Paul in Galatians 1:8-9 twice warns his readers that those who preach a different gospel are to be accursed ("let him be accursed"). In what way is this life accursed? What does it look like? How is it different from the non-accursed life?

Galatians 3:10 says that "as many as are of the works of the law [as opposed to those who live by faith] are under the curse." Is this different from being accursed?


4 Answers 4


The context of Paul's invective is that "certain men [allegedly] came from James". In other words, they had, or claimed to have James' apostolic sanction, which lead even Peter to acquiesce:

Gal 2:11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. Gal 2:12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. Gal 2:13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.

So Paul counters their credentials with his:

Gal 1:10 For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ. Gal 1:11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. Gal 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The second half of the first chapter and the second are him "out-credentialing" James and the other apostles. And in the verse in question he says that his gospel is not to be countermanded even by an angel. And if any apostle, angel, pope or what have you disagrees with Paul they face God's condemnation.

That is the point of the passage. But what you asked is what the effect might be in more practical terms. Well the giving of the Torah was accompanied by a myriad of terrible things that would happen to the disobedient including mold in your home. If you've ever had mold in your home you realize that God's curses were very practical in nature and dreadful. Who wants mold in their home? Sometimes they even charge you to come out and give you an estimate.

In Romans Paul refers to being "accursed from Christ". In the context of Romans this is referring to the temporary, partial judicial hardening of the Jews so that they would hear but not understand and be healed. Paul is saying that he would forego his own salvation for the salvation of the rest of the Jews. Moses had offered to have his own name blotted out of the book of life if it would mean the survival of the Jews:

Exo 32:29 For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves to day to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day. Exo 32:30 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin. Exo 32:31 And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Exo 32:32 Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin--; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. Exo 32:33 And the LORD said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Exo 32:34 Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them. Exo 32:35 And the LORD plagued the people, because they made the calf, which Aaron made.

Later on in Galatians he speaks of the curses of the law inevitably being invoked by becoming under the law because of an inability to keep the law.


So the curses in view involve the practical troubles promised in the law, them and their children being denied access to the promised land ("cut off"), ignorance of God's salvation and rejection by the saints.

  • The best answer I've seen on this page indicating the everyday practicality of the curse. And +1 for the humor -- "Sometimes they even charge you to come out and give you an estimate."
    – Steve
    Sep 22, 2015 at 12:59
  • @Steve Thanks... my apologies to Woody Allen! goodreads.com/quotes/…
    – user10231
    Sep 22, 2015 at 22:03

The OP asked:

Galatians 3:10 says that "as many as are of the works of the law [as opposed to those who live by faith] are under the curse." Is this different from being accursed [as described in 1:8]?

This question about a possible difference between the sort of curse in Gal 1:8,9 and Gal 3:10 seems to have not been addressed so far. For reference (NA28 | ESV):

Galatians 1:9 (v. 8 similarly)
εἴ τις ὑμᾶς εὐαγγελίζεται παρ᾿ ὃ παρελάβετε, ἀνάθεμα ἔστω.

If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Galatians 3:10
Ὅσοι γὰρ ἐξ ἔργων νόμου εἰσίν, ὑπὸ κατάραν εἰσίν· γέγραπται γὰρ ὅτι ἐπικατάρατος πᾶς ὃς οὐκ ἐμμένει πᾶσιν τοῖς γεγραμμένοις....

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written...

There are indeed two different expressions here translated “[ac]cursed”.

  1. ὑπὸ κατάραν....ἐπικατάρατος (3:10)
    As noted in another answer (which appears to mistakenly consider it an example of ἀνάθεμα), this is a reference to Deuteronomy 27:26 (Rahlfs | BHS):

    Επικατάρατος πᾶς ἄνθρωπος, ὃς οὐκ ἐμμενεῖ ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς λόγοις τοῦ νόμου τούτου τοῦ ποιῆσαι αὐτούς·...
    ...אָר֗וּר אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹא־יָקִ֛ים אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הַתּוֹרָֽה־הַזֹּ֖את לַעֲשׂ֣וֹת אוֹתָ֑ם

    Here, as with nearly all 40 times the word is used in the LXX, it translates the Hebrew ʾārûr.1 The passive participle ʾārûr is used primarily in the “ʾārûr formula": "ʾārûr is X" or "ʾārûr is the one who...”. This forms the semantic opposite of the blessing formula using bārûk. Jenni-Westerman explain the meaning:

