I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. [Romans 9]
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Remember Cabbage Patch Dolls? A few years ago, no Christmas was complete without at least one such doll under the tree in nearly every American (at least) home. So cute, so squishy… and the BEST part? An Adoption Certificate! Every Cabbage Patch Kid was an orphan, officially adopted and taken into the child’s family to be loved, complete with Certificate.
How many of us heard (lol, or even preached) sermons and messages around our “adoptions as sons, joint heirs with Christ”, and saw Cabbage Patches used as illustrations? Much of my life, I have looked at these various “adoption” scriptures, and felt a bit “cabbage-like”… grateful waif, fortunate to be adopted by so gracious a King, not left bereft to wander the earth a pitiful orphan.
Yes… yes… yet… yet… it didn’t feel right. It seemed not to fit, somehow. To be adopted into God’s Family, snugged up close in and to His heart, joint heir with Christ… yes. Yes, that fit. That felt right.
But somehow, beyond that, I could never quite capture the sense of having ever been “alien”. I could capture “rebellious”. Yes. I have no difficulty identifying as a “brat”. (If you’ve followed these posts very long, you know this well.) I could relate to that, even to being a “runaway”, yes. But, I know Who created me, Who fashioned me from before my mother’s womb. Who designed me from before the beginning of time. If not He, then who? Who else could possibly have created me, if not God? So, while I could understand the “enfolding” of my adoption, I could not quite grasp my having been “orphan” in the first place.
And yet, what else could these “adoption” verses mean?
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Now, I want to be very careful here…
Prayer and Bible Study led me to a realization and conviction I found utterly amazing and life changing. THAT led me to some “theology study”, exploration and examination of commentaries and other authorities wherein I discovered that I was not alone in having seen and considered this new perspective. In fact, I was stepping into something of a small, but hotly contested, debate of some very technical historic and linguistic minutiae.
Like Don Merritt, I do not debate “any more”*. So, I just want to tell you about something I’ve come to consider true in MY universe, in MY Bible, in MY spirit and relationship with God. This truth has caused great “settling” and “peace” in me, feeling parts settle into place more comfortably than I’ve ever known before. However, as I share this, I don’t intend to debate or enter into any dispute. If your prayer life, Bible study, scholarship, or affirmation of spirit do not lead you to the same realization that mine did me, please feel free to cast this aside, and follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit for your own life. That’s really important to me. Thanks.
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OK, I was working on preparing a message, and the text was in Hebrews, and I came upon the author’s discussion of us as “sons” rather than “illegitimate children” regarding discipline. This led me to reflect on the concept of our “adoption”. And, contrary to the need of my sermon preparation, Jesus just focused my attention deeply on this word, “adoption”, and go look it up.
The term appears in Galatians (4:5), Ephesians (1:5), and Romans (8:15, 23; & 9:4). Each time, English Bibles translate this term… “adoption”. In Greek, (and we’re not going to get lost in Greek exegesis, I promise)… in Greek, the term is “huiothesia” (various endings). StrongNotes tells us that this word is a compound translated as meaning “placing (or positioning) as a son”, and interpreted as meaning “adoption”.
Now, after looking at this word very closely, God posed a question to me. It was… “Given that Paul was a skilled lawyer, trained under Gamaliel, careful with words and concepts… did Paul discuss this word and concept as a Gentile? or as a Jew?”
At the time, I assure you, Gentle Reader, I was as confused as you might be right now, reading that. Upon further pondering, I realized that perhaps there was a “traditional Hebrew” meaning to this term “adoption/positioning as a son”, that differed in some way from our modern understanding.
To make this long story a bit shorter, I discovered that indeed there was. There’s actually quite a bit written about it, but it is “controversy”, and I’ll not present it that way. Let me just lay out two different perspectives for interpretation, and leave you to examine your own spirit (look upon your own Rose), and determine which is the better “fit” for you.
Roman Law, which evolved over time in many ways into our own Common Law, and modern law, saw “adoption” as a process by which an alien child, a child of a family outside a particular bloodline (often an orphan), was legally brought in to the lineage of a family. One family embraced and enfolded the child of another family (or no family), and they took on the status of an heir, deriving the benefits of family membership and name.
Hebrew Law, Jewish tradition, however, has a different process for “son placing” than this. This term, to Paul as a Jew, was vastly different than “taking in an orphaned waif”. This term was used to mean something much closer to “investiture”. Each family had a patriarch, head of the family. When he was ready, and when he felt his selection ready, he would select his “heir”, his “legatee”, to follow him as head of the household. It is reported that this was most typically the first son (the double-portion son), though he did not have to be from inside the family.
The most worthy son was generally selected, typically at about 30 years of age, formally laid hands on his shoulders and publicly identified as the “heir”. He was “placed in the position of sonship” as fully adult, fully competent, fully selected, and now… fully empowered by the father to do business in the name of the family and commit the family by his word. This was not bar mitzvah, the “coming to adulthood” of all males at 13. This was the assumption of legal primacy and legacy over a family, the assumption of inheritance. Interestingly, this could be of a biological heir, or otherwise. Most commonly, of course, the firstborn son. But it could be an unrelated son, “adopted” and elected by the father, to head the family.
* I just spent considerable time out hunting down footnotes and such to back that up… but realized… No, that’s not what I’m doing here. For those who want to study the technical theology of this, that’s fine. The references are out there. Just explore the Hebrew traditions surrounding the recognition of the principal heir, the holder of the legacy, and you’re good. But this is not a “term paper”, and I shall not make this into one. *
Here is what resulted in and for me, from this study. The term “joint heir with Christ” took on an entirely new meaning. Jesus alone “earned” the role of Preeminent Heir. There is no question possible, of His Primacy of Place as the Firstborn, Only Begotten Son of God. What amazes me… alongside that… alongside His determination to rescue us and bring us life in place of death…
As if that were not wondrous ENOUGH… He, the Father, and Spirit… have chosen out of their Infinite Love and Grace to “invest us fully” as His Sons… “son place us as joint heirs” with Christ HIMSELF! There are no words for this. No words that make sense of this for me. He raises us as fully His children in His house, and, when we attain “maturity”, when we are “ready” or “finished”, and the tutors and managers have done their work… He is prepared to invest us with the authority and endorsement to “do business in the family name, in His Name.”
But NOT as “red-headed step-children”. Not just as “foundling neighbor kids”. Not as “homeless waifs left on a doorstep”. We were “related family” already, “natural born” to Him. He created us, He sustains us always, no other. But, when He “adopts”, He takes us by the shoulders, declares us ready to claim our legacy, authority, responsibility, and accountability… and sets us on our feet, now to conduct the Family Business alongside, in, and through, Jesus the Son Himself.
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This “paradigm shift” has been very significant for me. Not so much as to what I DO… that has not changed. But it has been significant in the increased intimacy and closeness I’ve experienced with God. In some way I cannot explain, it was rather like I was always told I was an “alien”, though I never sensed that… and then suddenly I’ve found I was not. It’s like a tension that used to be there, and has now disappeared.
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Whichever way one looks at “adoption”, Gentle Reader… marvel at the wonder of it. Who could possibly imagine such a thing? That God Himself would order reality such that we, plain old you and me, might be adopted as Joint Heir with Christ, Him as Firstborn among Many Brethren. No words for that… just fills me with awe… Isn’t that something?
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* “Why I don’t debate any more” Don Merritt, Life Reference, October 13, 2013.