“(Adult) Children Obey Your Parents”? Part Two, for Adults Raised in Patriarchy

Yesterday’s post presented the question from a reader and the first part of my answer, about wicked parents and how we as the body of Christ need to be teaching children to obey God rather than man. You can read Part One here.

But what about controlling parents of adults , especially those whose parents espouse some form of Patriarchal beliefs? A few months ago I made a plea to these adults in the post “To those in ‘Biblical’ Patriarchy: return to God” (link), pleading with them not to let their parents take the place of God. (This was in the section “A call to young adults under the system . . . to listen to His voice” which I hope you’ll read if you haven’t.)

So now some of these adults are looking at the “Children obey your parents” Scriptures and asking if there is any Biblical justification to do anything other than comply with everything their parents command.

Here’s the pertinent part of the letter again.

My oldest son is a very loving, kind, Scripture-studied man, very opposite his father, but cannot free his mind from those Scriptures as there is no clarity in Scripture as to an age when you would stop obeying and ever not submit to the authority God has placed over us

Now I have recently met a family with 6 children that the father has brought up not allowing them to get a driver’s license, get a job, vote, or think on their own.  They are not allowed to get counsel outside of him and not allowed to interpret Scripture outside of his interpretation.  They are completely broken.

Here is my reply.

What is an adult “child” to do when told to obey a parent who isn’t a criminal, but is controlling?

This is what you were really asking. My heart aches to hear the bondage that these young adults are in. I know that you believe this is not what God wants, and they may wonder if it’s not God wants, but they long to understand and obey the Scriptures.

So I thought about a few things.

    1. I looked at the word obey, which is the Greek word hupakouo.
    2. I researched the word children, which in both Colossians and Ephesians is the Greek word teknon, which means simply offspring or child.
    3. I looked at the context.
    4. I thought about many other statements and directives in the New Covenant about family relationships and how these relate to one’s relationship and standing with God.

1.     The word obey

Several Scriptures also use this same Greek word when talking about being “obedient” to the faith or the gospel or the truth. Check out Acts 6:7; Rom 1:5, 10:16, and 16:26; II Thess 1:8 and 3:14; Hebrews 5:9; and I Peter 1:22. It’s easy to fall into the error of thinking that this “obedience” to the truth requires you to take some action in this physical world. But the “obedience” God requires of you in response to the truth of the gospel, the “listening attentively in order to respond appropriately” is the obedience of faith. Our Lord Jesus says to enter His rest, you must believe on Him—that is the obedience He requires. That’s truly good news!

The Greek word hupakouo means “to listen attentively in order to respond appropriately.” Sometimes it’s used in exactly the way we would think, of immediate compliance with a command. This is the way it’s used, for example, of the demons obeying Jesus and of our Lord Jesus’ willingness to die for us (Rom 5:19).

But it’s also the same word used when Rhoda came to the door where Peter was knocking after he had gotten out of prison. She “listened attentively” at the door.

“Listening attentively” implies a respectful attitude. But as noted yesterday, young children need not exercise mindless acquiescence. If they stand against wrongdoing in their authorities, this will reflect the heart of God.

The same is true for adults. “Obedience” doesn’t mean giving over the entire mind and will to be controlled by another person. For example, even if your parent isn’t telling you to sin, you may still be able to observe that some aspect of the family dynamics is enabling or even increasing sin in the parent’s own life (pertinent link to another blog post here).

2.     The word child

Aside from the meaning of “offspring,” the word teknon carries with it an implication of dependence that forms a strong bond, the kind that’s perfectly appropriate in childhood. This is shown in the many times the word is used in a spiritual sense, showing our dependence on our Father God:

Mark 10:24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

Romans 8:16-17, 21 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. . . . that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.   

Ephesians 5:1-2 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savor.  

Ephesians 5:8-9 For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).  

1 Peter 1:13-15 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.  

1 John 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.   

Don’t miss that two of the uses of teknon there are in Ephesians, shortly before the one about children obeying their parents.

3.     An important context for the word teknon

Colossians 3:21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.  

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

It sounds like from what you’ve described in your letter, that these young adults may have become very discouraged by their provoking father, and possibly even angry (if they have any strength to be angry).

