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Galatians 4:8-11 (NIV) says:

8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Paul looks disappointed that the Galatians are back to "observing special days and months and seasons and years" (verse 10). Is the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) included in the list?

4 Answers 4

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The Sabbath is Included

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! (Galatians 4:10 NIV)

The NIV Study Bible gives this note of explanation for their translation:

4:10 special days. Such as the Sabbath and the Day of Atonement (tenth day of Tishri; see Lev. 16:29-34), which had never been, and can never be, in themselves means of salvation or sanctification. months and seasons. Such as New Moons (see Nu. 28:11-15; Isa. 1:13-14), Passover (Ex.12:18) and Firstfruits (Lev, 23:10). years. Such as the sabbath year (see Lev. 25:4). The Pharisees meticulously observed all these in an attempt to gain merit before God.1

However, "special" is an interpretation. The text is simply "days:"

days ye observe, and months, and times, and years! (Galatians 4:10 YLT)
ἡμέρας παρατηρεῖσθε καὶ μῆνας καὶ καιροὺς καὶ ἐνιαυτούς

Clearly Paul is referring to things detailed in the Old Testament. The "appointed" times are the weekly Sabbath, the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread; the Feast of Firstfruits; the Feast of Weeks; the Feast of Trumpets; the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Booths (cf. Leviticus 23).

While Paul does not specify which days, it is highly unlikely those he addressed would be observing "days" like the Passover which only occurred once a year and not be observing the weekly Sabbath.

"Observe"
The Cambridge Bible Commentary explains this passage depends on the meaning attached to παρατηρεῖσθε which is translated "observe:"

The whole meaning of the verse depends on the sense attached to this word. It is compounded of a verb which means to observe and a preposition which implies that either the purpose or the method of observation is bad. The simple verb and corresponding noun are commonly used in N. T. in a good sense, e.g. “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me”. John 14:21, ‘Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God.” 1 Corinthians 7:19. But the compound is never so used. Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7; Luke 16:1; Luke 20:20; Acts 9:24. Comp. for the noun, Luke 17:20. St Paul is not condemning the observance of ‘days and months and times and years’ but their mis-observance. Jewish Christians might continue to keep them as hallowed customs of divine origin, but not as grounds of justification. These were not to be sharers with Christ in the great work of salvation. Bondage to these rudiments forfeited the liberty of the Gospel. Gentile believers were never bound to such observances, and if they yielded to the Judaizing teachers and submitted to the yoke of the Jewish ceremonial, they were no longer partakers of the liberty of Christ.

Compare Colossians 2:16, where not the simple observance is condemned, but the slavery which is involved in its being required for salvation, and the dishonour which is done to Christ by adding to His perfect righteousness. See note on ch. Galatians 5:2.

days] ‘sabbaths and fasts’. There is clearly no exemption here from the obligation of the observance of ‘the seventh day’. ‘The law of the Sabbath, i.e. of one weekly day of holy rest in God (the seventh in the Jewish, the first in the Christian Church) is as old as the Creation, it is founded on the moral and physical constitution of man, it was instituted in Paradise, incorporated in the Decalogue on Mount Sinai, put on a new foundation by the Resurrection of Christ, and is an absolute necessity for public worship and the welfare of man’. Dr Schaff. What St Paul condemns is the observance of the day in a legal spirit, in compliance with the minute and childish prohibitions of the Rabbinic system and as a matter of merit with God.

"Observe" must be considered in context:

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 ESV)

As Gentiles, before receiving the Gospel, the Galatians had not been observing any of the "days" required in the Old Testament. Therefore, Paul's statement cannot mean the Galatians had turned back to observing them. Rather, as the Cambridge Commentary states, what Paul is concerned with is "the mis-observance." The situation is similar to that of the Gospel where Jesus observes the Sabbath and yet the Pharisees continually accuse Him of doing so improperly. Jesus did not acquiesce to the Pharisees, but He continued to observe the Sabbath.

After receiving the Gospel, Paul taught the Gentiles how God expects His people to live. The emphasis was to understand the Law because God had saved them, not as something which brought salvation. Notice, what Paul says next: "Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am..." (v. 11). Paul observed "the days;" in particular he would be found in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

It is clear that Christians preserved the practice of meeting every week. Acts states they gathered weekly to break bread (Acts 20:7). Pliny the Younger records they gathered weekly to sing a hymn to Christ as to a God and then shared a meal. Where the Pharisees focused on what constituted legal observation, the Christian emphasis was on meeting for fellowship and worship.

1. NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised, Revision Editors Kenneth L. Barker, John H. Stek, Walter W. Wessel, Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan, 2002, p. 2423

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  • Once again, I canceled out the apparently obligatory down vote. Thank you for the additional explanation and evidence.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:09
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Before answering this question, one might wish to consider another question:

Why would it be wrong to observe sabbaths and special days?

The answer to this will lead directly to the correct answer for the question posed in the OP.

Understanding the Ceremonies

When Christ died, his death fulfilled the ceremonial types and ordinances that had heretofore pointed forward to the Messiah. It was no longer required to sacrifice the blood of animals, for Jesus had shed his own blood for us.

In the Levitical system, three major feasts were observed, including the Passover (the feast of unleavened bread), the "feast of harvest" (also called the "feast of weeks"), and the feast of tabernacles (also called "the feast of ingathering").

