Some people believe that every person is a child of God, whereas other people believe that God’s only children are the Israelites (or Jews) and/or those who have genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Which point of view does the Bible support?
We believe the scriptures that follow are the most relevant to resolving this matter. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we are quoting a source that uses a different translation.]
Old Testament Scripture
Deuteronomy. 14:1a: You [the Israelites] are the children of the LORD your God.
With regard to this scripture, John Gill’s Exposition of the Whole Bible states,
Ye are the children of the Lord your God – Some of them were so by the special grace of adoption, and all of them by national adoption; which was the peculiar privilege of the people of Israel, and laid them under great obligation to honour and obey the Lord their God, who stood in the relation of a father to them, and they of children to him,
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible explains Deuteronomy. 14:1, as follows:
How God had dignified them, as a peculiar people, with three distinguishing privileges. 1. Here is election: The Lord hath chosen thee (Deuteronomy 14:2). 2. Here is adoption: “You are the children of the Lord your God, . . . Every Israelite is indeed a child of God, . . . 3. Here is sanctification: “Thou art a holy people, separated and set apart for God. . . .”
In reference to the same scripture, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says,
In the OT [Old Testament] period the emphasis was on Israel as servant rather than as son, because though the nation of Israel was the son and heir, it was to be under governors until the time appointed of the Father, . . .
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible declares with regard to the entire fourteenth chapter of Deuteronomy,
This chapter covers the need for His people to remember who they were and to walk worthily of Him, and be fit to worship Him and come to the place that Yahweh (God) has chosen to dwell in. . . . Their lives were to aim at what was positive. This was because they were His children, and a holy people set apart as His own treasured possession (Deuteronomy 14:3-21).
Summary regarding Deuteronomy. 14:1a: This scripture, which was written after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, indicates that the Israelites were the children of God. Neither in this scripture nor anywhere else in the Old Testament is any other group of people mentioned as being children of God.
New Testament Scriptures
John 1:12: [A]s many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
Barnes Notes on the Whole Bible explains this verse of scripture, as follows:
To as many as received him – “To receive him,” here, means to “believe” on him. This is expressed at the end of the verse.
Gave he power – This is more appropriately rendered in the margin by the word “right” or “privilege.”
Sons of God – Children of God by adoption.
On his name – This is another way of saying believeth in “him.” The “name” of a person is often put for the person himself. . . . From this verse we learn:
- That to be a child of God is a privilege – far more so than to be the child of any human being, though in the highest degree rich, or learned, or honored. Christians are therefore more honored than any other persons.
- God gave them this privilege. It is not by their own works or deserts; it is because God chose to impart this blessing to them.
- This favor is given only to those who believe on him. All others are the children of the wicked one [i.e., Satan].
Also, with regard to John 1:12, John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible asserts,
But to as many as received him – [T]he Evangelist [John the apostle of Jesus Christ] exalts above heaven the godly who believe in him [Jesus Christ] ; for he says that by faith they obtain this glory of being reckoned the sons of God. The universal term, as many, contains an implied contrast; for the Jews were carried away by a blind vaunting, as if they exclusively had God bound to themselves. The Evangelist declares that their condition is changed, because the Jews have been rejected, and their place . . . had been left empty. . . .
He gave them power – The word [translated as power] appears . . . to mean a right, or claim. [T]he Evangelist does not say that Christ makes them sons of God, but that he gives them power to become such.
Who believe in his name – He expresses briefly the manner of receiving Christ, that is, believing in him. Having been engrafted into Christ by faith, we obtain the right of adoption, so as to be the sons of God.
Adam Clarke Commentary says in reference to the same scripture,
Gave he power – Privilege, honor, dignity, or right. He who is made a child of God enjoys the greatest privilege which the Divine Being can confer on this side eternity. Those who accept Jesus Christ, as he is offered to them in the Gospel, have, through his blood, a right to this sonship; for by that sacrifice this blessing was purchased; and the fullest promises of God confirm it to all who believe.
Gill offers the following explanation regarding John 1:12:
But as many as received him – This is explained, in the latter part of the text [as] by believing in his [Jesus Christ’s] name; for faith is a receiving him as the word, and Son of God, as the Messiah, Saviour, and Redeemer. . . .
to them gave he power to become the sons of God – To be the sons of God is a very special favour, a great blessing, and high honour: saints indeed are not in so high a sense the sons of God as Christ is. . . . Christ, the word, or Son of God, not only espoused their persons, and in time assumed their nature, and by the redemption of them opened a way for their reception of the adoption of children; but actually bestows upon them the “power”, as it is here called, of becoming the sons of God: by which is meant, not a power of free will to make themselves the sons of God, if they will make use of it; but it signifies the honour and dignity conferred on such persons. . . .
even to them that believe in his name – that is, in himself, in Christ, the word: the phrase is explanative of the former part of the verse. . . . [N]o man can know his adoption, nor enjoy the comfort of it, or claim his interest in it, until he believes.
