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I understand that children, τέκνα, is not a term that is age limited. Therefore, does a faithful reading of Ephesians 6:1 require adult Christian children to obey their parents?

Ephesians 6:1
Children (τέκνα), obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Also, how does the phrase, "in the Lord" supposed to modify the command to "obey your parents"?

5 Answers 5

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Granted, the Greek term tekna has no age-related limitations. For an example, we find it also in the heart-warming parable of the ‘prodigal son’, when the ‘father’ of the parable uses this term in relation with the eldest son of him (Luk 15:31).

However – biblically - the obligation to obey own parents seems clearly linked with the age maturity of a son/daughter, expecially when it is related with a starting of a new family. In this instance, when a son assumes on himself the responsibility of a family (with or without children), he becomes free from the his parents’ authority. The same happens if a conjectural son reaches a marriageable age, and so he decides to live outside the parental home.

The passage from the parents’ responsibility of a behaviour of a son and the time in which this son assumes his own full responsabilites is well illustrated in the account of the healed born blind one. We read that, to get some testimonies about the astounding healing of that man, the Jewish religious leaders called as witnesses the parents of the born blind one.

We read (bold is mine): “But the Jews did not believe that he had really been blind and that he had come to see again, until they called the parents of the man who saw again, and asked them, ‘Is this your son, and do you affirm that he was born blind? If so, how is it then that he now can see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind. But we do not know how it is that he now can see, or who it was that made his eyes to see. Ask him; he is of age; he can speak for himself.’” (Joh 9:18-21, Williams’ NT)

Until some time before those parents did really speak for (or, ‘instead’) their son, assuming on their shoulders the consequences of the behaviour of their son, at the epoch of that questioning the born blind man was ‘of age’, instead. He did must speak for himself, assuming on himself every responsabilities related with his behaviour. His parents were free from exercise authority on their son.

Despite we may have some troubles to fix today an exact amount of years as equivalent to be ‘of age’, the point stands again: when a son arrived to be ‘of age’ – living outside the parental home - he was free from his parent’s authority.

This concept is confirmed also by the other famous parable of the prodigal son we mentioned above (Luk 15:11-32). In it we see how the father did not interfere with the decision of his son to get his share of the property. He did not oblige his son to remain in the paternal home. More probably, according the implied background of this parable, we may imagine that the younger son did inform his father not only about his desire to get part of the property, but also to leave the paternal home to start a new life for himself. Moreover, the parable says nothing about a kind of putting a tail on his son (from the father’s part), to know in what manner he would spend that freshly received capital.

As regards women, in the Biblical times they passed from the parents’ authority to the authority of her husband (1 Cor 11:3).


Another point.

Speaking about the making of a new family, Genesis 2:24 states: “Therefore shall a man leave [ozb] his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.” (JPS).

This statement was repeated by the Lord Jesus (Mat 19:5; Mar 10:7-8), as well as the apostle Paul (Eph 5:31). In these NT passages we always find the compound Greek verb καταλειπω, from κατα (an intensive particle) + λειπω (to abandon, to leave [behind], to neglect [as in Act 6:2]). The same Greek verb was used yet by the Greek Septuagint reading of Gen 2:24.

What about the Hebrew verb used in Genesis? Ozb has the same meaning of the Greek homologous term, plus a little more emphasis on the freedom-from-authority concept. In fact, as a derivative noun we find that the Bible term ozub has the meaning of ‘a not-slave person’ > ‘a freedman’, as we see in Deu 32:36; 1Kin 14:10; 2 Kin 9:8.

Thus, we may safely conclude that both in Hebrew and in Greek language - besides the general meaning of ‘to leave, abandon’ - we may deduce that καταλειπω/ozb both possess an authority-related idea of “to make a clean break with the authority of someone.”

Then, when Gen 2:24 speaks about to ‘leave’ father and mother, it not intend merely that the new couple of newlyweds - from a time on - will live in an independent house, but, in a more pregnant meaning, that the ‘bridegroom’ Genesis speaks about, was ready to leave behind the parental authority he was subjected to, until that moment.

So, the direct answer to your question (“Does a faithful reading of Ephesians 6:1 require adult Christian children to obey their parents?”) is: ‘No’ (except if decide to remain voluntarily subjected to the authority of his father, abandoning not the parental home).

This doesn’t mean that an adult (or ‘of age’) son has right to show disrespect towards his parents (and least of all, that he now has an authority over his parents). The Scriptures (1Tim 5:4) explains us that we are obliged (as a Christian) to give compensation (or, recompense) to our living progenitors (προγονος, ‘parents’, ‘grandfathers’, and other living ancestors). The context (verses 3-16) of this passage included in the ‘compensation’ also the economical care of these ancestors from the sons/grandchildren part.


Last point.

I’m agree enough with Rajesh statement: “If your parents command you to do something that is in accord with God’s righteous standards, then to obey them is to obey God, and we are obliged to obey God no matter what age we are”. Right, but this point is applicable to every person, not only parents.

