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Adoption and The Bible - A Short Article
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Adoption and The Bible


 God's Will or God Swill
[by Rohan McEnor]


Some time ago I wrote an article which scrutinised the practice of adoption according to the Ten Commandments.

I was consequently accused of blasphemy. However, what was I blaspheming: church practice, the sensibilities of adopters, or the truths of the Bible?

I decided to have a second look, and the result will be a book that has the working title, Father to the Fatherless: what the Bible really says about adoption.

This article will be a very short summary of a couple of the arguments in that book, but even by the end of this truncated study, I trust it will be clear who is blaspheming the clear plan of the Judeo-Christian God who has revealed himself through the Bible.

Adoption defined

For the sake of this article I will define 'adoption' as "the practice of altering the birth certificate and therefore the identity of a child such that a person or persons not biologically related to the child, are recognised as parents of the child. "

A large subset of all adoptions is newborn adoption - the child adopted into a family as close to birth as possible to give the illusion to both those within the adoptive family and outside the adoptive family, that the child is "as if born" to the adoptive couple.

Is such a general practice any part of God's will, or is it merely churchian god swill?


Many would say that Moses's life represented such an adoption. Let us look at the life of Moses as a possible example of scripture condoning adoption.

Firstly, what pressure was placed on Moses's biological mother to put Moses on the adoption conveyor belt (the River Nile)?

"Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives... 'When you are helping the Hebrew women to give birth... If it is a son, then you shall put it to death... Every son who is born to the Hebrews you are to cast into the Nile. '" (1)

So the pressure placed on Moses's mother was "your son shall die." This is the exact same pressure that is placed on a young mother to relinquish her child in the latter 20th and early 21st centuries. "The baby will have no life. The baby will have only half a life. The baby will be socially handicapped if you keep this child. If you keep this child you are being selfish and not giving your child the best." These sorts of things are said by both social workers and parents of young pregnant women, to persuade them into adoption.

In the Bible, these are the words of Pharaoh. Are Christians instructed by the Bible to behave like Pharaoh?

Secondly, how did Moses's mother react?

"She saw that he was beautiful and she hid him for three months." (2)

So such is the unity between mother and child that she risked the wrath of the Government as long as she could, in order to bond with her child, in order to breast feed and care for her child, in the face of probable death for both herself and her son. Significantly, the child was born of the House of Levi - the House of Priests. Did the High Priests of Adoption respect the natural fusion of mother and her biological child in removing children after just 5 days, granting custody to strangers, then expecting the first-mum to forget it ever happened?

Thirdly, how did Moses's mother effect the adoption?

"She put the child into the basket, and set it among the reeds by the banks of the Nile..." (3)

On threat of death, she succumbed to the edict of the Government to cast the child into the Nile. But!

"And his sister stood at a distance to find out what would happen to the child." (4)

In the Bible it seems reasonable. In modern parlance, we call it stalking! When 20th century relinquishers tracked down their child they were punished by court appearances and classed as criminals.

Fourthly, how did the Government of the day react to this act of stalking?

"Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, 'Shall I go and call a woman who can suckle the child from among the Hebrews, that she may nurse the child for you?' And Pharaoh's daughter said to her, 'Go ahead.' So the girl went and called the child's mother. Then Pharaoh's daughter said to her, 'Take this child away and nurse him for me and I shall give you wages. '" (5)

The House of Pharaoh sponsored the child to be raised with its kinfolk. In troubled times, the Government of the day, one recognised throughout the Bible as unmercifully cruel, provided social security so that the child could remain in the household of its biological family. In fact, the prospective adopters sponsored the program. What depths of cruelty has 20th century western Government visited, to expect women in troubled times to hand their children over to better-heeled strangers?

Exodus 2 v 10 tells us that when Moses was a child, we are not told exactly how old, he was adopted into Pharaoh's household and Pharaoh's daughter renamed him Moses. Clearly, Moses was not moved to the adopter's household until he had formed a relationship with his mother. The adoption was open. The mother knew the fate of the child and could keep track of his progress. I am not here arguing that scripture condones open adoption as shall be seen as we progress - what I am highlighting is just how different Moses's adoption was to the practices of church-run adoption agencies in the 20th century.

