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41pqEdWLHmL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Sandra Richter’s The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (IVP, 2008) is a wonderful entry-level introduction to the OT.

One especially helpful section of the book deals with the centrality of the father figure in a tribal society, specifically:

  • patriarchalism: having to do with the authority and centrality of the oldest living male member of a family in a tribal society
  • patrilineal: having to do with tracing ancestral descent through the male line in a tribal society
  • patrilocal: having to do with the living space of the family unit being built around the oldest male in a tribal society

Many modern readers struggle with this aspect of the OT, but Dr. Richter explains why it is important to understand this context if we are to fully appreciate the biblical concept of redemption:

In Israel’s tribal society redemption was the act of a patriarch who put his own resources on the line to ransom a family member who had been driven to the margins of society by poverty, who had been seized by an enemy against whom he had no defense, who found themselves enslaved by the consequences of a faithless life.

Redemption was the means by which a lost family member was restored to a place of security within the kinship circle. This was a patriarch’s responsibility, this was the safety net of Israel’s society, and this is the backdrop for the epic of Eden in which we New Testament believers find ourselves.

Can you hear the metaphor of Scripture?

Yahweh is presenting himself as the patriarch of the clan who has announced his intent to redeem his lost family members.

Not only has he agreed to pay whatever ransom is required, but he has sent the most cherished member of his household to accomplish his intent—his firstborn son.

His goal? To restore the lost family members to the bet ab [father’s household] so that where he is they may be also. This is why we speak of each other as brother and sister, why we know God as Father, why we call ourselves the household of faith.

God is beyond human gender and our relationship to him beyond blood, but the tale of redemptive history comes to us in the language of a patriarchal society. Father God is buying back his lost children by sending his eldest son, his heir, to “give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28), so that we alienated might be “adopted as sons” and share forever in the inheritance of this “firstborn of all creation” [Col 1:15].

Taken from The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament by Sandra L. Richter (p. 45). Copyright (c) 2008 by Sandra L. Richter. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com


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One thought on “Why Does the Tale of Redemption Come to Us in the Language of Patriarchal Society?”

  1. Jared says:

    One of the best introductions to the Old Testament. Simple by necessity, it’s a great starting point.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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