A Commentary by John Stott
The lesson which stands out from this paragraph is that there is only one gospel. The popular view is that there are many different ways to God, that the gospel changes with the changing years, and that you must not condemn the gospel to fossilization in the first century AD. But Paul would not endorse these notions. He insists here that there is only one gospel and that this gospel does not change. Any teaching that claims to be ‘another gospel’ is ‘not another’ (verses 6, 7, AV). In order to make this point, he uses the two adjectives *heteros* (‘another’ in the sense of ‘different’) and *allos* (‘another’ in the sense of ‘a second’). The Revised Standard Version brings it out: ‘You are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another gospel.’ In other words, there are certainly different gospels being preached, but this is what they are – *different*. There is not another, a second; there is only one. The message of the false teachers was not an alternative gospel; it was a perverted gospel.
How can we recognize the true gospel? Its marks are given us here. They concern its substance (what it is) and its source (where it comes from).
a). The substance of the gospel.
It is the gospel of grace, of God’s free and unmerited favour. To turn from Him who called you in the grace of Christ is to turn from the true gospel. Whenever teachers start exalting man, implying that he can contribute anything to his salvation by his own morality, religion, philosophy or respectability, the gospel of grace is being corrupted. That is the first test. The true gospel magnifies the free grace of God.
b). The source of the gospel.
The second test concerns the gospel’s origin. The true gospel is the gospel of the apostles of Jesus Christ, in other words, the New Testament gospel. Look again at verses 8 and 9. Paul’s *anathema* is pronounced on anybody who preaches a gospel which is either ‘contrary to that which we preached to you’ or ‘contrary to that which you received’. That is to say, the norm, the criterion, by which all systems and opinions are to be tested, is the primitive gospel, the gospel which the apostles preached and which is now recorded in the New Testament. Any system ‘other…than’ (AV), or ‘contrary to’ (RSV), or ‘at variance with’ (NEB) this apostolic gospel is to be rejected.
This is the second fundamental test. Anybody who rejects the apostolic gospel, no matter who he may be, is himself to be rejected. He may appear as ‘an angel from heaven’. In this case we are to prefer apostles to angels. We are not to be dazzled, as many people are, by the person, gifts or office of teachers in the church. They may come to us with great dignity, authority or scholarship. They may be bishops or archbishops, university professors or even the pope himself. But if they bring a gospel other than the gospel preached by the apostles and recorded in the New Testament, they are to be rejected. We judge them by the gospel; we do not judge the gospel by them. As Dr. Alan Cole expresses it. ‘The outward person of the messenger does not validate his message; rather, the nature of the message validates the messenger.’
So then, as we hear the multifarious views of men and women today, spoken, written, broadcast and televised, we must subject each of them to these two rigorous tests. Is their opinion consistent with the free grace of God and with the plain teaching of the New Testament? If not, we must reject it, however august the teacher may be. But if it passes these tests, then let us embrace it and hold it fast. We must not compromise it like the Judaizers, nor desert it like the Galatians, but live by it ourselves and seek to make it known to others.