Galatians--Part 18--Sabbaths and New Moons
Aug 26, 2010
In Galatians 4:9 Paul chided them for turning back again to the "weak and worthless elemental things" which had again "enslaved" them. He then gives us a very brief sampling of these things in verse 10,
(10) You observe days and months and seasons and years. (11) I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.
He does not tell us which days or in what manner the Galatians were observing those days. We only know that whatever they were doing, it was not in accordance with Paul's teaching. But Paul wrote a similar letter to the Colossians, where he gave a fuller commentary in a parallel passage. Col. 3:16-23 gives a list of things, beginning with "days and months."
(16) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- (17) things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
One might argue about which festivals (feast days) they were observing, whether pagan or those of the Old Covenant, but Paul's reference to the Sabbath day can only be a reference to the practice within Judaism. Likewise, the new moons, marking the start of each month, were occasions of sacrifice and the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10:10).
Paul makes it clear that these observances were "a mere shadow of what is to come," implying that their manner of observance had changed with the coming of Christ. We see an entire list of those changes in the book of Hebrews. The reality replaced the shadow, the antitype replaced the fulfilled type. In regard to the "new moons," Alfred Edersheim wrote this:
"Scarcely any other festive season could have left so continuous an impress on the religious life of Israel as the 'New Moons.' Recurring at the beginning of every month, and marking it, the solemn proclamation of the day, by--'It is sanctified,' was intended to give a hallowed character to each month, while the blowing of the priests' trumpets and the special sacrifices brought, would summon, as it were, the Lord's host to offer their tribute unto their exalted King, and thus bring themselves into 'remembrance' before Him." (The Temple, p. 288)
In the decay of religious life as early as the time of Isaiah, the priests had added more ceremonies and rituals to try to impose more zealous observance into their spiritual life. But rituals could never be a substitute for personal faith in God. So Isaiah 1:12-14 says,
(12) When you come to appear before Me, who requires of you this trampling of My courts? (13) Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies--I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. (14) I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me. I am weary of bearing them.
Hosea prophesies in 2:11,
(11) I will also put an end to all her gaiety, her feasts, her new moons, her sabbaths, and all her festal assemblies.
The epistle of Barnabas is an early Church writing which comments upon this as well. In 13:9, 10 he writes:
(9) Lastly, he saith unto them, 'Your new moons and your sabbaths I cannot bear them.' Consider what he means by it; the sabbaths, he says, which ye now keep are not acceptable unto me, but those which I have made; when resting from all things I shall begin the eighth day, that is, the beginning of the other world [age]. (10) For which cause we observe the eighth day with gladness, in which Jesus rose from the dead; and having manifested himself to his disciples, ascended into heaven.
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, agreed with this. He was reputed to be the child that Jesus sat on His lap, telling the disciples to allow the children to come to Him. Ignatius was just three years of age at the time, but he also was one of the 500 witnesses of Christ's resurrection. He was a disciple of John, who lived until about 100 A.D. Ignatius died a martyr at the age of 83 in the year 113.
Ignatius wrote a letter to the Magnesians, saying in chapter 9,
"If therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing Sabbaths, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death--whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and thereby endure . . ."
It is plain from these early Church writings that the Christian manner of observing Sabbaths and New Moons had changed. And because no early Church leader found it necessary to give a complete dissertation on the topic, we know that by the early second century Paul's viewpoint had become dominant throughout the Church. Christian Judaism itself had suffered defeat along with Judaism itself when Jerusalem was destroyed with its temple in 70 A.D., as Jesus had prophesied.
The Old Covenant manner of keeping Sabbaths and festivals prophesied of a "better" way under the New Covenant. Hence, the book of Hebrews is known as "the book of better things." God expressed His dissatisfaction with their observances through Isaiah, and Hosea prophesied the end of those observances. In practice, we find a new manner of observance, rather than abolition. In other words, the FORM changed to suit the terms of the New Covenant.
Sacrifice was not abolished, but animal sacrifices were replaced by the Sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God. The feast of Passover was once a matter of killing a lamb, putting its blood on the doorposts and lintel, and staying up all night. Now it is observed when a man is justified by faith in the blood of the Lamb. Pentecost used to be a feast where God was given two loaves of bread baked with leaven. Today it is observed by receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Tabernacles used to be kept by dwelling in booths made of green tree branches. This has not yet been fulfilled, but it will be fulfilled when we are changed into His likeness, leave our old bodily "house" and receive that tabernacle from above, which is the immortal body (2 Cor. 5:1-4).
In each case, the feast must be kept (by law) in the place where He has put His name (Deut. 16:2, 6, 11). First this was in Shiloh (Jer. 7:12), then Jerusalem (Jer. 7:14), and finally in our forehead (Rev. 22:4). Hence, we no longer go to an external location to keep a feast, for the law demands that it be kept only in our forehead (mind). One may hold conferences at the time of these feasts, but the true observance of the feast is internal. We cannot spend more time on this topic in this short weblog, but for further study, you may request my study, "How to Observe the Feast Days" and/or my study on the Sabbath.
When the location of feast-day observance changed from external to internal, the forms of observance also changed necessarily. Apparently, the Judaizers had come from Jerusalem to Galatia and Colosse to "correct" Paul's teachings. After all, the temple in Jerusalem still stood, and the Aaronic priests were still ordained by God to make daily sacrifices, they argued. We only need to add the Messiah to that system to be complete.
The Judaizers were so successful that Paul wondered if his labor had been in vain. But the temple was soon to be destroyed, and God confirmed Paul's gospel by casting out Hagar.
This is the eighteenth part of a series titled "Galatians." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones