Volume 47 - Issue 1

The Divine and Adopted Son of God: A Response to Joshua Maurer and Ty Kieser

By Richard B. Gaffin Jr. and David B. Garner


This article responds to the recent article by Joshua Maurer and Ty Kieser, “Jesus, ‘Adopted Son of God?’ Romans 1:4, Orthodox Christology, and Concerns about a Contemporary Conclusion.” While we commend these authors’ desire to promote orthodox Christology, we correct their misreading of our own positions, particularly our view regarding the adoption of the divine Son according to his human nature, an adoption essential for the perfecting of the Son in accomplishing the salvation applied to believers. We conclude with an important pastoral observation concerning the adoption of the Son for the adoption of believers.

We appreciate the evident concern for orthodox Christology in the article by Maurer and Kieser, “Jesus, ‘Adopted Son of God?’”1 We assure readers that we share this concern. Also, we appreciate the tone of the article and take at face value their saying that they are not accusing those whose views they critique—including us—of heresy (p. 328, n. 53). However, despite this distinction intending to de-escalate, an unavoidable conclusion remains, even though the authors do not choose to draw it: If the positions they attribute to us are in fact ours, then we are guilty of serious heresy and in fundamental violation of our ordination vows as ministers of the gospel.

The whole of the article seeks to show that our views are “incompatible with orthodox Christology” (p. 328) and “unlike the affirmations of orthodox Christianity” (p. 332, emphasis original). Having made these general assertions, they specify our alleged kinship with particular heresies:

  1. Adoptionism. “The only possible means to affirm Jesus’s adoption is to deny that Jesus was the Son of God before the resurrection” (p. 327), and Gaffin and Garner argue for “a change in Jesus according to his divine nature” (p. 331).
  2. Nestorianism. Gaffin and Garner “incline toward affirming two sons, two persons” (p. 331); “the only way to speak of filial progress is to introduce a second Son” (p. 332); and “the implication here is that the ‘eternal Son’ and ‘economic Son’ are distinct persons, two Sons” (p. 332).
  3. Kenotic Christology. “These accounts could appeal to some version of Kenoticism” (p. 331, n. 70).2

It is difficult to see how the quotations they selected, let alone the fuller body of our writings, could possibly be aligned with the Christological errors they attribute to us. We are disappointed by the massive misreading of our work that has led to the alien views imposed upon us.

Where the authors get untracked and are wrong in their basic assessment of our views is signaled in the final, summarizing sentence of their opening paragraph: “Paul, they suppose, spoke of the eternally divine Son’s ‘adoptive divine sonship’” (p. 320). Put in quotation marks yet without any indication of a source, “adoptive divine sonship” presumably highlights their own representation of the basic view they are intent on critiquing as erroneous: that the Son’s divine nature is not immutable but changes.

“Adoptive divine sonship” occurs multiple times in characterizing our views: in the introduction (1 time), in section 1.1. in relation to Gaffin (3 times, in two of which “adoptive” is italicized) and in section 1.3 in relation to Garner (1 time in the body, 1 time in n. 26; in each occurrence “adoptive” is italicized).

Suffice it to say, at no place have we ever spoken or written of “divine adoptive sonship” or of “Jesus’s acquiring of divine sonship.”3 As an encapsulation of our view we reject such language as thoroughly misleading.

In what follows, we reply further to Maurer and Kieser’s critiques. Gaffin responds first to the authors’ critique of his view. Then Garner addresses their assessment of his position and offers some observations about issues related to orthodox Christology raised by their article. Finally, together we offer concluding remarks concerning some pastoral implications of adoption.

1. Response from Gaffin

Maurer and Kieser summarize my view of Jesus’s sonship as follows in their article:

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.” 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. (pp. 330–31)4

This quotation and the conclusions the authors draw from it prompt several observations.5

First, this is what I actually wrote in The Centrality of the Resurrection: “Verse 4 teaches that at the resurrection Christ began a new and unprecedented phase of divine sonship. The eternal Son of God, who was born, lived, and died κατὰ σάρκα, has been raised κατὰ πνεῦμα and so, in his messianic identity (of the seed of David), has become what he was not before: the Son of God in power.6 Further, to reinforce what is meant by these two sentences, I directly appended this footnote from Geerhardus Vos: “‘From resurrection-beginnings, from an eschatological genesis dated the pneumatic state of Christ’s glory which is described as sonship of God ἐν δυνάμει.’”7

To say that there is a considerable difference between the way Maurer and Kieser have quoted me and what I wrote is an understatement. I have puzzled over what prompted them to elide the material they did (italicized for easy reference above) and without any indication why they had done so. Presumably, it is to find an instance of the notion of “adoptive divine sonship” they are concerned to critique as erroneous and unorthodox.

