Volume 46 - Issue 2

Jesus, “Adopted Son of God”? Romans 1:4, Orthodox Christology, and Concerns about a Contemporary Conclusion

By Joshua Maurer and Ty Kieser


Rooted in readings of Romans 1:4, some recent evangelical theologians have advocated for the claim that Christ was “adopted” by God while still seeking to align their position with classical Christology. This article argues that these attempts to hold Jesus’s adoption and the christological affirmations of the ecumenical councils together are unsuccessful. Specifically, we suggest that this affirmation of Jesus’s adoption by God rests upon unwarranted soteriological premises, implies unwanted christological implications, and is exegetically unnecessary. Ultimately, the good news of our adoption is rooted in the immutable foundation of Christ’s eternal Sonship.

Paul’s christological claims in Romans 1:4—of the “Son, who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh and was appointed/declared [ὁρισθέντος] Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness at [his] resurrection from the dead”—have sparked polemical fires throughout the centuries of Christian history.1 By the end of the 20th century, one theologian said that “more has been written [about Romans 1:3–4] than about any other New Testament text.”2 More recently, Michael Bird calls it “ground zero” for the “debates about adoptionist Christology.”3 While the history of this text in both ancient and modern discussions has frequently pitted the claims of orthodox Christology (which holds that Christ is the pre-existent Son) against the heterodox position (which holds that Christ is adopted into a divine status), there has been a recent trend to bring these two claims together. They suggest that we can—indeed, must—speak of Christ being “adopted” while still affirming orthodox Christology. Paul, they suppose, spoke of the eternally divine Son’s “adoptive divine sonship.”

This article will engage these recent proposals, passing over the heat and light of the earlier adoptionistic Christology debates, and instead ask if orthodox Christology is indeed compatible with Christ’s adoption as these interpreters suppose. We will argue against their compatibility, by demonstrating that Jesus’s adoption by God rests upon unwarranted soteriological premises, implies unwanted christological implications, and is exegetically tenuous and unnecessary. We will first survey the main arguments for this position (section 1), then propose the theological concerns it raises (section 2), and finally exegetically demonstrate the inadequacy of appealing to the concept of adoption in Romans 1:4 (section 3).

1. Survey of Contemporary Advocates

We will begin by surveying each of the three most prominent advocates of viewing Jesus’s resurrection as his adoption, addressing each in chronological order and noting their distinct contributions as we proceed. Each of these thinkers holds to Jesus’s resurrection as constitutive of Jesus’s “adoption as the Son of God” (at least in part) from Rom 1:4. However, it ought to be clear that they ought not be considered guilty of “adoptionism”—a heresy that they themselves repudiate.4

1.1. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.

Among those seeking to combine christological orthodoxy with the affirmation of Jesus’s adoptive divine sonship, Richard Gaffin stands out as one of its most prominent and earliest defenders. In The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology, Gaffin claims that “the resurrection of Jesus is his adoption (as the second Adam).”5 Gaffin presents lexical, literary, and theological justifications for this conclusion.

Gaffin’s lexical argument from Romans 1 depends on the translation of the adjectival participle ὁρισθέντος in Rom 1:4—whether it should be translated “declared” (ESV, NASB, NKJV, HCSB) or “appointed” (NIV11 [a change from NIV84], CSB, NET).6 He argues that the translation “appointed” suggests that at Jesus’s resurrection he entered into a “new and unprecedented phase of divine sonship” that did not pertain prior to that moment.7 On the other hand, it is argued that the translation “declared” suggests that at his resurrection Jesus’s divine sonship was simply demonstrated publicly—it “brought out into plain view who and what Christ really was.”8 There was no change or “new phase” to Jesus’s divine sonship. On the basis of wider usage in the New Testament, Gaffin opts for the translation “appointed,” which, he is quick to add, also contains an “unmistakable juridical tone.”9 In other words, the resurrection does not merely declare Jesus as the Son of God but constitutes such divine sonship. Something forensic or judicial takes place. Nevertheless, he thinks a complete separation between “appointed” and “declared” is untenable.10 “The resurrection,” he says, “is a judicially constitutive declaration of sonship.”11

With such an understanding of ὁρισθέντος in place, the stage is set for conceiving of Jesus’s resurrection as his adoption. This becomes clear when we examine two important assumptions at this point in his argument that allow him to align resurrection with adoption. First, he seems to assume that adoption is also a “judicially constitutive declaration of sonship.” Second, he assumes that “Son of God,” as a messianic title, inherently implies an adoptive relationship. This is clear in his statement that “ὁρισθέντος [appointed] underscores what is already intimated in recognizing that ‘Son of God’ is a messianic designation: the resurrection of Jesus is his adoption.”12

His second argument we have labeled “literary” due to the fact that he brings in another text—namely, Romans 8:23—to defend the link between resurrection and adoption. There, Paul says that “we ourselves [believers], who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption [υἱοθεσίαν], the redemption of our bodies [τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν τοῦ σώματος ἡμῶν].” Gaffin highlights the fact that “the redemption [τὴν ἀπολύτρωσιν] of our bodies” is in simple apposition to “adoption [υἱοθεσίαν],” thus providing a more precise definition of adoption here.13 Such a close link (maybe even identification) between resurrection and adoption for believers leads him to conclude the same pertains for Christ. “The inherently forensic concept of adoption,” he says, “fulfills itself in the somatic transformation of resurrection, so that in view of the (Adamic) unity of the resurrection of Christ and believers, what is true of the latter holds for the former.”14 We have already seen how he thinks Jesus’s resurrection, on the basis of ὁρισθέντος in Rom 1:4, is a judicial and constitutive declaration of divine sonship. Now, with the link between resurrection and adoption made explicit (at least in the case of believers), he subsequently connects them for Jesus. The basis for this move is his appeal to what he calls the “Adamic unity of the resurrection of Christ and believers,” which we take to mean the unity believers have with Christ by virtue of their shared humanity. As a result, what is true of believers—that resurrection consummates adoptive divine sonship (Rom 8:23 [cf. 8:15])—must also be true of Jesus.

Finally, he makes a brief theological argument as to how Jesus’s resurrection can be understood as his adoption without diminishing his ontological status as the preexistent divine Son, a truth he clearly affirms. “Christ’s resurrection,” he clarifies, “is not evidential with respect to his divinity but transforming with respect to his humanity.”15 In other words, there is an important distinction between what he elsewhere refers to as Jesus’s “ontological” sonship and his “economic” sonship. Such a limitation of Jesus’s adoptive divine sonship to his “incarnate existence” (economic sonship) becomes explicit in his comments on the two dominant interpretations of Rom 1:3–4: “The insuperable obstacles for this view [ontological] are the ‘aeonic’ nature of the πνεῦμασάρξ antithesis and the economic rather than purely ontological character of the designation “Son of God” (v. 4). Instead, the contrast is between two successive phases in Christ’s history, implying two successive modes of incarnate existence.”16 Therefore, with respect to his status as the Davidic messiah, Jesus really does enter “a new mode of incarnate existence”—a new phase of divine sonship—at the resurrection. This is what it means for Jesus to be “appointed Son of God in power.” And this is none other than his adoption.

