fam'-i-li (mishpachah, bayith; patria):

1. The Foundation

2. Monogamy, the Ideal Relation

3. Equality of the Sexes

4. Polygamy

5. The Commandments and the Family (5th Commandment)

6. The Commandments and the Family (7th Commandment)

7. The Commandments and the Family (10th Commandment)

8. Primitive Monogamic Ideal

9. Reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah

10. The New Testament

11. The Teaching of Jesus

12. The Teaching of Paul

13. Modern Dangers


See a list of verses on FAMILY in the Bible.

1. The Foundation:

The Bible is the world's great teacher of monogamy--the union for life of one man and one woman in marriage as the basis of the family. Whatever may be said about the time of the writing of the books of the Bible, or of parts of them, the testimony of the whole is incontrovertibly to the point that marriage springs from the choice of one man and one woman of each other for a permanent family relation. Over and through the whole of the Bible this ideal is dominant. There may be instances shown here and there of violation of this rule. But such cases are to be regarded as contrary to the underlying principle of marriage--known even at the time of their occurrence to be antagonistic to the principle.

See the definition of family in the KJV Dictionary

There may be times when moral principle is violated in high places and perhaps over wide reaches in society. The Bible shows that there were such times in the history of man. But it is undeniable that its tone toward such lapses of men and of society is not one of condonation but one of regret and disapproval. The disasters consequent are faithfully set forth. The feeling that finds expression in its whole history is that in such cases there had been violation of the ideal of right in the sex relation. The ideal of monogamic relation is put in the forefront of the history of man.

2. Monogamy, the Ideal Relation:

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

The race is introduced synthetically as a species in the incoming of life. "And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Ge 1:27). But with the first particularization of the relation of the sexes to each other the great charter of monogamy was laid down so clearly that Jesus was content to quote it, when with His limitless ethical scrutiny He explained the marriage relation. "And the man said (when the woman was brought to him), This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Ge 2:23,14). It is well to pause and look at the grammatical number of the nouns: "a man," "his wife." The words of the charter hold the sexes to monogamy. The subsequent words make marriage life-lasting. "They twain shall be one flesh." A dualism becomes an individualism. So said Christ: "Wherefore they are no more twain but one flesh" (Mt 19:6 the King James Version). Nothing but death separates a man from his own flesh. Nothing but life-monogamy can find place in the language of this charter.

There is much in the setting of this charter in the account given in Gen that is suggestive of the fine sentiment which we know has always gone along with love and marriage. That this account should have held the place in history that it has had adds testimony to the fine perception of sentiment and the strong grasp on principle out of which it came.

3. Equality of the Sexes:

Eve, "the mother of all living," comes out as distinctly as Adam on the canvas in the portraiture of the first pair. She is the feminine representative--'ishshah--of the race, as Adam is the masculine--'ish (Ge 2:23). The personality of Eve is as complete as that of Adam. She is a rational and accountable creature, as Adam is. In primitive intellectual and moral transactions she has share on equality with Adam, and is equally involved in their results. Different physical consequences fall on her for "transgression," because she is "woman," "the mother of all living" (Ge 3:16). But Adam does not escape retribution for sin, and it may be questioned whether its burden did not fall hardest on him (Ge 3:18-19), for motherhood has its joy as well as its pain, in the companionship of new-born child-life; but the wrestler for subsistence from a reluctant earth must bear his hardship alone. It cannot but be that much of the primitive conjugal love survived the fall.

4. Polygamy:

According to the record, monogamy seems long to have survived the departure from Eden. It is not till many generations after that event that we find a case of polygamy--that of Lamech (Ge 4:19-24). Lamech is said to have had "two wives." The special mention of "two" seems to show that man had not yet wandered far away from monogamy. The indications seem to be that as the race multiplied and went out over the face of the earth they forgot the original kinship and exhibited all manner of barbarities in social relations. Lamech was a polygamist, but he was also a quarrelsome homicide: "I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me" (Ge 4:23). If such acts and dispositions as are disclosed in the case of Lamech become common, it will certainly not be a long while before the only apt description of the condition of society must be that upon which we come in Ge 1:1; 6:5: "And Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Out of such condition will come war and slavery, and polygamy--and come they did. It is a straight road from Ge 6:5 to "The Koran, tribute or the sword," and the polygamy of Mohammedans.

