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« more [or less] on dominion | Main | sunday worship @ knox: return to middle ages »

May 30, 2005


michael lee

It was important enough to get a shout out in 2 of the Big 10 (honor you parents, don't mess around on your wife or husband). It got amped up even more at Jesus' Manifesto on the Mount, when he drew the adultery thing all the way to lust. It's also one of the primary metaphors God used to talk about his relationship with Israel, and Christ's relationship with the church.

Look, I like this Jesus guy a whole lot, but lets not bifricate the sacred writings into two piles, things from his lips (or, more properly, things from his lips edited and and collated and finally written down by the gospel authors), and things not from his lips. The whole thing is the counsel of God. The same spirit that breathed through Matthew and John breathed through Moses.


There is a problem any time we take one side of an argument that has more than one side in God's Word, and focus only on Scriptures that support our side. There is also a problem when we take comments out of context, or take allegorical comments as literal.

I would say that in the context of this post, perhaps Focus on the Family is guilty of the first problem, and the old bill guilty on the second...unless, of course, you are making an allegorical commentary for the purpose of illustration.


thanks Bob - the agrument is rhetorical - trying to make the point, not that Jesus was anti-family, just that the scriptural witness does indeed have more than one side, so . . . when pro-family groups start talking all about 'Christian family' they often leave Jesus right out of the picture, kinda skip from Moses to Paul [and even Paul had doubts]. Meanwhile one of my daughters has just returned from months abroad - family seems particularly sweet right now.

Jordon Cooper

Thanks Bill for posting this. It has been an idea that has rattled around my head for a long time. There are strong tensions between family and service to the Kingdom and we often like to ignore them because of the cost involved.


Yes, thank you, Bill. This is something I've been thinking about lately as well. Walter Wink makes some similar points about Jesus's view of the family in The Powers That Be, where he suggests that the family is one of the primary ways in which elements of the Domination System is perpetuated (e.g. patriarchy and female oppression), and thus must be transcended, even abandoned by some so that they can enter more fully into the Kingdom.


man, i appreciate this blog spot, but i have to say (for what it's worth) that i'm with michael lee's comments above. it sounds rather like you're reading scripture to a specific conclusion you're after. i'm all for jesus, i'm working out my discipleship, but really i'm not sure how to take what's said of him in the gospels as if that reporting somehow trumps everything else. i also think what you have to say about paul is though-provoking, to be sure, but it rings a bit... reductionist maybe? i don't read paul's work and come away thinking, oh yes, paul said it was better not to be married. i come away from paul with the message that it's best for everyone, given the imminent return of christ, to remain as they are, whether slave or free, married or not, christ's return is what we should be looking toward. (but i don't know what to do with that... as i said, i'm trying to learn and i'm a bit thick and slow.)

anyway, i thought it was cool you giving props to focus on the family the way you did--i'm used to people just throwing rocks at ministries they don't like for whatever reasons. it was nice to see you compliment them even while you disagreed. but as i get older (and i'm only 34, pretty young) i tell you, i have more and more respect for people and organizations who stake a claim for something they believe in, something they think is worth celebrating and fighting for. i would wager that none of us know anybody out there in colorado springs, but i'm willing to bet that they are real, regular people who have a lot of crap in their lives, but they love some things and they are willing to support those things and fight for them. i gotta tell you, as someone who has spent so many years throwing rocks, i have a lot of respect for them. they don't have it all right, but neither do you, and neither do i.

anyway, thought-provoking. thanks.


[rhymes with kerouac]

What's a family?


I'd agree Jesus is using hyperbole. Obviously he's not asking us to 'hate' our family or anyone else for that matter; but in comparison to the love which you should have for God it would seem like hate. He may seem dismissive because he is truly about His Father's business.

Clement Ng

This post is quite interesting. Jordan is quite right to say that there is a strong tension between devotion to family and service to kingdom. Having said that, I have some difficulties:

1) Trading on an equivocation in using the term "family" - when I speak of the school family, church family, extended family, etc., the context usually makes it obvious that I am not referring to our respective household units. We often use family in a metaphorical and/or extended use and it seems that in some of the verses (Mark 3:31-34, Luke 8:19-21) Jesus was not, in fact, disowning his family, but was emphasizing the priority of the believer's relationship with God. Thus, if by "family" we mean our community of faith, then, of course, Jesus claimed that everyone is part of *this* family.

