Biblical Studies Children in the New Testament World
by
Amy Lindeman Allen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0281

Introduction

At the turn of the 20th century, Clarence Herbert Woolston penned the words to the now famous children’s song, “Jesus Loves the Little Children” (published in Gospel Message 1-2-3 Combined, edited by J. Lincoln Hall, Adam Geibel, and C. Austin Miles [Philadelphia: Hall-Mack Company, 1915], p. 355). Woolston’s song is reflective both of the American Sunday School movement of the 19th and 20th centuries and the growing trend in popular biblical studies to read Jesus as a friend of children. However, a few early monographs not excepting, children did not receive sustained attention in New Testament scholarship until the 21st century. This is distinct from studies and application of the metaphorical use of “children” and “child” as rhetorical or metaphorical images in New Testament texts, especially the Epistles, which is considered in a separate entry (“Child Metaphors in the New Testament,” forthcoming). With the advent of the interdisciplinary fields of childhood studies and child theology in the 1980s and 1990s, the stage was set to study more closely both Jesus’s relationship with children as portrayed in the New Testament texts and the child characters, Jesus included, therein. In terms of sheer demographics, children are estimated to have made up roughly two-thirds of ancient agrarian societies, such as the 1st-century Mediterranean. As such, when the feminist principle of reclaiming characters from the “shadows” of the text is employed, the imprint of children can be seen across the New Testament. This widespread presence of children in 1st-century Judea and Galilee has also been confirmed by social science and archaeological investigations. Moreover, such investigations have revealed that the character and nature of childhood, or more properly, childhoods in these contexts, was radically different than many of the 21st-century assumptions. Most notably, the assumptions that the Jesus movement was solely positive for children, or that such positivity was unique, have been called into question. To this end, the study of children in the New Testament seeks to bring to light both the presence and lives of child characters in these texts and the children among their original audiences while avoiding anachronistic and supercessionist assumptions. What has resulted is a more nuanced reading both of the experience and character of childhoods in the 1st-century world and, as a result, of the New Testament texts.

General Overviews

The 21st century has seen a rise in dedicated volumes on child-centered interpretation. The first volume to propel child-centered readings into the mainstream of biblical scholarship is Bunge, et al. 2008, which, spanning both testaments, highlights the role of children in both the gospel accounts and Pauline literature. Larsson and Stenstrøm 2012, Flynn 2019, and Betsworth and Parker 2019 build on this momentum with anthologies on children in the Bible that span both testaments. In essay form, Carroll 2001 marks an early contribution to this cross-testament genre, while Francis 1996 and Gundry-Volf 2001 draw attention to children in the New Testament in particular. Earlier monographs on children in the New Testament, Strange 1996 and Zuck 1996, are significant for the growth of the field, but focus more on metaphorical and practical applications than the historical or literary lives of concrete children.

Language for Children and Childhood

Defining children and childhoods can be a difficult task in contemporary contexts, let alone in the ancient world. Légasse 1969 Tehan 1988, and Müller 1992 offer a survey of the main words used for children and their semantic range across the New Testament in French, English, and German respectively. Lindeman Allen 2019 (cited under Gospel of Luke) performs a similar task focused more narrowly on Luke’s gospel account.

  • Légasse, Simon. Jésus et l’enfant: “Enfant,” “petits,” et “simples” dans la tradition synoptique. Paris: Lecoffre, 1969.

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    This text is the first book-length study of children in the New Testament. Légasse examines the theological use of the Greek word for child (pais, paidion) along with associated words translated most commonly as “little ones” (mikroi) or “infants” (nepioi). Each term is examined in literary context. In French.

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  • Müller, Peter. In der Mitte der Gemeinde: Kinder im Neuen Testament. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1992.

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    A seminal early survey of the use of the various terms associated with “child” in the New Testament. Müller explores in depth the range of terms used to describe biological immaturity, their use, and context. In German.

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  • Tehan, Thomas M. “Children in the New Testament: A Linguistic and Historical Analysis.” University of Kansas University Microfilms International, 1988.

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    A doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Kansas. After briefly surveying his rationale and method, Tehan performs a thorough analysis of the language for children used in New Testament texts. Scriptural indexes and an extensive bibliography also make this text a helpful reference point.

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Reference and Bibliographies

Due to the plurality of languages of children and childhood in New Testament texts, as well as ambiguity around the age of certain characters, it can be difficult to determine exactly who and where the children are in each text. Lockyer 1970 and Weber 1979 provide helpful lists and indexes of undisputed occurrences of children. Lindeman Allen 2020 traces recent trends in child-centered scholarship across both testaments, while Aasgaard 2006 and Aasgaard 2019 summarize the state of child-centered research on children from a thematic point of view, with attention to major works in each Gospel, Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. Recent reference works include entries on children and related topics with brief summaries and selected bibliographies, such as Parker, et al. 2012 and O’Brien 2014. Vuolanto, et al. 2018 provides an extensive searchable online bibliography.

  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “Children in Antiquity and Early Christianity: Research History and Central Issues.” Familia 33 (2006): 23–46.

    DOI: 10.36576/summa.29303Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An overview of scholarship on ancient childhood and methodological approaches, including attention to themes and trends emerging in the field with selected bibliography.

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  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “History of Research on Children in the Bible and the Biblical World: Past Development, Present State—and Future Potential.” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 13–38. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    A review of the state of research, covering both testaments and reception history. In narrative form, Aasgaard highlights general overviews and bibliographies with reflections on future possibilities for each category.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “Children and Childhood(s) in the Bible and Biblical World.” Religious Studies Review 46.1 (2020): 37–45.

    DOI: 10.1111/rsr.14364Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A review of the state of the field of research in children and childhoods across both testaments. Arranged according to testament, this essay focuses on recent volumes in the time period following the landmark The Child in the Bible (Bunge, et al. 2008, cited in General Overviews).

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  • Lockyer, Herbert. All the Children of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970.

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    An encyclopedia of all children named in the Bible. This text does not provide in-depth exploration of any particular character, but nonetheless serves as a useful reference text.

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  • O’Brien, Julia M., ed. “Children.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Gender Studies. Vol. 1, ASI–MUJ. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

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    A concise overview of children and childhood in the biblical world with selected bibliographies and subentries. Of interest to New Testament studies are the topics “Greek orld” (Pierre Brulé), “Roman World” (Christian Laes), “New Testament” (Chris Frilingos), “Early Judaism” (Karina Martin Hogan), and “Early Church” (John W. Martens and Melvin G. Miller).

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  • Parker, Julie Faith, Marcia J. Bunge, David Kreaemer, et al. “Child, Children.” In Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Vol. 5, Charisma—Czaczkes. Edited by Dale C. Allison Jr., Hans-Joseph Klauck, Volker Leppin, and Choon Leong Seow, column 83–118. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2012.

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    A concise overview of children and childhood in the biblical world with selected bibliographies and subentries. Of interest to New Testament studies are the topics Greco-Roman antiquity and New Testament; Judaism (rabbinic, medieval, modern); and Christianity. This entry also covers reception history of biblical texts on children, spanning in rapid succession across ancient, medieval, and contemporary interpretations and applications.

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  • Vuolanto, Ville, Reidar Aasgaard, Oana Maria Cojocaru, Camilla Christensen, Cecilie Krohn, and Camilla Roll, eds. Children in the Ancient World and the Early Middle Ages: A Bibliography for Scholars and Students (Eighth Century BC—Eighth Century AD). 9th ed. Oslo, Norway: Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas, University of Oslo, 2018.

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    In English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and other languages. An interdisciplinary searchable online bibliography covering a wide range of topics involving children from the 8th century BCE to 8th century CE. Regularly updated.

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  • Weber, Hans-Ruedi. Jesus and the Children: Biblical Resources for Study and Preaching. Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 1979.

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    An early study intended for a popular audience, this text, while dated, remains useful as a compilation of pre-1979 resources on children, New Testament terms and references to children, and a selection of Greco-Roman and Jewish texts on the subject.

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Methodology/Childist Biblical Interpretation

Early interpretations variously identify their task as feminist, liberationist, child-centered, etc. Grassi 1991 and Eltrop 2002 represent early approaches to child-centered reading that push against adult-centered bias, while Berquist 2009 raises important hermeneutical questions for the emerging field. More recently, a consensus has emerged among Hebrew Bible and New Testament critics, resulting in the broad field of childist biblical criticism. Parker and Gallagher Elkins 2016 lay out a six-step approach for childist interpretation as a distinct method, which remains foundational to the discipline. However, not all child-centered readings fall into this approach. Aasgaard 2017 and Martens 2019 survey a multiplicity of methodological approaches. Henriksen Garroway and Martens 2020 marks a methodological milestone, laying out four clear criteria for executing childist biblical criticism across a variety of methodological approaches.

  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “How Close Can We Get to the Roman Child? Reflections on Methodological Achievements and New Advances.” In Children and Everyday Life in the Roman and Late Antique World. Edited by Christian Laes and Ville Vuolanto, 321–334. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    This essay summarizes a quantitative research on the study of children in the Roman world, surveys a variety of methodologies currently being employed in child-centered exegesis, and applies historical critical principles used in the “Jesus Quest” as a means toward evaluating historical portraits of children in New Testament texts.

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  • Berquist, Jon L. “Childhood and Age in the Bible.” Pastoral Psychology 58 (2009): 521–530.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11089-009-0219-5Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Bringing psychological principles to bear on the exegesis of Hebrew Bible and New Testament text, this brief article opens important questions about New Testament interpretation and its presuppositions in relation to the place and role of the child.

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  • Eltrop, Bettina. “Kinder im Neuen Testament: Eine sozialgeschichtliche Nachfrage.” In Gottes Kinder. Edited by Martin Ebner, Paul D. Hanson, Marie-Theres Wacker, and Rudolf Weth, 83–96. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 2002.

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    This essay is notable for its clear critique of adultist bias as present in both the New Testament texts and its reception history, lifting up Jesus as a counterbalance who demonstrates a divine call to stand with and defend children. In German.

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  • Grassi, Joseph A. Children’s Liberation: A Biblical Perspective. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991.

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    Written for a popular audience, this book explores the role of the child in the biblical account across both testaments. With reference to the New Testament, there are chapters on each of the four gospel accounts.

