Truth and accuracy is the first and most important tenet of the five tenets of journalism. It is the cardinal principle, and for good reason. There’s the obvious ethical matter related to the very definition of journalism itself. Journalism is the profession that discovers and distributes the facts about events and people. Reporters report on realities. They explain what happened as best they can understand it. Without truth and accuracy, journalism isn’t really journalism. It’s propaganda.
In addition, there’s the business aspect of it. Truth and accuracy is foundational, not just to journalism, but to the long-term success of any commercial enterprise. In the case of the news, correspondents who report inaccurate stories lose credibility for themselves and their companies. If it happens too often, those types of correspondents are fired and the companies that tolerate them eventually shut down.
The Apostle Paul shared the value of truth and accuracy that modern day journalists have today. He was particularly concerned about that when it came to gospel reporting. That’s why he warned the ancient church in Galatia so strongly about anyone who preached a false gospel. Look what he wrote in a letter to them:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8–9)
This is a very strong warning, as strong as it gets. The Apostle Paul thought that people who preached a false gospel deserved much worse than getting fired from their job or shutting down their news agency. They deserved to be accursed. What does that mean?
When we use some form of the word “curse,” we often simply mean that we want something bad to happen to that person like, “Curse them!” That’s the most common way it is used, but Paul clearly had something more theologically significant in mind. It warrants a bit of explanation.
Later in this same letter to the Galatian church, Paul described all Christians as the opposite of accursed. He referred to them as blessed. All Christians are blessed, not cursed, according to Paul, because Jesus became a curse for us on the cross to redeem us from the curse caused by sin. We were cursed, but we put our faith in Jesus and thus became blessed. That’s part of the good news about Him.
Given that context, it seems clear that Paul thought people who preach a false gospel should be considered as still under the curse of sin. In other words, by preaching a different good news they proved that they were not Christians. True Christians preach the gospel delivered once for all from Jesus to the church through the Apostles, which I have articulated in Always Good News (and the free course Grasp the Gospel) under the headlines Lord, Sin, Savior, and Faith.
People who preach a different gospel aren’t Christians because their gospel has no means by which to remove the curse caused by sin. Jesus is the only Savior of sinners. Salvation from curse unto blessing is found in no one else. There’s no other name under heaven by which people can be saved. Thus, people who change the gospel to something contrary to it, remain cursed.
Further, there was a sense that Paul wanted the church in Galatia to avoid these false preachers. The leaders of the church should keep them out of the church and consider them as not part of the church. The Greek root word of accursed is anathema. Throughout church history, to be anathema has meant that you were excommunicated from the fellowship of the church. The origin of that meaning and practice is Paul’s letter to the Galatians. That’s an additional aspect of what he meant by “let him be accursed.”
And the final implication is that those who preach a false gospel are in danger of hell. Though some readers, pastors and scholars have attempted to avoid the gravity of the language in these verses, I don’t see any way around understanding it as Paul pronouncing eternal condemnation on people who continue to get the gospel wrong. “Let him be accursed” is another way to say that what he is doing warrants damnation by God Himself.
According to Paul, that “gospel” reporter doesn’t merely need to be fired. That “good news” agency doesn’t simply need to be shut down. If they keep up that practice for the rest of their lives, they deserve everlasting punishment from God Himself.
Why would Paul use such strong language? Why such a severe statement? Well, it makes perfect sense when you think about. Proclaiming the good news about Jesus is a joyful matter, but it is also a gravely serious one that requires truth and accuracy. It is more than a matter of life and death to whoever hears it. It is a matter of eternal life and endless death.
If a gospel messenger got it wrong and thus led people astray about the most important news in human history, the Apostle Paul thought that preacher should suffer the same consequences that their error wrought on others. Since getting the gospel of Jesus right is ultimately a matter of heaven or hell for those who hear it, preaching the gospel with truth and accuracy ought to be a matter of heaven or hell for those who preach it.
It is important to understand, though, that Paul does not seem to be referring to a Christian who is talking about Jesus in everyday conversation and makes an unintentional mistake out of humble ignorance. He did not mean, “Christian, if you make even the slightest mistake in your conversations about Jesus, may you be eternally condemned.” No, that’s not what he meant.
Rather, he was referring to people who purposely perverted and twisted the gospel. Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians because preachers and teachers from a theological school, a seminary of sorts, were doing just that. They visited Galatia and tried to convince the Galatian churches that their gospel was the right one and that the gospel the Apostles handed down to the Galatians from Jesus Himself was wrong. This was systematic, well thought out, intentional, false teaching.
Even so, the force of the language remains. It’s jarring and uncomfortable to read, “Let him be accursed.” It should be taken seriously by everyone, gravely so. The obvious application for us is that we must get the gospel right. If you are pastor like me, you have to tell the truth when you proclaim the good news. If you aren’t a pastor, it’s still important for you to be accurate. You as an individual and we as the church have to be clear about this message. There is no more important priority on planet earth.