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
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…”
So, now Paul begins addressing the second
of the two challenges in the Galatian church---paganism,
which was brought in by the gentile converts.
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’”
Bible Commentary, 1976, vol. 10, p. 475).
Paul Condemns PAGAN Observances, NOT observance of God’s
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
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.
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
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
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
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).
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]
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
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
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.
1. Astrological observance: In The
New Bible Commentary: Revised, it twice mentions “astrology” in its discussion of Gal.4:
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.
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