Chapter 4: Galatians 4:10,11

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. -- Galatians 4:10-11

The book of Galatians was possibly Paul's earliest Epistle. A plausible date for writing it is about A.D. 49 -- just before the Jerusalem conference recorded in Acts 15. This would mean the book was written from Antioch just before Paul attended the conference. Jerusalem Christians had arrived in Antioch contending that unless the Gentile believers were circumcised and lived in subjection to the law like Christian Jews, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1). Some of these Christian Judaizers had also gone to Galatia and had persuaded Paul's converts that they must be circumcised and observe "days and months and seasons and years" (Galatians 4:10, cf. 5:2-3).

Paul, who has already been involved in the "law" controversy at Antioch, is indignant when he receives the report that Jewish Christian agitators had infiltrated the churches in Galatia. His letter to the Galatians is his most vehement defense of his apostleship and of his gospel. It has been called the Magna Charta of Christian liberty.

In chapter one Paul defends his apostleship. He declares that he was not commissioned to preach by the Jerusalem apostles, but by Christ Himself. The infiltrators had obviously ascribed superiority to the Jerusalem church and its apostles. No doubt they argued that since all the apostles were circumcised and observed the Jewish sacred calendar, why should not the Galatian Christians follow their example?

In chapter two Paul tells the Galatians that when the Jewish Christians demanded that his co-laborer, Titus, be circumcised he refused to yield to their demand. In this he had support of the Jerusalem apostles (Galatians 2:2-5). The Titus incident proves that the infiltrators were not telling the truth. The apostles had not decreed that the Gentiles should be circumcised. Paul then proceeds to relate the incident at Antioch in which Peter had been bold enough to set aside the law and participate in table fellowship with Gentiles. But when his more conservative Jerusalem brethren who "came from James" arrived in Antioch, Peter broke off table fellowship with the Gentile brethren. His example influenced other Jewish Christians, including Barnabas, to do the same (Galatians 2:11-13).

Paul relates how upset he was over this hypocrisy and how he rebuked Peter to his face for a course of action when denied the gospel (Galatians 2:14). In this context of confrontation with Peter, Pul then launches into the theme of justification by faith apart from the works of the law. His point is essentially that the law cannot justify anyone before God but can only curse and condemn. If anyone relies on keeping the law for acquittal on the day of judgment, he denies the gospel and makes Christ's death of none effect (Galatians 2:16-21). There are two important things to notice in Paul's argument at this point:

He shifts his argument away from circumcision in particular to the law in general. All parties in the circumcision dispute well understood that circumcision was merely a sign or token of subjection to the law (Romans 2:25; Galatians 5:3). The real issue was whether Gentile believers should submit to the yoke of the Jewish law.

The word law (nomos), repeatedly used in Galatians 2-4, is the Greek counter-part of the Old Testament word Torah. It does not refer exclusively to the ceremonial law or exclusively to the moral law. It means the entire law or legal system which was given to Israel through the Mosaic administration (see Galatians 3:10-13, 17, 19, 24-25; 4:21-22, where it is manifestly impossible to restrict the term "law" to either ceremonies or ethical precepts).

We today may make a distinction between moral and ceremonial law, and this distinction may be theologically valid. But we should not assume that the men of Bible times used our modern thought forms. To the Jew there were 613 commandments in the Torah, and they were all regarded as moral duties since they were commanded by God. Nowhere does Paul give us a formula or a list to inform us which Old Testament laws are moral and which are ceremonial. (2) Galatians 2-4 is concerned with the entire corpus of law embodied in the Jewish legal system.

There are two reasons why it is vital to see that Paul embraces the law as a whole:

It is essential to his argument about justification by the work of Christ alone. If we suppose that Paul merely has the ritual law in view, we could conclude that, while keeping the ritual law plays no part in our acceptance with God on the day of judgment, keeping the moral law does.(3) But we gain nothing if we run from the bear of ritualism only to be met by the lion of moralism. Salvation by a good character can be a more subtle form of legalism than salvation by ritualism. By using the word law to include the entire law, Paul excludes all legalism.

The wholistic use-of the word law is vital to Paul's entire approach to Christian ethics. The Jerusalem infiltrators apparently thought they could be selective with the law. But Paul was too logical and too good a theologian to allow this. Even his rabbinical training had taught him that a breach of one part of the law was a breach of all of it. (4) He knew that the law pronounces a curse on those who fail to keep it in its entirety:

"All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law" (Galatians 3:10). Since circumcision is a token of. accepting the yoke of the law, Paul presses this point with ruthless logic: "Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law" (Galatians 5:3). If the law must be kept, it must be kept in its entirety -- all or nothing. The other side of the argument is equally valid. If any part of the law is abolished, it is all abolished -- again all or nothing. (5)

The Jerusalem infiltrators had doubtless urged reverence for the law on the ground of its great antiquity. Was it not given on Sinai at the birth of the Hebrew nation? Paul, however, meets this argument by showing that his gospel can claim even greater antiquity. "The gospel", he says, was "announced ... in advance to Abraham", 430 years before the giving of the law (Galatians 3:8, 17). Moreover, the inheritance was based on a gracious promise rather than on a reward for keeping the law (Galatians 3:16-18; cf. Romans 4:13-16).

The question naturally arises: Why was the law necessary at all if the covenant of promise was complete 430 years before the dispensation of the law began? Paul answers that the law was an emergency and temporary measure until the coming of the Messianic age:

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promised referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator. A mediator, however does not represent just one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, the righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. -- Galatians 3:19-25

Even as a rabbi, Paul had learned that the age of law was to be succeeded by the age of the Messiah. (6)

If the "Days of the Messiah" have commenced, those of the Torah came to their close. On the other hand, if the Law, the Torah, still retained its validity, it was proclaimed thereby that the Messiah had not yet arrived. (7)

In Galatians 3:24 Paul likens the law to the Greek paidagogos, which is variously translated "schoolmaster" (KJV), "tutor" (NASB, NEB), "custodian" (RSV), "guardian" (Beck, Jerusalem). These terms do not all accurately reflect the meaning of paidagogos. In an excellent essay on "The Law as Paidagogos", J.W. MacGroman says:

The term represents a combination of two Greek words: pais meaning "boy" and agogos, "leader". Thus it literally means boy-leader. It designated the man, usually a household slave, to whom the father of Graeco-Roman society entrusted the upbringing of his son. He attended the boy wherever he went, providing the needs, guidance, and protection. He exercised constant oversight of him from childhood to maturity and had authority to administer discipline as required. He took the boy to the schoolmaster (didaskalos) but was not the teacher himself. A.W.F. Blunt indicated that he was generally represented on vases and the like with a stick in his hand. In the school situation this made certain that the boy had a mind for learning. His task was to see to it that the boy negotiated the years from childhood to manhood in such a way as to be ready to take his place in society as a mature and responsible person. (8)

MacGorman goes on to show that in one of Socrates' dialogues:

The paidagogos was the slave whom a well-to-do man had placed in charge of his son. He was to continue in this responsibility until the son attained the desired level of maturity and wisdom. He was not the teacher but rather took the boy to his teacher (didaskaloi). However, this one task should not be overdrawn to obscure the fact that he exercised a general supervision of the boy.

There is no English word that adequately translates paidagogos, for no one in our culture performs his function. The choice either remains to transliterate the word with a brief marginal explanation or to settle for some functionally descriptive term that is only an approximation. If the latter course is chosen, preference should be given to the terms that are custodial (e.g., "custodian", "guardian", "attendant",) rather than educative (e.g. "schoolmaster", "tutor", "instructor", or even "pedagogue").

Not only does this seem more consonant with the role of the paidagogos in ancient Graeco-Roman society, but also it draws support from the immediate context in Galatians. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:23, "Before this faith came, we were being kept under guard by the law, being confined unto the faith that was about to be revealed" (author's translation). The verb translated we were being kept under guard" (phroureo) was used in Philippians 4:7 to mean "guard" in a protective sense. But here it means "guard" in the sense of holding in custody. This is confirmed by the following participle, "being confined" (sugkleio menoi), which occurs in the New Testament in a restrictive sense only. Thus Paul taught that before Christ came they were being held in custody under the law. It was in this connection that he introduced the analogy of the paidagogos to portray the function of the law (Galatians 3:24-25).

