Another Gospel

The Judaizing opponents at Galatia were preaching a different message that deviated from the apostolic traditionGalatians 1:6-12

Bible and Cross - Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash
After a brief introduction, the letter to the
Galatians begins with a stern warning. What some believers were contemplating amounted to replacing the message proclaimed by Paul with a false gospel. To turn from the “faith of Jesus Christ” to circumcision and other “works of the law” as the basis for one’s right standing before God is nothing less than the abandonment of the gospel - [Bible and Cross - Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash].

There is a lesson for all Christians in this episode, a warning of the dangers posed by any deviation from the apostolic tradition. That path leads to apostasy and inevitable destruction if not corrected. And thus, the sternness of Paul’s language. Rather than offer his typical thanksgiving and compliments, he launches quickly into a rebuke with words expressing astonishment and even a curse formula.

All this demonstrates the depth of the Apostle’s concern and the very real danger posed to the churches of Galatia by the false teachings propagated by “certain men from Jerusalem.”
  • (Galatians 1:6-12) - “I marvel that, so quickly you are moving away from him that called you in the grace of Christ for a different gospel, which is not another, only there are some that are troubling you and wishing to change the gospel of the Christ.  But even if we or an angel from heaven announce a gospel aside from that which we announced to you, accursed let him be! As we have said before, even now again, I say, if anyone is announcing to you a gospel aside from that which you accepted, accursed let him be! For am I, even now, persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I had still been pleasing men, Christ’s servant had I not been! For I make known to you, brethren, as to the gospel, 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 issue was not how individuals become Christians, but the danger that this “gospel” championed by these “false brethren” placed the Galatians (“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you”). If not corrected, their teaching would cause apostasy since it undermined the very basis of the Christian faith and the identity of the people of God.

Paul expressed his astonishment that the Galatians were “so quickly” deserting their original call.  This indicates a relatively short period of time between their initial conversion and this new development in Galatia.  “So quickly” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily they were abandoning the gospel preached by him.

Deserting” or metatithémi 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 applies the same verb to men who were perverting the gospel:
  • (Jude 4) - “For there are certain men crept in privily, even they who were of old written of beforehand unto this condemnation, ungodly men, perverting the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
So quickly deserting from the one who called you.” This clause includes a verbal echo from the incident in Exodus when the Israelites built the golden calf. Yahweh commanded Moses to get down from Sinai, “for they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” The allusion is deliberate, and it illustrates the dire situation of the Galatians - (Exodus 32:8, Deuteronomy 9:16).

Intentionally or not, they were forsaking the grace of God for “a different gospel.” The Greek adjective for “different” is heteros (Strong’s - G2087). But when Paul repeated the warning, he switched to a different adjective, allos - (Strong’s - #G243). Often, heteros and allos are synonymous, but when used together heteros means “different” and allos means “another.”

In other words, they were deserting the grace of God for a “different gospel” that was not, in fact, “another” gospel at all but something quite different.

Paul refers to those who were “troubling” them or tarassō, the same Greek word used in Acts when Jewish Christians argued for the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law and, thereby, were “troubling” Gentile believers - (Acts 15:2417:8, 17:13).

Paul will use this same verb again in chapter 5 when describing the agitator in Galatia (“but the one who is troubling you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is”), and that clause echoes the story of Achar from Joshua, “the one who troubled Israel” - (Joshua 7:1-51 Chronicles 2:7, Galatians 5:10).

The agitators were “altering the gospel of Christ.” They preached not just “another Jesus,” but a gospel that differed fundamentally in content from the one preached by Paul. He warned against heeding any gospel message that differed from the one the Galatians had already received, even if Paul or an angel from heaven proclaimed it. The measuring rod for determining the validity of any message was (and is) the apostolic tradition.

That Paul can reason so suggests the underlying issue was the content of the gospel itself.  The reference to an angel delivering a false gospel anticipates the later discussion about how the Law of Moses was mediated by angels - (Galatians 3:19).

For emphasis, twice Paul pronounced a curse formula on his opponents.  “Accursed” translates the Greek noun anathema (Strong’s - #G331), the same word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to render the Hebrew word hérem or “ban,” the setting aside of something for destruction - (Leviticus 27:28-29Joshua 6:17-18).

The Apostle was not cursing his opponents but calling on God to do so (“let him be accursed”). He repeated the formula for emphasis, but also to demonstrate that he was not engaged in mere rhetoric. Paul was deadly serious, and his words prove the depths of his concern.

He asked 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 had just said, was he trying to persuade men or God?  The implied answer to the first question is “God.” That is, God would curse the agitators who were disseminating this false gospel.

The expected answer to the second question was “no.” The harshness of his language communicates just how serious the situation was.  Unstated was the opposite side of the coin - Paul was seeking, instead, to please God. Those who seek to please men cannot be “Christ's bondservant.” While Paul was attempting to persuade others, he would not become a man-pleaser in doing so.

Paul solemnly affirmed the Divine origin and character of his gospel. He received it through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” He was referring to the revelation he received on the Damascus Road. Its content included his commission to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles - (Acts 9:1-1622:2126:17-20Romans 1:5).

The long rebuke that began in this paragraph continues into chapter 4. Noteworthy is the severity of the language; arguably, the sternest language found in any of Paul’s letters. If the Galatians continued their present course, they would be “deserting” the grace of Christ and embracing a “different gospel,” one that was not, in fact, “good news.”

The agitators were “perverting” the true gospel, whether they understood so or not.  Anyone who engaged in such activities placed himself under the curse of God, and possibly everlasting destruction. Anyone who followed this course risked abandoning the grace of God and everything for which Jesus died. The safety of the church was (and is) dependent on its adherence to the apostolic traditions preached by Paul and the Apostles.



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