Balla’s focus in this thorough and thought-provoking book is from the perspective of the child, in which he seeks to determine how (primarily adult) children fulfilled their duties toward (i.e., honored) their parents.
In the first of two sections he discusses the context of New Testament times. Here a vast amount of primary texts are surveyed to help understand the child-parent relationship in the ancient world. Balla describes the Greek period from Homer to the end of the classical period, the Greek and Roman Hellenistic period (ending in the third century A.D.), and Jewish approaches from around the turn of the era. In each chapter a number of important issues are discussed, including specific duties toward parents, reasons for these duties, and limits on such duties. In all cases the gods or God was often an important factor as to why children were to perform certain duties.
The second section discusses relevant New Testament texts. Balla discusses every passage he believes has bearing on the issue. Of particular interest is his attempt to resolve tensions between verses that command the honoring of parents (based on the fifth commandment, e.g., Mark 7:9–13) and Jesus’ commands that His followers leave (10:29) and “hate” (Luke 14:26) their parents. Balla believes that there is no conflict here, for following God is a matter of priority. In general, honoring God and honoring one’s parents are complementary. He suggests several resolutions to this tension: separation from families can be the result of unbelief; Jesus had two types of disciples, some of whom were called to renounce family while others were not; statements in apocalyptic settings may require some disciples to renounce their families. Nevertheless a complete break, Balla says, from family is not intended in any of these cases. Even those who leave families to follow Christ must honor their parents. An example is Peter, who cared for his mother-in-law (Mark 1:30), went back to his old trade of fishing after Christ’s death (John 21:3), and apparently had a wife with him during his church ministry (1 Cor. 9:5).
The academic style of the work at times makes it difficult to read. This is further complicated by a number of detailed text critical discussions throughout the volume that detract from the flow of the book. However, the academic nature of this book should not detract from its value. Anyone interested in this subject owes Balla a debt of gratitude. The amount of ancient sources used in this volume is immense. This makes the volume worthwhile even if one is not convinced by his conclusions. The book includes a lengthy bibliography (pp. 233–60) and three indexes (references, authors, and subjects).
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