In Galatians 4:5 and 6, we read :

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. [KJV.]

'Υιοθεσια is rendered here 'adoption' as it is also rendered by the KJV on the four other occasions it occurs in Romans 8:15, Romans 8:23, Romans 9:4 and Ephesians 1:5.

My concern is with the concept of 'adoption' which, when used naturally, refers to taking another person's son and administratively assuming responsibility for that other person's son so that, legally and administratively, the son is perceived as one's own.

My thousand page Liddel & Scott (Amercian Edition 1864) has a word listed :

'υιοτες the state of a son (sonship) Eccl

The Eccl appears to mean that it is an ecclesiastical quotation but no more detail is given. So, presumably, 'Υιοθεσια cannot mean - precisely - sonship as such, if another word conveys that meaning.

But as to 'υιοθεσια, Liddel & Scott (Amer 1864) says it is :

adoption as a son (N.T.)

But the only reference to its etymology or usage is the above 'N.T.' reference.

Thayer says that Θετος υιος/Θετος παις means 'adopted son' and gives Pindar and Heroditus as references.

Then Liddel & Scott (Amer 1864) also gives 'Υιοποιεσις as 'adopt as a son' with the reference Polybius.


  • Pindar, Heroditus and Polybius are referenced speaking of adoption . . .

. . . but not using the word 'Υιοθεσια.

  • L&S only reference the NT in connection with the word 'Υιοθεσια.

  • and 'sonship' is given as 'υιοτες

Is there, therefore, a special NT (or rather Pauline) meaning to 'Υιοθεσια that is neither precisely 'sonship' nor the administrative situation of adoption ?


Great question! This word, 'υιοθεσια, is indeed only used by Paul in all ancient literature; and only five times as stated in the question. Conventional legal adoption was common in Roman times (several Roman Emperors formally adopted heirs) but it appears to me that (well-educated) Paul could have used the common legal word for adoption but deliberately chose not to for very good theological reasons which are subtle.

Therefore, 'υιοθεσια is used by Paul as a technical term derived (etymologically) from the idea of placing a son. In my opinion, it might be better translated "sonship" because the way Paul uses the word, there are almost no legal overtones; rather it carries the idea of an attitude of mind and much less of a legal inheritance. (My translations used below.)

  • Rom 8:15, "For you did not receive a spirit [= attitude] of slavery again to fear, but you received a spirit [= attitude] of sonship in which we cry 'Abba, Father!'" Note that this verse only makes sense as a contrast between two spirits/attitudes as a result of the new birth experience by the Holy Spirit.
  • Rom 8:23, "and not only [the creation] but also ourselves having the first fruits of [the] Spirit groan in ourselves [=inwardly] eagerly expecting sonship, the manumission of our bodies." Note here that "sonship" is still future and is equated with the change promised in 1 Cor 15 of our bodies, not just the mind.
  • Gal 4:5, "that He might redeem those under the law that we might receive sonship" W E Vine comments that "Two contrasts are presented (1) between the sonship of the believer and the unoriginated Sonship of Christ, (2) between the freedom enjoyed by the believer and bondage, whether of gentile natural condition, or of Israel under the law."
  • Eph 1:4, 5, "even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world for us to be holy and blameless in His sight in love, having destined us to sonship through Jesus Christ to Him[self] according to the good pleasure of His will" The reason stated for this is stated as (v6) to provide "praise of the glory of His grace by which He favoured us in the Beloved [= Jesus]".
  • Rom 9:4, "who are Israelites, of whom the sonship, and the glory, and the covenants, and the receiving of [the] law, and the [temple] service, and the promises" This is discussing a collective agreement with a nation and not individuals and is presumably an allusion to Ex 4:22. The emphasis here is the result of Israel's sonship and the radical change that this created in Israel.

Therefore, I conclude that Paul's 'υιοθεσια is not adoption in the common Roman legal sense but a placement of us in the position of sons with the change of heart (new attitude and later new bodies) that this involves due to the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit to remake us like Christ and bring glory to Him.

  • Your rendering of Romans 8:23 is confirmation of something I was vacillating about. +1 – Ruminator Nov 9 '18 at 0:35

Given that θετός υἱός does indeed mean “adopted son,” lit. “placed son,”


A. placed, set, E.IA251 (lyr.); having position, “στιγμὴ οὐσία θετός” Arist.APo.87a36.

II. taken as one's child, adopted, Pi.O.9.62, E.Fr.359, etc.; “θετὸν παῖδα ποιεῖσθαι” Hdt.6.57, cf. Pl.Lg.929c; θετὸς γενέσθαι τινί or ὑπό τινος, Plu.Thes.13, App.BC 1.5; θετός, ὁ, adopted son, dub. in Is.3.69; θετή adopted daughter, Hsch.; also θ. πατήρ adoptive father, D.S.10.11.

and θεσία is related to θετός inasmuch as the former means “placement” (noun) and the latter “placed” (adjective), why is there any doubt that υἱοθεσία means “adoption of son”? Derivatives of τίθημι (“to place”) are used because the son is being placed into another family. We usually call such an act being “adopted” into a family, although today it is quite common to hear of children being placed into homes.1


1 For example: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/outofhome/placement/


The word υἱοθεσία here relates back to verse 29 in the preceding chapter:

And if ye be Christ's, then ye are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

as well as 4:1:

The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant

Theophylact's explanation here (11th c.) is:

The inheritance promised to Abraham was our adoption (υἱοθεσία) as sons. It is the son that inherits, as the Lord Himself stated: And the servant abideth not in the house forever; but the Son abideth ever (John 8:35).1

It may also be significant that the word used here for receive is ἀπολαμβάνω (apolambanō), a word with the connotation of receiving back (hence the prefix apo-).2

Another Greek in antiquity, John Chrysostom (4th c.), the source of many later interpretations of the New Testament, interprets the passage along the lines that Theophylact suggests:

But when the fulness of the time came God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, under the Law that he might redeem them which were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Here he states two objects and effects of the Incarnation, deliverance from evil and supply of good, things which none could compass but Christ. They are these: deliverance from the curse of the Law, and promotion to sonship. Fitly does he say that we might “receive” [ἀπολαμβάνω], implying that it was due; for the promise was of old time made for these objects to Abraham, as the Apostle has himself shown at great length. And how does it appear that we have become sons? he has told us one mode, in that we have put on Christ who is the Son [Galatians 3:27]; and now he mentions another, in that we have received the Spirit of adoption [υἱοθεσία].3

1. Explanation of the Epistle to the Galatians (tr. from Greek, Chrysostom Press, 2011), p.58
2. Swanson,Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament)
3. Commentary on Galatians (tr. from Greek, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Series)

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