Are there two different gospels in Galatians?

by James Johnson

Even a cursory reading of Paul's letter to the Galatians reveals two problems he faced:

1. People were questioning his right to be called an apostle.

2. The Galatians were confused about the good news he had preached.

The cause of these two problems stemmed from one source - the Judaizers, whom Paul describes as false brethren. He accused them of teaching 'another gospel' which is not another 'good news' but a distortion of the evangel of Christ.

It is a common practice when attacking a message, to attack the messenger. In Paul's case it was an incontrovertible fact that he had persecuted the early followers of Christ. He had also not been one of The Twelve, appointed by Christ when He was on this earth. So he didn't qualify as a called apostle to the House of Israel, according to his critics.

Paul refutes this by explaining that he is a true apostle, appointed by Christ when he was outside the geographic location of Israel. He did not receive his message from the others nor did he counsel with them. In fact, shortly after his vision on the road to Damascus, he spent three years in Arabia. Only after that did he visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him for fifteen days. He also became acquainted with Christ's step-brother James.

Then he went to Syria and Cilicia. Once again, Paul stresses that he had no other contact with the apostles at this time. To prove the point, he adds that the ecclesias of Judea who are in Christ did not know him, (so clearly the Jerusalem elders had not told them about Paul) but glorified God in him.

It was only after another fourteen years that he returned to Jerusalem. It was agreed at private meetings that Peter would evangelize the Jews and Paul would evangelize the Gentiles.

Does this mean that there were two different evangels - one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles? Were the Judaizers preaching Peter's evangel or was it a distorted version of Peter's evangel?

Both Peter and Paul preached that Christ had entered into the human line of David; that He was raised from the dead; that the Man, Christ, was alive and had appeared to them.

Peter's evangel is clear from his words on the day of Pentecost. Peter's understanding then, was that Christ would return in judgment and wrath unless the nation repented, in fulfilment of all the prophecies. This was one of the factors that made them so zealous in proclaiming the evangel. The response of some at Pentecost on hearing this message was, "What must we do to be saved?" This group understood that Peter was proclaiming the consequences of Israel's disobedience, and it was necessary to repent, and to show fruits of repentance by being baptized.

Paul's teaching, in his own words before King Agrippa tells us what Paul taught at the beginning of his ministry, "...I did not become stubborn as to the heavenly apparition [on the road to Damascus], but first to those in Damascus, besides in Jerusalem also, besides to the entire province of Judea, and to the nations, I reported that they are to be repenting and turning back to God, engaging in acts worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20).

God's Word repeats the message in verses 21-23. "On this account the Jews, apprehending me as I am in the sanctuary, tried to lay hands on me. Happening, then, on assistance from God, until this day I stand attesting both to small and to great, saying nothing outside of what both the prophets and Moses speak of impending occurrences - if it be the suffering Christ - if He, the first out of a resurrection of the dead, is about to be announcing light both to the people and to the nations."

At this stage it is clear that the evangel of Peter and the evangel of Paul are the same.

Later, great persecution of the ecclesia in Jerusalem began. causing everyone to flee out of Jerusalem into the districts of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Why didn't the apostles flee with them? The answer is to be found in the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8: " ... and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in entire Judea and in Samaria, and as far as the limits of the earth." It was NOT given them to know the times or the seasons, but they were given the order of doing things. They obeyed Christ to the letter. They were to start in Jerusalem, and stay there until the people had received the witness and accepted Jesus as their Messiah. Then, when that was done to do the same in Judea etc. That is why the Twelve never went to the Gentiles.

Peter did go to a Gentile Roman centurion, Cornelius, on one occasion. Obeying a vision he went to Caesarea to meet Cornelius and his household. The purpose of the vision was to show to Peter that "God is not a respecter of persons", and that "no man is contaminating or unclean". This lesson was not repeated. Peter got the message.

Galatians 2:7-8 lists the two evangels: Peter had the evangel OF the Circumcision; Paul had the evangel FOR the nations. Peter's good news was based on Abraham's covenant which had been sealed by the rite of circumcision. Paul's good news was based on God's promise to Abram, "In Abraham shall the nations of earth be blessed." This promise to Abram was made before he received the sign of circumcision and did not depend on the privileges and supremacy of Israel. The Gentiles were not under a covenant, so no such physical sign was needed. Israel, however, had to repent of breaking the covenant and cleanse themselves in preparation for God to dwell among them.

