Fullness of Time
In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul argues that adopting the rite of circumcision would constitute regression to something rudimentary, a reversion to an earlier stage in the redemptive history of God’s people. If Gentiles adopted a Torah-compliant lifestyle, they would return to bondage and once more experience the social divisions inherent in the Law. They would forsake the great and many benefits they had acquired through the “faith of Jesus.”
For the disciple, enslavement under the “elemental” forces of the old era ceased with the arrival of the Messiah - “In the Fullness of Time” – the One who came to redeem those who were “under the law” so they would be adopted as God’s “sons.”
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As Paul makes his case, the temporal aspect becomes prominent. The Law was always an interim stage between the original promise and the arrival of the “Seed of Abraham” when the covenant promises find their fulfillment.
- “And I say, so long time as the heir is a babe, he differs nothing from a servant, though lord of all, but is under tutors and stewards till the time appointed of the father, so also we, when we were babes, under the elemental things of the world were in servitude, and when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, who came to be of a woman, who came to be under the law, that those under the law he might redeem, that the adoption of sons we may receive; and because you are sons, God sent forth the spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, 'Abba, Father!' so that you are no more a servant, but a son, and if a son, also an heir of God through Christ” – (Galatians 4:1-7).
In the passage, the Greek term rendered “elemental” translates the noun stoicheion. The word refers to the basic components that comprise a larger whole. Its sense is something akin to “elemental, first principle, rudimentary” - (Strong’s - #G4747).
In Greek literature, it referred to the elemental principles of art, science, and discipline. From it comes the idea of “elementary principles.” It could refer to a single letter, a part of a word, or a phrase. It conveyed the idea of something RUDIMENTARY AND SIMPLE.
Since Jesus arrived “in the Fullness of Time,” to adopt circumcision would amount to regression to something that was rudimentary, incomplete, and outdated. It would be comparable to an adult who, though he possessed his full inheritance, chose to return to the minority status of his youth under the custodianship of a guardian.
CALENDARS AND CIRCUMCISION
By “elemental principles,” Paul meant at least some of the regulations of the Mosaic Law. This is borne out by his usage of stoicheion in verses 9 and 10 where he describes Jewish calendrical observances:
- “But now that ye have come to know God…how turn you back again to the weak and beggarly ELEMENTAL PRINCIPLES (stoicheion), unto which you desire to be in bondage over again? You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years.”
For a Gentile follower of Jesus to submit to the regulations of the Torah would be tantamount to returning to the elemental teachings of the pagan society from which God had delivered him through the faith of and in His son.
Likewise, Jesus freed Jewish believers from being under the “curse of the Law.” Its requirements and framework were necessary during Israel's minority status, but not after the promised “Seed” arrived, namely, Jesus, making them full heirs of the inheritance.
Since the Law placed anyone who did not do all the things that it required under its “curse,” inevitably, returning to the obligations of the Law meant coming under its “curse” once more. Therefore, non-Jewish believers should not submit to the rituals that Jewish disciples are no longer required to keep, especially circumcision and the calendrical rites and regulations of the Levitical regulations.
REDEMPTION & ADOPTION
“God sent forth his Son, having come to be from woman, having come to be under the law.” Jesus was born a Jew under the covenant obligations of the Torah until the “Fullness of Time” came.
Once again, Paul set temporal boundaries on the jurisdiction of the Mosaic regulations. They were to continue in force only until the “Seed of Abraham” came. For the individual believer, that time arrived when he became a disciple of Jesus Christ.
The Son of God came to redeem those “who were under the Law so that they could receive the adoption of sons.” This refers especially to Jewish believers in him. Their need for redemption implies that being “under the Law” amounted to bondage. Paul’s previous statement is conceptually parallel:
- “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, CURSED IS EVERY ONE THAT HANGS ON A TREE: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” - (Galatians 3:13-14).
For the disciple, the result of this redemptive act is “adoption.” Believers are not “children” of God by birth but by adoption. All human beings are His creation, but not all are His children - (Romans 8:15-23, 9:4, Ephesians 1:5).
Paul’s stress on the pivotal moment of redemption, the “Fullness of Time,” demonstrates his eschatological and apocalyptic perspectives. The Messiah appeared at the critical moment of God’s redemptive plan.
The idea that History’s decisive moment occurred in the death and resurrection of Jesus is found elsewhere in the New Testament. For example, Paul told the Assembly of Corinth that we are the ones “upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Consequently, the forms and institutions of this world already “are passing away” – (1 Corinthians 7:31, 10:11).
In the past, the mysteries of God were hidden from all men, but now they have been revealed in Jesus for all to see. The Messiah was manifested “upon a conjunction of the ages to set aside sin once for all through his sacrifice” – (Romans 16:25-26, Colossian 1:26, Ephesians 3:9, Hebrews 9:26).
God achieved victory over sin, death, and Satan through the death and resurrection of His Son. This means that His people are now under the New Covenant that, among other things, fulfills the promises of the Abrahamic covenant including blessings for the Gentiles. Membership in the covenant community is now open to men and women of all races and nations based on repentance and faith.
Because Gentile believers now become His sons, God sends the “Spirit of His Son into their hearts.” This statement rounds off the argument that began at the start of Chapter 3 when Paul reminded the Galatian believers that they received the Spirit while they were yet uncircumcised - (Galatians 3:1-4).
What greater proof of the acceptance of Gentiles by the God of Abraham could the Galatians possess than the Gift of His Spirit received through a “hearing of faith”?
Thus, all who are “in Christ” are now “heirs” and “children” of Abraham, and since they are so apart from the “works of the Law,” why seek what the Law could never deliver by obligating oneself to fulfill all its requirements, especially since doing so places the convert under its “curse”?