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


Granted, the Greek term tekna has no age-related limitations. For 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 to his eldest son (Luk 15:31).

However, biblically, the obligation to obey one's parents seems clearly linked with the age maturity of a son/daughter, especially when it is related to the starting of a new family. In this instance, when a son assumes upon himself the responsibility of a family (with or without children), he becomes free from 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 for the behaviour of a son and the time in which this son assumes his own full responsibilities is well illustrated in the account of the healing of the one born blind. We read that, in order to get the testimony of the man's astounding healing, the Jewish religious leaders called the parents of the man as witnesses.

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.’ (John 9:18-21, Williams’ NT)

At some time previous, the parents would have spoken for (or, ‘instead of’) their son, assuming any consequences of the son's behaviour upon their shoulders; but at the time of the questioning, the man was ‘of age.’ He spoke for himself, assuming all responsibility related to his behaviour. His parents were free from exercising authority over their son.

Despite the fact that we may have some trouble fixing an exact number of years to be considered ‘of age’, the point still stands: when a son comes ‘of age’ – living outside the parental home - he becomes free from his parents’ authority.

This concept is also confirmed by the other famous parable of the prodigal son we mentioned above (Luke 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 likely, according to the implied background of this parable, we might imagine that the younger son informed 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 the father putting a tail on his son to know in what manner he would spend the freshly received capital.

As regards women, in Biblical times they passed from their parents’ authority to the authority of their husbands (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 as 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 - 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 ‘leaving’ father and mother, it is not merely intended that the newlyweds - from then 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’ (excepting if one decides to remain voluntarily subjected to the authority of his father, by not abandoning the parental home).

This doesn’t mean that an adult or some who is ‘of age’ has any right to show disrespect towards his parents (and least of all, that he now has any authority over his parents). The Scriptures (1Tim 5:4) explain to 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 also includes the economic care in the ‘compensation’ of these ancestors on the sons/grandchildren's part.

Last point:

I agree enough with Rajesh's 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 example, a young person may also offer to more aged people some counsel 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 Ecclesiastes/Qoeleth 9:14-15; Job chapters 32-27).

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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, 2022 at 6:06
  • @Saro Fedele "17 Obey your leaders and submit to them—for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account—so that they may do this with joy, not groaning; for this would be unhelpful for you." (Hebrews 13:17). The commandment to obey our leaders is for everyone, including adults. Therefore, obeying someone does not necessarily imply that one has to be a child. Wouldn't you agree? Oct 7 at 2:14

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!

  • If you believe the children were underage, young children, how do you reconcile with the following: 1. It would be odd for Paul to write to toddlers, or pre-teens who are not even Christians. 2. They would not understand what obeying the Lord means as they would be too young. 3. Paul asks them to honor their parents. I don't know any children who even understand the meaning of honoring. Oct 8 at 2:09
  • Children born in a Christian household are for all intents and purposes, "Christian", to the extent that the values and way of life of Christianity are being instated in them by those raising them. However, we can say they are "not Christian" if you wish simply because discussion on this will go down a road of vain arguing-over-semantics, so I will just say that whether someone is "Christian" or not does not affect whether they can be enjoined to Christian principles. | As far as I know, most children at least of the age of 4 know perfectly well what is meant by "listen to your mommy/daddy".
    – Rajesh
    Oct 12 at 16:16

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" ?


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

  • "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, 2022 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, 2022 at 2:43
  • @Revelation Lad Would that be accurate to say they must have been Christians in order for Paul to address them? Oct 7 at 2:37
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    @TruthSeeker I think the primary sense is one of addressing believers, both adult and children (all ages). I also think the language does not rule out application to “children” who have yet to accept Christ. That is, the ambiguity of young vs adult children encompasses believing and non-believing children (regardless of age). Proper parental instruction is not only to teach about Christ but to teach the child they must also decide for themselves. Oct 7 at 13:22
  • @RevelationLad In conclusion, are you saying that the instructions is perhaps intentionally flexible to apply for both adult and underage children, believing or not, depending on the situation of the family? I posted a question yesterday and would be happy to look for your contribution if you would like to.hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/87077/… Oct 7 at 15:56

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.

  • 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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