The fifth question to ask is, how did Moses react to his adoption?

"When Moses had grown up he went out to his brethren..." (6)

The Bible labels Moses's biological relatives "his brethren", not those by whom he had been adopted. This is firmly repeated in the New Testament in Acts Chapter 7.

What was the reaction of "his brethren" to Moses?

"Who made you a prince or a judge over us?" (7)

Moses has become Mr In-between - just like so many adoptees he feels he doesn't truly fit into his adoptive family, yet is also unacceptable to his biological family because of the influences of the adopters. This is classic adoption syndrome working here. And what happens? Moses commits murder and spends the next forty years wandering around the desert tending sheep, a man of virtually no self esteem. (8) This man of immense talent and intellect, becomes "a sojourner in a foreign land", (9) a cry echoed in the minds and on the faces of most 20th century adoptees.

A final point to make in considering the life of Moses; how impressed was God with the system that created the pressure to adopt?

"Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne, to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of cattle. And Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where someone was not dead." (10)

It is an interesting Bible-study on its own to look at the sacrifice of the first-born.

If we are to use the example of Moses as a Biblical case history to justify adoption, what do we learn? We discover that (a) a woman will surrender a child only on pain of death; (b) it is unreasonable to cut a woman off from knowledge of her child which she loses to adoption; (c) Moses's was an open adoption; (d) upon maturity (ie: the ability to think for himself) Moses turned his back on the wealth and privileges of his adoptive family, to identify with the poverty of his biological kin; (e) even the most harsh of ancient ruling elites appreciated the value of biological ties and provided social security so that the child could at least be weaned, start to develop and form a relationship with its true mother before an open adoption could take place. (11)

While some churchian minds use the adoption of Moses to justify adoption of newborns, how much of the detail of scripture is adhered to by church-run adoption agencies? Even a rudimentary comparison between the Bible and agency practice would indicate that the church has digressed quite a ways from scriptural instruction.


"Two women who were harlots came to the king [Solomon]... And one said, '... On the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth... And this woman's son died in the night because she lay on him.'... Then the other woman said, 'No! The living son is mine. Yours is the dead son.'... And the king said, 'Get me a sword... Divide the living child in two and give half to the one woman and half to the other.' But the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the king, for she was deeply stirred over her son, and said, 'Oh my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.'... Then the king answered, 'Give the living child to the first woman who spoke. She is his mother.'... And God was with the king administering justice." (12)

I mention this story in passing simply because it is the only other example of infant relinquishment in the Bible. Again we see, according to Biblical standards, that the only pressure by which a woman will surrender her child for adoption, is under sentence of the child's death.

One other point of interest to this story: the situation described here is one which would result today in the authorities removing the living child from the biological mother and into foster care. However, the Bible states that the child was returned to its natural mother and this is called "God's wisdom. "


Another example of adoption in the Bible can be found in the person of Esther the Hebrew girl who became queen of Persia. (13)

What does the Bible teach us here of adoption? Firstly, that Esther was adopted because she was a genuine orphan, and secondly, she was adopted within her close family, by her older cousin.

Again, if we are to take the Biblical scriptures as a guide (as church entities are supposed) we see nothing here to justify the removal of a child from its biological kin to be raised in secret by people outside the close bloodline.

Note also that Esther's original name was Hadassah. The changing of an identity in this way is a common practice in the Bible, but most often occurs when foreigners seek to erase all remnant of a person's origins. Daniel and other Hebrews were all given Persian names during the exile as Esther has been here. This is an ancient eugenic mindset at work. The parallel with modern adoption practice of changing a newborn's complete identity is of considerable interest.

Jesus of Nazareth

As this article comes to the subject of adoption in the New Testament, I would ask those with a Biblical mindset to lay aside a few preconceived notions. Those within church-run adoption agencies and the pro-life movement who have been ingrained by adoptionism, believing it was a Biblical construct, will find the following New Testament exegesis decidedly uncomfortable. I ask such people to not shoot the messenger, but to double check what I have to say by the light of scripture.

