Studies in the Laws of Nature’s God
by Gerald R. Thompson
SELF-STUDY – THE FAMILY
Today, legal issues directly impacting the family institution, such as education, corporal punishment, abortion notification, no-fault divorce and homosexual rights are rarely examined from a perspective of God-given rights and authority. Rather, modern jurisprudence views all familial rights as state delegated and state regulable. In essence, modern jurisprudence treats the family as a non-entity, or at least an entity having no legal rights or authority of its own as against civil government.
However, the biblical picture of the family is somewhat different. The family institution is the creation of God, with a built-in authority structure and the right, as it were, to exercise dominion over the world. This grant of authority to families has never been rescinded. Anthropologically, the nations of the world originated in family units dispersed from the tower of Babel. It is certainly possible for families to thrive without civil government, but could civil government even exist without families? Consequently, the extent to which society respects familial rights and protects the family institution is an important concern of jurisprudence.
In a prior study, we examined covenant law, particularly with regard to the divine covenants. The concept of covenant law is not limited to the relationship between God and us, however. The divine covenants also serve as the pattern for legal relationships between people. Of all the possible covenantal relationships, the two most important (for legal purposes) are marriage and civil constitutions. These two are most important because they are, in addition to being modeled after the divine covenants, responsible for governing the civil aspects of families and nations.
In this Study, we want to look at the way the marriage relationship mirrors the legal aspects of the divine covenants. First, we will examine the scriptural evidence for considering the marriage relationship as a form of covenantal union. Next, we will consider whether this relation is subject to a pre-defined authority structure, and the extent to which it serves as the framework for administering the law of families.
1. To what extent is a marriage relationship based upon mutual assent? Read Gen. 24:58,67. Did Rebekah consent to marry Isaac? Read Mat. 1:18-25. Did Mary and Joseph consent to be married? Are these examples the rule or the exception?
2. To what extent is a marriage relationship binding on descendants? Can children undo the marriage of their parents? Can children choose their parents? What are the implications with respect to the legal “emancipation” of minors from parental authority?
3. Read Rom. 7:1-3. To what extent is a marriage relationship irrevocably binding? How is the biblical view different from the modern law of divorce?
4. Read Deut. 24:1-4 and Mat. 19:3-12. Is the act of divorce the creation of God or man? Is the law of divorce the creation of God or man? Does the existence of divorce negate the irrevocability of the marriage covenant?
5. Read Gen. 4:25 and 9:1. To what extent are people authorized to engage in sexual relations outside of the marriage relationship?
6. Read Deut. 23:2 and Hos. 5:7. To what extent are people authorized to bear children outside of the marriage relationship? What bearing does this have on the legitimacy of surrogate motherhood, if any?
In examining the relationship between husband and wife, there are two primary areas of legal concern. The first is what constitutes a valid marriage. Here, we are concerned with the legal effects of cohabitation, fornication, same sex marriages, and adultery. We want to investigate what it is that makes some relationships legitimate, and others illegitimate.
The second area of primary concern is the legal relationship, particularly the authority relationship, between husband and wife. Here, we are concerned with head of the household issues, the rights of married women, and spousal rape. If possible, we would like to find out what God’s expectations are in connection with family governance, and whether the divine expectations translate into civilly enforceable rights. How we view the legal nature of marriage will play a vital role in shaping our jurisprudence of family law.
1. Read Ex. 20:14; Lev. 20:10 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10. To what extent do a husband and wife owe each other a duty of mutual fidelity, that is, a duty not to commit adultery? Is this duty merely moral or is it legally enforceable?
2. Read Mat. 5:27:32 and John 8:1-11. To what extent, if any, did Jesus modify the law of adultery?
3. Read Ex. 22:16-17 and Deut. 22:28-29. In ancient Israel, was fornication, like adultery, a criminal offense? Were the fornicators ipso facto deemed to be married, either morally or legally? Is the law of fornication for us today any different, and why or why not?
4. Read 1 Cor. 7:1-5. Upon what does the lawfulness of sexual relations depend: authority or consent? Can people lawfully consent to sexual relations that God has prohibited? Can people make sexual relations criminal that God has authorized? How does this impact your view of “spousal rape”?
5. To what extent do a husband and wife exist within an authority structure pre-defined by God?
- Read Num. 1:1-4,16. To what extent was it possible for a woman to be the head of a household in ancient Israel? What difference did it make in terms of familial authority?
