Meaning of Adoption

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

There are three different cultures that need to be reviewed in order to understand how this phrase in Ephesians 1:5 should be translated. In the Jewish culture, adoption was secondary to being born as a natural son. There are incidents of adoption in the Old Testament. For example, Abraham adopted Eliezer, his steward, as his heir when he had no children (Genesis 15:2, 3). But emphasis was normally on the firstborn son, and since the firstborn son received a double portion of the inheritance, this was very important.

The same emphasis is true in our culture. If one is adopted, there is a perception that the real father was somehow not responsible or willing to care for the child. Being a natural child is considered to be much more important than to be adopted. In fact, that is why we call being saved as being “born again” as it is described in I Peter and the gospel of John.

MGI 1 Peter 1:23 Like a man, you were born anew, not of seed that is corruptible, but of that which is not corruptible, by the living word of God that stands forever.

To be born anew literally means to be “born from above” or born again. Because being born into a family is so important in our estimation, this phrase is used more often to describe sonship than adoption.

However, in the Greek and Roman cultures, adoption was more important than being a natural son. An example is in the succession of the Caesars. More often than not, the successor was an adopted son rather than the natural son. Augustus Caesar was adopted by his uncle Julius Caesar Gaius Octavius and became Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Even his name was changed to reflect his new status as the son of Julius Caesar.

Perhaps you have seen the movie, Ben Hur. Judah Ben Hur rescued a naval commander, Quintus Arrius, and was adopted by him, changing his status from being a slave to a son. All the rights and privileges of being a Roman citizen belonged to him after the adoption.

Now we can begin to see that there are significant reasons why the word “adoption” is used in Ephesians 1:5, as well as in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5. There are 5 main points that are shown by our adoption to God as our Father.

1. We are purchased

KJV Galatians 4:4-5 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, 5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

The word “adoption” is actually an idiom that literally means, “placing as sons.” It could be translated sonship but it is better to leave it as the idiom. The word “redeem” in these verses means to purchase or buy, to buy up for oneself. There was a price that God paid for the adoption–the death of his only begotten Son.

2. We receive a new name

MGI Galatians 4:6 And now that you are sons, God sent into your hearts the Spirit of his Son that calls, “Father, our Father.”

Now our new name is no longer “slave,” but “son.” Galatians 4:3 says that we were in “bondage under the elements of the world.” The slave has been made a son, just as in the story of Ben Hur. That is the reason Galatians 4:6 says that now we can call God our Father and say, “Abba, Father.” Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible denotes that servants could not use the title of Abba.

It is said in the Babylonian Gemara, a Jewish work, that it was not permitted for slaves to use the title of Abba in addressing the master of the family to which they belonged. If so, then the language which Christians are here represented as using is the language of freemen, and denotes that they are not under the servitude of sin.

3. All debts are cancelled

MGI Romans 8:15 For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by which we call, “Father, our Father.”

In the Roman culture, not only would the adopted man receive a new name, but all debts would be cancelled upon the adoption. Any ramifications of the bondage that we had to sin is cancelled. This is explained in many other passages in the epistles, including this great illustration in Colossians:

MGI Colossians 2:14 And he has blotted out, by his commandments, the handwriting of our debts that was against us and he took it from the middle and fastened it to his cross.

4. Privileges and authority

MGI Ephesians 1:4-5 even as he chose us beforehand in him, from before the foundations of the world, that we should be holy [ones] and without blemish before him. And in love, he marked us out beforehand for himself 5 and he adopted us in Jesus Christ, as was pleasing to his will,

Ephesians 1:3 says that we have all spiritual blessings. Every kind of blessing of the spirit is ours! We were also given the seal of holy spirit to use in all of our everyday life. The seal in the Roman culture allowed a person to transact any kind of business and it would be backed up by everything that the father owned. The seal is not only a “token” of our inheritance, but it is to be used each and every day.

MGI Ephesians 1:11 And we were chosen in him, even as he marked us out beforehand and he desired, he who performs everything according to the purpose of his will, 12 that we, those who first trusted in Christ, should be for the esteem of his magnificence. 13 In him also, you heard the word of truthfulness, which is the gospel of your life, and in him, you believed and you were sealed with the Holy Spirit that was promised, 14 which is the guarantee of our inheritance to the redemption of those who have life and to the glory of his honor.

5. Inheritance

MGI Romans 8:23 And they are not alone, but we also who have the first[fruit] of the Spirit groan within ourselves and we wait for the adoption and the redemption of our bodies,

Our full inheritance will be received when our physical bodies are also changed to become like Christ’s resurrected body. And we will receive the full inheritance that Jesus Christ has now! Jesus Christ is the firstborn son and normally would get the largest portion and the rest would be divided up among the sons. However, God has made us “joint-heirs” with Jesus Christ. That means we get everything that he has, not just a portion!

MGI Romans 8:17 And if [we are] sons, [then] also heirs, heirs of God and fellow-heirs of Jesus Christ, that if we suffer with him, we will also be glorified with him.

Adoption had two parts: a private and then a public ceremony. The public ceremony was a formal declaration that this person is now a son. Freeman, in Bible Manners and Customs, describes it as:

Among the Romans there were two parts to the act of adoption: one a private arrangement between the parties, and the other a formal public declaration of the fact. It is thought by some that the former is referred to in this verse [Rom 8:15], and the latter in verse 23, where the apostle speaks of “waiting for the adoption.” The servant has been adopted privately, but he is “waiting” for a formal public declaration of the fact.

Now we have begun to see that adoption is a much bigger concept than at first it appears to be. We are purchased, we have a new name, all debts are cancelled, we have many privileges and authority and we will receive the full inheritance of Jesus Christ!


It has been taught extensively that the phrase, “Abba, Father,” used in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:5, is a term of intimacy, and could be explained in our culture as the term “Daddy.” Certainly we are to come to our Father God as a child, filled with trust and expectancy that He will provide for our every need. My granddaughter Elisabeth calls out to her Dad, saying, “Daddy,” whenever she wants to be picked up or needs something. Of course, there are many verses that describe this kind of trust and reliance on God as our Father. But I believe that the phrase, “Abba, Father,” used in the epistles is a crying out, not so much from familiarity as from knowing that someone stronger and with more resources is in charge.

The Aramaic term for Daddy would be Abi, with an “i” on the end of it (pronounced ahvi), and it would be translated, “my father” or “my daddy.” When Aba is used (it only has one b), it is a term of reverence and respect on account of the nearness of the relationship. It is not really a picture of a young child. It is an emphatic way of saying, “I am trusting you and relying on my relationship with you as a son.”

KJV Romans 8:15 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.

The literal meaning of the phrase, “Abba, Father” is “Father, our Father.” It is an honoring of the sonship relationship with nearness and respect. The repetition of the phrase is a very solemn figure of speech, epizeugxis, and is to be spoken slowly. Because we have been adopted, we can have a respect because of the relationship with our Father. I think the better way to describe our relationship would be as a young adult with a father. We need guidance, wisdom, advice. I need the resources that my Father has.

Sal Arico has a beautiful song called “Abba, Father” and there is a verse in it that says:

Father, Abba Father,

No more fear or strife

As your son, I trust only you, Lord

As you guide my life.

Saying “Abba, Father” is also acknowledging that we are in a joint-family with Jesus Christ as our brother, and all of the brothers and sisters together call God “our Father.” It is not just “my daddy” but WE are crying together and we have a huge family! We cry out together, “We need answers and we need YOUR resources. WE need you to guide OUR lives!”

Because we are adopted as SONS and have all the privileges and authority to be known as part of the family of God, together we cry out, “Father, our Father!”