Both the nuclear, extended and spiritual family are a central and integral part of Yahweh's redemptive plan for the human race and must therefore figure highly in any appraisal or discussion of the Besorah (Gospel). Since the home and the Messianic Community (Church) are supposed to reflect one another, this introduction will seek to underline and expound on this reality. This is even more important to do in view of the undeniable fact that a catastrophic divergence has taken place between the family structure and ethos expected by Yahweh and the modern system espoused, promoted and enshrined in the post-Christian narcissistic, humanist West.
Though the family unit has fared a little better in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, where it has proved itself to be both more resistant to Western influences in the countryside (though not in the metropolises), there are nevertheless many non-biblical expressions even in that context. The restoration of the biblical family is therefore a vital component of the restoration of the Remnant Messianic Israel in these the last days and time of the Second (Last) Exodus. What follows here is a concise summary of the biblical teaching about the family.
A. THE TANAKH (OLD TESTAMENT)
There is no equivalent in the Tanakh (Old Testament) to what we in English call the [nuclear] 'family' (father, mother and children) where the basic unit of social structure is the household or bayit ('house'). The bayit (household) was the primary place for inculcation of traditional emunah (faith) and morality.
Anciently and in the eternal divine scheme of things, the household was more extensive that in modern secular times and included not only the immediate family of husband, wife/wives and children but a wide spectrum of kinship groupings and retainers. In the Bible the bayit (household) could be used not only of those sheltering under the same roof (Ex.11:4) but also of much larger groups, extending to and including the entire theocratic nation, as for instance the "House of Israel" (Is.5:7).
The nearest equivalent in the Scriptures to the modern family is found in the phrase, bayit 'av or 'father's house'. The term most frequently translated 'family' is the Hebrew mishpachah which had more of the meaning of a 'clan' than the smaller 'family', being applied for example to 600 Danites from two villages (Jdg.18:11).
Some idea of the relation of these two terms (bayit and mishpachah) may be understood from the account of the detection of Achan after the failure to capture Ai (Josh.7:16-18). The search was first narrowed to the shebet or 'tribe' of Judah, then to the mishpachah ('clan' - wrongly translated 'family' in the KJV) of the Zarhites and finally to the bayit ('household') of Zabdi. The fact that Achan was a married man with children of his own (Josh.7:24), but was still counted as a member of of the bayit of his grandfather Zabdi, shows the extent of this term.
Conceptually, the members of a tribe can be pictured as a pyramid, with the founding ancestor at the apex and the living generation at the base. The term shebet ('tribe') also translates as 'staff', in reference to the toqef or authority of the founding father, and is applied to the whole tribe. Mishpachah referred to a smaller division further down in the pyramid; and the term bayit applied to a yet smaller division, though its application depended upon its context, for if qualified by the name of the founding ancestor it could refer to the whole tribe. In each case, the terms could indicate simply the base of the relevant pyramid, i.e. the living members of the group; or the entire volume of the pyramid, i.e. the members past and present, living and dead.
Observance of the Torah has always governed the tavnith (pattern) of life both within the household and in public (the preparation of food, whom one might marry, the rhythm of work in relation to the sabbath, new moon and festivals with the patriarchal ethos of the household most clearly reflected along gender lines (e.g. Ps.127; 113:9; Mt.7:9-10; 10:25-26; Mk.6:24; 1 Tim.2:15; 5:14; etc.).
Determination of Mates
In the choice of mates certain close relatives, both by blood and by marriage, were excluded (Lev.18:6-8; Dt.27:20-23), but outside these prohibited degrees, marriage with kin
was preferred, as is shown by the marriages of Isaac with Rebekah (Gen.24:4), Jacob with Rachel and Leah (Gen.28:2; 29:19), and Manoah's wish concerning Samson (Jdg.14:3). On the other hand, marriages with foreigners, Hittite (Gen.26:34), Egyptian (Gen.41:45), Midianite (Ex.2:21), Moabite (Ruth 1:4), Sidonian (1 Ki.16:31) and others did take place. A special case where the mate is determined is found in the Levirate marriage law, whereby if a man died childless his next brother was obliged to marry the widow (usually polygamously), and raise up children to perpetuate the name of the deceased.
