Galatians 1:8 MEANING

Galatians 1:8
(8) Though.--The Greek is, strictly, even though, marking an extreme and improbable supposition.

We.--It seems, perhaps, too much to say, in the face of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 ("by letter as from us"), that St. Paul never used the plural in speaking of himself alone. Still there may, both there and here, be some thought of associating his more immediate companions ("the brethren which are with me," Galatians 1:2) with himself, the more so as he knew them to be entirely at one with him in doctrine.

Than that.--The Greek has here, not a conjunction, but a preposition, the precise sense of which is ambiguous. It may mean "besides," "in addition," or it may mean "contrary to." The first of these senses has met with the most favour from Protestant, the second from Roman Catholic commentators, as, on the one hand, it seemed to exclude, and on the other to admit, the appeal to tradition. Looking at it strictly in connection with the context, the sense "contrary" seems best, because the gospel taught by the Judaising teachers was "another," in the sense of being different from that of St. Paul. It was a fundamental opposition of principles, not merely the addition of certain new doctrines to the old.

Accursed.--See 1 Corinthians 16:22. The original Greek word is retained in the translation, Let him be Anathema. The word exists in two forms, with a long e and a short e respectively; and whereas its original meaning was simply that of being "devoted to God," the form with the long vowel came by gradual usage to be reserved for the good side of this: "devoted, in the sense of consecration; "while the form with the short vowel was in like manner reserved for the bad sense: "devoted to the curse of God." Attempts have been made to weaken its significance in this passage by restricting it to "ex-communication by the Church;" but this, though a later ecclesiastical use of the word, was not current at such an early date.

In considering the dogmatic application, it is right to bear in mind the nature of the heretical doctrines which it was the Apostle's object to denounce. They made no profession to be deduced from his own, but were in radical and avowed opposition to them. Still, there is room to believe that if the Apostle could have reviewed his own words at a calmer moment he might have said of himself: "I spake as a man."

