Galatians 4:10 – “You observe days and months and seasons and years!”
This verse is sometimes interpreted as a criticism of obeying events in God’s law that are based on these divisions of time. These could include the weekly sabbath, monthly new moons, seasonal feasts, seven year land sabbaths and fiftieth year Jubilee. But does the context point to a problem with observing God’s days or some other days?
Let’s look at the previous two verses.
“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?” (Galatians 4:8-9)
Paul provides characteristics of the observed days he was referring to.
- When you did not know God (vs 8)
- Were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods (vs 8)
- They were weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. (vs 9)
The language has commonalities with Colossians 2:20-23.
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)
The elemental spirits and principles of the world are “human precepts”. They are “man-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body”.
By contrast, in Romans Paul refers to God’s law as holy, righteous, good, spiritual and something he delighted in and served.
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:12-14)
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” (Romans 7:22-25)
What were the observances Paul was condemning? One possibility is that they were Roman and/or pagan festivals. There were many in the Roman Empire, including “days instituted for the sake of the gods”, according to Varro. It’s also arguable Paul was referring back to the false teaching that salvation could be obtained by becoming a Jewish proselyte. These two possibilities align with the main issues ruled on by the Acts 15 Jerusalem Council.