A Biblical Theology of Family, Parenting, and Fatherhood
This outline was used for a discussion with Edwin Ramirez on his video podcast, The Proverbial Life. Our discussion sought to demonstrate from Scripture what God’s definition, design, and purpose are for the family, parenting, and fatherhood. By starting in Genesis 1-2 with creation, and looking at the fall and redemption in Genesis 3, this study traces these themes through the rest of Scripture to give practical application for the listener and reader. (For an in-depth study on motherhood, please see my wife's Titus 2 Ministry for Women series.)
In a nutshell, God’s plan was always to spread His Kingdom of godliness through the family. As we will see below, God’s good design and purpose for the family is not ultimately thwarted by the fall of the first human family, when the first father and husband (Adam) broke the Covenant of Works in his failure to overcome sin and Satan. Rather, in spite of Satan’s perpetual attack on the God-ordained family (of one husband, and one wife, together raising offspring for God), the family is recovered, restored, and redeemed in the Covenant of Grace through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, and plays a crucial role in the advancement of God’s Kingdom of salvation!
1. A Biblical Theology of Family
A. The starting point for a Biblical understanding of family is the Triune God. There is One Self-Existent, Self-Sufficient, All-Powerful God who exists in three equal Persons, who together created all things from nothing, according to the first three verses of the Bible:
- The Father: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1; cf. 1 Cor. 8:6)
- The Son (“The Word”): “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’, and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3; cf. John 1:1-5; Heb. 1:3).
- The Holy Spirit: “…and the Spirit of God (ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים, Ruach Elohim) was hovering over the waters.” (cf. Ps. 104:30).
God the Father is “the Lord God Almighty” who created all things (Rev. 4:8, 9; 10:6) through His Eternal Son, who is the creative speech of God, by the power of His Holy Spirit. Although the New Testament gives further revelation about the True and Living God existing in three distinct Persons of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14), the Old Testament gives glimpses of the Trinity working together to create all things:
“By means of the Word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And by means of the Breath (or “the Spirit”; Hebrew: רוּחַ, Ruach) of His mouth all their hosts (were made).” (Ps. 33:6)
The creative work of the Trinity is manifested in the creation of man, as the words of the counsel of the Godhead are recorded for us: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).
The One God who exists in multiple persons — within a community of joyful love — is the archetypal pattern for the ectypal human family.
Thus, the family was created in the image of the Trinity: the mutual love of a father, a wife, and sons and daughters reflects (on a finite level) the Triune love in the Godhead. Through the family, then, God planned to spread His kingdom of godliness and worship throughout the earth. From the beginning, the mission, the glory, and the praise of the Triune God, is the ultimate purpose for the human family. Although Satan would seek to ruin God’s purpose for the family, God promises to destroy the works of the devil in His Covenant of Grace (Gen. 3:15; 1 John 3:8).
B. But we cannot understand the family apart from marriage. The creation of humanity as male and female in Genesis 1:27 gets unpacked in Genesis chapter 2. Genesis 2:18-23 makes clear that Adam is incomplete without his wife, whom God provides for him as his only sufficient “helper”. Although the Satanic fallen world system despises the woman's calling as a God-ordained “helper”, consider how the word for “helper” (עֵזֶר, ezer) is also used for God as the “Helper” of His people (Ps. 70:6, 146:5; Hosea 13:9, etc.). Having been given dominion from God the King, Adam (the vice-king / viceregent) was unable to carry out his kingdom duties without the help of his wife. The same is true for the Christian husband, today.
This is crucial for our understanding of marriage, and for a Biblical understanding of womanhood, which has been attacked by the Satanic lies of feminism. The Serpent desires women to seek to live independently from this glorious, God-given, kingdom calling of coming alongside of their husbands to assist, help, encourage, and strengthen his kingdom mission from the LORD. His mission, is her mission, and vice-versa! In the New Covenant, godly marriages are a significant vehicle for King Jesus to expand His Kingdom (see Rom. 16:3). Moreover, Christ’s blood-bought Church is His bride who comes alongside her Husband and Head in the service of His Kingdom. Although He does not need her, the Second Adam is pleased with His bride’s participation in His Kingdom Mission.
