02.03.06 Family

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 18, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.03.06 Family

02.03.06 Family. As it is today, the family in the first century was the basic element of society. In fact, it is a critical unit throughout the Bible and has been throughout human history.  A unique feature of biblical times that is different from Western culture today is the extended family.  In ancient times, an individual was part of a family that was part of a larger unit known as a clan, which in turn was part of a larger tribe. People did not think of themselves individually, but as part of a blood-related community.  That is why, for example, prayers in the Bible are in the plural such as “Give us this day, our daily bread.” However in Western culture, people think of themselves as individuals separated from clans and recently, even families. Western culture has glorified “the Me generation” to divine status. Therefore, it is more difficult for modern Westerners to obtain the full meaning of the Apostle Paul’s references to “in the body.”[1] That is primarily because Paul was an orthodox Jew who preached Jesus and the Christian life in the proper Jewish context.

The husband/father of the home functioned as the dominant figure in the affairs of the family.  He was responsible for the welfare of everyone regarding food, shelter, and clothing.  In the Jewish home, he was specifically responsible for the spiritual leadership (Gen. 12:8; Job 1:5) on a daily basis, as well as for the various religious rites such as Passover.  It was his responsibility to teach his sons and daughters the Mosaic Law, even though by the first century this instruction was enhanced by the rabbi in the local synagogue.  In addition, he had four other responsibilities:

  1. The father had to insure that his son was circumcised (Gen. 17:12-13).
  1. The firstborn son was to be dedicated to God (Num. 18:15-16).
  1. The father was to find a wife for his son (cf. Gen. 24:4), although by the first century both the son and daughter had the opportunity to voice their opinions in this selection.
  1. Finally, the father was to teach the son a trade or have him be trained by someone else.[2]

The Mishnah quoted a rabbi whose words have transcended the centuries:

Rabban Gamaliel the son of Rabbi Judah the Patriarch said: “Excellent is study of the Law together with worldly occupation, for toil in them both puts sin out of mind.  But all study of the Law without (worldly) labor comes to naught at the last and brings sin in its train.”

Mishnah, Aboth 2.2


The responsibilities of the wife/mother were essentially to be a mate to her husband, bear his children, and maintain the home.  In an agrarian society, it was common for her to be in the fields with him during sowing or harvesting times.  By the first century, she also had the mobility to function in the marketplace and other areas that would benefit the family unit.[3]

The children had their responsibilities to the family as well.  The oldest son would eventually be the next head of the family, and it was his responsibility to care for the parents in their old age and their burial at time of death.  This was demonstrated when Jesus was dying on the cross and He transferred His duty toward His mother to His disciple John (Jn. 19:27).  For this reason, the eldest son received a double portion of the inheritance (Deut. 21:17; 2 Ch. 21:2-3).

In the ancient non-Jewish world, sons were always prized higher than daughters.  However, girls in the Jewish world were more dearly prized than their counterparts among the Romans or Greeks where an unwanted newborn girl was often tossed outside into the elements to die.  The Jewish girl remained under the domain and care of her father until she was married.[4] These family relationships and attitudes would hardly be acceptable today, but in the ancient world, Jewish families functioned rather well within this protective structure.

[1]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 8, Session 1.


[2]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 412; See also Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts.


[3]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 413-14.


[4]. Packer and Tenney, eds., Illustrated Manners and Customs. 414-16; See also Packer, Tenney, and White, eds., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts.


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