The new Messianic Age has dawned in Jesus, therefore calendrical rituals and other Levitical regulations belong to the old and now obsolete order.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul chided Christians for their desire “to return to bondage under the weak and beggarly rudiments” of the world, including calendrical observations. Since believers now live in the era of fulfillment, resorting to outmoded rituals is inappropriate and constitutes regression to a state of slavery.
Did not God send his Son at the “fullness of time” to redeem those who were under the law, “that we might receive the adoption of sons”? And “because we are sons, He sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” Therefore, no longer are we under the custodianship of the Law. Thus, with the arrival of Jesus, a fundamental change in the law and the status of the people of God occurred – (Galatians 4:1-6).
And his arrival marked the “fullness of time,” the moment when we ceased to be minors and became full heirs of the promises to Abraham. To now return to the “rudimentary things” of the old order, such as calendrical rituals, is the opposite of progress and revelation, a return to the “shadows” of the old system even though we now have the substance of what they foreshadowed!
In the larger context, Paul was addressing both Jewish (“we”) and Gentile (“you”) believers. The main controversy was the effort by certain men “from Jerusalem” to require Gentile believers to undergo circumcision, and thus “complete” their faith. However, once that door was opened, issues surrounding the requirements of the Mosaic law regarding the calendar inevitably came into play:
- (Galatians 4:8-11) – “But at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to them who, by nature, are not gods. But now, having acknowledged God, or rather, having been acknowledged by God, why are you reverting again to the weak and beggarly rudiments to which you again wish to come into bondage? Days you do narrowly observe, and months and seasons and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means, in vain, I have toiled for you!”
By God’s grace, believers have been set right with God “from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, not from the deeds of the Law.” To return now to the rituals of the Levitical regulations is tantamount to declaring that Jesus died in vain – (Galatians 2:15-21).
Because believers are “from faith and not from the deeds of the Law,” they are true children of Abraham regardless of their ethnicity. They are not “under the Law” and its curse – (Galatians 3:8-12).
Paul used an analogy based on the adoption practices common in the Greco-Roman culture. Under the law, Israel was comparable to a minor child before his formal adoption when the child remained under “custodians and administrators” appointed by his adoptive parent. As such, he differed little from a household slave.
Likewise, believers were “children” in bondage under the “rudiments of the world” until the time appointed when God sent his Son to redeem them. Consequently, they have been adopted, and as sons, they are heirs and no longer minor children. In his analogy, the law of Moses plays the role of the “custodian.” But since the “adoption,” a status change has occurred as attested by the receipt of the gift of the Spirit. In Jesus, the role of the “custodian” has ended.
The Greek term rendered “rudiments” or stoicheion means “elemental, elementary, rudiment, rudimentary, basic” – (Strong’s – #G4747). It may refer to any first thing, the parts or the building blocks that comprise a larger whole. For example, according to Peter, the “elements” or stoicheia that make up the Cosmos will be burned with fire on the “Day of the Lord.” Simply put, the ‘ABCs,’ the elementary stages of any subject or parts of any larger thing – (2 Peter 3:10-12).
Paul equates the return to observing calendar cycles with reverting to the elementary principles of the world, that is, to return to the old era rather than live in the new one inaugurated by Jesus. Rather than completion and maturity, this amounts to regression to a state of infancy.
Paul provided an example of the “rudiments” of the old age, the observation of “days and months and seasons and years.” To submit to religious rules based on the cycles of celestial bodies is to submit to the “rudiments” of the old regime.
“Why are you reverting again?” Paul uses a verb in the progressing present tense, one that means to “revert, turn back.” By resorting to calendrical rituals, the Galatians were in the process of returning to bondage under the “weak and beggarly” practices of the old era. “Beggarly” adds emphasis to the point. What they were doing would only impoverish them spiritually.
His warning is applicable to Jewish and Gentile believers. Previously, the Gentiles were “in bondage to them that by nature are no gods.” Calendrical observations as religious rites were as common among the pagans of the Roman world as they were among the Jews, though differing in key details.
Paul refers to the desire to “observe closely” days, months, and years. This represents the Greek verb paratéreō, meaning to “watch closely, narrowly observe; to keep scrupulously” (Strong’s – #G3906).
The same verb was applied in the gospel accounts to the Scribes and Pharisees who closely monitored the actions of Jesus to see if he would violate their dietary and Sabbath regulations – (Mark 3:2, Luke 6:7, 14:1, 20:20).
In the Greek text, the clause rendered “days and months and seasons and years” is virtually identical to the Greek Septuagint version of the description from Genesis about the divisions of time – “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” – (Genesis 1:14).
The verbal allusion is deliberate. Calendrical observations characterize the old order, but not the new messianic age. Such practices are not necessarily evil, but in Christ, they are outmoded, passé. With the inauguration of the New Covenant, the old one has become “obsolete, aged” and is “about to disappear” – (Galatians 1:1-6, 6:14-15, 1 Corinthians 7:31, Hebrews 8:13).
For a follower of Jesus to submit to circumcision, calendrical rituals, and the like, means to return to bondage under the rudimentary principles of the old era. As Paul concluded his letter to the Galatians:
“With me, however, far be it to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby, unto me, a world has been crucified and I unto a world; For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as many as by this rule shall walk, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” – (Galatians 6:14-16).
Thus, the “fullness of time,” the new Messianic Age, and the “new creation” have dawned in Jesus Christ, and believers must live accordingly.