Unfortunately for adoption advocates who revere the Bible, adoption takes an absolute battering in the first few verses of the New Testament:

"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. To Abraham was born Isaac, and to Isaac, Jacob, and to Jacob, Judah and his brothers, and to Judah were born Perez and Zerah by Tamar... And to Salmon was born Boaz by Rahab and to Boaz was born Obed by Ruth and to Obed, Jesse, and to Jesse was born David the king. And to David was born Solomon by the wife of Uriah... And Jacob was father [in-law] to Joseph the husband of Mary who gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah." (14)

It is highly unusual in Jewish genealogies to list women, yet Matthew, a very Jewish figure of the New Testament, mentions 4 women in Jesus's genealogy, 3 of them Gentiles. These women highlight the most sordid side of Jesus's forebears.

Through these women and the Old Testament scriptures in which they appear, we see that God accepts into the bloodline of Messiah, prostitution (Rahab (15); Tamar (16) ), incest (Tamar and Judah (17) ), adultery, treachery and murder (David and Bathsheba (18) ), tainted, racially-despised Gentile blood (Ruth (19) ), and last but certainly not least, teenage pregnancy outside of wedlock (Mary). God even provides a mediator when Mary is left unsupported in her pregnancy by those closest to her. (20) How many church-based adoption workers have provided the same sort of mediation for girls in the same position?

God accepted all this in the genealogy of Jesus, sins which the church would generally regard as abominable. Would a church-run adoption agency place a child with any woman who had a history like Bathsheba, Rahab or Tamar? Not likely. Obviously, God has a much broader outlook than we do.

The putridity of the above sin-list would suggest that anything God explicitly excluded from the lineage of Christ, would have to be something most unacceptable in His sight, a stench most foul in the Divine nostril and something that the church would surely need to avoid at all costs.

So was there anything that God did in fact, expressly exclude from the lineage of His Messiah? Well, as a matter of fact, there was:

"Abram said to the Lord, 'Oh Lord God, what will You give me since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus... And since you have given me no offspring, a son born in my house is my heir.' And the word of the Lord came to Abram saying, 'This man shall not be your heir, but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir. '" (21)

In order to pass on their inheritance, the childless couple Abram (Abraham) and Sarah adopted Eliezar of Damascus who had been born to a servant in Abram's household. But God rejected Abram's mode of providing himself with an heir. God had a higher plan - a plan that included prostitution, murder, adultery, incest and teenage out-of-wedlock pregnancy but expressly excluded adoption.

Even 'half-adoption' was rejected by God, when Abraham's instituted plan B, to produce a "son from his own body" via his wife's servant. The child was then adopted by Abram's wife, but that child was not accepted as the start of the lineage to The Messiah.

What do we learn from this? Biblically speaking, adoption and half-adoption are man's idea not God's, and that to God, biology is important. While God could have "raised up sons of Abraham from the stones on the ground", (22) He chose not to, instead concentrating on one married couple to produce an heir from their biological union.

Paul and adoptionism

Many Christians use the writings of Paul to justify adoption. Romans 8 v 15, Galatians 4 v 5 & 6 and Ephesians 1 v 5, are thematic to Paul's writing:

"You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, 'Abba [Daddy]! Father! '" (23)

Many Christians interpret this to mean that if God adopts us, then so too, it is Biblically acceptable for us to practice adoption.

That would be wonderful if the word "adoption" meant the same thing today as it did in Bible times. Unfortunately, it doesn't and the Bible is quite specific about what the word adoption means in scripture.

As a preface to the Biblical meaning of adoption, it must be realised that the modern concept of adoption took a major detour around the mid-1930s. As a result of the nature versus nurture debate and other human inventions of the sociology faculties, the word adoption came to mean what we now commonly accept - the removal of a child from its biological parents to be raised usually in secret by people unrelated by blood. Latterly, it has also come to mean in a secondary sense, the adoption of a biologically related child into a new marriage of one of its parents.

