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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Family (Jesus)


1. Jesus as the member of a family.

2. Teaching of Jesus on the family.

(a) Marriage.

(b) Position of women.

(c) Filial obedience.

(d) The family and the Kingdom of God.

1. Whatever be the force of the phrase ‘the brethren of the Lord’ (see article s.v.), it is evident that Jesus took His place as a member of a human family in the fullest sense of the word. Such was the impression of His fellow-townsmen who saw Him in His daily life. The reticence of the Gospels about the childhood of Christ is in itself an indication that there was nothing which so differed from the ordinary family life of a Jewish household as to create a special tradition about His early years. It was not till a later age had forgotten the completeness with which the Lord identified Himself with human conditions that there appeared the painful attempts of the Apocryphal Gospels to break the silence of their Canonical prototypes. In the one authentic account of any event in the boyhood of Jesus (Luke 2:41-51), received perhaps from the Virgin herself (see Ramsay, Was Christ born at Bethlehem? ch. iv.), He is seen to be as others ‘among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.’ For the rest we only know that ‘the moral perfections of God were being translated into those unostentatious virtues which constitute the dignity and the happiness of a human home’ (Dale, Laws of Christ for Common Life, xi.).

When we come to the history of the Ministry, two stages can be discerned in the change which came over the relations between Jesus and His earthly kinsfolk. (1) The calling of the first disciples, narrated in John 1, did not lead at once to the withdrawal of the Lord from His family. His mother was present with Him at the marriage at Cana, and after that event He went down with her and His brethren to Capernaum and made a short stay there (John 2:12, cf. Matthew 4:13-16). (2) But when the Apostolic band was complete and the work of training them began in earnest, then He subordinated the claims of His family to the higher claims of His mission, and no longer lived continually in the home of His youth. Immediately after the final choice of the Twelve occurred the incident near Capernaum, when those from His house (οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ) went out to stop Him from preaching, under the impression that He was mad; shortly afterwards His mother and His brethren try to call Him away, apparently for a similar reason (Mark 3:21). From this it may be gathered that they were now living at Capernaum. From Mark 6:3 it has been mistakenly concluded that they were still living at Nazareth, but the verse plainly draws a distinction between them and His sisters (named, acc. to Epiphan. Hœr. lxxviii. 9, Salome and Mary), who, either because they were married, or for some other reason, had settled down in their native town. Some have supposed that when the Lord left His family He dwelt in a house of His own in Capernaum. The Gospel of St. Matthew, it is true, speaks in a vague way of ‘the house’ (Matthew 9:10; Matthew 9:28; Matthew 13:1; Matthew 13:36; Matthew 17:25), but a comparison of, e.g., Matthew 9:10 with the corresponding passage in Luke 5:29 shows that it is not a house of Jesus which is meant. After leaving the family home, when He entered into a city, He depended on the hospitality of His friends. It was this literal homelessness which drew from Him the saying recorded in Matthew 8:20 || Luke 9:58; for it is unnecessary to give these words, with Augustine and others, a figurative sense. It is not possible to discover the precise moment at which they were uttered, as the two Evangelists give them in different connexions, but they must belong to the period when the total failure of His kindred to understand His mission had made it impossible for Him to dwell with them any longer. The position given to them by St. Luke is the more probable. According to him, they were pronounced as the Ministry was entering upon its last stage (cf. Luke 9:51). Now in John 7:1-7 the Lord’s ‘brethren’ are found arguing with Him as if He still lived with them. The incident there alluded to took place just before the Feast of Tabernacles in the second year of the Ministry. From this we may accept the conclusion suggested by St. Luke’s order, that the Lord’s home was closed against Him towards the end of the Ministry, rather than near its beginning, as the position given to the saying in St. Matthew might imply. Perhaps it is not without significance that in the next chapter of St. Luke is introduced another home, that of Lazarus and his sisters at Bethany, in which the Lord was an honoured guest.

The reconciliation which the Lord’s Passion won for all mankind was first reflected among His own kinsmen after the flesh. We cannot suppose that His mother had ever been parted from Him in any absolute sense, and after His resurrection His brethren also cast in their lot with those who believed in Him. According to the tradition which St. Paul received, the Lord Himself appeared to James (1 Corinthians 15:7). This moment was probably but the last in a series during which the surrender to the claims of Jesus had been steadily replacing previous unbelief. Such at least was the interpretation of later days, when the story was told that beneath the Cross (or even at the Last Supper, acc. to the version of Jerome, de Vir. Illus., quoting the Gospel of the Hebrews) James swore that he would neither eat bread nor drink wine till the Lord rose from the dead. With his conversion came that of the other brethren, and they with the Virgin are found at the opening of the Acts (Acts 1:14) among those who were waiting for the fulfilment of the promise of the Spirit. Thus the earthly family of Christ fittingly finds its place in the foundations of His spiritual family.

2. In the teaching of Christ, although the word ‘family’ does not occur, yet the institution is everywhere presupposed and its laws emphasized, as it is also connected with the first miracle recorded in the Fourth Gospel. (a) The pivot on which family life turns is marriage, and this subject holds a unique place in the teaching of Christ. On all other social topics He left no particular detailed instructions, but only general rules. On marriage His words are distinct and afford specific guidance about details. He lays it down that monogamy is not the result of any code of law, but a primal fact instituted ‘in the beginning’ (Matthew 19:8). True marriage rests ultimately upon a spiritual basis, the physical aspect is but an accident. This is implied in the answer to the Sadducees (Mark 12:18-27). No human law, not even though it have the sanction of the name of Moses, can alter this. The possibility of ground for divorce is confined to the case of one offence (or even abolished altogether, if we regard the exceptive clauses in Matthew 19:9; Matthew 5:32 as later glosses on the Lord’s words; see Wright, Synopsis of Gospels, on Mark 10:10, and cf. artt. Adultery, Divorce, and Marriage).

