Biblical Foundations for Adoption

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As Christians, we want the Scriptures to inform everything we do. The Bible provides both specific examples and general truths relating to adoption.

The Scriptures give us the context for the institution of adoption in the world God has created. There are solid scriptural foundations for adoption as a pregnancy choice, as a means of building families, and as a solution for children without two parents.  Just as we find our foundation for the sanctity of life in the Scriptures, we find our foundation for a biblical view of sexuality and the family— including adoption— in the Scriptures.

The following six points can help us construct a biblical view of adoption.

1. Adoption embodies the biblical theme of the covenant.


More Than Legal

Adoption in strict terms is a legal process. But it is important to see that adoption is more than a legal contract—it is a relationship of promise. In fact, this distinction can be made of all family relationships. The relationship between God and His people is always covenantal and never contractual, and God intends that family relationships mirror his covenant relationship with us. 


The adoption process goes through the courts and is made legal, but as in all parent/child relationships it becomes much more than that. Law and promise are different in principle, the one pivoting on recompense for conduct, the other on acceptance of an unconditional gift.


Families Formed by Covenants

Calvin wrote of God’s example for us in forming families by covenant:

. . . [T]he Lord, who adopted his people, promised that he would be their God . . . the chief part of the word [covenant] consists of promises, by which he adopts and receives us as his own people.1


Authors Ray Anderson and Dennis Guernsey wrote about the connection between covenants and families, saying:

 Covenant or commitment is something you give to another that cannot be taken away once it is given. . . . [T]his irrevocable deposit of affect we theologically call covenant and sociologically call commitment is the linchpin for a theology of the family.2


God's Covenant Family

The significance of this permanent promise relationship was not lost on the apostle Paul. In the time that Paul was using the adoption analogy in his writings, his likening of the Christian faith to "adoption as sons" made sense to his contemporaries.


Christians were adopted into God's family, a privilege originally bestowed exclusively on Israel but through Christ made available to all through faith in Him. Interestingly, according to a Roman-Syrian lawbook, a man might be able to disown his biological son if he had good reason, but he could never disown his adopted son. The adoption analogy used by Paul was a strong one indeed.


This is not to say that children adopted into families today have a greater standing than children born into a family. But this should clarify any misconception that somehow adopted children are second-best, or not really a member of the family. A true understanding of adoption gives us an overwhelming sense of permanence; God's permanent relationship to his children, and the permanent relationship of adopted children in their families.

Paul teaches that the gift of justification brings with it the status of sonship by adoption . . . adoption is the crowning blessing and belongs to all who receive Christ. The adopted status of believers means that in and through Christ God loves them as he loves his only-begotten Son.


J.I. Packer

Christianity Today3

2. Adoption upholds marriage as the building block for parenting.

God Designed Marriage!

We learn in the second chapter of Genesis that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Adam's aloneness is the only thing that God finds "not good" before the fall. God ordained marriage between a man and a woman to remedy this situation. Neither animals nor another man were given to Adam as the suitable helper; Adam is to "cleave" or cling faithfully to his wife. Thus, God ordained monogamous heterosexual marriage from the very beginning. This covenant of leaving, cleaving and becoming one flesh (in that order) was established before the fall.4


It is no coincidence that it takes both a man and a woman to create a child. God's intent was for that unique combination to stay intact in a covenant relationship to raise the child. Marriage of the biological mother and father should be discussed as one of the options for a pregnancy resolution. Marvin and Susan Olasky’s book, More Than Kindness, explores that option and analyzes how and why Christians might be doing more to explore and encourage marriage in crisis pregnancies.


When this does not take place, for whatever myriad of reasons, adoption is a viable alternative because it upholds God's original intent for two parents.

Families are an Extension of the Marriage Covenant

The husband and wife relationship, centered in Christ, builds a "tent" that not only shelters the couple, but means physical, emotional and spiritual security and shelter for their children. The relationship of parent to child is a covenantal relationship, bestowed on a family whether through birth or adoption. As Christ and His bride, the church, is a symbol of the marriage relationship, so God as Father to His people is a symbol of parental love for a child. God's plan for children is that they experience life in the midst of this covenantal relationship between a mother and a father.

It is worth noting that God desires not just a covenant between husband and wife as the foundation for family, but a lasting relationship between that couple and Himself.

