020 Kingdom and Children

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(1) GThom. 22:1-2
(2) Mark 10:13-16 = Matt 19:13-15 = Luke 18:15-17
(3) Matt 18:3
(4) John 3:1-5,9-10

Crossan analysis:
Item: 20
Stratum: I (30-60 CE)
Attestation: Multiple
Historicity: +
Common Sayings Tradition: No


(1) Thom 22:1-7

/1/ Jesus saw some babies nursing. /2/ He said to his disciples, "These nursing babies are like those who enter the (Father's) domain." /3/ They said to him, "Then shall we enter the (Father's) domain as babies?" /4/ Jesus said to them, "When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, /5/ and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, /6/ when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, /7/ then you will enter [the (Father's) domain]." [Complete Gospels]

(2) Mark 10:13-16

/13/ People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. /14/ But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. /15/ Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." /16/ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them

=Matt 19:13-15
/13/ Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; /14/ but Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs." /15/ And he laid his hands on them and went on his way.

=Luke 18:15-17
/15/ People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. /16/ But Jesus called for them and said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. /17/ Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it."

(3) Matt 18:1-6

/1/ At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" /2/ He called a child, whom he put among them, /3/ and said, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. /4/ Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. /5/ Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. /6/ "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.

(4) John 3:1-10

/1/ Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. /2/ He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." /3/ Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." /4/ Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" /5/ Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. /6/ What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. /7/ Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' /8/ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." /9/ Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?" /10/ Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?




John Dominic Crossan

Crossan discusses this cluster, along with 043 Blessed the Poor and 199 Kingdom and Riches under the heading "A Kingdom of Nobodies" [Historical Jesus, 266-68]. This discussion draws on his "Kingdom and Children: A Study in the Aphoristic Tradition." Semeia 29 (1983) 75-95. He concludes:

But what would ordinary Galilean peasants have thought about children? Would "like a child" have immediately meant being humble, being innocent, being new, being credulous? Go back, if you will, to those papyrus fragments quoted in chapter 1 of this book and think for a moment of the infants, often female but male as well, abandoned at birth by their parents and saved from the rubbish dumps to be reared as slaves. Pagan writers were, according to Menahem Stern, rather surprised that Jewish parents did not practice such potential infanticide (1976-84:1.33, 2.41), but still, to be a child was to be a nobody, with the possibility of becoming a somebody absolutely dependent on parental discretion and parental standing in the community. That, I think, is the heart of the matter with all other allusions or further interpretations clustering around that central and shocking metaphor. A kingdom of the humble, of the celibate, or of the baptized comes later. This comes first: a kingdom of children is a kingdom of nobodies.' (p. 269)

Jesus Seminar

The views of the Jesus Seminar on this item may be represented as follows:

  • Thom 22:2
  • Thom 22:2
  • Mark 10:14b
  • Matt 19:14
  • Luke 18:16
  • Mark 10:15
  • Luke 18:17
  • Matt 18:3
  • Matt 18:4
  • John 3:3,5

Gerd Lüdemann

Lüdemann [Jesus, 68] takes v 15 a detached saying, inserted into the scene of Mark 10:13-16. He understands the wider scene to be a community creation, reflecting discussion on whether children were to be baptized. He suggests that the memory of Jesus' treatment of children could have been the basis for the scene's creation. He accepts the authenticity of v. 15 primarily on grounds of coherence with other authentic sayings. He dismisses Thom 22:2 as a secondary created (based on Mark 10:15 par) to serve as an introduction to the exposition of Gnostic character in the following sentences.

John P. Meier

While Meier several times refers to these texts as examples of "entrance into the kingdom" sayings [eg, Marginal Jew III,485 n. 146], he does not address the question of their historicity in the first three volumes of his study.

Mahlon Smith

Mahlon Smith ["DOING and UNDOING the WORD: Jesus and the Dialectics of Christology." Forum 3.2 (Fall 2000) 321-56] has described the divine commonwealth as a "kingless kingdom," a "beggars' opera" and an "unsupervised kindergarten" in which there are no carers on duty:

(4) Unsupervised kindergarten. Born into a world where Israelite ideals were difficult to maintain in the face of the pervasiveness of Greek culture and Roman military and economic imperialism, any Jew other than Jesus might have mimicked and elaborated the ancient prophetic descriptions of YHWH's hierarchical heavenly domain. And several did. But there is no reliable evidence that the historical Jesus chose this tack. Rather, he paradoxically depicted God's basileia as the possession of paidia -- i.e., children under the age of seven -- and insisted that only those who mimicked paidia had access to it. Preachers and theologians have long romanticized or allegorized this pronouncement. But no one who has ever lived with a child in this age bracket or tried to teach kindergarten could honestly maintain that what Jesus really meant was that people should be innocent or absolutely dependent or obedient or display unqualified trust. If there is anything a pre-schooler, whatever its culture, is not, it is all of the above. So, if Jesus meant any of these, he chose the wrong metaphor. Pre-schoolers are notoriously and innately independent-minded and hard to control. That is precisely why classic pedagogy stressed the need for strict discipline. But Jesus' pronouncement leaves no space in God's basileia for any pedagogue other than the benign Papa (Abba) who provides his offspring's daily nourishment and tolerates the bad along with the good. Instead of depicting this Parent as a strict disciplinarian dedicated to reforming his children, Jesus portrayed him as one who celebrates the homecoming of the wayward child who had lost everything he had given him. Jesus, for his part, did not volunteer to act as supervisor of such urchins. Instead of posing as a teacher, Jesus thanked his Abba for revealing to infants (NEPIA) -- i.e., children who are not ready for any instruction -- what sages per se cannot see. Infants are not passive subjects; they demand attention and do what they -- not any parents -- want. So, if the synoptic anecdote that portrays Jesus as identifying himself as a paidion is a Markan fiction, at least it is what R. W. Funk terms a 'true fiction': a story that accurately illustrates the logic and attitude of Jesus himself. The historical Jesus was a Jewish Peter Pan, who warned his fellow homeless 'boys' (and 'girls'?) against acting like educated -- supposedly grown-up -- scholars who seek personal recognition and vie for places of honor for themselves. Thus, the only people who were (or are) in an appropriate position to proclaim Jesus as their 'master' (kyrios) and themselves as his 'students' (MAQHTAI) would be those who follow(ed) his example of childish autonomy, even if that meant defying parents and older siblings and defaulting on the most basic honor children owe their natural fathers: a decent burial. Crossan is certainly correct, therefore, to characterize Jesus as a 'rebel with a cause.' For, far from demanding that others recognize him as their master, Jesus encouraged youngsters to assert their own autonomy vis-a-vis even domestic autocratic hierarchy. He did not offer to save them from the consequences.


Gene Stecher

It is very important to touch little children,
Even though some drive them off.
Children are the ones who inhabit God's domain,
and have the key to receiving it.
And Jesus touched and hugged and blessed.
So what's the key?
Total dependency?
Unconditional trust?
Naievete and purity?
No indeed!
Be a nobody!
Be untouchable!
Be a slave!
God's domain
is where
the untouchable
are touched.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.


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