The Ten Commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before me
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
- Honor your father and mother
- You shall not kill/murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness
- You shall not covet
The Fifth Commandment says, “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:16 (NKJV)
What does it mean to “honor?”
I looked up Deuteronomy 5:16 in the Hebrew to see what the word “honor” actually means. According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word translated as “honor” in Deuteronomy 5:16 is כָּבַד (kabad or kabed), which literally means “to be heavy, weighty, or burdensome.” I did a little more digging, and found this explanation on BibleStudyTools.com:
The root of kabod [כָּבַד] literally means heavy or weighty. The figurative meaning, however, is far more common: “to give weight to someone.” To honor someone, then, is to give weight or to grant a person a position of respect and even authority in one’s life. A person grants honor most frequently on the basis of position, status, or wealth, but it can and should also be granted on the basis of character.
The command to honor our parents means, then, to give weight to their authority over us, and to show them respect.
Some have argued that the Fifth Commandment means that we are to obey everything our parents tell us to do. However, this is not what the word כָּבַד means. As children, we must obey our parents, but as we reach maturity, we are commanded to give weight to their authority, but not necessarily to blindly obey. If your parents are godly and faithful followers of Jesus Christ, then the wisdom they have in Christ and the experience they have in knowing you should be very carefully and weightily considered. Many Christians, however, have parents who do not know the Lord, or do not honor Him. Although we are still to give weight to what they tell us, if it conflicts with the Bible, we should absolutely not do what they say. We still must show them respect and honor, however.
Why should we honor parents?
Deuteronomy 5:16 says to honor your parents so “that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
Some skeptics have claimed that since this verse promises that everyone who honors their parents is guaranteed a long life and that all will “be well,” the Bible is obviously contradictory. Some people who honor their parents die at a young age.
However, there are many instances where the Bible speaks in terms of generalizations—things that are usually, but not always, true. Deuteronomy 5:16 is an example. The book of Proverbs contains many such generalizations. It is not a contradiction to have some instances where the general rule does not apply. When someone claims Deuteronomy 5:16 contains a contradiction, they are committing the fallacy of a sweeping generalization—applying a general principle as if it were a universal rule. Deuteronomy 5:16 is not intended to be taken as a universal rule, but rather as general principle that is true most of the time.
In most cases, our parents are a lot more wise than we like to admit. If they are godly parents, they have experiences and years of wisdom from the Lord that we have yet to gain. Generally speaking, if we follow the advice of godly parents, we will tend to live longer, happier lives.
Another reason to honor our parents is found in Colossians 3:20: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” It pleases God when we honor our parents. God appointed them to be our parents, and gave them authority as our parents. Whether they have been godly parents, or horrible parents, it pleases God when we show our parents the honor they are due, simply because they are our parents.
The bottom line
I haven’t always honored my parents as I should. Especially as a teen, I dishonored my parents greatly. I gave very little weight to their position or authority. As I’ve grown older, especially after I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior, this has changed considerably. I also have a whole lot more respect for my parents, now that I’m a parent.
As a parent, I haven’t always deserved my children’s honor. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and have let my kids down far too many times.
However, the command to honor my parents is still wise advice from my Father in Heaven. He used my parents to help shape me into the person I’ve become, and is using me to shape my children into the young adults they are becoming, despite my shortcomings and sin.
If you have not been honoring your father and mother, maybe because they’ve hurt you, or simply because of your own sin, please consider the words of Deuteronomy 5:16 very carefully. God wants us to honor our parents, not because they deserve it, but because it pleases Him when we do. We all need to forgive our parents for the wrongs they have done to us, and honor them despite their shortcomings, no matter how severe. It’s not always easy to do, and for many people, may take a lot of time and healing, but it’s the right thing to do, as God has commanded.