Friday, August 9, 2019

AVOIDING ISOLATIONISM

Paul established his apostolic independence by stressing that he received the gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11-12) and not through the instruction of the other apostles. He spent the first three years of his ministry preaching in Arabia independent of any apostolic credentialing, approval or support. Paul needed no one to validate his missional calling to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16-17).

However, Paul also understood that independence can be taken to extremes. Isolationism is not the Christian way! We live and serve in the body of Christ, so we must avoid an isolationist mentality in ministry. Missions is also a corporate calling so, after three years, Paul made his way to Jerusalem to meet Peter and James, the leaders of the mother church (Gal. 1:18-19).

Paul time stamps his narrative with the adverb "then" or "next" (ἔπειτα) as he retells his testimony (Gal. 1:18). The same timestamp frames his testimony in 1:21 and 2:1 as Paul lays out the sequence of his conversion and early ministry (Bruce, Galatians, 97). He portrays the visit to Peter in Jerusalem as primarily a personal visit when he says that he stayed with Peter for 15 days. The prepositional phrase "with him" (πρὸς αὐτὸν) implies the relational connection. The singular pronoun, as opposed to a plural pronoun or place name, indicates the personal nature of the visit (Burton, Galatians, 59).

THE BACK STORY

The church in Jerusalem hardly welcomed Paul. They were highly suspicious of him, so Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). The impression we get from Galatians is that Paul spent his time visiting, but Luke gives us more insight (Acts 9:28-31). Paul was doing much more than having quiet tea times with the apostles. He was preaching Christ and arguing with Hellenists throughout the city so much so that some were attempting to put him to death! If the Christians thought that life would be peaceful since the persecutor was now a Christian, they were in for a rude awakening. Controversy followed him wherever he went! Relationships can be messy. Isolationism can seem appealing, and the church found peace after Paul was gone! (Acts 9:31, Bruce, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 83-94)

Luke tells us that Paul met the apostles, but Paul tells us that he met only Peter and James among the apostles. The two statements are not contradictory since two is plural, but the combination helps us interpret the connective "except" (εἰ μὴ). Some, uncomfortable with viewing James, the Lord's brother, as an apostle, argue that the exception refers to others and not the apostles. In this view, Paul did not see anybody else other than the apostles except James. This seems unlikely. We know from Acts that Paul met many other people in Jerusalem, even stirring up trouble! The stronger contextual argument is that Paul included James among the apostles (Burton, Galatians, 60) using the word "apostle" in a broader sense than the apostolate (the 12). So, Paul did not see any other apostles except James.

INTERVIEWS OR NOT?

The verb translated "become acquainted" (ἱστορῆσαι) often carries the force of an interview in classical Greek. Certainly, Paul interviewed Peter in at least an informal sense, but the word can also mean to get acquainted with someone (Bruce, Galatians, 98). Paul did not need to take a crash course in Christian theology from Peter, but Peter would provide many historical details about Jesus that Paul would find fascinating. One detail that we only learn from Paul, but had to come from Peter, is that Christ appeared to Peter by himself after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5). The story of Peter's betrayal and Christ's personal revelation to Peter must have resonated with Paul in his own experience. Both men experienced incredible grace from the Lord after committing horrible sins against the Lord.

The same can be said of James, the Lord's brother. The story of his transformation from a good Jew who refused to follow Jesus (John 7:5) to a leader in the church of Christ (Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5) is also a compelling story of grace which Paul understood. How could this happen? Paul alone tells us that Jesus appeared to James before he appeared to all the apostles (1 Cor. 15:7), adding that Jesus appeared to Paul "last of all, as one untimely born" (Cor. 15:8). Only James could have given Paul this nugget of information. Christ's personal revelation to James and Paul explains the transforming power of grace in their lives.

Our relationships in the Body of Christ are vital to the health of the church. People often cite James and Paul as if they are in opposition to each other. Peter and Paul have their differences (Gal. 2:11ff). Yet, it is Peter and James who influence the church at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) to support Paul's ministry to the Gentiles. The personal bonds forged at their initial meeting in Jerusalem foster unity at a critical moment in the history of the early church.