C. Marriage exists as a picture of covenant relationship with God, which is an exclusive, faithful, loving commitment to Him. Such is seen in Adam being commanded to “cleave”/ “hold fast”/“cling” to his covenant spouse, Eve (Gen. 2:24). Note how this same word (דבק, davaq) is often used to express exclusive, worshipful, covenant loyalty to YHWH (Deut. 10:20). When King Solomon turned from the LORD by “cleaving” to many wives (1 Kings 11:2), his adultery and sexual immorality was a vivid picture of idolatry. In short, idolatry is spiritual adultery against God, and adultery is a vivid, horrific picture of idolatry against God. No wonder sexual immorality and idolatry are often listed next to each in Paul’s lists of sins (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:5)!
As Scripture unfolds, marriage is ultimately a picture of Union with Christ (1 Cor. 6:15-17)! Just as Adam was “joined” to Eve by holding fast to her, so believers through Spirit-wrought faith are joined and united to Christ, their lover.
2. Biblical Theology of Parents
A. The purpose of Family and Parenting is to pass on the royal image of God to their children. Through creation, Adam was a human “son of God” (Luke 3:38). Just as King YHWH created Adam as His first human son in His image and granted him royal dominion to subdue the earth, that royal image was meant to be passed on to Adam’s sons:
“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. 2 Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.” (Gen. 5:1-3)
In this way, Malachi 2:15 says that the purpose of Marriage and Childbearing is to produce “godly offspring”, which can be translated “offspring for God” (זֶ֣רַע אֱלֹהִ֑ים).
B. The same is true after the Fall: parenting still exists to spread God’s kingdom of worship and righteousness. God will bring “kings” through Abraham (Gen. 17:6). His promise (alluded to by Peter in Acts 2:39) is that He will be the God of Abraham and his children (Gen. 17:7). But the means through which this promise will occur is as Abraham teaches his children God’s Word (see Gen. 18:19; compare Deut. 6:6-9 with Prov. 1:8-9, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 4:4, 5:1, 6:20-21). This promise of God making effectual the Biblical instruction of parents in the hearts of their children is not only referring to the Covenant of Abraham in the Old Testament, but it holds true for the New Covenant as well (see Isaiah 59:20-21)!
3. A Biblical Theology of Fathers/Husbands
A. Fathers are Priest Judge-Kings
The first husband/father was put in the Garden-Temple-Sanctuary “in order to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). This shows the primacy of work which was designed by God, before the fall, and demonstrates the necessity for fathers to model and teach their sons to work responsibly (see 2 Thess. 3:6-8). Furthermore, this pair of Hebrew verbs in Genesis 2:15 (“work” עבד and “keep” שׁמר) can be translated “to serve” (or “to worship”) and “to guard.” It is no coincidence that Moses uses this tandem of words elsewhere in the context of the Priests and Levites in Numbers 3:5-10 being commissioned as temple guardians, with the task of protecting and guarding the holy presence of God from any unclean intruder. “Any outsider who comes near must be put to death” (Num. 3:38). Thus, the first husband’s job and calling was to be a priest to guard God’s garden sanctuary, and to execute judgment by putting to death anything unclean that would defile the Edenic temple – such as the Serpent. Adam failed to do this when he was tested at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this reason, Adam was replaced by a cherubim guardian in Genesis 3:24.
The implication of the first husband’s calling as a priest-judge is that Adam was called to also protect and guard Eve, his covenant partner, from the unclean Serpent.
