What was the significance of striking one’s father or mother?

As I was reading 1 Timothy, a excerpt from these verses struck me as strange. The passage to which I’m referring is 1 Timothy 1:8-11: “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” I was specifically interested in the mention of “those who strike their fathers and mothers,” because it struck me as such an oddly specific example to give in regards to one’s parents. Although “honor thy father and thy mother” is stressed within the Bible, I was confused as to why a mention of striking them would be included to emphasize the derivation from this commandment. It is also housed among other examples of sin which are quite severe, so it can be inferred that it is being conveyed as having a harsh severity of its own in this way.

As I did my research, I discovered that this seemed to harken back to more of an Old Testament ideal, where the concept of honoring one’s parents is mentioned with much greater frequency. As this source mentions, it is the Old Testament that does much in the way of establishing these ideas regarding honor and dishonor in regards to parents. The concept of dishonoring one’s parents is mentioned twice in Proverbs: Proverbs 19:26 (“He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach.”) and Proverbs 20:20 (“If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness.”). However, there are two verses which seem to set an even more severe guideline upon dishonor towards an individual’s parents: Exodus 21:15-17 (“Whoever strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. […] Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.”) and Leviticus 20:9 (“For anyone who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death; he has cursed his father or his mother; his blood is upon him.”). These verses paint a very grim picture of the consequences of bringing dishonor upon one’s parents. It states in no uncertain terms that instances like this, including striking your father or mother, are deserving of death.

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With verses such as these, we begin to understand the real gravity behind the verses in 1 Timothy. It paints the picture of parental obedience and honor being another tenet that is paramount to a godly life, and it seems to suggest that those old beliefs of familial dishonor still carry grave consequences, because it is saying that the law is put in place for sinners and lawbreakers such as those who would strike their parents and therefore bring dishonor upon them.

Interestingly enough, I found it intriguing that it would be phrased with the term “striking,” because Proverbs 23:13-14 states: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.” Once again, we see this reference to striking, although now it is used in reference to disciplining a child. So the Bible is painting a very contrasting picture in terms of disciplining one’s child and honoring one’s parents. So while the Old Testament sets the precedent for honoring your parents, this verse within 1 Timothy seems to harken back to those old regulations and draw a thread of commonality to bridge the gap.

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