noteofday_advent

Note of the Day – December 13

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Galatians 4:6

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order—

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

as well as the conclusion of the sentence in verse 5:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

Now it remains to look at Paul’s statement in verse 6, which builds upon the previous two verses:

o%ti de/ e)ste ui(oi/ e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\ pneu=ma tou= ui(ou= au)tou= ei)$ ta\$ kardi/a$ h(mw=n kra=zon: a)bba= o( path/r
“And, (in) that [i.e. because] you are sons, God set forth out from (him) the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!'”
Note: later manuscripts tend to read “into your [u(mw=n] hearts”, but the ‘earliest and best’ manuscripts have “into our [h(mw=n] hearts”, and this is most likely the original reading.

This verse is best analyzed by comparing its similarity to vv. 4-5:

  • God set forth out from (him) [e)cape/steilen] his Son
    • (into the world) [i.e. the human condition: “coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law”]
      • so that we might receive ‘adoption’ as his son(s)
  • God set forth out from (him) [e)ape/steilen] the Spirit of his Son
    • into our hearts
      • crying (in/with us) “Father!”

As mentioned previously, the very same idea is expressed in Romans 8:15:

“for you did not receive the Spirit of slavery again into fear, but (rather) you received the Spirit of placement as a son, in which we cry ‘Abba, Father!'”

Here the adoption (“placement as a son”) is identified with the Spirit (“you received the Spirit…”), whereas in Gal 4:5-6, the two are connected, but distinct. In Galatians, it almost appears that Paul treats these as two stages in the ‘order of salvation’—being made/designated as sons through Christ’s work, and (then) receiving the Spirit as confirmation of sonship. This possibly reflects baptism ritual (Gal 3:27, also Rom 6:3-4; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12); certainly a two-stage rite developed in the early Church whereby: (1) descent into and ascent out of the water symbolized participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, while (2) anointing/chrism represented the receipt/seal of the Spirit. There is, however, no reason to treat these as distinct episodes or phenomena in an absolute or metaphysical sense.

The connection with freedom from slavery/bondage (under sin and the Law), shared by Gal 4 and Rom 8, is also highly significant—for the Spirit represents and embodies the freedom that believers have in Christ, as Paul declares in 2 Cor 3:17 (cf. also Gal 4:31; 5:1, 13ff; Rom 6:7, 18ff; 7:3ff; 8:2, 21). Indeed, Paul seems to understand the Spirit primarily as the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers, much as we see in the Gospel and letters of John, though it may alternately be referred to as the “Spirit of Christ” and the “Spirit of God” (Rom 8:9)—the two concepts really cannot be separated. Insofar as believers are “in Christ”, they are in the Spirit; similarly, the Spirit is in believers, just as Christ is in us.

Two additional aspects of verse 6 are especially noteworthy:

  • The phrase which introduces the verse (o%ti de\ e)ste ui(oi/, “and in that you are [e)ste] sons”)—this expresses the reality (i.e. the status) of believers, and it is significant that here it is separated specifically from the experience of the Spirit; the Spirit confirms and declares what we already are in Christ. It might be thought that this status of son (and heir) is introduced by Christ’s work (and our faith in him); however, the context of the illustration in 4:1-3 (also 3:24-26) suggests that believers are already God’s sons (and heirs) even while “under the Law” and “under sin”—this status is only realized through the work of Christ on our behalf. There may be a ‘gnostic’ tinge to this idea, but it is actually fundamental to the doctrines of election and predestination. Paul does not draw such a connection precisely here (cf. Eph 1:5), but it is well established throughout his letters. Rom 8:26-30 is especially relevant, since we find there the same image of the Spirit in us crying/groaning to God.
  • The oracular role of the Spirit, crying out to God (in us) “Father!”—Paul actually uses the Aramaic aB*a^ (°abb¹°), transliterated in Greek as a)bba=. It is a vocative form (“O, Father!”); by adding the Greek o( path/r, Paul is simply translating the Aramaic for his Greek-speaking audience. The parallel passage in Rom 8:15 (cf. above) uses the same formula; elsewhere in the New Testament a)bba= is only used (preserved in the words of Jesus) in Mark 14:36. Almost certainly Paul’s employment of the word here (and in Rom 8:15) is a result of its importance within the sayings of Jesus, as preserved in early Gospel tradition. Interestingly, in Rom 8:15, it is we (believers) who cry “Abba, Father”; in Gal 4:6 it is the  Spirit in us who cries these words. This reflects a sense of interaction, cooperation, even identification, between believers and the indwelling Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:17; 12:13; Eph 2:18; 4:4), such as Paul describes in Rom 8:26ff.

The conclusion of Paul’s argument in 4:1-7 (verse 7) will be discussed in the next note.

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Note of the Day – December 12

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Galatians 4:4-5

This series of Advent season notes has been examining Galatians 4:4, looking at each word or phrase in the verse, in order:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

The conclusion of the sentence is found in verse 5, will be discussed in today’s note:

i%na tou\$ u(po\ no/mon e)cagora/sh| i%na th\n ui(oqesi/an a)pola/bwmen
“…so that he might buy out [i.e. redeem] the (one)s under (the) Law, so that we might receive from (him) placement as a son”

This verse is comprised of two purpose/result clauses, marked by the particle i%na (“[so] that”):

  • “so that [i%na] he might buy out [e)cagora/sh|] the ones under the Law [tou\$ u(po\ no/mon]”
  • “so that [i%na] we might receive from (him) [a)pola/bwmen] placement as a son [th\n ui(oqesi/an]”
Clause #1:

The first purpose/result involves redemption, the verb e)cagora/zw literally meaning “buy/purchase out”, the context being that of purchasing a slave out of servitude/bondage. The verb is rare, used only 4 times in the New Testament (all in the Pauline letters); the most relevant instance is in Gal 3:13, which I mentioned in the previous note. Gal 3:10-14 is generally parallel to 4:1-7:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

The expression u(po\ kata/ran (“under the curse”) stands midway between the parallel expressions u(po\ no/mon (“under the Law”) and u(po\ a(marti/an (“under sin”)—this helps to explain the twofold meaning of e)cagora/zw in Gal 4:5:

  • human beings are purchased out of bondage to sin, freed from its enslaving power (cf. also 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23)
  • believers are freed from servitude to the Law of the old covenant, no longer bound by its authority

