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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Children

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CHILDREN.—In the regeneration of society which has been wrought by the forces brought into the world by Christianity, the family, of course, has had its part. Or rather, since to Jesus also the family was the social unit, this regeneration began with the family and spread outwards from it. The emphasis laid by our Lord on the institution of the family deserves even to be called extraordinary. Not only did He habitually exhibit sympathy with domestic life in all its phases, and particularly reverence for women and tenderness for children: and not only did He adopt the vocabulary of the family to express the relations subsisting between Himself and His followers, and even as His choicest vehicle for conveying to them a vitalizing conception of their relations to God, ‘from whom,’ as that one of His servants who best represents His teaching in this aspect of it declares, ‘every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Ephesians 3:15); but, deserting His customary reserve in dealing with social institutions, in the case of this one alone did He advance beyond general principles to specific legislation. (Cf. F. G. Peabody, Jesus Christ and the Social Question, p. 145 ff.).

This specific legislation does not directly concern children. It is true that childhood owes as much to the gospel as womanhood itself (cf. e.g. Uhlhorn, Conflict of Christianity with Heathenism, p. 182). And the causes of the great revolution which was wrought by the gospel in the condition of children and the estimate placed on childhood, are undoubtedly rooted in the life and teaching of our Lord, and are spread on the pages of the Gospels. But we shall search in vain in the recorded teaching of Jesus for either direct legislation, or even enunciation of general principles regulating the relations of parents and children, or establishing the position of children in the social organism. He has left us no commandments, no declarations, not even exhortations on the subject. He simply moves onward in His course, touching in life, act, word on the domestic relations that were prevalent about Him, and elevating and glorifying everything that He touched. Thus He has handed down to us a new ideal of the family, and lifted to a new plane our whole conception of childhood. (Cf. Shailer Mathews, The Social Teaching of Jesus, p. 101 ff.).

The domestic economy which forms the background of Jesus’ life, and is assumed in all His dealings with children and in all His allusions to them and their ways, is, of course, the wholesome home-life which had grown up in Israel under the moulding influence of the revelation of the Old Covenant. Its basis was the passionately affectionate Semitic nature, and no doubt certain modifications had come to it from contact with other civilizations; but its form was determined by the tutelage which Jehovah had granted His people. (Cf. Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, chs. vi.–ix., and The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, bk. ii. chs. ix. and x.; also Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, articles ‘Child,’ ‘Family.’ For later Jewish child-life see Schechter, Studies in Judaism, xii.; and, above all, L. Löw, Die Lebensalter. Cf. also Ploss, Das Kind in Brauch und Sitte der Völker).

The tender love which the Hebrew parent bore to his child, and the absorbing interest with which he watched and guided its development, doubtless find partial expression in the multiplicity of designations by which the several stages of childhood are marked in that pictorial language. Besides the general terms for ‘son’ (ben) and ‘daughter’ (bath), eight of these have been noted tracing the child from its birth to its maturity: yeled (fem. yaldâh), the ‘birthling’; yônçk, the ‘suckling’; ‘ôlçl, the suckling of a larger growth, perhaps the ‘worrier’; gâmûl, the ‘weanling’; taph, the ‘toddler’; ’elem, the ‘fat one’; na’ar, the ‘free one’; bâhûr, the ‘ripe one.’ (So Hamburger, RE i. 642, after whom Edersheim, Opp. citt. p. 103 f. and i. p. 221, note 3).

This series of designations may, of course, he more than matched out of the richness of Greek speech. Here the general term of relation, ‘child’ (* [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] τέκνον, dimin. * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] τεκνιον), parts into the more specific ‘son’ (* [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] υἱὸς, dimin. υἱάφιον, ὑΐδιον) and ‘daughter’ (* [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] θυγάτηρ, dimin. * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] θυγάτριον); while the multitude of terms describing stages of growth quite baffles discrimination. The grammarians have handed down to us each his several list, among which that of Alexion (Eust. 1788, 22), for instance, enumerates ten stages between the newborn infant and the mature young man: * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] βρέφος; * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] παιδίον; * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] ταιδάριον; ταιδίσκος; * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] παῖς; παλλαξ, or βούκαις, or ἀντίπαις, or μελλεφηβος; ἑφκβος; μειράκιον or μεῖραξ; * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] νεανίσκος; * [Note: Those terms which occur in NT are marked by an asterisk.] νεανἰας. Needless to say, the sequences of such lists cannot be taken too strictly. And equally needless to say, they by no means exhaust the synonymy. Alexion’s list, for example, does not contain even all the terms of this class that occur in the Gospel narratives. The series afforded by them would run something like this: βρέφος, νήτιος, θηλάζων, παιδιον, παιδάριον, παῖς, νεανίσκος, to which would need to be added the distinctively feminine θυγάτριον, κοράσιον [ταιδίσκη], παρθένος.

