KEITH’S COMMENTARY GALATIANS 4:10
“You Observe Days, Months, Times and Years ...”
Today there are many professing Christians that think Galatians 4:10 is proof that the Sabbath, Holy days, and Feasts are done away.
However, Christ, who was an example of living according to the New Covenant, taught people to keep the ten commandments of God, and observed the Sabbath as well as other Holy days and Feasts (Luke 4:16; John 4:45; John 7:10). There is also evidence in the New Testament that the Apostles did the same thing after Christ died (Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:21; Acts 20:6,16).
In an attempt to defend their belief that the New Testament required observance of the Sabbath, Holy days and Feasts, the old Worldwide Church of God organization inserted a short explanation of Galatians 4:10 in their Holy Day booklet. They stated that the days, months, times and years mentioned in Galatians 4:10 were not referring to God's Sabbath, Holy days, Feasts etc – but to pagan observances. However, the context of Galatians 4:10 shows that the defensive argument put forward by the old Worldwide Church of God is false except for the conclusion, which is believed by the writer of this article to be CORRECT.
It's considered extremely important that one needs to support correct conclusions with correct supporting arguments. If this is not done it can undermine sound doctrine and cause people to stumble.
So with these things in mind, we will now examine the verse in question with the intent of discovering what the verse was really about from God’s perspective. To do this, it's important to firstly examine the context of the verse, and see whether the subject matter was Pagan observances, as put forward by the Old Worldwide Church of God, or God's calendar observances.
In order to see the context in which Galatians 4:10 was written we need to go back to the beginning of Galatians 3, remembering that there were no chapter breaks in the original Greek manuscripts.
In the beginning of chapter 3 the subject being discussed is justification. In this verse it is evident that the Galatians church had given heed to teachers who were going around teaching that you could only be justified by being circumcised (Galatians 5:2-4) and keeping all the laws contained in the Old Covenant:
“ O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,... This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (NKJV).
In the above verse Paul is attempting to explain to the Galatians that justification comes by faith in the teachings of Christ, and not by the Old Covenant system to which they were now turning to because of the influence of certain teachers (probably Jewish). Paul explains, on the contrary, those under that system are cursed (because the fact they are subject to ongoing sin and the wages of sin is death):
” For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." (Galatians 3:10; NKJV).
It should be noted that under the terms of the Old Covenant there was no promise of eternal life – but only physical blessing for physical obedience. And that forgiveness, for those under that system, had nothing to do with giving them the gift of eternal life when their physical existence finally ceased (or after they are resurrected to physical life again following the thousand year reign of Christ on earth).
Paul then goes on throughout chapter three to give more detail and explanation about the same subject – that we are no longer under the Old Covenant system, but the New Covenant. In other words Christians should be following the spiritual teachings of Christ that give eternal life – and not Old Covenant teaching that promises physical blessing only, but cannot free humans from perishing for eternity upon death.
In Galatians 4:1-7, Paul continues to speak about the Old Covenant and says those under that system are like slaves – NOT sons of God. He describes himself (he used the word “we”) and other converted Israelites as having been like slaves (in bondage) under Old Covenant teaching that concerned itself with things relating to this present world. In other words the Old Covenant required physical compliance to Gods laws in exchange for the promised physical rewards – and could not bestow the spiritual blessing of eternal life beyond death. In that sense it was a worldly type of covenant (pertained to this world only).
3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"
7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (NKJV).
Note: In verse 3 Paul was not referring to Gentiles as some may have thought, but refers to himself and other Israelites. The whole context leading up to verse 3 also requires that interpretation. Barnes commentary puts it this way:
[Even so we] We who were Jews-for so I think the word here is to be limited, and not extended to the pagan, as Bloomfield supposes. The reasons for limiting it are:
(1) That the pagans in no sense sustained such a relation to the Law and promises of God as is here supposed;
(2) Such an interpretation would not be pertinent to the design of Paul. He is stating reasons why there should not be subjection to the laws of Moses, and his argument is, that that condition was like that of bondage or minorship.