Clearly, this redemption applies to Gentiles as well as Israelites and Jews. Even though Gentiles are not “under the Law” in the sense of being obligated to observe the Torah, they are, in their own way, still under the Law. This is partly explained by the phrase “enslaved under [u(po/] the ‘elements’ [stoixei=a] of the world” in verse 3 (cf. also v. 9 and Col 2:8, 20), though Paul does not clarify the exact relationship between the Law and the “elements of the world”. The only information provided in the immediate context of Galatians and Colossians has to do with certain ceremonial/ritual behavior—observance of the Sabbath and holy days (Gal 4:10; Col 3:16-17), dietary and/or purity regulations (Col 3:20-22), and, possibly, circumcision (Col 3:11; also fundamental to the arguments in Galatians). In Romans 2:12-15; 3:9ff and 7:13ff, Paul offers a somewhat different description of how Gentiles are “under the Law” (and under the power of sin). For the uniquely Pauline understanding of the relationship between the Law and sin, see Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:19-20; 5:18-21; 7:7-25; 11:32. Clearly, it is the sacrificial death of Christ that frees believers from the power of sin (and the Law)—Gal 2:19-20; 3:10-14, 23-26; Rom 3:21-26; 5:1-11, 18-21; 6:1-11, 14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:1-4; 10:4; 2 Cor 3:7-18, etc. Believers participate in Christ’s death (and resurrection) through faith and the Spirit, marked by the symbolism associated with baptism (Rom 6:3-4; Gal 3:27; 1 Cor 12:13; Col 2:12, etc).

Clause #2:

The second purpose/result clause involves sonship, that is, of believers’ status as sons (children) of God. This is typically described as adoption, though the Greek word (ui(oqesi/a) properly means “placement as a son”—often in the technical/legal sense of adoption, but it can be used in other symbolic/metaphorical ways as well. Paul uses the term in Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4 (and it is also in Eph 1:5). Note the context of these passages:

  • Rom 9:4—it is used of Israel, the people (collectively) considered as God’s “son” in a symbolic/spiritual sense (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1f; Jer 31:9; cf. also Isa 1:2; 30:1, 9; Mal 1:6)
  • Rom 8:15—believers, through the Spirit, receive ‘adoption’ as sons of God
  • Rom 8:23—similarly of believers, but in an eschatological sense, tied to the resurrection (i.e. redemption of our bodies)
  • Eph 1:5—again of believers, but prior to our coming to faith, connected with the idea of predestination

Rom 8:15 is very close in language and meaning to Gal 4:5-6 (v. 6 will be discussed in the next daily note).

The verb a)polamba/nw (“take/receive from”) along with ui(oqesi/a expresses clearly the idea that, through Christ (and our trust/faith in him), we receive from God placement as sons (we are made his sons/children). Note the conceptual chiasm in vv. 4-5:

  • God sends forth his Son
    —as a human being under the Law
    —to redeem/purchase those enslaved under the Law (and sin)—as a result:
  • We receive placement (i.e. are ‘adopted’) as God’s sons

This is expounded further by Paul in verse 6.

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Note of the Day – December 11

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”)

The expression u(po\ no/mon (“under [the] Law”) appears a number of times in Galatians and Romans—Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; 5:18; Rom 3:21; 6:14-15—as well as in 1 Cor 9:20. The preposition u(po/ has the basic (metaphorical) sense of being under the authority of someone or something, in this case under the Law (no/mo$). Paul uses the word no/mo$ almost exclusively in reference to the Old Testament Law (Torah); only occasionally does it have a more general or broader meaning, as in Rom 2:14; 3:27; 7:21-25; 8:2—especially noteworthy is the expression [o(] no/mo$ [tou=] qeou= (“[the] Law of God”) in Rom 7:22, 25; 8:7; 1 Cor 9:20, which I take to be synonymous with the will of God, and not precisely identical with the Torah as such (though, of course, the will of God is expressed in the Torah). As far as being “under the Law” (u(po\ no/mon), this primarily refers to those who are under the authority of the Law—i.e. Israelites and Jews—obligated to observe its commands, regulations, precepts, etc. However, in Galatians especially, Paul uses the expression with a define an particular nuance, as synonymous (or parallel) with:

  • u(po\ kata/ran (“under [the] curse”)—Gal 3:10, i.e. the curse of the Law (cf. Deut 27-28)
  • u(po\ [th\n] a(marti/an (“under sin”)—Gal 3:22 (also Rom 3:9; 7:14)
  • u(po\ paidagwgo/n (“under a paidagogos“)—Gal 3:25, cf. also Gal 4:2 (“under guardians and house-masters”)
  • u(po\ ta\ stoixei=a tou= ko/smou (“under the stoicheia/elements of the world”)—Gal 4:3 (cf. Col 2:8, 20)

This relates to the unique, fundamental view of the Law expressed by Paul, esp. in Galatians and Romans, which is marked by two principal teachings:

  1. The main purpose of the Law is to bring knowledge/awareness of sin to human beings—in particular, that they are enslaved under the power of sin—which, in turn, “increases” sin and brings humanity further into bondage (cf. Gal 3:19-25; Rom 3:20; 5:20-21; 7:7ff; 11:32)
  2. The power of sin (and the Law) comes to an end through the work of Christ (his death and resurrection)—as a result, believers are no longer “under the Law” (cf. especially Gal 2:19; 3:13, 22-26; 4:28-31; 5:1ff; Rom 3:21ff; 5:15-21; 6:14-15, 22; 7:1-6; 8:2ff; 10:4).

I have examined these (and other) passages all throughout the articles on Paul’s View of the Law (cf. on Galatians and Romans). The two theological/doctrinal points listed above inform the use of the expression “under the Law” here in Gal 4:4, as the context of Gal 4:1-11 makes clear.

The illustration in vv. 1-3 (parallel to that in 3:24-26) depicts believers (prior to faith) collectively as a son (and heir) who is directly under the authority of household servants, effectively in bondage, though he is destined to inherit the father’s estate. This period of ‘bondage’ lasts until the time set beforehand by the father, at which point the child is no longer under the authority of servants, but is free and master of the estate (just like the father). This is the time referenced in verse 4, as discussed in an earlier note. It is also clear from verse 4 just what happens at this time—God sent forth his own son in human form (“coming to be out of [e)k] a woman”), which also indicates that he shares in the human condition (cf. the previous note). This condition is also what is meant in the next phrase (“coming to be under [u(po/] the Law”), in a two-fold sense:

  • As a Israelite—Jesus’ earthly parents were from the tribe of Judah (and possibly Levi, cf. Luke 1:5); according to the Lukan Infancy narrative, Jesus’ parents and relatives where devout and faithful in observing the Old Testament Law (Luke 1:6, 59; 2:21-24, 27, 39, 41-42ff), and presumably would have instructed Jesus as a child to do the same (Luke 2:51-52). For Jesus’ observance of the Law as an adult, there are relatively few references in the Gospels, but see Matt 5:17-19; Mark 14:12ff par; note also the thought and language in Matt 3:15; Mark 10:18-19ff par, etc.
  • As human being—according to Pauline thought, Jews and Gentiles are both, in their own way “under the Law” (Rom 2:12ff), especially in the sense of being enslaved under the power of sin (Rom 2:12ff; 3:9-20, etc), which is revealed and judged under the Law. It is not entirely clear whether (or in what sense) Jesus, in taking on human “flesh”, was “under sin” (cf. Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21), but in Gal 3:13 it is said that Jesus effectively comes “under the curse” (by coming to be the curse himself, for our sake).

