Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

I have previously blogged about how difficult it’s been for those Christians arguing the case against same-sex marriage because of the difficulty of using evidence from the Bible or our religious tradition in a secular debate.

You don’t seem to read or hear many ministers quoting Jesus’ words about family while trying to defend traditional marriage.

I’ve heard some proponents of the Yes case saying Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Sure, but he spoke about family quite a bit. It’s just that what he said was kinda, well, awkward.

When discussing marriage, Jesus quoted the Old Testament book of Genesis (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” – Gen 2:24; Mt 19:5), but this was in the context of him laying down the law about divorce and remarriage. On that topic Jesus definitely votes NO (except in the case of sexual immorality).

Pretty much everything else he says about marriage or family isn’t terribly quotable in a debate about marriage, whether same-sex or traditional.

Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time. In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first place, Jesus seemed to agree, saying anyone who could live like a eunuch should seriously consider doing so (Mt 19:12).

At other points in his ministry he seems disdainful of Jewish notions of family altogether.

When a would-be disciple asks if he might bury his dead father before joining him, Jesus scoffs, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Lk 9:60)

If you think that’s harsh, he not only demanded that his disciples leave their families, but that they hate them (Lk 14:26).

And, on another occasion, when informed that his own mother and brothers were waiting outside to see him, Jesus’ waved his hand in the direction of his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:34–35).

Clearly, Jesus wasn’t big on the biological family.

 

And this was in a nation obsessed with the biological family. They were devoted to studying genealogies, bloodlines and the like. For the religious leaders of Israel, blood was exactly the way God’s grace was conferred – through the blood of the fathers. In other words, grace was an entirely biological prospect.

But not for Jesus. He taught that God’s grace is transmitted via a person’s acknowledgement of his lordship and allegiance to his community of faith.

As Charles E Moore writes,

Contrary to the tradition that salvation is guaranteed by ancestry or that one’s highest social obligation is to family, he reminded his listeners that the covenant that first drew God’s people together was based not on bloodlines but on faith and the miraculous power of God (John 8:31–59).

In other words, you’re not saved because of your father’s blood, but because of Jesus’ blood. Or, as Rodney Clapp puts it, “It is through a new family, born again of the Spirit, that God’s kingdom breaks into our world.”

Jesus completely redefines family. His is a radically new social order, a welcoming, open community not forged by bloodlines or betrothals, but by repentance and discipleship.

 

He is inaugurating a new family of God, a family of disciples who follow him with their whole lives. It’s a family that welcomes widows and orphans, slaves and freemen, Jews and Gentiles. The church, therefore, isn’t a bunch of families that simply meets together every Sunday. The church is a family.

And when he says that, he means it. Not like all those churches you’ve visited that said they were a family but no one talked to you.

The early church got it. Sure, some still married and had children. But others chose not to out of devotion to Jesus. The unmarried, the widowed, the abandoned, all these were welcomed in as full family members.

And in a cold and brutish Roman empire where all men had three women at their disposal (a wife, a mistress and a concubine), where orphans and childless widows were as good as dead, where sojourners and strangers weren’t welcome, the new social order embodied by the Christian community was gold!

And it turned the world upside down. The utter beauty, grace and solace provided by the new Christian family blew anything else the empire had to offer completely away.

And here’s where so much of our embarrassment in the current discussion about same-sex marriage lies.

Our churches are rife with incidents of domestic violence, pedophilia, marital infidelity, pornography addiction, factionalism, denominational rivalry, dissent, and the exclusion of the broken. We’re crowing about “biblical teaching on marriage” while overlooking all the hard stuff Jesus taught about family.

Jesus demands we fashion a whole new kind of family, the likes of which no one has ever seen before, a task so extraordinary it ought to completely swamp something like campaigning against a secular state granting homosexual couples the right to marry.

 

If only we put as much effort into nurturing the church-as-family as we are into carrying on about this stupid non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey.

