The gospel of adoption

If you tried to summarize the entire theme of the Bible in one sentence, it would be about how God is working to restore the broken relationship between Himself and His creatures. There are many details as to why the break happened, how God calls us back to Him, and the provisions He has made for us to restore the relationship. So too there are many metaphors presented to describe the kind of the relationship that He calls us to. Once such picture is that of adoption. God refers to us as His children. This type of language immediately can put Muslims on guard given the main debating point about whether Jesus is the Son of God. Is there anything new that can be added to this discussion when seen through the lens of the metaphor of adoption? I believe there is.

Before I can get to new ground through, some old terrain must quickly be covered. The Bible uses the term Son of God to refer to Jesus as the uniquely created Son of God who inherited God’s attributes (John 5:18). It also uses the term in a generic sense to refer to all those who follow God. Therefore, in one sense of the word, everyone who is led by the Spirit of God is a son of God (Romans 8:14). Yet it must be remembered that this inheritance stems from adoption, not from a direct transfer of God’s substance (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:5). When I put my faith in Jesus, God accepted me. That acceptance comes because he adopts me into His family. I don’t belong there. But it is by God’s grace and mercy that He allows me to be, even though I don’t deserve it by birthright.

Verses such as Romans 8:23 and Ephesians 1:5 reinforce this picture of adoption. It paints a beautiful picture of how a father takes in orphaned children, treating them as his own. This picture of love and grace aids us in understanding God’s dealings with us in a palpable way. And so it isn’t surprising that throughout Scripture, God’s concern for the orphan is a theme often revisited (Deuteronomy 10:18, Isaiah 1:17, James 1:27).

So what does Islam say about adoption? Does the Qur’an have anything to say regarding how Muslims are supposed to treat those who are brought into a family? As a matter of fact, it does:

[33.4-5] Allah has not made for any man two hearts within him; nor has He made your wives whose backs you liken to the backs of your mothers as your mothers, nor has He made those whom you assert to be your sons your real sons; these are the words of your mouths; and Allah speaks the truth and He guides to the way. Assert their relationship to their fathers; this is more equitable with Allah; but if you do not know their fathers, then they are your brethren in faith and your friends; and there is no blame on you concerning that in which you made a mistake, but (concerning) that which your hearts do purposely (blame may rest on you), and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

In other words, adoption has a very different meaning within Islam. You can bring an orphan into your home, but Allah commands that they are never supposed to be your “real sons.” Their relationship to their birth fathers is paramount, even that their last names should not be changed. Modern Islamic apologists downplay these verses as trying to protect lineage. But early Islamic commentators saw it differently. [i] Consider what ibn Kathir, a respected early commentator on the Qur’an says about these verses:

“your adoption of him is just words, and it does not mean that he is really your son, for he was created from the loins of another man, and a child cannot have two fathers just as a man cannot have two hearts in one body” [ii]

In Islam, adoption is something very different than in Christianity. In Islam, you can take in an orphan, but there is always a distinction made so that the child knows he isn’t “really” your son.

This blog is all about the contrasts between Christianity and Islam. These differences don’t just exist; they expose significant diametrically opposite approaches. In Christianity, adoption is given as an allegory for God’s redemptive plan. In Islam, adoption is redefined in order to ensure those taken in to another family are forever aware they can never truly be a part of it the way a natural born son is.

In Christianity, adoption is one of the most powerful pictures of God’s redemptive plan of grace. In Islam, adoption is recast and redefined in order to deny full acceptance of orphans.



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