Adoption of Christ at Baptism etc.?


This is another note to remind myself (and/or to open up wider discussion) to address the question of Christ’s adoption at baptism, whether the scriptures point to this, what it means, whether it results in serious problems for orthodox Christian theism (with or without the filioque :wink: ), etc.

(Jeff asked this question of Gregory over in Gregory’s “Why the Trinity is important” thread.)

Since Trinitarian orthodoxy is extremely important as theological guarantor to my own acceptance of universalism, I consider any challenge to orthodox theism to be a challenge to universalism, too (even though I agree with Gregory and other scholars that universalism could still be true if other types of theism are true.) Thus the relation of this question to the topic of the board at large. :sunglasses:

Why Orthodox Christian Theism is important for Universalism


This and your other thread (on the Trinity) are interesting to me because I have not studied them in any depth. I am hoping to open up a new area of study for myself so look forward to any replies (I won’t duplicate this post in the other thread).



Thanks for the way you foster discussion, and encourage additional directions for our inquiry. I fear my grasp of Trinitarian thought is weak, but sometimes I sense that we make grasping some ontological distinctions within God more important than appropriately grasping the basic character of God. I know that some texts suggest that God “made” Jesus Lord and Christ, while others assume a pre-existent Son always had a central place in the reality of God. I understand that trusting Jesus is the one God validated and will vindicate is vital to the Christian tradition, and to following him.

But for sake of discussion, what would we lose if we did not have a formulation of a pre-exising Trinity, and just believed that God had chosen to reveal himself most fully in Jesus of Nazareth, such that he validly demonstrates the work, way, and character of God? Perhaps you can elaborate on why that would make our hope less secure.

Grace be with you,


As a non-believer my understanding of the nature of God is that he would much rather people loved one another (in the golden rule sense) than adhered to any particular doctrine or ritual that has become important for its own sake rather than as a way of living in more accord with his nature.

For example in Amos chapter 5:21-24 God says:

and in Hosea 6:6 he says:

Also Jesus says that all manner of words against himself would be forgiven (Matt:12 - in contrast to blasphemy of the holy spirit). This implies to me that whether or not a Christian believes the ‘correct’ doctrine regarding the trinity should have no bearing on their status as a genuine Christian and therefore it could be seen as a kind of idle speculation that could eat into the limited time a Christian has to be out there doing the practical things that really do seem to matter to God.

This post feels like it got away from whatever I thought the point was when I began it - so please forgive me.


I quite agree with pretty much everything in your comment here, for what it’s worth. And I could add substantially to it, too. :smiley:

(For example, it isn’t only a word against the Son of Man that shall be forgiven but even blasphemy against the Son of Man. And despite what we Christians have always had a habit about representing him doing, the rebel on the cross accepted by Jesus into paradise doesn’t even call Jesus “Lord”, much less confess any iota of Christian theology. There’s a pretty good chance, based on a parallel Synoptic text, that he was only humoring someone he thought was harmlessly crazy. But he gave the best he could under the circumstances; so Jesus gave the best He could, too. It’s sort of a two-bits thing. :smiley: )

You asked a question about technical theology, though. So you shouldn’t be surprised to get a technical answer (metaphysics and/or exegetics). :wink: Um, eventually. :mrgreen: (‘Work’ work and all that.)


Hello - Excuse me for asking what for many of you is probably a very basic question! hat, exactly, is meant bvy “orthadox theism”?


Tamara Zaida


For the typos in my last email! I have a toddler on my lap and my typing and spelling go out the window.

I suspect orthodox theism has something to do with beliving in the trinity?

Thanks -

Tamara Zaida


Sorry for the delay, Tamara.

Strictly speaking, ‘orthodox’ means ‘right-praise’; thus also means praising correctly. It’s a term of practical theology, in that most anyone bothering to worship religiously (some religions don’t have, or don’t necessarily have, ‘worship’ of the deity, of course) will want to aim their worship correctly, so to speak. This is also related to the idea of wanting to claim correct instead of incorrect things about the deity.

