Preaching a Different Gospel

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians begins with a stern warning. What some believers were contemplating amounted to replacing the true Gospel with a false one. To turn from the “faith of Jesus Christ” to circumcision and other “works of the law” as the basis for justification meant abandoning the Gospel preached by Paul and the other Apostles. And there is a lesson here for all followers of Jesus, a warning of the dangers posed by any deviation from the apostolic tradition.

Forsaking the original Gospel leads inevitably to apostasy and destruction, at least if one’s course is not corrected.

And thus, the sternness of Paul’s language. Rather than offer his typical thanksgiving and compliments, in Galatians, he launches into a rebuke with words expressing astonishment and irritation, and he even invokes a curse formula on anyone who preaches a “different gospel.”

Showman - Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash
[Photo by Kyle Smith on Unsplash]

All this demonstrates the depth of Paul’s concern and the very real danger that faced the churches of Galatia if they adopted the false teachings being propagated by “
certain men from Jerusalem” - (Galatians 1:6-12).

DESERTING CHRIST


The issue in Galatia was not over how individuals become followers of Jesus, but the danger in which this false “gospel” championed by “false brethren” placed them (“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you”). If followed, this teaching would cause apostasy since it undermined the very basis of the faith and identity of the people of God.

Paul was astonished that the Galatians were “so quickly” deserting their original call.  This indicates that a relatively short period of time had transpired between their initial conversion and this new development.

Moreover, the Greek clause rendered “so quickly” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily the Galatians were turning from the Gospel that he had preached to them.

The Greek word rendered “deserting” in the passage, or metatithémi, means to “transfer” or “alter” from one condition to another.  In the middle voice, as here, the sense is “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.

Paul was shocked that the Galatians were “so quickly deserting from the one who called you.” This clause is a verbal echo of the incident in the Book of 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 verbal allusion is deliberate, and it illustrates the dire situation in which the Galatians were placing themselves by following this “different gospel,” one that is no gospel or “good news” at all - (Exodus 32:8, Deuteronomy 9:16).

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

In other words, the Galatians were abandoning the grace of God for a “different gospel,” one that is not, in fact, “another” gospel at all but something quite different and alien.

Paul referred to those who were “troubling” them using the Greek verb tarassō, the same word used in the Book of Acts when Jewish Christians argued for the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law, thereby “troubling” Gentile believers - (Acts 15:24, 17:8, 17:13).

THE OPPONENTS


Paul will use the same verb again in Chapter 5 of Galatians to describe the chief 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 the Book of Joshua, “the one who TROUBLED Israel” - (Joshua 7:1-5, 1 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 and purpose from the one preached by Paul and his fellow Apostles.

Paul warns against heeding any message that deviates from the one that the Galatians already received, even if Paul or an “angel from heaven” proclaims it. The measuring rod for determining the validity of any message is the APOSTOLIC TRADITION.

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

POSSIBLE JUDGMENT


For emphasis, Paul pronounced a curse formula twice 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 cursing and setting aside of something for destruction - (Leviticus 27:28-29, Joshua 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 engaging in mere rhetoric. Paul was deadly serious, and his words demonstrated the depths of his concern. Men who perverted the Gospel might very well find themselves under God's curse.

He asked two rhetorical questions: “For now am I persuading men or God?  Or am I seeking to please men?” The adverb rendered “now” is emphatic in the Greek sentence. Considering what he just said, is 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 is “no.” The harshness of the language communicates just how serious the situation was.  Unstated is the opposite side of the coin - Paul is 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 supernatural origin of his Gospel. He received it through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” He was referring to the vision he received on the road to Damascus. Its contents included his commission to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles - (Acts 9:1-16, 22:21, 26:17-20, Romans 1:5).

The long rebuke that began in the Letter’s opening 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 “desert” the grace of Christ and embrace a “different gospel,” one that was not “good news.”

The agitators were “perverting” the true Gospel whether they understood that or not.  And anyone who engages in such activities both then and now places him or herself under the curse of God, and possibly even everlasting destruction in the final analysis.

Any believer who follows this course of action and embraces the works and rituals of the Law rather than the “faith of Jesus Christ” as the foundation for reconciliation with God risks abandoning His grace and rejecting everything for which Jesus died.

The safety and health of the church is dependent on its adherence to the apostolic tradition taught by Paul and his fellow apostles. Every message that departs from that tradition must be rejected decisively and immediately.


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