue to evangelize Jewish people, secure in the Lord Yeshua's promise that his Community will survive, and nothing will overcome it (Mt 16:18). Moreover, believers can pray that even the most acrimonious opponent will, like Sha'ul, himself come to Messianic faith.
The second measure of Sha'ul's zeal for traditional Judaism was how rapidly he advanced in it. In this he had every advantage (Pp 3:5-6), chief of which was that he studied with the leading teacher in Israel at the time, Rabban Gamli'el, under whom he w;i\ "(rained in every detail of the Torah of our forefathers" (Ac 22:3). The phrase, "the traditions handed down by my forefathers," means the Oral Torah as set forth by the P 'rushim (Pharisees; compare Mt 15:2-6, Mk 7:2-13&NN); whereas the similar phrase in Ac 22:3, by using the word "Torah" instead of "traditions," includes the written Torah as well. Sha'ul's point here in speaking of the Oral Torah, which includes many rules not mentioned in the written Torah, may be to show that he himself was far more observant than the very legalists he opposes in this letter.
Sha'ul's reason for advancing more rapidly than his fellow talmidim was that he was more of a zealot for the Oral Law than most Jews his age. The zeal for the Oral Torah of this outstanding "yeshiva bocher" was in keeping with his having been a Parush (Ac 23:6, Pp 3:5). Sha'ul had always been ambitious; what changed after he met Yeshua was the direction of his ambition (v. 23). His advancement in non-Messianic Judaism probably included both stricter observance of the details of its Law — being more/гит, to use the Yiddish term derived from German fromm ("pious") — and faster promotion in its communal life. In connection with the latter, some have tried to prove that Sha'ul at the time of Stephen's death was already a member of the Sanhedrin (Ac 7:58&N, 8:1&N, 9:1-2N, 23:1&N, and especially Ac 26:10, where he says, "I cast my vote" in favor of putting believers to death). If so, he would have been a very youthful one, and this would evidence his rapid advancement.
If Sha'ul was so prominent, why is he not mentioned at all in any Jewish writings of the time? Yeshua's name appears in the Talmud, but Sha'ul's does not. This is not the place to examine the evidence in detail, but I will note that some students of this problem believe that it was because he was considered an apostate who damaged Israel that his name was expunged from official Jewish memory. The Messianic Jewish scholar H. L. Ellison believed that it was precisely because Sha'ul, as a believer, observed the Law so scrupulously that the non-Messianic Jewish community had to blot out all memory of him; see Acts 22:3N. Travers Herford, in his book, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash, builds a case that the Talmud makes a covert reference to Sha'ul at Sotah 47a, where "Gehazi" (2 Kings 4—5,8) is spoken of as having no place in the world to come (Mishna Sanhedrin 10:2) and as having refused to repent when offered the opportunity.
14. and how, since I was more of a zealot for the traditions handed down by my forefathers than most Jews my age, I advanced in [traditional] Judaism more rapidly than they did.
15. But when God, who picked me out before I was born and called me by his grace, chose
16. o reveal his Son to me, so that I might announce him to the Gentiles, I did not consult anyone;
God... picked me out before I was born, as he did Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5; compare Isaiah 49:1); indeed it was "before the creation of the universe" (Ep 1:4); and he called me (Ac 9:4) to reveal bis Son to me (Ac 9:5), so that I might announce him to the Gentiles (Ac 9:15, 22:21,26:18-23; Ro 11:13).
17. and I did not go up to Yerushalayim to see those who were emissaries before me. Instead, I immediately went off to Arabia and afterwards returned to Dammesek.
I immediately went off to Arabia. Phillip Goble, the Gentile author of several books on Messianic Judaism and a play about Sha'ul (The Rabbi From Tarsus, Tyndale Press, 1982) has said, "Christianity is simply transcultural Judaism." I believe that during this time in Arabia, away from the company of others and guided by the Holy Spirit, Sha'ul put together the outline of how the Gospel, hitherto confined within an ethnically Jewish framework, could be made independent of Jewish culture and thus fully available not only to Jews, but also to Gentiles without their having to convert to Judaism (see v. 23; 2:2, 6-9; 5:2-4).
