Understanding Galatians 4:8-12

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding Galatians 4:8-12

By Larry R. Lasiter

© 2013

"However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are."

The heresy taking root in the Galatian Church was a perversion of the true Gospel. Judaizers were following the Apostle Paul disturbing the Gentile congregations he established by insisting that they could not be saved without being circumcised and by keeping the whole Law of Moses. (Acts 15:1,5) These false teachers obviously believed that the Gentile converts had to be joined to natural Israel to be heirs of the Kingdom, and they had a problem with Paul teaching a new covenant of salvation by grace through faith.

With this firmly in mind, we must conclude that the "days," "months," "seasons" and "years" certainly included the Holy Day Festivals given to Israel. Paul warned the Galatians that to turn back to the Sinai Covenant and its Laws was to be enslaved, -"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (5:1) The Apostle Peter used this same terminology when making a case against having the Gentiles being circumcised and directed to keep the Law of Moses, -"Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Acts 15:10-11) Before their conversion the Gentiles were slaves to idolatry. Paul in his frustration is asking the Galatians why they would want to go from one slavery to another.

The question must be asked, "is the Apostle finding fault with them because they were observing the Holy Days of the Bible, or was he finding fault in how they were observing them?"

 We understand clearly that the Galatians were merging Judaism with Christianity-merging the Sinai Covenant with Abrahamís Covenant, (keeping Hagar in the house with Sarah -Gal.4:21-31) so perhaps they were beginning to observe these appointed times in a Jewish way. Consider the Passover for example, the Jews kept the Passover by slaughtering a lamb and eating it with bitter herbs to commemorate the death angel sparing their firstborn in Egypt. In Christianity, Christ is our Passover Lamb who takes away our sins. The Jews were commanded to eat the seder meal but Jesus introduced unleavened bread as His Body and wine as His blood of a new covenant and said, "do this in remembrance of Me." To a Jew the Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates that God brought them out of Egypt so quickly that their bread didnít have time to rise, but to a Christian this Festival is a celebration of the saving work of the cross the day before on Passover when Christís sacrifice made us unleavened before God. (leavening being recognized as a type for sin) The early Christians recognized and celebrated the fact that the way Israel observed the Festivals of God had now been fulfilled in Christ. The true meanings of the shadows past were made manifest in Christ.

Sometimes just when we think weíve solved the problem we find they weíve only created another one. Paul wrote the Galatians to "become as I am." Concerning the Holy Days Festivals, Paul marked his journeys in the book of Acts and 1 Corinthians around them, notice -"When they asked him (Paul) to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent, but took leave of them saying, ĎI must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.í And he sailed from Ephesus." (Acts 18:20-21 NKJV) Notice that Paul is traveling to Jerusalem to "keep" the feast. Notice again, -"We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas." (Acts 20:6) "For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost." (Acts 20:16)

In his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, -"But I will come to you after I go through Macedonia, for I am going through Macedonia; and perhaps I will stay with you, or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way whenever I may go. For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost." (1 Cor. 16:5-8)

In 1 Corinthians 7:19 we see that Paul taught the observance of the Commandments to the Gentile converts, -"Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the Commandments of God." And Paul instructed the Gentiles how to observe the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, -"Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." (I Corinthians 5:7-8)

In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul chastens the brethren for how they were observing the Passover and gives them detailed instructions on how to properly observe it. In light of this understanding, I think that we must consider that Paul was not concerned that the Galatians were observing the Holy Days but in how they were observing them. The fact that Paul made references to Holy Day Festivals so casually to the Gentiles must mean that they were very familiar with them and likely observing them with Christian meanings.

 What Catholic or Protestant Minister today would tell a Church that he would visit them after Ramadan, an Islamic observance? He would more likely say, "Iíll come to you after Thanksgiving," a holiday well known to American Christians.

So when Paul told the Galatians to "become as I am, for I also have become as you are," he was saying that as they had left their former life in pagan idolatry to be joined to Abrahamís Covenant through Christ, he too had left his former life in Judaism and Sinai Covenant to be joined to Abrahamís Covenant of Promise through Christ. Notice Philippians 3:5-7, Paul was "circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the Church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ." In verses 2 and 3 of this Chapter he refers to Judaizers as "dogs," "evil workers" and "the false circumcision." He goes on to tell the Philippians that in Christ they were the "true circumcision."

Now notice this frightening rebuke Paul delivered to those who were beginning to practice Christianity according to the flesh, the Sinai Covenant and Judaism, -"Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the WHOLE Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." (Gal. 5:2-4) We have already seen that Paul kept and taught Godís Commandments and Holy Day Festivals, so we must understand that there is a distinction between the Laws in Abrahamís Covenant and the "whole" Law in the Sinai Covenant which contained hundreds of Laws which were added due to transgressions. (Gal. 3:19)

When making a case for abandoning the Sinai Covenant and its Laws in order to receive Abrahamís Covenant of Promise, which is the New Covenant Christians enter into, the writer of Hebrews wrote, -"But now He (Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the Mediator of a better Covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. . .Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when I will effect a New Covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the Covenant which I made with their fathers. . .For this is the Covenant that I will make with the House of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My Laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. . .And I will remember their sins no more. When He said, ĎA New Covenantí He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear." (Heb. 8:6-13)

In the New Covenant sins are remembered no more, but in the Sinai Covenant there are sacrifices which serve to remind the people of their sins, -"But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:3-4)

To harmonize these Scriptures we must see that there is a difference of Law in the two Covenants. The "better" or "new" Covenant contains Laws (though not for salvation or for righteousness) but certainly not the "whole Laws" of Moses which would sever a believer from Christ.

