Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches

Osiek, Carolyn, and David L. Balch. Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. The Family, Religion, and Culture Series. Don S. Browning and Ian S. Evison, eds. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

Families in the New Testament World studies the early Christian family within the socio-cultural context of the Greco-Roman world, yielding what authors Carolyn Osiek and David Balch call a “surprising result”: that the biblical writers, in general, were not interested as such in describing the nature and meaning of the family as they were in using the family and the household as a model for understanding the meaning of the church and discipleship. The authors’ assessment is that, in following this approach, the New Testament writers not only positively conveyed the deep meaning of relationship and mission for the church, negatively they built into their model problems such as discrimination and inequality drawn from their social and cultural surroundings. Still, much can be learned about the family from the biblical writings, not the least of which is the significance of the family as “the important testing ground for the strength of the church.” <p> Osiek and Balch divide the book into two major sections: the Material and Social Environment of the Greco-Roman Household (Part I), and Early Christian Families and House Churches (Part II). The authors focus early chapters on the archaeology of the Greco-Roman home, the cultural and social worldview of the ancient family, and the effect of the patronage system on early Christianity. Later chapters address specific issues pertaining to early Christians such as their social location, marriage and celibacy, the education of children, their approach to slavery, and family life and hospitality. Along with a bibliography and several indices, the book includes a glossary of Greek and Latin terms.