 

 

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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29 thoughts on “Jesus wasn’t real big on the biological family

  1. Hi Mike. I appreciate your insights. I’ve looked into Jesus’ teaching on marriage from the woman’s perspective. You cannot hear what he says without reference to divorce in the law which mainly existed to protect socially vulnerable women but which was used by men in Jesus’ day to deny her rights – the any matter divorce. Jesus frightened his followers not only by insisting on fidelity, as Malachi did, but in insisting on monogamy.
    I agree that Jesus subverted family as an exclusive or primary loyalty but I don’t think he was undoing the Genesis model. Here he is pointing to it being lived for the good of men and women and their children.
    I agree we are not in a place to dictate Bible patterns to our society but in rejecting the evidence that the Genesis model (not patriarchal per se) of marriage provides the most secure environment for children and mothers, we have brought great suffering to many. I work both with children and with single parents and see it played out in pain, stress and confusion in spite of many still doing very well.
    I wish we were voting on investigating the implications of SSM for wider society and especially for children rather than Yah or Boo. I would like research into the impact of denying biology for parenting and for child development, as well as the freedom of conscience and education issues.
    Thans for bearing with me.
    Erica

    1. There is already quite a bit of peer-reviewed evidence on same-sex parented families, Erica. Most of them agree that children raised by 2 same-gender parents are at least equal in outcomes to those raised by 2 opposite-gender parents. In fact, the children with poorer outcomes tended to be those who felt their families were seen as inferior by society. Single-parented families do have poorer outcomes than 2-parent families, but then I’m a doctor who was raised by a single mother.

      If we’re concerned about the outcomes for children (of same-gendered or single parented families), then I think the best thing to do is treat them equally. So I’m a Christian, raised by a single parent, and because of the values church and my mum have taught me, I’ll be voting yes.

      1. Hey Cat – would you be able to point me in the direction of those articles?

      2. You know what those studies won’t reveal, Cat? They won’t reveal how SSM parents teach their children that ignoring, even mocking, the will of God is perfectly okay.

    2. I agree with all that you said Erica.

  2. Excellent, thank you!

    1. Please give evidence, Erica, because I have read different

  3. Excellent!

  4. This is terrible theology. Christian faith did not supersede the biological family. It transcended it. It did not wipe out marriage. It made better husbands and wives, better father and mothers, better masters and servants (or employers and employees). Here is a quote from atheist Regis Debray, who understands the Bible better than Mike Frost does:

    “Was not the Almighty destined to conquer and dominate? Was He not always engaged in politics? Yes, but in overturning the relations of kinship, this God, who was no longer ethnic but elective, was no longer the administrator of a heritage but a pioneer of the unknown. We are all eligible—’without consideration of race, gender or income.’ The Only God of the chosen people (with plurality in its internal life) excluded. This one allowed for inclusion. That reversal was perhaps, in the itinerary of our civilisation, the baptism of the world as will and representation. The moment from which the West would be able to think of the social bond as something to be decided, not preserved. From which the institution of communal life would no longer be a matter of tribe—city, clan or family—but of choice, in the privacy of one’s own conscience (and, one day, the voting booth). The moment when, for each individual, the future ceased to be deduced from the past. When history became something to be invented ex nihilo.

    Thereafter, nature would no longer dictate the law. Joseph did not choose the baptismal name of Jesus. One is a Jew by one’s mother, but one can be converted at any age, and without asking for the family’s advice. And the second birth, baptism, is superior to the first. As spirit is to flesh. With this God freed from the enclave, being-together was no longer founded on bonds of blood, since kinship by flesh was replaced by spiritual affiliation. ‘Whosoever loves father or mother more than me is not worhty of me’ (Matthew 10:37). A reversal of ‘natural’ hierarchies: family bonds, those of the law, unworthy of an individual, are to disappear in favour of the community of faith. Chains to be broken. We didn’t realise it, but Gide’s ‘Families-I-hate-you’ and Breton’s ‘Let-it-all-go’ are signed Jesus Christ: ‘Whosoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children … cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26). The true fraternity will be the voluntary one, the ekklesia. One does not inherit; one is co-opted. ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ says Jesus, pointing to his disciples. ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ (Matthew 12:46-50). And Tertullian could affirm, quite justifiably, that Christians were the most free of men, since they alone could choose their Father—maybe against their human mother. Did not Jesus affect not to recognise his mother and brothers when they came to meet him?

