Chapter Four - Israel's Sonship
"And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn." (Exodus 4: 22-23 KJV)
"When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt." (Hosea 11:1 KJV)
"You are the sons of the Lord your God." (Duet. 14:1 English Standard Version)
These are among the leading texts of the OT that identify Israel as God's "son." Sometimes the singular "son" is used, when referring to the nation or commonwealth as a whole, but sometimes the plural "sons" is used when referring to individual "Israelites," to whom belongs "the placement of sons." The title or designation of "son of God" belongs to Israel and to Israelites. The above verses from the OT teach this and Paul affirms the same in Romans 9:4. The more frequent designation for the paternal relationship between God and his chosen people, in the OT, is "children of God" rather than "sons of God." On this point more will be said in following chapters.
So, just how did Israel become God's son? Was it by adoption? If so, then Israel was not begotten. Was it by being begotten? If so, then it was not by adoption. Or, was Israel, like many commentators affirm, somehow God's son by both birth and adoption? Where is the proof of it?
Many Bible interpreters and expositors will first presume that God adopts people to be his children, based primarily upon translating "huiothesia." as "adoption." Next, they will admit that adoption falls short of making a child "like" his adopted parents. This, they affirm, requires a birth. There are several serious flaws with this way of thinking.
First, why first presuppose adoption as necessary to birth? Second, if birth is first presupposed, what need is there of being adopted? Adoption would not, in such a case, give one additional identifying quality towards what it means to be a "child," "offspring," "son," "daughter," etc. Adoption cannot make the begotten child any more "like" his father genetically. He cannot become any more in "nature" a child to his father by being adopted. He cannot receive any more inheritance or ruling family authority by being adopted, for he has all this by virtue of birth.
Which comes first, birth or adoption in the scheme of most theologians who accept the idea of adoption as a way in which people become the children of God? If one insists that God first adopts and then gives birth, then why the birth? The reason can't be to make the adopted person a child, for he is already so by adoption. Such a view forces one who holds to this scheme to affirm that the new birth is not what makes one a child of God, for he is already such by adoption. That is simple reductio ad absurdum. This scheme leads to a slim view of what it means to be born of God. In such a scheme the birth becomes almost meaningless theologically. On the other hand, one who says that God first begets and then adopts has the problem of making adoption meaningless, for it does nothing for the child that the birth has not already done. Also, to say that God gives birth to take up deficiencies owing from mere adoption, begs the question.
Are there sons of God who were adopted but were never born? Are there some who are born but not adopted? Is the family of God so divided? As stated in the Introduction, going into error on the meaning of "the huiothesia" has given rise to sects who have so divided the family of God. After all, it is reasonable to assume that one who has been adopted may die before he is born, and so could not possibly be equal to other children of God who had been both adopted and born.
Those who accept that both adoption and birth are ways in which God produces children have many difficulties over which to overcome, as is evident. Is the person who is adopted but not born an equal heir to those who are both? Is the mere adopted child but half a child?
Was Israel Begotten or Adopted?
"Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And the LORD saw, and spurned, because of the provoking of His sons and His daughters." (Dt. 32:18-19)
In the opening verses cited in this chapter we saw that LORD God called Israel not only his "son" but also his "firstborn," or "first begotten." Here the Lord specifically says that he "begat," or gave birth to, the nation of Israel. Further, it is because of this "begetting" that Israel is God's child.
No where in the OT does the Lord affirm that Israel is his child by having been adopted. If so, would Israel not wonder who then was his real father, like most adopted children do? The adopted child may have grown to love dearly his adopted parents, but still, that child will know that they are not his real parents. He will, as a typical adoptee, possess a longing to meet his parents, assuming they are still alive. Even if dead, the child will still want to know all about his biological parents, and perhaps even desire to be more like them rather than like his adopted parents.
Also, though the title of "firstborn" may not always be held by the actual first born male child (for it has more than once been transferred to a younger brother), yet it was never conferred upon an adopted son, nor upon one who was not of the "seed" of the father. So, not only does God expressly say, in the above verse, that he had "given birth" to the nation (which excludes the idea of adoption), but the idea of birth is also strongly implied in the opening verses (that state that Israel was the Lord's "firstborn"). So then, where in the OT is adoption given as the reason for Israel being God's child or son? Will one impose such a model on it based upon a faulty translation of "huiothesia"? Upon a faulty interpretation of what Paul meant when he said that "the huiothesia" belonged to Israel?
