The Fifth Commandment – It’s Not About Your Natural Parents

The Fifth Commandment:
Honor Your Father and Mother

The Fifth Commandment states:

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Ex. 20:12).

Regarding this verse, the New Testament continues:

Honour thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise) (Eph 6:2).

The words “honor” and “obey” could be used interchangeably here, as the scriptures are rife with instructions to “obey” father and mother (Deut. 21:18-21; 1 Sam. 12:15; Prov. 13:17; etc.). Further, Scripture tells us that there is a promise attached to keeping this commandment. In fact, this commandment is the only commandment that has a promise attached to it. The promise is “that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Ex. 20:13; Eph. 6:3).

So according to this commandment, it appears that honoring your literal father and mother is the key to long life.

But is that what this commandment is really admonishing us to do?

Consider the following fictional scenario and let’s try to make some sense out of this commandment, because on the surface, and if you think long and hard about it, from a literal perspective this commandment does not make even a lick of sense, even if you consider its moral ramifications.

Jake is a part of a huge crime ring that his wife doesn’t know anything about but, as a religious woman, would be horrified if she did. He and his cohorts devise a massive scheme to rob one of the largest banks in his state. He commands his 16-year-old son, Charlie, to take part in this scheme, but also urges him to NOT tell his mother about it. Charlie was taught biblical principles by his mother, and the biblical command to honor his father and mother is ringing in his ears at this point, despite the fact that he is diametrically opposed to this scheme and wants no part of it. Ultimately, he yields to the scriptural command and his father’s directive, and they commence with the attempted robbery. However, unbeknownst to the crime ring, the FBI has been alerted and stands ready to avert it. During the robbery, they raid the bank, completely surprising the robbers, and guns them down, severely injuring Jake, and killing Charlie instantly.

So Jake’s 16-year-old son Charlie is now dead, the result of him obeying his father. Certainly, the scriptural promise of long days upon the land for honoring father and mother did not apply to Charlie. He honored and obeyed his father, and is dead because of it.

There are all kinds of parents in the world. Hardened criminals are people, and of course many hardened criminals are also parents that have children that they would like to have follow in their footsteps. Some parents raise their children to be murderers; some parents raise their children to be angry, to be liars, thieves, etc. Oftentimes father and mother are at odds with each other, with father commanding one thing, while mother commands the polar opposite. What do you do? How do you honor both father and mother when the desire of each for you is in direct opposition to the other?

All parents are human beings, and all human beings are fallible. Not all parents have the best interests of their children at heart. And of course, some parents intentionally murder or otherwise bring harm to their children. Sometimes parenting methods are so bad that children are mercifully removed from their homes to avert disastrous consequences to them. My wife and I have been foster parents since 1987, so we know this all too well.

I want you to think long and hard about this. The only command that attaches a promise to it – the command to honor father and mother – cannot possibly mean honoring your physical parents. That doesn’t make any sense at all.

Then what DOES this commandment mean?

The Law is Spiritual

When Jesus commands his disciples to “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he loses many of them. But he explains to the disciples that remain that “the words that I speak, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63b).

What he is telling them is that he does not intend for them to physically eat his flesh and drink his blood. Of course not! There isn’t enough of him to go around. No, he is speaking spiritually. In fact, ALL of the things of God are to be spiritually, and not literally (or naturally) discerned:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

Yes, ALL of the “things of the Spirit of God” are to be spiritually discerned.

And then we find this:

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin (Rom 7:14).

Now if we take the principle of the eating of Jesus’ flesh and blood to be a spiritual principle, as opposed to a literal, or natural, one, then the same principle applies to ALL of the commandments, which are also part of the “law of God,” including the Fifth Commandment to honor your father and mother.

The words “father” and “mother” are code words in Bible allegory, and thankfully, the Bible explains its symbols, so we do not have to be in the dark about anything. We just need “eyes that see,” and “ears that hear.”

Abraham, the Father of us all

Therefore of faith, by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all (Rom. 4:16).

Abraham is called the father of the faithful, and scripture tells us:

But without faith [it is] impossible to please [him]: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and [that] he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6).

Further, we find:

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as [in] a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is] God (Heb. 11:10).

This is a big scripture, and addresses the land of promise that the scripture promises to those who honor their father (Abraham). The “land that the Lord thy God giveth thee” is the “land of promise,” or the “Promised Land.”

YOU are the land (or “Earth”) of promise.

Abraham is called the “father of the faithful.” Are you faithful? If so, Abraham is your father. Otherwise:

… [i]f ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham (John 8:39b).

This is all allegorical and is for our spiritual benefit (2 Tim. 3:16). We cannot understand any of this reading it literally. The “city which hath foundations” for which Abraham was laboring to enter is the Kingdom of God, which the Bible says is WITHIN YOU (Luke 17:21).

By honoring and obeying our father (Abraham), we do what he does, which is to completely trust in the God within you and seek the Kingdom, not worrying or being anxious about anything, but simply trusting that whatever happens in your life, and despite appearances, all is well. Learning to trust in the God within you (and YOU are the temple of God; YOU are the house of God; YOU are God’s dwelling place) is how you build the ark of faith that carries you across the floodwaters of affliction and adversity.

This is a very difficult lesson to learn, and is a part of our spiritual development and entrance into the Kingdom of God. The seven days of creation (and, biblically speaking, YOU are the creation, NOT the literal material universe) involve the seven stages of faith from beginning to end. I will deal with that at a later time.

So father represents faith, as we also note in the following verse:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar (Jas. 2:21)?

This verse is also critical, and is a great segue into the biblical definition of “mother.” To honor your father, then, is to have faith in God. Faith is justified by works, and faith without works is dead (Jas. 2:26). But what are the works of faith?

Jerusalem, the Mother of us all

But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all (Gal. 4:26).

This is strange language here. A city is our mother? How do we honor a city?

Well, once again, the biblical concept of Jerusalem is – as is ALL scripture – powerful allegory, and is intended to give you spiritual instruction to help you progress toward the Kingdom of God. But remember, “strait is the gate and narrow is the way to life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14). Most do not understand the commandments because we interpret them naturally, rather than spiritually, and therefore are unable to keep them. You can never understand these things from a literal perspective, because the Bible has nothing to do with a literal history about a material creation.

As we continue to decode the scriptures to draw out their spiritual meaning and intent, it is critical, if we desire to enter into the Kingdom of God, to understand their spiritual implications.

The law goes forth from Jerusalem.

And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for the law shall go forth of Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem (Is. 2:3; Mic. 4:2).

These words are not to be interpreted naturally, but spiritually. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Ps. 19:7). The soul is what the Bible calls “Christ” and the law goes forth from our mother, Jerusalem. It is the law that leads you to Christ, and the Fifth Commandment is part of the “perfect law of God.” This perfect law is the law of LOVE.

We learn from the above verse that the “law of the Lord” is the “word of the Lord.” Honor your mother, which means honor Jerusalem, which means keep the law of God, which means obey the word of God, which means love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All of this is spiritual, NOT literal, or natural. Nowhere in the Bible is this meaning more evident than the following proverbs:

My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother (Prov. 1:8).

My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother (Prov. 6:20).

Spiritually speaking, you cannot decide to honor father OR mother. You cannot decide to honor one OR the other. Father is the embodiment of faith, while mother is the embodiment of works (i.e., the law of love). In other words, you cannot have faith OR works. Neither faith NOR works can operate independently of one another. You must have faith AND works. They must work together in unity.

Faith without works is dead. It is faith AND works, working together, that bring you into the Promised Land (the Kingdom of God within you).

Go Up To Jerusalem

The phrase “go up to Jerusalem” is used 11 times in the King James Version of the Bible. This phrase does not constitute a literal history that no longer applies to us today. On the contrary, it constitutes spiritual instruction that is vitally important for us if our goal is truly the Kingdom of God. In essence, the command is to “obey your mother,” or “obey the law,” or “be a vessel of love.”

Who [is there] among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which [is] in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he [is] the God,) which [is] in Jerusalem (Ezr. 1:3).

The house of the Lord is in Jerusalem. Again, you must use spiritual discernment here. We’re not talking about the literal city of Jerusalem in literal Israel (remember, the law is spiritual), but Jerusalem above, which is the city of God within you. YOU are the temple/house of God (1 Cor. 3:16; Heb. 3:6). You build the house of the Lord by keeping the commandments, including the command to “honor your father and mother,” which is to say, exercise faith and keep the great law of love, because faith, combined with works (i.e., loving EVERYONE equal to love of self), are the keys to awakening the Christ within you, and thus leading you to the Promised Land. THIS is how you “live long upon the land that the Lord thy God gives you.”

The Law of Love (the Commandments) Leads to Christ

The law of God is the gateway to Christ. This is why it is called a “perfect law.” and the “perfect law of liberty.” It is only after Christ comes in your flesh that “the law is done away with.” This is because it takes effort to truly love divinely, until Christ, who is the power to love, comes in YOUR flesh. At that point, you love because it is a part of you, not because it is something you have to do.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes (Rom. 10:4).

Many interpret this verse as saying that Christ ended the law. However, this presupposes a literal Christ “out there.” This is the biblical definition of the “spirit of antichrist” (which is any spirit that professes that Christ does not come in YOUR flesh). What the verse is saying is that Christ is the end of the law, in the same way as a period is the end of the sentence. Christ is at the end of the law, so without keeping the law you cannot get to the end of it, where you find Christ. The law (or word) of God is the only way.

