A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 9

Another Gospel (Gal 1:6-7)

According to the Revised Version Paul here says to the Galatians, “I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel: only there are some that trouble you and would pervert the Gospel of Christ”.

According to that rendering the force of the sentence lies in the pointed antithesis between two Greek words, ἕτερον and ἄλλο: the Galatians have gone over to a gospel which is ἕτερον and not ἄλλο: this expression is taken to mean a gospel which is essentially different, and is not another gospel, i.e., is not a second example of the genus gospel. But that rendering, though widely accepted, rests on a mistaken idea of the meaning of the two Greek words, when contrasted with one another.

We are forced here to enter on a technical point of grammar, viz:, the exact signification of these two Greek words, when their difference is brought emphatically before the reader by close juxtaposition. Those who do not care to read the grammatical discussion on this point may rest assured that, before venturing to differ from so great a scholar as Lightfoot on such a subject, the writer consulted several excellent scholars; and that, since the view here stated as to the force of the two Greek words was first published,1 it has been approved by several distinguished authorities as undeniable.

It is clear that Lightfoot’s usually accurate and thorough sense for Greek language was here misled by a theological theory: he thought that a certain meaning was necessary, and he proceeded to find arguments in its support, declaring that ἕτερος involves a difference of kind and means “unlike,” “opposite,” while ἄλλος implies “one besides,” “another example of the same kind”.

On the contrary, the truth is precisely the opposite. When the two words are pointedly contrasted with one another, ἕτερος means “a second,” “another of the same kind,” “new” (e.g., “a new king succeeds in regular course to the throne”), while ἄλλος implies difference of kind. It is fully acknowledged by every one, and is stated clearly in the ordinary standard lexicons, that each of the two words is susceptible of meaning “different,” and that almost every sense of the one in Greek literature can be paralleled by examples in which the other is used in the same way, so that cases can be quoted in which ἄλλος means “another example of a class,” or in which ἕτερος means “unlike,” “opposite”.

But the point is this: When ἕτερος and ἄλλος are pointedly contrasted with one another, which of the two indicates the greater degree of difference? what is the original and fundamental distinction between them? Our contention is that in such cases, ἕτερος indicates specific difference, ἄλλος generic difference — ἕτερος expresses the slighter difference between two examples of the same class, ἄλλος the broader difference between two distinct classes. Hence Professor F. Blass, in distinguishing the two words as employed in the New Testament,2 says that ἕτερος is in place in the sense of a second division (eine zweite Abtheilung). It would not be grammatically wrong, though it would be harsh and awkward, to write in Greek about a pair of things τὸ μεν ἕτερον ἄλλο ἐστί, “the one is quite different from the other”.

Some examples may be quoted. In Iliad, 13:64, ὄρνεον ἄλλο means “a bird of a different class”;3 and ἕτερον would be hardly conceivable there, as the natural interpretation would be “another bird of the same class,” “a second eagle”. So in Iliad, XXI 22, the fish of other kinds (ἴσχθυες ἄλλοι) are chased by the dolphin; but ἴσχθυες ἕτεροι, would more naturally be applied to dolphins chasing one another in play.

Again, ἑτερόπλους was used to designate an insurance effected on a vessel for the outward, but not for the return voyage, but ἀλλόπλους could not possibly bear that meaning.

Mr. R. A. Neil quotes Thucydides, II 40, 2 f, where ἕτεροις indicates another class of the Athenians (viz., the industrial as distinguished from the military or the statesman class), while ἄλλοις denotes other nations as distinguished from the Athenians. He also refers to Aristotle, Politics, II 5, p. 1263, a. 8, ἕτερον ὄντων τῶν γεωργούντων ἀ̓́λλος ἄν εἴη τρόπος, translating “if the farming class is a distinct sub-class of the general body of citizens, then the form of communism would be quite different (from what it would be if all citizens were farmers)”.

Professor I. Bywater points out that Bonitz recognises the same distinction between ἕτερος λόγος and ἄλλος λόγος in Aristotle, Index Aristotel, p. 290, b. 19.