To show how commentators err in their thinking when contemplating these facts, notice what Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers says regarding "adoption":
(4) The adoption.—They are the theocratic people, the people whom God had, as it were, adopted to Himself, and taken into the special filial relation. (Comp. Hosea 11:1, “I called my son out of Egypt;” Exodus 4:22, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn;” et al.)
But, where did LORD God ever say that Israel was his son by a legal process of adoption? Certainly not in the verses cited. Did he not rather say that Israel was his son as a result of begetting?
In Matthew Poole's Commentary here is what is said:
"That begat thee, i.e. who hath adopted you to be his people, and hath showed as much care and kindness to you as if he had begotten you."
This is blatant error and goes against common sense. The text says that God "begat" but the commentary says that means that God had "adopted" them? Who can believe such interpretation? Not only this, the comment is further wrong in saying "as if he had begotten them," a denial of the fact stated in the sacred text.
Dr. John Piper, present day Bible expositor, wrote in "Adoption: The Heart of the Gospel" (SEE HERE - emphasis mine):
"The biblical foundation for the act of adopting children is primarily in the New Testament rather than the Old. There are only three adoptions in the Old Testament (Moses, Esther, and Genubath, 1 Kings 11:20). Israel is called God’s son (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:6; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1) but not until the New Testament is this called adoption."
It is good that Dr. Piper agrees that the act of adopting children was generally not known in the OT. It is good that he admits that God calling Israel his son was not known in the OT as "adoption." But, sadly, in spite of these admissions, he will nevertheless teach that Israel was the son of God by adoption, rather than by begetting. Further, he is wrong to affirm, as is being shown, that the NT calls the act of producing children of God "adoption." The only authority for such a view is based upon the five passages of Paul that have the Greek word "huiothesia." Further, Dr. Piper is wrong on the number of supposed "adoptions" in the OT. Others find more examples. But, as stated previously, none of the examples given were evidence of full formal adoption, nor the result of a Hebrew law or custom. As promised, these examples will be looked at in their place.
He also said:
"The deepest and strongest foundation of adoption is located not in the act of humans adopting humans, but in God adopting humans. And this act is not part of his ordinary providence in the world; it is at the heart of the gospel."
But, there is no where in the Bible that says that God adopts children. The only proof, being the five passages of Paul, is no proof at all, as has been shown, and will show yet further. Strange, however, is the statement of Dr. Piper that this doctrine, that affirms that God adopts children, is "the heart of the Gospel" when it is only based upon the five passages of Paul and is not mentioned in other places in the NT in connection with the defining elements of the Gospel. However, God begetting children is often mentioned.
You simply cannot have a misinterpretation of "huiothesia" to be the sole basis for such a doctrine, a doctrine which is foreign to both testaments. Further, you cannot base cases of informal or heathen adoptions, in the OT, as proof that it is another model of how God saves us. The adoption model, as has been shown, and will be shown even further, is at odds with the birth model. To affirm the use of the adoption model, with all its theological difficulties, on the basis that "huiothesia" means adoption is poor theology.
Dr. Piper admits that God did not explain the making of Israel his child by adoption. But, he says that this does not mean that this was not the reason or explanation. He says that justification for imposing the adoption model on the OT is because there is authority in the NT to do so. But, again, it is very weak authority to base it upon the five passages of Paul and upon the meaning of the Greek word.
He also said:
"God did not have to use the concept of adoption to explain how he saved us, or even how we become part of his family. He could have stayed with the language of new birth so that all his children were described as children by nature only (John 1:12-13, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”). But he chose to speak of us as adopted as well as being children by new birth. This is the most essential foundation of the practice of adoption."
You would think that the "doctrine of adoption" as understood by Piper and the majority of biblical commentators, would be as talked about in the NT as is the idea of being God's children by a spiritual birth. Yet, not only was adoption not a model in the OT to explain how Israel became God's child and son, so too the NT has no such model. Piper admits that "the concept of adoption" is a way for God "to explain how he saved us" and "how we become part of his family." This, as stated previously, is important because if the model of salvation is wrong, then what is illustrated and taught from it will not all be right. Notice also how Piper considers the "doctrine of adoption" to be "the most essential foundation practice."
