What is a Family?


The whole idea of a military family seems confusing. Some days I love my family. Other days I can’t stand to be around them. And other days I’m not really sure who my family is. What is family? What’s my role? Is there such a thing as an ‘ideal family?’ Ask 10 people and you’re likely to get 10 different answers. Dig in here and discover what family has meant to others throughout history and just how ‘normal’ your military family is.


Back in 2000, I was served on a ministry team in North Texas that took the Gospel of Christ into a juvenile prison facility. I was the family group leader for a group of 6 teenaged guys. We quickly learned each other’s names and had a meaningful time participating in the weekend. 

At lunch the first day, we cleared our table as a family group and prepared to share a meal together. We held hands as I prayed, and then we dug into a abundance of home style cooking. About halfway through the meal, I noticed Sean had tears in his eyes. This 16 year old boy was fighting back tears as he dug into the food on his plate. 

“Hey, Sean, what’s going on?” I asked.

“Man, this is the first time in my life I have ever had a meal sitting around a table like this. My family never spent time together, and if we did, all we did was yell and scream at each other.”

I learned a lot from Sean that day. I took family for granted. It never really dawned on me that many people had no idea what a family was, or how a healthy family acted or what it looked like.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, family is “a group of individuals living under one roof…” However, what does God have to say about family?  Is it different from our current cultural understanding reflected in the definition? Read more to find out.

Bible intro

Western culture today has a wide variety of ways to describe and define the family. Some will say it is a husband and wife and their children (usually referred to as the ‘nuclear family’). Others will say it is one parent, either due to the death of a parent or because of divorce, and a child or children (sometimes referred to as a ‘broken’ family) Childless couples will define their family as themselves and perhaps their close relatives like their mothers and fathers or sisters and brothers (an ‘extended’ family). More and more, we are seeing gay couples adopting children and functioning as a family. Some nuclear families are adopting children of ethnic and racial backgrounds unlike their own biological family and seeing this new combined group of people as their family. Additionally, many divorced or widowed parents remarry and combine what were formerly two separate families into one (a ‘blended’ family).

As you can see, these examples suggest quite a variety of definitions and functions of a family. You need look no farther than the TV show "Modern Family" to see three families portrayed in different ways. So, what’s “normal?” Is there an “ideal, normal family?” Each culture makes decisions on what is ‘normal’ for their culture. Western culture, and specifically American culture, is currently defining the family by many of the examples above. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the cultural definition of family lines up with what God has described as the family. Looking at what some experts say about the family as described in the Scriptures will help us understand a bit more of how God originally designed the family with its composition and function. Many biblical scholars will indicate that God’s original design for the family, and it was His idea, can be found in passages like Genesis 1: 26-31 where it explains a portion of God’s creative work on the sixth day by stating,

“26 Then God said, “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us. They will have power over the fish, the birds, and all animals, domestic and wild, large and small. ” 27 So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female, 28 blessed them, and said, “Have many children, so that your descendants will live all over the earth and bring it under their control. I am putting you in charge of the fish, the birds, and all the wild animals. 29 I have provided all kinds of grain and all kinds of fruit for you to eat; 30 but for all the wild animals and for all the birds I have provided grass and leafy plants for food ”—and it was done. 31 God looked at everything he had made, and he was very pleased. Evening passed and morning came—that was the sixth day. (emphasis added).

Families had important and valuable functions throughout early history, namely the passing on of inheritance from father to son. That inheritance could be land, possessions, honor, the family name, etc. Additionally, the family was the primary unit where strong relational ties were developed and lived out. Within these relationships there existed unconditional love, honor and respect as well as spiritual nurturing about who God was and how to love and serve him (Deuteronomy 29:1-29). Eventually, God’s ‘pleasing’ design as he pronounced it in Genesis became undermined and broken by humankind, so God reestablishes the concept of family anew in the New Testament (See subtopic ‘Church as Family’). The ongoing relationship between the Creator and humankind appears to have been mediated through the family.

In the Scriptures we see both blessings and curses! According to Modern Catholic Dictionary (by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica. Used with permission from Eternal Life), family is defined as: “FAMILY. A group of persons who are related by marriage or blood and who typically include a father, mother, and children. A family is a natural society whose right to existence and support is provided by the divine law. According to the Second Vatican Council, “the family is the foundation of society” (The Church in the Modern World, II, 52). In addition to the natural family, the Church recognizes also the supernatural family of the diocese and of a religious community, whose members are to co-operate for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ (Decree on the Bishops’ Pastoral Office, 34; and Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 43). (Etym. Latin familia, a family, the members of a household; from famulus, a servant, attendant.)” (New Advent). Focus on the Family responded to an email question, “What constitutes a family?” by saying, “As we’re sure you must realize, one could write volumes in response to your question. Broadly speaking, however, we’d define “family” as a group of individuals who are related to one another by marriage (between a man and a woman), birth, or adoption. The family was instituted and divinely sanctioned in the beginning, when God created one man and one woman, brought them together, and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply.” We believe that the pattern for the family’s continued existence is contained in Scripture’s account of its origins. (For a more extensive look at this subject, you may wish to read CitizenLink’s article titled, “Differing Definitions of Marriage and Family,” along with “What is Marriage?”, a paper by Sheriff Girgis, Robert P. George, and Ryan T. Anderson that was published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy).