1.2. James M. Scott

Roughly fifteen years after Gaffin’s book, James Scott published his dissertation on Pauline adoption and, with respect to Romans 1:3–4, came to the same conclusion (though independently of Gaffin’s work)—namely, that Jesus’s appointment to the status of “Son of God in power” at his resurrection (Rom 1:4) is to be understood as his divine, messianic adoption.17 Scott employs two of the same arguments that Gaffin used before him. First, he agrees on the translation of ὁρισθέντος as “appointed” and that such an appointment unto divine sonship suggests its synonymity with adoption.18 Second, he also draws attention to Rom 8:23 to support the link between resurrection and adoption, but does so as part of a larger argument concerning the participation of believers in the eschatological sonship of the Son.19

Scott’s main argument, however, for understanding Jesus’s resurrection as his adoption is that “τοῦ ὁρισθέντος υἱοῦ θεοῦ in Rom. 1:4a … is a circumlocution for the Adoption Formula in 2 Sam 7:14a.”20 There are two basic moves to this argument. First, he argues that 2 Samuel 7:14a (“I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me [אני אהיה־לו לאב והוא יהיה־לי לבן]”) is properly understood as an adoption formula.21 In context this “son” is identified as a future Davidic descendant whose rule and kingdom will last forever (2 Sam 7:13). Significantly, then, this text combines the concepts of Davidic rule and divine sonship into one unified concept—adoptive/messianic divine sonship.22 Second, on the basis of the appearance of the same concepts in Romans 1:3–4 (Davidic descent and divine sonship), he argues that 2 Samuel 7:14 is the proper background informing Paul’s language here.23 If that is so, then the confluence of Jesus’s Davidic descent with his “appointment” to divine sonship in Romans 1:3–4 suggests that such divine sonship should also be understood in the manner argued for in 2 Samuel 7:14—namely, as adoptive divine sonship. Therefore, Scott concludes, Jesus’s “appointment to sonship is virtually synonymous with adoption.”24 Such sonship is adoptive because it is messianic; the latter includes the former. And this divine sonship is messianic because it is Davidic. Overall, then, Romans 1:3–4 is all about identifying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah (the adopted son of God) and thus, the one who, on account of his resurrection, “fulfills the messianic expectation of the Old Testament.”25

1.3. David B. Garner

Finally, we come to David Garner, who is the most recent and most forceful proponent of the claim that Jesus’s appointment to divine sonship at the resurrection must be understood as his adoption. Drawing explicitly on the work of both Gaffin and Scott before him, he claims that “without the human biography of Christ Jesus, capped by his own adoption as the Son of God, there is no salvation.”26 He even goes so far as to affirm that “[Christ’s] adoption is our adoption, his holy sonship our holy sonship.”27 Now, because he is drawing on Gaffin and Scott, he shares many of the same lexical, literary, and theological arguments that we have already delineated above—especially concerning Romans 1:3–4. Whereas Scott further developed Gaffin’s argument concerning the nature of messianic divine sonship as inherently adoptive, Garner’s unique contribution comes in two ways: first, by further developing Gaffin’s distinction between “ontological” and “economic” divine sonship, and second, by explicitly articulating and defending what seems to be a governing soteriological axiom for them—namely, that believers enjoy no blessings of redemption that Christ himself did not attain.28

Reflecting Gaffin’s distinction between Jesus’s “ontological” and “economic” divine sonship, Garner employs a similar framework with slightly different linguistic garb: “Jesus is the Son of God, but not only by ontological stasis. Sonship is ontological, eternal, and archetypal; it is also functional, regal, ectypal, temporal, and eschatological. It is no less than divine and eternal, but in Christ’s mediatorial capacity, sonship is also no less than humanly developmental.”29

It is not entirely clear from this statement if the distinction he is making with respect to Jesus’s divine sonship refers to his two natures—divine and human—or to his whole person viewed from different perspectives—one eternal, the other temporal. Judging from the contrast between “ontological, eternal, and archetypal,” and “functional, regal, ectypal, temporal, and eschatological,” it seems to be the latter. Yet, on the other hand, the contrast between “divine and eternal,” and “humanly developmental,” suggests the former.30 In any case, he is careful to maintain that, whatever the precise nuance of the distinction, the two belong inseparably together. “In Christ’s filial identity [Son of God],” he remarks, “lies a constellation of features, divine and human, none of which may be wholly extracted from the others.”31 This distinction allows Garner to predicate adoption to Jesus’s “functional,” “eschatological,” “regal,” or “human” aspect of sonship and not to his “ontological,” “eternal,” or “divine” aspect of Sonship. He, like Gaffin, understands Romans 1:3–4 to be making precisely this point. “Romans 1:3–4,” he says, “is an epochal designation of historically attained sonship rather than an ontological one concerning the hypostatic union.”32 This means that Jesus’s adoptive divine sonship is, therefore, properly predicated only to this “eschatological” sonship; it would not be a proper designation for his “ontological” Sonship. In an emphatic summary of this point, he says, “The Son of God has become the Son of God in an eschatologically, covenantally, and redemptively requisite way. He remains forever now the adopted Son of God.”33 Garner’s attention to this “requisite” christological truth is offered with an eschatological, covenantal, and redemptive soteriological principle, or axiom, in mind.

Garner argues for a fundamental axiom that claims that believers receive no soteriological benefit that Christ himself did not attain.34 It is found throughout the book and described in various ways. With respect to adoption in particular, he says, “Christ brings no privilege of eschatological sonship (adoption) to believers if he himself has not attained to eschatological sonship (adoption) himself.”35 In other words, if Christ was not himself adopted, then the adoption of believers is pure “filial fiction”—a notion that truly “delivers deleterious soteriological consequences.”36 And not only would it deliver disastrous consequences with respect to the adoption of believers, it would also compromise the efficacy of Jesus’s entire saving work. “Without the improvement of the Son unto eschatological-adoptive sonship,” he says, “his life lacks soteric efficacy!”37 This axiom seems to motivate Garner’s bold christological claims, despite the potential dangers, that Jesus was also adopted as God’s Son. Without it, he suggests, soteriology crumbles and the death of Jesus is a tragedy instead of a triumph.

