Deuteronomy 5:16 – Parents


Deuteronomy 5:16


The fourth word for Catholics and Lutherans, the fifth for Protestants and Judaism, deals with the relationship between children and parents.


The honoring of parents stands at the head of the third section of the Decalogue. Just as the first section had to do with our relationship to our creator, so the third parallels this with a discussion of our relationship with our procreators. This third section is concerned with our relationship with society, initially with respect to the basic unit of society, that relationship between child and parent, but quickly expanding to include a series of principles for social relationships. A number of aspects require comment:

  • The initial word “honor” (kabbed) is appropriately translated in this way. The appearance of an Akkadian cognate with the meaning “to care for parents in their old age,” however, lends a note of compassion, especially when it is realized that adults are the primary people being addressed in the Decalogue. The modern assumption that this commandment urges young children to “mind Mommy and Daddy,” while not inappropriate in general, is essentially beyond the scope of this commandment.
  • While the Old Testament has frequently been castigated as hopelessly patriarchal (with some justification), it is worth pointing out that here there is absolute equality between father and mother.
  • It is frequently noticed that this is the only commandment with an “incentive,” namely, the promise of long life and prosperity in the land. A possible explanation would point to the “close quarters” experienced by the culturally dictated extended family system of ancient Israel, in which generations of a family would live together under the authority of the elder. Such a situation would require the honoring of the head of the family, whether mother or father.