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2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. ...

12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard ...

28 And now, little children, abide in him...

1 John 2 - ESV

Who are the "little children"? In verse 2, 8, and 28 it seems to be the members of the church, but verse 12-14 suggests otherwise because "young men" and "fathers" are also addressed. Why does John address these three groups? Do they all represent the church? If not, who do they represent?

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I would suggest that, based on John's style in 1 John, 2:18 starts a new pericope where 12-14 are part of the immediately preceding pericope. Where the age divisions in 12-14 could be different groups within the church (probably Ephesus), in verse 18 I see John gently asserting his eldership (not in a rude, authoritarian way). "Children" (verse 18) is a vocative/nominative, and prefer vocative since it fits the context a bit better since he is directly addressing them. He's giving a specific message to them about the proper understanding of Jesus as both fully God and fully human.

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Where does he say a single word about being "fully God"? I think you should edit that out. – WoundedEgo Mar 6 at 16:31

1 John is ostensibly written by a disciple (who may or may not have written the 4th canonical gospel). This is by tradition and internal evidence identified as the disciple John. His audience includes:

  • fathers: those like himself that accompanied Jesus during his earthly service;

1Jn 2:13a I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning...

  • young men: those who have believed through the fathers and are strong in the faith "once for all delivered to the saints":

1Jn 2:13b ...I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one...

  • children: those who believed through the fathers but never met Jesus in the flesh, have believed but are dependent on the fathers and young men for all their information about Jesus and his message and are being confused by conflicting messages. He particularly addresses them to warn them that not all of the teaching they receive is faithful to the true Jesus and they must critically compare each message to the original;

1Jn 2:13c ...I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.

"him that is from the beginning" here is "Jesus as he was" as opposed to "the Jesus invented by those who were never there with him" aka "the antichrists":

1Jn 2:18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 1Jn 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 1Jn 2:20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know [recognize] all things. 1Jn 2:21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 1Jn 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 1Jn 2:23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 1Jn 2:24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.

Because of the structure of the letter involving these groups it is important to pay attention to the various pronouns used to "know where you are" in the letter. For example:

1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we [fathers] have heard, which we [fathers] have seen with our eyes, which we [fathers] have looked upon, and our [fathers'] hands have handled, of the Word of life; 1Jn 1:2 (For the life was manifested, and we [fathers] have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us [fathers];) 1Jn 1:3 That which we [fathers] have seen and heard declare we unto you [young men, children], that ye also may have fellowship with us [fathers]: and truly our [fathers] fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1Jn 1:4 And these things write we [fathers] unto you, that your [young men, children] joy may be full. 1Jn 1:5 This then is the message which we [fathers] have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

He expounds the message that the fathers heard about God not having any darkness in himself at all:

1Jn 1:6 If [in the light of what we fathers heard from Jesus] we [any of us] say that we [any of us] have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we [any of us] lie, and do not the truth: 1Jn 1:7 But if we [any of us] walk in the light, as he is in the light, we [any of us] have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1Jn 1:8 If we [any of us] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1Jn 1:9 If we [any of us] confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1Jn 1:10 If we [any of us] say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

In this next section John speaks in the first person singular ("I write to you") and then immediately by a first person plural ("we have an advocate"). In a departure from most expositors I am convinced that the "we" in "we have an advocate" refers not to the children to whom he writes but rather to the fathers. He's saying "Jesus will back us up on this". That is, the fathers have a strong case against those who pretend to know God as declared by Jesus but do not keep his commands:

1Jn 2:4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

So John, the fathers, Jesus and the father all stand on one side of the controversy about whether or not the gospel allows for one who is a christian and yet disobedient.

The people involved in the letter gives the polemic structure and makes it an easy read.

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While some of this chapter is written to "brethren" and "you" in general, the author addresses specific messages to four different groups within the entire audience or community:

12 I write to you, little children (τεκνία), Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers (πατέρες), Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men (νεανίσκοι), Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children (παιδία), Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers (πατέρες), Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men young men (νεανίσκοι), Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. (1 John 2:12-14)1

Fathers (πατέρες) and young men (νεανίσκοι) are addressed twice and little children (τεκνία) and little children (παιδία) are each addressed once (in this section).

