Ephesians 6 and Covenant Children

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Douglas P.

Puritan Board Freshman
I’m wondering how my Baptist brothers understand Ephesians 6:1-4 in consideration of it’s surrounding context and in light of Ephesians 1:1.

From my understanding, Paul’s argument that children should obey their parents in the Lord rests on the presupposition that the children of believers are in the covenant community. It seems as though his logic goes that since children are part of the visible administration of the New Covenant, they should obey their parents just as (although from a fuller Christological and Eschatological understanding) children did under the administration of the Old Covenant.
 

Pilgrim

Puritan Board Doctor
Douglas,

Thanks for your question.

These and other similar passages in the epistles are brought forth by our paedobaptist brethren as evidence that non-professing children of church members are in an outward or visible administration of the New Covenant. As you note, it's only natural to look at it that way if you come to the text with that presupposition. This was an interpretation that held sway with me for a while. However, it seems to me that more weight is placed on these passages than they are able to bear.

We have no reason to believe that the children in 6:1 are not professing believers. The letter is addressed to "the saints" and 5:22 ff is dedicated to elucidating the duties of Christian wives, husbands, children, fathers, masters and servants. (Even unbelieving children or those who have yet to profess faith publicly should obey their parents, but that's a little off topic.)

I think the wording in 6:1 might lead to some confusion. I'm not a Greek scholar, but it seems to me that the best interpretation of "obey your parents in the Lord" is to obey your parents in all things lawful or as it is in accordance with God's revealed will, whether the parent(s) are Christians or not. This would be similar to how wives are to obey or submit to their husbands.(Ch. 5, cf. 1 Pet 3:1-2) In many cases it was probably common for most if not all of the household to be believers, as we see with the household baptisms. But if "in the Lord" is interpreted to modify parents instead of obey, then one could then argue that only Christian parents are to be obeyed. As we see from 1 Cor 7:14, it was not uncommon to have only one believing parent. And even though society tended to be more communal than our individualized culture today, there may well have been children of a certain age who were believers but who had unbelieving parents.

Moving further on in the passage, servants (or slaves) are to obey their masters (v.5 ff) and masters are to "do the same things unto them." While I think it's fair to assume that there were many Christian servants serving Christian masters, this was not always the case. Christian servants should obey their masters whether they are Christians or not (working as unto the Lord) and masters should "do the same things" whether their servants are Christians or not.

Servants were often members of the household. If we believe household baptism based on the head of household's faith is to be practiced, should servants and other extended members of the family (i.e. mother in law etc) be baptized too? I've heard at least Reformed pastor say that he believes that is what would have been done. I don't know if he had this particular passage in mind or was simply reasoning from the household passages.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
These and other similar passages in the epistles are brought forth by our paedobaptist brethren as evidence that non-professing children of church members are in an outward or visible administration of the New Covenant. As you note, it's only natural to look at it that way if you come to the text with that presupposition. This was an interpretation that held sway with me for a while. However, it seems to me that more weight is placed on these passages than they are able to bear.
We have no reason to believe that the children in 6:1 are not professing believers. The letter is addressed to "the saints" and 5:22 ff is dedicated to elucidating the duties of Christian wives, husbands, children, fathers, masters and servants. (Even unbelieving children or those who have yet to profess faith publicly should obey their parents, but that's a little off topic.)

I think the wording in 6:1 might lead to some confusion. I'm not a Greek scholar, but it seems to me that the best interpretation of "obey your parents in the Lord" is to obey your parents in all things lawful or as it is in accordance with God's revealed will, whether the parent(s) are Christians or not. This would be similar to how wives are to obey or submit to their husbands.(Ch. 5, cf. 1 Pet 3:1-2) In many cases it was probably common for most if not all of the household to be believers, as we see with the household baptisms. But if "in the Lord" is interpreted to modify parents instead of obey, then one could then argue that only Christian parents are to be obeyed. As we see from 1 Cor 7:14, it was not uncommon to have only one believing parent. And even though society tended to be more communal than our individualized culture today, there may well have been children of a certain age who were believers but who had unbelieving parents.

Moving further on in the passage, servants (or slaves) are to obey their masters (v.5 ff) and masters are to "do the same things unto them." While I think it's fair to assume that there were many Christian servants serving Christian masters, this was not always the case. Christian servants should obey their masters whether they are Christians or not (working as unto the Lord) and masters should "do the same things" whether their servants are Christians or not.

Servants were often members of the household. If we believe household baptism based on the head of household's faith is to be practiced, should servants and other extended members of the family (i.e. mother in law etc) be baptized too? I've heard at least Reformed pastor say that he believes that is what would have been done. I don't know if he had this particular passage in mind or was simply reasoning from the household passages.
How, precisely, are you getting the text to "bear up" everything you just proposed? What exegesis of Paul leads you to the conclusion that Paul is restricting his instruction to mature, professing children?

