Begotten of God or Adopted by God?

Psalm 2:7- You are My Son; today I have begotten You.

Since taking a New Testament Greek class, I have been more interested in comparing Bible translations and their underlying Greek text. The Greek language is very expressive and often the nuances of certain words are strained through translation. Which version of the Bible you use makes a big difference, yet most Christians probably couldn’t tell you why they use a certain version.

Henry Alford in the 1800s, working to produce The Greek New Testament, said he labored for the “demolition of the unworthy and pedantic reverence for the received text, which stood in the way of all chance of discovering the genuine word of God.” That may be a harsh critique but it gets the point across.

Sonship is one of these words that suffer from immigration into English. The Greek word literally translates as “the placing as a son.” Most expositors I’ve read translate it as adoption and stress the legal procedure by which God adopts sinners, not naturally born of Him, into His family, where they receive acceptance, love, and the right of inheritance as adult sons. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s short. It lacks any mention of God’s life in us.

I did a cursory search for blog posts on sonship/adoption and the vast majority didn’t mention God’s life. Sure there is a legal, judicial procedure in God’s salvation (redemption with all it entails) but I think much more emphasis needs to be given to our regeneration with the life of God so that we are understood as actually being sons of God. God has begotten us, not merely put His arm around us.

The poor understanding that adoption leads to is that receiving a spirit of sonship is like a ‘mangy, dirty, and scared dog’ being taken in and loved by a family.

Translating sonship as adoption causes Bible readers to miss the aspect of God’s life in us and our growth in and expression of that life. Doesn’t the impartation of life determine whether or not you are a son? There’s a great Affirmation & Critique article on this that says there’s a “lack of clarity” among Christians concerning how or in what manner we are sons of God. He further states, “The believers’ understanding of this relationship has a great impact on their experience of the realities of God’s economy.”

Two of the three (I’m considering Rom. 8:15 and 8:23 as one usage) times sonship is used regarding the believers, it is contextualized by a scripturally rare address to God as Abba Father. This term denotes the sweetness of the intimacy shared between a father and a genuine son. Both Romans 8 and Galatians 4 relate our sonship to God as Abba Father and the context of sonship in Ephesians 1:5 is also related to God as Father. The only other use of Abba Father in the Bible is by the Lord Himself in His Gethsemane prayer in Mark 14:36.

Father mainly indicates the source of life of a child, not obedience, trust, love, or inheritance. We share with Jesus not only the same legal position as sons but the same inward life of God the Father. The only difference is that He is the Firstborn Son (Rom 8:28) and part of the Godhead and we are the many sons (Heb 2:10) and part of the Body of Christ.

Witness Lee’s study note on Romans 8:15 is very broad and includes both the legal and organic aspects:

“Sonship in this spirit includes the life, the position, the living, the enjoyment, the birthright, the inheritance, and the manifestation of a son.

His note on Galatians 4:5 frames sonship in God’s eternal perspective:

“God’s eternal purpose is to have many sons for His corporate expression.”

This view of sonship shifts the focus from our benefit to God’s benefit. To me this is great incentive to grow as a son of God.

2 thoughts on “Begotten of God or Adopted by God?

  1. Good stuff, KB. “God has begotten us, not merely put His arm around us” – that is super awesome. Praise the Lord for His life in us!

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