The Calendar Myth – Galatians 4

christmas doorTis the season to be Jolly! I love the sound of that! Holiday…doesn’t that simple WORD make you feel good? The word is a contraction of two old English terms – “holy” and “day”. It was a term to denote a special remembrance or celebration, originally related to religious things – hence the term “holy”. It is a time filled with excitement, a kitchen oven warming the cool of the morning and the smell of delights that no one can resist! What a JOYOUS time of year.

Holidays are at the heart of our identity. They are what communicate our connections that we feel strongly about.

• We stop our normal life to go to a wedding because we have a connection to the people who are joining themselves together.

• As Americans, we have a picnic at the Independence Day because we want to show that we value the Declaration of Independence written by men long ago, and identify with the country God used them to create.

• We eat cake at a birthday party to signal a special connection to the one that has made it to the milestone of another year on the planet!

• We have our turkey at Thanksgiving to recall the miraculous survival of a small band of Christian pilgrims to the shores of what later became the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

• We gather in our churches and in our homes at Christmas to recall a day, long ago, when God broke into human history to replace the sacrifices of bulls and goats made by one small group of people in Judea with a perfect one time sacrifice through Messiah that offered a direct connection through faith in God’s promise – apart from the Temple calendar and the animal sacrifices.

Holidays show allegiance. They symbolize commitment to something or someone. They announce connection to events and people both in the past and in our lives that have significance to us.

We have only sketchy views of such holidays that were celebrated by ancient human beings– and most of that comes from the Bronze Age. Most any scholar, whether secular or Christian, will likely tell you that the most complete information available on ancient holidays is from the Bible. The “feasts of the Lord” represent the most clearly explained early documentation concerning festivals and feast days. The Chinese, Hittites, Indus River civilization and Egyptians certainly had many festivals, but we have much less detail on most of them than what is included in the Bible from the Late Bronze period (that Bible students know as the time of the Exodus and Conquest of Canaan). Long ago, in the wilderness desolation of the Sinai Peninsula, the Bible records that God took an extended family that had been oppressed in Egypt and turned them into a nation. He gave them a central worship place, a set of unique God-given Laws, and a series of memorial holidays. Leviticus 23 and passages like it called the Jewish people to these “Feasts of the Lord”. Those holidays were a connection marker to God that included a weekly Sabbath – something God called Jews uniquely from among men to keep for “all their generations” (Ex. 31:31). When the direct access to God opened, many Jews wanted Gentile born believers to simply “act like Jews” because that was what made sense to them. Today in the church, many wrongly teach that Jews need to simply “act like Gentiles” to join the church. Neither is a proper reflection of the text of the New Testament if viewed up close.

Key Principle: God kept in place unique markers for the Jewish people (because He has a future plan for them) that the church around the world need not be concerned about adopting, no matter what pressure they received to do so.

As we have been studying in Galatians, a NEW COVENANT system was being set in place that not only encompassed the Jewish people, but prior to their national embrace (that hasn’t happened yet) it gave direct access for salvation to anyone on earth apart from Israel – if they would only believe what God communicated about justification. Every man, every woman, as well as every child old enough to discern truth – are called to simply trust that what Jesus did at the Cross of Calvary was sufficient for their salvation, whether of Jewish or Gentile background. One day, that same New Covenant forged in the blood of Messiah will lead even the most stubborn hearts of Israel back into the arms of God the Father, Who now patiently awaits the humbling of His estranged wife, the nation of Israel.

Yet, during this time of direct access to God through Christ, God kept in place the unique markers for Israel they were commanded to obey.

• Hebrews 4 reminds the Jewish believer that there was still a Sabbath “on the day that God rested”. It was not replaced with Sunday, for that was not the same day of the week, nor is there any command to do so in Scripture. At the same time, Colossians 2 sternly warned the Gentile church not to allow Jewish people to tell them what day to meet – for that command was not given to them but to Jews who would follow God.

• The circumcision commanded to Abraham for “all his future generations” in Genesis 17:12 continued to be a marker for that unique people, even with the coming of Jesus. To make that clear, Paul circumcised his disciple Timothy (Acts 16:3) because his mother was Jewish but his father was Greek, and therefore he had not been circumcised. Yet his other disciple, Titus, was not circumcised as a man born of two Gentile parents.

