“Ye observe days and months and times and years”.
Before the controversial subject scripture is addressed, it is necessary to understand the background of the people of Galatia and their religion. In Acts 14 we find Paul and Barnabas are persecuted in Iconium and flee to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia. These are all cities of the southern part of Galatia. At Lystra Paul caused a man lame from birth to be healed. “When the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying…’the Gods are come down to us in the likeness of men’ and they called Barnabas, Jupiter and Paul, Mercurius…”. Then the priest of Jupiter …brought oxen and garlands unto the gates and would have done sacrifice with the people” Acts 14:11-13. Here we have clear evidence of the Galatians’ history in offering sacrifices to false gods. In Galatians 4:8 Paul tells the Galatians “…ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” It was common for the gentiles to offer sacrifices to their false gods.
Jews in Bondage to Animal Sacrifices
When Israel was brought out of Egypt, they were given the commandments of God. However, they quickly forsook them, having Aaron make a golden calf to represent the god kind. They were worthy of death. “The wages of sin is death” God told Moses he would wipe them all out. Moses intervened. Through Moses God set up sacrificial laws so that their physical lives could be spared. These laws are shown in Leviticus 4. If the priest or the whole congregation sinned they had to offer a bullock (Lev 4:3, 13-14). If an individual sinned, his sin was to be covered by the sacrifice of a lamb or kid (Leviticus 4:27-32). “Wherefore then the law [of burnt offerings]; it was added because of transgressions [breaking of the commandments] till the seed should come…” Gal 3:19. In Leviticus 4 we see if the sinner did the sacrifice, the law then demanded forgiveness for that one sin. “It shall be forgiven him” (Lev 4: 26, 31, 35). “Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of favor (English grace word is obsolete) but of debt.” Romans 4:4. The reward (forgiveness) was reckoned of debt. The law was indebted to forgive (even though the heart of the sinner might not be right). “The first covenant had also ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary. …in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to conscience”. Heb 9:1,9. How could Paul say when he was in the Jews religion : “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”? (Philippians 3:6). It means that Paul had offered animal sacrifices for his sins instead of hiding them. Many, if not most, Jews were not like Paul, offering a lamb when they sinned. Those who made an offering for their sin had its worldly reward of forgiveness. But Paul talks of this as bondage when he was in Judaism. “Even so we [Jews] were in bondage under the elements of the world” Galatians 4:3. Paul talked of the Jews of his day being in bondage to the law [under these elements of the world]. “…Jerusalem which now is and is in bondage with her children” Galatians 4:25. These offerings had to be continuous.
The Elements of The World
The Jews were in bondage to the elements of the world (Gal 4:3). The Greek word for elements is stochios. In Galatians 4:9, Paul is scolding the Galatians who had now returned to the “weak and beggarly elements”. The word “elements” here is the same Greek stochios for the Jews. And Paul mentions that they are weak and beggarly (or poor as the Greek word is more often translated). So what the Galatians were going back to was something the same as the Jews were now doing and that he, Paul, had been doing. In discussing stochios, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon 1889, pages 589 says:
“…ceremonial precepts common alike to the worship of Jews and of Gentiles”.
Yes, what was common in the Galatians worship of Jupiter and Mercury was the offering of animals as pointed out in Acts above.
In Josephus’ “Antiquities of the Jews” Book XIV, Chap X, 23 through 25, he points out the petitioning of the Jews in Asia Minor to Rome that they might “offer…their prayers and sacrifices to God”. Rome gave permission.
Overview of the Book of Galatians
Yes, they are Holydays, but…. the word “observe” has a prefix!!
The days of Galatians 4:10 have all the trappings of being the Sabbath, new moons, holy days and special years such as seventh year and jubilee year. This verse is probably used by hundreds of preachers to dissuade people from keeping the annual Holy Days God commanded in Leviticus 23 and elsewhere. The Church of God knows the sabbath and holy days are to be kept, but correct scholarship has evaded most.
