The modern conception of a human family as consisting of father and mother united in lifelong monogamy is alien to part of the OT. The founder of the nation, Abraham, had two wives (Gen. 16) but by the time of the monarchy polygamy, common in earlier ages, was limited to the royal household. Each ordinary family was a self‐sustaining economic unit; food was stored in the house; animals were quartered there. The father's authority was absolute and children remained under his control at least until marriage.
Jewish marriage customs presupposed by the NT are that there was first a betrothal, which was binding but could be dissolved by divorce, and subsequently the husband took his bride to his own home, which constituted the completion of the marriage. Only a husband had the right to terminate a marriage by divorce (Deut. 24: 1–4) but the right was not unrestricted (Deut. 22: 29) and by the time of Malachi (2: 14 ff.) divorce was regarded with disfavour, in that lifelong union in marriage was used as an analogy for the union between God and his people in covenant.
Jesus taught that the family set‐up is not to stand in the way of embracing the kingdom of God (Matt. 8: 21) and family ties may have to be renounced (Luke 14: 26) and he himself said that whoever does the will of God is part of his family (Mark 3: 35). Indeed, out of the death of the natural family springs the supernatural family which is the Church or household of God (1 Tim. 3: 15), which now becomes the new support to those who have renounced their first family (Mark 10: 30). Paul founds or ‘begets’ Churches as if he is the father of a family (1 Cor. 4: 15) and baptized pagans are henceforth part of the family of God (Eph. 2: 19).
Not that in Jesus' teaching natural family life is to be discontinued generally. He restored their daughter to Jairus and his wife (Mark 5: 40) and her son to the widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11 ff.). The family in NT parlance consisted of parents, children, and servants (e.g. Matt. 10: 25, 35; Rom. 14: 4) and the mutual relationships of all these parties are to reflect the kind of love which Christ has for his Church (Eph. 5 and 6).
The performance and integrating of family life was in the interests of society and to that end the Christian Church frowned on incest and inbreeding and encouraged family life where security and shelter were provided and prayer and worship practised. The core of NT and Church teaching on the family can be adapted to changing social conditions, as it already was within the NT itself; for Matt. 5: 32 and 19: 9 already represents a modification in the light of experience.
A closely linked group of MSS is known in textual criticism as a ‘family’. All existing MSS are copies of another made either by eyesight or dictation and it is important to ascertain whether a family is descended from an original MS which was reliable.