Stages of Christianity.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 June

1 John 2.12-14.

John already stated in previous verses he wrote this letter so his joy might be full, 1Jn 1.4 and so his readers won’t sin. 1Jn 2.1 Here he gives a few more reasons, along with the people attached to the particular reasons: This letter is to τεκνία/teknía and παιδία/pedía, children and invants; πατέρες/patéres, parents; and νεανίσκοι/neaníske, young people, and since adulthood back then began when you were 13, teenagers.

1 John 2.12-14 KWL
12 Children, I write you because your sins are forgiven in God’s name.
13 Parents, I write you because you knew this from the beginning.
14 Youths, I write you because you conquer evil.
14 Infants, I wrote you because you know the Father.
Parents, I wrote you because you knew this from the beginning.
Youths, I wrote you because you’re strong,
and God’s word remains in you, and you conquer evil.

The repetition is Hebrew-style poetry, where you repeat ideas instead of phonemes. Sometimes the very same idea, ’cause John wrote twice that he’s writing parents because they knew this already, and that he’s writing teenagers because they conquer evil. The first three statements are in present tense (γράφω ὑμῖν/gráfo ymín, “I write you”). The second three are in aorist tense, which is a tense we don’t have in English; it’s set in neither past, present, nor future, so it’s timeless. Translators tend to make it past-tense (ἔγραψα ὑμῖν/égrapsa ymín, “I wrote you”) but perhaps it’s better expressed as “I wrote you, write you, and will keep on writing you.” The first three are about why John’s currently writing to his readers, but the last are why John would always write such stuff.

A lot of commentators point out these age groups—kids, teens, parents—refer to different stages of Christian maturity:.

  • INFANTS are brand-new Christians.
  • CHILDREN are still relatively new followers; I usually call them newbies. They still make a ton of mistakes, and clearly need to develop as Christians, but they’re definitely in God’s family now, and are often excited about it.
  • TEENS are probably just a little more mature than literal teenage Christians (many of whom are newbies, so they’re still making tons of mistakes). They’re still zealous for God, but now they have a few successes and victories and experiences under their belts.
  • PARENTS are the elder Christians, who’ve been following Jesus long enough to be able to mentor others; in other words to be spiritual parents.

I tend to agree with this interpretation. It makes sense. But I wonder just how far we oughta consider “children” to be a metaphor. After all, 1 John is written in basic Greek with a simple vocabulary, and teaches elementary concepts and basic theology. You gotta teach Christianity to children at some point… so I gotta wonder whether 1 John wasn’t written with a very literal audience of children in mind.

There are those commentators who speculate the groups work a little differently. “Infants” and “children,” they claim, are the Christian community at large, but “teens” would be the Christians in leadership, the people helping John run the place; and that’d include the elder Christians. “Parents” would refer to the top leaders, the ones in charge. I don’t care for this interpretation ’cause it presumes John’s church had special code-words for people in leadership which nobody else in Christendom seems to know about: It’s kinda overlaying gnosticism on top of a very anti-gnostic letter!

Nah; the letter’s primarily for new believers, but maturer Christians can read it too, and get something just as valuable out of it. Yeah, we know all this stuff already (or should); we learned it back when we were newbies. It’s still good review.

Anyway, where do you find yourself? Awestruck newbie, vigorous relatively-new disciple, or well-grounded elder?

Hopefully not wandering newbie, apathetic disciple, or jaded oldtimer.