Methods of Acquiring a Wife
In most cases the choice of a mate and subsequent arrangements for marriage were made by the parents of the partners concerned, as is shown by the fact that, though Samson was attracted to the Timnathite, he applied to his parents to make the arrangements. The usual method of acquiring a wife was by 'purchase', though this is not really a satisfactory term, since the mohar or 'bride-price' (Gen.24:12; Ex.22:16; 1 Sam.18:25), though it was a payment made by the man to the bride's father, was more in the nature of a compensation to the family for the loss of a valued member than an outright cash purchase. Service could be given instead of payment as with Jacob, who served Laban 14 years for Rachel and Leah, but this practice was not common during the Monarchy.
Unorthodox means of acquiring a wife, which did not always involve the parents, included capture in war (Dt.21:10-14) or in raids (Judg.21), or seduction, in which case the seducer was obliged to marry the violated maiden (Ex.22:16; cp. Gen.34:1-4).
Israelite marriage was patrilocal. The woman left her father's house and went to live with her husband. In patriarchal times this would often have involved going to live in the same group, bayit ('household') or mishpachah ('clan'), as her husband's father and brothers, but in the time of the Monarchy the son upon getting married probably left home to set up his own bayit, as is suggested by the smallness of many of the private houses uncovered in excavations. Though the claim has been made for matrilocal residence - Jacob, Gideon (Judg.8:31; 9:1-2) and Samson, there is little evidence that this was the case. Jacob lived in Laban's bayit ('house') only while he was working in return for his wives, and it was the manner rather than the fact of his departure which aroused Laban's ill-will (Gen.31:26-28). Gideon did not himself live with the woman in question, and she was in any case not more than a pilegesh wife ('concubine'). The same is true of Samson and the Timnathite, whom he only visited, and did not live with.
In the Bible, marriage is one expression of kinship and family patterns in which a man and one or more women cohabit publicly and permanently as a basic social unit. No distinction is made between the modern terms 'monogamy' and 'polygamy'. Within most of the societies depicted in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), the bayit ('household') or family created by such a marriage represents the extent of one man's ownership and control of people and property. These households interact with each other in the larger society on more or less equal terms - both custom and law respect a man's toqef (authority) to operate within the households on the basis of the relative social hierarchical position between the men of the households. Furthermore, the married man possesses the privilege of sexual access to the married women within the household, as limited (in the case of Israel) by Torah (Law). The children born of such sexual unions belong to the man and are a part of the same household, under the same terms. Thus marriage forms a unit that is social, economic, political and sexual.
There is no clear evidence for the age at which an Israelite man or woman married or entered households, although it is likely that Israelites were involved in married, sexually active family life in their mid-teens. Likewise, the Tanakh (Old Testament) records no wedding ceremonies that might depict how marriages happened. It is not even known if there were wedding ceremonies in most cases, or if such occasions occurred only among wealthier families. Women may have joined households shortly after menarche (first menstruation) and men may have waited several years before forming households of their own, because of the economic requirements for founding and maintaining households.
Many of the Tanakh (Old Testament) texts depict households with one man and multiple adult women. This marriage pattern is polygyny, a type of polygamy, in which there are multiple women. It is not known if polygynous households were the norm in Israel or if they occurred only among the wealthier households, such as those that are more frequently represented in the extant literature. When polygyny did occur, it is likely that the women were of different ages. The household may have begun with one man and one woman, adding other women as the financial resources of the household of the household expanded. Women's life expectancy was much shorter than that for men, and pregnancy was along the leading causes of death for Israelite women. If the man of the household outlived the first wife by many years, then there may have been a great age difference between the man of the household and subsequent wives.
The Tanakh (Old Testament) uses marriage - both monogamous and polygamous - to describe Yahweh's relationship with the people (Hos.1-3; Ezek.16). Separating from Elohim (God) is condemned (Mal.2:10-16). Isaiah 62:4-5 depicts the beauty of Yahweh's allegorical marriage to the people of the nation of Israel, an image that combines both monogamous (one nation) and polygynous (many citizens) images, which is the chief justification for both forms - the glorification of Elohim (God).