• Certain celebrations were commanded to be a part of Jewish life “for all their generations”. One such command regarded Passover and Unleavened Bread (Ex. 12:14 and 12:17). Another, the “Day of Atonement” or “Yom Kippor” was also specified to be continued “throughout their generations” (Lev. 23:41). Paul kept the feasts as best he was able. Acts 20 relates that Paul was counting on making the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) in Jerusalem (20:16) and was counting the Sabbaths (20:6-7) to make the journey, according to the Jewish reckoning of time – because he was a Jew. In Acts 21, he went to the Temple to take a public vow AFTER his three mission journeys in the name of Jesus.

Paul understood the difference between God’s Jewish program and His direct access program in Messiah and wanted that clear in his ministry, to be an offense to no one in areas of obedience given to the Jewish people for all their generations, while not allowing Jews to bind over the symbols of the now defunct atonement system of the Temple to the new Gentile church. Those symbols would confuse the Gentiles, and place them under the control of the Sanhedrin – many who did not know Jesus and did not acknowledge (or perhaps even know) that a replacement of the atonement system had already been completed.

Churches that do not distinguish between how Jews and Gentiles are called to live AFTER they are saved by the blood of Jesus invite error, just at those who replace the unique people of the sons of Abraham with the spiritual sons of promise in the Gentile church. Both Jew and Gentile are one in Messiah, but not one in lifestyle – for God told one group to do things forever that He never told the other group to start. That is what caused confusion in the first century, and what gave rise to most of Paul’s epistles. It was the largest problem he faced, and we are still facing it today –only with the church now holding the upper hand and Jews being relegated to replacement of lifestyle. That mistake has led to two other myths that many believers follow that are worth exploring, as Paul offered insight in Galatians…

Myth #8: New Calendar! The Gospel cancelled the feasts of the Lord and freed all believers from the Hebrew festival calendar.

There are three groups of people in church circles that I run into today in regards to the feasts and the calendar:

• One group simply says it was abandoned, a relic of another time, not to be used as anything but a teaching device from history. They really don’t offer a great answer to the “for all your generations” issue – but say Jesus replaced that without any grammar support for their position. That is what I was taught growing up in the faith, and I find it to bypass a literal view of Scripture. If that view is right, forever might mean temporary – and that troubles me. “All your generations” might mean “til Jesus comes” – and I cannot reconcile that problem.

• Another group insists that since God set them up, they must be for everyone today. They point to the church’s position as one of compromise and error, if we don’t build sukkahs (temporary shelters associated with the Feast of Tabernacles) and light candles for Sabbath on Friday night. These believers try to get their church to look more like a synagogue and do things that are associated with the Jewish people. Yet, when I examine the Scriptures carefully, I wonder why we would need the New Testament at all. Why didn’t Paul simply write to every congregation, “Come to Jesus, then keep the Law!” The complicated formula of two ways of following one single Savior seems to speak against that view. This group doesn’t have a cogent view of what a Judaizer is – and that troubles me as well.

• A third group, well known to many who study the Bible south of the Mason-Dixon Line in the cultural Christianity of the Bible belt are those who believe we “spiritually keep Sabbath”, except the day got moved and the restrictions got dropped. This group represents most of the believers you will meet in town who say “My Sabbath is Sunday!” Yet, they cannot point to any command that moved the day, nor can they show that they restrict themselves on Sunday in a way that marked true Sabbath observance. They routinely do forbidden things for a Sabbath on a day other than the one specified and claim they are “keeping their Sabbath”. I am absolutely confident that Paul would not identify with that in any way.

What IS God calling a believer to do regarding Sabbath and festivals?

4:1 Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. 3 So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 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? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. 11 I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. 12 I beg of you, brethren, become as I [am], for I also [have become] as you [are]. You have done me no wrong; 13 but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus [Himself]. 15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. 16 So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. 18 But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner, and not only when I am present with you. 19 My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—20 but I could wish to be present with you now and to change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul’s basic argument is that God gave to the Jewish people pictures that forecast the future. He left them under a temporary system of atonement (sacrifice) to teach them about sin and the blood required to satisfy Him in light of the mutiny.

