Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Honor your father and mother

This article is also available in Urdu here.

Honouring Parents

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” and so I searched for other Bible verses that might also mention “mother” first. I couldn’t find any. But what I did find surprised me. Over a dozen verses command honouring, respecting, and obeying parents, with both the father and mother always mentioned together.[1]

I had anticipated that in Bible times, when the culture was predominantly patriarchal, the authors of the books and letters of the Bible might have mentioned honouring and obeying fathers, leaving out mothers. However, it seems they were careful to include honouring and obeying mothers as well.

The only exceptions I could find are in Malachi 1:6 and in 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.”

Parents Teaching

I then looked 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 that also include a mother’s teaching.

“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

There is no scriptural reason to suppose that a mother’s teaching is less important than a father’s teaching.[3] 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 a king!  See Proverbs 31:1-9.

Leading Together in the Home, honor your father and mother

Parents Leading Together

So what is the purpose of pointing out these scriptures? 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 in the Hebrew Bible, 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, including adult 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.

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,[4] but according to each person’s skills, abilities, and temperaments; where neither husband nor 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.

Footnotes

[1] Note that the following 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.)

Genesis 28:7: … 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 …”
Paul includes “disobedient to parents” in his lists of vices in Romans 1:30 and 2 Timothy 3:2.

[2] In Proverbs chapter 4 the author seems to be the father and 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 writings 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] In the story of Susannah, in the Septuagint, there is this statement: “And [Susannah’s] parents were righteous and had taught their daughter according to (or perhaps, all about) the Law of Moses (καὶ οἱ γονεῖς αὐτῆς δίκαιοι καὶ ἐδίδαξαν τὴν θυγατέρα αὐτῶν κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ). (Source) (More information here.)
It is interesting that in this story both parents are involved in teaching their daughter. It is commonly understood that, unlike Susannah, Jewish daughters were usually only taught by mothers and that girls weren’t taught the Torah, the Law of Moses. Early Jewish rabbis stated that only sons should be taught the Torah (e.g. Sifrei Devarim 46, circa 200 CE; cf. Deut. 31:12).

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

© January 27 2010, Margaret Mowczko

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Images

1. Canada Geese via Pexels
2. Equality © evirgen (iStockphoto)


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5 thoughts on “Leading Together in the Home

  1. Thank you. This is especially meaningful to me today.

  2. My pleasure. <3

  3. There are a few more places where “mother” is mentioned before “father”:

    Lev 20:19 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister or of your father’s sister, for that is to lay bare one’s own flesh; they shall be subject to punishment.

    Lev 21:1a-2: No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his relatives, except for his nearest kin: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, his brother;

    Lev 24:10: A man whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was an Egyptian came out among the people of Israel;

    Jeremiah 16:3: For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bear them and the fathers who beget them in this land:

    Mark 10:29: Jesus said, `Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

    1. Thanks for this, Martin. Interesting!

  4. I think this is one of those areas where it is important to remember that in both Hebrew and Greek that the masculine plural form of nouns can include women in the group, depending on context. This means that translators need to make a choice about whether to translate the noun exclusively to males only or inclusively with males and females. Furthermore, such a choice allows for proliferation of a bias, either to be exclusive or inclusive, so a reader should take this into consideration when reading a translation. To be more specific to your article, just because the Hebrew or Greek can be understood as fathers does not necessarily mean that is the best way to translate it.

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