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Did Paul Condemn Keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days in Galatians 4:9-10? 



Does the New Testament condemn observing the Sabbath and Holy Days?  Let’s examine a passage in Galatians 4:9-10 which causes many to claim that Paul told gentile converts to not keep these Old Testament observances, but in actuality he told them to not keep old pagan customs instead. 


First of all, let’s read what Paul actually wrote in Galatians 4:9-10: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years." The basic problem with saying th is refers to the Sabbath and Holy Days is that in the immediate context of the passage Paul discusses how the Galatians came out of paganism: "However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods." What the Galatians would be apt to do if they would "turn back to the weak and worthless elemental things" would be to go into paganism again. Notice that Paul didn't write the words "Sabbath" or "Festival" or even "new moon" here.  (The Feast of Trumpets lands on a new moon). Unlike Col. 2:16-17, the targets here aren't obviously Old Testament observances.


The term translated "elementary things" ("elemental spirits"--RSV), "stoikheia," to which were what the Galatians were returning, refers to pagan practices.  Scholars have long debated about what this words means. Since the Galatians were gentiles, and hadn't practiced Old Testament rituals, it doesn't make much sense to say they were returning to that which they had never been involved with before becoming Christians. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich's lexicon (p. 769) says some authorities "stoikheia" refers to (their emphasis) "the elemental spirits which the syncretistic religious tendencies of later antiquity associated w. the physical elements. . . . It is not always to differentiate betw. this sense and the next, since heavenly bodies were also regarded as personal beings and given divine honors." While various scholars say this term is at least in part a reference to Old Testament practices, such an interpretation doesn't make much sense in the immediate context of v. 8. Compare this appearance of "stoikheia" to Col. 2:20's use: "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees . . ." Perhaps some worldly gentile philosophy ("according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world"--v.8), and maybe some kind of ascetic Jewish gnosticism judging from verses 21-22, were mixed together at Colossi, with the former predominating.111 


The Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich Greek-English lexicon (pp. 768-769) also notes “elements (of learning), fundamental principles” of basic education is another (possible) meaning, like the “ABCs.”  It could also refer to the basic “elemental substances” or “stuff” that the universe is made of.  Other scholars believe it refers to the “elemental spirits” which ancient religious teachers associated with the heavenly bodies.  After all, the planets are named for false pagan gods, right?  Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Mercury, etc.  People in the ancient world used to look up at the sky, at the stars, at what we call “outer space” today as divine, as a realm of the gods, as spiritual.   Hence, “stoicheia” also was used to refer to the heavenly bodies, like stars, planets, the moon, etc.


Where does the Old Testament command the observance of “seasons”?  The word here in verse 10 is “kairous,” which is a general term that refers to a “time period” or “point of time.”  It doesn’t have to mean a three-month period between a solstice and equinox.  Notice that the words “Sabbath” and those referring to the various holy days do NOT appear in this verse.  So then, those against observing the Sabbath read desired meaning into this verse.


According to Troy Martin, the list in Gal. 4:10 uses terminology completely compatible with a pagan calendar system, and need not be Jewish at all ("Pagan and Judeo-Christian Time-keeping Schemes in Gal 4.10 and Col 2.16," New Testament Studies 42 (Jan. 1996), p. 112):  “When Paul refers to days, months, seasons, and years in Gal. 4.10, he lists categories most characteristic of a pagan time-keeping system.  This list in Gal. 4.10 is not as easily related to Jewish practice, as the wide discrepancies among commentators prove. . . . Since the list in Gal. 4.10 can be either pagan or Jewish, only its context in Galatians can determine the issue.  The immediate context of Gal. 4.10 argues for the pagan character of this list.” 


We know that Paul observed the Holy Days, or else he wouldn’t have been hurrying to get to Jerusalem in order to observe Pentecost (Acts 20:16).  For the Galatians to keep these days wouldn’t have made them any different from Paul.  Therefore, to assert Paul in Galatians 4:9-10 was condemning Old Testament practices is dubious when the immediate context of v. 8 is considered.


Eric Snow



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Why does God Allow Evil? Click here: /Apologeticshtml/Why Does God Allow Evil 0908.htm

May Christians work on Saturdays? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Protestant Rhetoric vs Sabbath Refuted.htm

Should Christians obey the Old Testament law? /doctrinalhtml/Does the New Covenant Abolish the OT Law.htm

Do you have an immortal soul? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Here and Hereafter.htm

Does the ministry have authority? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is There an Ordained Ministry vs Edwards.html

Is the United States the Beast? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Are We the Beast vs Collins.htm

Should you give 10% of your income to your church? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Does the Argument from Silence Abolish the Old Testament Law of Tithing 0205 Mokarow rebuttal.htm

Is Jesus God? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Is Jesus God.htm

Will there be a third resurrection? Click here: /doctrinalhtml/Will There Be a Third Resurrection.htm



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