The Virgin Daughter of Jerusalem

Christ is the bridegroom of the scriptures. Man (biblically, the woman) is the bride. Thus, if Jerusalem is our spiritual mother, then we are all daughters of Jerusalem. (Can you see how understanding the scriptures from a spiritual perspective begins to bring ALL of the scriptures to life?) This phrase, then, becomes vitally important in understanding the command to honor your mother. Here are a couple of examples:

Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem (Zep. 3:14).

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he [is] just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zec. 9:9).

So the question is, are we the daughters of Jerusalem? That is, are we obeying our mother?

Leaving Father and Mother and Taking on a Wife

Biblical marriage is defined as man and woman (Christ and the church) becoming one flesh. This is Christ coming in YOUR flesh. This is the mystery of biblical marriage (Eph. 5:32; Col. 1:27). This is you and Christ. For this a man needs to leave father and mother. This is the same as Christ being “the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). Once Christ and you become one flesh, you have moved on into perfection (I will annotate the following verse in bold and double parens):

Therefore leaving the principles ((commandments)) of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection ((marriage to Christ)); not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works ((repentance revolves around the law, given by our mother Jerusalem)), and of faith toward God ((Abraham, our father)) (Heb. 6:1).

Honor your father and mother that your days may be long upon the land that the Lord your God gives you.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of what this commandment really means.

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Until next time, this is Paul Young saying, flee from the crowd and dwell with the Christ within you.  Christ IN YOU, your hope of glory.

15 Comments

  1. Thank you Paul for your words of wisdom and helping me reconcile with my heart. As a loving person myself with abusive parents having honour your mother and father has been thrust in my face by catholic mother over the decades and has not sat well with me.
    Having recently abandoned my natural family to save my own integrity and soul. I have no doubt that there is no base for a literal meaning to this nor other commandments. To obey a narcissist who puts herself up on a pedestal as if sitting beside God and therefore the rest of us below her and to assist her in masking her true self to others is a lie I can’t uphold.
    I was already no longer at odds about my feelings towards her your words give me a new stronghold and direction.

  2. Most people are not murderers, thieves and abusers. To tell children they should not honor their parents because some parents are those things is senseless. To me that is the equivalent of looking toward the devil for answers instead of looking to God for an answer. Jesus sums it up. (Mark 7:1-13) 1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. 5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; 6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. To understand the issues here one must simply look at statistics for children that are denied one of their parents for no reason other than a divorce occured.

    • Me. Marshal, you’re very correct. This man before you seals with no common sense and doesn’t know YAHVEHs’ HOLY WORD! If He’d study The Scriptures’ He’d know Father is not so dense when he demands we honor our parents. Sure there are parents not worthy of their childrens’ Honor and Love! There is one reason to have honor towards these parents, Had they not giving life to you them and myself. For no other reason is your life is here because of them. Father doesn’t expect you to be around, love, friendships, or cordial to them. Honor them to Father God for your life from these two ppl! Your answer is perfect. When is bitter against YAHVEH EL He’ll hit you where you will hurt as in hell! Study YAHVEHs’ “original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic manuscripts Writs!” No he’s chosen to mock our Sweet, Sweet Savior, YESHUA D CHRISTOS, this man prefers to side with Lucifer ‘
      A, Servent of Yeshua d Christos

  3. dear Paul, Ive been struggling with this fifth commandment for years, ie having had parents who rejected me as a baby and manipulating, using and abusing me uptil today. Ive received Christ ad my Saviour at age 11 and have a selfless attitude towards life, my children, etc. At age 55 currently, Im struggling to expose myself to these manipulations and guilt trips lodged against me by my mother. I have endured numerous hardships in life and have been widowed at age 37. Ive never treated my mother disrespectfully and have supported her emotionally and financially where I could, up to the point of a zero bank balance – just to have found out that she was awarded a great sum of money as compensation after a motor accident – a fact which was kept secret from me, so that I could keep on paying certain financial commitments on her behalf even after I had lost almost everything, being unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.
    Your article is enlightening. I am still left with the question how to treat my mother. I have fallen victim and prey to her manipulation over the years, despite the fact that I am and was aware of her love of money, schemes and lies.
    Can you help me.
    Regards
    Ann

  4. Interesting take on how to understand Commandment V. I certainly agree with many of your points about spiritual meanings, however, this is a stretch for me. I will continue to ponder your premise and see how much “sticks.”

  5. As I am laying arround here at the hotel it suddenly hit me like a smack in the face. Honor thy mother and father and the reward is a longer life according to the bible. This was what was on my mind for some reason. Then suddenly I started thinking about the global warming stories in the news we hear daily. How humans since the 1980’s have been pumping carbon dioxide into to the atmosphere. So I googled it, and found that carbon dioxide more less traps the heat. You can google it to get the full picture. However the bottom line is global warming has been studied and found it is the effect of the humans industrial era. So essentially we are killing our Mother Earth. Which in turn will lessen the life span of humans until earth is no longer a planet that can support life. So does honor thy mother from the bible actually mean Mother Earth instead of our biological mother? I really believe so, just like I believe I came to this understanding by a higher power. And to top it off I’m not exactly what you would have called a Christian. But somehow this understanding has come to me out of no where. Grab a quite room with no distractions and think about it for yourself.

  6. Great article and glad to see someone else with the same spiritual understanding as I have regarding the scriptures. I still believe that the natural aspects of the Bible should not be cast aside but there is also a spiritual meaning behind every natural aspect of the scriptures. Just as the Fifth Commandment is not referring to your natural parents, I also believe that the Seventh Commandment is not referring to natural physical adultery but rather is regarding spiritual adultery. Would you happen to have any articles that you have written on the Seventh Commandment as well? Please feel free to send an email with your response. Thanks for your time.

  7. Hey Paul, It seems that God Have Created us to speak to us in a Barbaric Language, so I guess if we are not Smart Enough to encode God’s Barbaric language we are doom to Fail, and it seems that God is Intentionally driving us away from his Presence, I know the Holy Spirit, I know we have a sinful nature, I am striving for Perfection, It’s very Difficult to live is this modern world, where there is so much going on, However if every thing you are saying is true, then I sold my self to the devil for the Past 25 Years. God Bless

    • Thank you for your comment, Winston. It tells us in Matthew 13 that the reason for Jesus speaking in parables (and the whole Bible is spoken in parables/allegory) is not to make the meaning more clear, but to make it more obscure (Matt. 13:10-17). For quite some time, once I began to understand this, I wanted to know why. The answer lies in Prov. 6, where it tells us there are six things that God hates. The first of those things is “a proud look.” Then I began to understand the Psalms that address this: “The LORD [is] nigh unto them that are of a broken heart, and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalms 34:18); “The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:17).

      Coming to God in a pompous holier-than-thou attitude will forever keep us from understanding the scriptures. It is critical, from a spiritual perspective, that we begin to understand that LOVE is the principal element in coming to know God, and that Christ, who lives IN US, must be searched for THERE — within us. A rich man (spiritually speaking) can never enter into the Kingdom of God. I had to learn this the hard way, and I lost just about everything I had in the process of learning this crucial lesson.

  8. Hey Paul,
    I can remember the scriptures that I read, but the gift you have to recall them, and also the location of them is indeed a gift.

    One thing I would add is that let’s suppose a child honors his honorable parents; parents who do have great love for their child and his/her future. But yet, the child dies very early in life, even before his parents. This is something that happens everyday. And so if this is to be interpreted literally, then the first time the first child in history who honored his earthy mother and father and yet did not live long upon the land, then the Bible would be a lie, and would have become an invalidated lie the first time this tragic event ever happened.

    Children honor good parents every day and still do not live long lives, so either the Bible is a lie, or it is, like you say, not literal. Just amazes me at how many still make excuses, or just remain blind.

    I like to keep the lesson simple for my own rememberance.. Honoring your “Father and Mother” means having faith in the Father and his perfect will, and then exercising this faith with the perfect law of love in our lives.

    Someone once said, “Love, and do what you will.” It is freedom from the self-imposed judgement that we place on ourselves by laying laws and judgement upon others. As Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of Thomas, “Do not give a law like the lawgiver, lest you be constrained by it.” We know this as “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.”

    When we view it from this perspective, we can indeed find rest for our weary souls.

    Thanks for a great article.

    • Thanks for your comment, Chris. I’m glad you found your way to this blog. Your second paragraph is especially profound. I agree with your comment in general, with the caveat that the faith spoken of here is faith in your own power — the power of God and Christ within you. “We are fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is not a small statement. Scripture also says in Ps. 82:6 that “ye are gods.” We have no clue as to who we really are, and how powerful we really are. What a novel concept. 😉

      Thanks again, Chris.

  9. Paul,

    Another powerful article decoding Biblical metaphor and allegory. It’s so refreshing to see another active voice on the net doing this for us. This commandment has stumped many Christians, leaving them questioning their religion when long life doesn’t play out for obedience to mother and father. Please keep up the good work and continuing writing these interpretations. The world needs it!

    • Thanks for your comment, Joshua. It is much appreciated. I am absolutely amazed that there aren’t more voices out there that understand this stuff, especially the “experts.”

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