A marriage firmly rooted and grounded in Christ is the strongest possible foundation for family-building, whether through birth or adoption. Proverbs 14:26 says, "He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." Many birth parents realize the stability of a Christian family and view that quality as a priority when making their adoption plans.


Marriage Gives the Context for Parental Love

Like God's love for us, a parent's love is to be unconditional, selfless and sacrificial.  This is an enormously difficult task that requires many years of faithfulness, not impossible for one person but much better accomplished by two. Of course there are many who through a spouse’s death or abandonment are raising children as single parents, and the church can and should play a role in supporting them in a variety of ways.

Let us not let go, however, of the model that God has set before us, that of a husband-wife team rooted in Christ, supporting one another in their roles as parents. It is no wonder that God designed parents in two’s from the very beginning.


Adoption can never be an easy choice, or a choice forced on a pregnant woman. Yet Christians could do much more to present it as a loving and unselfish choice that has benefits for mother and child. In order for Christians to view this question properly, we must maintain the conviction that the ideal family has two parents. Though divorce, unwed parenting, and even death can interfere with the ideal, they do not erase it. Whenever possible we should encourage the establishment of two-parent families, whether through marriage or adoption, because they are more stable and safer places for people to live.


Marvin and Susan Olasky

More than Kindness: A Compassionate Approach
to Crisis Childbearing5



3. Adoption upholds the scriptural emphasis on the role of the father.


Separate and Distinct

Although we have seen the importance of two parents, the father's role as illustrated in the Scriptures is separate and distinct from the mother’s. The Bible speaks of the father as a man of compassion, a teacher at home, and a man to be honored by his children. Proverbs especially elaborates on these important roles a father can and should play in the lives of his children.


God chose to relate to us as a Father. Our earthly fathers are important in modeling or being images of God as Father.

Joseph Adopted Jesus

God also assured that Jesus would have a father in Joseph. Perhaps the most profound example of adoption in the Scriptures is Joseph's adoption of Jesus. Joseph assumed the role of Jesus' father for all intents and purposes. It should not surprise us that God desired for Jesus to have an earthly father, consistent with His plan for marriage and parenthood.


God approached Joseph through an angel and commanded him to take Mary as his wife and to name the child Jesus. Immediately we see the full rights and responsibilities of fatherhood being placed with Joseph, as naming a child was the awesome task and privilege of the father. Joseph is fully and completely Jesus' father—protecting Him from danger by traveling to Egypt, teaching Him a trade and presenting Him at the temple.


Biblical Model Lost?

Much in today’s society conflicts with this biblical model. We have denigrated and downplayed the importance of the father to the point of causing a major shift in our societal structure. For many women and children the father—who traditionally would have provided for them—has been replaced by our government. Estimates place the current number of fatherless children in the United States at 19 million, and the statistics regarding those children are grim:

• Half of fatherless families live below the poverty line.

• Adolescents of fatherless families are more likely to be sexually active, and daughters are more likely to become single-parent mothers.

• Adolescents in fatherless families are more likely to commit delinquent acts.

• Young adults who grew up in fatherless families were more likely to drop out of high school, divorce, and engage in drug and alcohol use.6


Christians can emphasize the importance of the father by encouraging his inclusion in counseling, no matter what the outcome of the pregnancy may be. It is important to note that many women choose adoption because they see the father as vital for their child.


The forgotten contributor to the two-parent team is the father. Kids gain confidence, self-esteem and the drive to be successful in life from their father. Without a father children are more susceptible to peer pressure, substance abuse and a whole host of social problems. It is not far reaching to say that a child's perception of God is often affected through his relationship with his father. A good father helps model to us and for us the love, discipline and sacrifice that God imparts to us as His children.


A young woman—and young man—making an adoption plan can and should feel good about providing that vital part of the parenting team to their child that they may not be able to provide—a permanent, stable, capable and loving father.

Ken Canfield

 Executive Director,

National Center for Fathering7




4. Biblical examples show how God has used adoption to provide for children and to further His purposes and kingdom.


There are a number of examples of adoption in Scripture. Not all were cases of providing for orphans, although God specifically calls his people to care for orphans. Some were occasions of placing a child in adoption for a specific purpose, but all were cases of providing for the well being of the child.