 Genesis 26:5 says that God made a Covenant with Abraham "because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My Commandments, My Statutes and My Laws." I believe these to be the Ten Commandments, the Holy Days Festivals (since the early Church kept them) and the food Laws of Leviticus 11 which is confirmed by Peterís vision when he refused to eat unclean foods even though he recognized the voice of the Lord commanding him to do so. Peter didnít know what the vision meant at the time, but he understood clearly it was not a change of food Laws. Some may quickly point to Paulís instruction to Timothy when he said, -"For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified (set apart) by means of the Word of God and prayer." (1 Tim.4:4-5) Notice what this is not saying. It is not saying you are free to eat anything as long as you give thanks and pray over it. Paul is saying that nothing is to be refused that has been "sanctified" by the Word of God. To be sanctified is to have been "set apart" by the Word of God. The only place in Godís Word where particular foods are set apart as clean and unclean is Leviticus 11. Even Noah knew there were clean and unclean animals because God instructed him to take seven pairs of clean animals and only one pair of unclean animals onto the ark. This is also why Peter refused to eat the unclean animals he saw in his vision, saying, -"By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean." (Acts 10:14)

One clue to the meaning of Galatians 4:8-12 is that the Galatians had turned to "elemental" things.

 Elemental or elementary means beginning or basis understanding of things. Jesus had plainly told Nicodemis, a son of Abraham that he could not even see the Kingdom of God unless he be born again of the Spirit. This man was born of Abraham according to the flesh, but that was not enough to make him a true son and heir of the Kingdom. Consider that his fleshly birth as being an "elementary" thing, a beginning, but a Spiritual birth in Christ as needed for maturity and perfection. In their relationship with God, the Israelites had begun in the flesh, but Gentiles having never been heirs according to the flesh, actually began their relationship with God in the Spirit, -"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3) In beginning to practice a Jewish brand of Christianity Paul was saying they were turning to elementary things and seeking to be perfected by the flesh. Paul clearly equates the Sinai Covenant and its sons as being flesh, -"And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise (Abrahamís Covenant of Promise). But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit." (Gal. 4:28-29)

We see this same "elementary"terminology used in the letter to the Hebrews in Chapter 6. The epistle to the Hebrews was written to Jews who had become Christians but were suffering persecution from their kinsmen.

 Notice this from the heading of Hebrews in my Zondervan NASV Bible, -"The first-century church underwent much persecution, (mostly Jewish) and this letter was written in that setting. The persecution had not yet resulted in martyrdom, but it was severe. The intended readers seem to have been Jewish Christians who were thinking of abandoning their faith and of lapsing back into Judaism. So the author exhorts them to hold fast to their confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord."

As a result, some were leaving their maturity in Christ and returning to "elementary" teachings. They were compromising the pillars of the Christian faith by attempting to merely add Jesus as Messiah to the tenets of Judaism. From Chapter 1 through Chapter 13 the Apostle reveals Christ in everything that Israel had been taught. This was necessary because the Hebrew converts had begun to look back to Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, to the elementary or beginning things, rather than fixing their eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of Salvation.

The writer reminded these wavering brethren that though God had spoken to them long ago through the "fathers" and the "prophets"-in these "last days he has spoken to us in His Son." (Heb.1:1-2) He reminded them that Jesus was the Creator who had made the world and that He was superior to angels. In Chapter 2 the writer warned that God had testified through signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus was the Son of God and asked, -"how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (2:3) In Chapter 3 he stresses that Jesus is greater than Moses, -"For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house." (vs 3) Chapter 4 reveals that the "rest" that was promised to Abraham and his descendants was not achieved under the Sinai Covenant, and that the true rest did not lie across the Jordan but in the heavenly, -"For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that." (vs 8)

Chapters 5-8 reveal that Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of Abrahamís Covenant of Promise-that the Priesthood of Melchizedek precedes and is greater than that of Aaron and Levi-that as High Priest, Jesus enters the heavenly tabernacle to intercede for us rather than into a mere copy and shadow in Jerusalem as Aaron did-that He is the Mediator of a New Covenant and that the Sinai Covenant is obsolete and ready to disappear. Chapter 10 says that Christians enter through the veil of the heavenly holy of holies by the blood of Jesus. Chapter 11 reminds the Hebrews of the great cloud of witnesses, including Abraham, Moses and the Prophets, all lived by faith without receiving the true promises of Abrahamís Covenant - that these great witnesses were strangers on the earth and were looking for a heavenly country and a city whose architect and builder is God. Chapter 12 warns the brethren of the consequences of coming up short of the grace of God - and that they have not come to Sinai as those formerly, but have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God. Chapter 13 has a exhortation to remember those who brought them the gospel of grace and turn back to imitating their faith.

