Adapted from The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II: Law and Society 

Carle C. Zimmerman has pointed out that there are three types of families in history: the trustee, the domestic, and the atomistic families. The trustee family has central authority in a society: it is the basic power and institution, and most government is in its hands. The trustee family sees its possessions and its work as an inheritance from the past to be transmitted to the future. The family wealth is thus not for private use but for the family’s on-going life.

The domestic family is a weakening of the family’s powers, with the state as gainer. It is a transition stage to the atomistic family, when the totalitarian state is the on-going life and power, the main heir and the controller of inheritance, and the source of direction for a society. 

The family in Scripture is a trustee type of family, and Biblical law is geared to the family as trustee. This means that authority in the family, i.e., the authority of the husband and wife, is not personal but theological. This appears very clearly in Ephesians 5:21-33. The matter of family authority is theological. The husband’s headship is established by God as a ministry through the family. His authority, while resting in his person, is not personal; it is spiritual and theological. His authority is valid thus only insofar as he is faithful to the word of God; when he departs from it, God will confound his authority. Women and children will then rule over men and be their oppressors (Isa. 3:4, 12).

All authority on the human scene, in the family, church, state, and school, as well as the vocations, is ministerial (Eph. 6:5-9) and theological rather than personal. The personal exercise of authority for the sake of power is the mark of the Gentiles, i.e., of unbelief (Matt. 20:25-29; Mark 10:35-45).

Since Biblical authority is a trusteeship from the Lord, it is basic to that authority that it must be exercised in the name of the Lord for His Kingdom. What we are and have belongs neither to us, to the family, the church, or the state, but to the Lord and His Kingdom. We must thus protect ourselves and our possessions from the attempts by an ungodly heir, or by the state, to gain possession over them as if the right of inheritance were a personal fact. Inheritance, however, is a theological principle, with an eschatological framework. It must serve the purposes of God and His Kingdom, and its goal is the new creation, and all the glory of the earth made an inheritance of God’s Kingdom.