Chapter 12 "Like a Child: Paul's Rhetorical Uses of Childhood"
by Reidar Aasgaard
This is just a glimpse of the topics that Mr. Aasgaard touches in his chapter. He goes into more detailed discussion than what's here. There are so many trails to follow in these chapters. So much more to think about. And then the application - what does this mean for us?
He begins his article by saying, "The apostle Paul very rarely mentions real, living children as is clearly shown in this volume's [TCITB] article by Beverly R. Gaventa. Still, children turn up on virtually every leaf of his letters especially in the shape of metaphors drawn from the world of childhood and parent/child relations." [TCITB p 249]
He notes Paul's use of complex "kinship language" and childhood language all through his writing [TCITB p. 249] but notes that scholars have focused more on "parent" language than on "the study of the place of children in Paul's thinking." He notes "apparent contradictions in Paul's use of childhood imagery" that have yet to be fully explored. [TCITB p. 250]
The author's discussion of Paul's references to kinship, succession and property transfer [TCITB p. 253-256] made me realize that I never fully grasped or appreciated Paul's multi-faceted brilliance.
Mr. Aasgaard makes interesting observations about 1 Corinthians 7:14 - a passage about believing and unbelieving spouses and their children. The author comments not only on what Paul says, but also what he doesn't say about children in the context of the passage. [TCITB p 256]
When Paul refers to himself as a fetus and to his untimely birth, Mr. Aasgaard notes, Paul compared himself to one of the most vulnerable and least respected members of society. [TCITB p. 258-9] The author explores Paul's use of "orphaned" not only from the perspective of an orphaned child but from that of an adult left childless. He looks at emotional implications tied to Paul's metaphorical perspectives. [TCITB p. 259-60]
Paul refers to immaturity, maturity, and potential in 1 Corinthians 13 . [TCITB p. 261] The author says that Paul's seeing children as yet imperfect and unformed (not miniature adults) and his seeing children as immature and in need of formation are consistent with his time. He reminds us that "[T]he standard [for formation] of the ideal human being . . . was the (male) adult." At the same time, Paul seems to have more respect for a child's capabilities than other writer/thinkers of his time. [TCITB p. 260]
His discussion of I Thess. 2:7 is thought-provoking. Paul likens himself to a nurse. [TCITB p. 263] If all the seeming contradictions in Paul's letters are equally true, the author's observations lead to some rather profound implications for leadership. [TCITB p. 263-265]
The author wonders if Paul's seeming lack of attention to obedience is because obedience was already a societal expectation in Paul's culture [TCITB p. 265] - less so in our own.
Aasgaard notes that Paul views childhood as a life stage characterized by an innocence and purity that doesn't exist during other life stages. (The author sites Philippians 2:14-15) Apparently Paul's contemporaries believed that childhood purity made a child more apt to be used for divine purposes by the gods. [TCITB p. 265-6]
Really interesting section on formation. As mentioned before, Mr. Aasgaard tells us that in ancient thinking children were in need of formation in order to become adults. [TCITB p. 266] He suggests that perhaps Paul's referring to the adult Corinthians as babies was more potent for those who heard the original message than it is to us reading it today. He talks about training agents and tools: from parental models to slaves teaching the very young to advanced levels of training requiring "soul guardians". The task of "soul guardian" was "the task of the educated man, in particular the philosopher."[TCITB p. 267] Aasgaard reminds us that Paul's model adult male was Christ. [TCITB p. 270] What would it look like to train children to model Christ, the man? How do the Greco-Roman teaching/learning/formation model differ from the Hebrew?
He talks about belonging (family, faith, community) . Regarding children in community he says "...issues on the place of children within the communities are almost untouched by Paul. Why this is so we can only guess." He shares some thoughts about this. [TCITB p. 271]
Summing up Paul's attitudes and strategies regarding children Mr. Aasgaard notes 1) "the omnipresence of childhood language: its use is conspicuous, in both frequency and variety" - which, the author says, means that children must play a significant role in Paul's thinking. [TCITB p. 271]
2) The incongruity - Aasgaard notes that for the frequency of Paul's use of childhood language "it is striking that he speaks so little of real children, concerning their place both in the family and in church . . . " He adds "There is also little in the letters to suggest that he has an interest in changing their living conditions or to influence people's notions and evaluation of them." [TCITB p. 271-272]
3) Paul's "theological use of childhood language in many respects, conforms to contemporary ideas about children". The author sees the points at which Paul holds to conventional thinking and the points at which his thoughts diverge, both as significant and elaborates on this. [TCITB p272-273]
4) Paul uses these metaphors "to regulate the relations between himself and his co-Christians. . . he adapts the . . . language to the situation of each letter and to his relations to his addressees. " [TCITC p. 273] The author's exploration of Paul as father is quite interesting. Traditionally we have focused more on Paul's harsh patriarchal authoritarian tendencies and failed to notice the ways Paul is ". . . concerned with his children and attentive to their abilities and needs: he communicates with them according to their level...acts lovingly...strives to increase their inheritance...and exhorts them in a benevolent way, as a firm, yet loving father..." The author also notes passages where Paul places himself in maternal roles using maternal imagery - not the way most of us see Paul. [TCITB p 273]
5) The author says that when Paul refers to himself as a child and to "childhood as a phase of life" there is tension between what Paul is saying and common thinking. [TCITB p 274 - 276] The author believes that when Paul willingly identifies "with beings at the rim of the human world - one untimely born, a baby, an orphan - he presses the matter far indeed. Thus what can be seen as rhetorical cleverness may just as likely be interpreted as the opposite, namely, as Paul here employing metaphors that in fact are not meant to enhance his authority but to make him vulnerable and left to the mercy of his addressees." Paul could have used other metaphors that would have fostered greater respect from his listeners but he didn't. Referring to himself this way, Aasgaard says, was "fundmentally daring." [TCITB p. 276]
As Aasgaard concludes this chapter it's clear that we not only have much to learn from Paul's thinking about children, but we have much to learn about Paul. [TCITB p. 277]