Flawed Families of the Bible

How God’s Grace Works through Imperfect Relationships

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"The Garlands achieve their goal of highlighting the imperfections of ancient families in the biblical narrative by combining traditional exegesis, contemporary illustrations drawn from personal experiences, art, cinema, modern drama, and poetry."--Linda McKinnish Bridges, Interpretation

Take a close look at family life in the Old Testament and you will find the same dysfunctions that plague families today--betrayal, jealousy, physical and emotional violence, infidelity, and mean-spiritedness. In Flawed Families of the Bible, David Garland and Diana Garland offer an honest and careful reading of scripture, showing that the families of the Bible were not so different from imperfect families today. Even so, God worked through those imperfections to reveal hope and grace to families then, just as he does today.

This book's message is crucial for contemporary families. Everyone--those in the church and those outside of the church--struggles to sift through the dysfunction and build healthy and close families. The Garlands combine their expertise in scripture study and family life to unpack issues like feeling unloved by your spouse, family shame, betrayal of family members, abuse, and loss.

Flawed Families of the Bible will be valuable to pastors and counselors, as well as anyone looking for encouragement in family issues. 


"And you thought that your family was messed up! For all you abusers and abused, addicted, raped, codependents, and control freaks, Good News. God loves to work with families like yours and mine. Here are 'family values' God's way--a messy assortment of marriages and families that only God could love. And God does."--William H. Willimon, coauthor of Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony

"With astute scholarship, with feet planted firmly in both the world of the Bible and our own, with eyes of faith and hope, the Garlands have created a profound reflection on how God relates to, works with, and loves families whatever their circumstances, whatever their particular assemblages of strengths and weaknesses. They escort us on a tour of some of God's more interesting biblical families, always with an eye to exposing their fully flawed humanity. Readers will have some familiarity with these families but perhaps have never thought of them as they really were. This book will challenge and change the way many read the Bible--not because it focuses on failures and difficulties, but because it shows that our true greatness is not so much of our doing, but of the God who is much more that we deserve. The book flows like a tempestuous river through the rocky terrain of families yesterday and today. It's a perfect antidote to those who think God loves only perfect families."--David M. Thomas, codirector, The Bethany Family Institute, UK and USA

"Diana and David Garland have pooled their combined expertise in scripture studies and family ministry to create a wonderful, wise book. Flawed Families of the Bible challenges all our pious platitudes about the life of faith and the 'perfect' family, opening us up to a radical transforming vision of real redemption experienced in the midst of confusion, failure, and pain. If you ever thought the Good News was too good to be true; if you thought you couldn't measure up to the high standards of Bible; if you ever shied away from a church door because your family didn't seem to fit there, then read Flawed Families of the Bible. This gracious and grace-filled book surprises us into seeing God and our family lives anew."--Wendy M. Wright, author of Seasons of a Family's Life: Cultivating the Contemplative Spirit at Home

"What does the Bible say about families? What is a 'normal' family? Let two of the wisest guides around help you explore these questions with insight and care. Be warned, however, as it is with most things biblical, the truth will both enlighten and disturb you. Flawed Families of the Bible opens wide our eyes--and our hearts even more--as we see both the pain and the promise of family life. Most of all, we catch a glimpse of how large God's grace is and what it means for all of us. This book is a work of love."--J. Bradley Wigger, author of The Power of God at Home and Together We Pray: A Prayer Book for Families

The Authors

  1. David E. Garland
    Matthew Minard, © Baylor University

    David E. Garland

    David E. Garland (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is associate dean for academic affairs and William M. Hinson Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University. He is the author of numerous books,...

    Continue reading about David E. Garland

  2. Diana R. Garland
    © Robert Rogers/Baylor Photography

    Diana R. Garland

    Continue reading about Diana R. Garland


"[The Garlands] effectively communicate a message of hope that even the most flawed are welcome in God's family."--John D. Leatherman, Christian Retailing

"[The authors] deal with biblical characters like Sarah and Hagar, Dinah, Tamar and others to show how God can work even in families where circumstances are less than ideal. Pastors will find ideas here for an interesting sermon series."--PreachingNow

"A clear and useful book. . . . The present reviewer came to this text with certain expectations based on appreciation for David Garland's commentaries. . . . He was not disappointed. . . . The Garlands rely on close reading of the text in ways sure to enlighten almost every reader. . . . Congratulations . . . are in order. This book is primarily a useful resource for individuals and small groups, including those with little exposure to the biblical text. Given its quality as an interesting, quick read, Flawed Families may have a place in courses on feminist interpretation, Old Testament interpretation, or biblical narrative; it merits inclusion in the required or suggested reading lists of courses where psychology or counseling and the Bible interact."--Jason B. Hood, Review of Biblical Literature

"This is a very readable book and will appeal to a broad audience."--Dianne Bergant, CSA, Bible Today

"An eye-opening look at family relationships that are found in the Bible and how they relate to the same problems found in present day families. With their thought-provoking interpretations of familiar Biblical characters and stories, the authors challenge the reader to take a fresh look at the actions of Bathsheba, Jacob, David, Abraham, Leah and others. . . . This book is not only thought-provoking but will lead to lively discussions and hopefully to more openness and compassion within church communities for flawed individuals and families. . . . Highly recommended."--Libraries Alive

"A wonderful volume. . . . The purpose of this clever essay is to illustrate that biblical families, including David's and Jacob's, suffered tremendous loss, grief, pain, and suffering, and how God bestowed grace and love on them even in the midst of their various predicaments. The greatest strength of this book is that it does an incredible job of adding context and thought-provoking material for the reader to consider. This book has the ability to captivate the long-time Christians and assist them in viewing well-known Bible stories from fresh and practical perspectives. . . . This book is intriguing, gripping and insightful. . . . Having this book in a professional's personal library would enable him to help a person who has never studied the Bible carefully enough to see pain, turmoil, and tragedy in biblical characters."--Suzanne Angel, Stone-Campbell Journal

"As this husband-and-wife team discuss [Bible] families and their flaws, readers see not only how families messed up their lives, but also how God worked in these situations. Readers who share some of these imperfections can find encouragement in seeing how God works to reveal His love and grace."--Roy B. Zuck, Bibliotheca Sacra

"[This] book will make you feel fully human and divine, all at the same time. You will want to go hug all of your crazy family members, embracing them, forgiving them, and accepting them just as they are. No matter how crazy and chaotic your own family, Diana and David Garland reveal even crazier and more chaotic families recorded in the Bible. . . . These stories take on new meaning in the skilled and experienced interpretive hands of a social worker (Diana) and a biblical scholar (David). . . . The Garlands achieve their goal of highlighting the imperfections of ancient families in the biblical narrative by combining traditional exegesis, contemporary illustrations drawn from personal experiences, art, cinema, modern drama, and poetry. . . . Readers will be grateful for the reminder of 'divine alchemy'--when divine grace works to create a place where 'we are no longer defined by brokenness but by redemption.'"--Linda McKinnish Bridges, Interpretation

"[The Garlands'] approach is one of raising honest questions about contemporary family life by reflecting on stories of the OT. . . . [The book] is informed by recent scholarship on families and religion, but the message it delivers is not obscured by a great cloud of footnotes. This seems to be a book that would be most suitable for seminary classes in which there is a focus on Scripture and Pastoral Care; it might also be considered for Adult Bible studies in churches."--Old Testament Abstracts