This same word “to guard” is used in Genesis 4:9 ("…am I my brother’s keeper/ guardian?"), The answer is "Yes, you are!" If the older brother is called to guard and protect his younger brother, how much more the husband, his wife! Yet Adam failed to do this when he passively allowed the unclean Serpent to attack her with his deceptive words. Adam was actually standing next to Eve the entire time that the Serpent blasphemed God’s good character and uttered lies to his wife (“she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” Gen. 3:6). Satan intentionally disrespected and mockingly disregarded Adam’s headship by conversing with the woman instead, and Adam sinned – not only by taking of the fruit from the one tree which God commanded them not to eat of– but by failing to guard and protect his wife.
Lastly, man and woman are both created equal in the image of God, in their dignity and worth, as the LORD’s royal children. However, we must make clear that even though man and woman are equal in their image bearing status, they do not have the same God-given roles. In particular, Adam was created as the head of his wife, to lead her and serve her (Eph. 5:23).
B. Fathers must teach their sons and daughters, in word, but also by showing and doing. This imaging was meant to take place as parents pass on the image of God as models and examples for their children (Gen. 5:1-3).
C. The discipleship of Fathers and Mothers of their sons and daughters is One of God’s means for overcoming the Serpent!
As David reflects on Adam’s kingship being a pattern for his own, Psalm 8:2 says,
“From out of the mouths of babies and infants you have ordained strength, because of your foes, in order to destroy the enemy and the avenger.” Even though Satan’s scheme was to destroy marriage and destroy childbearing as a means of advancing God’s kingdom, nevertheless, the LORD will use the obedient worship of children to destroy the Serpent (through Christ the Offspring of the Woman, Gen. 3:15; cf. Matt. 21:16).
Psalm 127:3 says,
“Behold, sons are an inheritance from YWHW! The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, in this way, are the sons of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They shall not be put to shame when they speak to their enemies at the gate.”
This word for “inheritance” is a covenantal term, used for how YHWH is the inheritance of His people, and they are His inheritance. In this way, children are not merely a “common grace” blessing, but a covenant blessing, as a means of spreading the legacy of the Kingdom of God!
D. The main purpose of fathering is to make known the mighty works of God, his miraculous works of salvation and judgment, which are most fully seen in the Gospel of Jesus Christ:
Notice the role of fathers (in bold font) in this psalm is to make known to their children the saving acts of God in redemptive history! Ps. 78:1-7 says,
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments.”
The Serpent’s Attacks on the Family
The Serpent’s attempt to redefine and deconstruct God’s good order (especially through the destruction of the family) began in the Garden of Eden, by denying the authoritative and inerrant Word of God: “Has God really said?” (Gen. 3:1, 4). He continues to do the same thing today.
Satan’s attempt to deconstruct the family is evidenced in the offspring of the Serpent, Cain, murdering his own brother. The Serpent's scheme to redefine the family and marriage is manifested in Cain’s descendant, Lamech, redefining marriage by taking “two wives” (Gen. 4:19). The rule and reign of sin over the cursed line of Cain (Gen. 4:7) is characteristic of how Satan continues to pummel families with his lies and deceitful pleasures, in order to remove the father from the home and cause men to be passive in their original God-given, kingdom mission. This is one of the greatest reasons for decaying societies and neighborhoods in the United States of America.
Today, the Serpent seeks to destroy communities through the demonic rejection of God’s design of family, marriage, and gender, with anti-Christian ideologies such as critical theory and feminism, which despise male headship, the nuclear family, and God’s Word as the Authority and Source for morality.
Jesus Christ Restores the Family in the Covenant of Grace
The Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, became the perfect human son of God (Luke 3:23-38). He who is the Divine Image of God in His Deity (Col. 1:15), became the perfect image of God in His humanity, in order to advance image of God to an irreversible estate of glory, which is the image of Christ (1 Cor. 15:44-49). Jesus of Nazareth perfectly obeyed His earthly parents out of loving obedience to His Heavenly Father. After 33 years of law-keeping, sinless living, Jesus went to the Cross to die in the place of His people, suffering the full curse of the law for all of their disobedience, adultery, idolatry, and covenant breaking (Gal. 3:13). He was raised from the dead as the beginning and firstfruits of the New Creation (1 Cor. 15:20ff), and He poured out His life-giving Holy Spirit on His people in order to recreate in them in His image (2 Cor. 3:5, 17-18).
