1. No Other Gospel (Galatians 1:1-10)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (18:37)

Doctrine may seem pretty dry to us -- until it begins to affect our salvation. Then we'd better be very sure what we believe. That's the issue in Galatians: What do you have to do to be saved? You'd think that such a basic issue would have been understood immediately, but it took the early church nearly 20 years to reach a resolution.

At the beginning of Acts, we see an outline of the progress of the gospel.

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Let's trace how the gospel went forward in fulfillment of this verse.

Jerusalem and Judea. For years, the gospel had made headway mainly among Jews, first in Jerusalem at the Day of Pentecost (about 30 AD[6]) and later in Judea when persecution began perhaps 36 AD.[7] Here the gospel didn't have to cross religious lines. Even those present on the Day of Pentecost were Jews, even though they lived outside of Palestine.

Samaria. But when Philip baptized some half-Jewish Samaritans about 36 AD,[8] the Jerusalem church was troubled. There was a strong religious and cultural barrier between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jerusalem church sent Peter and John to investigate; they prayed for them to receive the Holy Spirit and the Jerusalem church was satisfied -- for the moment.

Caesarea. A little later, Peter preached the gospel to an all-Gentile audience at Cornelius' home in Caesarea and, when the Holy Spirit fell on them, he baptized them. The reaction of orthodox Jewish-Christians in the Jerusalem church, however, was harshly critical (Acts 11:2-3), though they came to accept that the Gentiles' conversion was genuine (Acts 11:18).

Antioch. But then, about 40 to 41 AD,[9] a revival broke out among Gentiles in Antioch in Syria, when some Greek-speaking Jews began to preach Christ there (Acts 11:20-21). When the Jerusalem church heard of it, they sent Barnabas to instruct them in the faith. And Barnabas got Paul to help him (Acts 11:25-26).

First Missionary Journey. About 47 AD, Paul and Barnabas were sent out by the Antioch Church on a missionary journey that took them to Cyprus, and then to Asia Minor, where they clearly travelled through the Roman Province of Galatia.[10] In spite of intense opposition from the Jews in those areas, they won converts in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-51), in Iconium (Acts 13:51-14:5), and in Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:6-21). Then they retraced their steps, appointing local elders in each of these fledgling churches (Acts 14:21-23), and returned to their home base in Antioch about 48 AD.

Turmoil from the Circumcision Party. But all was not quiet in Antioch. Luke tells us,

"Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: 'Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.'" (Acts 15:1)

These Jewish Christians[11] seem to have troubled the newly-founded churches in the Province of Galatia with the same false teaching, for this is clearly the issue addressed in Paul's Letter to the Galatians.

Council of Jerusalem. About 49 AD,[12] Paul and Barnabas realized that the only way to stop, once and for all, this false teaching about the necessity of circumcision was to take the matter directly to the elders and apostles in Jerusalem, the apparent source of the teaching (Galatians 2:12). The Council, led by James, the head of the Jerusalem church and Jesus' brother, concluded that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, and wrote authorized letters to that effect to "the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia" (Acts 15:23).

Paul's Letter to the Galatians may well have been written as early as 48 AD or perhaps as late as 56 AD. We can't be absolutely sure. We do know, however, that Paul was battling Judaizers in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Achaia long after the decision at the Council of Jerusalem.

With this background, as we begin this letter, you can sense Paul's urgency and passion. The matter of circumcision being required for salvation had been destroying his work among the Galatians and he is compelled to deal with it head on.

Salutation (1:1-5)

Paul begins with the characteristic letter format of the first century: (1) author, (2) recipients, and (3) a greeting that often included a statement about Christ's salvation.

"1 Paul, an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead -- 2 and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1:1-5)

Paul, an Apostle Sent Directly from Christ and God (1:1-2)

Notice how Paul presents himself: "an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father." As we'll see in Lesson 2, Paul felt it was vital to establish that his apostolic authority didn't derive from men -- especially the Jerusalem church -- but came directly from Christ himself, unmediated to men.

"Apostle" (Greek apostolos), means literally, "one sent." "In older Greek, the term is a nautical one denoting a freighter or a naval force with no sense of initiative or authorization." But in Judaism it began to develop the sense of "delegate, envoy, messenger," that is, one sent with the authority of the sender.[13] Paul's authority has been questioned and undermined by the Judaizers, so in verse 1, Paul begins by insisting that his authority comes from Christ himself!

"Galatia" can refer to either the Roman Province of Galatia (South Galatian theory, which I am following) or the Kingdom of Galatia (North Galatian theory), as discussed in detail in the Introduction.

Christ's Rescue Mission (1:3-5)

Next, best wishes are offered, as was common in the letter format of the time. The Greeks typically began with "grace" (Greek charis), while the Jews would offer "peace" (Hebrew shalom). Paul offers both "grace and peace."

