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The Commentary of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople and Our Father among the Saints, on the Letter to the Galatians,[1] Parts 1 & 2

David C. Noe and Joseph A. Tipton

Part 1

This introduction teems with much passion and great fervor. In fact not only the introduction, but indeed the whole letter, so to speak, is like this as well. For those who always speak calmly to their students, when the students require sternness, this is characteristic not of a teacher, but of a corrupter and an enemy. Consequently even our Lord, though he often spoke gently with his disciples, sometimes used a more rough style, at one time blessing, at another rebuking. So when he announced that he will lay the foundations of the church on Peter’s confession, he said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah.”[2] But not long after these words he said: “Get behind me, Satan. You are my stumbling block.”[3] And in another passage, again, he said “Are you also so completely foolish?”[4] Moreover, he inspired them with such fear that even John said that when they saw him conversing with the Samaritan woman and reminded him about eating, yet: “No one dared to say to him, ‘What are you looking for?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”[5] Paul understood this, and following in the steps of his teacher he varied his speech with an eye to the need of his students, at one time cauterizing and cutting, and at another applying a gentle salve. Thus to the Corinthians he said: “What do you want? Should I come to you with a rod, or in love and the spirit of gentleness?”[6] Yet with the Galatians he took a different tack, “O you foolish Galatians.”[7] And not just once but even a second time he employed this sort of threatening. He upbraided them at the end of the work, saying, “Let no one cause me troubles.”[8] And again he seeks to minister gently as when he says, “My little children, whom I again bring forth with labor pains.”[9] There are in fact many such expressions as these.

But it is evident to all, even on a first reading, that this letter is full of passion. So we must explain what it was that had aroused Paul’s anger against his students. For it was no minor issue, nor something trivial, since Paul would not have employed such a marked thrust.[10] Becoming angry in the face of misfortunes is typical of cowardly, cruel, and miserable men, just as losing nerve at major obstacles is the habit of those more sluggish and duller. But Paul is not such a person. So then, what was the particular sin that had stirred him up? It was something great and excessive, and something alienating them all from Christ, as he himself said a little further on: “Look! I Paul tell you plainly that if you submit to circumcision, Christ will do you no good at all.”[11] And again, “Whoever of you seek to be justified by the law, you have disqualified yourselves for grace.” So what in the world was this sin? We must identify it rather precisely: those of the Jews who had come to faith were at the same time both holding to their former commitment to Judaism and inebriated by empty doctrine. And wanting to arrogate to themselves the prerogatives of teachers, going to the people of Galatia they began to teach that it was necessary to be circumcised, and to keep sabbaths and new-moons, and not to tolerate Paul who was removing such practices. “For Peter, James, and John (the first[12] of the apostles who were with Christ),” they say, “do not forbid such practices.” And truly they did not forbid them. Yet in doing this they were not presenting it as authoritative teaching, but rather accommodating the weakness of the believers who came from the Jews. But Paul, because he was preaching to the Gentiles, had no need of such accommodation. Therefore, when he was in Judea, he himself also employed this sort of accommodation. But his opponents, in their deception, were not stating the reasons why both Paul and the other apostles were making an accommodation. Instead, they deceived the weaker brothers in claiming that they should not tolerate Paul. For he had shown up “yesterday and a moment ago,” while they had been with Peter. He had become a disciple of the apostles, while they were disciples of Christ. And he was by himself, while they were many, and the pillars of the church. So they were casting at him the charge of hypocrisy, alleging that he was himself abrogating circumcision, “though he has clearly made use of such things elsewhere, and preaches one thing to us, but differently to others.”

