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In writing to the Galatians, Paul begins with an identification of Jesus Christ:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1 ESV)

Jesus is Lord who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. This seems to mean Jesus initiated the Messianic age which would have a world-wide effect.

Yet, other translations consider αἰῶνος (age) as world:

Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father (KJV)

The difference between world and age raises the question if present evil world is speaking of current history, possibly limited to the happenings within the region of Galatia.

Is present evil age/world referring to the specific period of history which began around the time when Galatians was written (around 40-50 AD)? Or does this refer to an apocalyptic period with a world-wide condition such as sin which began in the past such as might be found in Genesis or Exodus or some other prior point in history?

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10 Answers 10

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+100
Should αἰών be translated as age or world?

It should probably be translated "age" instead of "world". I think the ambiguity might be due to the English word “world” and not the Greek word αἰών.


The English word "world" used to refer to time.

"World" comes from the Old English "weoruld" or "woruld", which in turn is derived from the Proto-Germanic word "weraldiz," which meant "age of man" or "human lifetime." This word was formed from two elements: "wer," meaning "man" or "person," and "ald," meaning "age" or "life."

This usage in now obsolete, but the Oxford English Dictionary confirms that it started in the 14th century and was declining just after the time that the King James Bible was published in 1611.

Reinforcing the usage of “world” in this archaic sense was Instruction No. 3 to the translation committee given by King James himself: “The ordinary Bible read in the Church, commonly called the Bishops Bible, to be followed, and as little altered as the trueth of the originall will permit.” The 1568 Bishop’s Bible version of Galatians 1:4 reads:

… which gaue him selfe for our sinnes, to deliuer vs from this present euil world, according to the will of God our father

The Bishop’s Bible here followed closely the 1526 Tyndale Bible:

… which gave himself for oure synnes to delyver us from this present evyll worlde thorow ye will of God oure father

Despite the temporal aspect of the word “world” becoming obsolete, no English version updated the translation to “age” until the RSV in 1946. The RV (1881) and ASV (1901) both retained the archaic meaning.


Most of the Greek patristic commentaries on the Galatians passage understood αἰών to refer to an age in time rather than “the world” as a place. These include John Chrysostom (Homily II on Galatians), Jerome (Commentary on Galatians), and Augustine (City of God, 20.8). Theophylact, a later Byzantine Greek commentator, explicitly contrasts αἰών contwith κόσμος (“world”) in the context of Galatians.

For the present age is subject to corruption, and the ruler of this age is Satan. This is why he says, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age. He did not say "world," [κόσμος] but "age" [αἰών], to show that the age is evil and that Satan rules over it. Christ gave Himself up to death so that we might be delivered from Satan and from this age, and so that we might be made free to live in righteousness. This age is evil, but that one is good; this is temporary, but that one is eternal; this is subject to corruption, but that one is free from it. For when Christ comes again, He will not deliver us from the world, but from the age, when He destroys the power of the devil and removes the corruption of this age. And this is why we pray, Thy kingdom come, because we long for the age to come, in which righteousness will reign forever.


What period does the present evil age refer to?

The Church Fathers understood the phrase to refer to the present age in which human beings are living, marked by sin and its effects on the world. The present evil age is characterized by the fallen state of humanity and the effects of sin, which include suffering, injustice, and death. "In the age to come," wrote Augustine, "there will be no sin, no temptation, no corruption, no death."

But this present time, which is from the first coming of Christ to His second coming, is called evil, because of the evil of men, who either do not believe in Christ, or do not live according to His precepts. For even among believers, although they be renewed in spirit, the old man still lusts against the spirit, and the flesh lusts against the spirit, so that they cannot do the things that they would. This is the age of this world, of which the apostle says, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Book I, Chapter IV).

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Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: —Galatians 1:4

“The present evil age” is the focus of God’s purpose of salvation. Classic Jewish thought, being apocalyptic, presents two ages in which a present sinful, decaying age is placed in juxtaposition to a future age of blessing and peace. For the apostle Paul, Yeshua’s death and resurrection accentuated the traditional Jewish timeline. The Christian is viewed as living in a pronounced tension between what No Longer Is, and what is Yet To Come.

