The Hebrew term mish·pa·chahʹ (family), in addition to referring to a household, also means, by extension, a tribe, people, or nation. The Greek word pa·tri·aʹ also is broad in its scope. Jehovah God is the originator of the family arrangement. He is the Father of his heavenly family and the one to whom ‘all the families on earth owe their name.’ (Eph 3:14, 15) This is so because Jehovah established the first human family, and by this means he purposed that the earth be filled. Additionally, He permitted Adam, though a sinner, to have a family and have children “in his likeness, in his image.” (Ge 5:3) In the Bible, Jehovah has since made clear that He accords great importance to the divinely granted power of procreation, the means by which a man can carry on his name and family line in the earth.—Ge 38:8-10; De 25:5, 6, 11, 12.
Structure and Conservation of Family. In ancient Hebrew society the family was the basic unit. The family was a small government; the father as head was responsible to God, and the mother was the subordinate manager over the children in the household. (Ac 2:29; Heb 7:4) The family was, in a small way, a reflection of the grand family of God. God is represented in the Bible as a husband, with the “Jerusalem above” as the mother of his children.—Ga 4:26; compare Isa 54:5.
The family in patriarchal times may be compared in some respects to the modern corporation. There were some things owned by family members as personal. But, for the most part, the property was held in common, with the father managing its disposal. A wrong committed by a member of the family was considered as a wrong against the family itself, especially its head. It brought reproach on him, and he was responsible, as the judge of the household, to take the necessary action on the matter.—Ge 31:32, 34; Le 21:9; De 22:21; Jos 7:16-25.
Monogamy was the original standard Jehovah set for the family. Although polygamy was later practiced, polygamy was always against the original principle that God laid down. However, he tolerated it until his due time to restore his original standard, which he has done in the Christian congregation. (1Ti 3:2; Ro 7:2, 3) Under the Law covenant he recognized the existence of polygamy and regulated it so that the family unit was still kept intact and operative. But it was Jehovah himself who said: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.” And it was his Son who quoted these words and went on to say: “So that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (Ge 2:24; Mt 19:4-6) The record indicates that Adam had only one wife, who became “the mother of everyone living.” (Ge 3:20) Noah’s three sons, who began the repopulation of the earth after the global Flood, were all sons of one father and one mother, and each son passed through the Flood with but one wife.—Ge 8:18; 9:1; 1Pe 3:20.
Under the Law Covenant. In giving the Ten Commandments to Israel, God gave attention to the integrity of the family unit. “Honor your father and your mother” is the fifth commandment, the first commandment with a promise. (De 5:16; Eph 6:2) A child rebellious against his parents was as one rebellious against the governmental arrangement established by God as well as against God himself. If he struck or cursed his father or mother, or if he proved to be incorrigibly unmanageable, he was to be put to death. (Ex 21:15, 17; Le 20:9; De 21:18-21) Children were to have proper fear of their parents, and a child who treated his father or mother with contempt was cursed.—Le 19:3; De 27:16.
The seventh commandment, “You must not commit adultery,” outlawed any sexual union of a married person with another outside the marriage bond. (Ex 20:14) All children were to be family born. An illegitimate son was not recognized, nor were his descendants allowed to become members of the congregation of Israel even to the tenth generation.—De 23:2.
While the seventh commandment, in forbidding adultery, served to safeguard the family unit, the tenth commandment, by forbidding wrong desires, further protected the integrity of one’s own family as well as the other man’s house and family. The things most common to family life were protected by this commandment, namely, house, wife, servants, animals, and other property.—Ex 20:17.
Under the Law a careful record of genealogies was kept. Family integrity was even more greatly emphasized by the matter of ancestral land inheritance. Genealogies were especially important in the family line of Judah and, later on, in the lineage of Judah’s descendant David. Because of the promise that the Messiah the King would come through these families, the record of family relationship was zealously guarded. And even though polygamy was not abolished by the Law, the family integrity was protected and its genealogy was kept intact by strict laws governing polygamy. In no way was looseness or promiscuity legally tolerated. Sons born of polygamy or concubinage were legitimate, full-fledged sons of the father.—See CONCUBINE.
The Law specifically prohibited marriage alliances with the seven Canaanite nations that were to be ousted from the land. (De 7:1-4) Because of failing to observe this command, the nation of Israel was ensnared in the worship of false gods and finally brought into captivity by their enemies. Solomon is an outstanding example of one who sinned in this respect. (Ne 13:26) Ezra and Nehemiah undertook energetic reforms among those of the repatriated Israelites who were contaminating their families and Israel itself by marriage to foreign wives.—Ezr 9:1, 2; 10:11; Ne 13:23-27.