Therefore when Paul saw that the whole gentile world was aflame, that a troubling fire had been lit against the church of the Galatians, and that the whole structure was tottering and ran the risk of falling, he was gripped on the one side with righteous anger, and on the other with despair. He made this very clear indeed when he said, “I wanted to be present with you then, and to change my tone.”[13] He is writing the letter to respond to all this. And from these opening comments he refers to that which they were saying while undermining his reputation, saying that the others were disciples of Christ, though Paul himself was a disciple of the apostles. Thus he began like this: “Paul, an apostle, not from men nor through men.”[14] For those cheats were saying (as I mentioned before) that he was the last of all the apostles, and had been taught by them. For Peter and James and John were called first, and were the main leaders of the disciples. They received their teaching from Christ, and thus more obedience was owed them than him. They, moreover, did not forbid circumcision nor keeping the law. Thus making these claims and others like them, Paul’s opponents were seeking to diminish him, and were at the same time exalting the glory of the other apostles. This they did not in order to extol them, but that they might deceive the Galatians by inappropriately persuading them to pay attention to the law. So naturally he began in this fashion. For because they were treating his teaching with contempt, saying that it was from men, while Peter’s was from Christ, he immediately, from the introduction, set himself against this notion, stating that he was an apostle “not from men, nor through men.” For Ananias baptized Paul,[15] but he had not freed him from error, and did not lead him to faith. Instead, Christ himself after ascending sent that astounding voice to him, through which the Lord caught him like a fish. For while Christ was walking along the sea, he called Peter and his brother, and John and his brother. But Paul he called after ascending to heaven. And just as the other men did not need a second voice but immediately, dropping their nets and all their other affairs, followed him, so Paul also from that first call ascended to the most important position, was baptized, and undertook an implacable war against the Jews. And it was in this respect most of all that he surpassed the other apostles. “For I labored more than they,” he said.[16] But for the time being he does not argue this. Rather, Paul is content in claiming equality with the other apostles. For he was eager not to show that he surpassed them, but to refute the premise of the error. Thus his first statement, “not from men,” was common to all men. For the gospel has its origin and root from above. But the second statement, “not through men,” is particular to the apostles. For Christ did not call them “through men,” but of his own accord “through himself.”

Why did he not mention his call and say “Paul, called not from men,” but instead mentioned his apostleship? It is because his whole argument concerned this point. For his opponents said that the apostles had been entrusted with this teaching by men, and thus it was necessary for him to follow them. But Luke made clear that it was not delivered to him “from men” when he wrote: “And while they were worshiping and fasting before the Lord, the Holy Spirit said ‘Now set apart for me Paul and Barnabas.’”[17] From this it is clear that the authority of the Son and the Spirit is one. For Paul says that in being sent by the Spirit, he was sent by Christ. And it is clear from elsewhere that Paul attributes the things of God to the Spirit. Thus when he is speaking to the elders of Miletus he says, “Keep watch for yourselves and for the flock over which the Holy Spirit has set you as pastors and overseers.”[18] And yet he says in another letter, “Those whom God has established in the church, first apostles, second prophets, then pastors and teachers.”[19] So he uses this expression indiscriminately, saying that the things of the Spirit are of God, and those of God are of the Spirit. And in another way, he also stops up the mouths of heretics, saying “through Jesus Christ and God his Father.”[20] For because heretics say that this word was attributed to the Son as though he were lesser, see what Paul does: he uses the word in the case of the Father, thereby teaching us not to apply any principle whatsoever to an inexpressible nature, not to establish measures or degrees of divinity between the Son and the Father. For after he said “through Jesus Christ,” he added “God the Father.” If in mentioning the Father by himself he had said “through whom,” then they would have devised some sophism,[21] saying that this expression “through whom” is applied to the Father, since the works of the Son reflect on him. And yet Paul mentions the Son and the Father at the same time; and in applying this expression to them jointly he no longer allows their argument any place. For he does not do this as though attributing now the deeds of the Son to the Father. No, he shows that this expression admits no difference in substance whatsoever. And what then would those say who, with respect to baptism, consider it somehow lesser because one is baptized into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit? For if the Son were lesser than the Father, then what would they say now that the apostle here begins with Christ then moves on to the Father? But we shall speak no such blasphemy. We must not in contending with them depart from the truth. No, even if they should rage ten thousand times, we must keep our eyes on the standards of piety. Therefore, just as we would not say that the Son is greater than the Father simply because he mentioned Christ first—for that would be the very height of absurd foolishness and consummate impiety—so neither would we say that because the Son is placed after the Father, we must suppose that the Son is lesser than the Father.

