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Is Christ *Merely* the “Adopted” Son of God?
October 8, 2023
If Jesus wasn’t God from eternity past, but was “adopted” to be the Son of God at some point of his existence, wouldn’t that be a pretty watered-down understanding of his divinity? A lot of people find this kind of “adoptionist” Christology (Christ wasn’t “inherently” God but “made” divine by adoption) completely unsatisfying and, well, pretty wimpy as far as Christologies go.
I mentioned in the previous post that one could well read Luke as adoptionistic, and as I reflected on it some more, I recalled that the first time I wrestled seriously with the issue was ten years ago, when I was doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God.
Here’s what I ended up thinking about it, and saying about it in the book. And in case you wonder — mirabile dictu! — I still think the same today!
Part of what has convinced me that an [adoptionistic] understanding of Christ should not be shunted aside as rather inferior involves new research on what it meant to be “adopted” as a son in the Roman empire, which was the context, of course, within which these views of Christ were formulated. Today we may think that an adopted child is not a parent’s “real” child, and in some circles, unfortunately, that is taken to mean that the child does not “really” belong to the parent. Many of us do not think this is a useful, loving, or helpful view, but there it is: some people have it. So too when thinking about God and his Son. If Jesus is “only” adopted, then he’s not “really” the Son of God, but he just happens to have been granted a more exalted status than the rest of us.
A study of adoption in Roman society shows that this view is highly problematic and, in fact, probably wrong. A significant recent book by New Testament specialist Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World, deals with just this issue, to show what it meant at that time and place to be an “adopted son.” Peppard persuasively argues that scholars (and other readers) have gotten it precisely wrong when they have maintained that an “adopted” son meant having a lower social status than a “begotten” son (that is, a son actually born of the parent). In fact,
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