Adoption (Religious)

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Adoption is the giving to any one the name and place and privileges of a son who is not a son by birth. (1.) Natural. Thus Pharaoh's daughter adopted Moses (Ex. 2:10), and Mordecai Esther (Esther 2:7). (2.) National. God adopted Israel (Ex. 4:22; Deut. 7:6; Hos. 11:1; Rom. 9:4). (3.) Spiritual. An act of God's grace by which he brings men into the number of his redeemed family, and makes them partakers of all the blessings he has provided for them. Adoption represents the new relations into which the believer is introduced by justification, and the privileges connected therewith, viz., an interest in God's peculiar love (John 17:23; Rom. 5:5-8), a spiritual nature (2 Pet. 1:4; John 1:13), the possession of a spirit becoming children of God (1 Pet. 1:14; 2 John 4; Rom. 8:15-21; Gal. 5:1; Heb. 2:15), present protection, consolation, supplies (Luke 12:27-32; John 14:18; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 2 Cor. 1:4), fatherly chastisements (Heb. 12:5-11), and a future glorious inheritance (Rom. 8:17,23; James 2:5; Phil. 3:21).

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

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Adoption (Religious)

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A relatively infrequent term in the Scriptures, "adoption" is of theological importance, for it relates to how Israel and the Christian may be "sons" and "heirs" of God although they are not uniquely or by nature so, as in the case of Christ.

In the OT

The term "adoption" does not appear in the OT. There are no provisions for adoption in Israelite law, and the examples which do occur come from outside the Israelite culture (Eliezer, Gen. 15:1-4; Moses, Exod. 2:10; Genubath, 1 Kings 11:20; Esther, Esth. 2:7, 15). For the Israelites polygamy and levirate marriage were the more common solutions to infertility. Yet adoption was not unknown in their literature (cf. Prov. 17:2; 19:10; 29:21, which may all refer to adoption of slaves), and it may have been the means by which children fathered by a master on a slave mother inherited property (Gen. 16:1-4; 21:1-10; 30:1-13). Outside of Israel adoption was common enough to be regulated in the law codes of Babylon (e.g., Hammurabi's Code, sect. 185-86), Nuzi, and Ugarit. Not infrequently these refer to the adoption of a slave as an heir.

For Israel as a whole there was a consciousness of having been chosen by God as his "son" (Hos. 11:1; Isa. 1:2; Jer. 3:19). Since Israel had no myth of descent from the gods as the surrounding cultures did, adoption was the obvious category into which this act, as well as the deliverance from slavery in Egypt, would fit, as Paul indicates in Rom. 9:4. Likewise the kings succeeding David were God's "son" (II Sam. 7:14; I Chr. 28:6; Ps. 89:19). Ps. 2:7, e.g., uses "You are my son," which is probably the adoption formula used in the enthronement ceremony of each successive Davidic ruler. Together these ideas laid the basis for later NT usage of adoption imagery.

In the NT

In the NT the term "adoption" (huiothesia) is strictly a Pauline idea, occurring only in Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; and Eph. 1:5. While John and Peter prefer the picture of regeneration to portray the Christian sonship, Paul has characteristically chosen a legal image (as in justification), perhaps due to his contact with the Roman world.

In Greek and Roman society adoption was, at least among the upper classes, a relatively common practice. Unlike the oriental cultures in which slaves were sometimes adopted, these people normally limited adoption to free citizens. But, at least in Roman law, the citizen so adopted became a virtual slave, for he came under the paternal authority of his adoptive father. Adoption conferred rights, but it came with a list of duties as well.

Paul combines several of these pictures in his thought. While Gal. 4 begins with a picture of the law enslaving the heirs until a given date (e.g., majority or the death of the father), there is a shift in vs. 4 to the adoption image in which one who was truly a slave (not a minor as in vss. 1-3) becomes a son and thus an heir through redemption. The former slave, empowered by the Spirit, now uses the address of a son, "Abba! Father!"

The reason for adoption is given in Eph. 1:5: God's love. It was not due to his nature or merit that the Christian was adopted (and thus receives the Spirit and the inheritance, Eph. 1:14-15), but to God's will acting through Christ. Adoption is a free grant to undeserving people solely from God's grace.

As in Galatians and Ephesians, adoption is connected to the Spirit in Romans as well. It is those who are "led by the Spirit" who are sons, who have received the "spirit of sonship," not that of slavery (Rom. 8:14-15). Again the Spirit produces the cry "Abba!" and indicates by his presence the reality of the coming inheritance.

Adoption, however, is not entirely a past event. The legal declaration may have been made, and the Spirit may have been given as a down payment, but the consummation of the adoption awaits the future, for the adoption of sons includes "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). Thus adoption is something hoped for as well as something already possessed.

Adoption, then, is deliverance from the past (similar to regeneration and justification), a status and way of life in the present (walking by the Spirit, sanctification), and a hope for the future (salvation, resurrection). It describes the process of becoming a son of God (cf. John 1:12; 1 John 3:1-2) and receiving an inheritance from God (cf. Col. 3:24).

P. H. Davids
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

J. I. Cook, "The Concept of Adoption in the Theology of Paul," in Saved by Hope, ed. J. I. Cook; F. Lyall, "Roman Law in the Writings of Paul, Adoption," JBL 88:458-66; L. H. Marshall, The Challenge of NT Ethics; W. v. Martitz and E. Schweizer, TDNT, VIII, 397-99; W. H. Rossell, "New Testament Adoption, Graeco-Roman or Semitic?" JBL 71:233-34; D. J. Theron, "Adoption' in the Pauline Corpus," EvQ 28:6-14; J. van Seters, "The Problem of Childlessness in Near Eastern Law and the Patriarchs of Israel," JBL 87:401-8.

NOTE: This subject is VERY different from Adoptionism:

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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