What the Bible doesn’t say about adoption and orphan care

Our adopted daughter Gabrielle and her brother Zephaniah sharing a moment looking out at our garden.

Our adopted daughter Gabrielle and her brother Zephaniah sharing a moment looking out at our garden.

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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Sara Brinton


SARA BRINTON is a writer and entrepreneur with a passion for reforming international adoption and orphan care. She leads marketing for Noonday Collection, a business that uses fashion to create opportunity in developing countries. Sara and her husband, Mark, live in Austin, Texas with their four children, including daughter Gabrielle who was adopted from Uganda.

  • […] From “Family Hope Love” What the Bible doesn’t say about adoption and orphan care. […]

    • Sara

      June 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm Reply

      Thanks for linking up. I read the comments on your blog, one of which was from a reader who is an adult adoptee. She said she followed what I was saying until I said our family was called to adopt. I’ve been thinking about her words, trying to figure out if I can make myself more clear.

      As I say in this blog post, there’s nothing in the Bible that calls Christians to adopt, but there’s a lot that calls Christians to care for the “least of these”. If our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, we will have compassion for people who are suffering injustice or living in poverty. This compassion will move us to do something…but doing “something” can be harmful if we are not careful. This is where I believe much of the Christian adoption and orphan care movement goes astray. Having compassion for the millions of children who are vulnerable or orphaned is beautiful. But for most of these children, adoption is not the answer. Whenever possible Christians are called to protect and provide for orphans and widows together. This means supporting vulnerable families, investing in development and Fair Trade, fighting for justice. When this is not possible – when supporting a vulnerable family or reunification is not an option – then I believe children need families. Whenever possible, children should be placed with families in their own communities and cultures, but sometimes because of poverty or discrimination, this is not an option. In these situations, international adoption is a better choice than a child growing up in an orphanage or on the streets. So when I say our family was called to adopt, I am talking about a situation like this – a situation where a child had no other option. In our adoption process, we were careful to ask questions to make sure everything was done ethically.

      The Bible doesn’t generally call Christians to adopt – not in the same way it calls us to love or give or serve – but it does call Christians to care for orphans and widows and there are times when for a specific child, adoption is the best choice. In these circumstances, God may well call a specific family to adopt a specific child.

      At the same time, I disagree strongly with any Christians that would use “God’s calling” as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand, to ignore corruption or pay bribes or to in any way participate in trafficking children from poor families. This is injustice and it’s sin. I believe whole heartedly it’s time for the Church to wake up on this issue. There are so many ways to “do orphan care” without building orphanages or encouraging adoption at any cost.

      If you had the same questions as this reader in response to this blog, I hope this helps you understand my point and my heart. Blessings to you.

  • c

    June 23, 2013 at 12:59 pm Reply

    Nice job (and that’s from an adoptee)

  • c

    June 25, 2013 at 1:10 am Reply

    It isn’t my blog but I was the other commenter (cb) on that blog. Why not post on there, I am sure the blogger would be happy to hear from you and to explain your view.

    I did sort of get what you were talking about. I have had discussions with adoptive parents and there are often two different groups.

    1) Those that feel that God chose their child for them long beforehand and think of adoption as just being the method of getting their child to them.
    2) Those that feel that God connected them after the fact – i.e. they understand that the child ended up where they did due to sad events but they feel that God then put them in a position to be able to help that child.

    I can understand no. 2 a bit better than no. 1. Also, one tends to feel that those who think along the lines of no. 2 are more likely to make sure that the process was as ethical as possible.

    Btw have you read the “Rileys in Uganda” blog?:


    They are adoptive parents who are there on the ground in Uganda.

    I don’t know if you have heard of the Malaika’s Baby Home in Uganda:


    Also this seems to be a government/NGO initiative.


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