Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains more fictive family metaphors per word than any of his other letters. Paul was using the metaphor to unite a very diverse community of people who had become conflicted about many issues. Paul tended to emphasize the sibling metaphors to symbolize how they should all relate to each other.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the runner up for fictive family references. Here again we have a divided church but the circumstances are a little different. Paul employs the family metaphor with a little different emphasis. Understanding the historical context explains why. Joseph Hellerman presents the following chronology for the Roman church in his book The Ancient Church as Family.
Early 30s-49 C.E.
The Jesus movement begins in Rome as a Judean movement attached to the synagogues.
Edict of Claudius drives all Judeans (including Judean followers of Jesus) out of Rome, due to increasing discord that erupts between Judeans who understand Jesus to be their Messiah and the majority, who do not.
The Jesus movement in Rome is exclusively in the hands of Gentiles, who now meet in homes instead of synagogues. The complexion and social structure of the church change accordingly.
Claudius dies, and the Judeans and Judean Christians are free to return to Rome. The long-absent Judean Christians, now in the distinct minority, must relate to a church whose theology and social structure have changed substantially. Conflict inevitably erupts, and the Christians at Rome are fragmented into as many as eight house churches.
Mid to Late 50s C.E.
Paul writes Romans to address specific problems arising among the Roman Christians as a result of the above events. (116)
It appears that many of the Jewish Christians were disturbed by the substantial departure that had been made by Gentiles from Jewish custom. At the same time, it appears that many Gentiles were interpreting the rejection of Jesus as the messiah by large numbers of Jews as God’s abandonment of his covenant with the Jews. Paul addresses this division by emphasizing the idea of Jews and Gentiles having a common father. As we saw in Romans 4:1-18, Abraham is presented as the fictive father of Jew and Gentile. In Romans 8:12-30, God is presented as the common father of us all with Jew and Gentile participating in an eschatological inheritance. The fictive father image becomes a little more prominent.
Paul uses fictive strategies in 1 Thessalonians and Galatians. The metaphor seems to work on many levels. It speaks of the nature of our relationship to God. Because it makes siblings out of us, it minimizes power and status hierarchies, while creating obligations of service to each other and to our common father. It establishes a human structure in the form of a surrogate family that demands our highest allegiance. It makes us heirs with Christ in the New Creation that is to come. Thus, the fictive family has both the power to call us positively to a new form of existence as well as the power to negatively stand in critique of a sinful world order. It is also by far Paul’s most frequently employed metaphor for giving direction and correction to the church.