What Does a Biblical Family Look Like?

“Traditional family” often refers to “nuclear family”, but surprisingly the Bible nowhere has that as its model!

What families used to look like

What families used to look like

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22 And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.

23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

~ Ge 2:21-24

Whenever the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into giving a wrong answer, He often pointed them back to the beginning.  Many point back to the beginning, and they point out that a man is supposed to “leave his father and his mother” and start a new family.  IOW, it is not a continuation of the old, but it is something entirely new, as though it becomes a separate entity that was crested in a vacuum.  Is this true, though?  Is that what it says?In America, we sometimes hear the phrase “traditional family”, and what comes to mind?  The nuclear family, with a father, a mother and 2-1/2 children, is usually what people think of.  However, even in the United States, that has not always been the norm.

Even when hardy people traveled before motorized vehicles across the wilderness that used to be America, they often had large families.  It was not at all unusual to have a dozen kids for several reasons.  In fact, my father was the youngest of ten, and that generation was not that long ago.

Most were farmers or ranchers, so having children ensured having enough hands to do the work.  In addition, infant mortality was a lot higher.  My father had twin siblings that died at birth, and again that wasn’t that long ago.  Having more children helped to ensure that enough survived to carry on the work and the family name.

In many parts of China, it was not unusual at all for the grandparents to do a lot of the raising of the children.  The parents would go out and work the rice fields or even some other craft while the grandparents watched the children.  Even I was very often watched by my grandmother while Mom and Dad worked.

When discussing the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, I remember GTA often referred to the fact that Genesis 10 is often considered the “Table of Nations”, and it outlines how nations are nothing more than tribes that grew large, and tribes are nothing more than families that grew large.  Oddly, we don’t often stop to think about that today.

The Consequences

There always are consequences for ideas, though, and the nuclear family is no exception.  When you contrast various cultures, both modern and ancient, to what we have built in 21st century America, there are some things that definitely stand out.

Less Socialization With Other Age Groups

When you are raised in a large family, even if you are out in the middle of nowhere, you are forced to deal with others of different ages.  This means expanding your mind by forcing someone to focus on people that are at different levels of development and have had different experiences.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve gotten the idea that it is better to segregate various activities by age. The most obvious example is school.  You are then socialized with others who are more like you, and thus it cuts out the sources of varied and diverse viewpoints you might otherwise be exposed to.

In real life, you go to work and often have to deal with different types of people, most of whom will not be like you.  Lack of prior exposure to this might hinder your ability to do a good job and advance.

Fewer People, Greater Chance of Loneliness and Self-Absorption

A large family is a huge emotional cushion.  If the family is functioning correctly, no one is left out, and there isn’t a chance to feel lonely.  Privacy might be another matter, but definitely not loneliness.

How many teenagers commit suicide?  They feel that they have nowhere to turn.  The truth is that children often do not want to turn to their parents for various reasons.  The loneliness can become unbearable at times.

Even if not driven to suicide, where can they turn?  Their parents are busy working, and their only other sibling will be seeking their own thing.  The answer is that they turn outside of the family.  They turn to others for socializing, guidance and just to have someone to talk to.

It is surprising to some to learn that the entire notion of “teenager” is a modern concept.  In the past, you were pretty much either a child or an adult.  When you failed, someone was there to pick you up, dust you off and, if necessary, to give you a swift kick.  When you needed advice and Mom and Dad weren’t around, someone was there who likely went through something similar.

There was no notion of teen angst, teen loneliness or “socialization with one’s peers”.  With so many around, and with so much to do on the family farm, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to be overly self-absorbed in the first place.  You worked, and you got the satisfaction of accomplishing something and contributing to the group’s well-being.

Less Need for Social Welfare Programs

Jesus said the poor would always be with us (Mt 26:11), but ordinarily a large family was one’s safety net.  You did not need to hire someone to care for the young, the sick or the elderly, except for those unfortunate enough to have fewer relatives.

How many times does the Bible talk about dealing with one’s brother?  Especially the Law that Moses dictated to the Children of Israel (consider even that phrase in this context), one was not to let one’s brother suffer, be sold into slavery, and even to be redeemed if possible.

It doesn’t seem fair that the eldest son would receive the birthright, or at least it doesn’t until you understand that there is an obligation attached to it.  The eldest received twice as much because he was supposed to care for his elderly parents when they became too infirmed to work any longer.  When Esau despised his birthright, he did much more than despise certain physical benefits. He showed he did not care about his obligation to his parents!

Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?

Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

~ Isa 58:6-7

I don’t want anyone to get the idea that just because someone is a “stranger” that we don’t have some sort of obligation to them, but we really need to examine our familial relationships and consider the importance of them.

Social Engineering

I’m not diminishing the fact that we have engaged in some serious social engineering by redefining marriage as we see fit in this society, but we need to be aware that even the nuclear family is a product of social engineering.  We may think it is based upon the Bible, but there is nowhere that the Bible says we are supposed to have only a husband, wife and 2-1/2 children.

In fact, let’s tackle the notion of the number of children.  Children are more and more considered an “inconvenience” in our world, and we have abortion on demand.  Human life, however, is supposed to be treasured, and God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.

Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

~ Ps 127:4-5

Children are not an inconvenience!  They “are a gift from the Lord” (Ps 127:3, NLT).

When you consider the benefits of an extended family, it is easy to see why.

But … But … One Woman With One Man Who Leaves His Family?

Nothing I have written contradicts the notion that a marriage is one man and one woman.

And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,

And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?

~ Mt 19:4-5

The man and the woman join together to create something new. So, what is this “leave” business?

Consider that Isaac did not leave his father when he married. In fact, it was in order to comfort him over his mother’s death that he married. Esau did not remove very far when he married, else why would Rebekah have been so wearied with his wives? Apparently, “leave” is only in relative distance.

Further proof is that you must consider the family that God is building. When someone is baptized into His family, then when that person marries, they don’t leave God’s family, correct?

Each marriage extends the family.  It takes two human beings to create this new unit of one flesh, and the product of it is children who further create new units.  Just as when cells in the body do not destroy the body in order to create new cells, the old family is not destroyed by the creation of this new one.

The Ideal

Obviously, I am referring to the ideal.  I am referring to the building up of an extended family structure that eventually leads to a tribal structure, which put together creates a nation.

It’s OK to think of the focus, the basic building block, of the society as a marriage between one man and one woman, but we must not forget that even a marriage does not take place in isolation.

Technology has allowed families to spread out and be farther apart, but there is a price to pay for smaller families spread thin.  Older generations decry that “Grandma has become a voice over the telephone,” and rightfully so.

God said to be fruitful and multiply, not stop at two.  He commanded the man to leave father and mother, but he also gave each of us the responsibility to honor our parents no matter our age.

And yet, we must remember that Jesus often shocked the religious leaders of His days in various ways.  He stated that divorce was a serious thing, and no one should divorce for “any matter”.  He allowed for couples to be childless, which would have been considered a sin by the religious leaders of His day.  Then, Paul want even further and actively discouraged marriage because, in his mind, Christ would return soon, and he wanted the Church to be ready.

There are many things that might not be a sin, but they aren’t necessarily the ideal either.  In the Millennium, however, the ideal will become the norm of the day, whereas in this world it is the exception.

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