Adoption (huiothesia, υἱοθεσία) is an important Pauline metaphor describing our connection with God the Father (as well as with the Son and the Holy Spirit) (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:23; Galatians 4:5). Garner states adoption shows the patronage of the Heavenly Father by the grace He has shown, despite His aseity. DeSilva has shown that patronage and reciprocity are important in understanding New Testament culture. Burke incorporates honor as part of his understanding of Christian adoption, based on the honor ascribed by the Father, a new name given to those who have been adopted, and the incorporation of all believers into one family.
However, these works have not explored the interplay between adoption (both physical and its spiritual metaphor) with patronage and reciprocity. In the physical realm, huiothesia was borrowed from the Roman practice of adoption, being dependent on the patronage shown by the paterfamilias, and honor was ascribed to the adopted child. As a result, the adoptee was to reciprocate the grace of the father by not only bringing honor back to the family name but also caring for the parents in their later years. Patronage and reciprocity are to be an act/response interaction, involving the benevolence of a father and adopted son. Reciprocity is not “hero worship” or giving an encomium. Reciprocity may be blocked by attachment disorder, mental health disorders, ingratitude, or rejecting cross-cultural adaptation or language acquisition.
The corresponding spiritual metaphor of adoption is marked by God’s patronage and grace to His adopted children (a component of theological anthropology). Burke points out that His adoption of us is predetermined by His grace. Furthermore, patronage reflects both the transcendence and immanence of God, reflecting the consequences of someone (greater than us) doing what we could not do. The ultimate gift of patronage is the inheritance the Heavenly Father promises to His children (Ephesians 1:11). The reciprocity should evoke praise, worship, and honoring God’s name and increase our faith (which far exceeds the expectations of “filial loyalty”). As adoptees, we should proclaim His grace as witnesses (Acts 1:8) and exemplify holiness. We are also to show beneficence to our fellow man (Matthew 18:21-35). Understanding reciprocity helps one understand the significance of functioning as a member of God’s family following adoption. Negatively, we may desire the honor of men over the honor of God (John 12:43) or show ingratitude. We may also think we can earn God’s favor through our own actions. When we seek our own fulfillment apart from God, we engage in disloyalty and idolatry.
Adoptive parents show patronage through the benefaction of love toward their adopted children. They do for their children what the children cannot do for themselves. Both physical and spiritual adoption require the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Both patronage and reciprocity are instrumental in the sociological institution of adoption, and correlate with the spiritual metaphor of our adoption by our Heavenly Father. An understanding of these relationships will help us to flourish in our faith.