Next we read “who raised him from the dead.”[22] What are you doing, Paul? Though you desire to lead the Judaizing men to faith, you do not bring before them any of those great and brilliant expressions such as you wrote to the Philippians. You said, for example, “Though being in the form of God he did not consider equality with God something to be laid hold of.”[23] You also later said to the Hebrews that “He is the radiance of God’s glory, and the express image of his nature.”[24] And then the son of thunder in his introductory words shouted forth that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”[25] Many times Jesus himself, when discussing[26] with the Jews, used to say that he is as powerful as the Father, and that he possesses the same authority.[27] But do you, Paul, not say here any of those things? Instead, omitting them all, do you mention Christ’s dispensation according to the flesh, making his cross and death the main point? “Yes,” he says. For if Paul were addressing people who had no grand conception about Christ, then saying those things would be called for. But since those who believe that they will be punished if they depart from the law are opposing us, Paul thus mentions the acts through which Christ abolishes the need of the law. I mean, to be precise, the benefit that arose for all from his cross and resurrection. For the statement “in the beginning was the Word,” and “He was in the form of God” and “making himself equal to God” and all such—these would suit someone demonstrating the divinity of the Word, not someone adding anything to the present topic. But the statement “who raised Him from the dead” is characteristic of someone calling to mind the chief point of the kindness on our behalf, the very thing that serves Paul’s purpose for the question under discussion. For many people are in the habit of not attending to words that represent God’s majesty as much as they are to those that manifest his kindness toward men. Therefore, declining to say those kinds of things he spoke about the kindness that was done for us.

Part 2

But then heretics counterattack, saying, “Look, the Father raises the Son.” But now that they have become diseased, they are willingly deaf to lofty doctrines and select the lowly doctrines as well. And these statements were expressed this way: 1) for the sake of the flesh, 2) for the Father’s honor, or 3) for some other purpose. The heretics, by selecting from among these and scrutinizing them one by one, disparage themselves (for I would not say that they succeed in harming the Scriptures). Such persons I would gladly ask, “Why do you make such claims? Do you want to prove that the Son is weak and not strong enough for the resurrection of a single body?” And truly, faith in him made even the shadows of those who believed in him raise the dead.[28] Then those men who were believing on Him, though remaining still mortal, by the mere shadow of their earthen bodies and from the shadow of the clothes that were attached to those bodies raised the dead.[29] And yet Christ was not strong enough to raise himself? So then how is this lunacy not obvious, and the intensity of this madness? Did you hear him saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up?”[30] And again, “I have the authority to lay down my life, and I have the authority to take it back again”?[31] Why then is the Father said to have raised him up? To show that the Father does all the same things as the Son. And yet this is especially said for the sake of the honor that is due the Father and for the weakness of the listeners.

Paul says, “And all the brothers that are with me”[32] Why has he never once done this elsewhere in the course of his letter writing? In other places he provides only his own name, or that of two or three others by name. Here he speaks in terms of a whole group, and consequently does not mention anyone by name. So why does he do this? His opponents were slandering him as the only one who was preaching as he did, and that he was introducing something new into his doctrines. Thus, because he wanted to remove suspicion and show that he counted many who shared his opinion, he wrote the “brothers.” By this he makes clear that the very things he is writing, he also writes in accordance with their judgment.

Next he adds “to the churches of Galatia.”[33] For this fire of false teaching was spreading not just to one city, nor two or three, but to the whole nation of the Galatians.  Look with me here how Paul felt so much indignation. For he did not say, “to the beloved,” nor “to the saints,” but “to the churches of Galatia.” This expression was indicative of someone irritated in spirit and exhibiting his distress, that is, not addressing them by their names with love nor with honor, but by their assembly only. And he does not address them as the churches of God either, but simply “the churches of Galatia.” In addition, he hurries to engage the rebellious element. Therefore, he also used the name “church,” shaming[34] them, and drawing them into unity. For since they were divided into many factions, they could not be addressed by this title. For the designation “church” is a designation of harmony and concord.