    The ʾārûr formula has a double function. First, it designates a particular person...as ʾārûr, i.e., it covers the person with disaster through the medium of the effectual word.... Second....it creates a curse zone, i.e., a potential disaster sphere, into which the one who commits the deed named in the formula enters... 2,3

    In its New Testament usage, the meaning of επικατάρατοςis generally extended from the “effectual word” of the one speaking as a statement that the individual is already condemned by God or are under threat of condemnation.4

    The nature of the coherence between the first and second statements of the curse in 3:10 is a matter of much debate and is beyond the scope of this answer. The basic options are that the first statement is meant to indicate that those under the law are cursed because (1) no one can keep the law perfectly; or (2) one cannot, in any case, be justified by works of the law. F.F. Bruce discusses this in considerable detail and finally favors the latter.5

    Regardless of how one synthesizes 3:10, the meaning of "ἐπικατάρατος" is closely tied up with 3:13 where Paul cites Deut 21:23 (LXX: κεκατηραμένος; Paul changes this to ἐπικατάρατος) to support his contention that Christ redeemed believers from this curse, γενόμενος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν κατάρα (by becoming a curse for us). This "exchange curse" is central to Paul's understanding of the notion of ἐπικατάρατος.

  2. ἀνάθεμα (Gal. 1:8-9)
    This term been addressed in prior answers. For completeness, I note that, like ἐπικατάρατος, ἀνάθεμα6 has a consistent LXX correspondent: the Hebrew ḥērem. This is a technical expression describing something that has been taken out of common usage and dedicated to the LORD for destruction, a "ban gift". This can at times be applied to people, with a complicated variety of specific implications. People disagree on the extent to which Paul's usage of ἀνάθεμα carries the idea of ḥērem. Regardless,

    the controlling thought [in Paul's use of ἀνάθεμα] is that of delivering up to the judicial wrath of God one who ought to be ἀνάθεμα because of his sin. 7

    Galatians 1:8 shares with most of the usages in the Pauline corpus a volitional mood (let him be accursed). Paul is following a curse formula known in ancient Greek literature, both in the political and personal realms, an "official conditional curse", expressed using the imperative or optative mood.8 The conditional nature means that it will be activated only if a wrong is committed.

    [C]onditional curses act as a deterrent against behavior perceived as a threat to society or the political order.9

    The basic gist is that of a prohibition.

The uses of “accursed” in Galatians 1:8,9 and 3:10, then, share the idea of God’s condemnation on the one so labeled, but they have distinct backgrounds. Galatians 1:8,9 echo an ancient Greek formula used as a deterrent to aberrant behavior. Galatians 3:10 invokes the ʾārûr formula of the Hebrew Bible, announcing divinely sourced disaster.10

1. In turn, the 41 instances of ʾārûr are translated in every instance by επικατάρατος or a related form.

2. For an elaborate example of what the life of one who is ʾārûr looks like (courtesy of J-W, below), see Deut 28:15–68.

3. C. A. Keller, “ארר,” Jenni & Westermann (eds), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament [TLOT], (Hendrickson Publishers, 1990).

4. “ἐπικατάρατος,” Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996).

5. F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: a Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982).

6. In ancient Greek and occasionally in the LXX, alternatively spelled ἀνάθημα.

7. Behm, “ἀνατίθημι,” *Theological Dictionary of the New Tesatment, Kittel & Friedrich (eds), 1:353–56.

8. Although it may not be obvious in English, this contrasts with the Greek of Gal 3:10 and the usual structure of the ʾārûr formula, which is that of a noun clause ("cursed [is] the one..."), not (at least explicitly) a volitional construction, and more often construed as a pronouncement.

9. "Oaths, Curses,” Kyriaki Konstantinidou. From Encyclopedia of Ancient Greek Language and Linguistics, Georgios K. Giannakis (ed), Brill online, accessed 09/26/2015.

10. Another way to think about the difference between ἀνάθεμα and ἐπικατάρατος, at least insofar as the terms follow their Hebrew counterparts, is to consider their antonyms. The opposite of ἐπικατάρατος/ʾārûr is blessed (barûk=εὐλογητὸς). On the other hand, ἀνάθεμα/ḥērem (within the realm of sacred) forms a contrast with holy (qōdeš=ἅγιος) in one plane and profane (ḥôl=βέβηλος) in another.


