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Jamie Johnson
28 July 2019

Which child is this?

NOTE: This is a written version based on the Sunday school lessons I delivered to NC3 Youth on July 21 and 28, 2019.

Which child is this? No, not the song. However, have you ever wondered why the song What Child is This? is sometimes called Greensleeves? It seems Greensleeves was an English folk song that has leant its tunes to various lyrics. And it was centuries later that William Chatterton Dix wrote the words for What Child is This? And we know Who that Child is. However, I want to pose a different question: "Which child is this?"

I've read in the Bible where Paul writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he put away childish things. And I've read in the Bible where Jesus says to let the children come unto Him for such belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, in one verse we are to do away with childish things while the other verse implies we are to be childlike. An exploration of the Greek words for children adds insight to the question, "Which child is this?"

népios (νήπιος)

Let's look at the first Greek word for child we'll study: népios (Greek: νήπιος, pronounced nay'-pee-os). This means "an infant" or figuratively "a simple-minded or immature person" and is used to refer to unlearned, unenlightened, an infant, child. This is the word used where Paul writes about doing away with childish things in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Here is the word-for-word Greek transliteration:

When I was a child, I was speaking like a child, I was thinking like a child, I was reasoning like a child; when I became a man, I did away with the things of the child.

The words used are népios and népiou, the same root word for child used above (Source: https://biblehub.com/greek/3516.htm). What Paul is saying is to put away unlearned, unenlightened, simple-minded, immature things of a child (népiou). This begs the question: What sorts of things?

Galatians 4:1 translates from the Greek to the following:

I say now, for as long as time the heir a child is, not he differs from a slave, [though] owner of everything being.

Yes, it sounds a bit like Yoda, but the word for child is again népios and it indicates that he is not much different than a slave, though there is distinction. It expands the understanding of the word child (népios) in the following way: a child or simple-minded, immature, unlearned, unenlightened person is like a slave. How? A child is to obey his or her mother and father. Further, if one is simple-minded, immature, unlearned or unenlightened, then there is a certain amount of limitation and enslavement that occurs.

Hebrews 5:13 translates from the Greek to the following:

Everyone for - partaking [only] of milk [is] inexperienced in [the] word of righteousness; an infant for he is;

Again, as I described to the Sunday school students that the end sounded like "Yoda-speak," it offers insight. A child (népios) only partakes of milk and is inexperienced. Our church trains the young in the Word via AWANA and there is an emphasis on teaching in the youth group. I exhorted them: At this point in your walk, don't be a népios. It's time to gain experience, learning, gain some freedom, mature, be mindful and partake of meat. What does that mean? What is meat? Digging into deeper things of the Word. Not just reading it, but studying it. Digging in as we're doing here. And what is a sound mind? Romans 12:2 (NASB) provides the answer:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

A sound one is a mind being renewed, transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit and by digging in His Word to do His will. Remember the Spider-Man quote? "With great power comes great responsibility."

Brephos (βρήφος)

Let's look at the second Greek word for child we'll study: Brephos (Greek: βρήφος, pronounced bref'-os). This means "an unborn or newborn child" and is often used to refer to an infant, babe or a child in arms (Source: https://biblehub.com/greek/1025.htm). While there are plenty of sound arguments against abortion, this Greek word is a fundamental one. The unborn are children. Let's look further in context where this word for child is used.

Luke 18:15 sets up the context where Jesus said that to such belong the Kingdom of Heaven. The verse translates from the Greek as follows:

They were bringing then to Him also the infants, that them He might touch; having seen however, the disciples were rebuking them.

Clearly these were born children, perhaps infants, but it also sheds some light in how Jesus considers the unborn.

Acts 7:19 translates from the Greek to the following:

He having dealt treacherously with the race of us, he mistreated the fathers of us, - making [them] the infants abandon of them unto the not they would live.

And due to the "Yoda-speak" from the Greek translation, let's see the NASB translation:

It was he who took shrewd advantage of our race and mistreated our fathers so that they would expose their infants and they would not survive.

Recall that "took shrewd advantage of" in the Greek is "dealt treacherously with" and it is in reference to the killing of the infants at the hands of Pharaoh (see the prior verse for context). However, there is more to say here. The word for infants used is bréphe (βρήφη), a form of the word brephos, the Greek word for child meaning newborn or unborn. It is treacherous to kill a newborn. Likewise, it is treacherous to kill the unborn.

