Summary: What is essential to the gospel of salvation?
No Other Gospel
There is no doubt of the great influence that Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia has had on the church over the centuries. It has been front and center in the debate over the nature of salvation. The debate rages between faith and works. Which comes first? Does works based upon Christian love create or contribute to saving faith? Or does saving faith produce works of love? Both sides of the debate agree about the importance of faith and good works. As we go through the Epistle to the Galatians, we will address this issue and try to come to clarity on this subject.
Exposition of the Text
The epistle says that the Apostle Paul was the writer and the churches of Galatia the recipients. That Paul was the author is nearly universally accepted, even by the most liberal scholars. But the identity of the Galatians is a little harder to pin down. There is no record in the Book of Acts that Paul made a missionary trip to the area of Galatians proper. However, it does record that on the first and second missionary journeys, he had established churches in an areas which was loosely called Galatia. Proponents of the “South Galatia” theory think that the churches of Lystra and Derbe are the recipients of this epistle. Without going into detail, the questions that Galatians brings to bear seems to fit the South Galatia churches pretty well, so I agree with this.
Paul immediately qualifies his “apostleship” by saying that no man made him an apostle. The calling to be an apostle came from God the Father through Jesus Christ whom He raised from the dead. By using the strong form of the Greek word for “but”, he is making as strong a distinction as possible. We will see as we go along in our study of Galatians how important it is to Paul’s argument that his authority came from Jesus Himself..
Paul continues to teach about Jesus even as he greets the churches. The Jesus who had called Paul is yoked equally with God the Father as one preposition “from” covers both the Father and Son who are connected by the coordinating conjunction “and”. This Jesus is the one who gave Himself for our sins so that we could be rescued from this standing evil age. This was in perfect accord also with God the Father. Paul in verse five gives his amen and benediction to these facts. These statements are at the core of the gospel which Paul preached.
Paul in Galatians gets right to the heart of the manner. In other epistles including even 1 Corinthians he takes a little time to find something praiseworthy about the church before addressing serious issues. But Paul feels urged to address the issue right away without distractions because the very message of the gospel is at stake. Paul says he is dumbstruck that the Galatians have already forgotten the gospel he had brought them. If this is the South Galatian churches, then we know he brought the gospel there in considerable suffering. He had been hunted down over a hundred miles of open country by Jews from Antioch Pisidia dragged out of town and stoned and left for dead. If so, the apparent defection of some of the Galatians was doubly painful to Paul.
Paul says that the “gospel” the Galatians had been deceived into following was no gospel at all. This is again stated using the strong Greek word for “but” and two different Greek words for “another”. This “other” gospel was not “another” gospel at all. It was actually bad news which was being brought by “troublers”. Instead of troublers “of” Israel, these were troublers “from” Israel. They were perverting the message of the gospel. Paul is so upset that he pronounces a curse upon anyone including himself, others in his company, or even an angel of heaven, should he or they preach anything other than what he had preached at first. He could not have stated the distinction between the gospel he brought to them and the message of the troublers any more clearly. But this is not enough. In verse nine, he repeats the curse on anyone who proclaims a gospel that is different from that which they had received from the Lord Jesus by the will of God through Paul, His called apostle and servant.
If we follow the South Galatian theory, the Book of Acts makes it pretty clear who these troublers were. There were many Jews who had accepted the message of Jesus as a Jewish Messiah. This group of Jewish accepters of Jesus saw Jesus as the continuation and clarification of the Law of Moses and Christianity as a purged Judaism. These felt that anyone who would come into the church would have to go through the gate of Judaism. This would mean that the males would have to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses and its ceremonies.