A Biblical View of Respect and Reverence

The vast majority of modern English Bibles have done a great disservice to God by replacing the words “reverence” and “fear” with the word “respect” and by doing this they have nearly removed all of the Bible’s distinctive teachings on reverence.    And even when churches teach on respect today, it is a watered down and humanist version that little resembles what the Bible actually has to say on this subject.

This lack of teaching on the Biblical concepts of respect and reverence have led us to several generations disrespectful and irreverent young people who helped introduce moral chaos into every major area of our society including civil government, the church and the home.

The Bible tell Us to Respect All People

In 1 Peter 2:17 of the King James version (KJV) of the Bible it states the following:

Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.”

Other versions like the NIV use “respect” in place of the word “honor” as seen below:

“Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

The same Greek word is used in reference both to the king and to all men.  That word is Timao

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Timao means the following:

1. to estimate, fix the value

        for the value of something belonging to one’s self

2. to honour, to have in honour, to revere, venerate

1 Peter 2:17 is a perfect example of the two uses of timao and its Greek synonyms in the Bible.   It shows us that Timao can sometimes mean to value someone (respect and honor them). Respect in this way means that we see that all people have value. But at other times timao can mean more than mere respect as it can also mean reverence or veneration for someone who is of a higher position such as kings.

In Ephesians 6:2, the Bible commands children to timao their parents when it says “Honour [timao] thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise”. Also in 1 Peter 3:7 the Bible uses a Greek synonym for timao, the word “time” (not to be confused with our English word time). Here it commands husbands to give “honour [time] unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life”.

Now let’s bring this back to 1 Peter 2:17 and our discussion of respect.  A few more things we must point out.  Respect and honor are synonymous in the Bible.  Also, you may have noticed a difference in translation between the KJV and NIV where the KJV says “all men” as in “Honour all men” and the NIV says “Show proper respect to everyone”.  In this particular case – the NIV is right in its translation of “everyone”.  1 Peter 2:17 does not use the Greek word for males, but instead uses the Greek word Pas which in means “all” or “everyone” depending on the context.

This is not to say the NIV is always more literal the KJV, the truth is the NIV is usually less literal the KJV and NIV has a lot of biased translations in it when it comes to gender.  When it comes to the study of the doctrines of gender roles in the Bible – 95 percent of the time the KJV translation is much more literal to the original Biblical texts than the NIV is.  We will show this later in this article.  I say all this to say in this rare instance – the NIV is more literal in its translation of “everyone” as it is not gender specific in this case.  But as someone once said “even a broken clock is right twice a day”.

The point thus far is this.  God wants us to have basic respect for all people.  All ethnicities, all ages and respect for both genders.   And the reason for this is that all human beings have value because man (the male) “is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of the man” (1 Corinthians 11:7).  The male IS the very image of the masculine God we serve, and woman to a lesser extent also contains the image of God in her because she was taken from man to be his helper and companion.

And this leads to me to my next point on respect.

It Is Not Disrespectful to Believe and Say Men and Women Are Not Equal

Every time I bring up 1 Corinthians 11:7 I get people shouting “But it says in Genesis 1:27 that God made both male and female in his image.  Women are not any less made in God’s image then men are!”.   But does Genesis 1:27 really say that?

Here is Genesis 1:27 in the KJV:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

Many scholars and teachers will say “man” (literally “adam” in the Hebrew) in the first part of Genesis 1:27 means “mankind” as in all humanity.  It is true that sometimes the Hebrew word “adam” does mean mankind in certain contexts.  But the problem in Genesis 1:27 is with the phrase “he him”.  The exact Hebrew phrase here is “eth haa-‘adam”. “eth” literally means “same”, and “haa” is similar to our English word “the” or “this”. This Hebrew phrase means “this same man”.  So, the KJV’s rendering it as “he him” is much more literal than some modern renderings that translate it as “he them”. 

The point is that Genesis 1:27 does not say God created both male and female human beings in his image.  It says two things.  First it says he created the first male – Adam (and by extension all males to follow) in his image.   The second thing it says is that God created males and females.  It does not say “in the image of God created he males and females”.

Another way to state the Biblical truth we see presented in 1 Corinthians 11:7’s divine commentary on the Genesis account is as follows:

While male human beings do not have all the characteristics of God in that they lack God’s deity characteristics there is nothing that is characteristic of Man that is not also characteristic of God.  The same cannot said for female human beings.  There are many traits that are characteristic of women that are not characteristic of God.

