" . . . but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father . . ." (Romans 8:12ff)
Certainly, as we look through Scripture, we see a wide array of colorful, complex characters. St. Paul would certainly count as a colorful, complex character. If we look at the life of St. Paul, we soon notice that there were many different aspects of his life: he was a devout Jew; he went on to become a devout Christian and follower of Christ; and he also pointed out that he was a Roman Citizen. Think back to the Acts of the Apostles. On one of the many journeys of St. Paul, he is taken prisoner and accused of being a "Pestilent Fellow" and a "mover of sedition" (Acts 24:5). While he was in custody, he was struck by one of the Roman soldiers, to which St. Paul replied: "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is Roman?" (Acts 22:25) In fact, he not only points out that he is a Roman citizen but uses this citizenship to request an appeal to the Roman authorities as a Roman citizen. Now, keep in mind that St. Paul is not doing this as a clever way out of custody because he says prior to this that he will gladly suffer punishment for some crime that he has done. But he refuses to be found guilty of some wrong that he has not done. Thus, it must be presumed that St. Paul was proud that he was a Roman citizen and not merely using that citizenship as a way to get out of this latest "fix" that he found himself in.
Now, the reason I spend so much time pointing this out is because in order for us to truly understand the background of why things were written in Scripture, it is good for us to know the perspective of who is doing the writing or to whom the letter is being written or the circumstances that led to the writing of the letter, etc. So when we hear in the Epistle today where St. Paul makes reference to "adoption," he is more than likely looking at it with the understanding of adoption in the perspective of Roman law and how adoption was viewed in Roman customs and tradition of the day.
In Roman society, adoption was always a very serious matter. We say this because in Roman society, it was ruled by the "Patria Potestas." This is a Latin term basically meaning that the father had the absolute rule of the family and the father had the absolute rule of the family always. In our modern society, we basically say that once children reach the age of 18, they are then considered legal adults and have rights as such. Back in the time of St. Paul, children would still be considered children no matter what age they were and, as such, were under the rule of the "Patria Potestas." So in order for an adoption to take place, it would have to be shown and proven that the one Father gave up any and all rights to the son in order for that son to be adopted by the new Father. In other words, one would go from one "Patria Potestas" to another "Patria Potesta."
There were two formalities in a legal adoption in Roman tradition: 1) Mancipatio. This was a symbolic act using a scale used for weights and copper coins. Basically, it went like this: the original father would place the copper coins on the scale symbolizing the selling of the son to the new father. The first two times, though, the original father "buys back" the son symbolically but the third time, he refuses to "buy back" the son and then, as a result, his "Patria Potesta" is considered broken forever in regards to "ownership" and "rights" over his son. 2) Vindicatio. This is where the adopting father goes to the Roman magistrate and makes the case for adoption and the adoption is made binding and legal.
When a child was adopted in Roman culture, there were aspects there were consequences of the adoption: 1) Adopted person lost all rights to the old family; 2) adopted person became heir to the new father's estate; 3) the old life of the adopted child was completely wiped away. Thus, for example, any debts incurred would be wiped clean because the "old" child was gone forever and now the "new" child existed; 4) in the eyes of the law, the son was absolutely considered the child of the adoptive father in the eyes of the law.
Thus, when we keep all of this in perspective, we realize that when St. Paul states that we are "adopted children of God," we know that St. Paul is pointing out what he knows about adoption from the Roman perspective as a Roman citizen: i.e., it is permanent; it is binding; it wipes away the former life; and, finally, the adoption entitles the adopted children to become heirs.
In the Letter to the Galatians, we hear the following: "To redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant but a son. And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Galatians 4:5-7) St. Paul is emphasizing that we are heirs and are entitled to the love and salvation that God freely chooses to endow upon us. Now, of course, we also have to do our part. This involves responsibility of being God's children: living as Christians on a daily basis; responding to God's call in our life; following the commandments of God; having a relationship with God; showing the love of God to others.
God has chosen us to be His children. As we hear in the Letter to the Ephesians: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestined us as unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself according to the good pleasure of His will." (Ephesians 1:4-5) Let us live as children of God, knowing that He has chosen us from the foundation of the world, knowing that His Son freely gave up His life by dying on the Cross to ensure the forgiveness of our sins. Let us hold firm to our being sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father by remaining firm in our love of Him.
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