Adoption and Israel

February 01, 2017

by David Garner

Having established the vital resurrection/adoption connection in Romans 8:23, the apostle Paul draws Romans 8 to conclusion with the doxological and pastorally poignant question concerning the sons’ security in the Son: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35a). According to his climactic eschatological, pneumatological, and filial argumentation, Paul knows his Christ-centered soteriology will raise pressing questions about God’s past dealings with his people. Governed by Old Testament prophetic revelation and the eschatological revelation of God in Christ, the apostle looks back over his shoulder to the old covenant blessings of the former epoch, and aligns his comprehensive eschatological/soteriological argument with old covenant adoption. Paul moves from expressing the unfailing perseverance of God the Father in loving his adopted sons in and through his beloved Son (vv. 31–39) to the organic, covenantal continuity of God’s unfailing love in the typological and redemptive-historical privileges of Israel, his son. In this rigorous defense of divine sovereignty and covenant faithfulness, adoption’s extraordinary theological reaches continue to dominate Paul’s thinking.

Appreciating the redemptive and historical plan involved in divine revelation, Bavinck reminds us how “all Old Testament concepts shed their external, national-Israelitish meanings and become manifest in their spiritual and eternal sense.” This is no less true of adoption in the thinking of the apostle Paul. In the history of redemption, God reveals his sovereign grace in selecting Israel as his son: Israel’s election “was an expression of the grace, love, and fidelity of God.” This old covenant blessing protrudes conspicuously in Romans 9 because it stands first among the list of benefits enjoyed by those under the former covenantal administration. As Paul explains, Israel was adopted, and in fact experienced genuine (though juvenile) sonship privileges (cf. Ex. 4:22–23; Gal. 4:1–7). To be clear, the “national-Israelitish meanings” do not lack spiritual meanings; old covenant forms and promises are never nonredemptive.

Upon the arrival of the promised Christ Jesus, the cloak of the Righteous One replaces all prior and provisional garments.

To the contrary, the old covenant forms deliver wholly spiritual truths—and, in fact, proleptically deliver the benefits of Christ. But precisely as intended in redemptive history, their typological roles are temporary and anticipatory. Once Christ comes, these forms give way to their promised substance. A vital redemptive and spiritual thread weaves throughout covenant history, but upon the arrival of the promised Christ Jesus, the cloak of the Righteous One replaces all prior and provisional garments.

As God’s chosen nation, Israel was made God’s son—a son by God’s sovereign choice, not by genetic connection or some inherent quality of Israel’s Jewishness, might, or worth (cf. Deut. 7:7–8; 9:5–6; Isa. 63:8, 16; Jer. 31:9b; Hos. 11:1; Phil. 3:1–11). Redemptive grace procures the filial blessing. Consistent with its eschatologically realized form, redemptive sonship never owes to the intrinsic worth of the redeemed son, but to the grace and sovereign initiative of the Father. The divinely monergistic and gracious character of sonship in both Old and New Testaments remains constant. Accordingly, the antitypical (eschatological) adoption in its full Christological and soteric glory grows organically out of Israel’s typological adoption.

In fact, Israel’s typological adoption weds dynamic moral and redemptive themes in ways that lay the groundwork for the transformative, eschatological adoption of Romans. Such covenantal and spiritual-genetic connection of Israel’s adoption with eschatological adoption stems from its shared scope of redemptive significance and its Christocentricity. The Spirit-given, actual yet anticipatory (subeschatological and typological) adoption for the old covenant people actually derives its theological significance in the Son of God, “the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 9:5b). In the unfolding of covenant history, redemptive grace, moral transformation, and filial identity and privilege are fully embedded in old covenant huiothesia. Adoption’s typological form and its antitype share a Christological core. Before further exploration of the covenantal and Christological significance of huiothesia in Romans 9, however, a text-critical matter surfaces and must be addressed.

This piece is adapted from David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016), 145–147. Used with permission of the publisher.

Read More On Adoption, Eschatology, Typology

David Garner

Dr. Garner (PhD, Westminster) is associate professor of systematic theology and vice president for advancement at WTS.

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