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An Exploration of Galatians - Be Accursed if You Preach Falsely
Galatians 1:8-9 - Let the Gospel of Christ be the Truth that guides us.
“But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”
Galatians 1:8-9 NASB1995
Paul is is not mincing words in these early verses in Galatians 1. After being amazed that the churches in Galatia are deserting the true Gospel for the distorted false teachings, he says that if anyone, including “we” (we can assume the “we” is Paul and his companions) or even an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to what has been preached they are to be “accursed”.
Obviously, a word study is in order: “Accursed” in the Greek is ἀνάθεμα or anathema. The definitions are as follows:
a thing set up or laid by in order to be kept
specifically, an offering resulting from a vow, which after being consecrated to a god was hung upon the walls or columns of the temple, or put in some other conspicuous place
a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction
a man accursed, devoted to the direst of woes
Paul is focused on the second definition, which is how the word is used in this context. This accursed person, who believes they are doing a thing devoted to God, is instead without hope of being redeemed and is doomed to destruction. He emphasizes this by the use of the angel from heaven, the most fanciful messenger that can be imagined. He is strongly suggesting that no messenger, no matter how godly and good they seem, should be believed if they preach a gospel that subtracts from, distorts or adds to the gospel of Jesus that Paul preached to them. We will see shortly in that series that Paul explains how he received the Gospel directly from Jesus, so he is emphatic about its truth. The keys to our salvation (hence the use of the image above with old keys on one of the Gospels) is this truth.
So where else does Paul use language about being accursed that is this strong? He uses the same anathema three other times:
In Romans 9:3-5:
“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
Romans 9:3-5 NASB1995
Here he is addressing his deep sorrow for the loss of his Israeli brethren who did not see Jesus as the messiah. He would gladly be accursed if he could bring them to Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 12:3:
“Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 12:3 NASB1995
In this passage, he is talking about how to be discerning about spiritual gifts, especially when noting how someone speaks of Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 16:22:
“If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.”
1 Corinthians 16:22 NASB1995
At the very end of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses this term to caution those who claim they are committed to the Lord, but do not exhibit love for Him, that they should be accursed. Maranatha means “our Lord is coming”.
Another question is why Paul is so adamant that he repeats this phrase anathema or accursed in these two verses of Galatians? I have a new reference today, from the Gospel Coalition from their new free Bible commentary and here’s what they say about this:
Preaching a different gospel is no small matter. Paul asserts that anyone—including himself or even an angel from heaven—who preaches a different gospel than the one he proclaimed to the Galatians is under God’s curse. Put another way, God’s wrath rests upon any who proclaim a false gospel. While the reference to “an angel from heaven” may suggest the opponents claimed they received their teaching from an angel, it is more likely hyperbole to make a point. Paul repeats the curse for emphasis. Preachers and teachers are not free to modify the gospel to suit their own tastes or that of their audience. Final authority within the church rests on the gospel itself and not any individual.
Very sobering stuff!! How many churches today are modifying or subtracting from the Gospel to fit society’s wishes or some perceived power that they claim and not preaching the true Gospel of our Lord? It is rather fitting that my analysis of this section of Galatians has happened right after Reformation Day, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517. Luther’s main point is described quite well by Gotquestions.org:
One of the major issues that concerned Luther pertained to the matter of church officials selling “indulgences” to the people as a means of releasing them from having to exact penitence for their misdeeds. Indulgences were also claimed by the Church to limit the amount of time the purchaser’s loved one would have to spend in Purgatory. “As soon as the penny jingles into the money-box, the soul flies out [of purgatory].” Luther felt that these church officials were teaching people that they could literally buy their way into the kingdom of God or buy God’s favor. His belief was that the papacy had deteriorated to the point that the people were being led to believe in man-made doctrines. Luther believed that the Pope had the power to limit or do away with penances imposed by the clergy, but he did not have the power to bring about the interior contrition that leads to salvation. Only God could do that. Indulgences are positively harmful, according to the Theses, since they induce a false assurance of peace, and cause the recipients to neglect true repentance.
It should our fervent prayer every day that people leave false teachers and find good Gospel-believing churches. Anyone who puts a “condition” on salvation, like being able to buy your way out of repentance for sin with indulgences or by asking you to financially support their church as a “prerequisite” to salvation, is just like the Judaizers who wanted the early church to follow Mosaic law before they could be Christians.
My next devotional examines Galatians 1:10-12 - Paul does not desire to please men, but wants the churches in Galatia to know he received the Gospel directly from Jesus.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
In lieu of prayer:
Precept Austin points out that the Anglican standard hymn “Rock of Ages” by reformed minister Augustus Toplady (written 1776) is appropriate for this passage in Galatians, especially verse 2; the lyrics to the hymn, in the public domain, are copied from Timeless Truths:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save from wrath and make me pure.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyes shall close in death,
When I rise to worlds unknown,
And behold Thee on Thy throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The text of Galatians, excluding all Bible quotations, is © 2023 by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition (TGC) gives permission to reproduce this work in its entirety, without any changes, in English for noncommercial distribution throughout the world. Crossway, the holder of the copyright to the ESV Bible text, grants permission to include the ESV quotations within this work, in English.
Gotquestions.org was accessed on 11/1/2023 to understand the story of the 95 theses written by Martin Luther.
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 11/1/2023 to use their Greek/English lexicon for the word accursed and to find other usages of the word in the NT.