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You observe days”   (Galatians 4: 9-10)

     The writings of Paul have long been used to try to justify the false contention that the Sabbath and annual holy days of God have been done away.  One such passage written by Paul is found in his letter to the church in Galatia.

     Prior to examining that passage in Galatians chapter 4, let’s first understand that there were two key challenges to the church in Galatia.   The first challenge was Judaism.1     Some, who were judaizers, falsely taught that the Galatians needed to be circumcised.   Judaism (which is a perversion of the religion of the Old Testament) said that “righteousness” was defined by circumcision and by ritualistic worship.  Yet, Paul summarized his argument against this Judaistic teaching by stating that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything…”  (Gal.6: 15).1

     Now, the church in Galatia was composed mostly of members from a gentile (rather than a Jewish) background.2,3,4      However, Galatians chapter 4 begins by addressing the minority of the Galatian church who were Jewish converts to Christianity.

     Paul himself was a Jew.   So when he addressed these Jewish converts, he used the term “we.”   An example of this is seen in verse 3 of chapter 4, where Paul says, “Even so we, when we were children…” 1,5     (Incidentally, the “bondage” spoken of in verse 3 refers to the bondage of Judaism  [see subheading "A Second Reason"].)

     Verse 5 shows that through Christ’s sacrifice, the Jewish converts were redeemed from being "under the law"---i.e., redeemed from being under the penalty of the law---redeemed from the death penalty, a penalty which all mankind has incurred because of our sinning. 6           

     Yes, Paul began chapter 4 by speaking to the Jewish Christians (addressing them as “we”);  then, in verse 6, he begins addressing the gentile converts ---and addresses them as “you,” as is clearly seen in verse 8, where Paul says, “But then, indeed, when you did not know God…” 1,5

     So, now Paul begins addressing the second of the two challenges in the Galatian church---paganism, which was brought in by the gentile converts.

 

 

      One school of thought is that the problem in Galatia was actually not a dual problem of Judaism and paganism, but rather one major problem---Gnosticism!   This may well have been the case, in light of the fact that it is well known that Gnosticism was the problem addressed by Paul in his letter to the Colossian church---and the Colossian letter was written only about ten years after this Galatian letter, and the province of Galatia was less than fifty miles from Colossae. 2

     Yet, regardless of whether the problem in Galatia was Gnosticism or that of a dual problem of Judaism and paganism, the fact remains that the Galatian church was composed mostly of gentile converts---which is the key to understanding the main passage in question, Gal.4:9-10.

    

      Before proceeding, let’s consider some proofs that this church in Galatia was mostly gentile converts.

 

 

Galatia Mostly a GENTILE Church

     Notice Paul’s statement in chapter 2:   “…when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised [gentiles] had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised [Jews] was to Peter” (verse 7).   Now, verse 2:  “And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles…”    Finally, notice verse 9:  “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”

     Also, elsewhere in his letter to the Galatians, Paul made it plain that those being addressed were uncircumcised (Gal.5:2; 6:12). 

 

                                                             

PAGANISM of the Gentiles

     The gentile converts in Galatia, prior to their conversion, had always engaged in pagan religious practices. 

     Lystra was a city in Galatia. 2     Acts 14: 8-18 relates the story of Paul’s healing of a crippled man in this Galatian city.  After the healing, the Galatians there began worshipping Paul and Barnabas as the pagan deities Hermes and Zeus (verses 11-13).     “…they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them” (verse 18). 

     Furthermore, going back to Galatians chapter 4, Paul makes it plain that prior to their conversion, these Gentile converts had not known God:  “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods” (verse 8).   This refers “clearly to the idols of paganism, which, in typical Jewish idiom, Paul terms ‘not gods’”  (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1976, vol. 10, p. 475).

 

 

Paul Condemns PAGAN Observances, NOT observance of God’s Holy Days

     Now that we’ve firmly established that the Galatian church consisted mostly of gentile converts, who formerly engaged in pagan religious practices, let’s now resume our examination of chapter four. 

     We saw that Paul begins his address to the gentile converts in verse 6 (and he continues addressing them through at least verse 12).   So, now let’s examine this section of chapter 4 that is the focal point of our discussion.

     Notice verse 10:  “You observe days and months and seasons and years.”   Is Paul, here, condemning the converts in Galatia for observing the Sabbath and annual holy days?   That’s what most people today believe!   Yet, the following five points will reveal otherwise.

 

(1)  Notice that verse ten does NOT say, “You observe the Sabbath and annual holy days.”   In fact, nowhere in the entire book of Galatians do we find the words “Sabbath,” Sabbaths,” “holy days,” “festival,” “feast,” or any such related word. 2

 

(2)  Note that Paul was condemning these converts for returning to their former practices.  This is clearly seen by reading verses 8-10:  “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.  But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?   You observe days and months and seasons and years.”

