What the Bible doesn’t say about adoption and orphan care
What is the Biblical foundation for orphan care?
Is it James 1:27, which calls orphan care “pure and faultless” religion?
Is it the doctrine of adoption – that God has “predestined us for adoption” (Romans 8:15) and promised us a “glorious inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18) through Jesus Christ?
Or does the Biblical foundation for orphan care and adoption run deeper?
I am not claiming to be an expert here. I am not a theologian or a Biblical scholar. But over the last two years as I’ve read through the Bible studying everything about adoption and orphans, I’ve found a few interesting patterns.
The Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about adopting orphans.
With the exception of Esther being adopted by her uncle Mordecai (Esther 2:15), all Biblical references to adoption are about God’s adoption of us. Romans 8-9, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1 basically say the same thing: we are adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ.
There are only a couple of verses in the Bible about orphans. Job describes wicked men who “drive away the orphan’s donkey” (Job 24:3), Jesus promises not to leave his disciples as orphans but to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:18), and Paul describes feeling like an orphan when he was separated from the Thessalonian Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:17).
And then there’s James 1:27, which does tell us that pouring yourself out to care for orphans and widows is an example of true faith in Jesus.
We are adopted, but are we called to adopt?
Looking for examples of adoption in the Bible, Christians often point to the examples of Moses and Jesus – but honestly is child being abandoned by a desperate mother living in slave in Ancient Egypt and raised by the rulers of an oppressive regime really a good example of ethical adoption? While its honorable that Joseph raised Jesus as his own son – and it’s likewise honorable when men in the world today marry single moms and adopt their children – Joseph’s adoption of Jesus is an example not a command.
There’s nothing in the Bible that calls Christians to adopt. Likewise, these examples of adoption don’t have a lot in common with international adoption. The whole idea of flying half way around the world to adopt a child who was a complete stranger would have been impossible for the Biblical authors to imagine.
I am not saying Christian’s aren’t called to adopt.
I believe God does call many Christian families to adopt. I believe our family was called specifically to adopt our daughter Gabrielle. But this calling needs to be put in a broader context – understood as a part of a bigger story. James 1:27 is a great verse, but it’s just one verse. Believing that we are adopted into God’s family is central to understanding the Gospel. But should we adopt because we are adopted? Should we build orphan care ministries because of one verse?
Christians are called to remember
I believe remembering is at the heart of Biblical adoption and orphan care – and indeed at the heart of all ministries of mercy and justice. Christians are called to protect and provide for the fatherless in response to the Gospel. The Bible is the story of a God who remembers his people. In the Old Testament, there are countless examples of God remembering his covenant promise to his people – delivering them from slavery, protecting them from injustice, providing for their needs. The Cross is the ultimate act of God remembering.
While the Bible doesn’t call us to adopt, it does call us to remember. We were once fatherless and now we been adopted by a Father. We were like widows and Jesus is our Bridegroom. We were poor and we have been promised a glorious inheritance. We were foreigners and we have become a part of God’s family. We were slaves and we have been given freedom.
In my next post, I will go into greater detail about how remembering provides a foundation for a life of mercy and justice, including adoption and orphan care.
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