Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Look at Adoption in the New Testament

The word "adoption" is only used five times in the New Testament, none of which occur in the Gospels. It occurs in English translations in connection with the word son. In the Greek the word for son does not appear because it is already included in the form and in the force of the word. The etymology of the word is thought to have arisen from two Greek words meaning "son" and "placement" being placed together. The only other word in the New Testament that is related to adoption is used in Acts 7:21 to describe the act of Pharaoh’s daughter adopting Moses as her son.

Paul is the only New Testament writer to use this word. In his writings he uses it in the epistles to the Romans, the Galatians, and the Ephesians, whose recipients were predominantly believers with a Roman background. This is significant since the sense of adoption was generally unknown to the Jewish mind. Although Moses (Exodus 2:10), Genubath (1 Kings 11:10), and Esther (Esther 2:7, 15) are described as having been adopted, these adoptions all took place in cultures outside of the Jewish culture.

In ancient Greece and Rome, however, the action of adoption was a legal action commonly practiced. It involved a ceremony, which took place in front of witnesses in the common square of the city. Legally it was an act in which someone who was not a child was declared to be the child of the person doing the adopting. In many cases it was a way of providing for an heir for the family when there was no heir present. Drawing on this picture, Paul uses the word in the New Testament to describe the position of New Testament believers in relation to God.

However, adoption also carries with it a reference to God’s choosing of Israel to be His people (Romans 9:4) and also a promise of the future culmination of the position when Christ returns (Romans 8:23).

For the believer this truth taught in the New Testament by Paul indicates that the believer has full standing before God. God has adopted him in an act, which was determined and predestined before the beginning of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5). By this act of adoption God has freed the believer from both the bondage of sin (Romans 8:15) and the bondage of the law (Galatians 4:5). Therefore the believer can boldly approach God, his “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). This gives the believer not only a confidence before God, but also a reassurance of God’s love towards him. God’s act of adoption was an act of choice and love. This position of being adopted also carries with it the assurance that the believer is secure in God’s household. No one is able to change that status; it is secure and unshaken.

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Elizabeth Johnson said...

I never knew the etymology of the Greek word for adoption... that's pretty interesting!

en karin said...

So glad you found it interesting.

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