(b) The attitude of Jesus towards marriage was necessarily reflected in His treatment of women. In spite of all that can be urged to the contrary, it is clear that contemporary Judaism assigned to women a position far inferior to that of men. The tendency was rather to fall away from than to advance upon the standpoint of the OT. There woman is often found in a prominent and honourable place (e.g. Miriam, Numbers 12:2; Deborah, Judges 4:4; Bathsheba, 1 Kings 1), but the days were now approaching when it could be said that he who talked with a woman was qualifying for Gehenna (Pirke Aboth, ed. Taylor, p. 29), an expression in which Judaism contrasted unfavourably even with the low estimate of women current among the Greeks (cf. Aristotle, Poetics, 15; Nic. Eth. vii. 7). In the treatment which Christ accorded to women is found the very antithesis of this harshness. This is sometimes (e.g. John 2:4) obscured in the Authorized and Revised Versions by the employment of ‘woman’ as a rendering of γύναι, a translation which is far from reproducing the respectful tone of the Greek. Jesus readily accepted the help of women, an aspect of the Ministry on which St. Luke seems to desire to lay special stress (cf. Plummer, Interned. Crit. Com. on ‘St. Luke,’ Introd. p. xlii). He gave them equal rights with their husbands, implying that as far as divorce was lawful at all, a wife might put away a husband as much as a husband a wife, a doctrine tolerated rather than accepted by His countrymen. A like care to secure justice for women appears in the narrative preserved in John 8:1-11. This story, whether Apostolic or not, certainly reflects the teaching of Jesus by inferring that in such moral downfalls the crime is not always to be imputed to the woman alone.

(c) In another region of family ethics—the sphere of filial duty—our Lord again attacked contemporary Jewish conventions. Nominally, filial obedience was exalted to a high place by the teachers of the day, but in practice it might be reduced to a mere shadow by such vows as those alluded to in Mark 7:11. By sweeping away the sophistries with which these vows were defended, Jesus made parental claims absolute and inviolable.

(d) The family and the Kingdom of God.—Not only is life in a family the normal life of a disciple, as pictured in the Gospels, but the family supplies the analogy by which men are led to the better understanding of the Kingdom of God. In the First Gospel especially we constantly see on the throne of the Kingdom the ‘Father who is in the heavens,’ while the ideal of the citizens is to be His true ‘sons.’ This aspect of the Kingdom is made familiar to all Christians by the Lord’s Prayer. In its clauses are represented successively all the integral elements in the relations of a father to his children, the reverence and obedience which he expects from them, the support, forbearance, and protection which he extends to them (cf. Robinson, Church Catechism Explained, ch. ii.). The exclusion from the Kingdom, which results when they are lost, is exhibited in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

This fundamental conception erects an insuperable barrier between the teaching of Jesus and those varieties of Socialism which aim at the abolition of the traditional form of the family, which rests on the assumption that marriage is a life-long obligation. ‘An association terminable at the will of either party’ (Morris and Bax, Socialism) is diametrically opposed to the Gospel doctrine. Christian Socialism, if it is to be true to the will of Christ, must work for the removal, not of the family, but of those forces which are injurious to its perfect development. But this does not make it impossible for circumstances to arise in the lives of particular individuals which demand the postponement of family claims to those of the Kingdom of God. It is implied in Mark 10:28 ff. that the Twelve had put the following of Christ before the claims of home, and the reply which the reminder of this drew from Jesus makes it clear that the Christian must not draw back even from this if his own special call requires it. It is noteworthy that the First and Second Gospels seem to shrink from including the wife among the objects which are to be renounced, but both in the parallel passage here and elsewhere St. Luke inserts this also (cf. Matthew 10:37 with Luke 14:26). The disciple is to ‘hate’ domestic claims if there is any danger that they may lessen the reality of his service, as comes to pass when ‘not only have we family and friendship, but also these have us’ (Martensen). But such a conflict of claims can arise in the eyes of Christ only when devotion to home ties is ὑτιρ ἑμέ. If a man cannot combine surrender to the bidding of the Gospel with the love of a wife, then he is right to remain unmarried (Matthew 19:12). This is far from the exaggeration which sets up an irreconcilable difference between the love of God and the love of home. In the life of Christ Himself the two appear in their right proportions. For the correct view is not that of Tertullian, who saw in such passages as Luke 8:19-21 a censure of the mother and brethren of Jesus for their anxiety about Him (adv. Marc. iv. 19; de Carne Christi, vii.), but rather that of Bengel: ‘Non spernit matrem, sed anteponit Patrem.’

Literature.—Westcott, Social Aspects of Christianity; Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Problem, ch. iii.; Shailer Mathews, The Social Teaching of Jesus, ch. iv.; Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 68–73 (for the teaching on marriage); Harnack, What is Christianity? Lect. v. (English translation); Stalker, Imago Christi, ch. ii.

C. T. Dimont.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Family (Jesus)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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Family (Jewish)