(Gal. 1:6-9) How can Paul desire these men to be “accursed,” when Jesus tells us to “love our enemies?”

CLAIM: Jesus taught that we should love our enemies (Mt. 5:44), but Paul prays a curse over his enemies. This word for “accursed” is anathema. Colin Brown writes,

The LXX uses anathema regularly to translate the Hebrew herem, ban, what is banned (Num. 21:3; Josh. 6:17; 7:12; Judg. 1:17; Zech. 14:11 with the original root meaning to forbid, separate, consecrate, annihilate). What is banned (persons or things) is directly given up to God and so cannot be redeemed (Lev. 27:18).[1]

The “ban” (Hebrew herem or Greek anathema) was originally for the Canaanites, who were judged by God (Josh. 6). Here, Paul uses the same word to describe the judgment on these false teachers. How can we harmonize Paul’s curse with Jesus’ words?

RESPONSE:  A number of points can be made.

First, Paul is referring to divine justice, rather than human justice. Paul isn’t taking matters into his own hands. He isn’t saying that he wants to hurt anyone. Instead, he desires God to bring justice to these people (Rom. 12:19-21).[2]

Second, Paul is referring to universal divine justice. Paul is not describing a personal feud with an enemy; he is describing a universal feud with “anyone” opposed to God’s message.

Third, Paul includes himself under the judgment of God. Paul wrote, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven…” taught an alternate message, then they should be accursed (v.8). Therefore, Paul wasn’t just placing his enemies under the judgment of God; he placed himself under God’s judgment, too.

Fourth, elsewhere, Paul writes that he would give his salvation for his Jewish brothers. For instance, Paul writes, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed [ananthema], separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3). Paul cared deeply for the Jewish people. However, here in Galatians, Paul was specifically calling down divine judgment on false teachers, who knew the truth but were actively deceiving people.

Fifth, Jesus called down judgment on false teachers, too. Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mk. 9:42). Therefore, Jesus taught the same thing as Paul; false teachers deserve God’s judgment.

[1] Brown, Colin. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Corporation, 1975. 413.

[2] Stott writes, “That is, he expresses the wish that God’s judgment will fall upon them.” Stott, John R. W. The Message of the Galatians: John R.W. Stott. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1986. 24.