- Read Eph. 5:21-25,33. Does Jesus, as “head” of the Church, have authority over it? Does a husband, as “head” of his wife, have authority over her? Can the authority relationship of one be different from the other, according to this scripture?
- Read Num. 30:3-16. In ancient Israel, could a woman veto the promises of her husband, or of her father? What was the authority relationship between them? Was this a set of laws peculiar to ancient Israel?
6. Read 1 Cor. 11:1-16.
- To what extent are the arguments Paul is making merely cultural, limited in application to the early church, or to the Jews? Look at verses 7-9 and 12. Is Paul reasoning from culture, or from the account of creation? To what extent is familial authority part of the eternal law of nature?
- Look at verse 14. What principle does Paul derive from an examination of nature? What does it have to do with familial authority? Has anything changed in the nature of things since these verses were written? What?
- Compare and contrast verse 2 with verse 16. Is familial structure and authority a matter of man’s tradition, or God’s requirement?
7. Read Gen. 2:18-23 and Gen. 3:20. To what extent could Adam’s naming of the animals be attributed to an exercise of dominion authority over them? To what extent could Adam’s naming of Eve (twice) be considered an exercise of familial authority? When a man gives a woman his name in marriage, is it by her choice, or his right?
Both the Adamic and Noahic covenants commend people to “be fruitful and multiply,” that is, to reproduce through the bearing of children. The early view of the common law was that since God entrusted the bearing of, and caring for, children to their parents, the parents were not accountable to anyone else for the discharge of these duties.
Modernly, civil laws have assumed an increasing role in superintending the authority of parents over their children. Parents are no longer able to veto a minor daughter’s decision to obtain an abortion. States have assumed primary jurisdiction over the education of children. Parents who fail to provide medical attention for their children for religious reasons are often charged with neglect, and parents who use any form of physical punishment with their children can be charged with abuse.
1. Read Prov. 22:6; Deut. 4:9; 6:6-9; and Eph. 6:4. To what extent do parents have intellectual or educational authority over their children? Is this authority limited to religious instruction? Does this authority preclude the education of children by other individuals? The Church? Civil government? Why or why not?
2. Read Prov. 13:24 and Heb. 12:7-8. Do parents have divine authority to administer corporal punishment to their children? Is corporal punishment an inalienable (God-given) legal right?
3. Read Ex. 20:12 and Eph. 6:1-3. Is the duty of children to honor their parents legally enforceable? How about the duty of minor children to obey their parents? Are your answers to these questions different, and if so, why?
4. Read Judges 11:29-40. Does anything in scripture indicate that Jephthah’s vow was unlawful? Was Jephthah’s daughter under a legal duty to sacrifice her life for the sake of her father’s vow? Was she under a moral duty?
5. Read Prov. 31:10-15 and 1 Tim. 5:8.
- Do parents have any kind of duty to provide for the material needs of their children? Do children have the legal right to enforce it? What authority has God granted children that parents must respect?
- Does a father have a legal duty (biblically) to support a child who is no longer a member of his household (such as where custody is granted to the mother following divorce)? Why or why not? Can the law impose parental responsibility without recognizing parental authority?
We now want to consider the interrelationship between families and civil government, and the extent to which family rights ought to be secured by society.
1. Read Gen. 1:28 and consider other scriptures mentioned earlier as necessary.
- Can civil government lawfully restrict, control or regulate the extent to which any family chooses to bear children? Can nations lawfully limit the size of families?
- Is bearing children a God-given right which cannot be impaired under any circumstances? Is sterilization a lawful form of civil punishment for sex offenses? For imbecility?
2. Notice in Gen. 1:28 that the authority to bear children and to rule over the earth are contained in the same command, given to the same people, and in the same context.
- To what extent does every family have the authority to rule over and subdue the earth (i.e., to take dominion, including property ownership)?
- Is there a significant difference in the amount of control exercised by modern civil government over: 1) bearing children; 2) marriage; and 3) property rights; each in comparison to the others? Biblically, should such differences exist? Why or why not?
3. What is the biblical basis, if any, for “common-law marriage”? Does the marital union require the consent or acknowledgement of a public official before it is legally valid? Who institutes marriage, God or man?
* Copyright © 1995, 2006 Gerald R. Thompson. Used by permission.