However, in the second sentence of what I wrote, the relative clause they elided (“who was born…”) is not there as dispensable filler material that can be ignored without drastically changing the meaning of the sentence as a whole. Nor can “the Son of God in power” be omitted as they did without removing the specific bottom-line conclusion of both sentences taken together. The elided material is essential to the meaning of the two sentences. The way the authors have quoted me so substantially changes what I wrote that they do not simply obscure its meaning, but give it a sense it does not have.

At the end of the excerpt quoted above, Maurer and Kieser append footnote 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” (p. 331).

To this I can only say that what they find “curiously” to be the case is because in quoting me (see above) they have deleted from their consideration the relative clause in the second sentence. There “…born, lived, … died, … raised, …, (of the seed of David)” are true and can only be true of Christ, the eternal Son of God, according to his human nature, not his divine nature. The sense of the sentence, particularly when it is read within its immediate and the broader context of the book, is accurately restated by substituting “according to his human nature” for the relative clause: “The eternal Son of God, according to his human nature, has become what he was not before: the Son of God in power.” The two sentences, properly cited and read, do not by any stretch of sound reasoning provide evidence of attributing change to the deity of the Son (rather than his humanity), or, as the authors think, of seeming “to fall into the ditch of a Son whose divinity changes” (pp. 330–31).

In Romans 1:3–4, there is indeed a change in view for God’s Son, a change that is at the heart of the gospel, a change without which there is no gospel (note how these verses connect with vv. 1‒2 and that the gospel is a primary focus of vv. 1‒4). That change is this: In his human nature the eternal Son of God, the person of the divine Son, “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed), having persevered in his state of humiliation (v. 3), entered his state of exaltation (v. 4).

The authors’ concern for orthodox Christology is commendable. Their misreading of my view is regrettable.

2. Response from Garner

2.1. Adoptive Divine Sonship Predicated upon Eschatological Sonship

As previously noted, Maurer and Kieser designate our positions with the formula “adoptive divine sonship”—a phrase likely drawn from Michael Peppard.8 Whoever is the source, the quotation deserves attribution. More pertinent to my response here, however, is the unorthodox theological baggage toted in the phrase, since Peppard rejects the pre-existent sonship of Christ and openly aligns himself with the adoptionism of James D. G. Dunn.9 Just as Maurer and Kieser do with Gaffin, they impose the phrase and its objectionable theological baggage upon me.

The authors write, “He [Garner], like Gaffin, understands Romans 1:3–4 ‘is an epochal designation of historically attained sonship rather than an ontological one concerning the hypostatic union.’”10 Then, deploying their refrain of choice, Maurer and Kieser draw the following conclusion: “This means that Jesus’s adoptive divine sonship is, therefore, properly predicated only to this ‘eschatological’ sonship” (pp. 324–25, their emphasis).

In this quote, as in the one from their note 67, referenced in Gaffin’s response above, the writers here employ a grammatically strained formulation of a matter predicated “to” something rather than “on” or “upon” something.11 If what they mean here is that Christ’s divine sonship is predicated upon his adoption, the response is an emphatic no to such Christology from-below argumentation. Jesus is the divine Son from eternity past and remains ever so. He does not and cannot acquire, obtain, mature into what he already is eternally as “very God of very God” (Nicene Creed), the only-begotten Son of God.

Jesus’s divine sonship does not derive from his incarnational experience or eschatological sonship, formulations more reflective of Pannenberg than of Paul. Contrary to Maurer and Kieser, who seek to demonstrate that I make Christ’s divine sonship contingent upon his resurrection, I openly contend precisely the opposite: Christ’s human sonship experience is only properly predicated upon his antecedent divine sonship.

