1. 1 Corinthians 12:3, "No man speaking in the Spirit of God saith, Jesus is anathema." Here the apostle, no doubt, refers to the manner in which the unbelieving Jews allowed themselves, already then, to speak of our Lord. Clearly they meant thereby more than merely "excommunicate," which palliated sense some have endeavoured to give to "anathema;" they cannot be supposed to have intended less than an object which merited that utter extinction to which he who was cherem was under the Law doomed: their blaspheming thought, no doubt, taking into its view not this world only, but that also which is to come.
2. Romans 9:3, "I could pray that I myself were anathema from Christ for my brethren's sake." The reader naturally casts about to find some qualification to give to an utterance which seems at first sight to express a wish such as one who loved Christ so ardently as Paul did could not possibly have entertained. Yet the' words, "anathema from Christ," can mean nothing less than being separated from Christ by a curse consigning him to perdition. The desiderated qualification must be sought in the phrase, "I could pray;" this renders an imperfect verb (ηὐχόμην), which expresses a turn of thought similar to that denoted in the (ἤθελον), "I could wish," of Galatians 4:20, on which see note. In each case the tense betokens a mere glance (so to speak) of wish which is instantly withdrawn.
3. 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If any man loveth not the Lord, let him be anathema." Here, too, the notion of Church excommunication, whether by formal exclusion or by the withdrawal of brotherly recognition, is not satisfactory. The Israelite notion of being anathema, cherem, points to a no mere negation, but to a condition of positive accursedness linked with exposure to utter destruction. Moreover the apostle refers to a man's interior sentiments with respect to Christ - a matter not within the cognisance of human judgments. Who can in many cases, or perhaps in any, determine whether another loves Christ or not? It is in truth a warning against a soul's disloyalty to the Lord Jesus, clothing itself in the form of an execration - an execration which, it is true, is an impetuous flashing forth of the apostle's own flaming sense of what is due to Christ from every human being, but which is nowise chargeable with extravagance. Its perfect justness, as well as the verification which awaits it in the future judgment, is evinced, as by other considerations, so also by our Lord's own words in Matthew 25:41-46.
4. Acts 23:14, "We have bound ourselves under a great curse;" literally, "We have anathematized [or, 'solemnly bound'] ourselves with anathema (ἀναθέματι ἀνεθεματίσαμεν ἑαυτούς)." They had sat, I, no doubt, some such words as these: "May we be anathema if we taste aught till we have killed Paul!" with which we may conjoin Mark 14:71, "He began to pronounce a curse (ἀναθεματίζειν) and to swear" - not, to be sure, pronouncing a curse upon Jesus, but wishing himself to be anathema if he knew that Man. There can be little doubt that the anathema in both these cases involved a reference to eternal perdition. That no less is intended by the term in the present verse and, therefore, also in that next to it, is further proved by reference to the hypothetical "angel from heaven" who should be found preaching a different gospel. Being anathema must involve for such a one excision from the kingdom of light, together with whatever destruction properly attends thereupon. What, it will be asked, is the precise force of the "let him be," both here and in 1 Corinthians 16:22? It cannot denote less than a complacent satisfied acquiescence. The apostle-prophet not only foresees that, at the final judgment, such will be the doom of the wilful perverter of the gospel, but foresees it with a mind at one with the Judge who shall pronounce it; he can himself desire, he does desire, no ether. It is his loyal sympathy with Christ as Saviour, as caring for the souls of men, that prompts him to proclaim aloud for the warning of the false teachers themselves as well as for the warning of those inclined to hearken to their false teaching, his own solemn Amen to the terrible sentence awaiting them. But if so, why not allow the imperative its full force, and understand the utterance as an imperative? It is granted that the apostle was apt at times to be carried away by the fervid impetuosity of his feelings, even when writing, to the utterance of words which in calmer mood he would be ready to a certain extent to retract. We have a clear example of such retractation in 1 Corinthians 6:4, 5 (see note below on Galatians 5:12). But, in the case before us, that the vehemence of the apostle's language is a deliberate vehemence, and no mere momentary outburst of excited feeling, is proved by the solemn measured iteration in the next verse. And if we suppose, what seems to be most probable, that that verse refers to a similar denunciation uttered among the Galatians a good while before, the proof is all the stronger that his language is no sudden exorbitancy of passionate emotion, but expresses an abiding sentiment. We are to remember that it is the very substance of the gospel which the apostle feels to be assailed. The gospel, he knew, both by inspired insight and by his own experience, to be "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth. "Of this gospel Christ had himself declared that "he that believed it should be saved, and he that disbelieved it should be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Wherein