Lectionary Year B
December 29, 2002
Galatians 4:4-7

IV: Broader Context


Galatians, among the earliest of written Christian documents, Paul instructs the Christians regarding the Gospel of God's grace. He repeatedly emphasizes its absoluteness. These novice Christians needed definite instruction and they needed to understand that these lessons were to remain constant and get consistent application. When they deviated from the earliest teachings, they needed to know the consequences. Paul reminds them in no uncertain terms of his utter disappointment in their reportedly forgetting what he had taught them. He based his didactic discourses on the Hebrew Scriptures and unquestionably was serious about their relevance to the Christian faith. He related to them normative and valid proclamations. He tried to help the earliest Christian communities understand themselves as adopted and saved by God. He evidently taught them well. And, he evidently taught them thoroughly. If they learned their lessons only partly, they would hear about it and get more opportunities to learn better.


"Chronos" (4:4) refers to time in a quantity rather than in a quality of duration. The latter concept is designated by the Greek word, "kairos". Genesis 1:14 tells us "God is the creator and master of time." Today's Epistle lesson refers to the "fulfillment of time". The Hebrews would expect that time of such magnitude would be ordered by God, the Creator of time. "...Time in ancient Israel was not conceived as an abstract dimension but primarily related to specific happenings whether of short or long duration," according to Harper's Bible Dictionary. Ecclesiastes 3 repeatedly notes times ("miiynzm") for different transactions. Time as such is hardly of special reflection in the Septuagint. In non-biblical Judaism, "the Testament of the Twelve Prophets "chronos" means a 'period of time', that to which a specific event belongs . . .", according to Kittel's TDNT, vol. ix.


Greek-speaking Jews in the diaspora would like the idea of adoption. They known to be concerned for one another and the image of adoption would appeal to their sense of what is good. They would probably welcome the opportunity to speak of adoption's value and recommend it as an identifiable mode describing God's relationship with all people. As they spread the Christian movement into and through the Greek speaking Gentile world, this passage could have been one of their favorites. After all, they "had adopted the Greek tongue, and with it often Greek practices and opinions," according to The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. They were fond enough of the sport of debate to appreciate how Paul had to emphasize his arguments in this text.

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