This research will seek to show what Paul means by “adoption as sons” in Romans 8 and 9

Definition, Illustrations, and Usage of υἱοθεσία

The Greek word that Paul uses in Romans 8:15 when speaking of the believer’s position in Christ is υἱοθεσία. It is a compound from υἱός “son,” and τίθημι “to set, place.” While the English word “adoption” can help the English reader to understand what Paul is saying in chapter 8 of Romans, the question is, does a modern English understanding of adoption carry the same meaning that Paul meant by his use of the Greek word υἱοθεσία?

Vine’s Expository Dictionary says that “Adoption is a term involving the dignity of the relationship of believers as sons; it is not a putting into the family by spiritual birth, but a putting into the position of sons.”[1]

Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines the word adoption as “a legal term that expresses the process by which a man brings another person into his family, endowing him with the status and privileges of a biological son or daughter.”[2] Several Old Testament examples illustrate the principle of adoption.

One such illustration is Moses, who the daughter of Pharaoh adopted in Exodus 2:10. Moses was raised by his Hebrew mother with all rights and privileges as though he were an Egyptian. While there is no Hebrew equivalent for the English term “adoption,” The context of the book of Esther shows that the Jews understood the concept to some degree as Mordecai appears to have adopted Esther, Esther 2:7, 15.[3]

A third example would be Manasseh and Ephraim, the sons of Joseph, who were born in Egypt. Jacob “adopted” his grandsons, placing them as sons, and they were given an equal portion of the inheritance as though they were sons, Genesis 48.

The first chronological use of υἱοθεσία by Paul is in the letter to the Galatians. The second usage comes in the letter to the Romans, with the letter to the Ephesians being last. Paul is the only New Testament writer to use υἱοθεσία, translated as adoption. Paul uses it five times. Three times Paul uses it in Romans. Twice in chapter 8, verses 15 and 23, and once in Romans 9:4. It is used in Galatians 4:5 and Ephesians 1:5.

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians about a year before the letter to the Romans. It was written as a direct result of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. That council took up the issue of obedience to the Law of Moses as a mandatory element of salvation. After hearing Peter’s testimony of the Holy Spirit being given to the Gentiles by faith; and that the Jews had never received the Holy Spirit through obedience to the Mosaic Law; The Jerusalem council determined that obedience to the Mosaic Law was not a requirement for the receiving of the Holy Spirit, which marks a person as regenerate. The only restrictions placed on the new believers in Christ resemble those of the post-flood Noahic Covenant, Genesis 9:5-7.

In Galatians 3:19, Paul begins to define the purpose of the Law. In Galatians 3:23, Paul implies that justification by the faith, while true even under the Law, had not yet been revealed until Christ came. Then in Galatians 3:24, Paul says that “the Law has become our tutor into Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” The Greek word for a tutor here is “παιδαγωγός.” It is a compound word that means “child leader” or “child trainer.” So then, the purpose of the Law was to train the Jews that since they cannot perfectly obey the Law, obedience to the Law cannot be a means of justification. Since justification by faith has been revealed in Christ, the purpose of the Law has come to fruition. A person can now be justified by faith apart from the Law. Paul goes on to say in Galatians 4:5 that Jesus came to redeem those who were enslaved “under the Law” so that they can “receive the adoption as sons.”

Ephesians 1:5 does not build on the idea of adoption but reveals the eternal nature of adoption as sons. Through His sovereign will, God determined in advance that those who receive justification by faith in Christ would be adopted as sons and be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.

Romans 8

Paul begins discussing the idea of adoption as sons in Romans 8:12. In context, Paul’s topic is experiential sanctification by “putting to death the deeds of the body…,” Romans 8:13. Romans 8:14 states in plain simple language that those “who are led by the Spirit” in putting to death the deeds of the flesh “are the sons of God.”