A Picture: (4:1-2) In the Roman system, certain domestic slaves were given the work of watching over children. In the case of male children, and in particular the master’s sons, a paidagogos (sometimes translated a “tutor”) was placed in a position of responsibility over the child’s behavior, instruction and development (both physical and social). That tutor exercised control over the child when necessary, in spite of the fact that the child would later (upon reaching the arranged age set by the Paterfamilias “father” of the household) be his master. Atonement was our slave-master until the time of its replacement.

A Point: (4:3) Mankind was set under a temporary guardian in the atonement law, bound to the blood and livestock sacrifice – an earthy, gritty, bloody arrangement.

A Promise: (4:4-8) At the appropriate moment God sent Jesus through a young Jewish mother who kept that atonement law (and paid careful attention to the raising of a lamb all her days in her home). That child grew to be the Lamb of sacrifice, and in His sacrifice the door opened for direct connection to God through His death, even for those who were formerly under the atonement sacrifice for salvation, the Jewish people. Those who believe are “adopted” into the place of sons, though they weren’t born naturally to that place. As sons, we can cry out directly to our Father, and He hears us! Because the direct door is open and we can (by belief in the sacrifice of Jesus) be full sons apart from the atonement system, the new adopted sons have been named as full heirs – a far cry from their former estate as simple slaves of another master.

A Problem: (4:9-11) How can those from the old atonement system now entice you to go back to keeping track of sacrifices and joining a fully replaced system? If you go back to the sacrificial calendar and all the feasts and offerings, you plunge backward into a system that was never given to you, and cannot help you. I fear all the ministry to you will be wasted when you turn your back on God’s full acceptance by grace through faith in Jesus, and His blood sacrifice alone!

Paul made clear there were Jews that arrived in Galatia and implored them to abandon the “by the blood of Jesus, once for all” plan of salvation and go backward into the atonement system of sacrifice and the control of the Temple in Jerusalem. These Galatian, Gentile born, spirit-filled believers were being pulled back to a system that no longer held the key to a relationship with God, by a people who wanted to control their lives. Paul pleaded with them:

A Plea: (4:12-20) I am begging you to become like me (one who does not trust the old atonement system for justification at all). You received me so well, in spite of the fact that I was sick when I was with you in the beginning (you know how I struggled). Where is that reception now? You know I would have given you anything then, so how is it now you struggle to trust me? (4:17-20) Let me be straight with you – the men from Judea are working hard to block you from hearing me because they want you to seek them alone. I am deeply concerned about you, that your trust in Christ will be diverted.

Some get thrown off by the phrase “become as I am” because there is abundant evidence in the book of Acts that he kept the feasts and vows all the way through his career. The issue wasn’t whether or not Jews kept the Sabbath, circumcision and calendar given to them “for all their generations”, it was whether the plan God had for that obedience had anything to do with the justification formula. When people read this, they are quick to want to DO the things Paul did – but that isn’t what he was saying. It was never wrong for Jews to keep observing their feasts or vows as a Jewish believer. What WAS wrong, was to mistake those things as having any bearing on the formula for justification – Jesus alone saves. He saves Jews – for the Gospel “is the power of God to save, to the Jew first…”. He saves Gentiles – “then also to the Greek.” – all the same way (see Romans 1:16-17). Beside that, no one was to appropriate Jewish sanctification standards into the life of the Gentile – they weren’t given to Gentiles. The only Gentiles that were told to keep them were the one living AMONG THE JEWISH PEOPLE, and that wasn’t the case in any Galatian church.

Remember, though obedience to the “forever” commands like Sabbath, circumcision and the Feasts of the Lord were not dismissed from the Jewish believer, they weren’t to be observed for salvation – but rather for showing a unique Jewish identity. Interestingly, that system will show up again in the Millennial Rule of Christ – where Jesus demonstrates how He intended it all to show a perfect picture of His work.

What Paul said was essentially this in 4:1-20: God set up an atonement tutor that has been set aside now that we have reached the time God set to open direct access to men everywhere to Himself without the Jewish people and their leaders. Come to know God through Jesus, and you will have a direct, complete and full relationship with a Loving Father. Don’t try to tie yourself to the defunct atonement system – that is finished, replaced, and utterly unnecessary!

Myth #9: The Law enslaves! Heaven broke the curse of the Law and set us free from all its restrictions.

