Even though the term adoption occurs only five times in Scripture (all in Paul’s epistles), its “marking” function within redemptive-history demonstrates its theological significance. Vertical adoption (i.e., God adopting us as His children) plays a key role from the beginning of the unfolding story of redemption (before god even created the world) all the way to the end (when all God’s adopted children enjoy the full privileges of their adoption in the new heaven and new earth).
In Ephesians 1:5, Paul states that God predestined us to adoption in eternity past. In Romans 9:4, we learn that our adoption was foreshadowed in God’s adoption of Israel as His firstborn son.
Galatians 4:4-6 teaches that “when the fullness of time had come” God sent His Son to redeem us so that we might receive adoption as sons. Adoption was the penultimate objective at the climax of redemptive-history.
In Romans 8:15-16, Paul speaks of our present experience as God’s sons by adoption, while in Romans 8:23, he points forward to its consummation in the glorification of our bodies. Clearly, adoption possesses unique importance from the pre-temporal beginning of the unfolding story of redemption all the way to redemptive-history’s consummation. T4A is committed to helping Christians understand the redemptive-historical significance of God’s work in adoption.
Part Six: The Trinity and Adam’s Sonship (read the other parts here)
We concluded Part Five by asking this question: In what sense was Adam a son of God? Have you ever considered why it is that God is three persons and not just one? (This question is relevant to our discussion of Adam’s sonship. So stay with me.) I am one person. You are one person. So it just makes sense to me that God would be one person, but Scripture reveals God to be three persons not one. Here is our agency’s doctrinal statement concerning the Trinity: “There is one true God, eternally existing in three equally divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Scripture teaches that God is one God eternally existing as three persons. So why is the one God three persons and not just one person?
Believe it or not, theologians have wrestled with this very question. Richard of St. Victor, a Scottish theologian of the 12th century, wrote an important philosophical work on the Trinity titled De Trinitate (“On the Trinity”). When wrestling with why it is that God is three persons and not just one, an answer to this difficult question struck him while meditating on 1 John 4:8 (“God is love”) and 1 Corinthians 13, the great love chapter.
Here was Richard of St. Victor’s profound insight: Since 1 Corinthians 13 teaches that love is never turned in upon itself but is always turned out upon other persons and 1 John 4:8 teaches that God is love, God could not be love if He were only one person. A god who existed all eternity past as one person would be a god who was eternally turned in upon himself. This god could not be love since, according to Scripture, love is always turned outward upon other persons. Therefore, he concluded, a God who is love must be more than one person. Continue reading
Part 5: The Question (read the other parts here)
As I have tried to demonstrate in parts 3 and 4 in this series, it really is not difficult to recognize the importance of adoption in Paul’s thought. It clearly plays a central role in the outworking of the history of redemption. Adoption precedes human history (in God’s pre-temporal decision to love us, Ephesians 1:4-5), shows up at climactic moments within redemptive-history (Romans 9:4; Galatians 4:4), and brings our salvation to its intended goal (Romans 8:23).
You may be wondering, though, why adoption is so important in the unfolding story of redemption. It is one thing to recognize its importance. It is another thing to understand why adoption is important. Therefore, I think it will be helpful to view the story-line of redemption (i.e., creation, fall, redemption, consummation) through the lens of the doctrine of adoption.