Gal 3:10-14 is especially important for an understanding of 4:4f; note the logic:

  • Human beings are under the curse (i.e. under the Law and under sin), v. 10
  • Jesus came to be under the curse, by “coming to be” (geno/meno$) the curse himself (through his death on the cross, in fulfillment of the Law), v. 13
  • In so doing, he redeemed (e)chgo/rasen) humankind from the curse (of the Law)
  • As a result, believers receive the blessings and promise of Abraham (v. 14), i.e. we come to be children (sons) of Abraham, and heirs according to the promise (cf. 3:15-29)

This very same line of logic applied to Gal 4:1-7 as well, which will be demonstrated more fully in the discussion of verse 5 in the next daily note.

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Note of the Day – December 10

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”)

The first participle geno/menon (“coming to be”) is followed by the prepositional expression e)k gunaiko/$ (“out of a woman”). As indicated in the previous note, the verb gi/nomai with the preposition e)k (“come to be out of”) is often used for natural production or birth. The addition of gunh/ (“woman”) specifies what would otherwise be obvious, while also giving an elevated style and rhythm to the sentence. Several aspects of this phrase need to be examined:

1. The reality of Jesus’ birth. Here e)k gunaiko/$ makes his coming to be [geno/menon] concrete, part of the natural process of human birth. Jesus was truly and actually born: (a) from a woman generally, i.e. through natural childbirth, and (b) from a particular woman, i.e. Maryam (Mary). Note also the use of gi/nomai + e)k in Rom 1:3, which likewise affirms Jesus’ real human birth, but in a different respect (“out of the seed of David”). In the second and third centuries, in order to combat “docetic” views of Jesus, the reality of his human birth was occasionally given additional emphasis by commentators and scribes, which is reflected in a number of variant readings in the manuscripts.

2. His Humanity. The phrase “born of a woman” is a circumlocution for human beings in general, i.e. the human condition. It is a Hebrew idiom, used occasionally in Old Testament poetry (Job 14:1; 15:4; 25:4), cf. also 1QS 11:20ff and 1 Cor 11:12. Paul, along with virtually all early Christians, accepted—indeed, would have taken for granted—that Jesus was a real human being. Only at the end of the New Testament period, do we see any indication of believers questioning the reality of Christ’s humanity (cf. 1 John 4:2). Various forms of “docetic” Christology—i.e., that Jesus only seemed or appeared to be a normal human being—had developed by the mid-2nd century, and continued to exert influence over Christian thought for some time.

3. His Suffering. “Born of a woman” signifies the process of childbirth, including its pain, which is representative of human suffering and misfortune as a whole (Gen 3:16ff). This is implied in the use of the expression in Job (above), and see also Isa 21:3; 26:17; Jer 4:31; 13:21; 22:23; 49:22; Hos 13:13; Mark 13:8 par; John 16:21; Rom 8:22; 1 Thess 5:3, etc. It is not certain that Paul is referring specifically to Jesus’ suffering here in Gal 4:4, but Christ’s death (on the cross) is in view all throughout Galatians (esp. 1:4; 2:19-20; 3:1, 13; 5:11; 6:12, 14). Paul typically does not emphasize the physical pain, etc. of the crucifixion, but the idea of suffering is certainly present in Gal 3:13, where Jesus is said to have become the curse of the Law.

What of the relationship between sin and the human condition? In the religious tradition of ancient Israel, childbirth itself resulted in impurity for the mother, which had to be cleansed (cf. Lev 12:1-8; Luke 2:22, 24). This likewise is indicated in the use of the expression “born of a woman” in Job 15:14; 25:4, which leads to a highly sensitive Christological question: in taking on human flesh, did Jesus take on the sin/impurity that is in the flesh (according to Paul’s way of thinking, cf. Rom 7:5, 7-25) as well? The main passages where Paul addresses this are:

  • 2 Cor 5:21: “…the (one) not knowing sin He [i.e. God] made (to be) sin over us [i.e. on our behalf], (so) that we might come to be the righteousness of God in him”
  • Rom 8:3f: “God, sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh], also judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us…”
  • Gal 3:13: “Christ bought us out of [i.e. redeemed us from] the curse of the Law, coming to be (the) curse over us [i.e. on our behalf]…”

The key portions (in italics) are especially difficult, from the standpoint of orthodox Christology, for they suggest some degree of identification between sin and the person of Christ. I have discussed 2 Cor 5:21 and Rom 8:3 together in an earlier note. In any case, the focus of Christ being made sin, coming to be the curse, etc, is specifically his death on the cross. It is this sacrificial work which redeems and frees humankind from sin and, ultimately, from suffering.

4. The Virgin Birth? Does Gal 4:4 imply a belief in the virgin birth? Though occasionally traditional-conservative commentators have sought to use this verse as evidence for the doctrine, there is really little (if any) indication of this in the text. As noted above, the expression “out of a woman” need not mean anything more than (ordinary) human childbirth and the human condition (with its ‘labor pains’) in general. While it may be assumed that Paul accepted the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, he does not mention it anywhere in his letters. Rom 1:3, the only other reference to Jesus’ birth as such, could actually be read in the other direction, with “out of the seed of David” indicating the genealogy of Joseph (as in Matthew 1 and Luke 3). In point of fact, the virgin birth is not referenced in the New Testament outside of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, neither in the early preaching recorded in the book of Acts, nor in the Letters, nor elsewhere in Gospel tradition; indeed, the birth of Jesus itself is scarcely even mentioned. Clearly, it was not an integral part of the early Gospel proclamation and instruction, and believers today should exercise considerable caution in trying to make the virgin birth (or conception) into a binding point of doctrine.