Verse 8. - But though we (ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ἡμεῖς); but even if we ourselves. This "but" (ἀλλὰ) is strongly adversative. What those disturbers of the believer's peace would have been fain to do was a thing impossible. Heaven's gospel could not be thus changed. And the attempt to thus change it, being in effect to fight against God, merited God's curse. In the plural "we" the apostle intends principally his own self. A shrinking from unnecessary self-obtrusion, and tender respectful sympathy with his ministerial brethren, prompt him not unfrequently to veil his own individuality by associating in this way with himself those who were wont to share more or less in his evangelistic labours and sufferings, although in reality what he says may apply principally to himself and only in a very modified measure to them. A signal instance of this is furnished by that whole passage in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which begins with the fourth chapter and goes on down to the eleventh verse of the sixth. Nevertheless, we should in all such cases imperfectly represent the spirit of his words, if we were to substitute the singular pronoun "I." In the present instance individuals of the evangelizing party which were wont to accompany him had, no doubt, been fellow-workers with him also in Galatia, and are therefore here inclusively referred to. Compare the plural and the singular verbs in the next verse. The introduction of this reference to himself and his fellow-workers, as well as that to "an angel from heaven," seems meant to make his readers feel that this was no question of distinguished personality, as if it mattered who it was that taught a different doctrine; whether (suppose) it were a James or a Cephas, for those revered names were often used to cloak the designs of Judaizers; or whether it was one of the Galatian Churchmen themselves especially looked up to (cf. Galatians 5:10 and note). An anathema was his due, whoever he might be. In the manner of its introduction we cannot fail to recognize an underlying consciousness on the writer's part of the highly distinguished position which he himself held; but there is present the consciousness too that he was nothing more than the mere organ or channel of Christ's teaching; from that teaching he himself may not swerve without justly incurring the "woe" which he told the Corinthians he should have to fear in case he preached not the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). Or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you (η} ἄγγελος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ εὐαγγελίζηται ὑμῖν παρ ο{ εὐηγγελισάμεθα ὑμῖν); or if an angel from heaven should set himself to preach unto you a gospel other than that we preached unto you. The construction of the entire sentence displays in the Greek a broken character not quite so apparent in our Authorized Version. The verb "should preach a gospel" is in the singular number (εὐαγγελίζηται); neglecting the "we," it attaches itself to "an angel from heaven," which latter, as being the higher, absorbs the previously named subject altogether, standing as sole subject, both in the hypothetical clause and in the concluding one, "let him be anathema." It is, of course, apparent that, if the sentence of anathema would in the supposed case be the only proper one to pronounce upon "an angel from heaven," it most certainly fastens upon any human being guilty of the same offence. The "angel from heaven" is like the "second man from heaven" in 1 Corinthians 15:47; the phrase," from heaven," denoting both coming down out of heaven and also the higher sphere of being to which the person spoken of appertains. Comp. also John 3:31, "He that is from earth... he that is from heaven." The force of the preposition παρὰ in εὐαγγελίζηται παρ ο{ εὐηγγελισάμεθα may he illustrated by its use in 1 Corinthians 3:11, "Other foundation can no man lay than (παρὰ) that which is laid;" where it points to a new foundation, not to be by the side of, but to supersede, the former one. Taken thus, it would seem to follow up the before expressed notion of" another gospel" superseding, setting aside, the true gospel. This sense of the preposition readily passes on to that of "contrary to." which is profusely illustrated by Liddell and Scott ('Lexicon,' in verb. παρά, c. I. 1:4, b), and which we have in Acts 18:13, "Worship God contrary to the Law [of Moses];" Romans 16:17," Causing the divisions... contrary to the doctrine which ye learned;" Romans 1:26, "use which is against nature." It cannot be doubted that the apostle is here thinking of a (pretended) gospel which was incompatible with the true one, and not of merely additional elements of Christian doctrine which should take their place alongside of those which they had already received. Additional information, we may be sure, was quite as necessary or desirable for the Galatians as it was for either the Corinthians or the "Hebrews;" neither of whom had as yet, as was intimated to them (1 Corinthians 3:2; Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 6. l), been fed with "solid food," but only with "milk," and whom it behoved to "go on to fuller maturity" of knowledge. The point in the apostle's view was this: what he had himself taught them was, so far, certainly true and to be depended upon, and could not without treason against Christ be set aside or superseded or essentially qualified; whereas the teaching which was now being foisted upon their previous convictions did infringe upon what he had taught them, seriously and even fundamentally. The tenor of the whole Epistle shows what were the especial features of this gospel which were now in question. The present question concerned the "good news" that God, through the cross of Christ, had emancipated his servants from bondage to ceremonialism; that God adopted them as simply believing in Christ to be his sons in full possession of his fatherly love; and that by the Holy Spirit he endued them with the consciousness of this adoption. There has been at times much discussion as to the bearing of the passage before us upon our controversy with Romanists respecting tradition. If what has been above stated is just, it follows that these words of the apostle forbid our adding, on any ground whatever, to the dogma or Church practice sanctioned by Scripture, any such dogma or Church practice as would transform or essentially modify the former, but, on the other hand, the addition of dogma or Church practice which is not out of harmony with that sanctioned by Scripture, these words do not forbid. Let him be accursed (ἀνάθεμα ἔστω); let him be anathema, that is, a thing doomed to destruction. The word ἀνάθεμα is originally identical with ἀνάθημα (anathema), a thing devoted, which in Luke 21:5 is rendered "offering;" but in Hellenistic Greek the former diverges from the latter by being ordinarily applied to "a thing devoted to destruction." In all languages it sometimes occurs that a word, one and the same originally, diverges into two slightly differing forms, used severally to express different phases of the original notion. Archbishop Trench, in his 'Study of Words,' p. 156, referred to by Bishop Lightfoot in his note on this passage, instances "cant" and "chant," "human" and "humane," and others. In the LXX. anathema is used to render the Hebrew word cherem, which in our Authorized Version is translated "cursed" or "accursed thing." Living things that were cherem were to be put to death; inanimate objects that were cherem were to be destroyed. Thus in Deuteronomy 13. directions are given as to what was to be done in the case of an Israelite city which should have given itself to idolatry: the inhabitants and the cattle thereof were to be smitten with the edge of the sword; and the spoil of the city was to be brought together and burned, and the city itself" to be a heap for ever, never to be built again." And then (ver. 18), "There shall cleave nought of the cursed [or, 'devoted'] thing (cherem, ἀνάθεμα) to thine hand." Similarly, in Deuteronomy 7:26, of the idols and the silver or gold on them, of the Canaanites, "Thou shalt not take it unto thee, neither shalt thou bring an abomination unto thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing ['be cherem,' or 'be anathema,' ἔση ἀνάθεμα] like it; but thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing (ἀνάθεμά ἐστι)." See also ibid., vers. 23-25; Leviticus 27:28, 29; Joshua 6:17, "The city shall be accursed [or, ' devoted; cherem, ἀνάθεμα], and all that are therein; only Rahab the harlot shall live;" Joshua 7:1, 12. In the New Testament anathema occurs in four other passages.

