Chapter Three - Jewish Origin of Paul's Concept
In the previous chapters it has been affirmed that "the huiothesia" is Jewish in origin and not Greek, Roman, or English. Most scholars of the word, who see "adoption" as its proper signification, will take such a definition into the OT with the intent of seeing it there explained and referred to, or practised in Israelite society, for, after all, it belongs to them according to Paul. But, seeing that "adoption" was not an Hebrew institution or practice, the scholar or Bible student must do one of two things, if he is intent on keeping his erroneous definition of "huiothesia." First, he must find examples where western style adoption of children was legally provided for and practiced in the OT, and second, not finding it, he must impose such upon it. Then, having done this, the Bible scholar and commentator will attempt to show how Roman or Greek adoption was an additional model to the biblical birth model to illustrate how both Israelites and Christians become children or sons of God.
The few examples generally offered from the OT will be looked at more closely in later chapters, but it has already been affirmed that such examples are not of actual adoptions, after western fashion, but of either informal adoptions or else reflect a non-Jewish practise. Many biblical commentators have erred in assuming that by "the hiuothesia" Paul is alluding to either a Greek or Roman model of "adoption," and then err even further by taking that assumption to the OT and then forcing that model on it, and thus of course, on the manner in which "Israelites" became either the "children" or the "sons" of God.
The fact that Greek or Roman adoption was not practiced in Israel ought to cause those who accept "adoption" as the proper signification of "huiothesia" to pause and deeply consider such a stunning fact. It ought to lead them to retrace their steps and to take a different interpretation of what Paul meant by "the huiothesia." A person's reasoning at this point should go something like this:
Defining "huiothesia" as "adoption," as I do, and knowing that it peculiarly belongs to Israelites, I should then find it used as an idea or model in the OT for illustrating the relationship that God had with Israel. But, I do not find it there, but rather find that God spoke of Israel as being his "begotten" child or son, and not his "adopted" child or son. Therefore, there must be something wrong with the definition of "huiothesia."
Once a person is at this point he will do as others have done and research the meaning of the Greek term and how it is used by the apostle. If this is done honestly, he cannot but come to the same conclusion as have others, which concludes "adoption" to be an awful translation and the cause of the problem. Once that is accepted as true, and the real meaning discovered, a person will experience his Eureka moment on this important issue, and come to greater understanding, and be able to help others who struggle with the difficulty of trying to reconcile how one can be both God's child by birth and by adoption.
Concerning the other things in Romans 9: 4 that are said to "belong" or "pertain to" those who are "Israelites," besides "the huiothesia," are "the glory," "the covenants," "the giving of the law," "the covenants," and "the promises." Why think that all these things are found in the OT except for "the huiothesia"? But, "adoption" is not found in the OT, therefore "adoption" is not "huiothesia."
It is interesting to notice how in Romans 9: 4 "adoption" ("υἱοθεσία") is in the same form as "giving of the law" (νομοθεσία) though translated into English differently. If we translated the latter part of the compounds by "placing" then it would be "son placing" and "law placing," but if by the word "giving" then it would be "son giving" or "law giving" (or expressed another way, either "giving of the sons" or "giving of the law"). Another example of a Greek compound word with "thesia" is the word ὁροθεσίας which is translated in many English translations as either "bounds" or "boundaries" but is literally the "placing" or "fixing" of bounds or limits (Acts 17:26). Also, if "fixing" be another word to use to translate "thesia," then we may translate "huiothesia" as "fixing of sons."
The Use Of The Definite Article
In Romans 9: 4, as well as in three of the four other instances where Paul used the word "huiothesia," he uses the definite article "the." The one exception is Romans 8: 15, which will be examined in its place, and the absence of it there is itself significant, being the exception.
Here are the five passages where "huiothesia" (adoption) is used, in the KJV, and all have the definite article before the word. Erringly, the KJV often added the definite article to the English text when there was none in the Greek. However, in the Greek text all have the definite article except Romans 8: 15 and Ephesians 1:4.
Romans 8:15—“. . . but ye have received the Spirit of adoption. . .”
Romans 8:23—“. . . waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”
Romans 9:4—“. . . Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption. . .”
Galatians 4:5—“. . . that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
Ephesians 1:5—“ Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself...”
