Let Him Be Anathema!

Studies  in  Galatians

(Galatians 1:1-9)

IN APPROACHING our consideration of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, in which the apostle defends his evangel of grace, we are especially struck by a recognition of our total dependency on God for the sake of faithfulness in the task at hand. If within Paul’s epistles, there are “some things hard to apprehend” (2 Peter 3:16), there are a great many other things that are easy to apprehend, even if difficult to accept and believe, due to the power of false tradition.

When we read in this same verse, written by the apostle Peter, that it is “the unlearned and unstable,” who are twisting the words of Paul, “as the rest of the scriptures also,” to their own destruction (or “loss”; apõleia, FROM-WHOLE-LOOSing), we are apt to suppose that it is primarily those with little formal education, perhaps ones who are mentally unstable as well, who twist the words of Scripture. In contradistinction to such persons of low estate, we are apt as well to call to mind the learned scholar and the stable citizen, only to suppose that such ones of high station, at least if they should be consecrated believers, are not apt to be guilty of any such twisting of Scripture as contemplated here by Peter. Such, however, is a naïve supposition indeed. In fact, it is a supposition which few scholars would make, for they are well aware of the tremendous diversity of opinion, even within their acknowledged circle, on a vast range of issues, including topics of great importance, whether within the Pauline writings or elsewhere in Scripture.

Perhaps if one insists on taking “unlearned” and “unstable” in such a sense that all honorable academicians of renown are excluded, we should reply, “All right, but I would have you know that in addition to the destructive twisting of Scripture which is engaged in by the unlearned and unstable, there is much Scripture-twisting engaged in as well by the learned and stable!”

It is not at all likely, however, that such a sense as most conjure up when hearing the word “stable,” and especially the word “learned,” is the thought that Peter had in mind. One may be a stable citizen, friend, and comforter, while being by no means stable in the faith. A man may be solid in his business dealings or otherwise in common points of character, and yet be altogether weak-kneed in standing for truth, or even in recognizing it. Similarly, one may be highly learned and enlightened in many a scripture-related discipline, rendering invaluable service to many in various ways, and still be quite unlearned as to many important scriptural teachings. In such cases, all their learnedness notwithstanding, it is simply that otherwise-learned men, have nevertheless not learned the truth as to various scriptural revelations of great consequence.

All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are concealed” in Him, in the God and Father of Christ (Col.2:2,3). Paul does not say that, for one who is a good fellow and scholarly, this is no longer true; that such a one may forego divine enlightenment, and has no need of saving grace in matters of spiritual judgment.

Similarly, Paul declares, “I plant, Apollos irrigates, but God makes it grow up. So that, neither is he who is planting anything, nor he who is irrigating, but God Who makes it grow up . . . . God’s fellow workers are we. God’s farm, God’s building, are you” (1 Cor.3:5-9). Again, Paul does not say that, if one is of prodigious intellect and lauded by all the orthodox as being both astute and consecrated, such a one’s intellectual and moral virtues may serve as a substitute means with a view toward that growth in truth for which lesser mortals must wait upon the divine determination. Nor does Paul say that in some mysterious, originative sense, such a one is ultimately responsible for his own growth; that he is not God’s farm and building, but is his own farm and building.

As a means of grace, factually correct, scripturally pertinent, advanced learning is often invaluable in the cause of truth, with a view toward its demonstration or proof. While at least in its vital elements, such scholarship will be intellectually sound, this is by no means to say that it will be recognized as such by all conservative and sincere theological academicians or other such professional theologians. Let us not be wise in our own conceit (Prov.26:12). “Let no one be deluding himself. If anyone among you is presuming to be wise in this eon, let him become stupid, that he may be becoming wise, for the wisdom of this world is stupidity with God. For it is written, ‘He is clutching the wise in their craftiness.’ And again, The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are vain. So that, let no one be boasting in men . . .” (1 Cor.3:18-21a).

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Paul, an apostle (not from men, neither through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, Who rouses Him from among the dead), and all the brethren with me, to the ecclesias of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . . (1:1-3)

In this epistle to the Galatians, the characteristic words of thanksgiving or blessing, which introduce Paul’s other epistles, are conspicuous by their absence. Instead of giving thanks, Paul “marvels” (1:6); instead of a word of blessing, he pronounces an emphatic anathema (1:8,9). Indeed, Paul, immediately, without delay, begins by emphasizing the authority which inheres in his apostleship and evangel, though this authority may be challenged or even denied by the Galatians. Without any deference either to formality or pleasantry, Paul abruptly begins by insisting that his apostleship is “not from men, neither through a man,” but that it is instead “through Jesus Christ and God, the Father.”

