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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(υἱοθεσία , Romans 8:15; Romans 8:23; Romans 9:4 : Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5), the placing as a son of one who is not so by birth or naturally.
I. Literal. — The practice of adoption had its origin in the natural desire for male offspring, the operation of which is less marked in those countries where the equalizing influences of high civilization lessen the peculiar privileges of the paternal character, and where the security and the well- observed laws by which estates descend and property is transmitted withdraw one of the principal inducements to the practice, but was peculiarly prevalent in the patriarchal period. The law of Moses, by settling the relations of families and the rules of descent, and by formally establishing the Levirate law, appears to have put some check upon this custom. The allusions in the New Testament are mostly to practices of adoption which then existed, but not confined to the Romans. In the East the practice has always been common, especially among the Semitic races, although the additional and peculiar stimulus which the Hebrews derived from the hope of giving birth to the Messiah was inapplicable to cases of adoption. But, as the arrangements of society became more complicated, some restrictions were imposed upon the power of adoption, and certain public forms were made necessary to legalize the act: precisely what these were, in different ages, among the Hebrews, we are mostly left to gather from the analogous practices of other Eastern nations. For the practice had ceased to be common among the Jews — by the time the sources of information became more open; and the culpable facility of divorce, in later times rendered unnecessary those adoptions which might have arisen, and in earlier times did arise, from the sterility of a wife. Adoption was confined to sons; the case of Esther affords the only example of the adoption of a female; for the Jews certainly were not behind any Oriental nation in the feeling expressed in the Chinese proverb, "He is happiest in daughters who has only sons" (Mem. sur les Chinois, 10, 149).
1. The first instances of adoption which occur in Scripture are less the acts of men than of women, who, being themselves barren, give their female slaves to their husbands, with the view of adopting the children they may bear. Thus Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham; and the son who was born, Ishmael, appears to have been considered as her son as well as Abraham’ s until Isaac was born. In like manner Rachel, having no children, gave her handmaid Bilhah to her husband, who had by her Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 30:5-9); on which his other wife, Leah, although she had sons of her own, yet fearing that she had left off bearing, claimed the right of giving her handmaid Zilpah to Jacob, that she might thus increase their number; and by this means she had Gad and Asher (Genesis 30:9 -
1). In this way the child was the son of the husband, and, the mother being the property of the wife, the progeny must be her property also; and the act of more particular appropriation seems to have been that, at the time of birth, the handmaid brought forth her child "upon the knees of the adoptive mother" (Genesis 30:3). In this case the vicarious bearing of the handmaid for the mistress was as complete as possible; and the sons were regarded as fully equal in right of heritage with those by the legitimate wife. This privilege could not, however, be conferred by the adoption of the wife, but by the natural relation of such sons to the husband. Sarah’ s case proves that a mistress retained her power, as such, over a female slave whom she had thus vicariously employed, and over the progeny of that slave, even though by her own husband (Genesis 21:10).
Still earlier Abraham appears to have adopted a house-born slave, his faithful and devoted steward Eliezer, as a son (Genesis 15:2) — a practice still very common in the East. A boy is often purchased young, adopted by his master, brought up in his faith, and educated as his son; or if the owner has a daughter, he adopts him through a marriage with that daughter, and the family which springs from this union is counted as descended from him. But house-born slaves are usually preferred, as these have never had any home but their master’ s house, are considered members of his family, and are generally the most faithful of his adherents. This practice was very common among the Romans, and is more than once referred, to by Paul (Romans 8:15; 1 Corinthians 2:12); the transition from the condition of a slave to that of a son, and the privilege of applying the tender name of "father" to the former "master," affording a beautiful illustration of the change which takes place from the bondage of the law to the freedom and privileges of the Christian state.
As in most cases the adopted son was considered dead to the family from which he sprung, the separation of natural ties and connections was avoided by this preference of slaves, who were mostly foreigners or of foreign descent. For the same reason the Chinese make their adoptions from children in the hospitals who have been abandoned by their parents (Mem. sur les Chinois, 6, 325). The Tartars prefer to adopt their near relatives-nephews or cousins, or, failing them, a Tartar of their own banner (ib. 4, 136). In like manner Jacob adopted his own grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh to be counted as his sons (Genesis 48:6). The object of this remarkable adoption was, that, whereas Joseph himself could only have one share of his father’ s heritage along with his brothers, the adoption of his two sons enabled Jacob, through them, to bestow two portions upon his favorite son. The adoption of Moses by Pharaoh’ s daughter (Exodus 2:1-10) is an incident rather than a practice; but it recalls what has just been stated respecting the adoption of outcast children by the Chinese.