Mr. A, Souter quotes Plato, Protag., 329D-330B, where ἕτερος indicates the members of a class when all are homogeneous, ἄλλος the members of a class when each differs in kind from the other. Socrates there says — if we may put the meaning in brief — “the different parts of the whole class called gold are not different from one another (οὐδὲν διαφέρει τὰ ἕτερα τῶν ἑτέρων), except in respect of size; but the different parts of the whole class called virtue (i.e., the special virtues) are quite different in character each from the others (ἔσκαστον αὐτῶν ἔστιν ἄλλο, τὸ δὲ ἄλλο4  

Even the derivation of the two words shows clearly what is the fundamental idea in each: ἕτερος, ἕ-τερο-ς, is a comparative degree of the pronominal stem meaning “one” or “same,” while ἄλλος is connected with words in many languages which bear the sense of “other” or “different,” e.g., else in English, alius in Latin.

In later Greek the tendency of these two adjectives to pass into the sense of each other became steadily stronger.

In view of this grammatical investigation and the examples quoted, it is not possible within the limits of the Greek language to admit the translation as advocated by Lightfoot and many others, “a different gospel, which is not another, a second Gospel, i.e., which is not a Gospel at all”.5

This result is not likely to be disputed by any scholar; but it is more difficult to say what is the exact meaning that Paul intended to convey. There are two alternatives;6 and no third seems possible.

The simplest, and perhaps the best, is that which the American revisers give in the margin, deleting the punctuation after ἄλλο: “a different gospel which is nothing else save that there are some that . . . would pervert the Gospel of Christ,” in other words “another Gospel which is merely a perversion of the Gospel”. This is quite good Greek.7 It also gives a perfectly apposite and perfectly Pauline sense, and probably most scholars will prefer it.8 Professor Blass, in a letter to the writer, strongly advocates it.

Another sense — less probable perhaps, but more vigorous and more characteristic of Paul’s habit of compressing his meaning into the fewest words and sometimes straining the force of words — would be to accept the exact punctuation given by Lightfoot and the revisers. Then we should render, “I marvel that you are so quickly going over to another gospel, which is not a different gospel (from mine), except in so far as certain persons pervert the Gospel of Christ”. This is equivalent to “I marvel that you are so quickly going over from the gospel as announced by me to another gospel (as announced by the older Apostles), not that it is really different from mine (for the older Apostles agree with me), except in so far as it is distorted by the emissaries who have been and still are troubling you”.

That exactly expresses Paul’s position. The gospel as preached by him was a ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον from the gospel as preached by the older Apostles, but there was no real difference between them; they were only two practically homogeneous members of the same class. Peter and James agreed with him on every important point. But there were Jews who came as emissaries from Jerusalem, and yet preached a totally different gospel; these are simply distorters and perverters of the Gospel.

The difficulties in the way of this second alternative, which are likely to prevent most scholars from accepting it, are these: —

First, it may be argued that by the time when Paul wrote, the original distinction between the two Greek words had been lost to such a degree that a pointed contrast between them could not have suggested itself to his mind; that would lead to a much more detailed study of the words than has ever been made, a study which would be out of place here.

Secondly, in 2Co 11:4, Paul speaks of ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον, εἰ μὲν γὰρ ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἄλλον Ἰησοῦν, ἄλλο πνεῦμα, using the two adjectives as practically equivalent.


[1] Expositor, Aug., 1895, p. 115 ff, briefly repeated in Expositor, July, 1898, p. 20 ff.

[2] Grammatik des N. T. Griechisch, p. 175 f.

[3] ἀλλόφυλον as the Scholiast explains.

[4] Equivalent to τὸ μὲν ἄλλο, τὸ δὲ ἄλλο: Stallbaum quotes instances of similar omission of τὸ μὲν.

[5] ἕτερον εὐαγγέλιον ὅ οὐκ εστιν ἄλλο εἰ μή τινες, κ.τ.λ.

[6] Both are clearly stated in the articles in Expositor, pp. 118 and 22, quoted above, p. 261.

[7] The construction οὐκ εστιν ἄλλο εἰ μή τινες, κ.τ.λ. is quite correct, and needs no quotation of examples to defend it.

[8] The last seven words are taken verbatim from Expositor, Aug., 1896, p. 118.

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