Issue #215 -------
October 20, 2005
The prophet himself stands under the
judgment which he preaches. If he does
not know that, he is a false prophet.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
The phrase "another gospel" has come to be employed in certain religious circles almost as carelessly and indiscriminately as "false teacher;" being used to negatively characterize any person, or any practice or position, with whom/which one may differ. John Calvin, as well as many other reformers of the time, accused the Roman Catholic Church of proclaiming "another gospel" through their many "popish rituals and ceremonies." The Catholics felt similar concern for Calvin and his compatriots regarding their "departures from the faith." Both freely employed the phrase "another gospel" in their attacks upon one another. Christians accuse non-Christian religions (Islam, Buddhism, etc.) of proclaiming "another gospel." The various denominational groups within Christendom frequently castigate one another with this same charge. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Churches of Christ, Lutherans, Episcopalians have all suggested, in the heat of theological debate, that the others are purveyors of "another gospel." Factions within these various groups have even condemned those of their very own faith-heritage of preaching and teaching "another gospel" if the tenets of their own particular party are not fully embraced.
Bro. W. Carl Ketcherside, in his book The Twisted Scriptures, lamented the limiting of fellowship that was rampant in the ultra-conservative, legalistic, patternistic wing of the Churches of Christ from which he had emerged, and in which he had once been a vocal leader --- "Each sect froze knowledge at its own level, each established its own plateau, and each made additional discoveries above and beyond the partisan norm a crime that was punishable by banishment and exile. As absurd and ridiculous as it may seem to the real scholar of the divine disclosures, every minor detail of difference and debate was branded 'another gospel' and the unfortunate soul who had not stopped thinking when he reached the partisan plane was accused of 'preaching another gospel.' He might be, and often was, the most spiritual person in the group, humble, prayerful and loving, but this counted for absolutely nothing if he could not conscientiously bring himself to remain confined in the partisan straitjacket of their orthodoxy. If he held a different view about the millennium, music, or missionary methods, he was guilty of 'bringing another gospel.' Even though he had fully accepted every single word about Jesus Christ as recorded by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and had literally steeped himself in their testimony, if he could not concur with the party position as to the time and meaning of 'the thousand years' in Rev. 20, he was 'preaching another gospel' and he was expected to be accursed by God after having been excommunicated by the sect" (Chapter 3 -- Another Gospel).
Thus, we quickly perceive the problem that faces us: this phrase, "another gospel," is being used repeatedly in ways most likely in marked contrast to the original authorial intent. Our interpretive task, therefore, is to attempt to determine what Paul intended by the phrase "another gospel" in Galatians 1:6-7. To achieve this, we must first understand his concept of the "gospel." Bro. Ketcherside astutely observed, "Before one can designate a thing as 'another gospel' he must be able to identify the original gospel" (The Twisted Scriptures). I'm convinced that at least part of the problem with the above referenced abuse of this phrase from Paul's epistle to the Galatians is the confusion between gospel and doctrine. It is not within the scope of our study here to delve more deeply into that controversy, but for those interested I would recommend a careful reading of Reflections #117 (The Gospel-Doctrine Debate) and Reflections #84 (The Doctrine of Christ).
The Glorious Gospel
The Greek word euangelion "originally denoted a reward for good tidings; later, the idea of reward was dropped, and the word stood for the good news itself. In the New Testament it denotes the good tidings of the Kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). "Christians use the word to designate the message and story of God's saving activity through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of God's unique Son Jesus" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 567).
The apostle Paul told the Corinthian brethren that he was determined to "know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Obviously, this would include the resurrection of Jesus, in which death was defeated. "Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain" (1 Cor. 15:12-14). Thus, again, we see that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ was central to the preaching of the gospel. Paul told the Romans that he was "eager to preach the gospel to you" (Romans 1:15). At the beginning of that chapter he clearly declared what that gospel was -- he was "set apart for the gospel of God, which He had promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead" (vs. 1-4).
Thus, it is no surprise to hear that Paul, while in Athens, "was preaching Jesus and the resurrection" (Acts 17:18). In Pisidian Antioch, during his first missionary journey, Paul declared in the synagogue, "We preach to you the good news of the promise made to the fathers, that God has fulfilled this promise to our children in that He raised up Jesus" (Acts 13:32-33). When the disciples were scattered because of persecution, they went about "preaching the Lord Jesus" (Acts 11:20). When Saul of Tarsus was first converted, he "began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God'" (Acts 9:20). When Philip the evangelist, who resided in Caesarea, encountered the eunuch from Ethiopia, "he opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him" (Acts 8:35). Earlier, while journeying through the region of Samaria, Philip was "proclaiming Christ to them" (Acts 8:5). After having been punished by the Council, Peter and the apostles, "every day, in the temple and from house to house, kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42).
