Malleus Progressivorum, chapter the second Adopted or not


Adoptionism is the belief that Christ was born human, not of a virgin (to most historic adoptionists, but not all), was not pre-existent,  lived an exemplary and sinless life in accordance with Jewish law and because of this was, at some point in his later life, commonly at his baptism or at resurrection, was then adopted by God and became divine.  To be clear this means that Jesus was not born divine, was not “the Word made flesh”, and by it’s nature rejects all models of substitutionary atonement and also is at odds with the Christian understanding of the Trinity. It also shows God as rewarding Jesus for the deeds of a good life, and by such could be seen, and is seen by me, as endorsing and setting up a faith that is based upon the works of a man and not the grace of God. It paints God as some great all powerful being in the sky who requires works of us for a reward obtained as if the forgiveness of our sins is some sort of supernatural allowance for doing our Christian chores. If we are rewarded for works then it only stands to reason that the opposite would be true as well.

Adoptionism was popularized by those seeking to reconcile Jewish  belief with the teachings that Jesus was the Son of God, as well as a reaction to the claim by many gnostic sects that Jesus only appeared to be a man, but could not be a man because all matter was evil. It was examined by three synods, denounced by two and was eventually labeled as heresy by Nicaea and the doctrine of the Trinity. (Nicaea and the evolution of trinitarian belief will be dealt with at a later time in this series.) Some consider Paul and Mark to contain some allusions to adoptionism, but those claims have been discredited by the majority of scholars throughout history. The first known and historically recorded instances of adoptionism was with the Ebionites, a judaizing sect that insisted on following Jewish law, revered James the brother of Jesus and, by and large, rejected Paul.  As an interesting side note, some current adoptionists (some being generic. The idea is out there and mentioned, but I have no idea how many or few actually hold to this) claim that the gospels were edited to make the Ebionites look bad as well as mistranslated Isiah to support the idea of Jesus as uniquely divine from birth.  In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, Bart D. Ehrman supports the idea that certain scriptures were purposefully altered to deny textural support for the doctrine, but his scholarship in many of his assertions has been questioned by his contemporaries. This is important as these are the beginnings of adoptionism both in the ancient world and also today. Adoptionism would reemerge again in the 8th and 12th centuries and was again condemned by Alexander III. So, from it’s inception as a Christology until the 12th century, it was officially examined by theologians and church leaders 5 times and struck as heresy 4 of those five times. Based on history, it can not be said that it did not have a proper examination by theologians and religious leaders.

There has been a modern resurgence in adoptionism as a Christolgy, which is attributed to the historic Jesus movement that seeks to demystify Jesus and put Him in the proper historic and cultural context. This is both true and unfair. I do not believe that all who understand that a historic understanding of culture in the time of Christ is useful in understanding the message of Christ buy into these ways of thinking (I do not and I personally know many others who understand context helps understanding, yet do not deny the Trinity and other core doctrines of Christianity). With the movement toward understanding Jesus the man, there has been, in some circles, an over emphasis on His humanity to the point of denying his divine nature. The modern belief of adoptionsim seems to also hang upon the idea that several passages in the scriptures have been mistranslated to the point that their entire meaning is wrong, and therefore our belief is wrong. I am not a linguist, nor am I a scholar, so I, like many people rely on others to translate for me. The difference between me and some others is that I apply a variety of scholars to arrive at conclusions an do not hold stock in one. I also apply the tradition and history of the church, my understandings of scripture, as well as my ability to reason.

The ancient view of adoptionism relies heavily on a God who rewards action rather than extends grace and the modern view of adoptionism relies heavily on people like Bart. D. Ehrman who claim that the scriptures have been purposely changed to support orthodox belief and have been since Nicaea. This seems to wild for me to believe. The concept of some ancient conspiracy to purposefully lead all believers of Christ astray in favor of some heretical belief is best saved for the plot of a Dan Brown novel and not the basis for faith in God through Christ. The idea of a God who rewards action is a works based faith, not one one based on His mercy and love for creation.  I realize it seems so small and I recognize that many have a live and let live philosophy about personal faith, but our Christology strikes at the very root of what shapes the rest of our faith and consequently our actions. It is of vital importance that we get Jesus right as He is the core of faith after all. If God has adopted Christ based on His works, then how can we believe that same God will not hold us to the same standard of works? How can we be assured of being the children of a loving God? This strikes not only at the heart of our shared Christian faith but at the heart of our shared Wesleyan heritage of being able to know and take comfort in the assurance of salvation. Jesus did not need an Aldersgate moment as adoptionism suggests, He is the reason that an Aldersgate moment can exist.



