Honor your father and mother

[This article is also available in Urdu here.]

I was reading Leviticus recently and I came across this verse: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and father. . .” Leviticus 19:3a (NASB)

I was intrigued that “mother” was mentioned before “father” so I decided to search for other verses in the Bible that might also mention “mother” first. I couldn’t find any. But what I did find surprised me.

I found over a dozen verses that command honouring, respecting and obeying your father and mother, with both the father and mother always mentioned together.[1]

I had anticipated that in Bible times when the culture was predominantly patriarchal, the Old Testament authors, even more so than the New Testament authors, might have written verses that just mentioned honouring and obeying the father, leaving out the mother. However, it seems that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were careful to always include honouring and obeying the mother as well.

The only exceptions that I could find are in Malachi 1:6 and Hebrews 12:5-10. Here, “mother” is not mentioned because God is using the example of honouring and respecting fathers as an analogy of honouring God as “Father”.

I then decided to look at the book of Proverbs because I knew there were verses there about heeding a father’s teaching. Again I was surprised. While I did find two passages about paying attention to a father’s instruction with no mention of the mother,[2] I found two others which included a mother’s teaching also:

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” Proverbs 1:8-9
“My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.” Proverbs 6:20

So what is the purpose of pointing out these scriptures? To try to address the imbalance that over-emphasises the husband’s leadership in the home and family while under-estimating the wife’s leadership.

These verses, as well as verses in the New Testament such as Ephesians 6:1-3 and Colossians 3:20, show that even in patriarchal times mothers as well as fathers were to be  honoured and obeyed by their children, and that mothers as well as fathers were to teach their children. The biblical texts do not prescribe a gender hierarchy between fathers and mothers.

Leading Together in the Home

There is no scriptural reason to suppose that a mother’s teaching is less important than a father’s teaching. A mother’s teaching can, and should, include important and valuable life lessons, including spiritual instruction. Moreover, the Bible shows that a woman can teach her adult sons valuable lessons, even if they are the king!  See Proverbs 31:1-9.

I believe God’s ideal is that families and households are to be led by both parents, where the family responsibilities and resources are shared, not according to rigid gender roles and cultural expectations,[3] but according to each person’s skills, abilities and temperaments; where neither the husband nor the wife is “the boss” because the real leader is the Lord Jesus Christ, leading and guiding through the Holy Spirit.

The overemphasis on subordinating wives (and women in general) is still too prevalent in many Christian circles, and goes beyond what the apostles Paul and Peter envisioned when they were writing about family relationships.


[1] Genesis 28:7: . . . and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram.

Exodus 21:17: Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Leviticus 19:3a: Every one of you shall reverence his mother and father. . .

Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus:20:12;Matthew 19:19; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20: “Honour your father and your mother . . .

Deuteronomy 21:18-19: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will “not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town.

Deuteronomy 27:16: Cursed is he who dishonours his father or mother.’

Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10 “For God said, ‘Honour your father and mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death.’

Ephesians 6:1-2a: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” . . .

Note that these verses were not primarily given with small children in mind. In biblical cultures, adult children were expected to honour and obey their parents. More on this here.

[2] In Proverbs chapter 4 the author seems to be the father, and he is talking about himself, which may be why he did not mention the mother. See also Proverbs 13:1.
The intertestamental writings (non-biblical writings that were written between Old and New Testament times) only refer to fathers (not mothers) teaching their sons (not their daughters.) See 2 Baruch 84:9; Jubilees 7:38-39; 8:2; 10:8; Testament of Levi 9:1, 6-9; 13:2; Ben Sirach 30:3; 4 Maccabees 18:11-12. These writing reveal a low view of women that is largely absent in the Bible. [My article on The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration here.]

[3] Many traditional gender roles are not actually prescribed in the Bible but are the result of cultural and societal conditioning.

© 27th of January 2010, Margaret Mowczko

Related articles:

King Lemuel’s Mother: The other Proverbs 31 Woman
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
A Suitable Helper
Wives, Mothers and Female Masters in the NT Household Codes
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja