The practice of adoption is very old and many ancient people practiced it including the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans.
The term 'adoption' is only found in the New Testament. However, in the Old Testament, the idea is alluded to in two stories.
1. Exodus 2:10: Pharaoh's daughter took the baby she drew from the water as her son and named him Moses. Exodus 2:10
2. Esther 2:7: Esther's cousin, Mordecai, brought her up because she had no mother or father.
Adoption is an ancient practice that dates back to the code of Hammurabi (Babylon-1772 BC). Paragraphs 185 through 193 of this law defined the particulars of how natural parents might release a natural child into the custody and claim of another person. Upon adoption, the new parent would receive all full and legal rights to the child and the child could be accepted into a family and given all the privileges enjoyed by a natural son.
Both the Greeks and the Romans practiced some form of adoption. However, unlike the oriental cultures (in which slaves were sometimes adopted when a natural heir did not exist) the Greeks and Romans usually limited adoption to free citizens. It is most likely the Roman form of adoption that is being referenced in the introductory text as it corresponds to huiothesia, which means the “placing as a son". It is not so much a word of relationship but of position.
There were two parts to the Roman adoption process: a private arrangement between the parties and a formal public declaration of the fact. According to the rules of adoption, the adopted child/person did not have to be already related to the adopting father, but sometimes they were. An Uncle might choose a nephew to become a son, or a Grandfather might legally take a grandson to replace a lost son.
After adoption, a son ceased to belong to his birth family and became in every respect the child of the person or family who adopted them. Upon the death of the new father, the adopted son inherited the estate. If the new father happened to have other natural sons, the estate might be divided equally among all the sons (including the adopted son) depending on the terms of the father's will and the civil laws. In this situation, the Roman law was specific how estates were to be handled.
In the case of a master with no heir, a favorite slave might be adopted for the sole purpose of having a legal heir to inherit the master's estate. In ancient times, a slave was never permitted to use the term Abba (father) or Imma (mother) when approaching the master or mistress for conversation. But after the adoption, the slave was considered a full son and was entitled to call the master father and the mistress mother.
The theologian, Charles Merivale B.D.( 1808-1893), when illustrating Paul's acquaintance with Roman law, wrote: “The process of legal adoption by which the chosen heir became entitled not only to the reversion of the property but to the civil status, to the burdens as well as the rights of the adopter, became, as it were, his other self, one with him. This too, is a Roman principle peculiar at this time to the Romans, but…unknown to the Jews. It certainly is not found in the legislation of Moses nor mentioned anywhere as a usage among the children of the covenant.
We have but a faint conception of the force with which such an illustration would speak to one familiar with the Roman practice; how it would serve to impress upon him the assurance that the adopted son of God becomes --in a peculiar and intimate sense-- one with the heavenly Father.” [“Conversion of the Roman Empire – Boyle Lectures, p.99 (1864)]
The use of the word adoption in this text is describing the process by which the believer in Christ becomes a full son (or daughter) to the heavenly God the Father. The permission to use of the word Abba is thought to indicate the Christian's release and salvation from a slavery to sin.
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