Many moons ago, before the advent of the worldwide web, etc., believe it or not, folks still wrote stuff. It just didn’t get as large an audience, which, in most instances, is probably a good thing. Anyway, back when I was skinny and had hair, I wrote a commentary on Galatians. It was for an extended Bible study I was leading at the time. I happened across the notebook containing that material, and found that reading the commentary on 1:6-10 reminded me that even I am tempted to think that “things are just getting worse and worse.” Yet, unless I was exaggerating back then, the issues really have not changed. In one sense it is good that I remain very concerned when I encounter those who are willing to say that God has, in essence, “mumbled” in revealing the gospel so that it can be seen as a very vague, very multi-form thing that really allows for no real definition. But this is nothing new. I was talking about it back in the late 80s, and if the Lord gives me another twenty years, I’ll be at it then, too, as long as the Lord gives me breath.
II. Paul’s Amazement at the Galatians (1:6-9)
6. I am amazed that you are so quickly being moved from the One who called you by the grace of Christ unto another gospel, 7. which is really not another, except there are those who are troubling you and are wishing to change the Gospel of Christ. 8. But; even if we, or an angel from heaven, were to preach to you [a gospel] other than that which we preached to you, let him be anathema. 9. As we said before I say now again, if anyone is preaching [a gospel] other than that which you received, let him be anathema.
In all of Paul’s other epistles, he follows his salutation with words of commendation, and assurances of his continuing prayer for the Christians in the church in that cities or in those cities to which the letter is addressed. Even when writing to Corinth, in the midst of great difficulties and immorality in the church, he does this. Only in Galatians is there no positive word, no commendation. The issue is too important for anything to get in the way of immediate correction, immediate warning.
He begins by saying that he is amazed at the Galatians. The term speaks of absolute wonderment and shock. He is dumbfounded by their actions. What causes his amazement? you are so quickly being moved from the One who called you… This is what troubles the Apostle. The term translated so quickly can either refer to quickness in the sense of a short period of time (which would have bearing upon just when the epistle was written, for this would seemingly indicate a short period of time between the initial evangelization of these churches, and their subsequent moving away from the truth of the Gospel) or it can refer instead to the ease with which they were being convinced of another teaching. In either case, Paul is amazed at their instability, their fickleness.
The Galatian believers, in their acceptance of this other gospel, are being moved from the One who called them. The term is often translated as a middle reflexive, which would yield the translation, “you are moving yourselves….” However, despite the good evidence for this amongst scholars, others point out that the blame for this defection is primarily placed upon the false teachers by Paul, for it is they who are actively troubling the Christians in Galatia. Hence, we feel that a more consistent rendering would be to take the verb as a passive, as we have in our translation.
Any movement away from the true Gospel, according to Paul, is a movement away from God Himself, who called each believer by the grace of Christ. Here is defection of the gravest sort, resulting in terrible guilt both for those who would encourage such treason as well as those who would abandon their faith. Paul does not indicate that these Galatians have gone to a point of no return, and, if they heeded the warnings of this letter, they certainly could have turned back from their course of destruction. However, the truth remains that one cannot substitute another gospel and claim to be moving closer to God. God’s truth and the Gospel cannot be separated from one another.
The concept of God being the absolute of the entire universe that underlies Paul’s thinking here is sadly foreign to modern man. God is true. Since the eternal, personal God of the Bible exists, then truth exists as well. Truth is absolute–it is defined by God’s being. Man is not the measure of truth. If God reveals something to be true, then it is true, irrespective of whether man accepts it as true or not. Here, the Gospel of God is true. If a man does not accept this Gospel, or opts for another gospel, then he is, by so doing, moving away from God. His beliefs, then, are false. The fact that so many who today claim to be Christians and yet deny that the Gospel can even be defined with sufficient clarity to allow one to say this is true teaching and this is false teaching shows how deeply the humanistic/naturalistic world-view has invaded the church.
Foundational to the Gospel of God is the description of God as the One who calls. God is presented as sovereign in salvation, as the one who initiates the entire process that the Galatians are now trying to short-circuit. And how did God call them? by the grace of Christ is Paul’s answer. The grace of God is, in Paul’s vocabulary, used interchangeably with the grace of Christ, since, in his mind, there is no difference between the two (just as he uses the Spirit of Christ or the Spirit of God interchangeably, Romans 8:9). The very calling of God is described as an action of grace and mercy. God is under no obligation to call anyone outside of His grace. That Paul can, without elaboration, mention this suggests that it was something that he expected to be understood by his readers.