But adult children of controlling parents who want to follow the Lord could read those commands to fathers and think, “Well, even if he’s disobeying his command, that doesn’t give me liberty to disobey mine.”

But what does it mean to “bring them up” in Ephesians 6:4?

You may be interested in this article (link) written by someone who went through a similar experience to yours and sought the truth of these verses in Scripture.

This phrase in the Greek means nurture or raise to maturity, which would imply that there will come a time when these dependent children become mature. 

There are two aspects to reaching maturity. The first is necessary for society to function. The second is necessary for the Church to function. So if you’re a legal adult, you can check to see if you’ve reached maturity so that the “bringing up” process is done, or you can prayerfully consider if the situation you’re in is designed to keep you from reaching maturity.

Societal maturity

A person attains societal maturity when he’s able to provide for himself—a level of self-sufficiency that allows for independence in regard to physical needs. (Greater maturity comes when seriously undertaking the responsibility to provide for one’s own new and separate family in various ways.) If a young adult reading this thinks he’s been so controlled there’s been no opportunity to show he can provide for himself and prove his societal maturity, I believe that isn’t sufficient excuse. If he has the basic education, the willingness, the desire, and the energy so that he could provide for himself (or herself, of course, and allowing for a reasonable transition period), then this distinction applies.

Spiritual maturity

A person attains the most basic level of spiritual maturity when he depends on the Lord Jesus Christ instead of on another person for his relationship with God. (Greater maturity comes as he increases in his experiential knowledge of God and His ways, and as he increases in his love for God and others.)

And this one brings me to point 4 above.

4. Other New Covenant statements and directives regarding relationships and standing with God

Just as the command “children obey your parents” should be considered in the context of the immediate Scripture, so should it be considered in the wider context of the entire Word of God, especially as we consider what it means to be members of His New Covenant.

This brings me to the most disturbing part of your letter. The six young adult children are not allowed to think on their own. They are not allowed to interpret Scripture outside his interpretation.

It is this thought control, more than anything else, that ultimately causes this situation to become more like a concentration camp than a family.

So here’s my Biblical counsel to these adults . . .

. . . based on Scriptures that I’ll lay out.

Begin thinking on your own

But not just on your own, really, but begin prayerfully studying the Word of God, asking the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to it, so you can see and know who Jesus really is. (You might want to begin with the gospels to see who Jesus really is, but at some point I’d suggest studying Colossians and Ephesians, the books that contain the commands you asked about.)

If your father forbids you from studying on your own lest you come to different conclusions than his, study anyway, in secret, because you are a child of God, and God has called you to know Him and be known by Him.

And you must obey God rather than man.

Be willing to hear from God, even if He might be telling you something different from what your parent has said. Throughout His Word He has called you to Himself.

Jesus said be willing to forsake father and mother to follow Him

In Matthew 19:29, Mark 10:29-30, Luke 14:26, and Luke 18:29-30 the words of our Lord Jesus are recorded as telling us to forsake parents in order to follow Him. If you think, “Well, obeying my parents is the way I follow Christ,” then I challenge you to stand up and be the adult God has called you to be and get the mediator out from between you.

There is only one Mediator

First Timothy 2:5 tells us there is only one mediator between God and man, and that is Jesus Christ, not any man or woman. Jesus is the only one. He is the one who has torn open the temple curtain for you, you yourself, to enter the holiest place of all, the very presence of God, as Hebrews 4:16 says, and obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This “grace to help”—He’ll help do the right thing in following God instead of man. I talked in my “idol factory” post about appeasement of a false god, which may be what you’ve been doing without even realizing it (I also mentioned it in my Christian patriarchy posts).

Search the Scriptures to see Him

If you’re afraid, know how tender and compassionate our Lord Jesus is with those who are afraid. “Fear not little flock,” He said to His fearful disciples, “for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Look to Him to give you the courage you need for the full-fledged Christian life He has called you to.

Cry out to Him to show Himself to you, through His Word, through His Spirit, for your filling, and for His glory.

Find out, for example, what Paul meant in the book of Colossians (the same book with one of those commands) when he said in 2:6-10,

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.

Acknowledge Him as your supreme Authority

As an adult Christian, one who is willing to forsake your father and mother to follow Jesus Christ, you look to Him alone for all your salvation, not to anyone else.