Obviously the reasoning of Dr. Piper leads one to the idea that the birth model, which is the only one in the OT, and the one that he admits is the general NT model, is deficient, either in the model or in the reality it represents. The adoption model is, therefore, supposed to solve the deficiencies of the birth model. For obviously, the adoption does something that the birth does not do. But, what could that possibly be? If one is a child or son by birth, he cannot be made more of a child or son by adoption. He cannot be more of an heir by adoption than he already is by birth. In fact, there is nothing that adoption can give to an existing child that he does not already have from his father. So, as stated previously, adoption becomes meaningless. But, not only that, but full of contradictions and absurdities, as will be observed in the next chapter.
Further, Dr. Piper speaks of "the language of the new birth." Well, that is the language of both testaments, but the language of "adoption" is of neither.
He also said:
"This means that the status of being a son legally preceded the experience of the Spirit coming to give us the affections of sons. We are legally sons before we experience the joy of sonship. The object work of our salvation (two thousand years ago at Calvary) precedes and grounds the subjective experience of our salvation by the Spirit today."
As noted earlier, men who teach adoption as a model of salvation and of the way that God acquires offspring, as does Piper and the majority of commentators, will debate among themselves the ordo salutis relating to birth (regeneration) and adoption. Some will put birth before adoption, others, like Piper, will put adoption before birth. Either way, as we have seen, and will yet see further, there are serious flaws for them.
Dr. Piper believes one becomes "legal sons" first, before the experience of sonship in the new birth. He also looks at adoption from the standpoint of what God did at Calvary, at a time when the adopted did not exist, being the objective aspect of legal adoption procedure. In other words, believers became legally the children of God at Calvary. Of course, he will also say that in some respect adoption occurs in time when one repents and believes the Gospel. Further, he will even say that adoption is not complete till the resurrection. But, of all these wrong notions more will be said in the next.
He also said:
"Adoption brought us, and brings our children, the rights of being heirs of the Father."
Adoption is what brings "the rights of being heirs"? I thought birth is what did that according to the Scripture?
He also said:
"Consider too, that according to Romans 9:4, the people that God chose in the Old Testament, the Israelites, were adopted out of a terrible situation. “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” But how was this adoption effected? Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” They were slaves in Egypt. But not only that, they were often also rebellious against God. “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea” (Psalm 106:7)."
God adopted Israel when he brought them out of Egypt? Then, they were not already his children before leaving Egypt? And, if they were his children before the Exodus, then what did adoption do for them?The text cited by Dr. Piper from Hosea 11:1 says that Israel went into Egypt, like Christ, a "child," but came out from Egypt a "son," someone who was at Bar Mitzvah age. There is no adoption in the verses cited nor in the entire OT that identifies the father child relationship between God and Israel as owing to anything other than to a birth relationship.
Adoption means to be "adopted out of a terrible situation"? By this reasoning it has nothing to do with becoming children but rather with deliverance, and this leads one to believe that one is adopted by God every time he delivers from a terrible situation.
He also said:
"Therefore, God went and took a son from Egypt who was both enslaved and rebellious. The pattern is set: adoptions does not just come from nice, healthy, safe, auspicious situations."
The same reply as above may be applied to these words. Dr. Piper finds no foundation in the OT for viewing the deliverance from Egypt as the time of Israel's adoption, but does admit that he finds "the language of" birth as that foundation.
Further, one does not know what precise model for adoption Piper is using to uphold his doctrine of adoption. Is he using the Roman or Greek model? If so, why does he constantly reason from facts that are purely English and modern, and not upon the former? But, more upon this in the next chapter.
He also said, in regard to Paul's statement that the huiothesia is yet future::
"This strikes us as strange. Aren’t we already adopted? Why does Paul say that we are “waiting for our adoption”? Yes, we are already adopted. When Christ died for us, the price was paid, and when we trust him, we are legally and permanently in the family. But God’s purpose for adoption is not to leave any of his children in a state of groaning and suffering. He raised Jesus from the dead with a new body, and he promises that part of our adoption will be a new resurrection body with no more disabilities and no more groaning. Therefore, what we wait for is the full experience of our adoption—the resurrection of our bodies."
The fact that Paul clearly and plainly says that "the huiothesia" is future would indeed strike as strange someone who teaches that it is something of the past, present, and future. Dr. Piper speaks of "that part of our adoption," and this is in keeping with how most commentators speak, for with them adoption is not one act, but several, and a process. Of course, such an idea begets (pun intended) numerous theological absurdities and glaring contradictions, as has been shown, and will be shown further.
He says that Christians are "already adopted" and yet the text says it is future. Paul does not say "waiting for the completion of the adoption (huiothesia)." Yet, like Piper, many will interpret "waiting for the huiothesia" as a present reality.