Adoptionism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

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A doctrine that taught that Jesus of Nazareth was a mere man until his baptism where God the Father adopted him as his Son. Wayne Grudem explained that “[a]doptionists would not hold that Christ existed before he was born as a man; therefore, they would not think of Christ as eternal, nor would they think of him as the exalted, supernatural being created by God that the Arians held him to be.”(Grudem 1994: 245)

Adoptionism was rejected and exposed to be a false teaching because it failed to square with passages that explicitly demonstrated the preexistence of Christ Jesus (e.g. John 1:1, 8:58 and Phil. 2:6). This teaching failed to portray Christ Jesus as David’s Son and David’s Lord (Matt. 22:45 Luke 1:43) that is clearly taught in God-breathed Scriptures.

Gerrit C. Berkouwer informed as that,

Felix of Urgel, for instance, taught that the human being adopted by the Son of God must be sharply distinguished from Christ who, as God’s own Son without adoption, was the second person of the Trinity. The man Jesus was predestined to be united with the Son of God. This Adoptionism was condemned by the Western Church in 792 (Regensburg), in 794 (Frankfort), and in 799 (Aken), because the church regarded this as a doctrine of two persons and spoke explicitly of the Nestorian impiety by which Christ was divided into two persons: God’s own Son and the adopted son.(Berkouwer 1954: 322)

He wonderfully remarked that “in order to find Adoptionism in the New Testament, one must make a radical selection in Scripture—a selection which obscures the mystery of the person and work of Christ.”(Berkouwer 1954: 176) Berkouwer explained that the Gospel does not present Jesus Christ as a man who was adopted as Son of God as a reward for his work on earth but a person whose work and person direct us to His divinity.

Millard J. Erickson noted that the doctrine Adoptionism recurrent appearances throughout the Church history but “[t]hose who take seriously the full teaching of Scripture, however, are aware of major obstacles to this view, including the preexistence of Christ, the prebirth narrative, and the virgin birth.”(Erickson 1998: 748)

Question To Skeptics: What case could you offer against preexistence of Jesus of Nazareth?

Bibliography:

Berkouwer, G. C. (1954). The Person of Christ. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.

Erickson, M. J. (1998). Christian theology (2nd ed.) Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.

Grudem, W. A. (1994). Systematic theology : An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

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5 thoughts on “Adoptionism: Concise Introduction For Skeptics

  1. @ Prayson, how would you interprete this adoptionism, in the light of the meaning for the words “son of God”? Is there not several people in the Bible (or at least in the Torah), that are referred to as “sons of God” in the wider meaning, that they are just righteous men acting according to the will of god? It has been several years since I read the Bible, but you are well versed in research, so perhaps you could remind me.

    As far as cultural history goes, it seems that the understanding of the cultural idea was a bit different to most people in the Roman empire, than how the Jews would have understood it in the days Jesus or even of the early church.

    • This is a very good question. It is interesting that their is only one scholarly work by a leading theologians D. A. Carson, Jesus the Son of God: A Christological Title Often Overlooked, Sometimes Misunderstood, and Currently Disputed that goes deep in looking what Bible author meant in Old and New Testaments use of “son(s) of X”.

      Carson contended that not all uses of “Son of God” are the same, and that we need to notice Biblical trajectories to understand how “Son of God” commonly “works.”

      Example Son of X sometimes carries like father like son but not in necessarily biological sense. Sons of Satan meant since the devil is a liar and a murder, Jesus could call his opponent who wanted to kill him sons of Satan, or those who loved peace, he called the sons of God, since God love peace and they reflect their father’s nature. The kings of Israel were also called sons of God because they reflect God’s ruler-ship and everyone who Christ died for thus exchanged his righteous act with their unrighteous are now given the right to be called sons of God, since they reflect God’s righteousness.

      I hope I began shining a little light on how to understand the language “son(s) of X” as used in Biblical times.

      Prayson

      • @Prayson, thank you very much. This is interresting. How do you personally think the justification for that expression, to be one in one case and completely different in a nother, is formed?

        I suppose it is surmised in Christianity that the writers of the New Testament were divinely inspired, so that even if they have a completely different understanding as to what the “Son of God” would mean, from the contemporary Jewish use of the term, is justified to be different by divine interference. But at what stage this differentiation happened? If we assume the Gospel writers were well versed in the Jewish tradition and world view (as it would seem, since they do present a lot of interpretation of the Torah), and if they were indeed the diciples of Jesus, then would they not have understood Jesus in the Jewish way when he spoke and told them that he was a son of a god?

        Or could it be, that the diciples did not see Jesus as a flesh and blood son of a god when he was still alive, but rather as just a holy man? They did called him Rabbi – a “teacher”. And that the idea of him being a literal son in flesh and blood might be an interpretation of the story by gentiles joining in the newborn cult. To Greeks and Romans (or just about anybody in those days apart from the Jews) flesh and blood sons of gods as an idea was far more familiar, than the idea of calling just righteous men or even simply Israelites “sons of God”. Some exegetics have led to the idea, that the miraculous birth stories are a later addition to the Gospels wich would indicate that the entire matter of Jesus being a flesh and blood son of a god might have not been very obvious to his contemporaries. If they had become under the new impression about the matter during the life of Jesus, one would expect some sort of explanation of the changing terminology within the Bible, right?

        I mean no disrespect, but this cultural transition could explain how some people came to believe in the adoptionism. And in that context the adoptionism makes perfect sense, though it is in direct contradiction to the Aristotelean view you once brought up, that a temporal being can not be divine. Do you think it is possible the idea by Aristoteles might have influenced the early Church fathers In Nikaea to come to the conclusion about the trinity to fit Jesus in to the definition of a god?

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