Such biblical testimony could easily be continued, but the point is rather evident. The gospel message was centered entirely in the Lord Jesus! His birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection. God had purposed from the very beginning to bring redemption and salvation to mankind via a gracious, loving sacrifice: the sacrifice of His beloved Son. This phenomenal event, and both its temporal and eternal impact upon us, is the GOSPEL message. It is the ultimate "good news." Thus, the term euangelion, as generally used in the New Testament writings, "refers to the word of salvation made available to the world in and through Jesus Christ" (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 521). "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is the gospel in a nutshell.
"What is the gospel? It is not a system of doctrine, a philosophy of life, a compilation of laws, or a code of ethics. It is good news about a person and what that person has done for us in our hopeless, helpless and hapless condition. It is not a message for the saved, but for the lost. It is never addressed to saints, but to sinners. It is never proclaimed to the church, but to the world" (Ketcherside, The Twisted Scriptures). "A careful student of the Galatian letter will at once see that the good news was a proclamation that we are justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of law" (ibid). "This is the gospel which Paul proclaimed in Galatia. It was the good news that Jesus was not as powerless as Greek wisdom and Jewish legalism. Salvation was not hinged upon arriving at wisdom or coming under law, but coming to a person" (ibid). "The gospel is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He is the good news, the greatest good news in all the history of sinful man. Paul declared that the message brought to Galatia was 'Jesus Christ publicly portrayed as crucified' (Gal. 3:1). The truth of that gospel, that is, the essence, the basis, the central theme was justification by faith in Jesus Christ" (ibid).
Insights into the Passage
The critical problem in Galatia (as well as in various other locations) that Paul wastes absolutely no time getting right down to in his epistle to these brethren is that some of them were in the process of deserting that glorious gospel for something else entirely -- "a different gospel" ... "another gospel." Before we examine the nature of this "other gospel" more closely, and before we notice some technical points to the passage that will help clarify Paul's intent, let us savor some of the ways in which translators have rendered Galatians 1:6-7.
The apostle Paul is absolutely stunned by the attitudes and actions of these misguided Galatian brethren (for an in-depth look at who these brethren were, and the special features of this epistle to them, I invite the readers to review Reflections #202 -- Epistle to the Galatians: Magna Charta of Christian Liberty). Indeed, Paul is so upset by their shocking behavior that he characterizes them as "foolish" and "bewitched" (Gal. 3:1). The first word in Greek is anoetos, which means "unintelligent, unwise; brutish." To use a rather common current expression: they were "as dumb as an ox." The second word is baskaino, which means "to bewitch by casting a spell upon." Paul is amazed and astonished! He expected better from them! "Are you really that stupid?" (Gal. 3:3). After all, it had not been that long since he had been with them proclaiming the gospel of God's grace. The Greek word translated "amazed" and "astonished" is thaumazo, meaning "to wonder at, to marvel." Dr. Kenneth Wuest observes, "Paul considered the defection of the Galatian Christians as an extraordinary thing" (Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, "Galatians," p. 35). "The verb is used here with reference to something disappointing, something felt to be painful as well as strange. The apostle was genuinely surprised" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 9). It was therefore "an indignant cry of astonishment at what seems to be happening among the Galatians" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 427).
Paul's astonishment was also due to the fact "that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ." He regarded this as a desertion. This is the Greek word metatithemi, "which means to transpose two things, one of which is put in the place of the other. In classical Greek it was used of a turncoat. The word is used of one altering his opinion or becoming of another mind. The word was also used of desertion or revolt, frequently of a change in religion, philosophy, or morals" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, "Galatians," p. 35). "The Greek word is one regularly used for a 'deserter,' 'turn-coat,' or 'apostate,' either in war, politics, or religion" (Charles Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 428). These soldiers of the cross were "deserting the Christian camp" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 428). "Moreover, since the Greek verb is probably in the middle voice, rather than the passive, it is not even possible for the Galatians to claim that their conduct was the result of outside influences. This is something they were doing to themselves and thus were responsible for. The only ray of hope is that they were still only in the process of deserting and could possibly be reclaimed" (ibid).