Additional support for this interpretation is found in Galatians 4:1-7, where Paul likened the law to the guardians and trustees appointed to the custody of a minor child. Though destined to receive the full inheritance at the time set by the father, the son differed nothing from a slave during the years of his nonage. Once again in the application of the analogy to redemptive history, the coming of Christ marked the end of the law's guardianship: "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Bertram added, "Sonship as immediacy to the Father is rather different from dependence on even the best pedagogue."

And what of the law now? It has fulfilled its purpose nobly. Men who have been justified by faith in Christ and who have entered upon their full inheritance as sons no longer have need of the restrictive custody of the law. The attempt of the Judaizers to extend the tenure of the paidagogos beyond the time of Christ's coming was to lose sight of the law's provisional status and preparatory function. It was to nullify the grace of God and to render meaningless the death of Christ on the cross (Galatians 2:21). (10)

Whereas Galatians 3:24 likens the temporary nature of the law to a paidagogos, Galatians 4:1-7 likens it to the guardians and trustees of an infant son:

What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

Just as we must govern and discipline our little children by all kinds of rules and regulations ("Be in bed by nine o'clock," "Don't leave the yard unless you tell us where you are going," 'Eat all your vegetables before dessert, " etc. ), so the fledgling Hebrew nation, designated as God's little son (Hosea 11:1-4), had to be governed and disciplined by all kinds of arbitrary rules and regulations laid down by Moses. Paul says that this subjection to the law was a kind of "slavery under the basic principles of the world" (Galatians 4:3). The word translated "basic principles" is from the Greek word stoicheia, which means "elements." The New International Version evidently takes the expression to mean elementary regulations, rudimentary rules, ABC's or kindergarten stuff. (11) The Mosaic law bound the Jew to regulations about food and drink, holy days and feast days, places of worship, planting and tilling, borrowing and repaying. Luther even says that Moses "goes so far that some of the prescriptions are to be regarded as foolish and useless.(12) Perhaps this comment is too harsh, but Paul's estimate of the strictures of the law is not much better. In Galatians 4:9 he dares to call them "weak and miserable stoicheia."

Of course, all this was a severe slap in the face for the Jewish-Christian infiltrators and their doting listeners. The false teachers had no doubt presented their "gospel" of. subjection to the law as advanced teaching for those who wanted to go on to perfection (Galatians 3:3). But Paul utterly derides it as returning to the infants' class. He had already brought them the advanced teaching of the gospel, which called them to the freedom and responsibility of being grown-up sons, but now they wanted to return to regulations suited for infants. Then Paul makes an amazing statement which has perplexed some commentators and thrown others off the right exegetical track. "How is it," inquires the apostle of his converts, "that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you" (Galatians 4:9-11). Before their conversion the Galatians were not Jews but pagans. Some commentators have therefore concluded that Paul accuses them, not of accepting the Mosaic regulations, but of reverting to their pagan practices. Yet this is inconsistent both with the context of Galatians 4 and with the entire sweep of the Epistle. The false teachers were Jewish Christians who urged that the Galatians should be subject to Jewish rather than pagan institutions. The suggestion that Galatians 4:10 refers to the special days of pagan festivals has been generally discredited, and rightly so, among biblical scholars -- e.g.:

Inasmuch as Paul's argument is entirely directed against Judaism, the days presumably refer to Sabbath days, the months to the days of the new moon, the seasons to the Jewish feasts, and the years to the sabbath and jubilee year. (13)

The terms used [in Galatians 4:10] refer to Mosaic regulations. (14)

There is no reason to differ with the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament when it says that the "days" of Galatians 4:10 "are in the first instance Sabbaths, though they include other days too, e.g., the Day of Atonement. (15)

There is a final compelling reason to believe that Galatians 4:10 is referring to the Jewish Sabbath laws. Galatians 4:10 l and its context are similar to Colossians 2:16 and its context. Both Epistles are dealing with the problem of Jewish-Christian intruders. In both passages Paul derides submission to the "stoicheia of the world" (Galatians 4:3; Col. 2:20). And in both passages he talks about the observance of days, months and years.

Galatians 4:3, 10 Stoicheia of the world ... special days and months and seasons and years.

Colossians 2:16, 20 ... a religious festival [Yearly], a New Moon celebration [monthly] or a Sabbath day [weekly] ... stoicheia of this world.