Pharaoh’s Daughter and Moses

Moses was born to Israelite parents, Amram and Jochebed, at a time when all baby boys were being killed by an edict of Pharaoh. As the result of a plan by Jochebed to save Moses' life, Pharaoh's daughter took Moses from the river at three months of age. She recognized his heritage and knew that his birth parents had placed him in the river to save his life. Pharaoh’s daughter gave the baby to Jochebed to be nursed, probably until about age five. At that time, "she took him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son" (Exodus 2:10).


However, we read that "Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter" (Hebrews 11:24). The book of Exodus describes Moses' subsequent forty years with his in-laws, his meeting with his birth brother Aaron, and his return to his birth family. Moses' adoption enabled him to have influence with Pharaoh yet identify with God's people, not only because of his genetic ancestry but also because of his faith. Moses did not so much reject his adoptive family as he did their sinful and unrepentant ways as a nation.


We can summarize Moses' adoption by seeing it in the context of two loving mothers whose first concern was a child—Jochebed, who parted with her child knowing that his life was at stake if he remained with her; and Pharaoh’s daughter, who felt compassion on a child she knew by edict was to be killed. God used these two women to save Moses' life and provide him with a safe and secure childhood.

Jochebed’s decision is a great example of a birth mother's love for her child. Her godly example sets straight the misconception that birth parents don't love their children. Her love for Moses prompted her to make the adoption plan.

Mordecai and Esther

Esther, an orphan, was adopted by her cousin Mordecai. The story of Mordecai and Esther is a beautiful example of respect and care between a father and daughter. We see simultaneously his love and concern for her—"Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her" (Esther 2:11)—and her respect and obedience toward him—"but Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai's instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up" (Esther 2:19-20). Their cooperation while Esther was in the king's favor saved the Jewish nation.

Biblical Types of Adoption

The two highlighted above, and Joseph and Jesus, are not the only examples of adoption in the Scriptures. Here are some other examples that are sometimes mentioned as types of adoptions. References are included so that you might explore them further.

•      Jacob's adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh—Genesis 48

•      Abram and Eliazar—Genesis 15

•      Eli and Samuel—1 Samuel 1


The overarching theme in the examples above, as it continues to be today, is that adoptions take place for the well-being of the child and with his best interest at heart.


5. Adoption is a scriptural metaphor that emphasizes the permanence of our relationship with God, the rights we have as his children and his redemption of us.


Paul's Use of Adoption

The apostle Paul uses the adoption analogy in his writings several times, and in key passages. (Please see pages 15 and 16 for examples.) Because adoption was common in Hellenistic times and culture, Paul used it as an analogy to characterize God's relationship with His people. The scriptural idea of adoption emphasizes a) the sovereign character of God in planning our salvation, b) the newness of the family relationship he establishes, c) its climate of intimate trust and love and d) the gracious and immense inheritance our adoption affords us. This scriptural analogy gives us a wonderful picture of God's character and love for us as his children.8

Many Similarities

There are several similarities between adoption into God's family and a child's adoption into a human family. Calvin wrote,


"God's covenant was not made to last only for a few days, or for a short time. When He adopted the children of Abraham, He took them under His keeping forever." 9


The adoption metaphor is a compelling illustration of God's covenant love for His people and His desire to see us as part of His family. Adoptive families can experience a small piece of that in the permanence of the family God forms in their midst, and birth parents can know that they set an enduring plan into motion for their child, just as God, sacrificially through Christ, put our salvation in place. The miracle of that transfer and grafting of the child into his new permanent family is a wonderful image of our permanent place in God's family.

Together on the Child's Behalf

Birth parents and adoptive parents can act together on the child's behalf, following the example of God acting on our behalf. Birth parents plan for permanence, the full rights of an heir and child in their new family, and love lavished on that child, just as God lavishes the riches of His grace on us. An adopted child knows that love daily from his family, and as he grows he gains an understanding of the love of his birth parents who planned that permanence for him. Understanding this simple truth can break down the myth that children who were adopted will always experience rejection. It can also break the myth that there is some sort of animosity between birth and adoptive families, knowing that they have worked together in the life of a child in a way they could not have worked independently.


Adoption Embodies the Gospel

These images and metaphors are not just helpful in our understanding of the adoption process, but can deepen our understanding of God's covenant family and His love for us. Using simple but powerful adoption metaphors can more tangibly convey the truth of the Gospel as we seek to minister to young women, young men and their families in a holistic way.


