Parenting is often a difficult task, but God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Humility in parenting can be found in submitting to God, learning from his word, seeking to live according to godly wisdom, and being in intentional Christ-honoring fellowship with other believers. Through various means, the Bible provides parents with principles to live by and teach, good and bad examples of parents in the faith who have gone before, and an immensity of grace found in the gospel to outshine our own weaknesses and do for our kids what we could never do.
- 1 What Does the Bible Say About Parenting (KJV)?
- 2 Biblical Parenting Principles
- 3 What Does the Bible Say About Parenting Roles?
- 4 What Does the Bible Say About Being a Good Parent?
- 5 What Does the Bible Say About Parenting Adults?
- 6 Examples of Good Parents in the Bible
- 7 Examples of Bad Parenting in the Bible
What Does the Bible Say About Parenting (KJV)?
Biblical Parenting Principles
- Intentionally teach children wisdom (Proverbs 1:8)
- Raise children to know and love God (Ephesians 6:4; Proverbs 3:11)
- Discipline children (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 29:17)
- Disciple children (Proverbs 22:6)
- Nurture rather than provoke and discourage (Colossians 3:21)
The Bible addresses fathers most often, indicating that fathers bear a significant responsibility and accountability to God as it relates to parenting and raising children more generally. The beginning of Proverbs (see 1:8), however, assumes that both father and mother play a significant role in the spiritual formation of their children. The same could be said of overall maturation, where both moms and dads seek to meet their child/children’s needs and contribute to their children’s overall development.
And while fathers are addressed more often and bear a certain role of accountability to God for leading their families, the Bible also speaks of both parents as having a significant influence on their children spiritually. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, Paul says that even if only one spouse is a believer, the children are holy. These words from Paul set both parents on equal spiritual turf. The term “holy” basically means to be “set apart.” In this verse, then, Paul is likely speaking to the transformative nature of the gospel, which significantly affects the entire family.
For these reasons, the Bible shows that parents, fathers and mothers, are both equal and different at the same time.
Parents who seek to raise their children according to biblical wisdom will seek to instill the wisdom of God into their children. And although the Bible does not give parents step-by-step instructions on how to be a good parent, the best thing a parent can do for their children is teach them the gospel, pointing them to a merciful and gracious God who came to the world to save sinners, to know and love God and enjoy him forever. No parent does this perfectly. But the power our children need is not in us but in the truth of the word of God:
Warnings Against Sin and the Character of God
In God’s grace he also provides his people with warnings, at times specifically related to parents and children, to help them understand more of who God is, as well as the God-ordained importance of parent-child relationships.
This verse describes the character of God, but then goes on to speak of fathers and children. At first glance, the verse can seem harsh: in some way, God “visits the iniquity” of fathers on their children. If we’re honest with ourselves, we might see how this can be true: thinking of family dynamics and generational sins, how vices are learned and picked up and passed on again, how sin and sin cycles repeat themselves in parent-child relationships. What is even more important to learn from this verse, however, is that the Lord himself is highlighting the vastness of his covenant-keeping love (lasting for thousands of generations) in contrast with the shortness of his punishment (lasting to the third and fourth generation).
To parents and children alike who are in Christ, this truth needs to be remembered often of this truth: God delights to lavish mercy upon his children, even in the midst of their sin, failures, weaknesses, suffering—you name it. God’s heart is altogether for his people.
The ancient Middle Eastern context of the Bible plays a role in the relational dynamics between parents and adult children seen in Scripture. Families in the ancient world likely remained closer than many in the West, even living together in small, connected communities in some settings.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus heals a “blind man” on the Sabbath (John 9:1), and after questioning the man himself to find out who performed the healing, the man’s parents get drug into the middle of the ordeal to check the validity of the healing (9:18). They say the son is old enough to answer for himself (9:21, 23). Whether or not the parents should have stood up for their son in this situation and answered differently is another matter. The point here is that the parents recognized their son’s ability, given his age, to make decisions without the parents’ being able to overrule.
This does not mean that parents should be uninvolved in their children’s lives. Parents of adult children can continue to offer wisdom, guidance, direction, biblical correction, encouragement, love, and even rebuke when necessary—just as Christians in the family of God should do with one another regardless of age.
From one perspective, the Bible doesn’t offer many descriptions of good parents. From the opening chapters of Genesis, sin affects and infects everyone and everything: including parents and their relationships with their children. The biblical story is one of gritty, sad, even appalling stories of sinful and broken people whom he would bring into his gracious plan of salvation. God uses sinful people, from first to last, to make his glory known among the whole earth.
The theme of God as Father is found across Old and New Testaments, and is central to our understanding of who God is and how he relates to his people. Writing to the church in Corinth and citing a number of texts and themes in the Old Testament, Paul declares of God:
God alone is the perfect parent who knows what to do in every situation, never sins against his children, is always faithful to his promises, and loves his sons and daughters with a steadfast, unwavering love.
Although the father in the story found in Luke 15:11-32 is a fictional character, and clearly intended to represent God in his love and forgiveness of the younger brother and his gentle correction of the older brother, the father in the story of the prodigal son paints a beautiful picture of tender fatherly affection.
The idea of spiritual parents who care deeply for those younger in the faith is something that should not be ignored.
- Paul. Paul calls Timothy his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), and clearly says he is the spiritual father to the entire Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 4:15). When speaking to the church in Galatia, Paul even says he is “again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”
- John. In his first epistle, John speaks over and again about love, exhorting the church to “love one another,” and speaks on a few occasions to fathers, young men, and little children (however these categories are to be understood). The point here is that John thought of the people in this church as his spiritual children and he their spiritual father.
- Naomi. After losing everything (home, land, husband, sons, name), Naomi becomes a surrogate mother to Ruth. Their care and concern for one another tells a beautiful story of motherly affection.
- Lemuel’s mother. In Proverbs 31:1-9, a mother gives her son, Lemuel, instructions for living wisely.
- Mary. The mother of our Lord is no doubt “blessed among women” (Luke 1:42). Her humble submission to the Lord resulted in her being exalted as the mother who would give birth to the One who brings salvation to the ends of the earth.
When we think about the effects of sin in the world, especially on family dynamics and parent-child relationships, it is no real surprise that many of the examples of parents in the Bible may be classified, from one perspective, as quite bad:
- Noah (Genesis 9:20-27). After leaving the Ark, Noah got drunk and was seen naked by his son, Ham. While the details of what happened when Ham saw his father naked are unclear in the text (and many scholars see no reference to sexual innuendo), it seems Ham’s actions are condemned as inappropriate and humiliating to Noah. Yet in another sense, we may well condemn Noah’s lack of wisdom and care to guard himself from the dangers of intoxication and the effects it can have on those closest to us.
- Lot (Genesis 19:34). Through his daughters schemes, Lot got drunk and produced offspring by means of incest.
- Isaac (Genesis 25:28). Isaac showed favoritism toward Esau and failed to acknowledging the word of the Lord that the younger would inherit the promises (Genesis 25:23)
- Jacob (Genesis 37:3). Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph, the firstborn of the wife he truly loved, loving him more than his other sons.
And these being just from the book of Genesis, the list likely could be expanded to include many other prominent biblical characters (such as David and Solomon). The descriptions of bad parents in the Bible, however, should by no means lead us to despair: many of these “bad parents,” while thoroughly sinful, were themselves the very means God would use to bring his blessings to the ends of the earth.