In fact, the chapter in Sons in the Son from which the selected quotation comes begins with an extensive treatment of the deity of the Son of God.12 I affirm the tried, tested, and trusted Christological creeds of Nicaea and Chalcedon, and applaud the brilliant summation of orthodox Christology in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 8. In this same chapter of Sons in the Son, I further counter the heterodox and heretical Christology from-below paradigms, which predicate any notion of divinity upon his humanity. Instead, “the Son of God is ‘very and eternal God’ who took ‘upon him man’s nature. Christ’s divinity lies antecedent to his humanity.”13

Maurer and Kieser further misconstrue my view when they degrade my approach to Christ’s eternal sonship: “As Garner admits, ‘this sending does not create sonship, but presupposes it’” (p. 333). As the structure, argument, and tone of Sons in the Son unequivocally manifest, never do I “admit” the eternal sonship of Christ. Mere admission of Christ’s divinity strikes the protological and doxological heart of faithful Christology. As I make explicit, “The Logos asarkos precedes and qualifies the Logos ensarkos.”14 For this reason, the sentence immediately following their chosen quote from Sons in the Son cites Herman Ridderbos affirmingly: “The divine glory of Christ, even already in his pre-existence with the Father prior to his redemptive revelation, determines and underlies the Pauline Christology.”15 It is the divine Son that became incarnate, not a human son that became divine. This theological priority we must celebrate and effectuate, and never moderate or merely tolerate.

In short, Maurer and Kieser misrepresent me and Gaffin. One will seek in vain, in fact, to locate either of us in their divine mutability ditch. To put a point on it, we repudiate any change to the deity of the Son, as both impossible and heretical. We have not and would not speak of Christ’s “adoptive divine sonship,” and reject such language, as the authors use it, as an inaccurate and misleading encapsulation of our views. Indeed, Maurer and Kieser’s consistent imposition of the alien and heretical formulation upon us begs the credibility of the entire critique.

In order to illuminate possible reasons for their misdiagnoses, I turn now to address select features of their article.

2.2. “Zero-Sum” Sonship

2.2.1. One Conclusion: Two Sons

According to Maurer and Kieser, the sine qua non of the adoption motif is relational: “Adoption necessarily includes the notion of relational change of status between persons” (p. 335), and adoption thereby inherently excludes the Son of God. Maurer and Kieser insist that if Jesus is eternally Son, then he cannot be Son by adoption. If he is Son by adoption, then he cannot be eternally Son. For them, the decision is binary. He cannot be both.

I would wholeheartedly agree if the term “son” and Jesus’s sonship were thusly constrained by Scripture and if the adoption motif functioned in the wooden way they insist (by assertion, but without defense). This tunnel vision verdict, which barrels through the entire essay, can only be sustained if Scripture presents Christ’s sonship through an exclusively ontological lens. Bound to this framework, Maurer and Kieser infer one heretical conclusion: if Christ is eternal and adopted, then Gaffin and I affirm two sons (or Sons) (pp. 331–32).

It is instructive, for my concern here, to consider the various contours of the term “Son” in Hebrews. In the recently published work, The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews,16 R. B. Jamieson summarizes three most common interpretive approaches to the sonship of Christ of Hebrews:

  1. Son is what Jesus is eternally: “If Jesus is already the divine Son, then there can be no strong sense in which he becomes Son.”17
  2. Jesus was not Son of God, but became Son: “a less-than-divine Christology.”18
  3. Scripture presents a conflicting, incoherent and irresoluble picture of Christ’s sonship: “When Hebrews speaks in bracingly high terms of the Son’s being and acts, this necessarily stands in tension with ‘Son’ being something this same figure becomes upon exaltation.”19

Jamieson shows how these interpretive schemes, notwithstanding their disparate approaches and conclusions, share what he calls a “zero-sum” perspective: “Despite their substantial differences, the scholarly approaches … above all treat the title ‘Son’ in Hebrews as finally capable of only one meaning. Given this constraint, the three positions exhaust the range of logical possibilities.”20