When I make such statements based on the clear teachings of the Bible many Christians are deeply offended by them.  And I would submit to these people that the reason they are offended is because they have been raised in a humanist culture that is obsessed with equality.  In their view, if men and women are not made equally in the image of God and if women are not made in the image of God to the same extent that men are they believe women have less value than men.  And this is absolutely untrue.  The truth is that God made men and women for very different purposes, but he loves both men and women equally.

And now let’s bring this back to our discussion of respect and honor for all persons.  A lot of people today will accuse Bible believing Christians of disrespecting and dishonoring women for simply believing and speaking the truths of the Bible concerning the very real differences between the two genders God created.  But it is never disrespectful to believe and speak the truths found in the Word of God.

Therefore, we can say that that it is not wrong to believe and speak the following Biblical truths about the differences between men and women:

  1. Man “is the image and glory of God” – woman is not (1 Corinthians 11:7).
  2. Woman was made for man and man was not made for woman (1 Corinthians 11:9).
  3. Woman was purposefully designed by God to be weaker than man in many ways (1 Peter 3:7).
  4. The husband is the master of his wife (1 Peter 3:6).
  5. God created woman to be a companion and helper to man (Genesis 2:18), to bear his children and care for his home (1 Timothy 5:14) and for man’s sexual use (Romans 1:27) and pleasure (Proverbs 5:18-19).

To believe and speak the truths of the Bible concerning God’s design of gender roles is considered to be “disrespectful toward women” in our modern feminist and egalitarian culture.  But God’s truth remains.  And we as Bible believing Christians cannot allow the world to redefine what respect for women is anymore than we should allow them to redefine what a man and woman is.

So how should we respect women based on the truths of the Bible?  The answer is we respect those two primary positions that God made women for.

We should have the utmost respect for young women who seek to be wives and mothers or women that are already in these sacred positions.  And children should be taught to respect their mothers by both the mother’s themselves as well as by fathers.  And remember – when we respect something, that means we value it and we all ought to value God’s design of motherhood.

What does it mean for a man to respect his wife Biblically speaking? It means he does not belittle her for being weaker than him and needing his emotional and logical strength to guide her through the trials of life.  A man who respects his wife does not diminish the importance of her work in his home preparing meals, taking care of laundry, shopping and caring for the daily needs of his children while he is out working.  A man shows his respect for his wife by regularly praising her for these tasks which she does which are so important for having strong and functional homes just as Proverbs 31:28 exhorts him to do.

So yes, the Bible commands us to respect (which is the same as honor) all people.   But what respect looks like for our mother, our wife, our father, our boss at work or the President may look very different.

However, in all these cases the root of honor and respect is to assign value to all people and positions within society that God has created. 

Respect for the Position Verses Respect for the Person

Many people will ask “But how can we have respect for people who do not act in respectful ways?”.  What if someone is living an outwardly sinful life? What if a man has anger problems and yells at his wife and kids all the time? What if a man has an addiction to food, alcohol, drugs, video games or porn? Does his wife still have to respect him?

What if a parent does not properly provide for and care for their child or yells at them all the time? Does the child still have to respect such a parent?

What about politicians? What if a President acts in dishonest ways? What if a President promotes immoral lifestyles which are in direct contradiction with a Biblical worldview? What if a President is simply not good at his job and has no clue how to run a country?

I could go on with many examples.  But you get where I am going.  The fact is that God calls us to respect the position while we may not always be able to respect the behavior of the person in that position.  It is similar to the concept taught in the military that “you are saluting the rank, not necessarily the man”.

Does respecting the position mean we cannot seek to have them removed from that position? Of course not.  For instance, if a Pastor is acting in unethical manner there is a process to remove him as an elder (1 Timothy 5:19-20).  And in our system of government, if a mayor, governor or even President are acting in immoral or ungodly ways or they are promoting immoral lifestyles we can seek through the impeachment or electoral process to have such leaders removed from office.  So, it is very possible to respect the position, but not the actions or beliefs of the person in that position.

However, while pastors and politicians can be removed from their positions, this is not so easily done with husbands or parents.

God does not lightly allow for a child to be removed from their parents.  The only allowance would be for gross physical abuse and neglect (not providing food, clothing…ect) based on the basic human rights God gives in Exodus chapter 21.   The same goes for a wife being freed from her husband.

What that means is that often we will find that wives and children are called by God to respect husbands and fathers whose character and actions do not merit respect.  Instead, wives and children must remember that God calls them to respect the position of husband and father even if the person holding that position does not act in honorable ways.

Another way to sum up this idea of respecting the position even if you cannot respect the actions of the person in that position is as follows:

We must respect God’s institution of human authority whether it be in government, in our jobs, in the church or in the home even if we do not always respect the actions and behavior of people who hold those positions.