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Note of the Day – December 9

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

geno/menon (“coming to be”)

The verbs gi/nomai and the related genna/w both have the fundamental meaning “come to be, become”; genna/w more precisely denotes coming to be born, but gi/nomai can be used in this sense as well. The closeness of form and meaning between the two root verbs has occasionally resulted in textual confusion—note, for example, the variant readings between ge/nesi$ (“coming to be”) and ge/nnhsi$ (“coming to be [born]”, i.e. “birth”) in Matthew 1:18, the two words differing by only two letters. Here in Gal 4:4, the verb is used twice, in parallel participial phrases which modify “his son” (to\n ui(o\n au)tou=), and, in a broader sense, describe the result of God’s sending him forth:

  • coming to be [geno/menon] out of a woman
  • coming to be [geno/menon] under the Law

In each phrase, the precise meaning of geno/menon is governed by the prepositions with follow: e)k (“out of”) and u(po/ (“under”). The verb followed by e)k is often used to indicate physical birth, as in the LXX 1 Esdras 4:16; Tobit 8:6; and Josephus Antiquities II.216, similarly of trees and other natural production, Matt 21:19. This is sense in Rom 1:3 as well, where the context is generally close to that of Gal 4:4:

“…about his [i.e. God’s] son the (one) coming to be [genome/nou] out of [e)k] (the) seed of David according to (the) flesh…”

The “seed of David” would seem to indicate that Jesus’ father comes from the line of David, and, indeed, Joseph is identified as a descendant of David in Matt 1:2-16 and Luke 3:23ff. However, in Rom 1:3, Jesus is specifically referred to as God’s son; the ambiguity between the two basic propositions is intrinsic to early Christian tradition regarding the birth of Jesus. Neither in Rom 1:3 nor in Gal 4:4 (or anywhere else in his letters) does Paul specifically mention the virgin birth as such; this will be discussed further in the next note. It is interesting, however, that the only other passages in the New Testament where the preposition e)k follows directly after gi/nomai are in the baptism and transfiguration scenes:

  • Mark 1:11—”and a voice came to be [e)ge/neto] out of [e)k] the heavens…”; cp. Matt 3:17 (“[there was] a voice out of heaven…”) and Luke 3:22 (“and a voice com[ing] to be out of heaven…”)
  • Mark 9:7—”and a voice came to be [e)ge/neto] out of [e)k] the cloud…”; cp. Luke 9:35; Matt 17:5 (“and [there was] a voice out of the cloud…”)

In both instances, a heavenly, divine voice “comes to be”, i.e. is heard, out of heaven (or the cloud, par. to the cloud of God’s presence in Exod 13:21; 40:34-38, etc); and in both narratives the voice makes a declaration regarding Jesus as God’s Son: “you are my (be)loved Son…” (Mark 1:11 par). Consider also, in this regard, the variant reading in a number of key (Western) witnesses, where the voice from heaven cites Psalm 2:7: “you are my son; today I have caused you to be (born) [gege/nnhka]” (cf. Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5).

There are, in fact, definite Christological implications to the use of gi/nomai in several key passages of the Gospel of John. For example, there is a clear theological distinction between gi/nomai (“come to be, become”) and ei)mi (“be, [have] being”)—in Jn 1:1 ei)mi is used (3 times) of God/Deity, while in Jn 1:3 gi/nomai is used (again 3 times) of creation (also vv. 6, 10); in other words, God is, but creation comes to be. We see this same distinction in Jn 8:58: “before Abraham came to be [gene/sqai], I am [ei)mi/]”. Yet, in other references, Jesus comes to be as well (using gi/nomai):

  • Jn 1:14: “and the Logos came to be [e)ge/neto] flesh, and put down tent [i.e. dwelt] in/among us…”
  • Jn 1:15: (John the Baptist speaking): “the (one) coming in back of me has come to be [ge/gonen] in front of me, (in) that he was [h@n] first of [i.e. for] me” (also v. 30)

Jn 1:14 clearly refers to the birth/incarnation of Jesus (cf. below); in Jn 1:15, 30, on the other hand, there is a complex and subtle wordplay that interacts on two different levels of meaning. I have discussed this verse in detail in an earlier note. Several other passages in the Gospel should also be mentioned, where gi/nomai has (or may have) a special theological/spiritual nuance:

  • Jn 1:6—a man (John the Baptist) came to be [e)ge/neto] who witnessed regarding the Logos
  • Jn 1:12—believers in Christ are enabled to become [gene/sqai] offspring/children of God (cf. also Jn 8:33; 10:16; 12:36; 15:8)
  • Jn 1:17—(God’s) favor and truth came to be [e)ge/neto] through Christ
  • Jn 3:9—”how are these things able to come to be [gene/sqai]?” (context of Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus)
  • Jn 5:6ff—”do you wish to become [gene/sqai] whole?”
  • Jn 10:35—”…toward whom [i.e. those addressed in Ps 82:6] the Word/Logos of God came to be [e)ge/neto]”
  • Jn 12:29-30—the voice of God (sounding like thunder) coming/came to be [gegone/nai/ge/gonen]

In the Gospel of John, the related verb genna/w describes spiritual birth (from above) in Jn 3:3-8, but is also used in a manner similar to gi/nomai in two important verses:

  • Jn 1:13—believers, enabled to come to be offspring of God, come to be born out of God [e)k qeou=]
  • Jn 18:37—(Jesus to Pilate): “unto this I have come to be (born), and unto this I have come into the world…”

As a result of the Christological debates and controversies in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th centuries, theologians and commentators were uncomfortable saying that Jesus “came to be” (using gi/nomai), since the verb could be used generally for various kinds of natural production or creation. The Arian controversy, in particular, made it unacceptable to say that Jesus “came to be” in the sense of being created. Some manuscripts and witnesses of Gal 4:4 read gennw/menon (“coming to be [born]”) rather than geno/menon (“coming to be”), including Old Latin versions which have “natum ex muliere” instead of “factum ex muliere”; a similar variant occurs in Rom 1:3. Both verses were cited by Irenaeus (Against Heresies III.22.1, V.21.1) and Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ §§20-22) in the late-2nd/early 3rd century, arguing in support of the reality of Jesus’ (human) birth. By the time of the Nicene and Constantinopolitan Creeds in the 4th century, Christ’s pre-existent divine nature is unequivocably affirmed, along with the phrase gennhqe/nta ou) poihqe/nta, “coming to be born (from God), not made” (natum [genitum], non factum).

