NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXIV)
I do not know of too many Protestants today who criticize those of the Roman Catholic faith who honor the saints or memorialize the martyrs for their faithfulness. But some say that in all fairness, shouldn’t they also commemorate those martyrs who died for their faith who were Christian but not necessarily part of the Roman Catholic Church? In fact, some were burned at the stake at the request of Roman Catholic priests. Also, while the memory of these saints and martyrs are surely precious to all believers, does it not cross the line when they are elevated to a position of being adored as intercessors and advocates before the Father in heaven and between believers and the Anointed One when Jesus Himself is the Biblically identified advocate with God the Father and the Holy Spirit as our intercessor before the Father and Son?
English Methodist pastor and theologian Joseph Agar Beet (1840-1924) makes an interesting point when he notes that the weekly day of rest was ordained as a Sabbath is not proven to be the case by appealing to Genesis 2:3, or 2:7. Even God’s message to Ezekiel only emphasized that this seventh day was designed for resting, and while resting, it was a special sign of their relationship with God, much like the rainbow given to Noah. At the same time, what we read in Genesis 8:10, 12 about Noah sending out a dove to find land and in 29:27 when Jacob was informed how long he must work in order to get Rachael as his wife suggests that the number seven was already used as a division of time, and signified completion.
Of course, says Beet, we know of no calendars being made at that time with weeks of seven days stacked on top of one another as our calendars do, but life was a continuous line of days with every seventh day observed as a day of rest. The word “remember,” in Exodus 20:8, if it is anything more than an emphatic form of the parallel phrase “keep the Sabbath day” in Deuteronomy 4:12, refers doubtless to the institution of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:29-30.
Beet concludes, there is certainly no proof or suggestion that the Sabbath was ordained earlier than the departure from Egypt. Indeed, taken together, the above casual and uncertain notes carry little weight as evidence either that the Sabbath was not, or was, ordained earlier than the Exodus. But the double supply of manna on the sixth day with no manna on the seventh, and the solemn ordinance of the Sabbath in Exodus 16:25-30 before the giving of the Ten Commandments are additional marks of honor to the weekly Day of Rest.
Methodist minister and prominent teacher Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945) takes a swipe at those in the Christian community who continue to perpetuate the practices of the heathens of turning worshiping God into a matter of rites, rituals, and ceremonies. He sees Paul accusing these Galatians that by imitating the ceremonial laws of Judaism it was the same as turning back to the weak and beggarly elementary things in which they, as Gentiles, were heathenistic. They were, practically, turning again to what they, by the grace of God, left to live in freedom.
Didn’t they remember that as unconverted Gentiles they participated in assorted ceremonies, various offerings, and observed different days by which they tried to please their supposed gods? Ritualistic observances upon Christian reasoning says Gaebelein, is more than a perverted gospel: they are heathenistic in principle. We’ve all seen African fetish-priests attire themselves in fantastic, colorful costumes, then take a rattle to shake while dancing, and mumbling something in an unintelligible way. Then they declare that what they are doing will induce the gods to send rain, or help bring in the hunted wild game for feeding the village, even gaining victory over an enemy.
Now, notes Gaebelein, in a magnificent edifice enclosure, “a church,” stands an individual wearing different colored robes. This person goes through different ceremonies, bows and crosses themselves, mumbles something in a foreign language, then lifts up a receptacle before which the people bow in worship. They claim that, through them, blessings will come upon the people. It appears that both the African heathen-priest and the ritualistic-priest follow the same principle, and the practice of the so-called “the Anointed One’s priest” is as much heathenish as the practice of the others. This includes the observance of special holy days, months, and years. The Gospel of the Messiah teaches us nothing about observing certain days and seasons such as holy-days. All these special saint-days and most of the feast-days kept in Christendom are traceable back to heathen and Jewish practices.
