Deceivers, False Gospel


SYNOPSIS:  The Judaizing opponents of Paul preached a different message and a different Christ than the one they received from the Apostle – Galatians 1:6-12.

The second paragraph marks the start of the body of this letter and an extended section that does not end until well into chapter 4. It can be summarized as a lengthy admonition to the Galatian assemblies concerning the direction they were contemplating, with serious warnings about how it would lead, inevitably, to their apostasy.

Thus, the sternness of Paul’s language – Rather than offer his typical thanksgiving and compliments, in this letter he launches quickly into a rebuke with words of astonishment and a curse formula. All this serves to stress the depth of his concern and the very real danger posed to the churches of Galatia by the false teachings of “certain men from Jerusalem.”

(Galatians 1:6-12) – “I marvel that, thus quickly ye are moving away from him that called you in the favour of Christ, unto a different glad-message — Which is not another, only there are some that are troubling you and wishing to change the glad-message of the Christ.  But even if we or a messenger out of heaven announce a glad-message aside from that which we announced unto you, accursed let him be! As we have said before, even now again, I say: If anyone is announcing unto you a glad-message aside from that which ye accepted, accursed let him be! For am I, even now, persuading men or God? Or am I seeking to please men? If I had been still pleasing men, Christ’s servant had I not been! For I make known unto you, brethren, as to the glad-message 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” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The issue was not how individuals become Christians, but instead, how they would grow into maturity in the faith and avoid apostasy – (e.g., “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting from the one who called you” – Compare – Galatians 5:13-26).

The teachings introduced into the churches of Galatia by false teachers could cause apostasy since the very basis of the Christian faith and the identity of the people of God were under attack.

The Apostle expresses his great astonishment that the Galatian congregations are “so quickly” deserting their original call. This indicates a relatively short period of time between their initial conversion and the new situation. The term, “so quickly,” emphasizes the depth of his surprise at how easily they are abandoning the gospel he preached to them.

The Greek verb rendered “deserting” is metatithémi (Strong’s – #G3346). In the active voice, it means to “transfer” or “alter” from one condition to another.  In the middle voice, as here, the sense becomes “desert, abandon, apostatize.”

The book of Jude uses the same verb for men who were perverting the gospel (Jude 4 – “Admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who are perverting the grace of our God into licentiousness”). The term carries strong overtones of apostasy – (Galatians 3:1-54:9-155:4-7).

SO QUICKLY DESERTING from the one who called you.” This statement contains a verbal allusion to an incident in the Book of Exodus when the Israelites built a golden calf after Moses appeared to delay his return from Sinai. Yahweh commanded him – “Get down, for thy people whom thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” The allusion is deliberate – It illustrates the danger the Galatians now face on their present course:

  • (Exodus 32:8) – “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them, they have made for themselves—a molten calf, and have bowed themselves down thereto mad have sacrificed thereto, and have said. These are thy gods, O Israel, who have brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”
  • (Deuteronomy 9:16) – “Then looked I, and lo! ye had sinned against Yahweh your God, ye had made you a molten calf—ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which Yahweh had commanded you.”

Very possibly, the Galatians were deserting the grace of God for “a different gospel,” intentionally or not. The Greek adjective rendered “different” is heteros – (Strong’s – G2087). However, when Paul repeated the warning, he used a different adjective, allos – (Strong’s – #G243).

Heteros and allos are often synonymous, but 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 not, in fact, “another” gospel at all but something quite different.
Paul referred to those who were “troubling” the Christians at Galatia, or tarassō – (Strong’s – #G5015).  This is the same Greek word used in the book of Acts for Jewish Christians who argued for the necessity of keeping the Mosaic Law, and thereby, they “troubled” other congregations – (Acts 15:2417:8,17:13).

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Paul used this same verb again in the fifth chapter of this letter to refer to these agitators – (“But the one who is troubling you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is”). By it, he possibly intended to echo the story of Achar or Achan – “The one who troubled Israel” – (Joshua 7:1-51 Chronicles 2:7, Galatians 5:10).

The agitators were attempting “to alter the gospel of Christ.” This translates the verb metastrephō, “to alter, turn around, turn after” (Strong’s – #G3344). The opponents taught not just “another Jesus,” but instead, one that differed fundamentally in content from the message preached by Paul. He warned against heeding any “gospel” that deviated from the one the Galatians had already received, even if Paul or an angel from heaven proclaimed it

That Paul could reason so suggests the underlying issue was not a dispute about his apostolic authority but over the content of his Gospel.  The reference to an angel delivering a false gospel anticipated the discussion in chapter 3 about how the Law of Moses was delivered by angels. While not stated in the Pentateuch, by the first century, a common Jewish tradition held that Moses received the Law from angels – (Galatians 3:19, Acts 7:51-53, Hebrews 2:1-4).

For emphasis, twice Paul pronounced a curse formula on his opponents.  “Accursed” translates the Greek noun anathema – (Strong’s – #G331). The same word was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament for the Hebrew word hérem or “ban,” that is, the setting aside of something for destruction – (Leviticus 27:28-29Joshua 6:17-18).

The Apostle Paul is not cursing his opponents but calling on God to do so (i.e., “let him be accursed”). He repeats the curse formula for emphasis but, also, to demonstrate that he is not engaged in mere rhetoric; he is deadly serious, and his words prove the depths of his concern.

Paul 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 clause. Considering what he had just said, was he trying to persuade men or God?  The implied answer to the first question was “God.” That is, that God would curse the agitators who were disseminating a false gospel.

The expected answer to the second question was “no” – (i.e., “Am I seeking to please men?”).  This is made clear by the clause – “If yet I were pleasing man, I would not be Christ’s bondservant.” The harshness of the language communicates just how serious this situation was.  Unstated is the opposite side of the coin – Paul was seeking, instead, to please God.

Those who work to please men cannot be “Christ’s bondservant.” While Paul was attempting to persuade others, he would not become a man-pleaser to do so. Possibly, he was answering a charge made by his opponents that he was a man-pleaser. His willingness to call down Divine curses demonstrated that he was no such thing.

In the next section of the letter, Paul recounted key events in his life after his conversion to demonstrate that his gospel and authority were not derived from any human agency. In preparation, he solemnly affirmed the Divine origin and character of his gospel, a proposition he proved in his following arguments – (Galatians 1:13-2:14).

Paul received the gospel through “a revelation of Jesus Christ.” “Revelation” or apokalypsis means, “revelation, disclosure, revealing, uncovering.” He was referring to the “revelation” he received from Jesus on the Damascus Road. The content of this revelation included his commission to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles – (Acts 9:1-1622:2126:17-20Romans 1:5).

The long rebuke that begins in this paragraph continues until Galatians 4:11. Noteworthy is the severity of the language; arguably, the sternest language of any of Paul’s surviving letters. On their present course, the Galatian churches are “deserting” the grace of Christ and embracing a “different gospel,” one that is not, in fact, “good news.”

The agitators were “altering” the true gospel, whether they understood this or not.  Anyone who did so placed himself under the curse of God and, possibly, eventual destruction.

This language describes apostasy – Anyone who follows this course risks abandoning the grace of God and everything for which Jesus died.

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