Does Gal 4:4 show evidence for the twin doctrine of the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ? Taken literally, the verb e)caposte/llw would mean “set forth from out of” the place where God is (i.e. heaven). Later Christology could speak of the Son (Christ) being born/generated out of [e)k] the substance of God the Father, but this is foreign to Paul’s way of thinking. In terms of Jesus’ birth, here only his ‘human nature’ is emphasized—he comes to be (born) out of [e)k] a woman. Based on Phil 2:6ff, it may assumed that Paul believed in some manner of (divine, heavenly) pre-existence for Jesus; however, it is interesting that he does not make much of it in his letters—there is virtually no other mention of the idea, though it can be inferred from passages such as 2 Cor 8:9; Col 1:15 (note also, possibly, Eph 4:8-9). The references to the voice of God coming to be from out of heaven (Mark 1:11; 9:7 par; Jn 12:29-30) show that, within early Christian tradition, there was an established use of gi/nomai (+ e)k) for a kind of sensible/tangible incarnate manifestation or revelation of God on earth, which was specifically tied to the person of Jesus Christ. Whether we are justified to read something of the sort in Gal 4:4 is difficult to say; Paul certainly understood that God worked through Jesus, manifesting His own righteousness, love, and so forth (Rom 3:21ff; 5:8; 8:3, etc). If we accept Col 1:15-19 (also 2:9) as Pauline, then he certainly held to a belief that generally corresponds to the incarnation, also evinced by Phil 2:7; Rom 8:3 (and note 1 Tim 3:16). With regard to the idea of the virgin birth, this will be addressed briefly in the discussion on the words “out of a woman” in the next note.

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Note of the Day – December 8

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

to\n ui(o\n au)tou= (“his Son”)

to\n ui(o\n (“the son”)—What God sent forth from him is a son (ui(o/$), his son (cf. below). The idea of sonship is important to the arguments and illustrations Paul uses in Galatians:

  • The argument from Scripture in Gal 3:7ff, involving the son (Isaac) promised to Abraham—believers in Christ are the “sons of Abraham” according to the promise (vv. 9, 14, 16, 26, 29).
  • The illustrations in Gal 3:24-25 and 4:1-2 involve a son (and heir), representing human beings (believers) who are under the authority of servants (the Law and the “elements” of the world), effectively in bondage, until the time of their “childhood” is over.
  • The argument from Scripture in Gal 4:21-31, again involving the (two) sons of Abraham—Ishmael and Isaac—one representing slavery (under the Law) and one representing freedom (in Christ).

Some of this same imagery is utilized in Romans (Rom 4:13ff; 8:14ff; 9:9, 26-27).

au)tou= (“his”)—This means God’s son, as also in passages such as 1 Thess 1:10; Gal 1:16; 4:6; 1 Cor 1:9; Rom 1:3, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; Col 1:13, where it is Jesus who is identified as God’s son. In 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 2:20; Rom 1:4, Paul specifically uses the expression “Son of God” (ui(o\$ qeou=); cf. also Eph 4:13, and Jesus referred to as “the Son” in 1 Cor 15:28. Already in the earliest layers of Christian tradition, Jesus was understood to be the “Son” of God (Luke 1:32; John 1:14; Acts 9:20), influenced, to a large extent, by Psalm 2:7 (cited in Luke 3:22 v.l.; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5; 5:5). Within Gospel tradition itself, Jesus is called the Son of God by others (Mark 3:11; 5:7; 14:61; 15:39 pars; Matt 4:3, 6 par; 14:33; 27:43; Luke 1:32, 35; John 1:34, 49; 11:27; 19:7), and notably through the heavenly voice at his baptism and transfiguration (Mark 1:11; 9:7 pars; cf. John 1:34; 2 Pet 1:17). It is also indicated by Jesus himself (Mark 12:6; 13:32 pars; note also Matt 28:19), though more frequently he refers to himself as the “Son of Man”; there are also passages where he references God specifically as his father (“my Father”, Mark 14:36 par; Matt 7:21; 10:32-33; 11:25-27; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:14, 19, 35; 20:23; 25:34; Luke 10:21-22; 22:29; 23:34, 46; 24:49; cf. also Mark 8:38). The Gospel of John presents a more developed understanding of Christ as God’s Son (Jn 1:14, 34, 49; 3:35-36; 11:27; 20:31), primarily through Jesus’ own words and teachings in the majestic discourses (Jn 3:16-18; 5:19-27, 36-37; 6:32-57; 8:16-19, 35-38, 49, 54; 10:15-18, 29-39; 11:4, 41; 12:26-28, and throughout chapters 14-17; 20:17, 21); the same ideas are present in the Johannine letters (1 Jn 1:3, 7; 2:22-24; 3:8, 23; 4:9-10, 14-15; 5:5, 9-13, 20; 2 Jn 3, 9).

In the ancient Near East, the king was understood to be the son or offspring of God, at least in a symbolic sense. This basic idea underlies Israelite royal theology as well, such as we see in Psalm 2:7 and 2 Sam 7:14. In a similar way, the people of Israel, collectively, could also be considered as God’s “son” (Exod 4:22; Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9, also Isa 1:2; 30:1, 9; Mal 1:6, etc). In neither instance, is there an indication that sonship is anything more than symbolic—neither the king nor Israel is born (or generated) from God in a metaphysical sense. This is probably how passages such as Psalm 2:7, 2 Sam 7:14, and Hos 11:1 were applied to Jesus in the earliest strands of tradition as well. Note how there is no sense of the divine pre-existence of Jesus where Psalm 2:7 is cited, in Acts 13:33 and Luke 3:22 [variant reading]—in Acts 13:33, Jesus’ sonship is tied to the resurrection (cf. also the similar use of Psalm 110:1 in Acts 2:24ff), in Luke 3:22 v.l., to his baptism. The fundamental identification of Jesus as the Anointed One (Xristo/$, Christ, “Messiah”), is likewise related directly to the idea of a (future) Davidic ruler who would bring redemption and restoration to Israel—cf. the references to Jesus as the “Son of David”, etc, in Mark 10:47-48; 11:10; 12:35-37 pars; Matt 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 21:9, 15; Luke 1:32; 3:31; Rom 1:3; also Matt 1:20; Luke 1:69; 2:4, 11; John 7:42; Acts 2:25ff; 13:34ff; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 3:7; 5:5; 22:16.

By the time of the Johannine writings (Gospel, Letters and the book of Revelation), c. 70-95 A.D., as well as in the letter to the Hebrews, we find a more developed belief in Jesus as the (pre-existent) Son of God, where sonship is understood in a deeper ontological and/or metaphysical sense—cf. Heb 1:2, 5, 8; 4:14; 5:5, ; 6:6; 7:3, 28; 10:29; and note the Johannine passages cited above. In terms of development and “progressive” revelation, Paul’s own writings lie somewhere between Hebrews and the earliest Gospel traditions.