The correct translation of the two scriptures Galatians 4:9-10 should be: “But now, after you have known God…how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto ye desire again from above to be in bondage?” Galatians 4:9. (The Greek is “palan anothen” again from above**. “Anothen”*** is left out of the verse in KJV translation.) “Ye scrupulously observe days and months and times and years.” Galatians 4:10. (The Greek is not “observe” tereo but para-tereo*, see below).
Because it is so obvious that the Galatians were trying to be as Jewish as possible it is an easy scripture to misapply. The circumcision (Jews) was telling them to be circumcised (Galatians 6:12) and do burnt offerings (works of the law) (Galatians 2:16, 5:3,4). Those who know God’s Holy Days are to be kept by Christians use two convoluted arguments in defense; they have proclaimed the days of Gal 4:10 to be pagan days. To bolster this teaching they quote Galatians 4: 9 “how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?” Paul would certainly not call the Holy Days, etc. weak and beggarly elements is their correct argument. But, Paul is not referring to the Holy Days as elements; he is referring to the burnt offerings. Here again a mistranslation of the Greek has reinforced the error in understanding. The weak and beggarly elements are the same as Paul mentions in Galatians 4:3 that he as a Jew was under—elements that came from the earth—animal flesh made burnt offerings. The Galatians like the Corinthians had sacrificed “elements of the earth” (animals) in a bondage to their false gods. I Corinthians 8:6, 10:20,28. Jerusalem (the Jews) were still in bondage (Gal 4:25). But the Jews were in bondage from above, from sacrificial laws God gave to Moses! Paul was asking the Galatians if they wanted to be in bondage again, this time from God above like the Jews. A second argument even more obscure brings in ideas of gnostisism.
But let the preachers who teach that these are Holy days, etc be right about the days, months, times, years; and then we will see they greatly err in their conclusions! The holy days are to be kept; Christ is the sacrifice. Notice Galatians 3:1-3: “…Jesus Christ hath been…crucified among you…received you the Spirit by the works of the law (sacrifices) or by hearing of faith? … are ye now made perfect by the flesh (of burnt offerings)?” “He that ministereth to you the Spirit, doeth he it by the works of the law…?” (vs 5). Christians do not receive the Holy Spirit by offering burnt offerings!
Here are the days, months, seasons and years Paul was talking about: Numbers 28:2,3 “….My offering …shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season…. day by day.” Vs 9 “and on the Sabbath DAY two lambs of the first year… .” And the months: Numbers 28:11 “and in the beginning of your months ye shall offer a burnt offering… .” And the times: Deuteronomy 16:16 “Three times in a year shall all they males appear before the lord… the feast of unleavened bread… the feast of weeks…the feast of tabernacles… .” Note: the Greek word times is translated season in Luke 12:42 “…meat in due season.” and other places. Numbers 28:2 “… My offering… in their due season.”
Numbers 28:16- Nu 29:39 show the details of the offerings .
Numbers 29:39 “these things ye shall do unto the lord in your set feasts… .”
Notice II Chronicles 31:3 “He appointed …for the morning and evening burnt offerings , and for the burnt offerings for the sabbaths (days) and the new moons (months), and for the set feasts (seasons), as it is written in the law of Moses”.
Strong’s Concordance #s *3906 (3844/5083) From Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, 1889 edition, pg. 486, definition b. “to observe i. q. to keep scrupulously; to neglect nothing requisite to the religious observance of: …..Galatians 4:10”. Paratereo is used in Luke 20:20 and translated “watched” in the KJV. Here the spies were watching Jesus scrupulously to see if they could find any accusations against him.
**Strong’s #3825 ;***Strong’s #509. Note: Strong’s skips “another” at Galatians 4:9. One must see the Greek text.
The New World Translation of the Greek Scriptures (Jehovah’s Witnesses) has picked up this connotation of paratereo, even though it is missed in the Interlinear Bible. Strong’s Concordance clearly shows the word in Galatians 4:10 and Luke 6:7, 14:1, 20:20, Mark 3:2 is #3906 (para-tereo) which is different than to observe commands as in Matthew 23:3, 28:20, acts 21:25 (#5083, tereo). So, the order is the same as is stated in Galatians 4:10: “Ye observe days (including Sabbath) and months (new moons) and times (seasons, or Holy Days) and years“.