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  • Henriksen Garroway, Kristine and John W. Martens, eds. Children and Methods: Listening To and Learning From Children in the Biblical World. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

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    Establishing the role of childist interpretation as a discrete method within Biblical Studies, contributed essays apply a childist lens using diverse methodological approachs. New Testament interpreters perform childist readings based in: feminist criticism (Gallagher Elkins 2020, cited under Gospel of John and Revelation); narrative criticism (Betsworth 2020, cited under Gospel of Mark); disability studies (Solevåg 2020, cited under Children in Families); and deconstruction (Murphy 2020, cited under Gospel of Mark).

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  • Martens, John W. “Methodology: Who is a Child and Where Do We Find Children in the Greco-Roman World?” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 223–244. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    This essay begins with overview of the study of children from the perspective of biology and culture in Greco-Roman, early Jewish, and early Christian sources, followed by attention to the presence of children across the New Testament texts.

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  • Parker, Julie Faith, and Kathleen Gallagher Elkins. “Children in Biblical Narrative and Childist Biblical Interpretation.” In The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Narrative. Edited by Danna Nolan Fewell, 422–433. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

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    This essay surveys recent approaches to child-centered biblical interpretation and biblical vocabulary for children. It then presents a six-step process for childist interpretation, employing 2 Kings 5:1–14 and Mark 16:7–29 as sample texts.

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Children in Families

Early attention to children in the New Testament began through attention to their place within the family or household unit. Gangel 1977, Osiek 1995, Guijarro 1997, Moxnes 1997, Osiek and Balch 1997, Wallace-Hadrill 2003, and Cohick 2013 all explore the family dynamics (and a child’s place within them) in Greco-Roman households. Cohen 1993 applies a specifically Jewish lens to this same inquiry. Even as more child-centered inquiries continue to grow, the dependence of children on relationship and community and the place of children remain a generative site for study, even as the definition of these relationships and children’s contribution to them expands. With a laser focus on the place of children in the households and families of the Q and pastoral communities respectively, Murphy 2019 and Solevåg 2020 are representative of this second-wave of research on children within the family context.

  • Cohen, Shaye J. D., ed. The Jewish Family in Antiquity. Atlanta: Scholars, 1993.

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    An early study of family in early Judaism, including parent-child relationships, gender relationships between spouses, and other household relationships, including those of enslaved persons within a household.

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  • Cohick, Lynn H. “Women, Children, and Families in the Greco-Roman World.” In The World of the New Testament. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, 179–187. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

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    A brief survey of the roles of fathers, mothers, and children in the Greco-Roman household with selected bibliography.

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  • Gangel, Kenneth O. “Toward a Biblical Theology of Marriage and Family, pt 3: Gospels and Acts.” in Journal of Psychology and Family 5.3 (1977): 247–259.

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    This essay argues that the teachings on marriage and family in the Gospels and Acts are in continuity with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. The author assumes a singular objective univocal concept of “biblical family.”

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  • Guijarro, Santiago. “The Family in First-Century Galilee.” In Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. Edited by Halvor Moxnes, 42–65. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    A sociohistorical reconstruction of family types and stratification in 1st-century Galilee, including diagrams of typical house structures and a selected bibliography.

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  • Moxnes, Halvor, ed. Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    The introduction and four essays in Part I of this volume explore the social context of early Christian families. Themes addressed include: problems in constructing early Christian families (Moxnes 1997, cited here); a social construction of family in 1st-century Galilee (Guijarro 1997); and the family as bearer of religion (Barclay 1997, cited under Religion).

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  • Murphy, A. James. “The ‘Lost Boys’ (and Girls) of Q’s ‘Neverland.’” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 291–310. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    A source-critical reading of Q texts. Murphy concludes both that there is a silence in these texts about the lives of actual children and that, based upon previous precedents of reading the role of women in Q, that such a silence should not lead one to assume that children were absent from the households of the Q community.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn. “The New Testament and the Family.” In The Family. Edited by Lisa Sowle Cahill and Dietmar Mieth, 1–9. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995.

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    An overview of various themes and texts concerning family in the New Testament. A part of a larger theological volume on family.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn, and David L. Balch. Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

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    Draws on material and social artifacts to reconstruct a picture of family life in the early Christian household. Chapters include: “Social Location,” “Gender Roles,” “Education and Learning,” “Slaves,” and “Family Life.”

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  • Solevåg, Anna Rebecca. “Perspectives from Disability Studies in the Pastoral Epistles.” In Children and Methods: Listening To and Learning From Children in the Biblical World. Edited by Kristine Henriksen Garroway and John W. Martens, 217–228. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

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    Using the frame of disability studies to guide her, Solevåg pays attention to the presence of children in the churches addressed by the pastoral epistles. This article highlights both the metaphorical use of children and highlights the dangers of such an approach to make invisible actual children as well as generalizing perceived typical traits. In addition, she notes those places where actual children appear either explicitly as objects of instruction or implicity as members of the household, including the disjunctive role of Timothy as a youth himself.

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  • Wallace-Hadrill, Andrew. “Domus and Insulae in Rome: Families and Housefuls.” In Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Paper presented at the Brite Divinity School conference, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, 30 November– 3 December 2000. Edited by David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, 3–18. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

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    Synthesizing archaeological and textual data, this essay paints a portrait of two of the most common home structures in the 1st-century Mediterranean. Diagrams are included and demonstrate the small, close-knit living arrangements that would have been typical of the majority of the subsistence class, as well as the overlap between public and private typical of both a subsistence level and wealthier structures.

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Children and Parents

Balla 2005 begins a focused look on the parent–child relationship in a book-length project that covers the entire New Testament, but with a particular focus on parent–child imagery in the epistles. Yarbrough 1995 narrows this focus more specifically to the letters of Paul, which liberally employ parent–child language, as a source of understanding concrete parent–child relationships in Pauline churches. This focus is expanded in Aasgaard 2008 (cited under Epistles), whereas Bradley 1991 treats the historical aspects of 1st-century family in the Roman Empire. From a more thematic approach, Berquist 1994 explores child sacrifice of children with specific reference to the death of Jesus, Murphy 2014 examines less explicit acts of child endangerment, and Rawson highlights parental affection through attention to funerary commemoration. However, much of the parent–child relationship in the first-century Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts was defined by gender roles, a point which Osiek and Balch 1997 draws out and which merits separate discussion of the respective roles of Fathers and Mothers.

  • Balla, Peter. The Child–Parent Relationship in the New Testament and Its Environment. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.

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    Drawing on both Greco-Roman and early Jewish traditions, this text explores the relationships between parents and children in the New Testament with particular emphasis on the role and place of children in these relationships.

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  • Berquist, Jon L. “What Does the Lord Require? Old Testament Child Sacrifice and New Testament Christology.” Encounter 55.2 (1994) 107–128.

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    This essay reinterprets Jesus’s crucifixion and images of child sacrifice in light of one another. With an emphasis upon Hebrew Bible texts, Berquist simultaneously lifts up the relationship of Jesus and God as child and parent and calls into question theologies based upon sacrifice.

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  • Bradley, Keith R. Discovering the Roman Family: Studies in Roman Social History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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    This monograph treats various aspects of family life in the Roman Empire including: the social role of the nurse, the role of men in child care, tatae and mammae in the Roman family, child labor, dislocation, and remarriage and family structure.

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  • Murphy, A. James. “Undesired Offspring and Child Endangerment in Jewish Antiquity.” Journal of Childhood and Religion 5.3 (2014): 1–36.

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    This essay performs a comparative study of child endangerment in Greco-Roman and Jewish antiquity in the milieu of Jesus and the New Testament authors. Murphy concludes that both traditions concomitantly affirmed and celebrated children and engaged in practices such as abortion and infanticide, such that neither tradition can be definitively praised as protecting or celebrating children more than the other.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn and David L. Balch. “Gender Roles, Marriage, and Celibacy.” In Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. By Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, 174–192. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

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    In three sections this chapter addresses sexuality, family, and marriage. Of most relevance for the study of children, the section on family examines the impact of gender roles in parent–child relationships.

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  • Rawson, Beryl. “Death, Burial, and Commemoration of Children in Roman Italy.” In Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Paper presented at the Brite Divinity School conference, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, 30 November– 3 December 2000. Edited by David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, 277–297. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

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    This essay situates early Christian child burial practices within the cultural context of Roman Italy around the turn of the millennium. Rawson notes both the affection shown toward children by parents in these commemorations and that Christian burial sites tend to emphasize the role of adults and children alike as children of God, with less attention paid to specifically childlike interests, objects, or activities than their non-Christian counterparts.

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  • Yarbrough, O. Larry. “Parents and Children in the Letters of Paul.” In The Social World of the First Christians: Essays in Honor of Wayne A. Meeks. Edited by L. Michael White and O. Larry Yarbrough, 126–141. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995.

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    This essay focuses on concrete parents and children in Paul’s letters, examining Paul’s use of both parent–child language and imagery in light of the 1st-century Greco-Roman context.

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Fathers

In terms of gender-based readings, feminist interpretation has had an edge on masculinity studies both in terms of longevity and proliferation of texts. As such, there is less written specifically around the relationship between fathers and children, though this is a field of growing interest. Chen 2006 marks an early entry into such interpretations, with attention to the relationship of God as father. Sigismund 2009 notes the importance of a father in human family relationship through absence, while Martens 2019 and Sivan 2018 hone in on these gender-based relationships by drawing their attention to father–daughter and father–son relationships respectively.

  • Chen, Diane G. God as Father in Luke-Acts. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.

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    Focused primarily on Luke-Acts, this monograph examines the image of God as father across early Judaism and early Christianity. Entertains both concrete and metaphorical applications.

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  • Martens, John W. “Fathers and Daughters in 1 Corinthians 7:36–38: The Social Implications of Marriage in Early Christian Families.” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 223–244. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    With equal attention to philological and social concerns, this essay examines the impacts of Paul’s teachings on marriage, celibacy, and sexuality on both daughters and the father–daughter relationship.