“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”[35] Paul everywhere uses this tag by necessity, but he especially does so now when writing to the Galatians. Since they were in danger of falling from grace, he prays that it might be restored to them yet again. Since they made themselves God’s enemies, he beseeches God to lead them back again to that same peace. He says, “God our Father.”[36] And here the heretics again are easily caught. For they claim that when John in the introduction to his Gospel says, “And the Word was God,”[37] he says this clause without an article for this reason: so as to diminish the divinity of the Son. And again that when Paul says the Son is “in the likeness of God,”[38] he did not say that concerning the Father, because of the fact that this too is used without the article, what answer would they make here when Paul says, not, “from God”[39] but, “from God the Father”?

Then he calls God “Father,” not with a view to flattering them, but vigorously upbraiding and reminding them of the reason why they have become sons. For it was not through the Law, but through the washing of regeneration that they were counted worthy of that honor. Therefore, he sows the traces of God’s kindness everywhere, even in his introduction, as though he were saying, “How is that you, who were slaves and enemies and estranged from God, suddenly call him Father? Surely it is not the Law that gave you this kinship? Why then indeed, abandoning the one who has led you so close to him, are you running back to your tutor?”[40] It is not only in the case of Father, but also in that of the Son that these titles suffice for demonstrating their benefaction. For the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, when carefully examined, clearly shows all his kindness. Indeed, he shall be called Jesus for this reason, it says, “Because he will save his people from their sins.”[41] And the appellation “Christ” calls to mind the anointing of the Spirit.

We come next to the phrase “who gave himself for our sins.”[42] Do you see that he did not merely submit to the service of a slave nor a compulsory service, nor was he handed over by someone else, but rather “gave himself”? Consequently, whenever you hear John saying that the Father gave his only-begotten Son for our sakes, do not for this reason disparage the value of the Only-begotten, nor suspect anything merely human is meant. Even if the Father is said to have given him up, this is not said in order that you should consider his service that of a slave, but in order that you might understand that this was also acceptable to the Father. The very thing Paul here makes clear when he says, “According to the will of our God and Father.”[43] It is not “according to a command” but “according to the will.” For since the will of the Father and the Son is one, whatsoever the Son desired, these things also the Father willed.[44] Next we read, “For our sins.”[45] We pierced ourselves, he says, with a thousand evils, and were liable to the harshest punishment. And the law did not free us but condemned us in rendering our sin more manifest and not being able to free us or turn God away from his anger. But the Son of God both made possible that which was impossible – doing away with our sins and turning us from enemies to his friends – and gracing us with myriad other good things.

So Paul next says, “That he may free us from this present evil age.”[46] Other heretics again snatch at this phrase, casting aspersions on this present life and using Paul’s testimony to do so. “For look,” the heretic says, “Paul has dubbed the present age evil.” And tell me, then, what is an age? Time, measured in days and hours. So what? Is the mere passing of the days evil, and the course of the sun too?[47] No one would ever say that, even if he veers to the extremes of stupidity. “But he did not say ‘time’,” the heretic says, “no, he called the present life evil.” And to be sure the actual words do not say this. But you do not stop at those words which you twisted into an accusation: instead, you are hacking out a path for your own interpretation. You will therefore permit us also to interpret what has been said, all the more so since what we say is pious and reasonable. So then what should we say? That none of those evils would ever be responsible for good things, and yet this present life is responsible for thousands of crowns and such great rewards. The blessed Paul himself, at any rate, unmistakably praises this life when he says as follows: “If my living is in the flesh, this is for me fruitful labor; and as to what I shall chose, I do not know.”[48] And as he sets before himself the choice between living here and casting off this life to be with Christ, he prefers to pass through the present life. But if it were evil, then he would not have said such things in his own case, nor would anyone else be able to make use of it for the end of virtue, no matter how zealously intent on doing so. For no one could ever use wickedness and turn it to a good end. Such a person could not use prostitution as a stimulant to self-control nor envy as a goad to friendliness.

