Rescued from this Evil Age

SYNOPSIS:  Paul anchors all that God has done in the past Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which marked the commencement of a new age - Galatians 1:1-5. 

In the first paragraph of his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul declares his apostleship is from the same God who raised Jesus from the dead, the one who gave his life in order to “deliver us from this evil age.” These two claims anticipate his defense of his apostolic calling and his opposition to a group of Jewish believers that operated as if the old era is still in effect.

(Galatians 1:1-5) - “Paul, an apostle — not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father who raised him from among the dead, And all the brethren with me; — unto the assemblies of Galatia: Favour unto you and peace, from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ — Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father — Unto whom be the glory unto the ages of ages: Amen!” (The Emphasized Bible).

In the first half of the letter, Paul details how he received his gospel for the Gentiles by divine revelation, a commission confirmed by the leadership of the Jerusalem church.  He describes how during an earlier controversy at Antioch, “false brethren, secretly introduced, slinked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 2:4-5).

Jewish believers from Jerusalem disrupted the church at Antioch with their doctrines, including a claim that it is improper for Jewish Christians to have table fellowship with uncircumcised Gentile believers. But a church divided along ethnic lines is the inevitable result of such regulations.
Paul began his letters customarily with a salutation and gracious words of thanksgiving, however, this time he writes a salutation noteworthy for its brevity and lack of any words of thanks. Instead, the Apostle launches into a stinging rebuke of the Galatian churches (“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in grace”). This indicates the depth of his concern and the degree of his agitation.

Paul commences by identifying himself as “Paul” or Paulos, the Greek form of his Latin name. Though a Jew by birth, he was a Roman citizen and “Paul” almost certainly was his Roman surname. He never used his personal or family name in any of his surviving letters; “Paul” and “apostle” were his preferred designations (“Paul” 29 times in his letters; “apostle,” at least 30 times).

In the Book of Acts, Paul is identified by his Jewish name, “Saul,” prior to his Damascus Road experience.  However, when he began his missionary activities he was called “Paul,” except when he recounted his conversion story. He possibly favored his Roman name as part of a strategy to be the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:1-3, 22:722:1326:14).

Paul defines his apostleship: First, by using a double negative in the Greek sentence (“neither from men nor through man”); Second, by employing a positive affirmation (“but through Jesus Christ”). This introduces a key issue he addresses in later paragraphs - his divinely appointed office (Galatians 1:10–2:10).

His Jewish opponents did not dispute his office; instead, they claimed his apostleship was received from human authorities, the church leadership in Jerusalem. This implied that his was a derived authority.

Paul denies his commission was dependent on any human authority, whether the mother church in Jerusalem or the church at Antioch. Instead, he affirmed he had received it directly from Jesus (compare 1 Corinthians 9:1Acts 9:4-622:726:16).
His commission included the task of proclaiming the gospel to the Gentiles without requiring them to conform to the regulations of the Torah (Acts 9:15, 13:46-48, 22:21, Ephesians 3:1-8).
Unlike his opponents, Paul received his commission directly from the risen Jesus. He also linked his gospel to the “Father…who raised Jesus from the dead.” The fatherhood of God plays an important role in this letter, being linked to the idea of the “adoption” by God of Gentile believers (Galatians 3:73:264:2-74:22-31).

The resurrection of Jesus was an apocalyptic event and signaled the commencement of the messianic age. In his Death and Resurrection, the “powers and principalities,” the hostile cosmic forces that held humanity in bondage were defeated.  The resurrection was an act of new creation and the inauguration of a new era, that is, a new and final stage in the redemptive plan of God - NOTHING COULD EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN (1Corinthians 2:5-8Ephesians 1:17-23Colossians 2:151 Peter 3:22).

Paul uses this apocalyptic view when he exhorts the Galatians not to subject themselves again to the “elementary spirits of this world.” They will do so if they place themselves under the calendrical rituals of the Torah. With the coming of the Son, the jurisdiction of such things has run its course (Galatians4:3-11).

By reminding his audience that the God who commissioned Paul is the same one who raised Jesus from the dead, he prepares his readers for a description of how he received his gospel by a direct revelation from Jesus (Galatians 1:11-16).

Jesus is the one who “gave himself on account of our sins.” This anticipates another topic.  The preposition huper denotes, “for the sake of, because of, on account of”; that is, Jesus died “because of sins.” This echoes the sacrificial system of the Book of Leviticus where sin offerings expiated the sins that had defiled the Tabernacle and disrupted Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. The death of Christ was necessary “on account of” the sins of humanity that had alienated men from God (compare Isaiah 53:5Mark 10:4514:24Matthew 20:2826:28Romans 4:258:32).

The same idea resurfaces later when Paul described that, “The life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself on account of (huper) me.” Likewise, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse on account of (huper) us” (Galatians 2:20, 3:13).
The death of Christ was “according to the will of our God and Father.” This stresses the magnitude of what God did in the death of His Son. If the Galatians placed themselves under the Law, they risked the loss of God’s “grace and peace.” To return to what preceded Christ was tantamount to rejecting the purpose and grace of God.
By means of the death of Jesus, God “rescued us from the present evil age.” This stresses the apocalyptic nature of what God achieved in Jesus.  In him, the expected messianic age irrupted into the present and commenced the age of fulfillment (Romans 12:2Colossians1:12-13).

In Second Temple Judaism, history was divided into two ages:  the present evil age and the age to come. The future age was to be inaugurated by the Messiah. The Law belonged to the “present age” and, therefore, was part of the old order that began to pass away after the resurrection of Jesus (Galatians 2:194:3-95:51 Corinthians 7:31).

In Chapter 4, Paul links the calendrical regulations of the Torah to the stoicheia tou kosmou - The elemental spirits of this world. To return to the Law is to regress to the old order that is now obsolete (Galatians 4:34:9).

By emphasizing the Death and Resurrection of Jesus in his opening remarks, Paul highlights the all-sufficiency of his death for the forgiveness of sins and the rescue of believers from this “present evil age.”


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