Adoption is concerned
with the Fatherhood of God in relation to the
redeemed. But it is necessary to preface our discussion by
distinguishing the several kinds of divine Fatherhood found in
This is the exclusive property of the Father in relation to the Son in
the mystery of the Trinity. It is immanent, eternal, and exclusive. No
other person of the Trinity shares it and in reference to the Sonship
involved no man or angel participates in it. This uniqueness is
expressed in the monogenes title as applied to Christ and in such
expressions as the Father's own Son (Rom. 8:3, 32). This is the only
Fatherhood that obtains in the opera ad intra and to think of it as
belonging to the opera ad extra would deny its immanent and eternal
This is very seldom stated in terms of God's Fatherhood. But since it
appears in such passages as Acts 17:28, 29; Hebrews 12:9; James 1:17,
18, we shall have to reckon with the fact that it is not improper to
speak of God's creative relationship in terms of Fatherhood. Since all
three persons of the Godhead were the agents of creation we cannot
restrict this Fatherhood to the first person of the Trinity but we must
think of the Godhead as sustaining this relation to angels and men.
Other texts, besides those cited, might appear to express this same
truth. But some of these are clearly irrelevant and others cannot be
shown to have the creative relation in mind.
In Matthew 5:45-48 God is not called the Father of all. He is called
the Father of the disciples and it is true that he as their heavenly
Father bestows his kindness upon just and unjust. But the text
carefully refrains from stating or implying that it is because God is
the Father of all that he sends rain and makes his sun to rise upon
evil and good.
In I Corinthians 8:6 -- 'but to us there is one God, the Father, of
are all things, and we unto him' -- there is no mention of a fatherly
relation to all men. It is simply an identification of the first person
of the Godhead by his distinguishing trinitarian name, and there is in
the text indeed no necessary reflection upon his fatherly relation to
men. In accord with Paul's usage it is the relation to the Son that is
in view and, when he reflects on the fatherly relation to men, he calls
him our Father.
Ephesians 3:1 -- 'the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and
earth is named' -- indicates that this cannot contemplate all mankind
because it is restricted to the family of God.
Ephesians 4:6 -- 'One God and Father of all, who is over all, and
through all, and in all', must refer to the saints for of those
specified as enjoying this relationship Paul proceeds to say, 'But to
each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of the
free gift of Christ'. Besides, in verse 4 the delimitation is clearly
indicated -- 'One body and one Spirit even as ye were called in one
of your calling'.
Malachi 2:10 -- 'Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created
us?' -- might seem to refer to creation and therefore to universal
fatherhood. But it is characteristic of the Old Testament to use the
language of creation with reference to the work of redemption. Compare
especially Isaiah 43:1, 7, 9 where bara and yatsar are used plainly in
a restrictive and redemptive sense (cf. Isaiah 64:8, 9). Besides, the
latter part of Malachi 2:10 refers to the covenant of the fathers and
indicates that the theocratic relationship to Israelis in view in the
earlier part of the verse.
It is noteworthy, therefore, how infrequently the creative relation is
expressed in terms of fatherhood. Nowhere is God expressly called the
Father of all men. Hence the concept of universal fatherhood, if used
at all, must be employed with great caution and it is particularly
necessary not to confuse this rare use of the term Father with the
frequent use of the same term as it is applied to the redeemed.
In Luke 3:38 the word huios does not actually occur but it may be
understood as carried over from verse 24 where the genealogy begins
with on huios, hos enomizeto, Ioseph, tou Elei tou Matthat. This does
not prove however that God may be regarded as the Father of all men in
the sense in which he was the Father of Adam, for two reasons.
(i) The emphasis seems to be upon the fact that Adam owed his origin to
God as no other man did. Adam was not generated by a human father.
(ii) Adam might have been a son of God by creation, but not in his
fallen state. We might concede that Adam as created was a son of God
without conceding that all men since the fall are sons of God. We must
distinguish between Adam's sonship and the sonship of adoption. The
latter entails a security that Adam did not possess.
3. Theocratic Fatherhood
This refers to God's adoption of Israel as his chosen people. It is the
prototype of redemptive adoption as the Old Testament counterpart.
Exodus 4:22, 23; Deuteronomy 14:1 2; cf. 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:5, 6, 20;
Isaiah 43:6; cf. Isaiah 1:2; Isaiah 63:16; Hosea 11:1; Malachi 1:6;
Malachi 2:10; Romans 9:4.