Again we see how easily this myth could grab hold of people. Jews were pressing Gentile believers to act like Jews, and Paul was pressing them to be distinct as followers of Jesus without regard to following the way Jews signified their allegiance to the Temple system. The issue was the appropriation of the atonement covenant standards to those who were not Jews and never a child of them. They didn’t know what they were asking for!

4:21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking, for these [women] are two covenants: one [proceeding] from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. 27 For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” 28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him [who was born] according to the Spirit, so it is now also. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.

If you read this the way I was taught to read it, you would think it said that the Torah was dispensed with in Jesus. Yet, on closer inspection, we have to understand that Jews didn’t lump all the Law together, and the COVENANT of Abraham was not the same thing as the LAW of Moses.

The Abrahamic Covenant of God was the access agreement to God through faith – long before the giving of the Law. Before Moses, it was by grace through faith in whatever revelation God gave a man or woman. For Abraham it was the promise of a son and then a nation. For Jacob, it was the reality of a connection between Heaven and earth in a stairway to Heaven vision. After Moses, the way to access God’s satisfaction, as best the Word revealed it, was by coming under the covenant of God with Israel and showing one’s faith through a series of specified actions that included Sabbath, circumcision and celebration of sacrifices. To meet and follow God, a man needed to come to Judea and hear of the God of Israel, and serve Him. He needed to participate in the sacrificial system to abate the wrath of God, while he believed all that God said in His revealed truths of that day. That was what is termed the FORMER COVENANT or OLD COVENANT.

From the Hebrew prophets (particularly those who declared the future for the exiles) there emerged word that God would offer Israel a NEW COVENANT whereby the whole of Israel at one point in time would be completely saved and filled by God’s spirit (Jeremiah 31, Isaiah 59). On His way to doing that, God later revealed that He would put blinders on Israel because of their sin (called the “shame” of the people, see Joel 1-2; Romans 10-11) and they would hear men of a foreign nation that would know their God when they did NOT know Him (Isaiah 28, Acts 2). When they heard the people of another tongue speaking truth, they would know their days of shame had begun. Yet, in the end, the New Covenant would release them from their shame, after it opened salvation to the world. The New Covenant had, in effect, two stages – one where the Savior gave direct access to the world while Israel languished largely in spiritual darkness, and the other where Israel is renewed at a time in the future when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled and God can renew the Jewish harvest.

In the beginning of the move from Old Covenant to the New Covenant there was strife as Jewish leaders wanted to co-opt any growth from Paul’s movement into their own.

A battle ensued, and the Galatians were caught in the crossfire in a war of words. Paul called them to another picture:

A Picture: (4:21-26) Those who desire to follow the old atonement system, have you ever really read the Torah? Let me remind you of an old story…Abraham had two sons. One came from Hagar, but was not the one God gave in His promise. The other one came through His promise. This is like a picture of two covenants of God – one from Sinai which enslaved people into continual sacrifice, pictured by the Temple sacrifices and controls of the atonement system in Jerusalem. The other covenant is direct from Heaven, a freedom from that perpetual sacrifice, a direct connection of justification.

A Point: (4:27-28) The truth is like the song that calls for rejoicing among the outcasts – the direct adoption plan of Heaven will now yield vast fruits! They will be like Isaac – children of God’s promise!

A Parallel: (4:29-5:1) The picture of Isaac being picked on by Ishmael is the picture we see today as those from Judea come to bind you who have been accepted by God through faith alone to an old system that has no power to save.

A Plea: (4:30-5:1) Throw them out the way Sarah cast out Hagar. You are children of Sarah, and they don’t belong camping in your tent! Don’t let them throw a yoke of continual sacrifice and Temple control over you, your calling is in Messiah as one free from all of that!

Paul essentially said this: Jerusalem on earth (with its atonement sacrifices run by Sanhedrin controllers) is at war with a spiritual Jerusalem in Heaven, where direct access to God is available through the now completed sacrifice of Jesus. The atonement system wants to dominate the direct access to God – and that is backwards. The response of the people should not be to tolerate the deception, but to clarify, teach, plead, implore… and then if there is stubbornness – to throw out those who refuse to do right. That wasn’t un-Christian – it was necessary and Biblical.

