Wednesday, December 22

In the Fullness of Time

This phrase is only used once in scripture in specific reference to the birth of Christ*, but chances are you've heard it quoted at least a couple of times in a Sunday school Christmas pageant. Here's the quote that relates Christ's birth to "the fullness of time":
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5, ESV)

"Fullness of time" has a certain poetic ring, doesn't it? What does it mean, exactly? Some versions translate that idiom as "when the appropriate time had come" (NET) or "when the right time came" (NLT) or something like that, and that's probably a good way to translate it; but like so many idioms, something of the full meaning can be lost in translation. The NET has a translational note on that phrase, and it says that the fullness of time is an "idiom for the totality of a period of time, with the implication of proper completion." So you can see that it carries with it the idea of the perfect ending for an entire era.

In Ephesians 1:9,10, Paul tells us that in Christ, God is "making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose....as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (ESV)".** Something is being summed up, completed, united, concluded in Christ. From Herman Ridderbos in Paul: An Outline of His Theology:
What is meant by this "fulness of the time" is not only the maturation of a specific matter in the great framework of redemptive history, but the fulfillment of the time in an absolute sense.The time of the world has come to a conclusion with Christ's advent. However much this fulfillment still bears a provisional character and the perfectum is followed yet again by a futurum, nevertheless the pleroma of the time or of the times is here spoken of as a matter that has already taken effect and thus in principle has been settled.***
Yes, it has Latin words, but you can still understand what he means, can't you? Everything changes with Christ. This is true both personally, in our own individual lives, and in a redemptive-historical sense. There's a whole new world--a whole new creation--that comes into existence in Christ, and all those who are united with Christ are contained within it. It's the dawning of a new day: not a day just like the one it follows, but a day that transforms everything.

Here are few more scriptural texts related to this idea of "the fullness of time". (All quotes ESV.)
  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

  • Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

  • ...who saved us and called us to a holy calling....which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel... (2 Timothy 1:9,10)

  • ...in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior... (Titus 1:2,3)

Christ's birth, death, and resurrection are the centerpoint of history. Or, to be even more correct, we might say that they are the turning point of history. Things changed fundamentally: one age ended and another began. The fullness of time had come, so Christ came to complete one era and usher in the new one.

*I think this is correct, but I'm more or less winging it here because of my lack of time, so if you know differently, please correct me.

**I've posted on this passage before.

***I have the book, but those of you who don't can read the whole section this quote comes from here.
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