« Adonai Shomo Adoption Adoptionism »



Old Testament Conception (§ 1).

The Conception of Jesus (§ 2).

Paul’s Conception (§ 3).

The Gospel and Epistles of John (§ 4).

The Apologists (§ 5).

Augustine (§ 6).

Scholasticism (§ 7).

Luther (§ 8).

Later German Theology (§ 9).

Two Views Held at Present (§ 10).

Adoption is a term of theology denoting the new relation to God which Jesus experienced and into which he brings his followers. In tracing the history of this conception, attention is to be paid to the different senses in which the analogy is used in religion, the idea of homogeneousness with God, of the relation to him, and the divine basis of both.

1. Old Testament Conception.

In the Old Testament, the people, the king, and individual pious men and women are called children of God. The people become children of God by their introduction into the promised land, the king by his election, individual persons by their physical creation. It is only with regard to the heavenly spirits that the state of being a child of God (Gotteskindschaft) expresses homogeneousness of being. The relation is one in which God helps, pardons, educates, even through suffering, and in which men have to obey God and trust in him. But the obedience of children is not different from that of servants, and their trust is paralyzed by God’s inexplicable disposition to wrath. In later Judaism the relation became one of right,—the pious man must secure his reward, which is a matter of natural desire, by his own merits and sacrifices, and he always wavers between self-righteous security and anxiety.

2. The Conception of Jesus.

Jesus as seen in the synoptic Gospels, knows God as the lofty lord to whom men are subjected in service, and as the just judge; but by inner experiences he recognizes this God as his father who discloses to him his love, and he encourages men to believe not that they are God’s children, but that they become such by conducting themselves and feeling as children. The innovation lies in the quality of the relation. In spite of God’s physical and spiritual superiority, man is free from the feeling of oppression and insecurity, in the first place, before the demanding will of God. Through the recognition of God as Father, Jesus knows himself urged to the service of saving love, renouncing every worldly desire, but this service means for him freedom and blessedness (Matt. xi. 28-30), because he feels it as the fulfilment of his own desire (Matt. ix. 36-38), and even as a gain in greatness and power (Matt. xx. 25-28), because in it he is raised above the Mosaic law (Matt. v. 22). In the same way he delivers these whom he encourages to believe in God’s fatherly love and forgiveness, from the oppression of the law by showing them as its innermost core (Matt. v. 9, 48) the imitation of the example of the perfect God in a love which surpasses all bounds of human love. From this conception of the divine law all hedonistic elements have been removed; it expresses a reverent and cheerful devotion to an ideal. Where Jesus also uses God’s retribution as an ethical motive and thus seems to substitute a relation of right for the relation of adoption, he deepens and purifies the traditional view. Reward goes hand in hand with conduct; a childlike disposition is rewarded with the dignity due to God’s children (Matt. v. 9) and with physical homogeneousness (Luke vii. 36); justice is rewarded with justice (Matt. v. 6; vi. 33). He promises the kingdom (Matt. x. 13-16) to the unassuming childlike disposition, and promises reward, not to individual performance, but to the spirit which reveals itself in it (Matt. vii. 15, xxv. 23), excludes the equivalence between work and reward (Matt. xx. 1-16), and appeals to fear not as dread of physical evil, but as anxiety lest the life with God (Matt. x. 18) be lost. In the second place, the trust in God’s fatherly guidance which Jesus himself proves and encourages, is of a singular surety and joyfulness. Whoever through fear of God is kept in his way, may be certain of the acquisition of salvation (Luke x. 20) and may hope not only to gain eternal life (Luke xii. 32), but already here on earth he knows himself to be lifted above all oppression of the world since he may be sure that his prayers are granted (Matt. vii. 7) and may expect from God his daily bread and know himself protected by God in every way (Matt. x. 28-31) and may venture even that which seems impossible (Mark xi. 22) and be sure of the forgiveness of his sins and of his protection in temptation (Matt. vi. 12, 13) and triumph over all hostile powers (Luke x. 19).

In opposition to philosophy, this idea is new in so far as God in the current systems of philosophy was represented as father only as the shaper of the world, and the capacity of becoming a child of God was merely a general function of reason. The religious importance of the ideal is here only secondary; it originates rather in personal dignity and is an altruism which does not extend to the love of enemies. As faith in a fatherly providence, it believes only in an order of the world which offers an opportunity to prove one’s strength of will, and thus does not attain submission as expressed in Christian adoption, but only resignation.

Jesus speaks of adoption only in the imperative,—we must become children of God by imitation of God and trust in God; but he admonishes to become such by pointing to God’s disposition and promise. His word receives additional emphasis from his personality which lives in God; and he judges the conduct of God’s child in the last analysis as an effect of God (Matt. xi. 28, xv. 3; Mark x. 27). Therefore it is the natural expression of the experience of the Christian Church when in the New Testament the awakening of the child’s life by the 46 effect of divine grace is considered fundamental (II Cor. v. 17; I Pet. i. 3, 23; John iii. 5).