Also, how does the baptism of mothers-in-law or servants bear upon the question asked?
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
Is the 5th commandment a creation ordinance? Is it not considered to be a part of Natural Law as some define natural law? If it is then this commandment would be required of everyone who was ever born.

Calvin
1.Children, obey. Why does the apostle use the word obey instead of honor, (167) which has a greater extent of meaning? It is because Obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced. It is likewise more difficult; for the human mind recoils from the idea of subjection, and with difficulty allows itself to be placed under the control of another. Experience shews how rare this virtue is; for do we find one among a thousand that is obedient to his parents? By a figure of speech, a part is here put for the whole, but it is the most important part, and is necessarily accompanied by all the others.

In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God. Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.

For this is right. This is added in order to restrain the fierceness which, we have already said, appears to be natural to almost all men. He proves it to be right, because God has commanded it; for we are not at liberty to dispute, or call in question, the appointment of him whose will is the unerring rule of goodness and righteousness. That honor should be represented as including obedience is not surprising; for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God. The precept, honor thy father and mother, comprehends all the duties by which the sincere affection and respect of children to their parents can be expressed.

(167) “Τιμᾷν properly signifies, ‘to perform one’s duty to any one;’ and here reverence must comprehend the cognate offices of affection, care, and support. The same complexity of sense is observable in the classical phrase τιμᾷν τὸν ἰατρόν [to reverence the physician.] — Bloomfield.
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Is the 5th commandment a creation ordinance? Is it not considered to be a part of Natural Law as some define natural law? If it is then this commandment would be required of everyone who was ever born.

Calvin
1.Children, obey. Why does the apostle use the word obey instead of honor, (167) which has a greater extent of meaning? It is because Obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe to their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced. It is likewise more difficult; for the human mind recoils from the idea of subjection, and with difficulty allows itself to be placed under the control of another. Experience shews how rare this virtue is; for do we find one among a thousand that is obedient to his parents? By a figure of speech, a part is here put for the whole, but it is the most important part, and is necessarily accompanied by all the others.

In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God. Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.

For this is right. This is added in order to restrain the fierceness which, we have already said, appears to be natural to almost all men. He proves it to be right, because God has commanded it; for we are not at liberty to dispute, or call in question, the appointment of him whose will is the unerring rule of goodness and righteousness. That honor should be represented as including obedience is not surprising; for mere ceremony is of no value in the sight of God. The precept, honor thy father and mother, comprehends all the duties by which the sincere affection and respect of children to their parents can be expressed.

(167) “Τιμᾷν properly signifies, ‘to perform one’s duty to any one;’ and here reverence must comprehend the cognate offices of affection, care, and support. The same complexity of sense is observable in the classical phrase τιμᾷν τὸν ἰατρόν [to reverence the physician.] — Bloomfield.
Randy,

Is this part of general revelation:
“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
Eph 6:2-3
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
That would be more specific in relation to the Mosaic I believe Rich. Especially if it is attached to the promises of living in the "land".

In the Lord. Besides the law of nature, which is acknowledged by all nations, the obedience of children is enforced by the authority of God. Hence it follows, that parents are to be obeyed, so far only as is consistent with piety to God, which comes first in order. If the command of God is the rule by which the submission of children is to be regulated, it would be foolish to suppose that the performance of this duty could lead away from God himself.
But I think Calvin is attributing this more in a general way and in a way that it would be relavent even outside of that covenant. Wouldn't you agree?
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
I’m wondering how my Baptist brothers understand Ephesians 6:1-4 in consideration of it’s surrounding context and in light of Ephesians 1:1.

From my understanding, Paul’s argument that children should obey their parents in the Lord rests on the presupposition that the children of believers are in the covenant community. It seems as though his logic goes that since children are part of the visible administration of the New Covenant, they should obey their parents just as (although from a fuller Christological and Eschatological understanding) children did under the administration of the Old Covenant.
Douglas,

In context Paul is writing about relationships (wives, husbands, children, fathers, slaves, and masters). Its interesting that within the span of a few verses (5:31; 6:2-3) Paul references the Law (Gen. 2:24; Exo. 20:12). We know that the covenant of marriage is binding regardless of the spiritual condition of the persons involved. That children are to obey their parents seems to be binding also, and under the exact same conditions. It is not necessary for the credobaptist to assume Eph. 6:1-3 is directed towards believing children. Children are expected to obey their parents. It is part of God's moral law. Now, we can extrapolate that children raised in a Christian home, who obey their parents, stand a greater chance of coming to faith in Christ; but I don't believe that is the point of the passage. Covenant families are not the main point of the passage either. Eph. 5:22-6:9 deals with relationships within the church. It's not necessary (and I believe it's massaging the text) to make Eph. 6:1-3 apply to covenant children.

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