In reference to the same scripture, Henry declares,
To be a Christian indeed is to believe on Christ’s name. . . . His name is the Word of God, the King of kings, the Lord, our righteousness, Jesus [our] Saviour. . . . Believing in Christ’s name is receiving him as a gift from God.
To them gave he power to become the sons of God – Hitherto, the adoption pertained to the Jews only (Israel is my son, my first-born) but now, by faith in Christ, Gentiles are the children of God. . . .
Wycliffe states in regard to John 1:12,
Those who received him [Jesus Christ] gained power (authority, right) to become (then and there) sons (children) of God. Those who received are described as those who believe on his name (person).
Summary regarding John 1:12: This scripture makes it clear that anyone who truly believes in (i.e., genuinely trusts in) Jesus Christ as their Savior will be given the right to become a child of God. Furthermore, several of the Bible commentaries that we have cited in reference to this verse seem to imply that Israelites (or Jews) are no longer children of God.
Romans 8:16: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we [those have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior] are children of God.
In reference to this scripture, Barnes declares, “This pertains to the adoption; and it means that the Holy Spirit furnishes evidence to our minds that we are adopted into the family of God.” Since a person receives the Holy Spirit immediately after becoming a Christian (see 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13-14), the inference is that they also immediately become a member of God’s family.
And, Calvin says with regard to Romans 8:16, “The import of this text would be, that the Holy Spirit testifies, together with the spirit of adoption, to our spirit, to our soul or renewed mind, that we are the children of God.”
Similarly, Gill states, “We . . . have the utmost evidence of the fact of our adoption which we can possibly have; we have the word and Spirit of God; and the word sealed on our spirit by the Spirit of God.”
Henry provides the following perspective about Romans 8:16:
[I]t is God’s prerogative, when he adopts, to give a spirit of adoption–the nature of children. The Spirit of adoption works in the children of God a filial love to God as a Father, a delight in him, and a dependence upon him, as a Father.
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible states with regard to the same scripture, “The Spirit of adoption doth not only excite us to call upon God as our Father, but it doth ascertain and assure us (as before) that we are his children.” It is not clear what Poole means when he says, “as before.” However, based upon the context of what Poole says in reference to other verses in the same chapter of Romans, we believe he probably is not referring to the time before a person becomes a Christian.
Spurgeon’s Verse Expositions of the Bible offers the following comments on Romans 8:16:
What better testimony can we have than that of these two witnesses, first of our own spirit, and then of the Holy Spirit himself, “that we are the children of God”? Note that this is not spoken concerning everybody. The doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God in a doctrine of the flesh, and not of the Spirit; it is not taught anywhere in God’s Word. This is a Fatherhood which relates only to those who are spiritual; we are born into it by the new birth, and brought into it by an act of grace in adoption.
Summary regarding Romans 8:16: This scripture emphasizes that both the Holy Spirit, who dwells in each genuine Christian, and that person’s own spirit provide assurance to that person that he/she is an adopted child of God. As for belief in the universal Fatherhood of God, one of the Bible commentaries that we previously cited asserts that it “is not anywhere in God’s Word.”
Romans 9:8: [T]hose who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.
A footnote to this verse in the NIV Bible indicates that the first part of this verse refers to “those merely biologically descended from Abraham” and goes on to say, “Not all Israelites were God’s children. . . . The reference is to the Israel of faith.”
Barnes says with regard to Romans 9:8,
They which are the children of the flesh – The natural descendants.
These are not the children of God – Are not of necessity the adopted children of God; or are not so in virtue of their descent merely. This was in opposition to one of the most settled and deeply cherished opinions of the Jews. They supposed that the mere fact of being a Jew, entitled a man to the blessings of the covenant, and to be regarded as a child of God. But the apostle shows them that it was not by their natural descent that these spiritual privileges were granted; that they were not conferred on people simply from the fact that they were Jews; and that consequently those who were not Jews might become interested in those spiritual blessings.
But the children of the promise – The descendants of Abraham on whom the promised blessings would be bestowed. The sense is, that God at first contemplated a distinction among the descendants of Abraham, and intended to confine his blessings to such as he chose; that is, to those to whom the promise particularly appertained, to the descendants of Isaac. The argument of the apostle is, that “the principle” was thus established that a distinction might be made among those who were Jews; and as that distinction had been made in former times, so it might be under the Messiah.
As the seed – The spiritual children of God; the partakers of his mercy and salvation. This refers, doubtless, to spiritual privileges and to salvation; and therefore has relation not to nations as such, but to individuals.
Gill provides the following perspective in reference to the same scripture,:
That is, they which are the children of the flesh – This is an explanation of the foregoing verse, and shows, that by “the seed of” Abraham are meant, the natural seed of Abraham, who are born after the flesh, or descend from him by carnal generation:
these are not the children of God – that is, not all of them, nor any of them, on account of their being children of the flesh, or Abraham’s natural seed; for adoption does not come this way; men do not commence children of God by their fleshly descent; they are not “born of blood,” but of God, who are the sons of God:
[The Israelites] were the children of the covenant, or promise, which God made with Abraham and his natural seed, respecting the land of Canaan, and their enjoyment of temporal good things in it; but they were not all of them the children of the promise, which God made to Abraham and his spiritual seed, whether Jews or Gentiles, respecting spiritual and eternal things; to whom alone the promises of God, being their God in a spiritual sense, of spiritual and eternal salvation by Christ, and of the grace of the Spirit of God, and of eternal life belong; and who are the seed which were promised to Abraham by God.