"3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1:3-5)

Now Paul writes a doxology to Jesus Christ and God the Father. Notice the elements of this doxology:

  1. Action: "Gave himself for[14] our sins." Christ died for our sins on the cross. The Judaizers' emphasis on the law negated the need for the cross.
  2. Problem: "The present evil age,"[15] with its sinfulness, thus resting under God's righteous judgment. If we "go with the flow" of our culture, we'll end up being condemned. "Broad is the road that leads to destruction" (Matthew 7:13).
  3. Purpose: "To rescue[16] us." Christ performed a rescue mission. This is the crux of the matter. At the end of chapter two, Paul sums it up:

"If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21)

The gospel isn't about man's ability to save himself by keeping the law. It is about Christ dying for our sins so that the just requirement of the law is fulfilled in him on our behalf.

  1. Source: "According to the will of our God and Father." "For God so loved the world..." (John 3:16).
  2. Praise: "To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."[17] He is worthy of all our praise!

You'll find questions interspersed throughout these lessons. They are designed to stimulate discussion in groups or for you to respond to personally. Take time with these, for they'll help you understand the key issues and reinforce them in your mind. Lesson 1 has only two questions, but most lessons will contain four discussion questions. If you're taking this study online, why don't you register for the Joyful Heart Bible Study Forum and then click on the link below each question to read others' answers and to add your own?

Q1. (Galatians 1:4) According to verse 4, for what purpose did Jesus give himself? How does Jesus rescue people today? How does he keep people from falling back into their old ways?


No Other Gospel (1:6-9)

Often, Paul's letters contain an extended word of praise of Christ at this point. But not this letter. Paul immediately gets to the point. Notice the strong verbs. Paul isn't trying to smooth over here, but to accentuate the problem:

"6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (1:6-9)

This is explicit language, a kind of tirade[18] from an apostle who is both livid with rage at the Judaizers and extremely frustrated with his converts who have been so easily swayed.

Another "Gospel" (1:6-8)

It's interesting that repeatedly over the course of four verses, Paul uses the noun "gospel" (euangelion) or the verb "preach the gospel" (euangelizō, from which we get our English word "evangelize"):

  • "Different gospel" (1:6)
  • "No gospel at all" (1:7a)[19]
  • "Pervert the gospel" (1:7b)
  • "Preach a gospel other" (1:8)
  • "Preaching a gospel other" (1:9)

Euangelizō means, "bring good news, announce good news."[20] Euangelion refers to the "good news" that is announced or proclaimed.[21] It derives from eu-, "good" + angelos, "bringer, messenger." In Greece, the verb was used "for bringing news, especially of a victory or some other joyous event, in person or by letter." Jesus was the first to use the term in the New Testament:

"Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news (euangelion) of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news (euangelion)!'" (Mark 1:14-15)

The Galatians now believe "another gospel," says Paul, that is, another "good news." The problem is that their "good news" isn't good; it's really bad news, which Paul observes when he says that it "is really no gospel at all." The Judaizers' message was: If you keep the law you will be considered righteous. Contrast that with Jesus "gave himself for our sins to rescue us" (1:4).

The Greeks have a pair of words used to contrast like and unlike:

  • Homos, "same"
  • Heteros, "different"[22]

The Judaizers' message was another[23] message, clearly different from the gospel the Galatians had received.

But the Galatians' error isn't just an innocent misinterpretation. Paul had carefully taught them the gospel of the grace of God. Their doctrinal shift was deliberate on their part; they had believed the deliberate twisting of the Judaizers. Paul wasn't easy on either party. Consider the verbs he uses:

"Deserting" (NIV, NRSV), "removed from" (KJV) is metatithēmi, "to have a change of mind in allegiance, change one's mind, turn away, desert."[24] Paul doesn't excuse the Galatians. He accuses them of deserting the true gospel.

"Throw into confusion" (NIV), "confuse" (NRSV), "trouble" (KJV) describes the effect of the Judaizers' false teaching. The verb tarassō means, "to cause inward turmoil, stir up, disturb, unsettle, throw into confusion."[25] As a pastor I've seen the kind of confusion and turmoil that enemies of peace can cause in a congregation. It's significant!

"Trying to pervert" is another strong pair of verbs -- thelō, "desire, purpose, resolve" and metastrephō, "to cause a change in state or condition, change, alter something" into something else.[26] This latter verb isn't always pejorative. It is used of the sun being turned into darkness at the Last Day (Acts 2:20; Joel 3:4) and in some manuscripts of laughter being turned to mourning (James 4:9). But here it is the equivalent of "to pervert, corrupt."[27] The Judaizers don't merely have an innocent misunderstanding, but are waging deliberate campaign to change the Galatians' understanding of salvation!

