So far, we have been looking at the fictive family metaphor in letters where Paul’s authorship is not disputed. (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.) Most fictive family metaphors in the books traditionally ascribed to Paul but likely not written by him (Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus), make little use of fictive family (with a notable exception in Ephesians, to which we will return.) When they talk about family and household, they tend to be referring to actual family relationships and households. Most fictive mentions are in salutations and as terms of affection for specific individuals.
James seems to have had a particular fondness for sibling language. Several times (15) he uses word like “brothers” or “dear brothers” to precede a rather stern command about righteous behavior. The author of 1 Peter writes:
Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. (1 Peter 5:9) NRSV
He makes explicit the concept of the all believers everywhere being sibling of each other. But neither author makes any particularly new contributions or develops a theological case from fictive family and household metaphors.
However, there are four books that do make use of the metaphors in more extended ways, adding some important twists of their own: 1 John, Hebrews, Ephesians, and 1 Peter.
I think it is important at this point to say something about authorship of several New Testament books. For the first two centuries of the church’s existence, authorship of the various books was not a central question. The critical issue was how widespread and widely attested the authority of a particular book was in the life of the early church community. The church did not so much give books their authority, but rather surrendered to the authority of the books, evidenced by their impact across the entire church community. Authorship questions did not really come into play until the third century after most of the canon was becoming solidified.
We know from the ancient world that students of a particular teacher or philosopher would sometimes write works as if the student were the teacher himself, placing a written work within a teachers’ historical context and attributing it to the teacher himself. This gave the letter greater authority and was a way for students to expand upon what a teacher had taught for emerging contexts. This seems deceptive and dishonest to us but that is simply us reading our cultural back into the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman worlds. The main point is that the books are no less authoritative simply because we are uncertain of authorship. Authority exhibited by a particular book within the life of the community was the essential issue, not authorship. What does create a challenge in some cases is discerning what specific issues some books were addressing because we cannot be certain about the context or occasion for writing a book.
We turn next to 1 John.