It is not difficult to recognize the general distinctions between these terms. (For the detailed synonymy see especially Schmidt, D. Synonymik d. griech. Sprache, circa (about) 69, for the terms belonging distinctively to childhood; circa (about) 152 for those describing the stages between childhood and maturity; and circa (about) 47 for some terms denoting youthfulness; cf. Thayer, Lex. NT, s.v. ταῖς). Τέκνον (with its diminutive τεκνίον, John 13:33 only) is, like υἱές and θυγάτηρ, used in the Gospels only of relationship, literal or figurative, never of age (for the synonymy of τεκνον, and υἱὸς, and παῖς, see an interesting discussion by Höbne in Luthardt’s ZKWL [Note: KWL Zeitschrift für kirchliche Wissenschaft und kirchl Leben.] , 1882, p. 57 ff.; and cf. Cremer and Thayer, s.vv.). For the rest, βρέφος is here, as in post-Homeric Greek in general, distinctively the ‘newborn baby’ (1 Peter 2:2), the ‘child in the arms’ (in Homer it is the unborn child, the embryo, as also often in later Greek, e.g. Luke 1:41; Luke 1:44): and νήτιος and θηλάζων (the NT substitute for θηλασμός, θηλαμινός) range with it as descriptive of early infancy. Παιδίον, is equally distinctively the ‘little child,’ although its application is somewhat broad: now it is entirely synonymous with βρέφος (Luke 1:59; Luke 1:66 etc., Matthew 2:8 etc., Luke 18:15-16), and again it designates a little maiden of twelve years of age (Mark 5:41-42). Its companion diminutive παιδάριον is ordinarily employed of a somewhat older ‘lad,’ and may very well be so used in the only passage where it occurs in the Gospels (John 6:9). The simple παῖς has a range sufficiently wide to cover to these stages, from infancy itself (e.g. Matthew 2:16) up to youthful maturity (Hippocrates says up to the age of 21). It designates, says Schmidt (p. 429), ‘the child of all ages up to complete young manhood; παιδὰριον, the child up to his first school years; παιδίον, exclusively the little child.’ Νεκνίσκος is the appropriate designation of every stage of youthful maturity from so early an age that μειράκιον or ταῖς might be interchanged with it up to so late a period—about 40—that it is on the point of giving way to old age. Of the distinctively feminine terms that occur in the Gospels, παρθὲνος is a term of condition rather than of age, and occurs only in connexion with Mary (Matthew 1:23, Luke 1:27) and in the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1; Matthew 25:7; Matthew 25:11), and παιδἰσκη is employed only in the secondary sense of ‘maid-servant’ (Matthew 26:69 and parallels, Luke 12:45). The diminutives θυγάτριον and κοράσιον, though capable of employment with quite a wide range, yet naturally imply tenderness of years where tenderness of affection is not obviously conveyed by them (e.g. Mark 7:25, Matthew 9:25 ||). Thus it appears that in the narratives of the Gospels there is brought into contact with our Lord every stage of childhood and youth from the cradle to maturity—the baby on its mother’s bosom (Luke 18:15), the little child, boy (Mark 9:24) and girl (Mark 7:25) alike, children of a larger growth (John 4:27, Luke 8:51), and the maturing youth (Luke 7:14, Matthew 19:20).

What Jesus did for children, we may perhaps sum up as follows. He illustrated the ideal of childhood in His own life as a child. He manifested the tenderness of His affection for children by conferring blessings upon them in every stage of their development as He was occasionally brought into contact with them. He asserted for children a recognized place in His kingdom, and dealt faithfully and lovingly with each age as it presented itself to Him in the course of His work. He chose the condition of childhood as a type of the fundamental character of the recipients of the kingdom of God. He adopted the relation of childhood as the most vivid earthly image of the relation of God’s people to Him who was not ashamed to be called their Father which is in heaven, and thus reflected back upon this relation a glory by which it has been transfigured ever since.