Garner expresses the logic of this axiom thus: “Yet if the gift in redemption is Christ himself, he cannot give what he does not possess; he does not yield what he does not attain.”38 The inference, then, is that in order for Christ to grant any redemptive benefit to believers in union with him as the ultimate gift, he himself must have already “attained” it. In other words, there is “no soteriology apart from Christology; there is no benefit gained than that benefit acquired by the Redeemer. To insist otherwise is to divorce soteriology from Christology.”39 With respect to adoption, then, in Christ “there is adoption of the sons only because of the Son of God’s own adoption.”40

2. Theological Concerns

With the authors’ claims briefly surveyed, we turn to the theological concerns that arise with this position. Specifically, we will argue that claiming that Jesus is adopted by God rests upon unwarranted soteriological premises and implies unwanted christological implications.

2.1. Unwarranted Soteriological Premises of Christ’s Adoption

Taken in their entireties, the texts that we are engaging in this article are primarily oriented toward an understanding of the soteriological concept of adoption, such that the claims of Jesus’s adoption are frequently the means for another theological end: believers’ adoption.41 As such, the soteriological premises of these projects radically shape and orient their claims of Jesus’s adoption; accordingly, our critiques must deal with their soteriological premises. We will argue that there are unwarranted soteriological premises by, first, raising a concern about the underlying definition of adoption and then raising a concern with the motivating soteriological axiom operative in some of these accounts.

2.1.1. Defining Adoption

Each of the above thinkers seems to be operating on the premise that adoption is sufficiently defined by Gaffin as “a judicially constitutive declaration of sonship.”42 We do not take issue with this definition as a component of adoption and, thereby, agree that adoption involves “a judicially constitutive declaration of sonship.” However, we argue that while this is a necessary component, it is not a sufficient definition and that additional criteria need to be added to adoption if it is to be properly understood.

Specifically, a proper definition of adoption requires that the adoptee first exists outside a filial relationship with their adoptive parent prior to the act of adoption. In order for a judicial declaration of sonship to “constitute” one person as a “son” or “daughter” that person must initially exist outside of that familial relationship. So, for example, this means that a biological child cannot be adopted because they never existed outside of that familial relationship, even though they do begin to exist in that family. Conversely, when we define adoption properly—i.e., as the socio-legal process by which an adoptee receives a new status and identity within a new family of which he or she did not originally belong—we see that adoptees lived some portion of their lives outside of their new families and only after their adoption were constituted as members of those families.43

This means that Jesus is not properly said to be adopted by God (when defined rightly), since orthodox Christology insists that Jesus Christ is eternally the Son of God—never existing outside of a familial relationship with his Father. There was no point at which Jesus existed and was “not the Son of God.”44 Even if one wanted to say that the Son’s assumption of a human nature was “adoption,” this would also fail a proper definition since the humanity of Jesus transitioned from “non-existence” (as a human) to “existence;” rather than transitioning from “existing outside of God’s family” to “existing inside of God’s family” (as is the case for adoptive children). Adoption is constitutive, yes; but it is also inherently relational. Therefore, the only possible means to affirm Jesus’s adoption is to deny that Jesus was the Son of God before the resurrection—a claim that is thoroughly inconsistent with orthodox Christology.

It seems that the accounts from section 1 are not arguing for Jesus’s “adoption” when defined this way (i.e., on a fuller, proper definition of adoption). The kind of “transition” that the above accounts are purporting is one of “maturity” or “stages.” For example, Garner says, “The preincarnate Son became the incarnate Son, and then at his resurrection was adopted as Son of God in power.”45 Yet, he also says that “in each stage of his development, Jesus remains the Son of God.”46 Even if we permit “development” or “filial maturity” in Jesus’s life, this is not “adoption”—since adoption requires a transition from outside to inside a familial relationship. Drawing an example from our own nuclear families—both of which include adopted daughters—if one of our daughters matures in her behavior such that she goes from doing things very unlike her adoptive family (e.g., eating mustard), to cooking a meal that is part and parcel of the behavior of her adopted family (e.g., drowning meat in BBQ sauce), we can speak of a maturation or a “new phase.” However, we would not speak of adoption occurring at that point. In summary, non-sons can become sons; natural sons cannot be adopted as sons by that same parent. Therefore, predicating “adopted by God” of Jesus is not proper if orthodox Christology is to be maintained.

2.1.2. Soteriological Axiom

Likely in part due to the soteriological orientation of each of these projects, there is an underlying soteriological axiom that motivates the claim that Jesus is adopted by the Father. We see the orientation of their Christologies toward soteriology in some of the key claims in their work. For example, Garner says, “If the filial status of the Son with the Father is not vitally changed by the resurrection in history, of what real significance is the resurrection for the adoption of the redeemed?”47

This axiom may be summarized as follows: “That which Jesus has not attained, the redeemed do not attain.”48 Garner’s affirmation that whatever is yielded to the people of God is attained by Christ is mirrored by Gaffin, who says that “in view of the (Adamic) unity of the resurrection of Christ and believers, what is true of the latter holds for the former.”49 Notice that for both thinkers there is an assumption that believers only receive what Christ has “attained.” Therefore, they reason, if believers are adopted, then Jesus must also have been adopted.

While there is something that we strongly agree with about this axiom in general, we have concerns about the way it is employed by these thinkers and in this context. Specifically, it seems that the way this axiom is employed, it is not only necessary that Jesus attain redemption (in the sense of accomplish or establish), but that he must also “experience” redemption “in all its specific features.”

However, it seems that Jesus need not attain (in the sense of “experience” himself) every feature of redemption in the same way we do. For example, redemption includes “repentance” and the experience of having “sins blotted out” (Acts 3:19) by virtue of the grace of God, yet Jesus did not repent nor have his sins blotted out. Likewise, believers uniquely experience being “transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13) and uniquely experience being “once slaves of sin … [and yet] having been set free from sin” (Rom 6:17–18). This does not mean that Jesus’s death and resurrection do not “attain” (i.e., accomplish or establish) these benefits received (see Rom 6:1–11), yet it does mean that Jesus does not “experience” these benefits that we uniquely receive.

So while there is much to appreciate in their soteriological emphasis (e.g., the centrality of Jesus and the importance of his historical acts),50 we wonder if they have not blurred the lines between the “exclusive representation” of Christ and the “inclusive participation” of believers in Christ such that the two categories are one and the same.51 The refutation of the claim, “what is true of the latter [believers] holds for the former [Jesus]” through the above clarifications and counter-examples means that the soteriological axiom is an unwarranted premise. Further, if these premises (i.e., the improper definition of adoption and soteriological axiom) are unwarranted then the conclusion of Christ’s adoption is unnecessary.52

2.2. Unwanted Christological Implications of Christ’s Adoption

Having established concerns from the premises of these arguments, we now turn to the implications of their claims upon Christology. Specifically, this section argues that the kinds of claims made regarding Christ’s adoption inevitably lead to christological conclusions that are incompatible with orthodox Christology53—minimally defined as the Christology affirmed by the first four ecumenical councils.54 Here we will provide a brief survey of the grammar of orthodox Christology and then indicate the christological implications of affirming Jesus’s adoption by the Father.

