Chapter Two - The Huiothesia Belongs To Israelites
“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;” (Rom. 9: 4; KJV)
Of the five occurrences of "huiothesia" this seems to be the best place to begin a study of Paul's use of the term. First, because it is definitive in regard to what is meant by the term, giving an historic Jewish setting to it, and Second, because it is in the context where three of the five occurrences of the word are found, and Third, because many scholars of the word, even among those who translate wrongly, agree that this is a proper starting place to examine its Pauline usage, and agree that it has been often overlooked and not given its proper due. In the debate over whether "the huiothesia" alludes to a Jewish, Greek, or Roman institution or practise, this verse's bearing on the question is obvious and cannot be ignored.
Paul is express in affirming that η υιοτεσια — hē huiothesia (the huiothesia) "pertains to" or "belongs to" those who are "Israelites." If it belongs to them, then it does not belong to Greeks or Romans as such. Those scholars who try to find the Pauline significance of "the huiothesia" in Greek or Roman law and customs are on the wrong track. If one wanted to know about "the glory" that Paul says belongs to Israelites, then would he not go to the OT to find it? Would he go to Greek or Roman history and community to find "the glory," or the other things mentioned as peculiarly belonging to Israelites? Then why go there to find the meaning of "the huiothesia"?
This is the only time that the term “adoption” is directly applied to Israel in most English translations. This is odd seeing that the term “adoption” does not generally appear in English translations of the Old Testament, nor does "huiothesia" appear in the Septuagint. This oddity ought to prompt Bible students to question the translation of the Greek word, and instead of going into the OT to find the practise of western "adoption," they should rather go looking for "son placement." As we will see, there was no "adoption" per se in Israel, in the OT, yet there certainly was "son placing" or "son positioning," as we will see.
No Adoption In Israel
The Jews did not have adoption laws, it not being practiced among them. So, how did they take care of orphans and men who died childless and without a male heir? Was it different from how the Greek and Roman world dealt with the matter?
In each of the three cultures mentioned, all were patriarchal, the father being the head of the family. He was lord and ruler over the "clan" or "cult," or sub tribe. He was also the family priest, responsible for the religious education of the family. Further, in each culture, the laws of succession and inheritance, for both property and family status and authority, required a male heir, a full grown son to perpetuate the family and its name. But, besides these basic similarities, there are marked differences between how Israel, through her laws and customs, dealt with the problem of fathers who had no male heirs, as compared with that which is either Greek or Roman.
The Greco-Roman world used the vehicle of adoption to solve the problem of a father having no male heir. The Jews, however, dealt with it in a different manner.
The Law of Levirate Marriage
"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel." (Deut. 25:5-6)
The Jew then handled the problem of a man who dies without a male heir differently than did the Gentile world. The Jew, by LORD God's instruction, dealt with it by what is called "levirate marriage." The Greco-Roman world dealt with it by adoption. Further, the purpose of adoption in the Greco-Roman world was not the same as it is in today's western world.
Men today, in the English world, do not generally adopt adolescent or adult males, or "sons," and certainly not because they lack a male heir to preserve their family estate or heritage. Nearly all adoptions today in the western world involve adopting babies, or very small children, who are orphans. However, in the Greco-Roman world, this was not the reason. Adoption was not practiced as a way to deal with orphans or with the fatherless. Its whole purpose was in order to give a male heir to a man who had no male children.
The fact that Roman adoption is unlike modern English adoption creates difficulty for those who proceed in their explanations of the Pauline doctrine of "huiosethia" on the basis that "huiosethia" means "adoption."
The Roman Model is not like the English
So, which model of adoption do we choose? If we reject the Jewish model, accepting the translation of "adoption" for "huiothesia," then we must opt for either the Roman, Greek, or the English. Each one has serious consequences in theology, for as all agree, the "adoption" or "huiothesia" theology of Paul is a paradigm or illustration of some important aspect of salvation. If we get the model wrong, then we will get the doctrinal implications wrong.
The place that a Bible student finds himself at this point is confusing. Having left the path of truth by accepting "adoption" as the proper translation of "huiothesia," he comes to a fork in this errant path and must decide which way to go. Shall he go the Greco-Roman way, or the English way? Do I use the Roman model to illustrate how I become God's child by adoption or the English?
As we have seen, and will see yet further, accepting either of these models as a paradigm of how people become children or sons of God produces insurmountable theological difficulties, leads to heretical opinions of all kinds, and brings unease to the Christian's peace of mind.
The sole reason for adoption in the Greco-Roman world was in order for a man who had no male heir to acquire one. The idea of adopting daughters was not the reason for it and was not even practiced. This being the reason, such a man often chose either an adolescent or a mature young man who was of age. This young man would become, by legal act, the "son" of the adopter. The "son" then would become the heir of the family estate and preserve the name and heritage of his "father." Had the Greeks and Romans adopted (pun intended) the Jewish law of levirate marriage, they would, like the Jews, had not had such an institution as "adoption."
Unlike Greco-Roman adoption, English or general modern "adoption" rarely has for its reason the preservation of a man's name, estate, or family heritage. This is not to deny that many people adopt children today because they cannot have any of their own. In fact, as all know, many people who adopt already have their own biological children. Thus, the "family" consists of both biological and adopted children. Consider also that adoption in our day has even come to include the idea of single parents adopting children, yet in Roman and Greek society only men adopted males and not for the benefit of the adopted, but for the benefit of the adopter. Women did not adopt in the Greco-Roman world nor did men adopt girls to become daughters.
With these differences before us, which path (model) we take will have its theological consequences. Keep in mind that the person choosing which path to take is already on the wrong path by having interpreted "huiothesia" to mean "adoption." Whichever model of adoption we then take will bear on our views regarding salvation. The particulars of the "adoption process" are used by theologians and Bible teachers to explain the legal process involved in a person becoming God's child. But, as we have seen, the particulars of the adoption legal process are quite different in each context.
Fostering Children, Taking in Strangers, and Informal Adoption
One of the ways that the western world today deals with orphans is by encouraging their adoption. Those not adopted are either placed in temporary "foster homes," with "foster parents," being "wards of the state," or in "orphanages." Also, many Christians, especially Catholics, practise "God fathering" and "God mothering" where people become a kind of second parent, or "God parents." Sadly, also, many today, as always in the past, are orphans who simply live on the streets. However, in neither the Jewish, Greek, or Roman world was modern English adoption practiced. This is one of the reasons why it is wrong for modern English translators to continue to translate "huiothesia" as "adoption." The average young Bible student will at once think in the mode of his ideas of modern English adoption.
There is no command from LORD God in the OT for Israelites to adopt orphans. God did, however, speak directly to them about caring for them in other ways.
"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied." (Deuteronomy 26:12-13)
The ancient Hebrews provided for both strangers and orphans, yet they did this without formal adoption. Many of them "took in" strangers and foreigners into their homes, making them either indentured servants, or as a kind of informal adoption that was meant to be temporary. Every Israelite was to fill the vacuum created in the lives of children who lost their parents by being parents to them, being fatherly and motherly towards them. It is also done with the view that such orphans will one day no longer need their care and either start their own families (in the case of males) or become part of one by marriage (in the case of females). The cases of supposed adoption practises in the OT, as we will see, are not cases of formal adoption, nor the result of Jewish law and practise, but were at best but informal adoptions, and done in a Gentile environment. Adoption, as I have shown, was not practiced by Jews in the OT and to go looking for it there (because of an erroneous translation) leads to doubt and theological confusion.