And now that we have exhaustively covered the Biblical concept of what respect we will now move on to a Biblical command that is all but lost in the modern Western world today.

Reverence Is More Than Respect

Biblically speaking, reverence is more than respect for someone.  And the Bible shows us what reverence is by the word associations it uses alongside or in place of reverence.

Hebrews 12:28 (KJV) teaches us that reverence and fear are inextricably linked together:

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear”

In Proverbs 24:21 (KJV) the Bible uses fear by itself as synonym for reverence:

 “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change”.   

What we also learn from Proverbs 24:21 is that reverence is not just something that we should show toward God, but it is also something we should show toward our earthly civil authorities.

Hebrews 12:9 (KJV) we teaches us more about reverence:

“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

From Hebrews 12:29 we learn two more things about reverence.  The first is that children should have reverence toward their fathers.  The second is that we see a new synonym used for reverence.  This time instead of using the word fear as a synonym, God uses subjection as a synonym for reverence.

Here is what we know so far from the Bible about this topic of reverence.  God does not tell us to reverence all people the way he told us to respect and honor all people in 1 Peter 2:17.   So far, reverence is reserved for God, civil authorities and fathers.  We also know that reverence involves fear and subjection to the one being revered.

Now I want to introduce you to one other category of people that God commands reverence towards.

God’s Command to Wives to Reverence Their Husbands

Almost every modern version of the Bible tells women to respect their husbands in Ephesians 5:33 as the NIV does:

“However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

But this is what the King James version (KJV) of the Bible says in the same verse:

“Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.”

The original Greek word from the New Testament being translated as “respect” by most modern translations and as “reverence” by the KJV is Phobeo.

According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Phobeo means the following:

“1. to be put to flight, to flee

2. to fear, be afraid 

3. to reverence, venerate, to treat with deference or reverential obedience”

A Greek synonym for Phobeo, the word Phobos, is also commanded of a wife toward her husband in 1 Peter 3:1-2.  See below how the NASB (New American Standard Bible) translates it and then how the KJV translates it.

1 Peter 3:1-2 in NASB:

“In the same way, you wives, be subject to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won over without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your pure and respectful behavior.”

1 Peter 3:1-2 in KJV:

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;  While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

Notice how the NASB translates phobos as “respectful” and the KJV translates phobos as “fear”.

Here is the sad fact.  Most modern translations of the Bible as well most teachings on marriage today have completely removed the command of God for wives to reverence their husbands.  They have instead replaced the one-way upward reverence a wife is to have toward her husband with the teaching that husbands are wives are to have mutual respect for one another.

What Kind of Fear is Involved in Biblical Reverence?

I have shown from the Bible that at the heart of reverence is fear and subjection. 

When the Bible uses fear as a synonym for reverence it the fear is two-fold.  The first is of chastisement.  Let’s look at Hebrews 12:9 again:

“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?”

The context of the passage above is about the chastisement of God upon our lives as Christians.  God compares his chastisement of us to that of our father’s chastisement.  

And let’s look at another passage from Romans 13:4 speaking of civil authorities and their God given power to chastise:

“For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.”

God is saying we clearly should be afraid of doing evil for fear that our civil authorities will punish us.

So far, we have seen that children should fear the punishment of their fathers for doing wrong and citizens should fear the punishment of the civil authorities for doing wrong.  But what about wives?

To answer that question, we need to look at two different passages.  In Ephesians 5:25 the Bible commands husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church”.  And what is one of the many ways in which Christ loves his church?  The answer is that he rebukes and disciplines his church. 

In Revelation 3:19, after rebuking his churches Christ says “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent”.  So, the answer is – yes part of a wife’s reverence for her husband should be that she fears he will chastise her if she is not in complete subjection to him or if she shames in some way by her words or behavior.

But the fear spoken in the Bible in regard to reverence is not just fear of chastisement.  It is also fear of not pleasing the one being reverenced or disappointing in them some way. 

If you found out that the President of the United States was going to visit your house for dinner – would you not want to make everything perfect for his arrival? Wouldn’t you fear having anything out of place? Wouldn’t you get a list of his favorite foods and drinks? The fact that we would say yes or no depending on what President is in office is a testament to the problem we have in America.  We have no concept of what it means to reverence the position even if we disagree with the actions and positions of the person holding the position.

So, let’s make this example easier.  Let’s say you love and admire President Trump and you voted for him twice to prove it (2016 and 2020).  And you get a phone call from one of his people that he will be coming to dinner at your house.  Think of all the things you would do to prepare for his arrival and how you would feel as he entered your home.  Would you not have fear of disappointing him? That is a crucial aspect of reverence.

