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What Is the Heresy Adoptionism?

Adoptionism is the belief that God adopted Jesus as his son when he saw that the human Jesus led a sinless life, making him a deity. The church managed to snuff out Adoptionism early on because every part of it appeared to run contrary to Scripture.

Aug 04, 2020
What Is the Heresy Adoptionism?

Of all the heresies that plagued the Christian church in the first centuries, this one seemed to mess it up more than most, so much so that the Pope shut this heresy down by the second century AD. Other misfires such as Arianism or Modalism only seem to twist the truth a little, but this one — this one really misses the mark.

Adoptionism, the belief that God “adopted” Jesus as his son when he saw that the human Jesus led a sinless life, claims Jesus attained his divine status or received his adoption after he passed the temptations set before him by the devil in the wilderness.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him (Matthew 4:1-11).

Although it should be rather obvious why this doesn’t work, we do see another mutation of this appear in the eighth century, that once again gets shut down almost instantly.

In this article, we’ll discuss the many ways Adoptionism goes wrong, why Adoptionism would even appeal to someone despite its ridiculous claims, and how we can learn from discovering heresies that plagued the early church.

How Does the Bible Refute Adoptionism?

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus is God (John 1), and that God is eternal (Isaiah 40). Jesus didn’t get added to a weird mutated form of a Christian pantheon when God observed his sinless life.

After all, as Christians, we believe that men are born into sin (Romans 5:12-14). That means that if Jesus, before his supposed “adoption,” was 100% human, God could not have chosen a sinless man to adopt.

Also, at best, this makes Jesus a junior deity, and God the father a senior deity. The Bible makes it clear that we worship one God, not multiple gods. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5). All those times God got angry at Israel for worshipping other gods in the Old Testament would make no sense under the Adoptionism worldview.

We could spend an entire book on how Adoptionism goes against the idea of the Trinity, which seems to be an apparent concept in the very beginning of Scripture (Genesis 1). Needless to say, we can understand why the church managed to snuff out the purest form of Adoptionism early on because every part of it appeared to run contrary to Scripture.

What Is the Appeal of Adoptionism? 

Nevertheless, we do see mutations of Adoptionism crop up throughout church history, in particular with Abelard, a well-known theologian.

So, why would people fall for this heresy? And worse, do people still fall for this heresy?

Christianity has a number of difficult topics. Among them, something known as the hypostatic union stands out as one of the most difficult to comprehend, next to the Trinity, incarnation, and free will versus God’s sovereignty.

People don’t like concepts they can’t fully understand or explain, so they settle for “easier” solutions. After all, if we can explain that Jesus started out as a man and God, essentially, turned him into a deity, then that gets rid of the weird mental hurdles surrounding the idea that Jesus was fully God, fully man, one man, two natures.

We run into a number of problems with these so-called “solutions” (apart from the fact they are erroneous, dangerous, and detrimental to one’s spiritual walk).

If we have an infinite, all-powerful God, and us as humans are finite and, well, not all-powerful, that should imply that finite minds cannot fully grasp some aspects of something with an infinite nature.

In the simplest of terms, we won’t understand God completely. That means we may never fully “get” concepts such as the hypostatic union or the nature of the Trinity. If we try to “dumb” God down, we turn him into something finite rather than infinite.

Also, these “solutions” create more problems than they solve.

No spiritual shortcuts exist. And when we try to create them, we end up with more problems than when we’d started.

Why Should I Know about Adoptionism?

One of the most common comments I see on topics like these is, “Why are writers doing articles on unnecessary things? Why can’t they do something more apt like how to handle end times?”

We can often overlook something we deem to be a “small” topic such as heresies that plagued the church in the first century.

I want to express the dire need for us to know our church history. After all, those who do not know history may fall prey to the mutations of these heresies that rear their ugly heads throughout the centuries.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/zimmytws

Hope Bolinger is an acquisitions editor at End Game Press, and the author of almost 30 books. More than 1500 of her works have been featured in various publications. Check out her books at hopebolinger.com for clean books in most genres, great for adults and kids.

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