Husband and Wife/Wives
In addition to the terms 'ish ('man') and 'ishsha ('woman'), which also served, respectively, for 'husband' and 'wife', the husband was the ba'al ('master') and 'adon (lord), of the wife, which illustrates the legal and normally practical relative positions of the two. Until her marriage, a woman was subject to her father (or legal guardian in the absence of a father), and after marriage to her husband. Some women, owing to their personality and strength of character, came to public prominence as is shown by the bases of Deborah (Judg.4-5), Thaliah (2 Ki.11), Huldah (2 Ki.22:14ff.) and Esther. The duties of the wife included first of all the bearing and care of children, and such household tasks as cooking, in addition to helping the husband in the fields when opportunity offered. Fildelity was important in both parties, and there was strict provision in the Torah (Law) for the punishment of adultery.
Parents and Children
The four terms, 'ab (father), 'aim (mother), ben (son) and bat (daughter) have cognates in most of the Semitic languages and were in such frequent use in Tanakh (Old Testament) times that they are irregular in grammatical inflexion. The greatest wish of man and wife was for many children (Prov.127:3-5). The eldest (firstborn) son occupied a special position, and on his father's death he inherited a double portion and became head of the family, taking care of family members in need when necessary in the place of his father. Sometimes, however, a father would extend special favour to a younger son, as did Jacob for Joseph and then Benjamin. A daughter did not, as a rule, inherit from her father unless there were no sons (Num.27:1-11), though there seem to have been exceptions in the pre-Mosaic era (e.g. Job 42:13-14).
In ancient Mesopotamia, particularly as evidenced in the Nuzi documents, the practice of adoption by childless people of someone to take the place of a son is well attested, and it was in keeping with this practice that Abraham considered making one of his servants his heir (Gen.15:3). There is, however, no specific legislation concerning this matter of adoption in the Tanakh (Old Testament). Such cases as are reported are either in a foreign setting - as for instance, the case quoted above, Moses by Pharaoh's daughter (Ex.2:10) and Esther by Mordecai (Est.2:7,15) - or else are not cases of full adoption, as the adoptees were already descendants of the adopters, as in the case of Jacob and Joseph's sons (Gen.48:5,12), and Naomi and the child of Ruth (Ruth 4:16-17).
When they were very small all children were looked after by the mother, but as the boys grew older they were taught to share their father's work so that in general the father governed the education of the son, and the mother that of the daughter. That to the children the mother was as worthy of honour as the father is shown by the fifth mitzvah (commandment) (Ex.20:12).
The terms 'ah (brother) and 'ahot (sister) could be applied not only to children of the same parents but to half siblings by a different father or mother (as in polygyny), and the restrictions on sexual intercourse between full siblings applied also to these (Lev.18:9,11; Dt.27:22). Often of particular importance to children were their uncles and aunts, especially the mother's brother to the son, and the father's sister to the daughter. These are usually designated by the appropriate combination of terms such as 'ahot-'ab ('father's sister'), but sometimes described by the words d˘d ('uncle') and d˘dÔ ('aunt'). A woman would refer to her husband's father and mother by the special terms ham (e.g. Gen.38:13,25; 1 Sam.4:19,21) and ham˘t (e.g. Ruth 1:14), and it may be that h˘tenet (Dt.27:23) were corresponding terms used by the man of his wife's mother and father, though the limited contexts in which these terms occur make this uncertain.
Solidarity of Kin
Two main factors make for solidarity in patriarchal times - common blood or descent, and common habitation and legal obligations according to customs and law, and though after the settlement in the land the tendency for families to divide weakened these, they continued to be of importance throughout Tanakh (Old Testament) times. The community of interests among the members of the bayit ('household'), mishpachah ('clan') and shebet ('tribe') was also a source of unity within these groups, and under their heads. One of the outgrowths of this unity was the right of each member of a group to protection by that group, and indeed the obligations on the group to provide certain services. Outstanding among these was that of the go'el, whose obligations might extend from marrying the widow of a kinsman (Ruth 2:20; 3:4) to redeeming a kinsman from indentured service (slavery) into which he had sold himself to pay a debt.
