In 1st John 2:1, the Greek word "teknia" is in the vocative case and is translated as Little children. Also in 1st John 2:12 the same Greek word is use again with the same grammar and is translated the same "little children". However, in 1st John 2:18, little children is translated but with an entirely difference Greek Word "paidia'? Why? 1.) What is the root definition of both of these two Greek words: teknia and paidia? 2.) GK. word "paidia" - Is one group a younger bunch of children? exclusive of younger males? 3.) Gk. word "teknia" is this word, a broader class of young people or a metaphor of baby Christians - inclusive group of children, i.e. both male and females?

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Teknia (τεκνία) and paidia (παιδία) are the plural forms of the words teknion (τεκνίον) and paidion (παιδίον), respectively.

Among other things, teknion (and the related teknon - τέκνον) usually convey a relationship of kinship. If one were to refer to one's offspring, one would use the term teknion or teknon, not paidion. When Mattew 2:18 refers to Rachel weeping for her children, the word used is teknon. But whereas paidion would not be used to represent one's own child, the converse is not true, as 1 John 2:1 and other passages demonstrate; they are not used this way exclusively. For example:

Matthew 9:2

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son [teknon], be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.

Galatians 4:19

My little children [teknia], of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you

One is tempted to say that teknion is some sort of diminutive form of teknon - that is, it means "little child" instead of just "child". While this might be technically true, in all 9 of the 9 instances in which it appears in the entire Bible (including the Septuagint, where it is missing) it is used to address adults (John 13:33; Galatians 4:19; 1 John 2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21).

The word paidion is, as another answer pointed out, related to pais (παῖς). Pais is most often used to mean a slave or servant. Related words are:

  • paidarion (παιδάριον), an (older) boy, child, or servant

  • paideuō (παιδεύω), which can mean both to train (or teach) and to discipline

  • paideia (παιδεία) - meaning discipline, training, teaching or instruction

  • paidagōgos (παιδαγωγός) - a guardian, supervisor, or teacher (viz. "pedagogue")

In all of the above, we see the root "ped-" of English words relating to children (e.g. "pediatric").

I think this may help explain the difference between the two words, but it doesn't really explain why John chose the words he did where he did. Teknia (or tekna) are children through some sort of emotional and spiritual kinship, whereas paidia probably is used in the sense of student here. No Greek commentator in antiquity seems to have paid the choice of words here any mind. Nor did the Latin translators in antiquity see any reason to avoid ambiguity; the Vulgate uses filius in both 1 John 2:1 and 2:18.

It has been suggested that John uses paidion when addressing disciples who are aware of Christ's death and resurrection and teknion otherwise. But this explanation is not consistent with the usage in John's Epistle, where he uses teknion in 2:1 and 12; then paidion in 2:13 and 18; and then uses teknion throughout the rest of the Epistle, including the very last concluding verse.

I think all sorts of reasons for John's usage could be contrived, but I really think in this case it is just a case of style. I am happy to be corrected, though, if someone could offer some compelling argument.


Here is a comparison of the two words:

Inflected Word  Root Word    Etymology              Verses
    τεκνία       τεκνίον     Diminutive of τέκνον   2:1,12,28, 3:7,18, 4:4, 5:21     
    παιδία       παιδίον     From dimin. of παῖς    2:13,18                          

The root τεκνίον is the diminutive of τέκνον and its meaning is determined by τέκνον which is usually translated as child. The diminutive of child would be either in size or age or both. τέκνον is a neuter noun and can mean either male or female and the diminutive τεκνίον, which is also a neuter noun, should been taken as referring to either male or female, or both when plural as in the letter. As it might seem to make little sense to write a letter to "little" children, possibly infants, the word is typically taken as being used as a metaphor: John has endearment for them.1

Since παιδίον is from the diminutive of παῖς, its meaning is driven by παῖς which is most commonly translated as servant, but is less frequently translated as child. Like τεκνίον, it is a neuter noun and can mean either male or female, or both when plural as in the letter. Unlike the root τέκνον, παῖς can mean an adult. In fact, the use in Acts is never in reference to a child: 4 are about Christ (3:13,26, 4:27,30), 1 refers to David (4:25), and 1 to the young man, Eutychus (20:12).

The use of παιδίον varies widely in the New Testament, so the precise meaning will depend upon the writer and context. For example in Hebrews it is used about Moses as an infant:

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child (παιδίον) was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict.
(Hebrews 11:23) [ESV throughout]

The context of παιδία in the letter indicates mature believers:

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. (2:13)

Children, 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. 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. (2:18-20 ESV)

The first use argues against this word being used as a metaphor: they know the Father. The παιδία also know it is the last hour; have been anointed by the Holy One and have all knowledge. None of these uses are metaphorical. Moreover, the writer considers themself to be included in this group (“they went out from us…”). If the writer was John, then he is using the term as Jesus did:

Jesus said to them, “Children (παιδία), do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.”
(John 21:5)

After receiving the Holy Spirit (20:21) Jesus called John and the other disciples παιδία. If John is the writer (as tradition holds), he continues to place himself in that group. Then defining characteristic of παιδία for John is having an anointing from the Holy One.

This Gospel use would contrast with τεκνία which Jesus used to describe the disciples before they received he Holy Spirit:

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

In the Fourth Gospel, τεκνία is used only to identify disciples who knew about Jesus but did not yet have the Holy Spirit or believe in the Resurrection (because these things had not yet taken place). Then Jesus uses the term παιδία after He gave them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in the Letter, I believe it is reasonable to see John continuing to make a similar distinction between the παιδία who, like the disciples in John 21, know the certainty Jesus is the Christ who died and was resurrected while the τεκνία are those who have heard the message but in whom he is less certain, or questions whether they truly believe Jesus is the Christ.

Unlike παιδία, with the exception of 4:4 the use of τεκνία is in terms of basic instruction:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2:1)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake. (2:12)

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. (2:28)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. (3:7)

Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (3:18)

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (4:4)

Arguably 4:4 means a mature believer. Yet the letter ends with this warning to the τεκνία:

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

If the two groups are different, this ending draws a clear distinction in the maturity and what John knows about the τεκνία: they need to be warned to stay away from idols. Such a warning not only contradicts the idea John is using the term as a metaphor; it shows immaturity or the fact John doubts they are true believers.

1. If the word was taken literally, that is John intended it (or those portions addressed to the τεκνία) to be read to little children and infants, then the adults who are listening to the letter are also being tasked with preserving the message to the τεκνία until they are old enough to receive what the last living Apostle has written to them. In other words, John actually intends his message to the τεκνία be passed on the next generation. Typical of John, there is a two-fold meaning possible, both of which make sense.


Teknia is indicating the emotional connection in tandem with their entry level maturity.

Paidia is indicating their educational connection in tandem with their knowledge level which has begun more recently.

  • This is not an answer. You need to substantiate what you are saying.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 19, 2020 at 9:35

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