It should come as no surprise that the two times Paul referred to God as Abba are also the times he described our adoption by God. God sent his Son to redeem us, and God sent his Spirit to confirm his love in our hearts—to create a bonding with our Heavenly Father, enabling us to come as children before him and say "Daddy."


David V. Anderson

 Christianity Today10



6. Adoption is an outpouring of God's grace on all involved.


Grace in the Time of Need

A crisis pregnancy is a time of intense struggle for a young woman. Her pregnancy could be a result of poor choices and lack of wisdom. Or, the events surrounding her baby’s conception might have been out of her control, such as in the case of incest or rape. Whatever the situation, she is experiencing emotional pain and a feeling of helplessness to an extent that she may have never felt before. She is in the midst of a great time of need—the need for a resolution, the need for compassion, the need for support. Life seems on hold and things will never be the same again.

In a different set of circumstances, but feeling similar emotions, is the couple facing infertility. The inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term is one of the most difficult obstacles a family-oriented couple can face. Couples dealing with infertility experience a grieving process that can be debilitating and alienating. Again, life seems to be “on hold” and hopelessness can set in.

Perhaps most tragically, some children today experience utter hopelessness because of their family situation. More than 600,000 American children will spend all or part of this year in substitute care such as foster homes, group homes or shelters (50,000 of them are free to be adopted). Many of these children have experienced abuse or neglect, or have biological parents who cannot adequately care for them. Beyond our borders, many children in poor nations wait for permanent families.

Grace Breaks Through

In the midst of these types of seemingly hopeless struggles we have a loving God who gives us gracious answers. Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.


Women in crisis, couples desiring to parent, children in need of homes—adoption can be God’s grace and mercy to them in their time of need.(Adoptive parents do not have to be infertile to know the depth of God’s grace when a child comes to them through adoption. In infant adoption, however, it is common for the adoptive parents to have experienced infertility.)

Adoption Benefits Children

Children placed in adoption experience God's grace in a similar way to children who are born into a family. Adopted children can feel comfort and love, knowing that a future was planned for them that was in their best interest. As children grow older this can be palpable evidence of God's direction and sovereignty in their lives.

An adoption plan, as it progresses and after it is in place, can be a powerful example of God’s working circumstances for good for all those involved. God uses adoption, just as He can any human relationship, to further His purposes and to bring about wholeness and healing.


The church’s active involvement could vastly improve the prospects for adoption in our country. Local churches could counsel young women toward adoption as an alternative to either abortion or single parenthood . . . . It could give its hearty endorsement to adoption as a way of prospering the lives of all concerned.


Terry Schlossberg and Elizabeth Achtemeier

Not My Own: Abortion

and the Marks of the Church11


1. J. Graham Miller, Calvin’s Wisdom (Edinborough: Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), p. 70.

2. Ray Anderson and Dennis Guernsey, On Being Family: A Social Theology of the Family (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985),  p.47.

3. J.I. Packer, “Amazing Adoption,” Christianity Today (July 1993), p. 38.

4. R.C. Sproul, "What is Christian Marriage?” Tabletalk (July 1992), p. 41.

5. Marvin and Susan Olasky, More than Kindness: A Compassionate Approach to Crisis Childbearing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 76.

6. Tom Hess, “Recruiting Fathers to Heal a Nation,” Focus on the Family Citizen (October 1993), p. 2.

7. Phone interview with Ken Canfield, October 1993.

8. T. Alton Bryant, Editor, The New Compact Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967), p. 22.

9.  R.C. Sproul, “A Vine Out of Egypt,” Tabletalk (July 1994), p. 18.

10.  David V. Anderson, “When God Adopts,” Christianity Today (July 1993), p. 39.

11.  Terry Schlossberg and Elizabeth Achtemeier, Not My Own: Abortion and the Marks of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), p.122.

Scripture References


For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:15-17


Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

Ephesians 1:3-5


You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise...

Galatians 3:26-4:7


But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

 Galatians 4:4-7


Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:23


. . . the people of Israel. Their is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

Romans 9:4


Scripture quotations are from the New International Version copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society.

“All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have his name put upon them; receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness;  are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith

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