No Other Gospel
No other gospel DIG: What were the believers in Galatia doing that caused Paul to write this letter? Why would a person who was set free from slavery want to go back to slavery? What does it mean to “fall from grace?” What is a God-fearer? How is a God-fearer different than a Proselyte at the Gate, or a Proselyte of the Covenant (see the commentary on Acts, to see link click Bb – An Ethiopian Asks about Isaiah 53
)? Why did Paul assert his authority? What happened to those churches that Paul himself had begun (Acts 13-14)? What elements of the gospel does Paul stress? Why? Otherwise, what might happen due to the distorted gospel (4:8-11 and 17, 6:12-13)? What accusation is Paul refuting in verse 10? How might Paul be labeled as a “pleasure-pleaser?” With this opening gauntlet thrown down, what do you expect to find in this red-hot letter?
REFLECT: Grace is God’s unearned favor and activity in our lives. How have you seen His unearned favor and activity in your life? What “distorted gospel” upsets you most? Why? How can the Galatians help you refute it? There are those today who would add baptism, or immersion, to faith; others add speaking in tongues; others add certain ceremonies; others add church membership and repentance. Yes, the Bible commands us to be baptized, but immersion itself is never said to be added for salvation. Have you encountered any of this false teaching? What did you do? How did you react? How can you help others avoid such a trap? How would you explain the gospel to someone who asked you today what you believe?
An introduction to the Judaizers and their different gospel.
After Paul’s salutation, the urgency and severity of the matter at hand prohibited him from commending his readers, which was his normal custom. Not wasting any time, he declared: I am amazed that you are so quickly (Exodus 32:8; Judges 2:17) turning away from the simple gospel (Greek: heteros) of faith in Messiah, the One who called you by grace, to a different gospel (Greek: allos). In 1:6 Paul used two Greek words, both of which mean another, but have a distinct meaning of their own. He was not surprised by what the false teachers were doing but was shocked by the favorable response they received from the believers in Galatia. Heteros means another of a different kind, and allos means another of the same kind. Heteros sometimes refers however, not only to difference in kind, but it can also speak to difference in character. And since Paul’s doctrine of grace through faith is God’s truth (Ephesians 2:8), anything that differs from it must be false. Anytime works are added to the simple gospel of salvation = faith + nothing, it is a different gospel.
When Paul speaks of the Galatians turning to a heteros gospel, he means that they are turning to a gospel that is false in its doctrine. It is not only different in character from the gospel he preached to the Galatians, but it was different in a bad way. It was, and is, essentially evil. A salvation-by-works is not Good News to a lost sinner, it is bad news, capable of drawing to sh’ol people who began on the road to salvation. Thus, Paul stamps the message of the Judaizers (see Ag – Who Were the Judaizers) as a false doctrine. Then he says that it is not an allos gospel. It is not only a different kind, it is no gospel at all.17
This different gospel reminds us of the strange fire whose offering before Ha’Shem led to the deaths of Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3; Numbers 3:4 and 26:61). The penalty for declaring a message not from God – one of the signs of a false prophet – was death (Deuteronomy 13:6a, 18:20; Jeremiah 23:9-40, 28:1-17). As believers, we don’t execute false teachers, but the principle in the TaNaKh is still valid today as it was in Paul’s day: You will purge the evil [one] from your midst (Deuteronomy 13:6b, also see 7:26).
There is no modern substitute for the gospel. Some today may speak about a “social gospel,” a “new gospel,” or some other kind of “gospel,” but there is only one gospel and it is a timeless message of Good News to proclaim to those who dwell upon the earth (Revelation 14:6). The idea that there is an absolute truth that matters absolutely is the constant basis for both the TaNaKh and the B’rit Chadashah. Any other view relegates the Word of God to the category of “great literature” or “valuable historical evidence” or “wise sayings of great men and women.” It is all of these, but, more than that, it is YHVH’s unique Word to humanity, containing the only completely reliable guide toward everlasting life and away from everlasting death.
It becomes clear in what follows that the particular bad news to which the Galatians had been exposed is works righteousness, which is the false principle that Ha’Shem grants acceptance to people, considers them righteous and worthy of being in His presence, on the ground of their obedience to a set of rules, apart from putting their trust and faith in Yeshua Messiah, relying on Him, loving Him, and accepting His love for them.18
It is important to understand, however, that if a Messianic believer desires to eat kosher food, celebrate the feasts of Isra’el, or any other of the 613 commandments of the Torah. They have the freedom in Messiah to do so just as long as those actions are viewed as merely following ADONAI’s blueprint for living (see the commentary on Exodus Dh – Moses and the Torah), and have nothing to do with salvation.