For the remainder of the book, Jamieson makes a historical, biblical, and theological case for an alternative approach to Hebrews’ Christology: “the Son who became Son.”21 That is, the divine Son at the culmination of his incarnate work receives a new designation as Son, according to “the office of rule he enters at his enthronement.”22 “The first is prerequisite to the second,”23 the ontological the backdrop for the functional, the preexistent sonship the foundation for the eschatological and redemptively efficacious.24 Jamieson contends that Hebrews uses “‘Son’ to name both who Jesus is by divine nature and what he became at the conclusion of his incarnate mission. If a twofold use of ‘Son’ in both divine and messianic registers in Romans 1:3–4 is regarded as overly subtle or linguistically implausible, Hebrews provides a precise parallel in close historical and conceptual proximity.”25

While he opposes the zero-sum courses most commonly charted in the history of interpretation, Jamieson travels a path that is neither novel nor unorthodox. He carefully analyzes key biblical texts, while drawing on the Church Fathers and conciliar Christology. Though I do not align myself with Jamieson at every exegetical or theological point, I gladly join him with a formidable cast of other orthodox scholars, who reject the either-or approach and embrace the both-and approach concerning Christ’s eternal and attained sonship, including Geerhardus Vos,26 Moises Silva,27 Gregory Beale,28 Michael Horton,29 and Sinclair Ferguson.30 If Maurer and Kieser are correct about my heresy, they have a long line of heavy-weights to wrestle next.

2.2.2. Cyril the Nestorian?

To defend their own zero-sum approach to the sonship of Christ, Maurer and Kieser turn to the Church Fathers and conciliar Christology—that particularly of Nicaea and Chalcedon (pp. 329–30). While I wish that they had read us more carefully, I also wish they had read church history more thoroughly.

The most forceful opponent of Nestorius and Nestorianism in the debates leading up to the Third Ecumenical Council (Nicaea) was Cyril of Alexandria. In his famous twelve anathemas, he blasted Nestorius and the heresy of Nestorianism (and Eutychianism), and deploying the emerging conception of the communicatio idiomatum, he affirmed Mary as theotokos. It was in Nicaea that Cyril’s robust Christology won a first battle over Nestorianism, and then again later, after Cyril’s death, at the Fourth Ecumenical Council (451 in Chalcedon). But a century later the Nestorian arguments stubbornly persisted, and had to be revisited and refuted at the Fifth Ecumenical in Constantinople in 553—yet again with Cyril’s prevailing theological influence.

How important is Cyril of Alexandria? Keith Mathison summarizes,

It is not an exaggeration to say that if you look to the Definition of Chalcedon (as well as to the Council of Ephesus and the Second Council of Constantinople) for the contours of your Christology, then you are looking to Cyril of Alexandria for the contours of your Christology. These three ecumenical councils viewed Cyril’s teaching as the most accurate expression of the Christology found in the Scriptures. They relied on Cyril’s works to help them express precisely the parameters of orthodoxy.31

Notably, this same Cyril of Alexandria, who defied Nestorianism and defended the eternal preexistence of the Son of God, also affirmed his adoption: “And he endured such things, in order that, as a man, he would be adopted as Son, although by nature he exists as God, and that he would make a way, through himself, for human nature to participate in adoption, and would call into the kingdom of heaven those tyrannized by sin.”32

The great father of our historic, conciliar Christology, the primary formulator of the theology of the hypostatic union as expressed in the Nicene and Chalcedonian creeds, and the most ardent opponent of Nestorianism, argued that this same eternal Son of God is the adopted Son of God. Concerning the one Son, he elegantly distinguished ontological and economic realities:

God the Word full by nature and in every way Perfect, and distributing out of His own Fullness His own goods to the creature, we say was emptied: in no wise wronged in His own Proper Nature, nor changed so as to become otherwise, nor made in ought inferior, for inconvertible and unchangeable is Himself also even as He Who begat Him, and never may He be capable of passion. But when He was made Flesh, i.e. Man, He made (as He said, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh) the poverty of human nature His own; first, in that He was once made man, albeit He remained God; next in that He took the form of a servant, Who is in His own Nature free, as Son, and while He is Himself the Lord of glory He is said to receive glory: Himself Life, He is said to be quickened: and receives power over all, Himself King of all and with God, and Ho [sic] was obedient to the Father, suffered the Cross and so on. But these things befit the measure of the human nature, yet He makes them His own with flesh and fulfils the economy, remaining what He was.33

Was Cyril himself a closet Nestorian while publicly, passionately, and persuasively denouncing it? Read his letters to Nestorius and to John of Antioch, and you will not wonder. Was Cyril guilty of arguing for two Sons of God? Hardly.

