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Must Our Children Obey?

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise— ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).

I find two things ironic about these verses. Two things bug me just a little bit about how these verses are normally interpreted, so may I vent for just a moment? 🙂

First, I see that Paul says the Old Testament still applies to us today. Recently, I sat next to a woman at a meeting. The following promise from the Old Testament was mentioned, but this woman mumbled that it didn’t apply to us. “We live in New Testament times,” she said.

“I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

Is she right? Do these sorts of promises not apply to us, because we are in “the church age”?

Evidently Paul didn’t think so! He quotes here from Deuteronomy 5:16.

“Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”

I even notice that he quoted it a little wrong! He says in Ephesians, “That you may enjoy long life on the earth.” However, in Deuteronomy, the Law says, “That it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” He takes a promise made specifically to Israel and applies it to mostly Gentile, Ephesian believers (and to us by extension, no matter where in the world we live or what our nationality by birth).

If we don’t believe that all of God’s Word applies to us and “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), then will we be careful to teach our children to obey? Will obedience be a very high priority in our homes? Will we even realize that the length of life our children enjoy may hinge on whether we teach them to obey?!

This smacks of the original lie of Satan.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)

Wouldn’t Satan love to steal our children and to hinder the kingdom of God by our belief that obedience isn’t important, that it isn’t commanded by God, that parts of the Bible don’t apply to us, and that we can just let a few things slide now and then?

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (Romans 1:28-31).

“We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers…” (1 Timothy 1:8-10).

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

I have a second pet peeve. While many say that the Old Testament commands don’t apply to us, many also say that New Testament commands don’t apply to us, especially if they might be “cultural.” In other words, maybe Paul only told the church in Ephesus to do something, because of the terrible culture in which they lived — but those things don’t apply to us enlightened, modern people.

For instance, just a few verses before this, Paul says that “wives are to submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:24). Yet I read, just this week (but I’ve read it many times, to my frustration), that those verses were cultural. Mart De Haan, from Radio Bible Class, writes:

One thing we know is that the Apostle’s words would have sounded different to readers in first century Roman and Jewish worlds than they sound to many of us today. In Paul’s day, men ruled their homes and women were regarded as property.

One of the first rules of Bible interpretation and application is to consider what a text meant to its author and first readers. The historical and grammatical context of a Bible passage is foundational to the way it needs to be understood and applied to our own day.

So let’s review what we know first about marriage in light of the whole Bible and then look at what the Apostles’ words would have sounded like in their own day… (Source)

I’m skeptical, honestly! If wives only had to submit in the first century because they were regarded as property, but in our day, we’re wise and submit out of mutual love and respect… well, when does it end? What parts of the Bible do we take our scissors to, and which parts do we leave in?

And why does no one say that children obeying their parents is cultural? Why doesn’t anyone say that children only need to obey because in the first century they would have been beaten if they hadn’t obeyed?

The verse and chapter numbers weren’t in Paul’s first letter to the Ephesians. So do children need to obey their parents or not? No, because this is an Old Testament command? No, because the New Testament times in which this verse was written were different than our culture? Or yes, because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful”?

For me personally, I want to take the stand that God’s Word is for me, Anne Elliott. I must hear! I must obey! Maybe this will make me look a bit strange, but I’m doing it “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21), not for others’ eyes.

Who’ll stand with me?

P.S. For practical ideas on how to teach your children to obey, see my blog post here.

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  1. Amen Anne,
    I read these same articles and hear so many picking the Bible apart to fit “our times”, or putting Scripture “into context”. I truly believe Jesus when he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. The Bible is easy, it means what it means, and you do not need a doctorate to
    understand it, but you do need the Holy Spirit. I think over complication is the biggest downfall of our world today, and sooo many people are drowning in overly complicated lives!

  2. Anne Elliott says:

    Yes, I agree. We should just be able to read God’s Word and take it at face value. Otherwise, when do the disagreements end? How do we know which interpretation is right and which is wrong?

    Thanks for commenting…

  3. My Wife's Hubby says:

    We can and should take God’s Word at face value. However, it is a little deeper to accomplish than saying this phrase seems. If you were a Greek/Hebrew and could read Greek/Hebrew and knew all the cultural nuances of the language than yes, you can take the bible and read it at face value. Unfortunately not many read/write/speak Hebrew/Greek fluently with the full understanding of the word choices used in the Bible.

    It is like bringing a foreigner who doesn’t speak English and trying to teach them about the meaning of “cool” in our language. Without knowing the cultural context they would be lost in a modern conversation. How many of us non-British know what a “nappy” is? (Go to Webster’s online dictionary and look at the 3rd definition) If you heard a mother talking about nappys in England you would be lost only knowing “American English”.

    When being translated into other languages, the Bible often loses much of its underlying culture and specificity that can only be thoroughly understood in the original languages and can change context of a passage significantly. On top of that, when you are talking about translations, the translators were/are not inspired and therefore must make judgment calls in translating the Bible. These are not inaccuracies, just trying to relate cultural meaning accross languages. On top of that their is 2 different styles of translating which both are right, just different. One style seeks to translate the Greek/Hebrew into modern languages in a “word-for-word” structure, striving to maintain the grammatical structure of the Bible and then allow the reader to try and find the meaning of the passage from the ambiguous word structure. (This can be a problem b/c people can screw up the meaning b/c they don’t know about proper word order, who pronouns belong describe, what verb goes to what noun, etc.) The other style seeks to translate the true meaning of a passage to the modern reader sometimes at the expense of the grammatical structure of a passage. Simply put this style tries to make the “meaning” of the passage the focus not the “word-for-word” grammatical accuracy. This makes the translator more of an interpreter of the passage than the grammatical style which means you are stuck with their interpretation.

