The Word Abused: Galatians 1:8-9

By Mike Willis

In the March issue of Restoration Review, Leroy Garrett continued his series on “The Word Abused;” this time, he discussed Gal. 1:8-9. Brother Garrett is methodically considering all of the passages used against false teachers to make them inapplicable to current doctrinal problems. Already he has written concerning Rom. 16:17, 18 and 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1. In each of his articles, he has somehow managed to twist the Scriptures to such an extent that he applies them against the one standing for truth and not against the innovators. Brother Garrett keeps telling us that lie is opposed to instrumental music, sponsoring churches, premillennialism, etc. However, he never has anything to say about the sin of men introducing unscriptural practices; he always opposes the one who labels the sin of introducing them as sin. He is somewhat like the Confederate soldier who kept saying, “I am a Rebel” but only shot at Confederate soldiers. A person could get the distinct impression that such a person is on the other side.

Here is the passage under consideration this month:

“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal.1:6-9).

Brother Garrett believes that the passage is abused because brethren do not properly distinguish between the gospel and the doctrine. Therefore, he writes as follows:

“This passage is abused in our day in such a manner that the effect is as much a perversion as it was with the Judaizers in Galatia. One is preaching ‘another gospel,’ we are told, if he holds some doctrinal error, or what is presumed to be an error, such as maintaining a TV program like Herald of Truth or using an Instrument in congregational singing. One is not a true gospel preacher if he believes in Sunday Schools or if he uses a plurality of cups at the Supper. Indeed, he comes under the same curse of heaven as would an angel that proclaims a different gospel If he is other than a faithful Church of Christ minister after the Gospel Advocate or Abilene Christian College. If that doesn’t out-Judaize the Judalzers of Galatia, it runs them a close second.

“The gospel is thus made to embrace all of our deductions, inferences and interpretations that extend throughout the New Covenant scriptures. A brother who visits from the Christian Church is not called on for anything, nor Is he even recognized as a preacher of the gospel, all because he is `wrong’ on music. And so we judge him to be bringing another gospel, which makes the music question part of the gospel. So with all these other things. A lot of our people now draw the line on all those who support Herald of Truth, or orphanages from their budgets, for this, they tell us, is bringing another gospel. We could laugh at such non. sense as all this and pass it by if it were not for the harm it does to the Body of Christ.

“One is left to conclude that such folk do not know what the gospel is. If the gospel includes all these doctrinal deductions, then it follows that no one truly preaches a complete gospel except those in one particular little sect. Not only would true gospel preachers be confined to the Church of Christ, but to only one faction within the group. . .

“The implications of all this to unity and fellowship are weighty. It means that the gospel itself, not our doctrinal Interpretations, is the basis of our being one in Christ and in fellowship with each other. That is, when one believes in Jesus and obeys him in baptism, he is our brother and in the fellowship. The Bible says as much: ‘God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ (1 Cor. 1:91. 2 Thess. 2:14 says, `He called you through our gospel.’ When God calls a man through the gospel, he is in the fellowship and he is our brother. This is oneness and this is unity. That fellowship is strengthened and made joyful by doctrine, but it is the gospel and not doctrine that determines the fellowship. True, one can become so grossly immoral, such as through thievery or adultery, that he separates imself from the fellowship to which God has called him, which is of course in violation of the apostles’ doctrine. But this is something entirely different from honest differences in interpreting the doctrine. No man has the right to make his own deductions a test of fellowship. There can be but one condition of fellowship: is the man in Christ through faith and baptism, and is he making a sincere effort to live an exemplary life to the glory of Christ.

“It is therefore the gospel of Christ that makes man brothers. It is apostolic teaching that strengthens the bonds of brotherhood, educates and edifies, and builds a community of love and compassion. In the gospel itself there is no place- for or reason for diversity, for we are dealing with facts to be believed and an act to be obeyed. In doctrinal matters there can be and will be diversity of opinion and interpretation. It was so with the apostles themselves. But this is good, for we stretch each other’s minds and help each other to grow in knowledge in our mutual search for truth.

“But it is imperative that we keep straight the distinctions that the Holy Spirit has made. The gospel makes us one; the doctrine sweetens that oneness. Just as sure as we allow our opinions in reference to doctrine become the test for unity, we are just that sure to create a sect and separate brothers.”(1)

Although the unity-in-diversity brethren write as if one can believe practically anything and still be a part of the church, they have a distinct creed to which every one in their sect must subscribe. The creed is that doctrine does not make any difference. Their doctrinal unity is manifest anytime that two of them write on the same subject. Notice the similarities between Garrett and Carl Ketcherside as both write on Gal. 1:8-9.