A man who had only a daughter often married her to a freed slave, and the children were counted as those of the woman’ s father, or the husband himself is adopted as a son. Thus Sheshan, of the tribe of Judah, gave his daughter to Jarha, an Egyptian slave (whom, as the Targum premises, he no doubt liberated on that occasion): the posterity of the marriage are not, however, reckoned to Jarha, the husband of the woman, but to her father, Sheshan, and as his descendants they take their heritage and station in Israel (1 Chronicles 2:34 sq.). So Machir (grandson of Joseph) gave his daughter in marriage to Hezron, of the tribe of Judah. She gave birth to Segub, — who was the father of Jair (q.v.). This Jair possessed twenty- three cities in the land of Gilead, which came to him in right of his grandmother, the daughter of Machir; and he acquired other towns in the same quarter, which made up his possessions to threescore towns or villages (1 Chronicles 2:21-24; Joshua 13:9; 1 Kings 4-13). Now this Jair, though of the tribe of Judah by his grandfather, is, in Numbers 32:41, counted as of Manasseh, because through his grandmother he inherited the property, and was the lineal representative of Machir, the son of Manasseh. This case illustrates the difference between the pedigree of Christ as given by Matthew and that in Luke — the former being the pedigree through Joseph, his supposed father, and the latter through his mother, Mary. This opinion, (See GENEALOGY) supposes that Mary was the daughter of Heli, and that Joseph is called his son (Luke 3:23) because he was adopted by Heli when he married his daughter, who was an heiress, as has been presumed from the fact of her going to Bethlehem to be registered when in the last stage of pregnancy. Her heirship, however, is not essential to this relation, and her journey may rather have been in order to continue under the protection of her husband during such a period of suspicion.
By the time of Christ the Jews had, through various channels, become well acquainted with the more remarkable customs of the Greeks and Romans, as is apparent particularly from the epistles of Paul. In John 8:36, "If the son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," is supposed by Grotius and other commentators to refer to a custom in some of the cities of Greece and elsewhere, called ἀδελφοθεσία , whereby the son and heir was permitted to adopt brothers and admit them to the same rights which he himself enjoyed. But it seems more likely that the reference was to the more familiar Roman custom, by which the son, after his father’ s death, often made free such as were born slaves in. his house (Theophil. Antecensor, Institut. Imp. Justinian. 1, 6, 5). In Romans 8:23, νἱοθεσίαν ἀπεκδεχόμενοι, "anxiously waiting for the adoption," the former word appears to be used in a sense different from that which it bears in Romans 8:15, and to signify the consummation of the act there mentioned, in which point of view it is conceived to apply to the twofold ceremony among the Romans. The one was the private act between the parties; and if the person to be adopted was not already the slave of the adopter, this private transaction involved the purchase of him from his parents when practicable. In this manner Caius and Lucius were purchased from their father Agrippa before their adoption by Augustus. The other was the public acknowledgment of that act on the part of the adopter, when the adopted person was solemnly avowed and declared to be his son. The peculiar force and propriety of such an allusion in an epistle to the Romans must be very evident. In Galatians 4:5-6, there is a very clear allusion to the privilege of adopted slaves to address their former master by the endearing title of Abba, or father. Selden has shown that slaves were not allowed to use this word in addressing the master of the family to which they belonged, nor the corresponding title of Mama, mother, when speaking to the mistress of it (De Succ, in Bona Defunct. secund. Hebr. c. 4).
2. The Roman custom of adoption, by which a person, not having children of his own, might adopt as his son one born of other, parents, was a formal act, effected either by the process named adrogatio, when the person to be adopted was independent of his parent, or by adoptio, specifically so called, when in the power of his parent. The effect of it was that the adopted child was entitled to the name and sacra privata of his new father, and ranked as his heir at law; while the father, on his part, was entitled to the property of the son, and exercised toward him all the rights and privileges of a father. In short, the relationship was to all intents and purposes the same as existed between a natural father and son. (See Smith’ s Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Adoption.)