Further on in verses 8 and 9 Paul then refers to the Gentles, to whom Galatians was written, stating the following:
“But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.
9But 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?” (Galatians 4:8-9).
These Gentiles, to whom Paul was addressing, before conversion, had been observing various Pagan teachings that were weak and beggarly (inferior) in as much as they could not give eternal life. Paul had previously stated that eternal life comes through faith in Christ and his spiritual teachings. In keeping with the context throughout Galatians 3, Paul was asking why they were adopting certain Old Covenant teachings that were, in the same way, weak and beggarly (inferior) compared Christ’s New Covenant teachings.
He then mentions some of those teachings in Galatians 4:10, which is subject of this article:
“You observe days and months and seasons and years.” (NKJV).
As one would expect, these teachings match Old Covenant teachings. For example, under the Old Covenant, the Israelites observed days such as the weekly Sabbath, and annual Holy Days. Regarding months, the Israelites observed new moons to determine when months began. They also observed feast seasons as well as certain years such as the Jubilee year and the land Sabbath years.
From the evidence presented so far, the context is clearly that the Gentiles were being persuaded by teachers who still believed in the Old Covenant (undoubtedly, combined with the usual added do’s, don'ts and traditions of men) and this theme continues even until the end of Chapter 4 and into Chapter 5:
“But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise,
24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar (Galatians 4: 23-24; NKJV).
“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.
4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:2-4; NKJV).
Having now seen the context of Galatians 4:10, which shows that the subject matter was calendar observances contained in the Old Covenant, we need to establish what God was trying to communicate to the Galatians Church. The answer to this question is indicated by the meaning of the Greek word translated “observe” in Galatians 4:10 in the New King James Version, and how it is used in other places in the Bible.
The Greek word translated “observe” in Galatians 4:10
In Galatians 4:10, it should be noted that the English word “observe” is not a good translation because the Greek word from which it is translated has more to do with describing the way they were observing these periods. According to Strong’s the Greek word is “paratereo” to inspect along side. See below:
Strong’s 3906: paratereo (par-at-ay-reh'-o); from NT:3844 and NT:5083; to inspect alongside, i.e. note insidiously or scrupulously:
Further light about what Paul intended to communicate by using that particular Greek word NT:3906 can be found by examining the two Greek words from which it was derived. According to Strong’s the meaning of those two words are as follows:
NT: 3844: para (par-ah'); a primary preposition; properly, near; i.e. (with genitive case) from beside
NT: 5083: tereo (tay-reh'-o); from teros ... to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon;...)
(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers),
One Bible commentary on Galatians 4:10 described the meaning of the Greek word NT: 3906, translated observe, this way:
Paul now gives an example of the way the Galatians are becoming slaves all over again, namely, their strict observance of all kinds of celebrations. The verb translated pay special attention to contains the elements of observing or keeping something religiously, or scrupulously observing something to the minutest detail (from the UBS New Testament Handbook Series. Copyright © 1961-1997, by United Bible Societies.)
From the above it is apparent that Greek word NT: 3906 means more than observe or keep certain events on God’s Calendar. It has more to do with closely watching (in this case, apparently very strictly like the Pharisees) and guarding against any letter of the law infractions. This type of close watching attitude was particularly characteristic of the Pharisees’ whose administration of those kind of laws was a carnal letter of the law approach, devoid of Christlike, spiritual understanding, love and mercy.
For example, regarding the Sabbath it's common knowledge among Bible students that the Pharisees’ watched and guarded against infractions so closely that they added a whole lot of burdensome, physical, overly strict, do’s and don’ts. It is therefore not surprising that the same Greek word NT; 3906 (found in Galatians 4:10) is also found in other verses where the Pharisees’ were seeking to accuse Christ of breaking the letter of the law concerning the Sabbath or other types of infractions – having little concept of the overriding spiritual law of LOVE. See now examples:
So they watched Him closely, (NT; 3906) whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him (NKJV).
“So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely (NT: 3906), whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him” (NKJV).
“Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, that they watched Him closely. (NT; 3906) And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" (NKJV).
