Many pastors are using Galatians 4:9-10 to imply that Paul is criticizing the Galatians for keeping the [seventh-day] Sabbaths and other holy days.
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!” Galatians 4:9-10 ESV
Putting Their Understanding of Galatians 4:9-10 To Paul’s Writing
These pastors are putting their own words to Paul’s lips. Interestingly, nowhere can we find the word “sabbath” in the book of Galatians. That alone tells us that the seventh-day sabbath-keeping is not an issue in Galatians 4
It’s quite ironic that those who never accept the word ‘rest’ in Genesis 2:2-3 as the ‘rest’ pertaining to seventh-day Sabbath by reason that the word ‘Sabbath’ is never mentioned in that verse, are strongly arguing that Galatians 4:9-10 pertains to the seventh-day Sabbath, where in fact the word ‘Sabbath’ is never mentioned in Galatians 4:9-10 nor in the whole epistle to the Galatians.
That is why to come up with their own interpretation of Galatians 4:9-10, they took outside verses from the book of Galatians such as Colossians 2:16-17.
There is no problem with doing a “precept from here..and a precept from there” for as long as both precepts are having of the same context or thought, and that the final thought will not contradict the other already laid out fundamental truths in the Bible.
Galatians 4:9-10 and Colossians 2:16-17 are not of the same thought or topic. This erroneous method is what we call “OUT-OF-CONTEXT”, taking the verse out of its original or real context. Colossians 2:16-17 pertains to the ceremonial days observed by the Jews. Yes, there is a word “sabbath” in that verse but it is the ceremonial sabbath.
Galatians 4:9-10, however, talks about pagan holidays. Verse 8 gives us the clue.
Gal 4:8 “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” ESV
Here we can see that Paul’s audience were not of Jewish background. They did not observe sabbath before. Rather they were converts of pagan origin, people who observed days, months, and years for their pagan gods and goddesses. In verses 9-10, Paul continued with this
“…how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years!..”
Paul’s audience can only turn back to what they had previously, and that is not the sabbath-keeping. They were pagans so they can only turn back to pagan holidays. Therefore, it is only sensible to conclude that the “worthless and elementary principles of the world”, the observing of days, months, seasons, and years are not the sabbaths but rather the pagan holidays.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Let’s look at the life of Paul. He was an enthusiast Jew, so no doubt he respected the Sabbath so much (Acts 17:2). But how was his attitude towards the Sabbath after his conversion to Christianity?
On his first journey (around 46-48 AD), Paul visited several cities within Galatia (Turkey today). He wrote his epistle to the Galatians at some point after that first journey. This means that Paul was already converted to Christianity on this account. Another writer, Luke, recorded interesting facts regarding Paul’s journey; and from there we can see Paul’s attitude towards the Sabbath after his conversion to Christianity. Acts 13:
- Paul participated in Sabbath services at the local synagogue (v14).
- Paul, as a guest and scholar, teaches in the synagogue (v15-41).
So instead of condemning or reprimanding the believers on their Sabbath-keeping, Paul even used their Sabbath-keeping to participate and teach them about God’s kingdom. Let’s continue..
- At the conclusion of the service, “the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (v42).
- When that next Sabbath arrived, “almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God” from Paul and Barnabas (v44).
If one assumes that Galatians 4:9-10 condemns Sabbath-keeping, the following will be their headaches:
- Why would Paul participated and taught both Jews and Gentiles on the Sabbath and then, after departing, write a letter reprimanding them for observing the Sabbath day?
- When the Gentiles “begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath,” why didn’t Paul simply tell them he would teach them the very next day—Sunday—or any other day since Sabbath-keeping is already a bondage?
If in Galatians 4:9-10 Paul was attempting to condemn Sabbath-keeping as bondage, then his actions in Acts 13 will show that Paul would be very confused or hypocritical.
Ceremonial Laws Are “Weak and Miserable Principles”?
Again, some see Paul’s reference to “days and months and seasons and years” as pointing to the sabbaths, festivals, and jubilee years given in the Old Testament (Leviticus 23, 25).
They view these God-given ceremonies or observances as the “weak and worthless elementary principles” to which the Galatians were “turning again” and becoming “in bondage” (v9).
Although I agree that ceremonial laws of the old covenant are not binding anymore, but this kind of thinking reminds me of what happened during the fall of men where “Adam pointed the fault to Eve, and Eve to the snake, and the snake to its Creator (implied)”– all faults pointed back to God.
Likewise, with the way these pastors are interpreting Galatians 4:9-10, they make it appear as though Paul was referring to God-given sacred ordinances as “weak and worthless elementary principles”. How arrogant Paul would be if he referred to these God-given ceremonies (though now not binding anymore) as “weak and miserable principles”! Yes, he called it “nailed to the cross” and “shadows of things to come”, but never he referred to it as “weak and miserable principles”. Indeed, Galatians 4:9-10 never refers to Jewish ceremonial laws.
“Years” As The Sabbatical Years?
Again, some assume that the “years” referred to in Galatians 4:10 are the sabbatical and jubilee years described in Leviticus 25. I say that this is wrong for the following reasons:
- The jubilee year was never observed anywhere in Paul’s day.
- The sabbatical year was not being observed in areas outside Palestine (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 14, p. 582, and Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 666, “Sabbatical Year and Jubilee”).
- The fact that Galatia was in pagan Asia Minor, far outside the land of Israel, makes it illogical to imagine Paul could have been referring to the sabbatical and jubilee years.
So how can Paul condemned believers in Galatians for returning to “observing of sabbatical and jubilee years” where in fact it was never observed during his days?
Civil Periods of Time
The Greek words Paul used for “days and months and seasons and years” are also used throughout the New Testament in describing normal, civil periods of time.
When Paul refers to “years” in Colossians 2:16 pertaining to the ceremonial sabbaths and other festivities, he used very different Greek words compared to the words he used in Galatians—a clear indication that he was discussing altogether different subjects.
Using immediate verse (verse 8), we saw it plainly that it is not logical to conclude that Paul was criticizing the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, since his audience were of pagan background. Instead, he was attacking erroneous efforts to achieve salvation through unnecessary superstitious pagan observances.
If your pastors are using Galatians 4:9-10 to prove that Paul is condemning seventh-day Sabbath-keeping, then please wake up. You don’t need to move farther away from Galatians 4:9-10 to get the real meaning of the context. Verse 8 is enough. Don’t be fooled by their chaining of unrelated verses to come up with their twisted doctrine.
May this article strengthen our faith and draw us closer to the Truth, the Way, and the Life, our Saviour Jesus.