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Let's Define Our Terms!

What is a "Family"? What is "Government"?

Most arguments or disputes are caused by terms being used in different ways. Words are often defined in order to further a goal or policy, and theological opponents with differing goals may define their words differently.

In this essay, some key terms are defined in order to further what we believe are Biblical goals and policies. Our purpose here is simply to show that our conception of the Family, of Government, and of the State, are reasonable ones. None of the authorities quoted are represented to agree with our broader thesis. In future essays many words will be used with an obviously derogatory flavor, with their meaning slanted to support our thesis. These words will probably not be defined to the satisfaction of all.

What is a "FAMILY"?

The word "Family" has many legitimate meanings; there are many types of "Families."

Although we grant the existence of many kinds of "families," we do not include as legitimate "families" groups bound together by violating God's Law. Adulterous or incestuous relations cannot constitute a legitimate "family." Same-sex or cross-species (bestiality) relations cannot constitute a legitimate "family."

"Meltdown of the Nuclear Family"
by Don Feder

Unraveling of the Family
by James Dobson

The word "Family" can be applied equally well to the two parents and two children as to the forty or fifty Hatfields on the Hatfield ranch or the household of Abraham. The extent of the Family is determined by the context in which the word is used.

This is as it is in the Bible. The Hebrew word translated "Family," mishpaha,

is used in a wider sense than the English term "family" usually conveys. The word for the inhabitants of one house is usually bet, "household. . . ." Mishpaha most often refers to a circle of relatives with strong blood ties.

(Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, "Mishpaha.")

Thus, mishpaha is sometimes translated "clan" in the newer translations. This is unfortunate, because there is no reason to prefer the modern, atomistic sense of the word "Family" over the more "patriarchal" sense that the word had only a few generations ago. In our society we don't live in "clans," we live in a "family" where "family" describes 2.2 children, one or two working adults (of one or both sexes) who are earning enough money to go into debt for all the toys ("adult" and children's) which are advertised on the State-licensed TV stations.

What the newer translations call a "clan" (like the Hatfield Family) is certainly a Family, and the King James Version is justified in translating this Hebrew word as "Family."

A good example of the Biblical use of "Family" is found in the story of the detection of Achan after the failure to capture Ai (Joshua 7). The search for the missing gold was first narrowed down to the "tribe" of Judah, then to the "Family" (mishpaha) of the Zarhites, and finally to the "household" (bet) of Zabdi. If it should be suggested that bet is the better form of the Family, fine. As The New Bible Dictionary puts it, "The fact that Achan was a married man with children of his own (7:24) but was still counted as a member of the bet of his grandfather Zabdi, shows the extent of this term." Our definition of "Family" -- even under the bet formulation -- needs to be expanded if it is to resemble the Bible's perspective.

Abraham's Family included servants and apprentices. Genesis 14:14 has led one scholar to estimate that Abraham's Family may have had as many as 12,000 members. It may have been closer to 3,000, but it was large enough to withstand the attacks of the armies of major city-states surrounding him (Genesis 14).

While the "extended family" is culturally normative, the "nuclear family" is also a complete entity, according to Genesis 2:24. Many fear Family power because some grandfathers have made dictatorial demands on their sons and sons' sons. While the Bible gives grandfathers many responsibilities over their descendants (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:9), "dictatorial" demands are obviously unBiblical, and the problem here is not the denial of the sovereignty of the nuclear family, but of unChrist-like "authority" (Mark 10:42-45).

What does "GOVERNMENT"mean?

Few tasks are more difficult than trying to set down the proper role of the State. The main reason is the rubbery use of the word "government."

Everyone engaged in sociology, political science, economics, and similar studies, is interested in answering the question, "How are Law, Order, Property, Peace, Welfare, and Prosperity maintained in a society or given geographical area?" How this question is answered determines one's definition of "government." All will agree that in order to provide for law and order, peace and prosperity, the following must be maintained by someone:

1. The Education of Children This includes, indeed, has primary reference to, moral education and the development of productive and responsible character. A society dominated by nomads and criminals cannot long survive. An outwardly "prosperous," "conservative" society without moral leaders ("Patriarchs") populated by amoral technicians and worker-drones will merely die a slower death. A society needs many Christians (Proverbs 14:28).

Education, in Biblical perspective, is not the memorization of atomistic facts and the ability to regurgitate them on demand. Education is primarily moral; a Biblically educated person has the ability to judge the facts of the world in terms of Biblical Law and to persevere in the wise and faithful application of Biblical Principles to every area of his life, even under sometimes frustrating circumstances. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 commands that children be educated in life, not in institutions, and in the Bible, not the wisdom of man. And this means knowledge of how to apply the Bible and obey its commands, not just learning about the Bible (Jeremiah 4:22; James 1:22; Hebrews 5:14).

2. Employment and Vocational Training. The "Bar-Mitzvah" (lit., "son of command") has long marked the time when a boy becomes a man; when he has mastered the Law of God and has developed the ability to obey. Armed with Godly character, he is ready for vocational training. While Christians are not required to observe any ceremony, and while they also think in terms of both young men and young women (Galatians 3:28), we must still recognize the need to move from the education of children to the training of young men and women for their roles as husbands and wives and as fathers and mothers; as partners in Dominion. Fathers must be skilled in providing for their Families; mothers skilled in preparing and distributing the provisions God gives the Family. Young women must therefore be taught how to reign as virtuous women and queens of the home (Proverbs 31:10-31; I Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:4-5; Psalm 113:9); young men must be trained to work in some capacity that provides for his Family without compromising his integrity. (Genesis 1:26-28, I Timothy 5:8, and Proverbs 31:15 show that the division of labor is not tight here.)

