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1. Distinguishing the Filial and Familial Language of Scripture

(i) Basic Facts about Adoption

Having committed ourselves to construct the doctrine of adoption from the ground up, and having mapped out the six issues necessary for a solid foundation, we now begin to consider the biblical data.

There’s historical and theological rationale for doing so. Historically, pastors and theologians have hurried their attention to the filial and familial terms the Bible uses. As a result they have too often confused the specifics of the filial and familial language of Scripture, typically ignoring along the way the distinctive structures of the images it portrays. Theologically, an insight into the Bible’s language of adoption reminds us not to make premature negations of its importance.

Three facts are essential for correct understanding.

First, there is only one term in Scripture for the adoption of the sons of God. The term is huiothesia, meaning literally “the placing of a son.”  Seen in the contexts of its New Testament usage, the term embraces both the act of God the Father in adopting his sons and the resultant state of sonship.

Some failing to perceive in huiothesia the richness of both the adoptive act and the adoptive state opt for the more general translation of “sonship.” Some others translate huiothesia as “sonship” in contexts where the adoptive state is intended (e.g., in the N.I.V. in Rom. 8:15 and Galatians 4:5). Others, concerned for the neatness of their system of theology, find the translation “sonship” more convenient than adoption, for it affords an easier connection to the New Testament’s language of the new birth with its references to the children of God. Still others, have found “sonship” a convenient translation en route to Universalism (Thomas Erskine of Linlathen) or to the redefining of justification (N.T. Wright).

Second, Paul is the only biblical author to make use of huiothesia. The term is not found in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures), nor is it used by other New Testament authors. Paul uses it in the follow order:

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Romans 8:23: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Romans 9:4: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Ephesians 1:5: ” . . . he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will . . .”

Third, these five references cover the entire history of redemption.  We’ll have more to say of this when we come to our dippings into biblical theology. Sufficient to say at this point that we can rearrange these “huiothesian” texts according to the respective chapters of redemptive history to which they refer. When we consider them as milestones along the trajectory stretching from the first things (protology) to the last things (eschatology), they line up as follows:

Ephesians 1:5: ” . . . he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will . . .”

Romans 9:4: “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”

Galatians 4:4-5: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent for th his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Romans 8:23: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

A firm grasp on these three facts disentangles adoption from the filial and familial terms of other biblical writers, grants us a clear sight of what we are considering, and begins to reveal to us that adoption possesses an importance out of all proportion to the number of its references in Scripture. To borrow a thought from the Southern Presbyterian Benjamin Morgan Palmer, no other term embraces so much of the whole system of grace as adoption.

* All Bible verses are taken from the E.S.V.

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For more from the ministry of Tim J.R. Trumper, go to:

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


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