3. The custom of adoption is still frequent in the East. Lady Montague says (Letter 42), "There is one custom peculiar to their country, I mean adoption, very common among the Turks, and yet more among the Greeks and Armenians. Not having it in their power to give their estate to a friend or distant relation, to avoid its falling into the grand seignior’ s treasury, when they are not likely to have any children of their own, they choose some pretty child of either sex among the meanest people, and carry the child and its parents before the cadi, and there declare they receive it for their heir. The parents at the same time renounce all future claim to it; a writing is drawn and witnessed, and a child thus adopted cannot be disinherited. Yet I have seen some common beggars that have refused to part with their children in this manner to some of the richest among the Greeks (so powerful is the instinctive affection that is natural to parents); though the adopting fathers are generally very tender to those children of their souls, as they call them. Methinks it is much more reasonable to make happy and rich an infant whom I educate after my own manner, brought up (in the Turkish phrase) upon my knees, and who has learned to look upon me with a filial respect, than to give an estate to a creature without merit or relation to me."
Among the Mohammedans the ceremony of adoption is sometimes performed by causing the adopted to pass through the shirt of the person who adopts him. Hence, to adopt is among the Turks expressed by saying "to draw any one through one’ s shirt;" and they call an adopted son Akhret Ogli, the son of another life, because he was not begotten in this (D’ Herbelot, Bibl. Orient. 43). Something like this is observable among the Hebrews: Elijah adopts Elisha by throwing his mantle over him (1 Kings 19:19); and when Elijah was carried off in a fiery chariot, his mantle, which he let fall, was taken up by Elisha, his disciple, his spiritual son, and adopted successor in the office of prophet (2 Kings 2:15). It should be remarked, also, that Elisha asks not merely to be adopted (for that he had been already), but to be treated as the elder son, to have a double portion (the elder son’ s prerogative) of the spirit conferred upon him. (See INVESTITURE).
There is another method of ratifying the act of adoption, however, which is worthy of notice, as it tends to illustrate some passages in the sacred writings. The following is from Pitts: "I was bought by an old bachelor; I wanted nothing with him; meat, drink, and clothes, and money, I had enough. After I had lived with him about a year, he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, and carried me with him; but before we came to Alexandria, he was taken sick, and thinking verily he should die, having a woven girdle about his middle, under his sash (which they usually wear), in which was much gold, and also my letter of freedom (which he intended to give me when at Mecca), he took it off, and bid me put it on about me, and took my girdle, and put it on himself. My patron would speak, on occasion, in my behalf, saying, My SON will never run away. He seldom called me any thing but son, and bought a Dutch boy to do the work of the house, who attended upon me, and obeyed my orders as much as his. I often saw several bags of his money, a great part of which he said he would leave me." This circumstance seems to illustrate the conduct of Moses, who clothed Eleazar in Aaron’ s sacred vestments when that high-priest was about to be gathered to his fathers; indicating thereby that Eleazar succeeded in the functions of the priesthood, and was, as it were, adopted to exercise that dignity. The Lord told Shebna, captain of the temple, that he would deprive him of his honorable station, and substitute Eliakim, son of Hilkiah (Isaiah 22:21): "I will clothe him with thy robe, saith the Lord, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into his hand." And Paul in several places says, that Christians "put on the Lord Jesus; that they put on the new man," to denote their adoption as sons of God (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; comp. John 1:12; 1 John 3:2). (See SON). When Jonathan made a covenant with David, he stripped himself of his girdle and his robe and put them upon his friend (1 Samuel 18:3).
II. Figurative. — Adoption in a theological sense is that act of God’ s free grace by which, upon our being justified by faith in Christ, we are received into the family of God, and entitled to the inheritance of heaven.
1. In the New Testament, adoption appears not so much a distinct act of God, as involved in, and necessarily flowing from, our justification; so that at least the one always implies the other. Nor is there any good ground to suppose that in the New Testament the term adoption is used with special reference to the civil practice of adoption by the Greeks, Romans, or other heathens, and, therefore, these formalities are illustrative only so far as they confirm the usages among the Jews likewise. The apostles, in using the term, appear rather to have had before them the simple view, that our sins had deprived us of our sonship, the favor of God, and the right to the inheritance of eternal life; but that, upon our return to God, and reconciliation with him, our forfeited privileges were not only restored, but greatly heightened through the paternal kindness of God. They could scarcely be forgetful of the affecting parable of the prodigal son; and it is under the same view that Paul quotes from the Old Testament, "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (2 Corinthians 6:18).
