But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV)My sister and I were the only children in our family. My father didn’t seem to mind that he had no sons, but my mother mentioned a few times that our family was the end of the line for his surname in our branch of the family tree. There were no sons to carry on his name.
That he had an all girl family didn’t make any difference when it came to inheritance. As a rule, when the last parent dies, if there’s no will that states otherwise, all surviving children, male and/or female, divide the inheritance equally. When my father died a few years ago my sister and I split the inheritance.
When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, which contains the text at the beginning of this post, this is not the way it worked. In ancient Rome, women were usually provided for by the men in their lives, and did not inherit the family’s wealth. Sons, however, could inherit. If there were no natural-born sons to inherit, or if, for some reason, the father did not wish to leave what he owned to his natural-born sons, he could adopt a man of good character to inherit his estate. It was a great privilege for a man to be adopted as a son.
It was, at least as it pertained to inheritance, better to be a son than a daughter, and better to be an adopted son than a natural one. Natural sons could be disowned and disinherited, but not so with adopted sons. Adoption was permanent. When a man was adopted, he became a chosen heir. He would inherit for certain.
It’s probably this kind of adoption Paul had in mind when he used adopted sonship to illustrate the relationship between the believer and God in the passage above. And as the context of these verses makes clear (see 3:28-29), both men and women are God’s adopted sons. Paul used a human institution that applied to men only to illustrate something that, in God’s household, applies to both men and women.
Some translations of the Bible translate son and sons in this passage as child and children. This is not necessarily wrong, but it does obscure one of the main points of the passage, and strips Paul’s chosen analogy of its power. Believing women are not simply children of God—and not simply his daughters, who, in Paul’s day, would have owned nothing for themselves. No, we are adopted sons. Our adoption papers are signed and notarized, and we are permanent designated heirs. In Christ, God’s riches belong to us forever for certain.
God adopts believers as his sons, and it changes everything for them. Every believer’s inheritance is secure because they are adopted sons of God. If we are adopted sons—and we are!—our inheritance is guaranteed.