    Various translations fall all over the continuum between these 2 extremes with the NASB being on the farthest end of the “grammatical” style and say The Message being on the far end of the “meaning” style. Both are right and neither are wrong, just different in their goal.

    The other thing that is important to understanding the Bible is the need to understand the entirety of Scripture. The more you know and memorize of God’s Word the better understanding of its flow and context of certain passages. Many wax eloquently on a passage of Scripture w/o putting it into the context of the whole of God’s Word. And as Anne said, “ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” Therefore, we must study and strive to excel at knowing all the Bible, NOT just our “favorite” passages or “pet passages” which we use to prove a point.

    In truth, the best result is to get at least 4 different translations (from all along the grammar/meaning continuum) and a few different commentaries and study them all when you are reading the Bible or if you come accross a complex or perplexing passage. Also strive to read the Bible through often while also studying a book in depth (I try to do one chapter a day, but don’t always achieve that). It takes about an hour a day to do. I would suggest, if you have a computer and high-speed internet, downloading e-sword. For free, you can get 15-20 different Bible translations, plus 10 different, well-known and respected commentaries, several concordances/bible dictionaries, and helps, maps, etc. It is what I use most of the time in my sermon preparation b/c it is so quick and easy to use.

    So, yes, the Bible is very easy to understand…If you’re willing to take the time to wrestle with it and understand it, NOT just putting your preconceived personal views into the context. Hope this helps!

  4. Anne Elliott says:

    I love you, Honey! XOXOXOXOXOX

  5. I think, quite often, that the same people who take “commands” as cultural, are the same people who say the blessings/promises apply to us today. (i.e. Jer. 29:11) It’s true, context/culture are important things to consider, but we do need to read the Bible for what it SAYS, not for what we think it should say.

  6. Debbie Watson says:

    Anne, thanks. I agree with you and stand with you. Our culture seems to think we are different than all the other sinful cultures.

  7. I really appreciate this article and the comments. The Father started opening my eyes to the “lies” I had been taught all my life (Jer 16:19 O LORD, my strength, and my fortress, and my refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth, and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit. ) about 10 years ago, both the “well, that doesn’t apply to us, it’s the Old Testament” argument and the “that was for that culture, for that time” argument. I grew up a fundamental, evangelical Baptist and heard all my life: “We believe the Bible from cover to cover, we even believe the cover because it says Holy Bible; we even believe the maps are inspired…” ad nauseum…then when you would read almost anything from the OT that was a command, and you would ask why we didn’t do it, the answer would be, “well, that’s the OT; that was done away with; that’s just for the Jews; Jesus did it so we don’t have to (???????????????)”, etc. etc.
    If you would come across commands in the NT that weren’t taught or practiced and you’d ask why, the answer would be, “well, that was for that people, that was for that time.” These same people would rail against liberals for treating the Bible like a cafeteria line, choosing what they agreed with…but the Father showed me that the “fundamentalists” were worse! At least the liberals were honest! They said they didn’t believe the whole Bible was inspired. The fundamentalists SAY they believe it is all inspired, but then proceed to pick and choose! ARRRRGH!
    As far as understanding the Scriptures, I appreciate what Anne’s hubby had to say about it. And also Bommie saying we need the Holy Spirit. He will lead us into all truth. One thing I would like to add is that learning about the Hebrew way of thinking would be helpful in understanding the Bible, even for understanding the “NT.” Even though the extant manuscripts for the “NT” are Greek (with the possible exception of Matthew), the thought process is Hebrew, from what I understand. A good video to look at is found here:
    Even though this man is not a believer in Yeshua, he has an excellent teaching here on the Hebrew thought process found in the gospels.
    A book that also deals with this topic is Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek by Thorlief Boman. One more recommendation on this topic is here:
    Happy Hunting for truth!
    Down off my soapbox now, lol.

  8. Oh, and btw, I do believe the whole of Scripture is inspired!

  9. Carol A. Shaver says:

    Anne, I am DEFINITELY standing with you! The Word of God is just that– the WORD OF GOD. Everything He says applies to His children–ALWAYS!
    Thank you for how you let God use you.

  10. Anne, I am so encouraged by you!! This is also a pet peeve of mine. My family deals with this kind of wrong thinking from our family members. We are considered “weirdos” because we believe ALL Scripture is for us to obey!! Grace is abused and we are labeled as legalists. We love our Savior and we just want to please Him!! But these are the last days, and we were told that these things would happen.

    I recommend listening to Voddie Baucham. Vision Forum sells a CD “The Centrality of the Home in Evangelism and Discipleship”. He speaks about this very subject of children obeying their parents. It is awesome!!

    Thank you, Anne, for such an encouraging word and a confirming word!

  11. I would also like to add that my son loves to learn and study Hebrew! He has been given a gift for languages from the Lord, and he just really enjoys it. Well, just because he loves to study Hebrew and the Jewish culture, someone who is very close to me (not naming any names…HHMM) has been so bothered by it. She has the belief that we are allowing him to be caught up by the Law. She even had her pastor to secretly tell him to “be careful!” I agree that knowing Hebrew helps to understand the whole of God’s Word. It even gives a greater appreciation for His Word. This person, and the church that she attends abuses grace so badly, that it is shameful!! All for the belief that the OT is not for us today!! It makes me wonder if they even read their NT!! It’s full of the OT!! And why wouldn’t it be? It never contradicts itself, because God can’t lie.

    So, thats my soapbox!! It encourages me to see that we are not the only ones who seem to be standing for ALL of God’s Word. I really believe that God is raising a remnant of people to REALLY stand for His Truth, with their actions, and not just their lips.


  12. These comments are so encouraging…to find out there are others “out there” is exciting! (c:
    May you all be blessed!

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