Is It Time To Give Up On The Traditional Family?

Is It Time To Give Up On The Traditional Family?

Is It Time To Give Up On The Traditional Family?

The traditional family has never been everyone’s cup of tea. Marx and his followers believe it performs “ideological functions” for capitalism by “acting as a unit of consumption” and teaching “passive acceptance of hierarchy.”[1]

A utilitarian like William Godwin believed that the “abolition of marriage will be attended with no evils since the whole idea of monogamy is the “most odious of all monopolies” which creates the context for “jealousy, subterfuge, and general social corruption.”[2]

Wilhelm Reich, a Freudian analyst also combined Marxist and Freudian ideas when he denounced the family as the soil where governmental authoritarianism is planted and nurtured.[3]

Of course, we can go on and on and talk about some elements in the feminist movement that also think along this line. But the point should be evident.

Though these ideological rejections or suspicions of the family have not become mainstream, it seems the greatest threat to the family is the family itself.

What do I mean?

In just a few weeks, Nigerians have had to face the realities of the failings of the traditional family in vivid ways. First, a popular gospel singer, Osinachi Nwachukwu, was reported to have been beaten to her death by her husband, the culmination of years of domestic violence. The news rightly led to outbursts against domestic violence in marriage.

Within these outbursts, it was evident that there is growing frustration with the marriage institution that makes such violence possible. The virtues of divorce were praised and the Christian hesitation toward divorce was blamed by some. “Isn’t it better to stay in one’s house or parent’s house than to be subject to an institution that makes such maltreatment possible?” many quipped.

Of course, it’s hard, in the heat of the moment, to blame these people. For one thing, Osinachi’s case only got the attention it did because the victim was a celebrity. What about the hundreds (hopefully not thousands or millions) of people that face the same violence, to a lesser or greater degree? With such sights and sounds, how can we really blame people for the frustration of the moment?

But does domestic violence mean we should throw the baby out with the bathwater? Is there any virtue in the marriage institution that makes it valuable even with the seeming unending stories of domestic violence?

The second event was the report of some secondary school children who recorded themselves having sex in a hotel room during their school’s trip to Dubai. What was alleged as a rape incident turned out to be consensual sex and only a snippet of the waywardness of the girl involved.

This incident brought the issue of bad parenting to the fore as people complained about the immoral and nauseating things children now do under the nose of their parents.

So, while the first incident showed the failure of marriage, the second showed the failure of parenting, the two components of the traditional family. Where do we go from here?

My thesis is that the family is a gift of God that is corrupted by our sinfulness. Consequently, the institution itself is good and glorious. But just as God didn’t dispose of us because of our sin but redeemed us, family and family life should be redeemed rather than denigrated or discouraged.

Of course, this does not attempt to answer the question of whether a particular family should be dissolved or on what grounds that dissolution will be biblical or not. Rather, the question I consider is whether the institution itself is worth preserving and sustaining. Said differently, should we still encourage people to get married and have children?

The creation mandate

In his wisdom and for his glory, God made humanity male and female. Both the man and the woman were created in his image (Genesis 1:27; 5:2-3) and both received the creation mandate: to be fruitful and multiply and extend God’s sovereignty over the whole creation as his vice-regents (Genesis 1:28-32).

But they were not to do this as two independent sets of people detached from one another. God didn’t just create a male and female, he created a family, the man and the woman uniting together to become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). Male and female, united together in holy matrimony, were to fulfil the creation mandate as one flesh.

Simply put, God wanted to fill the whole creation with his glory through families.

When Jesus came to inaugurate the new creation, he affirmed God’s vision in Genesis 1-2 (Matthew 19:4-6). Though Christ’s message may shake up the unity of the family (Matthew 10:34-36) and though the kingdom of God requires primary allegiance to Jesus and not the family (Luke 14:26-27), a fact he exemplified in his ministry (Matthew 12:46-50), Jesus affirmed the importance of the family. Apart from affirming it as a creation ordinance, Jesus promised that those who have lost family because of the kingdom of God will have a replacement in the family of God’s people, the church (Matthew 19:28-30).  

