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Heresy of the Day #6: Adoptionism

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Heresy: Adoptionism

Adoptionism is the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was born a man and later adopted as the son of god. As usual, there were some varying versions of this false teaching, but unlike most others, adoptionism is not named for its inventor. It is first found in the early 2nd-century non-canonical book called “The Shepard of Hermas.” (author unknown)

Its most prominent adherent in the early church was Theodotus of Byzantium whose dates are not known, but he lived through the late 2nd century.

This heresy also is in contradistinction to the scriptural teaching of the “hypostatic union.” The great mystery of the incarnation wherein God the Son was born as the “son of man.” He was and is fully all that God is and all that sinless man is.

We don’t understand that. God simply tells us it’s true.

Adoptionism was largely denounced by the end of the 3rd century and formally rejected as heresy by the Synods of Antioch and the First Council of NIt’sicaea

Key tenets of Adoptionism include:

  • The denial of the divine conception of God the Son as fully human and fully divine.
  • This heretical teaching also has broader implications upon other doctrines such as the virgin birth beyond this concise piece’s scope.
  • Theodotus for example did believe in the general deity of Christ subsequent to his adoption as the divine son.

Modern-Day Proponents of Adoptionism:

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  • The only notable later representations of adoptionism are among some Unitarians and a 19th-century splinter group of the Mormon church led by a man named James Strong after the death of the cult’s founder Joseph Smith Jr.


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