Patria – How Big is a Family?

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

(Ephesians 3:14-15 NASB)

Trivia question for today:  How many times does the word “family” occur in the New Testament (King James Version)?

What’s your guess?  With organizations like “Focus on the Family” and “Family Life Today,” you would expect to find “family” scattered throughout the New Testament.

But that’s not the case.  The word “family” only occurs once in the whole New Testament!

Here’s the passage:  For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name (Ephesians 3:14-15 NASB).

That doesn’t mean that the family is unimportant, of course.  “Family” appears often in the Old Testament, and references to fathers, mothers, and children are a prominent theme.

Ephesians, however, brings out several surprising truths about the family.

1.       In Greek, the word for “family” comes from the word for “father.” 

The word for family used here is patria and the word for father is patēr. You can easily see the similarity between the two.  The apostle Paul is pointing out a play on words: The patēr is the root for the patria.  For the Greeks, a family was a group of people related to a father.

Since God is the ultimate Father, we can say that He is the source for the whole idea of family.  Every time we talk about family, we’re paying tribute to the Inventor of the family.

2.       A family gets its identity from the father.

Our family is called the Bechtle family because I’m the Dad, and my name is Bechtle.  Everyone in the bunch shares the father’s name (until they marry into another family).

Similarly, when we become children of God through faith in Jesus, we become members of God’s family.  We get our new identification from the heavenly Father.

3.       God sets the pattern for fatherhood.

Human fathers are all too human.  Even the best ones make mistakes, and some fathers are monstrous.  That’s why some people find it hard to appreciate God as the Father.  Their own experience with a human father gave a sickening connotation to the term “Father.”

That’s why it is so important to latch onto God’s identity as the original Father.  He sets the pattern for what a Father should be: loving, just, protective, and all the rest.  How do you describe a good father?  He is a man who aims to display God’s character to His family.


4.       The New Testament family is bigger than we think.

Americans instinctively think of the nuclear family: father, mother, and children – plus a dog or a gerbil.

But the Greek word used here paints a bigger picture.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (known as the Septuagint) used three different words for family groupings:

  • Phulē – “tribe.”  This was used for the twelve tribes of Israel.  In the book of Numbers, a tribe might consist of 30,000 or 70,000 men plus wives and kids!  This is the BIG version of a family.
  • Oikia – “household.”  This was used for an extended family like the 70 people who accompanied Jacob to Egypt.  This is the SMALL version of a family.
  • Patria – “family.”  This was used for a clan, all the descendants of a notable ancestor.  Each tribe was made up of a number of clans.  This is the MEDIUM version of a family.

When you read patria, think of a family tree.  According to Luke 2:4, Joseph had to go to Bethlehem because “he was of the house (oikia) and lineage (patria) of David.  He was not only part of David’s clan; he was a direct descendant. He didn’t need a DNA test to know that he was a branch from David’s family tree!

The only other New Testament use of patria is Acts 3:25.  As Peter preaches to the crowd at the Temple, he cites God’s promise to Abraham: “In your seed [descendant] will all the patria in the world be blessed.”  Christ has come to bless every clan, every people group in the world.  It’s a great missionary verse!  God has a plan not only for every country, but for every patria.

You are part of a “family” that extends much further than we usually dream.  Look to the past, and you will see that there is a spiritual heritage that runs through your family tree.  Look to the future, and you can see that you may be patriarch or matriarch of a clan that could number in the hundreds, if the Lord delays His return.

Will your clan be like the Hatfield’s and McCoys?  Or will it be like the Jonathan Edwards family, who produced 1 Vice President, 3 U.S. Senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 60 doctors, 65 professors,75 military officers, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, 100 clergymen, and 285 college graduates.

When you think family, think bigger!

© Ezra Project 2019