However, the Bible only ever talks about adult adoption. Eliezar's adoption was an adult adoption, and certainly the New Testament idea of adoption is repeatedly an adoption of an adult as an heir. This is clearly the meaning of Paul's writing when he talks of salvation as an adoption by God.

Adult adoption requires two things - an offer by the adopter and an acceptance by the adoptee who by virtue of his adult status is able to make that choice. In terms of salvation, the adult chooses for himself, to accept God's offer or to reject it.

This is the repeated and very obvious theme right throughout the New Testament. John 1 v 12:

"To as many as accept Him [Jesus] He gives them the power [rights] to be the sons [inheritors] of God. "

Galatians 3 v 26 & 27:

"You are sons [inheritors] of God through faith in Jesus Christ. All of you who were baptised into spiritual union with Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. "

There are countless similar scriptures which clearly show that God's adult adoptees have a 50% say in their adoption. They choose to accept, they choose to have faith, they choose to enter into spiritual union, they choose to clothe themselves.

That is the true nature of the Biblical construct of adoption. But there is something more and it relates directly to the overall message of the Bible. To be honest, it is disturbing that those church institutions that have so vigorously promoted newborn adoption have done so in complete dismissal of what the Bible is actually all about.

To explain, there are two Greek words that occasion to be translated "adoption" in the New Testament. The first is in Acts 7 v 21, where Stephen is recounting the adoption of Moses. The Greek word is transliterated as "anaheto" and appears in the Living, Good News and New English translations of the Bible as "adopted." In all other translations, it is translated as "taken" - giving a sense that the Biblical writers regarded the adoption of Moses as a "taking" by Pharaoh's daughter, not a relinquishment by Moses's mother.

The word used throughout the New Testament to denote God's adoption of believers, is transliterated "huiothesia". The concept of "huiothesia" to the New Testament culture is explained by the NKJV Greek English Interlinear New Testament:

"Adoption: Greek: huiothesia. Noun, a compound noun from 'huio', a son and 'thesia' a placing, thus meaning adoption. The word was a legal technical term for a father's declaration that his natural born child was officially a son or daughter, with all the rights and privileges that this included." (24)

The Biblical term 'huiothesia' refers to a declaration of a natural born child. It is the exact opposite to what would be required to justify the modern concept of adoption, to transpose a child from its biological family to another unrelated family.

And in the overall context of what the Bible is really all about, 'huiothesia' makes far more sense.

The Bible is a story about a Father. A Father who had children. And these children were stolen from him by the false father - the father of lies. And the Bible is really the story of how our true Heavenly Father pursued us at great cost to Himself, just to buy back His natural children, just so He could make a declaration of the true inheritance He has set aside for us, just to hear us call Him, "Daddy! Father!" As he truly is.

Back to the future

There is much more I could say. The Bible speaks much about the pain of a parent separated from a living child (25) The father in the parable of the Prodigal Son is the picture Jesus gave us, of the Heavenly Father's pain and suffering over his lost children. The parable of the lost sheep is another, where the shepherd leaves those sheep which are safe in the flock, to find that one lost sheep.

The torment of separation shown in that parable is at the very heart of a surrendering parent's life, and I believe it is at the very heart of the Heavenly Father, as well as being at the very heart of His gospel. How any church body can miss that, and decide for whatever reason, that they have any scriptural reason to inflict that sort of pain on anyone, is just too scary to contemplate.

In Isaiah 49:15 God parallels his own love for us thus:

"Can a woman forget the baby at her breast, and have no compassion on the child she has borne?" (26)

Bible-believers need to think very long and hard about the answer to that question, before ever suggesting adoption as a pregnancy quick-fix.

Some church bodies are starting to rethink their stance on adoption. The Salvation Army in Australia has closed down its adoption branch and many within its ranks are no longer amenable to the modern concept of adoption at all.

The Catholic Weekly August 22, 1999 page 10 delivered a long article on a Catholic response to teenage pregnancy - without one word about adoption.

