Galatians 1:1-12, Paul’s most fundamental anti-Roman cryptogram

In Anti-Roman Cryptograms in the New Testament Norman A. Beck devotes a chapter to Paul’s use of anti-Roman cryptograms. However, Beck does not discuss Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Below I discuss Galatians 1:1-12, in which Paul takes an encrypted but also consistent anti-Roman position.





From Paul, apostle not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

From the onset Paul establishes a dichotomy between God and the Christ on one hand, and ‘men’ and ‘man’ on the other. Given this dichotomy at the highest level of rule, and given Paul’s anti-Roman focus in general, the ‘man/men’ could well be the Roman emperor(s). So from the first sentence Paul takes an anti-Roman position.


And from all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia: (3) Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.


Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father; (5) whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

‘To deliver us from the present evil age’ is a possible translation, prompted by a textual variant of this phrase. The majority of the texts give ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ, which can be translated as ‘from the age of the present evil one’ (the present Roman emperor), considering πονηρός as a noun instead of an adjective, as is also frequently the case elsewhere in the New Testament (BDAG p. 851).


Whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.


I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ* and turning to a different gospel.

Following the dichotomy between ‘God and Christ’ on the one hand and the Roman emperors on the other, this is one between Paul’s ‘Christ’ gospel and the alternative gospel, the gospel of Roman imperial rule. This rival gospel seems to appeal to a part of Paul’s audience.


Not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of the Christ.

Paul doesn’t consider this gospel to be a suitable alternative to his ‘Christ’ gospel.


But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.

Paul shows his deep aversion towards this rival doctrine.


As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

Similarly, Paul shows his deep abhorrence for those who preach this competing gospel (of the Roman imperial cult).


Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of the Christ.

Paul places in diametric opposition ‘seeking the favour of men’ (Roman emperors) and ‘seeking the favour of God’, and similarly opposes ‘pleasing men’ (Roman emperors) and wanting ‘to be a servant of the Christ’. Paul sees himself as the propagator of κύριος Χριστός against κύριος Καῖσαρ.


For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

‘Is not man’s gospel’, literally ‘is not the gospel according to man’ – Paul does not preach a human gospel, the all too human gospel of the divinized Roman emperor. He preaches the truly divine gospel of the Jewish/Essene Christ, who appeared to him through a revelation.

Traditionally the competing gospel is explained as a rival Jewish or Christian gospel. I believe that, if Paul was fighting this kind of rival gospel, he would have discussed the concrete differences (as there would obviously have been a lot of similarities). In a world dominated by the Romans, Paul was not in a position to openly attack the gospel of the blessings that, according to Roman propaganda, the divinized Roman emperor was proclaimed to bestow on his subjects. To Paul’s informed audience, his covert attack was clear enough.

* Nestle-Aland considers this ‘Christ’ to be ‘of doubtful authenticity’. Some manuscripts give θεός (‘God’).