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11 September 2019

Proclaiming Another Gospel

SynopsisThe Judaizing opponents of Paul preached a different message and a different Christ than the one they received from the ApostleGalatians 1:6-12.

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash
Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash
The second paragraph marks the start of the body of this letter and an extended section that does not end until Galatians 4:11. It can be summarized as a lengthy admonition to the Galatian assemblies concerning the direction they were contemplating, with serious warnings about how it would lead, inevitably, to their apostasy.

Thus, the sternness of Paul’s language; rather than offer his typical thanksgiving and compliments, in this letter he launches quickly into a rebuke with words of astonishment and a curse formula. All this serves to stress the depth of his concern and the very real danger posed to the churches of Galatia by the false teachings of “certain men from Jerusalem.”

(Galatians 1:6-12) - “I marvel that, thus quickly ye are moving away from him that called you in the favour of Christ, unto a different glad-message — Which is not another, only there are some that are troubling you and wishing to change the glad-message of the Christ.  But even if we or a messenger out of heaven announce a glad-message aside from that which we announced unto you, accursed let him be! As we have said before, even now again, I say: If anyone is announcing unto you a glad-message aside from that which ye accepted, accursed let him be! For am I, even now, persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I had been still pleasing men, Christ’s servant had I not been! For I make known unto you, brethren, as to the glad-message which was announced by me, that it is not after man; For neither from man did I accept it nor was taught [it] — but through a revealing of Jesus Christ” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The issue is not how individuals become Christians but, instead, how they continue on to maturity in the faith and avoid apostasy (e.g., “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you” – Compare - Galatians 5:13-26). The teachings introduced into the churches of Galatia by false teachers could cause apostasy since the very basis of the Christian faith and the identity of the people of God were under attack.
The Apostle expresses his great astonishment that the Galatian congregations are “so quickly” deserting their original call. This indicates a relatively short period of time between their initial conversion and the new situation. The term, “so quickly,” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily they are abandoning the gospel he preached to them. 

The Greek verb rendered “deserting” is metatithémi (Strong’s #G3346). In the active voice, it means to “transfer” or “alter” from one condition to another.  In the middle voice, as here, the sense becomes “desert, abandon, apostatize.”

The book of Jude uses the same verb for men who were perverting the gospel (Jude 4, “admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who are perverting the grace of our God into licentiousness”). The term carries strong overtones of apostasy (Galatians 3:1-54:9-155:4-7).

So quickly deserting from the one who called you.” This statement contains a verbal allusion to incident in the Book of Exodus when the Israelites built a golden calf after Moses appeared to delay his return from Mount Sinai. Yahweh commanded Moses, “Get down, for thy people whom thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” The allusion is deliberate; it illustrates the danger the Galatians now face on their present course:

(Exodus 32:8) – “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them, they have made for themselves—a molten calf, and have bowed themselves down thereto mad have sacrificed thereto, and have said. These are thy gods, O Israel, who have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
(Deuteronomy 9:16) – “Then looked I, and lo! ye had sinned against Yahweh your God, ye had made you a molten calf—ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which Yahweh had commanded you.

Very possibly, the Galatians are deserting the grace of God for “a different gospel,” intentionally or not. The Greek adjective rendered “different” is heteros (Strong’s G2087). However, when Paul repeats the warning he uses a different adjective or allos (Strong’s #G243).

Heteros and allos are often synonymous but, when used in combination, heteros means “different” and allos “another.”  In other words, they are deserting the grace of God for a “different gospel” that is not, in fact, “another” gospel at all but something very different.

Paul refers to those who are “troubling” the Galatians  or tarassō (Strong’s #G5015).  This is the same Greek word use in the book of Acts for Jewish Christians who argued for the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law and, thereby, “troubled” other congregations (Acts 15:2417:8, 17:13).

Paul will use this same verb again in Galatians 5:10 to refer to the present agitators (“but the one who is troubling you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is”). By it, he may intend to echo the story of Achar or Achan, “the one who troubled Israel” (Joshua 7:1-51 Chronicles 2:7).

The agitators are attempting “to alter the gospel of Christ.” This translates the verb metastrephō, “to alter, turn around, turn after” (Strong’s #G3344). The opponents preach not just “another Jesus” but, instead, a gospel that differs fundamentally in content from the one preached by Paul. He warns against heeding any gospel message that differs from the one the Galatians have already received, even if Paul or an angel from heaven proclaims it.

That Paul can so reason suggests the underlying issue is not really a dispute about his apostolic authority but, instead, over the content of the Gospel.  The reference to an angel delivering a false gospel anticipates the discussion about how the Law of Moses was delivered to Israel by angels. While not stated in the Pentateuch, by the first century, a common Jewish tradition was that Moses received the Law from angels (Galatians 3:19, Acts 7:51-53, Hebrews 2:1-4).

For emphasis, twice Paul pronounces a curse formula on his opponents.  “Accursed” translates the Greek noun anathema (Strong’s #G331). The same word was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word hérem or “ban,” the setting aside of something for destruction (Leviticus 27:28-29Joshua 6:17-18).
The Apostle Paul is not cursing his opponents but calling on God to do so (i.e., “let him be accursed”). He repeats the curse formula for emphasis but, also, to demonstrate that he is not engaged in mere rhetoric; he is deadly serious and his words prove the depths of his concern. 

Paul asks two rhetorical questions: “For now am I persuading men or God?  Or am I seeking to please men?” The adverb “now” is emphatic in the Greek clause. Considering what he just said, is he trying to persuade men or God?  The implied answer to the first question is “God.” That is, that God would curse the agitators who are disseminating a false gospel.

The expected answer to the second question is “no” (i.e., “Am I seeking to please men?”).  This is made clear by the clause, “If yet I were pleasing man, I would not be Christ's bondservant.” The harshness of this language communicates just how serious this situation is.  Unstated is the opposite side of the coin - Paul is seeking, instead, to please God.

Those who work to please men cannot be “Christ's bondservant.” While Paul is attempting to persuade others, he will not become a man-pleaser to do so. Possibly, he is answering a charge made by his opponents that he was a man-pleaser. His willingness to call down Divine curses demonstrates that he is no such thing.

In the following section, Paul recounts key events in his life after his conversion to demonstrate that his gospel and authority are not derived from any human agency. In preparation, he now solemnly affirms the Divine origin and character of his gospel, a proposition he will prove by arguments in Galatians 1:13-2:14.

Paul received the gospel through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Revelation” or apokalypsis means, “revelation, disclosure, revealing, uncovering.” He is referring to the revelation he received from Jesus on the Damascus Road. The content of this revelation included his commission to proclaim to the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-1622:2126:17-20Romans 1:5).

The long rebuke that began in this paragraph continues until Galatians 4:11. Noteworthy is the severity of the language; arguably, the sternest language of any of Paul’s surviving letters. On their present course, the Galatian churches are “deserting” the grace of Christ and embracing a “different gospel,” one that is not, in fact, “good news.”

The agitators are “altering” the true gospel, whether they understand this or not.  Anyone who does so places himself under the curse of God and, possibly, eventual destruction.  This language describes apostasy; anyone who follows this course risks abandoning the grace of God and everything for which Jesus died.

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