The history of the ideal childhood which Jesus Himself lived on the earth is set down for us in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke, especially of Luke, whose distinction among the Evangelists is that he has given us a narrative founded on an investigation which ‘traced the course of all things accurately from the first’ (Luke 1:3). Accordingly, not only does he with careful exactitude record the performance by our Lord’s parents in His behalf, during His infancy, of ‘all things that were according to the law of the Lord’ (Luke 2:39); but he marks for us the stages of our Lord’s growth in His progress to man’s estate, and thus brings Him before us successively as ‘baby’ (Luke 2:16 βρέφος), ‘child’ (Luke 2:40 παιδίον), and ‘boy’ (Luke 2:43 παῖς), until in His glorious young-manhood, when He was about 30 years of age, He at last manifested Himself to Israel (Luke 3:23). The second chapter of Luke is thus in effect an express history of the development of Jesus; and sums up in two comprehensive verses His entire growth from childhood to boyhood and from boyhood to manhood (Luke 2:40; Luke 2:52). The language of these succinct descriptions is charged with suggestions that this was an extraordinary child, whose development was an extraordinary development. Attention is called alike to His physical, intellectual, and spiritual progress; and of each it is suggested that it was constant, rapid, and remarkable. Those who looked upon Him in the cradle would perceive that even beyond the infant Moses (Hebrews 11:23) this was ‘a goodly child’; and day by day as He grew and waxed strong, He became more and more filled not only with knowledge but with wisdom, and not only with wisdom but with grace, and so steadily advanced ‘not alone in power and knowledge, but by year and hour in reverence and in charity.’ Man and God alike looked upon His growing powers and developing character with ever increasing favour. The promise of the goodly child passed without jar or break into the fruitage of the perfect man: and those who gazed on the babe with admiration (Luke 2:20; Luke 2:30; Luke 2:38), could not but gaze on the boy with astonishment (Luke 2:47) and on the man with reverence.

It is therefore no ordinary human development which is here described for us. But it is none the less, or rather it is all the more, a normal human development, the only strictly normal human development the world has ever seen. This is the only child who has ever been born into the world without the fatal entail of sin, and the only child who has ever grown to manhood free from the deterioration of sin. This is how men ought to grow up: how, were they not sinners, men would grow up. It is a great thing for the world to have seen one such instance. As an example it is indeed set beyond our reach. As the ideal childhood realized in life, it has ever since stood before the world as an incitement and inspiration of quite incalculable power. In this perfect development of Jesus there has been given to the world a model for every age, whose allurement has revolutionized life. He did not, as Irenaeus (adv. Haer. ii. xxii. 4, cf. iii. xviii. 4) reminds us, despise or evade the humanity He had assumed; or set aside in His own person the law that governs it: on the contrary, He sanctified every age in turn by Himself living His perfect life in its conditions. ‘He came to save all by means of Himself,’ continues Irenaeus, ‘all, I say, who through Him are born again unto God,—infants and children, and boys, and youths.… He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants; a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission; a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord.’ … On the few details given us of the childhood of our Lord see artt. Boyhood of Jesus and Childhood.

During the course of His life begun with this ideal childhood, Jesus came into contact with every stage of youthful development, and manifested the tenderness of His feeling for each and His power and willingness to confer blessings upon all. A lurid light is thrown upon the nature of the world and the character of the times into which He was born by the slaughter of the Innocents, which marked His advent (Matthew 2:16-20). But one function which the record of this incident performs is to serve as a black background upon which His own beneficence to childhood may be thrown up. Mothers instinctively brought their babies to Him for benediction; and when they did so, He was not content until He had taken them in His arms (Mark 10:16; cf. Mark 9:36). His allusions to children in His teaching reflect the closeness of His observation of them. He celebrates the delight of the mother in her baby, obliterating even the pangs of birth (John 16:21); the fostering love of the father who cuddles his children up with him in bed (Luke 11:7); the parental affection which listens eagerly to the child’s every request, and knows how to grant it only things that are good (Matthew 7:9, Luke 11:11; Luke 11:13). He notes the wayward impulses of children at play (Matthew 11:18, Luke 7:32). He feels the weight of woe that is added to calamities in which the children also are involved (Matthew 18:25); and places among the supremest tests of loyalty to Him, the preference of Him even to one’s children (Matthew 19:29, Luke 14:26; Luke 18:29; cf. Mark 10:29).