Sha'ul must have seen at once that the Pharisaic Judaism which he had learned from Rabban Gamli'el (Ac 22:3) had been shaken by the coming of Yeshua the Messiah. But it must have taken him considerable time to think about the various specific issues — the nature of atonement and forgiveness, the authority of the written and Oral Torah, the meaning of the Messianic prophecies, the role and future of the Jewish people, the preeminent requirement of trust for salvation, the role of ethics, and other essential theological matters — and to formulate and refine his views to what they were when he wrote his letters. As soon as he experienced God's call to be an emissary to the Gentiles, he must have realized that his need was not to be instructed in the Gospel as it had been presented to the Jews, but to think and meditate privately on its implications for Gentiles. No one could guide him in this, for he would be pioneering: but his training as a Jewish scholar by Gamli'el uniquely equipped him to investigate these matters in a fundamental way.
The development of Sha'ul's faith would have been a simpler process had the acceptance of Yeshua been for him, as it was for some of his fellow Jews, merely adding to traditional Judaism the belief that Yeshua is indeed the long-expected Messiah. And it would have been simpler if the acceptance of Yeshua had been for him what it doubtless was to many of the Gentiles he led to trust, namely, the acceptance of a new religion that displaced former pagan values and practices. To Sha'ul the revelation of Yeshua as the Son of God meant neither of these, but a radical reexamination of all his former beliefs, which issued in a conception of religion that differed from the other emissaries' Messianic Judaism perhaps even more than theirs differed from then-current non-Messianic Judaism. Only prolonged thought could enable him to see just how much of the old was to be abandoned, how much revised, how much retained unchanged. So although he wasted no time before plunging enthusiastically into evangelism (Ac 9:20, 22,28), his real work was developing the implications of the Messiah's coming in the light of his deep knowledge of Judaism and in the light of God's call on him to communicate this Jewish truth to the non-Jewish world. (This paragraph, with minor changes, is taken from E. D. Burton's note to the same verse in his commentary written seventy years ago (International Critical Commentary, Galatians, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1971 (1st edition 1921), p. 56).
Thus Sha'ul was the perfect example of what Yeshua was talking about when he said, "Every ТогаЛ-teacher who has been made into a talmid for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings out of his storage room both new things and old" (Mt 13:52&N). From his vast treasure of Jewish knowledge, his many years in the Gentile world, and his personal experience with the Messiah he developed the foundations of the transcultural Judaism which came to be known as Christianity.
A similar challenge awaits today's ГогаЛ-teacher, perhaps the most exciting challenge a Jewishly-educated Jew can take up. It is the challenge to apply what he knows of non-Messianic Judaism to the developing of Messianic Judaism, so that Messianic Judaism can deal meaningfully with every Jewishly important issue. Modern Messianic Judaism is awaiting its Rabbi Sha'ul.
However, the task is different in one respect. Christianity is transcultural Judaism, but Messianic Judaism is not merely reacculturated Christianity, even though some in the non-Messianic Jewish community suppose that it is; against this idea see Chapters 1-2 of my book, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel, or, equivalently, the Appendix to Messianic Jewish Manifesto. The accretions which two thousand years have laid upon today's Christianity make it necessary for Messianic Judaism's Rabbi Sha'uls (may there be many of them!) to penetrate as deeply into both non-Messianic Judaism and Christianity as Sha'ul penetrated into the religion of his day, not in order to syncretize, or even to synthesize, but simply to set forth the truth.
18. Not until three years later did I go up to Yerushalayim to make Kefa’s acquaintance, and I stayed with him for two weeks,
Kefa is Peter; see Mt 16:18N.
