The Sabbath and Holy Days in Galatians
Did The Apostle Paul Admonish the Galatian Believers for Observing the Sabbath and Holy Days?
by Larry and June Acheson
1. Is it Possible to Keep Every Day Holy?
he Apostle Paul was very critical of the Galatian assembly. In chapter three of his letter to them, he called them “foolish.” This is not exactly a clinic on how to win friends, but you can bet he got their attention. In the fourth chapter, he adds salt to the wound. Let’s look at what he wrote in Galatians 4:9-11:
9But now, after that ye have known the Almighty, or rather are known of the Almighty, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage?
10Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years.
11I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.
What in the world were those Galatian believers up to? There are a variety of opinions on this subject. The prevailing interpretation among many Bible scholars seems to be that Paul was admonishing the Galatians for reverting back to Sabbathkeeping, after all the pains he had gone to in order to persuade them that the Sabbath had been “done away.”
Take, for example, the following quote from anti-sabbatarian author Charles Halff in his commentary on Galatians 4:10-11:
The apostle tells us here that the observance of days is a sign of weakness, childishness and lack of development. It is very plain to see that God doesn’t want us to observe any days or months or seasons. To the Christian there are no special holy days. Every day is the Lord’s day for the child of God. Every day should be holy unto the Lord. Praise God — we serve a real and living Christ who lives all year round.
Halff, in the above summary, indicates that believers shouldn’t be “observing” any days, months or seasons at all, but that we should set aside each day as special to the Almighty. In theory, this sounds like a wonderful plan, but for those who work for a living, it soon becomes evident that something is amiss. The conundrum omitted by Mr. Halff is how those who work for a living can truly set aside a day as being holy to the Creator. June and I are acquainted with folks who literally work seven days a week, not because that’s the way they like it, but because they’re trying to stay afloat in these tough economic times. They return home exhausted from their day at work, prepare a meal, then spend some precious time with their family before going to bed and repeating the same process the next day. Those people might have a difficult time taking Mr. Halff’s exhortation seriously.
Those who truly understand setting aside a day as holy unto the Almighty know that this is not feasible if the majority of that day is spent at work. This is not to say our work day should be spent devoid of any spiritual thoughts or of applying Scriptural precepts towards anything we think, do or say. On the contrary, our Scriptural understanding should determine and control our thought processes during each moment of each and every day. Putting our faith in action is not something we do one day per week; it’s a lifestyle. Thus, we can certainly live each day in a righteous manner, but this does not mean that we are setting aside any particular day as special for our Heavenly Father. Anyone who understands Scripture, including Mr. Halff, agrees that, at least in the days during which the Messiah walked the earth (and beforehand), our Creator expected His children to set aside one day per week – the Seventh Day – as holy unto Him. On that day, no work was to be done:
8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10But the seventh day is the sabbath of Yahweh thy Almighty: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
The above text is found in chapter 20 of the book of Exodus and is well known as one of the Ten Commandments. This commandment, in deference to Mr. Halff’s expectations, enjoins Yahweh’s children to set aside the seventh day of the week as a holy day. Presumably, Mr. Halff agrees that prior to the days when the Messiah walked the earth, all believers were to observe the Sabbath. However, following the Messiah’s death and resurrection, all that changed. Now, according to Charles Halff, we are to observe each and every day as “holy.” As we just pointed out, however, Mr. Halff fails to explain exactly how we can treat a day as “holy unto Yahweh” when we have to spend it laboriously expending our energy trying to meet the demands of our employers. I recently resigned from a position when I was informed that, although my quality of work exceeded expectations, I wasn’t getting enough done during a day’s time. I should add that I routinely put in 12 hours or more of work each day that I was there! If it hadn’t been for the weekly Sabbath, there would have been no way for me to have kept the other six days holy!
I dare say that Mr. Halff either does not or cannot understand how utterly impossible it is to keep a day holy while spending it “on the job.”
In the above-cited quote from Mr. Halff’s booklet, one might, at first, wonder if he truly has the Sabbath day in mind when he states that, for believers, there are no special holy days. However, he later becomes very outspoken about his belief that the Sabbath and holy days were indeed what Paul was referring to. He writes:
The Sabbath of the Old Testament was only a shadow. Thank God for that day that brought Christ on the scene and God delivered us from the powers of darkness and the ritual and formality of the Old Testament types. Now it is Christ seven days out of the week, three hundred sixty-five days out of the year. Christ is our peace! Christ is our rest!
