Jesus versus Family Values?

originally written 1994

GK writes:


The Old Testament stance on family values could well be captured in the familiar passage "Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father."(Genesis 19:36).

I understand your pattern of making dramatic and outrageous opening statements (a la Howard Stern), but they don't always have to be so difficult to believe, do! And this one is not even clear in what you mean. Is this verse normative, and hence pro-incest? Or is it anti-normative and the reader supposed to know that the offspring of the daughter's actions became the greatest enemies of Israel in history? Are the readers supposed to have enough familiarity to know that the daughters got the father drunk in order to accomplish this, and that the father did not initiate this state of affairs? Or do you just hope that they will make a judgement without the benefit of exposure to the whole passage, and the relevant details in the text?

The biblical STANCE on family values is probably better drawn from the 10 Commandments-- "Honor your father & mother" , the celebration of romantic love (Song of Solomon), the nobility of the wife (Proverbs 31), her priority over parents (Gen 2.24) and civil responsibilities (Dt 24.5: "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married"), responsibility of the parents for the welfare of their children (Deut 6, I Tim 5.8,). And all of this is integrated around the central pillar of integrity and commitment to the creator of families--Yahweh (Deut 6.5).

That we don't have many good examples of family life in the bible (but have several aberrations of values, such as in the passage you advance) is irrelevant to the ethical position it holds up to us to emulate...(There would be an issue, however, if Lot's daughters were cited in the Bible as ethical role-models or prophets, but this is not the case!)

The New Testament has Jesus defining a updated set of family values including "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."(Mark 10:29-30, Luke 18:29-30, and Matthew 19:29).

Several points here:

  1. This is not an 'updated' set at all...the OT is replete with similar passages in which one's commitment to God MUST supersede all other relationships (so Deut 13, where family entices someone to violate the covenant with Yahweh, or I Samuel 2, where the priest Eli is judged by God for 'honoring his sons more than Me'--with the attendant de-moralization of the nation). If one's relationship with God is the primal and ultimate relationship in one's existence, then from the relationship will develop the strength, commitment, and wisdom to grow healthy relationships with family...the biblical witness is consistent in this throughout...
  2. Also, in the times of Jesus, as he is inaugurating the New Covenant, there were some calls to radical forms of discipleship. The apostles were called to 'abnormal service', but were NEVER free to neglect their responsibilities to their families...For example, Peter brought Jesus to his sick mother-in-law (Matt 8) and most of the apostles traveled with their wives during their itinerant ministries (I Cor 9.5)...if someone had to 'leave' it was typically due to radical disagreement over basic values--but we are not given the option of not providing for the needs of those left behind.
  3. In some cases, people whose lives were touched by Jesus wanted to leave family and travel with him, but he instructed them to go back and minister to their families (e.g. Mrk 5.19)
  4. But for all these qualifications, it still must be maintained that God must form the core priority over all priorities (for the balance and strength needed to be able to meet ALL priorities)
Not satisfied that he has provided sufficient basis for the causes of violent agitation within families, Jesus goes farther with "And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death."(Matthew 10:21, Mark 13:12, and Luke 21:16).

I am surprised you would use this verse, since it is VERY clear that this is talking about the ENEMIES of the disciples betraying them! More up-to-date translations bring this out:

"You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. " (NIV)

It is truly difficult to give you the benefit of the doubt when you do this with the text: there are really only three options on how you can make a mistake like this:

  1. You knew the verse meant something else, but presented it that way anyway (deliberate distortion);
  2. You didn't read the passage carefully enough, and hence came to an erroneous conclusion (superficial study and/or unscholarly carelessness); or
  3. You were duped by the older tools and versions (out-of-date scholarship)
In this case, number 3 cannot apply (although I have noticed you do make a lot of mistakes because of the 17th-century version you are using!) because even the Luke 21.16 passage in the KJV makes the subject explicit: "And ye shall be betrayed both by parents, and brethren, and kinsfolks, and friends;"

Now, the fact that you cited Luke 21.16 in your list of references, but apparently didn't even include its data in reaching your conclusion(?!), indicates that you either:

  1. checked the reference, and elected to 'ignore it' and to do the 'deliberate distortion'; or
  2. didn't check the reference (just blindly copying it from the margin of the bible!) and did the 'superficial and careless scholarship' thing...
At this point, it is difficult to tell which of the two scenarios happened, but EITHER ONE OF THEM is enough to cast serious doubts on any credibility you might still have with the readers of this discussion conference...