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  • Sigismund, Markus. “‘Without Father, without Mother, without Genealogy’: Fatherlessness in (Old and) New Testament.” In Growing up Fatherless in Antiquity. Edited by Sabine R. Hübner and David M. Ratzan, 83–102. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511575594.006Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A study on the condition and implications of genealogy with a particular emphasis on fatherlessness in the biblical text across testaments.

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  • Sivan, Hagith. “Bringing Up Boys: Contemporary Father-Son Bonding.” In Jewish Childhood in the Roman World. By Hagith Sivan, 92–130. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316106266Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Enumerates paternal duties toward sons as prescribed by rabbinic teaching.

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Mothers

The relationship between mothers and their children was highlighted early in family studies of the New Testament due in part to feminist criticism and in part to a tendency to naturally group women and children together, both of which are present in essays such as McKenna 1994 and Osiek, et al. 2006. Related to these studies on women and children in New Testament narratives, feminist readings of the parental imagery in Paul such as Gaventa 2007 and McNeel 2014 have also shed light on the contours of concrete mother–child relationships in Paul’s context, while selected readings such as Fischer 1997 and Buckhanon Crowder 2016 highlight specifically the concrete mother–child bond.

  • Buckhanon Crowder, Stephanie. When Momma Speaks: The Bible and Motherhood from a Womanist Perspective. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2016.

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    A highly readable womanist reading of multiple texts involving mothers and their children in both testaments. After an overview of both womanist maternal thought and biblical interpretation, the text devotes three chapters to specific mothers from each testament. On the New Testament side, Buchanon Crowder offers womanist readings of Mary (Luke 1:26–38), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21–28), and Zebedee’s wife (Matthew 20:20–28).

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  • Fischer, Irmtraud. “Mutter und Kinder im Alten Testament.” Welt und Umwelt der Bibel 6 (1997): 5–9.

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    A brief survey of the mother–child relationship in the New Testament. In German.

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  • Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. Our Mother Saint Paul. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007.

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    A narrative-critical analysis of mother–child imagery in Paul’s letters.

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  • McKenna, Megan. Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis: 1994.

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    Written for a popular audience, this book addresses the gap in attention to women and children in interpretations of biblical texts. While not directly addressing the mother–child relationship, the majority of characters addressed represent mother–child pairs, including the Canaanite woman, the widow of Nain, and Sarah and Hagar.

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  • McNeel, Jennifer Houston. Paul as Infant and Nursing Mother: Metaphor, Rhetoric, and Identity in 1 Thessalonians 2:5–8. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2014.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt9qh222Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on cognitive and social theory, this monograph employs a thorough analysis of Paul’s use of maternal metaphors in 1 Thessalonians with an eye toward discerning concrete reality and practice, especially between mothers and children, in the early Church.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn A., Margaret Y. MacDonald, and Janet H. Tulloch. A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006.

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    With a focus on the role of women in the Greco-Roman world, this book overlaps with the study of children with discrete chapters focusing on both birth and childcare and female childhood.

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Siblings

Given its patriarchal context, studies of sibling relationships in the New Testament have tended to center around brotherhood and, specifically, the application of that concept by Paul. The philosophical nature and contours of Greco-Roman brotherhood are explored in Aasgaard 1997, Fatum 1997, and Aasgaard 2002. Sandness 1997 and Aasgaard 2004 interrogate the intersectionality of equality within this brotherhood concept, but still rely heavily upon the Greco-Roman context. Kim 2015, while remaining focused on the use of the concept in Paul’s letters, adds an early Jewish lens to understanding the concept of brotherhood in epistolary address.

  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “Brotherhood in Plutarch and Paul: Its Role and Character.” In Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. Edited by Halvor Moxnes, 166–182. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    Applies Plutarch’s understanding of brotherhood as a philosophical category involving a just and mutual relationship of honor to Paul’s use of the term “brothers in Christ.”

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  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “‘Role Ethics’ in Paul: The Significance of the Sibling Role for Paul’s Ethical Thinking.” New Testament Studies 48.4 (2002): 513–530.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0028688502000310Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An application of siblingship as a philosophical category to a reading of Paul’s letters from an ethical perspective.

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  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “My Beloved Brothers and Sisters!”: Christian Siblingship in Paul. London: T&T Clark, 2004.

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    A comprehensive study of the use of sibling language in Paul’s letters. Elaborates on themes of emotional closeness, love, tolerance and forgiveness, defense of honor, and familial harmony.

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  • Fatum, Lone. “Brotherhood in Christ: A Gender Hermeneutical Reading of 1 Thessalonians.” In Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. Edited by Halvor Moxnes, 183–200. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    A gender-hermeneutical reading of Paul that examines the place of women within Paul’s metaphorical brotherhood.

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  • Kim, Kyu Seop. “Reframing Paul’s Sibling Language in Light of Jewish Epistolary Forms of Address.” HTS Theological Studies 71.1 (2015): 1–8.

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    Expands the social context for understanding Paul’s use of sibling language beyond the Greco-Roman context to consider the use of sibling language in Paul’s early Jewish context, especially epistolary address.

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  • Sandness, Karl Olav. “Equality Within Patriarchal Structures: Some New Testament Perspectives on the Christian Fellowship as a Brother- or Sisterhood and a Family.” In Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. Edited by Halvor Moxnes, 150–165. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    Reads Paul’s egalitarian concept of siblingship in light of the 1st-century Christian household. Interrogates the intersections of equality and gender within the sibling relationship.

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Enslaved Children

The role of enslaved children within the household has been neglected in many early studies of family in the New Testament, with the exception of a brief mention of child slaves by Osiek and Balch 1997 in their more general chapter on “Slaves.” Bartchy 2013 likewise treats enslaved children within a brief, general entry on slavery, whereas Martin 2003 draws attention to the role and status of enslaved families. Narrowing their focus even more finely, the essays Laes 2003 and Kartzow 2017 specifically address the plight of enslaved children as delicia and within the Jesus Movement respectively. Murphy 2020 (Cited under Gospel of Mark) also addresses the role of the enslaved girl in Mark 14 as a part of a larger treatment of children in Mark.

  • Bartchy, S. Scott. “Slaves and Slavery in the Roman World.” In The World of the New Testament. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, 169–178. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

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    A brief summary of the shape and function of slavery in the Greco-Roman world, including mention of child enslavement, which most commonly occurred by being born into slavery. With a selected bibliography.

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  • Kartzow, Marianne Bjelland. “Slave Children in the First-Century Jesus Movement.” In Childhood in History: Perceptions of Children in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Edited by Reidar Aasgaard, Cornelia Horn, and Oana Maria Cojocaru, 111–126. London: Routledge, 2017.

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    Reconsiders several New Testament texts and the place of children in them in light of the calculation that approximately one-third of children in the New Testament world were enslaved. This essay is important for the intersectional lens that it brings to the study of children. The texts considered are: the parable of the faithful and unfaithful servants (Lk 12:41–48), the son of Hagar in Paul’s letters (Gal 4:21–31; Rom 9:6–10), and Colossians’ household code (Col 3–4).

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  • Laes, Christian. “Desperately Different? Delicia Children in the Roman Household.” In Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Paper presented at the Brite Divinity School conference, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, 30 November– 3 December 2000. Edited by David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, 298–326. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

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    This essay explores the role of delicia children (often enslaved) in the 1st-century Roman household. The author considers various possible roles ranging from jesters to pet animals to objects of sexual abuse. Laes then briefly explores the relative absence of reference to delicia children in early Christian literature in contrast to Greco-Roman texts of the time.

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  • Martin, Dale B. “Slave Families and Slaves in Families.” In Early Christian Families in Context: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Paper presented at the Brite Divinity School conference, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, 30 November– 3 December 2000. Edited by David L. Balch and Carolyn Osiek, 207–230. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.

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    In this essay, Martin explores the intersectional realities of enslaved life within a Roman household. He notes that an enslaved person could, at the same time, be treated as a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or patron/client. Drawing on both textual and archaeological evidence, Martin presents a picture of extended households in which enslaved persons were widely present and filled a variety of roles.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn, and David L. Balch. “Slaves.” In Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. Edited by Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, 174–192. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

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    An examination of the institution of slavery in the 1st-century world as it relates to various New Testament texts, with sections devoted to both the Epistles and gospel accounts.

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Household Codes

Relational roles within Greco-Roman household structures were defined, at least in part, by household codes or haustafels. Multiple adaptations of household codes exist in New Testament texts and MacDonald 2012 and MacDonald 2014 explore each such code that specifically addresses children. An earlier entry into this larger work, MacDonald 2008 (also cited under Epistles) narrows this focus to the role of children in the household codes of Colossians and Ephesians. The household code of 1 Peter is the only New Testament haustafel that does not specifically exhort children to action; however, Lindeman Allen 2020 explores the role of children in the Petrine community in light of this absence and child imagery in the rest of the epistle.

  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “Babies and Building Blocks: A Re-constructive Reading of God’s Household in 1 Peter in Light of the Absent Child.” Biblical Interpretation 28.3 (2020): 347–370.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685152-00283P04Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay applies a childist lens to the household code in 1 Peter. Based on 1 Peter’s use of infants as a metaphor, Lindeman Allen reconstructs the presence of concrete children in Petrine communities and argues for reading the household code in light of a model for Christian family based on growth and interdependence.

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  • MacDonald, Margaret Y. “A Place of Belonging: Perspectives of Children from Colossians and Ephesians.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 278–304. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    With an eye to the role of both children and families in the early Church, this essay examines the letters of Colossians and Ephesians. Particular attention is paid to the function of the household codes in these letters.

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  • MacDonald, Margaret. “Reading the New Testament Household Codes in Light of New Research on Children and Childhood in the Roman World.” Studies in Religion 41.3 (2012): 376–387.

    DOI: 10.1177/0008429812441340Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay reexamines the parenesis in the two household codes that directly address the child–parent relationship (Col 3:20–21; Eph 6:1–4). MacDonald draws out the intersectional identities of children in households, broadens the definition of children, and reconsiders the role of the household church as a place of learning and formation.

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  • MacDonald, Margaret. The Power of Children: The Construction of Christian Families in the Greco-Roman World. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014.

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    The book is structured with an introduction contextualizing the place of children in ancient household codes, followed by a chapter examining the place of children in Colossians, Ephesians, and the Pastoral Epistles. Of particular note, MacDonald highlights both the ubiquity of children in the ancient world and the intersectionalities of their lived identities, especially in relation to enslaved children addressed by these household codes.