This is not the exclusive property of the first person.
4. Adoptive Fatherhood
This must be distinguished from the fatherhood of the preceding
caption, not because it is principially different but because it is the
full-fledged sonship in distinction from the nonage sonship in the Old
Testament period. The distinction is clearly drawn by Paul in Galatians
3:23-4:6. The difference is in line with the difference in general
between the Old Testament and the New; the Old is preparatory, the New
is consummatory. The Old is prepadeutic, the New is graduatory. The
children of God in the Old Testament were as children under age. The
grace of the New Testament appears in this that by redemption
accomplished and by faith in him all without exception are introduced
into the full blessing of sonship without the necessity of undergoing a
period of tutelary preparation corresponding to the tutelary discipline
of the Old Testament period. That is to say, New Testament believers
from among Gentiles do not have to undergo in the realm of their
individual development a preliminary period which corresponds to the
Old Testament period in the broad sphere of progressive revelation and
realization. There is no recapitulation in the individual sphere of
what obtained in the realm of dispensational progression.
The Greek term for adoption is huiothesia -- Romans 8:15; 8:23;
Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5 (cf. Rom. 9:4). The most important
passages in the New Testament bearing upon adoption are John 1:12, 13;
Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 1:5; I John 3:1 2, 10.
The words used in the New Testament to express the thought of sonship
in relation to God are huios, teknon, teknion2 and paidion; pais,
though used on several occasions with reference to Christ and on two
occasions with reference to David (Luke 1:69; Acts 4:25) is not used to
express the relation with which we are now concerned.
Paidion is the regular word for child and is used of this relation in
Hebrews 2:13, 14 -- cf. Isaiah 8:18 -- teknion -- cf. John 13:33; I
2:1, 12, 28; 3:7 (some mss. paidia), 18; 4:4 5:21.
The standard terms are however huios and teknon. John uses teknon
almost exclusively. Only in Revelation 21:7 does he use huios, in
quoting 2 Samuel 7:14. Paul uses both huios and teknon. Romans 8:14-21
provides an interesting example of the facility with which Paul can
pass from the one term to the other. Teknon is derived from tiktein
which means to bear or bring forth. Tekna is the usual word for
children in the New Testament and is used of both sexes, that is of son
or daughter (cf. Luke 15:31; 16:25; Acts 7:5).
THE NATURE OF ADOPTION
Since teknon is derived from tiktein we might readily suppose that the
word tekna would reflect upon divine parentage by generation. Much
plausible support might appear to be derived from the fact that tekna
is the common word for children in the New Testament and in reference
to parents the birth from these parents is generally presupposed as
that which constitutes the relation implied in the use of the term.
Furthermore, in Johannine usage so much emphasis falls upon the fact
that those who are begotten of God bear the lineaments of him who has
begotten them that we might readily conclude that in the background of
the term teknon is the assumption that they are children by divine
We must not, however, take for granted that the word teknon, because of
its derivation or because of other assumptions which attach to its
ordinary use, implies that we become children of God by regeneration or
that it expressly reflects upon sonship as constituted by regeneration.
Although it has been maintained in this connection that we become
children of God both by deed of adoption and by participation of
nature, it is not by any means so apparent that regeneration is to be
coordinated with adoption as the way by which we become sons of God. We
must appreciate the fact that the deed of adoption is clearly set forth
in the New Testament, and it is apparent that adoption is quite
distinct from regeneration. We may never think of sonship as being
constituted apart from the act of adoption. If we should think of
sonship as constituted by regeneration simply and solely then we should
be doing serious prejudice to the necessity and the fact and the
distinctive grace of adoption. And not only so. It is questionable if
the generative act of God in regeneration is to be construed as an
aspect of God's grace by which we are constituted sons of God. One
other consideration may be mentioned in this connection. As will be
noted later, it is to God the Father specifically and par excellence
that the children of God sustain this relationship. It is God the
Father who is our Father in heaven. We should expect then that it is by
an action which is pre-eminently that of the Father that this relation
is constituted. But regeneration is pre-eminently the act of the Holy
Spirit. In any case, even if we allow that regeneration is to be
coordinated with adoption as an ingredient in the total action by which
we become sons of God, yet it is adoption that must be regarded as the
distinctive and definitive act by which this relation is constituted.
