Many Families

Ephesians 3:15

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

This teaching section has articles about the Christian Family, so maybe a good place to start is to take a look at how the word Family is used in Scripture:

Family. This word occurs but once in the N.T., where it translates the Greek word patria (Eph. 3:15). Patria itself occurs three times:

Of the house and lineage of David. Luke 2:4

In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth. Acts 3:25

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. Eph. 3:15

Patria is obviously a derivative of pater, "father," and is itself one of a "family" of words derived from this "parent" stock. So we have patroos, "the fathers," patris, "country," patriarches "patriarch." The family, therefore, is a community owning a common father. The R.V. reads at Ephesians 3:15 "every family" instead of "the whole family" as in the A.V. The employment of the English word "family" here has somewhat limited the teaching of the Apostle. The word "family" is derived from the Latin famulus, a servant, whereas the Greek word so translated here is derived from the word "father." Joseph was of the lineage of David but scarcely of his family. The blessing of Abraham is to flow out to all kindreds of the earth rather than to all families.

Patria is a word in common use in the LXX, where we read many times of "the house of the fathers," as in Exodus 12:3, and in Numbers 1:2, we read that the census of Israel was to be taken "after their families, by the house of their fathers." As late as the prophet Zechariah, the people of Israel were still spoken of as "the family of the house of David" or "the family of the house of Nathan" (Zech. 12:12-14), but it must be noted that the Greek word used here is not patria but phule "tribe." The word family is more domestic in its implications than the words house, lineage, or race. We speak of a respectable family or of the royal family, but we speak of an illustrious house.

Strictly speaking, it is not too happy a thought that the One Father has many families, and so while we must acknowledge that the translators of the A.V. knew very well that the words pasa patria must mean "every" patria, not "the whole" patria, yet, because they chose to use the word "family," they sacrificed the grammar to the higher claims of truth. If we do not use the word "family" here but use something more in line with the LXX usage, like lineage, kindred, or father's house, we shall be nearer to the intention of the Apostle in Ephesians 3:15.

"Of Whom." This expression can refer to the Father or to the Lord Jesus Christ, and commentators are divided in their opinion. As no one can be a child of God apart from redemption, and no one can call God "Father" apart from Christ, we incline to the interpretation that the words "of Whom" refer to Christ, although, of course, ultimately, even though through Him, all fatherhood must go back to the Father Himself. In Deuteronomy 18:8, we find the word "patrimony," a word that translates the Hebrew al ha aboth "concerning the father's (clans)" or kata patrian of the LXX. An allied term patronymic deals with the name of a clan or tribe; in Greek, this was indicated by the ending ides, as Tydides-the son of Tydeus; in English, by the word son, as Johnson-the son of John. Norman-French patronymics are often formed by the prefix Fitz as Fitzwilliam; Irish and Scotch by Mac., Mc and O'. It is utterly impossible to incorporate all this into a translation of Ephesians 3:15, but something of this meaning is implicit in the wording.

The Epistle to the Colossians not only speaks of Christ as the Head of the Church but of all principality and power (Col. 1:18, Col. 2:10); reconciliation is applied to things in heaven as well as things on earth (Col. 1:20-21). Dr. Lightfoot cites a Rabbinical authority, saying, "The mother's family is not to be called a family"; hence, the genealogies of Scripture come through the male line. Wetstein cites passages from Rabbinical writings to show that the Jews spoke of angels as the upper family and His people on the earth as His lower family. All of whatever race, rank, or sphere bear the name of their Head. We append a note given in The Companion Bible on page 1771 as a supplement:

1. The word 'family' is an unfortunate rendering of the Gr. patria. Our English word takes its derivation from the lowest in the household, famulus, the servant, or slave. The Latin familial is sometimes used for the household of servants and sometimes for all the members of a family under the power of a paterfamilias. But the idea of patria is Hebrew, a group or class of families all claiming descent from one pater (father), e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel. 'Joseph was of the house and lineage (family, Gr. patria) of David' (Luke 2:4). The word occurs only in Luke 2:4, Acts 3:25, Eph. 3:15, and denotes a clan all descended from a common stock.

2. To apply this:-God has many families in heaven and earth, both in this age and in that which is to come. But with selfish disregard for this fact, we see only one family, and that, of course, must be the 'church,' for that is the family to which we belong. Thus, we claim everything for ourselves, especially if blessing, mercy, or glory is attached, and so we completely ignore the fact that many of these families of God are named in Scripture. In Eph. 1:21, we have 'principality,' 'power,' 'might,' and 'dominion'; the first two being again mentioned in Eph. 3:10, the principalities and powers in the heavenlies to whom God is even now manifesting His manifold wisdom by means of The Church (His Body) as an object lesson. Others are mentioned in Col. 1:16 and 1 Peter 3:22. What these heavenly families may be, we do not know. The Greek words reveal to us no more than the English do because they pertain to the unseen world of which we know nothing.

"To limit this verse to the 'church' as many do, and to interpret it in wholly un-Scriptural terms of the 'church militant' and the 'church triumphant, and in hymn-book diction to sing

'One family we dwell in Him,
One church, above, beneath;
Though now divided by the stream,
The narrow stream of death.'

is not only to lose the revelation of a great Truth of God but to put error in its place. Rightly divided, the families of God named in the N.T. are in heaven, principalities, powers, might, dominion, thrones, angels, and archangels. Among the families on earth are Israel, the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16), and the church of God (1 Cor. 10:32)."

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