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Is Adoptionism Still a Heresy Invading the Church Today?

Is Adoptionism Still a Heresy Invading the Church Today?

What Is Adoptionism? - Adoptionism Heresey Meaning

Adoptionism is the heretical view that fails to understand Scripture’s teaching on the two natures of Jesus: His humanity and His divinity. In this view, Jesus was an ordinary human whom God adopted as His Son when He was baptized. At His baptism, God endowed Jesus with supernatural power by anointing Him with the Spirit because He managed to live a sinless life up to that point. After His earthly ministry, God resurrected Jesus and made Him part of the Godhead as a reward for His accomplishments and made Him Lord of the Church. 

What Is the History of Adoptionism?

Adoptionism came about in the second century from the teaching of Theodotus of Byzantium, a region located on the straight between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (modern-day Istanbul). Pope Victor condemned the teachings of Theodotus as heresy during his pontificate from about 190-198 AD.

Adoptionism would later resurface in the Church in the eighth century in Spain through the teaching of two bishops: Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo, and Felix, bishop of Urgel. Pope Leo III formally condemned adoptionism during the council of Rome held in 798 AD.

What Makes Adoptionism a Heresy?

It’s common for people to leave one church body and go church shopping on the basis of personal preferences for things such as the style of worship music, entertainment programs, and/ or how amusing the pastor is. The truth is it should never be easy to leave a church body. In his Epistles, the Apostle Paul went to great lengths to encourage church bodies to stay together even through their difficulties and disagreements (Colossians 3:12-14). God is not glorified when we break fellowship over our petty differences. Heresy is one of the few reasons anyone should ever leave a congregation. A heresy is an unbiblical teaching on a major doctrine that negatively impacts multiple facets or even the entire scope of a Christian’s faith. It is not merely an error or misunderstanding, but a conscious decision to depart from major Church doctrine. By nature, heresies are serious offenses that divide the body of Christ. Adoptionism is a heresy because it denies the true deity of Jesus Christ as taught in Scripture and renders the Gospel ineffective for salvation.

Scripture clearly teaches Christ has always existed and has always been God. At no point in time did He ever become God. We will examine a few passages which reveal this truth.

The Gospel of John.

The first chapter of John introduces Christ as the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). God has certain attributes He alone possesses. These are sometimes called His incommunicable attributes. They are what make Him distinct from anything and anyone else. The significance of Jesus being with God from the beginning is, it reveals His eternal nature. God alone is eternal, which means He exists outside of time. He has no beginning and no end. John also mentions in this verse Jesus has not merely existed with God, but He is God. Here John refutes the idea of subordinationism, which claims the Son is inferior to the Father. Instead, we can see Jesus is coequal to the Father because He was God. It is this very Word Who came and dwelt among us, which references Jesus’ incarnation (John 1:14). The Gospels clearly teach Jesus’ deity before His incarnation.

John 8 records an intense discourse between Jesus and some of the Jews who had taken interest in Him. The topic of Abraham arose, and Jesus made the puzzling statement, “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). There is no doubt Jesus clearly affirms His deity in this statement. The phrase I am is a reference to the burning bush in Exodus when God revealed Himself to Moses as I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14). Furthermore, the Jews who listened picked up stones to stone Jesus for blaspheming in accordance with the Mosaic law (Leviticus 24:16) because they understood He claimed to be God (John 8:59).

The Apostle Paul’s teaching on Jesus’ deity. There is no doubt Paul understood Christ to be fully God through all eternity. In Colossians, Paul teaches Christ’s eternal existence and states through Him all things were created (Colossians 1:16-17). Furthermore, in reference to Jesus’ incarnation, Paul is clear, Jesus did not cease to be God, however, He humbled Himself to take on the form of a man (Philippians 2:6-7). Again, we see Scripture refutes the adoptionist viewpoint that Christ became a deity after originally living as a normal human being.

The impact on the Gospel. There are major inconsistencies and problems if Jesus began His existence as a normal human. Scripture teaches all people are born with a sin nature. David referenced his corrupt sin nature upon conception (Psalm 51:5). The sin of Adam left all of humanity in a helpless state of rebellion (Romans 5:12). There is not a single person who could last five years, let alone thirty years without sinning because that is what we do by nature. The propitiation for our sins required a sinless sacrifice (Isaiah 53:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:21). If Jesus existed as an ordinary human before He was commissioned for His earthly ministry, there is no possible way He could qualify to be the Savior of the world because He would have sinned.

Also, Jesus could not have become God as Scripture describes Him if He wasn’t already God. The idea of a created god is a contradiction in terms. One of the unique attributes of God is His eternal nature, sometimes called His aseity. God was not created and there was never a time when God didn’t exist. Adoptionism contradicts this biblical truth and nullifies the deity of Jesus, which is a requirement for our salvation. It is impossible for a finite being to absorb the eternal wrath of God. Only God incarnate could live a sinless life and bear the full wrath of God for our sin. If Jesus was not fully God and fully man from the time of His conception, He could not qualify as our Savior, and we are still lost in our sin.

Are We Still Seeing This Heresy Used Today?

The notion of people becoming deified is nothing new. In fact, this train of thought could even be said to have been present in the Garden of Eden when the serpent tempted Eve saying she would become like God (Genesis 3:5). From the beginning, many people have fallen sway to the false belief they could elevate their status to be on an equal plane with God. Not long after the fall, we see the same lie present in the heart of humanity at the Tower of Babel. People had become so arrogant they sought to elevate their own status in place of God by constructing a tower that would reach the heavens in order to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Satan is not original. He may repackage an old lie in a different form, but at its core, it’s nothing new.

There are no mainstream Church denominations that teach adoptionism today, although, like all heretical views, adoptionist beliefs still circulate to this day. The most notable example is the cult of Mormonism which uses biblical terms but is far outside biblical teaching. In Mormonism, people have the ability to progress into godhood. Jesus was supposedly the firstborn spirit child of the Father and a heavenly Mother. In the spirit world, Jesus progressed into a deity and eventually was conceived physically as the only Son of God.

Many heresies and false teachings in the church arise from people trying to understand difficult concepts taught in the Bible. Whether intended or not, the inevitable result often fashions God to the image of man. The doctrine of Jesus’ two natures is baffling and mysterious, but we should never change what Scripture says in order to make it more understandable. It only makes sense God would have attributes that are beyond our comprehension. Christians must know what the Bible teaches to avoid heretical teachings. Any teaching which deviates from the truth of Jesus Christ deviates from the gospel and can offer no hope for salvation. Christians will never agree on everything the Bible teaches, but they must agree on the central matters of the Gospel. Any teaching which strays from Jesus’ true nature is heresy and should be avoided and condemned.

Further Reading

What Is the Heresy Adoptionism?

Photo credit: © Unsplash/Vivek Doshi

Stephen BakerStephen Baker is a graduate of Mount Union University. He is the writer of a special Scripture study/reflection addendum to Someplace to Be Somebody, authored by his wife, Lisa Loraine Baker (End Game Press Spring 2022). 

He attends Faith Fellowship Church in East Rochester, OH where he has given multiple sermons and is discipled by pastor Chet Howes.