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Unwanted Children

Although many children were deeply desired and even celebrated within the 1st-century Mediterranean context, this was not the case for all children. Several options existed in this context for children whom families either did not want or did not possess the means to care for: Lindemann 1995 explores attitudes toward abortion, Koskenniemi 2009 addresses the practice of infant exposure, and Bartlett 2008 surveys the practice of adoption.

  • Bartlett, David L. “Adoption in the Bible.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 377–385. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    This essay surveys the practice of adoption across both testaments and in their ancient contexts. Greco-Roman adoption practices and the use of adoption as a metaphor in the New Testament are included.

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  • Koskenniemi, Erkki. The Exposure of Infants among Jews and Christians in Antiquity. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009.

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    Focused on the theme of infant abandonment, Koskenniemi provides an overview of the archaeological and literary evidence for infant exposure in the Greco-Roman world up through the 5th century. This monograph treats both the arguments for and against this practice in context, with particular attention to the views of Jewish and Christian sources from this context.

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  • Lindemann, Andreas. “‘Do Not Let a Woman Destroy the Unborn Babe in Her Belly’: Abortion in Ancient Judaism and Christianity.” Studia Theologica 49.2 (1995): 253–271.

    DOI: 10.1080/00393389508600176Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With a sweeping review of literature ranging from ancient Israel to 3rd-century Roman Christian context, including and expanding beyond canonical scripture, this essay seeks to understand contemporary Christian condemnations of abortion in light of the biblical text. Although it is limited by an entry into the subject that assumes an ethical position, the essay is helpful for its broad engagement of surrounding cultures, especially early Jewish and Christian texts on the subject.

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Children in Daily Life

Attempts to recover the roles and stories of concrete children from the shadows of New Testament texts require inquiry into social and historical lives of children in the 1st-century Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts of these texts. With the rise of feminism and childhood studies in the social sciences, much has been written about children in the Greco-Roman sphere in the past fifty years. Rawson 1986; Grubbs, et al. 2013; Caldwell 2015; and Laes and Vuolanto 2017 provide a sampling of some of the more significant volumes for the study of children in the New Testament. In contrast, Sivan 2018 stands alone as a monograph-length survey of the role of children in early Judaism (supplemented by the earlier work on the Jewish family by Cohen 1993, cited under Children in Families) and alongside Yamauchi and Wilson 2014–2016 as a reference work that treats both Greco-Roman and Jewish children separately. As syntheses of these two contexts, Bakke 2005 and Horn and Martens 2009 seek to understand the lived realities of children within early Christianity.

  • Bakke, O. M. When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

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    Focused broadly on children in the first four centuries of Christianity, this project overlaps with the study of children in the New Testament, both with an early chapter on children in the Greco-Roman world and later chapters that speak to patristic interpretations of New Testament texts. Topics covered include: abortion, child sexual abuse, discipleship and formation, participation in worship (including baptism and communion), and family commitments.

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  • Brueggemann, Walter. “Vulnerable Children, Divine Passion, and Human Obligation.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 399–422. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008.

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    A thematic exploration of the themes of nurture for one’s own children and defense of vulnerable children as complementary actions at the center of the Bible. Brueggemann focuses on Hebrew Bible passages, which he reads as the religious core behind Jesus’ invitation for children to come to him (Matt 19:13–15). In the conclusion, Brueggemann highlights passages from Matthew, James, Malachi, and John that point to nurture and defense of children as core to the character of the divine.

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  • Caldwell, Lauren. Roman Girlhood and the Fashioning of Femininity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139644440Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    An exploration on the social history of Roman girlhood including education and socialization, virginity, exercise, marriage, and the wedding and end of girlhood.

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  • Grubbs, Judith Evans, Tim Parkins, and Roslynne Bell. The Oxford Handbook of Childhood and Education in the Classical World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199781546.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A collection of essays not directly related to New Testament texts, but rather to their larger Greco-Roman context. Sections include: Gestation, Birth, Disease, and Death; Children and Childhood in Ancient Greece; Children and Childhood in Ancient Rome; Education and Educational Philosophy in the Classical World; Children in the Eastern Mediterranean; and Late Antiquity and Early Christianity.

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  • Horn, Cornelia B., and John W. Martens. “Let the Little Children Come to Me”: Childhood and Children in Early Christianity. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2009.

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    This monograph contextualizes the place of children within the 1st-century Mediterranean world. Drawing heavily on interdisciplinary research on the family in the Greco-Roman world, the authors counter views that diminish the place of children in this context, arguing instead that children were viewed as “a precious commodity.” Horn and Martens apply this alternate view of the place of children in the first-century world to both narrative and metaphorical portraits of children in the New Testament.

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  • Laes, Christian, and Ville Vuolanto, eds. Children and Everyday Life in the Roman and Late Antique World. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    An edited volume uncovering children’s life, agency, and culture in literature ranging from the New Testament period through late antiquity. A limited number of chapters address the biblical texts directly; however, this volume is useful for its overall picture of children and childhood in the Greco-Roman context. See also Aasgaard 2017, cited under Methodology/Childist Biblical Interpretation and Solevåg 2017, cited under Gospel of Mark.

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  • Rawson, Beryl, ed. The Family in Ancient Rome: New Perspectives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986.

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    A collection of essays on the Roman family, including chapters on: women, finances, children in mixed marriages, children in the Roman familia, wet-nursing, and conception.

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  • Sivan, Hagith. Jewish Childhood in the Roman World. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.1017/9781316106266Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Written in three parts, Sivan’s book presents theories of the Jewish child and childhoods, archaeological evidence of early Jewish children, and autobiographies ranging from the middle 2nd century to early 5th century CE. Chapters on theory are marked by attention to rabbinic literature, social and historical context, gender relations, and the impact of status and ability. Topics covered include childhood from birth to death, raising daughters, and the father–son relationship. Also cited under Fathers.

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  • Yamauchi, Edwin M., and Marvin R. Wilson. Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity. 4 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2014–2016.

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    A collection of introductory essays on daily life ranging in time and location from the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East to the New Testament and Greco-Roman world, with many entries that relate to children and families. Each entry includes a short survey of the topic and selected bibliography.

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Work and Play

Although work and play would have amounted to the majority of a child’s daily life in the 1st-century Mediterranean, little has been written on these subjects in relation to the New Testament. Betsworth 2019 on play in the marketplace and Lindeman Allen 2020 on child work in shepherding are the exceptions to the lacunae.

  • Betsworth, Sharon. “Children Playing in Marketplaces.” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 223–244. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    A narrative critical reading of the parable of children playing in the gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke informed by social and cultural research on children’s play in the 1st-century Greco-Roman context.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “A Sign For You: A Child Savior Revealed to Child Shepherds.” Biblical Interpretation (2020): 1–27.

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    This essay reads the shepherds in Lk 2:1–20 in light of social and historical evidence that suggest children were and are heavily employed in preindustrial shepherding industries. Re-reading the shepherds in Luke’s scene as children, Lindeman Allen suggests that the proclamation of another child (Jesus) as a sign of God’s promise holds particular significance.

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Education

Another major aspect of a child’s life in the 1st-century Mediterranean would have been education—whether formal or informal. This topic is taken up from a Greco-Roman perspective in general in anthologies such as Grubbs, et al. 2013 (cited under Children in Daily Life) as well as in focused essays by Osiek and Balch 1997 and Witherington 2013. Similarly, Sivan 2018 (cited under Children in Daily Life) and Yinger 2013 provide a Jewish perspective to education as a general task. Voeltzel 1973 applies this topic specifically to the Bible, while Laes 2019 narrows the focus to consider sexual abuse in Roman education.

  • Cribiore, Raffaella. Gymnastics of the Mind: Greek Education in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1515/9781400844418Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A survey of education in the classical world, including models and stages of schooling and the relationships between teachers, women, parents, and students.

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  • Laes, Christian. “‘Stay Away from My Children!’: Educators and the Accusation of Sexual Abuse in Roman Antiquity.” In Children in the Bible and the Ancient World: Comparative and Historical Methods in Reading Ancient Children. Edited by Shawn W. Flynn, 115–134. London: Routledge, 2019.

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    A review of Greco-Roman and early Christian literature with an eye toward the practice of sexual abuse in pedagogical settings in the 1st-century context.

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  • Osiek, Carolyn, and David L. Balch. “Education and Learning.” In Families in the New Testament World: Households and House Churches. By Carolyn Osiek and David L. Balch, 156–173. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

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    With an emphasis on Pauline texts, this chapter examines early Christian teachers in conversation with literature about early Jewish and Greco-Roman teachers of the same period.

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  • Voeltzel, René. L’enfant et son éducation dans la Bible. Paris: Beauchesne, 1973.

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    A survey of children and childhood across both testaments. The emphasis, as per the title, is on teaching and learning; however, a number of related themes are also touched on, such as stages and experiences of childhood, including, with reference to the New Testament, a portrait of Jesus’s childhood. In French.

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  • Witherington, Ben, III. “Education in the Greco-Roman World.” In The World of the New Testament. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, 188–194. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

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    A brief overview of classical education in the Greco-Roman context with selected bibliography.

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  • Yinger, Kent L. “Jewish Education.” In The World of the New Testament. Edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald, 325–329. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

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    A brief overview of Jewish education in the 1st-century Mediterranean context. With selected bibliography.

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Religion

A separate section (Children in New Testament Texts) is devoted to religious interpretations of children in New Testament texts. In this section, however, the role of religion in the daily life of children in the New Testament and its contexts is considered. Barclay 1997 argues that the family (and so the parent–child exchange) played a central role in passing on religion in early Judaism and early Christianity. This reality may have been at the heart of the conflict that Gundry 2019 examines in the interreligious households of Corinthian Christian communities and concern over child initiation as described in Martens 2019. Most essays, however, focus more generally on the role of children in early Jewish and Christian religious communities, as in Beasley-Murray 1965; King 2013; and Sandnes, et al. 2009, albeit with the latter being a collection of essays that delve into this topic more in depth.