Christian relationships may be messy, but isolationism must be avoided.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

OUR MISSIONAL PURPOSE

God saves us to send us. Every Christian serves Christ's mission from the moment of conversion to the last breath of life. We must not live aimlessly but purposefully. Paul illustrates the urgency of this mission in Galatians when he tells us that God revealed Christ to him "so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (Gal. 1:16). The purpose of saving was sending! Paul did not go up to Jerusalem to be credentialed by the apostles but went straight to Arabia before returning to Damascus (Gal. 1:17). Arabia was Christ's first missionary assignment for Paul. He served on mission immediately upon conversion! The same is true for us.

The backstory for Paul's testimony in Galatians 1 is found in Acts 9:19-25. Luke says nothing about Paul's trip to Arabia, but it must have occurred in the middle of verses 19-20. The remainder of Luke's account is the story of Paul's return trip to Damascus nearly 3 years after his conversion. Traditionally, Christians have believed that Paul went into Southern Arabia near Mt. Horeb (Sinai) following in the footsteps of Elijah. The region is isolated, desolate and bleak - the perfect place to commune with God, meditate in silence and learn theology in the school of Christ before going out to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

WHERE AND WHAT?

Where is Arabia and what was Paul doing in Arabia for 3 years? Paul would have understood Arabia to be the Nabatean Kingdom ruled by King Aretas IV (F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 81-82). The Nabatean Kingdom was easily accessible from Damascus and extended southward to Petra and the Red Sea. The territory covered the region east of Galilee and ran along the eastern shore of the Jordan River. Josephus refers to this region as Arabia belonging to Petra (Witherington, The Paul Quest, 308).

Paul did not go to Arabia for private meditation and reflection. He went to preach the gospel to the Arabians. Paul immediately began doing what God had called him to do. I believe that Paul's visit to Arabia was missional for two reasons (See Bruce, 81-82; Witherington, 307-309).

First, Paul slips in a little nugget of information about why he was forced to escape from Damascus in a basket lowered from a window in the wall (2 Cor. 11:32). The ethnarch of Damascus was under the control of King Aretas who apparently sought the arrest of Paul after he had returned to Damascus from Arabia. Why would Aretas, the Nabatean King, be upset with Paul enough to arrest him if he had been in solitude for 3 years? No! Paul was stirring up trouble in Arabia by his preaching, and Aretas didn't like it.

Second, the whole point of Paul's argument in Galatians 1:16-18 is that he was discharging his call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles before he ever went up to Jerusalem to meet the apostles. His claim of apostolic independence would lose its force if he were in solitude for 3 years before being credentialed by the apostles in Jerusalem.

WHY?

God called Paul to preach Christ to the Gentiles (Gal. 1;16). Paul understood his calling immediately upon conversion and looked for a way to fulfill his mission. Interestingly, there was a long history of ethnic animosity between the Nabateans and the Jews. The Aretas family had engaged in numerous political fights with Jewish rulers over who owned sections of land in the region (Witherington, 309). Arabs and Jews were fighting over land even in Paul's day! 

Paul, the Jewish nationalist zealot, chose to carry out his first mission to Arabs with whom he and other Jews harbored ethnic hatred. He went to a people who hated him. Aretas, ruling from Petra, would have resented a Jew coming into his kingdom trying to convert his people. No wonder, he wanted Paul arrested! Christ had transformed Paul so radically that he put aside all his ethnic differences with the Arabs and sought to win them for Christ. He understood his new mission as a citizen of Christ's kingdom was to win people for that kingdom, so he resolutely focused his eyes on his purpose.

What about us? Paul didn't need to wait for special instructions or 3 years of prayer and meditation before evangelizing, and neither do we. If we have been changed by His grace, we can preach His gospel. Changed lives are the greatest testimony to the power of God's grace. God saves us to send us. Our mission is to make disciples of all nations. We must not go just to people who are like us or who like us. We must go to those who hate us and with whom we may share cultural and ethnic differences. Sadly, we often get distracted by our national and cultural loyalties and lose sight of our mission. Our missional purpose in life is to preach Christ as a people changed by grace to a hostile world in need of grace.

Friday, July 5, 2019

GRACE'S GRIP

All we are, have, do, or gain is the result of God's grace, not our merit! Our salvation and our service are first for God's pleasure, not for our benefit. Paul makes this truth clear in his testimony about God's call (Gal. 1:15-16). Paul writes, "But when God, the one who marked me off from my mother's womb and called me by His grace, delighted to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the nations, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood."

God's delight (εὐδόκησεν) drove God's revelation (ἀποκαλύψαι) of His Son to Paul. God's pleasure drives our salvation. In between God's delight (v.15) and God's revelation (v.16), we see God's choice and God's call. Paul describes the God who delighted to reveal Himself as the God who marked him (ἀφορίσας) and called him (καλέσας). The two verbs are grammatically connected by a conjunction (καὶ) and governed by one article (ὁ). Both participles describe the actions of God. No one deserves God's choice or God's call. It is all about Him, not about us.

THE MARK OF GOD

Paul uses a verb meaning to set apart or mark off (ἀφορίσας) to describe God's appointment of him from birth. The verb always carries the force of separation. For example, God sends His angels to separate (ἀφοριοῦσιν) the wicked from the righteous at the end of the age (Mt. 13:49). Paul uses this word later in Galatians to accuse Peter of separating himself from the Gentiles at meals after the Judaizers arrived in Antioch (Gal. 2:12). So God separated Paul for the ministry of the gospel as he says in Romans 1:1 (ἀφωρισμένος εἰς εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ), and God did so from his "mother's womb" (ἐκ κοιλίας μητρός). God's choice predates man's choice. God chooses us before we choose Him.

The verb to separate or mark off (ἀφορίζω) comes from the verb to appoint or determine (ὁρίζω). To appoint or determine (ὁρίζω) is used eight times in the New Testament, while to separate (ἀφορίζω) is used ten times. There is a close connection between the two concepts in the New Testament (NIDNTT, 1:472-474. To separate and to appoint are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another, particularly as it relates to God's call. Luke records that the Holy Spirit commanded the church in Antioch, "Separate" (ἀφορίσατε) "for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called (προσκέκλημαι) them." Long before Paul met Jesus on the Damascus road, God appointed him to preach Christ among the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16). Paul was marked off for ministry from birth.

THE CALL OF GOD

God not only marked off Paul, but He also called (καλέσας) him to preach Christ. This concept of calling is rooted in the Old Testament usage of the term where it is often used to describe someone higher in rank calling someone lower in rank. In this case, the call is never just an invitation but rather a command, particularly when used of God's call to humans. Two Old Testament passages are instructive as background for God's call of Paul. First, God's call of Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4-10) uses the verb "call" (καλέω) eleven times in the Septuagint. Humans must hear and recognize the call of God before they can obey it. Often, like Samuel and even Paul, humans do not hear the call of God or even seek to avoid it. Second, God's call of the servant in the Servant Songs of Isaiah is important (Isaiah 41:8; 42:6; 43:1, 10; 45:3). God's call to service (καλέω) is often linked to the frequent use of God's choice of the servant (ἐκλέγομαι) so that the calling and the choosing are inseparable just as in Galatians 1:15 (NIDNTT, 1:272-273).

God's call is rooted in God's grace. Paul writes that God called him "through His grace" (διὰ τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ). The means by which God calls is always grace. Paul didn't deserve to be chosen or called, and neither do we. There is nothing intrinsic in us that induces the call of God. The calling and choosing are always grounded in grace. The expression points us back to Galatians 1:6, where Paul wrote that the Galatians were "called by the grace of Christ." God's grace and Christ's grace are the same because God and Christ are united in the gracious call (Longenecker, Galatians, 30). Paul ties the call of God to the choice of God in the opening words of Romans (1:1) but in reverse order from Galatians 1:15. God called Paul as an apostle, and God separated Paul for the work of the gospel. We should not try to deduce an order of events from the order of these words.

