Rudimentary Things

Paul chided the Galatians over their desire “to return to bondage under the weak and beggarly rudiments” of the world, including calendrical observations and circumcision. Since they were no longer “minors” but full heirs who lived in the age of fulfillment and had the Gift of the Spirit, resorting to outmoded rituals was tantamount to returning to a state of slavery.

Did not God send his Son in the “fullness of time” to redeem those who were 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.”

Lunar phases - Photo by Farzad Mohsenvand on Unsplash
[Photo by Farzad Mohsenvand on Unsplash]

Disciples of Jesus are no longer under the custodianship of the Law, Jewish or Gentile. With his arrival, a fundamental change in the Law and a shift in the status of God’s people occurred. His arrival meant that believers ceased being minors and became heirs of the covenant promises.

If the Galatians returned to the “rudimentary things” of the old order they would regress to “types and shadows” even though they possessed the substance of what those things foreshadowed – (Galatians 4:1-6).

The main controversy was the effort by men “from Jerusalem” to require Gentile believers to undergo circumcision, and thereby “complete” their faith, but once that door was opened, other issues from the requirements of the Mosaic Law would come into play. If a man was required to keep one of the Law’s regulations, he was obligated to keep the entire Law, putting him 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).

The Galatians were justified “from the faith of Jesus Christ, not from the deeds of the Law.” To return to the rituals of the Levitical code would declare that Jesus had died in vain - (Galatians 2:15-21).

Paul used 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 were adopted, and as sons, they became full heirs.

In the analogy, the Law of Moses played the “custodian.” However, since the “adoption,” a change in status had occurred as attested by the receipt of the Gift of the Spirit. With the Messiah’s arrival, the role of the “custodian” was terminated.


The Greek term rendered “rudiments” or stoicheion means “elemental, elementary, rudiment, rudimentary, basic” - (Strong’s - #G4747).  It may refer to any first thing, the parts and basic building blocks that comprise a larger whole.

Returning to the observation of the calendar meant reverting to the elementary principles of the old era rather than living in the new one inaugurated by Jesus, and regression to an earlier state of immaturity. Submitting to religious rites based on the cycles of celestial bodies meant returning 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 would return to bondage under the “weak and beggarly” practices of the old era, and “beggarly” adds emphasis to the point. What they were doing would only impoverish them spiritually.

His warning applied to both Jewish and Gentile believers. Previously, the Gentiles were “in bondage to them that by nature are no gods.”  Calendrical observations as religious rites were as common among pagans as they were among the Jews, though differing in key details.

The Galatians were desiring to “observe closely” days, months, and years. This represents the Greek verb paratéreō, meaning, to “watch closely, narrowly observe; TO KEEP SCRUPULOUSLY” (Strong’s - #G3906). The same verb was applied 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).

The clause rendered “days and months and seasons and years” is virtually identical to the Greek Septuagint version of the description in Genesis of 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).

Daybreaking - Photo by Axi Aimee on Unsplash
[Photo by Axi Aimee on Unsplash]

The verbal allusion 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, 
passéWith the inauguration of the New Covenant, the old one became “obsolete, aged”, as 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, would mean returning to bondage under the rudimentary principles of the old era from which Jesus liberated him or her through his death.

The Messianic Age and the “New Creation” dawned in Jesus, through the redemptive work he accomplished on the Cross, and his disciples must live accordingly.

  • Justified from Faith - (Paul responds to his opponents by emphasizing the all-sufficiency of the faithful act of Jesus in his obedience unto death – Galatians 2:15-21)
  • Having started in the Spirit - (The receipt of the Spirit while in an uncircumcised state is irrefutable proof that Gentiles are accepted by God AS GENTILES)
  • The Promised Spirit - (The Promise of the Spirit is one of the blessings of Abraham promised by God for the nations and the children of the Patriarch)



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