Even An Angel

After a curt introduction, Paul begins his Letter to the Galatians with a stern warning and rebuke. What some members of the congregation are contemplating constitutes replacing Jesus with a false messiah and a COUNTERFEIT GOSPEL. To turn from the “faith of Jesus Christ” to circumcision and other “works of the law” as the basis of right standing before God leads inevitably to apostasy. Thus, the sternness of the Apostle’s language.

The Apostle to the Gentiles launched into a rebuke with words expressing his shock that the Galatians had departed so quickly from the Gospel and included an ominous curse formula. Are Gentiles accepted by God on faith, or must they get circumcised and adopt Jewish customs and rituals?

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

His statement demonstrates the depth of Paul’s concern and the very real danger that the churches of Galatia were exchanging the true Gospel for a counterfeit that was being propagated by certain men “
from Jerusalem” - (Galatians 1:6-12).

PERVERTING THE GOSPEL


Paul was concerned about the danger that the false “gospel” championed by these “false brethren” placed the Galatians in - (“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you”). If followed, this teaching would cause many to apostatize since it undermined the very basis of the faith and the identity of the people of God.

Paul’s statement indicates that a relatively short time has transpired between his departure from Galatia and the development of this new crisis.  His phrase, “so quickly,” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily some of the Galatians were abandoning the true Gospel.

The Greek term rendered “deserting” in the passage, or metatithémi, means to “transfer” or “alter” from one condition to another.  And in the Greek middle voice, as is the case 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.

Some believers in Galatia were quickly deserting the “one who called you.” This phrase 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).

A DIFFERENT GOSPEL


The Galatians were exchanging 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,” one that was, in fact, not “another” gospel at all but something quite different and alien.

Paul describes these men from Jerusalem as those who “are troubling you.” This represents the verb 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 15:24, 17:8, 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 7:1-5, 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 from the one proclaimed 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, the Apostle 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).

LET HIM BE ACCURSED


For emphasis, twice Paul pronounces 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 27:28-29, Joshua 6:17-18).

The Apostle is not cursing his opponents himself but calling on God to do so (“let him be accursed”). And he repeats this formula for emphasis, but also to demonstrate that he is not engaged in mere rhetoric.

Paul is deadly serious, and his words prove the depths of his concern. This is not a debate over doctrinal purity, but a matter of life and death. If the Galatians continue to pursue their present course, they will find themselves “severed from Christ” – (Galatians 5:4).

Paul solemnly affirms the Divine origin and character of his Gospel. He received it through “a revelation of Jesus Christ,” a reference to the revelation he received on the Damascus Road. And the content of that revelation included his commission to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles - (Acts 9:1-16, 22:21, 26:17-20, Romans 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 repudiating everything for which Jesus died.

While believers 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 he 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 brings grave consequences.


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