Galatians 4:10 Jewish or Pagan calendar?

In Galatians 4:10. Paul rebukes the Galatians: 'you observe days and months and seasons and years'.

I had always taken these to be a reference to the Jewish calendar until a couple of years back when I read an article by Mark Nanos challenging that ("A Torah Observant Paul?"). Nanos argued that Paul was referring to the pagan calendar. I was very intrigued but not persuaded.

I have just read an argument from Justin Hardin (Wycliffe Hall, Oxford) which argues the same thing (Galatians and the Imperial Cult. Mohr Siebek, 2008) but at greater length. Hardin's position, in a nutshell (and without the argumentation), is this:

Paul's Galatian converts were ex-pagans and the imperial cult was a major part of their previous life. Indeed observing the calendar of the imperial cult was a civic duty. To abstain from participation would have seriously disrupted relationships with family, friends, business associates, club members and civic authorities.

But Paul's converts were also not converts to Judaism. Whilst the Jewish community might have recognized them as having the guest status in the synagogue of a God-fearer this status would not exempt them from the duty of observing the imperial cult. And the synagogue communities would not have recognized them as having full covenant membership (I have mixed a bit of Nanos in with Hardin here).

So the converts were in social-limbo and under considerable pressure as a result. Into this context come 'the agitators' who argue that the Galatians must fully convert to Judaism to be full members of the community of God.

The Galatians felt forced to choose between two routes to reduce the marginality of their dissonant status:
(a) convert to Judaism, or
(b) observe the calendar of the imperial cult

Some were considering the former route (and 4:21-5:6 addresses this group).
Many had already gone back to observing the events of the imperial cult (alongside their faith in Christ). They had turned to 'another gospel' (the gospel of Caesar) (1:6-7).

Paul calls them to resist both a return to pagan observances and conversion to Judaism. He points to a Third Way - a new identity in Christ and the way of the cross that accompanies it.

So 4:8-10 is an appeal to the Galatians not to go back to the observance of the imperial cult. This, he argues, would be to return to the slavery to those who are by nature not gods (i.e., the emperor-seen-as-a-deity). Do you want to be their slaves again (4:9)?

Israel, God's child, knew what it was to be a slave to pagan rulers in Egypt (an heir but unable to inherit the promises) (4:1-3) (following J.M. Scott's interpretation). God sent his Son to enable Israel to come into its inheritance by redeeming it from the curse of the Law (not from the Law itself. 4:4-5 following Todd Wilson's interpretation). You guys, says Paul, are sons and heirs along with Israel (4:6-7) so why on earth do you wish to turn back to your former pagan slave masters (4:8-10)?

There is only one Lord (Christ not Caesar)

There is only one gospel (Christ's not Caesars)

Interesting, eh? I'm still pondering it but I am inclined to accept this take on things. In part bacause it makes more sense to me than traditional readings of Galatians which see Paul as very hostile to the Jewish Law and calendar (equating it with paganism and idolatry). Whilst I can see how the text might be read that way I find it very hard to imagine Paul taking such a view. So interpretations which do not have Paul doing so have the edge.


Rafael said…
Galatians is an especially problematic text, I think, for raising the question of conversion to Christianity as opposed to conversion to Judaism (and what this opposition might mean). I'd be interested in your take on my thoughts on a similar point here.
Robin Parry said…

I have commented on your post as requested

Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
That interpretation makes no sense. The whole context deals with those that claimed they were sent from James. They claimed that the new Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and follow the Law.

Uriah Smith
Desmondou said…
This present calendar is a roman pagan calendar n we should use it only for civil laws not personal or religious purposes.
Anonymous said…
The Galatians were converts from Paul's first visit when he went to the synagogues on Sabbaths to preach the good news cf Acts 13-14. There was no evidence that he argued against any teachings in the old testament, even circumcision. It's not until Acts 15 that the circumcision had become an issue. We don't find any issue on Judaism otherwise. In fact, he believed in everything that agrees with the law in his defense in Acts 24:14.
Anonymous said…
...and the mentioning of Zeus and Hermes in Acts gave the clue regarding observance of days, months, seasons and years i.e. calendar-keeping.
One may simply google Zeus, hermes, calendar to find out.

Martins Balodis said…
1. The epistle does not address problems arising from paganism. But it has many issues related to judaism (see Gal. 3:2; 4:21; 5:2-4; 6:12.13). So the most natural way would be to see 4:10 as related to OT days and feasts.
2.It sharpens the Gallatians' problems and is more challanging so it presses me more to trust Jesus only. And that would be in line with the whole epistle to Gallatians, too.
Unknown said…
your point is straight from the bible and the interpretation that Galation 4: 10 bears reference to OT holy days.
please note v3 which clears all, ...were in bondage under the elements of the world
and V9 Paul is asking can you turn AGAIN to the weak and beggarly elements...again to be in bondage?
Q. what bondage were the Galatians under?
the bondage is worldly pagan practices .. IDOLATRY V3.
Paganism has their days, months, seasons, and years
so that assumption that this reference in V10 is of OT days, months etc is out of context with the passage.
Anonymous said…
Martin Balodis' point is hard to ignore, especially Gal 5:2 (NKJV) "Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing." It seems clear to Paul that the main problem is found in requiring Galatians to 'become circumcised'.
Unknown said…
If not understood the way you do now, it would be very difficult to make sense
of it. Beggarly elements appears to refer to the ABCs of life whether Jewish or pagan education.
It is important to point out that covenant is an agreement, an alliance or a contract on how to go about
the the law, but the law itself is not the old covenant, otherwise when God promises to right the law in our hearts
under the new covenant, we may then understand Him to be re writing the old covenant if we say that law and old covenant are interchangeable terms
Anonymous said…
Look this up “Ancient Egyptian carved scene of circumcision, from the inner northern wall of the Temple of Khonspekhrod at the Precinct of Mut, Temple of Karnak, Luxor, Egypt. Eighteenth dynasty, Amenhotep III, c. 1360 BC. (Lasse Jensen/ CC BY 2.5 )” and you’ll see circumcision was wide spread. We often time hear circumcision and think Jews (or Judaizers). This shouldn’t be. Circumcision was wide spread in the Middle East especially in the mystery cults. You even found it in Rome- imperial cult.

Popular Posts