Excerpts from a sermon on
by Kerry Ptacek
The textbefore us would not be used in a reading comprehension test. It is too simpleand direct. Nevertheless, because these words are not part of an ordinary humandocument, but the Word of God, they seem to be unusually hard to understand.You see, if this verse was not in the Bible most Americans today would see thesense of the words and simply say: “that’s your opinion.” But many deceivethemselves about the Word of God. They believe that they are saved andtherefore believe God’s Word. However, when they read commands which theyrefuse to obey, something must be done to preserve their self-deception.Suddenly the words are difficult to understand. Soon others -- good people,seemingly sincere believers -- are found who agree. Deceitful interpretatorsargue that the plain sense of the words need not be accepted. In time it isnoted that those who say otherwise are afflicting these relatively good people,creating doubts and teaching things that are undesirable.
Our text today is a test, not ofintelligence or skill but rather of will, the heart. It is difficult to imaginesimpler words, except perhaps “Let your women keep silent in the churches, forthey are not permitted to speak.” Nevertheless, both verses have been thesubjects of a great deal of false teaching.
“And you, fathers”
The word“fathers” is in the vocative case, that is, Paul is saying “hey you, fathers.”He is trying to get their attention. However, some people believe that Paul isnot trying to get the attention of the fathers, but of both fathers andmothers, that is, the parents.
In verse 1 of chapter 6 Paul used theGreek word for parents, goneusin. In the next verse he cited the fifthcommandment with the separate terms for the male and female parents: “father,” pater,and “mother,” mater. Therefore, when Paul turns his attention to the“fathers,” pateres, you might think that it was clear that he wasaddressing the male parents. Nevertheless, almost all study Bibles andcommentaries in recent years, not in the past, state that by “fathers” Paulmeans “parents,” despite the fact he could have said “parents” or “fathers andmothers,” as in the previous verses.
If we turn from the evidence of thecontext of this passage to the use of pateres in the rest of the NewTestament we will see that when humans are in view it means the male parent.Even the term “the fathers,” for the forefathers of the Jews, refers to themale covenant heads. This is clear when the singular “father” is used to referto Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or David.
There is one apparent exception to thispattern. In Hebrews it is stated that “By faith Moses, when he was born, washidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child;and they were not afraid of the king’s command” (Heb 11:23). However, thisexception is entirely irrelevant to the history of Israel after Moses and thechurch to this day. In Greek a feminine form of the word father was used for asister on the father’s side, patra (See The Vocabulary of the GreekNew Testament, Moulton and Milligan, p. 498). Moses’s father Amram hadmarried his father’s sister, who was thus a patra (Ex 6:20). Such amarriage would be prohibited under the law and is nearly unthinkabletoday.
To insist that fathers means parents inthis verse twists the words of the Bible to fit the practices of the churchtoday. The idea that Paul would address fathers separately as those responsiblefor carrying out the commands which follow is unacceptable to churches in whichit is assumed that all positions of spiritual leadership are open to women. Thepolity of the church begins in the households of the congregation.Historically, once men ceased acting as spiritual leaders with their wives andchildren, it was only a matter of time before all other leadership positions inthe church would be filled by women and youth. Nevertheless, those with newhearts can respond obediently if not perfectly to God’s Word, whatever thecondition of church and society.
Having gained the attention, hopefully, ofthe fathers, Paul states his command in two ways, negatively and positively.That is, first he tells them what they should not do, which is the consequenceof not obeying the positive command which will follow:
“do not provoke your children to wrath”
The verb“provoke... to wrath,” parorgizo, is found in only one other place inthe New Testament, and that is a citation from Deuteronomy in Paul’s letter tothe Romans: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, Iwill anger you by a foolish nation” (Rom 10:19 citing Dt 32:21). The word parorgizo,“provoke to wrath” is wrongly translated “provoke to jealousy,” however theparallel expression, is “anger.” The Jews would be provoked to wrath by thegospel going out to a “foolish,” immoral, nation, that is the gentiles who didnot keep the law. The Jews did not understand that the gift of the Holy Spiritwould give them believing hearts responsive to God’s Word, no longer needingthe rewards and punishments of the law. People without this understanding ofregeneration would be provoked to wrath because in their view such faith wouldmake the believers even more likely to sin.
The word “provoke to wrath” has a veryprecise meaning. It refers to righteous anger in response to the perceptionthat someone is disobeying God’s Word. I say “perception” because humanperceptions can err. This verb is used most often in the Greek Old Testament torefer to God being provoked to wrath or anger at Israel’s violation of thecovenant, especially by idolatry but also by unrighteousness in general.
Although most commentators think thatfathers means parents in this verse, they often shift their view when they cometo these words about provoking to wrath, but only through anothermisunderstanding. This is shown by the New International Version’s translationof parorgizo as “exasperate.” Some commentators state that this commandis a warning to fathers not to be “too harsh” with their children. However, theuse of provoke to wrath suggests a response of righteous anger, as in God’sanger at Israel's violation of the covenant, not simply a response toharshness. In other words, fathers are being warned, commanded, not to engagein unrighteous behavior that will cause the anger of their children. This isnot a general warning. The action which will provoke the children to wrath isthe failure to obey the command which follows:
“but bring them up”
The wordtranslated “bring... up,” ektrepho, is used twice in the New Testament;both are in this letter. The other case is in the section speaking of thehusband's spiritual nurture of his wife. If we turn to the Greek Old Testamentwe see that ektrepho is used for directly contributing to growth ormaturation, be it of a plant, animal or person. I want to emphasize that thisverb implies a direct relationship of nurture. Consider the relevant example ofAhab placing his seventy sons in the care of the elders in the town of Jezreel,whose representative body typically also numbered seventy. Although Ahab wastheir father and continued to exercise oversight as father and king, the textstates that it was the elders who were “rearing” Ahab’s sons.
Fathers have no Biblical warrant forassuming that bringing up children, in the sense of this verse, can bedelegated to another. The person to whom this task is delegated is the one whois bringing up the children and so the father who delegates is not obeying thecommand, which is directed to him. He cannot faithfully give this task even tohis wife, because fathers means fathers, not parents. The definition of what itmeans for the father to bring up his children will be addressed next.
This word ektrepho need not referto spiritual growth. However, I argued for this emphasis because the husband'srelationship to his wife is compared to Christ's with the church and especiallythe washing of water through the Word. The remainder of verse 4 is explicit:the father's direct role of bringing up his children is spiritual:
“in the training and admonition of theLord”
Thefather’s manner in bringing up his children according to God’s Word is definedby two activities: training and admonition. Both of these are further definedas being “of the Lord.”
“Training” is the Greek word paideia.It refers to the disciplined instruction of a child. I say disciplined becausethis instruction involves the use of chastening. The verb form sometimes istranslated “chasten,” which neglects the instructional aspect. Such disciplineis inappropriate for anyone except a father or mother. Without denying theright and necessity of the mother to discipline her children, discipline withinstruction is the specific responsibility of the father.
Admonition is a warning that places amatter in the child's mind. Paideia, given the use of chastening, seemsto apply to previous lessons or warnings. Fathers must warn children aboutfuture situations and correct them if that warning is not heeded.
Both training and admonition should be “inthe Lord.” This means using the Word of God. This is said explicitly in theoriginal language but lost in the English translation of the classic text onthe uses of Scripture: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and isprofitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction [paideia]in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped forevery good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). The use of Scripture in teaching in generalis mentioned in the term doctrine. To say instruction as well is notrepetitive, as it might seem, because this refers to the disciplinedinstruction of children by their fathers.
In another letter Paul also speaks of theuse of Scripture in admonition. After discussing the experience of Israel inthe wilderness he concludes: “Now all these things happened to them asexamples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of theages have come” (1 Cor 10:11).
Fathers should use the Bible to train andadmonish their children. Other religious materials, even those based on theBible, are not of the Lord but of men, and women. Also, a clear distinction shouldbe made between instruction that makes use of logic or ethics and the Bibleitself. Only Biblical training and admonition is of the Lord.
Insummary, althoughEphesians 6:4 is a simple text, this command to fathers is contrary to whatalmost all fathers want to do. Moreover, it has radical implications formothers and the way that virtually all churches view families in theircongregations. To break with such an overwhelming pattern of resistance to theWord, even regenerate Christians must read carefully. There are four keyaspects of this text that have been made to seem difficult by false teachers. Firstof all, this command is addressed to fathers, not parents in general. Secondly,the failure of fathers to obey this command will provoke their children torighteous anger. Thirdly, fathers must carry out this command themselvesand cannot delegate it to another. Fourthly, obedience to this commandinvolves the use of Scripture by the father in teaching his children.
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