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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
1. Jewish parents.—A few introductory remarks on the conjugal relation are necessary. The husband was supreme in the household, his authority recognized by the wife—and here it may be noted that, while polygamy was permitted by the Jewish law, the principle of ‘one man one wife’ had won general acceptance. As for the legal status of the wife, the provisions in respect to some things (see Divorce) were onesided; but her position, if subordinate, was by no means one of absolute dependence, nor was she relegated to the seclusion common in other Oriental nations. The husband ruled; the wife’s influence in all domestic concerns was great. Fidelity was expected on both sides. The match might have been arranged by other parties (see Marriage), but the relations of the wedded pair would be characterized by a growing love. The honourable position of the faithful wife (Proverbs 31:10-31) would be evidenced in countless Jewish homes. To the strong attachment of husband to wife, of wife to husband, there is frequent and touching allusion in later Jewish literature. It would make itself felt in the whole family life.
This brief notice of the conjugal relation should help to a correct appreciation of the relations now to be considered, viz. the parental, and, by consequence, the filial. At once it may be set down that the requirements of the Fifth Commandment had taken deep hold in Jewish life. As Bousset (Rel. d. Jud. 402) remarks, it was not forgotten that in the Decalogue the duties of children to parents follow immediately upon those which turn on matters religious and ritual. The requirements, it should be noted particularly, place both parents on the same level. In practice the supremacy of the father as ruler of the household was, indeed, recognized; his power over his children was almost absolute: at the same time, the utmost respect and obedience to both father and mother were demanded and yielded. Domestic discipline was exceedingly strict; the behaviour of child to parent would be marked by that courtliness of etiqnette which was once a feature of English family life; there was, perhaps, little demonstrativeness of affection in the case of the father. Restraint is, in short, observable; but it formed no barrier to a love deep and strong which knit child to parent and parent to child: the full pathos of the love which linked a Jewish father to his son cannot be set down in words. The joyousness of child-life was in no wise cramped: allusion is met with to the readiness of parents to provide for, and to enter into, the amusement of the children. Not until the 2nd cent., was the maintenance of children the subject of legal enactment; fulfilment of the duty had probably been taken as a matter of course. It was certainly expected that children should minister to the necessities of aged parents. See, further, Boyhood.
2. The home at Nazareth.—Joseph was in any case the legal father of Jesus (Dalman, The Words of Jesus); hence the parental and filial relation as illustrated in the Holy Family may be discussed apart from questions treated of elsewhere (see Virgin-birth). The glimpses afforded are but few: there are the stories in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, and some incidents in our Lord’s ministry. Fragmentary notices; and yet a great deal may be read into them when studied in connexion with the preceding paragraphs.
What, then, is discernible in the parents of Jesus? Conjugal attachment; so also a genuine and simple-hearted piety. They are punctilious in the observance of religious duties (Luke 2:21-22); if attendance at the Passover was only demanded of men, Mary is quick to avail herself of a privilege which had been extended to women also (Luke 2:41). That the child Jesus ‘increased in wisdom’ (Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52) is a statement not to be interpreted without thought of the parental care which watched over His ripening intelligence. If His ‘understanding and answers’ were cause of astonishment (Luke 2:47), the explanation points, in part at any rate, to early training given by His mother; to the careful discharge, by Joseph, of the paternal duties, so preparing Him for the eventful day when, arrived at the age of twelve years, He would become a ‘son of the Law.’ There was the further discharge of paternal duty as the lad was taught a trade (Mark 6:3). The strict discipline above spoken of is implied in Luke 2:51 (καὶ ἦν ὑποτασσόμενος αὐτοῖς): the respect and obedience which Joseph and Mary claim as their due are promptly rendered by the boy, the growing youth.
There the narrative of the early life of Jesus breaks off; of Gospel record of the next eighteen years there is none. With the resumption of the narrative Jesus has arrived at manhood; Joseph disappears from the scene, and attention accordingly centres on the relations of Jesus with the widowed mother. No longer is He a member of the family circle; Mary is cared for by sons and daughters; but the respect, the affection, the loving solicitude of ‘her firstborn son’ is still enjoyed by her. He asserts His independence, but with perfect courtesy (John 2:4; ‘the address is that of courteous respect, even of tenderness,’ Westcott). He is not to be understood in Mark 3:32-34 as disowning parental ties; rather as speaking of a family of God that is greater than the human family. The touching incident recorded in John 19:26-27 is significant of maternal and filial devotion to the very end.
3. Sayings of our Lord.—Attention must now be directed to notes struck by Jesus where recorded sayings of His have reference to the parental and filial relations. Few in number, they are significant. For Him parents are the natural guardians (Luke 8:56). He has seathing condemnation for the legal fiction which affords means of escape for children unwilling to contribute to their parents’ support (Matthew 15:3-6, Mark 7:9-13); the Fifth Commandment, for Him, is paramount above other religious duties (see Corban). He takes obedience to the Fifth Commandment for granted (Matthew 19:19, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20); its observance is a condition of ‘eternal life.’ If in days near at hand parent will betray child and child parent, the unnatural circumstance will be but evidence of tribulation predicted by Him (Matthew 10:21, Mark 13:12, Luke 21:16). What He says in Matthew 10:37 (Luke 14:26) is tantamount to a recognition of the strength of family ties. Very beautifully has it been said that His favourite illustration was drawn from the home. Thus in the Lord’s Prayer it is the idea of the home that governs the Prayer. The relations between the Heavenly Father and His children are set forth in terms richly suggestive of the human relationships. ‘Reverence and submission—that the parent has a right to obtain from the children; support, forbearance, and protection—that the children on their part have a right to ask from the parent’ (A. W. Robinson, Church Catechism Explained).
Two sayings may present difficulty. One of them occurs in Luke 18:29; it must be compared with Matthew 19:29-30, Mark 10:29-30, where descriptions of the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom are set forth in terms familiar to the Jews of our Lord’s day. Mention is indeed made of circumstances under which the renunciation of earthly ties may be demanded; they are, however, exceptional circumstances, where the ties in question are incompatible with a higher allegiance. The other saying occurs in Matthew 8:21 (cf. Luke 9:59). Request and rejoinder have been explained of proverbial allusion (Adeney); it has been held that the permission really sought was to remain and support an aged father until he died (Theophylact); and this is possible. It is certainly hard to believe that, with burial following so quickly upon death as is the case in the East, a request so thoroughly in accord with Jewish feeling (cf. Tobit 4:2-4) was abruptly refused by Jesus. His reply is, perhaps, capable of metaphorical interpretation: ‘Think not only of the dead, remember the needs of the living.’ There may be, however, a reminder in it of the exceptional circumstances above alluded to. Besides, the teaching of Jesus had its sterner aspect.
Literature.—Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] , II. ii. 27; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, which goes back to earlier days; Joseph, Judaism as Creed and Life; Maurice, Social Morality; J. R. Seeley, ‘The Church as a Teacher of Morality’ in Lectures and Essays. For the subject in regard to modern life see Mason, Home Education; Turnbull, Hints on Child Training; Mrs. Craik, Sermons out of Church.
H. L. Jackson.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Parents (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/p/parents-2.html. 1906-1918.