(1.) Adoption, then, is that act by which we who were alienated, and enemies, and disinherited, are made the sons of God and heirs of his eternal glory. "If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ" (Romans 8:17); where it is to be remarked that it is not in our own right, nor in the right of any work done in us, or which we ourselves do, though it should be an evangelical work, that we become heirs; but jointly with Christ, and in his right.
(2.) To this state belong, freedom from a servile spirit, for we are not servants, but sons; the special love and care of God, our Heavenly Father; a filial confidence in him; free access to him at all times and in all circumstances; a title to the heavenly inheritance; and the spirit of adoption, or the witness of the Holy Spirit to our adoption, which is the foundation of all the comfort we can derive from those privileges, as it is the only means by which we can know that they are ours.
(3.) The last-mentioned great privilege of adoption merits special attention. It consists in the inward witness or testimony of the Holy Spirit to the sonship of believers, from which flows a comfortable persuasion or conviction of our present acceptance with God, and the hope of our future and eternal glory. This is taught in several passages of Scripture:
[1.] Romans 8:15-16, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God." In this passage it is to be remarked,
(a.) That the Holy Spirit takes away "fear," a servile dread of God as offended.
(b.) That the "Spirit of God" here mentioned is not the personified spirit or genius of the Gospel, as some would have it, but "the Spirit itself," or himself; and hence he is called (Galatians 4:6) "the Spirit of his Son," which cannot mean the genius of the Gospel.
(c.) That he inspires a filial confidence in God, as our Father, which is opposed to "the fear" produced by the "spirit of bondage." (d.) That he excites this filial confidence, and enables us to call God our Father, by witnessing, bearing testimony with our spirit, ‘"that we are the children of God."
[2.] Galatians 4:4-6, "But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons; and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father." Here, also, are to be noted,
(a.) The means of our redemption from under (the curse of) the law, the incarnation and sufferings of Christ.
(b.) That the adoption of sons follows upon our actual redemption from that curse, or, in other words, upon our pardon.
(c.) That upon our being pardoned, the "Spirit of the Son" is "sent forth into our hearts," producing the same effect as that mentioned in the Epistle to the Romans, viz., filial confidence in God, "crying, Abba, Father."
[3.] To these texts are to be added all those passages, so numerous in the New Testament, which express the confidence and the joy of Christians, their friendship with God, their confident access to him as their God, their entire union and delightful intercourse with him in spirit. (See Watson, Institutes, 2, 269; Dwight, Theology, vol. 3.)
2. In the early fathers, adoption seems to have been regarded as the effect of baptism. The Romanist theologians generally do not treat of adoption as a separate theological topic, nor, indeed, does their system admit it. According to the old Lutheran theology (Apol. 4, 140; Form. Conc. 4, 631; Gessner, 118; Hutter, loc. 12), adoption takes place at the same time with regeneration and justification, justification giving to the sinner the right of adoption, and regeneration putting him in the possession and enjoyment of this right. The certainty of one’ s adoption, and of the inheritance warranted by it, are counted among the attributes of the new birth. Pietism (q.v.) caused an approximation of the Lutheran theology to that of the Reformed Church, which, from the beginning, had distinguished more strictly between regeneration and adoption. The expressions of the Reformed theologians differed, however, greatly. Usually they represented adoption as the effect or as the fruit of justification. Sometimes, however, as co-ordinate, but always as subsequent to regeneration. Rationalism (q.v.) threw aside the biblical conception of adoption as well as that of regeneration. Bretschneider explains it as the firm hope of a moral man for everlasting bliss after this life. Schleiermacher speaks of adoption as a constitutive element of justification, but explains it, on the whole, as identical with the putting on of a new man, and regards it as a phase in the phenomenology of the Christian consciousness. Lange (Christliche Dogmatik, § 97) regards the new birth as the transformation of the individual life into a divine human life, and finds it in the union of justification and faith. Adoption, as the result of the new birth, appears to him as a substantial relation with God and an individualized image of God according to his image in Christ. Gider, in Herzog’ s Real-Encyklopadie, thinks that the words of the Bible conceal treasures which theological science has not yet fully succeeded in bringing to light, and that adoption must be brought into an organic connection not only with justification, but with the new birth — the latter not to be taken merely in a psychological, but in a deeper mystical sense. (See ASSURANCE); (See CHILDREN OF GOD).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Adoption'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/adoption.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.