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Unread 09-15-2020, 04:06 PM   #1
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Was Early Christianity Pro-Family?

It's been a whole since we have had a good ol' discussion in here. So, I thought I would bring up a topic that periodically pops in my head.

Was early Christianity pro-family, in the sense that we normally mean it in our day and age (procreating couple with 2 kids, etc)?

Jesus certainly seem to be kinda anti-family in some places:
-Luke 14:26 Jesus says 'Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot be my disciple.'
-Mark 10:28-31. 'Peter began to say to him, 'Look, we have left everything and followed you. Jesus said, Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age--houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions-- and in the age to come eternal life.'

Paul also has some things to say, most prominently in 1 Corinthians chapter 7:
-v.8 'to the unmarried and widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. (v.9)But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry.'
-vv. 32-35. 'I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.'
-38, ' So then, he who marries his fiance does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.'

What do these mean for Christians today? How does it complicate what we think of when we think of 'family'? What would a fuller theology of the family be that took these texts into account? What does the temporal and spatial context of these texts add to the discussion about them?

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Unread 09-15-2020, 09:22 PM   #2
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Interesting topic. I've sometimes wondered if the first generation expecting the Parousia in their lifetime may have influenced some of the vague language about marriage and family. It has echos of other groups' behavior in later end times predictions. Millerites and Shakers in the 1840s comes to mind.
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Unread 09-17-2020, 04:21 PM   #3
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Interesting topic. I've sometimes wondered if the first generation expecting the Parousia in their lifetime may have influenced some of the vague language about marriage and family. It has echos of other groups' behavior in later end times predictions. Millerites and Shakers in the 1840s comes to mind.
I think that this is probably true, especially in the case of early Paul.

I guess the question, then, is what we do with that knowledge! Some early Christians, for instance, used much of what Paul said about marriage, coupled it with other Pauline texts that seem to talk about renouncing desire, and considered celibacy (even in marriage) to be preferable. And others, like Clement, thought that while sex was permissible, it shouldnt be pleasurable. Christians should renounce being seduced or controlled by their desires.
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Unread 09-17-2020, 05:13 PM   #4
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Paul does seem to suggest that those who are able to remain celibate can better serve the kingdom. However, he also seems to suggest that if you can't then you should marry.

I do believe that pro-creation is the major reason for human sexual activity but I see absolutely no reason why it should be considered the only reason. Are we to expect couples who can't conceive to remain married and celibate? Are couples past the child-bearing years supposed to remian celibate for the rest of their lives? That makes absolutely no sense to me.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I could not have made it this far living a celibate life. I also know that as long as Robin and I are both still breathing I won't attempt to.
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Unread 09-20-2020, 09:14 PM   #5
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Paul does seem to suggest that those who are able to remain celibate can better serve the kingdom. However, he also seems to suggest that if you can't then you should marry.

I do believe that pro-creation is the major reason for human sexual activity but I see absolutely no reason why it should be considered the only reason. Are we to expect couples who can't conceive to remain married and celibate? Are couples past the child-bearing years supposed to remian celibate for the rest of their lives? That makes absolutely no sense to me.

I know without a shadow of a doubt that I could not have made it this far living a celibate life. I also know that as long as Robin and I are both still breathing I won't attempt to.
I don't think this is a matter of celibacy, but of procreation.

I think Jesus was pretty clear that he expected his followers to abandon everything this world has to offer in order to follow him--I'm fairly certain children would fall into that category.

I think early christianity was incompatible with having children; once you assume the responsibility of raising a child, your freedom to even leave your home, let alone be actively evangelistic and freely giving to help others in need, becomes exceedingly restricted. In my opinion, knowing this and still making babies anyway would be selfish.

But the western church is a joke and would largely be condemned by the man it claims to worship and represent. It's members wouldn't know what following Jesus means if it slapped them in the face. They do everything they can to feel good about themselves, like they're living the right sort of life, while knowingly and deliberately justifying doing things that Jesus would abhor. It is because of this that I think this entire conversation is largely pointless.
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Unread 09-22-2020, 04:17 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toast View Post
I don't think this is a matter of celibacy, but of procreation.

I think Jesus was pretty clear that he expected his followers to abandon everything this world has to offer in order to follow him--I'm fairly certain children would fall into that category.

I think early christianity was incompatible with having children; once you assume the responsibility of raising a child, your freedom to even leave your home, let alone be actively evangelistic and freely giving to help others in need, becomes exceedingly restricted. In my opinion, knowing this and still making babies anyway would be selfish.

But the western church is a joke and would largely be condemned by the man it claims to worship and represent. It's members wouldn't know what following Jesus means if it slapped them in the face. They do everything they can to feel good about themselves, like they're living the right sort of life, while knowingly and deliberately justifying doing things that Jesus would abhor. It is because of this that I think this entire conversation is largely pointless.
And yet Paul tells his readers that if they can't abstain then they should marry.

As far as procreation goes, there is no New Testament precedent to either have children or not have children if you are married. I believe that falls into the realm of Christian freedom.
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Unread 09-22-2020, 05:11 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Toast View Post
I don't think this is a matter of celibacy, but of procreation.

I think Jesus was pretty clear that he expected his followers to abandon everything this world has to offer in order to follow him--I'm fairly certain children would fall into that category.

I think early christianity was incompatible with having children; once you assume the responsibility of raising a child, your freedom to even leave your home, let alone be actively evangelistic and freely giving to help others in need, becomes exceedingly restricted. In my opinion, knowing this and still making babies anyway would be selfish.

But the western church is a joke and would largely be condemned by the man it claims to worship and represent. It's members wouldn't know what following Jesus means if it slapped them in the face. They do everything they can to feel good about themselves, like they're living the right sort of life, while knowingly and deliberately justifying doing things that Jesus would abhor. It is because of this that I think this entire conversation is largely pointless.
That would be a pretty radical (and unnecessary) extrapolation of what Jesus said.