In that sense, all honest persons believe he or she is being ‘orthodox’ insofar as they think they have at least some correct ideas about the deity (even if they don’t worship deity per se). Even an atheist who is honestly thinking he is correct about God not existing, is being ‘orthodox’ in that fashion; if he is correct, it is all theists of any stripe who are in error–or, going back to the Greek word behind our term ‘error’, are in ‘heresy’. (This should be distinguished from a sin of ‘heresy’, which even an atheist could in principle acknowledge, where a person intentionally propagates what they themselves do not believe to be true in order to gain some benefit for themselves thereby. Such a sin can in principle be extended to those who misuse actual truth for their own selfish ends, too. So, even an atheist could in principle accuse a televangelist making himself rich off his hypocritical exploitation of other people’s theism, of committing the sin of heresy; or could accuse a popularistic atheist of doing the same thing. It is not uncommon, in my experience, for modern atheists to deride and reject the atheistic political regimes of communist dictators in terms which indicate that the dictators are being accused of ‘the sin of heresy’, though that phrase isn’t normally used, of course.)

For purposes of classifying and identifying ideas in shorthand, however, during religious discussions about Christianity, it’s pretty typical to use the term ‘orthodox’ to refer to a particular majority party (which itself has divisions, of course, like Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox and Southern Baptist) which accepts (though sometimes in various ways) the doctrines of the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicean Creed and at least the trinitarian faith statement of the so-called Athanasian Creed.

This is how I usually use the term myself. I don’t thereby mean that those people (including myself) are necessarily correct.

An adoptionist, by sociological contrast to the ‘orthodox’ party, rejects the idea that Jesus Christ was always God, and instead promotes one of several various ideas that (put a little roughly) God only ‘adopted’ Jesus as a son at some point in the life of the man Jesus of Nazareth. The most common adoptionist idea is that God only first adopted Jesus during the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism; though even then there are various distinctions among that kind of adoptionist: did the 2nd Person of the Trinity begin existing in and along with Jesus at that time?–and was that 2nd Person the Son instead of the Holy Spirit, or was that 2nd Person the Holy Spirit with the man Jesus being the Son?–or did the one and only person of God (i.e. God the Father) begin living in and working directly with and through Jesus at that time?

There are (or have been, or could be) various ‘adoptionist’ Christian groups going any of those directions; as well as adoptionists who believe and teach that God adopted Jesus at birth, or at conception, or at the resurrection, or even at Jesus’ ascension. None of those groups are simply pulling their ideas out of thin air; they all have at least some amount of metaphysical plausibility to them, and they all have at least some amount of scriptural testimony to appeal to.

And each group would consider itself orthodox, not in the sociological group-identification sense, but in the far more important sense of trying to give correct worship to, and correct proclamation of, God. :slight_smile:

(Meanwhile: mental note that I still haven’t written an essay addressing Jeff’s question! yeesh… :mrgreen: Definitely another entry, or whole set of them, for the two trinitarian crit threads. :wink: Someday. When I can finally get around to it. I’ll link to it from here whenever I do, though.)


Jason, I would think one must define “adoption” in order to make a determination of “when”.

I have long understand adoption as used in the New Testament as a type of declaration of a son’s maturity. Here are some random pickings from an old file of mine.

“adoption” is translated “huiothesia” in Grk.

One must look into the customs of that time to understand that which took place at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus’ adoption was the entering into the full rights as a mature son. A son could take over the father’s business and the son’s word was considers as his fathers word in any covenant or transaction.

Borrowing the thoughts of a couple others:

“Only in learning obedience do we come to the maturity of “the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5). This “adoption” in Paul’s day was not what we call adoption today. It was the placement of the fully-matured son into a position of full authority over the estate, giving him full legal rights to the inheritance.” S. Jones

“The word “adoption” as used in the New Testament has been misunderstood because of our modern usage of the word to mean legally bringing someone into your family who was not in your family before. Adoption literally means “the placement of a son.” In New Testament usage, it refers to a cultural event when the child was presented to the elders, no longer as a child, but now as a son, full grown, mature, now in partnership with his father. Whatever the son said, it was just as though the father said it. Whatever he did was in the father’s name. If he signed a contract the father would honor it. This is a pretty heavy thing which you wouldn’t give to a five year old, or even a twelve year old. You would wait until that child has come to full stature. In Jesus’ case, he was thirty years old when the Father spoke and announced to the world that His Son had reached the age of adoption. He also reaffirmed it at the experience of His Son on the Mount of Transfiguration”.