2.2.1. The Grammar of Orthodoxy

The first affirmation of orthodox Christology is drawn from the Nicene Creed, in which Christ is affirmed to be of one substance and essence with the Father. It states that the “one Lord Jesus Christ” is “the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.”55 This affirmation of God the Son is true as he is in the divine life—what is called the immanent Trinity or “Theology.” The Nicene creed follows this affirmation of God in himself with the affirmation of God the Son’s acts toward creation—what is called the “economic Trinity”—when it says, “Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.”

When the Son “comes down from heaven” he assumed a human nature into himself. Yet he did so without “change or alteration” (as the anathemas of Nicaea state).56 Not long after Nicaea, a mid-fourth century theologian, Hilary of Poitiers, says, “the Son of God becoming the Son of man did not lose what he was but began to be what he was not.”57 That is, God the Son did not become human by subtraction (changing or lessening his divinity), but by addition (adding a human nature to himself).

The second affirmation pertinent here is that the Son does not assume a human “person” but a human “nature.” There is a single person “before” the hypostatic union and “after” the union. Chalcedon says, “the property of both natures … comes together into a single person … [not] divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son.”58 Later theologians will say that when he assumed a human nature he assumed an “anhypostatic” nature (i.e., a nature that is not itself a hypostasis [person]) and united it to himself in the person of the Son.59 Therefore, the “person” of Christ is a reference to God the Son—the one person.

In addition to the single “person” of Christ, Chalcedon goes on to affirm two “natures” that are united in him. It says that these two natures “undergo no confusion, no change, no separation, no division.”60 As a result, we can speak of the one person of Christ according to either nature. So, Chalcedon says that “one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, [is] … perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man … consubstantial with the Father as regards [i.e., according to] his divinity, and consubstantial with us as regards his humanity.”61

This means that when we speak of Jesus of Nazareth, we speak of the same person who was begotten of the Father from eternity. Yet, this one person has two natures and, therefore, receives predicates to his person according to either nature. Therefore, we can speak of the one person in distinct ways according to his distinct natures. For example, the one person of Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8) according to his divine nature and can “grow in wisdom” (Luke 2:52) according to his human nature. However, because the “person” of Jesus is the same person as God the Son, we can validly say “God the Son grows in wisdom,” and “is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

When applied to the sonship of Jesus this “one and the same Son” is the one who is begotten of the Father from eternity and also the one born of the virgin Mary.62 Yet, notice that two things change when understanding this twofold birth of the one person: (1) the referent relationship changes (i.e., begotten of the Father, born of Mary) and (2) the nature by which this is true of the person changes (i.e., the Son is begotten according to his divinity; born according to his humanity).

With this understanding of christological grammar in place, we come to evaluate the orthodoxy of the claims that Jesus is adopted by the Father. These contemporary authors have indicated their strong affirmation of the divinity and preexistence of the Son. Therefore, we do not have concerns that these accounts lead to traditional versions of “adoptionism.”63 Instead, here we argue that claiming that Jesus is adopted by God leads to unwanted christological implications. Specifically, on the basis of their affirmation of (1) the Father as the referent in the Son’s natural and adoptive sonship and (2) lack of clarification according to either nature, the logical conclusion of their position is either to (A) institute a change in the divine Son (contrary to Nicaea) or to (B) indicate that there are “two sons” (contrary to Chalcedon).

2.2.2. A Changing Son

As we examine the logical consequences of Jesus’s adoption for Christology, the first potential problem is the implication of a Son whose divinity changes or is altered. If the claim that Jesus is adopted leads to this conclusion, then it seems to be in conflict with the Nicene anathema that “affirming that the Son of God is subject to change or alteration—these the catholic and apostolic church anathematizes” and the Chalcedonian claim that Christ’s two natures are “without change … but rather the property of both natures is preserved.”64 Likewise, in the documents accepted at the third ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431 CE), Cyril says that “God the Word … was called son of man, though all the while he remained what he was, that is God (for he is unchangeable and immutable by nature).65

We see evidence of something like this alteration of the Son in Gaffin’s argument that Romans 1:4 “teaches that at the resurrection Christ began a new and unprecedented phase of divine sonship. The eternal Son of God … has become what he was not before.”66 Gaffin assigns this change to the “eternal Son” and his “divine sonship” (rather than his humanity) and thereby seems to fall into the ditch of a Son whose divinity changes.67 Likewise, Garner says that the Son “enters a personally … different stage of sonship” and that he undergoes a “personal change” in his adoption.68 Because the “person” of Christ is fundamentally the divine Son, this seems to imply a change in his divinity. Likewise, Garner says that “The eternal Son became the incarnate Son. The incarnate but unqualified (inexperienced) holy Son in time became the qualified (mature and vindicated) holy, messianic Son.”69 Each of these quotations indicates a change in Jesus according to his divine nature. Such a change is not permissible according to the decrees of the ecumenical councils and is, therefore, an unwanted christological implication to claiming that Christ was adopted.70

2.2.3. Two Sons

A defender of Jesus’s adoptive Sonship could respond to the above critique and say, “The change (and, therefore, the adoption) of Christ is not according to his divine nature but his human nature.” To such a rebuttal we will argue that this proposed solution has its own set of problems. Specifically, this putative defense leads to the unwanted implication of indicating “two sons,” two distinct persons.

Orthodox Christology strongly resists the affirmation of “two persons” or “two Sons.” This is made most famously against the theology of Nestorius—who refused to affirm that Mary was the theotokos, bearer of God—at the council of Chalcedon (451 CE). Cyril, Leo, and the bishops at Chalcedon were concerned that if we could not say that Mary was the “bearer of God (i.e., God the Son),” then we were referring to two “persons”—one who was the eternal Son, the other who was born of Mary. Additionally, the language of “two Sons” became prominent at the fifth ecumenical council (Constantinople II, 551 CE) where they anathematized “those who assert that there exist two sons and two Christs.”71 Likewise, the Greek Father Gregory of Nazianzus claimed that “if any introduce the notion of Two Sons” then they will (ironically) “lose [their] part in the adoption promised to those who believe aright.”72

Yet, in these accounts which assert Jesus’s adoption, there are implications that incline toward affirming two sons, two persons. For example, Garner says that “Jesus remains the Son of God” (potentially unchangeable according to his divine nature) and yet Garner continues on to say that the Son’s life has “markers of his filial and covenantal progress.”73 If Jesus “remains the Son of God” (who does not change according to his divinity) then it seems as though the only way to speak of filial progress is to introduce a second Son. Elsewhere, Garner affirms the “preexistent eternal sonship of Christ,” and yet also claims that Christ “remains forever now the adopted Son of God.”74 However, if Christ is eternally Son and “forever” the adopted Son, then it seems as though we are dealing with two Sons—one who is eternally Son and the other who begins to be a Son and continues as adopted Son for eternity. This is unlike the affirmations of orthodox Christology (e.g., Christ as begotten of the Father and born of Mary) because the referent relationship has not changed. For advocates of adoptive Sonship, the eternal Son remains the natural Son of the Father and the “economic Son” becomes an adopted Son of that same Father. The implication here is that “eternal Son” and “economic Son” are distinct persons, two Sons.

