11

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?

1

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. – user10231 Mar 6 '16 at 16:31
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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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  • You rightly encourage us to “pay attention to the various pronouns used to ‘know where you are’ in the letter.” I believe this same attention to detail should be made to the individual words the writer chose. When 2 different words, τεκνία and παιδία, are used we should give consideration to that distinction within the letter. We should not conflate them into one group, "little children." IMO an answer which finds relevance to specific pronouns and fails to find relevance to different words is incomplete and think your answer can be improved by doing so. – Revelation Lad Sep 26 '16 at 17:57
  • Perhaps you should make that case in a separate thread? – user10231 Sep 28 '16 at 1:42
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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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 at 4:49
  • @RevelationLad pleas join me in chat – Dick Harfield Jul 21 '16 at 4:59
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“Little children” are an important aspect of how the writer develops and presents their message, which, as the OP notes, sometimes suggests they are not members of the church.

Here are the little children verses of Chapter 2:

My little children, 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)1

I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. (2:12)

…I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father. (2:13)

Little children, 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. (2:18)

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming (2:28)

Fathers and young men are only used in a small portion of the letter; while the writer continues to interject messages to little children throughout the remainder of the letter, even ending on that note:

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. (3:7)

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (4:4)

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

Most translations render these 8 verses using the same phrase “little children” obscuring the fact that the writer actually used two different words, τεκνία and παιδία, that have a similar meaning. The literal meaning of τεκνία and παιδία is young child [5040-technion] [3813-paidon]. However in this letter the writer always uses both terms metaphorically.

Some commentators see “little children” as a way the writer expresses their affection while denoting their (spiritual) paternal authority [1 John Commentaries]. That approach ignores the fact the writer uses two different terms. In addition if “little children” is a form of endearment how do they differ from the brethren and the beloved which the writer also uses? Finally, this approach does not explain and in some ways conflicts with the use of little children in relationship to the fathers and the young men.

The writer uses both “little children” terms metaphorically. That is not the case with “fathers” and “young men.” These are used in a way consistent with the meaning of each word. In that light, the writer is employing the natural family unit to elucidate an aspect of their message. Here are the four terms, listed in the sequence used and grouped to recognize the family unit:

          ------- Family Unit ------
τεκνία    Fathers  Young Men  παιδία
2:1       
2:12      
           2:13      2:13      2:13
           2:14      2:14      2:18
2:28

The sequence of fathers, young men, and little children/παιδία forms the family unit and is repeated. Little children/τεκνία is not a part of this example. While the writer has used the family unit as part of their message, they have also been purposeful to exclude the little children/τεκνία from that example. This technique is maintained throughout the entire letter. Fathers, young men, and little children/παιδία are only used within the one family unit example of Chapter 2 and the little children/τεκνία is always used outside the family unit. This is one reason "little children" seem to be addressed differently within Chapter 2. This should not automatically lead to the conclusion that the τεκνία were not members of the church; after all they are still being addressed in the same letter. It does help to explain the differences in how the little children, are addressed, especially within the context of the fathers, young men, and little children sequences.

The fathers, young men, and little children/παιδία of the family unit are arranged in order of decreasing physical age. This would be consistent with the natural family: fathers with multiple children would have some older than others or the little children could be grandchildren. Yet the messages addressed to the little children in the family unit contain two important points. First, these little children (παιδία) have known the Father:

…I write to you, little children (παιδία), Because you have known the Father. (2:14)

This statement is true of both the fathers and the young men.

Next, the schism event which the necessitated the writing of the letter, is placed within the address to these little children (παιδία):

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. 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. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him. (2:18-27)

As with the first statement this also is true for the fathers and young men. So while the writer has used the family unit as an example, the key points of the message of the example apply to the entire family unit. That means that in terms of the message addressed to the entire family unit, the writer is treating the fathers and the young men as little children (παιδία).

The writer of the letter is not using “little children” as a type of endearing address; rather they are using the term παιδία as in the Gospel:

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. 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)

Little children (παιδία) are those who are true disciples regardless of their age. They have known the Father (2:13); they have an anointing from the Holy One and know all things (2:20); they abide in the Son and in the Father (2:24); they have the promise of eternal life (2:25).

The writer of the letter is also employing the two little children terms as they are used in John’s Gospel which records Jesus using each term once:

τεκνία: Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you. (John 13:33)

παιδία: Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?”… (John 21:5)

During His final meal and before all of the disciples deserted Him, Jesus addressed His disciples as τεκνία. After the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus prepares breakfast and calls His disciples παιδία. Therefore, the two little children terms can also be used to describe a disciple:

------- Family Unit ------   ---- Disciple ----
Fathers  Young Men  παιδία     παιδία  τεκνία
                                        2:1       
                                        2:12      
 2:13      2:13      2:13       2:13
 2:14      2:14      2:18       2:18
                                        2:28
                                        3:7
                                        4:4
                                        5:21

In addressing the schism, the writer has used two different real life examples as key structural elements. One is the family unit. Obviously the early growing church would contain older and younger members. The other is Jesus' final night before His crucifixion when the original disciples fled and a schism within the Body of Christ occurred.

This second example forms basis for the opening of the letter:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1:1-3)

The writer is not alone as a witness to the actual events of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. At the same time, even His original disciples betrayed, denied and left Him. The actions of the original disciples serve as primary outline to the letter. Even though they had been closest to Jesus seeing and hearing all that He did, they left Him. So the overall letter is both to encourage and warn those who remained. If those who had been closest to Jesus could succumb to the pressures of the world, no one should presume their faith in Jesus Christ is immune to attack. Τεκνία, (just as Jesus addressed His disciples the night before His death), remember these key truths:

  • If you sin you have Jesus Christ as, an Advocate with the Father. (2:1)

  • Your sins have been forgiven for His name’s sake. (2:12)

  • Abide in Him so you will not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (2:28)

  • Let no one deceive you. Practice righteousness. (3:7)

  • The Spirit inside you is greater than the world outside. (4:4)

  • Keep yourself free from idols. (5:21)

Finally, I note that given this structure, and in particular the ending, and how it alludes to the original disciples (including the writer?), this message could also be shared with those who had left. The writer has delivered a message which could be used to appeal to one who had left. That is, your departure in some ways is similar to what the original disciples did and just as they returned to the truths they had heard from the beginning, so can you. And if you return your fellowship with Jesus will be restored, just as it was with the original disciples.


  1. All Scripture from the New King James translation.
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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, "....you are screwed up because there is no fathers among you...."

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