The coming of Messiah has placed former requirements such as circumcision, food laws, and feast days in a totally new perspective. Messiah has rescued believers from this “present evil age” through justification by faith and the outpouring of his Spirit in the lives of those believers. This is not a theory, but an accomplished fact; believers are warned not to be drawn back into “a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Even though Messiah has rescued (delivered) believers from this "present evil age," he has not taken them out of it. So believers find themselves "in" the "present evil age," but not "of" it (John 17:14, 16).Therefore, liberation must not degenerate into license nor the gift of the Spirit be abused by selfish carnal behavior (Galatians 5:16–26), as that would, once again, lead one back into "the present evil age."

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  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. Using first person plural language when referencing the audiences of ancient texts moves from describing the text itself to prescribing norms that are expressed as binding on readers and therefore imposes this application upon the reader. This post has my downvote for this reason.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:44
  • Thanks for the tip, Dan. I have made a note of my transgression, edited it out of my answer, and will be more watchful for this type of imposition in the future.
    – DrFry
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:51
  • sounds good. You don't have to edit just because of my opinion, but I like to explain why I DV something when I do so people know why I did it. I've removed my DV. I'm still not a fan of using 'Messiah' in this answer as this is theological claim about Jesus, but it's not so bad since in the preceding verse/context Jesus is called Lord and Christ. Even so, 'believers' still applies this text to (presumably) Christians. My preference is that this would focus on Christians in first-century Galatia, not apply it to modern readers/believers.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:58
  • To earn my upvote, you'd need to cite a reliable and verifiable source for your assertion about the Jewish belief in two ages, and you'd need to remove the religious language not present in the text itself. But again, this is my preference - you are under no obligation to edit to make me happy. Although we do expect answers to show their work, so you should add a source for your statement about two ages.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 16:58
  • 1
    I honestly did not have your happiness in mind ;-). Your point was valid and well taken. I prefer to be viewed as a source of information rather than a theological despot. I made the edit selfishly for my own sake and my own reputation here. The fact that you may be a little happier...well, a man cannot have too many friends. :-)
    – DrFry
    Commented Feb 24, 2014 at 17:02
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First century Christianity, and certainly Paul, viewed "the world" as the fire that was given over to the Devil, for purpose of testing and abusing the saints, who live as strangers and sojourners in the world in order to prove their faith. The world itself is condemned. Loving the world is to be avoided. We are to use the world out of necessity but not to mind the things of the world or to adopt the values of the world, which are hated by God.

This is the same view as in the Old Testament, where Israel is a holy nation belonging to God in the midst of other nations that are not holy. As a result of the fall, the ground is cursed, and God's Holy (separate) people are sojourners in the world, and called out of the world. They were not to mix with the world. The world is in darkness, in ignorance of God's light, cannot understand the things of God, and is an enemy of God.

In the Gospels

  • Christians are chosen out of the world, and the world hates them. John 15.19: If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

  • We are forbidden from loving the world or anything in the world. 1 John 2.15-16: 15 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

  • The world cannot receive the holy spirit, nor can it see or know the spirit. But this spirit dwells in believers. John 14:17: 17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

  • The world is led by the prince of the world (Satan) who is condemned. John 16:11: Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.

  • Jesus does not pray for the world, but for his followers. John 17:9 9 I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

  • The world hates those who are from God. John 17:14. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

  • God's Kingdom is a heavenly kingdom not a worldly kingdom: John 18:36 36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.

Other Apostles

  • Pure religion requires not becoming stained by the world. James 1:27: Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

  • Friendship of the world is enmity with God. James 4:4: Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Pauline corpus

  • We have received a different spirit than that of the world. 1 Corinthians 2:12: Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.

  • God opposes the wisdom of the world. 1 Corinthians 3:19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.

  • The world is condemned: 1 Corinthians 11:32: But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.

  • The world is bondage: Galatians 4:3: Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world

  • The world is led by the prince of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2: Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience

  • The values of the world are opposed to the values of Christ and a threat to disciples: Colossians 2:8: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

  • Christians are as lights shining in a crooked and perverse nation (people, representing the world) Philippians 2:15: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; See also Isaiah 19.14, where God has mingled a "spirit of perversity" into Egypt, which is a type of the world.

  • Christians are dead to the world and alive in Christ, and should not think about the world but about heavenly things (See Colossians 2.20-3.2)

  • We are living in evil days (e.g. the world before the second coming): Ephesians 5:16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

  • Our battle is against the spiritual powers that rule the world. Ephesians 6:12: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

All verses KJV.

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Whether one translates αἰών (aion) as "age" or "world" in Gal 1:4 is somewhat irrelevant - the meaning remains the same. My answer to the OP's question is NO - the present evil age is the universal human sinful condition. Rom 3:10-18.