All family considerations are influenced by Jesus' selfish demands to potential followers in "And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."(Luke 9:59-62 and Matthew 8:21- 22).

I love your 'selfish demands' phrase! Wild stuff! I wonder if fire marshals are considered selfish when they instruct the firemen to drop 'whatever they are doing' to help put out a fire? I wonder if the leaders of the German resistance were considered 'selfish' when they called their recruits to place all 'at risk' in the name of truth and justice? I wonder if soldiers in wartime are considered 'selfish' when they chose to help their living buddies in battle before burying the fallen ones? I wonder if it's 'selfish' for a person to place a higher priority on helping the living than on paying respects to the dead? Yeah, I guess maybe you're right--they probably are...

Additional family values are contained in "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."(Luke 14:26----the Greek 'miseo' translated 'hate' means 'detest', 'despise', and 'abhor').

(I already dealt with this in an earlier post--the net was that you were just using out-of-date linguistic data and tools.)

Jesus details further in "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."(Matthew 10:34-37 and Luke 12:51-53)

This is just another statement of the same thing--the basic priority scheme of life...the two great commandments: Love the Lord your God with all you are, and then love your neighbor as that order...Also, we do know that truth CAN divide families and communities, but this fact does not lesson our responsibility to seek and hold the truth--whatever the consequences for us personally. Nobody ever promised us it would be otherwise....

Jesus' curt rudeness to his own parents is revealed in "And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?"(Luke 2:49)

Where is the 'curt rudeness' in that remark? That's no different than saying "Don't you remember I said I was going to the dance on Saturday?"

and to his mother "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come."(John 2:4).

A couple of points here:

  1. This is one of those KJV cases where you are out-of-date with your methods. In the last 100 years, through literary and form-critical studies, scholars have demonstrated several idiomatic formulae in the occurs in this passage...whereas the KJV translates the phrase "what have I to do with thee?", the modern NIV renders it idiomatically as 'why do you involve me?' No 'curt rudeness' there. And even 'woman' is now understood to be a term of endearment ('dear woman' in the NIV).
  2. Jesus uses the situation (and his question) to stimulate Mary's faith. His statement about 'my time has not yet come' doesn't stop Mary from prevailing upon the One she knows can make a difference in the outcome of the wedding celebration. She was not in any way put off by his remarks, but grew in faith. (He often would put a 'paper defense' up before someone, to draw them into the persistence and boldness that accompanies active faith--cf. the Syro-phonecian woman in Mark 7)
  3. And Jesus conforms to her wishes...he allows the action of aggressive faith to move him to action...he does the miracle and so honors his mom.
The importance of family to Jesus is revealed in his rejection of his own immediate family in "...they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother."(Mark 3:31-35, Matthew 12:46-50, and Luke 8:19- 21).

Eh? Where's the rejection in the verse? I didn't see it as you sailed it by...I do see Jesus seizing the opportunity to use their presence as an object-lesson...I don't see the verse saying that Jesus wouldn't see them(!)...and I suppose they didn't feel too strong of a rejection, they all were present as believers at Pentecost (Acts 1.14, 2.1)...not to mention that when Jesus was being executed on the Cross, he 'took time out' from saving the world to take care of his mom (Jn 19.26-27)--that may be a good acid-test of his family values...

Yessir...for anyone desiring to learn about X'ian Family Values, one need only turn to that GREATEST of all holy books, the Bible.

On this, I can agree with you.