Certain sections of the pro-life movement have begun to realise that pressure to end a pregnancy with an adoption does not save a child from abortion, but may in fact, be a determining factor in a woman choosing to terminate the pregnancy:

"Adoption, unfortunately, is seen as the most 'evil' of the three options, (abortion, motherhood, adoption)... A woman desperately wants a sense of resolution to her crisis, and in her mind, adoption leaves the situation the most unresolved... This study suggests that in pitting adoption against abortion, adoption will be the hands-down loser." (27)

And the Anglican Synod of Sydney had this to say about surrogacy:

"The Bible presents us with an ethic which will not lightly risk separation of the emerging child from the personal and relational framework of marriage and sexual intercourse... Christians... Yearn for children alongside the childless, but Christians seek to chart a course towards these benefits so that other highly significant values are not violated." (28)

The Anglican Synod goes on to decry surrogacy and donor-assisted conception as treating children like commodities, as being a self-interested act rather than a selfless Christian act, and as an act that turns human reproduction into a conveyor-belt operation. The Synod also decries how children born of donor sperm are deprived of knowing at least one of their biological parents.

One wonders how the Sydney Anglican Diocese can hold such views on surrogacy and donor fertilisation, yet continue to run an adoption agency. Surely adoption is the ultimate in surrogacy and sperm donation.

Having said that, I don't believe this article should be used to bash Bible-believers over the head with carefully chosen scriptures. The purpose is to foster debate, something which Biblical thinkers should never be afraid of, to alert churchian adoption promoters that perhaps a rethink is in order, and to encourage the Christian sector into the realisation that their's is a vast area of ministry waiting for a more Biblical approach.

An unqualified church apology for past practices wouldn't go astray either.


  1. Exodus 1 v 16 & 22.
  2. Exodus 2 v 2.
  3. Exodus 2 v 3.
  4. Exodus 2 v 4.
  5. Exodus 2 v 7 - 9.
  6. Exodus 2 v 11.
  7. Exodus 2 v 14.
  8. Exodus 3 v 11.
  9. Exodus 2 v 22.
  10. Exodus 12 v 29 & 30.
  11. This Biblical pattern was repeated with the apprenticing of the boy Samuel in 1 Samuel Chapter 1.
  12. Kings 3 v 16 - 28.
  13. Esther 2 v 7.
  14. Matthew 1 v 1 - 16. Note that in ancient Jewish culture, fathers-in-law were reckoned as fathers in genealogies, so it is therefore likely that this is the genealogy of Mary (since she is named) while the genealogy of Joseph is listed in Luke 3 v 23 - 38 .
  15. Joshua 2 v 1.
  16. Genesis 38 v 24.
  17. Genesis Chapter 38.
  18. Samuel Chapters 11 and 12.
  19. Ruth 1 v 4. Ruth was a Moabite, a descendant of Abraham's nephew Lot. For descriptions of the derision with which the Old Testament treats the Moabites, see Isaiah 11 v 14, Isaiah 15 v 1 - 9, Jeremiah 27 v 3 & 9, and Amos 2 v 1 - 3.
  20. Matthew 1 v 18 - 23.
  21. Genesis 15 v 2 - 4.
  22. Matthew 3 v 9, Luke 3 v 8.
  23. Romans 8 v 15.
  24. NKJV Greek English Interlinear New Testament, translated by Farstad, Hodges, Moss, Picirilli and Pickering. Published 1994 by Thomas Nelson Nashville. Page 663.
  25. Jacob losing Joseph Genesis 37, the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 v 11 - 32, David losing Absalom 2 Samuel 13 v 37 - 39. Note especially here, that David mourns for a time over the son he lost through death (Amnon) but is inconsolable and mourns forever the still living son he loses through separation.
  26. The rest of this verse states, "Even if they did forget, I will not forget you." The clear inference is that it would he unlikely in the extreme for a woman to forget the child she bore. The history of adoption surrender bears this out completely. A woman never forgets a child lost to adoption, abortion, miscarriage or still-birth. The maxim is confirmed, "Once pregnant, forever pregnant."
  27. "Abortion: a failure to communicate" by Paul Swope. First Things newsletter April 1998, page 32. Swope is Project Director of the Caring Foundation and President of LifeNet Services.
  28. Kategoria 1998 number 11, published by Matthias Press Kinsgford, Sydney
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