Not that there is another, but only some who are confusing you and want to distort the Good News of Messiah (1:7). What were some of these things that were of a different gospel that we will explore later in the book? The first was perfection in the flesh (3:3); the second was adding the observance of special days and months and seasons and years to the gospel (4:10); thirdly, the Judaizers added circumcision to the gospel for Gentiles (5:2); they felt that they were justified by means of Torah, which is a different gospel (5:4).
Then Paul reiterated the principle of Deuteronomy 13:1-5 when he said: But even if we (or an angel from heaven) (1:8a). The rabbis teach that angels were instrumental in the giving of the Torah. Paul would later write to the Corinthians that even satan masquerades as an angel of light (Second Corinthians 11:14), and he probably had such thoughts in mind here. Likewise, there is a flood of literature in Ancient Judaism indicating that angels delivered important messages to people, and the Judaizers may have said that their message was received from an angel from heaven.19
Should announce any gospel to you other than what we have proclaimed to you, let that person be cursed, or in the Greek, anathema (1:8b)! The biblical incident that this most obviously refers to is Achan, the troubler of Isra’el who unfaithfully (Hebrew: ma’al) violated the ban of devoted things (First Chronicles 2:7). The Greek word anathema comes from the Hebrew concept of cherem, meaning untouchable and devoted for destruction.
The cherem judgment was the ban that Ha’Shem placed upon the city of Jericho in the days of Joshua. While the Israelites were allowed to take the spoils of war from other cities, YHVH told Joshua that nothing was to be taken from Jericho because it was under the cherem judgment. But when Achan decided to take a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels and buried them in the ground in the middle of his tent, he and his whole family became cherem because they had touched that which was devoted to destruction. As a result, Isra’el lost a second battle at Ai (Joshua 7:4-5). Furthermore, there was no way Isra’el could win any more wars until they found out who was cursed. Then God directed Joshua to the guilty tribe, the guilty clan, the guilty family, and finally the guilty man (Joshua 7:16-23).
Then Joshua, and all Isra’el with him, took Achan, his wife, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, and his sheep to the Valley of Achor and stoned them all to death, burned them with fire, and buried them along with the silver, the Babylonian robe, and the wedge of gold under a great heap of stones that stands to this day. Then ADONAI turned from the fierceness of His anger (Joshua 7:24). The family, having touched the untouchable, then became devoted to destruction. Now, Paul used very strong language here, and he must use very strong language because he was not addressing small theological differences, or denominational differences, he was dealing with something that touches the essence of the gospel. Either we are saved by faith alone, or we are not saved by faith alone. There is no middle ground. The addition of anything in the gospel other than faith is to be declared cherem, untouchable, and devoted to destruction because it touches the very essence of the gospel.
But what are the “other gospels” that we face today? There are primarily three of them. First, there is the “prosperity gospel.” This “gospel” says that if you just believe enough, it is not God’s will for anyone to have a physical or financial need. If you have a problem with your heart, it will go away; if you have a problem with your finances, it will go away if you just have enough faith. And if it doesn’t go away, the problem is you. You don’t have enough faith. That is a different gospel. God is not anyone’s spiritual vending machine. You can’t play God and determine your own destiny. He is sovereign and holy, controlling the events in our lives.
Secondly, there is the “bargaining gospel.” This is the “quid-pro-quo gospel.” God, “if” You’ll get me out of this mess, “then” I’ll serve You. God, “if” You heal me of this disease “then” I’ll attend services more regularly. God, “if” You fix my financial problem, “then” I’ll tithe. “If” You do this, “then” I’ll do that. But let me tell you something. You don’t have anything that God needs. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). You have no chips at the poker table of life. You have nothing to bargain with when it comes to God. But more than that, you need everything that God has, and everything He offers you. People who use the “bargaining gospel” wash their hands of God when they feel like He hasn’t lived up to His end of the deal. This is merely a different gospel.
Thirdly, there is “gospel light.” Some people will tell you part of the gospel, part of the truth, but not the whole gospel, and that makes it a different gospel. They love to say, “God loves you.” And He does (John 16:27). And they will say, “God has a plan for you.” And He does (Jeremiah 29:11). So, while the whole truth is that God loves you just as you are, He loves you too much to leave you just as you are. At the moment of faith (see the commentary on The Life of Christ Bw – What God Does For Us at the Moment of Faith), He begins a process of conforming you into His image. He begins to sanctify you. We need to accept that we are sinners, repent of our sin, turn around and go in a different direction, believing that Yeshua is the Messiah, who died on the cross for us, and rose on the third day (John 3:16). That is the only gospel. There is only one way to God the Father and that is through Yeshua Messiah His Son. These other “gospels” are untouchable and devoted to destruction.
