What Is a Family?


It sounds so basic that it seems like a stupid question. Anyone knows what a family is — a mom and a dad and kids. OK, an extended family includes grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many others who are all biologically related in some way. This picture is my sister, her four kids with husbands and their kids. What about blended families? Are step-children and siblings family if they are not biologically related but only legally? How about adopted children? They are certainly considered family because they are legally defined as family. So what happens when our laws change to include same sex marriages and they adopt children? Now we begin to ramp up and say that legally defined family doesn’t make them real family. Enough confusion? Our Sunday School class is wisely returning to God’s basic design, intension and purpose of humankind, and the design of marriage and of family. Last week we unpacked three very fundamental principles:

PRINCIPLE 1: We are “image-bearers” of God. I was created for this purpose, to bear His image by reflecting His character.   The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  We don’t glorify God by simply doing our best.

trinity.gifPRINCIPLE 2: The primary human relationship is between a man and a woman. The unity between a husband and his wife is basically a Trinitarian concept. So we reflect His character in relationship because He is relational at His Trinitarian core. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to one another in the context of total and perfect unity. So if we are to glorify Him, we reflect his character by relating intimately to one another in the context of unity. “One flesh” is more than sexual union. It is a reflection of God’s character in a Trinitarian way when two equal entities become one thing. The role of marriage comes before our roles in marriage.

PRINCIPLE 3: All relationship language of scripture applies to families. For example, Romans 12:9-21 talks about Christians being devoted to one another, contributing the needs of others, rejoicing with others, and responding in peace even when we have been offended, to name a few. All of these “one-another” guidelines apply to family interaction.

These principles don’t resolve the debate and they don’t solve all the problems associated with our confusion. But they do indeed lay a strong foundation that we can build on. I am thankful to Dr. Mark Fulmer for offering us such a substantive lesson.

Each Spring, I teach a class on Counseling and Civil Law. Before we explore the laws relating to divorce and marriage, we spend about a month exploring this: God’s purpose and intent for marriage and family. We can’t begin to understand how to evaluate the health of a family until we understand the beginning of the design.


4 Responses to What Is a Family?

  1. susan says:

    Hi Dr.Jagers!
    i can finally visit your blog from here!! –through some special agent..so excited! i am looking forward to reading more of your excellent posts!

  2. Michael Leach says:

    Hello Lee and other Bloggers –

    Your opening statement caught me – “It sounds so basic that it seems like a stupid question. Anyone knows what a family is — a mom and a dad and kids.”

    I’d like to weigh in on the discussion in two ways.

    As social science has helped us understand, we live within a cultural-time dependent context that shapes our use and understanding of language. For many of “us”, who are included in your “anyone knows”, we have traditionaly NOT defined family as a mom and dad. Your cultural context is evidenced by the use of “extended family,” which then defines family as nuclear, or as mom/dad/children. Many cultures that have resided in the US for many generations have never had and still don’t define family in this nuclear way, but has always included self-other relationships far beyond parents and sibling, aunts/uncles and cousins. For example, in many African American communities, close and intimate neighbors are considered family – often referred to as Play Mommas, or cousins. This is a different cultural context, thus a different understanding of family. I can imagine them saying, “It sounds so basic that it seems like a stupid question. Anyone knows what a family is — anyone you are close too.” This leads me to my other point.

    Christ’s reiteration of the 2nd Commandment, parables of the Good-Samaritan, and other passages, in my opinion, are essential teachings to inform any discussion about family, in social sciences, theology, or the integration of the two. I draw from these passages that my answer to who my neighbor is, is more telling of how fully and radically I am willing to let the Gospel penetrate my soul and mind, than the answer to who/what is my/a family. When these passages are not integrated into this dialogue, I think we are in danger of moving toward clanish/tribalism sentiments. The “one anothers” of Romans 12, not only applies to family, but perhaps most importantly, transcends family.

    My family, just like my neighbor, is someone whom I seemingly am not biologically related to (which is an illusion and a different discussion), someone whom I disagree with morally, spritually, ethically, and is someone whom my culture and cultural leaders may even teach me to hate, fear, or dislike. My family, like my neighbor, is the Samaritan.


  3. Tenzin says:

    Hello Dear friend

    Really interesting after i saw your site

    It’s my great pleasure to saw your website accidently just now…. i am sorry if you feel any distrub after i try to communicate with you as my good heart. Though I am a tibetan buddhist monk and here we are studying buddhist philosophy here in south India. We here our monastery name called SERA JEY MONASTERY. Today i am very eager to send you mail so we can keep our relation forever if you wish too. but i m very interest to keep dharma friendship spirit with good people.

    Originally I was born in north India the place called LADAKH. all of my parent are living overthere. But i am living in south India for my studying. All of my parent are living in north
    India ( Ladakh ), during the summer season in ladakh they have lots of foreigner for visit our place. Majority them are very interest on climb Himalayan mountain. Here the weather is so good nd just few days rainy season was started, so weather is so cool. I always like to peace in the world.. I would love to know about your country… Peace, to me, is a significantly reduced number of violent incidents to individuals, families, communities and in the world. Today there are far too many, in a relatively abundant world. We must act now to ensure it does not get worse. Peace, to me, is a relatively safe and healthy individual, family, community and world.
    I am follower of our spirituall leader Dalai Lama, Hope you hear about our spiritual leader Dalai Lama. isn’t ?

    More about our monastery please you can visit http://www.serajeymonastery.org

    Your in sincerely

  4. After reading this article, I just feel that I really need more information on the topic. Can you share some more resources please?

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