False Teachers Accursed

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (v. 8).  

- Galatians 1:8–9

Galatians is unique among the Pauline epistles in that a commendation of the original audience does not follow the salutation. In his other letters Paul voices his thanks for his readers’ faith and other similar fruits of their spirituality (for example, Rom. 1:8; Eph. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:2–3), but the body of Galatians begins with him castigating the churches of Galatia for following another gospel (Gal. 1:6). It is clear that Paul believes this “different gospel” cannot provide salvation as its content differs from the gospel he received from Christ. Instead, this other “gospel” is no gospel at all (v. 7). If, as the New Testament declares, the gospel is the good news that God’s kingdom has come in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:14–41; Rom. 1:1–6), then works of the Law cannot be added as a requirement for salvation. Jesus has done all that is needed to redeem His people; therefore, the only way to enjoy redemption is to trust Him and what He has done, without resting on our good deeds at all.

To make the works of the Law a prerequisite for salvation denies the sufficiency of Jesus’ righteousness and atonement. This different gospel contradicts Scripture’s uniform testimony that God alone graciously rescues His people (Ex. 20:2; Eph. 1:7), substituting human ability to earn the Almighty’s favor for our utter inability to obey Him perfectly. It downplays the gravity of sin and the holiness of God, replacing Yahweh, the sovereign Creator who cannot tolerate even a hint of transgression, with a god who cares so little about evil that he declares men righteous based on their imperfect, sin-stained deeds. Such idolatry is the sin that births all others, and so Paul is led to pronounce a curse on anyone who teaches a gospel other than the gospel of grace (Gal. 1:8–9). This is serious business indeed, as Martin Luther teaches us in his commentary that to be accursed is to have “nothing to do, no participation, or communion with God.”

The apostle will curse even himself should he deviate from the gospel of grace (v. 8). Even he has no right to change the message, for his gospel’s truth and authority is grounded in God Himself. Paul, John Calvin comments, “demands from all, equally with himself, subjection to the word of God.”

Coram Deo

Martin Luther’s comments on Galatians 1:8–9 illustrate Scripture’s relationship to tradition: “Here then is a plain text like a thunderbolt, wherein Paul subjects both himself and an angel from heaven, and all others, doctors, teachers, and masters, to be under the authority of the Scriptures.” The church’s teaching tradition has authority, but final authority rests in the Word as the only inerrant and infallible guide for life that we have been given.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 4:2
Psalm 119:9–16
Matthew 7:21–23
Galatians 2:11–14

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