And one final note on fear.  Some have tried to use this passage from 1 John 4:18 (KJV) to say wives should not fear their husbands:

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

But those who do this make the same mistake that our Egalitarian friends do when they try to use Galatians 3:28 which says “there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” to cancel out all the commands of the Old and New Testament regarding gender roles.   Trying to use 1 John 4:18 to try and cancel out clear commands from God for wives to fear their husbands in Ephesians 5:33 and 1 Peter 3:2 is the very definition of cherry picking the Scriptures.  And whenever you cherry pick the Bible, you are sure to create false doctrines.

 In the Scriptures there is a good kind of a fear that is encouraged and a bad kind of fear that is discouraged. We are to fear disappointing God. We are to fear punishment from our civil authorities if we do evil according to God’s law. Young children should fear their fathers.  And wives should fear their husbands. But we should not fear the evil world system we live in.  We should not fear standing for God in the midst of a corrupt and evil culture.  We should not be afraid to submit to God.  And wives should not be afraid to submit to their husbands.  This is what the Bible teaches about fear.  

And it is this fear aspect of reverence that naturally leads to our subjection to him.  If we are truly fearing God, then we will obey him.  A lack of obedience, especially willful disobedience to God is always proceeded by us no longer fearing him.  Whether it is only for a minute, a day or for some many years.

Conclusion

God commands that we are to respect all people in 1 Peter 2:17. This means we are to value every human life regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, age or gender.  All human life has value because all human beings are made in the image of God even if women are made in his image to a lesser extent than men according Genesis 1:27 and 1 Corinthians 11:7. 

But the Bible shows us that there is something beyond respect that is owed to certain authorities and this is reverence. 

Reverence is first and foremost owed to God the creator (Hebrews 12:28).  And most Christians today would have no issue with me saying we should reverence God even if they did not fully understand its meaning.

But as soon I say we are also to reverence certain human authorities that is when many modern Christians begin to resist.  Some of this resistance is due to reverence as an association with monarchial forms of government that have gone out of style in the West.  But some of it is also due to people wrongly thinking that reverencing someone is the same as worshiping them.  Reverence is certainly an aspect of worship just as respect is an aspect of reverence.  But that does not make all acts of reverence to be acts of worship. 

Worship is reserved for God alone (Revelation 22:9).   But God also wants reverence to be given to civil authorities (Proverbs 24:21) by their citizens, reverence to be given to fathers by their children (Hebrews 12:9) and reverence to be given to husbands by their wives (Ephesians 5:33, 1 Peter 3:2).

We must also recognize that reverence will come easier in some relationships than others. In our relationship with God reverence can come naturally as he is the sinless and perfect almighty creator of the universe.  Even reverence toward one’s father can come somewhat naturally if that father has lived a life worthy of respect from his children.

There are however two areas of reverence which modern Christians really struggle with.  And those two areas are with citizens reverencing civil authorities and wives reverencing their husbands.

As conservative Christians this is truly a struggle for us and I admit at times it has been for me as well.  Where is the line between respectful dissent and being irreverent with a civil authority and their policies especially when those policies violate God given rights?

The relationship between a husband and wife is very different though than the relationship between the citizen and their governing authorities.  God did not create the citizen for the civil authority, but he did create the wife for the husband.   And while God tells us to obey our civil authorities, he tells wives to submit “as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). God tells wives to win their husbands with their silence and subjection (1 Peter 3:1-2) and he does not prescribe the same for citizens with their civil authorities.    

And it is in marriage where wives often struggle the most to reverence their husbands.  After all he is not their father who may have earned their respect over an entire life. And he certainly is not the almighty and sinless of God of the universe.  Their husband is simply a man, and a flawed man at that. 

Women must learn to cultivate this reverence for their husbands just as they must cultivate their affection for him as well. And women must realize that if they do come to truly reverence their husbands they are going to stick out from other wives.  But wives should never fear to fear their husbands as 1 Peter 3:1-6 teaches.

Women must also realize that often there is benefit that will come to them in their marriages as they obey God by reverencing their husbands.  A man who is truly reverenced by his wife will be empowered to go out and conquer his world.  It will literally help him in his career.  And it will in turn feed his affection for his wife. 

On the other hand, when a man’s wife acts as his equal having no fear of him and no submission to him this will discourage him.  And it will often affect how he does in his career outside the home and it will negatively impact his affection for his wife.

Click below to go to BGRLearning.com to listen to the two part podcast companion to this article where I speak more on these subjects of respect and reverence from a Biblical perspective.