The Significance of Children in the Teachings of Jesus


When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)

In a humble, single room hut in the village of Capernaum, a small boy quietly tends to the animals in the lower, hay covered floor that was carved out for the animals, while in the raised family area of the hut a group of young men, guests of his father and disciples of the Rabbi Jesus, argue over which of them will hold the higher position when they’ve overthrown the Roman oppressors. The rabbi returns. His disciples run to him, demanding that he tell them the positions they will hold in his kingdom. The rabbi’s eyes scan the hut quickly as the little boy crouches low behind his goat. The rabbi smiles; he has found his answer. Pushing through the demanding young men, he reaches down and lifts the boy up to the higher level of the hut, placing him in the midst of the men, and tells them that the one of them who is most like the little boy will be the greatest; that those who cannot be like him are not fit for his kingdom. (Matthew 18:1-5, Luke 9:46-48, Mark 10:14-15).


The Synoptic Gospels each contain an account of Jesus declaring that being like a child is a requirement for entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Given that over half the world’s population consider Jesus an authority on the topic of Heaven, and a third say he is God (1), and also given the implications of being left out of the kingdom for failing to be like a child are disastrous by dominant modern interpretations, it would appear that having a correct understanding of this verse would be of critical importance. Unfortunately, those seeking to understand the meaning of this statement have left large bodies of information unused in forming their conclusions, with the result that the dominant understanding of Jesus’ statement may be incomplete. In this essay, I plan to bring together the major sources of information on the reality of what it meant to be a small child within the Roman Empire during the early part of the first century from both primary documents and archaeological evidence, in order to present four alternative readings of the phrase, and their theological applications.

These are as follows:
1) Being like a child means being vulnerable and dependant on others.
2) Being like a child means learning by asking challenging questions.
3) Being like a child means having a low status.
4) Being like a child means existing outside of the Mosaic Law.

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The Jesus Youth: the revolutionary significance of young people in the gospels

Jesus prophesies a dire warning of the Third Reich.

Paintings from the Renaissance and Middle Ages periods often depict the twelve apostles as middle aged men gathering around the comparatively youthful thirty year old Jesus. This depiction has stood for many years as the dominant narrative, while the marginalised narrative of youth gathers little interest. The essay seeks not only to re-examine the age identities of these disciples, but also to uncover the revolutionary youth ministry which is central to the teachings of the gospel Jesus and the early church. To investigate these claims, I will be examining the attitudes of first century Jews toward children and young men’s legal and hierarchical status in relation to their seniors as expressed in the Old Testament and by social anthropologists. This study will provide a foundation for the second part of my study which will focus on the revolutionary teachings of Jesus in relation to children and young people in contrast to traditional Hebrew and Roman values.

While determining a reliable age for Jesus the start of his ministry is problematic at best, there are at least a few signposts in the gospels (Luke 2:1-7; 3:1), tradition places his age at 30 at the beginning of his ministry based on a passage in Numbers (4:3), and at this stage I see no need to dispute this claim as it is only related to the age of the apostles relatively. Nobody knows for certain how old the apostles were as the Bible doesn’t give an exact age (Camille, 2006, p. 40; Lacobucci, 2001, p. 125). The traditionally older age of the disciples does significantly influence the reading of the gospels which can make some of the events described confusing. I propose that an age of between thirteen and twenty is more likely and also more congruous with the text.

Continue reading “The Jesus Youth: the revolutionary significance of young people in the gospels”