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When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language

Posted by on Aug 24, 2012 in discipleship | 3 comments

When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language

In this short series, I’m looking at the ways that Paul referred to people who traveled with him and people he worked with in various cities in order to answer these questions: How did Paul think those who traveled with him and worked with him? Did he think of himself as being a superior with them being subordinates (i.e., a hierarchy)? Did he think of them all as equals?

A few days ago, I introduced the series by asking, “What did Paul think of his subordinates?” Next, I defined some of the terms that I will use: superior, subordinate, and hierarchy. Then, in my previous post, I covered the terms that Paul used most often to refer to other believers: brother/sister and fellow-worker/soldier/servant.

In this post, I look at the father/child language that Paul also uses to refer to other believers. Here are all the passages in which Paul refers to others using father/child language:

For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:15-17 ESV)

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son (child) with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. (Philippians 2:19-24 ESV)

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord… This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, (1 Timothy 1:1-2,18 ESV)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord… You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 1:1-2; 2:1 ESV)

Paul, a servant of God… To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. (Titus 1:1,4 ESV)

I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Philemon 1:10 ESV)

And, using related language, in the passage below Paul refers to someone as his “mother”:

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. (Romans 16:13 ESV)

And, finally, in this passage, we find both the “father,” “mother,” and “brother/sister” language used:

Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2 ESV)

What can we learn from these passages about the father/child language that Paul uses? Does he use this terminology to refer to himself as superior to others or to refer to them as subordinate to himself?

(I’m going to talk about these passages in more detail in my next post.)


Series: Does Paul refer to other Christians as superiors/subordinates?

  1. What did Paul think about his subordinates?
  2. Defining the terms
  3. The ways that Paul most often refers to other believers
  4. When Paul refers to other believers using father/child language
  5. Examining Paul’s use of the father/child language
  6. Does Paul use the term apostle to refer to a superior/subordinate relationship?
  7. When Paul DOES use the language of superiors and subordinates


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 8-24-2012

    Until you have adult children, not sure you have the right relationship in mind. A parent-adult child relationship is quite mutual.

    While they’re at home, you begin to give them responsibility for themselves, including the freedom to fail. This “handover” goes on almost from the earliest childhood days when you let your child play with a toy without you being present, like ride a bicycle, for example.

    By the time they are in their teens, more and more responsibility has become theirs. They fail, just as mom and dad does, and it is not the end of the world (nor the end of “privileges”–self responsibility is important. Even God does not take that away from us.

    But when they are grown, mom and dad become occasional coaches. Children become friends and confidants. Your kids learn to do things you can’t, or things you do, better than you. I’ve never ever competed with my kids. I love everything they can do better/more/different from me. I tell them so, with pride.

    Now in my 60’s, one daughter with a fully grown child of her own, and one son with a newborn babe, my kids show as much care and concern for mom and me as we do for them.

    When scripture calls a man an “elder” and says he should have children who are faithful, most of us think of small children and young parents. Frankly, I think it is the parent-adult child relationship in mind. My kids have respect for us, and we for them. We both care immensely about each other. The relationship is deep and close, but importantly, it is mutual in care and sacrifice.

  2. 8-24-2012


    Since you’re going to talk further about this in a later post, I will wait to fully comment. 🙂 But…I like where you are going with this! Even in groups that are united in, and by, Christ, there is that certain unspoken sense of family. (I’ll keep quiet for now….)

  3. 8-24-2012


    Interesting. I had thought too much about the relative ages in the father/child relationship, but you might be right. It might help us understand that in this relationship both “father” and “child” are fully functioning members of the community of Christ.


    I look forward to your input. I can tell you that my next post picks up with what we can learn about the father/child relationship in these passages.