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:
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".