  • Barclay, John M. G. “The Family as the Bearer of Religion in Judaism and Early Christianity.” In Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor. Edited by Halvor Moxnes, 66–80. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    A sociohistorical overview of the role of family in Greco-Roman, early Jewish, and early Christian religions, highlighting the central role of family in passing on religion in both Judaism and Christianity. Includes selected bibliography.

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  • Beasley-Murray, George Raymond. “Church and Child in the New Testament.” Baptist Quarterly 21.5 (1965): 206–218.

    DOI: 10.1080/0005576X.1965.11751194Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A survey of the place and role of children in early Jewish and early Christian worship and religious practices. This article is dated and presents a supercessionist view of Christianity as superior to Judaism in its treatment of children that is not supported by more recent social and historical evidence from the period; however, it is nevertheless helpful in contextualizing the participation of children in worship life.

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  • Gundry, Judith M. “Children, Parents, and God/Gods in Interreligious Roman Households and the Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14.” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 311–334. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    This essay centers 1 Corinthians 7:14 as unique in describing concrete children in Paull’s communities. Reviewing previous scholarship and interpretations of the terms for “holy,” Gundry argues for a reading of interreligious households (and the children in them) as commonly consecrated and bound to God.

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  • King, Margaret. “Children in Judaism and Christianity.” In The Routledge History of Childhood in the Western World. Edited by Paula S. Fass, 39–60. London: Routledge, 2013.

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    Stretching across both testaments, this essay surveys the role of children in both early Judaism and early Christianity. The author concludes that Christianity increased the valuation of children, but with little social or historical evidence to substantiate this claim.

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  • Martens, John W. “Children and Church: The Ritual Entry of Children into Pauline Churches.” In Children in the Bible and the Ancient World: Comparative and Historical Methods in Reading Ancient Children. Edited by Shawn W. Flynn, 94–114. London: Routledge, 2019.

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    A sociohistorical examination of the relationship between children and Church through a close reading of Paul’s letters. Considers the question of child and infant baptism, but moves beyond this debate to consider the broader acceptance and participation of children in the early Church with attention to entry rites and the lack thereof.

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  • Sandnes, Karl Olav, Oskar Skarsaune, and Reidar Aasgaard, eds. Når jeg så skal ut i verden: Barn og tro i tidlig kristendom. Oslo, Norway: Tapir akademisk forlag, 2009.

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    A collection of essays related to children and faith in Early Christianity. In Norwegian.

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Children in New Testament Texts

When one looks closely, children are present throughout early Christian texts both in the letters and narratives and among the audience. As noted above, one key episode in understanding the role of children in the New Testament is the story (recorded in all three synoptic accounts) of Jesus blessing the children. Because of the prolific writing concerning this episode, it is cited under its own heading Jesus Blessing the Children. Beyond this central text, however, inquiry into the place and role of children in the New Testament has continued to grow. Murphy 2013 and Betsworth 2015 pay attention to the place and role of children across the synoptic accounts and in each specific gospel narrative respectively. Admirand 2012 and Gieschen 2013 similarly examine the theme of childhood and place of children across the gospel accounts. While Murphy 2019 examines the synoptic accounts to recover the role of children in the Q community, Clivaz, et al 2011 narrows its focus to Jesus’s childhood in infancy accounts, and Weber 1979 examines the adult Jesus’s relationship with children.

  • Admirand, Peter. “Millstones, Stumbling Blocks, and Dog Scraps: Children in the Gospels.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 42.4 (2012) 187–195.

    DOI: 10.1177/0146107912461872Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay highlights the ambiguity with which children are received in the passages in which they are specifically mentioned in the gospel accounts. In light of this ambiguity and the abuse of children that occurred in the ancient world and continues today, Admirand argues that childlikeness may not be the best quality toward which disciples should aspire.

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  • Betsworth, Sharon. Children in Early Christian Narratives. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015.

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    A narrative-critical survey of the role of children in each canonical gospel account (including Acts), as well as several key apocryphal texts. Literary analysis is grounded in a thorough study of the 1st-century Greco-Roman context.

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  • Clivaz, Claire, Andreas Dettwiler, Luc Devillers, Enrico Norelli, and Benjamin Bertho, eds. Infancy Gospels: Stories and Identities. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.

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    Examines both canonical and apocryphal infancy gospels from a historical critical perspective. The volume is divided into two sections: “Infancy Gospels and Stories” and “Stories and Identities in the Infancy Gospels.” Particular attention is paid to the infancy narratives and genealogies in Matthew and Luke, as well as the absence of infancy narratives in Mark and John, as well as intertextual relationships with Hebrew Bible, rabbinic, and Greco-Roman texts. In English, German, and French.

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  • Gieschen, Charles A. “The Value of Children According to the Gospels.” Concordia Theological Quarterly 77.3–4 (2013): 195–211.

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    This essay builds a case for reading the gospel accounts as assigning children a place of central import to Jesus. This case is built upon four points: (1) continuity with Hebrew Bible teachings on marriage and family, (2) Jesus’ incarnation as a child, (3) Jesus’s teachings on marriage, and (4) Jesus’s use of children in his teachings.

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  • Murphy, A. James. Kids and Kingdom: The Precarious Presence of Children in the Synoptic Gospels. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2013.

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    A deconstructive literary study of children in the synoptic gospel accounts. Murphy argues that despite limited gospel sayings to the contrary, the overall character of Jesus’s itinerant ministry demanded household disruption and child abandonment. Murphy argues that this is dangerous for children both in the intended and contemporary audiences.

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  • Murphy, A. James. “Children and the Sayings Source Q: What the Double Tradition Reveals about Q’s Attitude Toward Children (Q 11:19–20; 12:53; 14:26; and 17:1–2).” Biblical Interpretation 27.1 (2019): 69–90.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685152-00271P04Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Looking for the presence of children in the Sayings Source (Q), Murphy finds only reference to adult or adolescent children in the passages named above. In contrast, there is evidence of greater use of household imagery in the Q source; however, in context, Murphy reads these references as reflective of an “imperiled” household that could pose a threat to children.

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  • Weber, Hans-Reudi. “The Gospel in the Child.” Ecumenical Review 31.3 (1979): 227–233.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.1979.tb02509.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this religious-theological reflection on the gospels, Ruedi-Weber highlights Jesus’s relations with children across the gospel accounts. Based on what he assesses to be a positive relationship, he then proposes that children do not only receive the gospel but can be a vehicle through which others can receive the gospel.

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Gospel of Matthew

Eltrop 1996 is perhaps the only book-length treatment to provide a broad survey of children specific to Matthew’s gospel account. Weren 1996 and Betsworth 2010, along with a chapter in Betsworth 2015 (cited under Children in New Testament Texts), similarly address the overarching role of children in the whole gospel account. With a narrower aim, Betsworth 2010 and Betsworth 2013 explore Jesus as child and White 2008 offers a reading of the child whom Jesus placed in the disciples’ midst.

  • Betsworth, Sharon. “The Child and Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.” Journal of Childhood and Religion 1.4 (2010): 1–14.

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    This essay examines the role of Jesus in the infancy stories of the second chapter of Matthew, drawing attention to the limited use of his proper name, with the text more frequently referring to him simply as “the child.” Using a feminist reader-response methodology, Betsworth connects Jesus as “the child” in Matthew 2 with “the child” whom Jesus lifts up in Matthew 18:1–5.

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  • Betsworth, Sharon. “What Child is This? A Contextual Feminist Literary Analysis of the Child in Matthew 2.” In Matthew. Edited by Nicole Wilkinson Duran and James P. Grimshaw, 49–64. Texts@Contexts. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt22nm72q.9Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this essay, Betsworth reads the story of Jesus’s birth and childhood as presented in Matthew 2 together with a group of 21st-century women in order to offer a contextual interpretation. She finds a connection between the experience of Jesus as a vulnerable, yet protected child in Matthew’s narrative with contemporary concerns for children in the 21st-century world. She then draws connections between Jesus’s experience of vulnerability, outside threats, and protection, and Jesus’s call to discipleship throughout the rest of Matthew’s gospel account.

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  • Eltrop, Bettina. Denn solchen gehört das Himmelreich: Kinder im Matthäus-evangelium: Eine feministisch-sozialgeschichtliche Untersuchung. Stuttgart: Grauer, 1996.

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    A feminist-social science critical reading of the role of children in Matthew’s gospel. Surveys all mentions of children in Matthew with special emphasis on Matthew 18:1–5 and 19:13–15. In German.

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  • Weren, Wilhelmus Johannes Cornelis. “Children in Matthew: a Semantic Study.” Translated by John Bowden. In Little Children Suffer. Edited by Maureen Junker-Kenny and Norbert Mette, 53–63. London: SCM Press, 1996.

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    A study of the characterization of children in Matthew’s gospel account, with emphasis on the language used to describe nonadult children.

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  • White, Keith J. “‘He Placed a Little Child in the Midst’: Jesus, the Kingdom, and Children.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 353–374. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    A narrative critical analysis that centers children in Matthew’s gospel account as a means by which to reinterpret the overarching theme and focus of the Kingdom of God in Matthew’s account.

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Gospel of Mark

Betsworth 2010 is possibly the only book-length treatment of children specific to Mark’s gospel account, with its focus specifically on daughters. Betsworth 2019 also explores the role of daughters as elucidated by the Greco-Roman context. Gundry 2008 (cited under Mark) and Maclean 2007, along with a chapter in Betsworth 2015 (cited under Children in New Testament Texts) and Murphy 2020 address, in essay form, the overarching role of children in the gospel account, whereas specific episodes of Jesus healing children are addressed in Howard 2013 and Solevåg 2017 and Villalobos Mendoza 2012 treats Jesus’s encounter with an enslaved child in Herod’s court.

  • Betsworth, Sharon. The Reign of God Is Such as These: A Socio-literary Analysis of Daughters in the Gospel of Mark. London: T&T Clark, 2010.

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    A study of the role of daughters in Mark’s gospel account with attention to similarities and differences to the presentation of daughters in Greco-Roman and early Jewish accounts.

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  • Betsworth, Sharon. “Girls and Goddesses: The Gospel of Mark and the Eleusinian Mysteries.” In Children in the Bible and the Ancient World: Comparative and Historical Methods in Reading Ancient Children. Edited by Shawn W. Flynn, 77–93. London: Routledge, 2019.