Though accused by Maurer and Kieser as such, Richard Gaffin and I are no more Nestorian than was his most ardent opponent, Cyril of Alexandria. Cyril understood the soteriological necessity for the eternal Son of God to become the adopted Son of God on behalf of “those tyrannized by sin.” Two sons? No! Instead, with Cyril, we affirm one Son whose sonship is both ontological and adoptive, eternal and redemptive-historical.

Richard Gaffin and I, two sons of God by grace through faith, affirm the one eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ the Lord, who as the incarnate One, was also humiliated and exalted as “Son of God in power” (Rom 1:4).

2.3. Incarnational Adiaphora

While affirming the historical fact of the incarnation without qualification, Maurer and Kieser seem to give it insufficient weight in their theological paradigm. For them, it appears incarnational growth and attainment are facts of history, rather than shaping features of biblical Christology and soteriology. To the point, with reference to a portion of Luke 2:52, they write that Jesus “can ‘grow in wisdom’” (p. 330, my emphasis).34 This concessive (“can”) orientation calcifies in their response to Hebrews 13:8. Appealing to the communicatio idiomatum, they write, “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’” (p. 330).

What they “validly say” happened or “can” happen is not reducible to theological adiaphora. Without Christ’s growth in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, there is no salvation. Without Jesus learning obedience through what he has suffered (Heb 5:8), he fails to become the all-adequate Savior. Without Christ attaining the cosmic, once-for-all filial affirmation of the Father in heaven at the culmination of his own perfect obedience, there is no “Firstborn among many brothers” (Rom 8:29), no Pioneer (ἀρχηγός, Acts 3:15, 5:31; Heb 2:10, 12:2) qualified to lead the sons of God into the blessed rest of their Creator (Heb 4:8–10).

Do we dare embrace a theology that regards the perfecting sufferings of Jesus—his obedience learned—as incidental rather than integral, serendipitous rather than salvific? That Jesus “can” grow is an entailment of his humanity. That he did grow is a necessity for his saving efficacy. Without this advance in the life experience of the Son of God (Heb 1:2–13; 2:10–18; 4:15; 5:5–10; Rom 1:3–4) there is no enthronement, no realization of the new phase/experience of glorified sonship, and no receiving of his new name. And without his filial attainment, there are no children of God (Rom 8:15–17)!

One’s conception of the deity of the Son must not obfuscate the soteriologically compulsory growth, suffering, and qualifying attainment of Christ—including his maturity in favor with the Father. Thus, I concur with Gaffin that the authors’ concern for orthodox Christology is laudable, while their misreading of our views is lamentable. In addition, I find their downplaying the change in the Son of God—that perfecting of his human nature, which is necessary for an efficacious salvation—to be disconcerting.

2.4. The Son of God and the Sons of God

I conclude this section of the response where Maurer and Kieser began: “Ultimately, the good news of our adoption is rooted in the immutable foundation of Christ’s eternal Sonship” (p. 319). If by “ultimately” they mean that there is no adoption apart from Christ’s eternal sonship, I heartily agree. If by “ultimately” they mean that Christ’s eternal sonship is uniquely and unchangeably his, I heartily agree. But if by “ultimately” they mean that we receive adoption apart from Christ’s historical adoption, attained at his resurrection, when he became Son of God in power, I humbly and heartily disagree.

To be clear, Christ’s relationship with us is not like that of an all-star quarterback whose teammates run, block, catch and carry the ball to help the superstar to victory. Redemption was not accomplished as a team sport. Christ alone suffered and died; he alone was raised from the dead. But these divinely-purposed experiences of his became effectual for his people. Redemption applied means the participation of believers in all that Christ accomplished and attained.

Yes, the distinction between the Redeemer and the redeemed abides forever. We are not the Redeemer; we are the redeemed. We are not the Savior; we are the saved. We are not the Mediator; we are those for whom the Lord mediates. We are not the Intercessor; we are those for whom the Lord intercedes.

