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”).