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Fullness of Time

Fullness of Time

Well-known phrase from Galatians 4:4 that conveys Paul's understanding of salvation.

The churches of Galatia were the fruit of Paul's first missionary journey (Acts 13-14). But they were almost immediately troubled by people (the Judaizers) who distorted the gospel that Paul had proclaimed.

In his letter to the churches of Galatia, Paul defends the gospel and his ministry. He first asserts the divine origin of the gospel, and backs up that origin from his own life and experience (Gal. 1-2). In Galatians 3-4, he then goes on to explain the faith-nature of the gospel.

Galatians 3:8 serves as the framework for 4:4. Paul notes that Scripture foresaw God's justification of the Gentiles based on the Old Testament promise to bless the nations through Abraham ( Gen 18:18 ). Paul develops this line of thought, concluding that we receive the promise of the Spirit through faith ( 3:14 ). The Galatians' reception of the Spirit, then, is the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham.

The climax of the letter is in 3:23-4:7. Before faith, we were under the law awaiting the coming of faith ( 3:23 ). It is the justification of faith ( 3:24 ) that was promised to Abraham and anticipated throughout history that has now come in the fullness of time. The result is that we are all children of God through faith, the actual seed of Abraham and heirs of the promise ( 3:26-27 ). After an illustrative analogy about a minor son come of age ( 4:1-2 ), Paul boldly declares that we too were once "minors, " but that in the "fullness of time" God sent his Son to redeem us and to make us his sons ( 4:3-5 ). By talking about a "time that had fully come, " Paul focuses on the coming of Christ and his bestowal of the Spirit in contrast to the former period of the law, which only pointed forward to Christ.

God planned the redemption of humankind. At just the right time, God sent his Son into the world. The time of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection is the time of completeness — a time when God fulfilled the promises of the Old Testament. This redemption will, of course, be ultimately completed at the second coming of Christ. The salvation that Jesus inaugurated in the church at his first coming will then be consummated for all the world to see.

Hobert K. Farrell

See also Age, Ages; Day of the Lord, God, Christ; Galatians, Theology of

Bibliography. R. A. Cole, Galatians; R. Y. K. Fung, Galatians.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Fullness of Time'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

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