In this way, Jesus Christ is both the enabler and the example for children in the covenant to obey their parents from a heart of faith, which He forms in them through their parents’ faithful teaching of His Word (Gen. 18:19; Eph. 6:1).
Since Jesus Christ has overcome the world, Satan, sin, and death, as the offspring promised in Genesis 3:15 who has crushed the head of the Serpent, He has destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) – including Satan’s work to ruin families. All of the covenant promises that God made to Abraham are YES and AMEN in Christ, the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:16; 2 Cor. 1:20). This includes God’s promise to be the God of the parents, and the children, in His Covenant of Grace (Gen. 17:7; Acts 2:38-39). In this way, Jesus Christ’s victory was accomplished on behalf of Christian families, enabling them to raise up “offspring for God” (Mal. 2:15).
Thus, God’s plan is still to bring His salvation through families, and to use families to spread His Kingdom of salvation!
The Great Commission is nothing short of the reproclamation of God’s original plan for families, to be fruitful and multiply, physically and spiritually (since humans are physical, spiritual creatures!). God’s plan of bring salvation through families is not disconnected from making disciples by baptizing our children, then teaching them Jesus’ commandments (Matt. 28:18-20). This is who God is as YHWH, and He does not change in His character or faithfulness:
“You must know, therefore, that YHWH your God – He is the true God, namely, the Faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His faithful-love with those who love Him by keeping His commandments, to a thousand generations!” (Deut. 7:9)
Questions for Application (Questions by Edwin Ramirez for Timothy Brindle to answer)
1. As Fathers/Parents, what should be our role to the fatherless?
The LORD’s love for the fatherless is our model for how we must love the fatherless (see Deut. 10:12-21, esp. verse v.17-19). But even before we consider the imperative and command for us to love the fatherless, we must grasp the beauty and the weight of the indicative – that God the Father has loved us, who were the fatherless! Just as the LORD likens Israel as the fatherless when they were in Egypt, whom God redeemed and made His children, so likewise, we in our former spiritual bondage were the fatherless. Before our adoption, our father was the devil (John 8:44). The glory of the Gospel is that God the Father gave His Son on the Cross as a wrath appeasing sacrifice, and raised Him from the dead to pour out on us the Spirit of Sonship, who united us to Christ by faith, and adopted us through our union with the Son of God (Rom. 8:14-17). We are sons in the Son (Eph. 1:5). As an overflow of gratitude and love for our Heavenly Father who has loved us and made us his children, He now calls us to love the fatherless who are around us – with His love. Such can be seen in David, who as a type of Christ, pursues Mephibosheth and embraces him as one of his sons, showing him steadfast, covenant love (2 Samuel 9). What a precious example for us!
THE PRINCIPLE OF PROXIMITY: look at those closest to you in order to begin reaching fatherless children:
a. Do you have any Nephews or Nieces who are fatherless? Start there, by intentionally embracing them, including them, discipling them, and loving them as one of your own children (teaching your children to love them)!
b. Are there any fatherless children in your church? If so, the men in the church are their fathers, as Paul was to Timothy (1 Tim. 1:2).
c. Are there any fatherless children in your neighborhood? Bring them in your home in order to model before them the love of a husband to a wife, the obedience of children to their parents, and of course the repentance and confession of sin and trust in Christ when we sin against each other. This powerful Christian witness will bless the fatherless in our community, as we pray for opportunities to love and disciple them with the truth of God’s Word, presenting a Biblical world-view of wise living and godliness. Inviting them to Church is a way for them to see the family and household of God interact with the love of Christ!
2. How does the promise God made to Abraham (“this promise is for you, and for your children”) apply to us as Parents today as we raise them as Covenant Members?