The present evil age cannot end until the world and all its evil is destroyed. Put the other way around, when the present world is destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7-10), that will usher in the new age involving a new heavens and new earth, because the current heavens and earth will pass away. (See Rev 21:1-4)

For completeness only, here are the meanings from BDAG for the word αἰών (aion)

  1. a long period of time, without reference beginning or end, eg, Luke 1:70, Acts 3:21, 2 Peter 3:18, etc
  2. a segment of time as a particular unit of history, "the present age", eg, 1 Cor 3:18, Rom 12:2, 1 Cor 1:20, 2:6, 7, Gal 1:4, etc
  3. the world as a spacial concept, eg, Heb 1:2
  4. the Aeon as a person, Eph 2:2, 3:9, Col 1:26

Thus, BDAG assigns the meaning in Gal 1:4 to #2 above, and I agree. Thus, while Messiah began to reign at His ascension, it will be a future date when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 11:15). Until then, the present evil world exists and is getting worse. We see this a number of times:

  • Heb 11:14-16 - the faithful seek a "new country"
  • 2 Peter 3:13 - But in keeping with God’s promise, we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
  • 1 Cor 15:25 - For He [Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.

The transition from the "present evil age" to the new heavens and new earth is often called:

  • "the day of the Lord", Acts 2:20, 1 Cor 5:5, 2 Cor 1:14, 1 Thess 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10-13
  • “that day” (Matt 24:36, Mark 13:32, Luke 10:12, 2 Tim 1:12)
  • “end of the age” (Matt 24:3, 28:20)
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  • Is the evil situation current? For example, deliver us from this present evil age I.e. the Romans. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 3:21
  • 1
    @RevelationLad - the Romans were not "the evil" all humanity is evil and so all creation (see Rom 8:18-21) That is why we need a new heavens and new earth
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 6:10
  • I understand and agree. But the OP wants to know specifically if Paul is addressing a condition local only to Galatia. It would be helpful if the answer focused on the question and supported “no” (if that is your answer) with reasons why this evil age is not a local condition. For example, I think deliverance from the evil age looks back in time to the beginning of that age. So it is neither local to Galatia or a contemporary historical reference. Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 6:36
  • @RevelationLad - OK - made more explicit.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 10:00
  • 1
    @RevelationLad - the present evil age began with the entrance of sin when Eve sinned.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 6:27
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It would be hard to imagine that Paul is referring to the localised situations of the Galatian’s as ‘the present evil age’. The problem Paul is dealing with is influence from within the church, from Christians who were Jewish, also an insider group.

Paul implies Christians are not of this world:

1 Corinthians 5:9-10 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world

Paul contrasts the Jews with non-Jews;

Galatians 3:8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”

Scripture also describes the nation of Israel this way:

Deuteronomy 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”

So “the present evil age” most probably refers to the ideologies values, practice and spiritual structures of the nations of the world that Israel (and later the Gentile Christians) we’re rescued and separated from when they were chosen, starting with Babel.

Likely “the present evil age” was mentioned to remind the Galatians were rescued not through their righteousness but by faith and so are continue by faith:

Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.

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Background: The letter written by the apostle Paul to the Christians in Galatia dates from between 50 to 57 A.D. The churches in Galatia were (clockwise from the south) Laodicea, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis and Philadelphia.

Galatians 1:4: The King James Version says “this present evil world”. The New International Version and the English Standard Version both say that the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins “to rescue us from the present evil age”.

My Interlinear says the Greek word αἰῶνος means “a period of time; life; an era; an age." (Interlinear by William D. Mounce, PhD, University of Aberdeen; he served as professor of New Testament and director of the Greek language program at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

Paul is contrasting the current age in which he and the recipients of his letter lived to the future age, the age that is yet to come, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns. We are still living in the evil age that Paul wrote about, an age that embraces more than just Judea, Galatia, or the Roman Empire. Indeed, “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5: 19). Nonetheless, in Galatians 1:4, “age” seems relevant. Elsewhere, in Galatians 3:22 is another Greek word meaning “all; the whole; entire”:

Galatians 3:22: The King James Version says we are “all under sin”.

The New International Version says that “the whole world is a prisoner of sin” after making reference to the futility of trying to keep the law.

The English Standard Version says “the Scripture (i.e. the Law) imprisoned everything under sin”.

Conclusion: Whilst recognising that everybody, and indeed everything, in the world is a prisoner of sin, and has been since sin first entered into the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve, Paul was writing to the early Christians living in Galatia around the second half of the first century comparing “the present evil age” in which they were living to the future age that is still to come.

