Questions and Answers

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Question: Does Galatians 4:8–10 teach that Christians are not required to observe God’s Sabbath and Holy Days?

Answer: No, it does not. The Apostle Paul addressed his letter to the Christians of Galatia, who were a unique mixture of Jews, Romans, Greeks and Gauls, with a distinctive character shaped by centuries of Celtic influence (see J. B. Lightfoot’s Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 1999, pp. 12–17).

Galatian society followed a multiplicity of pagan superstitions and rituals for observing "days and months and seasons and years." Caesar complained that the Galatians, as a people, were impelled by the desire for change, which included adopting and discarding one religious system after another (see Lightfoot, p. 15). Paul observed this fickleness when he stated: "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel" (Galatians 1:6). He also called them "foolish Galatians" and "bewitched" (Galatians 3:1). Their faith was superficial; their zeal short-lived. As soon as something new and appealing came along, they went after it. With this in mind, we can understand two key challenges to the Church in Galatia: Judaism and paganism.

Some falsely taught that the Galatians needed to be circumcised, like the Jews. To the devout Jew, physical circumcision and ritualistic works of worship defined righteousness. Paul countered this false teaching by showing that man cannot be "made perfect" by the flesh (Galatians 3:3). Indeed, "circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter," (Romans 2:28–29). True righteousness and perfection can come only by Jesus Christ and His faith residing in us (Galatians 2:20).

Paul explained the true purpose of the sacrifices, offerings and cleansings of the ritual law: "It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Galatians 3:19). Notice that this law was introduced after the Ten Commandments, the Holy days and the Sabbath had been introduced. Jesus Christ said that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). His example and His faith provide the standard by which all true Christians live. The Galatians were disputing a point of ritual—circumcision—not the basic way of life taught and practiced by Christ and His Apostles. That is why Paul could write: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation" (Galatians 6:15).

Paul also addressed the problem of paganism in the Church. He wrote: "But… 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 it that 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" (Galatians 4:8–10).

Paul had begun Galatians 4 by addressing the Jewish Christians, using the collective pronoun we. In verse 8, Paul addressed "you"—the Gentile Christians, who had previously served demons and idols, not knowing what they were worshiping—for, as Jesus affirmed, "salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). The Gentiles had been cut off from God (Ephesians 2:13), and had begun observing man-made superstitions and pagan rituals—including the observance of "days and months and seasons [KJV "times"] and years." Such observances, tied to ancient astrological practice, continued to corrupt many professing Christians. The fourth-century Catholic bishop Chrysostom reported that weak Christians were observing superstitious "times." 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. 1,123–1,124). These observances also took note of many supposedly "lucky" and "unlucky" days, and special months and years during which Greeks and Romans commonly performed idolatrous practices.

God expressly forbade such rituals, and all soothsaying (observing "times") and divination (Deuteronomy 18:10, 14; Leviticus 19:26). Even today, these practices persist in "modern" superstitions such as special "charm" jewelry, rabbits’ feet, fear of Friday the 13th and following one’s horoscope. Paul’s admonition was not a condemnation of God’s Law and His Holy Days; indeed, his admonition is still relevant for Christians who follow Christ’s example and teachings today!

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