William J. Stewart
In the opening chapter of his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul wrote:
I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
It is evident that as Paul sat down to write by the Spirit of God to his brethren in Galatia, this was a primary concern for him. In fact, he would spend a good part of the rest of the book addressing the falsehood they were being led to and contrasting that with the true, unadulterated gospel. What was the different gospel or perversion of the gospel that enticed the Galatians? It was the work of the Judaizing teachers, who taught the Gentiles needed to obey Moses Law in addition to the message of the gospel. Acts 15:1 concisely tells their doctrine,
…certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’
Paul rebuked Peter in Galatians 2 for withdrawing from the Gentile Christians when brethren from Judea arrived in Antioch. He said, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (2:14) Peter was not a Judaizing teacher, but his actions made a distinction among brethren based upon the Law of Moses.
At the beginning of chapter 3, Paul wants to know from the Galatians, “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (3:2) At the end of the same chapter, he demonstrates that the Law neither negated nor fulfilled God’s promise to Abraham (3:17, 21), and that the Law was now obsolete (3:19, 23-25), and thus there is no distinction in Christ based upon the Law (3:28-29).
In Galatians 4:9-12, Paul wrote:
But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?
They had left the bondage of idolatry. Why would they now seek bondage in the Law of Moses?
In Galatians 5:1-4, Paul rebuked their turning to the Law, characterizing it as an entanglement and a yoke of bondage. He clearly stated that if they will be circumcised, they are then debtors to keep the whole law, so that they might be justified by law. In short, they had fallen from the grace of Christ.
Nearing the end of the book, he made one last effort to show the futility of turning to the Law. In Galatians 6:12-13 he revealed the hypocrisy of the Judaizers. They compelled the Gentiles to be circumcised (and thus become amenable to the Law), and yet the Judaizers themselves fail to keep the Law.
One of the final thoughts he left them with was this:
…in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
I don’t know that there are Judaizing teachers today, compelling folks to be circumcised, but there are certainly people who hold to things in Moses’ Law (tithing, the Sabbath, a clergy/laity distinction, instrumental music, etc). Borrowing any of these from Moses’ Law is as much a different and corrupt gospel as to require circumcision.
Truly, any addition to the message of the New Testament (whether from Moses’ Law or man’s tradition) or any subtraction from the message of the New Testament amounts to different gospel, a perversion of the truth revealed by Jesus Christ and His apostles, and results in condemnation (“let him be accursed”). The apostles had no right to change the message, nor did the angels (1:8). Neither do we.