By his very first words, Paul emphasizes that “all the brethren with [him],” join him in acknowledging his authoritative apostleship, even as in concurring in the substance of the epistle which is to follow. But, far more significantly, Paul intimates here what he soon goes to extraordinary lengths both to stress and elucidate, that he is speaking by the word of the Lord in making this emphatic asseveration of his apostleship. Accordingly, in making the following extended presentation in defense of his evangel, a presentation with which the entirety of the remainder of the epistle will be concerned, Paul thus presses upon the Galatians the fact that he not only has the right to speak, but the right to be heard, and heeded. If the Galatians should dismiss his testimony, it is at their own peril that they do so.

As sobering as all of this is, what is more striking is that even if Paul must omit his usual introductory words of thanksgiving or blessing, that he might lose no time in pressing the urgency of his message upon the recipients of this epistle, he nevertheless does not omit his always-applicable (and, always-appropriate) words of greeting, “from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This word of greeting is, “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If the believer should involve himself in both moral and doctrinal evil, as at Corinth, and even if, as in Galatia, he should go so far as to become transferred from the glorious evangel through which he was called in the grace of Christ and become transferred to a different evangel (1:6)–and even if in so doing he should repudiate the grace of God (cp 2:21)–the word of truth declared unto him remains: “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What if some should come to disbelieve, and even repudiate, the grace which they once accepted? “Will not their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God? May it not be coming to that! Now let God be true, yet every man a liar . . .” (Rom.3:3,4a). What God has promised in grace to His chosen ones, will surely come to pass concerning them. Simply because it is grace, it will not fail to bestow its blessing!

That which is in grace is not out of works, “else the grace is coming to be no longer grace” (Rom.11:6). While a wage is not reckoned as a favor (or gracious gift), but as a debt (Rom.4:4), that which is reckoned as a gracious gift, is not reckoned as a debt. Since such a gift is not owed in the first place, and neither at any time does it become owed, it follows that any deficiency of service–however extreme–on the part of the one to whom its endowment has been granted, cannot deprive such a one of its blessing.

Consequently, when believers, such as the Galatians, “fall out of grace” (Gal.4:4b), they do so only in their apprehension of grace, and in an appreciation of it, with all the practical benefit that this entails. One does not, through disobedience, remove himself from the sphere of whatever divine blessing has been afforded him in grace. While this is so, he nevertheless may very well thereby remove himself from the sphere of a recognition and enjoyment, as such, of God’s gracious blessings. This is especially so in the case of one who denies and rejects the truth of grace.

For example, in the coming eons, all the members of the ecclesia which is Christ’s body will joyfully partake of the allotment of life eonian. This is simply because that allotment is a gracious gift (Rom.6:23). Yet only those members of the ecclesia today, who, in fact, and apart from contradiction, believe that eonian life is a gracious gift, presently recognize and enjoy this gift according to its true nature.

Many cannot possibly be at peace in their hearts, for they fancy themselves to be at least possible candidates for divine wrath. They imagine that if they should avoid coming under such judgment, it will finally be thanks only to themselves that they avoided such an awful end. We cannot convince them that they are in error; and God has yet to convince them, whether through ourselves or some other means. So we must deem such strong delusion as being in accord with His wisdom, and ultimately being out of Him (Rom.11:36).

We long for others to rejoice with us in common faith. We know how helpful it has been for ourselves no longer to repudiate God’s grace, but instead to repudiate our own self-righteousness and pride (to the degree that we have succeeded in so doing). We long for our fellow believers to join us in pursuit of a walk consistent with the truth that all is of God, through Him, and for Him. But until God grants them this awareness, and whatever they may say or do in repudiation of grace in the meantime, let us rejoice that the word of truth to them remains: “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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Who gives Himself for our sins, so that He might extricate us out of the present wicked eon, according to the will of our God and Father, to Whom be glory for the eons of the eons. Amen! (1:4,5)