Here is the outline that will lead us through the story of redemption from the perspective of adoption over the next several posts:
- Adam’s Sonship (Creation / Fall)
- Abraham’s Promise (Redemption)
- Israel’s Adoption (Redemption)
- Jesus’ Mission (Redemption)
- The Spirit’s Work (Consummation)
Adam’s Sonship (Creation / Fall)
Sometime after God’s pre-temporal decision to adopt us (Ephesians 1:5), He created the heavens and the earth and, on the sixth day of creation, made man in His own image (Genesis 1:1, 26-27). Creation week reached its climax when God formed the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground. In his genealogy of Jesus, Luke begins with Jesus and works his way backward through time all the way to Adam: “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli…” (Luke 3:23). All throughout the remainder of the genealogy we see the phrase “the son of…”  Notice how the genealogy ends: “The son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God” (Luke 3:38; emphasis mine). Surprisingly, Luke refers to Adam as the son of God! Continue reading
Part 4: Quick Survey of Adoption’s Marking Function (read the other parts here)
As I noted in part 3, God’s work of adoption has a “marking” function in the grand story of redemption. It plays a leading role from before the beginning of the unfolding story of redemption (before God created the world) all the way to the end (when all of God’s adopted children enjoy the full privileges of their adoption on the new earth in glorified bodies). Here is a brief overview of adoption’s marking function in the grand story of redemption:
Act One: In Ephesians 1:4-5, Paul states that in love God the Father “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” This is really quite amazing: adoption’s marking function began before God created the universe. Even before the earth existed God marked us out (i.e., predestined us) for the great privilege of being His children through adoption. Adoption was not a divine afterthought. It was in God’s mind even before the dawning of human history. One amazing truth we learn from Paul’s words here, as John Piper has said, is that “adoption is greater than the universe.” Continue reading
Part 3: Adoption’s Importance and Recovery (read the other parts here)
So how important is the doctrine of adoption and why should it be recovered? Its importance should not be evaluated by considering the number of times the term adoption is actually used in Scripture. One of the other reasons adoption has been neglected in church history, in addition to the one mentioned earlier, may be because Christians failed to recognize its importance since the term is only used five times in Scripture—all found in Paul’s epistles (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; and Ephesians 1:5). But we must be careful never to determine the importance of a doctrine solely based on the number of times Scripture uses it. For example, I think we would all agree that the Trinity is a doctrine of fundamental importance to the Christian faith. Yet the word Trinity is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Clearly, the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is not determined by the frequency of its use as a term in Scripture. Its importance is established in other ways.
If adoption’s importance is not established by considering how many times it is used in Scripture, how is it established? Answer: Continue reading
Part 2: The Neglect of Heavenly Adoption (read part 1 here)
If adoption is first heavenly (i.e., vertical) before it is earthly (i.e., horizontal), why do we Christians so often think of earthly adoption before we think of heavenly adoption? Why do we think horizontally before we think vertically? I think one reason for this is the neglect of the doctrine of adoption in the history of the church. In his massive, 2,600-page work The Creeds of Christendom, the church historian Philip Schaff only includes six creeds that contain a section on adoption because they are the only ones he could find while scouring almost 1,900 years of church history.
The early church was primarily concerned, and rightly so, with the doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ because those doctrines were being attacked within the church. The Reformation and post-Reformation church necessarily focused on defending the doctrine of justification. These battles were all essential for the church to fight in the defense of Christian truth, but unintentionally they resulted in the church’s failure to develop thoroughly Scripture’s teaching on heavenly adoption.
One of the consequences of this neglect is that heavenly adoption is not on the radar of the Christian community’s consciousness as it should be. To overstate it slightly, when heavenly adoption should be a part of the Christian’s functional vocabulary, it isn’t. As a result, not only do Christians tend to think first about earthly adoption when they hear the word adoption, but also their thinking and attitudes toward the earthly practice of adoption are largely not informed and shaped by Scripture’s teaching concerning our heavenly adoption.
Fortunately, God seems to be awakening the church to the importance of the doctrine of adoption—an importance that is established by the central, God-ordained role it plays within the Bible’s unfolding story of redemption. We will begin exploring adoption’s role within redemptive-history in part 3.
What do you first think of when you hear the word adoption? Most people think of the earthly practice of adoption before they think of heavenly adoption, that is, they think of couples adopting children before they think of God adopting us as His children.
Throughout this new series of posts on the importance of adoption within the story of redemption I am going to use the word adoption in two different ways. First, I will refer to the practice of couples adopting children, both domestically and internationally, as earthly adoption. Second, I will refer to God’s adoption of us as heavenly adoption.
Earthly adoption is horizontal. It is one human being establishing a relationship with another human being. Heavenly adoption is vertical. It is God establishing a relationship with human beings. So what do you first think of when you hear the word adoption, earthly or heavenly adoption? Do your thoughts move vertically before they move horizontally? Most of us think earthly adoption before we think heavenly adoption. We tend to first think horizontally rather than vertically.
You may be wondering why I have asked this question. Let me explain by telling you a little about my family. God has given me the great and wonderful privilege of being an adoptive father of a multi-ethnic family. We are, what the adoption community calls, a conspicuous family. God gave us our first two children (a girl and boy) through biology and our next two children, two black boys, Isaiah and Noah, through adoption. I absolutely love being the father of a multi-ethnic family! It has its unique challenges, but it is a great joy to be in a family that mirrors, in miniature and imperfectly, the multi-ethnic family of God. Shortly after we adopted our second black child, a husband and wife were sharing in our excitement over the new addition to our family. I happened to be holding him as we were talking. After I finished telling his adoption story, the wife paused, looked at our two boys and then asked, “Are you and Melissa planning on telling them that they are adopted?” Continue reading