How should we understand Jesus as God’s Son (“His Son”) in Gal 4:4? There are several aspects which need to be considered:

  • The context—In Galatians 3-4, Paul is not making specific Christological arguments; rather the emphasis is on soteriology (salvation)—that is, on Christ’s work (his death) that allows human beings to be freed from bondage to sin (under the Law), and to be made right/just (“justified”) before God. Even in Gal 1:20, where the specific expression “the Son of God” is used, it is fully in the context of Christ’s love and sacrificial death on our behalf. Note also the particular focus on the identity of believers as “sons of God” (cf. above)—this identity is realized through faith in Christ and the work of the Spirit, which Paul will describe more clearly in verses 5ff.
  • Other references to Jesus as God’s Son—As indicated above, the relevant passages are 1 Thess 1:10; 1 Cor 1:9; 15:28; 2 Cor 1:19; Gal 1:16; 2:20; Rom 1:3-4, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; Col 1:13, and also Eph 4:13. Of these, the closest in meaning and context to Gal 4:4 are Rom 1:3-4 and 8:3.
  • Passages where the Son is “sent”—There are a number of references to God sending his Son, especially in the Gospel of John, where it is implied throughout, but specifically in Jn 3:16-17; 5:23; and also 1 Jn 4:9-10, 14. For more on Christ as an apostle, i.e. one who is sent forth (by God), see the previous note on the verb e)caposte/llw. Outside of Gal 4:4, there is only one other reference by Paul to God sending Jesus—Rom 8:3:
    “…God, sending [pe/mya$] his own son [to\n e(autou= ui(o\n] in the likeness of flesh of sin, judged against sin in the flesh…”
    Overall, the context of Romans 8 is quite similar to that of Gal 4:1-7; there are two common points of emphasis:
    (1) God sent his Son in order to fulfill the Law in his own person (through his sacrificial death), which, in turn, frees humanity from bondage under the Law (and sin)—Rom 8:1-4
    (2) Through trust in Christ and by the gift of the Spirit, believers also are made Sons of God—cp. Rom 8:14-17 with Gal 4:5-7
    In passing, one might also mention a modest similarity between Gal 4:4 and 1 Thess 1:10, where God’s Son, it is implied, will be sent from (lit. out of, e)k) heaven—this, however, is a reference to the future (end-time) appearance of Christ.

This subject will be addressed again, as part of the discussion on Gal 4:6, in a subsequent note. For more on the possible relation of Gal 4:4 to the doctrines of the incarnation and pre-existence of Christ, see on the word geno/menon (“coming to be”) in the next daily note.

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Note of the Day – December 7

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

e)cape/steilen o( qeo/$ (“God set forth out from [him]”)

e)cape/steilen (“set forth out from”)—The verb (e)caposte/llw, exapostéllœ) is a compound of ste/llw (stéllœ, “set, place”, in order or in position, etc.), the preposition a)po/ (apó “from”) and the additional prefixed particle e)k (ek, “out of, from”). The simpler verb a)poste/llw (apostéllœ) means “set forth (or away)”, especially in the (positive) sense of sending someone away on a mission, and is used frequently in the New Testament, most commonly in the narrative of the Gospels and Acts. The person (or persons) so sent often function as official representatives of the one doing the sending, and it is on this basis that the derived noun a)po/stolo$ (apóstolos) came to have a special meaning among early Christians in the New Testament period. It literally means “one (who is) set forth”, i.e. as a messenger or representative. In the ancient world, where communication could be extremely slow and difficult, authoritative (and reliable) representatives were a necessity; the personal presence of a trustworthy representative helped to ensure proper administration of affairs and instruction regarding how various matters should be handled. Already in the Old Testament, within the religion of Israel, the king, priests, and especially the prophets, were often seen as having been sent by God, representing YHWH (and communicating His word) to the people. In the New Testament, we see this expressed in Mark 12:2-5 par; Matt 23:34; Luke 4:26; 11:49; 13:34; and applied to John the Baptist in Jn 1:6, 33; 3:28, as well as Mk 1:2; Matt 11:10 par (citing Mal 3:1). Similarly, Jesus sends out his disciples, giving them the authority to represent him, both in terms of the message they proclaim and in the power to heal and work miracles (Mark 6:7; Matt 10:5, 16; Luke 9:2; 10:3; 22:35, also Mark 11:1 par)—in all of these references the verb a)poste/llw is used (on Jn 20:21, cf. below). Some of these disciples (the Twelve, etc) would take on the status of special representatives of Christ, designated as a)po/stoloi (transliterated in English as apostles), cf. Mark 3:14 par; Luke 11:49; 22:14; Acts 1:2, 25-26, etc. In the first generations of the Church, these apostles served the vital role of preserving and transmitting the sayings and teachings of Jesus, along with various kinds of authoritative instruction and tradition. Paul frequently refers to himself as an apostle in his letters, though he is keenly aware that his apostleship is, in certain ways, distinct from that of others, and he feels compelled to defend it at times (cf. Gal 1:1, 17ff; 1 Cor 4:9; 9:1ff; 15:7-9; 2 Cor 11:5, 22ff; 12:12, etc). Apostles (such as Paul) would send associates and colleagues as representatives, under their authority, extending the reach of apostleship (and laying the groundwork for the Catholic concept of “apostolic succession”); letters (such as from Paul) might also carry apostolic authority.

We are perhaps not accustomed to thinking of Jesus as an apostle, but in a number of passages he is said to have been sent by God (using the verb a)poste/llw), acting as God’s own representative—cf. Mk 9:37; 12:6 pars; Matt 15:24; Luke 4:18, 43; 10:16; Acts 3:20, 26; 7:35 (also 10:36). The idea is especially frequent in the Gospel of John, where a)poste/llw (Jn 3:17; 5:36, 38; 6:29, 57; 7:29; 8:42; 10:36; 11:42; 17:3, 8, 18, 21, 23, 25) alternates with the verb pe/mpw “send” (Jn 4:34; 5:23, 30, 37; 6:38-39, 44; 7:16, 18, 28, 33; 8;16, 18, 26, 29; 9:4; 12:44-45, 49; 13:16, 20; 14:24; 15:21; 16:5), with very little difference in meaning. These two verbs take on a profound theological (and Christological) significance in John, emphasizing Jesus’ intimate relation (and identification) with God the Father, as a faithful Son who says and does only what he sees his Father saying and doing. The same dynamic is expressed in 1 John 4:9-10, 14. In John 17:18, and again in the commission of John 20:21 (which uses a)poste/llw and pe/mpw together), Jesus sends out his disciples just as the Father sent him out; this expresses an important principle—that believers, in representing Christ, also represent God the Father (cf. Mark 9:37 par). The verb a)poste/llw is also used for the Spirit (of God and Christ), sent by God the Father (Luke 24:49; cf. Acts 1:8; 2:2ff, 17). In the Gospel of John, the Spirit (or ‘Paraclete’) is alternately said to be sent: by the Father in Jesus’ name (Jn 14:26), by Jesus from the Father (Jn 15:26), or by Jesus directly (Jn 16:7). The Spirit, both in the Gospel of John and Paul’s letters, is primarily viewed in terms of the abiding presence of Christ in and among believers—as such, the Spirit too is an apostle.