“What is the gospel? Before one can designate a thing as `another gospel’ he must be able to identify the original gospel. The gospel, by etymology, is good news. It is not a system of doctrine, a philosophy of life or a code of ethics. It is good news about a person and what that person has done for us fn our helpless, hapless and hopeless condition. It Is not a message for the saved but for the lost. It is never addressed to the church but to the world. It is designed to make believers instead of providing food for them. The word gospel is a translation of enangelion. It is an evangel and you cannot evangelize saved persons. It Is sadly amiss to talk about preaching the gospel to the church unless the church is composed of those who have never come to Christ, that is, have never obeyed the gospel. . .

“He did not accuse them of preaching `another gospel’ because they had not matured. Paul knew the difference between the seed from which life came and the daily bread upon which the children fed. He knew the difference between gospel and doctrine, and between faith and knowledge:. He knew that the gospel brought us into being while the doctrine was essential to our growth and welibefng and he did not make a test of fellowship out of spiritual digestion.

“No honest opinion held by one who is in Christ Jesus and who respects his lordship, is `another gospel.’ Since it is the gospel which forms the basis of the fellowship with the Father, the Son and with one another in Christ, such an opinion can never be made a test of union or communion in Christ. A man may hold a view as to the perseverance of the saints, the manner of the resurrection, or the second coming of our Lord, and he may prove to be as wrong as one could be, but he cannot be debarred from citizenry in the kingdom of heaven by the other subjects, any more than one can be disenfranchised in the United States because he disagrees with the government space program or holds the view that it is impossible to reach the moon.

“No man `preaches another gospel’ simply by being mistaken about some aspects of the will of God, otherwise one would need to know perfectly the divine will or be a perverter of the gospel. It is absurd for those good brethren (and they.are numerous) who oppose the centralized control represented in the Herald of Truth program, to brand those who defend the program as ‘preaching another gospel’ and ‘apostatizing: Those who do so, regardless of motive, reveal that they are ignorant of what constitutes both gospel and apostasy.”(2)

No one can fail to see the similarities between these two men’s writings. Regardless of how much Garrett and Ketcherside might preach “unity-in-diversity,” remember that they practice unity-in-doctrine. No one can be accepted into their sect who does not believe that doctrine is unimportant. Every issue of the papers of both of these men which I have read has been designed to propagate this one false doctrine and to attack the positions of anyone who disagrees with it. They have used every device available, from direct argument to lampoon, to influence the minds of men to believe their heretical teachings. Ketcherside and Garrett represent a sect within the church which has distinct doctrinal beliefs; their party organs spread the heresy; the men are actively engaged in proselytizing and in subversion designed to destroy the church as it now is.

Reviewing The Position

To review this position, one must only write an article on “gospel and doctrine.” Garrett constructed a straw man to represent his opponent’s defense, and then proceeded to tear it down. Of the three arguments his opponents are supposed to have used, I had never heard of two of them; his answer to the third was visibly weak, Here is his argument:

“A lot of effort has been expended to show that what the apostles taught the churches was gospel, but this can be done only by twisting the scriptures. 1 Pet. 1:25 is often referred to, always in the King James of course: ‘This is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.’ All the improved versions correct this error in translation to read: `This is the gospel which was preached to you.’ Nowhere does any apostle preach to a church. The language is rather like this: ‘as I teach everywhere in every church’ and ‘Teach and urge these duties. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up.

“One preaches the gospel, which is the good news; but he never preaches duties. One preaches to the lost but not to the saved. The scriptures are rigidly consistent in making this distinction. Otherwise it would not use language like: ‘Every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). Why would the Spirit use both terms If there Is no important difference? It shows that they not only proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, but they also instructed the people in reference to its implication.

“Acts 20:7 is another passage that Is bruised and battered in an effort to find preacher preaching to the church. The King James is again the culprit, having Paul preach to the saints gathered there at Troas on the first day of the week. The improved versions all read something like: ‘Paul talked with them: This is the word for sharing or dialoging, but not for preach. Rom. 1:15 is also brought into play, for ‘I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome,’ could, if viewed superficially, be understood to mean that Paul wanted to go to Rome so that he could preach the gospel to the saints there. But he doesn’t say anything like that. The preceding verses show that he wanted to ‘reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles,’ and this he always did by proclaiming the gospel to the lost. He was quite clearly talking about the saints when he says in verse 11: ‘I long to

see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine: Since the letter was also intended for the unbelieving Jews In Rome, it is evident that his plans to preach the gospel in Rome would be an effort to win them to the faith.”(3)