But this essential Son/sons distinction neither demands nor permits theological minimization of all that our union with the incarnate and risen Christ means. As Vos has put it, “the resurrection of Christ … works instrumentally. There is a causal connection between the justification of Christ and that of those who belong to Him, between the making alive of His soul and the regeneration of the children of God, between His resurrection and their resurrection”35—and thus, as Romans 8:23 and 8:29 also reveal, between his adoption and their adoption.

Accordingly, as I express in the introduction to Sons in the Son,

The believers’ adoption … does not serve to distinguish redemptive sonship from that belonging to the Redeemer, the Son of God, but quite contrarily (and astoundingly!) celebrates the filial realities fully shared by and with Christ Jesus. Believers, united to Christ in his resurrection, enjoy the full bounty of benefits, the panoply of spiritual blessings attained by their Elder Brother. The motivation to preserve the uniqueness of the sonship of Jesus Christ is biblical and noble. He is the divine Son eternally, and this sonship remains unique to him. He alone is the Mediator, whose identity, nature, and work distinguish him from all other humanity. But we must not allow this proper impetus to exalt the Son of God to receive improper application, and thereby compromise the way in which believers are understood as sons and daughters of God—adoption “in and for … Jesus Christ,” as WCF [Westminster Confession of Faith] 12 puts it. What Christ attains in his exalted state of sonship comes to the redeemed in full.… Adoption, then, does not serve to differentiate believers from Christ; rather, it serves to expose the crowded graces of our salvation, secured in our union with the resurrected, exalted, perfected, and adopted Son of God! The believers’ redemptive adoption comes by the adoption of the Redeemer. His adoption is our adoption, his holy sonship our holy sonship.36

3. Conclusion

We do value the significant experience, shared in the final paragraph of their Conclusion (p. 335), that both authors have, as parents of adopted as well as natural-born children, of seeing these children, adopted and natural, come to recognize and relate to one another as siblings belonging to the same family. In this experience, the authors see a pastoral illustration, by analogy, of how Christians as sons by adoption are related to Christ as the Son by nature. They cite Romans 8:29 and Hebrews 2:11 in parentheses for support.

This analogy, however, misses a critical emphasis in both passages. It breaks down at what is in fact a crucially important pastoral point. Romans 8:29 states that Christ is “the firstborn among many brothers” as the Son in whose image believers are predestined to be conformed. But he is this firstborn Son only as he has become “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18; cf. Rev 1:5) and now possesses what he did not have prior to his resurrection, a glorified human nature. In Romans 8:29 “firstborn” is not a pre-existence predicate of the Son in his (undeniable eternal and immutable) deity, but an exaltation predicate of the Son as incarnate. United with the Son, believers, as adopted, will have a glorified nature like his. They will share in the eschatological harvest of resurrection, of which his is “the firstfruits,” in their own bodily resurrection at his return (1 Cor 15:20, 23, 48‒49). In the meantime, however imperfectly and partially, they are already being transformed “from glory to glory” into the glory-image the (incarnate) Son (according to his human nature) has become (2 Cor 3:18).

In Hebrews 2:11 the sense of the indefinite expression ἐξ ἑνός has to be made specific from the immediate context: The sanctifier-Son and his sanctified brothers/children are all “of one” only as and because he likewise shares with them in their “flesh and blood” humanity (v. 14). Only in his consummate and perfected (Heb 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) incarnate state, does he, the resurrected and exalted Son of God, qualify as the ἀρχηγός to “lead many sons to glory” (Heb 2:10).

The adopted sons’ predestined sharing by resurrection in a human nature like that of the glorified firstborn Son rests on and derives from the adoptive significance of the Son’s own resurrection, when by the Spirit he was effectively declared/appointed what he was not previously (in his human nature), “the Son of God in power” (Rom 1:4).

[1] Joshua Maurer and Ty Kieser, “Jesus, ‘Adopted Son of God?’ Romans 1:4, Orthodox Christology, and Concerns about a Contemporary Conclusion,” Themelios 46 (2021): 319–35. Hereafter we cite this article with parenthetical page references.

[2] Of the three heresies mentioned, accusations of Kenotic Christology receive the least attention in this article.

[3] This is another formulation employed by Maurer and Kieser to describe our view (p. 333). See more about the “adoptive divine sonship” formula below in 2. Response from Garner.

[4] Note that the deletion and the ellipses inserted in this quotation are by Maurer and Kieser, not by me.

