Article by Jason Francis
Paul in his writings uses the analogy of adoption several times. We usually think of adoption in modern terms. A couple wants a child for whatever reason and takes the necessary steps to adopt a child. More often than not the child is very young or an infant. The older a child gets the less likely they are to get adopted. Paul, being a Roman citizen, uses the analogy of adoption in Roman terms which is quite different from our understanding.
Ephesians 1:4 tells us that we were predestined unto adoption meaning those who would come to faith in Christ had their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world according to Revelation 21:27. Galatians 4:4-5 Tells us That God sent forth His Son to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption as sons. Finally, Romans 8:15 says that we receive the Spirit of adoption that we may cry out Abba Father. Then he goes on to say in vs. 16 and 17 that the Spirit bears witness to us that this adoption has occurred and we are heirs of God the Father and co-heirs with Christ.
To understand Roman adoption, it's important to understand what’s known as the “patria potestas” or father’s power. A Roman father had absolute power and control over his family. It didn't matter how old his children were, they were still under his absolute authority. A Roman son never came of age and was expected to obey his father as long as he was still alive. When I say absolute I mean absolute. When a child was born he or she would be placed at the father’s feet. If the father kneeled and picked the child up, it meant that he accepted the child. If the father turned and walked away the child was rejected and thrown out. This was most often with females as they could not carry on the family name. Some would die and some would be picked up by human traffickers and raised to be sold as slaves. The father also reserved the right to disown or even kill his children at any time for any reason.
If a Roman father had no son to carry on his lineage and to be his heir, he could adopt a son from another family. The adopted son would be late teens or early twenties. The process of adoption was a lengthy and serious affair. After coming to an agreement with another father the process began with what’s called “Mancipatio” in which we get the word emancipation. There would be a symbolic sale with copper and scales in which the father would sell his son and buy him back twice demonstrating his remorse for giving up his son. After the third sale he would not buy back his son and at that point lost all rights as patria potestas. His son was emancipated from him. After mancipatio was complete the process moved to what was known as “Vindicatio” in which we get vindication. The adopting father would go before a Roman magistrate known as a Praetor and make a legal case to bring this son under his patria potestas. This process was done in the presence of seven witnesses in case the new father died there would be someone to testify the adoption happened. After this had been completed, the adoption was legal and binding. These two are now father and son. The son is now a legal heir to his father.
The implications of Roman adoption are paralleled by biblical salvation in several ways. The adopted son lost all rights to his old father and was no longer under his dominion. Our old father is the devil (John 8:44-45). We are no longer his. We might as well have died as far as he is concerned. All of the adopted son’s debt was immediately canceled going into his new life. It was as if he had just been born or “born again”. The new patria potestas could not legally kill or disown an adopted son. The son had this assurance that his new father could never leave him nor forsake him. Then the adopted son would inevitably start learning of his new father and ultimately emulate his new father’s behavior. He would become more and more like his new father much like we do in sanctification. The son's right as an heir is certain even if natural born sons came later and could never be taken away. Our inheritance is certain and among other things we will inherit glorification. We will be made fully like Christ according to 1 John 3:2, and in John 17 Jesus prays that we would be united as He and the Father are one.
We do not have seven witnesses to our adoption but the Spirit of God testifies to us that we are adopted. There is no greater witness than God Himself. If being led by the Spirit is evident in our lives producing holiness among other things this means He is testifying that we are adopted. He is His own self-witness. The Holy Spirit operates in seven ways. They are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, might, knowledge and fear of the Lord.
Our adoption is complete and secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39), and now we may cry out Abba Father or Abba Pater. The Greek speaking Jews added this Aramaic term to their own language. In Mark 14:36, Jesus used this same language when in distress over what was about to happen to him He said “Abba Father, all things are possible for you. Take this cup away from me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will.” Jesus was the only human to have ever lived that knew what the wrath of His Father looked like, and it was crushing Him. Even so, He was willing to take it on behalf of those the Father had given Him (John 6:37). Abba was a more endearing way to say father. Think of a little child approaching his father with an utter dependency free of anxiety with an unbreakable trust. Pater would be a more respectful address. In saying father, it is acknowledging his authority and power. Something else to consider is that when Jews wanted to add emphasis, they would say something twice. When Joseph's brothers threw him into the pit the original language was they threw him into a pit pit which means a big pit. Jesus said “verily verily I say unto you.” So essentially Abba Pater is saying Father Father or maybe saying Father of all Fathers. In saying it twice with two slightly different meanings, we cry out Abba, free of anxiety and in total dependence; and Pater, simultaneously acknowledging in awe His glory, His majesty, and power.
So be encouraged dear Christian, you are a child of the most high God. He loves you with the same love He has for His own Son from eternity past. He will not love you any more or any less than he does right now. Now rejoice from now into eternity! I say REJOICE!!!
Jason Francis is an elder at Shepherd's Rock Bible Church in Kingsport, TN. He and his wife, Kelly have two wonderful children and faithfully serve the Lord through their local church and the Northeast TN area.