1 Peter 2:2 translates from Greek to the following:

Like newborn babies, - reasonable pure milk crave, so that by it you may grow up in respect to salvation,

This has some parallel with the earlier verse and earlier word used for child, but this time it is the word for newborn. The newborn crave pure milk. Thinking of that spiritually, what is pure milk? The simple Gospel message is pure milk: We are all sinners and there is nothing we can do to earn our way into Heaven. Yet, God came in the flesh -- Jesus Christ -- and died in our place paying the penalty for sin, satisfying the wrath of God, was buried but gave us hope in His glorious Resurrection to have new life in Him for those who believe in faith. And the Word of God has pure milk (as well as meat). Are you to stay on milk? No, you are to grow! We need to move on to partaking of meat and growing spiritually. We start with the Gospel and then dive deeper.

paidíon (παιδίον)

What is a pediatrician? It's a doctor for children. Why do we call it that? It comes from the third Greek word for child we will study: paidíon (Greek: παιδίον, pronounced pahee-dee'-on). It means "a young child" and is used for "a little child, an infant, little one" (Source: https://biblehub.com/greek/3813.htm), sounding a bit more endearing than the earlier words for child. And you will see this endearing quality come out in the context of the word's usage.

Luke 18:16 translates as follows:

- But Jesus, having called to [Him] them, said, Permit the little children to come to Me, and not do forbid them; of the for such is the kingdom - of God.

The word used is paidía (παιδία) -- "little children" -- and it seems to convey the concept of little children belonging as to a father (just as those in Christ belong to the Father).

Matthew 18:3 uses the same word in its translation from the Greek:

and said, Truly I say to you, if not you turn and become as the little children, no not shall you enter into the kingdom of the heavens.

This really points to children belonging to the Heavenly Father. While we are to leave behind the things of a child (népios), here we are to be like little children (paidía). Considering the paidía child, what does it mean to be little children (of a parent)? It implies dependency. We are designed for dependency. Why do we eat? We are designed to rely on something outside ourselves. Ultimately, we are designed to be dependent on God, to have relationship with Him through Jesus Christ.

Now we look fully at the verses where Jesus says to such belong the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Luke account, it was the word brephos. We get a fuller understanding as we study the Matthew account. Matthew 19:13 translates as follows:

Then were brought to Him little children, that the hands He might lay on them, and He might pray. - however the disciples rebuked them.

In the Matthew account, paidía is used -- "little children" -- little children belonging as to a father. What would a good father do if one rebuked his children? The father would protect them, defend them and speak of for them. And speak up for them is what Jesus does in Matthew 19:14, which translates from Greek to the following:

- And Jesus said, Permit the little children, and not do forbid them to come to Me; of the for such kind is the kingdom of the heavens.

The word for little children used here is again paidía. Does the Heavenly Father forbid His children? No! Why not? Because they are in Christ! When one is in Christ, that is Whom God sees! And we see the same word used (paidía "little children") in the Mark account (Mark 10:13-14). In the Matthew and Mark account, as well as the Luke account, there is something worth noticing in the verse where the children are brought to him. Some want to rebuke. However, what does Jesus want to do? He wants to touch them. Matthew, in addition, mentions He wants to pray for them. Why is that? Because He loves us. He wants relationship with us. He wants to comfort us and care for us. Considering the second verse of the couplet where Jesus says to allow the children, the Mark account's translation mentions Jesus being indignant. Why was Jesus indignant? He was angry at the unfair treatment. And that is how a good father is going to treat his little children -- his paidía.

John 21:5 translates to the following:

Says therefore to them - Jesus, Children, not any fish have you? They answered Him, No.

It's interesting because some verses start with Jesus addressing them -- the disciples -- as "Friends." And while we are Jesus' friends when we place faith in Him, the word in this verse is "Little children" (paidía). And that's what He calls these adult men. It isn't an insult. He isn't saying they are simple-minded like népios or inexperienced like brephos. He is calling them little children (paidía) since that is what they are to Him. We are to Him as little children are to a father. Why does He ask them if they have fish? He cares about their needs. What does He do next? John 21:6 (NASB) says,

And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.

Jesus offers guidance, but He is also Jehovah Jireh -- our Provider!

