Ephesians 6:1-4

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), 3 so that it may turn out well for you, and that you may live long on the earth. 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Colossians 3:20-21

20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not antagonize your children, so that they will not become discouraged.

"Children" translates as the Greek word teknon (Strong #5043), a general term for children or offspring.

I don't find it easy to assume the age group of those children.

Also, it is not clear to me if those children were disciples of Jesus.

Adulthood arguments

On the one hand, Paul:

  • addresses them directly as if they were members of the church of Ephesus and Colossae
  • commands them to obey, but also to honor, despite the fact that those two words have different meanings, by connecting his commandment to Exodus 20:12 (12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged on the land which the Lord your God gives you.)
    • lacking of honor could end in the death penalty
    • in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, the stoned ones were apparently adult children (“18If any person has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father or his mother, and when they discipline him, he does not listen to them, 19 then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. 20 And they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious; he does not obey us, he is thoughtless and given to drinking.’ 21 Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall eliminate the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear about it and fear.)

Also, the word children in Ephesians 5:1 (1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.) is likely used by way of endearment to address adults.

Underage arguments

On the other hand, Paul uses a language that fits a child audience such as:

  • provoked to anger
  • disciplined (paideia)
    • corrected, chastised (Bill Mounce). Generally, you don't wipe adult children
    • reared (Logeion)
  • antagonized to the point of discouragement

Also, to obey someone, one must be in his presence. You are more likely to be under the authority of a father during childhood, as opposed to adulthood during which one would "leave his father and mother and be united with his wife".


Can someone help me determine the age group (adult, underage, or both) of those children?

Also, would that be correct to state that those children must have been believers in order for Paul to address them directly in his letter?

  • Just children of any parents.
    – Dottard
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 2:57

3 Answers 3


I see that Gr. "teknon" is used of newborns, young children, adolescents, and grown adults in the NT (99X in 91 verses). OT Septuagint usage is the same. It is used in the phrase "children of God" in Romans 8:16 and elsewhere, as you pointed out. Practically the same usage as "children" in English. So: the context will dictate exactly which variation applies.

I dare say this because I too, can read. I can read it myself, and you, too, can read it yourself.

Understanding the context is one of the primary requirements to understanding the individual words in anyone's words. It is a rule of language and communication. As a matter of respect, we ought to be even more diligent to understand each word of God's word.

The one, true God has all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of language use that we all have. He communicates in a way that the people to whom He is speaking or writing understand. You should appreciate that He does it perfectly, unlike most of us.

God's Word is perfect (the original, "God-breathed" word of 2 Timothy 3:16). The order of the words in His Word is perfect. The choice of words is perfect. His word accomplishes the thing that He desires. His desire is what He says it is. He didn't take (nor is He looking for) any advice on how or what to speak or write.

Of one thing I am certain: He doesn't hide behind a cloak of incomprehensibility.

What He had written He intended for people to read and understand. Sure that takes a little bit of education and a little smarts but surely nothing more than that which anyone can attain with proper effort. PhD's not required.

Holy men of God wrote what God told them to write, verbatim, word for word.

2 Peter 1:21:

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Holy Spirit].

Jeremiah 36 provides three (3!) detailed accounts of how it worked. That's how we got the Bible. It is a fun read. Jeremiah did not "will" God's Word into being any more than Jehoiakim (a king of Judah) "willed" it out of being!

So, why don't you just stick with what is plainly written in Ephesians 6? The English translation seems not at all misleading. Children receive instruction from their parents which they can obey or disobey. Obedience on their part is the right thing to do. No one can undo being the child of his mother and father.

Obvious to you, me, and God is that young children living under their parents' roof are going to receive much more instruction that a grown child living elsewhere. I particularly appreciate that God instructs fathers to "bring them [children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord". He didn't say pass them off to a public or private school and let the "village" do it.

Since they are brought up "in the lord", of course the Scriptures apply to them as much as anyone else. Children are people, too. Even young children as verse 4 implies. Why not have them memorize pertinent things, like Ephesians 6:1 & 2? Why not teach them the whole book of Proverbs? Don't children need to learn about Jesus Christ? Were children not present when Jesus Christ taught?

Do you yet have any doubt about the use of "children" in Ephesians 6? What is hard about it? Is there any reason to speculate, or to add, remove, or change anything that is written? Did not God make it perfectly clear? Seems clear to me.

Perhaps consider that your young son or daughter is going to be a brother or sister in Christ a lot longer than he was ever your young son or daughter. You are responsible to teach them how to be faithful believers, obedient children of God, just like yourself. Lead by example, and walk in love.

Proverbs 22:5

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

At what age would you stop honoring your father or mother? Ephesians 6:1ff is obviously written to children "under their parents roof" so-to-speak, but is it any less applicable to you as a grown, autonomous, independent adult today? Consider it a reminder if so.

If your parents gave you good instruction when you were aged 40, would you despise them?

Obviously, it would not be particularly wise to obey the command of your father if he were Cain, for instance, and he commanded you to walk in his steps...:( At some point everyone becomes accountable before God for every one of his actions no matter from whom he gets his instruction.

Now even if Cain were my father, I can find no excuse for not continuing to honor him, unless he were dead. At that point I'd be relieved from the obligation. Until then, and at his resurrection, I'd honor him in any honorable way that came to mind.

I see no requirement that one must be in another's "presence" to be obedient to them or to honor them. Think about it.

I hope all that was helpful, or, at the least a little entertaining. Thanks for considering.


Age is one important factor in this question, but so is religious affiliation. Ephesians 6:1-4 directly implies that the children have Christian parents. In the case of Col. 3, the author cannot possibly intend that children obey non-Christian parents 'in all things,' for that would mean he does not want anyone to join the church if their parents object - or that they should leave the church if their parents urge them to. So the first thing to establish is that "obey your parents in all things" is not a universal principle.

Regarding age, it is not clear from the context whether the text includes adult children. I tend to doubt that it includes adults, because adult members of the church are equal. Adult children should honor their parents, but do not have to obey them in all things. For example should we imagine that Christians wishing to marry must not do so if their parents urge celibacy or do not approve of their choice of husband or wife? Or if their parents are tempted to adopt a heresy, are their children supposed to follow them?

Conclusion: "children" in the context of the OP's verses refers to non-adults. It also refers only to Christian children whose parents are also Christians. In the case of children whose parents reject the gospel or have adopted a heresy (e.g. Col. 2:16), the question is more complicated. Adult children of such parents are not obliged to obey them, particularly in matters of religion; and even adolescent children should try to follow their consciences if the parents' instruction is morally wrong.


Ephesians 6:1-4 addresses children.

Numbers 14:26-31 refers to children, or "little ones", as those under 20 years of age. Those over 20 are NOT children but adults.

Numbers 14:29 NIV

In this wilderness your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me.

To say that men over the age of 20 years must continue obeying their parents is ludicrous; men of that age are called to serve their country in the army (Numbers 1:1-3). To say that by then, they should still obey their parents is plain wrong.

Numbers 1:3 NIV

You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army.

The Bible is clear that women have no right to exert authority over men (Isaiah 3:12 and 1st Timothy 2:11-15). To say that a 20-year-old man must still obey his parents is to suggest that his mother has the right to rule over him. This is wrong and silly.

Isaiah 3:12 NIV

Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. My people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.

1 Timothy 2:12 NIV

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man... (marginal note: over her husband)

Children are those under the age of 20 in the Bible.

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