3. Paul’s Conception.

This effect, according to Paul, is juridical, i.e., a real adoption, a granting of the right of children (Gal. iii. 26-27), synonymous with justification; but it is also a real change through the overwhelming influence of the Holy Spirit as an unconscious power like the impersonal powers of nature (Rom. viii. 11; Gal. v. 22). Paul bases the certainty of the right of children upon the fact that through faith and baptism believers belong to Christ, but also upon the experience of the liberating effect of the spirit. The right of children means for him the claim upon the future heritage of the kingdom of God; namely, the participation in God’s fatherhood (Rom. iv. 3) and the spiritualization of the body in conforming it to the body of Christ, the first of the sons of God (Rom. viii. 29-30). These figures express the idea that the prevening grace of God establishes a personal relation of love which has an analogy in the intimate communion between father and child. As I am certain that God is on my side and that I am called to eternal life, I may surely trust that he will grant me everything (Rom. viii. 31-32), not only eternal life, but also everything in the world which is not against God (I Cor. iii. 21-22) and that he will lead me through all temptations to that sanctity which belongs to the kingdom of God (I Thess. v. 23). The faith which corresponds on our part to God’s intention of love remains secure even against troubles and hostile world powers because the latter can not separate from the love of God (Rom. viii. 38-39) and the former must subserve the upbuilding of the inner man (II Cor. iv. 16-18). Thus the essential feature of this child-life is not fear, as under the Law and its curse, but rather unshakable joy which expresses itself in giving thanks as the key-note of prayer. The unconscious impulse which the ethical life of the Christian assumes if he puts the impulse of the spirit in place of the Law, he modifies by bringing to expression also conscious ethical motives; namely, the love of God as experienced by him, and his call to the kingdom of God, which demand a conduct worthy of both. Even an overpowerful desire of his nature he begins to transform into an impulse for consciousness if he guides it into the channel of experienced love (II Cor. v. 15; Gal. ii. 20). But in all joy, happiness, and freedom with relation to God, the Christian is prevented from excesses by that humility which in all progress and success gives due honor to God (I Cor. xv. 10). It seems a contradiction when Paul in spite of all speaks of a retribution on the part of God according to works and awakens fear of the judgment. The seeming relation of right is only an expression for the fact that the relation of father and children, although resting upon God’s free love, is mutual. The reward is a success of mutual effort (Gal. vi. 7, 8). It is attained, not by a sum of individual works, but by a sanctified personality (Thess. v. 23) which is absorbed in a uniform activity of life (II Cor. v. 10; I Cor. iii. 13). The fear of which Paul speaks is the fear of watchfulness which takes possession of us in looking at the world and the flesh, but this disagreeable feeling is immediately conquered by the joyful trust that God will protect and perfect us (I Cor. xv. 2; Rom. xi. 20-21).

4. The Gospel and Epistles of John.

The Gospel and Epistles of John trace adoption back to the testimony of God (Gospel iii. 5; First Epistle ii. 19). According to them, adoption consists in a close and intimate life in and with God by which there is vouchsafed, on the one hand, the impossibility of sinning and the self-evidence of justice and love to God and our brethren, and, on the other hand, the victory over the world and blessing and the future homogeneousness with God (I John iv. 3; v. 4;). However natural all this may sound, these expressions are only figures for an ethico-personal communion with God, analogous to that between father and child which has its basis in the influence of Christ upon our consciousness, not in a reflected, but spontaneous way. The knowledge of God or the word of Christ (I John ii. 3; Gospel xv. 3) is parallel to the seed of God which remains in the regenerated person and guarantees his sanctity (I John iii. 9). Unity of life with God is an analogon for that unity which on earth exists between the Father and Jesus (John xvii. 21-22), where the Father in preceding love discloses to his Son his whole work and the Son remains in the love of the Father (John xv. 10) by speaking and acting according to the commandment of the Father and being solely concerned with his Father’s honor (John v. 44) and yet enjoying full satisfaction, eternal life (John iv. 34, xii. 50), and at the same time fully trusting that the Father is with him and always hears him and in spite of the world brings his work to perfection which through death leads to glory (John viii. 29, xvi. 32, xvii. 4). Correspondingly there follows for his disciples from the certainty of the love of God the duty to love one another and to show the self-evident love of children by keeping the commandments (I John iv. 11, v. 3) which are freedom and life because the disciples are not slaves, but friends of the son of God (John xv. 15) and continuators of his work (John xviii. 18). In this tendency of life they may possess joyfulness (I John ii. 28, iv. 17, 18) in a world full of temptations and enemies and in face of death and judgment and may count upon the return of their love on the part of God through the gift of the spirit and the help of God which is always near, upon the forgiveness of accidental sins, purification, hearing of their prayers, and a place in the heavenly mansion of the Father (John xiv. 2, 3; xiii. 21-22; xv. 2; xvii. 17; I John i. 9).