There is much life to be lived in the power of the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth. All authority is given unto Me in heaven and on earth, says our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18). He is the Authority you must seek and follow.

Come to Him for rest and water

Our Lord Jesus Christ says to you, “Come to me!”

Mat 11:28-30  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.  

I’m guessing you may have felt heavy laden, and you may have felt that the rest He promises may feel distant. I’m telling you it’s here, and it’s available for you.

John 7:37-39  On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive.  

This is the theme passage for this website, Here’s the Joy. Jesus calls you—you, without anyone else in between—to come to Him and drink of the living, sparkling, flowing waters He offers you through the Holy Spirit, Christ in you, the hope of glory. Are you thirsty yet?

Become a Kingdom warrior

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Captain of the Host of the Lord, has called you to wear the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Remember that—that passage I mentioned yesterday that comes right after the commands to obey? That is for you, as a mature adult in Jesus Christ, standing on your own two feet in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. You are called to take the helmet of the salvation provided in Jesus Christ, the breastplate of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace found in Jesus Christ. You are called to gird your loins about with the truth of Jesus Christ and wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. You are called to hold the shield of faith by which you will quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

You are called to stand up and be a faithful warrior in the Kingdom of God.

You are no longer a child, dependent on someone else for your relationship with Jesus Christ. You can know Him personally, intimately. You can know Him.

And if He calls you to go . . . you can follow Him.

I’m praying for you . . .

. . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,

may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,

that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,

what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,

according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

(That’s from Ephesians too.)

There is so much life to be lived, in the power of God the Spirit, for the joy of knowing our Lord and Savior and being known by Him, experiencing His love and reaching out to others who need that Living Water.

I pray that our loving God will heal you and strengthen you and empower you for this great adventure.


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5 years ago

Excellent advice to the adult children for the renewing of their minds in Christ.
I do think this father’s control may violate laws. He seems to be holding these people hostage: “not allowing them to get a driver’s license, get a job, vote, or think on their own.”
That situation raises the question, does the person who wrote you have a duty to report this possble crime to police?

5 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

For example: The right to vote may not be abridged by lying to people and telling them they have no right to vote. Violating this principle can be done verbally as well a physically.

For example: some children and adults who have been enslaved, kidnapped, or trafficked have been constrained and coerced by lies to make then fearful, rather than by physical restraint. This does not mean the person’s legal rights were not violated.

Unless this father is very wealthy, I doubt he is providing for these adults while they live a life of leisure. More likely he is using and abusing their labor in some fashion, which is involuntary servitude.

Kaemon Arnost
Kaemon Arnost
5 years ago
Reply to  raswhiting

This Father is not doing anything that could be legally dealt with, it’s all about making us believe we are doing the right thing, or by using guilt to keep us at home doing what he desires…he is not physically controlling them but rather mentally.

Thank you for this blog post, I do believe it helped give some clarity for me, however for those still in it, how do you present this to your Father? We can study the scriptures on our own and come to conclusions, he can’t stop us, however when those conclusions lead us to take action against what he desires now we are sinning and in rebellion against him and God, he presents a very convincing argument and at the end of every conversation is confusion and doubt… Especially for my sister, she believes it is different for daughters than for son’s. It’s kind of a trap you can’t get out of while you’re still in it. Any suggestions for those still in the home?

Joel Horst
5 years ago

I have had to think through these things myself as I have come out of the patriarchy of the conservative homeschool movement I grew up in. Thanks so much, Rebecca, for addressing this BIG problem!

From my perspective, within the ATI homeschooling community at least, children were pushed to maturity by their parents during their preteen-to-early-teen years. However, the controlling-style parenting started backfiring as the teenagers grew into adulthood. That is the time when a normal human has to grow into independence. They have to learn to make their own decisions and not see their parents as gods who will always communicate God’s will to them. However, these young people (myself included) were held back from gaining maturity, in the name of preventing an “independent” or “rebellious” spirit.

Bill Gothard taught that your parents would ALWAYS point you to God’s will. Therefore, in order to obey God, you must obey your parents. As I pointed out in a blog post a few months ago (http://www.aradicalforjesus.com/2017/06/24/bill-gothard-still-dishonest/), he even indicated that parents’ responsibility for their children continued until they delegated it to someone else–for example, in marriage!

