Jesus’s surprising embrace of family

Familialism, family, and discipleship in the Gospels


  • Micah Peters Unrau Canadian Mennonite University


Jesus, Gospels, familialism, discipleship, family


North American Christians seeking religious revival can find familial language in Scripture a compelling starting point. Shedding an old family and stepping into a new one is a powerful idea for those desiring radical community, and it is an idea Jesus seems to promote at length. It is concerning, however, that encouraging followers to separate from their existing families is also a tactic abusive leaders can use to isolate vulnerable people. Is this what Jesus was doing when he said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters . . . cannot be my disciple”? On their own, these words can become manipulative, and Jesus’s teachings on family have indeed been weaponized by exploitative cults. Given the damaging potential of misinterpreting Jesus’s message, clarifying the relationship between Jesus, discipleship, and family is crucial.

In order to understand Jesus’s emphasis on discipleship as a new family, we have to consider the culture of familialism that shaped first-century Judea. Family’s place at the center of socioeconomic life in Jesus’s time and place means family imagery in his context promotes engagement in a new, public form of community, not a retreat into an isolated group. Jesus explicitly endorses connections with existing kin, except when those connections directly interfere with the demands of mission.

Author Biography

Micah Peters Unrau, Canadian Mennonite University

Micah Peters Unrau is in his fourth year of working toward Bachelor of Arts degrees in biblical and theological studies and peace and conflict transformation studies at Canadian Mennonite University. He was born in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, and attends Hillcrest Mennonite Church.