george hancock stefanA short while ago, some of my daughters and I were discussing the TV show Modern Family. The show follows an extended family with two heterosexual couples, one homosexual couple, and their six children. I have watched snippets of it, but I do not find it substantive or funny enough to watch the program for the whole half hour. My daughters have watched numerous episodes and they find the humor of it very entertaining. While I grew up in an extended family under the same roof with parents, siblings, grandparents, great-grandparents, and an occasional relative staying for a short time, and I was surrounded by other families in which three generations lived in the same house, the Modern Family is different.

About 20 years ago I remember talking with the elementary school principal when my daughter came home with an assignment from her health class. It defined the family as a group of people willing to live together. This was an innocent, subtle shift, of which the Modern Family is the contemporary result. I also remember one of those philosophical statements made about literature by a well-known literary critic.  James Wilson wondered if literature reflects the mores of the society or if the society copies the mores of the literature. There are people who land on both sides of this reflection.

This discussion at our dinner table inevitably leads to a question: Is there a prescribed or even described biblical model for families? Does the Old Testament or the New Testament have a family that has not been tainted by sin?

Do we start with the patriarchs and the matriarchs? Abraham caved under the pressure of his wife Sarah and hundreds of generations later, we wish that he was a little stronger as we witness the conflicts between the Jews and the Palestinians. Apostle Peter tells us that women should imitate Sarah who called her husband my lord, but I do not think that I have ever heard that appellation used by my mother towards my father, from my wife in more than thirty years of marriage, or from my daughters who are married. Moving from the patriarchal era to the monarchical era, we find no better illustrations with David, Solomon, or their followers.

There is a lot of sexual activity on the pages of the Scriptures. We go from the polite way of introducing sex as Adam “knew his wife,” to the very confusing “the sons of God knew the daughters of men” which expedited the flood, to the incest of Lot with this two daughters. Then we read about Judah (one of the 12 sons of Jacob) paying a prostitute, the rape of Dinah by Hamor and the wiping of the city in revenge for this awful act, and the acquisition of wives from the local tribe. All of this happens within Genesis, the first book of the Bible. 

In the Bible, the family is defined many times. Jesus describes the original intent when he speaks about a family unit with one husband and one wife. Then we read the decree to multiply and fill the earth and the entire book of Song of Songs. In the New Testament, we can question of whether or not Mary had sex with her husband Joseph (and selecting a very obscure verse to say that she did not), and hear Paul’s advice that it is better to marry than to burn in lust. From the beginning of marriage in the garden until now, we encounter the intent of God and the intertwining of the Serpent constantly questioning that intent. The intent of marriage for one husband and one wife is questioned by those who prefer same sex marriage, while monogamous relationships are questioned by those who prefer the polygamous structure.  The commandment and blessing to stay married for the whole life of the married couple is questioned by those who tell us that marriage should exist as long as the two partners enjoy being with one another. It is a battle between original divine intent and the modern period in which we live.