B. THE MESSIANIC SCRIPTURES (NEW TESTAMENT)
In the early Messianic Community (Church) the bayit ('household') continued to play a central r˘le as the meeting place (Ac.2:46; 5:42; 1 Cor.1:16; Phm.2; cp. Ac.16:15; 18:8) and as a self-descriptive metaphor, "the household of emunah (faith)" (Gal.6:10; cp. Eph.2:19; 1 Tim.3:15; 1 Pet.4:17). That image can extend in its domestic imagery to stewardship (2 Tim.2:20; cp. 2 Cor.4:7). The metaphorical understanding of the Messianic Community (Church) as a 'household' is basically the same idea of Old Covenant Israel as a 'house' (Num.12:7/Heb.3:2,5; Jer.31:31/Heb.8:8,10; Amos 5:25-27/Ac.7:42-43; Amos 9:1/Ac.15:16). The household is the primary place for the recollection of Yah'shua's (Jesus') sayings about family life and domestic domestic settings "in the house" (e.g. Mk.10:2-31, NRSV).
The equivalent of the modern word 'family' is as scarce in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) as in the Tanakh (Old Testament), appearing in the Greek translation only three times as patria. However, as we have seen, the more common idea of a 'house' or 'household' (oikos, oikia) is more frequent. Patria, probably better rendered as 'lineage' or 'descent', signifies the historical origin of the household, i.e. its patriarch, rather than its present head. A family might be a tribe (e.g. Ephraim) or even a nation (e.g. Israel, Jacob).
In Acts 3:25, the promise to Abraham is quoted in the form, "in your descendants (seed) all the families (patriai) of the earth shall be blessed" (NRSV). The Septuagint (LXX) has "tribes" (phylai) in the original promise (Gen.12:3) and "nations" (ethnÚ) when the promise is recalled in Genesis 18:18 and 22:18. Joseph was "descended from the house and family (lineage, patria) of David" (Lk.2:4, NRSV), where the patronymic (that component of a personal name based on the given name of one's father, grandfather or earlier ancestor) is the vital point. As this verse shows, 'house' (oikos) can be used in the same sense (cp. Lk.1:27) - also of "the house of Israel" (Mt.10:6; 15:24; Ac.2:36; 7:42, etc.) and "the house of Jacob" (Lk.1:33).
The prominence of paternity is well seen in the occurence of patria:
What this means is that, just as patria implies a pater ('father'), so behind them stands the universal fatherhood of Yahweh-Elohim whence the whole scheme of ordered relationships is derived. Elsewhere we meet the more restricted concept of the fatherhood of Elohim (God) in relation to the household of the faithful.
"For this reason I bow my knee before the Father (Yahweh), from whom every family (lit. 'fatherhood') in heaven and on earth takes its name" (Eph.3:14-15, NRSV)
The word 'household', where it is simply a synonym for 'family', is a unit of society which meets us everywhere in the Roman and Hellenistic (Greek), as well as the Hebrew, world of the 1st century. It consisted not only of the 'lord' (Gk. kyrios), 'master' (Gl. despotes) or 'paterfamilias' (the head of a Roman family, often the oldest living male) - his wife, children. servants or slaves, employees and even 'clients' (e.g. freedmen or friends) who voluntarily joined themselves to a household for the sake of mutual benefits.
The Gospels abound with allusions to the household and its character (e.g. Mt.21:33ff.). The household was an important factor in the growth and stability of the Messianic Community (Church). Already among the Judeans the household was the context of such spiritual exercises as the Pesach moed (Passover), a weekly sacred meal, prayers and instruction. Luke states that they "broke bread" (which he does not identify) took place in the Jerusalem assembly (church) "at home", "from house to house" or "by households" (Ac.2:46, NRSV). This phrase kat' oikon, occurs in papyri in contrast to the phrase kata prosˇpron, 'by individuals'.