Some English translations do however omit the definite article for Romans 8: 15, and concerning this I will have more to say in later chapters. A better translation of Romans 8: 15 would be "huiothesia spirit." Neither the word "pneuma" (spirit) or the word "huiothesia" have the definite article before them. But, the KJV made several errors along this line which does not help one discern the meaning of the Apostle Paul. Looking at the above translations of the five verses they translate the same Greek word "huiothesia" differently. In one case it is "adoption of children" and in another it is "adoption of sons." Who gave the KJV translators the right to translate "children" rather than "sons" and to blur the distinction? But, again, more on this passage and its implications will be taken up in upcoming chapters.
By use of the definite article in Romans 9: 4 Paul is 1) pointing to something specific and 2) calling attention to what he has already spoken about previously in Romans 8: 15 and 23, where he first introduced the term in the epistle. The definite article in "the huiothesia" may therefore be viewed not only as indicating what is specific, the difference and not to the genus, but may be adjectival, demonstrative, or relative. What has Paul previously said about "the huiothesia"? He said these remarkable things:
1) Christians now possess a huiothesia spirit
2) Christians are waiting for "the huiothesia"
3) "the huiothesia" is the same thing as "the redemption of the body"
Now, to such commentary, the Apostle adds, in 9:4, the fact that "the huiothesia" belongs particularly to "Israelites." Concerning each of these statements more will be said as each of the five passages are analyzed.
The NT Is Contextually Hebrew
"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope." (Romans 15:4)
If we can substantiate the fact that Paul in Romans, as well as elsewhere in his epistles, nearly always makes use of Hebrew models and metaphors for illustrating the way God saves sinners, and makes them members of his family, rather than those of the Gentiles, then one should first assume the Jewish and not opt for the Gentile unless there is clear reason to do so.
To help show further that "the huiothesia" is Jewish and not Greek, Roman, or English, in addition to the proof already given, it will be demonstrated that Paul's letter to the Romans as well as the whole new testament is based upon OT or Jewish laws, rites, and history, and not that of the Greeks or Romans. The above passage of Paul in Romans indicates this fact.
The view that says "the huiothesia" is a direct reference to Greco-Roman adoption law and practise violates the Apostle's own words as cited above. In such a view it is not what "son placement" may have meant in the OT, for the Israelites, that becomes a model of salvation, "for our learning," but rather what it meant in Roman writings, for non Israelites. Thus, in this instance, Paul goes outside of the writings of the OT, outside its types, figures, examples, etc., in order to find an example of how people come to be God's children and sons. In regard to "the huiothesia" too many translators and Bible commentators may well say "whatever was written aforetime in Roman law was written for our learning."
If we look at the figures and terminology of the Book of Romans, is it Roman, Greek, or Jewish? If it is a mixture, which is the predominant source? The Book of Romans is like the entire NT in regard to its nigh universal use of Hebrew OT words and metaphors to illustrate some aspect of salvation.
New Testament theology is based not only upon express statements of the Old Testament, and upon its legal code, but also upon its types, shadows, figures, examples, word usage and definition, leading personages, historical events, etc., as well as its customs and traditions. Only occasionally does the NT make use of laws and customs outside of a Jewish context in order to serve as theological mediums. Therefore, the hermeneutic rule is to first view a term, citation, figure of speech, types, etc., in the NT, as Hebrew and only allow that Greek and Roman are the exceptions. Assumption and a prima facie case are with the view that "the huiothesia" is a Jewish idea first and foremost.
The new testament uses words like "figures" for old testament people and events. So likewise with the words "types" and "shadows."
"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (Col 2: 16-17)
Notice that it is the religious and civil activities of the Jews of the OT that are "a shadow of things to come." Israel's law and feasts serve as models and metaphors of the facets of redemption, and not those of the Greeks or Romans. Elsewhere in the NT, it is Hebrew laws and practises that are called "examples," "types," "figures," etc., especially in the Book of Hebrews, not those of the Gentile world. All this is but further evidence that the concept of "son placement" was not taken from the Greek or Roman world but from the Jewish world of the OT.
Christ and the NT writers not only used things in Israelite culture to illustrate aspects of God's saving work, but also made use of things in nature, in the physical world, to picture divine truth, and even made use of common every day occurrences to illustrate moral and spiritual truth.