But this was far more than just a desertion of the gospel message. This was more accurately a desertion of "Him who called you." This is emphasized in the use of two separate Greek prepositions in this statement. These foolish, bewitched disciples in Galatia were removing themselves "away from" (apo) Him who called them "unto" (eis) another gospel. "It was a defection from God the Father, to whom the calling is uniformly ascribed -- Rom. 8:30; 9:24; 1 Cor. 1:9. As such, the apostasy had all the character of ingratitude" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 46). "There is a tragic personal element in the way Paul describes their condition. It is not merely that they have deserted an idea or a movement; rather, they have deserted the very one who had called them to faith. This one is God the Father" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 428).
Another Gospel ... Which is Not
These defectors were in the process of turning away from God, who had called them graciously into a relationship with Him through faith in Christ Jesus, "unto another gospel: which is not another" (KJV). This sounds a bit confusing in English. Is it or isn't it "another" gospel? The passage makes more sense, however, when one realizes that Paul has used two different Greek words here for "another." "It is to be regretted that the English language hardly admits the fine shade of distinction which exists here in the Greek" (Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 428). The first word used in the passage is heteros, while the second one used is allos. The distinction is significant. The first adjective signifies that which is different in kind. Our word "heterosexual," for example, signifies a relationship between two who are different from one another (i.e., male and female). Thus, Paul says the Galatians are embracing that which is totally different from the gospel that had been proclaimed to them. It was more than just a slight variation from the previous message; it was altogether different. Thus, to embrace such a completely different message was nothing less than a total rejection of Him who called them, resulting in a fall from grace and a severing from Christ (Gal. 5:4). This was serious; this was a matter of life and death! It was far more than just a few brethren with differing opinions or practices; it was the abandoning of the gospel for something that was so distorted and perverted that it could only be characterized as heteros. This adjective "intimates the changed quality of the object, its strange new-fangled character" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 10).
"Heteros denotes qualitative difference, allos, numerical difference" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, "Galatians," p. 37). "Lightfoot took the first of the two words for 'other' as denoting that which is entirely different, i.e., not even of the same species. The second he interpreted as numerically different" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 430). Again, note the passage before us: It was a desertion "unto another gospel: which is not another" (KJV). Thus, the Galatians were in the process of abandoning one thing for something entirely different; they weren't even of the "same species." In the second part of the phrase, Paul's point is that this false teaching to which they are turning is not even worthy of the name "gospel." It is so different in kind from what had been preached unto them that it could not properly even be characterized as simply another in a list of "good news messages." There was NO "good news" in the perversion being proclaimed unto them under the name "gospel." Thus, it is NOT another; it is no "gospel" at all. "There is only one gospel, and in deserting the gospel that Paul had taught to them the Galatians were deserting the Christian faith altogether" (ibid).
What was the source of this false teaching? "There be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (KJV). Some had come into Galatia teaching something entirely different than the message proclaimed by Paul. These were troublers of the brethren, and perverters of the gospel. Paul characterized them as "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4), who had slipped in among them to bring them into bondage to their perversion of the gospel. The apostle Paul had some extremely harsh words for these troublers of the brethren, some of the harshest in all of Scripture. "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (Gal. 5:12). Paul's desire was that these proclaimers of circumcision as a condition of salvation (see Acts 15:1) -- these factionists from the "party of the circumcision" (Gal. 2:12) -- would cut a little deeper and castrate themselves!!
So what exactly was this "other gospel" (which really wasn't another), this perversion and distortion that brought about such an immediate and intense response from the pen of Paul? In a word, it was legalism. "By embracing legalism the Galatians have actually turned their back on the gospel in order to embrace 'a different gospel,' which, however, does not even deserve to be called by that name. Embracing legalism means rejecting God" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 428). They were embracing "something that was no gospel at all, but only legalism" (ibid, p. 427). This, in effect, "converted the gospel from a doctrine of emancipation into a doctrine of renewed bondage -- Gal. 5:1-4" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 11). These pseudo-evangelists were, in fact, "the Judaising party, with its restless factiousness and bigotry, causing schisms and divisions in the church" (Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 7, p. 428).
It was a "gospel" (falsely named) of works of some legal system over salvation by grace through faith. It was elevation of one's self over one's Savior. Thus, it was a rejection of the Lord Himself, and the result was a severing from Him and a falling from His grace. If men can be justified by their own effort, "then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21), and the cross is emptied of its spiritual significance for sinful men. These partyists and legalists spreading their heresy in Galatia are no less active today among the people of God. They are the rigid religionists who insist that complete compliance with their countless party particulars and patternistic parameters is essential to fellowship and salvation. They elevate personal and party perceptions and preferences to the status of divine precepts, and bind the assumptions and inferences of their faction's fathers as eternal decrees. The customs and ceremonies of their religious tradition are viewed as being, in some way, redemptive. Thus, the hope of eternal life is seen to be intimately associated with how disciples conduct the particulars of a "worship service" on Sunday morning. "Salvation by ceremonies is the antithesis of salvation by grace. It is a perversion of God's good news to man" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 20, p. 54). Therefore, "it is only the devil's work which those persons manage to perform who complicate salvation with rites and ceremonies" (ibid).