Galatians 1:4 is both relevant to the world situation in the first century and is still relevant to the world situation right now. We still live in the age of a sinful world, eagerly awaiting the age to come when Christ Jesus returns.

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Age Means the World

Aion means epoch, era, age or the world. The phrase refers to the present mortal age contrasted with the "age to come" or the afterlife, the next-world. See some Jewish references on the phrase. Baker's Evangelical Dictionary states:

This Age and the Age to Come The Old Testament predicts the future coming of God or the Messiah; most forms of postbiblical Judaism (see esp. 2 Esdras) go further and differentiate this age from the age to come, which is also known as the kingdom of God. This two-age schema is echoed in Matthew 12:32 and Ephesians 1:21, but the New Testament transforms the traditional pattern: with the coming of Christ, the blessings of the future are manifested among God's people in the present age (cf. Heb 6:5 ).

In terms of this age as a time of sin and darkness, aion [aijwvn] is sometimes synonymous with kosmos or "the world" (cf. Mark 4:19 ; Rom 12:2 ; 1 Col 1:20 ). During this time, Satan appears as the "god" of this age ( 2 Col 4:4 ) and sin prevails ( Gal 1:4 ; 2 Tim 4:10 ; Titus 2:12 ). The citizens of this age are living in darkness and must rely on the devices of their own human wisdom ( Luke 16:8 ; 1 Col 1:20 ; 1 Corinthians 2:6 1 Corinthians 2:8 ; 3:18 ). But so long as Christians remain in the world, they are cheered by the spiritual presence of Jesus until the close of this age ( Matt 28:20 ).

Mayer commentary on Gal 1:4 says,

Paul conceived this period as having then already begun (comp. 2Th 2:7), although its full development was still in reserve (2Th 2:8). Accordingly, the same period is here designated ὁ αἰὼν ἐνεστώς which in other places is called καιρὸς ἔσχατος (1Pe 1:5), ἔσχαται ἡμέραι (Act 2:17; 2Ti 3:1), ἐσχάτη ὥρα (1Jn 2:18), and in Rabbinic קֵץ or סו̇ף or אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים (Isa 2:2; Jer 23:20; Mic 4:1).

Emphasis on the Present

The translation confusion is a result of the emphasis on more literal translation in the revised or new translations. It can be interpreted the particular impending doom, end of the world, for which Christ came like in the days of Noah. The reference of the present ἐνεστῶτος (Present Perfect participle) may refer to the contemporary dangerous times already began, however, it wasn't limited to Galatia, as the Jews and Christians were persecuted throughout the world.

[Eph 5:15-16 NHEB] Therefore watch carefully how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

TSK chain ref. Eph 6:13; Eph 6:15; Ps 37:19; Eccl 11:2; Eccl 12:1; Amos 5:13; John 12:35; Acts 11:28; Acts 11:29 1Cor 7:26; 1Cor 7:29-31

There are similar references of the present age in general sense of this sinful world.

"except [one who] will receive one hundred times as much now in the present age--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, [along] with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life." [Mark 10:30 LSB]
"Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty or to set their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." [1 Tim 6:17 LSB]
"for Demas, having loved this present age, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens [has gone] to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia." [2 Tim 4:10 LSB]
"instructing us that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age," [Titus 2:12 LSB]

It's possible, that he is referring not just to the present world, but the climax of the present world as to the tribulations and dangerous of the birth-pains duration towards the end. It is just the reference for the difficult end-times. 2 Tim 3:1 "But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come".

