In a wide-ranging and pungent critique of the theology of today’s adoption movement, Cumberland Law School’s David Smolin points out the differences between Roman and modern American adoption. Roman adoptions occurred among the upper classes, did not necessarily involve orphans, were usually a way of elevating an already upper class Roman to an even higher position, and did not involve a severance with the family of origin. Smolin writes, “The men ‘adopted’ by the Roman emperors were already related to those emperors through combinations of blood and marriage . . . . The distinctive purpose of adoption within this web of family relationships was to make them heirs to the empire, not to provide them with a family.”
Smolin argues that Paul’s references to adoption fit this Roman pattern: Paul “implicitly invites a comparison between the Roman view of the Emperor as ‘Lord’ and the Christian insistence that God is Lord of lords and King of kings and His Son, Jesus Christ, is Lord. The clear message is that the inheritance the Christian receives from adoption by God would be even greater than the inheritance received by those who are adopted by Roman emperors.”
If we can press the comparison, it seems that the particular inheritance that Pal has in mind is the privilege of sharing with The Lord Jesus in the rule of His empire.