As you have patiently waded through this Biblical debate with me, perhaps it is only fitting that we more closely connect the dots to where you live and I live today. We aren’t often debating whether or not Jewish leadership in Jerusalem should take control of the message of the local church. We haven’t had a really good theological argument about killing bulls and goats for centuries. We don’t really struggle with the notion of circumcision, and we don’t check when you join the church – just so our visitors know. We meet on Sunday, and support Jewish groups that meet on Sabbath, along with Non-Jewish mission points around the globe that do NOT. These issues seem distant and mind-numbing to many – but they are not.

In a world that wants equality of value to mean that everyone must be made to do everything the same – God has a response. Both men and women are equal in value, but they are made to do different things. The stronger frame of most men was given to match their strong inner drive to protect a family and eventually become an elder in the community that protected with wisdom the whole of the tribe. As a general rule, men were better designed for war. Their bodies did not demand such painful cycles and they would never be called out of the line because they carried another human being within. Women were uniquely privileged to bear a child, while their man bore a spear, arrow or sword. Putting women in combat isn’t freeing them, it is creating an expectation they were not designed, on the whole, to carry. They stand in unique danger of molestation and misuse because we want them to see equality of value in equality of work – but that is a mistake that will cost many of them dearly. Agree with my illustration or not, that isn’t my point. My point is that God made people of equal value but didn’t tell them all to do the same things in their walk with Him. I can be a parent, but not bear a child. I can teach mixed audiences, but am not to teach young women in the quiet intimate settings that older women are to handle. I am equal to my wife, but I cannot do everything she is told to do as an experienced woman of God. That doesn’t make me worth less – it makes me what I am called to be before my Creator.

In a time when tolerance replaces critical thinking and careful study regarding what God has said in His Word – God has a message. We need to be careful not to sound defensive, but to defend truth. We need to be open to discussion, but unwilling to tread on the text for the sake of good feeling in the room. We need to walk a road with those with whom we acknowledge a disagreement, but we cannot (for the sake of peace and tranquility) sit still while those who are teaching false doctrines to our people are allowed to remain in our midst. They can come and worship with us, because the doors are publicly open. Yet, when they want a platform for teaching in this place, we will graciously but pointedly refuse them a voice. One of the functions of teaching truth is spotting error – and that may offend some and may cause them to walk out the door. The longer I serve Jesus, the more I understand that there is a critical difference between someone who rejects me or my personality, and someone who refuses our message without carefully engaging the text. We live in a time with many self-ordained and self-proclaimed prophets. It seems that many do not understand that a viewpoint isn’t RIGHT because they are CONVINCED of it. The substance of the argument is what must be deemed right or wrong, not the amount of belief in it. Lots of belief that eating pomegranates cures colon cancer won’t make it so. It isn’t the SIZE OF BELIEF, it is the OBJECT of it that makes it true or false. We stake our claim on this: The Bible is truth, and it is THE rule of faith and practice for a people that want to wholly honor God. It cannot be dismissed as a relic, nor ignored as a boring piece of literature. If it is God’s Word, then it communicates God’s message. If that message delineates differences between people – then it is what God said. No council of men should be able to dissuade us from our allegiance to God’s message. No culture should wear down our sharp understanding of what it takes to please God.

In a generation that has sought to “dumb down” the harder process of deep thinking and careful research and replace it with platitude filled messages of personal comfort and repetitious songs with little substance – God has a requirement. We are required to study the Word that He has kept for us. We are required to answer the queries of life with His stated answers. No siren call of culture should convince us to call unimportant what He deems as important. Life planted in the womb, not by mere chemical process, but by the hand of a Creator, must be maintained as sacred. Marriage, not a contract between people, but a judicial joining in Heaven of a woman under the covering of a man, must be held as sacred. Worship of God must be maintained at the center of civic life for moral decisions to rule the day. These aren’t options, and ignoring them has devastating consequences.

At the same time, we must recognize that truth isn’t simple. Ask a calculus student – finding the answers can be complicated. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true. God didn’t try to reduce His Word to fortune cookie wisdom. There is a need to study carefully, and to observe it wholly. In the end, we see from a careful view of the Scripture…

God kept in place unique markers for the Jewish people that the church around the world need not be concerned about adopting, no matter what pressure they received to do so.