No Addition, Deletions, or Corrections
The year 2000 has witnessed a momentous scientific breakthrough. It was ten years in the making, and the consequences will last well into the future. Some have compared it in significance toman’s walkon the moon, and one scientist called it “the outstanding achievement not only of our lifetime, [but] perhaps in the history of mankind.”
The breakthrough occurred with the completion of the first stage of the human genome project. This master blueprint of the human body promises future medical miracles involving gene therapy—all in the name of improving the race.
Two thousand years ago, another “improvement” was proposed, not for the good of the body but of the soul. The monumental implications of this plan would have borne eternal consequences for all mankind. The proposal stated that Gentiles had to submit to the Mosaic Law when they placed their faith in Jesus as Messiah. Was this position true to the original message from God?
Paul answers this question in the book of Galatians. Paul had proclaimed the “good news” (the gospel) to Gentiles living in the Roman province of Galatia (modern south-central Turkey [Acts 13-–14]), and many there believed in the Lord Jesus as their Messiah. But after he left Galatia, Jewish teachers visited these new believers and convinced them to submit to the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament, saying if Gentiles wanted to be the people of God, they had to become like Jews. When Paul heard this teaching, he burned with righteous anger. He wrote the Galatian churches and boldly defended his message by stating four truths about the gospel he preached.
The Gospel Is Fixed Forever (Gal. 1:6–10)
Instead of commending the churches, Paul attacked. His language is stern and his tone severe:
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel (v. 6).
The Gentile believers had not merely embraced a new teaching; they had actually deserted the very God of heaven! Using two different Greek words, Paul describes their spiritual defection to “another [heteros, another of a different kind] gospel, Which is not another [allos, another of the same kind]” (vv. 6–7). These two words clarify a fundamental truth: There is only one true gospel. Any other gospel is false—a counterfeit created by “some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). These teachers, known as Judaizers, bound the Mosaic Law to the Galatian Christians. In effect, they added works to the gospel of faith.
This perversion provoked Paul’s harshest condemnation (repeated again in verse 9). Anyone, whether an angel from heaven or Paul himself, who preaches a different gospel than Paul preached is to “be accursed” (v. 8). Anyone teaching a false gospel is anathema, cursed to eternal condemnation from God.
Aware of the severity of his message, the apostle confesses that he is not interested in being popular. His sole motive is to please God rather than men, “For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” (v. 10). Faithfulness to the Christian gospel, not flexibility, is what counts. Time and technology may improve the quality of life over the centuries, but men must not tamper with the message of eternal salvation. Additions, deletions, or revisions all spell disaster and invite eternal damnation.
The Gospel Is Revealed by God (Gal. 1:11–24)
To some people, Paul might seem proud. After all, who was Paul to think that he alone, not these teachers from Jerusalem, had the true gospel? Paul addresses this issue by verifying his authority. He clearly states that the gospel he preached was not of human origin. “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v. 12). In Judaism, teachers handed down traditions received from others. Paul, the Jewish apostle, stated that Jesus revealed Himself to him and became his teacher. His gospel came directly from Jesus Himself.
First, Paul explains his life before his conversion. He was violently persecuting the new Christian church while, at the same time, surpassing his contemporaries in observing Judaism, “being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (v. 14). He knew the religion well, including the oral law. But something radically changed this zealous young man.
Second, Paul describes his conversion in a way that puts himself in the background. It all began with God who was “pleased . . . To reveal his Son” in him (vv. 15–16) and who had chosen him before his birth, just as He had the great prophets Isaiah (Isa. 49:1) and Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5). Paul received this divine call so he might preach the gospel to the Gentiles (see Acts 9:1–15). Both his conversion and his call were the supernatural acts of a sovereign God.
Third, he explains what happened after his conversion. Rather than being trained by others in Jerusalem, Paul spent three years in Arabia and Damascus (v. 17), far from the apostles in Jerusalem and apart from their influence. Paul’s gospel and theology came straight from heaven as the divine Teacher instructed His new apostle. Only after those three years did he finally go to Jerusalem (v. 18; cf. Acts 9:26–30). There he stayed with Peter fifteen days and saw James, the half-brother of Jesus. After that brief visit, he went to Syria with its large city, Antioch, and to his hometown of Tarsus in Cilicia (vv. 19–21). The churches in Judea knew about Paul only by his reputation, and they rejoiced when they heard reports about his conversion and preaching (vv. 22–24). Thus the Jerusalem leadership made no impact on Paul’s formative years as a believer. He had learned from Christ Himself.