The first little children are the τεκνία the diminutive form of τέκνα. A little child; (figuratively) someone deeply loved. [5040-technion]

τεκνία begins and ends the Chapter:

My little children (τεκνία), these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)

28 And now, little children (τεκνία), abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. (1 John 2:28-29)

τεκνία also ends the letter:

Little children (τεκνία), keep yourselves from idols. Amen. (1 John 5:21)

The second little children παιδία is properly, a child under training; the diminutive form of παῖς. It implies a younger child (perhaps seven years old or younger). Some scholars apply 3816 (país) to a son or daughter up to 20 years old (the age of "complete adulthood" in Scripture) [3813-paidion]

The only other use of παιδία in the letter is later in the chapter:

18 Little children (παιδία), it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. (1 John 2:18-19)

The literal Greek of each (coming from a diminutive form of the word), supports the translation of “little” in each case but the author uses these words figuratively. For example:

παιδία: (v13) you have known the Father (v18) it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming.

τεκνία: (v2) so that you may not sin (v28) abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

The two are not "little children." The παιδία know the Father and that the antichrist is coming. The τεκνία are told not to sin and abide in Him. Each are described to indicate they are not "little" children. Also by comparison, the παιδία are more mature than τεκνία.2

While fathers and young men are found only in the passage in question, the two types of little children are used throughout Chapter 2:

enter image description here There are two possible ways to group little children, young men, and fathers. One which uses παιδία and goes in the order of fathers-young men-little children and is repeated. A second goes in the order of of little children, fathers, and young men. This sequence does not repeat exactly as the first uses τεκνία and the second παιδία.

Given the "out of order" sequence of little children-fathers-young men and the failure to have a true repetition, the author’s primary arrangement for these individual groups is the fathers-young men-little children (παιδία) sequence.

Since they are repeated, the first should lead to the second:

fathers: (1) and (2) are identical

young men: (2) adds you are strong and the word of God abides in you to the first

little children: (1) – because you have known the Father (2) – you have heard the antichrist is coming (and originated from among them and left them)

Father are the same; young men have over come the evil one and are strong and the word of God abides in them; little children have known the Father and they know the antichrist (since they know he/she was among them and left).

The author's sequence of fathers, young men, and little children which in natural terms seems to be in the wrong order, does reflect a correct application of the instruction of the Christian faith to become a true disciple of Jesus Christ:

16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children (παιδία) come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child (παιδία) will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

The author of the letter uses little children (παιδία) as Jesus did in Luke (and John 21:5).

Within that context the different groups of fathers, young men, and little children can be summarized by following life of the true disciple:

  • The process starts: the father is either the biological father or a mature Christian (who has known Him from the beginning). They begin the process.
  • young men overcome the evil one (the initial act of a person old enough to make a decision becomes a Christian).
  • little children (were young men) know The Father (they receive the Holy Spirit).
  • The process continues: the father is either the biological father or a mature Christian (who has known Him from the beginning). They continue the process.
  • young men (were little children) are strong because the Word of God abides in them.
  • little children (were young men) know the antichrist because they are strong and the Word of God abides in them and because they remained when the antichrist left.

The little children also know the ones who left were not true disciples (v 19). Thus there is another way the little children know they true disciples: they stayed.

1. All Scripture from the New King James Version

2. This parallels the use of each of these words in the Gospel of John. Jesus calls the disciples τεκνία (13:33) after washing their feet. He calls them παιδία (21:5) when He meets them fishing at the Sea of Tiberas. In the first they do not know of His death and resurrection; in the second they have seen Him; are back in Galilee and specifically Peter is "restored".

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A difficulty in reading 1 John is that it was not written for a modern audience used to a sequential, literal way of thinking and writing. The 'elder' thinks and writes differently, using metaphors, synonyms and rhetorical structures that are effective if sometimes not quite classical.