In Hellenistic (Greek) cities the r˘le of the household in the establishment of messianic communities (churches) was no less important. The first accession of Gentiles was the entire household of Cornelius at Caesarea, comprising household servants, a batman (soldier-servant), kinsmen, and near friends (Ac.10:7,24). When Paul crossed to Europe, the Messianic Community (Church) was planted at Philippi with the baptism of Lydia's household and that of the jailer (Ac.16:15,31-34). At Corinth "the firstfruits of Achaia" was the household of Stephanus (1 Cor.16:15, NKJV), which, in common, probably, with the households of Crispus the ruler of the synagogue and the hospitable Gaius (Ac.18:8; 1 Cor.1:14-16; Rom.16:23), was baptised by Paul himself. Other Christian/Messianic households mentioned by name are those of Prisca and Aquila (at Ephesus - 1 Cor.16:29; and perhaps Rome - Rom.16:5), Onesiphorus (at Ephesus - 2 Tim.1:16; 4:19), Philemon (at Colossai - Phm.1-2), Nymphus or Nympha (at Laodicea - Col.4:15), Asyncritus and Philologus (possibly at Rome - Rom.16:14-15).
The the Jerusalem Assembly (church) households were apparently instructed as units (Ac.5:42), and this was also Paul's custom, as he reminded the Ehpesian zaqenim (elders) (Ac.20:20). A regular catechesis (spiritual education of adults and children) existed setting forth the mutual duties of members of a Christian/Messianic household. In the domestic code in 1 Peter 2:18-3:7 the proportionate number of verses devoted to counsel for wives is expressive of the delicate relationship in the patriarchal structure of the 'household' brought about by the conversion of the wives. The 'Tables of Household Duty' here (and in Eph.5:21-6:9; Col.3:18-4:1) clearly show the Christian/Messianic ethic within the 'household'.
For Yah'shua (Jesus) the Kingdom of Elohim (God) takes precedence even over family loyalty (Mk.3:31-35; Mt.10:37; Lk.14:26) but equally it is not a means or opportunity of the irresponsible to avoid the filial duty of honouring one's parents (Mk.7:10; 10:19). The 'household', therefore, is both subject to, and yet the context for, the claims of discipleship. Indeed, the missionary pattern of the talmidim (disciples) (and in Luke, the Seventy) in using the household as a base (Mt.10:11) would reinforce the household as a locus for evangelism (1 Cor.7:12-16). The frequently occurring phrase "in the Master (Lord)" is a reminder of the transcendent claims of the Besorah (Gospel). The sequencing of pairs - wives-husbands, children-parents, servants-masters - whereby the lesser is mentioned first, reflects a distinctive valuing of the example of service
Reference is made to the messianic community (church) in the house of Prisca and Aquila (Rom.16:5; 1 Cor.16:19), of Nymphas (Col.5:15) and of Philemon...or possibly Archippus (Phm.2). This means either that the household was regarded as an ekklesia (fellowship) in itself, or that the messianic community (church) in a given locality met within the scope of one household's hospitality ("by households"). When Gaius is spoken of as a host of "to all the assembly" (Rom.16:23, AENT) or "to the whole church" (NRSV), the existence of other household assemblies (churches) in Corinth is implied, with the suggestion that on occasion, presumably for the Master's (Lord's) Supper (1 Cor.11:18-22), they all came together 'as an assembly (church)'. It is, however, not unimportant to note that both baptism and the Master's Supper in certain situations took place within a household, not to mention instruction of wife and children (1 Cor.14:35; Eph.6:4) and that it was from the ranks of proved family heads of households that overseers (pastors and bishops) as well as deacons from the messianic community (church) were drawn (1 Tim.3:2-7,12)
It is not surprising, then, that the Messianic Community (Church) itself should be thought of as the household of Elohim (God) and that as a symbol it should be combined with that of what one might call the 'sacred republic':
The description of believers as adopted sons (Rom.8:15-17) or as servants and stewards (1 Cor.9:17; 1 Pet.4:10) implies this figure. Paul sees himself as a servant of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), a steward set to perform a particular ministry (Rom.1:1; 1 Cor.4:1). In a related picture the writers to the Hebrews sees depicts Moses as a faithul head steward in Yahweh's household, foreshadowing Messiah as the son and heir (cp. Gal.3:23-4:7) of the household of Elohim (God), "whose house", says the writer, "we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the tiqveh (hope) firm to the end" (Heb.3:6, NKJV). (3 August 2017)
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with Elohim's (God's) people and members of Elohim's (God's) household, built on the foundation of the shlichim (apostles) and nevi'im (prophets), with Messiah Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a qadosh (holy, set-apart) temple in the Master. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which Elohim (God) lives by his Ruach (Spirit)" (Eph.2:19-22, NIV).