Specialized training in vocations is best accomplished in household apprenticeships, as we shall show in future essays.

3. The Care of the Elderly. The very old often become physically unable to work to provide for their own needs. Often elderly women will outlive their husbands. It is not desirable that the elderly live alone, especially if they haven't enough saved income to survive alone. Grandparents and the elderly in general need personal care and attention. The Family is God's answer to this problem. Crotchety old folks build the character of Christ in us.

4. Care of the Fatherless. In tragic manifestations of sin in our world, children are sometimes left without their parents. These unfortunate kids must be cared for, just as Godly parents would have cared for them.

5. Care of the Ill and Handicapped. Some people are born or acquire handicaps such as mental defects, physical deformities, or loss of limb. Others acquire terminal, extended, and sometimes painful diseases. These people must be cared for, whether a toddler or a man in the prime of his life. We must not substitute pharisaical liturgy for sacramental foot-washing.

6. Freedom of Conscience. The freedom to Worship and serve the LORD Jesus Christ in every calling and every area of life free from coercion or threats of force is necessary for the health of any society (Proverbs 28:2,16,28, etc.).

If a society is characterized by these attributes, then you have a well-governed society! That society may be small (the Swiss Family Robinson on a desert island), large (the 5,000 members of the Family of Abraham, uncontrolled by any of the nations of Genesis 14), or incomprehensible ("The United States of America"). A well-governed society: that is our goal.

But there is a second use of the word "Government" different from that above. It defines the government of a society not as the continuous and successful provision of social necessities, but as a name for those who merely promise to do so.

Thus, when we speak of "the government" of the United States, we do not mean the provision of moral education, health, welfare, and freedom by the moral leaders of America, because these things are not being provided for. We mean a group of people who promise to provide government (in the first sense of the word) or claim to be doing so. "Government" in this sense is usually preceded by the article "the", as in the phrase, "Let the government take care of it."

The problem with the second definition of government is that Abraham's society was very well governed (sense 1), but there was no need for "the government" (sense 2). This leads us to speak of the "State."

What is the "STATE?"

"The State" is something of a technical term. Political and Ecclesiastical "experts" may also use the term to justify their control over others. When most people think of the "State" they are thinking of "the government," e.g., Washington, D.C. We hear the phrase "the separation of Church and State." It refers not to a particular "State," but rather to all who call themselves the "State." What is a "State," and what gives a person or group the right to so call themselves?

Ludwig von Mises, the most influential political economist of the "Austrian" school of economics, gives us this definition of a "State":

The state is essentially an apparatus of compulsion and coercion. The characteristic feature of its activities is to compel people through the application or the threat of force to behave otherwise than they would like to behave.

Government Equals Force by James Bovard

Suppose I come up to you and say, "If you murder anyone I'll kill you." I am compelling you through the application or threat of force to behave otherwise than you might like to behave; am I a "State?" Not necessarily; Mises continues his definition:

But not every apparatus of compulsion and coercion is called a state. Only one which is powerful enough to maintain its existence, for some time at least, by its own force is commonly called a state. A gang of robbers, which because of the comparative weakness of its forces has no prospect of successfully resisting for any length of time the forces of another organization, is not entitled to be called a state. The state will either smash or tolerate a gang. In the first case the gang is not a state because its independence lasts for a short time only; in the second case it is not a state because it does not stand on its own might. The pogrom gangs in Imperial Russia were not a state because they could kill and plunder only thanks to the connivance of the government.

Consider this question: under Mises' definition, and based on the account in Genesis 14, was Abraham a "State?" It would certainly seem so.

Paul (Romans 13:1) commands us to obey "the powers that be." How does this find expression in Genesis 14? Were there no "powers?" Was Abraham "the powers?" Was it a more complex situation? Was Abraham fighting "the powers" by fighting the "United Nations Peace-keeping Force," this demonic alliance of kings? It seems clear that in Abraham's life there was no earthly "State" outside of himself, and this situation is acceptable in the eyes of God. (Nevertheless, to advance our thesis, we will never call Abrahamic Patriarchies "states." "State" will be a term reserved for non-Familial systems of social structure.)

Paternalism and Patriarchy

"Patriarchy" signifies a situation where, in a given geographical area, a society is well-governed, and yet without what we would call a "State" (i.e., without a non-familial group of controllers, or those who would apply force against others). "Patriarchy" literally means "Family Rule." It is remarkable that when a "State" is non-familial, it is "paternalistic." "Paternalism," says Webster's, is "the system of controlling a country as a father might his children." This is a situation where Families are looking to some outside group of men to make them well-governed. If the fathers aren't doing their job, and hence are acting like children, they need a "State" which is "paternalistic," that is, will try to do the job the fathers should be doing in their Families. A non-Familial "State" only exists to the extent a society of Families is not well-governed.

Next: What is an "Institution"?

Christmas Conspiracy


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Paradigm Shift


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