I John 2:12-14 Babes, Little Children, Young Men, And Fathers.
Ralph Venning, in his book ‘Learning in Christ’s School’, a phrase often used by the puritans, saw in these verses and others, a progression in spiritual development. This progression mirrors a person’s growth, though it is keyed to one’s spiritual growth, which isn’t necessarily equivalent to one’s chronological age. John does emphasize certain aspects appropriate to the level of spiritual progress, and it seems to be patterned after how one might progress in life. There is a progression from babes, to little children, to young men, and finally to fathers. It is a key point in discipleship and pastoral care that the message is adapted to an audience’s ability to understand, and to strengthen and build on what they already know.
John structures his words in two groups of threes, all in the same order. In both sets he begins with little children, but in verse 12 he uses the word ‘teknia,’ which actually refers to offspring, infants, or those just transitioning out of this state. However, in verse 13 he uses the word ‘paidia’, which refers to those beyond this transition. Paidia are young children in training.* When he speaks to the little children (teknia) in verse 12, he focuses on the basics of the faith, what John Murray called “the twin sisters” of repentance and faith, what we might call the milk of the word. These are little ones, whether literally or in terms of spiritual maturity, that they might know that their sins are forgiven “for His name’s sake” (v. 12).
However, in verse 13 he addresses those who are paidia, and for these who are transitioning from a state of teknia, he reminds them that they have “come to know” (‘The NKJV Greek English Interlinear New Testament’ p. 820) the Father. They have progressed beyond the basics of knowing that their sins are forgiven, they have grown further in their training, in that they have come to know the Father in a deeper way (Cf. Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:6). From paidia we grow up to become young adults. The chief characteristic of young men in particular, is that they not only know the basics, and have further experiential knowledge of the Father, but they have been tempted by the devil and have overcome.
However, young men do not overcome on their own, anymore than one is born again as a tekna on one’s own, rather by God’s grace the word of God abides in them, and for this reason they are strong. Like their Master, they appeal to the word (Cf. Mt. 4:4; Lk. 4:4). “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word” (Ps. 119:9). Finally, one’s goal must ultimately be to be a father or mother in the faith. These are those who are born again tekna, trained in Christ’s school as paidia, made strong through the word like young men, resisting the devil, until it can finally be said that they not only have come to know the Father, but they have come to know all that one can know about “the One who is from the beginning.”
Mothers and Fathers in the faith are true full-orbed theologians, those who have a broad doctrinal and practical knowledge of the Author of the sacred text. These know the works of God from beginning to end, as much as any human can know, as they have opportunity, and have come to see God’s providential hand in their own lives from beginning to end. In his conclusion of ‘Learning in Christ’s School’, Ralph Venning has but a page and a half devoted to those whom John calls Fathers, saying, “Of this state let days speak and multitude of years teach this wisdom (Job 32:7). I am but few of days and dare not give you my opinion (if I may borrow more of Elihu’s words) concerning this state beyond what I have now mentioned in general” (p. 268).
* Teknia And Paidia.
In the new testament there are two words that are both translated as children or little children-these are teknia and paidia. Teknia, tekna, and others of this kind, refers to offspring, infants, and young children transitioning from the former. Paidia, on the other hand, always refers to children in training. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in their gospels, only refer to paidia (Mt. 2:16; 11:16; 14:21; 15:38; 18:3; 19:13; 21:15; Mk. 9:37; 10:13-14; Lk. 7:32; 11:7; 18:16), although Luke in Acts also refers to tekna (2:39; 13:33; 21:5, 21). However, the apostle John in his gospel does refer to both, and in doing so we can see the above distinction. The following refer to tekna or offspring (8:39; 11:52; 13:33), but 21:5 refers to paidia, children who could answer Jesus’ question.
In his letters, John also uses both words, and in doing so he makes this distinction even clearer. There are several references to teknia in these letters, and they all refer to the definition above (I Jn. 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 10, 18; 4:4; 5:2, 21; II Jn. 1, 4, 13; III Jn. 4), as also Revelation 2:23. However, where he does use paidia he uses it to make the above specific point-that it refers to further training (I Jn. 2:13 and 18). At 2:12 he refers to teknia, to those of his hearers and readers who have been introduced to the very basics of the faith, as it were-that their sins are forgiven them on account of his name. On the other hand, in the next verse he refers to paidia who have come to know the Father in a deeper way through their training. Similarly, what he says with regard to “the last our,” is also intended for those who are at least paidia.
Paul also makes this distinction. His use of paidia in I Corinthians 14:20 is a case in point. Paul did not want his audience to be immature or untrained in the renewing of their minds, as it were, but in the area of sin he did not want them to be trained or skilled in doing evil. When it comes to Paul’s use of teknia in this same letter, he says in 7:14 that infants (tekna) born to a believing parent are to be regarded as holy, a condition which is not dependent on the level of training, or paidia. This is also why Paul pleads with the Corinthians as teknois in II Corinthians 6:13, because he was writing to people for whom he was their spiritual father. He reiterates this use of tekna and teknois and the parent -infant or little child relationship in 12:14 (Cf. Col. 3:20-21; I Th. 2:7, 11; I Tim. 3:4, 12; 5:4, 10, 14; Titus 1:6).
Paul also refers to the Galatians as teknia, or those he has given birth to (4:19). He also refers to Hagar’s offspring as teknon (4:25), the tekna or offspring of the desolate woman (4:27). Whereas Isaac is the tekna of promise (4:28). Finally, Paul says that we are tekna or offspring of the free woman, and not paidiskeis (of padia), or trained to be children of the slave woman (4:31). Believers were once only tekna of wrath, but we have been made tekna of light, called (like infants do) to imitate God (Eph. 5:1, 8). When tekna is used of young children being trained there is always an accompanying word, an adjective in our English translation. So in Peter’s letters we are called to be “obedient tekna” (I Pet. 1:14), and not “accursed tekna, trained in covetous practices” (II Pet. 2:14).
Similarly, when Luke records Peter preaching at Pentecost, he records him as saying that the promise of the covenant is also to the offspring (teknois) of his hearers (2:39 Cf. 21:5, 21), and Paul regarded himself and the true followers of the Way, as the true offspring (teknois) of the Fathers (13:33). Also, the writer to the Hebrews speaks of us not as the offspring or tekna of Jesus, but as the Father’s paidia whom he has given to the Son. We are those, to use an expression familiar to the puritans, who are ‘Learning in Christ’s School’ (Ralph Venning, The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1999). It was in fact Venning’s thesis that the apostle John and others, employed the distinction between babes, young children, young men, and fathers, to refer to the progress we all make in our spiritual maturity or discipleship.