A Historical Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians

By W. M. Ramsay

Part 2

Historical Commentary

Chapter 42

The Rudiments of the World (Gal 4:3; Gal 4:9)

As in the world of business, so it was in religion: while we Jews, the heirs and sons, were children, we were like slaves, subjected to rudimentary principles and rules of a more material and formal character. But when the proper time, contemplated by the Father in his Diatheke, had arrived with Christ, then we all, Jews and Gentiles, receive in actual fact the inheritance and the position of sons (which previously was only theoretically ours, as we could not as yet fulfil the conditions necessary for accepting the inheritance).

There seems to be here the same transition as in Gal 3:25 f. from “we” in the sense of Jews to “we” embracing all true Christians, Gentile alike and Jew;1 and Paul goes on to explain his reasons and to justify the transition.

“Previously,” says Paul, “when you did not know God, you were enslaved to false gods. But now, when you have come to know God, or rather when God has taken cognisance of you (for the change in your position is due entirely to His gracious action and initiative), how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary rules, to which you wish to make yourselves slaves again completely, while you pay respect to sabbaths, and new moons, and annual celebrations, and sacred years, as if there were any virtue and any grace in such accidental recurrences in the order of the world. I am afraid that I have spent trouble and labour upon you in vain.”

It is clearly implied that there was a marked analogy between the bondage of the Jews under the “rudiments of the world” and the bondage of the Gentiles under the load of ceremonial connected with their former idolatry. The Jewish rudiments are contemptuously summed up as “days and months and seasons and years”; and each of these terms was applicable in startlingly similar fashion to the pagan ceremonial practised in Asia Minor. A few sentences, written in another connection and still unpublished, may be here quoted: “A highly elaborate religious system reigned over the country. Superstitious devotion to an artificial system of rules, and implicit obedience to the directions of the priests (cf. Gal 4:3-11), were universal among the uneducated native population. The priestly hierarchy at the great religious centres, hiera, expounded the will of the God to his worshippers.2 Thus the government was a theocracy, and the whole system, with its prophets, priests, religious law, punishments inflicted by the God for infractions of the ceremonial law, warnings and threats, and the set of superstitious minutiae, presented a remarkable and real resemblance in external type to the old Jewish ceremonial and religious rule. It is not until this is properly apprehended that Gal 4:3-11 becomes clear and natural. Paul in that passage implies that the Judaising movement of the Christian Galatians is a recurrence to their old heathen type. After being set free from the bonds of a hard ceremonial law, they were putting themselves once more into the bonds of another ceremonial law, equally hard. In their action they were showing themselves senseless (ἀνόητοι, Gal 3:1), devoid of the educated mind that could perceive the real nature of things. There is an intentional emphasis in the juxtaposition of ἀνόητοι with Γαλάται, for it was the more educated party, opposed to the native superstition, that would most warmly welcome the provincial title. Hence the address ‘senseless Galatians,’ already anticipates the longer expostulation (Gal 4:3-11), ‘Galatians who are sinking from the educated standard to the ignorance and superstition of the native religion’.”

Obviously the enumeration, “days and months and seasons and years,” is merely a contemptuons summary of the formalistic side of Jewish ritual; and there is no implication that the Galatians were actually observing at the time a sacred or Sabbatic year. The meaning is merely “are you about to enslave yourselves to the whole series of their feeble and poor ceremonies?”


[1] See XL.

[2] Cities and Bishoprics of Phrygia, I 134 ff., 147 ff., 94 ff., etc.)

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