    The defenders of the sacred bonds of family would do well to take a second look before calling themselves ‘Christians.’ Neither Jesus nor John the Baptist founded a home of his own. And the Son of Man showed no particular respect for his mother: ‘Woman, what is there between you and me?’ (John 2:3) My ‘beloved mother’, an ideal that would actually be imposed only in the Middle Ages (along with the colour blue), was not his style—he who would form a family only with those who followed the will of God, voluntarily. For God’s design is accomplished through human action. Christianity ‘disconnected’ the family from the great sacred circuits by plugging every believer directly into a source of grace independent of his progenitors and compatriots. Your race and ancestors matter little to me provided that you believe in Christ. If you become a monk, you will forget the family name. If you become a priest it will be forgotten for you There are lineages of rabbis; there are no priestly lineages. That is the good news within the Good News: no more heredity.”

    The key here is “without consideration of race, gender or income,” not the abolition of these things. Being more loyal to Christ than to our family members makes us better family members. It does not distort or erase God’s plan and intention for human sexuality. To interpret Jesus’ words this way demonstrates exactly how misguided Mike Frost is. Like the “Balaam” and “Jezebel” in the letters to the pastors at Pergamum and Thyatira, he is causing God’s children to commit sexual immorality. He is thus a false teacher, and is to be excommunicated until he repents.

    1. Aw, you got all worked up in high dudgeon, and called me “misguided” and said I have “terrible theology” and called on me to be “excommunicated” and all, but didn’t bother to actually read my article very closely. Embarrassing for you. Because I don’t actually say the Christian faith “superseded” the biological family. In fact, I’m saying it transcended it. Late in the piece (though you might not have read that far), I explain that Christians continued to be married and have children, but they also saw the church as their extended family, which included the religiously celibate, orphans, and widows, and others.