3. Exegetically Unnecessary Conclusions of Christ’s Adoption

Yet as Protestants committed to the ultimate authority of Scripture, the above theological argumentation is of little value if Romans 1:3–4 does indeed teach that Jesus was adopted as God’s Son at his resurrection. We cannot provide an exhaustive interpretation of this passage, but instead seek to demonstrate an “appreciative disagreement” with our interlocutors’ three fundamental exegetical arguments. You could roughly characterize our response to the exegesis of Gaffin, Scott, and Garner: “sure, but that does not mean that Christ is ‘adopted.’”

The first argument of the above position was the meaning of ὁρισθέντος—that it should be understood as “appointed” instead of “declared.” The implication is that upon his resurrection Jesus entered into a new phase of sonship that did not pertain previously. And this appointment, it is argued, is equivalent to adoption. To such an argument we want to offer appreciative disagreement from the text. Along with the majority of commentators, including our interlocutors, we agree that this participle should be translated “appointed.” The basic meaning of ὁρίζω is to “mark out” or “fix” a boundary.75 In its seven other occurrences in the NT, it always bears the meaning “determine, appoint, or fix.”76 There is nothing linguistically or contextually that would demand a different understanding of its use here. Therefore, we agree that Paul means to say that Jesus was “appointed [by God the Father] son of God in power” upon his resurrection. Yet the change is not in the divine nature or in the Son’s relationship to the Father, but in Christ’s role in redemptive history. Therefore, we disagree that such an appointment is equivalent to adoption, at least as Paul and his readers would have understood the concept. For starters, it looks as if arguing that ὁρίζω in Romans 1:4 is equivalent to adoption commits the fallacy of appealing to an unknown or unlikely meaning.77 There is simply no other evidence in Greek literature that ὁρίζω was used in adoption contexts. If Paul wanted to clearly articulate an adoption for Jesus here, there were ample ways to do so beyond the word υἱοθεσία, none of which he employed. Our answer as to why will be fleshed out as we address their other two main arguments.

Their second exegetical argument was the link between this appointment and Jesus’s resurrection in v. 4b with Paul’s explicit link between adoption and resurrection in Romans 8:23 for believers. It is argued that this creates a parallel between Jesus’s appointment to divine sonship at his resurrection and believers’ future adoption at their resurrection, which suggests “appointed” (ὁρισθέντος) in Romans 1:4a is equivalent to “adoption” (υἱοθεσία) in 8:23.78 Again, we offer appreciative disagreement, since we agree at one level—i.e., that Paul describes the consummation of believers’ adoption (υἱοθεσία) in terms of bodily resurrection in Romans 8:23, and that this is linked to Jesus’s own bodily resurrection as the Son of God. However, we disagree as to the nature and significance of that link. In the flow of thought from Romans 8:12–30 there is a clear correlation between the sonship of believers and the sonship of Jesus, manifested in a variety of ways. The question, though, is whether such correlation demands Jesus’s acquiring of divine sonship by the same means as believers—namely, adoption (υἱοθεσία). We argue that it does not because of the theological reasons above, yes, but also because of additional exegetical reasons within Romans 8 itself. First, Paul deliberately brackets his entire discussion of believer’s adoptive sonship with references to Jesus’s sonship, which serve to both distinguish his from ours and ground ours upon his. In Rom 8:32, Jesus is called “his own son” (τοῦ ἰδίου υἱοῦ). Even Michael Peppard, who agrees with our interlocutors that Romans 1:4 refers to Jesus’s adoption, recognizes this: “Although the word [ἴδιος] does not describe a particular process of acquiring sonship, it does express in nuce a distinction between the sonship of Christ and the sonship of Christians.”79 We argue that the essence of that distinction is determined by Paul’s other specific reference to Jesus’s divine sonship in Romans 8:3: “God sent his own son [τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν] in the likeness of sinful flesh.” As Garner admits, “this sending does not create sonship, but presupposes it.”80 Jesus is thus the preexistent Son of God.81 Therefore, simply to equate Jesus’s appointment at/on account of his resurrection with the adoption of believers is to be in danger of minimizing this textual distinction between his and our sonship maintained throughout Romans 8. Second, and even more pointedly, to say rightly that resurrection is a component of υἱοθεσία does not mean υἱοθεσία is reduced to, or sufficiently defined by, resurrection alone, such that the mere occurrence of resurrection intimates adoption.82 For Paul, it necessarily includes other features, not least of which is the new filial identity granted by grace to undeserving sinners who were previously outside of God’s family. This is how he uses explicit adoption language (Rom 8:15; cf. Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). In short, υἱοθεσία includes but involves more than resurrection. Therefore, the link between Romans 1:4 and 8:23 is not as straightforward as they suggest.

Their third argument seeks to appreciate the historical-redemptive nature of the text in contrast to the ontological reading of heretical “Adoptionism.” In essence, they claim that Rom 1:3–4 provides a redemptive-historical contrast that culminates with his adoption at/on-the basis-of his resurrection.83 That is, they argue that because the divine sonship (υἱοῦ θεοῦ) contemplated in these verses is not his eternal divine sonship, but his messianic or economic divine sonship in fulfillment of the messianic expectation of the OT (cf. 2 Sam. 7:13–14; Ps. 2:7), they can hold to orthodox Christology while affirming Jesus’s divine adoption. Here again, we want to register appreciative disagreement. We agree that the distinction between Jesus’s Davidic descent κατὰ σάρκα and his appointment to divine sonship κατὰ πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης is not antithetically contrasting Jesus’s human and divine natures (the so-called “ontological” approach),84 or contrasting his “outward qualifications and his inward perfection of spirit” (the so-called “experiential” approach),85 but narrating Jesus’s messianic pedigree, beginning with his “fleshly descent” from David,86 and climaxing with his subsequent installment/appointment to the full exercise of that identity and position in relation to the world as the exalted Messiah and κύριος—the “son-of-God-in-power87 (the so-called “redemptive-historical” approach). Schreiner nicely captures this idea: “The new dimension was not his sonship but his heavenly installation as God’s Son by virtue of his Davidic sonship.”88 In other words, we agree that references to Jesus’s divine sonship here (v. 3a, τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ; 4a, υἱοῦ θεοῦ) speak not to his divine nature (in contrast to his human nature) but to his identity as the messianic king (see 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7). Jesus’s resurrection was the occasion of his heavenly enthronement as the Messiah (Son of God) and Lord. God’s promises to Israel of a future Davidic ruler have now been fulfilled in Jesus.