One verse that has been very helpful for me in breaking free from patriarchal thinking is 1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ…”

EVERY man. At age 28, I am a man (despite the fact that some people think I’m a twin to my 20-year-old brother). Therefore, I am directly responsible to Jesus, not to my dad. As to the next part of this passage (“the head of the woman is the man”), I believe that “woman” would be better translated “wife” (both English words are translated from the same Greek word), because nowhere does Scripture teach that ALL women are to submit to ALL men. On the contrary, the Bible repeatedly tells wives to submit to their own husbands. The point of all this is to say: young adult women are not under their dad’s headship any more than young men.

Another passage that God used to start changing my thinking was Luke 12:51-53: “Do you think that I have come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, no, but rather division. For from now on, there will be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

We could, of course, suggest that perhaps the parents were in the right, and their children were rebellious. But Jesus is even more explicit in Matthew 10:34-36:

“Don’t think that I came to send peace on the earth. I didn’t come to send peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man at odds against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s foes will be those of his own household.

And then He drops the hammer in the next two verses:

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me isn’t worthy of me. He who doesn’t take his cross and follow after me, isn’t worthy of me.”
(Matthew 10:37-38)

Jesus explicitly says that He came to create division; that there would be young people who would follow Him and would run into conflict with their parents because of it. He even said it would happen while they lived in the same home as their parents!

Contrary to Bill Gothard’s teachings on how to be authority-pleasers, followers of Jesus may have conflict with their parents! It’s that simple, and we have to learn to please Jesus, not our parents, if we want to follow Him. Believe me, when you realize that pleasing Jesus does NOT necessarily mean pleasing your parents, it creates a HUGE relief!

And Jesus also says that we MUST not love our parents more than Him. We MUST do what He calls us to do, regardless of what our parents may say. Period!

I do believe that as long as children are under their parents’ roof, they should follow whatever “ground rules” the parents set (clean up after yourself, don’t smoke pot here, park your car there). But, speaking to other adults (18+): if your parents won’t let you believe anything other than what they believe; if they still treat you like a kid, meting out punishments like they did at age 10; if they try to control where you work or who your friends are; if they won’t admit they’re wrong and repent, even when confronted with clear wrongdoing–your parent(s) are acting in a controlling, narcissistic manner that is completely contrary to everything that Scripture teaches about how leaders should lead.

I’d also like to share another post on this subject that I think may be helpful: http://www.aradicalforjesus.com/2016/01/17/the-voice-of-papa-is-the-voice-of-god-part-1/

Thanks again!

Joel Horst
5 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Thanks a lot!

5 years ago

Thank you for this important post. Just a note that it can be extremely difficult to trust in your own ability to study the scriptures after a lifetime of being told that your thinking is wrong and your heart deceitful. It can be much easier to leave the household first (if at all possible) and be able to step away from that influence in order to begin to see and feel things more clearly. And domestic abuse centers and hotlines can be used in cases like these, to provide support, and resources to help adult children leave the home if they desire.

Annie Hope
5 years ago

Thank you for this post, and for going deep into the Scripture and the meaning of the words. I am the eldest daughter of the family of 8 that was mentioned, 26 years of age. (This is not my real name.) I have been giving this a lot of thought. I also really appreciate Joel’s posts. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and studying. I’ve learned a lot about emotional abuse, and am able to recognize manipulation more now.

You said in your post about patriarchy that it can be confusing and terrifying. Yes, exactly. I want to follow Christ with my whole heart, and I see much in my life that needs to change. It is very frightening, though, to think that maybe I’m being deceived and really should just obey my father in everything. I mean, 2 Timothy 3:1-9 is pretty serious, with “disobedience to parents” being right smack-dab in the middle of a long list of terrible sins! Then in verse 6, I wonder, “Am I being one of those gullible women? Or have I been so, in following the idea that I still must obey my father explicitly?”

I also am well aware of the implications of taking a stand. When I think of it, when I see the pain in my father’s eyes over my 4 siblings that have left, when I consider the good times and how much I love (and like) my dad, (out of all 6 of us, I probably have the best relationship with him, although I can’t share very deep heart issues), when I know that this may end our relationship, it tears my heart. Yet, my greatest fear is to not honor my Heavenly Father. When I think of that, I am quite willing to lay down my earthly relationship if need be.

