Summary: Don’t fall for the temptation to turn back.


Galatians 4:8-11

By Cleavon Matthews

February 11, 2007


Due to a lack of mutual familiarity it appears to be prudent to express my doctrinal commitment to Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus which means in Latin ‘No salvation outside the church.’ Cyprian said “he cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.” Historically the prince pupils of scholastic academia have congregated at the desk of discussion and debate regarding the erudite ideas surrounding the identity of the addressees, their geographic location, the historical-theological situation, and the identity of the Pauline opponents in the ninth chronicled New Testament book of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians.

There is no diminutive supply of Bibliographic research extending from the present time back to the second century pen of Justin Martyr. It is easy to be besieged by the jargon of such terminology as the northern and southern Galatian theories concerning the addressees or the traditional view, two-opponent view, and Gnostic-syncrestic view of the Pauline opponents.

Granted the work of professional scribes and theological connoisseurs are an invaluable source when engaging in the spiritual exercise of growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, testing theories, training Christian leaders, and defending the faith. However our thinking must not extend beyond the grasp of the common man.

Therefore we begin not with the scholar at his tattered and clustered oak desk and his voluminous library of books and journals. But our terminus a quo is AD 48 and our terminus ad quem is AD 58. Sometime between these two dates the Apostle Paul preached the Gospel to the inhabitants of a region called Galatia. Paul, a zealous Apostle of Jesus Christ. Paul, a former Pharisee. Paul, a man with a perplexing past. Paul, an injurious man. Paul, a man who persecuted the church of God beyond measure. Paul, whose former aim and dearest aspiration was to annihilate the church. Paul, a man referred to as weak in bodily presence and untrained in speech (2 Cor 10:10; 11:6). Paul, converted and called by Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-17) in obedience to the Lord preached the Gospel in Galatia.

When he preached the Gospel there was a response in the hearts and minds of the Galatians. They were released from an arduous bondage (Gal 3:23; 4:3; 5:1). They became sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (3:26). They were baptized and put on Christ (3:27). They became one in Christ (3:28). When they became Christ’s they also became Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise (3:29). They were adopted as full-grown sons (4:5). They became recipients of the Spirit (4:6). They were no longer slaves but sons (4:7)!

The ‘hearing of faith’ produced sons and not slaves! They were heirs of God through Christ. But things digressed when malevolent messengers came after Paul and attempted to overthrow their faith leading these sons back into slavery under ‘the elements of the world.’ These legalistic taskmasters were known as Judaizers (Gal 2:14). Judaizers were Christian Jews attempting to impose Jewish customs and traditions (not only religious but also racial) on Gentile Christians. The Judaizers alleged faith in Jesus as the Messiah enhanced but did not replace their Judaism. Christianity was not regarded as a religion distinct from Judaism, but rather as the truest form of Judaism.


Galatians 4:8-9 “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature and not gods. But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?”

In classic Pauline fashion he argues with an inspired and brilliant rhetorical strategy. He personalizes the defense and guides his audience into a series of self-discoveries. He speaks of mutually held facts and then requires a response to a quite reasonable question.

They had been liberated from a paganistic past. Formerly they did not know God. They were in the darkness of theological and spiritual ignorance just as the Thessalonians (1 Thess 1:9). They served idols who in essence and essential constitution were ‘not gods.’ If one ascribes to the Southern-Galatian theory, perhaps they were enslaved to the Greek idols Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-13) whom the Romans called Jupiter and Mercury or maybe they served ‘the star gods, celestial bodies whose movement in the heavens were believed to control human life on earth.’

A brief consideration of the phrase ‘not gods’ is insightful and crucial to our understanding what follows. In the prolific and doctrinally replete Song of Moses a comparison is made between idols and demons. We can witness the comparativeness of the context by beginning at Deut. 32:10. Now in 17 Moses sings, “They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know, to new gods, new arrivals that your fathers did not fear. Of the Rock who begot you, you are unmindful, and have forgotten the God who Fathered you” (DT 32:17-18).

The Psalmist provides further dramatic insight to idolatry in Psalm 115. There he declares those who worship idols become like them (v8). In other words they have mouths but don’t speak, eyes but they don’t see, ears but they don’t hear, noses but they don’t smell, hands but they don’t handle and feet but they don’t walk. They are spiritually dead and woefully impotent.

Paul taught the Corinthians ‘an idol is nothing in the world’ (1 Cor 8:4). Idols are sham gods or ‘so-called’ gods (1 Cor 8:5). Echoing Moses Paul declares ‘that the things Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God’ (1 Cor 10:20). So then both Moses and Paul see behind idolatrous service the activity of Satan whose chief objectives are to employ his wiles (methodias, cf Eph 6:11) in order to deceive humanity, distort the truth, and destroy man’s connection to the true and living God. This is how bondage is achieved.

Now the crux of the context and meat of the message is verse 9. Here comes the question. They have a Father and son relationship with God. God knows them. This is not mere intellectual awareness for God knows every human being. But God does not have a personal and favorable relationship with every human being.

When Paul says ‘turn again’ he uses epistrepho. Epistrepho is a present tense verb in the active indicative 2nd person plural. In secular Greek the word meant to turn to or against. In the OT LXX religiously it meant apostasy. The weeping prophet Jeremiah speaks God’s case against Judah. “Saying to a tree, you are my father and to a stone, you gave birth to me. For they have turned their back to ME, and not their face. But in the time of their trouble they will say arise and save us” (2:27). Philo used the term allegorically concerning Lot’s wife. All meaning comes from context therefore the meaning here is perversion and apostasy this is the apostles’ chief concern as evidenced throughout the epistle.