According to Jesus, Paul, and John, the child of God is independent of men and yet he must seek communion with men. Jesus teaches to pray “Our Father”; and according to Paul and John, the spirit communicates with the individual through baptism and makes him a member of the community.

5. The Apologists.

The Church has not always maintained this ideal. When its growth necessitated a stricter inculcation of the ethical conditions of salvation, the relation of children was changed under the influence of the Jewish idea of retaliation, of philosophical moralism, and the ideas of Roman law. According to the apologetic 47 writers, to be a child of God means subjectively the ethical resemblance with God which man realizes in himself by his free action on the basis of the knowledge of God as taught by Christ. Since ethics was absorbed in individual practise of virtue and consciousness of moral freedom, the desire for a counterbalance against the moral checks from the world was not felt so much. Irenæus follows Paul by conceiving adoption as the specific effect of redemption; but he understands it, in the first place, in a moralistic sense, as a call to the fulfilment of the deepened law of nature, not only in increased love, but fear; in the second place, in a physical sense, as the sacramental elevation of the spirit to deification or imperishableness. This combination remains a characteristic feature of the Greek Church.

6. Augustine.

Augustine deepened the physical change into an ethical change which governs ethical actions. Because God’s nature is first of all justice, and only secondarily immortal, adoption, as being deification, is in the first place justification, infusion of love (amando Deum efficimur dii—“by loving God we are made gods”; again—“he who justifies also deifies, because by justifying he makes sons of God”), which takes place under the influence of faith, i.e., hopeful prayer, or through baptism. Thus man faces the task—Reddite diem, efficimini spiritus (“Do your part, and become spirit”). Adoption becomes a reality in a process in which the capacity for it increases by continual forgiveness and inspiration of love until after death the second adoption occurs, the liberation from the body which contains the law of sin. Our life is a relation between child and father in so far as love to God, childlike fear, and hope rule in it. But the idea of the New Testament is curtailed in so far as forgiveness concerns always only past sins, and hope is bound to rely upon one’s own consciousness of love to God and upon merit, and forgiveness becomes uncertain in consequence of predestination, and in so far as, with the task to serve God in the world, the New Testament manner of trusting in God is also done away with, and a holy indifference takes its place. The relation of God seems to be intensified in so far as there is added as a new element the highest stage of divine love—the mystical contemplation of God; but the apparent plus discloses itself as a minus, since love to God is now conceived of by analogy with that between man and woman instead of that between father and child. Mysticism, it is true, elevates man to freedom from the Church, but it effects also indifference toward men; however, in the premystical stage there shows itself lack of independence of the Church.

7. Scholasticism.

In the Occident the curtailment of the childlike in Christian life was still further indulged in by bringing to prominence the ideas of the natural, juridical, and mystical; of the natural in so far as according to the scholastics a habit of grace is infused into the secret recesses of the soul, the existence of which can only be surmised by way of inference from one’s own ethical transformation; of the juridical in so far as the provenience of hope from merit (“spes provenit ex meritis”) is more strongly emphasized; of the mystical inasmuch as the higher stage of the love of God seems realizable only in a thorough separation from occupation with worldly matters (the lower stage is identified with childlike fear) and inasmuch as even the mysticism of calmness and resignation over against an arbitrary Lord is far inferior to trust in the Father.

8. Luther.

It was Luther who again conceived the relation of Christians to God as that of children to a father in the full sense of the word. For Luther Christ is the “mirror of the fatherly heart of God,” the revelation and security of God’s gracious disposition, and he draws from this “image of grace” faith and individual trust. He differs from Paul in so far as he understands by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit the personal certainty of faith which has its basis in Christ. As for Paul, so for Luther, forgiveness of sins or justification or adoption is a declaration of the will of God that he adopts us as children. It is more than the remittance of past sins, it is the reception of the whole personality into the grace of God, the transposition into a permanent state which always has to be seized again by faith. Thus it is shown to be an error that meritorious works are necessary in order to obtain grace and eternal life. In this way Luther does not destroy the ethical quality of adoption, but makes it more prominent. For secure trust unites the will with God’s entire will in love and thus spontaneously produces, without needing the instruction and inculcation of the law, the free and cheerful fulfilment of the will of God which takes place without any thought of reward and in which eternal life is enjoyed. This psychological derivation of morality from the nature of faith actually invalidates Luther’s other derivation from the natural or unconscious impulse of the Holy Spirit. Only his opposition to the doctrine of merits made him forget to do justice to the eschatological motives of morality as they are found in Jesus and Paul, although he might have done so, considering his premises; for will needs an aim and for the will united with God in faith and love, this aim can only be the completion of that which was begun here. Faith gives him new courage and power for trust in the guidance of the whole life by the Father in which again the joy of eternal life is anticipated, and thus lays the basis for the freedom of the Christian or his royal dominion over all things which manifests itself in fearlessness and pride and defiance of Satan, world, and death as the counterpart of humble submission to God and which through the certainty of the blessing of divine guidance surpasses mysticism—ecstasies as well as resignation in God. This attitude of children is a life which is homogeneous to that of the Father, in the first place, to his disposition, in so far as our trust is a reflex of God’s disposition toward us and our love corresponds to the love of God since it is not borrowed from the amiability of men, but is spontaneous, and not a divided love like that of men, but an all-comprehending one; in the second place, to the nature 48 of God, because this love is superhuman, divine, and because faith conquers for itself the power of divine omnipotence. This life of adoption, according to its whole character, can only originate by a birth from above which, according to Luther, takes place since adoption, as vouchsafed by Christ, produces faith and with it new life. Luther also traces back the new life to a problematic effect of the Spirit, like the working of the impersonal powers of nature, which God according to his predestination adds to the word of Christ in the inner life.