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    A comparative study of Mark’s portrayal of the daughter of Herodias with the portrayal of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, in the Greco-Roman Eleusinian mystery, Hymn to Demeter and Eleusinian initiation rites (Helen Foley, ed. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter: Translation, Commentary, and Interpretive Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

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  • Betsworth, Sharon. “Narrative Criticism and Childist Interpretation: a Study of Mark 7:24–30.” In Children and Methods: Listening to and Learning from Children in the Biblical World. Edited by Kristine Henriksen Garroway and John W. Martens, 164–176. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

    DOI: 10.1163/9789004423404_010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay defines narrative criticism and applies it to the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24–30), and then expands upon this reading with a specifically childist narrative reading of the same text.

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  • Howard, Melanie A. “Jesus Loves the Little Children: A Theological Reading of Mark 9:14–29 for Children with Serious Illnesses or Disabilities and Their Caregivers.” Word and World 33.3 (2013): 275–283.

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    A reading of Mark 9:14–29 through the lens of disability studies. Explores how Jesus’s healing of a child with disability might be read and received by children with disabilities in contemporary contexts.

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  • Maclean, William Robert. “The Child in the Gospel of Mark.” Familia 34 (2007): 81–109.

    DOI: 10.36576/summa.29313Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A historical-critical study of Mark’s gospel account that attempts to separate the sayings traditions from Mark’s redactive influence and determine the historical Jesus’s attitude toward children. Focuses on Mk 5:21–43; 7:24–30; 9:14–29. In English and Spanish.

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  • Murphy, A. James. “Children in Mark: A Deconstructive Approach.” In Children and Methods: Listening To and Learning From Children in the Biblical World. Edited by Kristine Henriksen Garroway and John W. Martens, 196–216. Leiden: Brill, 2020.

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    Using a deconstructive lens, Murphy explores the role of children in Mark’s gospel account with a particular emphasis on the daughter of Herodias and the enslaved girl in the chief priest’s courtyard as antitheses whose presence complicates and informs a larger picture of the role of children when compared to children such as Jairus’ daughter who herald God’s reign.

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  • Solevåg, Anna Rebecca. “Listening for the Voices of Two Disabled Girls in Early Christian Literature.” In Children and Everyday Life in the Roman and Late Antique World. Edited by Christian Laes and Ville Vuolanto, 290–302. London and New York: Routledge, 2017.

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    A reading through the lens of disability studies that compares Mark 7:24–30 with a similar story from the apocryphal Acts of Peter.

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  • Villalobos Mendoza, Manuel. “Marimachas, descarads, malcriadas, y hociconas / The Dukes, The Shameless, The Ill-Bred and the Loudmoths.” In Abject Bodies in the Gospel of Mark. By Manuel Villalobos Mendoza, 33–65. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix, 2012.

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    This larger work brings together contextual, postcolonial, and gender studies to explore the transgressive characters in Mark’s passion narratives. This chapter ends with an examination of the servant-girl in Herod’s court (Mk 14:66–72), whom Villalobos Mendoza christens Rebequita and identifies as a powerful witness to Jesus’s identity and Peter’s faults, and who both helps Peter return to his commitments and claims her space in God’s Kingdom by her own right.

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Gospel of Luke

Lindeman Allen 2019 is possibly the only book-length treatment to provide a broad survey of children specific to Luke’s gospel account and Green 2008 is currently the only essay that takes seriously the role of children in Acts. Carroll 2008 and Fenik 2019, along with a chapter in Betsworth 2015 (cited under Children in New Testament Texts), similarly address the overarching role of children in the whole gospel account. With a narrower aim, Billings 2009, Heininger 2005, and van Aarde 2019 explore the boy Jesus in the Temple, a story unique to Luke’s gospel account, and Playoust and Aitken 2008 interprets another story unique to Luke’s gospel account, the infant John leaping in his mother’s womb. Lindeman Allen 2017 offers a reading of Jesus’s healing of a young girl.

  • Billings, Bradly S. “‘At the Age of 12’: The Boy Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52), the Emperor Augustus, and the Social Setting of the Third Gospel.” Journal of Theological Studies 60.1 (2009): 70–89.

    DOI: 10.1093/jts/fln149Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A narrative critical reading of Luke’s account of the boy Jesus in the temple. Reading this encounter in light of Greco-Roman intertexts, Billings argues that this episode is the most consistent with Greco-Roman biographies of great men and should be read as such.

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  • Carroll, John T. “‘What Then Will This Child Become’: Perspectives on Children in the Gospel of Luke.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 177–194. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    In an overview of the role of children across Luke’s gospel account, Carroll argues that children are not only central to God’s Kingdom for Luke, but play a significant role in the Lukan narrative.

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  • Fenik, Juraj. “Children as Gift in the Gospel of Luke.” Neotestamentica 53.1 (2019): 79–100.

    DOI: 10.1353/neo.2019.0008Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With emphasis on the divine nature of the infancy narratives, Fenik argues that children are to be read as treasured gifts in Luke’s gospel account.

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  • Green, Joel B. “‘Tell Me a Story’: Perspectives on Children from the Acts of the Apostles.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 215–232. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    Surveying direct references to children across the book of Acts, Green both speculates as to the significance of the diminished role of children as compared to Luke and concludes that despite their scarcity in the text, Acts has nonetheless played an important role in contemporary attitudes toward and theologies about children.

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  • Heininger, Bernhard. “Familienkonflikte: der zwölfjährige Jesus im Tempel (Lk 2,41-52).” In ‘Licht zur Erleuchtung der Heiden und Herrlichkeit für dein Volk Israel’: Studien zum lukanischen Doppelwerk. Edited by Christoph G. Müller, 49–72. Hamburg, Germany: Philo, 2005.

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    An exploration of the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple from the perspective of family conflict. In German.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “Reading for Inclusion: The Girl from Galilee (Luke 8:40–56).” Journal of Childhood and Religion 7 (2017): 1–17.

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    This essay reads the story of the raising of Jairus’s daughter in Luke 8:40–56 through a childcentric lens. Lindeman Allen sees in this girl’s experience a model for healing and wholeness that treats each child as a full person and valued member of a community. The essay then applies this model to the experiences of contemporary children in the United States.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. For Theirs is the Kingdom: Inclusion and Participation of Children in the Gospel according to Luke. Lanham, MD: Lexington Fortress, 2019.

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    This text begins with a chapter on the definition and semantic range of “child” and then applies a narrative critical lens to the roles and characterization of children across Luke. Moves from the general and assumed roles of children in homes, synagogues, and among the crowds, to named children in the narrative, and, ultimately, to speculation about characters whose ages are not directly stated but could be read as children within the narrative context.

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  • Playoust, Catherine, and Ellen Bradshaw Aitken. “The Leaping Child: Imagining the Unborn in Early Christian Literature.” In Imagining the Fetus: The Unborn in Myth, Religion, and Culture. Edited by Vanessa R. Sasson and Jane Marie Law, 157–183. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380040.003.0010Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Acknowledging a general lack of attention given to the unborn in early Christian literature, Playoust and Bradshaw Aitken name John’s leap in his mother’s womb (Lk 1:41) as a notable exception. Performing a literary analysis of the infancy narratives of Luke and Matthew alongside the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James, they both examine interpretations of the unborn as laid out in these texts and suggest that the actions of the unborn, such as John’s leap, are interpreted by the ancient authors are deliberate and significant.

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  • van Aarde, Andries G. “Syncrisis as Literary Motif in the Story about the Grown-Up Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41–52 and the Thomas Tradition).” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75.3 (2019): 1–9.

    DOI: 10.4102/hts.v75i3.5258Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Reading the twelve-year-old Jesus’s behavior in the temple as beyond his age, van Aarde associates this portrayal with the literary device of syncrisis. Syncrisis as a literary device can be seen throughout Greco-Roman literature as a way of representing the lives of important persons in retrospect.

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Gospel of John and Revelation

Little has been written about the role of children specifically in John’s Gospel account or other texts traditionally associated with John, such as Revelation. Together with chapters in Betsworth 2015 (cited under Children in New Testament Texts) and thematic essays in The Child in the Bible, Thompson 2008 represents the exception to this rule with an overview of children in John. Gallagher Elkins 2020 and Betsworth 2020 conversely open the door to childist readings of Revelation in a pair of case studies focusing on Romans 12 that build upon one another.

  • Betsworth, Sharon. “The Child Snatched Away: Reading Revelation through a Childist Lens.” Biblical Interpretation 28.5 (2020): 658–676.

    DOI: 10.1163/15685152-2805A007Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay seeks to address the gap in childist criticism of Revelation by drawing attention to two passages in the text that specifically reference children: Revelations 2:18–29 and 12:1–5. Focus is directed toward the latter, comparing the child who is “snatched away” (Rev 12:5) with the myths of three Greek child gods.

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  • Gallagher Elkins, Kathleen. “Feminist Studies as the Mother of Childist Approaches to the Bible.” In Children and Methods: Listening to and Learning from Children in the Biblical World. Edited by Kristine Henriksen Garroway and John W. Martens, 21–31. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2020.

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    The majority of this essay is devoted to its methodological thesis, with Revelation 12 serving as a case study for this feminist and childist approach.

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  • Thompson, Marianne Meye. “Children in the Gospel of John.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 195–214. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    This essay uses John’s metaphorical use of the concept of “children of God” as an entry point into understanding the role (or what the author sees as a lack thereof) of concrete children in John’s gospel account.

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Epistles

The New Testament Epistles primarily employ children as images either metaphorically or rhetorically toward a separate end. Nevertheless, careful reading of these texts can draw out shadows of childhood in the Pauline and later communities which these letters address. Specific attention to the historical realities of children has come through readings of the household codes, such as MacDonald 2008 and others cited under Household Codes. Aasgaard 2008 and Roberts Gaventa 2008 give a more general overview of the use of children in specifically Pauline traditions, while Aasgaard 2007 and Horn 2006 offer prime examples of the metaphorical uses that dominate this literature and Punt 2017 draws attention to the power dynamics implicit in such depictions. Tite 2009 parallels these studies in Pauline metaphor with attention to the analogy of milk and nurslings in 1 Peter.

