As we move from the gospels to into the rest of the New Testament, we see a substantial increase in the use of fictive/surrogate family metaphors. I decided to look up key terms used to signify fictive family in the New Testament. Below is an approximate number (very approximate) of the number of times each term was used in a fictive sense from Acts through Revelation.
- Brother, brothers, brothers and sisters = 161
- Father = 79
- Son, sons = 64
- Child, children = 50
Joseph Hellerman (The Ancient Church as Family) analyzed the content of books widely believed to have for Pauline authorship (i.e., Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon) for evidence of family terminology and got the following results (92):
- Sibling terminology = 118
- Father terminology = 40
- Inheritance terminology = 14
In all but a tiny handful of cases, these are referring to fictive family metaphors.
Furthermore, Hellerman points out that 1 Thessalonians is widely considered to be Paul’s earliest letter. There are nineteen sibling references contained in this early book, reinforced with God as Father metaphors. (92) So it appears that surrogate family was a part of Paul’s teaching pattern from the beginning.
We saw how Jesus used family imagery in his parables to convey truth about the nature of our relationship with God, and of Jesus' relationship to God. Paul used the family metaphor in a variety of ways as well. One was to indicate the relationship between Jesus and God but he also used it to explain theological truths about our relationship to God. He used it to talk about our relationship to each other, occasionally using it to shame some folks into appropriate behavior. On still other occasions, he used it as a means of showing affection.
While Paul made the most expansive use of the family metaphor, it was not restricted to him. 1 John uses the sibling language 14 times, James 12, and Hebrews 8. 1 John also uses "father" 12 times, "child" 17 times, and "son" 22 times. Hebrews also use "son" 12 times and "child" 3 times.
But as noted, the most in depth use of the metaphor was by Paul. To get an idea of Paul’s theological use of the family metaphor we can look at four passages where he makes fictive family his organizing principle. We will look at one passage in each of the next four posts. The passages are:
- Romans 4:1-18
- Romans 8:12-29
- Galatians 3:26-4:7
- 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12