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Let’s not be put off by the label “metaphorical theology”! The discussion of metaphor can be a lot more interesting than it sounds. Not only does it take us to places rarely considered in either theological or popular studies of adoption, it focuses on the way some of the most graphic images of Scripture work in conveying God’s truth.

Since the subject is deep, we’re proceeding slowly and methodically. Having explained our temporary transitioning away from our journey through the writings of the church, and envisioned several benefits of considering the particular biblical language of adoption (huiothesia or “the placing of a son), we now complete our preamble to the world of metaphor by identifying specific issues pertaining to the use of the term.

All we can do here is map out the order in which we’ll digest the upcoming nuggets. This is as useful to me as I hope it will be to you, as we seek to keep track of where we are going. While I don’t claim to have all the answers, and in some places will have few guides to rely on, it is nevertheless important that we ponder the most fundamental questions. After all, they relate to a profound matter: the manner in which believers in Christ are sons of God and members of his household.

“Why go so deep?”, you may wonder. Well, if the recovery of adoption in Christian belief is to amount to anything more than a rehashing of historic treatments of the theme, we must build from the very fabric of Scripture and not from some of the assumptions of historical interpretations. I do not say that these treatments were inevitably wrong, but we need to be sure that they were right, even if just for our own satisfaction.

Permit me to illustrate this from my pastoral visits to one of the local hospitals. If visitors enter from one side of the building and head for the elevator, they get in on the first floor. But if they enter the hospital from a different direction, they get into the elevator on the second. This may help them get to their visit quicker, but they won’t necessarily benefit from the receptionist on the first floor who passes out the hospital floor plan.

Now since most treatments of adoption begin on the second floor and not the first, they omit some fundamental questions. Such as:

1. Are all the colorful filial or familial terms of the New Testament speaking of the same doctrine or teaching? If not, contrary to many you read, how do we distinguish the terms utilized?

2. Are we to take terms like “adoption” literally, metaphorically, or in some other way?

3. If God’s adoption of his people is literal, what does that say of societal adoption?

4. If, alternatively, God’s adoption of his people is metaphorical, what impact does that have on our understanding of the way the Bible uses the language of adoption?

5. Furthermore, where did the metaphor of adoption come from? Among those understanding adoption to be metaphorical, it is either assumed or argued that it came from a Semitic, Roman, or Greek practice.

6. How do we make use of the language of adoption in getting to the heart of the matter and its devotional and practical application?

As different opinions prevail on a number of these issues, I will likely at points just present the pros and cons of each respective position. In some instances I imagine having to take a line in order to press forward. Yet, the holding of these discussions should at least instill the necessary humility and caution in advancing to the consideration of adoption in biblical, systematic, and practical theology.

All in good time!


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

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