The compound verb e)caposte/llw is relatively rare, occurring 13 times in the New Testament, but only twice (here in Gal 4:4, 6) outside of Luke-Acts. The prefixed particle e)k (“out of”) indicates someone being sent forth out of (or from) a particular place. In Lk 1:53; 20:10-11, it is used in the negative (violent) sense of driving someone out of a place. In Acts 7:12; 9:30; 11:22; 17:14 it refers to someone being sent out on an (urgent) mission, based on a certain situation which has arisen. In Acts 12:11 Peter uses it in reference to the Messenger (Angel) which has been sent out (to him) by God. In Acts 13:26, it is used of the Gospel (“the word/account of salvation”) which has been sent out into the world; similarly, Acts 22:21, where Paul relates God’s message to him (“I will send you forth from [here]”).

The precise force of the particle e)k in the verb (as used here in Gal 4:4) will be discussed in the next note.

o( qeo/$ (“God”)—As indicated above, it is God (the Father, YHWH) who sends out the prophets and Christ himself. In this regard, the closest usage of the verb e)caposte/llw is in Acts 12:11 (God sends out a [heavenly] Messenger), and Acts 22:21 (God sends out Paul as a messenger/representative). Also similar in meaning is Acts 13:26, where the “word” (lo/go$) is sent out into the world. It is not difficult to see the implications in relation to the traditional doctrine of the incarnation (“the word [lo/go$] became flesh”, John 1:14). Based on the context of Gal 4:4, i.e. “when the fullness of time came”, it might also be fair to understand here an urgency of mission, such as we find in Acts 7:12; 9:30; 11:22; 17:14 (also 22:21)—the time was right, it was just the moment, for God to send out his representative. For more on the relationship between God (the Father) and his representative (Jesus Christ), cf. the next daily note (on the words “his Son”).

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Note of the Day – December 6

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes examines Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
“but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou (“the fullness of the time”)

to\ plh/rwma (“the fullness”)—the word plh/rwma means “filling (up)”, in the sense of (a) the process of filling up, (b) something which is filled up, or (c) the condition of being filled up, i.e. “fullness”. There are two aspects of its usage which must be examined:

  1. In a temporal expression or phrase, and
  2. Paul’s use of the word in his letters

1. plh/rwma in a temporal expression or phrase. We should begin with the related verbs plh/qw (pi/mplhmi) and plhro/w (“fill [up], make full”)—both of which can be used to express the passage of time, and, in particular, the completion of a specific period of time; it may also indicate that a time is now fully past. Such expressions occur most frequently in Luke-Acts (Lk 1:20, 23, 57; 2:6, 21, 22; 21:24; Acts 7:23, 30; 9:23; 24:27), but note also Mark 1:15; John 7:8. The noun plh/rwma is used in a similar way, attested in the LXX in Jer 5:24; Ezek 5:2; Dan 10:3 [Theod.]; in the New Testament, outside of Gal 4:4, the only such occurrence is in Eph 1:10, but note the use of the related (compound) word e)kplh/rwsi$ in Acts 21:26.

2. Paul’s use of plh/rwma. The word appears 12 times in the Pauline corpus, including 4 in Ephesians. It is used in a general sense (of the earth’s “fullness”) in 1 Cor 10:26 (citing Psalm 24:1), and in Rom 15:29 (the “fullness of Christ’s blessing”). The other references may be summarized:

  • Rom 11:12, 25—Paul refers to the “fullness” of Israel (“their fullness”) and of the nations (i.e. Gentiles), in the famous eschatological discussion regarding the salvation of Israel in chapter 11 (see my recent article on this passage). In his view, the “full number” of Israelites will come to faith in Christ (and be saved) only after the “full number” of Gentiles has come into faith (using the image of being grafted into the olive tree, rooted in the promise to Abraham, vv. 17-24).
  • Rom 13:10—Here Paul declares that love (spec. love for one’s neighbor, Lev 19:18) is the filling/fullness of the Law; in other words, through the so-called love command (presumably identified with the “Law of Christ”, Gal 6:2), one effectively fills all the commands and precepts of the Old Testament Law; cf. Mark 12:28-34 par; James 2:8-13; Gal 5:14.
  • Col 1:19; 2:9—In Col 1:19 it is said that it seemed good [eu)do/khsen] (to God) that “all the fullness” (pa=n to\ plh/rwma) should dwell (lit. put down house) in Christ; in Col 2:9, something similar is stated, but more precisely: “in him all the fullness of God-ness [qeo/th$, i.e. Deity] dwells [lit. puts down house] bodily [swmatikw$]”.
  • Eph 3:19—Paul (or the author of the letter) expresses the wish that believers would be filled up “into all the fullness of God”; the context makes it clear that this “fullness of God” is found in Christ, and the Spirit (of God and Christ). Similarly, in Eph 1:23, the Church (the group of those “called out”) is identified with the “body of Christ”, which is further described as “the fullness [plh/rwma] of the (one) filling [plhroume/nou] all things in all things”
  • Eph 4:13—Here we find a similar hope (and expectation) for the ultimate destiny of believers: that “we all should arrive (together) into the oneness of the trust/faith and the (true) knowledge/understanding of the Son of God, into a complete man, into (the) measure of the growth/stature of the fullness of Christ”. Believers will arrive and enter (together) into three things: (1) oneness of faith, (2) completeness of person, (3) and will grow into the “fullness” of Christ.

In Colossians and Ephesians, plh/rwma clearly has a special Christological significance, in terms of: (a) Christ embodying the fullness of God, and (b) believers coming to share in the same fullness through our union with Christ. It is in this light that one should read Eph 1:10, which is the verse closest in meaning and context to Gal 4:4:

9having made known to us the secret of his will, according to th(at which) seemed good for him, which he set forth before(hand) in him(self), 10into the house-law [i.e. management/administration] of the fullness of the times, to gather up all things under (one) head in Christ—the (thing)s upon the heavens (above) and the (thing)s upon the earth (below)—(all) in him.”