This is to say, that the privilege and status of sonship is not
acquired simply by a subjectively operative action but by what must be
called, by way of distinction, a judicial act that has its affinities
with justification rather than with regeneration or sanctification.
Calling, regeneration, pardon and justification are presupposed, and
adoption supervenes upon the condition and status established by these
other acts of God and initiates a status and introduces to a privilege
which calling, regeneration and justification enlarged to the fullest
extent do not themselves define or explicate. The case might be stated
thus. Redemption contemplates and secures adoption as the apex of
privilege. Calling ushers into the fellowship of God's Son.
Regeneration effects that principial conformity to the image of God in
righteousness and holiness. Justification accords acceptance with God
as righteous and gives the title to the eternal life which the
righteousness imputed demands. Sanctification prepares the people of
God for the full and con-summate enjoyment of the inheritance to which
adoption entitles, the heirship of God. But it is in the act of
adoption that God becomes to the redeemed a Father in the highest sense
that divine Fatherhood can belong to creatures, or, rather, can be
predicated of creatures.
We may not, however, rule out the significance of regeneration in
connection with the sonship constituted by adoption. Regeneration it is
that generates them anew after the image of God so that the adopted may
be imbued with the disposition which is consonant with the
responsibilities and privileges and prerogatives belonging to the
status of adoption.
Now it is significant in this connection that not only do we have the
explicit teaching of Paul to the effect that there is the adoptive act
(Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1 :5), derived from the notion of a legal
act whereby a person who is not a natural son is received into the
rights and privileges of a son, but even in the teaching of John there
is reflection upon the distinctive action by which we become sons of
God. In John 1:12 he speaks of giving authority to become sons of God.
Sonship, he indicates, is instituted by the bestowment of a right and
this is to be distinguished from the regeneration spoken of in verse
13. When we apply John's own teaching elsewhere to this passage we are
compelled to discover the following progression of logical and causal
relationship -- regeneration (v. 13), the reception of Christ, the
bestowment of authority, and becoming thereby children of God (v. 12).
It is very likely that this same thought is alluded to in I John 3:1-3,
'Behold what manner of love the Father hath given to us that we should
be called children of God, and we are'. Several things are to be noted.
(1) It is the Father who is in view as the agent. (2) The Father
bestows this privilege (dedoken -- the same verb as in John 1:12). (3)
The calling, whether it reflects on our being named children of God or
contains a more efficient idea, that of being effectually called into
being as sons of God, stresses the dignity of the status. (4) The
emphasis upon the marvel of the Father's love points to the status
contemplated as that which in the realm of possession is the apex and
epitome of grace. (5) It is a present possession and not simply a
future attainment. (6) The status insures that in the future we shall
be conformed to his image and will enjoy the beatific vision.
In a word, the representation of Scripture is to the effect that by
regeneration we become members of God's kingdom, by adoption we become
members of God's family. And it may not be forgotten that on the only
occasion in which this concept of the family of God is expressly
mentioned in the New Testament, it is God the Father who is in view.
'For this cause', says Paul, 'I bow my knees unto the Father, of whom
the whole family in heaven and upon earth is named' (Eph. 3:14, 15)3
THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION
The grace of adoption embraces not only the bestowment of the status
and privilege of sons but also the witness of the Spirit to the fact
(Rom. 8:15, 16; Gal. 4:6). This includes, as we found already, two
(1) the creation and fostering within us of the filial affection and
confidence which is the reflex in our consciousness of the status; (2)
the conjoint witness of the Spirit to our spirits. The act of adoption
is necessary to the possession of the prerogative of sons; the Spirit
of adoption to the cultivation of these prerogatives and the
fulfillment of the correlative obligations. It is the Spirit of
adoption who produces the highest confidence that it is given to men to
exercise in relation to God. The people of God thereby recognize not
only Christ as their Redeemer and Saviour, high priest and advocate at
God's right hand, not only the Holy Spirit as their sanctifier and
advocate, not only the Father as the one who has called them into the
fellowship of his Son but also as the one who has instated them in his
family, and they enter into the holiest in the assurance that he, the
God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, will own them and bless them
as his own children. No approach to God par-takes of comparable
intimacy, confidence, and love with that of the simple, yet unspeakably
eloquent, 'Abba, Father'. And they accept all the dispensations of his
providence as those of the all-wise, all-holy, and all-loving Father in
heaven. It is not without significance that the acme of privilege and
the highest outreach of confidence toward God that flows from it should
be directly attached to that which is pre-eminently and distinctively
the action of the Father in the counsel of redemption, namely, election
and predestination. 'In love having predestinated us unto adoption'
(Eph. 1:5). Here we have the ultimate source and the highest privilege
brought together. And in the consciousness of the sons of God it is
inevitable that the assurance of the one should go hand in hand with
the recognition of the other. The confidence implicit in the address
'Abba, Father' is one that draws to itself the assurance of
predestinating love and these mutually support and encourage each other.
