Rudiments of the Old Era
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul chides believers for their desire “to return to bondage under the weak and beggarly rudiments” of the world, including calendrical observations and circumcision. Since they are no longer “minors” but full heirs who live in the AGE OF FULFILLMENT and have the Gift of the Spirit, resorting to outmoded rituals is tantamount to returning to a state of slavery.
Did not God send his Son in the “fullness of time” to redeem those who are under the Law, “that we might receive the adoption of sons”? And “because we are sons, He sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.”
Therefore, disciples of Jesus are no longer under the custodianship of the Law. With his arrival, a fundamental change in the Law and a shift in the status of God’s people has occurred – (Galatians 4:1-6).
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And the arrival of the Nazarene marked the “fullness of time,” the moment when we ceased being minors and became heirs of the Covenant promises of Abraham. To now return to the “rudimentary things” of the old order is the opposite of progress, a return to “types and shadows” even though we now have the substance of what those things foreshadowed!
In the literary larger context, Paul is addressing both Jewish (“we”) and Gentile (“you”) believers in Jesus. The main controversy is the effort by men “from Jerusalem” to require Gentile believers to undergo circumcision, and thus “complete” their faith.
However, once that door is opened, issues surrounding the requirements of the Mosaic Law regarding the calendar inevitably come into play. If a man is required to keep one of the Law’s ordinances, he is obligated to observe the entire Law and thereby comes under its “curse” - (Galatians 3:10):
- “But at that time, not knowing God, you were in bondage to them who, by nature, are not gods. But now, having acknowledged God, or rather, having been acknowledged by God, why are you reverting again to the weak and beggarly rudiments to which you again wish to come into bondage? Days you do narrowly observe, and months and seasons and years. I am afraid of you, lest by any means, in vain, I have toiled for you!” - (Galatians 4:8-11).
By God’s grace, believers are set right with God “from the faith of Jesus Christ, not from the deeds of the Law.” To return to the rituals of the Levitical regulations effectively declares that Jesus died in vain - (Galatians 2:15-21).
Because believers are “from faith and not from the deeds of the Law,” they are true children of Abraham regardless of their ethnicity, and they are not “under the Law” or its dreaded “curse” - (Galatians 3:8-12).
Paul uses an analogy based on the adoption practices of the Greco-Roman culture. Under the Law, Israel was comparable to a minor before his formal adoption when the child was under “custodians and administrators” appointed by his adoptive parent. As such, he differed little from a household slave.
Likewise, believers were “children” in bondage under the “rudiments of the world” until the time appointed when God sent his Son to redeem them. Consequently, they have been adopted, and as sons, they are heirs and no longer minor children.
In his analogy, the Law of Moses plays the “custodian.” But since the “adoption,” a change in status has occurred as attested by the receipt of the Gift of the Spirit. In Jesus, the role of the “custodian” is terminated.
Implicit in Paul’s logic and his appeal to the possession of the Spirit, is that a return to minority status will mean the loss of the Gift.
The Greek term rendered “rudiments” in the translation, or stoicheion, means “elemental, elementary, rudiment, rudimentary, basic” - (Strong’s - #G4747). It may refer to any first thing, the parts and building blocks that comprise a larger whole.
For example, according to Peter, the “elements” or stoicheia that make up the Cosmos will be burned with fire on the “Day of the Lord.” Simply put, the term denotes the ‘ABCs,’ the elementary stages of any subject or parts of any larger thing – (2 Peter 3:10-12).
Returning to the observation of the calendar and lunar cycles is reverting to the elementary principles of the old era rather than living in the new one inaugurated by Jesus. Rather than completion and maturity, this would be a regression to an earlier state of immaturity.
Paul provides an example of the “rudiments” of the old order, the observation of “days, months, seasons and years.” Submitting to religious rites and regulations based on the cycles of celestial bodies is to return to the “rudiments” of the old regime.
“Why are you reverting again?” Paul uses a Greek verb in the progressive present tense – ongoing action - one that means to “revert, turn back.” By resorting to calendrical rituals, the Galatians are returning to bondage under the “weak and beggarly” practices of the old era. And “beggarly” adds emphasis to the point. What they are doing will only impoverish them spiritually.
His warning is applicable to Jewish and Gentile believers alike. Previously, the Gentiles were “in bondage to them that by nature are no gods.” Calendrical observations as religious rites were as common among the pagans of the Roman world as they were among the Jews, though differing in key details.
Paul refers to the desire to “observe closely” days and years. This represents the Greek verb paratéreō. It means to “watch closely, narrowly observe; to keep scrupulously” (Strong’s - #G3906).
The same verb is applied in the gospel accounts to the Scribes and Pharisees who scrutinized the actions of Jesus to see if he would violate their dietary and Sabbath regulations - (Mark 3:2, Luke 6:7, 14:1, 20:20).
In the Greek text, the clause rendered “days and months and seasons and years” is virtually identical to the Greek Septuagint version of the description from Genesis about the divisions of time:
- “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.” – (Genesis 1:14).
The verbal allusion to Genesis is deliberate. Calendrical observations characterized the old order, but not the new messianic age. Such practices are not necessarily evil, but in Christ, they become outmoded, passé.
With the inauguration of the New Covenant, the old one has become “obsolete, aged” and is “about to disappear,” as the Author of the Letter to the Hebrews argues - (Galatians 1:1-6, 6:14-15, 1 Corinthians 7:31, Hebrews 8:13).
For a follower of Jesus to submit to circumcision, calendrical rituals, and the like, means returning to bondage under the rudimentary principles of the old era. As Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians:
- “With me, however, far be it to be boasting, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby, unto me, a world has been crucified and I unto a world; For neither circumcision is anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as many as by this rule shall walk, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” – (Galatians 6:14-16).
Thus, the Messianic Age and the “New Creation” have dawned in Jesus of Nazareth, in his redemptive work, and his disciples must live accordingly in the light of his Gospel.