Of course, Charles Halff is not the only evangelical who regards Galatians 4:9-11 as proof that believers should not be observing the weekly Sabbath. Even highly recognized authors such as Adam Clarke in his Commentary on the Bible join the bandwagon:
10. Ye observe days. You superstitiously regard the Sabbaths and particular days of your own appointment. And months, New moons. Times—festivals, such as those of Tabernacles, Dedication, Passover. Years. Annual atonements, sabbatical years, and jubilees.
Upon reading these interpretations of Galatians 4:10, the casual reader might be persuaded to believe that he would be making a big mistake if he were to ever decide to observe the Sabbath or other holy days mentioned in Scripture. A serious Bible student, however, will examine the whole of Scripture before making his or her decision. How about you? Are you so easily persuaded that Paul’s admonition of Galatians 4:10 was an indictment against Sabbathkeepers? Let’s examine some Scriptures to see exactly what the Apostle Paul had in mind with his harsh words of criticism.
2. Did the Apostle Paul Tell a Fib?
s we begin our investigation into what Paul meant in his criticism of the Galatian believers, we need to bear in mind that there is no record in any of Paul’s letters that he gave specific instructions to anyone to not observe the Sabbath. If we are to understand the strong indictment of Galatians 4:10 as meaning the Galatian believers weren’t supposed to be observing the Sabbath, we can only reach that conclusion by viewing a specific set of instructions to that effect. Those instructions need to be clear and forthright, especially in view of the fact that no Jewish convert would readily give up his or her Sabbath observance. Such a radical change requires a concise explanation, plainly outlining that we, as believers, should not be setting that day aside as holy. Those instructions are nowhere to be found! In fact, numerous examples demonstrate that Paul actively taught and practiced the observance of the seventh day Sabbath! For example, in the book of Acts, chapter 25, Paul is on trial, accused of teaching against the law and of polluting the Temple. Standing before the Roman procurator assigned to Judea, Festus, he defended himself against the Jews’ accusations. Notice carefully what the Apostle Paul said in Acts 25:8:
8While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.
Did you catch what Paul said? He had not “offended” or transgressed the law of the Jews, which includes the observance of the Sabbath! Take note also of the time frame of this event in Paul’s life. He had already completed his third and final missionary journey, during which time he is alleged to have taught the cessation of all requirements pertaining to the fourth commandment! If that is indeed what Paul taught, and if indeed Paul was an honest man, then this appearance before Festus was his opportunity to “come clean.” Instead, he adamantly denied going against any of Yahweh’s laws. Therefore, had Paul taught against the Sabbath or not observed it himself, then he LIED in Acts 25:8! Since we do not wish to make Paul out to be a liar, we understand that indeed he did observe the seventh-day Sabbath regularly during his entire lifetime.
Clinching evidence that Paul’s custom was to observe the Sabbath can be found in Acts 17:2, where we plainly read that his custom was to observe the Sabbath. In Acts 18, we read that Paul abode in Corinth for a year and a half (Acts 18:11). During that lengthy time span, did he teach the abrogation of the Sabbath? If he did, no such record exists! Instead, we read in verse four that he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, speaking to both Jews and Greeks. What was his message, anyway? That the Sabbath is abolished? No, his message was that Yeshua is Messiah (v. 5)! As if any further evidence is needed that Paul observed the Sabbath day, Acts 13 provides yet another sterling example. Paul stood up in the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia on the Sabbath and eloquently preached that Yeshua is the Son of Yahweh and is Messiah. He did not offer a teaching that those people were meeting on the wrong day. In fact, when he was finished, “the Gentiles besought that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42). Had Sunday been the “day of choice,” those Gentiles would have asked him to return the next day! Instead, they requested a return engagement on the following Sabbath day. The Apostle Paul did not recognize any other day of rest and worship and neither does Yahweh.
3. Then What Did Paul Mean?
o what did Paul mean when he blasted the Galatian believers for “observing days, and months, and times, and years”? Well, the very fact that Paul is recorded as observing the Sabbath refutes the notion that this verse can properly be used as a reference that true believers should not observe the Sabbath, new moons, or holy days. So what does this verse mean? To find out, let’s go to the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus there is a reference made against the observance of times:
26Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, NOR OBSERVE TIMES. (Leviticus 19:26)
By process of elimination we can discern that Galatians 4:10 cannot be a reference to Yahweh’s established holy days. The verse quoted above demonstrates that there’s definitely something else being referred to in Galatians apart from those holy days, for it is very commonly known that the holy days were in effect during the time period in which the book of Leviticus was written. The Sabbath and holy days were commanded to be observed! Yet, as the above verse warns, the people were not to be found “observing times.” Any Israelite living during that time period who was found “observing times” was guilty of breaking the law found in Leviticus 19:26.