      1. Mike, you missed my point, and it seems missed your own point. Why did you write this article? To back away from the issue at hand, or at least divert attention away from it.
        Your article was shared with me separately by two young people who are struggling with same sex attraction. It seems that what you wrote was seen by them as a loophole. This means your lack of clarity on the ‘family’ argument against same sex marriage is extremely unhelpful for those who are seeking the truth on this issue.
        Yes, you mention families later on, but there are no Christians who would deny that the family of God is the eternal family. But unlike you, they don’t see any reason why that would mean using the Bible’s teaching on marriage and family somehow makes it difficult to argue against same sex marriage. How does the fact that human families are secondary to God’s family make it difficult to argue against same sex marriage in any way whatsoever? It doesn’t. Do human families not exist in the secular order of things (which is under the rule of Christ anyway)? Is the legislation of same sex marriage not just as destructive to “secular” families as it is to Christian ones? Does the current progressive ideology not contradict biology in the secular world as well as in the Church? Although you muster a lot of biblical truth, your attempt to use that truth to attack the arguments against SSM simply show how deluded and disconnected you are from reality – or at least from sound logic. That is why your theology is terrible.
        So, what is your actual point? Your purpose seems to be dismissing the very real short term and long term threats faced by families and children in nations where same sex marriage has been legalised. Just like you, the devil will flood us with truth to float a single lie that will bring us undone. Yes, there are many other issues that the Church must face and indeed is facing, however imperfectly. But the issue of the day is the legalisation of SSM and the resulting lack of free speech for Christian teaching and testimony, redefinition of “children” and “parent” as rights “conferred” by the state and subsequent loss of autonomy of the biological family, the possible removal of “father” and “mother” from birth certificates, the loss of parental rights over what their children are taught in school concerning gender and sexual behaviour, and the possibility that religious couples will no longer be able to adopt children, being deemed an “unsuitable environment” for child rearing. These problems are not hypothetical. They are all occurring right now in countries where SSM has been legalised. Why would you not mention these facts? Where exceptions for religious people were promised or even legislation, they are now being undermined and even repealed. This is the case in Scandinavia, Canada, the UK, and increasingly in the USA since legalisation. So to back off on this one like a threatened invertebrate while diverting attention to other issues is not helpful. This really is a crucial issue and you have totally dropped the ball. People need clarity and you offer them sleight of hand. That is why I condemned your article. My point stands. I’m not arguing against the truth you presented but your conclusion. The sheep need to be protected from you. The Bible is clear on the issue of marriage and family, so your attempt to muddy that clarity with your disingenuous ‘focus’ on discipleship is deceptive and dangerous.
        Jesus asked His disciples to allow the children to be brought to Him. This is not because those children were special in any way, but because Jesus is a king with whom children are safe. The Herods slaughtered the children of Israel, then they slaughtered the children of God, the first century martyrs. Our own culture murders millions of children in the womb, and is now attempting to destroy them through sexualising them (grooming them for promiscuity) in government schools, and encouraging and funding “self harm” through an unscientific doctrine of gender fluidity. Then, anyone who will not bow to this agenda will be marginalised and persecuted by these totalitarians. Legalising SSM is only one step in the process of destroying what remains of our culture, yet from what is happening elsewhere it is clear that such legislation is the cork in a bottle of lethal poison. It is the duty of rulers – including Christian ones – to testify against evil and also to restrain it. Right now, we need Christian leaders who have a spine, not those who “offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound, (who) give assurances of peace when there is no peace.” Perhaps you mean well, and I should give you the benefit of the doubt, but if so, you lack spiritual discernment. Either way, you are being no help to the sheep or to the Christian cause on this issue.

        1. I don’t agree. Explain to me how what I wrote was wrong. Did Jesus redefine the family as the community of his followers? Did he shatter Israel’s obsession with bloodlines and geographic boundaries? Did he incorporate the single, the widowed and the orphan into a new family of God? Your critique isn’t based on what I wrote but on what you fear others might think.

  5. Mike, hey. It’s good to see an article reminding us about how one becomes a part of the family of God. But just a quick clarifying point for me so as to get you to know you as an author. Are you saying that Jesus endorsed (overtly or not) the definition of marriage to include same sex?

    1. No.

      1. I am not really interested in what Jesus might have thought about same sex marriage, Mike… he lived in a time much different than ours and although I am sure there were gay people around back then, and perhaps even within his own disciples. it evidently wasn’t that important to him. My question is to you. Do you endorse and support same sex marriages in your new family?

        1. SSM is illegal in my country. And frankly you should care more about what Jesus thinks than what I think.

          1. You didn’t answer the question Mike… fashioning a whole new kind of family has nothing to do with legal status in your country. I am sure you know of gay couples… are they welcome in your new family? For the record, I am now an Anti-theist and while I still appreciate many of the teachings of Jesus… I don’t believe he was any more enlightened than any of us and therefore what you think is important because you are the Jesus of Now.

      2. I know I am late to the convo, but, ya know, the more I grow in Christ, the more I am secure with not having all the answers.

        Shame on us if our theology is not dynamic and constantly growing deeper.

        Shame on us if we believe we know the heart of God.

        As I grow in my relationship with Christ, it becomes more clear to me that my finite understand is and will not be able to grasp the completeness of the Creator, and I am OK with that.

        I think we all need to relax, and be OK with not thinking we have it all figured out.

