Erin M. Heim: In Him and Through Him from the Foundation of the World

Christ and the Created Order: Perspectives from Theology, Philosophy, and Science

Zondervan, Andrew B. Torrance, Thomas H. McCall

ISBN: 978-0310536086, Zondervan, May 8, 2018, $20.10

The authors of Christ and the Created Order have noted the fact that, although Jesus Christ is in every way central to the Christian faith, christology is usually poorly represented in the science-faith discussion. The New Testament describes a cosmic Christ, who is not only the key to the unfolding new creation through his death, resurrection and glorification, but is also the source and purpose of the old creation - the world that science studies.*

The reviewers here (Daniel Deen and Jon Garvey) endorse this need for a more christological approach. As ever though, the devil is in the detail, and we seek in these chapter reviews to bring our own insights to bear on the views offered in the book.

We are firmly back to Christ within the created order with this essay by Erin Heim, whose theme is “adoption.” He begins by asserting, like other authors in the book, that the core truths of the Incarnation mean:

…it is impossible to arrive at a proper understanding of humanity without a proper grounding in Christology.(129)

For that reason, to treat New Testament adoption metaphors purely in terms of salvation from sin is inadequate:

Indeed, it is difficult to give a soteriological account of adoption without first grounding that account in the christological and anthropological implications of the adoption metaphors. (129)

And that is because:

When considered together, the adoption metaphors in the New Testament point to Christ as the locus of adoption, and present adoption as the telos of human existence. (129)

Heim points out that human adoption as sons of God, through Jesus, was the predestining intention of the Father “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:3-5). This shows that our “groaning” as we wait for adoption (Rom 8:23) is not simply about forgiveness, but about God’s original goal for us in, or even before, our very creation. And, in the context of Romans 8, one might add that it was also his aim for the whole creation through humankind, a commission given first, abortively, to Adam, and finally achieved by God’s “own arm” in the incarnate Christ. (As a relevant aside, this is the thrust of my application of “Genealogical Adam” in my next book, The Generations of Heaven and Earth.)

She goes on to show that although “adoption” is a metaphor used only in Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, its absence from the Old Testament has to do with the lack of adoption as a social custom in Israel. Paul recognised in the widespread Graeco-Roman practice of adoption a clarification of what, in the Old Testament, is referred to in a less precise vocabulary of “sonship.” Hence, when Paul refers in Romans 9:4 to God’s adoption of Israel, he is only clarifying, or “recasting” (133) what is inherent in the OT texts about God’s sovereign creation of the nation, together with his particular action in and through them. Israel is God’s “son” by a process of adoption.

In Paul’s culture,

… the primary motivation for adoption was not the security of a child but the legacy of a father. Greek and Roman fathers adopted adult males in order to pass along the family estate and the family cult. Ideally, the adopting father chose the son carefully, and likewise the son examined the father to determine whether the offer of adoption was beneficial for him… Conversely, when sons were adopted, they maintained both their biological and adoptive lineage.(133)

So an adopted man retained his biological origins, but owed his loyalty to his new family.

Heim points out “incongrities” between Paul’s usage and the cultural custom, which serve to highlight the very special nature of divine adoption. For example, Paul insists on the special status of Jesus as “firstborn,” though Romans usually only adopted because they lacked a son of their own. Otherwise their patrimony would be spread too thin. But in the case of Christ, his gaining many brothers (and sisters, of course, though females were not adopted - hence the emphasis on “sons” in Paul) actually increases his inheritance. Thus God’s generous freedom in sending his Son to call sons is emphasized.

Another difference, Heim says, is that in Ephesians 1, love is the motive for adoption: God eternally desires to create family, rather than the Roman custom’s purpose of remedying a biological failure for a (primarily) practical purpose.

This eternal focus on divine love means (as Heim has space to note only briefly) that adoption reveals God as he is in himself- “as the One who adopts that which is not God.” (137). By their origin as creatures, humans are not “naturally” commensurate with God, though humanity’s creation “in the image and likeness” has a particular significance, of course. Adoption is a free act beyond creation in which, as Heim quotes T. F. Torrance,

God freely gives himself to us in such a way that the Gift and the Giver are one and the same in the wholeness and indivisibility of his Grace.

All this means that we need to see adoption as the intended end, or telos, for humanity, in which we are through Christ placed in union with God, through our union with him - what in the Eastern tradition is called theosis.

In the context of biblical theology, adoption also shows how, particularly with respect to humanity, the physical creation of Genesis 1 was always only a first step towards something more. As Greg Beale, and others, have suggested, not only were Adam and his descendants called to dwell in, and embody, the glory of God, but through them the whole cosmos was to become full of God’s glory.

The adoption metaphor helps us to see how our new creation as sons of God nevertheless retains our particularity as individuals with a history. Heim shows how this particularity is true of Jesus, in whose Incarnation

the historical particularities of Jesus revealed the personhood of the eternal Son.(147)


In the resurrection anfd the ascension, these historcia particularities were taken up into the divine life. The eternal Son bears the scars of the crucifixion, retains the lineage ofd David, and is recognizable in form as Jesus. (147)

But the same would not necessarily be true of Christians, and nowadays many use Gal 3:28 (neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all one in Jesus Christ) to erase all distinctions of creation and culture, and deny the validity of ethnicity, gender, social distinctions or anything else. But understanding the metaphor of adoption, Heim says, shows this to be false reasoning. Although all that is false and sinful in such distinctions must disappear,

Paul’s vision of adoption communicates that the diversity that exists among human persons is taken up into the divine life and sanctified through participation in Christ, the firstborn Son, as brothers and sisters of a diverse family.(148)

We become, then, more ourselves, and not less, through adoption. This, of course, will affect our Christian praxis as we also rejoice in the diversity that God has created in others. Individual stories are absolutely crucial to the Kingdom of God:

A Christocentric anthropology must therefore resist reductionist accounts of diversity and instead attend to “the other’s needs, feelings, memories, and stories.” (147)

Perhaps that is why the Bible takes the form of a story about individuals, beginning with Adam, and leaving a unique space within the narrative for each person who comes to Christ.


Nicely written - I’d try to start a discussion but the forum is hopping and I can’t keep up! :slight_smile:

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Let’s start an argument instead, then!:smiling_imp:

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Great one @jongarvey and very good analysis. Erin Heim, you likely know already, is a host at Onscript, a podcast based in part in the UK, (though she is in Colorado i think) and also talked about her book here Erin Heim - Adoption in Galatians and Romans | OnScript
For those who like the podcast version.



I wan’t aware of that, though I did discover her book (which is, i think, based on her PhD thesis). It’s surprising what a rich vein the adoption theme is, given how easy it is just to read the word in Paul and just think it’s a nice illustration.