1. 1 Corinthians 12:3, "No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema." Here the apostle, no doubt, refers to the manner in which the unbelieving Jews allowed themselves, already then, to speak of our Lord. Clearly they meant thereby more than merely "excommunicate," which palliated sense some have endeavoured to give to "anathema;" they cannot be supposed to have intended less than an object which merited that utter extinction to which he who was cherem was under the Law doomed: their blaspheming thought, no doubt, taking into its view not this world only, but that also which is to come.

2. Romans 9:3, "I could pray that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake." The reader naturally casts about to find some qualification to give to an utterance which seems at first sight to express a wish such as one who loved Christ so ardently as Paul did could not possibly have entertained. Yet the' words, "anathema from Christ," can mean nothing less than being separated from Christ by a curse consigning him to perdition. The desiderated qualification must be sought in the phrase, "I could pray;" this renders an imperfect verb (ηὐχόμην), which expresses a turn of thought similar to that denoted in the (ἤθελον), "I could wish," of Galatians 4:20, on which see note. In each case the tense betokens a mere glance (so to speak) of wish which is instantly withdrawn.

3. 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema." Here, too, the notion of Church excommunication, whether by formal exclusion or by the withdrawal of brotherly recognition, is not satisfactory. The Israelite notion of being anathema, cherem, points to a no mere negation, but to a condition of positive accursedness linked with exposure to utter destruction. Moreover the apostle refers to a man's interior sentiments with respect to Christ - a matter not within the cognisance of human judgments. Who can in many cases, or perhaps in any, determine whether another loves Christ or not? It is in truth a warning against a soul's disloyalty to the Lord Jesus, clothing itself in the form of an execration - an execration which, it is true, is an impetuous flashing forth of the apostle's own flaming sense of what is due to Christ from every human being, but which is nowise chargeable with extravagance. Its perfect justness, as well as the verification which awaits it in the future judgment, is evinced, as by other considerations, so also by our Lord's own words in Matthew 25:41-46.

4. Acts 23:14, "We have bound ourselves under a great curse;" literally, "We have anathematized [or, 'solemnly bound'] ourselves with anathema (ἀναθέματι ἀνεθεματίσαμεν ἑαυτούς)." They had sat, I, no doubt, some such words as these: "May we be anathema if we taste aught till we have killed Paul!" with which we may conjoin Mark 14:71, "He began to pronounce a curse (ἀναθεματίζειν) and to swear" - not, to be sure, pronouncing a curse upon Jesus, but wishing himself to be anathema if he knew that Man. There can be little doubt that the anathema in both these cases involved a reference to eternal perdition. That no less is intended by the term in the present verse and, therefore, also in that next to it, is further proved by reference to the hypothetical "angel from heaven" who should be found preaching a different gospel. Being anathema must involve for such a one excision from the kingdom of light, together with whatever destruction properly attends thereupon. What, it will be asked, is the precise force of the "let him be," both here and in 1 Corinthians 16:22? It cannot denote less than a complacent satisfied acquiescence. The apostle-prophet not only foresees that, at the final judgment, such will be the doom of the wilful perverter of the gospel, but foresees it with a mind at one with the Judge who shall pronounce it; he can himself desire, he does desire, no ether. It is his loyal sympathy with Christ as Saviour, as caring for the souls of men, that prompts him to proclaim aloud for the warning of the false teachers themselves as well as for the warning of those inclined to hearken to their false teaching, his own solemn Amen to the terrible sentence awaiting them. But if so, why not allow the imperative its full force, and understand the utterance as an imperative? It is granted that the apostle was apt at times to be carried away by the fervid impetuosity of his feelings, even when writing, to the utterance of words which in calmer mood he would be ready to a certain extent to retract. We have a clear example of such retractation in 1 Corinthians 6:4, 5 (see note below on Galatians 5:12). But, in the case before us, that the vehemence of the apostle's language is a deliberate vehemence, and no mere momentary outburst of excited feeling, is proved by the solemn measured iteration in the next verse. And if we suppose, what seems to be most probable, that that verse refers to a similar denunciation uttered among the Galatians a good while before, the proof is all the stronger that his language is no sudden exorbitancy of passionate emotion, but expresses an abiding sentiment. We are to remember that it is the very substance of the gospel which the apostle feels to be assailed. The gospel, he knew, both by inspired insight and by his own experience, to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. "Of this gospel Christ had himself declared that "he that believed it should be saved, and he that disbelieved it should be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Wherein does "being anathema" differ from "being condemned"? And if the disbelieving "shall be condemned," can a less guiltiness be supposed to attach to one who not only disbelieved the gospel himself, but was also plucking it out of the hearts of others and palming off upon them instead a false gospel which was no salvation? "But could St. Paul, being such a lover of souls as he was, imprecate a doom of perdition to fall upon any soul of man?" Absolutely, we may say he could not; but conditionally, he might, and that in perfect consistency with his usual habits of feeling - conditionally, on the supposition, that is, that the sin was not repented of and forsaken. It was his very love of souls that would impel him thus to speak, not only on behalf of the souls which the bringer-in of a false doctrine might destroy, but on behalf of the deceiver's own self. He pronounces the doom in order to deter and thus save. We have to remember, too, that the apostle is not, at the dictate of his own passionate zeal for the truth, constituting either a new sin or a new measure of penalty. He simply, as prophet and apostle, utters forth the mind of him who is Lawgiver and Judge. This last consideration suggests the limits within which only can the apostle's action in this matter be regarded as an example for imitation. It is lawful to us to recite, as the Church of England speaks in her Commination Office: "the general sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners gathered out of Scripture" - and by "general sentences" we are to understand sentences pronounced upon classes of offenders, not sentences upon individual persons, to whom we may conjecture them to be applicable. It is lawful also to us individually and right, that we should add to the utterance of each sentence our hearty "Amen," and thus take part with God and his Law, not only against sins committed by our neighbours, but most especially and above all against wilful transgressions of our own. But beyond this, none who are not special organs of inspiration may venture to go, whether acting individually or in any corporate capacity. An anathema is a bolt of doom such as the Almighty alone can fashion or make operative; and we are invading the Divine prerogative and working mischief and peril for ourselves if, on the one hand, we venture to enlarge and make more specific than he has done his "general sentences of cursing," or, on the other, dilute the force of these solemn warnings of his, and treat them with disregard.