The family and redemption

When man fell, the first gospel promise was couched in familial terms: enmity between the woman’s offspring and the serpent’s (Gen 3:15). This gospel promise was moved forward in God’s call of Abraham. Here again, God promised to bless the families of the earth through the offspring of Abraham (Gen 12, 13 15, et al.). David also received the promise of an offspring that will sit on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7).

From Abraham through Judah and through David, Jesus came as the true offspring of Abraham and the woman. His ministry was preceded by that of John the Baptist of whom it was prophesied that he would turn the hearts of parents to their children and vice versa (Malachi 4:5).

Jesus came as the son of Joseph and Mary and established the kingdom of God. He affirmed the family (as we have seen) and then created the largest family of all, the household of God which contains people from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people (Ephesians 2:19, Galatians 6:10).

He then chose the metaphor of marriage as the appropriate description of his ministry. This worldwide family of God is the bride and Christ is the groom (2 Corinthians 11:2). The husband’s love for his wife was to mirror that of Christ for the church, his bride (Ephesians 5:27).

Even within the trinity, there is a Father-Son relationship that Jesus was always eager to emphasise. The love of Christ for us and our love for him is then taken up within this trinitarian Father-son relationship (John 15:1-17).

In summary, our redemption is packed full of familial language, which shows, again, the importance that God places on the traditional family.

The virtues of the family

What then is the family for?

We have already seen that God designed it as the means through which the creation mandate to extend God’s rule over all creation is accomplished.

God wants us to be fruitful and multiply and he designed the family not just as the means to bring more humans to the world but also as the medium of human flourishing. Paul said that it is in God that we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). That is, the preservation and sustenance of all creation, including humans, are in God’s hands. And God does not just preserve us, he richly blesses us with all things (1 Timothy 6:17-18). He does not just want us to survive, he wants us to flourish.

And my point is that the family is a core medium of that flourishing (shalom).


Provision is part of human flourishing. And God designed that our needs are met in the context of a thriving family.

In Luke 11:11, God compares his own provision to that of a father for his children. And in 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul compares his concern for the church to that of the mother for the children. In fact, God showed the superabundance of his care and provision by promising that even when nursing mothers, contrary to their nature, forsake their children, he will not forsake his children (Isaiah 49:15). And in Ephesians, the husband’s sacrificing love for the wife mirrors Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:28, 29). 

In fact, Paul went as far as saying that the person who does not provide for his relatives is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). For Paul, provision is key to human flourishing and God designed the family as the basic unit for human provision.

In his book, Thomas Sowell reported a study that found that the “biggest differentiating factor” “behind differences in educational and career outcomes” among 1,470 people with an IQ of 140 and beyond was family backgrounds.[4]

The point here is that the family is key to the success of children; the quality of upbringing that a child receives in a family contributes to his or her success in life.

Similarly, there are studies in the US and in the UK  that show that children who grow up in two-parent homes have certain advantages that show up in the outcome of their lives.

While we can thank God for orphanages that take care of children without immediate families, it should not be too far-fetched to say that on the average (when it comes to provision), ceteris paribus, children are better raised in a home with parents that consider them their own flesh and blood. Many of us have been recipients of overwhelming parental sacrificial love that have made significant differences in our lives. No wonder everyone says that their mothers are the best (God bless all good fathers by the way).  

In summary, it should not be controversial to say that generally children are better provided for in the context of a family that cares for them as their own.

Protection and security

When Lot was captured in Genesis 14, he had Abraham, his uncle (who was responsible for him) to rescue him.

In Mosaic law, when an Israelite goes into debt and sells himself to a foreigner, his relatives can redeem him or her if they are unable to redeem themselves (Leviticus 25:47-55). If an Israelite man died leaving no heir, a relative had to take the wife in and give an heir to his brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Genesis 38, Ruth 4). This levirate marriage was also intended as a means of caring for the poor widow.

When the prodigal son had squandered his inheritance with his wild friends, there was nowhere else for him to go to maintain his dignity but to his Father’s house (Luke 15).

The point here is that God designed the family as a way to give us a sort of security in this fallen world. And such security and protection are part of human flourishing.

