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Dysfunctional Families and What We Know About Them

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Dysfunctional: Definition

Something or someone who is dysfunctional deviates from the normal behavior that is the standard in one's culture, community, or family. What is considered dysfunctional in one place might be quite normal in another part of the world.

Something that is dysfunctional is something that is flawed and doesn't function in the way that is accepted by society. People make the mistake of calling everything dysfunctional if it does not fit a normal and accepted social behavior they are accustomed to.

There is no perfect family. Every family is dysfunctional to some extent. No matter how dysfunctional a family might be, God loves that family.

Anything that doesn't fit the description of being normal is considered dysfunctional. Therefore, a dysfunctional family is one that has members who act in abnormal or strange ways most of the time.

This is not to say that because 16-year-old Sally dyes her hair purple, the family is dysfunctional. A family is considered dysfunction when most members of the family do strange things most of the time. It's their lifestyle and not when they do something crazy once in a while.

Dysfunctional Biblical Families

If you want examples of dysfunctional families, look no further than the Bible. The Old Testament is full of stories about dysfunctional families. Some of God's own people were part of a dysfunctional family. Two of the biggest families in the Bible were dysfunctional.

So, what exactly is a dysfunctional family?

When you know the answer to that question, you will be able to determine if you belong to a dysfunctional family.

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Jacob's Dysfunctional Family

Jacob had 12 sons and one daughter. Because the family was so large, there were more chances for the family to be dysfunctional.

  • Jacob tricked his own brother, Esau, and received Esau's birthright (Genesis 27).
  • Esau was just as dysfunctional because he traded his birthright for a bowl of stew because he was hungry at the time.
  • Jacob had twelve sons and most of them caused the family to be labeled dysfunctional. In Genesis 49 when Jacob was about to die, he blessed his sons. He didn't stop with the blessings. He also reminded them of their contribution to the family that helped it to be identified as dysfunctional.
  • Jacob's oldest son, Reuben slept with his father's concubine in his father's own bed.
  • One of the Hivites raped Dinah, Jacob's only daughter. Simeon and Levi tricked and massacred the Hivites.
  • Joseph's brothers sold Joseph into slavery and lied to Jacob for years that Joseph was dead. They caused their own father to mourn for his favorite son who was not really dead.

This is just one example of a dysfunctional family in the Bible. King David's family was also dysfunctional.


David's Dysfunctional Family

Like Jacob, King David had a lot of children. In fact, he had 20 sons, but one died at birth. Like Jacob, David also had one daughter who was mentioned in the Bible. Her name was Tamar. Like Jacob, David and his children engaged in dysfunctional behavior.

  • David had an affair with Bathsheba, a married woman. He had her husband, Uriah, killed. King David and Bathsheba's baby son died.
  • David's son, Amnon raped David's daughter, Tamar. In other words, Amnon raped his half-sister.
  • Tamar’s brother, Absalom, was infuriated with Amnon, his half-brother, for raping his sister. So Absalom killed Amnon.
  • Absalom tried to kill his own father so he could become king.

Indeed, David had a dysfunctional family. It included adultery, incest, rape, domestic violence, rebellion, and intentional homicide among the king's family members.


Our own family could be described as "dysfunctional" because of the strange behaviors of the members. Even so, God uses dysfunctional families to serve in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus wasn't dysfunctional, but He came from a dysfunctional family. He was from the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel that we read about in the Bible today. God loved and used dysfunctional families in the Bible. Surely, He can use your dysfunctional family as well.

Don't let your being from a dysfunctional family keep you from doing your part. Serve in the Kingdom of God in spite of your dysfunctional family.

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