CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXV)

Jewish commentator W. A. Liebenberg writes concerning what Paul says here in verses nine and ten about the observance of certain holy days. Liebenberg notes that many believe that the “days, and months, and seasons, and years” are in reference to the Sabbath and feast-day gatherings that Yahweh commanded in the Torah. They claim that any observance of such things is an attempt to “earn our salvation” rather than trusting in the blood of Yeshua to be our cleansing. Paul is not specific about what “days, and months, and seasons, and years” he is referring to. A nominal Christian might “read into the Scripture” that Paul is condemning the observance of any day, month, time, or year. But even if this were the case, it would actually condemn the nominal Christian because going to church on Sunday would be an observance of a holy day. But is Paul speaking of Yahweh’s commanded observances of the Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, and other such holy days? If so, Paul is condemning himself because he was a Feast keeper.[1] The key to understanding such issues is simply to ask yourself one question: Does this negatively or positively affect my salvation? If the answer is “No,” then you can decide whether to participate as a matter of custom and respect for what the day was intended to memorialize.

Another Jewish-Christian writer, Avi ben Mordechai, says that the issue here is not that Paul was warning the Galatians to stop the observation of established holy days and festivals contained in the Torah, but those that were fixed outside the Torah,[2] and sometimes doing it in secret.[3] In looking at Jewish tradition, Paul’s mention here in verse ten of special days and months and times and years he finds that “days” appear to be set apart days of fasting in the rabbinic Megillat Ta’anit which is called the “Fasting Scroll,” It was included in the Babylonian Talmud (40-70 AD) from oral traditions. It chronicles thirty-five eventful days on which the Jewish nation either performed glorious deeds or witnessed joyful events. These days were celebrated as feast-days. Public mourning was forbidden on fourteen of them, and public fasting on all of them.

Months, says Mordechai, is all about Rosh Chodesh, which means “head of the month” with its rabbinic convocations that are scheduled at the beginning of every Hebrew month. And, as for times, Mordechai notes that this fits mo’dim, which means “an appointed time, a festival” over which the Sanhedrin exercised the authority to set up times, or festivals. And then years, are the closing of any loopholes or elimination of interjections, the Shemitah which means “the seventh or sabbath year,” and the cycles of the Yovel the “year of Jubilee” at the end of seven sabbath years which is known at the Fiftieth Year of Jubilee. Each of these, says Mordechai, are given mountainous interpretations, and each one essentially nullifying Yahweh’s Biblical observances. So, Paul was not talking about those feasts and holy days outlined in Scripture but those concocted by Rabbis and Jewish teachers.[4]

This may come as a shock to many the Christians, but there are a number of days, months, times, and even years that over time became classified as “Biblical” when in fact, they cannot be found anywhere in the Bible. For instance, hang on to your hat, they are Christmas, Easter, All Saints Day, Lent, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Pentecost and Ascension Sunday. There is nothing wrong with taking the time to give thanks to God for each of these events that represent significant times in the life of the Messiah and the Church. In fact, that is the honorable thing to do. But to turn them into required holy days with mandatory participation in order to guarantee one’s salvation is another way of nullifying all that Jesus did on the cross to redeem and save us.

We all may wonder why the Apostle Paul took so much time to emphasize this point on the role that holy days and sacred ceremonies were playing in the life of the believer? If the Apostle were alive today, he no doubt would be just as concerned about this habit of sanctifying everything, even water, just to gain an advantage over others in being devout and holy in their faith. Even in America, it is a well-known saying that if any person is going to go to church, it will be on Easter Sunday. Why? Because they speculate that it will please God and make Him less harsh in His judgment of them. But the real truth is, if the Almighty has any negative reaction, it’s because the giving of His Son to die on our behalf so that we could go from lost sinners to saved saints is being substituted by supposedly good works and not faith.

4:11 I’m very worried about you, that somehow all my hard work for you will turn out to be a complete waste of time.

Paul expresses a similar concern for the Corinthians and is very open about telling them that he is very jealous for them with a jealousy that comes from God. He promised to bring them to the Anointed One. That’s why he planned to present them as a virgin daughter to wed their first and only Husband. He wanted to give them to the Anointed One to be His pure bride. But he is now afraid that their minds are being led away from their true and pure following of the Anointed One. This could happen just as Eve was tricked by that snake with his clever lies.[5]

Later on, Paul writes that he is still not over his jealousy. He’s afraid that when he visits them, he will not find them as he wanted them to be. And they will not find him as they wished him to be. He’s afraid he will find them fighting among themselves in jealous fits of rage, and arguing and talking about each other and causing all kinds of trouble because each thinks themselves as important, which only causes stress. But there’s more. He’s also afraid that when he gets there, God will make him humble before them because of the way he’s talking to them. He may cry over the loss of some who continue to live in sin. Not only that, but many of them really never changed their hearts and were genuinely sorry for their immoral lives, their sexual immorality, and the shameful things they’ve done.[6]

