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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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ADOPTION . The term ‘adoption’ is found five times in St. Paul’s letters ( Romans 8:15; Romans 8:22; Romans 9:4 , Galatians 4:5 , Ephesians 1:5 ), and not elsewhere in the NT. In Romans 9:4 reference is made to the favoured position of the Jews as the chosen people. To them belonged the adoption, the position of sons ( Exodus 4:22 ). In the remaining passages St. Paul uses the word to describe the privileges of the Christian as opposed to the unbeliever. He is trying, as a rule, to bring home to Gentile readers the great change wrought by the coming of Christ. Though W. M. Ramsay has attempted to identify peculiarities of Syro-Greek law in Galatians 4:1-31 , and though it is true that ‘no word is more common in Greek inscriptions of Hellenistic times: the idea like the word is native Greek,’ yet St. Paul’s use of the term seems to be based on Roman law. See Hastings’ ERE, s.v.

Adoption in Roman law could be effected by a modified form of the method of sale known as mancipation. ‘The Roman Mancipation required the presence, first, of all of the parties, the vendor and the vendee.… There were also no less than five witnesses; and an anomalous personage, the libripens , who brought with him a pair of scales to weigh the uncoined copper money of Rome. Certain formal gestures were made and sentences pronounced. The (purchaser) simulated the payment of a price by striking the scales with a piece of money, and the (vendor) ratified what had been done in a set form of words’ (Maine, Ancient Law , vi.). The witnesses were necessary, especially in the age before written documents, to vouch for the regularity of the procedure, and to ensure the genuineness of the transaction.

Some of the details of the procedure are said to be reflected in the language of St. Paul. ‘To redeem those under the law’ (Galatians 4:5 ) suggests that God’s action in sending His Son to buy out mankind from slavery to the Law, may be illustrated by the adopting parent’s purchase of a son from his natural father.

Again, Dr. W. E. Ball ( Contemp. Rev. , 1891) has pointed out that the work of the Spirit ( Romans 8:16 ) is parallel to the place of the five witnesses in the process of adoption. The reality of God’s adoption is assured by the Spirit’s witness. Dr. Ball brings out the general force of the metaphor thus. Any one who was made a son by adoption, severed all his former ties. Even his debts appear to have been cancelled. ‘The adopted person became in the eyes of the law a new creature. He was born again into a new family. By the aid of this figure, the Gentile convert was enabled to realize in a vivid manner the fatherhood of God, brotherhood of the faithful, the obliteration of past penalties, the right to the mystic inheritance.’ The figure of adoption describes clearly the effect of God’s revelation of Himself as Father.

St. Paul speaks of adoption, as both present (Romans 8:15 ) and future ( Romans 8:23 ). With Pfleiderer we must distinguish three moments in adoption. It involves here and now, freedom from the Law, and the possession of the spirit of adoption which enables us to address God as our Father. Adoption will be completed by the redemption of our body, the inheritance with Christ in glory. ‘Believers have this blessing (adoption) already, but only in an inward relation and as Divine right, with which, however, the objective and real state does not yet correspond’ (Meyer on Romans 8:23 ). With St. Paul’s view of adoption now and adoption hereafter compare 1 John 3:2 . In Ephesians 1:5 adoption seems to mean that conforming to the character of Christ which begins here and is to he perfected in the future.

That the word ‘adoption’ does not represent believers as children of God by nature, is undeniable. But it would be a mistake to press the term as giving a complete account of St. Paul’s views of the relations of God to man. Roman law afforded St. Paul illustrations rather than theories. It is not clear whether in Romans 8:15 he conceives the spirit of sonship which cries ‘Abba, Father.’ to be received in baptism or at conversion, or on the other hand to be the natural cry of the human heart. But in any case, he has found the love of God in Christ, and the change in his life is such that the complete change produced in a man’s condition by adoption is only a pale reflex of the Apostle’s experience. See, further, Inheritance.

H. G. Wood.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Adoption'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​a/adoption.html. 1909.
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