For indeed, Paul says about the presumption of the flesh that “it does not submit to the law of God, nor can it do so,”[49] he means this, that wickedness which remains wickedness cannot be virtue. Consequently, whenever you hear “wicked age,” understand that it means that its deeds are wicked, that its will has been corrupted. For neither did Christ come in order that he might kill us and lead us away from the present life, but that, when he has freed us from this world, he might make us ready to become worthy of dwelling in heaven. For this reason he said while speaking with his Father: “They are also in the world, and I am coming to you…I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one,”[50] that is, from wickedness. And if you are not content with these words, but still persist in holding that this present life is evil, you should not criticize those who commit suicide. For just as he who extricates himself from wickedness does not deserve reproaches but rather commendation, so also the man who ends his own life by a violent death as through hanging or other things like that would not, according to you, deserve to be blamed. But as it is God punishes such persons more than murderers, and all of us, quite appropriately, find such persons loathsome. For if it is not a good thing to destroy other persons, it is much more ignoble to kill oneself. Yet if the present life is evil, we ought to reward murderers, because they free us from that evil!

Still, apart from these things, they also trip themselves up because of what they themselves say. For when they claim that the sun is god, and after that the moon, and they worship these as the causes of many good things, they make mutually contradictory statements. For the use of these and other heavenly bodies does nothing else but contribute to the present life for us, which they call evil, sustaining and illuminating various objects and bringing fruits to their ripeness. So how then do those who are gods in your view introduce into the composition of an evil life such a great public benefit? But neither are the stars gods—heaven forbid; they are the works of God made for our use—nor is the world evil. But if you object to me that there are murderers, and adulterers, and grave robbers, I answer that these do not at all pertain to the present life. For such are not sins that come from life in the flesh, but from a corrupted will. Because if these were the deeds of the present life, as part and parcel with it, nobody would be free nor pure. Yet see how it is impossible for anyone to escape the peculiar qualities of life in the flesh. What are these? I mean things like eating, drinking, sleeping, growing, being hungry, thirsty, being born, dying, and all things similar to these. Nobody would be exempt from these things—not the sinner, not the righteous man, not a king nor private citizen—but we all are subject to the necessity of nature. Consequently, no one would escape the performance of even sinful acts, if such were apportioned to the nature of this life, as such actions are not.

Do not tell me that the those who succeed are scarce. For you will find that no one has ever overcome these natural necessities. So until even one person succeeding in being virtuous is found, your argument will not be at all diminished. What do you mean, you wretched and miserable man? Is the present life evil, when in it we have come to know God, in it we philosophize about the things to come, in it we have gone from being men to angels, and join in the chorus of the heavenly powers?[51] And what other proof will we look for that your understanding is evil and corrupted?

“Why then,” our opponent says, “did Paul say that the present age is evil?” He was using a common manner of speaking. For we are quite accustomed to say, “I had a bad day.” We mean by this not the time itself but lay the blame on what transpired or the circumstance. Thus, Paul used a common expression when he blamed acts of the wicked will. And he shows that Christ has both freed us from our former sins and secured our future. For by saying “who gave himself for our sins,” he made clear the former. And by adding “that he might free us from the present evil age,” he indicated safety for the future. For the law was weak compared to the one, but grace has proven effective against them both.[52]

Next we read, “according to the will of our God and Father.”[53] For because they thought that they were disobeying God, as the one who had given the Law, and they were afraid of abandoning the old covenant and come to the new, he also corrects this assumption of theirs by saying that these things also seemed good to the Father. And he did not say simply “the Father,” but “our Father.” So he uses that word immediately, reprimanding them by saying that Christ has made his Father our Father.

Endnotes

[1] This translation is based on the text provided in Sancti Patris Nostri Joannis Chrysostomi, In Divi Pauli Epistolam Ad Galatas Commentaria, Oxford 1852, Field.

[2] Matthew 16:17.

[3] Ibid., v. 23.

[4] Matthew 15:16.

[5] John 4:27.

[6] 1 Corinthians 4:21.

