What are the theological foundations of the family? As St. Paul declared in doxological jubilee, speaking of the triune Majesty, the living and true God revealed in the cosmos, Canon, and Christ: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). Since, according to scripture, history, and experience, the family is the central sphere of these “all things,” it follows that the family is rooted and deeply grounded in the nature of the holy Trinity.
Family: Rooted in the Nature of God
The family is rooted and grounded in the nature of the triune God. Human beings, individually and socially, are created in the imago Dei, the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26—28; cf. Ps. 8, etc.). In addition to the constitutional aspects of human nature, e.g., being rational, moral, spiritual beings, etc., this imago has a profoundly relational dimension.
Trinity and Family
Man is made to reflect God’s nature and glory, in a creaturely sense, not rationally only but also relationally. This relational reflection is firstly and obviously Godward, vertically, as the temporal fulfillment of God’s originally-good purposes for humanity hung on Adam’s perfect and personal covenant-keeping obedience to YHWH’s law-word. Similarly, man’s interpersonal relationships are what they are as humans display God’s moral attributes toward each other and enjoy the gracious metaphysical common ground people enjoy between themselves, as God’s image bearers.
Less obvious to many Christians, however, is the second horizontal plane of man’s relational image reflecting function, which is to “replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over [it]” and to “dress” and “keep” the garden-temple that YHWH had planted and wherein he originally placed man, “eastward in Eden” (Gen. 1:28; 2:8, 15). So, the object of man’s relational reflection of the image of God is tripartite: Godward, and also toward both his fellows and the rest of the non-human creation.
Man’s divine mandate was to cultivate and expand the garden-temple, rule over it in a God-like way, and fill the earth with subsequent image-bearing progeny—man was not, is not to be, nor ever will be “an island to himself” (Gen. 1:28). This is because God himself is not an “island”; he is not a monad, an abstract point of singularity, as he is idolatrously conceptualized of in Judaism, Islam, and the later German idealism that come out of the Enlightenment. Rather, God is tri-unity. God is both unity and plurality; he’s the ultimate One and the Many. God is one with respect to the “what” question; yet he is many—three to be exact—with respect to the “who” question. He is one in his essential nature, yet three, i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in the three co-equal, co-eternal, and co-glory-worthy persons. God is thus the ultimate and absolute Society or Community.
As God created, ordered, and evaluated his creational works in the beginning, he pronounced that things—as they conformed and operated according to his law-word ordinances to reflect his glory—were “good” no less than seven times in Genesis chapter one. “Good” is God’s ordo rerum, his design and ordering of things. Nevertheless, in chapter two of Genesis, YHWH sees a moment in his creation that an aspect of his creation is “not good,” namely that man, God’s image-bearer, “was alone” (Gen. 2:18). Man as individual was insufficient to reflect God’s image and glory. This is not surprising, since in the nature of the Godhead, and therefore the nature of the case, aloneness is eternally impossible.
God therefore created Adam his ezer-woman, his “help meet” (2:18). Eve was Adam’s co-equal in terms of her nature, dignity, and moral value, as she enjoyed an equal share in the honor, majesty and mystery of the divine image of her Creator. Similarly, in obedience to the culture-dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28, as Adam and Eve became “fruitful and multiplied,” they produced image-bearing progeny, according to the purposes of God. Man’s co-mission therefore requires a plurality of persons; it requires a micro-society, a family. Thus, the triune Majesty—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—created humanity in his very image, to reflect both the unity and the plurality of the Godhead. So, according to their very nature—human nature—each member of the human family, the father, mother, and child(ren), share equal dignity and value, according to their mutually equivalent participation in the imago Dei.
Family: Multi-Personal Image-Bearing
Apart from the necessity of the family as the uni-plural image-bearer, for sake of the realization of God’s purposes expressed in the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28) there are manifold ways that the family reflects the image of the ontological Trinity (i.e., the a se Godhead, in and of himself, apart from any creature) in the ordinary rhythms of the family’s daily, covenantal life together. One such example comes by way of daily private family worship in the home.
For eternity past each person of the Trinity has enjoyed the full communion, love, and unmediated glory of the other two. This absolute spiritual love and unity is reflected, imaged, mirrored in a creaturely way, when the father, mother, and child(ren) come around the Word of God, listen to the voice of God, in the Spirit of God. In this harmonious fellowship and worship, the family reflects in glory and harmony of the intra-Trinitarian communion, love and fellowship, which is for the mutual good and honor of the others. Thus, being created in the image of God, the family subsequently reflects God’s nature through their private worship, revealing the love, harmony and sweet communion of the three persons of the triune God.