No Other Gospel
There is no doubt of the great influence that Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia has had on the church over the centuries. It has been front and center in the debate over the nature of salvation. The debate rages between faith and works. Which comes first? Does works based upon Christian love create or contribute to saving faith? Or does saving faith produce works of love? Both sides of the debate agree about the importance of faith and good works. As we go through the Epistle to the Galatians, we will address this issue and try to come to clarity on this subject.
Exposition of the Text
The epistle says that the Apostle Paul was the writer and the churches of Galatia the recipients. That Paul was the author is nearly universally accepted, even by the most liberal scholars. But the identity of the Galatians is a little harder to pin down. There is no record in the Book of Acts that Paul made a missionary trip to the area of Galatians proper. However, it does record that on the first and second missionary journeys, he had established churches in an areas which was loosely called Galatia. Proponents of the “South Galatia” theory think that the churches of Lystra and Derbe are the recipients of this epistle. Without going into detail, the questions that Galatians brings to bear seems to fit the South Galatia churches pretty well, so I agree with this.
Paul immediately qualifies his “apostleship” by saying that no man made him an apostle. The calling to be an apostle came from God the Father through Jesus Christ whom He raised from the dead. By using the strong form of the Greek word for “but”, he is making as strong a distinction as possible. We will see as we go along in our study of Galatians how important it is to Paul’s argument that his authority came from Jesus Himself..
Paul continues to teach about Jesus even as he greets the churches. The Jesus who had called Paul is yoked equally with God the Father as one preposition “from” covers both the Father and Son who are connected by the coordinating conjunction “and”. This Jesus is the one who gave Himself for our sins so that we could be rescued from this standing evil age. This was in perfect accord also with God the Father. Paul in verse five gives his amen and benediction to these facts. These statements are at the core of the gospel which Paul preached.
Paul in Galatians gets right to the heart of the manner. In other epistles including even 1 Corinthians he takes a little time to find something praiseworthy about the church before addressing serious issues. But Paul feels urged to address the issue right away without distractions because the very message of the gospel is at stake. Paul says he is dumbstruck that the Galatians have already forgotten the gospel he had brought them. If this is the South Galatian churches, then we know he brought the gospel there in considerable suffering. He had been hunted down over a hundred miles of open country by Jews from Antioch Pisidia dragged out of town and stoned and left for dead. If so, the apparent defection of some of the Galatians was doubly painful to Paul.
Paul says that the “gospel” the Galatians had been deceived into following was no gospel at all. This is again stated using the strong Greek word for “but” and two different Greek words for “another”. This “other” gospel was not “another” gospel at all. It was actually bad news which was being brought by “troublers”. Instead of troublers “of” Israel, these were troublers “from” Israel. They were perverting the message of the gospel. Paul is so upset that he pronounces a curse upon anyone including himself, others in his company, or even an angel of heaven, should he or they preach anything other than what he had preached at first. He could not have stated the distinction between the gospel he brought to them and the message of the troublers any more clearly. But this is not enough. In verse nine, he repeats the curse on anyone who proclaims a gospel that is different from that which they had received from the Lord Jesus by the will of God through Paul, His called apostle and servant.
If we follow the South Galatian theory, the Book of Acts makes it pretty clear who these troublers were. There were many Jews who had accepted the message of Jesus as a Jewish Messiah. This group of Jewish accepters of Jesus saw Jesus as the continuation and clarification of the Law of Moses and Christianity as a purged Judaism. These felt that anyone who would come into the church would have to go through the gate of Judaism. This would mean that the males would have to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses and its ceremonies.
This group had difficulty adjusting to the new reality. It was hard even for Peter who had to have the dream of the unclean animals being made clean as well as the voice of the Lord commanding him to go to Cornelius’ house. It was doubly shocking that they had received the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues even before they were baptized in water. In Judaism. Baptism of Gentiles was part of the receiving of Gentile proselytes into Judaism. By this happening, the Lord was saying that they were already members of the people of God. If the demonstration of the power of the Spirit was undeniable, it would have been hard to convince any in Jerusalem to accept this new reality at all. The leadership and many in Jerusalem accepted the reality that the Lord was doing a new thing in going directly to the Gentiles without their becoming Jews first.
Not all accepted this, and there was a considerable debate over the status of Gentile converts for several years. When a controversy broke out at Syrian Antioch, it was found necessary to send a delegation to the leaders of the Jerusalem church in 49AD to resolve the situation. The decision of the “Jerusalem Council” accepted Paul’s gospel and did not require circumcision of the Gentiles.
This was not the end of the manner, especially in the small towns in Judaea and Syria. Years later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem to bring the relief offering from the mostly Gentile churches for the relief of the mostly Jewish ones, James, the brother of the Lord had to warn Paul that there were many in Jerusalem who were zealous for the Law. Whether James was talking about Jews proper or Jewish Christians is unclear, but it is likely that there were still some in the church who could be called Judaizers.
The central issue in the Galatian church centered upon how one becomes a Christian. As we noted in the introduction. That question is just as pertinent today. Even though we don’t make scruples about circumcision and becoming Jewish to be a Christian, we are still divided on the question at large. And there are many versions of the “gospel” out there. Paul the inspired apostle most clearly tells us there is only one gospel that we are to proclaim. And he is equally clear in stating that all other “gospels” bring the curse of God. So this question is not to be taken lightly or differences made a matter of tolerance in differences on the essentials.
At the same time, there are practices in the churches which do not strike at the heart of the gospel. It is the purpose of this study on Galatians to prayerfully consider what is essential and unchangeable about the gospel and that which is perhaps important but peripheral to it. This is no easy task, but we have no choice to study the matter. To be wrong on the essentials is to invite the curse of God for proclaiming a false gospel. To scruple over that which is not can be the source of offense to people who are genuine Christians but hold to some peculiarities, for whom Christ died
Martin Luther the great reformer of the church found himself stuck in the middle between the Roman Catholics on the one hand and the Anabaptists on the other. He brilliantly paint both of his opponents with the same brush in his commentary on Galatians. One held that the tradition and authority structure of the church determined the truth, and the other held to the autonomy of the Holy Spirit to determine the truth. In each case, it was man as an individual or as a group which determined the truth of the Gospel. What Luther held to is that Scripture is its own authority which interprets us rather than we the Scriptures. Both sides had perverted the core of the Gospel. He was in a position no one would ever have to be, but when boxed into a corner, bravely had the courage not to give in.
In the same way, we need to have courage to proclaim the truth of God revealed in the Scripture which in turn is interpreted to us by the Holy Spirit whom is sent by the Father and the Son to lead us into all truth. The one group would like to replace the gospel of Christ with human tradition. The other would like to bypass the Scripture entirely and go directly to the inspiration of the “Holy Spirit”. This battle still rages on today. As we continue to study the Book of Galatians, may the Lord give us both grace and wisdom that we do not crash on the rocks of either side. Amen.