The "spirit of adoption" in its Roman Imperial context

Robert Brian Lewis, Fordham University


Scholars have sought to explain Paul's use of the adoption metaphor by looking to Jewish antecedents. The results of these explanations have not achieved a full consensus since the term that Paul uses is not found in the Septuagint and the legal practice of adoption was not a feature of Judaism. Another aspect of Paul's use of the metaphor that has not been investigated is the way in which Paul uses the term "Spirit" as a qualifier to "adoption." This study explores Paul's use of the phrase "Spirit of adoption" from the Roman Imperial perspective. It is the Roman Imperial context that offers an attractive solution for understanding Paul's use of the adoption metaphor along with the term "Spirit" in Romans 8:12–17. Within the Roman Imperial context, adoption, religion, and politics overlapped. The Roman religious ideas of the genius and numen of the Roman Emperor were inextricably tied to adoption. Roman Imperial propaganda announced the ramifications of Augustus' adoption and the adoption of subsequent Emperors to the entire world. These Imperial adoptions had religious implications. The genius of the Emperor, the guardian spirit of the family, came to be identified by the Empire as a whole. It was imaged, worshipped, and honored in Rome and in the rest of the Empire. This unique intersection provides a valuable area for exploration regarding Paul's use of the adoption metaphor. In the center of the empire, Paul uses "Spirit of adoption" to clinch his argument to the Gentile believers that they were to regard themselves as equal to the Jews in the family of God. The `Spirit of adoption' was granted because of the free gift of God's super-abounding grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Subject Area

Biblical studies|Ancient history

Recommended Citation

Lewis, Robert Brian, "The "spirit of adoption" in its Roman Imperial context" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3588219.