9. Later German Theology.

During the period of orthodoxy in Germany trust in God on the part of his children was regarded as natural religion. Pietism subordinated adoption to regeneration. In theology as influenced by Hegel, childlike union with God after the example of mysticism was traced back to an inner self-manifestation of the absolute spirit. It was Ritschl who renewed the specific ideas of Luther.

J. Gottschick.

10. Two Views Held at Present.

At the present time two ideas of adoption are advocated: (1) Resting back on Calvin, it is held that the primary relation of God to man was that of Creator and Governor. Man is son of God, not by virtue of anything in his constitution as a creature of God, nor on account of a natural relation to him as subject of the divine government, but solely by reason of gracious adoption. The only essential sonship is that of Christ primarily as the eternal Son, and secondarily as his humanity shares this prerogative through union with the divine nature. Through adoption the elect in Christ become partakers of Christ’s sonship. Adoption is grounded neither in justification nor in regeneration, but in God’s free and sovereign grace alone. Through justification the legal and judicial disabilities caused by sin are removed; through regeneration the nature is changed so as to become filial. Thus a basis is laid for the distinction between the state of adoption and the spirit of adoption (R. S. Candlish, The Fatherhood of God, London, 1870; J. Macpherson, Christian Dogmatics, Edinburgh, 1898). (2) According to the other view, man’s filial relation to God is archetypal and inalienable. Adoption, in order to be real, necessarily involves the essential and universal Fatherhood of God and the natural and inherent sonship of man to God. By becoming partaker of the spirit of Christ, who, as Son, realized the filial ideal of the race, one passes out of natural into gracious sonship; that is, is adopted into the ethical and spiritual family of God, and so enters upon his ideal filial relation to God and his brotherly relation to men (A. M. Fairbairn, The Place of Christ in Modern Theology, New York, 1893; J. S. Lidgett, The Fatherhood of God, pp. 20-21, Edinburgh, 1902; James Orr, Progress of Dogma, pp. 325-327, New York, 1902).

C. A. B.

Bibliography: J. Gerhard, Loci Theologici, iv. 311, 374, vii. 219-222, ix. 296-297, Berlin, 1866-75; R. L. Dabney, Syllabus of . . . Systematic and Polemic Theology, pp. 627 sqq., St. Louis, 1878; B. Weiss, Biblical Theology of the New Testament, §§  17, 20-21, 46, 71, 83, 100, 118, 150, Edinburgh, 1882-83; W. Bousset, Jesu Predigt in ihrem Gegensatz zum Judentum, pp. 41-42, Göttingen, 1892; H. Shultz, Old Testament Theology, ii. 254 sqq., Edinburgh, 1892; R. A. Lipsius, Lehrbuch der evangelisch-protestantischen Dogmatik, pp. 126-129, 584-596, 653-703, Brunswick, 1893; J. McL. Campbell, Nature of the Atonement, pp. 298 sqq., London, 1896; A. Titius, Die neutestamentliche Lehre von der Seligkeit, i. 103-104, ii. 27-28, 138-139, 266-267, Tübingen, 1895-1900; W. Beyschlag, New Testament Theology, i. 60-70, 241, 310, ii. 418-419, 480, Edinburgh, 1896; E. Hatch, Greek Ideas and Usages, their Influence upon the Christian Church, London, 1897; R. V. Foster, Systematic Theology, p. 679, Nashville, 1898; H. Cremer, Die paulinische Rechtfertigungslehre, pp. 71-78, 224-233, 247-248, 265-266, 369-370, Gütersloh, 1899; A. Ritschl, Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, pp. 75, 96, 507, 534, 603, New York, 1900.

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