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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Additional Resources
• International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Caesar's Household
Household, Caesar's
Greek - of the household, household
Greek - household servant
Greek - of one's household, household
Greek - household, households
Greek - householder, head of a household, head of the household
Greek - household, households
Greek - whole household
Greek - household
Hebrew - household idol, household idols
Hebrew - household
Hebrew - household, household was inside, households

The term “household” is descriptive of a wide variety of relationships in both the Old and New Testaments. The root word for household in the Old Testament is byt, which means literally, “house.” Genesis 7:1 is an example of the use of the term “house” to refer simply to kinfolk, the members of one's own family. “Household” may also refer to a family's descendants as an organized body (Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 25:9; 1 Kings 11:38). The Hebrew people as a nation or any of its tribes or clans may also be indicated by the term “household” (Exodus 19:3; Exodus 40:38; Isaiah 8:17; Amos 3:13; Amos 7:16). Paternal ancestry may be in view as well when a household is mentioned (Exodus 6:14; Exodus 12:3; Numbers 1:2; Joshua 22:14). Finally, the term can be used to refer simply to household affairs: persons, property, belongings, etc. (Genesis 39:4; 1 Kings 4:6; 2 Kings 15:5; Isaiah 22:15, Isaiah 36:3).

In the New Testament, many derivatives of oikos (literally, “house”) are used to refer to the members and affairs of a household. Consequently, the terms “house” and “household” are often used interchangeably in translation. The term may delineate an immediate family, as well as those employed in the service of that family (Matthew 13:57; Matthew 24:45; John 4:53; Acts 16:31). Descendants of a particular nation may also be described as a house or household as in Matthew 10:6 and Luke 1:27,Luke 1:69. “Household” or “house,” moreover, may point to the property or the management of the affairs and belongings of a family or clan (Acts 7:10).

Next to the state, the household was the most important unit in the Greco-Roman world, largely because of its role as a guarantor of stability in society. If order prevailed in the household, so it would in the state. Just as the household was basic to society, so it was to Christianity. The life of the early church centered in houses or households (e.g. Acts 2:2,Acts 2:46; Acts 12:12; Romans 16:5,Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Household groups were the basic units that made up the church in any given locale.

Not only was the church composed of household groups, the household itself was often the focus of the church's evangelistic activity. Several texts mention the conversion of entire households: Acts 11:14; Acts 16:15,Acts 16:31-34; Acts 18:8. In the world in which the early church emerged, the household was organized around the head, and solidarity was expressed in a common religion. So it was that the faith of the head of the household was the faith of the entire household. Whenever the head of a household was converted and baptized, the remainder of his house usually followed suit as an expression of loyalty and religious unity. The motivation for conversion was at times social and not wholly individual, though in baptism each confessed Christ as Lord and showed forth His death and resurrection.

Household ideals also impacted the early church in significant ways. Household terms were used by the New Testament writers to express theological ideas. The church was referred to as the “household” of faith or of God (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19). Household roles were appropriated by the Christian community: Christians were “servants” of God, and their leaders were “stewards” (1 Corinthians 4:1; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10). Because the household was so central to ancient society, much attention was given to delineating and clarifying the roles of the members of a household, be they family or servant. Standardized rules for behavior or domestic codes were developed in society, and these were adapted for use in the early church. Examples of lists of house rules or codes may be found in Colossians 3:18-4:1; Ephesians 5:21-6:9; 1 Peter 2:13-3:7. The church reinterpreted these rules in the light of their faith so as to assert their distinctiveness in the larger world. See Marriage; Servant; Slave; Steward; Temple.

William J. Ireland, Jr.

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'HOUSEHOLD'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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