When people are kidnapped, it is their family members (not sympathisers on Twitter or reporters) that are willing to empty their bank accounts or go from pillar to post to pay the ransom. When someone falls sick, it is the family members, ceteris paribus, that are most willing to sell what needs to be sold to pay for the treatment.

In fact, when a woman suffers violence in her marriage, her parent’s home is most times the primary place of succour that she moves into after leaving her husband’s house.

Also, when someone becomes broke due to wrong business decisions, it is the family we first fall on, generally speaking,  for emotional and material succor. Extend this to all the ugly things that happen in life and it is evident that ceteris paribus, the family is our stronghold, the primary place we find comfort, sanity, and strength to ride the wave of life’s turbulence.


The family is also the primary place where we gain the wisdom to live through life. One of the key wisdom literature, Proverbs, was a father’s message to his Son (Proverbs 1:8).

Part of the resources that instil wisdom in us is discipline. Parents don’t just instruct children in the way they should go, they also use the rod of discipline to help children embrace the way of wisdom (Proverbs 3:12).

God even used the discipline of a father as a metaphor for his own discipline of his children (Hebrews 12:4-11).

It’s evident that people like Marx, Godwin, and Reich were primarily against the family only because the traditional family of their time socialised children in ways that were different from their own ideologies. I doubt if Marx would have been against families reading the Communist Manifesto to their children.

Such wisdom and discipline are part of the reasons why children in stable families generally (averagely) do better in society than others.

There is no human flourishing apart from wisdom and discipline and the family is the primary socialisation force that guides us in the way of wisdom (as the parents perceive it). Despite the diversity of worldviews in society, there is still a mere morality (to borrow from C S Lewis) that every family in a functional society instils in their children.

Salvation and spirituality

The family is also one key means by which we enjoy the most important component of human flourishing: salvation and spirituality.

In Deuteronomy 6, parents were to teach their children in the ways of the Lord using every resource available. Paul also called parents in the church at Ephesus to train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).

We see an example of what this looks like in Timothy. His grandmother taught the faith to his mother and his mother taught him the same. Timothy became such a might missionary and pastor because he was introduced to the Scriptures from a young age (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15).

Christianity is a generational faith (see Psalms 78 and 145) and the family is one key means whereby the faith is preserved across generations.

Though it has become trendy to rail against cultural Christianity, the fact still remains that many people became genuine Christians not by some awesome conversion experience that will attract the media but by the faithful nurturing of Christian parents.

Redeeming the family

It’s important to say that nothing above is meant to deny that provision, protection and security, socialisation, salvation and spirituality cannot occur outside of the traditional family. Rather, the point is that the family is often the primary and best means by which we enjoy these various components of shalom.

If so, then we should seek to preserve it not by justifying its faults but by doing the best we can, in God’s strength, to redeem it.

The alternatives to redemption

What do we have if we disparage the traditional family? Fornication. Cohabitation. Abortion on steroids. Single parenthood. Homosexuality. The desire for companionship and sex won’t subside, it will only be fulfilled in ways that diminish human flourishing when compared to marriage.

Consider single parenthood. The abstract of academic research published in the National Library of Medicine read thus:

“Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being. Pediatricians and society should promote the family structure that has the best chance of producing healthy children. The best scientific literature to date suggests that, with the exception of parents faced with unresolvable marital violence, children fare better when parents work at maintaining the marriage. Consequently, society should make every effort to support healthy marriages and to discourage married couples from divorcing.”

Or consider cohabiting. The absence of a marriage covenant means both parties, especially the woman, has no security. There is always the need to prove that one is worthy of the other person’s love and care. And whereas the cost of divorce can lead one to be more cautious about going through it, cohabiting relationships can be more easily dissolved, which is why the woman, mostly, always needs to prove her worth.

Moreover, there are no in-laws that intervene when there are misunderstandings. Whereas a woman can run to her parents or her in-laws in the case of violence, a cohabitation relationship where no one gives no one to anyone does not have that security. Such relationships have a tendency to be more violent, even though it is the more silent type. An academic article published in the Journal of Family Issues confirms this.  And we can go on and on.

George Dent has also argued in an academic article published in Case Western Reserve University’s Journal of Law and Politics that homosexual “marriages” are inferior to traditional marriages between a man and a woman.