"Eternally condemned" (NIV), "accursed" (NRSV, KJV) is anathema (from which we get our English word), "that which has been cursed, accursed."[28] Twice in this passage Paul calls down an eternal curse upon the Judaizers who have perpetrated this deception and proclaimed "another gospel."

Q2. Paul called the Judaizers' message as a "different gospel," a perversion of the true gospel. How is this dangerous to the Galatian believers? How do twisted  gospels (or an unbalanced interpretation of the gospel) affect Christians in our day?

Paul's Pure Motivation (1:10)

Paul has clearly been accused by his enemies of merely saying what people want to hear. So he concludes this section with a question:

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (1:10)

Paul's harsh words here aren't the smooth talk of a politician. He isn't trying to smooth things over and make everyone happy.[29] Rather, he is trying to polarize the situation, to label the Judaizers as guilty of distortion and deceit, and drive a wedge between them and the Galatian Christians. Paul isn't trying to please man, but to please Christ his commander. Ironically, as we'll see in the last chapter, the Judaizers' true motivation to stress circumcision is to put themselves on good terms with the Jewish community in the region. That is why they were downplaying Christ's saving work on the cross (6:12-14).

Galatians: Discipleship Lessons, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback and e-book formats

In the first few sentences of his letter, Paul has thrown down the challenge to the Jewish Christian perverters of the gospel. Now he will begin to develop his argument that our salvation is by grace alone, not by fulfilling the law.


Father, thank you for sending Jesus to rescue us. We ask you to sharpen our discernment so that we can see the true gospel clearly enough to recognize the slick counterfeits that we're presented with. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"The Lord Jesus Christ ...  gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." (Galatians 1:3b-4, NIV)

End Notes

[7] Armstrong and Finegan, ISBE 1:689.

[8] If the stoning of Stephen, which precipitated the scattering of the Judean Christians can be dated around 36 AD, give or take a bit, then the Samaritan conversion probably took place around that time.

[9] Acts 12 indicates that the Antioch revival took place prior to the murder of the Apostle James by Herod, about 41 AD. Armstrong and Finegan, ISBE 1:689.

[10] In this study, I have adopted the Southern Galatian theory (see the Introduction). While Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe are in the Province of Galatia, this area must be distinguished from the Kingdom of Galatia (North Galatian theory).

[11] They are sometimes called "the circumcision party" or Judaizers, since their aim was to turn the Gentile Christians into circumcised Jews.

[12] Armstrong and Finegan, ISBE 1:689.

[13] K.H. Rengstorf, apostellō, ktl., TDNT 1:398-447. BDAG 122, 2.

[14] "For" is hyper, "a marker indicating that an activity or event is in some entity's interest, for, in behalf of, for the sake of someone or something" (BDAG 1030, 1aγ).

[15] "Age" (NIV, NRSV), "world" (KJV) is aiōn (from which we get our English word "aeon" or "eon"), "a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age" (BDAG 33, 2a).

[16] "Rescue" (NIV), "set us free" (NRSV), "deliver" (KJV) is exaireō, "to deliver someone from peril or confining circumstance, set free, deliver, rescue" (BDAG 344, 2).

[17] Amēn is the transliteration of a Hebrew word, "a strong affirmation of what is stated, as expression of faith let it be so, truly, amen" (BDAG 53, 1a), from the Hebrew word for "truth."

[18] Tirade: "a protracted speech usually marked by intemperate, vituperative, or harshly censorious language" (Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary, 2003).

[19] Technically, the word euangelion doesn't appear again in verse 7a, but is represented by a pronoun.

[20] Euangelizō, BDAG 402, 1.

[21] Euangelion, BDAG 403, 1.

[22] "Different" (NIV, NRSV), "another" (KJV) is heteros, "pertaining to being distinct from some other item implied or mentioned, other," used interchangeably with allos, which is felt to be its equivalent (BDAG 399, 1bγ).

[23] Allos, "pertaining to that which is different in type or kind from other entities in comparisons another, different (from, compared with) (BDAG 47, 2b).

[24] Metatithēmi, BDAG 642, 3.

[25] Tarassō, BDAG 996.

[26] Metastrephō, BDAG 643.

[27] Thelō, Thayer 406.

[28] Anathema, BDAG 63, 2.

[29] "Approval" (NIV, NRSV), "persuade" (KJV) is peithō, "win over, strive to please" (BDAG 791, 1c). "Please" is areskō, "to act in a fawning manner, win favor, please, flatter," with focus on the winning of approval (BDAG 129, 1).

Copyright © 2023, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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