Huiothesia – A Different Kind of Adoption

Word of the Week

January 9, 2021

Doing Your Own Word Studies

In “Word of the Week,” we make the acquaintance of one or two words every seven days.  At the end of the year, our Greek vocabulary will be about 75 words bigger.  At that rate, it will take about 50 years to cover every word in the New Testament!

 

If you don’t want to wait for me to get around to the word that interests you, you will want to take a close look at the new Word Study Course that is going online this week.  The first lesson is already in place, and the rest of the 7-lesson course will be up by the end of January.  Take a closer look HERE.

Huiothesia – A Different Kind of Adoption

Adoption is a marvelous act of love.  You reach out to a child who has no parents and bring them into your family circle.  Not just as a short-term visitor, but as a permanent family member.

Adoption is a familiar feature of modern life.  My own sister came from Korea to join our home at the age of four.  My pastor and his wife adopted two preteens from Russia, and several other friends have added children from places as far as Ethiopia to their families.

In America, we usually imagine that adoption involves a baby or a fairly young child – and that’s often the case. But that’s not an accurate picture of the adoption described in the New Testament.

The Greek word for adoption is huiothesia.  It comes from two Greek words meaning “placing as a son,” and it occurs only five times.  In every case, it describes what God has done for His people.

To fully appreciate this wonderful gift of His grace, we need to step back into the world of the first century.

A well-to-do Roman father was not only responsible for his wife and children, he was also the manager of a sizable household with servants and property.  This estate would normally pass to the oldest son, and the father would work hard to prepare his son to take over eventually.  But if there was no son, or no son capable of handling the inheritance, trouble lay ahead.

In such a case, the father might look for someone else, a more distant relative or someone outside the family, who would handle the family affairs capably.  He could pick someone with proven ability who could be trained for the position.

Roman law prescribed a formal process of adoption, by which the chosen heir would become a legal son, with all the rights and privileges that a natural child would enjoy.  Roman adoption was almost always something that happened to an adult, not a child.

Even a Roman emperor could use the adoption process to pick a successor, if his own sons were unfit to rule the empire after him.  Some of the best-known emperors gained their status by adoption:  Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, and Marcus Aurelius, for example.

With this background in mind, let’s scan the New Testament passages that talk about the adoption that God offers.

  • Ephesians 1:5 – God chose us for adoption as sons before the foundation of the world.

He carefully selected us as beneficiaries of the incredible riches of salvation, reserving us a place in His family.

  • Galatians 4:4-5 – In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son to redeem us, so that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Adoption was often an expensive process, but God was willing to pay an unimaginable price to make it possible for us to join His family.

  • Romans 8:15 – We have received the spirit of adoption as sons.

Being a slave could be a good life if you belonged to a kind master, but God gives us the status of sons, not servants.  Not only do we have full legal rights, but we have the kind of intimate relationship that allows us to call Him “Abba, Father.”

  • Romans 9:4 – Old Testament Israel shared the experience of adoption.

The nation of Israel was chosen by God as His own people.  As He told Moses, “Israel is My son, My firstborn” (Exodus 4:22).  The Lord has been building His household since the beginning.

  • Romans 8:23 – Right now we “groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”

In the present moment, life is tough and we are weak.  We don’t always feel like the heirs of the King.  Even after a young man was adopted, he had to wait to receive his full inheritance.  We are in a holding pattern with massive wealth in our name, but we still struggle with our current circumstances.  We can hardly wait for the Father to bring us home to our full inheritance.

It is hard to imagine what it means to be adopted by the infinite God, the Monarch of the universe.  But we know that His plans for us soar far above our expectations or imaginations.  If first-century adoption could put a man on the emperor’s throne, what could God have planned for his heirs? There is perhaps a hint in Revelation 22:5, which says that God’s servants will have no need for the light of a lamp, because the Lord God will illumine them . . . and they shall reign forever and ever.

Study Hint:

It may sound as if the word adoption is exclusively for males, but the rest of Scripture makes it clear than women are on an equal footing with men in the family of God (Galatians 3:28).  Even in the Roman world, women were occasionally eligible for the legal status conferred by adoption.  The word “adoption” specifically refers to sons because the responsibility for a household normally fell to the father.

 

Q&A

 

Q: Are there any examples of onomatopoeia in New Testament Greek?

 

A:  Only English professors would ask such a question!  Onomatopoeia is the technical term for a word that sounds like the thing it is describing.  In English, an example might be “hiss.”  When you say “hiss,”  the “ss” is making the same noise that a hissing snake or a leaky tire would make.

Yes, this can happen in Greek.  My favorite example is ptuō, which means “to spit.”  A Greek who wanted to say, “he spits” would sound like “p’too’-ee.”  Sounds like spit to me!

Another example is the Greek word for “mutter, grumble.”  It is pronounced “gon’-gus-mos.”  Say that five times, and you’ll sound like a crowd muttering in the background of a movie soundtrack.

 

Coming Up

The King James rendering of 1 Peter 2:9 calls Christians “a peculiar people.”  And the Lord knows that we are often peculiar!  However, the Greek behind that phrase means something a little different.

 

©Ezra Project 2021

 

10 Responses

  1. That’s great, God bless you more. But you didn’t finish with what’s in 1 Peter 2:9. Can you continue?
    Thank you

    1. In these blogs, I usually try to focus on an individual word, rather than covering everything in an entire verse. However, I’ll put 1 Peter 2:9 on a list of topics to cover in a future Word of the Week article. Thanks for asking!

  2. This concept leaves me wondering who’s son I was before I received Christ. Who gave birth to this being that I am? Was Satan literally my progenitor? Was some other entity? I have also heard that the word huiothesia means to be placed in the proper place as a son by accepting one’s heritage, not that he wasn’t a son from the father’s perspective but that the son had rejected his true identity. This seems to line up with the story of the prodigal son. I just can’t imagine that I was created or born of someone other than God. What do you think?

    1. Who were you before you received Christ? There are two angles on that. First, you have your physical existence because you are part of the human race which God created. In that sense, God is the creator of all, whether or not they have received Christ. Second, your soul and spirit have a relationship with someone. For the unsaved, they are under the domination of Satan. As Jesus said in John 8:44 to the Jewish leaders, “You are of your father the devil.” However, when you become a believer, that changes. As Colossians 1:13 says, “He [the Father] delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” Think about that for a while and see if it makes things any clearer.

  3. Excellent explanation Dr John. I enjoyed reading and meditating on those Scriptures that you mentioned. Many thanks Sir.

  4. The foundation of my faith lies within being adopted by God the father; assures my faith is not in vain. Waiting for the redemption of my body that will consummate my faith and hope in my savior Jesus Christ

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