Dear Ms. Feverfew –
My friend Cricket was recently attacked by a “Christian” PAP who proceeded to spout chapter and verse about how we are all adopted into God’s family, therefore adoption of infants is a good thing. (Actually, that doesn’t quite sum up the full extent of the nastiness of this PAP’s reasoning, but for here, it will do.)
Here’s what set me off this morning:
“We also look forward to spending eternaty [sic] worshiping and adoring Him with all of His adopted sons and daughters. “God sent forth his Son…….so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galations 4:4-5 I’ve been adopted into God’s family and I hope that you will be too.” – Alicia, hopeful adoptive parent of her husband’s cousin’s dead but not-yet-buried wife’s baby. (Yes you read that right.)
Once again, I was left sputtering and stammering at my computer screen. I don’t get it – why on earth do “Christians” keep using those same couple of verses to justify adoption? So here’s my response to this, yet again. I realize I am not a theologian by any measure, but I am a thinker. Following is the scripture Alicia is referencing:
Galations 4:5 To redeem that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (KJV)
So yes. Paul says “adoption” right there in the Bible. He actually uses it a couple of times, but if one examines the text as written in the original Greek, one begins to understand that Paul didn’t mean “adoption” like the modern world means “adoption. ” His original Greek word huiothesia meant something else entirely.
The original Greek word in this scripture (and the others where Paul was translated as saying “adoption”) is huiothesia, derived from the huios (“a son”) and thesis (“a placing”), so literally the placing of/as a son. (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985).
The “placing as a son” imagery was something with which Paul and his readers of Galatia would have been entirely familiar (Mitchell, 1993; Zanker, 1988). Basically, it was a ceremony that occurred within the Roman culture in which a male child of a citizen achieved the status of manhood. Prior to the ceremony, a son was considered to have the status of a slave in his father’s house (The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3: Caesar and Christ, 1972, p. 57), even though he had the potential to inherit his father’s wealth. The “placing as a son” ceremony occurred around a boy’s teen years, when his father determined it was time for him to pass from being a child (and under the absolute power of his father) into adulthood.
In this public ceremony, the young man would remove the toga he wore as a boy and put on the toga virilis (toga of manhood). This ceremony marked his entry into full citizenship in the empire and the right to vote in the assembly. The toga virilis also allowed for visual identification between a natural-born Roman opposed to a naturalized citizen of Rome (foreign born people who then became Romans). Not only this, but after the “placing as a son” ceremony the son became fully legally vested with all of the rights, powers, and privileges of being a son and heir to his father’s possessions, wealth, and status. No longer was he viewed as a child – he was a fully participating member of his society and family. (Harrill, 2002; Fraschetti, 1997; “Roman Children,” ClassicsUnveiled.com). It should be noted that the one who was “placed as a son” was generally already the child of the father, thus it was not an adoption into the father’s household.
Paul’s original imagery of our huiothesia, literally “placing as a son” (as opposed to being adopted) within God’s kingdom profoundly affects our relationship with God. Adoption as applied to our relationship with God is problematic as it changes our fundamental status as God’s offspring. When a child is adopted into a family, he remains physically the same person. No change of name or falsification of birth records will ever eliminate the biological reality – he is still the offspring of his natural parents. That child’s DNA will always remain different, separate, and unrelated to his adoptive parents.
However, God has told us we are his literal offspring, created in his image, especially as we consider that He was the Father of Adam and Eve (Acts 17:28-29; Luke 3:38). As their descendants, our own DNA carries the fingerprints of divine origins. God even tells us that he is intimately involved with the physical creation of each one of us – He “knits” us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-16).
Although we maintain this divine heritage from God, when we are born we essentially become slaves of the mortal, fallen world we are born into. However, this does not change our status as God’s offspring. We are still His children – we are just separated from His household because of sin. Fortunately, a loving Father provided a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to have those chains of slavery broken. That way is through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. The act of becoming a disciple and follower of Christ allows us to begin the process of what Paul called huiothesia – of becoming a full and participatory member of our Father’s household, with the full rights as His children. (If you are an endowed member of the church, ponder the meaning of huiothesia carefully in relation to putting an article of clothing which signifies a lesser position and putting on a new one that symbolizes the acceptance of a higher one, and then being welcomed back into the Father’s presence.)
So there it is. Again. God doesn’t do adoption. ‘Specially since we are already His children. He is into restoring things to their proper order and place in His household.
Really, some of these people should study history.
Your mother who reads. A lot. And thinks about things.
P.S. Over on Cricket’s blog there are some amazing responses to Alicia’s letter to her. In particular, take time to read the one left by T. Laurel Sulfate Friday, March 5, 2010 9:35:00 PM EST , Jenni Friday, March 5, 2010 10:01:00 PM EST and Christina on behalf of Goog82 Saturday, March 6, 2010 1:14:00 PM EST
Harrill, J. A. (2002). Coming of Age and Putting on Christ: The Toga Virilis Ceremony, Its Paraenesis, and Paul’s Interpretation of Baptism in Galatians. Novum Testamentum, 44, (3), p. 252-277.
Fraschetti, A. (1994). Roman Youth. Storia dei giovani, Vol. 1, Dall’antichita all’eta moderna. G. Levi & J.C. Schmited, Eds., trans. Naish, C. as A History of Young People in the West, vol. 1, Ancient and Medieval Rites of Passage. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 51-82.
Mitchell, S. (1993). Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor, vol 2. In The Rise of the Church, Oxford: Clarendon Press, p. 3-10.
Vine, W. E., & Unger, M. F. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words: With Topical Index. Thomas Nelson.
Zanker, P. (1988). The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Jerome Lectures 16; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, p. 215-23.