“In the fullness of time”: launching from Galatians 4:4

Today we had our closing Care Cell meeting (before the holidays). It was a potluck dinner, which was preceded by a short praise through song session and a ministry of the word for about 20 minutes. The speaker started from Galatians 4:4 pointing to the ‘fullness of time’ and launched on a study of God’s appointed/perfect time for his birth and all events.

The main lesson was this; God was in control of Jesus’ birth to every extent. He determined when exactly Jesus would be born (the best time), which was the best time for the moment as well as the best time for prophetic fulfilment. The lesson to be learned was the similarly, through life, we see signs of God’s control and we see prophecies of the coming day of the Lord. We trust God for his sovereignty and look forward to his day when He will return.

An excellent message, relevant to our times. However, I have a few pointers that I make not so much to critique but to help us be alert.

Greek words tend to mean many things, and it is difficult to tell what one word means in an absolute sense. Thus, kronos can mean just time, or even fulfillment of time as Gal. 4:4 shows us

Firstly, the speaker drew attention to the Galatians 4:4 but didn’t really study it in any depth. He just referred to it, and then went on to point to many other verses. This, in speaking terms, is topical preaching. But it is too common, and needs to be supplemented by more sound biblical exegesis.

Secondly, and drawing from the first, the speaker made a remark about the difference between kronos (time) and kairos (time). The speaker informed us that while both words seem to mean the same thing, kronos actually means ‘chronological time’ or ‘time as it happens’ and kairos means the ‘fulfillment of time’/’appointed time’ etc.

When I heard this, I was not at all critical and accepted the preachers’ words verbatim. I had also heard a sermon like this before, so I believed him. But later I went to the Greek text and found out that in Gal. 4:4 the word used is not kairos but kronos. I have pasted the Greek text (for those who know Greek, making the word bold) to show what I mean.

Gal. 4:4 οτε δε ηλθεν το πληρωμα του χρονου εξαπεστειλεν ο θεος τον υιον αυτου γενομενον εκ γυναικος γενομενον υπο νομον

I was really surprised to see this, and obviously the speaker had not done his homework on this passage. I must say that what he was saying was quite nice, and even biblical, but the gaps in his study showed up in this wrong usage of the Greek text, he made the wrong point about differences in meanings in biblical words.

From my study I have seen that Greek words tend to mean many things, and it is difficult to tell what one word means in an absolute sense. Thus, kronos can mean just time, or even fulfilment of time as Gal. 4:4 shows us. For examples of kronos used as fulfillment time, see Luke 1:57, Acts 7:17, Rev. 10:6 (delay).

Kairos usually means fulfillment of time/appointed time, I didn’t find an example of it just meaning time. But I would hesitate if anyone tried to convince me that the word kairos had a theological loaded meaning in itself, beyond the immediate context of the passage it is found in.

I still believe speaker was largely right in his study, but the verse that he used was a case that contradicted his own ‘technical’ point. So I guess the lesson I’m trying to make is to avoid dogmatic verse-meanings when using Greek. And be open to language being fluid and flexible. This I believe actually helps us take the Bible more seriously and cautiously (with respect).

1 Response to ““In the fullness of time”: launching from Galatians 4:4”


  1. 1 East of Austin December 28, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    I’m on the search of your “speaker”. I made the same assumption prior to coming to the Greek and was caught up short. I also discovered in Galatians 4:10 that Paul uses kairos where I would assume kronos was more proper.

    I don’t know where I’m going but I think this may be more than words simply having a multitude of meanings. Perhaps we are talking about fullness of ordinary time, and a routine-ness of sacred time. In this holiday season, we expect time to be filled, but often we simply go through the “sacred–expant routine” again and again. Perhaps Paul (okay, he wasn’t into Christmas, but he was into the Jewish festivals) is saying that the specialness of time can lose its specialness (as salt may loose its flavor), and ordinary events may be the ones that turn out to be pregnant moments.

    Perhaps we need to cling to the special meanings of these words in order to grasp what it means to have them used out of the norm.


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Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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