Even as God “extricated” (“lifted out”) Joseph out of all his afflictions” (Acts 7:10), and, later on, extricated the sons of Israel out of Egypt (Acts 7:34), thus also, Christ Jesus “gives Himself for our sins, so that He might extricate us out of the present wicked eon.” In each case, the respective extrication is “according to [literally, “down”] the will of our God and Father, to Whom be [the] glory” (cp v.5). The basis of the blessed deliverance is God’s own decision so to act. What it “comes down to,” then, is that Christ gives Himself for our sins, so that, according to God’s own will, such a glorious deliverance of us, out of this wicked eon (cp 1 Thess.4:15-17), should actually come to pass. It is not that Christ gives Himself for our sins so that such a deliverance might possibly come to pass, but then again might never come to pass at all. If God must wait on man, and worse yet, depend on man, He can never act in grace, much less, can He glorify His own name, alone, in our deliverance.

It is with such considerations having already been presented, that Paul then moves directly to the heart of the Galatians’ error:

I am marveling that thus, swiftly, you are transferred from that which calls you in the grace of Christ, to a different evangel, which is not another. (1:6)

Though Paul had once labored among them, “establishing all the disciples” (Acts 18:23), it is evident that the Galatian believers were unable to remain steadfast. Though for some time, they remained in the teaching which they had accepted through Paul, they never became “settled, [and] unmovable” therein (cf 1 Cor.15:58). They were by no means mature in the faith, readily able to discern contradictory teachings. Any objections that they may have initially had to such a different evangel as that introduced by Paul’s opposers, were subsequently quelled, through the persuasiveness of the entrancing error with which the Galatians eventually became enthralled (cf 3:1; 5:1,8).

Whether or not their “insurrection” (5:12) also startled him (cp Phil.1:28), it at least caused Paul to “marvel” (1:6). He frankly admits that the Galatians’ swift transfer from his own evangel of the grace of Christ to a different evangel, was an object of wonder, full of astonishment!

It was not that the Galatians immediately, as soon as Paul was out of reach, turned away from the truth to such grievous error. It was instead that, however long it may have been before the incipience of their apostasy, once they came under its spell, they then “swiftly
became “transferred” from Paul’s evangel of grace to a different evangel.

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Note that the Galatians were transferred from “that which” called them in the grace of Christ to a different evangel. “That which,” in the Concordant Version, simply represents the Greek definite article (“the”). It is evident from what is said, however, that “the [evangel]” through which the Galatians were called into the grace of Christ brought by Paul, was that from which they were transferred to a different evangel. This is the central point: the message to which the Galatians had been transferred, which they deemed a message of good news, was nonetheless different than the evangel of the grace of Christ.

At least in the eyes of those who boast in themselves, it is possible to conceive of a message which holds out blessing as a reward for obedience to law-works, apart from grace, as a message of good news. It is not that, theoretically, such a message could not be a message of good news; it is instead that, as Paul insists, such an evangel is not the evangel of the grace of Christ. This is so whether by this expression one has in mind either the evangel of the Uncircumcision or that of the Circumcision (2:7); or, both of these together, as considered in their essential unity.

The evangel to which the Galatians had been transferred is first described as being “different” (1:6). The Greek word, heteros, present in such English words as“heterogenous ”and “heterosexual,” speaks of “essential difference,” or difference in kind.” Certainly, grace is the essential characteristic of the evangel of Christ. Yet through his use of heteros, Paul thus insists that the spurious evangel by which the Galatians had become deceived, was, in its very essence, different than the true evangel, that of the grace of Christ. Therefore, at its core, this corrupt gospel was not, in fact, a gospel of grace, but of something different than grace, a gospel of blessing by means of law-obedience, apart from the grace of Christ. It is the grace of Christ which ultimately underlies the evangel of the Circumcision, even as, on its face, grace is the essence of the evangel of Christ which Paul was heralding among the nations (2:2).

Therefore, this spurious gospel by which the Galatians had become deceived, was “not another.” That is, it was not actually the evangel of the Circumcision, even if the Galatians were so ignorant of the true nature of that evangel as to identify the heterogenous corruption which they had embraced as the evangel of the Circumcision.

Here, for the English “[an]other,” the Greek is allos, from which “allotropic” is derived, which points to variation of form, to changes of properties shown by elements, without change of essential composition. Whatever the Galatians themselves might claim or imagine, Paul insists that their false gospel is essentially different from the evangel of the grace of Christ. It is not the “other” true evangel (the evangel of the Circumcision) at all, but only a psuedo-evangel which is a gross caricature of the evangel of the Circumcision. According to truth, it is no evangel at all. Therefore, it should be rejected, not embraced.