Bruce Longenecker's Galatian commentary states on the phrase in Gal 1:4

―from the present evil age. The distinction between ―this age and ―the age to come was common in Second Temple Judaism. 4 Ezra 7:50 only makes explicit what was widely accepted, that ―the Most High has made not one age but two. The Sadducees, of course, did not hold such a view, for they tended to see their times—i.e., since the Maccabean rebellion and the reign of the great Hasmonean priest-king Simeon—as the Messianic Age inchoate. But the Pharisees looked on ―this age as coming to a climax in a period of awful ―messianic travail, which would usher in ―the age to come and/or ―the Messianic Age. The apocalyptic writers of the day likewise viewed the present age as ―already grown old, … already past the strength of youth (4 Ezra 5:55). Because of Adam‘s sin, ―the ways of this world, as they viewed matters, ―became narrow and sorrowful and painful, and full of perils coupled with great toils … but the ways of the future world are broad and safe, and yield the fruit of immortality (4 Ezra 7:12–13). More particularly, because of mankind‘s continued wickedness, ―the world lies in darkness, and the dwellers therein are without light (4 Ezra 14:20). ..... The expression αἰῶνος τοῦ ἐνεστῶτος πονηροῦ, ―the present age, is paralleled in meaning, if not precisely in word, by Paul‘s exhortation of Rom 12:2 not to be conformed ―to this age (τῷ αἰῶνι τούτῳ). Paul also uses kosmos as a synonym for aion to denote not just the present period of world history but also the way of life that characterizes it (cf. 1 Cor 1:20; 2:12; 3:19; 7:31), as does also John (cf. John 17:15; 1 John 2:15–17).

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  • Potentially the terminology of present...age can be taken to mean an age which recently started. As an example, the age of Roman domination. If that is the meaning Jesus was sent in response to Roman domination. On the other hand, if Jesus was sent in response to the problem of sin. "this evil age" is referring to a period which had its beginning long before Roman domination. Could you clarify when this present evil age began? Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 4:01
  • I explained the present age is this evil world but there maybe a possibility that it also refers to the end times, due to the perfect participle. In basic sense it means the general present world of sin.
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 5:02
  • @RevelationLad The minimum dating of the apocalyptic/Messianic times must be from the period of Essenes community in Qumran or whenever the 4 Ezra book was written. Perhaps first century BC onwards. Cannot say particularly about Roman rule being the focus of it.
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 8:35
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This answer is revised and expanded to address the revision of the original question. Paul was addressing a specific problem occurring in Galatia caused by false teachers of that day. “This present evil age” of Gal. 1:4 is directly addressing the false teaching that circumcision was required at the time the letter was written.

Interlinear has “age” from “aion”, Strong’s Gr. 165. (1) It means a space or duration of time, part of a series of ages. The usage at Gal. 1:4 in context spoke of the age the Galatians were living in when the book was written. It is one of the “ages of the ages” of Gal. 1:5 which very clearly means all time, from the beginning to all eternity.

Since most of the commentaries are written with a learned or taught bias that pushes the return of the Messiah to some unknown future date (futurism, or premillennialism, et al), which thinking was began by the Jews very quickly after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, as they denied that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and who are still looking for some unknown Messiah to restore their nation to a temporal world-wide rule with an earthly king,(2) the commentators therefore falsely assume that the “present evil age” of Gal. 1:4 is still on-going until such time as the unknown future Messiah returns to establish a supposed 1,000 year earthly reign of peace (which thinking must limit the future age after the present evil age of Gal. 1:4 to only 1,000 years, and the present evil age continuing from the establishment of the Mosaic covenant at Mt. Sinai in approx. 1446 BC – or 1313 CE according to the Jews - and makes the continuation of “this present evil age” to be approx. 3469 years and counting).

Context matters. An age is a period of time. The present age, or time frame of Gal. 1:4 is not the time when we are reading the scriptures, but the time in which they were written. The book of Galatians was written most probably before the Jerusalem council of AD 50. (3) So we have to look at their time frame, the present evil age that existed when the book was written in the middle of the 1st century AD.

”...to the assemblies of Galatia:” (Gal. 1:2, YLT)

The first audience perspective is required to be able to fully understand God’s word. The audience of this letter was written to those living in Galatia… not to us. We are reading a letter written almost 2,000 years ago. It has to be understood from the historical view point of those people in Galatia during the 1st century AD, and their circumstances. The people of Galatia were being persecuted by the false teachers who were teaching they had to be circumcised and drawing them away from the gospel to be brought back under the Law (Gal. 2:3-4, 4:21).

The land territory of Galatia has a history that involves the cult worship of the goddess Cybele, especially from the principle city of Pessinus, whose priests were cross-dressers, and practiced castration as part of their worship. Paul’s frustration and despair was immediately concerned with the false teaching of circumcision as a requirement of the gospel. After having directly argued against that false teaching through the first 4 chapters, he makes a very dramatic statement in Gal. 5:12.

