This is the first entry in the ‘Apostle Paul’ series that deals with what Paul wrote. The earlier entries are some background information.
The apostle Paul wrote,
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 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! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” Galatians 4:8-11 (ESV)
The above verse is often used to support a doctrine that basically states that Paul taught against keeping any of God’s “appointed times” (Sabbath, Passover, day of Atonement, Tabernacles, and other feast days or times.) But is that really what he is saying?
Galatians is a great book – but keep it in the context with which Paul wrote it. He wrote it ‘to the churches of Galatia.’ Galatians 1:2 (ESV). In other words, gentiles. When he speaks of ‘days and months and seasons and years,’ why assume he is talking about God’s times when he is talking to gentiles who knew nothing of any times God had given?
The world in the time of Paul was full of all sorts of gods and goddesses, and they all had their special days and months and seasons and years. It is these things that Paul is calling the ‘worthless elemental principles of the world.’ There is even a clue in the verses above where Paul says, ‘how can you turn back again.’
The gentiles never knew God or Yeshua (Jesus) prior to hearing the gospel message. They weren’t ‘turning back’ to God’s times, but to the pagan days, months, seasons and years. The beginning of the verses above states from what the Gentiles are coming from.
Throughout Paul’s writings he has nothing but good to say about God’s law. He does, however, try to caution all the gentile believers from thinking that following the law leads to salvation. It was never meant for that purpose and Paul is trying to make that point over and over.
So, if you think that Paul is, in Galatians, telling us that God’s days, months, seasons, and years aren’t important, please do an overview of Paul’s life, teachings, and his relationship to God’s law. You will see him over and over upholding the law in his actions and words, yet also pointing to Messiah Yeshua as the one through whom salvation is given.
If, in light of the context of all his letters, he is (here in Galatians) stating that God’s times, sabbath included, are not important, then we have a schizophrenic Paul, being one thing in one letter and another thing in another. Such a person wouldn’t be worth listening to.
But he isn’t schizophrenic.
And he is worth ‘listening’ to.
But keep all his sayings both in the context of all his letters, and in the context of the cultures he is writing to!
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5 thoughts on “Days, Months, Seasons and Years – Paul in the Book of Galatians”
I think Paul’s message is even stronger when we quit thinking that he is coming against Biblical teachings. When one starts to think deeply into what Paul says here, it really brings into question many of the traditions in ‘traditional Christianity.’ – Yosef.
I fully agree. There is interesting evidence from the DSS that suggests that “works of the law” was the name of some false doctrine similar to the oral law.
Presumably, the phrase “under the law” could mean something similar as well
Here is an interesting view of the “Torah is a shadow” thing:
The term ‘works of the law’ causes much confusion and has long been taught that following the law won’t ‘save’ one. Actually, that is true; the Law of God was never given as steps to salvation. What isn’t true about the common understanding of the term ‘works of the Law’ is that the law is somehow no longer valid. It’s a fun study and digs deep into the roots of some very commonly held doctrines about what ‘salvation’ means. I hope to address the terms ‘under the Law’ and ‘works of the Law’ in this series. I also like to point out that one of the first things one has to do is figure out whether Paul is meaning God’s Law when he uses the term Law. Sometimes he isn’t. It has been centuries of teaching against the Law of God that predisposes us to think that every time Paul mentions ‘law’ it must be God’s law he is talking about. More about that in future posts.
As for the possibility that the DSS (Dead Sea Scrolls) use the term ‘works of the law,’ I’m a bit curious. First there is the translation issue as the scrolls are not in Greek. Also, I find it interesting that Mr. Trimm translates ‘torah’ to mean ‘law’ in that passage (in the first reference you give), as torah does not mean ‘law’ at all. It means ‘teachings’. (I must admit that I’m also not convinced that Aramaic was the original language of the texts that Mr. Trimm refers to. It may be true in some of the cases, but not, I think, for all texts.) Still, Mr. Trimm does make some good points in his articles.
Shalom, and thanks for the comment! – Yosef
looking forward to reading more of your posts!