However, this historical-redemptive movement is not properly called adoption because (as we argued above) Christ’s relation to God as Son did not change—and this relationship is precisely what is at issue with the language and concept of adoption, both in Paul’s day and our own. Adoption necessarily includes the notion of relational change of status between persons. It does include other notions, but the relational register is essential, without which one does not have adoption. This probably explains why Paul does not use υἱοθεσία, or for that matter any word from its wider semantic field,89 as a description of Jesus’s divine sonship. Instead, he is God’s Son before he is sent into the world (Rom 8:3); he remains God’s Son throughout his earthly life with all its Davidic pedigree (1:3; 9:5), including his death (8:32); and he remains now and forever God’s Son upon his resurrection (1:4ab) as the powerful, reigning Lord (1:4c). From beginning to end, he is God’s Son.90 Doug Moo succinctly and memorably captures this dynamic when he says, “It is the Son who is ‘appointed’ Son,” thus ruling out any notion of adoption here.91

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, the claim that Jesus is adopted by God rests upon unwarranted soteriological premises, implies unwanted christological implications, and is exegetically tenuous and unnecessary. After surveying the arguments of each contributor, we articulated those unwarranted soteriological premises (especially their insufficient definition of adoption and governing soteriological axiom) and unwanted christological implications (especially the Son’s changing divine nature and/or the affirmation of “two sons”). Finally, we articulated their tenuous and unnecessary exegetical conclusions on Romans 1:3–4 and briefly offered alternative explanations that maintained orthodox Christology alongside the contours of the text.

We might end with a brief illustration of the pastoral value of following our arguments here, maintaining that Christ is the Son of God by nature (not adoption). This illustration is personally significant for us because we both have adopted children into our families and both have also had biological (or natural) children. Within one of our families we might imagine adding another adopted child to the mix of natural and adopted children. That newest addition would expect to be able to call the other adopted children “sisters” (since they share the status of “adopted daughter” with the other adopted kids). However, the real joy and the true evidence of the intimacy and status that adoption brings is when that newly adopted member of the family can look at the biological (i.e., natural) child and say “sister!” Analogously, as we have argued here, when we look to Christ and we exercise the privilege of calling him “brother” (Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11), we are looking not at a fellow adopted son, but the natural, firstborn, and therefore preeminent, Son of the Father.

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are our own.

[2] Martin Hengel, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 59. See Joshua W. Jipp, “Ancient, Modern, and Future Interpretations of Romans 1:3–4: Reception History and Biblical Interpretation,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 3 (2009): 241–59.

[3] Michael F. Bird, Jesus the Eternal Son: Answering Adoptionist Christology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 11; citing Käsemann, Schweizer, and Stuhlmacher as evidence.

[4] So affirmed by David Garner in his contribution to the Festschrift for Richard Gaffin, “The First and Last Son: Christology and Sonship in Pauline Soteriology,” in Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church: Essays in Honor of Richard B. Gaffin Jr., edited by Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey C. Waddington (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 256. For a historical summary of the various forms of Adoptionism in the early church period, see James L. Papandrea, The Earliest Christologies: Five Images of Christ in the Postapostolic Age (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016), 11–44.

[5] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 118, italics his.

[6] When it comes to commentators on Romans, a general tendency can be observed: the majority of more recent interpreters (e.g., Douglas Moo, Thomas Schreiner, and Michael Wolter) opt for “appointed” whereas the majority of earlier interpreters (e.g., Chrysostom, Calvin, and Warfield) generally opted for “declared.” See below for more detail on Romans 1:3–4.

[7] Gaffin, Centrality, 111.

[8] B. B. Warfield, “The Christ that Paul Preached,” in Biblical Doctrines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929), 233–52, 244.

[9] Gaffin, Centrality, 118. The remaining NT uses are found in Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Hebrews 4:7.

[10] Gaffin more or less agrees (Centrality, 118 n. 125) with K. L. Schmidt, who says: “The exegetical dispute whether R. 1:4, according to usage attested elsewhere, is a declaration or decree concerning Christ, or His appointment and institution to a function or relation etc., is not a matter of great urgency, since a divine declaration is the same as a divine appointment: God’s verbum is efficax” (TDNT 5:453).

[11] Gaffin, Centrality, 118, italics ours.

[12] Gaffin, Centrality, 118, italics his.

[13] Gaffin, Centrality, 119.

[14] Gaffin, Centrality, 119.

[15] Gaffin, Centrality, 105.

[16] Gaffin, Centrality, 112, italics his.

[17] James M. Scott, Adoption as Sons: An Exegetical Investigation into the Background of ΥΙΟΘΕΣΙΑ in the Pauline Corpus, WUNT 2/48 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992), 244. He also makes explicit his belief, like Gaffin before him, that such a view “has nothing to do with the adoptionism which explicitly denies the preexistence of Christ” (p. 244).

[18] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 244. He elsewhere claims that the language of Romans 1:4 is “adoptionistic language” (p. 236). To further substantiate this point he argues that some early church fathers (e.g., Severian, Cyril of Alexandria, and Apollinaris of Laodicea) also understood ὁρισθέντος in Romans 1:4 to denote adoption, a conclusion supposedly demonstrated by the arguments generated by those very writers to the effect that this text, though perhaps suggestive of adoption, should not in fact be so understood (pp. 221–23).

[19] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 245–59. More specifically, he maintains that “the sons who share in the messianic inheritance and reign with the Son (vv. 17b, 32b) are adopted on the basis of the same Davidic promise as the Son, because they participate in the sonship of the Son. This future, resurrection aspect of the υἱοθεσία of believers corresponds to the ὁρισθείς of the Son” (pp. 255–56).

[20] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 242.

[21] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 96–104. He believes that both the context of vv. 11d–16 and lexical evidence substantiate this claim. Contextually, the fact that “the divine sonship applies to David’s own progeny … at a time after David’s death” suggests that the “father-son relationship between Yahweh and the Davidide might well be described as adoptive” (p. 100). Lexically, he appeals to Exodus 2:10, which contains “precisely the same construction as in 2 Sam 7:14a” (102). If, as he believes, Exodus 2:10 “refers to the adoption of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter, then the same formula in 2 Sam. 7:14a refers to adoption of the Davidide by Yahweh” (p. 102).

