, also called dynamic monarchianism
, was a minority Christian belief that Jesus
was born merely human and that he became divine later in his life.
By these accounts, Jesus earned the title Christ through his sinless devotion to the will of God, thereby becoming the perfect sacrifice to redeem humanity.
Adoptionists typically portray two key points in Jesus' life as stages in Jesus' theosis
: his baptism and his resurrection.
They consider God to have given Jesus his miraculous power and divine authority after Jesus proved his holiness.
Adoptionism arose among early Christians
seeking to reconcile the claims that Jesus was the son of God
with the radical monotheism of Judaism
Adoptionism was common before it was first declared heresy at the end of the 2nd century.
Some scholars see adoptionist concepts in the Gospel of Mark and in the Pauline epistles.
Adoptionism was condemned by the church as heresy at various times.
The belief contradicts the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, defined at the First Council of Nicaea, which identifies Jesus as eternally God.
The term "adoptionism" is thus, through the influence of Harnack's Dogmengeschicte, applied to this heretical stream in early Greek theology, which regarded Christ as a man gifted with divine powers, a view first represented by the Ebionites and later developed by the Monarchians. It must be distinguished from adoptianism, the much later heresy, originating in eight-century Spain, according to which Christ, in his humanity, is not the true, but only the adoptive, Son of God. This teaching was condemned at a council held in Frankfurt in 794 and another held in Rome in 798. It was revived in a modified form in the twelfth century by Abelard and others. In later times Duns Scotus, Francisco Suárez and others attempted to interpret in an orthodox sense the statement that Jesus as man is the adopted Son of God, but these theories were all rejected as subversive of a sound Christology.
Adoptionism and Christology
Adoptionism is one of two main forms of monarchianism
(the other is modalism
, which regards "Father" and "Son" as two aspects of the same subject). Adoptionism (also known as dynamic monarchianism
) denies the pre-existence of Christ and although it does not deny his deity many Trinitarians claim that it does. Under Adoptionism Jesus is currently divine and has been since his adoption, although he is not equal to the Father.
Adoptionism was one position in a long series of Christian disagreements about the precise nature of Christ (see Christology) in the developing dogma of the Trinity, an attempt to explain the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth, both as man and (now) God, and God the Father while maintaining Christianity's monotheism. It differs significantly from the doctrine of the Trinity that was later accepted by the ecumenical councils.
History of adoptionism
In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture Bart D. Ehrman
argues that the adoptionist view may date back almost to the time of Jesus
and this view is shared by many other scholars. In academic circles some consider both Paul the Apostle
and the Gospel of Mark
to have adoptionist Christologies, although they differ in that Paul is generally said to have placed the adoption at the Resurrection while Mark places it at Jesus' Baptism (orthodox Christianity would accept neither of these interpretations as accurate). In the 2nd century
, adoptionism was one of two competing doctrines about the nature of Jesus Christ, the other (as in the Gospel of John
) being that he pre-existed as a divine spirit (Logos
Historically, there were three waves of Adoptionist speculation if we exclude the hypothetical beliefs of the primitive church that cannot be determined with certainty. The first, which dates from the 2nd century, differs significantly from the subsequent two (dating respectively from the 8th and the 12th century), which follow the definition of the dogma of the Trinity and Chalcedonian Christology.
Second century: pre-Nicene Christology
The first known exponent of Adoptionism in the second century is Theodotus of Byzantium
. He taught that Jesus was a man born of a virgin according to the counsel of the Father, that he lived like other men, and was most pious; that at his baptism in the Jordan the Christ came down upon Him in the likeness of a dove, and therefore wonders (dynameis
) were not wrought in Him until the Spirit (which Theodotus called Christ) came down and was manifested in Him. The belief was declared heretical
by Pope Victor I
The second-century work Shepherd of Hermas also taught that Jesus was a virtuous man filled with the Holy Spirit and adopted as the Son. While Shepherd of Hermas was popular and sometimes bound with the canonical scriptures, it never achieved canonical status.
In the 3rd century, Paul of Samosata, Patriarch of Antioch, promoted adoptionism. He said Jesus had been a man who kept himself sinless and achieved union with God. His views, however, did not neatly fit in either of the two main forms of Monarchianism.
Adoptianism: Hispanicus error
The movement of adoptianism, called the Hispanicus error,
was espoused in the late 8th century by Elipandus
, bishop of Toledo
in the Caliphate of Cordoba
, and by Felix
, bishop of Urgell
in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Ascaric
, bishop of either Astorga
in the Kingdom of Asturias
, was also implicated in the heresy. Alcuin
, the leading intellect at the court of Charlemagne, was called in to write refutations against both of the bishops. Against Felix he wrote:
As the Nestorian impiety divided Christ into two persons because of the two natures, so your unlearned temerity divided Him into two sons, one natural and one adoptive.
Beatus of Liébana, from the Kingdom of Asturias, also fought adoptianism, which was a cause of controversy between Christians under Muslim rule in the former Visigothic capital of Toledo and the peripherical kingdom.
The doctrine was condemned as heresy by the Council of Frankfurt (794).
12th century and later: neo-adoptianism
A third wave was the revived form ("Neo-Adoptianism") of Abelard
in the 12th century. Later, various modified and qualified adoptianist tenets emerged from some theologians in the 14th century. Duns Scotus
(1300) and Durandus of Saint-Pourçain
(1320) admit the term Filius adoptivus
in a qualified sense. In more recent times the Jesuit Gabriel Vásquez
, and the Lutheran divines Georgius Calixtus
and Johann Ernst Immanuel Walch
, have defended adoptianism as essentially orthodox.