Finally, we may not overlook the example furnished in this matter of
inter-trinitarian cooperation. It is the Father who sends the Spirit of
adoption into the hearts of his children. It is to the end of ensuring
the recognition and cultivation of the relation established by the
Father and to the Father. And the activity of the Spirit is directed to
the inducing of faith and love which have God the Father as their
object in the particularity of his fatherly identity. It is the Father
whom the Holy Spirit brings into the focus of the believer's faith,
confidence, and love.
THE TITLE 'FATHER'
It has been assumed that it is God the Father who stands in this
par-ticular relationship to the sons of God. What is the evidence
supporting this conclusion?
1. The title 'Father' is the distinguishing title of the first person
of the Godhead; it points to his incommunicable property. There is a
certain presumption arising from this fact that the title as it applies
to a divine relation to men would have in view that person who is
distinctively the Father. In other words it would seem appropriate that
the person who is Father should sustain to men the fatherly relation
that is constituted through the mediation of the Son.
2. In John 20:17 Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, to tell the disciples 'I
ascend unto my Father and your Father'. When he says 'my Father' he
must mean the first person of the Trinity. In the usage of our Lord
'Father', 'the Father', 'my Father' always refers to the first person.
And the same person must likewise be in view when he says 'your
Father'. The coordination would require this inference. Besides, it is
to 'the Father' he ascended and this is also said to be an ascension to
the person who is identified as the disciples' Father. Here, therefore,
without question 'the Father' is in view in the fatherly relation which
God sustains to the disciples.
3. Jesus very frequently calls the first person 'my Father who is in
heaven' in slightly variant forms:
pater mou ho ouranios
ho pater mou ho en tois ouranois
ho pater mou ho en ouranois
ho pater mou ho epouranios
He likewise speaks to the disciples of 'your Father who is in heaven'
(Matt. 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1; 7:11; Mark 11:25, 26). The similarity of
expression would naturally lead us to think that the same person is in
view in both cases, even though Jesus never includes the disciples with
him-self and speaks of 'our Father who is in heaven'.
4. In the New Testament epistles the title 'the Father' is the personal
name of the first person, as also quite frequently ho theos. The
expression or its close parallel 'The God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ' (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31; Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:3; I Pet. 1:3)
is un-questionably the first person. Likewise, 'God the Father' (Gal.
1:1; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11; I Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; I Tim. I :2; 2
Tim. 1 :2; Tit. 1:4; Jas. 1 :27(?); I Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:17; 2 John 3;
Jude 1; Rev. 1:6). In nearly all these instances the Father is
distinguished from the Son and in I Peter 1:2 from the Holy Spirit.
When we examine similar instances in the epistles where God is called
the Father of believers we have close similarity of expression.
Romans 1:7: 'Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord
Jesus Christ' and the same in I Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2;
Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Philemon 3.
Galatians 1:4: 'According to the will of God and our
Philippians 4:20: 'But to God and our Father be the
glory for ever and ever. Amen.'
Colossians 1:2: 'Grace to you and peace from God our
I Thessalonians 1:3: 'before God and our Father'.
I Thessalonians 3:11: 'But God himself and our
Father and our Lord Jesus Christ'.
I Thessalonians 3:13: 'before God and our Father at
the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ'.
2 Thessalonians 1:1: 'to the church of the
Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.'
2 Thessalonians 2:16: 'But our Lord Jesus Christ
himself and God our Father . . . comfort your hearts'.
But there is not only the similarity of expression between these
in-stances and the others where God is called the Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ but, even more significantly, when God is denominated 'our
Father' the person contemplated is clearly distinguished from the Lord
Jesus Christ in most of the instances quoted. And this conclusively
shows that the person in view is God the Father as distinguished from
On these grounds we must infer that when God is contemplated in terms
of adoption as 'our heavenly Father' it is the first person of the
Trinity, the person who is specifically the Father, who is in view.
