If Even An Angel

Paul warned the Galatians not to heed any gospel that deviated from the one preached by Paul even if it came from an angel

Angel - Photo by Andika Christian on Unsplash
After a curt introduction, Paul began his letter to the
Galatians with a stern warning. What some members were contemplating amounted to replacing Jesus with a false messiah and a false gospel. To turn from the “faith of Jesus Christ” to circumcision and other “works of the law” as the basis of the faith amounted to apostasy. Thus, the sternness of his language - [Photo by Andika Christian on Unsplash].

The Apostle to the Gentiles launched into a rebuke with words expressing his astonishment that the Galatians had departed so quickly from the gospel and a rebuke that included an ominous curse formula. His statement demonstrates the depth of his concern and the very real danger posed to the churches of Galatia by the false teachings propagated by certain Jews “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.
He was concerned about the danger that the “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 followed, their teachings would cause many to apostatize since it undermined the very basis of the Christian faith and the identity of the people of God.

Paul’s statement indicates that a relatively short time had transpired between his departure from Galatia and the development of this new situation.  “So quickly” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily some of the Galatian Christians were abandoning the gospel that he had preached.

Deserting” or metatithémi means to “transfer” or “alter” from one condition to another.  And in the Greek middle voice, as it is 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.”
And they were quickly deserting the “one who called you,” which echoes the incident in Exodus when the Israelites built the golden calf after Moses appeared to delay his return from Sinai. Yahweh commanded him to “get down… for they have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” The verbal allusion is deliberate, and it illustrates the real danger of the situation - (Exodus 32:8, Deuteronomy 9:16).

The Galatians were forsaking the grace of God for “a different gospel.” The Greek adjective for “different” is heteros, but when Paul repeated the warning, he switched to a different adjective, namely, allos. Though often synonymous, when used in combination heteros means “different” and allos “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 and alien.

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, otherwise, were “troubling” Gentile believers - (Acts 15:2417:8, 17:13).

Paul uses this same verb again in chapter 5 when he describes the agitator in Galatia (“but the one who is troubling you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is”). And there, his words echo the story of Achar from the book of 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 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. In doing this, he invested his gospel message with supreme authority. The apostolic tradition was the final court of appeal for determining truth from falsehood.

That Paul could reason so suggests the underlying issue was not a dispute about his apostolic authority, but 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 - (Galatians 3:19).

For emphasis, twice he pronounced a curse formula on his opponents.  “Accursed” translates the Greek noun anathema, the same word 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 was not himself cursing his opponents but calling on God to do so (“let him be accursed”). And he repeated this 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. This was not a debate over doctrinal purity, but a matter of life and death, for it the Galatians continued to pursue their present course, they would find themselves “severed from Christ” – (Galatians 5:4).

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

The agitators from Jerusalem were “perverting” the true gospel, and anyone who did so placed himself under the curse of God and risked abandoning the grace of God and everything for which Jesus died.

While Christians today may not be contemplating exchanging the grace of God for legalism, there is a relevant message in this story. When men from Jerusalem arrived claiming that Gentile believers must get circumcised, Paul appealed to the original gospel that he had received from the risen Jesus and preached to the Galatians as the grounds for rejecting these claims.

Ultimately, the apostolic tradition was and is the determining factor. That the propagator of a false message is an apostle or “even an angel from heaven” is irrelevant. If the message is contrary to the apostolic tradition, it must be rejected, and the failure to do so will bring grave consequences.



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