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We’re amid the remaining miscellaneous writings of the of the first three centuries. They are too numerous to mention individually, but include chiefly the Early Liturgies, Pseudo-Clementine Literature, Apocrypha of the New TestamentThe [Papal] Decretals, and ancient Syriac Documents (Ante-Nicene Fathers 7: 509-8:785).

It was tempting to omit the reading of these, for some are of uncertain origin, some are apocryphal, and some are forgeries. I resisted for three main reasons. First, because the purpose of our trekking through the church fathers of the first three centuries has been to undertake a search seemingly not attempted or completed before. To cut corners at this stage would devalue the venture. Secondly, the omission would create the nagging feeling that something important of the history of adoption has been overlooked. This feeling would negatively affect the confidence in which we can speak of the fortunes of adoption in the first three centuries. Thirdly, as unreliable as are these documents, they nevertheless give us an idea of the profile of adoption in the corporate mind of the church during the period.

The reading now done, it may be said with confidence that there is very little in these writings to enhance our knowledge of the history of adoption. While there are the usual sporadic occurrences of terms related to adoption ~ Father, sons of God, children of God, brothers, and heirs ~ there are only three references to adoption.

Two occur in the corrupted Excerpts of Theodotus. They speak in relation to Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 of the freedom of the believer from an enslaving fear. “Advanc[ing] by love to adoption” the erstwhile slave now loves the God he once feared. Such a revolution is the emancipation to adoption (A-N F 8:45, 47).

The third reference is found in the Recognitions of Clement. These the translator Thomas Smith calls “a kind of philosophical and theological romance.” The reference speaks of how a person is adopted, and corrects the perception in the Excerpts of Theodotus that we can be adopted by our own love for God:

When God had made man after His own image and likeness, He grafted into His work a certain breathing and odour of His divinity that so men, being made partakers of His Only begotten, might through Him be also friends of God and sons of adoption. (A-N F 8:136) 

Doubtless there’s much here to analyse theologically and practically, but I end with a passage which speaks of the hope of God’s adopted sons and daughters. The source will not impress ~ it’s a forged decretal of Pope Pontianus (Bishop of the Roman Church, 230-235 A.D.) ~ but the truth and encouragement articulated is clear enough:

. . . the present life is a sojourning; and to him who sighs after the true fatherland, the place of his sojourning is a trial, however pleasant it may seem. And as to you who seek the fatherland, among the sighs which ye heave I hear the groans also of human oppression rising. And this happens by the wonderful disposition of Almighty God, in order that, while the truth calls you in love, this present world may cast back your affection from itself through tribulations which it brings on, and that the mind may be so much the more easily delivered from the love of this world, as it is also impelled while it is called. Therefore, as you have begun, give heed to the duty of hospitality; labour most urgently in prayer and tears; devote yourselves more liberally and freely now to those almsgivings which you have ever loved, in order that in the recompense the profit to you for your work may be greater in proportion as your zeal for the labour has risen to higher degrees here. (A-N F 8:622-23)

The world of orphan care suggests that a grateful response to the promise of the Fatherland is underway.
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Further access to the ministry of Tim J. R. Trumper  is obtainable at:

www.fromhisfullness.com (personal); www.7thref.org (church)


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