21 June 2016

Galatians 1:6-12

“The gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 106:43-48


There are three key words in today's passage. The first is "astonished" (v. 6) - in Greek 'thaumazo'. Paul's other letters nearly always include a lengthy thanksgiving for all the good qualities he identifies in their recipients but there is no such passage here! Instead, he is amazed that the people he had led to faith in Galatia through his missionary work have so quickly rejected his teachings. The word has an impact that is hard to convey in translation - it is the same one used to describe people's reactions to Jesus' miracles (Matthew 8:27; Luke 11:14 - translated in the NRSV as 'amazed'). It would have immediately told the readers that Paul was very angry indeed.

The second word, which occurs six times, is "gospel" - in Greek 'euangelion'. The word literally translates as 'good news' but carries a wealth of meaning in it. By Paul's time, it had become a shorthand term to describe what God had done through Jesus Christ. Paul had told the people he had met in Galatia this same good news about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and what it meant for them. They had apparently accepted this message. Now, however, other teachers had come and told them a different message about Jesus and how they should lead their lives. In Paul's words, "a different gospel" (v. 6). He does not clarify exactly what this false teaching was at this stage - the Galatian recipients already knew, of course - but it seems that they were being told that Christians not only had to have faith in Jesus Christ but also follow aspects of Jewish law, including circumcision (Galatians 2:15-16; 5:2-12).

The third word is "accursed" - in Greek 'anathema' (vv. 8-9). Paul is so angry that the new Christians whom he had nurtured and loved in Galatia have been led astray that he uses the strongest possible language to condemn those who had deceived them. He places them under a curse. For Paul, this is not about personalities or church politics, but about a fundamental matter of life and death. If even an angel from heaven were to contradict what he had previously taught them, he says, then they would be a liar.

To Ponder

  • The writer Paul uses very abrupt language in this letter. Should we sometimes be more direct with one another in church life? Why?
  • Paul tells the Galatians to listen to the true gospel of Christ, and not to be deceived by false teachers who appear plausible and attractive. Which is more important to us: the message or the messenger?
  • Is it ever appropriate to say that anyone is "accursed"? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Geoffrey Farrar

Geoffrey Farrar is currently a Methodist presbyter in the West Hertfordshire and Borders Circuit of the Methodist Church, where he has pastoral charge of three churches in the Watford area. He trained at Wesley House in Cambridge and has recently completed an MA in Ancient History with the University of Trinity Saint David.