God in His grace marks us off from the world and calls us to preach Christ. We deserve nothing but gain everything. We are nobody's, but He makes us somebody's by His grace. No matter what we face in ministry for Him - opposition, discouragement, sacrifice, hurt, betrayal, rejection - we know that His call is grounded in His grace. We are held in the grip of His grace forever!

Friday, June 21, 2019

A RABID DEVOTION

There is a zeal for God and country that ravages all compromisers - a devotion that becomes destructive, a patriotism that breeds fanaticism. Paul possessed a rabid loyalty to Judaism that drove him to zealously protect the traditions handed down from his forefathers (Gal. 1:13-14). His misplaced zeal justified his persecution of Christians as enemies of the Most Holy God and corruptors of his national traditions. There are few emotions more unholy than a holy zeal gone rabid.

Paul describes himself as a zealot (Gal. 1:14). He uses the noun "zealot" (ζηλωτὴς) not the noun "zeal" (ζῆλος). A zealot was a zealous person, of course, but the noun also described one of the four political parties in first century Judaism. The Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots were known as the four philosophies or philosophical sects. A subset of the Pharisees, the zealots began under the leadership of Judas and Zaddok in revolt against the Roman census of Quirinius. They were passionate about freedom from Rome and that God alone was their master, so they believed that the census violated the Law of Moses. They possessed an indomitable will to suffer and fight for God and freedom believing that God would intervene miraculously to free His people if His people purified themselves for God. (TDNT, 2:884-888).

The zealots looked back to Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron as their hero. Phinehas drove a spear through the Israelite man and the Midianite woman in his tent to appease the wrath of God and stop the plague that had killed 24,000 Israelites (Num.25:1-15). It was the zealots who incited the rebellion against Rome that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. Some of the zealots were known as the Sicarii because they carried small swords to assassinate any who collaborated with Rome. They believed that the end would come and the Messiah would return after the nation suffered horrible woes intended to purify the people. For this reason, the most rabid zealots purified the temple during the siege of Jerusalem but also burned the supplies, including food, in the city to hasten the woes preceding the coming of Messiah. The Sicarii of Masada were the last to hold out against Rome, committing mass suicide rather than surrender to the enemy. (Emil Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 2:598-606).

There is no evidence that Paul belonged to the zealots as a political party, but his zeal put many zealots to shame. He describes himself as being an "extreme" zealot for his ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14). The adjective "ancestral" (πατρικῶν) means paternal (M&M, Vocabulary of the Greek NT, 499). Paul's zeal was for his national heritage. The word "extremely" (περισσοτέρως) means to be zealous to a much higher degree than others (BDAG, 651).  Paul claims that he was progressing in Judaism beyond his contemporaries. The verb "progressing" (προέκοπτον) is in the imperfect tense, indicating ongoing progress. It means to cut forward or blaze a path, and the preposition "beyond" (ὑπὲρ) means to excel or surpass (R&R, Linguistic Key, 501). Paul forged ahead of the most zealous zealots in his passion for God and country. His passion led him to persecute (ἐδίωκον) Christians. The verb is also in the imperfect tense indicating ongoing persecution and means to hunt them down. Paul tried to destroy (ἐπόρθουν) the church of God. The verb was used to describe soldiers who ravaged a city (R&R, 501). Paul rabidly defended his heritage until the gospel radically realigned his values.

Beware of a zeal for God that is not according to knowledge (Rom. 10:2). God saved Paul from the zealot's zeal and transformed his devotion from nationalism to evangelism, from the kingdom of man to the kingdom of God. The Christians he once persecuted, he now embraced. The Gentiles he once scorned, he now loved. The pagans he once avoided, he now evangelized. The gospel of grace changes everything about life!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A BRITTLE FAITH BUT A SURE GOSPEL

"For I know in what hours of darkness I sometimes wrestle. I know how often I suddenly lose the beams of the gospel, and grace, as being shadowed from me with thick and dark clouds. ... Therefore, in respect of us the article of justification by faith in Christ alone, is very brittle, because we are brittle" (Martin Luther, Galatians, 31).

