4. The practical application of oneness, 4:1-6:9

vii] Family obligations


In 5:21 Paul calls on his readers to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." In the passage before us, Paul addresses the issue of the reciprocal duties of parents and children. Children are to obey their parents, and parents are not to "exasperate them by teasing, or ridicule, or persistent scolding", Hunter.


i] Context: See 5:21-33.


ii] Background: See 1:1-2.


iii] Structure: This passage, dealing with family responsibilities, presents as follows:

A child's responsibility, v1-3:

Exhortation: Children must obey their parents, v1a;

Reason: It is proper to do so, v1b;

Scriptural support: the commandment, v2-3.

A parent's responsibility, v4:

Exhortation: Nurture rather than provoke, v4


iv] Interpretation:

The exhortations in 5:21-6:9 rest on the principle of brotherly love. Those who exercise authority must, like Christ, take "the form of a servant" and not engage in self-assertive behavior which places another at a disadvantage. This also applies to parental authority, although today secular educationalists tend to promote the freedom of a child, often at the expense of parental authority. In fact, the modern version of child raring is close to narcissistic such that the child learns that it is the center of the world, a being that should right be affirmed by everyone around them. A child's submission to their parents' authority is a moral duty delineated in the fifth commandment.

Walking wisely under the guidance of the scriptures and so, by the Spirit, being filled with the fullness of God / Christ, results in subordination to the needs of others rather than self. The subordination of children to their authority figure, and of the authority figure to their children, is as to the Lord - the child's obedience is according to the Lord, and the parent's instruction is according to the Lord.

Note the repeated order Paul follows in these House Rules: The authority figure follows the subordinate member of the relationship; The relationship is framed within the more substantial relationship that the parties have under God; The instruction follows a set pattern - "the party is addressed, the imperative stated, amplification is given, and the motivation is presented", Hoehner.


v] Exposition: A simple verse-by-verse exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 6:1

Family obligations, v1-4: i] Paul first addresses the issue of the respect that children should show toward their parents, both mother and father, v1-3. Paul's exhortation is simple and straightforward, children must obey their parents. It is a child's duty to see themselves subordinate to their parents authority while in the family home.

ta tekna (on) "Children" - Nominative absolute used for a vocative. Plural, therefore addressed to the children of the Ephesian congregation. Presumably children old enough to understand Paul's directive.

uJpakouete (uJakouw) pres. imp. "obey" - obey, be subject to. "Do what your parents want you to do." The interesting ethical question that emerges from this command is whether it applies in a situation when a parent instructs a child to do something that is immoral / illegal. Those who argue that it always applies (a command of absolute obedience) hold the view that the parent bears full responsibility for their instruction. The argument for diminished responsibility carries little weight where the subordinate is an adult.

uJmwn gen. pro. "your" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.

toiV geneusin (euV ewV) "parents" - the parents [of you]. Dative of direct object after the verb "be subject to."

en + dat. "in [the Lord]" - Local, expressing sphere; "sphere of reference", Larkin. It is often argued that believing children need only obey believing parents, ie. those who are "in the Lord." The context of the exhortation is a believing home, but whether believing or not, parental authority always exists and children should obey. If the parental direction is immoral, then that is on their head not the children. The phrase "in the Lord" is not found in many older manuscripts, see Metzger.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a child should obey their parents.

dikaion adj. "[this is] right" - right, acceptable, fitting. The obedience of a child to their parents is right and proper, fitting. Possibly, but unlikely, Paul is saying that the command is right because it is God's command; "this is what the master requires", Junkins. "This is your Christian duty and it is right that you should do so", Barclay.


Paul supports his exhortation by quoting the scriptures, Deut.5:16. As Paul states, this is "the first commandment with a promise". A literal application of this promise is not warranted, but it is true that life generally works out best for us when we respect our parents.

timw (timaw) imp. "honor" - The word "honor" probably expresses something like "respect", and to respect ones parents is to submit to their authority. Of course, this sits well with the Christian principle of mutual submission - the giving of self to others.

h{tiV pro. "which" - Properly an indefinite relative pronoun, but it can be taken as a relative pronoun with explanatory force, so Robinson; "the importance of this is made plain when He, in the very first commandment to which He attached a promise, stated ...", Junkins.

en + dat. "with" - in, on, with [promise]. Expressing association / accompaniment, although reference/respect is possible. This commandment is "the first commandment with a promise attached to it", Hoehner.