[5] The words Maurer and Kieser quote are found in Richard B. Gaffin Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1978), 111—not page 11, as they have on p. 333, n. 66. Also on p. 327, n. 49, the page number in The Centrality of the Resurrection should be 119, not 19. This book has subsequently been republished and is now available as Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1987), with slight changes to the text but not to the pagination.

[6] Gaffin, The Centrality of the Resurrection, 111 (italics added).

[7] This quotation is from his seminal chapter, “The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit” in Biblical and Theological Studies, by members of the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1912), 230. This chapter has been reprinted Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, in ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), where the quotation is on p. 105.

[8] Michael Peppard, “Adopted and Begotten Sons of God: Paul and John on Divine Sonship,” CBQ 73 (2011): 92–110. James Scott also employs the phrase and presents a possible source for Maurer and Kieser, but that seems unlikely, as he uses the phrase in a manner different than either Peppard or Maurer and Kieser. See James M. Scott, Adoption as Sons of God: An Exegetical Investigation into the Background of YIOTHESIA in the Pauline Corpus, WUNT 48 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992), e.g., 104–5, 186, 212. By the phrase, Scott speaks of adoption enacted by God upon men, not the means by which a man becomes God.

[9] Opposing orthodox Christology, Peppard writes, “Interpreted in the framework of post-Nicene orthodoxy, God’s ‘sending’ of his son implies the preexistence of Jesus Christ as God’s son. It is possible that Paul meant that, but it is not very likely. As Dunn and others have argued, God’s sending of Jesus is eschatological, not protological” (“Adopted and Begotten Sons,” 98). I on the other hand, categorically reject Adoptionism both in its historic forms and in its versions revived by Dunn, Peppard and others. For further critique of adoptionist Christology, see David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 177–82.

[10] Citing Garner, Sons in the Son, 195.

[11] This distracting “predicate[s/d] … to” expression appears five times in Maurer and Kieser’s article.

[12] See Garner, Sons in the Son, 173–95.

[13] Garner, Sons in the Son, 176.

[14] Garner, Sons in the Son, 176.

[15] Garner, Sons in the Son, 178–79, quoting Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John Richard DeWitt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 70.

[16] R. B. Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews, Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021).

[17] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 15.

[18] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 7–8.

[19] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 14.

[20] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 17. He continues, “Either Jesus became Son at his exaltation, and so his bearing the title or identity of Son before that point is strictly proleptic; or Jesus is eternally the divine Son, and so his becoming Son is simply a restatement or manifestation of what he is already; or Hebrews is fundamentally inconsistent on this point.” Cf. C. F. D. Moule, The Origin of Christology (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1977), 30–31: “The indications are … that the words and practices of Jesus himself, together with the fact of the cross and its sequel, presented the friends of Jesus, from the earliest days, with a highly complex, multivalent set of associations already adhering to the single word ‘Son.’”

[21] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 17. Jamieson surveys the Church Fathers and conciliar Christology, and then interacts with other contemporary exegetes and theologians (e.g., Frank Matera and Moises Silva), as he probes key passages in Hebrews in relationship to the sonship of Christ. Without qualification he defends both the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ in his mode of existence and his consequent appointment as messianic Son at his enthronement. For two reviews of Jamieson, see Brandon D. Crowe, “Review of The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” WTJ 88 (2021): 404–6, and Jared Compton, “Review of The Paradox of Sonship: Christology in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” Themelios 46 (2021): 685–88.

[22] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 122. So, too, James Scott concludes, “The adoptionistic language of v. 4, which even the church fathers recognized, cannot be pitted against Paul’s preexistence Christology (Phil. 2:6). There must be a sense in which Paul can affirm that Christ was appointed ‘Son of God in power’ on Easter” (Adoption as Sons of God, 236).

[23] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 122.

