Adoption: Then and Now
by Sandra Glahn
In a number of places in the New Testament, the apostle Paul mentions the believer’s adoption into the family of God through belief in Jesus Christ. Yet, when people in the West today talk about adoption, we mean something fairly different from what people in Paul’s day would have envisioned:
- We mean adding a baby; they usually meant adding an adult.
- We mean adding a new family member who is either male or female; they usually meant adding only a male.
- We are focused on a relational change; their focus was on name, rights, and inheritance.
Seven or eight decades before Paul wrote the Book of Ephesians, which mentions believers’ adoption (1:5), Julius Caesar made provision in his will that his heir through posthumous adoption would be his maternal great-nephew, 19-year-old Octavian (“Caesar Augustus”). And nearly everyone in the world of Paul would have known this. The emphasis in adoption in his time was on name, rights, and inheritance.
The apostle used a common practice in his world to make an analogy with how all who believe are like adult sons in a Roman adoption—we inherit God’s wealth, possessions, property, rights, and name. Remember the words of Christ: “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). What a future is ours!
Sandra Glahn is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and the author of the Coffee Cup Bible study series. Book eleven in that series, Earl Grey with Ephesians, is its newest title.