But how can Paul accuse the Galatians of returning to pagan slavery when they were not intending to go back to the observance of pagan festivals but forward to the observance of God-given Mosaic regulations, Paul discerns the identity between Jewish slavery to Mosaic regulations (Galatians 4:3) and Gentile slavery to pagan regulations. Both Jews and pagans were in slavery under the stoicheia of this world, and both needed to be redeemed from this "weak and miserable" servitude.

But again the question intrudes: How can Paul say that the observance of God-given Jewish regulations is equivalent to the observance of pagan regulations We will try to recapture the thrust of Paul's thought in the following comments.

Pagan man was incurably superstitious because he was incurably religious. His was a religion of taboos about food and drink, about days and places--all carnal, external and childish elements (stoicheia) of this world He had his sacrifices, superstitious rites, holy shrines, lucky and unlucky days, omens, bodily afflictions and useless prescriptions for moral improvement or the manipulation of the gods. God knew that the Jew was no better. In his sinful immaturity, he was also incurably committed to external rituals, visible shrines, bodily exercises, food taboos and days that were determined to be good or bad by the arbitrary movement of planetary bodies So God took the Jews where they were and gave them regulations which were a concession to their infantile stage of development. Since they must have these visible, carnal and external stoicheia of this world, God would give them rituals, gorgeously-robed priests, altars, a temple, incense, sacrifices, regulations about food and drink, as well as an elaborate sacred calendar. But God would consecrate these things to become ordinances to remember His mighty acts and to be shadows of His coming salvation in Christ. They were only "weak and miserable stoicheia," "external regulations applying until the time of the new order" (Hebrews 9:10), or as Peter said, "a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10). The law of God as administered by Moses was an emergency and temporary measure, a paidagogos, stoicheia of this world to prepare a people for the new era of the gospel.

What are these "weak and miserable principles" that the Galatian Christians were subjecting themselves to Paul names some of them in Galatians 4:10: "Days you are carefully observing and months and seasons and years!" (Lenski's translation). In Galatians 5 the apostle lets freedom ring: "Christ has set us free.... Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery," he appeals to the Galatians (Galatians 5:1). This yoke is subjection to the law, of which circumcision is the sign (Galatians 5:1, 3; cf. Acts 15:10). Then the apostle makes this great statement, which expresses the entire sum and substance of Christian duty: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Galatians 5:6).

Faith and love are everything--they are the whole duty of man. This theme is reiterated everywhere in Paul's Epistles (Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4, 5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 1:13). This is the real law behind the law. It is the eternal law behind the law of Moses. Whoever understands Moses knows that the real intent of the law is to enjoin faith and love. Luther is bold enough to say that all laws ought to be broken if they conflict with the demands of faith and love--and he even gives examples from the Old Testament to show that sometimes "kings, priests, and heads of the people often transgressed the laws boldly, at the demand of faith and love." (16)

At times this eternal law behind the temporal law can be glimpsed in the teaching of the prophets. They often deride the externalism of lsrael's religion and call for a truly spiritual religion of the heart. But what is only hinted in the prophets breaks through with transparent clarity in the new age of the gospel. Faith in God's work for us in Christ and love for the brother are all that God has ever required. This is what He was trying to inculcate even in the legal system given to the Jews. The sins of the New Testament are sins of two kinds -- sins against faith (Romans 14:23) and sins against love James 4:17).

The apostle John also tells us that God's commandments consist of faith in Jesus Christ and love for one another. When Jesus instituted the new-covenant supper with His disciples, He explained what was expected of them. As Moses wrote out what was required of the people in a book before he sealed it with blood, so Jesus outlined what was required of His people before He sealed the new covenant with His blood. (17) Participation in Christ's body and blood essentially demands two things: "Trust in God; trust also in Me ... Love each other as I have loved you" John 14:1, 15:12). And in his Epistle John says, "this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us" (1 John 3:23). John warns the church that the spirit of antichrist is to deny Christ and to hate the brother (1 John 2) -- i.e., to sin against faith and love.

Then Paul proceeds in Galatians 5 to utter his great Christian paradox about the freedom of faith and the servitude of love: "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:13). The Galatians are urged to concentrate on love, for evidently their preoccupation with external regulations had led them away from what we have called the real law behind the law. Thus, Paul says:

The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. -- Galatians 5:14-23.