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4 Replies to “Malleus Progressivorum, chapter the second Adopted or not”

  1. Paul…
    Romans 1:3-4 “concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord,”

    Some things are not quite so straightforward. Paul is not always consistent. If this isn’t an allusion, I don’t know what is.

    I think I am done now. I’ve bugged you enough.

    1. When talking about adoptionism, you first have to decide what adoption model is right,the baptismal model from Mark or the resurrection model from Romans. While an initial reading of this passage does seem to support adoptionism, there are several issues with it. First is the oft mentioned weight of church tradition, history and teaching. Adoptionism requires you to pretty much break with any and all of the central beliefs of the church. Secondly there is the matter of scholarship. The overwhelming majority of Christian scholars and commentators agree that adoptionism is heresy and, regarding this selection in particular say things similar to this:
      ” 3, 4. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord–the grand burden of this “Gospel of God.”
      made of the seed of David–as, according to “the holy scriptures,” He behooved to be.
      according to the flesh–that is, in His human nature (compare Romans 9:5 , John 1:14 ); implying, of course, that He had another nature, of which the apostle immediately proceeds to speak.

      And declared–literally, “marked off,” “defined,” “determined,” that is, “shown,” or “proved.”
      to be the Son of God–Observe how studiously the language changes here. He “was MADE [says the apostle] of the seed of David, according to the flesh” ( Romans 1:3 ); but He was not made, He was only “declared [or proved] to BE the Son of God.” So John 1:1 John 1:14 , “In the beginning WAS the Word . . . and the Word was MADE flesh”; and Isaiah 9:6 , “Unto us a Child is BORN, unto us a Son is GIVEN.” Thus the Sonship of Christ is in no proper sense a born relationship to the Father, as some, otherwise sound divines, conceive of it. By His birth in the flesh, that Sonship, which was essential and uncreated, merely effloresced into palpable manifestation.
      with power–This may either be connected with “declared,” and then the meaning will be “powerfully declared” [LUTHER, BEZA, BENGEL, FRITZSCHE, ALFORD, &c.]; or (as in our version, and as we think rightly) with “the Son of God,” and then the sense is, “declared to be the Son of God” in possession of that “power” which belonged to Him as the only-begotten of the Father, no longer shrouded as in the days of His flesh, but “by His resurrection from the dead” gloriously displayed and henceforth to be for ever exerted in this nature of ours [Vulgate, CALVIN, HODGE, PHILIPPI, MEHRING, &c.].
      according to the spirit of holiness–If “according to the flesh” means here, “in His human nature,” this uncommon expression must mean “in His other nature,” which we have seen to be that “of the Son of God”–an eternal, uncreated nature. This is here styled the “spirit,” as an impalpable and immaterial nature ( John 4:24 ), and “the spirit of holiness,” probably in absolute contrast with that “likeness, of sinful flesh” which He assumed. One is apt to wonder that if this be the meaning, it was not expressed more simply. But if the apostle had said “He was declared to be the Son of God according to the Holy Spirit,” the reader would have thought he meant “the Holy Ghost”; and it seems to have been just to avoid this misapprehension that he used the rare expression, “the spirit of holiness.”” -Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (because it was the first tab in my commentary program. If you look to others you will find statements by and large consistent with this in the majority of the work)
      There is also the whole council of the Word of the scriptures. The scriptures regularly portray Christ as the begotten son of God, and as being co-eternal with God. John 1 perhaps describes this in the best and most eloquent way.
      There is the salvation issue. Adoptionism, especially, resurrection adoptionism, eliminates the possibility of any sort of meaningful substitutionary atonement model.
      so, as with most heresies, it simply leads to more and bigger heresies, until you have eventually gone down a path so far removed that it can not properly be called Christianity, and your identity becomes not entangled with the living Christ through His church but rather entangled by ideas that are removed from Him.

      1. Just to make things clear on my opinions. Maybe you have me wrong. You said:
        “When talking about adoptionism, you first have to decide what adoption model is right”…

        In all my discussions, I am not trying to imply Adoptionism is right. I am talking about what some people believed in 33AD to 400AD, how they based their beliefs, and how each side manipulated their words, texts, and opinions to “make it so”! Proto orthodoxy won. We agree on that. How they won, and whether it was through true revelation and inspiration, or more devious means, is my question. I clearly do not have “as much faith and trust” as you do. However, I view questioning as good, not bad.

        1. I meant “you” as a generic meaning whomever is speaking of adoptionism. I have also not said that questioning is bad. I have said that these questions, specifically here the adoptionism question has already been asked over and over again and has indeed been answered with “it is an improper teaching and does not show the Christ of scripture therefore is heresy”.

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