Cover Image: Adopted into God's Family

Adopted into God's Family:
Exploring a Pauline Metaphor (Volume 22, NSBT)

Trevor J. Burke (IVP, 2006)

Blurb Review by Paul J. Brown

Review by Paul J. Brown

Trevor J. Burke. Adopted into God's Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor. NSBT 22. Downers Grove: Apollos/InterVarsity, 2006. 233 pp. $22.00.

Trevor Burke addresses the biblical theme of adoption, which is a Pauline metaphor appearing only five times in the biblical corpus (Rom 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). This monograph brings together Burke's work on the adoption metaphor from his M.Phil, thesis under Margaret E. Thrall and two journal articles.

In ch. 1, Burke argues that this oft-misunderstood metaphor suffers at the hands of theologians who define it too narrowly. He offers a corrective which he unpacks in the rest of the book. The key to his redefinition, as expounded in ch. 2, is that adoption is a soteriological metaphor that is relational, not positional. In ch. 3, Burke traces the background of the word. He interacts with recent scholarship-particularly answering the work of James Scott-to argue that the metaphor of adoption is not derived primarily from an OT background but from a Roman cultural background. By the exegesis in the following chapters, it becomes evident that he ultimately sees the background as both/and, rather than either/or; the metaphor is primarily Roman but is enriched by the concept of sonship from the OT.

The exegesis in chs. 4-6 explores the meaning of adoption as it relates to God as Father, Jesus as Son, and the Spirit. Chapter 6 is particularly strong, suggesting that theology has typically undervalued the role of the Spirit in the adoption process. This chapter is filled with gems that significantly enhance the impact of the monograph. Burke then turns to the Greco-Roman background in ch. 7 to explain the dynamic between adoption and honor in the Roman culture and to explore the ramifications for biblical interpretation. This chapter sets Burke's views in greatest relief against other scholars who link Paul's metaphor to the OT. Burke's insights are suggestive and illuminating, pointing out multiple points of connection between Roman adoption and Paul's use of the metaphor in the NT, thus making this the most significant chapter in the book. Burke concludes his study with a chapter addressing the eschatological dimension of adoption and a very short appendix that answers specific arguments regarding the OT background of the metaphor.

This book is useful for leading the reader into deeper thinking about Paul's theological use of adoption. Burke is convincing in his argument that the metaphor makes the most sense from a Roman relational perspective. He extensively cites systematic theologians, commentators, and sociohistorical writers. His frequent citations, however, leave the reader wondering if it is necessary to quote another writer to say what appears to be common knowledge. It is also disappointing that he does not consistently interact with these scholars in his exegesis. Rather, he too often engages in "proof texting" them-regarding their statements as conclusive without further comment-leaving his exegesis too brief to be helpful at points. In a similar vein, he occasionally mentions two interpretive options, stating simply that the better understanding is "x" without any further reason as to why it is the better choice or why the other view is the weaker choice. Yet even with these deficiencies, the strengths of Burke's monograph clearly outweigh any weaknesses. It is a helpful study and a welcome addition to the NSBT series.

This review first appeared in Trinity Journal 29 (2008), 150-51 and is used here with permission. No part of this review may be copied or transmitted in any form without the prior permission of the author and the publisher.

Review by Paul J. Brown

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

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