[24] Douglas J. Moo, who states that Romans 1:3 “assumes the preexistence of the Son,” also identifies a strong consensus that behind Romans 1:4 lies Psalm 2:7, “which speaks of the coronation of the Davidic messianic King (cf. also Heb. 1:5). In speaking this way, Paul and the other NT authors do not mean to suggest that Jesus becomes the Son only at the time of his resurrection. In this passage, we must remember that the Son is the subject of the entire statement in vv. 3–4: It is the Son who is ‘appointed’ Son. The tautologous nature of this statement reveals that being appointed Son has to do not with a change in essence—as if a person or human messiah becomes Son of God for the first time—but with a change in status or function” (The Epistle to the Romans, 2nd ed., NICNT [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018], 46–48). Interestingly, on p. 335, Maurer and Kieser call upon Moo to defend their “ruling out any notion of adoption here.” However, Jamieson (The Paradox of Sonship, 166) reads Moo’s commentary quite differently than they do.

[25] Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 166.

[26] See Geerhardus Vos, “The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit,” 104.

[27] See Moises Silva, “Perfection and Eschatology in Hebrews,” WTJ 39 (1976): 62–63.

[28] See G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 500. Here Beale explicitly ties believers’ adoption with Christ’s own. On p. 671, he distinguishes believers’ sonship from Christ’s. On pp. 707–8, through his treatment of Hosea 1:10, he offers a fuller argument concerning the biblical-theological motifs of “firstborn” and “son” in relation to Israel, Christ, and believers.

[29] See Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 642, 703–04.

[30] See Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 105.

[31] Keith A. Mathison, “A Forgotten Father: Cyril’s Fight for the Faith,” Tabletalk, 4 May 2020, See also Keith A. Mathison, “A Forgotten Father: Cyril’s Fight for the Faith,” Tabletalk, 23 October 2020, For a more technical treatment of Cyril’s role in the development of Christology, see John A. McGuckin, St. Cyril of Alexandria: The Christological Controversy: Its History, Theology, and Texts, VCSup 23 (Leiden: Brill, 1994).

[32] Cyril of Alexandria, translated by and recorded in Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 48. Jamieson further develops Cyril’s arguments for Christ’s adoption on pp. 166–67. See also, Joshua W. Jipp, “Ancient, Modern, and Future Interpretations of Romans 1:3–4: Reception History and Biblical Interpretation,” JTI 3 (2009): 241–59. Maurer and Kieser show some awareness of Cyril’s argument for Christ’s adoption, at least through James Scott (Adoption as Sons of God, 221–23). Contrary to the way Maurer and Kieser summarize Scott on early church scholarship, Scott examines Severian and Cyril’s consideration of the connection between ὁρίζω and υἱοθεσία with reference to Ephesians 1:5 and Romans 1:4. Then he concludes, Severian “disagrees that the Son is adopted” and Apollinaris “balks at the fact that Rom. 1:4a affirms the adoption of the Son” (Adoption as Sons of God, 222–23). Scott (appropriately) does not make these judgments concerning Cyril. Moreover, Scott also notes that Irenaeus “seems to affirm that Jesus became the Son of God by receiving υἱοθεσία” (Adoption as Sons of God, 221, n. 2). In their footnote 18, Maurer and Kieser neglect the important reference to Irenaeus, and misrepresent Scott’s analysis of Cyril, Severian, and Apollinaris.

[33] Cyril of Alexandria, Scholia on the Incarnation of the Only-Begotten, LFC 47 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1881), §5,

[34] They oddly, if not revealingly, neglect the remainder of the verse, which speaks of the Son of God growing not only in wisdom, but in stature and favor with God and man.

[35] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Christology, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2014), 221 (emphasis original). Vos develops this summation on pp. 221–23. See also Jamieson, The Paradox of Sonship, 95: “Christology and soteriology are mutually determining.”

[36] Garner, Sons in the Son, xxiv–xxv (emphasis original).

Richard B. Gaffin Jr. and David B. Garner

Richard B. Gaffin Jr. is professor emeritus of biblical and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

David B. Garner is chief academic officer, vice president of global ministries, and professor of systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

Other Articles in this Issue

In the book of Kings, Elisha is the Spirit-empowered man of God who walks with God, represents God, and shows the way to covenant faithfulness through word and deed...

Baptists provide an excellent window into the American identity during the antebellum period...

This article explores Colossians, a letter in which Paul says a considerable amount about work...

This article offers a reading of Nicholas Wolterstorff’s objections to the doctrine of divine simplicity, which has seen a kind of rebirth amongst both Catholic and Protestant theologians in recent decades...

The Targums were not translations for the Aramaic-speaking masses who were ignorant of Hebrew...