Luther pointed to what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:11-12 as vital to the Christian faith. The doctrine of justification by faith is brittle if it depends on us, but the gospel is sure because it depends on Him! Paul wrote: "the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."

These two verses give us clues to the structural frame for the letter to the Galatians. Paul responds to two significant criticisms from his enemies, namely that his gospel was "according to man" (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον) and received "from man" (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου) both of which Paul refutes in this letter. The gospel does not reflect human norms, and the gospel does not come from human origins. Paul's answers to his critics in the rest of the letter form a chiasm since he responds in reverse order. He shows that his gospel is not from man (παρὰ ἀνθρώπου) in Galatians 1:13-2:21. Then he argues that his gospel is not according to man (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον) in Galatians 3:1-6:10 (Blass/Debrunner, Grammar, 252).

First, Paul argues that the gospel did not come from human origins. The preposition παρὰ with the genitive case in classical Greek points to a person and indicates that something proceeded literally from the side of the person. The source originates and directs the information (BDAG, 609). When used with verbs implying transmission, the preposition marks the object as the source. Sometimes the object is the intermediate source of the transmission, but often the preposition is used to indicate the ultimate source. Here in this context, Paul is clearly saying that man is not the ultimate source of the gospel because he received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Burton, Galatians, 39-40).

Paul neither received (παρέλαβον) the gospel from men, nor was he taught (ἐδιδάχθην) the gospel by men. There is probably not a significant distinction between the two verbs in this context. The second is used to reinforce and clarify the point of the first verb (Bruce, Galatians, 89). Humans did not transmit the gospel to Paul. How did Paul receive the gospel? He received it "through (δι') a revelation." The preposition διὰ identifies the agent, so the gospel was transmitted by the agency of revelation (Robertson, Grammar, 582). The word "revelation" (ἀποκαλύψεως) means an uncovering or laying bare of something previously hidden (Burton, Galatians, 433). The gospel came to Paul through the agency of revelation.

Is Jesus Christ the object of the revelation or the subject who revealed the gospel? If Jesus Christ (᾿Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ) is a subjective genitive, then He is the one who revealed the gospel to Paul. If Jesus Christ is an objective genitive, then He is the one whom God revealed to Paul. In favor of the former, Jesus Christ as the source of the gospel expresses Paul's point well (Burton, Galatians, 41-42). However, the latter makes sense when looking at where Paul goes in the next verses. God revealed Jesus to Paul in the incredible Damascus encounter. Paul stresses this latter point when he writes, "God was pleased to reveal (ἀποκαλῦψαι) His Son to me" (Gal. 1:15-16). I take it that Christ is the object of God's revelation which makes Him the essence of the gospel. "To preach the gospel (v.11) was to preach Christ (v.16)" (Bruce Galatians, 89). Therefore, Paul lays out his autobiography in Galatians 1:13-2:14 to explain the divine origin of the gospel that he preached and the centrality of Christ to the gospel.

Second, Paul argues that the gospel does not reflect human norms or standards (BDAG, 407). The preposition κατὰ means according to or after the manner of mankind. The noun ἄνθρωπον lacks the definite article so it should be understood qualitatively. Paul was not talking about an individual man but about mankind. The expression, "according to man" (κατὰ ἄνθρωπον), was used by classical Greek writers to mean from a human point of view or according to human thinking (Burton, Galatians, 37). The gospel does not conform to the norms of human thought. It is counter-cultural. The gospel of Christ invades the human world system with a radical upending of human norms and standards.