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty: (Deuteronomy 16:16, KJV)

Each of these feasts had special "sabbaths" attached to them. For instance, consider this passage:

29 And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: 30 For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. 31 It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever. (Leviticus 16:29-31, KJV)

This "sabbath" was declared to be such, not by being the seventh day of the week, but because it was the annual day of atonement--a solemn day. In some years, the day of atonement landed on the weekly Sabbath, in which case the Jews considered it a "high" Sabbath--doubly "sabbath," if you will. Such was the case for the Sabbath in which Jesus rested in the tomb (see John 19:31).

But what happened to the "day of atonement" after Jesus' death? If the sacrificial system, along with the Levitical priesthood, was no longer in force, there was also no day of atonement to be observed, with its companion sacrifices.

Even after Jesus' death, his disciples observed the weekly Sabbath, the one addressed in the Ten Commandments, as did Paul himself.

Paul in the Synagogue on the Sabbath

And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, (Acts 17:2, KJV)

And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. (Acts 18:4, KJV)

Was Paul himself observing the Sabbath? Why, then, would he suggest to others that it was wrong?

Why Observing the Ceremonies is Wrong

To observe the weekly Sabbath, the moral Sabbath, was to keep the Ten Commandment law of God. But to observe the sabbaths of the annual feasts was to show lack of faith in Christ. To keep the ceremonial sabbaths declared to all that one did not accept Jesus as the Messiah; that Jesus' death could not save us. By keeping these feast days, therefore, one worked directly against Christ.

It was this sin against Christ which Paul addresses in teaching people not to observe those feast days.

10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. 11 I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain. (Galatians 4:10-11, KJV)

In actual fact, Paul does not use the word "sabbath" (Greek: σάββατον/sabbaton) here. He is focused on the observance of these ceremonies in general.

The Ten Commandments were not Ceremonies

The Sabbath of the fourth commandment was not given as a ceremony. It was not tied to the promise of a Messiah. It was, instead, the central focus of the Ten Commandments, providing the identity of the Lawgiver as our Creator, and indicating His domain--inclusive of heaven, earth, and seas.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8, KJV)

In the commandment, the definite article "the" is present. That article is absent from the text in Leviticus 16:31. Just as in English, the article makes a difference in meaning. If you give me something and later wonder whether I had appreciated your gift, you would be pleased to hear me say "I liked the gift" and would be rather unsatisfied to hear "I like gifts." In the latter case, you would be uncertain as to whether or not I had liked your gift. The article makes a big difference.

And the Bible puts a difference between the sabbath of the fourth commandment and those of the ceremonies. To observe the Ten Commandment law is to love Jesus, who said "If ye love me, keep my commandments"; whereas to observe the ceremonial sabbaths is to show lack of confidence in Christ.

Conclusion

The days Paul is addressing are those of the ceremonies which were abolished at the cross, and not the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments, all ten of which still stand today.

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  • Okay, I canceled out the apparently obligatory down vote, which often appears immediately and without the courtesy of any explanation. What I don't understand from your explanation is the case where some people, including my family, choose to observe Passover in remembrance of Christ's atoning sacrifice (a Messianic Passover), in obedience to what Jesus told his disciples about remembering his sacrifice as often as they observe Passover. Do you have any rationale to not observe Passover in remembrance of Jesus? Apparently, the early church held Passover suppers together, right?
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:07
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All the answers so far seem to be missing the entire point of this scripture.

Galatians was written to a church that had grown in a Gentile area; initially from the local Jewish community and then from the Gentiles.
("For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." — Romans 1:16.)
By now, Most of the converts were Gentiles.

Paul is concerned that some of them are reverting to their old Pagan ways.

Look at the first two verses of the quoted scripture again:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

Paul is addressing those people that, before conversion to Christianity didn't know about the God of the Bible and who worshipped idols and others that are not and never were real gods.

But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?

These are not Jewish converts, turning back to Judaism; they are Pagan converts, turning back to Paganism.

So, "Is the Sabbath included in the list?"
Absolutely not, the Sabbath was never practiced by people that "did not know God" and who worshipped "those who are not gods".

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Is the Sabbath part of the “special days and months and seasons and years” Paul is referring to in Galatians 4:10?

The answer is "yes"

Galatians 4:9-10 NET

9 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[a] basic forces?[b] Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?[c] 10 You are observing religious[d] days and months and seasons and years.

Exodus 20:8-10 NET

8 “Remember[a] the Sabbath[b] day to set it apart as holy.[c] 9 For six days[d] you may labor[e] and do all your work,[f] 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; on it[g] you shall not do any work, you,[h] or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates.[i]

Others were the annual Day of Atonement(Leviticus 25:4-11), the Passover (Exodus 12:24-27), the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), and many other religious days. Apparently, some Christians that were previously under the Mosaic Law now were again enslaved to the Law, and scrupulously commemorated those special occasions.

NET footnotes on Galatians 4:10d

Galatians 4:10 tn The adjective “religious” has been supplied in the translation to make clear that the problem concerns observing certain days, etc. in a religious sense (cf. NIV, NRSV “special days”). In light of the polemic in this letter against the Judaizers (those who tried to force observance of the Mosaic law on Gentile converts to Christianity), this may well be a reference to the observance of Jewish Sabbaths, feasts, and other religious days.

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  • Canceled one of the anonymous down votes cast without the courtesy of any explanation.
    – Dieter
    Commented Oct 18, 2023 at 18:11

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