Are only Christians children of God or is everyone??—Part B

I’m doing a series on everyone being a child of God. I recommend reading part A for the context and the first response (based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son) to the common objection:

Doesn’t the NT talk about adoption, about Christians becoming children of God? Does that mean non-Christians aren’t God’s children?

I think the response in part A is reinforced by the approach George MacDonald takes in his Abba, Father! sermon, which is based on Galatians 4.

What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage [a child], he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.

Galatians 4:1-2, NIV

The prodigal son didn’t have the status/place of son while he was disowning his father, similarly a child doesn’t have the place of a son/daughter (at least in terms of responsibilities, inheritance, and freedoms) while they are underage.

Underage Come-of-age
Subject to guardians 1 Adulthood
Place/position of a child Place/position of a son/daughter = “adoption” 2

However, when they come-of-age, they receive the place of a son/daughter. In many (most?) cultures throughout history, becoming an adult is celebrated as a significant milestone, be it an 18th/21st, an indigenous initiation ceremony, or a Bar Mitzvah.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

Galatians 4:4-5, NIV84

God sent him to set the people free who were under the law. God sent him so that we would receive our rights as sons of God.

Galatians 4:5, WE

The Greek word translated “adoption”

I recently discovered something intriguing about huiothesia, the Greek word translated “adoption” in the NT:

The first half is huios, the common noun for an adult son. The latter half is thesia, a placement, an installation, a setting of a person or a thing in its place. So the whole word means not so much adoption as the placing of a son.

Barnhouse, God’s Heirs: Romans 8:1–39

I think it’s good to be cautious when it comes to discussing how words are translated. So I did some further research and found others who agree. For example:

As I see it, “child” teknon refers to a member of the family with our a necessary implication regarding age—whether a young child or an adult. A son is always a child [member of the family], but a child is not always a son. A child (teknon) by virtue of being a member of the family is an heir [albeit not yet actualised]. By virtue of being a son (huios) he is considered to be of legal age.

The Randall House Bible Commentary, page 217

And:

The word for “adoption,” … is a compound word made up of huios, “a son,” and tithemi, “a placing,” which means to place someone in the family who is already in the family, in order to recognize them as an adult son.

James H. Rickard Bible Ministries

And:

The word “Huiothesia” means “Son Placement,” and indicates the time when a male child reached what was considered to be the age of maturity… At this time, the father of the young man would place his hand on the head of his son and openly proclaim, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased! I bestow upon him now all of my riches and power and authority (through power of attorney) so that he might act on my behalf in all of my affairs.”

David Weber, The Adoption of Sons

And:

The etymology of the word suggests that it literally means “standing as a son,” … that the word refers to one who IS a son coming into a certain standing AS a son, but in NO case, simply BECOMING a son, equivalent to what we mean by being born, or adopted. In EVERY case, we think it is not “sonship,” per se, that is being considered, but the standing or position to which the sonship entitles one.

T. Pierce Brown, Born or Adopted

As you can see, translating huiothesia as “adoption” isn’t crazy, just too simplistic, especially given we understandably assume it’s identical to our modern definition. Rickard makes a similar point, although I think he overreaches a little, as I came across others who said Roman “son placement” could either be of a biological or non-biological child.

“Adoption” means one thing today but back in Roman times, when the N.T. was written, it meant something else. Adoption today means placing someone outside of the blood line legally into a family. A child who is not a natural child of the family, someone else’s child, is placed into the family. That is not what adoption meant in the Bible.

James H. Rickard Bible Ministries

Summary

Everyone is irreversibly an immeasurably valuable and irreplaceable child of God but needs to be placed/announced as sons and daughters—”adoption”—to delight in fully living as a son or daughter.

Bar Mitzah
Bar Mitzvah

1. In Galatians 3:24 Paul uses this as an illustration of how we were when under the law.
2. Galatians 3:26 tells us our coming-of-age is through faith, “for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (HCSB).

Are only Christians children of God or is everyone??—Part A

I’m doing a series on everyone being a child of God. My first post contains most of the biblical reasons for believing everyone is a child of God. My second post highlights some significant implications. My third post looked at what happens when our Father in Heaven is disowned. Now I’ll look at a common objection:

Doesn’t the NT talk about adoption, about Christians becoming children of God? Does that mean non-Christians aren’t God’s children?

I used to respond by saying that everyone is a child of God but only in some very limited sense—perhaps that everyone has an earthly/old nature but only Christians have a spiritual/new nature. While Paul does use the old vs new language, I was uncomfortable as I didn’t think the response did justice to the passages in my first post. So I was excited to discover two alternatives for addressing the conundrum. The first one I found in Spencer Boersma’s discussion of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and I’ll explain and build on it here.

I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

Luke 15:18-19 (cf v21), ESV

While the son knows his father is still his father, and addresses him as such, he rightly sees that he hasn’t acted as a son should—that he doesn’t deserve to be called a son, nor treated as one. From his perspective, he feels he has forfeited his place in the family and can now only hope to be a hired servant. So when the father exuberantly welcomed him back into the family, the son understandably felt that he was being adopted.

To apply this to our question, everyone has walked away from God and hasn’t acted as children of God should—we haven’t been living in a healthy relationship with Him. However, given it’s impossible to lose our biological connection to our parents and siblings, I think it’s logical to believe it’s impossible to lose our supernatural connection to our Father and Brother. Therefore, each and every person remains a child of God.

But, like the prodigal son, we can only truly enjoy the benefits of being in His family when we come to our senses; when we realise our need for Him; when we return home. Our “adoption” is our home coming—when we act as His children (with the Spirit’s help), and can therefore be acknowledged and treated as such.

Lost Found
Dead Alive
Distant land Home
Anonymous stranger Heralded/introduced as the father’s son
No privileges/position Privileges/position of a son = “adoption” 1
Focused on self Focused on the father
Rebellious Obedient

In part B, I’ll look at related approach, which I think really reinforces the one above.

The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Harold Copping
The Return Of The Prodigal Son by Harold Copping

1. or huiothesia (see part B).