• I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different Gospel. 1:6

• I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain. 2:21

• O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 3:1

• Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 3:3

• You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5:4

• You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 5:7

• I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off! 5:12

Among the prince pupils and erudite elite there are opposing views regarding the interpretation of the phrase ‘to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage.’ The controversy surrounds the identification of the term stoicheion (stoy-khi’-on) which is translated elements and in some cases rudiments or basic principles. This word is found in only four New Testament passages along with the present text are Galatians 4:3, *Colossians 2:8 and 2:20.

There are four uses of the term. It is used as the letters of the alphabet as the elements of speech. Second it is used as the elements from which all things have come, the material causes of the universe. Third later in the second-century it was used to denote the heavenly bodies. But fourth and when used by Paul it describes the elements, rudiments, primary and fundamental principles of any art or science.

On the surface it appears blasphemous but stoicheion (stoy-khi’-on) or elements describe both the law and idolatry! They both result in a yoke of bondage (cf Acts 15:10; Galatians 5:1). Paul equates reliance on the law to trust in idols. They are weak and beggarly. They are weak because they have no saving power. They are beggarly because they produce no spiritual inheritance.

The Galatians were a people with a past! It took an Apostle with a past to relate to them. Paul knew what it was like to be in bondage. He understood the struggle. He experienced first hand the inability of the law. He knew the law was weak and beggarly. He says in Romans 7:22ff “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Now the apostle urges the Galatians not to turn back! We too have been freed from a paganistic past! We were in bondage to sin, Satan, the flesh, and the world. We were ignorant of the Lord. We were shackled by the weak and beggarly elements. We were imprisoned by the bars of unbelief. We were jailed in sin. We were locked up in loose living. We were captives to corruption. We were caged by condemnation. We were incarcerated by idolatry.

Therefore, how is it that we turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which we desire again to be in bondage?

I know it sounds absurd! But some of us desire to be in bondage!

Our spiritual anthem is ‘do not touch,’ ‘do not taste,’ ‘do not handle!’

We crave man-made rules to regulate us!

We pine for law to lead us!

We need edicts to limit us!

We want systems to contain us!

We desire bondage because although we began in the Spirit we believe we are made perfect by the flesh!

We have a terrible misconception!

Laws don’t save us!

What makes the sons of God believe the laws of men can save us when the law of God did not save them?

Galatians 2:21 “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by law.”

Laws have no power within themselves!

Laws don’t prevent murders!

Laws don’t prevent adultery!

Laws don’t prevent lying!

Laws don’t prevent stealing!

Laws don’t prevent drug abuse!

Laws don’t prevent teen age pregnancy!

Laws don’t prevent drunk driving!

Laws don’t prevent church members from forsaking the assembly!

Laws don’t prevent church members from being lazy!

Laws don’t prevent malice, jealousy, hatred, and strife!

Laws don’t produce life!

Laws don’t produce faithful members!

Laws don’t produce committed members!

Laws don’t produce dedicated members!

Life is in Christ (Galatians 2:20)!


Galatians 4:10 “You observe days and months and seasons and years.”

Observe is paratereo meaning to watch closely or to observe scrupulously! This word was used in Acts 9:24 to describe the Jews in Damascus who were watching the city gates in order to catch Saul (Paul) and kill him.

Each of these terms has a distinct meaning. Days refer to Sabbaths. Months refer to new moons. Seasons refers to annual feasts such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. Years refer to Sabbatical years and Jubilee!

They were following a pathological practice because by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified (Gal 2:16). If observing these practices produced any righteousness then Christ died in vain (Gal 2:21). It was pathological because the works of the law are under the curse rather than the blessing (Gal 3:10-14). It was pathological because the law could not annul the confirmed covenant (Gal 3:17). It was pathological because the inheritance was by promise and not law (Gal 3:18). It was pathological because after faith came they were no longer under the tutor (Gal 3:25).


Galatians 4:11 “I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.”

In perhaps a momentary expression of frustration and despair Paul pours out his agony over the Galatians. He wonders like so many Christian leaders if he has wasted his efforts and energies!

He was not thinking of himself. He did not regret the sacrifices and sufferings he endured for the Lord Jesus Christ. He was genuinely and earnestly concerned the Galatian saints would turn back!

This concern continues to haunt the men of God today. Men who are engaged in the ministry of the word, the work of the evangelist, and the shepherding of God’s sheep are bearing this burden of agonizing concern.

They fear with good reason for those who have become sons and daughters of God but through the many spiritual dangers in this world are tempted to turn back! They pray, teach, and counsel but the sons and daughters of God are still tempted to turn back.


How can we turn back now that we have been known by God?

How can we turn back from the grace of Christ to the garbage of corruption?

How can we turn back from the power of Christ to the pity of condemnation?

How can we turn back from the prince of Peace to the prince of chaos?

How can we turn back from the Light of the world to the darkness of evil?

How can we turn back from the Lord of Glory to the law of gloom?

How can we turn back from the Truth, Way, & Life to error, loss, & death?

How can we turn back from the Lamb of God to the life of sin?

How can we turn back from the Savior to the Sabbath?

How can we turn back from Christ to circumcision?

How can we turn back from Christ to crack?

How can we turn back from….

The hope of glory

The great God and Savior

The Ancient of Days

The Lily of the valley

The Rose of Sharon

The wheel in the middle of the wheel

The fountain of living waters

The light of the world

The resurrection and the life

The good shepherd

The days spring from on high

The Advocate

The Almighty

The Alpha and Omega

The Author and Finisher

The Bread of Life

The Bright and Morning Star

The Chief Shepherd

The Faithful Witness

The Head of the church

The Lord of lords

The King of kings

The Only Begotten