Also, with regard to Romans 9:8, Henry states,
[Paul] shows what God intended to teach us . . . . that the children of the flesh, as such, by virtue of their relation to Abraham according to the flesh, are not . . . the children of God, . . . This remark comes home to the unbelieving Jews, who boasted of their relation to Abraham according to the flesh, and looked for justification in a fleshly way, by those carnal ordinances which Christ had abolished. . . .
And, Poole explains the same scripture, as follows:
[A]ll those that are the children of Abraham according to the flesh, are not therefore the adopted children of God; it is not their blood, but their faith, must make them such. There are some of Abraham’s seed, that are selected from the rest, to whom the promise was made, who are therefore called
children of the promise – and of this sort are all they who are born after the Spirit, . . . whether Jews or Gentiles. The sense of this verse is fully expressed [in] Galatians 3:8, 14, 29.
Summary regarding Romans 9:8: This scripture indicates that Israelites are not children of God just because they are physical descendants of Abraham. They, like gentiles, must trust in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation in order to become adopted children of God.
1 John 3:1a: Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us [Christians], that we should be called children of God!
Barnes addresses this scripture, as follows:
Behold, what manner of love – Even God could bestow upon us [Christians] no more valuable token of affection than that we should be adopted into His family, and permitted to regard Him as our Father. When we remember how insignificant we are as creatures, and how ungrateful, rebellious, and vile we have been as sinners, we may well be amazed at the love which would adopt us into the holy family of God, so that we may be regarded and treated as the children of the Most High.
That we should be called the sons of God – That is, that we should “be” the sons of God – the word “called” being often used in the sense of “to be.”
Beloved, now are we the sons of God – We now in fact sustain this rank and dignity, and on that we may reflect with pleasure and gratitude. It is in itself an exalted honor, and may be contemplated as such, whatever may be true in regard to what is to come.
Also, with regard to 1 John 3:1a, Calvin declares,
[The Apostle John] amplifies the favor of God; for when he says, that love has been bestowed, he means that it is from mere bounty and benevolence that God makes us [Christians] his children; for whence comes to us such a dignity, except from the love of God? . . . [T]he adoption of all the godly is gratuitous, and does not depend on any regard to works.
When he says that we are called, or named, the expression is not without its meaning; for it is God who with his own mouth declares us to be sons.
Gill states with regard to the same scripture,
the Father hath bestowed upon us – the Father of Christ, and the Father of us in Christ, who hath adopted us [Christians] into his family, and regenerated us by his grace, and hath freely given us the new name:
that we should be called the sons of God – The Alexandrian copy, and some others, and the Vulgate Latin version, add, “and we are”, or “be”; and the Ethiopic version, “and have been”; for it is not a mere name that is bestowed, but the thing itself in reality; and in the Hebrew language, “to be called”, and “to be”, are terms synonymous; . . . this blessing comes not by nature, nor by merit, but by grace, the grace of adoption;
Beloved, now are we the sons of God – By adoption, secretly in God’s predestination, and in the covenant of grace; and openly in regeneration, through faith in Christ, and by the testimony of the Spirit. . . .
Likewise, in reference to 1 John 3:1a, Henry asserts,
The Father adopts all the children of the Son [Christians]. The Son indeed calls them, and makes them his brethren; and thereby he confers upon them the power and dignity of the sons of God. It is wonderful condescending love of the eternal Father, that such as we should be made and called his sons. . . .
We have the nature of sons by regeneration: we have the title, and spirit, and right to the inheritance of sons by adoption. This honour have all the saints. . . . The glory pertaining to the sonship and adoption is adjourned and reserved for another world. . . . The sons of God must walk by faith, and live by hope. The sons of God will be known and be made manifest by their likeness to their head: They shall be like him – like him in honour, and power, and glory.
And, Wycliffe states with regard to the same scripture,
[The Greek word translated as children or sons means] literally, born ones or children . . . (and is used only by Paul of believers). . . . After sons of God [or children of God] should be inserted the words “and we are.”
Summary regarding 1 John 3:1a: This scripture emphasizes that it is because of the love of God the Father that He adopts as His children every person who genuinely trusts in His only natural Son, Jesus Christ, as their Savior.
The scriptures that we have cited leave no reasonable doubt that all genuine Christians (i.e., people who have confessed their sins to God, sincerely repented for their sins, and – most importantly – trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior) are adopted children of God. There is no scripture in the New Testament that indicates anyone else is a child of God, although God loves every person (see John 3:16). Jews and other Israelites may think they also are children of God, but New Testament scriptures indicate that they are children of God only if they have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
[If you would like to learn how to become an adopted child of God, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?,” which explains what is necessary to become a Christian and, as a result, a child of God.]