Families seem to have always been a focus of God’s design for humankind. They form a basic unit from which each of us derives our name and character and values, and, of course, our physical features. Eventually, God describes his kingdom as being made up of his family, the spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ with himself as the Father. You’ll find more about that throughout the various subtopics, so investigate for yourself!

Personal Questions
1. How would you describe your family to someone who asked?
2. How often do you eat meals together? Is it important to you?
3. Does your family do other things together? If so, like what? How do you and your other family members respond to doing things together as a family?
4. Do you think that families are God’s design? What would be the primary purposes of a family as you understand them?

Go to the following link and pray the prayer for family that you find there.


What does Your DNA say?  
Current science has now completed the structure of our human DNA (Human Genome Project), and what we are discovering is a genetic lineage that supports the family unit as described in the Scriptures, mainly, you are certainly a product of your biological mother and father in ways that determine much about who you are (nature) and how you might experience the world around you (nurture). If you are adopted, then you might recognize physical features that you have, which are completely different than your adoptive family. You may even be different racially, but you will reflect your biological parents! The characteristics you develop with you adoptive family will be a reflection of the nurture you’ve received.
Try Googling the words “Family DNA” and check out the websites that will, for a price, help you discover your family lineage through DNA testing. You might just be interested enough to know your family lineage in light of Jesus’ family heritage that you’ll want to discover more about the family God has placed you into!

Biblical Words About Families (by Michael Straessle, eHow Contributor)
The family is the most important group of people mentioned in the Bible. Mish-paw-khaw` is the phonetic spelling of the Hebrew word found in the Old Testament and means tribe. The New Testament counterpart is pat-ree-ah` and means lineage. The family unit is so important that both the first chapter of Matthew and the third chapter of Luke list all the generations in the lineage of Jesus. Modern families would translate this into family reunions, where all the relatives, and in-laws connected by marriage, are included as part of a family. So, in the Bible, when you read that a family was blessed by the Lord, more than just husband, wife and children are blessed.


Family Tree: your family’s name and lineage  

Matthew 1 and Luke 3 give a detailed lineage of Jesus.   How much do you know about your own family lineage? If you are adopted, then you may choose to use your biological family if you know them or you can do this with your adoptive family…or BOTH! If you’ve ever traveled in Europe, or perhaps lived in Europe, you will know that family lineage is very important to royal families. Below is a picture of a family tree/lineage from a Royal English family. As detailed as you can be, draw your own family tree and fill in as many names as possible. Some people do this as a hobby while others are much more serious about it. It’s called genealogy. Give it a shot, and see how far and how detailed you can get. It might just tell you something about who you are as you find yourself in a military family.




The 2010 military families lifestyle survey results

Did you know that in the 2010 military family lifestyle survey results of top military life issues recorded that the top five issues for military families are the following:

  1. Pay & benefits
  2. Effects of Deployment on kids
  3. Operational tempo OPTEMPO
  4. Kids’ education
  5. Spouse employment

How do you think your family would rate these issues?

Assuming these would not be your same five issues, what would you put on the list as your top five issues and in what order?

What is a Family - 1

What is a Family - 2

What is a Family - 3

What is a Family - 4

What is a Family - 5


Matthew 1:1-17

Luke 3:23-38

Genesis 12:1-3

Genesis 17:1-7


Fresh Prince
Here’s a fun show that is completely about ‘extended family.’ It stars Will Smith, and the show is, of course, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Even the famous intro song explains that Will was being sent to live with “Uncle and Auntie in Bel Air!” What do see as the family structure and purpose portrayed in this segment of the show?
Watch Family dynamics »

I’m My Own Grandpa
Ok, it’s a ridiculous song about broken, blended and extended family, which creates a relational dynamic that actually makes the title possible. It’s meant to be a lighthearted look at fractured and blended families. If you come from a family like that, you just might understand how some of the dynamics get a little strange.


Lady GaGa - World Family Tree (featuring Grandmaster Melle & Mel Britt Beal)
This is an interesting children’s song complete with book and other supporting stuff. Notice which family member is NOT mentioned in the song. Why do you think that is? What message does that give to small children? How do feel about that?

Life Questions
1. Make a list of some character traits (good or bad) that you think you have gotten from your family (things like perseverance, humility, kindness, inner strength, or fearfulness, procrastination, apathy). Decide which trait you’d like to work on (either building up or eliminating), and who in your family it would be best to talk to for help in doing that. Make a point to discuss this with them this week.
2. It’s always easy to pick out some physical feature that you don’t like about yourself (there’s a whole industry geared toward making you feel inadequate so you’ll buy their beautifying products), <strong>BUT this time, </strong>notice some physical characteristics that you’ve gotten from your biological parents that you believe are <strong>real assets </strong>(like strong legs, great eyebrows, engaging smile, ability to run, strong
fingernails, etc., etc,). Take a few moments today or tomorrow to go to them, if it’s possible, look at the similarities (like matching your engaging smiles in the mirror), and thank them for passing that on to you as a part of their family. If you’re adopted, then thank God for the ‘good’ physical features that he has given you through your birth parents!
3. See if you can find any other Scriptures about God’s design for families. There are over 400 passages that have the word “family/families” in them. You might also look up ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ ‘children,’ ‘generation,’ ‘covenant (or promise). A good resource for this activity is a Bible Concordance.
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