Hebrews 2:13 translates as follows:

And again: I will be trusting In Him." And again: Behold, I and the children whom to Me has given - God."

This verse really captures paidía -- little children -- belonging as to a father. Considering the verse, Who has given us to Jesus? God the Father. And we are His.

Hebrews 2:14 translates from the Greek to the following:

Since therefore the children have partaken of blood and of flesh also, He likewise took part in the same things, so that through [His] death, He might destroy the [one] the power holding - of death, that is, the devil

Again, little children (paidía) belonging to a father. What did Jesus do for His children? He did the perfect work, died in our place on the cross and offered hope in His Resurrection. By faith in Him, He offers His resumé -- perfect and spotless -- for ours, which simply says we are sinners. And it's worth asking on this side of things, what should a good father do? He should be willing to lay down his life for his children. And what should a respectful child do? Obey his or her parents. What are we to do? We are to obey Jesus by living according to His Word -- the Bible.

1 John 2:13 translates to the following from the Greek:

I am writing to you, fathers, because you have known Him who [is] from [the] beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil [one]. I have written to you, little children, because you know the Father.

Little children (paidía) are again tied to belonging to the Father. Why has he written to the little children? Because they know the Father. Why is this significant? The Bible is written to us who believe in Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand. The world and the flesh are dead to it and cannot understand it. It takes the work of the Holy Spirit to bring someone into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and opening their hearts to the Scriptures. No one perfectly understands the Bible just as on this side of Heaven we still sin. It is all part of the sanctification process where He makes us to be more like Him.

1 John 2:18 translates as follows:

Little children, [the] last hour it is, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now antichrists many have arisen, whereby we know that [the] last hour it is.

Thinking of little children (paidía) in this verse and how the word implies belonging as to a Father: What does a father also do for his children? Offers warning, guidance. What are some things your Father and earthly father (if you have an earthly father) have warned you of or offered you guidance for? Our Heavenly Father provides what we need to know in His Word, the Bible. Hopefully, your earthly father has pointed you to the Scriptures (or at least a parent or someone else speaking into your life). What things do you wish your parents would have warned you of?

Wrapping (swaddling) it up

We have looked at népios, brephos and paidía -- simple-minded, newborn and little children belonging to a father, respectively. Here's a verse to end on that throws us a curve ball:

1 Corinthians 14:20 translates from the Greek to the following:

Brothers, not children be in the minds. Yet in the evil, be little children; in the however thinking, full grown be.

The NASB translation states,

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature.

There are 2 words for children used in this verse. The one where it mentions not being children in our thinking is paidía -- little children -- the endearing term. Wait! I thought we were supposed to be that. The other word where it says in the evil to be little children, the word is nepiazete (νηπιάζετε), meaning to become népios -- to become simple-minded (from népiazó νηπιάζω "to be an infant" -- to be childlike, childish, infantile. Source: https://biblehub.com/greek/3515.htm). So, in this verse, we are not to be little children (paidía) and we are to be népios (simple-minded). Why do you think that is and what do you think it means? Context and the full text is important here. Do not be little children belonging as to a father (paidía) in the minds versus being a simple-minded, unlearned, immature, unenlightened "child" (néipos) -- as in our earlier examples – in regards to evil. So which is it? Which child is this? How does "full-grown be" tied back to not being paidía in the minds? We are to mature. One day, some of you will be parents and you will be in that role -- wiser. It's time to start rising up. And why would it be good to be simple-minded, unlearned, immature and unenlightened in regards to evil? What does that mean? We don't want to be learned in evil or mature in evil or well-practiced in evil.

We are children of someone -- both in the earthly realm and spiritual realm. Are you children of God via a relationship in Christ? Are you growing and maturing beyond milk and digging into the Word of God and serving? Are you simple-minded and foolish when it comes to what you should be doing or are you wise? Are you simple-minded when it comes to evil or well-practiced in sin? While there are other Greek words (and Hebrew words) in Scripture used for child that could offer insight, hopefully these have helped you dig a bit further into His Word. Thank Him for how He was/is/and will be willing to provide for us -- even His very life -- and He has offered/offers/and will be offering hope in His Resurrection. He is our good Heavenly Father. Are you trusting Him as a little child trusts a good Father (and the Father's Word)?


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