For an example, also a young person may offer to more aged peoples some counsels derived from divine wisdom included in the Bible. In these cases, too, we may say, ‘to obey him is to obey God, and we are obliged to obey God no matter what age he is” (compare Qoeleth 9:14-15; Job chapters 32-27).

I hope these notes will be useful for you.

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    "this point is applicable to every person, not only parents." Ah yes, this is very true. Thank you for this answer, it's very well-written. +1
    – Rajesh
    Jan 11 at 6:06
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+100

There are many things one can do with this passage. You are right in saying "τέκνα is not a term that is age limited." Neither is the English word "children." And yet the image that almost always comes to mind when you hear the word "children" is little kids or adolescents. The word can absolutely refer to adults who are the children of their older parents, but such a concept would never come to mind naturally unless you apprehend the context of the word "children" to be that of adult children. But, perhaps Paul did mean adult children as well, so I'll suppose that in my interpretation. I also want to say something else before I move on to my interpretation of the given scripture.

In order to "obey" someone, they have to give you a command(an authoritative order). As children grow up, parents (ideally) tend to "command" their children less and less and instead give advice, counsel, and guidance. This is highly optimal, as parents want their children to learn independence so that when they grow up they can start a family with a mate. You see, commands are replaced by guiding principles that a parent's child can(and should) take heed of to try to implement in their own lives. When a parent's child is young, the parent is head over that child; the children are subordinate, and as obliged to obey(so long as what they ask does not go against God, e.g. steal, lie/spread falsehoods, or even perform sexual acts) their parents(though, once again, less and less as they grow older; that is, if the parents try to help their children gain independence). But when a child is grown up(not 18. I'd say somewhere around 25, as a human's prefrontal cortex isn't fully developed until 25 years old), they are (if their parents raised them right) fully equipped(in the sense that it won't be a total catastrophe, not that they will do so perfectly) to start a family; a husband to become the head, and a wife to become the body. That is why it is written, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) Ok, now I'm done.

The word for "obey" in Ephesians 6:1 is "ὑπακούω." Here's what Strong's Concordance says about this word; "from ὑπό(G5259) and ἀκούω(G191); to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively; by implication, to heed or conform to a command or authority:—hearken, be obedient to, obey." So, it can mean "to obey", but it more generally means "to hearken, listen attentively." The same word, ὑπακούω, is used again in Colossians 3:20;

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

At least in Ephesians 6:1, Paul added "in the Lord" to denote that he wants children to obey their parents only if what their parents say is in accord with the commandments of God(and, if that is the case, then we are actually fully obliged to obey our parents, no matter what age we are, as obeying them would be synonymous with obeying God Himself[and we are undoubtedly always obliged to obey God], e.g. if our parents tell us not to spread falsehoods about a coworker that we are mad at). Clearly, Paul must not mean that we are obliged to comply with everything our parents say. If they tell us to do something that goes against God, are we not obliged to disobey them? So, what is Paul getting at here(in both Ephesians 6:1 and Colossians 3:20)?

Well, all I think he is trying to get across here is that as children, having been raised by our (older) parents who (most likely) have much more wisdom and discernment than us(due to all they've experienced in life), we are obliged to listen attentively to what they say. We should never ignore them or brush them off when they want to give us some genuine advice, but we must always hearken to their advice, i.e. take it into great consideration. This, I think, is true for any and all ages.

Once again, this is presupposing that Paul had in mind "children of any and all ages" when he wrote either Ephesians 6:1 or Colossians 3:20, which I don't personally think he did. But perchance he did, and if so, the interpretation given above is the one I'd go with.

Hope this helps, and have a good day!

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I understand that children, τέκνα, is not a term that is age limited.

Limits depend upon context; in this particular case, it would seem that only young people are addressed; to make sure that we are not simply misinterpreting the pre-medieval biblical text by reading modern or post-medieval ideas into it (a form of cultural eisegesis, quite common when approaching old writings without paying proper attention to their immediate historical context), it would be best to consult ancient interpretations, such as that Chrysostom (fourth century), who wrote commentaries on almost every single book in the New Testament; indeed, he also seems to support this view:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is the first commandment with promise.

Here he has not a word of discourse concerning Christ, not a word on high subjects, for he is as yet addressing his discourse to tender understandings. And it is for this reason, moreover, that he makes his exhortation short, inasmuch as children cannot follow up a long argument. For this reason also he does not discourse at all about a kingdom, (because it does not belong to the tender age of childhood to understand these subjects,) but what a child's soul most especially longs to hear, that he says, namely, that it shall live long. For if any one shall enquire why it is that he omitted to discourse concerning a kingdom, but set before them the commandment laid down in the law, he does this because he speaks to them as infantile, and because he is well aware that if the husband and the wife are thus disposed according to the law which he has laid down, there will be but little trouble in securing the submission of the children. [...]

Children, says he, obey your parents in the Lord

that is, according to the Lord. This, he means to say, is what God commands you. But what then if they shall command foolish things? Generally a father, however foolish he may be himself, does not command foolish things (Matthew 7:9-11, Luke 11:11-13). However, even in that case, the Apostle has guarded the matter, by saying, in the Lord; that is, wherever you will not be offending against God. So that if the father be a gentile or a heretic, we ought no longer to obey, because the command is not then, in the Lord. [...]

