Heresies all Around us – Adoptionism

Heresies all Around us – Adoptionism

Part 7 – Adoptionism

As far back as the second century, several groups already debated Jesus’ preexistence. One such group are called Adoptionists. They denied the preexistence of Jesus and, as a consequence, His deity.

Jesus was tested by God

According to these teaching, Jesus was just a human like you and I. Adoptionism, says that God ‘adopted’ Jesus as His son after the ‘human Jesus’ proved Himself to be able to live a sinless life. His exam took place in the desert, where He got tempted by the devil. Jesus passed his exam with flying colours.

Matthew 4:1-11

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, Lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.


As far as I know there are two ideas about Jesus passing the test. Some said He passed before His baptism and others during His 40 days in the wilderness. Either way, God granted Him supernatural powers and adopted Him as son. To top it all off, God raised Him from the grave and adopted Him into the Godhead.

Big Error

We have seen many wrong teachings within the church of the first centuries. But, this teaching seemed to be more disturbing than others. Why? Well, the other heresies we’ve discussed so-far, appear to ‘slightly’ mess things up, but this one … this one completely falls short.

It completely undermined the teaching that all humans fall short of the glory of God. It says that humans can live a flawless life. Also, even though the Church hadn’t formulated most of the doctrines yet, the common believe was that Jesus was divine.

Some—especially those who can’t be bothered to read up on some history—would say that the idea of, God becoming man, came about much later. However, we just know from early writings that first and second century Christians already saw Him as divine. Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna (69–156) said the following.i

I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and for the ages to come (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 14:3).

Athenagoras of Athens (c. 133–190) remarked that the belief of the deity of Christ triggered others to call these believers ‘atheists.’ii

Who…would not be astonished to hear men who speak of God the Father, and of God the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and who declare both their power in union and their distinction in order, called atheists? (A Plea for the Christians, Chapter 10).


As said, this heresy totally missed the point. The point that no human was able to come to God; no human could ever pay for his own sin, let alone for the sins of others; God Himself had to intervene by giving the perfect sacrifice; God came to earth to become human Himself; God was born out of the Virgin Mary as Jesus; Jesus gave up His own life to save us.

The heresy was so plain that it was condemned almost right away by Pope Victor. Thus, this condemnation took place somewhere between 189-199 AD.

Like all heresies, this didn’t eradicate it totally. Later, in the 8th century we see a revival in Spain caused by Elipandus, archbishop of Toledo, and Felix, bishop of Urgel. These men were teaching a slightly different variation of Adoptionism. They claimed that Christ was the Son of God in terms of his divine essence, but as a human, he was simply chosen or adopted if you like, as God’s firstborn. This variation has been condemned as well. This happened in 798. Pope Leo III organised a council at Rome and there they condemned Adoptionism again.

Why Does it Matter?

So, why does it matter? Well, as I said the Bible teaches us that Jesus is God. We can read that in John 1. But, also we see that the first proclamation of the deity of Christ comes from Thomas, who, after seeing the resurrected Jesus “My Lord and my God!”

Also, the first Christians worshipped Jesus as God. Even the pastors and apologists in the first two centuries proclaimed this to be true. The only thing needed, was a proper agreement of how to formulate this. And yes, that happened in the Nicene Creeds of 340 and 381 AD.

But another big issue is the matter of sin. Romans 5:12-14 says:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

This means that, if Jesus just a mere human like you and I, He would have sinned as well. That totally contradicts the idea that God could have adopted Him because He had never sinned.

And then finally, it makes it even more difficult to understand who is who. This heresy arose in the first place make the two natures of Jesus more understandable. The Bible says that Jesus is both God and man, we call this, with a difficult term, the Hypostatic Union.

Colossians 2:9

For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

So what is it? Is it God senior and God junior? Is Jesus like a child god? Is He from a different DNA? That would be ludicrous. The Bible makes it clear that we worship one God, not multiple gods nor a big god and a child god. Also, we do not worship a mere human.

1 Timothy 2:5-6

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.


The question is of course why many seem to be attracted by these kinds of explanations. I believe it is because the idea of the Hypostatic Union, or the two natures of Jesus, is very challenging.

Christianity knows, like most religions, some pretty challenging concepts. The Hypostatic Union is one of them, but what to think of the concepts of free will and predestination, the Trinity, and the incarnation of Christ?

We all like to understand what we believe. But the truth is that some things are very hard to grasp. In our effort to explain everything we risk falling in over-simplistic examples. This idea of adoption is not very difficult and at a first glance one might even think it can be biblical.

Martin Luther said the followingiii

But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honour of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.

He said this in the context of the six-day creation. Theologians tried, and are still trying, to explain it in such ways that it is more simple and maybe even more appealing to the listener… But does it do justice to that what God authored? Let’s not forget that it is God Who is speaking and that there will be many moments that we just have to listen.

It is okay to study God’s word, and it is okay to discuss and even debate certain topics. But sometimes—and this comes from a guy who doesn’t like it one bit not knowing something—sometimes we just have to be humble and granting the Holy Spirit the honour of being more learned than we are.

Why even Discuss it then?

Years ago a Christian was wondering why I taught about Creation and Evolution. He said that God and His creation is way too big to be studied in such an intense way. Than others wonder why many apologetic teachers want to focus on topic like the one I tackled in this video. They wonder, wouldn’t it be much better to focus on day-to-day life or the second coming of Christ.

And they are right in a way. God is bigger than what we can imagine, and yes, we need to know how to prepare for Christ’s return. However! It is very easy to underestimate the significance of seemingly minor subjects like these heresies which affected the early church and the church throughout history. How do we want to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus if we are not even ready to recognise false teachings. Understanding our church history is very important to avoid falling victim to the dangerous heresies that resurface over time.

Let me Hear Your Ideas!

In any case, let me know what you think in the comments. Maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel. You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video or on my website. Don’t forget to subscribe if you want to receive a notification every time I upload a new video!

I very much appreciate your prayers and support! Please take a look in the description of this video to find out how you can help me. Also, I’ll place a link there to both the Dutch and English transcripts of this video.

God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!


i Early Christian Writings, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, The letter of the Smyrnaeans or the Martyrdom of Polycarp, Translated by J.B. Lightfoot, 1990, [internet] <> accessed 02 March 2024.

ii Early Christian Writings, Athenagoras of Athens, A PLEA FOR THE CHRISTIANS BY ATHENAGORAS THE ATHENIAN: PHILOSOPHER AND CHRISTIAN, Translated by Rev. B. P. Pratten, [internet] <> accessed 02 March 2024.

iii Plass, What Martin Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, 1523.

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