This is "a gospel of ritual;" a "plan of salvation by rites and ceremonies" (ibid, p. 53). It is the "homage of shallow minds" (ibid). "Every rite and ceremony which is interposed as essential between man and God creates a sense of distance between those whom the gospel would bring nigh to Him. Instead of ritualism tending to intensify communion with God, it can only intensify the superstitious feeling which puts souls at a distance from Him" (ibid). John Calvin, in his sermon titled "On Perverting the Gospel of Christ" (one of 43 sermons on Galatians preached in Geneva between Nov. 14, 1557 and May 8, 1558), declared that all who seek justification through the observing of such ceremonies of law, "have been subjected to a slavish bondage," and were "making the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ altogether void." "A salvation-by-works message is no good news to a lost sinner, (1) because the Bible says 'not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us' (Titus 3:5), and (2) if salvation would be by good works, one would not know how many good works a person must do to be saved or, after being saved, to keep saved. No one could have any assurance of acceptance with God or security in salvation from such preaching. Thus, Paul stamps the message of the Judaizers as false doctrine" (Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies from the Greek NT, vol. 1, "Galatians," p. 37).
Many people over the years have been falsely accused of proclaiming "another gospel" simply because they held to some personal perception or practice differing from that of a fellow believer. This is unconscionable and an abuse of Scripture. Please notice carefully and prayerfully the following rather lengthy quote from the late Bro. Carl Ketcherside's book "The Twisted Scriptures." He has done a marvelous job of showing forth the lunacy of such characterizations.
"No honest opinion held by one who is in Christ Jesus and who respects His Lordship is 'another gospel.' Since it is the gospel which forms the basis of the fellowship with the Father, the Son, and with one another in Christ, such an opinion can never be made a test of union or communion in Jesus. A man may hold a view as to the perseverance of the saints, the manner of the resurrection, or the second coming of our Lord, and he may prove to be as wrong as one could be, but he cannot be debarred from citizenry in the kingdom of heaven by the other subjects, any more than one can be disenfranchised in the United States just because he disagrees with the government space program or the approach to overseas help.
"No man 'preaches another gospel' simply by being mistaken about some aspects of the will of our God, otherwise one would need to know perfectly the divine will or he would be a perverter of the gospel. It is common in our day for some to level the charge at their brethren who disagree with them over some means or method for implementation of God's will that they are 'preaching another gospel' and 'apostatizing.' Those who do this, regardless of the motive, reveal their ignorance of what constitutes both gospel and apostasy."
The proclaiming of "another gospel," the godless heresy that warrants an Anathema, is nothing less or more than "a repudiation of the principle of justification by faith in Jesus and an adoption of the tenets of the party -- i.e., you must believe in Jesus and something more -- in order to be in fellowship" and be eternally saved (Ketcherside, The Twisted Scriptures). "Many quote Galatians 1:6-8 and apply it to others when they are actually the very ones who set up other unwritten creeds, and pervert the gospel with their partisan terms of fellowship and justification. Not every divergent view is another gospel. Not every area of disagreement makes the one who disagrees with us a perverter of the gospel. If God deals with us at the judgment in the same cold legalistic fashion in which we deal with His other children, will any of us be saved?" (ibid).
"When men make a test of union or communion out of some method, mode or machinery for accomplishing God's will and refuse to recognize as in the fellowship those who do not concur in their special brand of orthodoxy, they hinge justification upon faith in Jesus Christ and something else. The 'something else' is full agreement with their own understanding, inference or deduction from the Scriptures as regards that thing. Thus, their creed is no longer simply Christ, but conformity with a factional pattern. Whatever any party makes a test of fellowship is its creed. Whatever one must accept to be regarded as loyal is a creed" (ibid). Brethren, we are a diverse band of believers, but we are nevertheless One Body in our Lord Jesus Christ. Our differing convictions and personal preferences, perceptions and practices do not constitute just cause for dismembering that Body, nor do they constitute "another gospel." The latter exists only where legalistic religionists have sought to add terms of fellowship and conditions of salvation to the simple "good news" that we are brought into saving relationship with Him by grace through faith. May God give us the courage to oppose such perverse partyists with the same boldness and sense of urgency as evidenced by the apostle Paul. With eternal life and death hanging in the balance, we dare do nothing less!