Malcolm Coombes ('A Different Approach To The Structure Of 1 John') places much emphasis on the author's use of structure and other rhetorical amplification techniques, including expolitio, conduplicatio, apanaphora, polysyndeton/asyndeton, antithesis and synonomy. In 1 John 2:12–13, he sees a three-fold structure surrounding the repetition of “I write to you” followed by a vocative ("children", "fathers" or "young ones") followed by a hoti clause. This pattern is repeated in verse 14 with slight changes and developments. In fact, I see a parallel structure in verses 12-14:
A. I write to you little children [τεκνία ]...
 B. I write to you fathers ...
  C. I write to you young men ...
A' I write to you little children [παιδία ]...
 B' I write to you fathers ...
  C' I write to you young men ...

With this strong use of rhetorical style, we should not read "little children" as literally referring to youngsters. In fact, we probably ought to see "children", "fathers" and "young men" as collectively referring to the members of the Johannine community as a whole.

Referring back to my opening paragraph, modern readers would see unnecessary repetition as a waste of the reader's time and would therefore expect fathers, young men and children to be distinct references, with a different message addressed to each. However, the author of 1 John was using a poetic form to emphasise that he was addressing the entire community.

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A is I write to you τεκνία. A' is I write to you παιδία. There is no doubt in my mind he is using the words to refer to different groups. So it is important to identify them. As you note the letter was not written for a modern audience. You have to assume the was a reason why the writer used different words in different places. None of the original audience would see A and A' as the same any more than they we see fathers and young men as the same. Different words equals different members within the community and A and A' are not a pair. – Revelation Lad Jul 20 at 13:14
@RevelationLad I appreciate and thank you for your feedback. As soon as I read this, I was tempted to remove the ref to a parallel structure, as it is only incidental to my answer. However, Coombes says, " This pattern [vv 12-13] is repeated in verse 14 with slight changes and developments," so then I think he sees the difference from τεκνία to παιδία as only a "slight change or development," which seems to mean he saw no particular meaning in the use of a different word. .../ – Dick Harfield Jul 20 at 21:43
.../ @RevelationLad You may know more than I about any 'rules' that might have applied to parallel structures, but my understanding is that each member of a pair need only be similar to the other, and that sometimes that similarity can be somewhat obscure. I am suggesting that the use of a synonym does not invalidate a structure. What is your view? – Dick Harfield Jul 20 at 21:45
There is no question the writer is using structure to make a point. So we should canvas the chapter for the best structure and the one that best supports the point. The best structure is πατέρες - νεανίσκοι - πατέρες (at 2:18) which is in a logical sequence and repeats. You identify the issue as the split within the community. So apply that point to the Chapter. The writer is writing and has written (in the past). The group currently addressed is smaller than in the past (some have left). Those who left are (now) the antichrist. Who were they when the writer first wrote? – Revelation Lad Jul 21 at 4:49
In other words, the ones who left used to be in the community. So, before they left which group would the writer put them in: τεκνία, πατέρες, νεανίσκοι, or πατέρες? – Revelation Lad Jul 21 at 4:55

Addressing the children is what builds the frame of his counsel. Fathers and young man come in between. Later on, ch. 3 of the letter, he extends and explains the concept of children for all insofar as all are children of the one Father.

Interesting that even in this letter he does not explicitly address women as he does fathers and young men. Those for whom the author is a father, be they men or women, old or young, accepted his addressing of children for themselves.

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I suppose everyone has said something good, but here is the key:

  1. When John said ("...I write to you...") young children, young men and fathers, please note it isn't a gender thing.

  2. What is it then? It is indeed a spiritual level.

  3. Remember the ark of covenant was carried on the shoulders of young man.

  4. Young children operate on this frequency: WII-FM (what is in it for me)

  5. Children are carried and fed, they sleep in one place and wake up in another. The key to childrens' miracles is cry. Exodus talked about the children of Israel crying to God.

  6. Young men are the ones who God can depend on. They volunteer, their reasonable service is because they have served God not because of the many returns.

  7. Fathers are those who are also more matured.They are not intimidated by what others achieve or has.

  8. Paul was writing and he said, " are screwed up because there is no fathers among you...."

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