The Bible mentions adoption five times. The concept of adoption in the Bible is usually, uncritically, understood with the meaning of adoption in our modern world. Webster’s online dictionary defines adoption as, “to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one’s own child.”

Is this the biblical meaning and use of adoption? First, it does not mean what we usually take it to mean. Evidently the translators failed to find a word in the English language that would express to us clearly the full meaning of when God placed a certain destination and position for the believer. The translators have used the word adoption, perhaps as the only word at their disposal, to express this act of God.

Adoption means “son placed.” Andrew Telford, in his excellent book, succinctly elaborates on the biblical term adoption.

Adoption means to be “Son Placed”, not “son made.” You are made a Son the moment you are saved by God’s grace. Now, as a son there are certain privileges and benefits God by His sovereign acts has provided for those who are saved. No one has been son placed as yet. One time you will be. You belong to the Lord Jesus Christ now, just as much as you ever will. You have not arrived at the goal which God has predestinated you to – which goal is Adoption.1

In what way is “adoption” God’s goal for His children? Let us consider four of the five verses.2

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Ephesians 1:5.

The context of Ephesians one is extremely important and unambiguous in who is being addressed. Paul is writing “to the saints,” “to the faithful,” verse 1. In verses 2-4, Paul refers to “you,” vs. 2, “us,” vs. 3, and “us,” and “we” in vs. 4. The focus of Paul’s message is believers. In verse 5, “us,” believers are still in focus and have been “predestinated unto the adoption.” And notice the prepositional phrase “of children.” Those who are already children will be “adopted.” “Adopted” not TO BE children, but because they already ARE children.

Ephesians 1:5 is clear that God’s children have been predestinated to an adoption. As a believer your adoption is secure because of God’s promise, but we are not told what the adoption is that is promised.

To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons,” Galatians 4:5.

The use of adoption in this verse parallels what was taught in Ephesians 1:5. God would redeem people in order that as sons we would receive the adoption. Once redeemed, we are children of God and one day we will receive the adoption. A blessed promise, yes, but still no help in explaining the meaning of “adoption.

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father,” Romans 8:15.

This verse in Romans is in the section that develops the ultimate glorification of believers. Many have noticed the development in the first 8 chapters of Romans of the doctrine of salvation through condemnation, 1:18 – 3:20, justification, 3:21 – 5:21, sanctification, 6:1 – 8:14, and glorification, Romans 8:15–39.

Believers, those who are already children of God, have “received the Spirit of adoption.” The Holy Spirit will do His work in a child of God resulting in “adoption.” And we will soon find out what is the work of “adoption” in the life of a child of God.

And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body,” Romans 8:23.

The “firstfruits of the Spirit” is using a term familiar to Jewish readers of this passage. It uses the Feast of Firstfruits, Leviticus 23:20, which is an initial offering to God of the harvest. But this offering promises a greater harvest later.

Believers, children of God, have the initial blessing of the Spirit of God in our lives and His work in us. The indwelling Spirit in us is the promise that there will be a greater blessing for God’s children in the future. That blessing is the “adoption.” And we are told that as God’s children we are “waiting” for the blessing of “adoption.” “Adoption,” the scripture is clear, is “the redemption of our body.”

“Adoption” is not being placed in God’s family. No, we are born into God’s family, John 3:3. There is no need to be placed into God’s family when we are born into His family. “Adoption” is the promise that as God’s children we will be placed into heaven one day with a new body. Child of God, that is certainly something worth “waiting” for.

End Notes

1 Andrew Telford, Subjects of Sovereignty: Adoption, Predestination, Election, Foreknowledge, Harvest Time Ministries, Acworth GA, 7th printing 1985, pg. 14-15

2 Adoption in Romans 9:4 pertains to the Jewish people as an entity (the nation of Israel) so is not germane to the subject of God’s adoption of believers found in the other 4 verses.