One True Gospel Galatians 1:1–9
In the past 30 years there has been a proliferation of “new gospels” in the United States. Some are rooted in eastern philosophical religions, such as Hinduism. Others are based on pop-psychologies, which promise health and happiness to loyal followers through their self-awareness techniques. Still others are perverted forms of Christianity propagated by charismatic leaders who possess total control over faithful followers through their heretical teachings. All of these religious systems claim to possess the one true gospel (good news) for mankind.
Paul faced a similar problem in his day. Judaizers had crept into the churches of Galatia, denying Paul’s apostolic authority and preaching “another gospel” (v. 6)—mixing Law with grace.
The apostle wasted no time. Taking pen in hand, he opened his letter to the Galatians with the customary salutation, but he omitted any mention of praise or prayer on behalf of the Galatian believers to whom he was writing. Instead, he launched into a declaration of his apostolic authority, a sharp rebuke of the Galatians for their departure from the faith, and a denouncement of the heretical teachers.
Immediately Paul set the record straight concerning his authority: “Paul, an apostle (not of [Gr., from] men, neither by [Gr., through] man, but [strong contrast] by [Gr., through] Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)” (v. 1).
The word apostle means to send forth or one commissioned by another to represent him in some way. An apostle was a representative of Christ who had been chosen, called, given credentials, and commissioned to take His message to whomever he was sent. Three things were necessary to qualify for apostleship: The individual had to be personally chosen and called to his position by the Lord; he was one who had seen the resurrected Lord; and he received his commission, authority, and message from Christ. Paul met all these qualifications, as verse 1 reveals.
Paul sent a greeting to the Galatians from “all the brethren” (v. 2) with whom he was traveling. Although he did not identify his traveling companions, many commentators believe they were Barnabas and others from the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1).
He addressed all the “churches of Galatia” (v. 2). Paul expected this letter to be circulated and read in cities such as Antioch, Lystra, Derbe, and Iconium, where he had established churches during his first missionary journey.
The apostle’s salutation incorporated the standard greeting of the day, “Grace be to you, and peace” (v. 3). The word grace was the usual greeting for the Greeks, as was peace for the Jewish people. These two words encompassed what both groups had experienced in salvation. Salvation came through grace and produced peace in their hearts. The source of both was “from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). God’s grace and peace sustain the believer in his daily walk with the Lord. Later in his letter, Paul informed the Galatians that if they succumbed to the legalism being propagated by false teachers, they would fall from grace and forfeit the peace they had once experienced from God.
The apostle concluded his salutation by reminding the Galatians of God’s redemptive program on their behalf. First, salvation did not come by the works of the Law, but through the Savior, the “Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3).
Second, Christ’s atoning death was sacrificial. No man coerced Him to die for sin; He freely “gave himself” (v. 4) for man’s sin (Jn. 10:15, 17–18; Heb. 9:14).
Third, His sacrifice was a substitution, for Jesus gave Himself “for our sins” (v. 4). The preposition for means that Christ died instead of or on behalf of us; that is, He voluntarily became the sinner’s substitute, dying in his place (2 Cor. 5:14–15) for sin. Christ’s dying in the sinner’s place perfectly satisfied the just demands of God’s holy law, thereby making it possible for God to forgive man’s sin.*
Fourth, His death paid the price for sin (v. 4). Man is viewed by God as a slave, sold into the bondage of sin (Rom. 7:14), and under the sentence of death (Jn. 3:18–19; Rom. 6:23). It was through Christ’s shed blood and death on the cross that the purchase price was paid to buy man out of the marketplace of sin (Gal. 3:13; 4:5), thus setting him free (Ti 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:18–19).
Fifth, the purpose of Christ’s death was to salvage man or “deliver” (emancipate, rescue) (v. 4) him from the state of bondage. The word deliver is used “by Stephen in … describing the divine deliverance of Joseph and the children of Israel from Egyptian affliction (Acts 7:10, 34). Peter … from prison (Acts 12:11) … Paul from the belligerent mob in Jerusalem” (Acts 23:7).*
Sixth, the deliverance is from the power of a Satanic system described as “this present evil age” (v. 4). The word age refers to the immoral course of this world system, which is being controlled by Satan. It was this “evil” (pernicious) system in which the Galatians had once walked (Eph. 2:1–3), but Christ had rescued them from this bondage through His once-and-for-all atoning death on the cross.
Seventh, the Lord is the source of this deliverance provided “according to the will of God” (v. 4). Therefore, Christ delivered man from sin, not by any plan put forth through the Law, but through the procedure prescribed by the sovereign decree of Almighty God.
Paul concluded his salutation with the affirmation, “To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (v. 5). The apostle’s doxology is so appropriate. What believer would not have a heart like his—full of praise for the great salvation provided by the sovereign Godhead? Such salvation will glorify God, not only in this age, but “for ever and ever” or for the ages of ages. What a contrast to the legalists, whose perverted gospel of legalism will last only for this present evil age!
Paul set the course of his letter to the Galatians in two ways. He declared and defended his apostleship, and he argued that salvation was provided solely through Christ’s finished work on the cross, apart from any human work or merit. To add legalism in any form was to pervert the one true gospel.