This is not to say that only people related to me by blood are part of my "real" family. If my sister were adopted, I would not consider her any less a part of my family. On the other hand, if four college guys move into a frat house in their sophmore year, we would probably balk at calling that unit a "family".

2) Thinking that Jesus was someone for whom domestic life is of primary importance - he walked the earth as a human of course, but he was no ordinary human. Only in a secondary sense do we think of Jesus as the child raised by Joseph and Mary, the student who went to some Bethlehem middle school, the brother who got into fist-fights with his sibligs (hey, it could have happened!). You'd expect Jesus to cast off his blood ties. He had a mission to fulfill, and his mandate did not include marrying a woman, raising kids, owning a house with a white-picket fence, etc.

I'm not suggesting that the verses you alluded to do not apply to us, and only describe his purpose here on earth. Of course we're supposed to emulate Jesus. But sometimes we have to ask what Jesus would have us do. I can't picture Jesus, literally, driving kids to soccer games or helping them with their algebra. Yet these are thing many of us have to do and the nuclear family environment is the ideal context in which these relations are nurtured.

3) Supposing that the Christian Right *needs* to quote Jesus directly - you are right that Jesus has things to say about the importance/non-importance of family. But he also knew that his Father's intentions as made clear in the OT were given to us. The Genesis story makes it pretty clear that God's intended for most people to leave their parents and marry someone (of the opposite sex). Jesus certainly did not feel the need to question that. Why would he?

Andrew Sullivan asked (on his blog) last year why Jesus did not condemn same-sex attraction in the Gospels. But why does Jesus have to do this at all? He took for granted, quite rightly, the divine intentions for human sexuality already revealed in the OT and did not feel the need to add to these.

Jesus was not "pro-family" in our modern sense of the word, but, then again, he isn't *supposed* to be our Ward Cleaver. To think otherwise is to make a category mistake. In our current political climate (e.g. the debate about legalzing SSM), Focus on the Family is claiming that 1) the nuclear family is the divinely intended form of domestic life and 2) that it is the most ideal form of domestic life (irrespective of divine intentions, for non-believers). Nothing in scripture suggests that Jesus would challenge either claim.

Sorry for the long post. I always get carried away.


Loved it, Bill. This has been bugging me for a while too. I think some of your commenters missed the point. Jesus may not have been anti-family, but he also didn't put his focus on the family. If, on the other hand, we want to, lets not pretend it was his position too.

Mike Somerville

Most opponents of same sex marriage cite Leviticus or Romans but I am surprised that no one looks to the gospels and the words of Jesus.

Jesus never addresses homosexuality.

He does, however, have a lot to say about marriage and takes a pretty hard line on the topic.

Not only does he attack his opponents for their soft stance on divorce,in doing so he explicitly defines marriage as heterosuxual.

Marriage? And all along I thought it was an innoavtion designed by the Roman elite to exclude people.

Clement Ng

If, as Mike observes, Jesus didn't put his focus on the family, and, as Bill observes, the Religious Right leaves Jesus out of the picture when emphasizing the supposed importance of families, then what exactly is the problem? According to Bill the Religious Right is guilty of:

1) leaving Jesus out of the picture when emphasizing the supposed importance of families

But, if I am inferring correctly from Mike, the Religious Right is guilty of:

2) pretending that Jesus strongly emphasized the importance of family

I doubt that both claims could be true (at the same time). If the Religious Right is pretending that Jesus strongly emphasized the importance of family, then surely they would point to some verse or theme in the Gospels. But Mike claims that there are no verses or themes to appeal to in support of the Religious Right's position.

I'm not maintaining that the Religious Right could never contradict itself. That would be the case if they asserted X and, at the same time, denied X. But what we have here is the combined claim that the Religious Right pretends that X has a lot to say about Y and, at the same time, leaves X out of the picture when discussing Y. But it's not clear how one could be guilty of 1) and 2) at the same time.

If Jesus didn't focus on the family, although he was not anti-family (Mike's claim) and the Religious Right leaves Jesus out of the picture when discussing families (Bill's claim) then we aren't really faced with a problem. Since you don't go to a doctor to obtain legal advice, you could never be guilty of disregarding said advice.

Ultimately, I think that Jesus was emphasizing how we must elevate him over our families and, in elevating him, how we must go beyond our natural families.

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