So what does “observing times” mean? A strong clue as to its meaning can be found in the book of Esther. Shown below is Esther 3:7:
7In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of king Ahasuerus, they cast Pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar.
As you can see in this passage, Persians were observing days and months. Did the Persian nation worship Yahweh? Notice what Clarke’s Commentary has to say about this verse:
7. The first month. That is, of the civil year of the Jews. The month Nisan. Answering to a part of our March and April. The twelfth year of King Ahasuerus. According to the chronology in our Bibles, about five hundred and ten years before Christ. They cast Pur, that is, the lot. This appears to be the Hebrew corruption of the pure Persian word pari, which signifies anything that “happens fortuitously.” We see plainly intimated by the Hebrew text that they cast lots, or used a species of divination, to find which of the twelve months would be the most favorable for the execution of Haman’s design; and, having found the desired month, then they cast lots, or used divination, to find out which day of the said month would be the lucky day for the accomplishment of the enterprise. The Hebrew text does not tell us the result of this divination; we are left to guess it out. But the Greek supplies this deficiency, and makes all clear. From it we find that, when they cast for the month, the month Adar was taken; and when they cast for the day, the fourteenth (Heb., thirteenth) of that month was taken.
If we are able to discern, as Clarke’s Commentary shows us, that there were observers of times in Persia, i.e., people who cast lots to find out their “lucky days,” it becomes easier to understand that when Paul penned Galatians 4:10, the observance of the seventh day Sabbath was the farthest thing from his mind. Samuele Bacchiocchi, in his book The Sabbath in the New Testament, offers a noteworthy summary of what Paul meant in his criticism of the Galatian assembly:
It is generally agreed that the Galatians’ observance of sacred times was motivated by superstitious beliefs in astral influences. This is suggested by Paul’s charge that their adoption of these practices was tantamount to a return to their former pagan subjection to elemental spirits and demons (Gal. 4:8-9).
As we bring our study to a close, we are displaying Deuteronomy 18:10, which unmistakably links “observing times” with divination and witchcraft:
10There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or AN OBSERVER OF TIMES, or an enchanter, or a witch, ....
In conclusion, Galatians 4:9-11 is not an admonition aimed at the Galatian assembly because they were observing Yahweh’s Sabbath day. Rather, it is a rebuke against those who cast lots for their “lucky days.” The modern day equivalent to this would be those who insist on checking their horoscope before considering business ventures, marriage, etc. By keeping these facts in mind, we can clearly discern that the Apostle Paul was in no way referring to either the Sabbath, new moons, or holy days when he wrote Galatians 4:9-11.
 The Greek text here uses the generic term for deity, Theos. Most English translations render Theos as “God,” but we prefer other titles, such as “Almighty,” “Mighty One,” or “Sovereign” because of the fact that “God” is originally the name of a heathen idol whose worship was condemned by Yahweh. For detailed proof, we invite you to read our study entitled God’s Identity According to Ancient Hebrew Scholars.
 From page 14 of a booklet entitled “Should the Sabbath be Observed Today?”, written by Charles Halff, director of The Christian Jew Foundation, San Antonio, Texas.
 We choose to retain the Creator’s name as transliterated from the original Hebrew text, which we believe is best transliterated Yahweh. If you would like a detailed explanation as to why we believe it is best to refer to the Almighty with the name that He gave to Himself, please read our study entitled Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Names Will Never Hurt Me: A Look at the Name We Call Our Heavenly Father.
 Charles Halff, “Should the Sabbath be Observed Today?”, The Christian Jew Foundation, San Antonio, Texas, pp. 14-15.
 Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, abridged by Ralph Earle, 1985, by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, p. 1,161.
 We refer to the Messiah by the name He was known by when He walked this earth. This name, Yeshua, is attested to in various documents, including texts of the Hebrew book of Matthew. For a detailed study on the Messiah’s name, we invite you to read our study entitled The Name of the Messiah.
 Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Bible, abridged by Ralph Earle, 1985, by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, Missouri, pp. 428-429.
 Samuele Bacchiocchi, The Sabbath in the New Testament, 1985, Biblical Perspectives, Berrien Springs, Michigan, p. 122.
This is the name of our Creator, Yahweh, sometimes called the Tetragrammaton. It is given here in (A) the Phoenician script, (B) the Ivrit Kadum (Paleo-Hebrew) script, and (C) the Modern Hebrew script (a stylization of Aramaic).
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