”O that even they would cut themselves off who are unsettling you!” (YLT)

”I would that they that unsettle you would even go beyond circumcision.” (ASV)

”wish that those who are troubling you [by teaching that circumcision is necessary for salvation] would even [go all the way and] castrate themselves!” (AMP)

”I wish the people who are bothering you would go the whole way and castrate themselves!” (CJB)

”I wish those people who are bothering you would add castration to their circumcision.” (ERV)

”I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (ESV)

”I wish those agitators would go so far as to castrate themselves!” (NET)

The immediate sense of “this present evil age” is related to the well known Cybele cult practice of castration of their history of the Galli. (4, 5, 6, 7) Paul was specifically reminding them that they were free under the gospel of Christ and they were not to return to either the Law, nor to pagan cult worship.

Excerpt from Pulpit Commentary at Gal. 5:12 -

“...The sentiment, it is true, seems one which it would be impossible for a public speaker, or even a writer, amongst ourselves to give such open expression to. Nevertheless, when viewed as framed in amid the surroundings which environed it at the time, it wears none of that aspect of coarseness which would confessedly be felt to attach to it under the conditions of modern life. That the worship of Cybele at Pessinus, one of the principal cities of Galatia, was deformed by the practice of such self-mutilation on the part of some of its devotees, was a matter of universal notoriety, and we may confidently assume that the apostle, when in the neighbourhood, heard frequent mention of those apocopi as they were called, and thus was led now to allude to it as he seems to do in this malediction. For it is a malediction, as Chrysostom describes it; a malediction, however, which in severity falls far short of the anathema which has been previously pronounced. Good were it (he means) for the Church, and even perhaps themselves, if they would have the rashness to go a little further with what they call "circumcision," which in their case is mere concision (Philippians 3:2), and make it clear to all men how purely senseless and unchristian their action in this matter is.” Source: Biblehub

Even so, there is the broader sense of “this present evil age” as the time period of the ending of the Mosaic covenant and its profane animal sacrifices that were still continuing in the temple in Jerusalem. That age has the eternal mark of the time in which the Messiah was rejected and crucified. It will carry that evil distinction throughout all history. Once Christ became the last blood sacrifice that God would ever again accept for forgiveness of sins, the Mosaic law and covenant was about to be annulled (Heb. 7:18).

”in the saying `new,' He hath made the first old, and what doth become obsolete and is old [is] nigh disappearing.” (Heb. 8:13, YLT)

“.. is vanishing…” when the book of Hebrews was written approx. 60-65 AD during the 1st century AD. Christ told His disciples the end of that “present evil age” with the prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem which happened at His return in judgment of those who crucified Him (Rev. 1:7) in AD 70.

The answer encompasses both their condition in that time in Galatia, and their eventual release from that present evil age at the ending, the last days of the Mosaic covenant at the fall of the temple in Jerusalem, which many misconstrue as a future end-of-the world apocalyptic event in an unknown future time.

”2 and Jesus said to them, Do ye not see all these? verily I say to you, There may not be left here a stone upon a stone, that shall not be thrown down.' 3 And when he is sitting on the mount of the Olives, the disciples came near to him by himself, saying, Tell us, when shall these be? and what [is] the sign of thy presence, and of the full end of the age?' “ (Matt. 24:2-3, YLT)

When shall what things be? Specifically answering the question the disciples had asked Jesus about the destruction of the temple!

”4 And Jesus answering said to them, `Take heed that no one may lead you astray, 5 for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they shall lead many astray,

6 and ye shall begin to hear of wars, and reports of wars; see, be not troubled, for it behoveth all [these] to come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 `For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places;

8 and all these [are] the beginning of sorrows; 9 then they shall deliver you up to tribulation, and shall kill you, and ye shall be hated by all the nations because of my name;” (Matt. 24:4-9, YLT)

Jesus told them, “All of these…” were to happen before that temple fell. So, the time frame is still speaking of the time in that generation when the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed.

”10 and then shall many be stumbled, and they shall deliver up one another, and shall hate one another. 11 `And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray;

12 and because of the abounding of the lawlessness, the love of the many shall become cold; 13 but he who did endure to the end, he shall be saved; 14 and this good news of the reign shall be proclaimed in all the world, for a testimony to all the nations; and then shall the end arrive.” (Matt. 24:10-14, YLT)

The subject matter has not changed. He is still answering the disciples question in vs. 3, still speaking about the time the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed. He said the gospel would be proclaimed – think probating the will – throughout “all the world” before the end would come. This is the same “all the world” of Luke 2:1 where Caesar Augustus commanded a census be taken of his empire – the Roman empire of the 1st century AD.

