Posts Tagged ‘to such belongs the kingdom’

This is a letter I wrote a colleague in 2007. See also Scriptural teaching on ministry to children

I appreciated your question about the meaning of the phrase – “to such belongs the kingdom of God.” I wanted to say a bit more about what this phrase in Mark 10:14 means and also, more generally look at the central assumption of the presentation, that children are a part of the kingdom. And hey, this gives me an excuse to write out this stuff. I realize that there are some who say that Jesus is speaking somewhat metaphorically here so that they would be hesitant to say that children literally belong to the kingdom. This is my response. I welcome your comments.

In our text Jesus says, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” – Mark 10:14 (par. Matthew 19:14; Luke 18:16)

As I said before the age of the children in this story can be discerned based on two clues:

  • The first clue comes from Luke’s version of this story. He specifically notes that “they were bringing even infants to him” – Luke 18:15.
  • The second clue comes from the word that Jesus uses for “children.” – Based on its use in the New Testament this word refers to children from birth (e.g. Luke 1:59 – 8 days old) to puberty (e.g. Mark 5:39-42 – 12 years old). So the reference here is roughly to any child below 12 or preadolescent children.

Also, it should be noted that Jesus is talking about children in general, not a specific kind of children. The text is generic. Given the age range of paidion – infant to 12 years old, and Luke’s – “even infants,’ it is not talking about children as those who have a childhood faith or understanding. It is simply dealing with children as children, wherever they might be found.

The crucial phrase is “to such (as these) belongs the kingdom.” Who are these “such” ones? The word for “such” is toioutos. Its use is a bit ambiguous. So we have to ask, does toioutos refer:

1) to the literal children as belonging to the kingdom (and other children as well – and also possibly along with them childlike adults – v. 15) or,

2) only adults who are like these children in some way or another (that is, not these literal children but those like these)?

In the former case this teaches that children belong to the kingdom. In the latter case this saying is really not about children or their status with regard to the kingdom. It is about adults.

Those who have dealt with this text and it parallels are split between these two options. I looked at 27 treatments: 15 of them opted for position #1; 12 were ambiguous (I couldn’t tell what their view was!) or outright took up position #2. Often, on both sides, there was little reasoning given for the choice.

Here are the considerations that make me choose option #1:

  1. By the time of the New Testament toioutos was often weakened to mean “this” or “these.” It may well be that Jesus is simply saying “for to these (literal children) belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray – Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327). An example of this interchangeability comes in Jesus’ statement about receiving a child. Mark 9:37 has “whoever receives one such (toioutos) child . . .,” whereas Luke has replaced toioutos with outos (this) – “whoever receives this (outos) child.” For Luke the two words were interchangeable in this case.
  2. When Jesus uses the word toioutos along with paidion (child) in Mark 9:37 it has to do with a literal child – this child or any such child, not someone like this child. (As we just noted Luke makes this point even more clearly). This would certainly condition the reader of Mark in terms of how toioutos is used with paidion (children) a chapter later. If the phrase “one such child” means this child or any such child in Mark 9, then it is likely that the phrase “such as these (children)” means these children and other such children in Mark 10.
  3. Position #2 poses a logical problem. It would indeed be strange to say that group A belongs to the kingdom because they are like group B, but then maintain that group B is not a part of the kingdom. At a minimum “such” would need to include the literal children, the point of reference in this story. It can apparently also include others – “these children and those like them” – other children for sure, but also adults who are childlike (which is what v. 15 picks up). But it doesn’t seem possible to exclude children as the point of reference of this saying. (Ben Witherington, in his Commentary on Matthew 19:14 makes this point with reference to how our key word – toioutos – functions in this verse. He asserts it “cannot simply refer to adults who are childlike to the exclusion of those who are actually young children being brought to Jesus.”)
  4. To maintain that Jesus is speaking of childlike adults to the exclusion of the actual children standing before him makes nonsense of the flow of the narrative. The disciples are being told by Jesus why the children should be allowed to come to him. He says, “for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” To say that the children should be allowed access because childlike adults belong to the kingdom doesn’t make any sense. But it makes perfect sense to say that the children should have access to Jesus – the representative of the kingdom – “because to these children belongs the kingdom of God.” (Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament, p. 327).
  5. In the story itself Jesus blesses the children without requiring anything from them. No repentance in relation to the kingdom, no faith from them or their parents. Just as they are – they are blessed. This happens nowhere else in the gospels. This matches well with the idea that Jesus saw them as already belonging to the kingdom.
  6. That children belong to the kingdom matches well with what Jesus teaches about children in Mark 9:37. This says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Par. Matthew 18:5; Luke 9:48). Like the disciples, children represent Jesus and the kingdom to others. So when the reader of Mark comes to the next chapter and sees the statement “to such as these belongs the kingdom” this would make perfect sense. Children can represent Jesus and the kingdom precisely because, like the disciples, they are a part of the kingdom – Mark 10:14.
  7. Finally, the idea that children belong to the kingdom makes sense with regard to Jesus’ other statement about children – that adults can learn from them how to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3-4; Luke 18:17). Children can teach us this because they are a part of the kingdom. If they were not, how could they teach us how to enter?



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