Here, temporal fullness (“fullness of the times/seasons”) is linked directly with Christological fullness. Though Paul does not go quite this far in Galatians, it is clear that Gal 4:4 refers to the incarnation, at least in seminal, kerygmatic form.

tou= xro/nou (“of the time”)—the genitival expression “of the time” qualifies plh/rwma, just as “of the times/seasons [tw=n kairw=n] does in Eph 1:10. As indicated above, “fullness of time” can refer to: (a) the passage of time, i.e. time in the process of being filled up, (b) a specific period of time that has been completed, or (c) a time that is now fully past. In Gal 4:4, meaning (b) best fits the context, mainly for the reasons discussed in the previous note—the illustrations which depict believers (prior to faith) as in a period of childhood (requiring legal guardianship, etc), which lasts until the time set beforehand by the father. In this context, the “fullness of time” means specifically the period of time which the Father set when we were under the authority of household servants (the Law and the “elements” of the world)—its “fullness” means that this time has been completed.

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Note of the Day – December 5

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Galatians 4:4

This series of Advent season notes will examine Galatians 4:4. The particular word or phrase discussed each day will be underlined and indicated in bold in the verse:

o%te de\ h@lqen to\ plh/rwma tou= xro/nou e)cape/steilen o( qeo\$ to\n ui(o\n au)tou= geno/menon e)k gunaiko/$ geno/menon u(po\ no/mon
but when the fullness of time came, God set forth out from (him) his Son, coming to be out of a woman, coming to be under the Law…”

o%te de\ h@lqen (“but when…came”)

o%te (“at the [time] which”, i.e. “when”)—a temporal particle, meaning time, describing when a particular (real) event takes place, usually a past event, the temporal clause using an aorist verb form (as in this verse). The particle o%te is also a subordinating conjunction here, indicating that verse 4 is dependent on what has come before in verses 1-3.

On the context of Gal 4:4: According to my analysis of the letter, Gal 4:1-11 (cf. the article on this passage) is the fourth of six arguments comprising chapters 3-4 (the probatio). The causa, or reason for writing the letter, is stated in Gal 1:6-7, with the basic proposition (propositio) laid out in Gal 2:15-21; the arguments in the probatio are presented in support of the main proposition—that human beings are justified, that is, made (or declared) just and right before God, not by observing the commands of the Old Testament Law (“works of the Law”), but (only) through trust/faith in Christ. Here is a summary of the probatio:

  1. An appeal to the Galatians’ experience (3:1-6)
  2. Scriptural argument: the blessing of Abraham comes by faith (3:7-14)
    —contrasted with the curse of the Law (vv. 10-13)
  3. Scriptural argument: the promise to Abraham comes through Christ (3:15-29)
    Illustration: the nature of a testament/covenant, with a contrast between the Law and the promise (vv. 15-18)
    Statement(s) on the purpose of the Law (vv. 19-25)
    Statement on the promise that comes through Christ (vv. 23-25)
  4. Illustration: Slavery vs. Sonship (4:1-11)
  5. Appeal based on the example and person of Paul (4:12-20)
  6. An allegory from Scripture illustrating Slavery vs. Sonship (4:21-31)

In Gal 4:1-3, Paul uses an illustration similar to that in 3:23-25:

Believers, prior to faith in Christ, are symbolized collectively as a son who is also the heir to his father’s estate. During the years before he comes of age (i.e. while he is still a child), he is under the authority and tutelage of household servants. In 3:24-25, the child is under the control of a paidagwgo/$, lit. one who leads a child, a trusted slave under whose authority the child is led out of the house (to school and back), being guarded, instructed and disciplined. In 4:1-3, a somewhat different household picture is offered, that of basic government within the house. An e)pi/tropo$ is essentially a person to whom someone/something has been “turned over”—in this domestic context, a legal trustee or guardian, someone to whom the child is given over for care and tutelage (a tutor). An oi)kono/mo$ indicates a “household-administrator” and general supervisor. All of these figures symbolize the Old Testament Law—the child is “under the Law” [u(po\ no/mon] and “under sin” [u(po\ a(marti/an], just as he is “under” (u(po\) these servants. The central point Paul makes is that this term of ‘enslavement’ (guardianship) lasts only until the time of the child’s maturity, indicated as being set by the father. God (the Father) has established the time when enslavement under the Law (and sin) comes to an end. Interestingly, in Gal 4:1-3, Paul extends this symbolism to include Gentiles as well as Israelites and Jews:

“so also we, when [o%te] we were infants [i.e. children, under age], we were enslaved under [u(po/] the stoicheia of the world”

It is clear from the context that these stoicheia (often translated “elements”) of the world are generally synonymous with the Law. I have discussed the meaning and usage of this term in a previous article. Here it indicates that Jews and Gentiles both (“we”, h(mei=$) are in bondage, under sin and under the Law.

de/ (“but”)—a conjunctive particle, along with o%te (“but when…”), connecting verse 4 with vv. 1-3; it is also adversative, indicating a contrast, a different (or new) situation than that expressed in vv. 1-3. Note the logic:

  • We are heirs, destined to inherit everything from the Father (v. 1)
    Contrast: but rather (a)lla/) we are (while underage) under the authority of household servants (the Law and the “elements” of the world) (v.2)
    Contrast: but (de/) when the time came… (v. 4), i.e. the time set beforehand by the father, when the child would come of age, and no longer be under the authority of household servants

This second contrast returns to the situation promised in verse 1. In Gal 3:15-29 (cf. the article on this passage), Paul discusses this idea of the promise to Abraham, which was made prior to the introduction of the Law—similarly, the coming of Christ makes the situation different, and returns to this (original) promise.

h@lqen (“[it] came”)—a simple aorist indicative form, indicating past action; that is to say, the birth of Jesus took place, as a real event, at a particular moment in time (in history). According to the context of the verse, we might also add that the event took place at the right, or appropriate, time—this is certainly implied in the use of the word plh/rwma (“filling [up], fullness”), which will be discussed in the next note. That this time came, means that the child—that is, the one destined to inherit—now is no longer under the authority of the household servants (the Law and the “elements”).

Advent and Christmas Season

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Throughout December, I will be continuing (and concluding) the extensive series of articles on “The Law and the New Testament”. Having just completed the portion on “Paul’s View of the Law”, the next articles will examine the Old Testament Law in the remaining New Testament writings (James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter & Jude, Hebrews, the letters of John, and the book of Revelation). Keeping with this theme, and as a way of transitioning into the Advent and Christmas season, I will be presenting a series of daily notes on Galatians 4:4, looking at each word and phrase in considerable detail.

Daily notes will likewise be offered, hopefully with little or no interruption, all the way through Epiphany (Jan 6) and the end of the Christmas Season. I trust and pray that these notes and articles will be both informative and inspiring, encouraging the reader to delve deeper into the text of Scripture.