This fact enhances the marvel of adoption. The Father is not only the
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ but he is also the God and
Father of those who believe in Jesus' name. The relation of God as
Father to the Son must not be equated with the relation of God as
Father to the adopted. Eternal generation must not be equated with
adoption. Our Lord guarded this distinction most jealously in respect
of relationship, address, and implication. He never included the
disciples with himself or himself with the disciples in a common
relationship designated 'our Father'. He never approached the Father in
prayer with the disciples and said 'our Father'.
This is expressly marked in the word to Mary Magdalene. And the
implications of the distinction are apparent in his word 'No one
knoweth who the Father is but the Son' (Luke 10:22; cf. Matt. 11:27).
But while the distinction must be recognized and guarded we must not
fail to appreciate that which is common, namely, that it is the same
God and Father who sustains this relation to the only-begotten in the
uniqueness of the sonship that is his and to the redeemed in the
uniqueness of the sonship that belongs to them. This fact binds
together the only-begotten and the sons by adoption in a bond of
brotherhood. We could not dare to think of the relationship established
in these terms unless we had the authority of Scripture. In Hebrews
2:11 (cf. Matt. 12:50; John 20:17; especially the latter when Jesus
says 'Go to my brethren'.) we read, 'For both he that sanctifieth and
they who are being sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not
ashamed to call them brethren', and then the writer appeals to Psalm
22:22; Isaiah 8:17, 18. The passage speaks of the sons to be brought to
glory (v. 10 -- pollous huious eis doxan agagonta), of the children
God had given (v. 13 paidia), and of the children (paidia) as partakers
of blood and flesh (v. 14). We shall have to infer that the 'all of
one' (ex henos pantes) refers to the fact that the Son (cf. 1:5), here
designated the captain of salvation, and the sons to be brought to
glory are of the Father and therefore together constituted a
brotherhood by virtue of which the Son is not ashamed to call them
This doctrine of adoption is not only important in a positive way as
setting forth the apex of redemptive grace and privilege, but it is
also important negatively in that it corrects the widespread notion of
the universal fatherhood of God and provides against its devastating
implications. Though there is a sense in which the universal fatherhood
may be maintained, yet to confuse this with adoptive fatherhood is to
distort and even eviscerate one of the most precious and distinctive
elements of the redemptive provision. For if we do not distinguish at
this point it means one of two things; the denial of all that is
specifically redemptive in our concept of the divine fatherhood, or the
importation into the relation that all men sustain to God by creation
all the privileges and prerogatives that adoption entails. On the
former alternative God's fatherhood is emptied of all the rich content
Scripture attaches to it. On the latter alternative we shall have to
espouse universalism and the final restoration of all mankind.
It needs to be repeated that Scripture all but uniformly reserves the
title Father as it respects men and the title son as it respects our
relation to God for that relationship that is effected by the special
act of God's grace that finds its place within the ordo salutis,
namely, adoption. 'Adoption is an act of God's free grace, whereby we
are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of
the sons of God' (Shorter Catechism, Question 34).
1. T. J. Crawford: The Fatherhood of God,
Edinburgh 1868; R. S. Candlish: The Father-hood of God, Edinburgh 1865;
R. A. Webb: The Reformed Doctrine of Adoption, Grand Rapids, r.i. 1947;
J. Scott Lidgett: The Fatherhood of God, Edinburgh 1902; John Kennedy:
Man's Relation to God, Edinburgh, 1869.
2. It is questionable if teknion is used
to express this relationship. Jesus uses it (John 13:33) and it may not
here reflect upon the adoptive relationship but be a term of
endearment. John has almost a monopoly since outside John it appears
only in Galatians 4:19 where Paul addresses believers as teknia mou and
the proper text is probably tekna mou. In John's usage it is a term of
endearment as in John 13:33 (in addition to these occurrences all the
instances are I John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21.) In this respect
it is like paidion in John 21:5; I John 2:13, 18 and possibly I John
3:7 though the revised text reads teknia.
3. cf. James Buchanan, The Doctrine of
Justification, pp. 262f. John Kennedy, op. cit., pp. 147f.