Matt. 3:17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”




Me, too; the term (‘son-placement’) is only used in the NT by St. Paul, and he makes pretty clear in Galatians that he’s talking about the cultural tradition (both in the ancient Near Middle East, and in the Roman paterfamilias) of the head of a family deciding when a child has matured enough to start representing the family as an inheritor. The concept shows up elsewhere throughout the OT and NT, though, including when various people are talking about (or asking Jesus about) “enjoying the allotment” in the Gospels.

That concept could be easily applied in various ways to the baptism of Jesus (even though the term ‘adoption’ isn’t used there) and the descent of the Holy Spirit; whether the theology is orthodox, adoptionist (usually some kind of neo-Arianism), or Arian. (Though there would be some significant differences in how it was applied in each type of theology, of course.) It wouldn’t work very well for some docetic theologies (where Jesus’ humanity was only some kind of illusion); and I can’t figure how a modalistic theology, where the distinction between the persons of Father and Son is ultimately unreal (even if the Incarnation is affirmed, unlike docetic theologies, which in turn don’t necessarily have to be modalistic), would do anything but deny the concept: if the Son and the Father are the same person only in different modes, then there couldn’t be any real adoption there in any sense. (And the Father/Son interaction at the baptism would have to be some kind of sham, not even counting an apparent distinction of the Holy Spirit, too, at the baptism.)

Anyway, good quotes! :slight_smile:


ummm … it’s a mystery isn’t it, like how does an infinite God find His way into finite creation :wink:


Meaning, it can hardly be the fault of the orthodox (and most other Christian theological groups, including the various kinds of adoptionists) if we take the blatantly obvious and commonly emphasized distinction of the Persons, as testified in all NT scriptures whether by authors or by Jesus Himself, as being actually and significantly real somehow. :wink:

Just like, in turn, it can hardly be the fault of the orthodox and the modalists, if we take the just-as-commonly-scripturally emphasized full divinity of Jesus and the Spirit along with the Father, as being actually and significantly real as the one God somehow.

If we’re down to playing the mystery card as a defense, I’ll take the mystery card that positively incorporates the most scriptural data. :slight_smile:

(Although I would rather not play the mystery card at all. For example, if we live and move and have our being only within God, and if it is only by God that all things continue to hold together at all, then it isn’t much of a problem to understand how God, though infinite, “finds His way” into creation. The real ‘mystery’–in the negative and somewhat unbiblical sense, instead of the biblical sense of a secret now revealed–would be how He could avoid it while still having creation exist at all! Which, fortunately, I don’t have to affirm; though sadly, even orthodox theologians have had more than a little tendency throughout our history to thus disaffirm the immanence and omnipresence of God. Mainly when trying to keep a hopeless damnation theory going. Which, fortunately, isn’t my problem either. :mrgreen: Or yours, for that matter. :smiley: )


Well Jason, when one argues from scripture which is our language it seems one can make the verses say about anything as the thousands of denominations give testament. When it all come down to it I find the truth in my heart through a divine knowing … which of course I can make a case for through scripture (and you the opposite). The Word is Jesus and He lives within and there He reveals Himself. I tend toward simplicity knowing, God is a mystery with Jesus and Cross set as the foundation. God is the naught as well as the all and fills everything in between. While mortal we able to but glimpse a minuscule part.

One night I was deep in prayer and my soul lay as silent as it ever has. I heard the Son within me pray the Father, yet I knew they were One. I also reckoned a circular relationship between the Two and I was even a part. This experience was most delightful as heaven met earth and round and round I went. I believe there is a circular nature of the Kingdom that explains much.

Anyway be blessed my friend. Although I disgree on some points I thourally enjoyed a number of your thoughts. They were quite grand!