The Gospel Is By Faith Alone (Gal. 2:1–10)
In the previous verses, Paul distanced himself from the apostles and demonstrated his independence from them. Now, however, he shows his equality with them. He explains a trip he made with Barnabas to Jerusalem fourteen years after his conversion. While some think this section refers to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), it may be better to view it as Paul’s trip to bring financial help to the Jerusalem church during a severe famine (Acts 11).
Paul made this trip “by revelation” from God, perhaps via Agabus’s prophecy (Acts 11:28). Thus he again emphasizes that he was led by God alone rather than by the leaders of the Jerusalem church (v. 2). He had met privately with these men and explained his mission to the Gentiles. As a test case, Paul had brought along Titus, a Gentile convert. Would the leaders in Jerusalem demand that Titus be circumcised, or would they accept him as a true brother in the faith?
Paul indicates that some argued strongly that Titus must be circumcised. These were “false brethren,” he says, who desired to “bring us into bondage” (v. 4). They claimed that keeping the Mosaic Law, including circumcision, was a necessary part of the faith, even for Gentile converts. These false teachers refused to give up the Mosaic shadows despite their faith in Jesus. Here Paul stood firm and refused to submit to such teaching, “no, not for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (v. 5).
The apostolic leaders in Jerusalem (James, Peter, and John) agreed with Paul and recognized him as an equal by giving him and Barnabas “the right hands of fellowship” (v. 9). The apostle to the Gentiles did not submit to the Jerusalem apostles as an inferior. They recognized that God had called Paul independently of them. The leadership of the body of Christ agreed that salvation came by faith alone.
The Gospel Is Apart From the Law (Gal. 2:11–21)
Paul next relates an episode of inconsistency by an apostle from Jerusalem. Peter had traveled north to visit believers in Antioch and had enjoyed fellowship with Gentile Christians at meals. Since Peter was the first to learn about the new unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ (Acts 10), it was not surprising to see him live in a way that demonstrated it. What surprised Paul was how Peter suddenly broke fellowship with the Gentiles when some men from Jerusalem, the “circumcision” group, came to Antioch (v. 12). They demanded believers shun the new converts who refused to keep the Mosaic Law. Both Peter and Barnabas succumbed to the pressure from the Judaizers. Such hypocrisy was too much for Paul. He publicly opposed their inconsistent and contradictory behavior. A vital principle was at stake. Paul’s harsh rebuke, (vv. 14–21) begins with a pointed censure of Peter:
If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (v. 14).
Peter lived like a Gentile, yet pressured Gentiles to live like Jews. What hypocrisy! Paul continues to rebuke Peter and those like-minded in unmistakable language:
. . . a man is not justified by the works of the law, . . . for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified (v. 16).
No one can ever be declared righteous (“justified”) by works. Only faith in Jesus Christ brings God’s favor. This teaching did not originate with Paul, as he later explains to Roman believers; Abraham, too, was justified by faith (Rom. 4:1–3; Gen. 15:6).
Not only does the Law not save, but the Law no longer binds those who experience salvation (vv. 17–18). The old era has passed away now that Messiah has come. Paul is now “dead to the law” (v. 19). This death for Paul, and for every believer, comes because of Jesus’ death and our union with Him. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (v. 20). In a mysterious way, our Messiah now lives within His people, giving them new life and power to “live unto God” in obeying His will (v. 19). This new life does not bow to the domination of the Mosaic Law but walks “by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (v. 20).
Paul concludes his rebuke by stating that his gospel does “not make void the grace of God” (v. 21). The Judaizers contradicted God’s grace by adding human merit to faith. In fact, the death of Christ would be useless if we could achieve God’s favor by works, “for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (v. 21). When it comes to justification, works and faith are mutually exclusive.
Paul’s point is clear. The gospel came from the Lord Jesus, and we can never change it. Those who proclaim it must be continually faithful. Those who pervert it will be eternally condemned. Those who believe it should be eternally grateful.