In Acts 2:38-39, Peter refers to God’s “promise” to bring about a repentant, purified heart and the forgiveness of sins, which are signified by baptism. Peter tells Israelites that “this promise is for you, and for your children, and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, now Gentiles who are far off are included on a grand scale in a way that they were not included prior to the coming of Christ. But God’s promise for their children is not new. This word for “promise” ( ἐπαγγελία, pronounced epangelia) is referring to God’s covenant promises, such as His promise to be God to the children in the covenant, made to Abraham in Genesis 17:7. Yet God’s promise comes with a command and responsibility for fathers to teach their children the Word of God (Gen. 18:19)! We do this by faith in God’s faithfulness, since God promises that He will circumcise our children’s hearts (Deut. 30:6). God promises that He will put His Word and Spirit in them, and give them a new heart (Isaiah 59:20-21; Jer. 32:38-39). In this way, the New Covenant is about restoring families: Malachi 4:6àLuke 1:16-17. Ultimately, Christians parents must see their children the way Jesus sees them.
3. Besides the Bible, what books would you recommend for those who want to get a more thorough understanding of these topics?
The Unfolding, by Timothy Brindle. The chapters “Image of God”, Kingdom of God, “Death and Resurrection: Circumcision”, and “Priest Judge” provide the exegesis and biblical-theological basis for this discussion and Bible study on family, parenting, and children.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. This is a classic book on how God calls us as parents to go deeper than just modifying our children’s outward behavior, but to rely on Him to get to their heart with our discipline and daily presentation of the gospel.
You Asked: Your Questions. God's Answers. by William Edgar. This book is especially helpful for pre-teens and teen agers to be able to read questions that other teens wrote to Dr. Edgar about purpose, existence, sexuality, evil, etc., and to read his answers from a Reformed, Biblical worldview.
Tactics by Gregory Koukl. This book has been useful for preparing our teens to wisely argue and defend their Christian faith in helpful ways. The Serpent’s ideological onslaughts are heavier than ever towards the younger generations, so we must equip them in apologetics, early!
God's Design for Sex Series (4 Books): by Stan and Brenna Jones. This series helps parents do sex education, starting from 3 years old, and upward to teenagers. It has been extremely helpful for presenting God’s good design for sexuality within the covenant of marriage, and for teaching children His purpose for their body parts (sexual organs).
Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham. Dr. Voddie’s wisdom as a shepherd-father who has poured into his children, is golden.
Parenting by God’s Promises by Joel R. Beeke. Brother Edwin Ramirez highly recommends this book, and the following one by Douglas Wilson. I look forward to reading them both!
Federal Husband by Douglas Wilson
4. What practical advice/encouragement would you give to a Father/Parent who is looking to be more intentional about making disciples in their home?
- Make your schedule is centered around discipling your children. To do so, dads and moms need to drink deeply from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3), preferably early in the morning, in order to have the truth and grace of Christ to pour into their children. Family worship time must become a routine so that the children expect it. For our family, doing “Bible Time” each evening after dinner has worked best. Although not every man has the gift of teaching like pastors do, it is my conviction and understanding from Scripture that fathers are still called to teach God’s Word to their children (see Ps. 78:1-7 above; Eph. 6:1ff). Therefore, a time to sing to Christ, pray, and read and explain God’s Word together will serve as a glue that holds together families, and causes them to flourish in the Lord (Ps. 128). Catechism is extremely helpful as well, in particular, the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
- Homeschooling (and all parenting!) is Disciple making. This is true, not just from 8 A.M. – 3 P.M. (Mon-Fri) during “school” time, but every waking hour affords us the opportunity to teach our children how to see God, His world, His creatures, and themselves, from a Biblical perspective. Dads, be involved as much as possible!
- Dads, be present! Namely, be home as much as possible during your children’s waking hours.
May the Lord Jesus Christ Himself grant us the grace to serve our wives and children in the power of His Holy Spirit!
The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” (Gen. 18:17-19)
Watch the discussion with Timothy Brindle and Edwin Ramirez on a Biblical Theology of Parenting, Family, and Fathers, here.