What does the Bible mean when it applies the term adoption to believers in Jesus? Is is it any different than the American concept we are familiar with? In this post, we will take a look at the idea and, while doing so, uncover a first century ceremony known as the Toga of Man-hood.
Romans 8:14–15 (NKJV)
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
- The single red rose placed at the front of the church was there to honor the newest member of the church family. A little boy had been born, and he would be reared by parents in a loving, Christian home. But this little boy was fortunate in even more ways, for he had almost been aborted. The nine months in his mother’s womb were spent in great uncertainty. He was conceived in sin and his mother did not want to care for him. Her options ranged from abortion to adoption. Thankfully, she chose to give the gift of life to this little baby boy. While she was waiting to deliver, adoptive parents were sought out and secured. These willing parents wanted this little boy to become their own. He would be given their name. He would become their heir. He would become a legal member of their family—and would not be given away to anyone else ever again. 1
- The heart felt story above is an illustration of how we commonly understand adoption.
- Paul uses the word ‘adoption’ in his letter to the Romans.
- The Greek word adoption found in Romans 8:15, means appointment or acceptance as a son, adoption 2
- It is derived from the Greek word ‘huis’ or ‘son’ and the Greek word ‘thesia’ which means’ placing’.
- Putting both words together yields ‘son-placing’ as the meaning.
- But in order to understand Paul’s intended use of the word, we must take a look at the word’s historical setting.
- Adoption means something different in the Western part of the world than it does in the east.
- The word finds a place in several parts of the Pauline revelation (Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
- In the western part of the world, the adopted son from another family has the same legal standing as the physical blood son of descent.
- Applying the western sense, Jesus would stand as the physical blood son and believers in Jesus would be the adopted sons.
- But since the Bible was written in the eastern part of the world, the eastern concept changes the interpretation.
- Three culturally possibilities exist for the word ‘adoption’ in the first century.
- The Roman Concept
- The Greek Concept
- The Jewish Concept
- Which one did Paul use?
Galatians 4:1–7 (NKJV)
1 Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
- Paul, in writing to the Romans, used the Roman concept.
- Note, the word in Galatians 4:5 ‘adoption’ is the same Greek word ‘huiosthesia’ used in Romans 8:15.
- The Roman or eastern concept of adoption doesn’t describe a person from a different blood-line given full rights in a family.
- Rather, the Roman concept references a blood-son being given those rights.
- Per Donald Barnhouse, in his most excellent commentary on Romans;
The English reader will miss the flavor of these verses unless he realizes that the moment of growing up was a very definite one in antiquity and that it involved matters of great religious and legal importance.” 3
- Roman blood-sons had to be adopted to receive full status and rights in their own family.
- Under Roman culture, children had no rights and were equivalent to household servants, that is until a child reached adulthood somewhere around the age of fifteen.
- When a blood-son came of age, the ‘Toga of Man-hood’ was ceremonially conferred giving the child the full rights of maturity.
- In the book The Robe written by Lloyd Douglas, Marcellus tells a friend of this ceremony.
- “When a Roman of our sort comes of age, Paulus, there is an impressive ceremony by which we are inducted into manhood. Doubtless you felt, as I did, that this was one of the high moments of life. Well do I remember—the thrill of it abides with me still—how all our relatives and friends assembled that day in the stately Forum Julium. My father made an address, welcoming me into Roman citizenship. It was as if I had never lived until that hour. I was so deeply stirred, Paulus, that my eyes swam with tears. And then good old Cornelius Capito made a speech, a very serious one, about Rome’s right to my loyalty, my courage, and my strength. I knew that tough old Capito had a right to talk of such matters, and I was proud that he was there. They beckoned to me, and I stepped forward. Capito and my father put the white toga on me—and life had begun.”
- Paul, himself a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28), would have been very familiar with the ‘Toga of Man-hood’ ceremony.
- Paul’s word ‘adoption’ for a believer in Jesus mirrors this Roman concept.
- Coming into the family of God is not your adoption into another family, but it’s the welcoming into the God’s family as ‘a full son’.
- When we came to the point where we understood our need for a Savior and accepted God’s gift of forgiveness and reconciliation, we received our ‘toga of manhood’ by the agency of the Holy Spirit placing us into the kingdom of God as full sons of the most High God.
Call to Action:
You are a full son of God just like Jesus is a full son of God. Act like Jesus acted. Walk like Jesus walked. Do the works like Jesus did.
Question: How did life change for you when you realized you were a full son of the Most High God? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Practical Illustrations: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 2001), 20. ↩
- Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. ↩
- Barnhouse, Donald Grey. God’s Heirs : Romans 8:1-39. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company., 1963. ↩