Paul develops his explanation of the power of the transforming gospel in Galatians 3:1-6:10. The gospel makes humans think differently about the law and righteousness (3:1-29), who are the true children of God and how we become his sons (4:1-31), living by the energy of the Spirit versus living by the passions of the flesh (5:1-26), forgiving and caring for one another versus self-love (6:1-10). The gospel radically transforms all human norms and standards because the gospel does not come from human thinking. The gospel is big because it motivates a new way of living. Our lives as Christians are founded on the sure gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here, then, is the crux of the matter: because the gospel is the revelation about Jesus Christ and what He has done for me, my justification does not depend upon my brittle faith!

Friday, May 24, 2019

RELIGIOUS PACIFIERS

Many today offer religious pacifiers instead of the true gospel. Some sell a watered-down gospel of cheap grace and easy believism to attract crowds. Others peddle moralism or ritualism to give people a false sense of security because they can keep selective rules or practice special rituals. Religious pacifiers appease people by offering them something they can do to be right with God. But when we preach to please people, we distort the gospel and displease Christ. Paul has just cursed such preachers with "anathema" in the first chapter of Galatians. Then he writes:

"For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ." (Gal. 1:10)

There is considerable debate over the precise meaning of the text, although the general thrust of Paul's thought is clear. The debate centers around the exact meaning of the word translated "seeking the favor of men" (πείθω). The stem of this verb is related to the stem of the word for "believe" and means to trust. To believe is to be persuaded. The verb's primary meaning is to convince or persuade someone (NIDNTT, 1:588). We could translate the first clause, "am I now seeking to persuade men or God." But what exactly does Paul mean by that question? Is the answer "yes" or "no." Is he persuading men, or is he persuading God? Persuading men is understandable, but how does one persuade God?

The exegetical issue is whether the first question is parallel or opposite to the second question. Is "am I persuading men" parallel to "am I striving to please men?" Or are the questions to be understood opposite each other, so the persuading and pleasing are in contrast? In this case, to persuade men is the opposite of to please men. Scholars are divided over the matter.

The most common view is that the two questions are parallel. According to the parallel view, "pleasing men" repeats the meaning of "persuading men." The verb "persuading" (πείθω) should be treated as a synonym for "pleasing" (ἤρεσκον) and translated "seek the favor or approval of men" (Longenecker, Galatians, 18). The verb to persuade (πείθω) is used in classical Greek to mean conciliate, win over or make friends and should be understood in that way in this verse (Meyer, Galatians, 20-21). Paul would be asking, "Am I trying to win over, satisfy or conciliate men or God?" The expected answer would be "no, I am not trying to win over men, but I am trying to win over God. I seek God's favor or approval, not man's."

While it is true that πείθω can mean to pacify or conciliate others in secular Greek, it would be a rare usage in New Testament Greek. There are only two possible texts that might have this meaning (Mt. 28:14; 1 John 3:19), and both could easily be translated with the more usual sense of to convince (BDAG, 639). The word usually means to convince or persuade, and I think it best to keep that force in this verse. However, if that is the case, is Paul expecting a "no" or "yes" to his question about persuading men? If he is expecting a "no" answer to persuading men, then he must be expecting a "yes" answer to persuading God. What would it mean to persuade God?

The solution is to see the questions as opposites.

"Am I trying to persuade men? Yes.
Am I trying to persuade God? No!
Am I trying to please men? No!
Why? Because I am a bond-servant of Christ, so I live my life to please Him."

Paul is trying to persuade men, but he would not be trying to persuade God. Persuading God makes little sense. We cannot manipulate God to agree with us. Trying to induce God to endorse man's view would itself be anathema to the Hebrew prophets. Paul would not suggest such a thought. Instead, he draws a contrast. He pronounces "anathema" on the false gospel preachers because he is not trying to pacify people. Paul is trying to persuade the false preachers to give up their false doctrine, which means that he is not pleasing them at all. However, he is pleasing God by trying to persuade men to reject the false gospel (Bruce, Galatians, 85).

