I was reading Leviticus recently and I came across this verse: “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and father. . .” Leviticus 19:3a (NASB.)
I was intrigued that “mother” was mentioned before “father” so I decided to search for other verses in the Bible that might also mention “mother” first. I couldn’t find any. But what I did find surprised me.
I found over a dozen verses which command honouring, respecting and obeying your father and mother, with both the father and mother always mentioned together.
I had anticipated that in Bible times, when the culture was predominantly patriarchal, that the Old Testament authors, in particular, might have written verses that just mentioned honouring and obeying the father – leaving out the mother. However it seems that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were careful to always include honouring and obeying the mother as well.
The only exceptions that I could find (please let me know if you find others) is in Malachi 1:6 and Hebrews 12:5-10. Here “mother” is not mentioned at all because God is using the example of honouring and respecting fathers as an analogy of honouring God as “Father”.
I then decided to look at the book of Proverbs because I knew that there were verses there about heeding a father’s teaching. Again I was surprised. While I did find two passages about paying attention to the father’s instruction with no mention of the mother, I found two others which included the mother’s teaching also:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 1:8-9
My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Proverbs 6:20
So what is the purpose of pointing out these scriptures? To try to address the imbalance that over-emphasises the husband’s leadership in the home and family while under-estimating the wife’s leadership.
Clearly these verses show that, even in patriarchal times, God’s view was that the husband and wife were equally worthy of honour and obedience; and that mothers as well as fathers were to teach their children.
There is no scriptural reason to suppose that a mother’s teaching is necessarily less important than a father’s teaching. A mother’s teaching can, and should, include important and valuable life lessons, including spiritual instruction. Moreover, the Bible shows that a woman can teach her adult sons valuable lessons, even if they are the king! See Proverbs 31:1-9 cf Song of Solomon 8:2a.
I firmly believe that God’s ideal is that families and households are to be led by the husband and wife; where the family responsibilities and resources are shared, not according to rigid gender roles and cultural expectations, but according to each person’s skills, abilities and temperaments; where neither the husband nor the wife is “the boss” because the real leader is the Lord Jesus Christ, leading and guiding through the Holy Spirit.
The overemphasis on subordinating wives (and women in general) is still too prevalent in many Christian circles, and I believe goes beyond what the Apostles Paul and Peter envisioned when they were writing about family relationships.
This article was first published at newlife.id.au on the 27th of January 2010.