Is there a book you recommend for daughters who are dealing with emotional abuse and manipulation, and how to recognize and Biblically respond to it? Is “Untwisting the Scriptures” applicable to this kind of situation?

Annie Hope
5 years ago
Reply to  Rebecca Davis

Thank you! Those are some very good reminders. I have been thinking quite a bit lately that maybe the best thing for my dad, not just for me, is for me to move out.

I had another couple questions. I looked up all the times “teknon” was used and it does refer to adult “children” some of the time, as in Acts 13:33, 2 Timothy 1:2 and 1 Peter 3:6. I also noticed that the phrase “bring them up” from Ephesians 6 is the same as the word “nourishes” from Ephesians 5:29. What is your take on that, and how does it fit with your explanation?

My friend has “Untwisting the Scriptures”, so I plan to read it, and I will look up the others.

Thank you!

Annie Hope
5 years ago

Also, thank you, THANK YOU, for pointing out that the passage on rebellion was direct disobedience to God, which one can do while thinking they are obeying Him by obeying their parent.

4 years ago
Reply to  Annie Hope

Hi Annie Hope,
I’m a 42 year old Mom of three who was raised in a very strict Gothard homeschooling home, but thankfully my parents did allow me to go to a Christian college, but after college was when a lot of the stay-at-home daughter emotional pull started for me.
Have you ever seen the http://quiveringdaughters.blogspot.com?
It’s been around a number of years and there is a wonderful book by the same name. My siblings and I are all free of the “movement” now, thank God!
You mention how sad your father is about those who have “left” your family. It is one thing to be sad for those who have left following Christ, it is another thing to be sad for those who have left following him. Many well-intentioned fathers/husbands influenced by the patriarchial movement have made themselves the popes of their families. No one is allowed to think for themselves or hold interpretations outside of the father’s. I know this may sound harsh, but the truth is that this is pure heresy, no matter how well-intentioned or “loving.”

One doctrine that really helped me to make this clear in my mind is the doctrine of the priesthood of the individual believer. This came to the forefront of Christian belief especially in the Reformation when many believers broke away from the Catholic Church and asserted their rights to believe as their own consciences were directed by Scripture. Please, do your own research on this—and let the truth set your heart free

3 years ago

Thank you so mych for encouraging those who feel so TRAPPED in this Rebecca. Your understanding of the tentacles that keep people stuck in this is profound! Reading this Echoes of my “ SO WHAT” conversations as a young adult first being challenged to leave such a system.

1 year ago

Excellent post. It’s sad to hear that there are parents like this out in the world. Most major religions (Jewish, Catholic, etc.) have rites of passage and “ages of accountability” at which a child becomes considered an adult in the community. It is like a step up into adulthood. There’s always the aim of getting those children to adulthood.

It saddens me when Christians use these commands to prevent the normal separation/individuation that we all pass through to happen. We all walk through a process of separating and individuating from our families of origin, of “leaving and cleaving” (although I know in some circles, this means you can’t leave home without being married), clipping the apron strings and emotionally leaving home. This usually involves some tension, some push/pull between parents and children, but when the parents are overly controlling or abusive, it can make that tension even harder.

There are 3 parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Authoritarian is that very control-based parenting: overly strict, obey-me-at-all-costs kind of parenting. Permissive is when the parent sets too few boundaries, allowing the children to figure things out on their own. Authoritative is that healthy balance in between, setting proper boundaries, providing proper discipline, the “training up of children in the fear and discipline of the Lord.”

Funny, I once heard R.C. Sproul describe that passage of “fathers do not provoke your children to wrath” to mean a failure to discipline one’s children. I always thought that was strange, because I always felt like Paul’s command was an instruction against overly harsh parenting. I suppose that either extreme can breed anger and rebellion in the children.

It also saddens me to see Christian parents of a very conservative bend look at their children in their adolescence and young adulthood and label their behavior as “rebellious”. Sometimes it is, but like I said, we all go through a process of “rebellion”, of separating and individuation. We all, to some degree go through a prodigal season, where we have to leave home, find our own way, fall on our butts and stand on our own two feet. That’s not rebellion, that’s normal human behavior.

I can totally relate to people bringing their codependent behaviors to church.


[…] That’s all coming tomorrow. Update: Read Part Two here. […]

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