The Offence Of The Cross - Part I

Galatians 5:11 – “And I, Brethren, if I yet preach Circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? (Any message other than the Cross draws little opposition.) then is the offence of the Cross ceased. (The Cross offends the world and most of the Church. So, if the preacher ceases to preach the Cross as the only way of Salvation and Victory, then opposition and persecution will cease. But so will Salvation!)

“The Offence of the Cross,” or as Kenneth Wuest says, “The Stumbling Block” of the Cross is not new, hence the writing of the Book of Galatians. The purpose of the Book is to restate the foundation Doctrine of Justification by Faith and not through the keeping of the Law, especially circumcision for all Gentile male Christians. Galatians is a letter of correction and rebuke to the Galatian Christians who were being deceived into the lie that simple Faith in Christ was not enough but they had to also keep the Law of Moses. The following will give you a brief overview as to why the Holy Spirit had Paul to write this Epistle.

1. That they had been at first devotedly attached to the Apostle Paul, and because he had been the instrument in bringing them to Christ; consequently, they received his commands and instructions with implicit confidence when he was among them.

2. They had been perverted from the Doctrine which he taught them soon after he had left them.

3. That this had been done by persons who were of Jewish origin, and who insisted on the observance of the rites of the Jewish Religion.

4. These false teachers claim to have come directly from Jerusalem, and to have derived their views and their authority from the Apostles there (not the original Twelve).

5. That they taught that the Apostle Paul was inferior to the Apostles there; that he had been called more recently into the Apostolic Office, if at all; that the Apostles at Jerusalem must be regarded as the source of authority in the Christian Church; and that, therefore, the teaching of Paul should yield to that which was derived directly from Jerusalem.

6. That the Laws of Moses were binding, and were necessary in order for Justification. That the Rite of Circumcision especially was a binding obligation; and it is probable that they had prevailed on many of the Galatians to be circumcised, and certain that they had induced them to observe the Jewish festivals.

7. It may even be possible, that they also claimed that Paul himself had changed his views since he had been among the Galatians, and now maintained the necessity of circumcision. Perhaps they alleged this, from the undoubted fact, that Paul, when at Jerusalem (Acts 21:26) had complied with some of the customs of the Jewish Rituals.

8. That they urged that all the Promises of God were made to Abraham, and that whoever would partake of those Promises must be circumcised as Abraham was. This Paul answers in Galatians 3:7; 4:7.

9. That in consequence of the promulgation of these views, great dissensions had arisen in the Church, and strifes of an unhappy nature existed, greatly contrary to the spirit which should be manifested by those who bore the Christian name.

From this description of the state of things in the Churches of Galatia, the design of the Epistle is apparent, and the scope of the argument will be easily seen (Barnes).

There is no doubt that Paul was angry when writing this Epistle. In Galatians, Chapter 1, Verses 6-10, Paul writes, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him Who called you into the Grace of Christ unto another gospel. Which is not another; but there be some who trouble you, and pervert the Gospel of Christ. But though we or an Angel from Heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that you have received, let him be accursed.”

Kenneth Wuest, the noted Greek Theologian of the Twentieth Century, in his book, “WORD STUDIES IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT” says of these Verses:

“‘I marvel that you are so soon removed.’ ‘Marvel’ is from ‘thaumazo’ which means ‘to wonder at, to marvel.’ Its cognate adjective means ‘wonderful, marvelous.’ Thus Paul considered the defection of the Galatian Christians as an extraordinary thing. Alford says of this word, ‘a word of mildness, inasmuch as it imports that better things were expected of them – and of condescension, as letting down the writer to the level of the readers and even challenging explanation from them. Still, like many such mild words, it carries to the guilty conscience even sharper rebuke than a harsher one would.’ ‘Are removed’ is from ‘metatithemi’ which means ‘to transpose two things, one of which is put in the place of the other.’ In Classical Greek, it was used of a turncoat. The word is used of one altering his opinion or becoming of another mind. The word was also used of desertion or revolt, frequently of a change in religion, philosophy, or morals. The present tense indicates that when Paul wrote, the defection of the Galatians was yet only in progress. Had he used the perfect tense, that would have indicated that the Galatians had actually and finally turned against Grace and had come to a settled attitude in the matter. The mind of Paul wavers between fear and hope as to the outcome. Paul was trying desperately to arrest the progress of this new doctrinal infection if he could. The Judaizers had not yet achieved any decisive success, although the Galatians were disposed to lend a ready ear to their insinuations.