The word used for “world” in Matt. 24:14 is Strong’s Greek 3625: “oikoumené: the inhabited earth” and the definition is -

“(properly: the land that is being inhabited, the land in a state of habitation), the inhabited world, that is, the Roman world, for all outside it was regarded as of no account.”  (See Biblehub)

So we may paraphrase what Jesus said as “and this good news of the reign shall be proclaimed in all [the Roman empire”]. Only then would “the end” come for that Jerusalem temple to fall. That was “the end” of the Jewish world as they knew it.

Their present evil age was the time in which the old Mosaic covenant would be finished at the fall of that Jerusalem temple in AD 70. The persecution they lived under, the tribulation they endured was what had been prophesied by Daniel.

”15 `Whenever, therefore, ye may see the abomination of the desolation, that was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever is reading let him observe) 16 then those in Judea -- let them flee to the mounts;” (Matt. 24L15-16, YLT)

Jesus was telling His disciples who were listening to Him prophesy the fall of that temple to watch for the abomination which Daniel had spoken of (Dan. 9:27; 12:11) and which Luke clearly identifies as the Roman armies surrounding Jerusalem.

”20 `And when ye may see Jerusalem surrounded by encampments, then know that come nigh did her desolation; 21 then those in Judea, let them flee to the mountains; and those in her midst, let them depart out; and those in the countries, let them not come in to her; 22 because these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all things that have been written.” (Luke 21:20-22, YLT)

The days of vengeance, the time of the desolation of Jerusalem, the time of the tribulation spoken of by Daniel, the time of the destruction of the temple were prophesied to be those days of the 1st century AD when that Jerusalem temple would fall, and which happened in AD 70!

The answer to this question is that “the current time” and the “time of the apocalypse” were the same time of “this present evil age” of Gal. 1:4, and were those days of that generation in which all these things would take place in the 1st century AD.

”34 Verily I say to you, this generation may not pass away till all these may come to pass.” (Matt. 24:34, YLT)

This generation was THEIR generation, not ours. It was Jesus’ disciples who heard those words spoken, not us. It was the Galatian’s of Paul’s letter who read those words in THEIR present evil age, not us. The prophesy was never speaking about the end of the entire world.

There is much more scriptural proof at the posts at ShreddingTheVeil.org:

Frequent Mistakes – Part IV: Where was All The World? - here

Frequent Mistakes – Part VI: The End of the World ? - here

Testing the Spirits – Part II: The End - here

The Signs of Revelation – Part I: The Time of His Coming - here

Notes:

  1. Strong’s Gr. 165, aion - [Biblehub]

  2. What Do Jews Believe About Jesus - here

  3. http://datingthenewtestament.com/Galatians.htm

  4. The Galli: Cross-Dressing Cybele Cult Priests Who Castrated Themselves - here

  5. City of Pessinus - here

  6. Pessinus - “...was the principal cult centre of the cult of Cybele/Kybele…” and “...the Romans, after consulting the Sibylline Books, decided to introduce the cult of the Great Mother of Ida (Magna Mater Idaea, also known as Cybele) to the city. …” Source: here

  7. Galatia - “...That Galatian law was derived from the gods is suggested by the proximity of the sacred city of Pessinus, dedicated to the Mother Goddess Cybele and her consort Attis, close on the border of the western part of Galatia controlled by the Tolistobogii. Strabo claims that Pessinus was the religious center of the Galatians even though they did not control the city.…” Source: here

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  • What does an evil age which ends with the destruction of the Temple mean as it relates to salvation after 70 AD? IOW, does the means of salvation during the evil age also come to end? If not, how does someone in Galatia understand what Paul says about the need and means for salvation when the evil age ends? That is, how is one to understand the difference between the need for salvation during the evil age and after that age is over? Is every one saved when the evil age comes to a close or does a different "evil" age begin? Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 16:56
  • Is this a different question, Rev Lad? The salvation in Christ began at the cross and continues on forever under His everlasting kingdom which was fully established after the end of the Mosaic covenant after the destruction of the temple. Heaven and earth - the Mosaic covenant - would pass away, but "my words" - the gospel of Christ would never pass away. Time of transition for 40 years from the cross to the fall of the temple for that vanishing away. The salvation plan does not end. The old law did end.
    – Gina
    Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 17:42
  • I do not see it as a different question. I’m trying to reconcile what Paul preached concerning the cross and resurrection with your answer which, if I understand correctly, says Christ was sent into the evil age which was both recent and coming to end in 70 AD. I mean, if the mission was in response to a local issue soon coming to an end, how can the results of the mission not be understood in those same terms? Conversely, if the success of the mission is seen in apocalyptic terms, how can the purpose of the sending be as limited as your answer suggests? Commented Apr 27, 2023 at 20:18
  • The mission was to establish the new heaven & earth covenant plan of salvation under His gospel. That mission was set out in Dan. 9:24, to end transgressions, sins, seal up prophesy, etc. All of that was to end the old heaven & earth covenant of the Mosaic Law. End the 1st, establish the 2nd forever covenant. There is no end to the new covenant under His gospel plan of salvation. It began at the cross and took over completely when the temple of that old Mosaic covenant fell. Pls see Heaven & Earth Have Passed Away - shreddingtheveil.org/2015/08/26/heaven-earth-have-passed-away
    – Gina
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 0:17
  • Deu. 4:26, "I have caused to testify against you this day the heavens and the earth,..." Deu. 31:26, "Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee." The heaven & earth of Deu. 4 was the Mosaic covenant that would convict them of their sins in Deu. 31. It was God's metaphor for the Mosaic covenant. When Jesus said "Heaven and Earth would pass away...." understand He set His words opposite to Moses' words. His gospel would take the place of the Mosaic Covenant and last forever.
    – Gina
    Commented Apr 28, 2023 at 0:22
1

OP's question;

"Is present evil age/world referring to the specific period of history which began around the time when Galatians was written (around 40-50 AD)? Or does this refer to an apocalyptic period with a world-wide condition such as sin which began in the past such as might be found in Genesis or Exodus or some other prior point in history?"

This present evil eon, started after the judgment of the one before it.

and spared not the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 2 Peter 2:5

That was the end of that age or eon.

Noah was the beginning of the present evil eon which we are living in now. We can certainly see how wickedness is growing so dark.

"the present wicked eon" (Gal.1:4).

"It is the only one under human government, which was committed to Noah, when he came forth out of the ark at its beginning. The death penalty, delegated to man at that time for preserving righteousness and executing justice in the earth, leads to the most unjust act of all the eons--the murder of God's own Son! Yet His cross, standing in solitary sublimity in the very heart and center of all, becomes the background for the display of God's transcendent grace for effecting His grand  eonian purpose." God's Eonian Purpose - Chapter 4 - The Eons and Administrations

The end of this present, wicked eon, and the beginning of the next eon starts with Christ taking over the governments of the earth. It begins with Satan being bound for 1000 years where he can longer to deceive the nations.

Revelation 20:2-7 gives the precise time period of the millennial kingdom. There are countless other passages that point to a literal reign of the Messiah on the earth. The fulfillment of many of God’s covenants and promises rests on a literal, physical, future kingdom. There is no solid basis for denying the literal interpretation of the millennial kingdom and its duration being 1,000 years. From Got questions.

Literal Standard Version

And the seventh messenger sounded the trumpet, and there came great voices in Heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of the world became [those] of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign through the ages of the ages!” Revelation 11:15

-1

The word rendered "world" is AIWN, a word that has philosophical, cosmological, supernatural, Kabbalistic, gnostic, superstitious, occult and Greco-Roman overtones and undertones:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeon

However, in the context of John, I think what is in view is the Judean theocracy uncomfortably united with Rome, as represented by Herod and the Chief Priest, Caiaphas. It was this KOSMOS ("constellation") of powers that was passing away.

And we know that it was abruptly destroyed in 70 AD/CE by the Roman armies under Titus Flavius Vespasian. His army marched south and sacked, and sacked and finally took siege on Jerusalem and ultimately burned it to the ground, even destroying the Temple by dismantling it, stone upon stone, just as Jesus has predicted:

[Luke 21:5-7, 20-22 NKJV] (5) Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, (6) "These things which you see--the days will come in which not [one] stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down." (7) So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign [will there be] when these things are about to take place?" ... (20) "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. (21) "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. (22) "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

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  • -1 This answer does not address the meaning in Galatians. Commented Apr 24, 2023 at 18:18
  • @RevelationLad ?? "...However, in the context of John, I think what is in view is the Judean theocracy uncomfortably united with Rome, as represented by Herod and the Chief Priest, Caiaphas. It was this KOSMOS ("constellation") of powers that was passing away. And we know that it was abruptly destroyed in 70 AD/CE by the Roman armies under Titus Flavius Vespasian." That explains Galatians.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Apr 25, 2023 at 19:29
  • Why would Gentiles in Galatia be concerned about Herod and the High Priest? Commented Apr 26, 2023 at 3:09

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