19. but I did not see any of the other emissaries except Ya‘akov the Lord’s brother.
Ya'akov the Lord's brother. The brother of Yeshua(Mt 13:55, Mk 6:3,1С 15:7) was not only the author of the New Testament book of Ya'akov (Ya 1:1) and head of the Messianic community in Jerusalem (Ac 12:17, 15:13, 21:18), but also one of the emissaries, as were Bar-Nabba and Sha'ul himself (Ac 14:4,14; 1С 9:5-6). This means that there were more than twelve emissaries (see Ro 16:7), even though the role of the Twelve is unique (Mt 19:28, Rv 21:14); indeed Ep 4:11 suggests that the office of emissary continues to be a gift to the Messianic Community.
20. (Concerning these matters I am writing you about, I declare before God that I am not lying!)
21. Next I went to Syria and Cilicia;
22. but in Y’hudah, the Messianic congregations didn’t even know what I looked like —
As further evidence that Sha'ul's version of the Good News was not taught him by others (vv. 11-12), he writes that in Y'hudah, where the greatest concentration of believers was, the Messianic congregations didn't even know what he looked like, much less had they instructed him in their version of the Gospel.
23. they were only hearing the report, “The one who used to persecute us now preaches the Good News of the faith he was formerly out to destroy”;
24. and they praised God for me.
v. 1:17-21,2:1-2 How the chronology of Sha'ul's life given here fits with that reported by Luke in the book of Acts is debated by scholars. One possible sequence is that Sha'ul came to faith on the way to Damascus (Ac 9:3-19) and stayed there with the Messianic Jewish believers briefly, evangelizing in the synagogues (Ac 9:20-22). He immediately went off to Arabia (v. 17); one does not know for how long, but according to v. 18 the upper limit has to be three years. Afterwards he returned to Damascus, where he continued evangelizing Jewish people until some of them hatched a murder plot, so that he had to escape by being lowered over the city wall in a basket (Ac 9:23-25,2C 11:30-33; alternatively, he escaped from Damascus, went to Arabia, and returned three years later for a less traumatic visit).
Only then did Sha'ul go up to Yerushalayim (Ac 9:26-30), but just for two weeks. Sha'ul writes that he went to make Kefa's acquaintance (v. 18) but did not see any of the other emissaries except Ya'akov (v. 19); however, Ac 9:27 says that Bar-Nabba led him "to the emissaries," not to only two of them. A possible harmonization of these versions is that Sha'ul was introduced to all or most of the emissaries but spent no extended amount of time with them receiving instruction or discussing his version of the Good News (which is the focus here but not in Acts).
Next he went to Syria and Cilicia, specifically to Tarsus (Ac 9:30), where he remained a number of years, until Bar-Nabba brought him to be his assistant in Antioch (Ac 11:25-26). After some more time, Bar-Nabba and Sha'ul went to Jerusalem with the Antioch congregation's contribution for the relief of the Judean brothers (Ac 11:29-30, 12:25), so that Sha'ul's second visit there was only after fourteen years (2:1); and perhaps he would not have gone then had it not been for a revelation (2:2).
During this visit, he and Bar-Nabba (2:1) reached an agreement with the Jerusalem leaders on principles of Gentile evangelism, as described in 2:2-10. After this, he and Bar-Nabba evangelized the Galatians (Ac 13:2, 14:1-23), and Sha'ul wrote them this letter from Antioch either during the "some time" of Ac 14:28 or after the events of Ac 15:1-2; the latter seems more likely in the light of 2:11-14 below. At the time this letter was written, the Jerusalem Conference (Ac 15:3-29) had not yet happened; so that its more specific directives concerning how the Gospel was to be presented to Gentiles were announced to the Galatians by Sha'ul only at a later time (Ac 15:36,16:4—6).
- chapter 1
- chapter 2
- chapter 3
- chapter 4
- chapter 5
- chapter 6