QUESTION: How can believers resolve the forsaking” of unbelieving family with God’s command to honor our parents? Didn’t Jesus command us to forsake all, including family if necessary to follow him? What about the Fifth Commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother …” in Exodus 20:12? Isn’t this a contradiction?
ANSWER: Of course God does not contradict himself. The command to honor one’s parents refers to showing respect and providing for their material needs (see Matt. 15:5 and Mark 7:11). The concept of honoring one’s parents was never intended to designate absolute, slavish obedience by a mature adult. In ancient times it was considered right for a child to disobey his parents if obedience would lead him or her to disobey a divine command. In that respect, honoring God came before honoring parents. The following passage from Everyman’s Talmud* (which quotes from the Babylonian Talmud) bears this out:
It is possible to think that even if the father ordered his son to defile himself or not to restore a lost article which he found, he is to obey him; consequently there is a text to teach, “Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father, and keep My sabbaths” (Leviticus 19:3). All of you are alike bound to honour Me (Jeb. 6a).
Two different terms are employed above, viz. fear and honour. They are defined as follows: “By fear is meant that he does not stand in his father’s place, occupy his seat, contradict his statement or decide against his opinion. By honour is meant that he provides him with food, drink, clothing, and shelter, helps him in and helps him out” (Kid. 31b).
While the above quotation clarifies ancient Jewish thought on the matter, Ephesians 6:1-4 clarifies the teaching of Scripture on this subject: there is necessary and logical balance between obedience to parents in the Lord and parental obligation to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
*Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1949), page 181.