does "being anathema" differ from "being condemned"? And if the disbelieving "shall be condemned," can a less guiltiness be supposed to attach to one who not only disbelieved the gospel himself, but was also plucking it out of the hearts of others and palming off upon them instead a false gospel which was no salvation? "But could St. Paul, being such a lover of souls as he was, imprecate a doom of perdition to fall upon any soul of man?" Absolutely, we may say he could not; but conditionally, he might, and that in perfect consistency with his usual habits of feeling - conditionally, on the supposition, that is, that the sin was not repented of and forsaken. It was his very love of souls that would impel him thus to speak, not only on behalf of the souls which the bringer-in of a false doctrine might destroy, but on behalf of the deceiver's own self. He pronounces the doom in order to deter and thus save. We have to remember, too, that the apostle is not, at the dictate of his own passionate zeal for the truth, constituting either a new sin or a new measure of penalty. He simply, as prophet and apostle, utters forth the mind of him who is Lawgiver and Judge. This last consideration suggests the limits within which only can the apostle's action in this matter be regarded as an example for imitation. It is lawful to us to recite, as the Church of England speaks in her Commination Office: "the general sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners gathered out of Scripture" - and by "general sentences" we are to understand sentences pronounced upon classes of offenders, not sentences upon individual persons, to whom we may conjecture them to be applicable. It is lawful also to us individually and right, that we should add to the utterance of each sentence our hearty "Amen," and thus take part with God and his Law, not only against sins committed by our neighbours, but most especially and above all against wilful transgressions of our own. But beyond this, none who are not special organs of inspiration may venture to go, whether acting individually or in any corporate capacity. An anathema is a bolt of doom such as the Almighty alone can fashion or make operative; and we are invading the Divine prerogative and working mischief and peril for ourselves if, on the one hand, we venture to enlarge and make more specific than he has done his "general sentences of cursing," or, on the other, dilute the force of these solemn warnings of his, and treat them with disregard.
(1) there is no indication either in this passage or anywhere that the apostle regarded his life before his conversion as characterized by the desire to please men;
(2) with the sense thus given to it, the thought, as Meyer observes, seems excessively tame;
(3) as thus explained, it would not harmonize with the apostle's explicit and repeated declaration that, in the discharge of his high office, he did make a point of pleasing men.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:50 "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, neither doth corruption inherit incorruption;"
(2) Hebrews 2:14, "Since the children are sharers in flesh and blood [the Revised Greek text reads 'blood and flesh '], he also himself in like manner partook of the same;"
(3) Ephesians 6:12, "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against... the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places;"
(4) Matthew 16:17, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." In the first two of these passages the phrase denotes the bodily nature of men viewed as subject to mortality; which is the turn of thought also in Ecclus. 14:18, where the human race is styled a "generation of flesh and blood." In the other two it denotes human beings themselves, described by their material nature, but with reference to their comparative inefficiency as viewed alongside, in
(3) with purely spiritual agents; in
(4) with God. In precisely the same way as in the last-cited passage, the apostle uses the phrase here. Knowing that God had himself revealed in him his Son, in order that he should proclaim him among the Gentiles, he at that crisis of action felt any reference for teaching or practical direction to mere men to be in his case altogether unnecessary. As the next clause specifies the older apostles, who are mentioned as being at that time at Jerusalem, it may be that the phrase, "flesh and blood," in its most immediate scope, contemplates believers or elders (for probably there already were Christian elders there) of Damascus. Ananias is the only Damascene believer named in the history, though it speaks of others (Acts 9:19); he was a man of remarkably high estimation even amongst the unbelieving Jews (Acts 22:12), and he had been honoured by Christ with a special vision, and sent by Christ on a special mission to Saul. If Saul had felt it to be incumbent upon him to advise with any servant of Christ, whether as to what he should believe or as to what he should do, surely to Ananias he would naturally have looked. But not even to an Ananias would Saul refer for guidance at this juncture. The sense which has frequently been given, to the phrase," flesh and blood," as meaning "the dictates of one's own fleshly nature," is neither favoured by its use in any other passage (although "the flesh," standing alone, might have admitted of such an interpretation), nor is it in any way suggested by the tenor of the context. The apostle is here dealing solely with his relations to other men.