        1. Sorry… my finite understanding…

          1. Since my initial reply yesterday I have been thinking… as we humbly acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, there are things we can and are called to do; treat everyone with dignity and respect; allow the power of the Spirit to convict people as to what is sinful; and love unconditionally.

            If love and acceptance in Jesus’ kingdom are based on condition, then we are all in sorry shape. Let’s all be a bit more like Jesus and exude condition-less love.

            Oh, and my main question to us all regarding SSM is: if it is allowed does it compromise the integrity of the Gospel? This is a really important question. Does the Gospel crumble under the allowance of SSM? I personally believe the Gospel is much bigger and more powerful than that. The good news has nothing to do with sex. I think at times in our highly sexed society we put much more emphasis on sex than Jesus or our heavenly Father would or does.

            This is about love and inclusion, just like Jesus’ gospel is a loving inclusive gospel. Yes, the gospel does transform us, but lets allow the mighty power of the Spirit to do that hard work and stop judging people based on sexual orientation or calling people heretics, or calling for excommunication!

          2. Since my initial reply yesterday I have been thinking… as we humbly acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, there are things we can and are called to do; treat everyone with dignity and respect; allow the power of the Spirit to convict people as to what is sinful; and love unconditionally.

            If love and acceptance in Jesus’ kingdom are based on condition, then we are all in sorry shape. Let’s all be a bit more like Jesus and exude boundless love.

            Oh, and my main question to us all regarding SSM is: if it is allowed does it compromise the integrity of the Gospel? This is a really important question. Does the Gospel crumble under the allowance of SSM? I personally believe the Gospel is much bigger and more powerful than that. The good news has nothing to do with sex. I think at times in our highly sexualized society we put much more emphasis on monogamous sex than Jesus ever did. Why do we care so much about what is happening in the privacy of other people’s bedrooms… yuck!

            This is about love and inclusion, just like Jesus’ gospel is a loving inclusive gospel that welcomes those on the margins. Yes, the gospel does transform us, but lets allow the mighty power of the Spirit to do that hard work and stop judging people based on sexual orientation or calling people heretics, or calling for excommunication! This is a non-essential issues that has become a hay day for the evil one, and we mustn’t allow this to divide the body of Christ!

  6. It is by the power of God that we can live and experience and witness transformation from chaos to peace,the peace Jesus brought to All mankind.

  7. Thanks Mike for your latest blog, which I accessed through a Facebook friend’s post. I totally agree that the bulk of Jesus’ teaching on family emphasises the priority of the kingdom family over early families. That said, it is a bit of a leap then to say “Jesus wasn’t big on the biological family,” as if it was not at all important to him. For one thing, Jesus words and actions need to be understood in the context of first century Judaism and his own interpretive statements about his mission. Part of his mission was to affirm and fulfil the Old Covenant (Mt.5:17), which of course upholds a set of values with regards to marriage, family and sexuality. While there are obvious differences between the Old and New Covenants, where Jesus did not specifically overturn the prevailing Jewish worldview in which he lived (for an example of “this overturning” we could go to where Jesus declared all foods unclean in Mark 7:19), surely the presumption has to be that he saw the Old in continuity with the New. We see Jesus assuming the importance of the biological family in his teaching on marriage and divorce, his insistence on honouring father and mother (to go to Mark 7 again) and parables including the famous Prodigal Son. The other big issue with the statement that Jesus wasn’t big on the biological family is that it assumes that later revelation on this topic by way of the apostles is not truly a reflection of the mind of Christ. Yet Jesus promised the apostles “he would lead them into all truth” (John 16:12). In Matthew’s Great Commission, Jesus commands his disciples to teach the nations/disciples “everything I have commanded you,” which we come to understand and appreciate through the rest of the New Testament.

    1. Yeah, maybe the title has thrown a few people. As I say in the article, Jesus affirms the continuity of marriage in his teaching on divorce, and the early church continued to practice marriage while at the same time including widows and orphans in their church as a family.

