No Longer Slaves; the Pauline Theology of Adoption
By Hannah Alarid
The first Sunday service of our church we sung the song “No Longer Slaves”. Together—this congregation of ex-convicts, ex-prostitutes, addicts, outcasts, orphans, foster children, and the like—belted out the simple, two-line chorus together:
I’m no longer a slave to fear,
I am a child of God.
Over and over, we repeated the chorus until the melody and words were branded in our minds for the days following. After service a young lady, who had been battling a meth addiction shared her experience with us. During that song she felt all her fears and insecurities about herself fall away, as the realization that God accepted her as his daughter broke through her chains and bondages. It doesn’t take a theologian to understand why that concept would be compelling to the out-casted criminal, the enslaved addict, and the fatherless gang-member. To find that you can be free, and yet belong at the same time, is one of the most compelling gifts of the gospel. The apostle Paul writes of this amazing gift called adoption in his letters written to various churches during the New Testament era.
Chronologically, Galatians is the first letter in which Paul introduces his theology of adoption. He writes in Galatians 3:23-26, 29: “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. ” Here is the beginning of a contrasting language we will see continually throughout the metaphor of adoption—captive, imprisoned, law, enslaved versus offspring, heirs, and promise. In just the next few phrases Paul begins to reveal in more clarity this relationship we have with God the Father through Christ.
In Galatians 4:4-5 he continues: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The Greek word that Paul uses in this Scripture, and continually from this point on when referring to this metaphor, is huiothesia. This word is translated to adoption or sonship. There has been debate or which translation is more accurate. When compared to ancient Greek lexicography dating back to the New Testamental era, it becomes evident that “adoption” is the expression that Paul wanted to convey. The reason becomes clearer as when we understand the Greco-Roman practice of adoption.
In the Greco-Roman world of Paul and the Galatian church he wrote to, adoption of children was a familiar practice. The following rights of an adopted child are unequivocally liberating when applied to our personal relationship with God the Father: “(1)…an adopted son was taken out of his previous situation and placed in an entirely new relationship to his new adopting father, who became his new paterfamilias; (2)…an adopted son started a new life as a part of his new family, with all his old relationships and obligations cancelled; (3)… an adopted son was considered no less important than any other biologically born son in his adopting father’s family; and, (4)…an adopted son experienced a changed status, which his old name set aside and a new name given him by his adopting father” (72, Longenecker). What a magnificent picture of the Father restoring a lost humanity! Paul adds on in verses 6-7, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”
The doctrine of adoption is a miracle and a gift. To be adopted by Christ implies not only a change of situation, but of status, belonging, and identity. To have been lost, and then found…to have been a slave, but now called a child of God. I thank God that we, the once out-casted, the once imprisoned, the once abandoned, and the once fatherless, can sing together:
I’m no longer a slave to fear,
I am a child of God…
Longenecker, Richard, N. “The Metaphor of Adoption in Paul’s Letters.” The Covenant Quarterly 72.3-4 (2014): 71-78. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Hawthorne, Gerald F., Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 1993. Print.
The Holy Bible ESV: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001. Print.