The Family in the Bible

This is an unusual theology book – it’s a collection of short chapters considering a “specialised subject” in great detail. That subject is “family”.

Family in the Bible
Edited by Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll
Published by Baker Books (2003)
Reviewed by: 
 Lynn Alexander 
 Children and Family Pastor, Morningside Baptist Church, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Part One is a walk through the Bible from Pentateuch, the Historical Books, the Wisdom Literature and the Prophetic Literature. Part Two examines family in the Gospels and Acts and the Epistles. It should come as no surprise that this part of the book is much, much shorter than the first part! Of great interest to me as a children and family pastor, and as a theologian, was that the contributors are not children’s specialists; they are Professors and Principals of Old and New Testament in longstanding academic faculties from all over the world.

Unique Perspective
The book does something unique in academic literature – it attempts to appreciate the role of the family as the central element of society in the biblical worldview. It does so systematically, examining all pertinent parts of Scripture. In our current political system in the UK successive governments have also described the family as the building blocks (central elements?) of society. The customs and life of the family are evaluated in the light of the culture of the time. The UK’s own Professor Gordon Wenham writes one of the chapters, on Family in the Pentateuch. This is an important chapter as it sets the stage for the rest of the book. He sweeps though the first five books of the Bible and examines some of the passages we know very well about instruction to children within the context of family. So, for example, the pattern of family life in the Pentateuch describes a large body of people: social order is demonstrated where everyone cares for the other and lives in harmony with the other, in larger units rather than as individual families. This has an interesting application to today’s expressions of gathered church – no longer is discipleship and nurture of faith only the job of parents; but of the “clan”; the wider community of faith.

Challenging Chapters
The reader may find some of the chapters challenging. Reading Professor Westfall’s essay on how Jesus both strengthened and challenged family life in the New Testament was hard going; she reminds the reader of Jesus’ call to abandon relatives to follow after him. 
 Of great interest in this chapter is the historical examination of the role of women in Greco-Roman culture, and how Christianity revolutionised the treatment of women and children; a fact I knew but often forgot; exposure meant many female children were left to die and the end result was a skewed male: female gender ratio. Although not a quick read (as I found I wanted to chew and think about passages and look them up as I went through) this book is not difficult to read. 
 If you like learning about the historical context of the Bible coupled with a desire to know more about family then this is a most definite “dip in and keep on your shelf” book. I refer to it often!