“‘So soon’ is from ‘tacheos.’ The word is used also in I Timothy 5:22 where Timothy is warned against ordaining anyone as an elder in a hurried fashion. The word means ‘readily, rashly, quickly,’ and speaks here of the rapidity with which the Galatians were turning away from Paul and teaching of Grace to the Judaizers, with their teaching of works.”

Concerning the word “accursed,” Brother Wuest would say, “The word ‘accursed’ is from ‘anathema.’ It is a word used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, of a person or thing set apart and devoted to destruction, because it’s hateful to God. Hence in a spiritual sense it denotes one who is alienated from God by sin. It cannot refer here to ecclesiastical excommunication, for angels are included. The Epistles of Paul attach to the word the idea of spiritual death. Its use in Romans 9:3 where Paul says that he could wish himself accursed from Christ for his brethren’s sake, associates it with the further idea of separation from Christ and destruction for all eternity, which is the fate of the unsaved. The word does not, like excommunication, pronounce a judicial sentence on particular convicted offenders, but solemnly affirms general laws of the spiritual kingdom. In I Corinthians 16:22, those who love not the Lord Jesus are declared to be outcasts from the Faith.”

In Galatians, Chapter 3, Verse 1, Paul would write, “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the Truth.”

Regarding this Verse, Brother Wuest would say:

“‘O foolish Galatians.’ It is an expression of surprise mingled with indignation. The situation in Galatia will help us understand this outcry. There was on the one hand, the native and national spirit joined to the power of the priesthood and the temples, the spirit of Orientalism, that of stagnation, ignorance and superstition. On the other hand, there was the desire for education, the recognition that Greece and Rome stood on a higher intellectual level than was afforded by the native religions and customs, and in addition to that, a revolt against the ignorant and enslaving native superstitions. The people of the province of Galatia are those who have shaken off the benumbing and degrading influence of the native magic and superstition. They are those who judge for themselves as to the real values in life, and lay claim to insight and wisdom, that appreciation of the better things, when he uses the Greek word translated foolish. The word is ‘anoetos.’ It denotes the stupidity that arises from deadness and impotence of intellect. It means ‘lacking in the power of perception.’ It refers to one who does not reflect. The word speaks of failure to use one’s powers of perception. The Galatians, Paul says, were certainly not using their heads. The word is used with an ethical reference as the faculty of moral judgment. Thus the word indicates a failure to use one’s powers of perception, that failure being due to a moral defect. It is always true, as it was with the Galatians, that the act of a Christian who embraces false doctrine, is due to sin in his life. The Galatian defection was not due to any fickleness of the Gauls. They are not prominent in the picture. Paul sends this stinging rebuke therefore, ‘O Galatians, who fail in the first characteristic of the Galatians, namely, the ability to use their heads and appreciate the finer values of life.’

“‘Who has bewitched you?’ The word ‘bewitched’ is from ‘baskaino.’ Paul’s metaphor is derived from the popular superstition of the evil eye. The word denoted either the fascination of an evil eye or some malignant influence akin to it. The infatuation of the Galatians is attributed to the baneful effect of some mysterious power of evil.”

In the Greek, “offence of the Cross” means “a trap, a snare, temptation,” or “stumbling block.” Paul uses it in the sense of that which is so offensive to the natural mind that it arouses fierce opposition. Why should Paul link his refusal to approve Circumcision for the Gentiles to an offence to the Cross? For the same reason he opposed any of the Law being added to Faith and Grace. The Cross proclaims that man can do nothing to save himself. The keeping of the Law which was impossible to do, could not save, but Salvation can only come through Faith in Christ’s Atoning Work on Calvary’s Cross.

In researching this article, I came across two articles concerning this Verse. One written in 1886 by C.H. Spurgeon and the other written in 1932 by T. Austin Sparks, both famed English ministers of the Gospel.

In the first, Spurgeon wrote:

“Paul intends here to declare that the offence of the Cross never has ceased, and never can cease. To suppose it to have ceased is folly.

“The religion of Jesus is most peaceful, mild and benevolent.

“Yet its history shows it to have been assailed with bitterest hate all along. It is clearly offensive to the unregenerate mind.

“There is no reason to believe that it is one jot more palatable to the world than it used to be. The world and the Gospel are both unchanged.

(Part II will continue next month)

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