Upon hearing the news that the believers in Galatia were succumbing to the message of the Judaizers, Paul said, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ” (v. 6). The word marvel means to be amazed, astonished, miffed, bewildered. It portrays the apostle as speechless and agitated when he heard of the Galatians’ defection. He was amazed that they were “so soon” departing from the true gospel.
They had “removed” (v. 6) themselves from the liberty that the Lord had bestowed on them. The word removed means more than just departing; it means to desert. The term was used in a military sense, such as when people go AWOL or commit mutiny. Paul used the word in the present tense and middle voice, indicating that they were in the process of deserting the Lord on their own. They were deserting not only the doctrinal teaching of salvation by grace through faith, which was put forth by Paul, but “him” (v. 6)—God Himself.
The Galatians had been “called into the grace of Christ” (v. 6)—an effectual call that had resulted in their salvation. Their salvation came through the “grace of Christ” (v. 6) and was totally unmerited and devoid of any good works that they had accomplished. God had showered down His love, favor, and blessing; to go back to the bondage of the Law would have been to desert not only the favor of God but God Himself. Such a departure was unthinkable and bewildering to Paul.
The different teaching being embraced by the Galatians was “another [different kind of] gospel” (v. 6). The word another is from the Greek word heterodoxy, meaning another opinion, from which comes the idea of heresy or false doctrine. Thus, the Galatians were turning to a gospel of heresy or false doctrine. The word gospel means good news and, in context, refers to the good news of salvation provided through Christ’s work on the cross, which was purely by grace, apart from the works of the Law. Thus, the legalists’ gospel was, of necessity, evil and could not be claimed to be good news or the true gospel. Therefore, it is “not another” (v. 7) gospel at all.
Paul then focused his attention on the Judaizers, who were bringing in their heretical teachings and passing them off as the true gospel. Who were the Judaizers, and what did they believe? The term Judaizer comes from the Greek word Iudaizo, which means to live like a Jew. Judaizers believed and taught that it was necessary for Gentiles who had received Christ to live like Jews by keeping the ceremonial practices found in Judaism, especially the circumcision (Acts 15:1; Gal. 5:2; 6:12–13). They tried to discredit Paul’s authority as a true apostle and substitute a salvation by works for the salvation that Paul taught, which was by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
The apostle strongly denounced the motives of the Judaizers (4:17; 6:12–13). He called such teachers “dogs … evil workers … the concision” (Phil. 3:2). The word concision was used of pagans who cut their bodies while practicing idolatrous worship. Paul used the term as a play on the Greek word circumcision. The “concision” (Judaizers) who wanted the Galatians to be circumcised were actually mutilating the gospel message by mixing in the works of the Law with grace.
Scholars are divided on whether the Judaizers were saved. Some, like Dr. Wuest, call them unsaved Jews who set up a perverted legalism built around the Mosaic Law.* Dr. Longenecker believes that Paul’s language in Galatians 1–2 indicates that these Judaizers were saved men. He wrote, “From Paul’s manner of speaking of the situation in Gal. 1–2, it is difficult to picture these Judaizers as anything but Jewish Christians—in fact, Jewish Christians claiming to represent the official position of the Jerusalem Church … In all probability they were members of the strict law-abiding group in the Jerusalem church.”* Most commentators are mute on the subject, not stating whether they believe the Judaizers to be saved or unsaved men. It seems from Paul’s statement in verse 9 that those who were preaching another gospel were to be considered anathema or damned to destruction.
The teachings of the Judaizers were wrong for three reasons. First, their teaching disturbed or troubled (v. 7) the Galatians. The word troubled means to be mentally disturbed by fear and confusion. In other words, the Judaizers were confusing the Galatian churches and undermining their confidence in Christ.
Second, their teachings distorted the truth by “pervert[ing] the gospel of Christ” (v. 7). The word pervert means to reverse, change, turn about. These heretical teachers were reversing the message of the gospel by changing it from a gospel of grace to a gospel of works—a message diametrically opposed to what God had originally established (Rom. 11:6).
Third, for these teachers to preach any other gospel was to destroy the truth: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (v. 8). Paul was not teaching that he himself (a divinely called apostle) or a heavenly being was likely ever to preach any other gospel. But, if they were to preach another gospel, let them be accursed (lit., anathema) (v. 8); in other words, eternally damned to destruction.
The apostle reminded the Galatians that he and others (“we,” v. 9) had warned them “before” (v. 9) of such teachers and teachings. The words said before (v. 9) mean to say beforehand; thus, Paul was contrasting before with now (v. 9), indicating that verse 9 was not just rehearsing what was said in the previous verse. He reminded the Galatians that he and others had warned them in the past to be on guard against the teachings of such people as the Judaizers. Such a warning would make their desertion even more odious.
In stating “If any man preach any other gospel unto you … Let him be accursed” (v. 9), Paul was not putting forth a hypothetical situation. In their case it was factual. Paul was pressing home the point that since these Judaizers were preaching another gospel, they were to be considered anathema.
Paul emphatically warned that those who tamper with biblical revelation of the gospel are anathema. Strong and sobering words, these, but they are so necessary today. The gospel is being assaulted from every side—twisted, made fun of, embellished, and diminished. The apostle’s admonition must be heeded: Turn a deaf ear to myriad so-called new gospels inundating our society and embrace only the one true gospel. Remember, if the gospel you hear today is new, it cannot be true; and if it is true, it will not be new!