I have never heard anyone make arguments on 1 Pet. 1:25 or Acts 20:7 to show that the gospel can be preached to the church. Brother Bill J. Humble answered Garrett’s quibbles on Rom. 1:15 when Brother Garrett was using the same argument to prove that a church could not have a located preacher. One needs only to see the context of Rom. 1 to see who the “you” of v. 15 are The “you” of Rom. 1:15 are described in the preceding verses as (1) the called of Jesus Christ (1:6), (2) beloved of God (1:7), (3) saints (1:7), (4) children of the Father (1:7, note the usage of “our”), (5) men of faith (1:8, 12), and (6) men to whom Paul wanted to impart spiritual gifts in order to establish them (1:11). These terms do not describe unbelievers; the ones meant by “you” were Christians. Therefore, when Paul wrote in Rom. 1:15, “I am eager to preach the gospel to you also . . . .,” he completely destroyed the gospel-doctrine distinction posited by these brethren. Here Paul wanted to preach the gospel to the baptized believers in Rome. But, Garrett said, “Nowhere does any apostle ever preach to a church.” Too bad that Paul did not know that!

1Let us now examine what the Bible says about the “gospel” and the “doctrine.” Didache’, the Greek word which is translated “doctrine,” is defined as follows:

“1. teaching, viz. that which is taught . . . one’s doctrine, Le. what he teaches . . . doctrine, teaching, concerning. something. . . 2. (the act of) teaching, instruction. . . :’ (Thayer, pp.144-145).

“Among the Gks. this is used in the sense of `teaching,’ Instruction’ …. with a strong tendency to restrict it to the fact, so that didaskein or didaskesthaf can normally be used as an alternative . . . . In the LXX. . . . didache is thus syn. with the Rabbinic talmud, which signifies `teaching’ in the sense that it might denote according to context either `teaching’ or “being taught’ . . . . The New Testament follows this usage fairly closely” (Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol. 2, pp. 163-164).

Euangelion, the Greek word which is translated “gospel,” is defined as follows:

“I. a reward for good tidings . . . 2. good tidings…. In the N. T. spec. a. the glad tidings of the kingdom of God soon to be set up, and subsequently also of Jesus, the Messiah, the founder of this kingdom …. After the death of Christ the term to euangelion comprises also the preaching of (concerning) Jesus Christ as having suffered death on the cross to procure eternal salvation for men in the kingdom of God, but as restored to life and exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, then to return in majesty to ly defined as the glad tidings of salvation through Christ; the proclamation of the grace of God manifested and pledged in Christ; the gospel” (Thayer, p. 257).

Kittle gave the derivation of the thought of euangelion from “besrah” (Heb.) to demonstrate that the primary connotation of the word is “the good news of victory.” When used irr the New Testament, the fact that Jesus died for our sins makes the preaching of Jesus a message which is especially one which might be described as “the good news of victory” (Vol. 2, pp. 721-735).

From these definitions, let us draw some conclusions. (a) The basic idea connoted by didache is “to teach;” the basic thought connoted by euangelion is “the good news of victory.” (b) The content of the message cannot be learned from the words themselves. The didache could as easily be that of Balaam as that of Christ; the euangelion could as easily be that of victory over the Persians as victory over sin and death. (c) The content of the message is not necessarily different when both didaches arid euangelion are used; that which is taught can be the good news. Obviously, this is the case in the New Testament; that which is taught is the good news of Christ’s victory over sin and death.

If our conclusions are true, then the following should be and are found in the New Testament:

(a) The gospel being preached to both saints (Rom. 1:7, 15-16) and aliens (Mk. 16:15-16), the assertions of Ketcherside and Garrett notwithstanding.

(b) The doctrine being preached to both aliens (Rom. 6:17-18; Acts 5:28; 13:5, 7, 8, 10, 12; 17:19) and Christians (1 Cor. 4:17; Col. 3:17; 2 Tim. 4:2; Acts 2:42).

(c) Things which are called the gospel also referred to as doctrine. That which has freed us from sin is called both doctrine (Rom. 6:17-18) and gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 1:16). That which leads to Christian maturity is called both doctrine (Mt. 28:20; Acts 2:42) and gospel (Gal. 2:14; Eph. 6:15; 1 Tim. 1:10-11).

