|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:
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:
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:
Even as a rabbi, Paul had learned that the age of law was to be succeeded by the age of the Messiah. (6)
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:
MacGorman goes on to show that in one of Socrates' dialogues:
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:
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.:
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.
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:
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).
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