Whether as restrictive legalism, permissive liberalism, or cultic perversion, any teaching that adds to, or takes away from ADONAI’s revealed truth is a distortion of the simple gospel and perverts the nature and work of Messiah.20 Paul then applied the ban which Achan violated to those who were confusing (5:10b) his disciples: As we have said before, so I now repeat: if anyone proclaims a gospel to you other than what you have received, let that person be under a curse (Greek: anathema) (1:9)!
From the very beginning, the battle between good and evil has been a battle for truth. The serpent, in the Garden of Eden, began his temptation by questioning the truthfulness of God’s previous instructions (Genesis 3:1, 4-5). Casting doubt on the straightforward revelation of ADONAI has been the Adversary’s tactic ever since (John 8:44; Second Corinthians 11:44). With eternity at stake, it is no wonder Scripture reserves its harshest word of condemnation for those who would put lies in the mouth of God. Consider Ha’Shem’s attitude toward those who would exchange His true Word for a counterfeit (Isaiah 30:9-13; Jeremiah 5:29-31, 14:14-16; Ezeki’el 13:3-9). YHVH hates those who misrepresent His Word or speak lies in His name. It is an offense that He takes personally, and His retribution is swift and deadly. To sabotage biblical truth in any way – by adding to it, subtracting from it, or mixing it with error, is to invite divine wrath.21 So the Ruach ha-Kodesh inspired Paul to write: If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be anathema, or cursed! Come, Lord (First Corinthians 16:22)!
The Judaizers accused Paul of trying to win people’s approval, in this case Gentile approval, by preaching an “easy” gospel that did not demand that the Gentiles become Jews and thus be required to be circumcised and observe all 613 commandments of the Torah. But Paul responded to them by asking: Am I now trying to win people’s approval, or God’s? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Messiah (1:10)? It was as if Paul were saying, “Hey, I am not doing this to make friends. I am not preaching to please other people. I am preaching the message that Messiah gave me to preach.” In this statement, he was answering certain critics that we know from the book of Acts. Paul was criticized because he was a zealous keeper of the Torah (see the commentary on Acts Cy – Paul’s Witness before Agrippa), while continuing to believe in the Way. So, his enemies would criticize him by saying that to the Jews he claimed to be Torah observant, but he told the Gentiles not to be Torah observant. They accused him of the means justifying the ends for his own ministry. To win Jews he kept the Torah, to win Gentiles he set aside the Torah. But they misunderstood Paul’s position. While Paul was Torah observant, he never made it mandatory for others to do so.22
Believers are to have nothing to do with false teachers, no matter what their credentials. It is both naïve and unscriptural to believe, for instance, that staying anywhere that denies the Bible and distorts the gospel gives a believer the opportunity to be a positive influence for the Lord. Even a leader like Timothy, well trained in divine truth, was warned to stay away from error and to concentrate on the pure truth of God (First Timothy 4:6-7 and 13; Second Timothy 2:15-17). To subject oneself to false teaching, no matter how orthodox one’s own convictions may be, is to disobey YHVH and to compromise and weaken one’s testimony and to tolerate distortion of the grace of ADONAI in Messiah.23
Dear Father God, How much we love and worship You! We praise you that we can trust the gospel which you have given us as the absolute truth! We do not need to run to any other book, person or country, for Your Word is Truth! What wonderful truth it is – that You paid the full price for our sins on the cross. Then You rose victorious from the grave, conquering death and opening the door for us to enter heaven. Thank You that the gift is living and not something which can perish, spoil or fade (First Peter 1:3-5). Fantastic! That the gift is an awesome relationship-to be “in Messiah” (Ephesians 1:3,4,6-7,9,11 NIV) and that both Jew and Gentile are included when they hear the word of truth and then believe (Ephesians 1:12-13 NIV).
Praise Your wisdom that You see each heart and you know which sheep are Yours (John 10:27). You know if someone claims to be a believer, but follows their own heart. No one can fool you- for you say even if someone says: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and preform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22-23 NIV).
Praise You for the truth and greatness of Your love – offered so graciously. We desire to respond by loving you back and giving You all of ourselves- our time, thoughts, money and affection. We joyfully wish to present ourselves to You as a gift (Romans 12:1). You are the best! In the name of Your Son and the power of His resurrection. Amen