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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Child; Children

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chı̄ld , chil´dren ( בּן , bēn , "son," ילד , yeledh , "child" נער , na‛ar , "lad"; τέκνον , téknon , παιδίον , paidı́on ): The Hebrews regarded the presence of children in the family as a mark of Divine favor and greatly to be desired (Genesis 15:2; Genesis 30:1; 1 Samuel 1:11 , 1 Samuel 1:20; Psalm 127:3; Luke 1:7 , Luke 1:28 ). The birth of a male child was especially a cause for rejoicing (Psalm 128:3 , Hebrew); more men, more defenders for the tribe. If there were no sons born to a household, that family or branch became lost. If the wife proved childless, other wife or wives might be added to the family (Gen 16 f). Further, each Jewish mother, at least in later times, hoped that her son might prove to be the Messiah. The custom of Levirate marriage, which was not limited to the Hebrew people, rested on the principle that if a man died childless his brother should marry his widow, the children of such union being considered as belonging to the brother whose name and line were Thus preserved from extinction (Deuteronomy 25:5; Genesis 38:26; Matthew 22:24 ).

Children were sometimes dedicated to God, even before their birth (1 Samuel 1:11 ). Names often were significant: Moses (Exodus 2:10 ); Samuel (1 Samuel 1:20 ); Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21; compare Gen 30) (see PROPER NAMES ). The firstborn son belonged to God (Numbers 3:44 ). The ceremony of redeeming the firstborn occurred on the thirtieth day. Friends of the family were invited to a feast, the rabbi also being present. The child was placed in the hands of the priest. The father carried some gold or silver in a cup or vessel. The priest asked the mother whether this was her firstborn, and, on being answered in the affirmative, claimed the child as Yahweh's. The father offered the redemption money, which was accepted in exchange for the child (compare 1 Peter 1:18 ). See FIRSTBORN . Other stages in the life of the child were celebrated with fitting ceremonies. In the fourth year, in Palestine,on the second day of the Passover occurred the ceremony of the first cutting of the boy's hair, the friends sharing the privilege. Sometimes, as in the case of the wealthy, the weight of the child in currency was given as a donation to the poor. In common with the custom of other eastern peoples, male children were circumcised (Genesis 17:12 ), the rite being performed on the eighth day.

Early education was cared for in the home, the children growing up more or less with the mother (Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 31:1; 2 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:14 , 2 Timothy 3:15 ), and the girl continuing with her mother until her marriage. In wealthier families tutors were employed (1 Chronicles 27:32 ). Schools for children are first mentioned by Josephus (Ant. , XV, x, 5). According to the Talmud the first school for children was established about 100 bc, but in the time of Jesus such schools were common. Children were taught to read and to write even in families of moderate means, these arts being widely diffused as early as 600 bc, if not earlier (Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 10:19 ). Great stress was laid on the Torah, i.e. the law of Moses. Boys were trained also in farming, the tending of cattle, and in the trades. The religious training of the boy began in his fourth year, as soon as he could speak distinctly. The religious life of the girl also began early. In later times at least children took part in the Sabbath and Passover festivals and boys attended synagogue and school regularly.

Children were subject to the father (Nehemiah 5:5 marks the extreme), who in turn was bound to protect them, though he himself had the power of life and death ( Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2 ). Respect for and obedience to parents were stoutly upheld by public opinion (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; compare Proverbs 6:20; Micah 7:6; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Exodus 21:15 ).

Both the Old Testament and New Testament afford abundant evidence of the strength of the bond that bound the Hebrew family together (Genesis 21:16; 2 Samuel 18:33; 1 Kings 3:23; 2 Kings 4:19; Isaiah 8:4; Job 29:5; Matthew 19:13; Matthew 20:20; Mark 9:24; Luke 2:48; John 4:47; Hebrews 2:13; Hebrews 11:23 ). The gift of a son from Yahweh was the height of joy; the loss of a child marked the depth of woe. A hint occurs in the custom of naming a man as the father of his firstborn son (Hastings Dictionary of the Bible , I, 382), or even the use of the father's name as a surname (Bar-jonah, Bartimeus) and such continues in Syria at the present day. This idea is further instanced in the use, in both Old Testament and New Testament, of the terms to express the relation between God and men (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 3:4; Zechariah 12:10; Malachi 1:6 ). See also FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS; SONS .


Benzinger, Hebraische Archaologie , 2nd edition, 1907, 112-23; for rabbinical lore, Friedenberg in Jewish Encyclopedia , IV, 27 f.

Figurative: Child is the English Versions of the Bible rendering of the Greek τέκνον , téknon ̌ . The corresponding Hebrew words (בּן , bēn , and ילד , yeledh , are usually translated "son," but they have practically the same significance in the figurative use of the term. Child is used figuratively to describe:

(1) An affectionate greeting. Jesus addressed the sick of the palsy as "child" (Mark 2:5 the Revised Version, margin).

(2) The disciples, or followers, of a teacher. Jesus addressed His disciples as children (Mark 10:24 ). Paul referred to Timothy as his child (1 Timothy 1:2 ), and also to Onesimus (Philippians 1:10 ). John also designated the disciples to whom he was writing as his children (2 John 1:4 ). The same use of "children" or "sons" is common in the Old Testament (see 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3 , 2 Kings 2:5 , 2 Kings 2:7; 2 Kings 4:38 ). As a term of special endearment, disciples are sometimes called "little children" (τεκνία , teknı́a ). Jesus Thus addressed His disciples when He was speaking about His departure (John 13:33 ). Paul Thus addressed the Galatians (Galatians 4:19 ), and that was a favorite expression with John (see 1 John 2:1; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21 ). A term that was even more endearing was paidı́a , which means "little ones" or "babes." Jesus used this term once in addressing His disciples after His resurrection (John 21:5 ), and John also used this term occasionally in saluting those to whom he was writing (1 John 2:18 ).

(3) Those who belong to God. Children of God is a common expression in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is based on the relation between parents and children, and in general describes God's affection for His own, and their dependence upon Him, and moral likeness to Him. The term is sometimes used of those who are disloyal to God, and they are designated as "rebellious children" (see Isaiah 30:1 ). See CHILDREN OF GOD .

(4) Those who belong to the devil. Those who are like the devil in thought and action are designated as "children of the devil" (1 John 3:10 ).

(5) One's relation to something to which he belongs, or by which he is dominated in his affection for it. Thus we have (a ) The children of a city or country (see Jeremiah 2:16; Matthew 23:37 ), and this designates those who belong to that particular city or country; (b ) children of wisdom (Matthew 11:19 the King James Version; Luke 7:35 ), and these are the ones whose lives are dominated by wisdom. Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Greek adopted érgon for teknon in Matthew 11:19 , but this seems to be without any good reason; (c ) children of obedience (1 Peter 1:14 ), and these are the ones who are eager to obey; (d ) children of light (Ephesians 5:8 ), and this designates those whose souls are illumined by the light.

(6) Those who are liable to some particular fate. Thus, we have (a ) children of cursing, or those who are exposed to cursing (2 Peter 2:14 ), and (b ) children of wrath or those who are exposed to wrath (Ephesians 2:3 ).

(7) Moral likeness or spiritual kinship (Galatians 3:7 the King James Version; compare John 8:39; "the children of Abraham"). See secs. (3), (4).

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Child; Children'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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