18 November 2018

The “Rudiments” of the World (Calendrical Practices)

Ten Commandments
       In Galatians the Apostle Paul chides Christians who desire “to return to bondage to the weak and beggarly rudiments” of the world, specifically pointing to calendrical observations as constituting this very thing (4:9-10).
       In the larger paragraph, Paul addresses both Jewish (“we”) and Gentile (“you”) believers (4:1-11). The issue is an effort to require Gentile believers to undergo circumcision and thereby “complete” their faith (3:1-5; 5:2-4).

       Paul’s response is that we have been set right with God “from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” and “not from the deeds of the Law.” To turn once more to the requirements of the Torah for right standing before God is the same as declaring that Jesus died in vain (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 (3:26-29). By definition, they are not “under the Law” and its curse (3:8-12).
       Paul uses an analogy based on adoption practices common to the Greek culture of the time (Galatians 4:1-7). Israel under the Torah was comparable to a minor child his formal adoption. Prior to it, the child was under “custodians and administrators” appointed by the adoptive father, and as such differed little from a household slave.
       Likewise, believers were “children” in bondage under the rudiments of the world until the appointed time when God sent his Son to redeem them. Consequently, they received adoption as sons and became heirs, no longer minor children.
       In this analogy, the Torah fills the role of “custodian.” Since the adoption, a status change occurred as attested by the gift of God’s Spirit; the role of the “custodians” came to an end.
       The Greek term for “rudiments” is stoicheion, which means “elemental, elementary, rudiment, rudimentary, basic.” It may refer to any first thing, the parts, the building blocks that make up a larger whole.
       For example, in 2 Peter 3:10-12 the “elements” or stoicheia that make up the Cosmos. The idea is not things that are inherently evil or bad, but rather basic, elementary, simple; the ‘ABCs,’ the elementary stages of any subject or parts of any larger thing.
        Paul equates a return to the observation or the “deeds of the Law” with a return the more elementary principles of the world; to the old era rather than to the new one inaugurated by Jesus (Galatians 4:3-6).
       To return to the old order is not completion but regression, a putting aside of what is mature and complete for that which is incomplete and immature.

       Paul continues by providing a specific example of the “rudiments”: the observation of “days, and months, and seasons and years” (4:8-10). To submit to religious rules based on the cycles of celestial bodies is to submit to the “rudiments” of the old order.
       Paul’s description is generic and applicable to both Jewish believers and former pagan Gentiles. The latter at one time were “in bondage to them that by nature are no gods.” Calendrical observations as religious rites were as common among the pagan population of the Greco-Roman world as they were among the Jews, though differing in certain details.
       Paul refers to their desire to “observe closely” days, months and years. The Greek verb paratéreō means to “watch closely, narrowly observe; to keep scrupulously.” The same verb is applied in the gospel accounts to the Scribes and Pharisees that closely monitored his actions to see if he violated their dietary and Sabbath regulations (Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7; 14:1; 20:20).
       Paul’s Greek clause, “days, and months, and seasons and years,” is almost an exact match to the Greek Septuagint rendering of Genesis 1:14: “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years”). The verbal allusion is deliberate and his Jewish opponents certainly would recognize it.
       Calendrical observations were characteristic of the old creation order, not the new one inaugurated by Jesus (Galatians 6:14-15). Such practices are not Satanic or evil, but in light of Christ’s death and resurrection, they are outmoded; passé.
       For a follower of Jesus to submit to circumcision, calendrical practices and the other “deeds of the Mosaic Law” is tantamount to servitude under the rudimentary principles of the old age, the one that already “is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31). It is bondage not liberty, regression not a revelation.

       As Paul concluded his letter to the Galatians: “With me, however, far be it to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which a world has been crucified unto me and I unto a world! For neither circumcision is anything nor uncircumcision, but rather new creation.”
        The new Messianic Age already has dawned in Jesus Christ. Believers are called to live accordingly.

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