Marriage and Adoption

To take a theological tangent off of yesterday‘s theme, it’s worth comparing two dominant metaphors of our relationship with Christ: adoption and marriage, or betrothal. Today I’ll focus on the first of these. 

“Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:1-7)

St. Paul here is speaking to the Galatian Gentiles, exhorting them to remember that through Christ and the Spirit they are adopted into God and are heirs of Abraham equally with the Jews, without need to enslave themselves to Jewish law. The language of adoption, here and in similar passages in Romans 8 and Ephesians 1, is generally associated with the incorporation of the Gentiles into the Church.

However, it seems to me that a parallel message is spoken by Jesus to his Jewish disciples. Christ reminds them:

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29)

Leaving “house or brothers or sisters…”, in turn, is something that’s quite likely to happen to his Jewish audience, since earlier in Matthew, Jesus warns:

“For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.’” (Matthew 10:35)

The coming of Christ and the resistance of the Jews to Him will force many of his Jewish followers into conflict with their families. Those who are disowned or otherwise deprived of their families will be rewarded with a new and eternal family in God and, we may venture, in the Church. 

Thus for both the Jewish and the Gentile Christian, the relationship with one’s original family is compromised, and God takes in the believer as one of His own.

The damage to the family relationship, however, differs for the two groups. The Jew all too often must break with his family to join the family of Christ. The Gentile is, according to the metaphor in Galatians 4, in the position of a slave – born in bondage to the flesh and obeying the wrong masters, pagan gods (Galatians 8). A slave, effectively, does not have a family – he cares for and serves his master instead of his own father and mother, from whom he is separated and whose name he no longer bears, being known primarily as a member of his master’s household. In adoption, he acquires a family. The Jew, on the other hand, in adoption is comforted with a new, and eternal, family to replace the old.

I don’t mean to make too much of this, as to a great extent both narratives of adoption apply to both Jews and Gentiles; the Jew, too, finds himself a slave prior to baptism, and the Gentile, too, may have to break with his family in pursuit of Christ. Nevertheless, I find it interesting that the biblical language, which does not consider a given individual’s situation, suggests that in adoption the Gentile gains everything and loses nothing, while for the Jew one family is replaced with another and a reward is given to compensate for the loss (“everyone who has left… will receive a hundredfold”).

About The Groom's Family

I was born in Soviet Russia and grew up in Israel. I was baptized Orthodox Christian in 2006. Today my husband and I live in Northern Virginia. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
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3 Responses to Marriage and Adoption

  1. Pingback: Marriage and Adoption II – Marriage | The Groom's Family

  2. Pingback: The Groom’s Family | The Groom's Family

  3. Pingback: Blog is Back! And So Is Marriage | The Groom's Family

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