A number of His miracles, worked for the benefit of the young, illustrate His compassion for their sufferings and ills. The nobleman’s son at Capernaum, whose healing Jesus wrought as a second sign when He came out of Judaea into Galilee (John 4:46-54), was at least a ‘child’ (παῖς, John 4:51), for so the servants call him in cold sobriety; and probably was a ‘little child’ (John 4:49), although it is, of course, possible that on the lips of the father the diminutive expresses tenderness of affection rather than of age. The possessed ‘boy’ (παῖς, Matthew 17:18, Luke 9:42)—the only son of his father (Luke 9:38)—whom Jesus healed as He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:14-29, Luke 9:37-43), and whose affliction had dated from his earliest infancy (ἐκ παιδιόθεν, Mark 9:21), was more certainly distinctively a ‘little child’ (Mark 9:24). Jairus’ ‘little daughter’ (θυγάτριον, Mark 5:23)—also an only one—whom Jesus raised from the dead in such dramatic circumstances (Matthew 9:18-28, Mark 5:22-43, Luke 8:41-56) and who is spoken of in the narratives indifferently as ‘child’ (παῖς, Luke 8:51; Luke 8:54), ‘little child’ (παιδίον, Mark 5:39-41) and ‘maiden’ or ‘girl’ (κοράσιον, Matthew 9:24-25, Mark 5:41; ταλιθά, Mark 5:41), we know to have been about twelve years old (Luke 8:42). We are not told the exact age of the ‘little daughter’ (θυγάτριον, Mark 7:25—here probably the word is the diminutive of age, not of affection, as it occurs in the narrative, not the conversation) of the Syrophœnician woman; but we note that St. Mark calls her also distinctively a ‘little child’ (παιδίον, Mark 7:30). The only son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-18), the desolate state of whose bereft mother roused so deeply the pity of our Lord | (Luke 7:13), is addressed indeed as a ‘young man’ (νεανίσκε, Luke 7:14), a term so broad that it need imply no more than that he was in his prime; but the suggestion of the narrative certainly seems to be that he was in his youthful prime (Luke 7:15). Thus is rounded out a series of miracles in which our Lord shows His pity to the growing youth of every stage of development.

When on that great day on the shores of Gennesaret Jesus appeared to His disciples and gave to His repentant Apostle His last exhortation, He commanded him not merely ‘Feed my sheep,’ but also ‘Feed my lambs.’ Though the language, doubtless, rather expresses His love for His flock than distributes it into constituent classes, we may be permitted to see in it also the richness of our Lord’s sympathy for the literal Iambs of His fold. Certainly He provided in His kingdom a place for every age. and met the spiritual needs of each. Touching illustrations of this are offered us at the two end stages of youthful development (Luke 18:15 βρέφος; Matthew 19:20 νεανίσκος), in the blessing of little children and the probing of the rich young ruler’s heart, which are brought into immediate contiguity in all three of the Synoptics as if they were intended to be taken together as a picture of our Lord’s dealing with youth as a whole, perhaps even as together illustrating the great truth that in the kingdom of God the question is not of the hour of entrance,—first or eleventh,—but of the will of the Master, who doeth what He will with His own (Matthew 20:15).

What is particularly to be borne in mind with respect to the blessing of the little children (Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17), is that these ‘little children’ (παιδία, Matthew 19:13-14, Mark 10:13-14, Luke 18:16) were distinctively ‘babies’ (βρέφη, Luke 18:15). Therefore they needed to be received by Jesus ‘in his arms’ (Mark 10:16); and only from this circumstance, indeed, can all the details of the narrative be understood. It is from this, for example, that the interference of the disciples, which called out the Master’s rebuke, ‘Let the little children come to me; forbid them not,’ receives its explanation. The disciples, to speak briefly, had misapprehended the nature of the Lord’s mission: they were regarding Him fundamentally as a teacher sent from God, who also healed the afflicted; and they conceived it to be their duty in the overstrain to which He was subjected to protect Him from needless drafts on His time and strength by the intrusion of those needing no healing and incapable of instruction. It seemed to them out of the question that ‘even the babies’ (Luke 18:15) should be thrust upon His jaded attention. They should have known better; and Jesus was indignant that they did not know better (Mark 10:14), and took this occasion to manifest Himself as the Saviour of infants also. Taking them in His arms and fervently invoking a blessing upon them (Mark 10:16 κατευλόγει), He not only asserted for them a part in His mission, but even constituted them the type of the children of the kingdom. ‘Let the little children come unto me,’ He says; ‘forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.’ And then proceeding with the solemn ‘Verily’—‘Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein’ (Mark 10:14-15, Luke 18:16-17; cf. Matthew 19:14).

Wherein this childlikeness, in which alone the kingdom of God can be received, consists, lies on the face of the narrative. Certainly not in the innocence of childhood, as if the purpose were to announce that only the specially innocent can enter the kingdom of God. Our Lord was accustomed to declare, on the contrary, that He came to call not the righteous but sinners, to seek and save that which was lost; and the contradiction with the lesson of the publican and the Pharisee praying in the temple, which immediately precedes this narrative in Luke, would be too glaring. But neither can it consist in the humility of childhood, if, indeed, we can venture to speak of the most egoistic age of human life as characteristically humble; nor yet in its simplicity, its artlessness, ingenuousness, directness, as beautiful as these qualities are, and as highly esteemed as they certainly must be in the kingdom of God. We cannot even suppose it to consist in the trustfulness of childhood, although we assuredly come much nearer to it in this, and no image of the children of the kingdom could be truer than that afforded by the infant lying trustingly upon its mother’s breast. But, in truth, it is in no disposition of mind, but rather in a condition of nature, that we must seek the characterizing peculiarity of these infants whom Jesus sets forth as types of the children of the kingdom. Infants of days (βρέφη, Luke 18:15) have no characteristic disposition of mind; and we must accordingly leave the subjective sphere and find the childlikeness which Jesus presents as the condition of the reception (not acquisition) of the kingdom in an objective state; in a word, in the helplessness, or, if you will, the absolute dependence of infancy. What our Lord would seem to say, therefore, when He declares, ‘Of such is the kingdom of God,’ is, briefly, that those of whom the kingdom of God is made up are, relatively to it, as helplessly dependent as babies are in their mothers’ arms. The children of the kingdom enter it as children enter the world, stripped and naked,—infants, for whom all must be done, not who are capable of doing.

There was another occasion on which even more formally Jesus proclaimed to His disciples childlikeness as the essential characteristic of the children of the kingdom (Matthew 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-37, Luke 9:46-48). The disciples had been disputing among themselves who of them should be greatest. Jesus, calling to Him a little child, placed it in their midst and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ There could not have been uttered a more pointed intimation that the kingdom of heaven is given, not acquired; that men receive it, not deserve it. As children enter the world, so men enter the kingdom, with no contributions in their hands. We are not, indeed, told in this narrative, in express words, that the child thus made the type of the children of God was a ‘newborn baby’ (βρέφος): it is called only a ‘little child’ (παιδίον). But its extreme infancy is implied: Jesus took it in His arms (Mark 9:36) when He presented it to the observation of His disciples; and we must accordingly think of it as a baby in a baby’s helplessness and dependence.

We do, to be sure, find in our Lord’s further words a requisition of humility (Matthew 18:4): ‘Whosoever then shall humble himself like this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ To become like a little child may certainly involve humility in one who is not a child; and it is very comprehensible that our Lord should therefore tell those whom He was exhorting to approach the kingdom of heaven like little children, that they could do so only by humbling themselves. But this is not the same as declaring humility to be the characteristic virtue of childhood, or as intimating that humility may ground a claim upon the kingdom of heaven. What our Lord seems to tell His followers is that they cannot enter the kingdom He came to found except they turn and become like little children; and that they can become like little children only by humbling themselves; and that therefore when they were quarrelling about their relative greatness, they were far from the disposition which belongs to children of the kingdom. Humility seems to be represented, in a word, not as the characterizing quality of childhood or of childlikeness, but rather as the attitude of heart in which alone we can realize in our consciousness that quality which characterizes childhood. That quality is conceived here also as helplessness, while childlikeness consists in the reproduction in the consciousness of the objective state of utter dependence on God which is the real condition of every sinner.

From the point of view thus revealed in object-lesson and discourse, it was natural for our Lord to speak of His disciples as ‘babes.’ ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,’ He cries on one momentous occasion (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21), ‘that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes’ (νηπίοις, the implication of which is precisely weakness and neediness). And then He proceeds with a great declaration the very point of which is to contrast His sovereign power with the neediness of those whom He calls to His service. Similarly as the end approached and the children (παῖδες) in the temple were greeting Him with hosannas, He met the indignant challenge of the Jews with the words of the Psalmist: ‘Yea, did ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained praise?’ (Matthew 21:16). The meaning is that these childish hosannas were typical of the praises rising from the hearts of those childlike ones from whose helplessness (because they owed much to Him) His true praise should spring.

From the more general view-point of affection our Lord derived the terms by which He expressed His personal relations to His followers, and a large part of the vocabulary of His proclamation of the kingdom of God is drawn from the relationships of the family. His disciples are His ‘children’ (τέκνα, Mark 10:24), or with increasing tenderness of expression, His ‘little children’ (τεκνία, John 13:33), His ‘babies’ (παιδία, John 21:5), and perhaps with even more tenderness still, simply His ‘little ones’ (οἱ μικροί, Matthew 10:42 etc., but see art. Little Ones). Similarly the great King, whose kingdom He came to establish, is the Father of His people; and they may therefore be free from all fear, because, naturally, it is the good pleasure of their Father to give the kingdom to them (Luke 12:32). Every turn of expression is freely employed to carry home to the hearts of His followers the sense of the Fatherly love for them by Him who is their King indeed, but also their Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:16; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 6:18; Matthew 6:32; Matthew 7:11; Matthew 10:20; Matthew 10:29; Matthew 13:43; Matthew 23:9, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:36; Luke 11:13; Luke 12:30; Luke 12:32, John 20:17); and they accordingly His sons (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:45, Luke 20:36), His children (John 1:12; John 11:52), and therefore heirs of His kingdom. In this representation, which finds its most striking expression in such parables as that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11 f.), it is, to be sure, rather the relationship of father and child that is emphasized than the tenderness of the age of childhood. Neither is it a novelty introduced by our Lord; it finds its root in Old Testament usage. But it is so characteristic of our Lord’s teaching that it may fairly be said that the family was to His mind the nearest of human analogues to the order that obtains in the kingdom of God, and the picture which He draws of the relations that exist between God and His people is largely only a ‘transfiguration of the family.’

Such an employment of the relationships in the family to figure forth those that exist between God and His people could not fail to react on the conceptions which men formed of the family relationships themselves. By His constant emphasis on the Fatherhood of God, and by His employment of the helplessness of infancy and the dependence of childhood as the most vivid emblems provided by human society to image the dependence of God’s people on His loving protection and fostering care, our Lord has thrown a halo over the condition of childhood which has communicated to it an emotional value and a preciousness, in the strictest sense, new in the world. In the ancient world, children, though by their innocence eliciting the affection, and by their weakness appealing to the sympathy, of their elders, were thought of chiefly as types of immaturity and unripeness. The Christian world, taught by its Lord, reverences their very helplessness as the emblem of its own condition in the presence of God, and recognizes in their dependence an appeal to its unselfish devotion, that it may be an imitator of God. This salutary respect and consideration for childhood has no doubt been exaggerated at times to something very much like worship of the childlike; and this tendency has been powerfully fostered by the prevalence in sections of Christendom, since the 14th cent., of an actual cult of the infant Saviour (cf. E. Martinengo-Carresco in The Contemporary Review, lxxvii. 117, etc.), and the early rise and immense development in the same quarters of a cult of the Madonna, to the tender sentiments underlying which all the resources of the most passionate devotion, the most elevated literature, and the most perfect art have been invoked to give widespread influence (see especially Zöckler, art. Maria die Mutter des Herrn in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , xii. 309, etc., who gives an extensive classified bibliography. Cf. in general H. E. Scudder, Childhood in Art, also in The Atlantic Monthly, lv. and lvi.). Such exaggerations cannot, however, obscure the main fact that it is only from Jesus that the world has learned properly to appreciate and wholesomely to deal with childhood and all that childhood stands for. Cf. art. Childhood.

Benjamin B. Warfield.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Children'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/c/children.html. 1906-1918.

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