From a Minister in Tennessee:
Al, I have almost finished your book on divorce. Great book! I hope to share it with others by having them order a copy.
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Good afternoon, brother Al. I don't write to you often enough to let you know how much your writing blesses me. You make me think!!! We need to be challenged in our thought life. Thank you so much for your earnest effort to keep us learning and growing in Christ. I hope you have an awesome day! May the Spirit continue to guide your hand and protect your heart!
From a Reader in Texas:
I appreciated your Reflections article about brother Daniel Sommer. I wish everyone could appreciate the fact that he not only had much influence on the direction taken by the Church of Christ in writing the "Address and Declaration," but that he also, in his later years, came to see the damage he had done with his earlier (almost life-long) teaching, and repented ... lamenting his mistaken views and efforts. We lived and did evangelistic work in the province of Nova Scotia in the 70's and 80's, and came to know a little about their long connection with the Stone-Campbell (and even Haldane "Scots Baptist") history. We learned about a little Church of Christ ("instrumental" -- more Disciples oriented) congregation at West Gore, Nova Scotia. It was one of the oldest congregations of Stone-Campbell people in Canada, established in 1833, I think. Lovely old white frame building in a very beautiful "country" setting. I learned that one of their former preachers (for about 25 years) was Frederick Sommer. He is buried there in the little church cemetery. I had the privilege of taking Leroy Garrett to visit the gravesite when my wife and I were in Nova Scotia with Leroy and Ouida in 1998. Frederick Sommer wrote some. Very unlike his father's earlier teaching -- in temper and style. Very good writer. I am assuming he is the younger son of Daniel Sommer. Well, I just wanted to write you about this after reading your excellent Reflections on Daniel Sommer. My best to you and yours!
From a Doctor in Alabama:
Al, Great article, as usual. I especially loved your "yes or no" answer to the question by the minister from New Mexico. Whenever you ask anyone in the Defense Department for an official answer to some important question, the most common response you will get is: "That decision is above my pay grade." I have grown to love that answer, and have started to use it whenever anyone asks me to speculate about controversial religious issues. It is not up to me to determine who gets saved and who gets condemned. I don't have the authority to judge anyone. Nor am I authorized to issue official rulings about which religious groups are pleasing to God, or which doctrines and practices are approved by God. Such matters are far above my pay grade. So, whenever a Pharisee tries to "trap" me by asking whether I believe that this or that person will be saved or condemned, or whether this or that religious group is pleasing to God, I just reply: "That decision is above my pay grade."
From a New Reader in Kansas:
Bro. Al, I attend a one cup, no class, no instrumental music congregation in Kansas. I think I covered everything we don't do. Isn't it terrible that we have to describe ourselves in such a fashion? Our congregation has long been on the "hit list" of the Old Paths Advocate group. We take a different view of fellowship than the leaders of the OPA do. We consider anyone who has obeyed the gospel to be a member of the Body of Christ. When members visit from other groups we ask them, if they are so inclined, to lead a song, word a prayer, or offer a word of encouragement to the congregation. We do not just park them on a seat; they are allowed to participate. We work with our brethren from the "cups and classes" group, the "cups and no classes" group, and all other types of Churches of Christ that will work with us. A great many members of the one-cup group are now trying to bring to the attention of our brethren that years ago the brethren did not cut-off people as they now do. We have been looking through old writings of all the Church of Christ groups from about 1900 through the present to see where our group changed course and started down the path we are now on. A brother sent me some of the materials that you've written, and I enjoyed them very much! Keep up the good work, and please send your Reflections to me. We here will continue to work for unity in the Body.
From a Minister in Oklahoma:
Dear Brother, I have been reading your Reflections for about a year and a half. To be "politically correct," I would like to say that I agree with most of what you have written (that is the way we with restoration roots say we like what we have read and yet still be able to deny any real agreement if we are called into question). The real truth is -- I haven't read anything you have written that I do not agree with. At age 67 I am grateful for men I have met, some I have only heard, and for many that have blessed my life through their writings. You have blessed my life, and I look forward to each of your Reflections. Thank you!
From an Elder in Missouri:
Bro. Al, Thank you for your thought-provoking study on Romans 12:9-21. You remind me of this very beautiful picture of Christianity -- grace manifested in a worshipful life of service to the King. It has been some time since I truly studied and examined this passage, and I am grateful for your stimulus.
From a Reader in (Unknown):
Dear Al, I read through your article "The Essence of Authentic Faith" when it initially came out and thought it very good, but tonight I have been going through each point and looking up all the verses. I can't thank you enough for all the encouraging and building up this is for me. It came at a time when I really needed to hear these things!
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