  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “Paul as a Child: Children and Childhood in the Letters of the Apostle.” Journal of Biblical Literature 126.1 (2007): 129–159.

    DOI: 10.2307/27638423Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay examines both concrete and metaphorical usage of child terminology across Paul’s letters. Aasgaard points to the pervasiveness of children across the Pauline corpus, while noting that real children themselves do not seem to be of primary interest to Paul. He highlights Paul’s application of the metaphor of childhood with attention to how Paul conforms to or deviates from attitudes concerning children and childhood representative of his cultural milieu, concluding that while Paul follows a patriarchal model of family, his metaphorical usage of kinship terms also reflects a tenderness or affection on the part of parents toward children.

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  • Aasgaard, Reidar. “Like a Child: Paul’s Rhetorical Uses of Childhood.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 249–277. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    Comparing and contrasting Paul’s use of child metaphors and imagery, this essay attempts to recover Paul’s view on actual children with a particular emphasis on parent-child relationships.

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  • Horn, Cornelia. “Paulus und seine ‘Kinder’: Studien zur Beziehungsmetaphorik der paulinischen Briefe.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68.4 (2006): 763–764.

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    In German. This essay surveys the use of child imagery in Paul’s corpus with particular emphasis on Paul’s use of children and childhood for metaphor.

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  • MacDonald, Margaret Y. “A Place of Belonging: Perspectives on Children from Colossians and Ephesians.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 195–214. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    Colossians and Ephesians stand out in the New Testament corpus for their inclusion of children in their household codes. This essay draws on significant historical and cultural evidence to compare and contrast the relationship between children and their parents in a Christian household with the larger Greco-Roman community based on the household code discourse, concluding that the two share much in common.

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  • Punt, Jeremy. “Not Child’s Play: Paul and Children.” Neotestamentica 51.2 (2017): 235–259.

    DOI: 10.1353/neo.2017.0013Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Exploring the ambiguity of the concepts of child and childhood in New Testament texts, this essay poses questions about the implications of power and ideology in forming a coherent concept of children imagery in the Pauline letters. Drawing on the place of children in the 1st-century Mediterranean context, Punt challenges contemporary sentimentalizations of children and draws attention to the political and ideological use of Paul’s children imagery today.

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  • Roberts Gaventa, Beverly. “Finding a Place for Children in the Letters of Paul.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 195–214. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    In a broad survey of Pauline literature, this essay attempts to discern Paul’s view of children, both concrete and metaphorical. The author notes a contrast between the theological value ascribed to children in Paul’s letters with the likely lived experiences of children in Pauline churches and families that may not have lived up to such ideals.

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  • Tite, Phillip L. “Nurslings, Milk, and Moral Development in the Greco-Roman Context: A Reappraisal of the Pareaenetic Utilization of Metaphor in 1 Peter 2.1–3.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 31.4 (2009): 371–400.

    DOI: 10.1177/0142064X09104957Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    While emphasizing the metaphorical use of nurslings in 1 Peter, this essay draws attention to the real role of moral development in early Christian communities for both children and adults.

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Jesus Blessing the Children

The story of Jesus blessing the little children has received widespread attention in both popular and critical readings. Since Jesus seems to center children in this episode, it is a natural place for many to begin with a child-centered reading of children in New Testament texts. As a result, it gained early attention by form and tradition critics such as Crossan 1983 and Derrett 1983 and has maintained sustained interest among narrative and theological critics such as Gundry-Volf 2000 and Miller-McLemore 2010, who align themselves more closely with recent trends in childhood studies and child-centered interpretation.

  • Crossan, John Dominic. “Kingdom and Children: A Study in the Aphoristic Tradition.” Semeia 29 (1983): 75–95.

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    A form critical study of Jesus’s blessing of the children based on its place in dialectical and aphoristic tradition.

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  • Derrett, J. Duncan M. “Why Jesus Blessed the Children (Mk 10:13–16 Par.).” Novum Testamentum 25.1 (1983): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853683X00104Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Derrett applies tradition criticism to Jesus’s blessing of the children in Mark 10 and parallels, arguing that Jesus’s action is a type of Jacob’s Blessing and as such highlights prepubescent children as kindred to Jesus and thus of greater status than the disciples and heirs of God’s Kingdom.

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  • Gundry-Volf, Judith. “‘To Such as These Belongs the Reign of God’: Jesus and Children.” Theology Today 56.4 (2000): 469–480.

    DOI: 10.1177/004057360005600403Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Using Jesus’s blessing of the children as a launching point for an exploring of the overall treatment of children in the gospels, this essay reads children at the center of God’s realm.

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  • Miller-McLemore, Bonnie. “Jesus Loves the Little Children? An Exercise in the Use of Scripture.” Journal of Childhood and Religion 1.7 (2010): 1-35.

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    Examining select representative interpretations of Jesus’s blessing of the children (Mark 10:13–16, Matthew 19:13–15, and Luke 18:15–17), this essay reexamines the biblical warrant for hyperbolic claims of a Christian tradition of caring for children. While not negating the importance of child advocacy, Miller-McLemore cautions temperance in connecting ideological claims with unfounded and potentially anti-Jewish warrants in light of scriptural ambiguity around the role of children in the ministry of the historical Jesus.

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Matthew

Robbins 1983 and Ostmeyer 2004 apply positivist exegetical methods to understand the place of Jesus’s blessing within the larger tradition and theology of Matthew’s community. In contrast, Dixon 2014 and Taylor-Wingender 1988 contribute contextual readings more focused on the application of Matthew’s text in contemporary reading communities.

  • Dixon, Stephen W. “What’s So Special About Children? A Reconsideration of the Use Made of Scriptures such as Matthew 18:1–5 in Advocating the Importance of Children for the Church.” Journal of Childhood and Religion 5.1 (2014): 1–33.

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    This essay considers the application of interpretations of Jesus’s blessing of the children in religious contexts. Dixon argues that the distinguishing characteristic of children in Matthew’s text and in the world today is their vulnerability, a common aspect of all humanity that is often lost in contemporary Western societies that prize independence.

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  • Ostmeyer, Karl-Heinrich. “Jesu Annahme der Kinder in Matthaus 19:13–15.” Novum Testamentum 46.1 (2004): 1–11.

    DOI: 10.1163/156853604772719711Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A form-critical reading of Jesus’s blessing the children in Matthew. Reads this unit as an expression of Matthew’s overall theology, understood in light of Jesus’s relationship with God as divine parent. In German.

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  • Robbins, Vernon K. “Pronouncement Stories and Jesus’ Blessing of the Children: A Rhetorical Approach.” Semeia 29 (1983): 43–74.

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    This essay employs rhetorical analysis to argue that both Jesus’s verbal pronouncement and his demonstrative action in the synoptic and Thomas blessing accounts might be read as authentic to the historical Jesus. In contrast, Robbins argues that in the story about greatness appears to have historically lacked a saying attached to the action. Robbins argues that these two action-saying pairs may have influenced one another in the pre-Gospel period.

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  • Taylor-Wingender, Paulette. “Kids of the Kingdom: A Study of Matthew 18:1–5 and Its Context).” Direction 17.2 (Fall 1988): 18–25.

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    A theological reading of Matthew 18:1–5 that reads the text as affirming children’s inherent relationship with God and therefore argues against evangelization of children.

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Mark

Through distinct methodological lenses, Gundry 2008, Ebner 2002, and Krause 1973 each explore the role of children in Mark 10:13–16 and the role of this episode in shaping Mark’s larger theology of Kingdom. Krause 1973 and Nkwoka 1985 look to the reception of this text in past and present contexts respectively.

  • Ebner, Martin. “‘Kinderevangelium’ oder markinische Sozialkritik? Mk 10,13–16 im Kontext.” In Gottes Kinder. Edited by Martin Ebner, Paul D. Hanson, Marie-Theres Wacker, and Rudolf Weth, 315–336. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener, 2002.

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    A liberative reading of Mark 10:13–16 that reads this text as not specifically focused on children, but rather on all who are on the margins of the present world, that they might be restored to the center in God’s Kingdom. In German.

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  • Gundry, Judith M. “Children in the Gospel of Mark, with Special Attention to Jesus’ Blessing of the Children (Mark 10:13–16) and the Purpose of Mark.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 143–176. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    A narrative critical reading of Mark’s gospel account, highlighting children as characters throughout the text with emphasis on their role in relation to Jesus in Mark 10:13–16 (Jesus’ blessing of the children).

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  • Krause, Gerhard, ed. Die Kinder im Evangelium. Stuttgart: Ehrenfried Klotz, 1973.

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    A reception and historical critical study of Mark 10:13–16 exploring portrayals of Jesus as “friend of children” across the centuries. In German.

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  • Nkwoka, Anthony. “Mark 10:13–16: Jesus’ Attitude to Children and Its Modern Challenges.” Africa Theological Journal 14.2 (1985): 100–110.

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    A study of Jesus’s blessing of the children with an eye toward contextual interpretation and challenge.

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Luke

Employing rhetorical, form, and childist criticisms respectively, Clark 2003, Kodell 1987, and Lindeman Allen 2019 each explore the role of Luke 18:15–17 (and the related Luke 9:46–56) in establishing Luke’s theology of Kingdom.

  • Clark, Ronald R. “Kingdoms, Kids, and Kindness: A New Context for Luke 18:15–17.” Stone-Campbell Journal 5.2 (2003):235–248.

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    Following a detailed analysis of the two possible readings of “as a child” in Luke’s text, Clark opts against metaphorization in favor of reading Jesus as commanding his disciples to welcome actual children. The paper then connects this command with the overall social justice movement in Luke’s gospel account, grounding his argument in a review of the historical status of children in the 1st-century world.

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  • Kodell, Jerome. “Luke and the Children: The Beginning and End of the ‘Great Interpolation’ (Luke 9:46–56, 18:9–23).” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49.3 (July 1987): 415–430.