 To those wavering Hebrew Christians the case is made that in Christ there is superior revelation, superiority over angels, superiority over Moses, superiority over Aaronic Priests, superior sacrifice, superior Covenant ratified by Christ and then a plea to not turn back to "elementary" (beginning things) teachings about Christ but press on in persevering faith in Christ as all and in all.

Let us take into account that "elementary" things and teachings and even "shadows" are not bad, they just cannot make us perfect or take us into maturity in Christ.

 The Passover lamb in Egypt could not take away sins but could only point to a future Lamb from God who had the power to. The "shadows" that God instructed Moses to build were "elementary" (beginning) things which pointed to the heavenly realities, -"Now if He (Jesus as High Priest) were on earth, He would not be a Priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." (Heb. 8:4-5) "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near." (Heb.10:1) These sacrificial offerings had no power to wash away sins but could only serve as a reminder that a worthy sacrifice was needed.

With all these things in mind let us now look at Hebrews Chapters 5 and 6. After explaining the superiority which is in Christ in every way, and that everything past is "elementary" and "shadows" of more heavenly realities, let us see the Apostleís assessment of his Hebrew brethren, -"Concerning Him (Jesus as Melchizedek and High Priest) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food." (5:11-12) These brethren were looking back and focusing on the shadows rather than remembering what the saints had taught them when they had received the spiritual meaning of those types and shadows in light of Christ. They had gone from college, spiritually, back to elementary school.

Now notice Chapter 6:1-2, -"Therefore, leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." All of these tenets of the Christian faith are good and necessary, but they are only the elementary, or beginnings of the faith and there is a need to press on to our maturity in Christ, -"Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature, a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak Godís wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Cor. 2:6-8)

We have already seen that Paul had taught the Holy Days to the Gentiles and was observing them himself by his own admission. Since the Galatian heresy was birthed by Judaizers insisting that the brethren turn back to observing Christianity according to elementary teachings, it is reasonable to conclude that they were making the same error that their Hebrew brethren were. The Judaizers still taught the elementary shadows of worship at the temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices, the whole Law of Moses administered by the Aaronic and Levitical Priesthoods, the tenets of the Sinai Covenant, and in observing the annual Festivals of God in the place and the way that Moses had instructed.

Since the Scriptures reveal that the Apostle Paul kept and taught the Ten Commandments and annual Festivals of God, in order to harmonize the Word of God we must conclude that the Galatian Church had begun to keep these days, months and years according to the elementary teachings as first delivered to Moses and not according to their heavenly realities in Christ Jesus. Here is the spiritual meaning of the annual Holy Day Festivals of the Lord.

PASSOVER: Christ is our Passover Lamb whose shed Blood saves us from eternal death. Jesus was crucified on this day to fulfill the meaning of it. It is an annual memorial of the Lordís death. It occurs in the Spring at the time of the Barley harvest on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar. This harvest represents a harvest of souls, the first-fruits, saints of God, bride of Christ, who will rise in glory at His coming.

FEAST OF UNLEAVENED BREAD: This seven day festival follows the Passover, beginning on the 15th day of the first Hebrew month. It also occurs at the Barley harvest. Jesus was the wave shelf of the Barley and when accepted the rest of the harvest could be reaped. This is a seven day (number of perfection) celebration of the glorious truth that we have been made "unleavened"-without sin by Jesus, our Passover Lamb.

PENTECOST: This occurs in the summer and is connected with the Wheat harvest. Fifty days is counted from the weekly Sabbath during Unleavened bread to arrive at the date, therefore Pentecost is always on a Sunday. This is the day that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and the Church of Jesus Christ began. It also represents the future harvest of Israel for their salvation.

TRUMPETS: This occurs on the 1st day of the seventh Hebrew month and represents the return of Christ in all of His glory. It is the time of the first resurrection and is associated with the harvest of the Vine and Produce.

DAY OF ATONEMENT: This occurs on the 10th day of the seventh month and points to the time when Satan and his demons will be put away and the world will become at-one-ment with God. It also points to the time when the resurrected saints will be presented to the Father.

FEAST OF TABERNACLES: This is a seven day Festival that begins on the 15th day of the seventh Hebrew month. It is a time of rejoicing because it pictures the Kingdom of God being established upon the earth and the knowledge of God filling the earth. It is a time when the nations will war no more and there will be peace at last. Jesus and His saints will rule for a thousand years. It is a harvest of souls who will have survived the Great Tribulation.

LAST GREAT DAY: This is sometimes called the eighth day of Tabernacles since it follows immediately. But it has its own meaning. It is the time of the second resurrection and the Great White Throne Judgment of God. It is also a harvest of souls, as billions who are resurrected will have the books of the Bible opened to their understanding and they will have an opportunity to have salvation and fellowship with God. Following this time the present earth and heavens will perish and give way to new heavens and a new earth. It is the time when the New Jerusalem will descend and God the Father will descend on His throne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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