5. The Commandments and the Family (5th Commandment):

The commandments (Ex 20:12; De 5:16) are a succinct summary of the supreme moral relations and duties of man. The first four pertain to our relationship to God. The six following concern human relations. Of these six, three have considerations of the family involved in them. Commandments do not come to people ignorant of the subjects to which they relate. A commandment to cover an unknown moral relation is an absurdity. The text of the Fifth Commandment is, "Honor thy father and thy mother." This refers to the relation of children to parents. This commandment could scarcely have arisen when polygamy was a common practice, certainly never from promiscuity. The equality of father and mother is stamped on its face. That idea never could have had strength and solemnity enough, except in a prevailing condition of monogamy, to entitle the command in which it appeared to rank with the important subjects covered by the other commands. Before the gaze of the children to whom this commandment came, the family stood in monogamic honor--the mother a head of the family as well as the father. There is no question about the position of the mother in this commandment. She stands out as clear as Sinai itself. There is no cloud on her majesty. Such honor as goes to the father goes to the mother. She is no chattel, no property, no inferior being, but the mother; no subordinate to the father, but his equal in rank and entitled to equal reverence with him. The commandment would not and could not have so pictured the mother had she been one of the inmates of a harem.

6. The Commandments and the Family (7th Commandment):

The Seventh Commandment (Ex 20:14; De 5:18) gives the family. It secures the home. It says that whatever children are born to the race shall be born in a home and of the home--shall be family-born. The terms adultery and fornication have now become synonymous. Under the influence of polygamous practices a distinction was made in respect to unlawful sex union as to whether one or both of the parties thereto were married or not, or whether one or both were single. Such distinction will not hold in morals. All or any sex union out of marriage is barred by the family idea. Outside of that all sex union is sin.

While it is true that in the laws of Israel sex sin outside the family relation was treated as a subject by itself, yet when we remember how early in life marriage came in those ancient days, and that betrothal in childhood was deemed as sacred as marriage itself, we see that even then the sweep of the commandment was well-nigh universal and over what a broad range it protected the family. The family is the primal eldest institution of man--the greatest and the holiest. Over this institution this commandment stands sentry. It prevents men from breaking up in complete individual isolation, from reverting to solitary savagery. Think to what a child is born outside of the family relation! Then think of all children being so born, and you have the picture of a low plane of animalism from which all trace of the moral responsibility of fatherhood has disappeared, and where even motherhood will be reduced to simple care during the short period of helpless infancy, to such care as belongs to animal instinct. Put up now the idea that marriage shall be universal and that the children born in marriage shall belong genuinely to it, and you have a new heaven and a new earth ia the sex relations of the race of man.

7. The Commandments and the Family (10th Commandment):

The Tenth Commandment seems almost out of place on the list of the commandments. All the others enjoin specific acts. This tenth seems to be a foregleam of the Savior's method--going to the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is an attempt at regulation in man. It goes beyond outward acts and deals with the spirit. Its purpose seems not regulation of man in society but in himself. So far as it has outward relation it seems to apply primarily to the rights of property. We have at common law the expression, "rights of persons; and rights of things," i.e. to property. But the list of things enumerated in the commandment comprises the things most common to family life: house, servants, animals. One is forbidden not only to take but even to desire such things. They are necessary to family life. In this list of things belonging to a neighbor that a man is forbidden to desire occurs the term "wife." To first thought it may seem strange that she should be listed with property in house and chattels. But it may not be very singular. One of woman's greatest blessings to man is helpfulness. Eve, the mother of all living, came as a helpmeet for Adam. Sarah is mistress of domestic operations. A wife quick of thought, accurate in judgment and deft of hand is usually the key to a man's material prosperity. As such help a man's desire might stray to his neighbor's wife as well as to his cattle. Even on this lower plane she is still a constituent element of the family. Here the thought of sex is scarcely discernible. Covetousness unlimited in the accumulation of property is what comes under ban. To treat of that matter would lead too far astray.


It is well to remember in taking leave of the commandments that half of those pertaining to human relations hold the family plainly in view. This is as it should be. The race is divided equally between male and female, and their relations to each other, we might expect, would call for half of the directions devoted to the whole.

8. Primitive Monogamic Ideal:

The laws against adultery and incest (Le 20:1-27 and the like) may seem barbarously severe. Be it so; that fact would show they were carried along by a people tremendously in earnest about the integrity of the family. Beneath pioneer severity is usually a solemn principle. That the children of Israel had a tough grasp on the primitive monogamic ideal is not only apparent in all their history, but it comes out clear in what they held as history before their own began. Mr. Gladstone said the tenth chapter of Genesis is the best document of ancient ethnography known to man. But it is made up on family lines. It is a record of the settlement of heads of families as they went forth on the face of the earth. The common statement for the sons of Noah as they filed out over the lands of which they took possession is, `these are the sons of .... after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, in their nations.' Mr. Gladstone called attention to the fact that modern philology verifies this classification of the nations which rests on outgrowth from families.

9. Reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah:

Turning now to a very distant point in history--the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon--we find in Ezra and Nehemiah the most critical regard for genealogy. The effort to establish "pure blood" was fairly a fanaticism and might even be charged with injustice. Yet this effort was ratified by the people--sufferers in degraded name though many of them must have been. This could never have been done had not the monogamic family idea rested in their hearts as just and right. Nehemiah (13:26) unsparingly condemned the mighty Solomon for his polygamy, and Israel upproved the censure.

10. The New Testament

When we come to the times of the New Testament, contemporaneous polygamy in Jewish society was dead. Wherever New Testament influences have gone, contemporaneous polygamy has ceased to be.

There has been in the United States by Mormonism a belated attempt to revive that crime against the family. But it has had its bad day, and, if it lives at all, it is under the ban of social sentiment and is a crime by law. Consecutive polygamy still exists in nations that are called Christian by the permission of divorce laws. But the tide of Christian sentiment is setting strongly against it, and it takes no special clearness of vision to see that it must go to extinction along with polygamy contemporaneous.

Jesus reaffirmed the original charter of the monogamic family (Mt 19:1-12; Mr 10:2-12). It is to be noticed that He affirmed the indissolubility of the family not only against the parties thereto but against the power of society.


11. The Teaching of Jesus:

At first sight it seems a little strange that Jesus said so little about the family. But as we reflect on the nature of His mission we shall catch the explanation of His silence. He said, "Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17), that is, to fill out, to expound and expand. He also said, "For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost" (Mt 18:11 the King James Version), and, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mt 9:13), that is, to rectify what was wrong. To what was right He gave the right of way--let it go on in its own course. When the law was right, He said, not one jot or tittle of it should fail (Mt 5:18). With regard to the family, He held the old charter written in the heart of man, before it was burned in brick or committed to manuscript, was right. It was comprehensive, would and ought to stand. So He stood by that, and that sufficed His purpose. Christ did not try to regulate the family so much as to regulate the persons who entered into family life. This may explain why we have no utterance from Him in regard to the conduct and duties of children toward parents. Still stood the ancient statute, "Honor thy father and thy mother." He came not to destroy but to fulfill that. That still indicated the right relation of children to parents. If a child had asked about his relation to his parents, Christ would doubtless have referred him to that commandment, as He did other inquirers about duties to the commandments that cover so large a part of the ethical realm.

12. The Teaching of Paul:

Paul, who particularizes so much in explanation of duties in all relations, scarcely gets beyond the old commandment, "Honor thy father and thy mother," when he says, "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord." It has always been well-pleasing in the Lord. To be sure there was new inspiration to obedience from the new revelation of duty which came to them in Christ, but the duty was enforced by the Fifth Commandment, and that was copied from the deeper revelation in the heart of man.

13. Modern Dangers:

In modern society the two great foes of the family are Divorce and Migration. Families no longer live a continuous life together. We have less family life than the old pastoral nomads. They had to keep together for several generations in order to protect their lives and their flocks and herds. So arose the clan, the tribe and the nation. Family influence can be detected through them. Modern Industries are very much localized. We should easily think that families would be under their controlling influence. But they are not; the industries are localized, the workers are becoming rovers. When trouble comes in an industry, a workman's first resort is to try somewhere else. Cheapness of transportation gives him the opportunity he desires. So with a satchel he goes hunting, much as a barbarian roams the forest for game, alone. He may take his family or leave it behind. He may be separated from his family for months or years--possibly abandon it forever. A very common cause of divorce is abandonment of family by its male head.

In fact, those engaged in a great deal of legitimate industry are looking out for a better place quite as much as to develop the capacities of business in their own locations. The signs over places of business are few that carry the same name in town or city for a generation. Moving is perhaps more the order of the day than movement. The families are few that can be found in the same place for a quarter of a century. The wealthy cannot stay in the same house six months at a time. They have a house in the city for the winter and one in the country for the summer, and then forsake both and fly over the sea, perhaps to remain for years--traveling. How can family ties survive under such migratory life? Society supersedes the family.

Even education is subject to this malign influence. At their most impressive age, when they need family influence most around them, children are sent away to prepare for or to enter upon higher courses of education. This fits them for something else than life in the family from which they sprang and they rarely return to it. We may not be able to check this drift, but we ought to see its tendency to degrade the estimate of the value of the family.


Wolsey, Divorce, Scribners; Publications of the National Divorce Reform League; Reports State and National, ad rem; Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, chapter iii; Caverno, Divorce, Midland Publishing Co., Madison, Wis.; The Ten Words, Pilgrim Press, Boston.

C. Caverno

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