I don't think you can read Paul's "house table" passages and come to this conclusion. Marriages still happened, along with the natural outcome of them.
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Unread 09-22-2020, 05:19 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Leboman View Post
Paul does seem to suggest that those who are able to remain celibate can better serve the kingdom. However, he also seems to suggest that if you can't then you should marry.
Yeah, though I find his insistence that being unmarried is better to be interesting. It doesn't seem to me to be a matter that is merely 'Oh, well. You know, it's ok whatever ya wanna do. Best if youre single, but whave!'
And, I do wonder what this has to do with the general difficulties found in the Corinthian churches, who are in a city which is rather well known in the ancient world as a type of low-key vegas (not gambling, per se, but existent as a sort of cultural capital and city of vice, including prostitution).

So, does marriage exist mostly as a sort of preventative, here? A kind of social institution that is good for the church because it keeps them from porneia?


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Originally Posted by Leboman View Post
I do believe that pro-creation is the major reason for human sexual activity but I see absolutely no reason why it should be considered the only reason. Are we to expect couples who can't conceive to remain married and celibate? Are couples past the child-bearing years supposed to remian celibate for the rest of their lives? That makes absolutely no sense to me
Yeah, for sure about the fact that marriage surely admits for non-procreative sex. But, regarding procreation being a major reason for marriage, I guess it depends on your culture? If Paul isn't too worried about it (he doesn't, that I can find in his 7 definite authored letters mention it), maybe that says something? Despite contemporary people pointing out Paul's conservatism, his seeming indifference to procreation surely seems radical! And, it was radical in the 1st century, both with regards to most of Judaism, and certainly to citizens of Rome (who were living through the Augustan revival of the traditional family)

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I know without a shadow of a doubt that I could not have made it this far living a celibate life. I also know that as long as Robin and I are both still breathing I won't attempt to.
I doubt I could have either. Though, at times I have attempted to enact sort of monastic flairs. I have generally enjoyed refraining from physical enjoyment. Or putting myself through certain forms of pain (fasting and exercise come to mind).
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Unread 09-22-2020, 05:43 PM   #9
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I don't think this is a matter of celibacy, but of procreation.
Speaking of Paul (and which Paul?), or Jesus? Paul has a complicated relationship with desire, possibly even a Stoic understanding of desire and one's relationship to it. And, further, in those passages in chapter 7 he certainly seems to be speaking of sexual relations (or, at times, generally about porneia, which as we know is a sticky term to define). Later Paul (post-Marcion; maybe that is important?) seems to expect the existence of children. And, the dating of Pseudo-Paul is crucial here. If in the 2nd century, then that means that refraining from pro-creation broke down pretty quick.

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I think Jesus was pretty clear that he expected his followers to abandon everything this world has to offer in order to follow him--I'm fairly certain children would fall into that category.
In the texts in the OP we can see that Jesus does talk about hating one's children. Which is fascinating! I'm not sure this means like abandoning a literal child on the side of the road, or anything like that, as Jesus seems to have a pretty big problem with abusing children (you know, tying the millstone around people's necks and all that). But, it is strong language nonetheless. It is, certainly, connected to a broader re-thinking of kinship, for sure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Toast View Post
I think early christianity was incompatible with having children; once you assume the responsibility of raising a child, your freedom to even leave your home, let alone be actively evangelistic and freely giving to help others in need, becomes exceedingly restricted. In my opinion, knowing this and still making babies anyway would be selfish.
A few things here (sorry to be pedantic):
-I suppose we need to clarify what we mean by 'early Christianity'. Like, pre-Constantine? Just 1st century? After the splits between 'Judaism' and 'Christ-followers' becomes more clear? My ears always perk up when someone makes a sweeping claim about 'early Christianity', because such a thing is very very very far from monolithic. For instance, we have early Christians: advocating for wife-swapping; saying that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage; that sex should be done within marriage, but only if there is no desire in the act; that marriages should be celibate; that marriage was equal to celibacy and virginity, etc etc. There is a wide variety of views among early Christians when it comes to the nexus of marriage, sex, desire, and celibacy/virginity.
-Early Christianity was absolutely compatible with having children. Why do I say that? Because they did have children! Unless you want to make artificial distinctions here and claim that those who did have children were not actually Christians. Personally, I try to stay away from that sort of statement, for the same reason that I don't say that genocide is incompatible with Christianity. It absolutely is. Just look at the Nazis!
-Eh, I think the idea that one cannot easily leave their homes, etc., and have children as well is a bit short-sighted? It seems to reflects a kind of modern, western understanding of childhood and family arrangements. Either way, I suppose the level of selfishness is in the eye of the beholder! Especially if we are talking about a form of early Christianity that understands duty to include procreation/

But the western church is a joke and would largely be condemned by the man it claims to worship and represent. It's members wouldn't know what following Jesus means if it slapped them in the face. They do everything they can to feel good about themselves, like they're living the right sort of life, while knowingly and deliberately justifying doing things that Jesus would abhor. It is because of this that I think this entire conversation is largely pointless.[/QUOTE]

I'm confused here. Are you talking about modern people? I suppose I can def agree that a lot of contemporary western Christians are woefully ignorant about a lot of things. But, I am also generally pessimistic about contemporary Christianity anyway, haha.

However, I don't understand why this conversation is pointless? This isn't a sermon or anything. it;s a dialogue on a small internet forum. It's a form of fun, I guess. But, it's also good to stretch ourselves, read texts in new ways, etc. Either way, it at least as the same level of 'pointlessness' that anything said on the internet does, haha
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