As part of a lengthy discussion on the role of the Law prior to the advent of messiah Paul describes the full adoption of the sons of God as a child under the authority of guardians (ἐπιτρόπους) and household managers (οἰκονόμους) until he reaches the age predetermined by his father to begin living as an adult heir to his father’s estate (see Galatians 4:1-3). The Law had authority, but this authority was given in order to protect and prepare the heir for his future role. When the child becomes an adult the guardians and household managers are not obsolete. Rather, these authorities have done the task for which they were assigned. The mature heir can begin to grow into the fullness of his father’s desired identity.
It is with this mind that Paul writes the following of Jesus’ advent (4:4):
– The “fullness of the time” had come (ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου)
– Jesus was sent as God’s Son (ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ)
– Jesus was born of/from a woman (γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός)
– Jesus was born “under the Law” (γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον)
It seems to me that the “fullness of the time” means that the children of God had come to the point in their existence where it was time for their adulthood to begin. The Law had functioned as a guardian, but the children are heirs of their Father. There is a sense in which one can hear the undertone of “salvation history” here as well. As N.T. Wright might call it, this is the “climax of the covenant” or the climax of God’s covenantal narrative with his people. The story of God has reached the “turning point” in Jesus where Abraham’s promise to become the father of many nations (πολλῶν ἐθνῶν, Genesis 17:5, LXX).
The early church talked about “the last days” a lot as well. There was likely an eschatological immediacy to this, but there is the sense, as well, that this is the time of the New Covenant—holy spirit in the people, a messiah on the throne? “The time” to which Paul refers could have been the “Old Covenant” era. It was fulfilled, now Jesus comes.
As with Romans 8:2-39 so here we find Paul presenting Jesus as “the Son of God” sent to initiate the “sons of God” into their role as heirs. In Romans 8:29 the goals of sending his Son is so that through his Son he might give his Spirit to his people, adopting them fully, and when his children have received the Spirit of adoption it is time for their maturity to aim for the telos of being “conformed to the image of his Son”. The sons/children of God are free from the Law as guardian, but that doesn’t mean that there is no further growth needed. Rather, now the children see and emulate their “eldest brother” (“the firstborn among many brethren”, Romans 8:29). This culminates in the freedom of creation and the glorification of the children of God, i.e, humanity has become what the Adam figure was to become but forfeited, as emulated and repeated by all humans from the beginning, save those changed by the Spirit for resurrection life.
To be continued….