Then in chapter 6 the apostle uses the word 'law" in a new way altogether. Throughout the Epistle "law" has been used mainly in a negative sense. Paul chides the Galatians for wanting to be "burdened" with it. Now he points the Galatians in the direction of a better burden: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). The old law is a yoke which is impossible to bear (Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1), but the new law of Christ is an easy yoke and its burden is light (Matthew 11:30).

At first glance (and indeed on the level that Paul has to address the foolish Galatians) there is a great contrast between the law of Moses and the law of Christ. This, however, is only because of the veil upon the heart when Moses is read (2 Corinthians 3:15). The prophets knew that the real spirit and intent of Moses was justice, mercy and faith. The gospel dispensation, with its new commandment (1 John 2:7), is not really the repudiation of the legal dispensation but its fulfillment (Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:31, 8:4; Galatians 5:14).


The Sabbatarian will not find any support in the book of Galatians. Neither can he derive any comfort from the supposed argument from silence. As we have seen Galatians is not silent on the issue of enforcing the observance of days (any day) on the consciences of people. The Sabbath laws are part of the Jewish legal system which Paul simply designates as "the law. (18) Circumcision is the token of taking the yoke of the law -- the entire law. There can be no selectivity with this legal corpus called "the law." Either the Mosaic administration is all binding, or none of it binding. Paul is clear on which option he takes. The age of the law has been superseded by the age of the Messiah. The dispensation of the law was an emergency, temporary and preparatory measure. Subjection to it was a form slavery necessary for God's infant people but contrary to God's will for those mature full-grown sons by the coming of the gospel. Observing days or months or years of the Jewish calendar (or, for that matter any calendar) as if this were in some way necessary for justification at God's judgment seat is a denial of the gospel and a form of slavery to "weak and miserable principles."

Faith and love are all that God requires. Of course, the New Testament gives concrete instruction on the meaning of faith and love in light of Christ's death and resurrection, but nowhere does it suggest that faith and love mean adherence to the letter of the Old Testament Sabbath laws.


(1) This is essentially the meaning of "justification" -- in Paul. It is an eschatological word which relates to the verdict of acquittal on the day of judgment (Romans 2:13). Believers have this future acquittal in the present by faith (Matthew 12:36 37; John 5:24).

(2) It is difficult to analyze the law of Moses on the assumption that we must distinguish which laws are ceremonial and which are moral. Such a procedure leads to endless arguments over food laws, Sabbath laws, tithing laws, etc. Paul warned Titus about "foolish controversies ... and arguments and quarrels about the law" (Titus 3:9).

(3) We must remember that justification is not merely a matter of Christian initiation but is the verdict of acceptance on the day of judgment.

(4) See F.F. Bruce. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. p. 51.

(5) "One could not pick and choose among the ordinances of the law:it was all or nothing. The law pronounced an explicit curse on 311who failed to keep it in its entirety" (ibid. p. 181).

(6) See ibid. pp. 70, 181, 190.

(7) L. Baeck. "The Faith of Paul", Journal of Jewish Studies 3 (1952): 106 quoted in ibid., p. 70.

(8) J.W. MacGorman, "The Law as Paidagogos: A Study of Pauline Analogy", in Huber L. Drumwright and Curtis Vaughan, eds., New Testament Studies", p. 106.

(9) Ibid., p. 108.

(10) Ibid. p. 110.

(11) Stoicheia may simply refer to elements such as food, places, times (the calendar and movement of planets), etc.

(12) Martin Luther. "Prefaces to the Old Testament," Luther's Works, 35:239.

(13) Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia, p. 162 See also his comments in footnote 6.

(14) R.C.H. Lenski. The Interpretation of St Paul's Epistles to The Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy to Titus and to Philemon, p. 213.

(15) Eduard Lohse, art. "The Sabbath in the New Testament," in Gerhard Friedrich, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 7:30, footnote 232.

(16) Luther. "Prefaces to the Old Testament," p. 240.

(17) Much of Christ's final discourse to His disciples, recorded in John 13-16, is taken from the closing chapters of Deuteronomy. The words of Jesus are reminiscent of the covenant renewal which Moses made with the people before his death. John 13-16 is therefore covenantal. Here the terms of the new covenant are presented.

(18) No Sabbath law appears before the time of the Exodus and the giving of the covenant to Israel.

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