Simply put, none of these arrangements are better substitutes for the traditional family. The only other option is for everyone to be on their own. But God has created us as sexual and social beings and that is not really an option.

So, while singleness is not wrong or evil, it is God’s design, a design he has implanted into our own natural desires, that a large portion of us be in marriage relationships where we, together with our children, experience human flourishing.

The path to redemption

More fundamentally, if we will redeem our families, it must begin with everyone, single and married, becoming better people than we currently are. In our materialistic world, money is seen as all-important and character development is relegated. But money does not make better people and there are many societal dysfunctions that you can’t throw your cool cash at.

If we want better families, we all have to prioritise character development and acquire the wisdom that is necessary to relate better with everyone. The book of Proverbs is obviously one place to start.

More specifically, those who want to get married must be more discerning so they can make better choices. I have been a Nigerian long enough to know that for many ladies, money is the most important or even the sole important factor to look for in a potential husband. It’s understandable that women desire a sense of security in marriage, but when our materialistic culture tells us that money is the be-all and end-all, we’ll become disillusioned when the reality of living daily with someone’s character rather than his money dawns on us.

Secondly, as much as possible we have to avoid “forced” marriages. On one side, this is parents forcing their children to marry their friends’ children or what have you. On the other side, this is children marrying without their parent’s blessings. As we have seen, our families are supposed to be our protection and security. When we become adamant, impatient to assuage their fears about our partners, we are cutting ourselves from an important pillar of support.

Third, within the marriage, the husband must love the wife and the wife must respect the husband as Paul commanded in Ephesians. However, we must also listen to Paul when he said that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman” (1 Corinthians 11:11). Marriage must be a cooperation between two people made in the image of God who have realised their mutual dependence and are committed, as their marriage vow said, to “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

Fourth, we should not absolutise marriage and reject all the other forms of communities that are designed to strengthen it. The more of these communities (immediate neighbourhood, church, sports team, charity organisation, etc.) we belong to, the more people we are responsible to and the more support we receive from other people.

Of course, these points are not meant to be exhaustive. I am not married and my purpose is only to argue that the traditional family should be preserved and redeemed instead of embracing its alternatives. If we take the fourth point above seriously, I am sure we won’t have a paucity of resources that can help us navigate the daily demands of family life.

Christ, the redeemer

Nevertheless, there is no redemption apart from Christ. He is the only one that forgives all the sins of family life. For all the times we have fallen short of his demands as children, husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers, among others, he is gracious and kind to forgive us if we confess our unfaithfulness and repent.

But his blood is for a double cure. He cleanses us from the guilt of sin and then empowers us to overcome it in all its various forms. If we will begin to transform family life so that we can attain human flourishing through it, we must go to him and receive divine enablement.

And as he transforms and redeems our family life in the here and now, he also points us to the new creation. There, all the redeemed will be one single family, the bride of Christ. In that renewed earth, all the sins and failings of our family life will be gone and we’ll all love everyone else with a perfect love.

God, give us Christian homes!

Homes where the Bible is loved and taught,

Homes where the Master’s will is sought,

Homes crowned with beauty Your love has wrought;

God, give us Christian homes;

God, give us Christian homes!

God, give us Christian homes!

Homes where the father is true and strong,

Homes that are free from the blight of wrong,

Homes that are joyous with love and song;

God, give us Christian homes;

God, give us Christian homes!

God, give us Christian homes!

Homes where the mother, in caring quest,

Strives to show others Your way is best,

Homes where the Lord is an honored guest;

God, give us Christian homes;

God, give us Christian homes!

God, give us Christian homes!

Homes where the children are led to know

Christ in His beauty who loves them so,

Homes where the altar fires burn and glow;

God, give us Christian homes;

God, give us Christian homes![5]


[1] Thompson Karl (2014, Feb. 10). The Marxist Perspective on The Family. Revise Sociology.

[2] Carl Trueman. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 191-192, Scribd.

[3] Ibid, 301-302, Scribd.

[4] Thomas Sowell. Disparities and Discrimination (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2018), Location 50, Mobi.

[5] B.B. Mckinney. God Give Us Christian Homes in Baptist Hymnal (Nashville:Convention Press, 1991), No 504

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