[7] Galatians 3:1.

[8] Galatians 6:17.

[9] Galatians 4:19.

[10] The vivid metaphor Chrysostom employs here is military. καταφορά (kataphora), prevalent in the Roman historians Polybius, Josephus, and others, is typically used to describe the sudden downward stroke of a sword.

[11] Galatians 5:2.

[12] πρῶτοι (prōtoi) indicates both chronological priority and preeminence.

[13] Galatians 4:20.

[14] Ibid., 1:1a.

[15] Acts 9:18.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:10.

[17] Acts 13:2.

[18] Cf. Acts 20:28ff.

[19] Chrysostom has here conflated, whether deliberately or as a consequence of quoting from memory, two different passages: Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28. From the latter he took the words οὓς μὲν ἔθετο ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ πρῶτον ἀποστόλους, δεύτερον προφήτας, (hous men etheto ho theos en tē ekklēsia prōton apostolous, deuteron prophētas), while he finished the quote with a portion from Ephesians 4, namely ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους (poimenas kai didaskalous).

[20] Galatians 1:1b.

[21] Chrysostom uses here the verb σοφίζω (sophizō), “to act like a sophist.” In this he alludes to a long tradition stretching back to Gorgias, Prodicus, and other opponents of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues who made the weaker argument the stronger.

[22] Galatians 1:1c.

[23] Philippians 2:6.

[24] Hebrews 1:3.

[25] John 1:1.

[26] Chrysostom uses here the somewhat unusual participle φθεγγόμενος (phthengomenos). This is done apparently variationis causa, since he has in previous sentences made use of a range of synonyms including γράφω (graphō), λέγω (legō), ἀναφωνέω (anaphōneō), and ἀναβοάω (anaboaō).

[27] In his use of the terms δύναται (dunatai) and ἐξουσίαν (exousian), Chrysostom registers the long-held distinction between ability and authority and ascribes both to Christ. This distinction is perhaps more common to students of the Latin language, where it is represented by the terms potentia and potestas. Though the two do not mutually entail the other, in the persons of the Trinity the distinction is not consequential.

[28] Acts 5:15.

[29] Acts 19:12.

[30] John 2:19

[31] John 10:18.

[32] Galatians 1:2a.

[33] Ibid., 1:2b.

[34] The word Chrysostom uses here, ἐντρέπων (entrepōn), Paul employs in a similar context in I Cor. 4:14.

[35] Galatians 1:3.

[36] Ibid., 1:4.

[37] John 1:1.

[38] Heb. 1:3.

[39] Here the article τοῦ (tou)is used with θεοῦ (theou), while in the subsequent clause it is anarthrous.

[40] Chrysostom here references Galatians 3:24, in which Paul compares the Mosaic Law to a tutor, leading the underage Israel to himself.

[41] Matthew 1:21.

[42] Galatians 1:4a.

[43] Ibid., 1:4c.

[44] Chrysostom here varies the vocabulary in each clause, from ἐβούλετο (ebouleto) in the first to ἤθελεν (ēthelen) in the second. Presumably this is to demonstrate both the unity and distinction of the will of the Father and Son in their intra-Trinitarian relationship.

[45] Galatians 1:4a.

[46] Ibid., 1:4b.

[47] Chrysostom means here that by which the days are measured, i.e. the sun’s rising and setting.

[48] Philippians 1:22.

[49] Romans 8:7.

[50] John 17:11a, 15.

[51] Chrysostom may have in mind such passages as Ephesians 2, where Christians are said to be “seated with Christ in the heavenly places.”

[52] Sc. present and future.

[53] Galatians 1:4c.

David C. Noe is an elder at Reformation OPC, Grand Rapids, Michigan, a licentiate in the Presbytery of Michigan and Ontario, and serves as an associate professor and chair of the Philosophy and Classics Department at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also serves on the OPC Committee for the Historian.

Joseph A. Tipton is a member of Coeur d'Alene Reformed Church OPC and a Fellow of Classical Languages at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, ID. Ordained Servant Online, March 2020.