The Greek here is anathema which in the New Testament had a specific meaning of "something dedicated to evil and thus accursed." In later Christian usage, it gradually took on an association with excommunication.

In Galatians 1:8-9, Paul curses ("let that one be accursed") anyone who preaches the Galatians a gospel different to that taught by Paul himself. Paul seems to have the view that whichever missionary founded a church has proprietary rights as to what is henceforth taught in that church. By contrast, when Paul wrote to the Romans, a church that he did not found and only wished to visit briefly on his way to Spain, he was at pains to demonstrate to the Romans that his teachings about Jesus Christ were in accordance with their own. In Romans 15:20, "so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:" This was Paul's quid pro quo.

In Galatians 3:10, Paul is defending his teaching against the Jewish law code. In Galatians 3:1-4, Paul calls the Galatians stupid because they have been informed that Jesus was crucified, and should have faith in what they heard, not in supposed benefits in observing the law. In the second part of verse 3:10, Paul is quoting from Deuteronomy 27:26, which is part of a long list of Mosaic curses. Christopher D. Stanley says, in 'Paul's "Use" of Scripture: Why the Audience Matters', published in As It Is Written (edited by Porter and Stanley), page 150, the primary problem is the apparent conflict between the wording of the quotation and Paul's assertion in the first part of the verse. Where Deuteronomy pronounces a curse on the person who does not continually follow the requirements of Torah, Paul appears to apply the curse to those who seek to comply with the laws of Torah. Stanley says the cited verse fails to support Paul's assertion (and could, in fact, be read as upholding the views of his opponents).

In another context, Paul says (Romans 9:3): "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh."

In each case, Paul was not talking about a different life. In the first case he was symbolically placing a curse on anyone who crosses him, in the second he was clumsily quoting from Deuteronomy in order to support his teaching against Jewish law, and in the third case he was wishing himself accursed, thereby forfeiting his salvation, if that would bring about the salvation of his fellow-Jews.

  • The Greek here is anathema which in the Septuagint and the New Testament had a specific meaning of "something dedicated to evil and thus accursed." <---- Source?
    – user862
    Jan 23, 2015 at 5:52
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 Thanks for pointing that out. I spent so much time creating links for each Bible reference, but forgot that one. Good work. Jan 23, 2015 at 6:09
  • Can you cite an instance in the LXX where anathema means "something dedicated to evil and thus accursed"?
    – user862
    Jan 23, 2015 at 7:15
  • @H3br3wHamm3r81 I put this in because the Wikipedia article I cited says so - although I know it usually means almost the opposite. Since this is only about Galatians, and therefore only about the NT, I have removed this reference, rather than put my mind around what the Wiki author intended. Jan 23, 2015 at 11:40
  • 1
    @DickHarfield I think you need to look again at the meaning of ἀνάθεμα it carries the sense of being 'consecrated' when used negatively as here the idea is of 'irredeemably consecrated to destruction' rather then 'dedicated to evil' see from example Friberg or Thayer Jun 23, 2015 at 12:55

Consider the statement "let God be true and every man a liar" (Romans 3:4). This is not saying God should be true, but a fact. In the same sense, let him be accursed is not referring to the church cursing someone, but a statement of fact. Consider also Romans 9:3 "I could wish myself accursed." Accursed is to be under judgment of God and would not necessarily manifest a difference in this life. In Galatians 3:10, the latter half of the verse explains the curse he refers to:

Galatians 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

It is a quote form the book of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 11:3-5 And say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, 4 Which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God: 5 That I may perform the oath which I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. Then answered I, and said, So be it, O Lord.

In I cor. 16:22 the expression is used in conjunction with Maranatha indicating the judgement of Christ at His return.

1 Corinthians 16:22 If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.

  • This is not really answering the question, which is about what being accursed is, but thanks for stopping by!
    – Steve
    Jul 25, 2014 at 0:43
  • I thought the being under the curse of God would answer it; however if it is asking what it looks like, there is often no visible evidence of being cursed or under a curse. They are simply lost.
    – Liam
    Aug 10, 2014 at 22:59
  • I think you're just one step from a good answer, but you're missing a concluding summary of your answer. It's too spread out in your answer requiring the reader to piece it together. Put it together for us please.
    – Joshua
    Apr 25, 2015 at 14:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.