  8. I’ve been struck recently by how much our own community influences how we read scripture. Living in a area where I am surrounded by South Asians and Africans family is a really big deal. Becoming a Christian from a Hindu background is usually seen as a betrayal of your family. As a Westerner I find myself instinctively wanting to point to the gospel passages you have quoted here Mike. However, I am frequently reminded by my South Asian friends that (as you say) the culture into which Jesus spoke was much more similar to theirs than it is to mine. While they are challenged by the words of Jesus they also want me to concede that my Western individualism is pushing me to privilege these sayings above the more pro biological family stuff. As you say, it is not either / or but both / and.

  9. Thanks to my father who informed me concerning this blog, this web site is genuinely amazing.

    1. Top 10- Mike’s a good guy, albeit his edge and passion might not be to the liking of some. He has a huge heart for Jesus and Mike says a lot of stuff people don’t like.:-) I pray for more courage and wisdom for him, so should you! He is a wonderful storyteller and visionary. So, stay tuned to his blog!

  10. Wasn’t Jesus using hyperbole in Luke 14:26, to make the point that following him was to come first in the believer’s affections?

  11. “Jesus himself didn’t marry or father children, a highly unusual (indeed suspect) choice at that time.”

    Many scholars and theologians agree that it was likely the case that Jesus was married but that it wasn’t recorded. Indeed many apocryphal accounts take note of Jesus’ relation to Mary Magdalene as having likely been his wife. Jesus was also a Rabbi and to be a Rabbi you need to be married.

    “In fact, when his disciples moaned about his harsh teaching on divorce, saying maybe it’d be easier never to marry in the first place, Jesus seemed to agree, saying anyone who could live like a eunuch should seriously consider doing so (Mt 19:12).”

    Jesus’ answer to his apostles listed in Mt 19:12 was not rebuking marriage, it was acknowledging that marriage is a large responsibility and those who are fearful of not being good husbands should not get married.

    “When a would-be disciple asks if he might bury his dead father before joining him, Jesus scoffs, ‘Leave the dead to bury their own dead.’ (Lk 9:60) If you think that’s harsh, he not only demanded that his disciples leave their families, but that they hate them (Lk 14:26).”

    This was in reference to those who would rather obey their families whims than risk chastisement from their family for doing so. In Matthew 10:34-37 when Christ says that he will cause families to be set against each other, he’s not saying that this will just inherently be the case for no reason in particular, but that it be done because families will not always agree on belief and that it is better to accept Jesus than to appease your family.

    “And, on another occasion, when informed that his own mother and brothers were waiting outside to see him, Jesus’ waved his hand in the direction of his disciples and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mark 3:34–35).”

    Doing the will of God reunites you in the company of your heavenly father, and by relation allows you to be the sibling of Jesus. If anything he’s using a cutesy example of how he has his actual siblings, but also that of having spiritual siblings.

    “As Charles E Moore writes, Contrary to the tradition that salvation is guaranteed by ancestry or that one’s highest social obligation is to family, he reminded his listeners that the covenant that first drew God’s people together was based not on bloodlines but on faith and the miraculous power of God (John 8:31–59). In other words, you’re not saved because of your father’s blood, but because of Jesus’ blood. Or, as Rodney Clapp puts it, It is through a new family, born again of the Spirit, that God’s kingdom breaks into our world.”

    The scripture Charles E Moore is quoting from refers to the fact that your birth right as an Israelite is revoked if you do not keep God’s law.

    The rest of your article is taking assumptions and projection and blowing it out of proportion. Another thing you seem to not understand is that Jesus Christ as Lord was the same God of the Old Testament as he was of the new. Just because Jesus while alive didn’t feel the need to preach against homosexuality doesn’t mean he didn’t condemn it. Homosexuality was also condemned by his apostle Paul as prophetic revelation from the Lord when Paul condemned sexual immorality, including, but not limited to, homosexuality.

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