Jesus taught that a fictive family is closer and more important than belonging to a natural family. Dr. David de Silva, in his book Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (2000 IVP) argues that it is impossible to fully appreciate the New Testament unless one also understands the central importance of the fictive family. A natural family is ideally where we are all meant to belong and find unconditional acceptance and provision. A natural family is where we are meant to learn to love, share and show care. A natural family comprised of a father, mother, brother/s and sister/s is where are introduced and orientated to the natural differences between men and women which then enables us relate in healthy ways with members of the opposite sex. These are all vital aspects that contribute to a person’s social, emotional, and psychological development. A natural family is where we begin to learn loyalty, cooperation, and how to celebrate the achievements of others. It was always a very important institution to God as well which is why two of the Ten Commandments exist to strengthen it. So when Jesus declared that belonging to His fictive family was more important than just this long-standing God-ordained natural family, it must be something we need to understand.
¶ While He was still speaking to the people, behold, His mother and His brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told him, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50
Your dictionary might define ‘fictive’ as imaginary but that is not what New Testament scholars refer to when they use the word in describing the cultural landscape and backdrop to the New Testament. Professor of New Testament Theology, Dr. Randy Hedlun, describes the fictive family (kin) as, “[extending] beyond those sharing a common ancestry), which included slaves…distant relatives who may need support and would join the kin group, in-laws, and any others the kin group chose to embrace into its care” (The New Testament As Literature, 2017, p. 49). Belonging to Christ’s kingdom admitted you into His fictive family (kin). Christ expected that those who were accepted into this fictive family would bring the minimum standards of what it meant to belong to a natural family but then realise your relationship to other members of your fictive family was now stronger than blood. This is why, de Silva points out, the most common way of referring to another member of Christ’s fictive family was as a ‘brother’ or ‘sister’.
¶ By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. First John 3:16
In many families (if not most) there is sibling rivalries. But in Christ’s fictive family there must not be rivalry. This kind of petty competitiveness leading to envy was to considered as shameful and a mark of immaturity.
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? First Corinthians 6:5-7
In a natural family only those who are connected by a bloodline are considered kin (“family”). But in Christ’s Kingdom His family is connected by adoption by the Father and evidenced by acts of goodness and kindness.
For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
As brothers and sisters in Christ’s fictive family we cheer each other on and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). There is to be no competing against another brother or sister for the acclaim of others. This kind of behaviour within the fictive family of Christ is disgraceful and worse behaviour than would be tolerated in a natural family. This is powerfully illustrated by Christ’s parable of the father who had two sons which Jesus told to shame the scribes and pharisees’ behaviour.
¶ Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” ¶ So He told them this parable: … ¶ And He said, “There was a man who had two sons.” Luke 15:1-3, 11
When two of Christ’s disciples came to Jesus and to sit either side of Him in His kingdom, it was, Dr. de Silva points out, a thoughtful act of one brother toward another, but it was a misunderstanding of what Christ’s kingdom was meant to be among the disciples – and something that caused a dissension between them. Jesus wanted all of His disciples to recognise that they were all brothers by a bond stronger than blood.
And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. Mark 10:37-41
Jesus healing the lame man and welcoming him into His family.
Christ’s family is open to anyone. He invited (and still invites) the outcast, the unpopular, the despised, the weak, the vulnerable, the apparently ‘got-it-all-together-but-haven’t-really’ to belong in His family. We are His hands, His feet, and His mouth-pieces, to reveal to an orphaned world that there is a seat at the table of Christ’s feast waiting for them. You may not have a natural family that you are connected with. But, your church family is also your fictive family where the bonds between brother and sister are stronger than blood ties!
That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16-19