[All Bible verses quoted are from the English Standard Version.]
A definition of adoption: the act by which an adult, or adults, choses to have a legally binding relationship with a child that is not naturally theirs. The adults assume all responsibilities toward the child as if they were the natural parents. Bestowed upon the child are the privileges, rights, and duties as if born to that family.
Adoption, as a concept in our modern American society, can emote negative or positive thoughts. But as Christians, a Biblical understanding and a Christ-like Spirit are what we desire.
The Old Testament was not written with any word equivalent to adoption. The Israelites had no formal legislation instituting adoption, but the concept of accepting a child that was not your own and treating them as such, was understood and practiced. In the Patriarchal period, a type of adoption was demonstrated in the recognition of a wife’s handmaid’s child, sired by the wife’s husband, as a legitimate heir in lieu of the wife giving birth to a son.
Genesis 30:3, “Then she (Rachael) said (to Jacob), ‘Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her." And in Genesis 21:10, “So she (Sarah) said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac."
God’s heart toward orphans is expressed many times in Psalms. As an example Psalms 10:14b says, “…you have been the helper of the fatherless.” Also in Psalms 82:3-4 it says that the LORD, “Give(s) justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."
In Deuteronomy 10:18a, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow...” One of the nuances included in this word *mishpat, is a participant’s right or privilege. This takes us back to the definition of adoption, “Bestowed upon the child are the privileges, rights, and duties as if born to that family.” The LORD God is described as the “Father of the fatherless” in Psalms 68:5, and He “settles the solitary (child) in a home”, verse 6.
The Old Testament even has verses foreshadowing the New Covenant of believers and the LORD. The LORD said of David in 2 Samuel 7:14a, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.”
It is not until the New Testament that we find adoption in a legal form that our culture can relate to. The Apostle Paul, who used the word adoption in his writings, was a Hellenistic Jew and a Roman citizen. Hellenistic means that Paul was a Jew of the Diaspora (dispersed beyond Israel) who spoke Greek. Knowing their language and understanding their culture gave Paul an advantage in speaking to those who were non-Jewish, not of the Children of Israel. He spoke to them of being adopted by the LORD which they understood as a legal relationship in their own gentile cultures.
Though the word adoption is used in the New Testament five times, there are no literal examples of an individual’s adoption given. Paul spoke of adoption in his epistles (letters) to the gentile believers. He uses it as a metaphor to describe what God has made available through His Son Jesus Christ on our behalf. Galatians 4:4-7, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” After a slave had been adopted, he then had the privilege to address his former master as ‘Father’.
There was a Roman custom of a son freeing the slaves born in his father’s house, after the father’s death. John 8:34-36, “Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Also, if a son wanted to adopt a slave that was the property of his living parents, then he would purchase them privately. After which, public recognition of the slave’s status change from slave to adopted son was solemnly professed. It was usual for the one adopted to be considered dead to his natural family, severing all connections and associations.
There remains one other type of adoption that was practiced by the Greeks and a few other gentile cultures. The Greek word for it was adelphothesia. It was a ceremonial type relationship, a brotherhood. A family’s son and heir was allowed to adopt brothers, giving them the same rights as himself. Romans 8:14 says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
As an adopted child, you should understand that Biblically and culturally, it was a great honor to be adopted! Parents do not choose a child that is naturally born into their family. When you are adopted, you have become identified with parents who have specifically chosen you!
What then should this propose to us as Christian adults? The Old Testament punctuates God the Father’s heart toward orphans. They are to be protected, have justice, given homes, clothed, and cared for. The New Testament emphasizes God the Sons’ sacrifice which paved the way for adoption and joint inheritance with Him. In John 14:9, Jesus said that “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” As Christians, if we are to be God-ly, if we are to be Christ-like, then we should be like minded and in our hearts, prayerful towards adopting. To our shame, most of the Body of Christ does not promote adoption, nor foster-care, as sharing Jesus’ love. “Nay, what can you require beyond this one thing? For we have been adopted as sons by the Lord with this one condition: that our life express Christ, the bond of our adoption.” (By John Calvin)
John 1:12-13, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
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