A man named Charles Dorothy, now deceased, one who raked the scriptures seeking truth, briefly mentioned this key in a class he taught at Ambassador College, Pasadena in the mid 1970’s. He, in humility, did not take credit for it, but said an AC student brought it to his attention. I still have the answer I later received from Worldwide Church of God Letter Department in 1980. They did not understand the point.
What were the Galatians doing to scrupulously observe these days? It should be very clear in Galatians 3:3. Paul asks “are ye so foolish? having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” What flesh is he talking about here. In Hebrews 9 we find discussion of the first covenant and its “worldly sanctuary” (vs 1). In Hebrews 10:6 we find the flesh offerings : “sacrifice and offering thou wouldst not, but a body hast thou prepared for me.” Also the worldly sanctuary had “gifts according to the law” Hebrews 8:4.
The Galatians had come to think that they had to offer animal sacrifices to be perfect with God, that believing in Christ was good, but believing in Christ and offering sacrifices was better. Notice Paul’s question in Galatians 3:2 “This would I learn of you, received ye the spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” In Galatians 2:16 he is telling them “…a man is not justified by the works of the law” but by “the faith of Christ”. Man cannot be justified by the offering of animals blood. “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin” Hebrews 10:4. The Galatians were thinking that they needed to be as “Jewish” as possible. Notice they were pushing circumcision. Galatians 5:2. Paul told them he was a strict Jew (Galatians 1:13,14) and even Titus was not compelled to be circumcised (Galatians 2:3).
What was Paul’s concern for these , then. Notice he was AFRAID for them . He did not say what they were doing was outright sin, but he was afraid they were looking to those fleshly offerings and not to Christ. He was not saying don’t observe the annual Sabbaths or it’s now alright to work on these Sabbath days of God!
Paul “blameless ” ?
Paul says that he was “… touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” Phillipians 3:6. How was he blameless? Because he had offered all the commanded sacrifices for his transgressions under the law. Notice Ezra 10:19 “…and being guilty, they offered a ram of the flock for their trespass.” Certainly there were some who did not confess their sins and offer the sacrifices. But those that did among the Jews were considered righteous.
Notice Leviticus 4:3,13,14,20,27,31,35 If someone offered an offering for their sin according to the law, it says “it shall be forgiven them”. The law was indebted to forgive that one occasion even though the offering could not purge the conscience. See Rom 4:4 “reward is… reckoned of debt”
What are the Weak and Beggarly Elements
One area that was also misunderstood in an attempt to say that Galatians 4:10 was talking of pagan days is vs 8 and 9. In verse 8 Paul reminds the Galatians that they offered sacrifices to idols in the past. In vs 9 he says ” …how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again [from above] to be in bondage?” Was the law of carnal ordinances weak? Hebrews 7:13,16, 27 (vs 18 … for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof). Just like the animals offered to idols, the animals offered by the Levites were earthly, came from the dust and returned to dust (ashes). Notice the word “elements” is the same word Paul uses about his bondage to Jewish religion Galatians 4:3.
Another overlooked point here is that the second use of “again” in “…again to be in bondage” is not just one word but two. In the first use of “again” (“how turn ye again”) the Greek is “palin”. “Palin” is the Greek commonly translated “again”. The second use (whereunto ye desire again) is “palin another”. Another is translated in scriptures two ways “again” and “from above”. So Paul is saying “…how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again from above to be in bondage?”
Yes, offering animal sacrifices daily, monthly, yearly was a form of bondage as we see Paul summarizing in Galatians 4:24-25: “…for these are the two covenants …one from the mount Sinai…and answereth to the Jerusalem which now is , and is in bondage with her children”. Notice Rom 8:15 “for ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear…” No, the Sabbath and annual Holy Days were not weak and beggarly elements. But the animal sacrifices were.
Yes, the days of Galatians 4:10 are Sabbaths and new moons and holy days and jubilee years. But Paul was not saying don’t observe them, He was saying he was afraid they were looking to and offering animal sacrifices as a supplement to Jesus’ sacrifice.
1994, 2013 Bill Hillebrenner, The Plainer Truth email@example.com