But what hurts him most is that all his efforts there in Galatia will turn out to be for nothing. This is something he shared with the prophet Isaiah who once lamented that he worked so hard for nothing. He wore himself out, but he ended up doing nothing useful. He used all his powers of persuasion, but it really didn’t do anything of value. So, the Lord must decide what to do with them. He must determine his reward.[7] Paul expressed it differently with the Philippians. He told them to keep holding on to the Word of Life. Then when the Anointed One returns, Paul can be happy that he did not work with them for in vain.[8] And to the Thessalonians, he confessed that when he couldn’t bear the stress any longer, he sent Timothy to find out whether their faith was still strong. He was afraid that perhaps Satan got the best of them and that all his work turned out to be useless.[9]

In his commentary on Galatians,[10] Chrysostom does not say this verbally or even under his breath, although Paul comes close to doing it here in verse fourteen. Yet, the tone of what Chrysostom suggests makes it easy to surmise that he knew or understood what a person goes through when rejected. It is like a woman being told by her husband that he wants a divorce. She looks at him with disbelief and tears in her eyes and exclaims, “After all I’ve done for you over the years; the many times I’ve washed your clothes, picked up after you, made your meals, raised your kids, took care of you when you were sick, earned extra money to help cover some of your debts, and now you think you can dismiss all my work as being of no use!” That may, in fact, be how Paul felt about the Galatians.[11]

Augustine shares how these observances affected the church during his day. He notes that although this passage in Galatians is read so openly and authoritatively in churches throughout the world, there are still congregations full of people who read the horoscope to see what it says about their future. Not only that, but these people often do not hesitate to warn everyone about starting a particular project such as work on a building or other structure on one of the days they call “Egyptian.”[12] There’s an old saying that applies to such people, “They don’t know where they’re going.” But if this passage is to be understood as referring to the superstitious observances of the Jews, what hope is there for them as Christians if they end up shipwrecked on the rocks due to their constant use of human fortunetellers?

Augustine then goes on to say that if they were to constantly and habitually follow the Jewish custom and observe special times listed in the Torah that God gave to them while they were still wandering in the wilderness instead of in the Promised Land, would hear the Apostle saying to them: I fear that my labor for you was in vain. That’s why, if any believer, even a catechumen,[13] is caught observing the Sabbath according to the Jewish practice, the church goes into an uproar. However, countless numbers of the faithful boldly tell us to our face of taboos they refuse to go against, says Augustine. For instance, “I never begin a trip on the second day of the month.”[14]

In another writing, Augustine deals with certain Christian misbehaviors spoken of in Scripture that some treated as trifling and of little importance. Is such action possible when the Word of God clearly shows that they are more serious than we think? For instance, is it possible that someone saying to their brother, “You fool,” is no longer in danger of hell-fire,[15] even though the Anointed One said so? Still, for the guilty, the Anointed One immediately supplied a remedy by adding the precept of brotherly reconciliation: “If, therefore, you are offering a gift at the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar (not “on” the altar). First, go and be reconciled to them, then come back and offer your gift.[16] Or, who would think that it is a great sin to observe certain days, months, years, and seasons – like those people who will or will not begin projects on certain days or in certain months or years,[17] because they follow senseless human superstitions and assume that some seasons are lucky and some unlucky – if we do not recognize the magnitude of this practice from the Apostle Paul’s own fear, “I’m afraid I wasted my time on you.?[18]

[1] W. A. Liebenberg: On Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 77

[2] Cf. Mark 3:2; Luke 14:1, 20:19-20

[3] Acts of the Apostles 9:23-24

[4] Avi ben Mordechai: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 52

[5] 2 Corinthians 11:2-3

[6] Ibid. 12:20-21

[7] Isaiah 49:4

[8] Philippians 2:16

[9] 1 Thessalonians 3:5

[10] Chrysostom: Commentary on Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit., Galatians 4:11, Fear of Laboring in Vain, p. 62

[11] Edwards, M. J. (Ed.). On Galatians, op. cit., p. 61

[12] Before the introduction of astrology, ancient Egyptians used the solar calendar exclusively, marking their days and years by the position of the stars.  They also used a lunar calendar to designate their religious festivals and rituals. So such days were often referred to as “Egyptian Days.”

[13] This is a Latin term for either a convert taking instructions before baptism or a young member of the church preparing for confirmation.

[14] Augustine: Commentary on Galatians, loc. cit.

[15] Matthew 5:22

[16] Ibid. 5:23-24

[17] Today we have such superstitions as “Don’t walk under a ladder,” “Don’t let a black cat cross your path,” Don’t look into a broken mirror,” “Carrying a rabbit’s foot will bring good luck,” etc.

[18] Augustine: Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love by Albert C. Outler, Ch. 21, p. 68

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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