The fact that Jews chose to respect special Sabbath services was one way to show honor to that day, but they were not satisfied with leaving it as something simple. According to the most recent information on Jewish Shabbat Laws, the following restrictions are still applicable:
|• No writing, erasing, and tearing;
• No business transactions;
• No driving or riding in cars or other vehicles;
• No shopping;
• No using the telephone;
• No turning on or off anything which uses electricity, including lights, radios, television, computer, air-conditioners, and alarm clocks;
• No cooking, baking or kindling a fire;
• No gardening and grass-mowing;
• No doing laundry;
The explanation follows: Does all this mean that Shabbat is somewhat of a miserable affair, where we sit hungry in the dark? Not at all. It simply means that we must prepare for Shabbat in advance, so that, on the contrary, we celebrate in luxury, without doing any of the actual work, on Shabbat. Which raises another question: How does this show respect and honor for all that God did in creating the world to His specifications and for His purpose? Not to be left out, the Christians should ask the same question when they explain why they observe Sunday as this holy day of rest.
British theologian Nicholas T. Wright sees a comparison here between the Galatians returning to their old ways, with the children of Israel after coming out of Egypt but wanting to go back because their free life in the wilderness seemed more desperate than their imprisoned life in Egypt. He sees that this mental picture of the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites lies behind Paul’s impassioned appeal to the Galatians. They, too, came out of the “Egypt” of idolatry of worshiping false gods. They were set free, redeemed by the personal action of the One True God through His Son and His Spirit. Now, it appears they looked at the wide and wonderful life in grace, but its freedom worried them. So, they are determined to return once more to the world where life seems safer, more regulated, where you know where you are. In other words, to the life of slavery. They are, Paul declares, choosing to go back where they were before, back to the old pagan gods they worshiped before being set free by the Living God.
Modern commentator Robert Gundry points to Paul’s question on how is it that by the Galatians now “turning back again” to such elements and, thereby, once again subjecting themselves to the Law puts them back into the same condition of slavery they endured under pagan religions? That being in such enslavement of a monotheistic Law is no better than the polytheistic rules and regulations they slaved under before. He also goes on to point out that Paul’s reference to religious calendars was applicable to both Jews and non-Jews in the congregation because both Hebrews and Gentiles used such calendars that tied them to various religious duties, rites, and rituals. No wonder Paul felt so frustrated that he began to reflect on all the time and effort it took to bring the Gospel of Jesus the Anointed One to these otherwise forever lost and helpless people.
Messianic Jewish writer Thomas Lancaster points to other writers who share his view that here Paul is speaking only to the non-Jewish members of the congregations in Galatia. That nothing of what Paul says here should be applied to the Torah and the Jewish Sabbaths, feast days, and holy days that they observe as part of their obedience to the Torah. However, there is nothing in what Paul says here that suggests that the proselyte Jews and non-Jews who became Christians were turning back into heathenism and celebrating the religious holidays of the cults they once belonged to. This whole epistle is based on the fact that Messianic Jewish teachers claiming they were sent by James from Jerusalem, were teaching the Galatian believers to join them in celebrating the mandates of the Torah that was tied to their faith in being righteous and attaining eternal life through good works in compliance with the Law. For those born as Jews, this meant the daily, monthly, and yearly rites, rituals, and observances they adhered to as part of the religious calendar, and for the non-Jews, it pointed to the fact that if they were going to follow their Jewish brethren it was a no greater error than if they did, in fact, go back to their pagan ways of celebrating certain days and seasons of the year.
Jewish scholar David Stern agrees that Paul was speaking to the Gentiles about their pagan holidays, but since they were now followers of the Messiah, they were also being pressured into observing the Jewish holidays that made no connection with anything celebrated in Jesus’ teachings, life, or events. He goes on to say that what Paul says here about certain religious observances does not prohibit the celebration of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and other events in Christian calendars followed by various Christian denominations. In contrast with the Jewish holidays, the Bible neither requires nor gives a license for celebrating these holidays a test of one’s faith.
 Joseph A. Beet: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 115
 Arno Gaebelein’s Annotated Bible, Kindle Location 36411-36425
 From Chabad.org whose mission statement is – Utilize internet technology to unite Jews worldwide, empower them with knowledge of the 3,300-year-old tradition, and foster within them a deeper connection to Judaism’s rituals and faith.
 Wright, N. T: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 48-49.
 Robert H. Gundry: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.
 D. Thomas Lancaster: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit., pp. 204-206
 Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, loc. cit.