unto another gospel, which is not another brings us to a discussion of just what Paul means by another gospel followed immediately by the negation of the possibility of there actually being another gospel. Paul uses two different words in the Greek text, both of which are translated another. The first, heteros, normally refers to another of a different kind. The second, allos, normally refers to another of the same kind. Many commentators point out these differing meanings, drawing the conclusion that Paul is basically saying that this other gospel is not a gospel of the same kind as the true, Biblical Gospel of Christ, and this may well be true. Other interpreters note, however, that this differentiation of heteros/allos is not iron-clad, and point specifically to 2 Corinthians 11:4 where Paul writes, “For if one comes proclaiming another Jesus (allos) whom we have not proclaimed, or another spirit (heteros) which you have not received, or another gospel (heteros) which you have not received, you might well put up with them.” Further examination of the usage of the terms, as J.B. Lightfoot wrote, reveals that while allos is generally confined to a negation of identity, heteros sometimes implies the negation of resemblance (J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, pg. 76). So, in 2 Cor. 11:4 this would indicate a different identity of this other Jesus while the other spirit and the other gospel are of a different kind, lacking a true resemblance to the real thing. John also uses allos in an important way. In John 14:16 Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give to you another (allos) Comforter, that He might be with you forever.” The usage of allos in 2 Cor. 11:4 would fit well here: the Spirit is another from Jesus as far as identity is concerned, yet He is the same kind of Comforter as Jesus is. Therefore, as used here in Galatians 1:6-7, it would seem that the differentiation of allos/heteros is purposeful, and would, given what follows, indicate that this other gospel is not another of the same kind or identity, but is another of a different kind, a non-gospel.
Clearly for Paul there cannot be more than one euaggelion (Gospel). Either one has the Gospel of Christ or one does not have any Gospel at all. Therefore, the Gospel itself must be definable so that the false pretenders can be identified. This seems rather obvious: if one cannot say “This is the Gospel, and that is not” then Paul’s assertions throughout this book are senseless. Yet, it is just this ability to define the Gospel that seems to have been lost in our modern situation. There are so many false concepts of the Gospel that confusion reigns supreme, and anyone who claims to be able to make heads or tails of the situation is immediately looked at with suspicion. Beyond this, many cultic groups claim that all other presentations of the gospel other than their own are perversions and are false. One does not want to be in the same company as the false teachers. So, it has become fashionable to allow for wide divergence concerning the nature of the Gospel. Often this willingness to compromise is cloaked under the banner of false humility. Well, there are many good men who disagree about the nature of the Gospel, and I certainly recognize my own limitations and know how I could quite possibly be wrong, so it would be wrong of me to be so dogmatic as to charge others with false teaching. This disease is, quite clearly, epidemic in our land.
Yet, someone might say, is it not true that we are prone to make mistakes? Are we not liable to be influenced deeply by our own traditions, our own backgrounds? In light of this, and given the fact that, unlike Paul, we have not received a direct revelation of the Gospel from Jesus Christ, but are dependent upon a written record, would it not be wise to be a bit more generous toward others when it comes to differences about the Gospel? While all of these things are true, there is a subtle yet fatal flaw in this reasoning. It is a flaw that is so basic to understanding the sickness of the modern professing church that we must take the time to point it out. If what was said above is true, then what logically follows is that we are in a position where we can not be certain about the Gospel message. Why can we not be certain when Paul obviously was? Paul received the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ (v. 12). We have not been visited directly by the Lord Jesus. So, the argument goes, we have less assurance of the truth than Paul did. But, is this not the same as saying that the means by which we know the Gospel, that is by the Scriptures, is somehow insufficient to give us the same confidence and surety? Are we not in actuality saying that the Bible is flawed, incapable of truly defining the Gospel so as to allow us to resist false perversions thereof? Most assuredly! This most often comes under the guise of teaching that points out the difficult passages and, on the basis of these, asserts that for anyone to claim to know the message of the Bible, outside of some very nebulous concepts, is to claim to know the unknowable.
Since the Bible has been so savagely attacked both from without the Church (under the banner of science/philosophy/humanism) as well as from within the professing Church (under the guise of liberalism), much of its authority has vanished from many Protestant denominations. Therefore, the strong denunciation of false gospels is lacking from modern preaching. This has opened the door wide for all kinds of false teaching to flood the churches, washing away any of the bold, powerful proclamation that marks a church that is committed to the authority of the Word of God, the Bible.
The loss of trust and confidence in the Bible as the Word of God is directly related to the unpopularity of preaching against false doctrine or teaching. If one does not believe that there is an authoritative source of God’s truth that is sufficiently clear and understandable to communicate that truth one will hardly have any basis upon which to identify false teaching.
The fact that Paul had no problem in calling the teaching of the Galatian leaders a non-gospel should tell us that he was not laboring under the impression that the Gospel was unclear or unknowable. If we follow his lead as it is presented to us in this letter to the Galatian churches, we too shall be able to warn others against those teachings which could, quite clearly, bring them into eternal damnation.