1:6-9 Those who would establish any other way to heaven than what the gospel of Christ reveals, will find themselves wretchedly mistaken. The apostle presses upon the Galatians a due sense of their guilt in forsaking the gospel way of justification; yet he reproves with tenderness, and represents them as drawn into it by the arts of some that troubled them. In reproving others, we should be faithful, and yet endeavour to restore them in the spirit of meekness. Some would set up the works of the law in the place of Christ's righteousness, and thus they corrupted Christianity. The apostle solemnly denounces, as accursed, every one who attempts to lay so false a foundation. All other gospels than that of the grace of Christ, whether more flattering to self-righteous pride, or more favourable to worldly lusts, are devices of Satan. And while we declare that to reject the moral law as a rule of life, tends to dishonour Christ, and destroy true religion, we must also declare, that all dependence for justification on good works, whether real or supposed, is as fatal to those who persist in it. While we are zealous for good works, let us be careful not to put them in the place of Christ's righteousness, and not to advance any thing which may betray others into so dreadful a delusion.But though we, or an angel from heaven,.... The apostle, in order to assert the more strongly the truth, purity, and perfection of the Gospel, as preached by him; and to deter persons from preaching another Gospel, and others from receiving it, supposes a case impossible; and, in such a case, denounces his anathemas. It was not possible, that he, or any of his fellow apostles, who had been so clearly led and so fully established in the Gospel of Christ, and of which they had had such a powerful and comfortable experience in their souls, could ever preach one different from it; nor was it possible that a good angel, one that is in heaven, that always beholds the face of God there, is ever ready to do his will, as he never could be employed by God in publishing another, so he never would; and yet, was it possible or such a thing to be done by such men, or such an angel, he or they would deserve the curse of God and men; their having the highest names, or being of the highest character, and in the highest office and class of beings, would not screen them; and therefore how should the false apostles, and those who followed them, ever think to escape, since even these would not, should they

preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you; that is, not only anyone that is contrary to it, but any one besides it; for such was the perfection of the Gospel, as preached by the apostle, who declared the whole counsel of God, and kept back nothing that was profitable to the churches, that no addition could, or might be made unto it:

let him be accursed, or "anathema"; see 1 Corinthians 16:22 which may respect his excommunication out of the church, and his sentence of condemnation by Christ at the last day; and the sense be this, let him be ejected from the ministry of the word, degraded from his office, and cast out of the church; let him be no more a minister, nor a member of it; and let him be abhorred of men, and accursed of Christ; let him hear the awful sentence, "go ye accursed", &c.

Courtesy of Open Bible