Even An Angel

After a curt introduction, Paul began his Letter to the Galatians with a stern warning and a sharp rebuke. What some members of the congregation were contemplating would replace Jesus with a false messiah and a counterfeit gospel. Abandoning the “faith of Jesus Christ” by engaging in circumcision and other “works of the law” for justification before God would lead inevitably to being severed from Christ. Thus, the seriousness of his language.

Paul launched into a rebuke with words expressing shock that the congregation had departed so quickly from the Gospel, and he included an ominous curse formula. Were Gentiles accepted by God based on faith alone, or must they also be circumcised and adopt some Jewish customs?

Angel - Photo by Andika Christian on Unsplash
[Angel Photo by Andika Christian on Unsplash]

His statement demonstrates the depth of Paul’s concern and the danger that the congregation would exchange the true Gospel for a counterfeit one propagated by certain men “from Jerusalem” (“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you” - Galatians 1:6-12).

If followed, this teaching would cause many to apostatize since it undermined the very basis of the Gospel proclaimed by the Apostles and the identity of the people of God. Paul’s description of this change as having occurred “so quickly” indicates just how easily the Galatians had been led in the wrong direction.

The Greek term rendered “deserting” or metatithémi means to “transfer” from one condition to another.  When the verb is in the Greek middle voice, as is the case in the passage, the sense becomes “desert, abandon, apostatize, pervert” - (Jude 4).

Some believers were quickly deserting the “one who called you.” This echoes the incident in the Book of Exodus when the Israelites built the golden calf after Moses appeared to delay his return from Mount 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).

DIFFERENT GOSPEL


They were exchanging the grace of God for “a different gospel.” The Greek adjective used here for “different” is heteros. However, when Paul repeats the warning, he switches to a different adjective or allos. Though often synonymous, when used in combination as is the case here heteros means “different” and allos “another.”

Thus, the congregation was deserting the grace of God for a “different gospel,” one that was, in fact, not “another” gospel at all but something entirely different from and alien to the Apostolic teachings.

Paul describes the men from Jerusalem who were disrupting the congregation as those who “are troubling you.” This rendering represents the verb tarassō, the same Greek verb used in the Book of Acts to describe Jewish Christians who argued for the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law, and thereby “troubling” Gentile followers of Jesus. It alludes to the story of Achar in the Book of Joshua, “the one who TROUBLED Israel” - (Joshua 7:1-5, 1 Chronicles 2:7, Acts 15:24, 17:8, 17:13, Galatians 5:10).

The agitators were “altering the Gospel of Christ.” They preached not just “another Jesus,” but a false gospel that differed fundamentally from the true one proclaimed by Paul. He warned against heeding any message that differed from the Gospel the Galatians had already received, even if Paul himself or an “angel from heaven” proclaimed it. Thus, 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 authority, but instead, 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).

LET HIM BE ACCURSED


Twice Paul pronounced a curse formula on his opponents. The English term “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 27:28-29, Joshua 6:17-18).

He was not cursing his opponents himself. He was calling on God to do so (“Let him be accursed!”). He repeated the formula for emphasis, demonstrating that he was not engaging in mere rhetoric. He was deadly serious.

This was not a debate over doctrinal purity, but instead, it was a matter of life and death. If the Galatians persisted in this 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 what the Risen Savior gave him on the road to Damascus. The content of that message included his commission to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles - (Acts 9:1-16, 22:21, 26:17-20, Romans 1:5).

The agitators were “perverting” that very Gospel, the one received from Jesus. Anyone who did so placed himself under the curse of God and risked abandoning the grace of God and repudiating everything for which Christ died.

Dark Road - Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash
[Dark Road Photo by Egor Myznik on Unsplash]

There is a relevant message in this incident. When certain voices claimed that Gentile believers must get circumcised, Paul appealed to the original Gospel he received from the Lord and preached to the Galatians as the grounds for rejecting any claim that deviated from the original message. That Gospel and the rest of the Apostolic teachings are preserved in the New Testament.

The Apostolic Tradition was and remains the determining factor in doctrinal disputes. If the propagator of a false message is an apostle or “even an angel from heaven” is irrelevant if the teaching contradicts what the Apostles taught. It must be rejected, and failure to do so could result in grave and even eternal consequences.



RELATED POSTS:
  • The Works of the Law - (Sin is the Great Leveler that places everyone in the same predicament: Bondage now, death and wrath later)
  • The Faithfulness of God - (The righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness to His promises, and this is demonstrated in the salvation He has provided in Jesus)
  • Having Begun in the Spirit - (The receipt of the Spirit demonstrated the Galatians had been accepted by God without circumcision)


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