So a servant of Christ pleases God and persuades others. A preacher is not a man-pleaser but a God pleaser. A bondservant of Christ refuses to pacify people to attract them to the faith. We are not in the business of peddling religious pacifiers to satisfy people's feelings even if we can draw a crowd of followers with our pacifiers. We are persuaders who proclaim a life-transforming gospel even if it means preaching against the false gospel and ripping the pacifiers out of the mouths of those placated by false teaching.

Friday, May 10, 2019

ANATHEMA!

The gospel divides! 

It is good news to those who accept God's grace, but it brings anathema on those who distort the truth. Paul wrote, "But even if we or an angel out of heaven preach a gospel to you other than the one we have preached to you, let him be anathema" (Gal. 1:8). Paul repeats the statement in the next verse with the slight change of a gospel "other than what you have received." There is only one gospel for all Christians.

The verse begins with a strong adversative "but" (ἀλλὰ) followed by the concessive "even if" (καὶ ἐὰν) to demonstrate the result of preaching a distorted gospel. Usually, the concessive would be written, "if even" (ἐὰν καὶ) with the subjunctive to indicate future possibility. However, when written "even if" (καὶ ἐὰν) as here the concessive introduces an extreme case which is viewed as highly probable (Burton, Moods and Tenses, 115). Paul knows that some are preaching a different gospel, so he uses the extreme form to make his point. This is not merely hypothetical but highly probable.

Paul rips into preachers who distort the gospel whether by adding to or subtracting from the truth. He reserves his most potent attack not for the Roman or Jewish enemies of Christianity but for the professed preachers of Christianity who preach an "other than" gospel! Any gospel "other than" (παρ´ ὃ) the apostolic gospel distorts God's grace for man's message. Paul used the same preposition when he wrote that unbelievers "exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than (παρὰ) the Creator" (Rom. 1:25). No man can lay any other foundation for Christianity rather than (παρὰ)  the one that has been laid (1 Cor. 3:11). The preposition can also be translated "more than" (Moule, Idiom Book of NT Greek, 51). Jesus told the tax collectors to collect no more than (παρὰ) what they should collect (Luke 3:13). The Corinthians gave "according to their ability and more than (παρὰ) their ability" (2 Cor. 8:3). We are just as wrong whether we preach a gospel more than or other than the one we received from the apostles.

"Let him be accursed" (ἀνάθεμα ἔστω). The word (ἀνάθεμα) comes from two Greek words "up" (ἀνα) and "set" (τίθημι) so anathema meant something that was set up. It translated the Hebrew word for what is banned in the Old Testament, dedicated to God as an offering or a punishment. The ban could be applied positively to what was given over to God in worship without any possibility of getting it back again. It could also be applied to what was given over to God's judicial wrath to be destroyed. Either way, whatever was under the ban belonged to God to do as He pleased.

The ban was not the same as excommunication (Ezra 10:8). In excommunication, the person was exiled from the community of faith but not given over to God for destruction. The ban handed what was banned over to God for destruction.  The Talmud taught two kinds of bans. The first ban could be pronounced by anyone and simply banned the person from attending the synagogue. The second ban could only be decreed by a court since it was a far more severe punishment. A parallel can be found in the church. Anathema is not merely an act of church discipline separating the person from the community of faith, but it was a delivery of the person into the hand of God to be punished by God. Paul used the term in this way when he wrote "I could wish that I myself were accursed (ἀνάθεμα) from Christ" for the sake of his Jewish kinsmen. He would suffer the damnation of God if it meant that his countrymen would come to Christ! (See NIDNTT, 1:413-515: TDNT, 1:354-355). To be under the ban is to be cursed by God, to be handed over to the judicial wrath of a holy God.

To be cursed by God is far worse than physical death. I will never forget my ordination service in 1980. My dad, now with the Lord in heaven, preached a message to me on that day in the presence of all. He spoke with tears streaming down his cheeks when he said, "David, I would rather preach your funeral sermon than hear that you turned away from Christ!" His greatest fear was not that I should die before he did but that I should be declared anathema!

Oh God, keep me faithful to preach your true gospel of grace until I breathe my last breath!