[22] For Scott, the shift from “Davidic” to “messianic” in “adoptive/messianic divine sonship” results from Jewish tradition stemming from 2 Samuel 7:12—that “the Messiah would come from the ‘seed’ (σπέρμα, זרע) of David (cf. 4QPB 4; PsSol 17:4; 4Qflor. 1:10f.)” (Adoption as Sons, 237–38).

[23] “The traditional basis,” Scott says, “for this climactic parallelism in Rom 1:3–4 is none other than 2 Sam 7:12, 14, which promises that the Messiah from the ‘seed’ (σπέρμα) of David would be adopted as Son of God” (Adoption as Sons, 241).

[24] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 242.

[25] Scott, Adoption as Sons, 244. Again, for Scott, this is why such an adoption has nothing to do with the heresy of adoptionism (p. 244).

[26] David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 195, italics his. Similar statements about the negative implications of denying Jesus’s adoptive divine Sonship abound throughout the book. To take but one more example: “A failure to understand the Father’s adoption of the Redeemer will render misunderstanding of the Father’s adoption of the redeemed. Such a consequence is simply unavoidable” (p. 195).

[27] Garner, Sons in the Son, xxv, italics his.

[28] Garner, Sons in the Son, 203.

[29] Garner, Sons in the Son, 195, italics his.

[30] This ambiguity shows up elsewhere as well. For example, he affirms that “Chalcedonian-Nicene orthodoxy grounds a proper understanding of Christ’s divine and human sonship,” which certainly seems as if the distinction with respect to Jesus’s divine Sonship is between his divine and human natures (Garner, Sons in the Son, 194, italics his). But, on the other hand, the very next paragraph seems to suggest the more “perspectival” or, perhaps better, “redemptive-historical” nuance: “Christ attains no functional, eschatological sonship unless he came from heaven as first the eternal Son, precisely as expressed in historic Christology” (p. 194, italics his).

[31] Garner, Sons in the Son, 194.

[32] Garner, Sons in the Son, 195, italics ours.

[33] Garner, Sons in the Son, 196, italics his.

[34] He states the general axiom thus: “For redemption—in all its specific features—to be applied, redemption had to be accomplished—in those same specific ways” (Garner, Sons in the Son, 203).

[35] Garner, Sons in the Son, 194, italics his. Elsewhere, he says, “For the redeemed sons of God, adoption’s comprehensive benefits come by participation in the resurrection/adoption of Christ, and no other way” (8, italics ours).

[36] Garner, Sons in the Son, 195. The words “filial fiction” come from another passage in which the same point is made, but in a positive way: “The redeemed are in fact adopted sons of God. Their sonship is as real as is that of their Elder Brother, because their sonship is shared with and in his adopted sonship. Solidaric union repudiates filial fiction” (252, italics his).

[37] Garner, Sons in the Son, 203, emphasis his.

[38] Garner, Sons in the Son, 203.

[39] Garner, Sons in the Son, 203.

[40] Garner, Sons in the Son, 314.

[41] This is true both propositionally (i.e., within specific claims above) and structurally (i.e., within each book the chapters on Christology serve to support and argue toward a soteriological point).

[42] Gaffin, Centrality, 118.

[43] Though ancient adoption differs in significant ways from modern adoption, this core component remains the same. For example, in the Greco-Roman world adult males were the most common adoptees for reasons having to do with inheritance laws and the ongoing credibility of the family name. Nevertheless, the potential male adoptees, by definition, were not the biological sons of the adopting father. Adoption was a mechanism designed precisely to deal with the problem of a father without a biological son or with one deemed unworthy to carry on the family name—a serious problem for a society governed by patriarchal norms and customs. It is this component of adoption that is the same in our own day and the one that, in our view, must be taken into account if one wishes to use the terminology for Jesus. Furthermore, this component is also clear in the instances in Paul’s letters where he actually uses the specific language of adoption—something he does explicitly only for believers. For succinct summaries of adoption in the Greco-Roman world, see Mark Golden, “Adoption, Greek,” OCD 12–13, and A. Berger, B. Nicholas and S. Treggiari, “Adoption,” OCD 13. On the abiding distinction between natural sons and adopted sons in the Roman world, see esp. Michael Peppard, The Son of God in the Roman World: Divine Sonship in Its Social and Political Context (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

[44] We might construe this as something of a riff off the anti-Arian claim, “there was no time when the Son was not” to be anti-adoptionist: “there was no time when the Son was not a son.”

[45] Garner, Sons in the Son, 183.

[46] Garner, Sons in the Son, 199.

[47] Garner, Sons in the Son, 204.

[48] The similarity to the Nazianzen dictum is intentional here (Gregory of Nazianzus, On God and Christ, The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius, trans. Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham, Popular Patristics Series 23 (Yonkers, NY: St. Vladimir’s, 2002), 158.

[49] Gaffin, Centrality of the Resurrection, 19; see also Garner, Sons in the Son, 203.

[50] For example, we say yes and amen to Garner’s quote of Calvin whereby Calvin says that “the cause and root of adoption is Christ” (Garner, “The First and Last Son,” 276).

[51] The distinction between “exclusive representation” and “inclusive participation” is drawn from Hans Burger, Being in Christ: A Biblical and Systematic Investigation in a Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009).

[52] Garner, Sons in the Son, 203.

[53] There is a difference, in our opinion, between “unorthodox implications” and something as strong as “heresy”—which requires awareness and acceptance of unorthodox positions. We are, therefore, in no way accusing these thinkers of propagating heresy.

[54] This is a nearly unanimous definition of “orthodox Christology” and it is one that these authors seem to agree with (Garner, Sons in the Son, 173–76, 178 on the Nicene and Chalcedonian). Such affirmation need not, however, imply historical univocity or variation. Instead, it suggests that the creed of Nicaea and ecumenical councils (e.g., Chalcedon) represent affirmations of consensus that define the parameters of orthodox Christology (Sarah Coakley, “What Does Chalcedon Solve and What Does It Not? Some Reflections on the Status and Meaning of the Chalcedonian ‘Definition,’” in The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God, ed. C. Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins [New York: Oxford University Press, 2002], 143–63).

[55] Norman P. Tanner, ed., Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils [Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990], 1:114; hereafter, Decrees followed by volume and page number.

[56] Tanner, Decrees, 1:5. See also Gilles Emery, “The Immutability of the God of Love and the Problem of Language Concerning the ‘Suffering of God,’” in Divine Impassibility and the Mystery of Human Suffering, ed. James F. Keating and Thomas Joseph White (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 27–29; Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and Its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 111–14.

[57] Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity 3.16 (NPNF2 9:66). This line is repeated nearly word for word by several patristic theologians; for example, Gregory of Nazianzus, Orations 29.19 (NPNF2 7:308); Leo, Sermons 21.2 (NPNF2 12:129); and it is repeated by later Protestant theologians (e.g., John Owen, Christologia, 1:46).

[58] Tanner, Decrees, 1:86.

