Obedience in the Lord: Ephesians 6:1

obedience and honor (2)

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2) Eph 6:1: Household codes were quite common in the ancient world.[1]

In the Greco-Roman milieu, they regulated the behavior of women, children, and slaves toward husbands, parents, and masters.[2]

However, Eph 6:1–4 follows the apostle’s exhortation for all Christians to exhibit submission to each other as an expression of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (Eph 5:15–21).[3]

Jesus’s call to discipleship infringed upon traditional family responsibilities (Mark 3:31–35; Mark 10:28–31; Mark 13:12–13; Luke 8:1–3; Luke 9:59–62). Thus, Paul’s guidance regarding these relationships provided stability where entire households had converted to Christianity.[4]



As the apostle typically did, he first discussed the responsibilities of the household member considered subordinate in Greco-Roman society.[5]

After finishing his charges to wives and husbands (Eph 5:21–33), Paul wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

Significantly, Paul directly addressed Christian children.[6] Therefore, the church in Ephesus likely included them in worship and community instruction.[7]

Most girls married in their early teens;[8] boys came of age at twenty-five.[9]

Those of Jewish background recognized that a shift of allegiance occurred when they married (Gen 2:23–24; Eph 5:25–31).[10]

However, in the Roman world, the requirement of obedience lasted until one’s father died.[11]

Paul commanded wives to submit (hypotassō) to their husbands (Eph 5:22).[12] That leaves open the possibility of respectful disagreement.[13]

He ordered children to go a step further and obey (hypakouō) their parents.[14] This connotes compliance free of objections.[15]



The phrase “in the Lord” (en kuriō) generates much controversy.

It does not appear in some ancient manuscripts, including some dating back to the fourth century.[16] However, it does occur in other equally old documents. Therefore, one manuscript (P46) dated to ca. 200 makes the determination to include these words.[17]

Another issue concerns exactly what “in the Lord” means.

Some scholars assert that the command to obey applies only to Christian parents.[18]

Others claim that children must comply to their parents’ expectations only when their orders do not conflict with God’s.[19]

In Ephesians, Paul typically argues for behavior based upon what Jesus has done (Luke 2:41–52; Eph 1:3–14).[20]

However, the most likely possibility takes the context of the other household codes into consideration (Eph 5:18–22; Eph 6:5–7).[21]

One aspect of following the Lord consists of obeying one’s parents. In fact, the Spirit enables children to obey.[22]

Elsewhere, Paul equated disobedience to one’s parents with a failure to honor God as Lord (Rom 1:28–32; 2 Tim 3:1–6).[23]

He claimed that such behavior is “right” (dikaios). This noun refers to action which conforms to God’s laws.[24]



In the Greco-Roman world, people widely recognized the call to such obedience.[25]

A first century BC Roman historian wrote of the life-long authority granted to fathers in that society:

These, then, are the excellent laws which Romulus enacted…

Those he established with respect to reverence and dutifulness of children toward their parents, to the end that they should honor and obey them in all things, both in their words and actions, were still more august and of greater dignity and vastly superior to our laws.

For those who established the Greek constitutions set a very short time for sons to be under the rule of their fathers, some till the expiration of the third year after they reached manhood, others as long as they continued unmarried, and some till their names were entered in the public registers…

The punishments, also, which they ordered for disobedience in children toward their parents were not grievous: for they permitted fathers to turn their sons out of doors and to disinherit them, but nothing further.

But mild punishments are not sufficient to restrain the folly of youth and its stubborn ways or to give self-control to those who have been heedless of all that is honorable; and accordingly among the Greeks many unseemly deeds are committed by children against their parents.

But the law giver of the Romans gave virtually full power to the father over his son, even during his whole life, whether he thought proper to imprison him, to scourge him, to put him in chains and keep him at work in the fields, or to put him to death, and this even though the son were already engaged in public affairs, though he were numbered among the highest magistrates, and though he were celebrated for his zeal for the commonwealth.[26]



Notably, Paul placed restraints upon fathers regarding how they treated their children (Eph 6:4).

Although people commonly expected children to obey their parents, Paul contended that those who belong to Christ should live in a way which pleases the Lord (Col 1:9–10; Col 3:20; Eph 4:1–3).[27] This precludes obeying orders which contradict God’s commands.

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a) Read Eph 6:1. How did Paul alter the format of Greco-Roman household codes? To whom does this apply? Why did Paul command children to obey their parents? What does such conformity signify?





Go to Life-Long Honor (Eph 6:2–3)

[Related posts include Life-Long Honor (Eph 6:2–3); Nurturing and Training (Eph 6:4); Unity in the Spirit (Eph 5:18–21); Submissive to One Another (Eph 5:21–24); Sacrificial Love (Eph 5:25–30); An Equal and Adequate Partner (Gen 2:21–23); A Transfer of Loyalty (Gen 2:24); Ham Dishonors His Father (Gen 9:22–23); Blessings from the Father (Eph 1:3–4); Adopted as Sons (Eph 1:5–6); Redemption through Christ’s Blood (Eph 1:7–8); The Summing up of All Things (Eph 1:9–11); Difficult Times in the Last Days (2 Tim 3:1–4); Having a Form of Godliness (2 Tim 3:5); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Chapter 10: Noah Curses Canaan (Gen 9:18–27)]


[1]John T. Fitzgerald, “Haustafeln,” ABD 3:80–1, 80.

[2]Balch, “Household Codes,” ABD 3:318.

[3]Lincoln, Ephesians, 395.

[4]Lincoln, Ephesians, 398.

[5]Lincoln, Ephesians, 395–6.

[6]Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 336.

[7]Arnold, Ephesians, 415.

[8]Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians, 35.

[9]Witherington, Grace in Galatia: A Commentary on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, 282.

[10]Hamilton, Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 181.

[11]Gottlob Schrenk, “πατηρ” (patēr), TDNT 5:945–59, 951.

[12]Snodgrass, Ephesians, 321.

[13]Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 335–6.

[14]Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 335–6.

[15]Arnold, Ephesians, 415.

[16]Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd. Ed., 341–2.

[17]Nestle and Nestle, Nestle-Aland: NTG Apparatus Criticus, 28. revidierte Auflage, 601.

[18]Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 336.

[19]Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, 397.

[20] Lincoln, Ephesians, 395.

[21]Snodgrass, Ephesians, 321.

[22]Arnold, Ephesians, 415–6.

[23]Lincoln, Ephesians, 398.

[24]Gottlob Schrenk, “δικαιος” (dikaios), TDNT 2:182–91, 191.

[25]Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles, 336.

[26]Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities (trans. Earnest Cary; LCL; Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press; Heinemann, 1960), 2.26.1–4, 387–9, https://archive.org/stream/L319DionysiusOfHalicarnassusTheRomanAntiquitiesI12pdf/L319-Dionysius%20of%20Halicarnassus%20The%20Roman%20Antiquities%20I%3A1-2pdf#page/n437.

[27]Snodgrass, Ephesians, 321.