Paul says in Romans 8:15 that believers “have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” It is generally understood that “Abba” is an endearing term similar to the English “Daddy.” William R. Newell points out the life of prayer for the believer. He argues that as sons, believers should address God as “Father” because Jesus addressed Him as “Father.” Furthermore, Newell says that “To say ‘Father-God,’ makes the first word an adjective!”[4]

Paul goes on to say in Romans 8:17 that justification by faith in Christ equates to adoption as sons, and since believers are sons by adoption, they are positionally joint-heirs with Christ. A point that Paul reinforced in the letter to the Ephesians. Chafer says that “The newborn child by his adoption is advanced positionally to completeness right away, with the standing of an adult son.”[5]

In Romans 8:23, Paul implies that while adoption as sons takes place at the moment of belief, the fulfillment of the adoption process is incomplete until “the redemption of our body” takes place.[6] For believers in the church age, the redemption of our bodies takes place at the church’s rapture, when the dead in Christ rise and the living in Christ are joined together to meet Christ in the air. At that time, the adoption as sons will be complete since those who have received justification by faith in Christ are glorified with Christ and are in the presence of the Father with Christ as detailed in John 17:22-24 and Colossians 3:4. Believers in Christ will receive the same glory as of the glorified Christ as adopted sons of the living God. That glory is to be present with the Father.

As the adoption theme remains in the background through the end of Romans 8, it is imperative to note that Paul is talking about individual believers. This note is important because as Paul proceeds into chapter 9, the adoption as sons theme comes up again.

Romans 9

Having completed his exposition of justification by faith, freedom from the power of sin, and the believer’s eternal security in Romans 1:18-8:39, Paul pours his heart out for the Jewish people to be saved. He even seems willing to exchange his own security so that his brothers according to the flesh could be saved. In Romans 9:4, Paul says that “adoption as sons” belongs to the nation Israel. As a nation, Israel was adopted by God and raised in His care. Paul is no longer speaking about individual believers but of the nation of Israel as a whole. It seems that with sorrow in his heart, Paul understands that the nation will not receive justification by faith and adoption as sons individually. H. A. Ironside says that “God had acknowledged the nation of Israel as His son. It is not the New Testament truth of individual adoption…”[7] Furthermore, Ironside cites Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son.”[8] to show that God had adopted Israel as a son.

In Romans 9:25, Paul cites Hosea 2:23 to show that God determined to call Gentiles to salvation beforehand. Then in Romans 9:26, Paul cites Hosea 1:10 to show that the Gentiles will receive adoption as sons. Finally, in Romans 9:27, Paul cites Isaiah 10:22 to show that only a remnant of Israel will receive salvation. Those Israelites who do not receive salvation will perish and not see the promised kingdom. The remnant that survives will enter the millennial kingdom of the Messiah at His second coming.


So it is evident in the context that Paul uses “adoption as sons” in Romans 8 to speak of the individual believer in Christ, which is a position of honor and privilege. In Romans 9, the context is the nation of Israel. Romans 9:30-32 makes the distinction between the two very clear. The Gentiles have received the spiritual blessing of adoption as sons, a Jewish promise because the Gentiles received justification by faith, which the Jews rejected. While a remnant of Jews will receive Justification by faith when they accept Jesus as their Messiah, only a relatively small remnant will survive the coming judgment.


Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Bibliotheca Sacra. 107:428 Oct. 1950. Accessed August 25, 2021. https://www.galaxie.com/article/bsac107-428-01?highlight=adoption%20as%20sons.

Ironside, H. A. Romans. Rev. ed. Ironside commentaries. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux, 1998.

Newell, William R. Romans Verse-by-Verse. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 2004.

Vine, W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words. Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 2003.

Youngblood, Ronald F., F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison, and Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. New and Enhanced Edition. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

  1. W. E Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers, 2003). page 24
  2. Ronald F. Youngblood et al., eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, New and enhanced edition. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015). page 23
  3. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Bibliotheca Sacra,” 107:428 Oct. 1950 accessed August 25, 2021, https://www.galaxie.com/article/bsac107-428-01?highlight=adoption%20as%20sons. page 385
  4. William R Newell, Romans Verse-by-Verse (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Classics, 2004). page 315.
  5. Chafer 1950, page 385
  6. This does not contradict Chafer’s statement on completion because Chafer was speaking of positional sonship not the manifestation of sonship.
  7. H. A. Ironside, Romans, Rev. ed., Ironside commentaries (Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux, 1998). page 94
  8. Ibid, page 95

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