The use of “Adoption, Sonship" by Paul
In his article entitled “Adoption, Sonship,” J.M. Scott (Hawthorne, Gerald F.; Martin, Ralph P.; Reid, Daniel G., eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. 1993). explains the significance and meaning of Husiothesia in Paul letters which will influence one’s interpretation of Paul’s work. The points of current interest are Paul’s use of “adoption,” and the specifics of “adoption” in context of sonship and slavery in Romans which is of central importance to our interruption of Romans. This author found this article to be of overall value to New Testaments studies as the study of adoption and sonship has aided interpreting and understanding of the historical background of Paul’s letters, particularly the letter to the church in Rome.
Strengths of the article mainly rest in J.M Scott’s presentation on the meaning of Husiothesia in Paul’s letters. The article rightly assumes that the "adoption" which Paul pens down for us refers, or denotes to, is the process or state of being adopted as son(s) (p. 15). The article wonderfully deducts from Paul’s use of “adoption” and specifics “adoption” to be the act of being redeemed to adoption as sons of God from slavery at the fullness of times (p. 17). Scott presents a strong conclusion that any attempt to translate the term more generally as “sonship” sets the study of the background off on the wrong foot (p. 16). This is valid for various reasons which will become apparent to the reader upon reading this authors evaluation. Scott accurately identifies that husiothesia is being used by Paul in the sense of “adoption,” not “sonship,” given that the overwhelming lexical evidence hardly supports its use as “sonship.” Contemporary extra-biblical sources of Paul’s time do always denote husiothesia as the state of being adopted as it was used as the state of children being adopted, a legal term used to describe the state.1 Scott accurately emphasizes Paul’s use of the term to only occur in the NT, given that it does not occur in the Septuagint or other Jewish sources. Also, Scott is correct that have to recognize that “adoption,” even divine adoption, was known to the OT and Judaism. Scott is valid due to how the OT speaks of the acceptance of the nation of Israel as God’s children (cg. Ex 4:22; Is 1:2) all where, however, the word uioôis lacking; it is found nowhere in the LXX (see Romans 9:4).2 In Paul, uses the term only in a transferred sense of a transcendent filial relationship between God and humans. It should be noted that although this is true, it is used by Paul to with the legal aspect, not gender specificity, as a major semantic component.3 In light of this, some weaknesses are found in Scott’s argument against the use of adoption as a legal metaphor.
Weaknesses can be found in Scott’s logic concerning adoption as a legal metaphor. Scott concludes that the background of adoption as a legal metaphor hardly deserves serious consideration based on how the notion that the witness of the Spirit in Romans 8:16 should not be said to reflect the witnesses in the Roman ceremony (p. 17). This author agrees that the notion in Romans 8:16 does fail to establish the case for a legal metaphor, but this understanding should not negate “adoption” as a legal metaphor in totality of all contexts in which it is used. Perhaps it is the context of legality which contributes to the idea of a transaction which one would be inclined to reject. This author would suggest that the background of “adoption” is partly drawn from Hellenistic law and as the elaborate Roman ceremony of adoptio. This suggestion should be considered for several strong reasons. Adoption in Hellenistic law is an institution connected with a considerable emphasis on inheritance, and Galatians 4:5 speaks of the adoption which makes believers heirs (p. 16). The Roman ceremony of adoptio speaks especially of the emancipation or freedom of the minor to be adopted from which he passes from the authority of his natural father to the authority of the adoptive father, which would reflect the noted cultural use of the word and Paul’s theological context in Romans. For example, the concept of the slave being freed as a son in the act of adoption (divine adoption) is described in Romans 8:15. Given this, we also find another weakness in Scott’s article.
In light of this and Romans 8:15, we find that the Spirit, whom the convert receives, works as πνεῦμα υίoΘεπσίας, opposed to δουλείας; such a spirit is possessed by a slave, not by the son of the house.4 Given that the usage of the word in Romans 8:15 is more aligned with a suspicion towards a Greco-Roman background, I do not agree with Scotts’ assertion that Galatians 4:5 “together with the Pauline parallels, leans unambiguously to an OT/Jewish background for the term” (p. 17). In the perspective of this author, the adoption against the OT/Jewish and the Greco-Roman background seems to be equal in regards to how Paul uses the term in his chosen context (e.g., Romans 8:15, 23 and Romans 9:4; Galatians 4:1-2, 5). The Greco-Roman historical background would account specifically to why Paul’s use of the word is denoting the act of being redeemed to adoption as sons of God from slavery and the state of being adopted as son. Adoption is used by Paul to with the legal aspect, not gender specificity, as a major semantic component.5 It would be in keeping with the legal aspect of the use of the term as well as the understanding that the term is set within the OT/Jewish background, as the earliest occurrence in Galatians 4:5 demands. At this point, it is important to note that just as the OT speaks of the acceptance of the nation of Israel as God’s children (cp. Ex 4:22; Is 1:2) in the term of adoption, so does it speak of those who believer in Christ and are accepted by God as God’s children (Iren. 5, 12, 2 [Hrav. II 351,2]) with full rights (see Gal 4:5; cp. Eph 1:5).6 Furthermore, this kind of approach to the historical background would account specifically to why Paul can assume that his readers would know what he meant by the adoption as sons of God, which Scott addressed in his concern for a background of Paul’s use (see page 16). Given that “adoption” in contemporary extra-biblical sources of Paul did use the term as a legal term in reference to the state of children being adopted, this author adds more leverage against Scott’s logic of adoption not as a legal term.
The overall value of the article is found in how its contents are directly related to the theological reasoning of Paul’s teachings and how it interprets the purpose of Paul’s connecting work of the law and gospel in Romans. The work is of great value to our study of the New Testament in general, as it helps one understand the two crucial elements that are dynamic in Paul’s theological and doctrinal understanding. It might cast a wrong interpretation of the NT scriptures if misunderstood. On a general base, the article was of value in how it shows its readers, those who study the NT, that the terms which Paul uses relate to practices that should be studied while in the practice of interpreting NT scriptures’ practices that would otherwise be overlooked.
1 Arndt, W.F.; Gingrich, W.; Danker, F.W., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (BDAG), (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press. 2000), 1024.
2 Arndt, W.F.; Gingrich, W.; Danker, F.W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 1024.
3 Ibid, 1024.
4 Arndt, W.F.; Gingrich, W.; Danker, F.W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 1024.
5 Arndt, W.F.; Gingrich, W.; Danker, F.W. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 1024.
6 Ibid, 1024.