Paul’s Family Of God: What Familial Language In The Pastorals Can And Cannot Tell Us About The Church -- By: Gregory J. Stiekes

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 07:2 (Winter 2016)
Article: Paul’s Family Of God: What Familial Language In The Pastorals Can And Cannot Tell Us About The Church
Author: Gregory J. Stiekes


Paul’s Family Of God:
What Familial Language In The Pastorals Can And Cannot Tell Us About The Church

Gregory J. Stiekes

Bob Jones Seminary

Some authors, especially among the Family-Integrated Church movement, have sought to draw practical implications for the administration of the church from Paul’s family language. But does Paul use family metaphors to prescribe or even to suggest specific organizational structure within church body life? The purpose of this essay is to help establish to what extent Paul’s use of the family metaphor is able to instruct us about how to organize and govern the church’s worship and ministries. The essay traces the development of the concept of family from Genesis to the Pauline letters as a theological backdrop to Paul’s family language. From the Old Testament to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, the Bible appears to present a single “family of God” comprised of believers who are devoted to him, in contrast to those who reject him. Reading Paul against this theology brings us to the conclusion that the church is not a “family of families,” but that the church actually is God’s “family,” more significant than any human family. So while family language certainly has important implications for church body life, this essay concludes that Paul’s use of family language is quite fluid, allowing for flexibility among churches in how they flesh out their identity as the “family of God.”

The apostle Paul uses an abundance of familial terminology to speak of the relationship of believers to Christ and to the church. Beginning in his earliest letters, he assumes that the church is God’s family by referring often to believers as “brothers” (19 times in 1 Thessalonians) and to God as “Father” (multiple times in Galatians and in the Thessalonian letters).1 Paul is

also the only biblical author to develop the first-century concept of adoption as a metaphor for becoming a member of God’s family.2 Furthermore, al-though Paul apparently never had children of his own, his letters are full of references to the parent-child relationship, both literal and metaphorical.3

The most overt examples of Paul’s employment of family language to speak of the church, however, are found in his Pastoral Letters, especially in 1 Timothy. Here Paul refers to the church explicitly as the οἶκος θεοῦ/ (1 Tim 3:15), most likely a reference to “God’s hou...

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