Twice John uses the word παιδία:

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 (παιδία), because you know the Father. (2:13 ESV)

Children (παιδία), it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. (2:18 ESV)

Rendering the word as "children" in verse 13 is understandable given it placement after fathers and young men. (Although the παιδία "know the Father" a claim not made of any others). In the second use "children" is out of context since what follows is the issue underlying the necessity to write and the unique phrase "anointed by the Holy One:"

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 it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. (2:19-20 ESV)

While a meaning for the word is child (yet not the same sense as τεκνία used elsewhere in the letter), the type of child is one who is more mature, which is consistent with both uses in the letter. Etymologically the word is the diminutive of παῖς [G3813 - παιδίον] which can mean child, or servant, specifically a king's attendant or minister [G3816 - παῖς].

Significantly, Jesus is known as a παῖς:

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant (παῖδα) Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. (Acts 3:13 ESV) [also in Acts 3:26, 4:27, and 4:30]

If Jesus is παῖς, a true disciple could be called by the diminutive, παιδίον.

In addition, John's use of τέκνα throughout 1,2, and 3 John and its diminutive form, τεκνία, in 1 John seems purposeful. As Judith Lieu states in New Testament Theology:1

In the second part of 1 John a key theme is that believers are born of God (3:9; 4:7; 5:1,4,18) or are children of God (3:1f.,10; 5:2). Here the author uses a different word for 'children' of God (tekna) from when he address his readers as 'children' (teknia, paidia: 2:1; 12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21 2:14,18) 17

17: The same distinction is followed in the Gospel: 'children of God' or 'children of Abraham' (1:12; 11:52; 8:39) uses tekna, but Jesus addresses his disciples as teknia or paidia (13:33; 21:5). In contrast 2 and 3 John only use tekna - of members of the community (2 John 1,4,13; 3 John 4).

Given context, the etymology, and the differences between teknia and tekna used in the letter, is "children" or "little children" the best translation of παιδία?

  1. Judith Lieu, New Testament Theology, The Theology of the Johnannine Epistles, Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 33

From Young's (YLT), 1 John 2:12,

"12 I write to you, little children, because the sins have been forgiven you through his name;"

and 1 John 2:18,

" Little youths, it is the last hour; and even as ye heard that the antichrist doth come, even now antichrists have become many -- whence we know that it is the last hour;"

The sense is of young "children" or newly born Christians needing to mature in the faith, and receiving constant encouragement from the beloved apostle. The church of Christ, the body of Christ was young, have just been birthed in the first century A.D. The Christians were in that sense youths, or little children.

In vs 12 "teknia" is Strong's 5040 which is a little child, figuratively someone deeply loved or endeared; Thayers - a kindly address from teachers to their disciples. It is a diminutive from teknon for an infant, little children, and Christian converts.

In vs. 13 & 18, "paidia" is Strong's 3813 which is used for infants, newly born; a little child under training; and figuratively an immature Christian. Thayers has its use in these verses as an affectionate address.

The overall context is the same as the teacher addresses all of the audience in their several relationships to each other and to Christ in that they are newly born Christians, infants in the word, and John's beloved children in training.

It is not mysterious. Both terms are used figuratively for converted Christians, as the literal use would not apply to literal infants or very small children who are not yet baptized. The first has a sense of endearment added to it, while the second implies the need for more study and training.

  • I agree with you on rebirth and growing up. But the language John uses does not fit this. Verse 2:12 uses teknia the diminutive of tekna while 2:18 uses paidia the diminutive of pais. A teknia grows up to be a tekna and a paidia to a pais. But in John's letter and Gospel, one is born of God and becomes a child (tekna) of God. After being born a tekna of God it doesn’t make sense to refer to a teknia as one growing up to be what they already are (a tekna of God). The confusion is from the English which calls both “children” implying both are to grow up as you describe. – Revelation Lad May 24 '17 at 0:22
  • Expanded the answer, and hope it may be more complete. Being born of God, newly converted Christians in need of milk will grow as they study, but no one stops growing in the word. – Gina May 24 '17 at 11:24
  • The use of 2 different words describes either 2 different groups (most likely meaning IMO) or 2 different components/stages of a single group. The first description as teknia is one type of "little" tekna (the parent word); the second as paidia is one type pais (the parent word). If both uses apply to the growing up, what is the difference between the 2? Both linguistically and contextually, the second is more mature than the first. By calling both the same - "children" the differences are masked. Is there a better word/way to describe the second who are already more mature? – Revelation Lad May 24 '17 at 14:11
  • He is not writing to two different groups, but one group in which he characterizes them with the two figurative appellations of "beloved" and "little children, and then later as young students still in need of training. Vs 1, addressing the entire letter to "tecknia" little children. Vs. 7 addressing them all as "agapetoi" beloved. Just as I still call my grown daughter as my "baby girl," for she always will be. – Gina May 24 '17 at 22:20

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