By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning
The title of this concise book says it all: The Family in the Bible: Exploring Customs, Culture, and Context, by Richard S. Hess and M. Daniel Carroll R. Coming from an evangelical orientation, the collection of essays in this book on the family focus on the depiction of the family in the varied times and contexts of the biblical canon. While the book itself is not organized thematically—there are, logically, two parts: Part 1: Family in the Old Testament, and Part 2: Family in the New Testament—some of the contributing writers do approach their treatment thematically. The chapters provide responsible reviews of the biblical content when it pertains to families, describing, but also interpreting, the ways that the family is understood in the section of the Bible under review. The family, as a social unit, is presented in the cultural contexts of the grand scope of the ever-evolving biblical worldviews in the canon. The writing is impressively tight, consistently so, allowing for a rich biblical background resource in a short 175 pages.
Some will undoubtedly be disappointed at a lack of an overall definitive statement about what the Bible has to say about families today—in social, political, ecclesial, or theological contexts. Only one contributor to the volume strays far enough from the biblical evidence to address at any length issues related to, for example, feminist interpretations of the family in scripture. In fact, in the one chapter that a contributor attempted to provide implications for the contemporary family, the statements come across as an overreach of the biblical text and its message. The editors seem content to allow the treatment on the family to remain focused in the text and its context. As such, the conclusions offered in most chapters are short on interpretation and implications for the contemporary family. For those needing more, this may lead to an assumption that the Bible has nothing to say about families for the contemporary world. But that would be a misunderstanding of both the intent and message of this book.
This is a worthy contribution to both biblical studies and fields whose main concern is the family and its place and role in society. The editorial light touch has ensured that the contributors’ personal voices contribute to the uniqueness and richness of this work. This is important, given the varied backgrounds of the writers, including England, Canada, Costa Rica, Japan, as well as the United States. This will become a standard work for every academic library.