It is glorious to recognize that the true evangel of the Circumcision was the “other-evangel,” to which Paul here alludes. Though the evangel of the Circumcision differed from Paul’s in “other” (lesser) things–in externals of form and practice, as well as in allotment and in relation to the law–in essence, it was the same as Paul’s. That is, in the wider sense, it too was the evangel of the grace of Christ. Under the evangel of the Circumcision, as much so as under that of the Uncircumcision, all blessing flows from the grace of God, through Christ, with all boasting in man debarred.

Hence, only by a fundamental distortion of the true evangel of the grace of Christ itself, could it ever be said that the Galatians’ pseudo-evangel, while being distinct from Paul’s evangel in non-central externals, was nevertheless, in essence, quite the same as the evangel which the apostle himself heralded.

But if ever we also, or a messenger out of heaven, should be bringing an evangel to you beside that which we bring to you, let him be anathema! As we have declared before and at present I am saying again, if anyone is bringing you an evangel beside that which you accepted, let him be anathema! (1:8,9)

In verses 8 and 9, the New International Version renders the dual phrases, “let him be anathema!” as “let him be eternally condemned!” Those who approve this supposed “dynamic equivalent” for the literal rendering, evidently reason that since the gospel which Paul herein opposes was not a true gospel at all, it must be that those who herald such a message are themselves lost, which, it is alleged, is to be equated with being “eternally condemned.”

We can understand why, as traditional “evangelicals,” such “translators” would conclude that false teachers, ones who themselves were unsaved, would have to be punished eternally. After all, according to them, the vast majority of the entirety of the human race, will be forever damned in the horrors of hellfire. So it is hardly surprising that unsaved, false teachers as well would have to be included, within the company of the damned.

It is not a matter, however, of a failure to believe other important teachings, but of a failure to believe the central message of “Christ crucified,” His death and resurrection, that shows that one is lost. Conversely, where these same glorious essentials are believed, we have the evidence that one is saved. All who see in Christ, God’s own wisdom and power, who believe as well that Jesus died and rose, are included among God’s people (cf 1 Cor.1:21-25; 1 Thess.4:14). This is so, even if they should be utensils of dishonor as to their service, having been given over to foolish myths.

There is no indication that those who were disturbing the Galatians denied these most basic elements of faith. Indeed, it is not credible to suppose that they did do so. The Galatians would hardly welcome the teaching of any who actually made any such extreme, foundational denials. Therefore, even on so-called “evangelical grounds,” such a remarkable rendering as, “let him be eternally condemned!” should hardly be countenanced.

Paul’s words, “If ever we also, or a messenger out of heaven, should be bringing an evangel to you beside that which we bring to you, let him be anathema!” (1:8), make it clear that an evangelist’s divine authority is vested not in the messenger, but in the message. If Paul himself, or even “a messenger out of heaven,” must be anathematized should he bring a different evangel than that of the grace of Christ, it is impossible to believe that any contemporary man, whether priest or pastor, would be exempt from this same proscription.

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But what does it mean to be “anathema,” and of what does the anathema consist here in Paul’s warning?

In the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament), anathema is the translation of the Hebrew cherem. It speaks of something that is “devoted,” yet in the sense of, unto adversative judgment; hence, “devoted to destruction” (or “loss”; e.g., Deut.7:26; Joshua 7:1,11-13). Certainly, an anathema is something that no one would care to invite upon himself. When Paul, then, says of any who bring a false gospel, “let him be anathema!” the sense is, Let him be subject to certain, adversative judgment. The word itself, however, tells us nothing of the particulars or duration of any such judgment. For this, we must consider the nature of the case, in any specific pronouncement of anathema.

The “anathema” which Paul pronounces in Galatians 1:8,9, consists of many grave consequences, but these do not include being subjected to “eternal condemnation.” Life’s justifying is for all mankind; and through the obedience of Christ, the entire vast throng of the human race shall be constituted just (Rom.5:18,19). We rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind (1 Tim.4:10), Who will abolish death and become All in all (1 Cor.15:26,28).