“So they watched Him, (NT; 3906) and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, that they might seize on His words, in order to deliver Him to the power and the authority of the governor” (NKJV).
As stated at the beginning of this article, Christ observed the Sabbath and Holy Days. However the difference between Christ and the Pharisees and Old Testament observance was the following:
1) Christ understood that the weekly Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. And those spiritual acts of love and mercy that needed to be done that day had priority over the physical aspects of the law if there was a conflict.
2) Christ understood the greater and more important spiritual meaning of the Sabbath compared to the inferior physical aspects – how the physical Sabbath pictured God’s spiritual way of life being lived in the Kingdom of God when humans are spirit beings.
3) Christ understood that the most important issues when it comes to observing the Feasts and Holy Days was that they were celebrations and intended to commemorate various steps in the plan of salvation, which included justification under the New Covenant.
Whereas, the Pharisees felt justified by mere physical compliance, and the focus was about remembering of physical events only. While attempting to get the physical aspects of Gods law concerning days times seasons and years correct is good – by far the most important aspects of Gods law are spiritual. Subsequently, love and mercy will always have priority over the physical aspects if there is a conflict between the two. This principle is part of the New Covenant teaching of Christ on the subject and is illustrated by the following statements of Christ made concerning the Sabbath:
“And He said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (NJKV).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (NKJV).
From the above verses it is apparent that the Pharisees’ put great importance on the physical aspects of the law and guarded intently against technical infractions – while at the time transgressing some of the far more important spiritual aspects that in certain circumstances OVERRULE the inferior physical aspects. One example, according to Christ, would be doing good on the Sabbath:
Mark 3:4 "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill? (NJKV).
Since Christ, the old letter of the law administration has been succeeded by the administration of the spirit of the law. In other words, various physical applications of the laws of God in the Old Testament, that are still relevant today, are intended to hang off (or fit in with) God’s commands to Love God and your neighbour. When Christ was on earth He elaborated concerning the type of spiritual love required under the New Covenant – and showed how it dictates the physical application of various laws mentioned in the Old Testament, such as Sabbath days, Holy days and festivals:
Matthew 22: 37-40: “ Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (NKJV).
Today we live in different parts of the world and find ourselves in different circumstances compared to when the Israelites observed God’s Sabbath, Holy Days and Festivals. Circumstances therefore need to be taken into consideration when applying Gods laws concerning calendar observances – and judgments made, taking into account God’s overall spiritual law of love. God, unlike the Pharisees, does not have a long list of do’s and don’ts regarding Sabbath, Holy Day or Festival observance. Rather he gives lesser guiding principles concerning these topics, as well as His major overriding principle of LOVE. He then leaves it to individuals Christians to take their individual circumstances into account and make personal judgments based on these principles. Their decisions are between them and God.
However what God is very explicit about is that we should not allow ourselves to be judged by unconverted people. People such as the Pharisees who still are confined to Old Testament approaches – having a condemning type of attitude and concerning themselves with ONLY the physical aspects of laws such as Sabbaths, Holy Days etc. Being judged by people outside of the body of Christ is warned against in the following verse:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.” (KJV).
Note: the English word “is” does not appear in the original Greek, and the term body of Christ is used after the next verse to refer to the church (those in whom God’s spirit dwells). Accordingly, judgments concerning these type of topics should to be made by people in the body of Christ only. In other words, people that believe in Christ’s New Testament teachings. However, the bottom line is that as individual members of the body, we should look to the teaching of Christ as the overruling authority, as Mark 2:28 points out:
“... Son of Man is ... Lord of the Sabbath." (NKJV).
Not only is Christ Lord of the Sabbath, but the same applies to matters concerning Holy Days and Gods Festivals etc. We therefore need to follow Christ’s example, avoid the Pharisaic type approaches addressed in both Colossians 2:16 and Galatians 4:10.
Galatians 4:10 is about a Pharisaic type attitude and way of observing the Sabbath, Holy Days, Festivals, and other calendar observances. It is not saying that these observances are done away – and should be observed, if applicable, practical and one is able.