The problem of “you and your household”


This entry is part 18 of 20 in the series The problem of ...

You and your household

This phrase is used in the Bible several times.  I ‘m writing about it now, because Im working on an article about two very complex words – “believe in” – from this verse –

Ac 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

In order to understand this verse, we need some context, so please hang in there I provide it.  We’ll be right back to you and your household (family) after that.  Paul and Silas were in prison, because of the events described below –

Paul and Silas in Prison

Ac 16:16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
Ac 16:19 When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
Ac 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

That night, when everything was very dark, there was an earthquake –

Ac 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

It’s important to understand the reason why Paul shouted out that he and all the other prisoners were still there in the prison.
Back in those days, if there was an escape from a Roman prison, the guard(s) on duty would be killed.  So here’s this poor guard who’s totally expecting to die a horrible death at the hands of his own people because all the cell doors opened with the earthquake.  Of course any prisoner would escape and run away given a chance like this – open doors, darkness, confusion.  Except these weren’t just “any prisoners”.  They were all followers of “The Way” – Christians.  And they not only stayed, they immediately began to try to convert the guard.

Ac 16:29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Ac 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

And there we have it – “he (the guard) and his whole family”.

What is a family?

That’s an interesting question – “What is a family”?  
Just as interesting is how the answer has changed over time.

We need to remember, this is Paul shouting out for the guard to not kill himself.  And, that Paul is the leader of the men in prison.  Therefore, we need to also look at the concept of “family” from Paul’s reference point.  In other words, we need to look at it starting with the Jewish concept of a family.

As a starting point, in Genesis, we see this –

Ge 46:26 All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives—numbered sixty-six persons. 27 With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.

In Bible times, the family comprised members of a household, including not only parents and children, along with other relatives and concubines, but also servants, travelers, aliens, and anyone else who happened to be within the house and was therefore under the protection of the head of the family. The family of Jacob, for example, comprised three generations (Gn 46:8–26). Biblically, the term “family” is interchangeable with “house,” and “founding a house” can refer to setting up a separate dwelling as well as establishing a family.  1)Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, pp. 767–768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

As a result of the culture and the times, this protection was not a one way street where the head of the family did everything and the family members did whatever they pleased.

Those who belonged to the clan knew that they had to work for common interests and accept responsibility for the whole group. All members of the family were to be protected and assisted in time of need.  2)Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

But times changed, and we see the following corresponding changes in the family –

As crafts and trades developed, along with a more sedentary lifestyle, sons learned their fathers’ skills and continued the family trade. Consequently the whole village might follow a particular craft (1 Chr 4:14; Neh 11:35). By specializing in such trades, however, the villagers became less self-sufficient, depending more on farmers for food and on other specialized villages for the production of cloth (1 Chr 4:21) or pottery (v 23).
With the growth of cities, related groups lived together in specific areas. Many members of the tribes of Benjamin and Judah were listed in the census of Jerusalem by Nehemiah (Neh 11:4–8), and by the writer of Chronicles (1 Chr 9:4–9). One consequence of life in the cities was the fragmentation of the family group. As the bonds of the wider family were loosened, the unit consisted increasingly of a husband and wife with their children, living in one house. The size of houses that have been excavated precludes the idea of any larger family unit as the norm in OT societies.
During the kingdom period, although King David’s unmarried daughter Tamar lived with him at the palace, his sons Amnon and Absalom set up their own separate houses (2 Sm 13:7, 8, 20). At that time there were few slaves in Hebrew society, but they also were considered members of the family. As bonds of the wider family loosened, and the master of the household lost a degree of authority, the society became one in which the king was sovereign and all the people were his subjects.  3)Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

And then, by New Testament times, we see –

In NT times, the communion meals in the Jerusalem church took place by households (Acts 2:46). Early Christian meetings were held in the homes of believers because of opposition by the authorities. The Book of Acts contains examples of entire families being converted to Christianity (Acts 10:24, 44–48; 16:15, 31, 32). Timothy learned the gospel from his grandmother and mother (2 Tm 1:5).  4)Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

In all cases, the head of the household – the father – set the tone for many things.  This dated back to what we read about Jacob in Genesis.  And while the family unit changes, the role of the father as head of household and the one who set the direction for the household’s relationship with God did not change.  As such, in the time of the early church – what we see in the book of Acts – would have meant that if the jailer converted to be a follower of Christ, there would have been an expectation on the part of Paul and the others that the jailers entire family would do the same and they would all be saved.

That puts a lot of responsibility on the father, having to make the right choices for the good of the family.
It also means sacrificing freedom for the members of the family, since they are expected to do what the father wants.

It’s interesting to note that it takes someone willing to rebel against the father of their household to convert to being a follower of Jesus.  For the Jewish people, being born into a Jewish family and then having a child converting to Christianity would have been going against the father’s will.  Even for the Romans. this would have been a problem – since they were supposed to look at the emperor as their “god”.

What is a family now?

Looking at Wikipedia – since anyone can contribute their idea of a family – we see the following  types of families –

  • conjugal / nuclear / singular – husband, wife and their children
  • matrifocal – mother and her children
  • extended family – 
    • all related by blood
    • not all related by blood
  • family of choice – in the LGBT community, the family the person chooses to have, as opposed to the biological family
  • blended family / step family – mixed parents, where one or both remarried and brought the children of their former family into the new family
  • monogamous – both individuals have only one legal spouse at the same time
  • polygamous – either one man with more than one wife, or one woman with more than one husband.

Note also that in many states, it’s not necessary that either spouse be a man, so there may not be a father in the family.

These new family types have wreaked havoc on the family unit that Paul was talking about.  Given new family types, the need for so many families to have both partners working just to survive, and other cultural changes, the concept of having the head of the household become a Christian and therefore the entire family would be saved seems like it’s very much a thing of the past.

To make matters worse, even in situations where the conjugal family does still exist, too often it is only the woman who goes to church.  For various reasons, the man doesn’t.  Regardless of whether the man or the woman is the de facto head of the household, the fact is that neither of them has taken on the role of ensuring the entire family will be saved.  We have a family where one of the parents is a believer, but the other isn’t.  Maybe the kids are believers, but maybe they aren’t.  
I do not have children, so I can’t speak to this directly.  However, I can’t help but wonder how this happens.  Would the believer not want the rest of their family to be in Heaven with them in the next life?

Conclusion

The unfortunate conclusion is that the situation of the jailer in Acts that we read about –

Ac 16:29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Ac 16:31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family.

and I’m not talking about the circumstances with the prison and the earthquake – I’m talking about the conversion –
is becoming less and less likely all the time.

Way back in Deuteronomy, the Hebrew people were told –

Dt 22:10 Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.

There was a reason for that.
And then in 2 Corinthians, Paul writes –

2Co 6:14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial ? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

Both passages say essentially the same thing.

The ox and the donkey cannot work together.  One is stronger, one is more stubborn, and a host of other issues.  It will be a disaster.

Two people who are married, if one is a believer and one isn’t, will also have problems.  The things they like to do, the way they treat others, and a whole bunch of other differences will show up.  And if they have kids, one of many other questions will be whether or not the children should be believers.  It’s a disaster waiting to happen.  And unless the unbeliever does convert and believe – it’s a family that will not be together in the next life.  A disaster.

How is your household situation?
Will all of you be together?  Forever?

Series Navigation<< The problem of Either/Or: Free Will vs PredestinyThe problem of faith, hope, belief and knowing >>

References   [ + ]

1. Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, pp. 767–768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
2, 3, 4. Perkin, H. W. (1988). Family Life and Relations. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 1, p. 768). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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