[59] For a helpful survey of this christological concept see Fred Sanders, “Introduction to Christology: Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative,” in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective: An Intermediate Christology, ed. Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2007), 1–43.

[60] Tanner, Decrees, 1:86.

[61] Tanner, Decrees, 1:86.

[62] A twofold birth is affirmed multiple times by the councils (e.g., Tanner, Decrees, 77, 86, 114) and is understood with reference to either nature.

[63] Even though there might be an argument to be made for it being prudent to avoid the language “Jesus’s adoption by God” for the sake of its connotations.

[64] Tanner, Decrees, 1:5.

[65] Tanner, Decrees, 1:72.

[66] Gaffin, Centrality, 11.

[67] Gaffin shows that he is aware of, and willing to, predicate particular attributes to Jesus according to one nature and not the other (Gaffin, Centrality, 105). Yet, he (curiously) does not make these same qualifications for adoption.

[68] Garner, Sons in the Son, 196.

[69] Garner, Sons in the Son, 198; cf., p. 214.

[70] These accounts could appeal to some version of Kenoticism, which attests to its own space within orthodoxy, in order to avoid this problem. However, they have not (yet) provided the necessary theological mechanics to make such an account work and there are concerns about the coherence and orthodoxy of Kenoticism (see these concerns raised and addressed in Stephen T. Davis, “Is Kenosis Orthodox?,” in Exploring Kenotic Christology: The Self-Emptying of God, ed. C. Stephen Evans [New York: Oxford University Press, 2006], 112–38; see an evangelical critique in Stephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate: The Doctrine of Christ, Foundations of Evangelical Theology [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016], 395–420).

[71] Tanner, Decrees, 109.

[72] Gregory of Nazianzus, To Cledonius the Priest Against Apollinarius (NPNF2 7:439). We include this anathema not to indicate that it includes the authors above, but in order to show the severity with which Gregory viewed this discussion.

[73] Garner, Sons in the Son, 199.

[74] Garner, Sons in the Son, 193, 196.

[75] E.g., LXX Numbers 34:6; Ezekiel 47:20. See also BDAG, though they evidently and a bit curiously suggest “declared” as the proper translation here.

[76] Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; 10:42; 11:29; 17:26, 31; Hebrews 4:7.

[77] On this fallacy, see esp. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), 37–41. No Greek lexicon we consulted (BDAG, LSJ, Louw & Nida, NIDNTTE, TDNT) yielded any texts that would suggest the translation “adopt” for ὁρίζω. Nor does Scott include it in the rather complete semantic field he articulated for υἱοθεσία (Adoption as Sons, 13–57), on which see below.

[78] See, for example, Gaffin, Centrality, 119.

[79] Peppard, The Son of God, 230, n. 34.

[80] Garner, Sons in the Son, 178.

[81] For a persuasive argument on this, see esp. Gordon D. Fee, Pauline Christology: An Exegetical-Theological Study (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007), 245–47.

[82] We might illustrate this point logically as well. To use an everyday example, just because the sidewalk gets wet when it rains, the simple fact that there is a wet sidewalk outside does not require that it is raining (e.g., I might have spilled my coffee on the sidewalk or a pipe could have burst). Likewise, just because resurrection is a key component of adoption, the simple fact of resurrection does not require that it is an adoptive resurrection.

[83] The preposition ἐξ in v. 4b could be causal (“on the basis of”: see Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, 2nd ed., NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018], 47), temporal (“at”: see Scott, Adoption as Sons, 240) or a combination of both (see Garner, Sons in the Son, 196). Michael Wolter perceptively wonders given the nature of the case if the difference would have any ultimate significance, and thus sees the choice between them as a false alternative: “Die Diskussion darüber, ob ἐξ temporal (‚seit‘) oder kausal (‚aufgrund‘) zu verstehen sei, arbeitet nicht nur mit einer falschen Alternative, sondern basiert auch auf einer unzutreffenden Zuordnung von Auferstehung und Einsetzung als Sohn Gottes” (Der Brief an die Römer: Röm 1–8, EKK [Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 2014], 89).

[84] As found in, e.g., Calvin, Hodge, and Warfield (for references, see Gaffin, Centrality, 100–2).

[85] As found in, e.g., James D. G. Dunn, Romans 1–8, WBC 38A (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988), 49–57. The quotation is Thomas Schreiner’s summary of Dunn’s position (Romans, 2nd ed., BECNT [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018], 44).

[86] Such an emphasis on being from the offspring of David accords with the broader Jewish expectation that the Messiah would come from David’s line (see 2 Sam 7:12–16; Isa 11:1–5, 10; Jer 23:5–6; 33:14–17; Ezek 34:23–24; 37:24–25; Psalms of SOlomon 17.21–18.9; 4Qflor 1.11–13; 4QpGena 5.1–7 [on Gen 49:10]). Identifying Jesus as the offspring of David also corresponds to the rest of the NT (see esp. Matt 1:1; 20:30–31; 21:9, 15; Luke 1:27, 32, 69; 2:4; 3:23–31; Acts 2:30; 13:22–23, 32–34; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5; 22:16). On “fleshly descent,” see Christopher Whitsett, “Son of God, Seed of David: Paul’s Messianic Exegesis in Romans 2 [sic]:3–4,” JBL 119 (2000): 661–81, 675.

[87] With the majority of commentators, we take ἐν δυνάμει to be modifying υἱοῦ θεοῦ rather than ὁρισθέντος, yielding “son-of-God-in-power” in contrast to “appointed with power to be the son of God.” So Moo, Romans, 46; Schreiner, Romans, 42; Wolter, Römer, 90; Eckhard J. Schnabel, Der Brief an die Römer, Kapitel 1–5, HTA (Witten: SCM-Verlag, 2015), 105. Contra Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary, Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 107.

[88] Schreiner, Romans, 39.

[89] For a thorough discussion of its semantic field (comprised of six word groups: εἰσποιεῖν, ἐκποιεῖν, τίθεσθαι, ποιεῖσθαι, υἱοποιεῖσθαι, and υἱοθετεῖν), see esp. Scott, Adoption as Sons, 13–57. Interestingly enough, ὁρίζω is not included, casting more doubt upon their synonymity in Romans 1:4. Furthermore, no Greek lexicon we consulted (BDAG, LSJ, Louw & Nida, NIDNTTE, TDNT) suggests for ὁρίζω the translation “adopt.”

[90] See Trevor J. Burke, Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor, NSBT 22 (Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press, 2006), 105–7.

[91] Moo, Romans, 46, italics his.

Joshua Maurer and Ty Kieser

Joshua Maurer is a PhD candidate and adjunct professor of Bible at Wheaton College and serves as pastoral resident at College Church in Wheaton, Illinois.

Ty Kieser is visiting assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

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