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    A form critical reading of Luke’s telling of the blessing of the children in literary context. Suggests a thematic unity around discipleship, wherein the metaphor of receiving God’s Kingdom as a child receives it is central.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “‘Theirs is the Kingdom’: Children as Proprietors of the Kingdom of God in Luke 18:15–17.” In T&T Clark Handbook of Children in the Bible and the Biblical World. Edited by Sharon Betsworth and Julie Faith Parker, 223–244. London: T&T Clark, 2019.

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    This essay centers on the claim to proprietorship that Jesus gives to children in Luke 18:15–17. Arguing that children are not only welcomed into God’s Kingdom but named as owners of it, the author argues for a new economics of God’s Kingdom with children at the center.

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Religious and Theological Approaches to and by Children in the New Testament

Due to sustained interest in the role of children within religious communities, religious and theological interpretations of children within the New Testament texts have been more consistent over the past century than more specifically exegetical analyses. Although there are countless texts in this genre, those listed here employ careful exegetical attention to the texts in question. Pridmore 1977 builds a case for child theology based upon the centrality of children in the New Testament. Thirty years later, White 2010 presents a well-organized overview of the work of child theology in textbook form. In between these landmarks, Balthasar 1991, Mercer 2005, Towner 2008, and Drane, et al 2009 all argue respectively for the centrality and importance of children in the biblical witness. Using this witness to elaborate on the role of children in contemporary faith communities, Jensen 2005, Bunge 2008, Collier 2009, and Bunge 2012 ground their respective theological perspectives on children in New Testament exegesis.

  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Unless You Become Like This Child. Translated by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis. San Francisco: Ignatius, 1991.

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    A theological text on the centrality of children in Christian tradition. Significant for its attention to the characterization of children in the Bible from a Christian perspective.

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  • Bunge, Marcia. “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Children, Parents, and ‘Best Practices’ for Faith Formation: Resources for Child, Youth, and Family Ministry Today.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 47.4 (2008): 348–360.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6385.2008.00414.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    With an eye toward contemporary application, this essay explores four theological perspectives and their biblical bases in both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament: children as vulnerable, children as gifts from God, children as blessed and signs of God’s blessing, and children as models of faith and sources of revelation.

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  • Bunge, Marcia J. “Christian Understandings of Children: Central Biblical Themes and Resources.” In Children, Adults, and Shared Responsibilities: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, 59–78. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511894619.005Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A survey of children in the Bible and its interpretations through the lens of responsibilities—both those of adults and children.

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  • Collier, John, ed. Toddling to the Kingdom: Child Theology at Work in the Church. London: Child Theology Movement, 2009.

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    An edited volume that explores broadly the themes and possibilities of child theology. Includes essays defining “child theology,” historical perspectives on children in the Church, the presence of children in the biblical witness, and the practice of child-centered hermeneutics.

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  • Drane, Olive M. Fleming, Anne Richards, Peter Privett, eds. Through the Eyes of a Child: New Insights in Theology from a Child’s Perspective. London: Church House Publishing, 2009.

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    A collection of essays organized by theme that explore classic theological ideas through the eyes of children. Centered around a theological response to Jesus’s call in the gospel accounts to put a little child at the center and useful especially for its index of biblical references.

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  • Jensen, David Hadley. Graced Vulnerability: A Theology of Childhood. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim, 2005.

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    This volume reads the concept of vulnerability as central to a theology of childhood, drawing on both testaments to highlight the vulnerable place of children. With reference to the New Testament, Jensen focuses on the incarnation of Jesus as God making God’s self vulnerable for the sake of humanity.

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  • Mercer, Joyce. Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice, 2005.

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    A feminist reading written for a popular audience. Exegetes New Testament texts, especially Mark’s gospel account, with an eye toward the place and role of children both in secular and sacred spaces.

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  • Pridmore, John S. The New Testament Theology of Childhood. Hobart, Australia: R. Buckland, 1977.

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    In this early volume in the now growing field of child theology, Pridmore builds a case for a theology of childhood based upon New Testament texts.

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  • Towner, W. Sibley. “Children and the Image of God.” In The Child in the Bible. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa, 307–321. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

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    Explores the biblical use of the “image of God” and its application to children. Maintains, based upon exegetical inquiry, that children are made in the image of God.

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  • White, Keith J. Introducing Child Theology: Theological Foundations for Holistic Child Development. Penang, Malaysia: Malaysia Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010.

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    An introductory textbook to the study of child theology that includes a section on “Biblical Theology,” with attention to hermeneutical practice and the presence of children in both testaments.

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Infant Baptism

Within contemporary religious communities, the practice of infant baptism and its antecedent (or not) in the biblical texts continues to be debated. Jeremias 1960 makes the classic case for the practice of infant baptism in the early Church, with Aland 1963 refuting this position. Strange 1996 (cited under General Overviews) also takes up Jeremias’s case. With numerous others writing on either side, Wright 2002 provides a succinct summary of this back-and-forth. Somewhat outside of this fray, Green 2002 applies the question of infant baptism to the specific narrative case of household baptism and Lindeman Allen 2020 attempts a theological reading that connects John’s baptism to Jesus’s blessing of the children.

  • Aland, Kurt. Did the Early Church Baptize Infants? Translated with an introduction by G. R. Beasley-Murray. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1963.

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    Translated from the German edition published the same year. This classic text is Aland’s response to Joachim Jeremias’s case for early Christian infant baptisms in Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries (London, SCM: 1960). Aland responds to Jeremias’s main contentions, with reference specifically to Paul’s church (1 Cor 7:14), household baptisms (Acts 21:21), and the blessing of children (Mark 10:13–16).

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  • Green, Joel B. “‘She and Her Household Were Baptized’ (Acts 16.15): Household Baptism in the Acts of the Apostles.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter, 72–90. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

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    A narrative critical reading of Acts 16:15 in its social and historical contexts that seeks to understand the place of children and infants within household baptisms.

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  • Jeremias, Joachim. Infant Baptism in the First Four Centuries. Translated by David Cairns. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1960.

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    Translated from a revised German edition (published 1958) with new material by the author. The first German edition appeared in 1938. In this classic text, Jeremias makes a case for infant and child baptism as the norm in the first four centuries of Christian tradition. As evidence, the author draws upon three primary texts from the New Testament: 1 Cor 7:14 and children in Paul’s church, household baptisms in Acts 21:21, and the blessing of children in Mark 10:13–16.

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  • Lindeman Allen, Amy. “Baptism and Children in Mark’s Vision of the Realm of God.” Currents in Theology and Mission 47.4 (2020): 31–35.

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    This essay reads Mark’s accounts of Jesus’s baptism (Mk 1) and blessing of children (Mk 9) together in an attempt to discern a connection between Mark’s baptismal theology and the gospel author’s larger vision for the realm of God. Lindeman Allen argues for understanding baptismal vocation in light of the central place of children within God’s realm as Mark presents it.

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  • Wright, David F. “Out, In, Out: Jesus’ Blessing of the Children and Infant Baptism.” In Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies. Edited by Stanley E. Porter, 188–206. New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

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    This essay traces the reception history of Jesus’s blessing of the children as it is recorded in the synoptic gospels, with a focus its pertinence to the practice of child baptism. Useful as a survey and summary of the debate between Aland and Jeremias and its more contemporary instantiations.

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Children in Church

As parents and church leaders alike seek the best way to engage children in the life of the Church, they frequently turn to New Testament texts for guidance. Bunge 2012 provides an overview of such influence of New Testament texts on Christian praxis. A number of essays advocate for greater inclusion of children in church and congregational life based on New Testament precedent, including Bedouelle 1985, Harkness 2012, and Coltvet 2013. Strange 1996 (cited under General Overviews) and Lindeman Allen 2019 (cited under Gospel of Luke) also touch on these themes. Hayes Greener 2016 explores the implications of Jesus’s broad acceptance of children on child evangelism, and Stockton 1983 narrows the focus of inclusion in congregational life to the specific practice of worship.

  • Bedouelle, Guy. “Reflection on the Place of the Child in the Church: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’” Communio 12.4 (1985): 349–367.

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    Written from a Roman Catholic perspective, this essay reflects upon both the concrete role of children within the Church and the metaphorical adaptation of that role to situate adults within the Church Universal.

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  • Bunge, Marcia J. “Christian Understandings of Children: Central Biblical Themes and Resources.” In Children, Adults, and Shared Responsibilities: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives. Edited by Marcia J. Bunge, 59–78. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511894619.005Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Reaching across testaments, Bunge both honors the diversity in biblical interpretations of the roles of children and cautions against highlighting only one aspect of such interpretation to the neglect of others. Despite this diversity, Bunge argues that a biblical understanding of children has been foundational to Christian attitudes and praxis around children across the centuries.

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  • Coltvet, Tim. “Jesus’ Prophetic Reach: Drawing Children to the Center of Congregational Life.” Word and World 33.3 (2013): 288–295.

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    Performing a contextual exegesis on Luke 2:41–52, Coltvet expands beyond this text to consider both scriptural and contemporary examples of what he describes as the experience of being “lost” and “found.” Coltvet argues both that Jesus invited children into his ministry and that contemporary churches should do the same.

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  • Harkness, Allan G. “Intergenerationality: Biblical and Theological Foundations.” Christian Education Journal 9.1 (2012): 121–134.

    DOI: 10.1177/073989131200900109Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This essay summarizes biblical and theological warrants for the primacy of intergenerational ministry. Useful especially for an extensive bibliography of resources on intergenerational education and its links to the early Church.

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  • Hayes Greener, Susan. “Children-at-Risk and the Whole Gospel: Integral Mission ‘To, For, and With’ Vulnerable Agents of God.” Transformation 33.3 (2016): 159–170.

    DOI: 10.1177/0265378816631256Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Building on scriptural foundations that prioritize well-being of the whole person in Samuel and Jesus’s childhoods, this essay argues for a model of evangelism that takes seriously the whole child as one who is both evangelized and actively participates in the evangelical mission. Hayes Greener employs a hermeneutic of inclusion in order to situate children as vulnerable but full participants in God’s church.

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  • Stockton, Ian. “Children, Church and Kingdom.” Scottish Journal of Theology 36.1 (1983): 87–97.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0036930600016288Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Drawing on New Testament texts, particularly Jesus’s blessing of the children, this essay argues for the inclusion of children in contemporary worship as consistent with apostolic tradition.

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