      Yes, Paul was condemning them for turning again to their former practices; and we’ve already seen that their former religious practice was that of paganism!   They were returning to pagan religious practices, including the observance of certain days and months and seasons and years.   (Later, we will look at some of these pagan religious days.)

 

(3)  In chapter 4, Paul speaks quite a bit on the subject of bondage versus freedom (as he also does in chapter 5, verse one).   In fact, we just read in verse 9 of chapter 4 where Paul said that they desired again to be in bondage.

     So, what was this “bondage” that Paul was referring to?   “He [Paul] would be thinking of a demonic bondage in which the Galatians had indeed been held prior to the proclamation of the gospel…The ultimate contrast to freedom in Christ is bondage to Satan and the evil spirits”  (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1976, vol. 10, p. 472, in their comments on Galatians chapter four). 

     The following passages speak, not of being in bondage to God’s law, but of being in bondage to sin and Satan:  Rom.6:16; II Peter 2:19; John 8:33-34.   Likewise, Paul says that “we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom.6:6) ---and compare that to Paul’s comment in Gal.4:7, where he says, “you are no longer a slave but a son.”

     No, Paul was not speaking of bondage to God’s law.  James spoke of the law as “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25).   And what did John say?   He said that “His [God’s] commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:3).

 

(4)  Paul, just a couple verses later, urges the Galatians to become as he was.  “I beg of you, brethren, become as I am…”  (verse 12, NASV).    So, instead of observing these days and times spoken of in verse 10, Paul says that they should do as he did---and the Bible plainly shows that Paul kept the Sabbath and the annual holy days!  [see point "(4)" of this hyperlinked article]

 

(5)  Regarding the passage in question, Paul condemned the Galatians for observing “days and months.”   Here, he could not possibly have been speaking of the Sabbath and holy days, since there are no “months” that God’s law commands to be observed!

     However, there were “months” observed in pagan religious practices.  For instance, the so-called Greek gods had certain months set aside as sacred: April and Oct. for Apollo; Feb. and June for Zeus; January for Bacchus; and many others.   Furthermore, certain years were set apart for idolatrous feasts.5

     Also, notice that in verse 10, Paul condemns them for keeping “seasons” (or “times,” as it’s rendered in the KJV).   Again, God’s law does not command the keeping of “times.”   In fact, the keeping of “times” is prohibited in God’s law!   “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch” (Deut.18:10, KJV).  “Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times” (Lev.19:26, KJV).

     The observance of “times” was a heathen practice, often associated with astrology. 1,5    A fourth century Catholic bishop named Chrysostom admits that these superstitious “times” were pagan customs practiced even in his day (in the fourth century) by those who professed Christianity.   He said, “Many were superstitiously addicted to divination…In celebration of these times [they] set up lamps in the marketplace, and crown their doors with garlands”  (Bingham’s Antiquities of the Christian Church, pp. 1123-1124). 1,5

      These pagan observances also took note of many supposedly “lucky” and “unlucky” days. 1    And, compare that to Paul’s condemnation of certain “days” being kept by these gentiles.  Even today, these practices persist in such superstitions as “fear of Friday the 13th” and the following of one’s horoscope, which predicts good and bad “days.” 1

 

  

Conclusion

      In conclusion, it should be very plain that in Gal.4:9-10, Paul is not condemning the observance of God’s holy days.   Rather, he is correcting those gentile converts who were returning to pagan practices of observing days, months, times, and years.

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

Notes:

1.  Astrological observance:    In The New Bible Commentary: Revised, it twice mentions “astrology” in its discussion of Gal.4: 8-11. 

2.  “You observe….years:   “The assumption of non-Sabbatarians is that the ‘years’ referred to here [in verse 10] are the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.  However, the Jubilee year was not being observed anywhere in Paul’s day, and the Sabbatical year was not being observed in areas outside Palestine (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 14, page 582, and Jewish Encyclopedia, page 666, ‘Sabbatical year and Jubilee’).   Since Galatia is in Asia Minor, far outside Palestine, it is highly unlikely that this refers to the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.” 2

3.  For further information on point number 5 above, see p. 12 of reference number 5 below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

1. “Questions & Answers,” Tomorrow’s World, May-June 2002, p. 9 

2. “Does Galatians 4 condemn Sabbath and Holy Day observance?” Scott Ashley, In Transition, July 21, 1995

3. “Glory to the Newborn King?” Thomas E. Robinson, The World Ahead, Nov.-Dec. 1997

4. “The Sabbath in the New Testament---COMMANDED or CONDEMNED?” L. Leroy Neff, The Good News, August 1983

5. “Which Days Should We Observe?” The Good News, June-July 1986

6.  Personal Correspondence Department letter #137, Living Church of God