Chapter 11: "Finding a Place for Children in the Letters of Paul"
Beverly Roberts Gaventa
Ms. Gaventa looks at explicit and implicit references to children in "Pauline congregations," she reflects on Paul's metaphorical use of children adding, "It is Paul's theology, with its claims about God's grace-filled intervention in human life, that calls for a radical reconsideration of who children are, how they are to be assessed, and what roles they play in human community." [TCITB p. 234]
She suggests that Paul's greetings to households and families given what we know of the culture would include children, extended families and even the families of slaves. [TCITB p. 235] She notes parent/child relationships that Paul references from the OT as well as those in the congregations he addresses. [TCITB p. 236] She spends a paragraph looking at 1 Cor. 7:14. I guess I never really thought about how profound that passage is as a statement about God's grace extended to a family, and particularly it's children.
She says, "Paul's eschatological expectations were such that he did not imagine himself to be constructing a church that would endure and thrive in the generations that followed his own..." and "...Paul probably assumed that the actions of parents automatically involved their children..." [TCITB p 236] There are two separate thoughts here to ponder individually and together that we probably take for granted. We live as though Jesus won't come in our lifetime or we live as though He will. Either way of thinking causes us to make different choices. The way we choose to think affects all our choices. We think about our kids and make choices that we hope will keep them safe, healthy, and happy but I don't know that we consciously recognize that every grown-up choice we make affects them.
I would have liked to hear the author explore elaborate more on Paul's use of "childlikeness." She does spend time exploring Paul's references to himself as parent, paternal and maternal. I was particularly drawn to the picture of Paul (an open-hearted parent) entreating the Corinthian church (a close-hearted child). I was drawn to the picture of parent/child interaction in 2 Cor 12:14b-15a . Both images and the other images she mentions (all involving children) leave us to ponder not only parents interacting with their children but leaders interacting with their congregations. [TCITB p 238-240]
Paul alluding to children at all gives children importance, just as Jesus using children to paint pictures for us gave children importance. The children in their lives weren't all-consuming but neither were they invisible. The ways that both Paul and Jesus used children and alluded to children to teach and the particular pictures presented also place children in the context of something relational. Both Paul and Jesus being aware of the particular moments with children that they draw our attention to, says something about their awareness of children.
On pages 240-243 Ms. Gaventa takes Paul's focus on sin (which would include children if it's universal) and specifically targets our speech and it's affect on children. She only scratches the surface here. Lots to ponder here.
She draws our attention to the way Corinthians points back to the Gospels as more than a new "set of propositions to which people give assent" but as "an event, an action of God that calls into being a new way of thinking and perceiving." [TCITB p 244] She extends Paul's understanding of all that the cross signifies to include children. She takes this a step farther targetting the way children are commodified and robbed of childhood not only in developing countries but in the west as well. This paragraph, I believe is the beginning of a detailed wake up call to families living in a modern western culture.
Ms. Gaventa ends saying, "The Pauline conviction that believers belong together to the single body of Christ proves enormously provocative for reflection about children." [TCITB p. 246] As Paul explores the Body, gifts, and worship Ms. Gaventa poses questions nudging us to ponder the gifts and roles (perhaps unnoticed) of children in His body and in His household. Her observations are delightful. [TCITB p. 247]
In conclusion, Ms. Gaventa finds Paul's perspective very different from his contemporaries who believed that "the household existed for the sake of the polis, the city or state." She finds his thinking very different from our own western thinking that the nuclear family exists unto itself - independent, self-sufficient yet (whether we realize it or not) profoundly controlled by the marketplace. In contrast to both, Paul places us in God's house, a place of extended family and that image in itself deserves more pondering. [TCITB p. 248]
In Chapter 12 Reidar Aasgaard continues the discussion of children in Paul's letters.