The Judaizers, mainly zealous Pharisees, were teaching that they were an elite because of Israel's supremacy and the rite of circumcision. It was because Peter and the others with him did not have the courage to withstand these false brethren that Paul had to publicly rebuke him. To have not done this openly and strongly, would have endorsed this false teaching. There are no first and second class believers in God's kingdom, whether on this earth or in the heavenlies.

Paul calls them believers, so they must at least have professed to be believers in Christ. Nevertheless, they were still so entrenched in their traditions that they had the same Pharisaical mindset. ('Pharisee' means "separated one".)

Peter had told the Jerusalem meeting, "Now the apostles and the elders were gathered to see about this matter [circumcision, etc.]. Now, there coming to be much questioning, rising, Peter said to them, 'Men! Brethren! You are versed in the fact that from the days at the beginning God chooses among you, that through my mouth the nations are to hear the word of the evangel and believe. And God, the Knower of hearts, testifies to them, giving the holy spirit according as to us also, and in nothing discriminates between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Why, then, are you now trying God, by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we are strong enough to bear? But through the grace of the Lord Jesus we are believing, to be saved in a manner even as they.'"

Even though Peter settled the controversy, he still hadn't completely got rid of his past cultural thinking as is evident years later. 2 Peter is written to the Dispersion. Chapter 3: 15-16 reads, "And be deeming the patience of our Lord salvation, according as our beloved brother Paul also writes to YOU, according to the wisdom given to him, as also in all the epistles, speaking in them concerning these things, in which are some things hard to apprehend, which the unlearned and unstable are twisting, as the rest of the scriptures also, to their own destruction."

But note what he wrote in verse 18; it is important: "Yet be growing in GRACE and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." He begins his letter with "May GRACE and peace be multiplied to you in the recognition of God and of Jesus Christ, our Lord. (1:2)"

The evangel of the Circumcision and the evangel of the Uncircumcision have the same goal - salvation. But the Circumcision evangel saves for the prophesied earthly kingdom, and the Uncircumcision evangel saves for the ecclesia which is Christ's body among the celestials.

The evangel of the Circumcision lost its appeal to God fearing Jews however, especially with the destruction of the temple in AD70, when it was impossible to offer animal sacrifices. Except possibly for the apostle John, probably most of the original apostles were dead by AD 70. Christ's command, therefore, to each individual one of the original apostles to proclaim the evangel of the Circumcision, lapsed.

It must have become increasingly obvious to The Twelve, that Israel was not going to repent and that their words were falling on deaf ears. The thrust of Peter's message changed somewhat. Writing to the Dispersion he warns the believers, that some will scoff that the Messiah delays his presence. Nevertheless, they must continue in holy living, which is also what Paul taught.

After the book of Acts we hear very little about the evangel of the Circumcision. New circumstances (i.e. that the nation of Israel had rejected the evangel that both Peter and Paul taught) demand a change in direction. Paul, in Ephesians now reveals a secret which was hidden in God. Again, he faced people, Jew and Gentile alike, whose mindset was steeped in the old ways - either Judaism or paganism. What difference would Paul's new evangel make in the everyday lives of believers?

Paul has the answer and not just to the Gentiles. Differences in life style - what food to eat, what days to recognize, whether men should be circumcised - were not important. Discard that which belongs to children. Test what things are of consequence. The things which Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews, had deemed important in the past, he now considered to be refuse. He entreats them to forget things which were behind. To go forward, as he was doing. You mature people will do the same, he adds. Forget about factions. Live in unity with one another. And love each other as Christ loves you. Walk not according to the flesh but according to spirit.

Were you called when you were circumcised, married, or a slave? Paul's answer is in First Corinthians 7:17b and 24. "Each as God has called him, thus let him be walking." and "Each one in the calling in which he was called, in this let him be remaining."

It is not just for Gentiles. The evangel is God's power for salvation to everyone, to the Jew first, and the Greek as well." If we are not careful we will assume that Paul's evangel is only about grace and Peter's evangel is only about repentance and keeping all the Mosaic laws.

So, are there TWO evangels in Galatians? YES.

However, the Ephesian letter replaces or phases out the earlier letter to the Galatians. Paul's secret evangel of Grace applies to all of us, Jew or Gentile, today.
© James Johnson

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