When God sent his only-begotten Son to earth he caused him to be born into a human family. He provided that he have a God-fearing adoptive father and a loving mother. Jesus as a child was subject to his parents and respected and obeyed them. (Lu 2:40, 51) Even when he was dying on the torture stake he showed respect and loving care for his mother, who was apparently then a widow, when he said to her: “Woman, see! Your son!” and to the disciple whom he loved: “See! Your mother!” thereby evidently directing this disciple to care for her in his own home.—Joh 19:26, 27.
How does the Bible indicate the importance of the family in the Christian congregation?
In the Christian congregation the family is recognized as the basic unit of Christian society. Much space is devoted in the Christian Greek Scriptures to instructions regarding family relationship. Again the man is dignified with the headship of the family, the wife being in subjection to her husband, managing the household under his general oversight. (1Co 11:3; 1Ti 2:11-15; 5:14) Likening Jesus to the husband and family head over his congregational ‘wife,’ Paul admonishes husbands to exercise headship in love, and he counsels wives to respect and subject themselves to their husbands. (Eph 5:21-33) Children are commanded to obey their parents, and fathers particularly are charged with the responsibility of bringing up the children in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.—Eph 6:1-4.
The man used as an overseer in the Christian congregation, if married, must exhibit high standards as a family head, presiding properly and having his children in subjection, these not being unruly or charged with debauchery, for, asks Paul: “If indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?” the congregation being similar to a family. (1Ti 3:2-5; Tit 1:6) Wives are exhorted to love their husbands and children, to be workers at home, and to subject themselves to their own husbands.—Tit 2:4, 5.
Jesus foretold that opposition to God’s truth would split families. (Mt 10:32-37; Lu 12:51-53) But the apostle Paul strongly admonished believers against breaking up the marriage relationship, appealing on the basis of the welfare of the unbelieving mate as well as of the children. He stressed the great value of the family relationship when he pointed out that God views the young children as holy, even though the unbelieving mate has not been cleansed from his sins by faith in Christ. The unbeliever may, in fact, be practicing some of the same things that Paul says some Christians had practiced before accepting the good news about the Christ. (1Co 7:10-16; 6:9-11) The apostle also guards the unity of the Christian family by giving instructions to husbands and wives regarding the rendering of marriage dues.—1Co 7:3-5.
Association in family relationships proved to be a blessing to many in connection with Christianity, “for, wife, how do you know but that you will save your husband? Or, husband, how do you know but that you will save your wife?” (1Co 7:16) This is also evidenced by the contents of the apostle Paul’s greetings to several households. Some believers were privileged to use the family home as a place for the congregation to meet. (Ro 16:1-15) The Christian missionary Philip was a family man, having four faithful Christian daughters. He was blessed by being able to entertain the apostle Paul and his fellow workers for a time in his home in Caesarea. (Ac 21:8-10) The Christian congregation itself is termed “God’s household.” Its principal member and head is Jesus Christ, and this “household” recognizes him as the Seed by means of whom all the families of the earth will bless themselves.—1Ti 3:15; Eph 2:19; Col 1:17, 18; Ge 22:18; 28:14.
The inspired Scriptures have foretold a vicious attack on the family institution with a consequent breaking down of morality and of human society outside the Christian congregation. Paul classifies among demon-inspired doctrines in “later periods of time” that of “forbidding to marry.” He foretells for “the last days” a condition in which disobedience to parents, disloyalty, and absence of “natural affection” would be rife, even among those “having a form of godly devotion.” He warns Christians to turn away from such ones.—1Ti 4:1-3; 2Ti 3:1-5.
Babylon the Great, the enemy of God’s “woman” (Ge 3:15; Ga 4:27) and of Christ’s “bride” (Re 21:9), is a great “harlot” organization, committing fornication with the kings of the earth. Being “the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth” indicates that her “daughters” are harlots, also that she causes great disregard for Jehovah God’s institutions and commandments, including his requirements that contribute to family integrity. (Re 17:1-6) She has made efforts to induce others to harlotry and has succeeded in producing many ‘harlot’ daughters, with attempts being made to prevent Christ from having a clean “bride.” Nevertheless, his “bride” comes through victorious, clean, righteous, worthy of being in Jehovah’s “family” as the “wife” of Jesus Christ, to the blessing and rejoicing of all the universe.—2Co 11:2, 3; Re 19:2, 6-8; see MARRIAGE and other family relationships under their respective names.