Posted: 09 December 2015

Advent: #ManOnTheMoon

The Christmas season is commonly held as a time for family. So each week our Advent calendar includes a reflective piece from Krish Kandiah exploring the biblical view of family.


Despite the increasing frailty of family structures, the Bible offers us a picture of long-term familial ties that last for generations. Heritage, honour and social expectation all help to provide the social glue to support loving and faithful relationships. 

But even when it comes to looking at the New Testament, we must be careful not to assume that these values were universally held in a golden age of family cohesion. Divorce was common in the ancient world: under Roman law marriage could be dissolved at the request of either partner and also in the Jewish culture where marriage could only be dissolved at the request of the husband. Jesus himself offered a countercultural commitment to marriage – significantly raising the bar of the grounds for divorce in his own day. Similarly there are strong injunctions for children to obey parents and then later in life to provide for parents. The Bible demonstrates a strong commitment to strengthening family commitment and cohesion.

Alongside the strengthening of family life, there is also a very clear call to refuse to allow the boundaries of any clan from excluding ‘outsiders’. Responsibility for the care of the alien and the stranger, the widow and the orphan is not outsourced to an anonymous state mechanism, but instead becomes the responsibility of every family.

Interestingly, Christ’s followers are to demonstrate their family likeness to their heavenly Father by loving their enemies. So rather than family being devalued by the inclusion of others, quite the opposite is true: family life is strengthened by having porous boundaries towards others.

Families today

The modern Western nuclear family has generated what often amounts to a ‘radioactive’ exclusion zone around the family. Not only outsiders, but even older generations of the same families are often excluded; an issue that this year’s #ManOnTheMoon John Lewis Christmas advert has built upon. This has not led to stronger families, but rather weaker families starved of the social capital that could offer support to marriage and family life, and denying the family the opportunity to grow together in godliness.

The wider extended family network that seems to be the norm in biblical history provides the possibilities of intergenerational connectivity. But at the same time, built into the law and prophets of Israel, was a continual reminder to keep the boundaries between family and non-family. Family were to include the stranger, the orphan, the widow and the vulnerable.

In fact, though pure Israelite genealogies might have been expected to be highly valued, in Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus highlights the inclusion of the other, the outsider, as a central part of its construction. Jesus modelled in his life both a commitment to his family as a single man and yet continually called his followers to include the excluded and marginalised.

Do you see the invitation to long term, intergenerational family ties as a joy or a burden? In what ways are you challenged by having porous family boundaries over Christmastime?

Find out more

This piece is an adapted section of Krish’s essay ‘Six theological theses on the family and poverty’ in our theology paper, ‘The Heart of the Kingdom: Christian theology and children who live in poverty’

If you are interested in reading further on this subject then make sure you read:

Z. Bauman. Liquid Love: On the frailty of human bonds. Bristol: Polity Press, 2003.

R. P. Martin & P. H. Davids (ed.). Dictionary of the later New Testament and its developments (electronic ed.) Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997.


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Posted: 8 December 2015