Jesus talked about men finding treasure and likened it to men finding the kingdom of God. He taught that fishing was like preaching. He also compared being stewards or managers of earthly things with being so in spiritual or heavenly things. He taught that farming, with its sowing and reaping, was a picture of the preaching of the Gospel, of salvation and damnation, and of the end of time, which is a harvest.
Like Jesus, Paul and the other NT writers made use of not only physical models of the universe to illustrate or adumbrate spiritual truth, but also common things such as building and buildings, doctors and doctoring, going to court, buying and selling, maturing and going to school, beside all kinds of human relationships and interactions that serve as metaphors of salvation. Consider also how in the NT water is a symbol of that which is spiritual, of the Spirit of God or of the word of God, a metaphor for the instrument of moral cleansing, and that bread and food serve as metaphors of some aspect of salvation in Christ. Even the idea of spiritual "birth" is a metaphor.
Paul often alluded to the Greek games and athletic contests, such as those of the Olympic or Isthmian games. He used references to fights and races, to winning crowns at competitions, of battling various foes, all to illustrate truth about God and salvation. Paul often used military terminology, perhaps in Greek or Roman language, to talk about the Christian warfare. But, it may be said, that these uses of Gentile institutions and practises were not so unique to Greece or Rome that they were unknown in Israel.
Peter used the figure of the Pyramid of five corners when he spoke of the chief or head corner. He also used the eye disease of nearsightedness as an illustration of those who "cannot see afar off," cannot see the end and purpose of all things.
James used the example of great fires starting from small ones to illustrate how a misspoken word causes damage. He said that looking into the word of God was like looking into a mirror.
But, acknowledging all this does not warrant us to think that the major metaphors and comparisons, used by the Bible writers to illustrate divine truth, were borrowed from outside of the Jewish world. All the leading metaphors in the NT that are used to teach something about salvation are taken from the Hebrew OT, and even most of the secondary metaphors, taken from outside of the OT and from Hebrew culture, are such that can be found in any culture, even Israel.
Interesting and ironic is the fact that when NT writers refer to some event or institution in the Gentile world, it is not to illustrate or reveal something about salvation, but about judgment and damnation, and about things that are wrong. Thus, to Peter, the deluge was an "example," but of what? The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah were events with lessons to teach. But, what does it teach?
Consider also the fact that the OT often denounces Gentile culture, with its laws and institutions, as being vain, without meaning. "Learn not the way of the heathen...For the customs of the people are vain." (Jer. 10:2-3) Shall we say that the Roman and Greek custom of adoption, in light of all this, is a adumbration and picture of how God takes sinners and makes them into his image?
Roman Epistle is Contextually Jewish
Paul's habit was to use Hebrew laws and customs as types and shadows of theological truth, especially as revealed in the new testament. Illustrations about salvation, redemption, justification, etc., are taken from Hebrew law and thought. This is the NT rule, with but few exceptions. If reference is made to laws, teachings, and ideas concerning marriage and family, inheritance, government, righteousness, justice, holiness, sin, guilt, punishment, theology, divine worship, sacrifices, priesthood, etc., they are taken from the Hebrew OT and not from the writings and institutions of the Gentiles.
Illustrations of Salvation are Nearly Always Hebrew
Israel's seven festivals were all ordained by God to be pictures of salvation and redemption, but not so those of the Gentiles. The family laws of Israel were used by NT writers as paradigms of the relationship that God has to Christians, and they to each other, and not the family laws of Greeks or Romans. Israel's laws of inheritance served as the foundational context for explaining the Christian inheritance. Incidents in the history of Israel's patriarchs, and of the nation itself, all serve as examples and means of illustration to convey new testament truth about Christ and the way of salvation. The NT writers would never consider viewing God's dealings with other nations as pictures of salvation. Incidents in the history of Israel teach NT truth about salvation through Christ, such as their deliverance from bondage in Egypt, their baptism in the Red Sea, their journey through the wilderness to the promised land, their conflicts with their enemies, etc., all serve all examples of NT truth, but not so with any other nation.
Of course, as stated, the NT contains teaching illustrations that are based in Gentile laws and customs, but these are the exceptions, and are merely supplementary to the Hebrew.