Neither does Paul’s anathema consist in the loss of eonian life for any such opposing teachers, those who nevertheless are in Christ. Eonian life is a gracious gift (Rom.6:23); grace reigns, for life eonian, through Jesus Christ, our Lord (Rom.5:21; cp Titus 3:7). Nor does Paul’s anathema consist, in the case of any in Christ who indeed must come under its judgment, of also coming under God’s indignation. God has not appointed us to indignation (1 Thess.5:9a); we shall be saved from the indignation of God through Christ (Rom.5:9).

Finally, Paul’s anathema does not impose soulish suffering. There is much that is destructive, that nonetheless is not at all destructive to health, wealth, and pleasure. For example, untroubled resignation concerning, combined with an unbridled zeal to uphold, the teaching of a horrible hell where the vast majority of men must spend eternity, coupled with an ethic that can finally only thank oneself for one’s exemption therefrom, is conducive neither to pity nor humility. Yet since most, especially if they should enjoy a good measure of conventional well-being, are insensitive to the deep injuriousness of such attitudes and beliefs, they remain oblivious to the very real anathema to which their own apostasy has subjected them.

For all the things which Paul’s pronouncement of anathema does not bring upon those who come under its judgment, this anathema does result in the preclusion of its subjects from the circle of those who are faithful dispensers of Christ (Col.1:7), and ensures all such persons’ inclusion among that company who are fraudulent workers (2 Cor.11:13), deceivers (2 Tim.3:13), and enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil.3:18). One may be all of these, without intending to be any of these, while being confident that one is none of these.

Paul’s anathema upon those who proclaim a different evangel, entails their loss of wages at the dais of Christ (cp 1 Cor.3:14,15; 2 Cor.5:10), even as their disqualification for a position of reigning (cp 1 Cor.9:27; 2 Tim.2:12a). It means that, apart from repentance, such will spend their careers in essential and vital opposition to the grace of God. It means that their ministries cannot but become a substantial disservice to others, through which many are injured and deceived. Worst of all, Paul’s anathema entails God’s displeasure with the ministry of all such ones, at least with respect to the essential character and content of their teaching. It means a life lived under the power of strong delusion; a strong delusion of a most insidious nature.

If we finally owe our enjoyment of divine blessing to ourselves, it is impossible for us to thank God for it. Then, we cannot glorify God as God, and must to a considerable extent involve ourselves in the veneration of the creature rather than the Creator. We cannot thank God alone even for our virtues, much less for our failures, which will yet bring glory to Him, for we imagine that we ourselves are ultimately responsible for our own deeds.

Anyone who is subject to such dreadful consequences as these, certainly has come under a great anathema; a tremendous course of destruction, to one’s own great loss. And, anyone who repudiates the grace of Christ for a different evangel–so long as he continues on in such a course–is indeed subject to just such consequences.

It is not that God is indignant with such ones and so is reckoning their offenses against them. This is by no means the case (cf 2 Cor.5:18,19; Rom.5:9,10). It is simply that, as in the case of all evil doing, when one is resolute in the advocacy of fundamentally false teaching, injurious consequences must follow in response to such improper actions. All such chastenings are designed to accord with God’s purpose, and are in perfect harmony with His wisdom and love. Eventually, through such disciplines, and especially, through the saving grace of God itself, all will be brought not only to their senses but to salvation, even as to a realization of the truth (1 Tim.2:4).

Even if some (indeed, the vast majority) are ignorant of God and of the evangel of the grace of Christ, may such ignorance not be our portion. Let us “sober up justly and . . . not be sinning” (cp 1 Cor.15:34). While Paul’s anathema is formally pronounced only upon those who bring an evangel beside that which the apostle first brought to the Galatians, many of the same injurious consequences which most especially accrue to the heralds of such delusions, necessarily accrue as well to those who accept and live according to the selfsame teachings.

Even so, having duly considered this baneful anathema pronounced by Paul, how we rejoice to know that for those who are in Christ, even if, like the Galatians, they have come under the sway of the teachings of Paul’s antagonists, there is a word of grace and peace. Accordingly, Paul writes to all such ones: “Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal.1:3). Hence, as the apostle further declares in closing this epistle, we say as well to our readers in closing this exposition: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit brethren! Amen!” (Gal.6:18).

James Coram

1. Tacheõs (SWIFT-AS) signifies “a speedy kind” of occurrence (e.g., John 11:31; cp John 20:4). It speaks of inherent rapidity of succession, apart from a consideration of a thus-characterized activity’s relation to other events, whether antecedent or subsequent.

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