“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Unlike like some other ancient practices that have fallen out of use, the concept of adoption is one that should be familiar to modern-day audiences. Each year, tens of thousands of children are adopted into new families, thus making the practice of adoption as familiar today as it was in the New Testament era. In fact, the ancient and modern concepts of adoption have not changed much for they both refer to the formal acceptance of another’s child as one’s own.
As used here in Galatians 4:5, this word refers to the act of “placing as a son” (1) and “signifies the place and condition of a son given to one to whom it does not naturally belong.” (2) One commentator provides some helpful background information regarding the process of adoption under ancient Roman law…
“When the adoption was complete it was complete indeed. The person who had been adopted had all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family and completely lost all rights in his old family. In the eyes of the law he was a new person. So new was he that even all debts and obligations connected with his previous family were abolished as if they had never existed.” (3)
So the adopted child became an entirely new person from a legal perspective as well as an official and permanent heir within the family. (4) And even though the adopted child might be young and immature, he or she was formally recognized as the equal of any other biological family member. This is the imagery that Galatians 4:5 uses to illustrate our status as the adoptive sons and daughters of God through Christ.
Romans chapter eight elaborates on this concept in a highly encouraging portion of Scripture…
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together” (Romans 8:14-17).
(1) G5206 huiothesia https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5206
(2) Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Adoption’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/a/adoption.html. 1940.
(3) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Ephesians 1:4”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/ephesians-1.html. 1956-1959.
(4) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, Galatians 4 [4:5] Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07A_04.html