epaggelia/ (a) "a promise" - The first commandment in the decalogue which contains a promise, although this promise probably applies to all the commandments. The promise in its original form was a promise of enjoying the fruits of the promised land. The people of Israel were God's chosen people. He had called them to himself, he was their God and they were his people. Yet, to experience the abundance of blessing which was theirs as God's children, required faithfulness. The blessings were expressed in physical terms - long life, many children, .... These would flow to the people if they were faithful to God and sought to live according to his revealed will. Of course, along with the promise of blessing was the promise of cursing. The people were born in sin and thus, their rebellion inevitably triggered the curse. All this prepared for the coming of Jesus. He, as the faithful Israelite, the faithful child of God, could receive the promised blessings of the "land", the promised blessings of the covenant. He is now the risen Lord, and all who associate with him get to share in the blessing of life eternal in the presence of God. Paul does not develop the theology of the Covenant's blessings and cursings, rather, his point is a pragmatic one. He adapts the Deuteronomy quote by replacing the reference to the "land" with "earth". The "land", referring to the promised land of Israel, would have little meaning to Gentile readers. The pragmatics of the law are simple enough. Although God gave the law knowing that the people could never keep it, he did give a law which was keepable and which when kept, gives us the best possible chance to enjoy life to the full. That is, the law does not spoil our fun, but actually enables us to enjoy life more. So, his exhortation to children to obey their parents is supported by the simple pragmatic truth that such action is for their best. It may not seem that way now, but in the long run it is to the children's advantage that they submit to the authority of their parents.


iJna + subj. "that" - Introducing a final clause expressing purpose; "in order that ..."

eu\ adv. "[it may go] well" - well, good. Adverb of manner. The "well/good" expresses the idea of prosperity; 'so that you might have a long life and prosper in the land'", NJB.

soi dat. "with you" - to you. Dative of interest, advantage.

esh/ (eimi) fut. "[and that] you may enjoy [long life on the earth]" - [and that] you will be [long-lived upon the land]. Since the purpose clause continues a subjunctive verb to-be would be expected, but possibly Paul wants to emphasize the future certainty of the promise. See above for the nature of the promise; "you will have a long and happy life".


ii] Paul now addresses the issue of fatherly care, v4. The exhortation to parents, particularly fathers, is that they apply authority to their children in a way which will not promote resentment - not harsh, overbearing, soul-destroying, or dehumanizing.

kai "-" - and. Here coordinating v4 to the previous three verses.

oiJ patereV (hr roV) "Fathers" - Nominative absolute used as a vocative. "Fathers" may be used for "parents", although at this time fathers were viewed as the authority figure. Child raring in Western societies is now viewed as a partnership between both parents, with the stress here on "fathers" being more cultural than propositional. Although it is likely that its cultural framework guides this instruction, the Biblical pattern of the fatherhood of God should not be lost in our desire for societal acceptance. That is not suggesting, of course, that God is male, cf., Gen.1:27.

mh parorgizete (parorgizw) pres. imp. "do not exasperate" - do not make angry, provoke, irritate, demean. "You must not make your children resentful by your treatment of them", Barclay; "do not provoke your children to anger", ESV.

alla "instead" - but. Adversative in a counterpoint construction; mh ...... alla, "not ..... but ....."

ektrefete (ektrefw) pres. imp. "bring [them] up" - nourish, nurture, raise. As of establishing a sphere of influence. "Raise them properly", CEV.

en + dat. "in" - in. Probably local, "in the sphere of", but possibly instrumental, "by means of".

paideia/ (a) "training" - The word "training" can take the meaning "punishment/discipline". It is certainly used this way some times in the Bible, but it is difficult to understand what a term like "discipline of the Lord" might mean. It surely doesn't men "the Lord's punishment schedule for disobedient children." The more likely sense of the word "training" is of parental guidance through example, "education/training". The prime life-style example is Jesus himself. He is the one we must "follow", both as parents and children.

nouqesia/ (a) "instruction" - The word "instruction" is most likely being used in an Old Testament sense, as was "training", and if this is so it would tend toward "warning", or "strong exhortation", rather than instruction in the sense of academic teaching. A word like "admonition" might apply, cf. Titus 3:10. So, parents must warn their children of life's dangers and admonish them when they wonder from the way. "Admonish them", Cassirer.

kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - of Lord. The genitive, as usual, is handled differently by translators. It seems unlikely that it is an objective genitive, a training and admonition that is "about the Lord", but it could be either a subjective / possessive genitive, a training and admonition that comes from the Lord / is the Lord's, "prescribed by the Lord", Abbott, or an adjectival, attributive, limiting "training and instruction"; "you must bring them up in Christian discipline and training", Barclay.


Ephesians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]