(d) The “word of truth,” which is identified as the gospel (Col. 1:5; Eph. 1:13), should be applicable to both saints and sinners. In keeping with this, the “truth” is that which frees one from sin (Jn. 8:32; Jas. 1:18) and anyone who does not obey it is lost (Rom. 2:8; cf. 2 Thess. 1:8); it also is that which produces sanctification (Jn. 17:17-19). Thus, one must not only obey the truth, he must also walk in it to keep from being lost (Jas. 5:19; Gal. 2:5, 14; 3:1; 5:7).

No one of us would deny that there is a distinction between becoming a Christian and maturing as a Christian. Undoubtedly, a person must not know every apostolic commandment in order to become a Christian. Therefore, there are some things which are taught before baptism and some things which are taught after baptism (Mt, 28:20). However, to maintain that (IJ the former are exclusively called “gospel” and the latter are exclusively called “doctrine” and (2) one can break the fellowship of the saints only over differences pertaining to the “gospel” are false positions nowhere justifiable in the Scriptures.

If It Were True

If Brother Ketcherside’s distinction between gospel and doctrine were true, some objective criterion would be needed by which one could distinguish what is gospel and what is doctrine. No one has yet methodically distinguished the two. Is what Jesus said regarding marriage and divorce which is recorded in the gospels to be considered gospel or doctrine? Is what John said about the humanity of Jesus in the doctrinal section, the epistles, to be considered gospel or doctrine? No one has told us how to distinguish gospel and doctrine. Everyone who makes the gospel-doctrine distinction with whom I have talked or after whom I have read always uses a purely subjective basis of distinguishing the two. If I seem a little reluctant to accept the gospel doctrine distinction, the reason might be that all of the pet doctrines of those with whom I talk always fall under “gospel” but all of what they call my “pet doctrines” always fall under “doctrine.” Those who are going to take the position that a distinction exists between gospel and doctrine should establish some objective means of distinguishing the two.

Secondly, if we admitted that a distinction between gospel and doctrine actually existed and that an objective criterion for distinguishing the two had been found, the conclusion that one should not divide over “doctrine”still would not necessarily follow. If we assume that “the gospel ‘consists` of seven facts about a person” (the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation and glorification of Jesus), as Brother Ketcherside maintains, then every commandment found in the New Testament relative to withdrawing fellowship must fall under the heading of “doctrine.” That would include matters such as the way one treated his brother (Mt. 18:15-17), immorality (1 Cor. 5; 1 Tim. 1:8-11), heresy (2 Jn. 9:11; Tit. 3:10-11), etc. To say that one can be disfellowshipped for errors relative to the gospel but not for errors relative to the doctrine would be tantamount to saying that a person could be disfellowshipped for denying the resurrection but could not be disfellowshipped for forsaking the assembly, refusing to partake of the Lord’s Supper or refusing to give. (Ketcherside’s position that fellowship can be broken for moral turpitude contradicts his position that a distinction exists between gospel and doctrine and that unity cannot be broken over doctrinal matters.) Two of the seven churches of Asia were condemned for tolerating the very kind of doctrinal errors which Ketcherside says must be tolerated. Apparently, John did not believe in Ketcherside’s unity in diversity (see Rev. 2:14-15, 20-24).

Thirdly, since fellowship cannot be broken over matters of doctrine, anything which the New Testament labels as doctrine (didache) must be a matter over which the church cannot divide. Here are some Things labeled doctrine in the Scriptures, false views concerning which must be tolerated if the gospeldoctrine distinction is true:

(a) False views about Jesus (2 Jn. 9-11). (For the sake of argument, I here am granting that “doctrine of Christ” means “doctrine about Christ.”) Notice that the discussion regarding the humanity of Jesus is called “doctrine.” Our unity-in-diversity brethren do not object to using this passage regarding the humanity of Jesus against those who deny the deity of Jesus. Since this falls under the category of “doctrine” and we should have unity-in-diversity regarding doctrinal matters, the logical conclusion is that we could fellowship Jews, modernists, and atheists-those who have diverse Aews about Jesus.

(b) False views concerning the resurrection of the dead (Mt. 22:33). The context of Mt. 22:33 indicates that Jesus was discussing the resurrection of the dead. Since the scriptural position regarding the resurrection is there called “doctrine,” could we have fellowship, a unity-in-diversity, with those who deny the resurrection of the dead?

(c) False views concerning what one must do to be saved (Rom. 6:17-18; Acts 13:12; 17:19). That which Paul preached to unbelievers and which freed one from sin is called “doctrine.” Therefore, one must maintain that one can have a unity-in-diversity regarding what one must do to be saved. Can a person scripturally fellowship all denominations which teach unscriptural plans of salvation? (Perhaps this explains some of Garrett’s recent comments concerning Baptist baptism.)

(d) False views regarding any part of Jesus’ teaching. The word “doctrine” (didache) is used generically to describe the sum total of the teaching of Jesus and the inspired apostles (Acts 2:42; 5:28; Rom. 16:17; Tit. 1:9; Mk. 1:22, 27; Jn. 7:16-17; 18:19). Therefore, any false doctrine regarding any subject concerning which Jesus taught can and must be tolerated, if the distinction between gospel and doctrine is true and if one must practice a unity in diversity in doctrinal matters. Hence, we have arrived at universalism.

Fourthly, since the idea that we can have unity in diversity would fall under “doctrine” and not under “gospel,” why can we not have unity-in-diversity regarding the unity-in-diversity position? Ketcherside condemns magazines such as Truth Magazine for agitating “doctrinal” issues (issues such as the sponsoring church, church support of human institutions, etc.) but Mission Messenger is likewise agitating a “doctrinal” issue (unity) concerning which we can, according to his reasonings have a unity-indiversity. If I believe that unity can be maintained by doctrinal conformity and he believes that we must have a unity-in-diversity in doctrinal matters, our disagreement is a doctrinal disagreement concerning which we can have a unity-in-diversity. What justification can be found for magazines such as Mission Messenger, Restoration Review, Integrity, and Fellowship agitating this doctrinal issue? Our conclusion under this section must be that if Brother Garrett’s gospel-doctrine distinction were true, he, of all men, is most inconsistent because he is trying to agitate a doctrinal issue when he believes that we can have a unity-in-diversity on doctrinal issues; he is trying to get doctrinal conformity on the doctrine that says we can have a unity-in-diversity in doctrinal matters.

Another Look At The Passage

The Judaizers in Galatia represented a type of heresy with which we need to become better acquainted. Apparently, they were a party within the church which tried to mix the Mosaical Law and the Law of Christ. They wanted to hold on to Christ with their right hands and to the Law of Moses with their left hands. The significant point for this discussion is this: they did not deny the truth about the life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, coronation, and glorification of Jesus Christ. (These are the seven facts about a person of which the gospel is said to be composed, according to Brother Ketcherside.) They did not repudiate baptism in any sense whatever. They believed in both the facts and the act. The Galatian apostatizers were children of the same Father as was Paul. Somehow, Paul thought he was best serving God by attacking these children of the Father! Yet, the Galatian apostasy was a doctrinal apostasy. For this reason, the apostasy becomes more relevant to us. If we granted the illegitimate distinction between gospel and doctrine advocated by the unity sect, we are dealing in this passage with a doctrinal apostasy, according to their definitions! If this issue had been handled as they suggest doctrinal differences are to be handled, Paul would have ignored the issue and emphasized that both groups were children of the same Father.

The Judaizers were specifically demanding that all Christians had to be circumcised in order to be saved (cf. Acts 15:1). To Paul, this was serious because it involved a perversion of the gospel of Christ. Thus, he said, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” The Galatians were returning to the Mosaical ordinances; a mixture of Christianity and Judaism was not pleasing to God. Paul could not passively watch his brethren apostasize; there were important issues at stake. So, he warned, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached, let him be accursed.” Distortion of the’ revealed pattern cannot be tolerated. Frankly, I cannot see any difference in appealing to the Old Testament for scriptural authority for instrumental music in worship, tithing, etc. and in appealing to the Old Testament for scriptural authority for circumcision. One is just as much a distortion of the gospel as is the other!

And Remember!

Let us never forget why Ketcherside and Garrett and those who believe as they do are maintaining that a distinction exists between gospel arid doctrine: they are trying to find some scriptural justification for establishing fellowship with those who use mechanical instruments of music in the worship, practice unscriptural church organization in the form of the sponsoring church, support human institutions, and believe in premillennialism. Before they can persuade people to fellowship these false teachers, Garrett and Ketcherside have to unteach them. Therefore, Garrett is trying to discharge every scripture used against false teachers. If we grant him his premises, we must reach his conclusions. Therefore, we must carefully examine his premises.


1. Leroy Garrett, “The Word Abused. . .’ If We Or An Angel Preach Any Other Gospel,” Restoration Review, XVII: No. 3, pp. 42-46.

2. Carl Ketcherside, “Another Gospel,” Twisted Scriptures (St. Louis, Mission Messenger, 1965), pp. 4, 7-9.

3. Garrett, op. cit., pp. 44-45.

Truth Magazine XIX: 40, pp. 632-636
August 21, 1975