Exactly “when” are we rescued from the present evil age – Gal 1:4

Exactly “when” are we rescued from the present evil age – Gal 1:4 January 3, 2012

Here are some of my thoughts on Gal 1:4.

Paul declares that Jesus’ death will bring deliverance from the cosmic powers when he writes that Jesus “gave himself for our sins in order to set us free from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4). Jesus’ “giving of himself” (δόντος ἑαυτὸν) for us/our sins is a recurring theme in the Pauline corpus.[1] The formulation indicates that Paul conceives of Jesus’ death in sacrificial terms.[2] However, contra Martyn, it is not the case that the antidote to individual sins is vanquishing the enslaving power of sin, rather than an instance of individual forgiveness.[3] Paul says quite the opposite. Jesus’ atoning death is purposed (ὅπως) for the chief end of achieving a rescue (ἐξέληται) from the present evil age (ἐκ τοῦ αἰῶνος τοῦ  ἐνεστῶτος  πονηροῦ).[4] There is, in the words of the great intergalactic theologian Optimus Prime, “no victory without sacrifice.” Jesus’ death for sins is the ground and condition of our deliverance from the predatory powers of the present age. Ultimately the evil age and all its power will be vanquished by the Agnus Victor.[5] I would also point out that the temporal coordinates of this “rescue” are more ambivalent than Martyn recognizes.[6] On the one hand, if the verb ἐξέληται relates back to the aorist substantive participle δόντος, then certainly the rescue can be co-terminus with Jesus’ act of self-giving, that is to say, Jesus’ death constituted the dramatic deliverance, an apocalyptic rescue operation, a snatching away from the existing evil epoch. Alternatively, we have to remember that the aorist subjunctive ἐξέληται is aspectivally perfective (i.e., it views the action from an exterior point of view) and the subjunctive mood grammaticalizes a projected state of affairs that can be either present or future.[7] What is more, the future indicative and the aorist subjunctive were often interchangeable,[8] and the coordinating conjunction ὅπως may also indicate a real future result. T

hus, Paul could be saying that Jesus gave himself for our sins so that one day we might finally be set free from the present evil age. Indeed, such a view is attractive because it comports with 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 8 where the victory of God’s people remains very much future, and Galatians might not be any different.[9] Hedging my bets, I infer that Jesus’ death is indeed a present victory over the powers (see Col 2:15), but more in line with Paul’s own thought, the emphasis here points primarily towards the final victory at the consummation.

[1] Cf. e.g., Gal 2:20; 3:13; Rom 3:22-24; 5:8 1 Cor 15:3; 2 Cor 5:14; Eph 5:2; Tit 2:14.

[2] Cf. esp. Rom 3:25; 8:3; 1 Cor 5:6; Eph 5:3; 1 Tim 2:6.

[3] Martyn, Galatians, 97, 101, 272.

[4] The preposition e0k here means separation from and away from (see BDAG, 295).

[5] Cf. the helpful article by the French Reformed theologian Henri Blocher, “Agnus Victor: The Atonement as Victory and Vicarious Punishment,” in What Does It Mean to Be Saved? ed. J. G. Stackhouse (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 67-91.

[6] Martyn, Galatians, 90.

[7] Stanley E. Porter, Idioms of the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 56-57.

[8] Constantine R. Campbell, Verbal Aspect and Non-Indicative Verbs: Further Soundings in the Greek of the New Testament (SBG; New York: Peter Lang, 2008), 57-60.

[9] Cf. Yon-Gyong Kwon, Eschatology in Galatians (WUNT 183; Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2004).


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