What the Bible says about Family

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Colossians 3:20

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

20 The one obligation Paul places on children is obedience to their parents. "Obey" implies a readiness to hear and carry out orders; a child's ongoing responsibility is to listen to and carry out the instructions of his or her parents. Paul says two things about this obedience. (1) It is to be complete: "in everything." Paul, of course, sets this in a Christian context. He is dealing with the Christian home and presupposes Christian attitudes on the part of parents. (2) The obedience of children to their parents "pleases the Lord." In the Christian order, just as in the order under the law or in the natural realm, obedience to parents pleases God. The obedience of children is not, therefore, based on accidental factors, nor does it depend essentially on the parents' character. It is an obligation grounded in the very nature of the relationship between parents and children. It is a thing that is right in itself (see Eph 6:1-3). It is therefore especially pleasing to God when believing children are careful to fulfill this duty.

Read more from Expositors Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): New Testament

Proverbs 22:6

Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

6 Child training. Proper training of children will endure throughout their lives. The second clause here provides the result of the first. The imperative, "train", includes the idea of "dedicate," and so the training should be with purpose. The NEB captures the point of early instruction: "Start a boy on the right road," i.e., "in the way he should go." There is a standard of life to which children should adhere. Of course, they would have to be young enough when change for the better is still possible. The consequence is that when they are old, they will not depart from it.

In recent years it has become popular to interpret this verse to mean that the training should be according to the child's way. That is, the wise parent will discern the natural bent of the individual child and train him or her accordingly. This may be a practical and useful idea, but it is not likely what this proverb had in mind. In Proverbs there are only two "ways" a child can go, the way of the wise and the righteous or the way of the fool and the wicked.

Read more from Expositors Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): Old Testament

Exodus 20:12

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Honor your father and your mother (20:12). This verse has been subjected to many interpretations. Most ancient readers would have understood this as an admonition to care for one’s elderly parents. There is ample ancient Near Eastern evidence to support this. The Akkadian term palāḫu, like the Hebrew verb (kibbēd) used here, means “to revere, treat reverently.” The term palāḫu also designates the responsibility of a son or, less often, a daughter to provide food and other necessary items to one or both parents. Texts from the site of Emar in Syria, for example, use palāḫu as a synonym for the term wabālu, which means “to carry/support” and frequently occurs in texts that require adult children to support aging parents. Thus, when used in the context of a child-parent relationship, palāḫu carries the same connotation as wabālu. In such contexts, Hebrew kibbēd probably does as well.

What type of support is intended? The Mesopotamian texts typically refer to rations for three items that ancient Near Eastern societies regarded as basic necessities: barley, wool, and oil. Barley was most important. It has been estimated that a “reasonable minimum subsistence level was 2 litres of barley per day, which means 720 litres per year,” the equivalent of approximately 540 kilograms of wheat. In PBS 8/1 16, two brothers have come of age and are dividing the estate of their father. The father is still alive, however, and they must provide for him: “W. and N. shall give to A., their father, monthly 60 litres of barley, 1/3 litre of oil each; yearly 3 minas of wool each. By (these) rations of barley, oil and wool they shall support him. Whoever does not support him, shall not exercise his right to the inheritance.”

The idea of supporting one’s aging parents accords well with the last half of 20:12. If a son, for instance, supports his parents as they grow older and thereby helps to extend their lifetimes, he can reasonably expect to receive similarly beneficent treatment in his twilight years.

Akhenaten often had himself depicted in intimate family scenes such as this.

Gerbil/Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of the Staatliche Museum, Berlin

Read more from Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament