Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA
Our founding fathers believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are indispensable means to the discovery and spread of political truth; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the
Constitution so that free speech and assembly would be guaranteed. It was the first amendment and the free speech amendment became one of the cornerstones of our government.
But, although the rights of free speech and assembly are fundamental, they are not in their nature absolute. During the espionage trials of World War I, the Supreme Court decided that the free speech rights of an individual or the press could be restricted in order to protect the State from destruction or from serious injury. They established a standard to determine what degree of abuse is sufficiently substantial to justify resorting to the abridgment of free speech and press and assembly as a means of protection and under what circumstances parties could be prosecuted for “unlawful” speech.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes formulated the test which has ever since been the starting point for determining whether the right of free speech can be suspended for the greater good.
The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.
It became known as the “Clear and Present Danger” test and is a vital component of American case law. So imagine my surprise this week when I found that the words “clear and present danger” were not original to Justice Holmes. In 1535 Martin Luther first coined them as commentary to the passage we are looking at this morning.
There is a clear and present danger that the devil may take away from us the pure doctrine of faith and may substitute for it the doctrines of works and of human traditions.
The Apostle Paul certainly felt the Galatians were in “clear and present danger.” One can feel the tension in the words he wrote:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.
As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle did not pause after his greeting to the Galatians to offer praise as he opened his letter. This was a violation of first century letter writing protocol. Quintilian, Roman master of rhetoric and a contemporary of Paul called for a “couteous and natural opening”. It was considered highly irregular to omit a compliment or two before getting to the matter at hand and would have spoke volumes to the Galatians about the depths of Paul’s concern for their state.
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
The absence of formalities does not reflect Paul’s lack of concern for the Galatian’s sensibilities but rather the urgency with which he writes.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.
Note first the use of the present tense. The Galatians are turning but have not yet fully moved to a different gospel. Paul seeks to stop them before they forsake the truth. He argues not to get them back in the sheepfold but rather to prevent them from leaving it.
He uses strong words. The use of the word “deserting” is deliberate on Paul’s part. The Greek word here is interesting as it was used of soldiers in the army who desert, sailors who mutiny, or men who change sides in politics. The Galatians were about to transform themselves into turncoats!
He is stunned that they are so quickly turning fickle. Paul’s anger has precedent in the Old Testament. Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving from God the 10 commandments while the nation of Israel, triumphantly led out of Egypt by the Lord of Hosts waits below. One can only imagine Moses’ shock when he hears these words from God:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”
Scripture goes on to tell us that Moses’ anger burned hot. In the same way, Paul’s anger burned hot against the Galatians for the very same reason. He is not angry that they have forgotten the things he told them. His words are very specific in verse 6 “you are …deserting him who called you.” Paul is not speaking of himself. The Israelites seeing that Moses tarried on the mountaintop turned from the great I am to worship a golden calf. The Galatians, in the absence of Paul, are forsaking the God who called them into relationship with Himself for another gospel.
Paul’s theology was clear. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6:
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
After Paul accuses them of forsaking the High King of Heaven and turning to another gospel he points out the fallacy of the very thought that there is any other gospel.
not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
When the Galatians turned from the gospel they were not just adopting another philosophical position or trading one set of ideas for another of equal worth. They were trading in the very provision of God for their salvation for the empty words of men whom Paul said “trouble you” with a distortion of the gospel.
The writer of Hebrews put it most succinctly.
For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Or if you want the “Cliff Notes” version look at Hebrews 2:3 “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
The churches greatest troublemakers are not those outside who oppose, ridicule, and persecute it, but those who inside try to change gospel.
My translation has Paul calling them troublers. The meaning closest to the original Greek would be “agitators or those who stir up.” Paul calls their message a distortion of the true gospel and states it is not the gospel at all.
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Verse 8 is theoretical while verse 9 is actual. In Paul’s day no angel had proclaimed another gospel (September 21, 1823 the “angel” Moroni delivered golden tablets to Joseph Smith which contained “the fullness of the everlasting gospel” on which the Mormon religion is based). Paul himself never proclaimed another gospel – but if either occurred then “anathema” to them.
A Greek term which means “devoted to destruction by God”. The concept is readily seen in the book of Joshua.
But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it.
Joshua was instructed that the things of Jericho were “anathema” and were to be avoided at all cost.
But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things, for Achan the son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of the devoted things. And the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.
Achan and his entire family paid the price for touching things devoted to destruction with their lives. Israel suffered defeat at Ai because of the sin. The message is clear from Paul.
Having nothing to do with those who would proclaim a different gospel – they have already been devoted to destruction by God.
No matter how persuasive they are – “Paul is a people pleaser. He preaches circumcision to Jews and grace to the Gentiles” – their message is not God’s but their own.
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.
What does he mean?
Verse 12 – received by direct revelation
Verse 13 & 14 – his own course was entirely different – he was self-described as “Hebrew of Hebrews”, a Pharisee, a zealot who persecuted the church.
Verse 15-17 – Paul received a unique call and had unique instruction. Thus Paul is an independent witness to the Gospel. In Chapter 2, He will make the point that though he received no instruction from the Apostles when he met them, his gospel exactly agreed with theirs.
Through the end of the chapter Paul makes the point that he was on his own yet received affirmation from the church in Judea.
Return to Study Guide for Galatians -by Don Kugelberg, Long Beach, California USA