And observe how admirable a foundation he has laid for the path of virtue, that is, honor and reverence towards parents. When he would lead us away from wicked practices, and is just about to enter upon virtuous ones, this is the first thing he enjoins, honor towards parents; inasmuch as they before all others are, after God, the authors of our being, so that it is reasonable they should be the first to reap the fruits of our right actions; and then all the rest of mankind. For if a man have not this honor for parents he will never be gentle toward those unconnected with him.

I believe the next-to-last paragraph also addresses your question concerning:

Also, how does the phrase in the Lord supposed to modify the command to "obey your parents" ?

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Imagine you are at church where there are adults and children in the audience. The pastor is preaching a sermon and he addresses the adults in the congregation then he says, "Children, always obey your parents." It is assumed he is now addressing the children in the audience. Good question though but I don't believe Paul meant grown-up children to obey their parents like young children are asked to do.

Children (under 18 for example) is determined from context. Since adult Christians would not obey their parents if their parents were pagans, it is referring to young children. "In the Lord" is the keyword. If the parent tells their children to obey Jesus and His Father, that is "in the Lord". Heck, even an adult child should obey their parents IF it is "in the Lord". He is not saying obeying your parents no matter what they tell you.

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  • I like what you said. "...even an adult child should obey their parents IF it is in the Lord..." This is a good point. If your parents command you to do something that is in accord with God's righteous standards, then to obey them is to obey God, and we are obliged to obey God no matter what age we are. Good answer. :)
    – Rajesh
    Dec 25, 2021 at 22:17
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Children - τέκνον

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (ESV)
τὰ τέκνα ὑπακούετε τοῖς γονεῦσιν ὑμῶν ἐν κυρίῳ τοῦτο γάρ ἐστιν δίκαιον

The fact he appears to address them directly suggests they are old enough to receive instruction from Paul, and there are different words available to describe children:

Since he avoided τεκνίον, that suggests he does not have little children in mind. Additionally, τέκνον is used in Ephesians 2:3, 5:1, and 5:8, where it refers to adult believers.

Obey - ὑπακούω
Like children, there are two words Paul could use for obey:

There are three primary uses for ὑπακούω, the one used by Paul:

❶ to follow instructions, obey, follow, be subject to
❷ to grant one's request, hear
❸ to answer a knock on the door

The BDAG identifies the first as the meaning used in Ephesians 6:1, 6:4 and Colossians 3:20, 22.1The other option, πειθαρχέω, is to "obey one in authority"2in contrast with ὑπακούω which is to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. listen attentively; by implication to heed or conform to a command or authority.3The choice of ὑπακούω over πειθαρχέω allows for some "wiggle" room. Paul could mean both younger children are to follow instructions and adult children are to listen attentively.

...in the Lord
in the Lord is in the dative and applies to the verb, obey [emphasis added]:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. The first duty of children is obedience, and "in the Lord," i.e. in Christ, this duty is confirmed. The ἐν Κυρίῳ qualifies, not "parents," but "obey," and indicates that the element or life which even children lead in fellowship with Christ makes such obedience more easy and more graceful. The duty itself rests on the first principles of morality - "for this is right." It is an obligation that rests on the very nature of things, and cannot change with the spirit of the age; it is in no degree modified by what is called the spirit of independence in children.4

The Context
The instruction must be placed within the context of all instructions:

All believers are to be subject to one another in reverence to Christ (5:21)
Wives are to be subject to husbands as the Church is subject to Christ (5:22-24)
Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church (5:25-33)
Children are to obey their parents in the Lord (6:1-3)
Father are not to provoke their children to anger, but nourish, train, and admonish
   them in the Lord (6:4)
Slaves are to obey their masters as to Christ (6:5-8)
Masters treat slaves accordingly knowing the true Master of all is in heaven (6:9)

Paul is describing relationships in the Christian family. He begins by addressing husbands and wives separately; yet these are the parents of the children. Obviously, young children should obey their parents and adult children should continue to listen to their parents.


1. Fredrick William Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 1028-1029
2. James Strong, The New Strong's Expanded Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2001, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament p.196
3. Ibid., p. 256
4. Pulpit Commentary

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  • "Paul could mean both younger children are to follow instructions and adult children are to listen attentively." Very nice! This is exactly what I wanted to put in my original answer! How Paul's statement could have a dual nature; one implication to be gleaned for young children, and another to be gleaned for older children. I only didn't put it because I thought it would make my answer too long. I am so happy that you included it in your answer. +1 And have an amazing day. :)
    – Rajesh
    Jan 2 at 2:40
  • "It is an obligation that rests on the very nature of things, and cannot change with the spirit of the age; it is in no degree modified by what is called the spirit of independence in children." I 100% agree. I said the same thing in my answer; "if what their parents say is in accord with the commandments of God(and, if that is the case, then we are actually fully obliged to obey our parents, no matter what age we are, as obeying them would be synonymous with obeying God Himself[and we are undoubtedly always obliged to obey God]."
    – Rajesh
    Jan 2 at 2:43

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