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Holman Bible Dictionary
Old Testament References to adoption are rather rare in the Old Testament. Other practices related to ensuring descendants were more common, and the desire to maintain the family line of the natural parents was strong.
The practices of polygamy (multiple wives—see Genesis 29:1; Deuteronomy 21:15-17 ) and concubinage (socially accepted cohabitation without marriage—see Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:3 ) served as means of ensuring descendants in Old Testament times. Levirate marriage (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; see Mark 12:19 ) provided offspring even for the deceased. Thus, adoption was not widespread.
The Old Testament examples of Moses (Exodus 2:10 ) and Esther (Esther 2:7 ,Esther 2:7,2:15 ) took place in foreign cultures and may reflect those settings more than the Hebrew practice. Some Old Testament traditions approach the idea that Israel's relationship with God was that of an adopted child (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:2; Hosea 11:1 ), though the idea is never stated explicitly (compare Romans 9:4 ).
New Testament The New Testament frequently speaks of believers as God's children (Luke 20:36; Romans 9:26; Galatians 3:26 ). Thus, believers are affirmed in a special and intimate relationship with God.
At the same time, the New Testament emphasizes Jesus' unique relationship to God as the “only begotten Son” (John 1:18; John 3:16 ). He called God His “Abba” (Mark 14:36 ). In light of this truth, the relationship of believers to God is clearly derivative and secondary. Thus, adoption provided a means of describing the believers' relationship with God while maintaining the uniqueness of Jesus as the Son.
Paul is the only New Testament writer to employ the word adoption . He used the term to describe the status persons receive from God when they have been redeemed by Jesus Christ (Galatians 4:3-7 ). In belonging to Christ believers become Abraham's offspring and heirs with him of God's promise. Believers are chosen in Christ and predestined to this adoption by God's gracious will (Ephesians 1:3-6 ).
Adoption symbolized for Paul God's love and grace in accepting believers as His children, intimate members of His family. Adoption occurs through the work of God's Spirit, giving believers power to overcome fleshly temptations and live the life in the Spirit (Romans 8:14-15 ). This drives out the fear sinners experience in the presence of the holy God and provides power to pray trustingly to God as our “Abba,” or “Daddy.” See Romans 8:15-16 ). This means the believer has all rights of inheritance and will join Jesus, “the only begotten Son” (John 3:16 ) in inheriting the glory of eternal life with God, but it does not mean the believer can escape the suffering and persecution the world dishes out to God's people (Romans 8:17-18 ). The adoption process will be finalized when God restores all creation, giving His children resurrection bodies (Romans 8:23 ). Adoption has always been God's way of operating with His people (Hosea 11:1 ), for only spiritual birth, not natural birth, has determined who belonged to the covenant people (Romans 9:1 ). Even Jews under God's law had to be redeemed by God's Son to be adopted sons (Galatians 4:4-6 ).
God's children are revealed in their being led by the Spirit and in their putting to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13-14 ). Paul recognized here an unfinished quality in the experience, for believers struggle in their weaknesses and groan for freedom from the slavery of sin. Their adoption is based on hope and can only be finalized in the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23-26 ). Until that time believers are in the process of being conformed to the image of the Son with the help of the Spirit and with the assurance of their glorification (Romans 8:26-30 ).
Adoption did not surprise God or His people. Adoption in Christ is the way God chose to create His family even before He created the world (Ephesians 1:4-5 ).
Adoption distinguishes the sonship of believers from the sonship of Christ. Christ is the only Son of God by nature, being part of the divine Trinity. To apply adoption to Christ is heresy. Believers have no natural right to claim to be God's children. Physical birth never has and never will guarantee membership in God's family. Only God's election in grace, Christ's work in redemption, and the Spirit's work in the life of the believer bring adoption and make one a child of God.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Adoption'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/a/adoption.html. 1991.