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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  • Since ‘“gave himself for our sins in order to set us free from the present evil age” is Paul’s summary in Galatians of his Gospel are we to see justification by faith in terms that surpass the simply legal?

    Or better, as you seem to be saying, legal verdict brings freedom from all the powers of the age such as sin/law/elementary principles of this world. Sin, Law etc are prisons and freedom is only possible when the legal requirements of justice are met.

    Gal 3:22-24 (ESV)
    But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

    Gal 4:3 (ESV)
    In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.

    We discover that the freedom/deliverance from the age comes through death. When the judicial sentence is executed we find ourselves free, but not free to simply go out and live again as part of the old world/age but by rebirth into a new age where none of the previous enemies/powers of the old age have any force or rights. We are free from them all. No longer slaves but sons. No longer identified by this world ethnic and nationalistic identies such as Jew or gentile but a new creation in Christ. No longer controlled by the passions and desires of the flesh. We are free: free from guilt to live by grace; free from law to serve in love; free from death to live in life etc.

    I find it frustrating that many speak of justification and present Christian position as if it meant no more than a declaration of righteousness. It is that by by implication so much more. Justification, as Romans reminds us is ‘unto life’. In the words of Galatians it is ‘deliverance from this present age’.

  • Bill

    Sounds like the same analysis that a contemporary hearer would have made!

  • Daffy Duck

    The human world, including Christians does not want to be Awakened
    Does the dreamer ever try to awaken anyone or everyone in his or her dreams?
    It does not occur to the dreamer to do so.
    Those who appear in dreams, including the Christian dream, are not there to be awakened.
    They are asleep.
    They come from sleep.
    That is where they come from and “live”.
    That is what this humanly created “world” is.
    It is the manifestation of sleep.
    It is unconscious.
    Consciousness must be uncovered at the root, because what is otherwise the case is unconsciousness.
    Unconsciousness is the sleep of being – manufacturing dreams, diversions, illusions, and “salvation” schemes.
    Unconsciousness is deluding itself in its reverie, including its reveries about “Jesus”.
    that is the humanly created “world”.