How a Biblical Agrarian Social Order Supports the Biblical Family

The Economics of the Large Family

Fertility is a blessing from God — not only fertile fields and fertile livestock, but the fertile womb. Large families are the biblical ideal. Children in a free agrarian society are useful as workers and producers in the self-supporting homestead. They are the key to the future prosperity of the family, and the providers of support for their aged and invalid family members.

Large families, however, are impossible for most people to support in the technological society. The technological society has a money economy, and as such has made the home a place of consumption, rather than production. Because it usually requires a money-earning workplace outside the home, children cannot meaningfully participate in the support of the family. They are made an economic liability, rather than an asset. Hence, there is a collision of the biblical family ideal with a fundamental feature of technological society.

And because technological society is militaristic, and maintains a standing army, it must induce or else force large numbers of young men to either delay marriage, or to defraud their wives for months or years while they go overseas to serve the economic interests of technological society all over the world.

Social Order and the Eighth Commandment

Sexual restraint is another prominent feature of the biblical familial ethic. This was achieved in biblical times by a system of social institutions and customs designed to promote a culture of modesty, chastity, and generally responsible behavior. Children were intensively trained in the law of God from early childhood. The goal was to inculcate a sense of responsibility to God, the community, the family and oneself, so that the child would achieve maturity of character as soon as practical. Boys who were emotionally and morally men already at the onset of puberty were well-equipped to handle the temptations intrinsic in physical maturity.

Among the other provisions of biblical agrarian culture for sexual restraint was the system for making marriages — a biblical institution little understood today, even by Christians. Ordinarily, it was the parents who chose a mate for their child. The evaluation of prospective spouses was considered a task for the experienced and wise, and marriage was too important to be determined by mere sexual attraction.

In keeping with this was a standard of uncompromised modesty for the women. Biblical society protected women from becoming mere sex-objects to men by concealing their beauty. At the same time, by this measure, men were protected from undue sexual stimulation, and thus assisted in the maintenance of their purity.

By the age of twenty, a young Hebrew male was expected to be settled in his vocation and married. Hebrew maidens could be married as soon as they reached physical maturity. There was to be no prolonged period of sexual vulnerability, with all the desires of a married person, but no legitimate outlet!

There was a general segregation of the sexes, according to their roles. Men and women did not usually work together — even in the home. When they were mingled, as in the marketplace, strict rules of propriety provided substantial protection against temptation.

Coupled with these wise institutions was a law that made adultery a capital offense, and generally punished sexual sins with rigor, making prostitution virtually impossible.

Further, as Edersheim and others have pointed out, there was a universal sobriety that shunned idleness and empty amusements. Israel had no theaters, racetracks, bars, or casinos to exploit the weaknesses of men.

All of these constituent parts of the culture of sexual responsibility worked together as a system — a social order — that was consistent with itself. It could only work while all the parts remained in place. And it could only work in a functioning community — among families that shared these customs and values, and worked together to enforce the standards and laws.

Technological Society: Anti-Marriage and Anti-Family

Technological society, on the other hand, has other priorities than promoting the happiness of men and women and the well-being of the family by supporting the sanctity of marriage. Sex sells, and that’s what technological society is about. Young men and women from Christian families are not doing measurably better in the area of sexual restraint today than the unchurched. And no wonder! They no longer receive intensive spiritual training in the home or the church. They are subjected to a constant assault on their virtue in the world at large, with which they have constant, intimate contact. And they face unrelenting economic pressure to delay marriage far beyond the age of sexual maturity, until at least their late twenties, in order to prolong their formal education.

This last deserves notice. Because the criterion of efficiency demands an ever increasing standardization and specialization, intensive, formal vocational training becomes ever more necessary. Since the establishment schools do such a poor job of preparing children for higher education, the first years of college are often wasted in teaching literacy and basic learning skills. Accordingly, the average number of years spent in school, along with the cost of schooling, will most likely only continue to increase.

Technological society needs the family only until it can figure out a workable — and that means affordable — alternative to produce the slaves it needs. Its technocrats would like to be able to clone workers, determining their personal qualities beforehand according to the work they will be called to do, and producing each type in just the right numbers. But that is beyond their skill at the moment. Robots show some promise of replacing humans in some areas; but they are too expensive, since each one must be individually manufactured, as they cannot reproduce. So the family must be tolerated for the present, although most of its functions have been transferred to other institutions.

The biggest problem with the family is that it is a system of personal relationships. It is a unit whose members tend to take a special interest in each other, to be loyal to each other, to provide for each other. Ideally, in a technological society, each person must have only one loyalty — to his own temporal interests. That way, he can be precisely controlled without resorting to force. He will infallibly pursue what he perceives to be in his best interests, and that perception will be infallibly predetermined by the technocrats who control the schools and the mass media.

Personal relationships have no place in a technological world, for they impair functional efficiency. Eventually, the tattered remnants of the family will have to go.

