Part 2: Questioning Cultural Assumptions
The demand for the young adult to leave the house may be more of a Western culture overflow than a biblical call of maturity. The focus on independence and individualism has brought some good things (e.g. ambition and entrepreneurship; the recognition of my own inadequacy as a solitary individual before God, viz. Søren Kierkegaard). You could place this in line with the Enlightenment and Modernism if you wish, you could even criticize Luther and the Reformation—but that is currently beside the point. While every cultural shift has benefits, it has downfalls as well. And one downfall of the individualization of…individuals is the neglect of the larger family unit as an effective (and affective) means of discipleship. A Christian Perspective, a biblical perspective, praises and encourages multi-generational homes if possible.
The Biblical Context
I recognize that the Bible was written within a cultural framework, but I also recognize that the Bible critiques its contemporary culture at times. I recognize that it would quite disadvantageous for me to begin wearing a tunic and cloak around town, but I also recognize that there are logical reasons not to appropriate the dress code of biblical times. That being said, we still need to differentiate between time periods and cultural practices within the Bible.
In the Old Testament, we are privy to a single family’s history… several times, in fact, when the theme of recreation/reconstitution reappears (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abram, David). Notice that when Cain is marked and sent to wander, his curse is ostracization from God but includes ostracization from his family (Gen.4). Noah’s family is privileged with grace to be saved through the flood, but his family includes his grown sons and their wives. Abram’s family becomes so large that he and his nephew have to split ways, and that before Abram has a son! When Abraham does bear sons, Isaac continues to live with him until his death; Isaac’s sons also live with him into his old age, even with their wives. The family of Jacob descends into Egypt to live, 70 people at that time. Consider also David, and his great grandmother Ruth who lived with Naomi; the examples abound, and to list more would be an exercise in the obvious—like explaining which cities in the States have asphalt—the picture of the family is multi-generational: it is an odd occurrence when it is not. Chris Wright in Old Testament Ethics forthe People of God explains that even “the smallest unit” was “still a fairly large group of people. It consisted of….his wife or wives, his sons and their wives and their sons and wives and unmarried daughters. It would normally therefore have been a three-generational community, and sometimes even four generations” (338, 339 emphasis mine).
Fast forward several hundred years and a couple of world empires. Hellenization (Greek influence) has occurred in the Roman-operated world, and this even affects the people of Palestine, where the New Testament was composed. According to biblical-cultural scholarship, homes were typically part of larger unit. Usually three small dwellings sat in a horseshoe shape and opened up to the courtyard/stove. The ‘neighbors’ though were not their friendly Jehovah’s Witnesses but were extended family members. In fact, the soon-to-be husband would go prepare this dwelling next to his family and then return for his bride to be wed. The in-laws were the neighbors (see Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels for more).
This is why Paul’s instructions to Timothy about widows involves children and grandchildren as well as her parents (I Tim.5.3-16). The widow is devote herself to caring for them, and likewise a believer is to care for those who are widowed and need aid—there is no need to visit a nursing home or find a nearby trailer park; simply go next-door.
Is it cultural? Yes, but is that all it is. There are reasons I don’t write on papyrus or parchment with all capitals and no spaces, but is there a reason why this cultural norm is invalid or less than what we know and practice now?