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I don’t know about you, but I tend to gulp down my food, then take a breather, and then go again. The first stage of the meal is all excited energy, the second a satisfied rest for the purpose of digestion, and the third a readiness to polish off the rest of the meal.

It’s been like that with these adoption nuggets. We chewed on those dipped in historical theology until we completed the story of adoption in the first three centuries. By the time we reached the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) it was time to take a breather. The rest-time useful for digestion was good for me, and, if you’ve been following these nuggets, it was likely good for you, too.

When returning to an unfinished meal there’s no obligation to restart with the same plate. It’s a daily habit of many to go back and forth between the main course and the salad. If our dippings into historical theology are the main sauce we’re tasting with the nuggets, we choose in returning to the meal to start dipping into the sauce we label metaphorical theology. We’ll come back again to the story of adoption in historical theology ~ there’s plenty more sauce in that sachet (covering the years 325 A.D. to the present to be exact) ~ but for now we’ll consider the most neglected aspect of the doctrine of adoption. Namely, how we are to understand  the language of adoption in Scripture.

For many ~ the theologian and the popular mind ~ the question of whether “adoption” is literal or metaphorical is rarely asked or even mentioned. Some assume the term found in Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5 is literal. Others assume it is metaphorical. Yet, little discussion is to be had as to which it is, and as to why we may assume one understanding or the other.

This question has intrigued me since first becoming captivated by Paul’s teaching in the early 1990s. The longer I have thought about the matter, the more conscious I am that the discussion brings us to the limits of what God has revealed. Needless to say, I do not have all the answers, and am not interested in crossing the border of revelation into the realm of speculation to come up with some. Rather, we shall tread gingerly through the subject, thinking aloud about the issues which impact the way we understand and apply Paul’s adoption motif.


If you are wondering the value of the discussion, three benefits come to mind:

  • Biblically speaking, it will help us to think through issues related to Holy Scripture. We know Scripture possesses divineness, for  it is breathed out by the Spirit of God (2 Tim. 3:16). Many of us, however, are less familiar with its humanness; that is to say, with the implications of God’s use of 45 authors over 1600 years, and what that means for our understanding of the varying figures of speech they use to depict essential elements of the one gospel.
  • Theologically specifically, the discussion will enable us to build an exposition of adoption from a reliable foundation. To build high we must first dig deep.
  •  Practically speaking, a fresh look at the language of adoption in Scripture promises to shed light on both the gospel and the practice of adoption in today’s world. We may ask, for example, whether God has revealed salvation in terms like adoption as an accommodation to the practices of man, or whether man adopts because he’s made in the image of God who adopts.

We may have to chew slowly, but I trust the nourishment will be rich.


For more from the ministry of Tim J.R. Trumper, go to: (personal); (church)


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