Howard Douglas King


First, I do not say that everyone must become a farmer — or even move to a farming community. For some, this will be the right path. But I would probably starve if I had to live on what I can grow. I do not call for such a simplistic course of action for everyone — but rather for a consistently Christian way of thinking about these things that starts with God’s created order as it is revealed in the book of Genesis.
What I do say is that the original calling of mankind is to steward the earth, and that God has never revoked that calling. So the ideal model for society is a decentralized agrarian culture, that labors to produce wholesome food in a way that does not destroy the earth, and that brings out the order and beauty of the natural world for the glory of the Creator. And since it is God’s design (Genesis 1:28; 2:5,15; 3:23) we should do what we can to promote that ideal, and pray and work to see it realized.
The current social order, the technological society, which sets man against God, against man, and against nature, is designed for the benefit of the few at the top. To the extent that the gospel affects men’s hearts, they will inevitably change in the direction of honest labor, simplicity of life, self-sufficiency and community that the City of Man cannot offer them.

My Perspective

Thoughtful people come to understand, sooner or later, that the world order of which we are unavoidably a part is not only not Christian, but is essentially unnatural and destructive. The world has changed dramatically since the days of Jesus and the apostles. There has been great progress in the building of Christian culture at various times, and in various places; but there has also been regress.

When Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, it was to claim the sovereignty of the world, and to commence the sure conquest of all those powers that refuse to surrender to the authority of their rightful King (Psalm 110). The cosmic war that has been going on ever since is a total war – no holds barred! The Enemy has devised every imaginable weapon and strategy for the deception of men and nations. He has not only succeeded in deceiving the nations about the truth of Christ; but he has seduced them into a way of life that violates every law of God and of nature; and through the idolization of technology, has replaced the ancient system of institutions and customs of human society that once gave order and meaning to life with a diabolical, anti-human reign of evil. All the foundations of godly social order have been overturned, and what are we to do?

He cannot succeed ultimately. His days are numbered (Revelation 20:1-3). But he has done great harm that will not be easily or quickly undone. I believe we are where we are today, in part, because of our failure as soldiers to stand for all of God’s revealed truth. The old maxim, “In essentials unity” has been so abused as to reduce the number of essential doctrines to a handful in the interests of a superficial unity. Whenever the church has stood firm on the particular doctrine under attack, she has been victorious. Whenever she has given way on the specious pretext that “this doctrine is not essential for salvation”, she has been overcome and driven back. The failure to hold fast to the whole system of revealed truth is folly; just as the failure of a fighter to guard any part of his body during mortal combat is a crucial mistake that may well mean his death. 

God’s way of life for men is a system, just as the human body is a system. Just as it would be madness to try to “remodel” a living human being in order to improve it; so it has been our folly to believe that the basic structures of social order can be remodeled without peril. The ancient Adamic, familial, agrarian social order passed on through successive generations was the basis of a common life, common understanding, and common action. It was the fertile soil in which the gospel of the Kingdom was planted. In every place throughout the ancient world, there was a common understanding that farming was the normal vocation of men, that the production of food, clothing, and other necessities was best accomplished by a decentralized system of free, self-sufficient homesteads. This arrangement was the most efficient, for those who stood to benefit from the productivity of the farm were the ones who owned it and worked it, and they were all members of a family, bound together in a common labor of love. Furthermore, production was not removed from consumption by distance, the interference of markets, and the parasitism of middlemen. Money and markets did not, under that order, rule the world. Government was local, small, and comparatively unobtrusive.

That system has not only been modified; it has been so drastically changed that it is no longer friendly to human beings. We have, most of us, lost even the basic understanding of how the world is supposed to work. Humanity has fallen victim to the new alternative social systems of an industrial world: fascism, socialism, communism and capitalism. Power-hungry plutocrats can destroy our fiat currency overnight, making us all paupers. They are too smart to kill all the geese that lay their golden eggs, but they are ready to sacrifice a certain number of us whenever it seems prudent to them. We are naked and vulnerable because we no longer have strong, economically-sound families or the family farm to go back to. We no longer know how to survive without the system; and we have been morally weakened by the habitual compromise that is the price of participation in that system.

Perhaps, now that the evil root has borne it’s evil fruit, we are ready to begin to see things as they are. The situation is dire, but not without hope. It is hard to conceive how we can ever get back to the wholesome agrarian order from which we have been banished by the modern world. If I did not believe that the “old paths” of agrarian social order are a part of that “will of God”, that “righteousness” that is destined to dwell in the earth, I would despair of this world entirely. But it is vain to speak of the triumph of Christianity apart from the re-establishment of the only social order that is consistent with it, and in which it can thrive. So I confidently expect that God has a plan that will restore both the true Christian doctrine and a godly social order. As the prophets assure us,

And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.”(Micah 4:2-4)

Victory is assured, but it has never been secured by sloth or self-indulgence. We must get serious about our faith, and get ready for the battle of our lives.