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Was Paul a 'Babe’ among the Thessalonians? 1 Thes 2:7

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The following material is taken directly from Dr. Wallace’s class notes in his course on the Thessalonian letters at Dallas Seminary.

We turn now to one of the thorniest textual problems in the NT. In 1 Thess 2.7, the problem of h[pioi/nhvpioi occurs. The first word, h[pio", means ‘gentle.’ The meaning is quite satisfactory: ‘we became gentle among you, like a nursing mother…’ The variant is significantly harder; nhvpio" means ‘infant,’ ‘little child.’ Many have suggested that this reading is too hard: ‘we became infants among you, like a nursing mother…’ The shift in metaphor seems so violent that ‘infants’ is regarded as a scribal error. This might not be the case however. The external evidence is as follows:



2 A C2 D2 K P Yc 0278 33 1739 1881 Byz et alii


65 * B C* D* F G I Y* it bo et alii.

The external evidence is especially strong for the ‘little children.’ It is not insignificant that the earliest Alexandrian and Western witnesses in support of hpioi are the second correctors. Such correctors generally follow a Byzantine Vorlage. Hence, apart from A, 33, and 1739, the variant hpioi finds its strongest support in the Byzantine text. However, this is not to say that the reading was developed late: it is found in Clement of Alexandria (c. 215) as well as in some of the Sahidic MSS.2 In this text, there is thus the distinct possibility that the amanuensis heard Paul incorrectly. Since the preceding word ended in a n, the secretary could have dropped it or added it to the next word inadvertently. But since Paul always authenticated his letters—not only by taking the pen from the secretary and writing a personal note but also presumably by checking over the contents of each letter—if the secretary wrote the wrong word here, Paul would have corrected it before it was shipped out. If the secretary had written nhpioi and Paul had corrected it, then our earliest witnesses would almost surely attest to the hpioi reading.4 he would be most likely to follow his normal pattern here. Yet this could be countered by the ‘fact’ that when Paul uses nhvpio" it is always applied to his audience, and never to himself (so Metzger, Textual Commentary, 629). Even this is overstated, however: Paul does indeed seem to apply it to himself in at least half of his uses: in 1 Cor 13.11 the word is used five times. Paul uses the first person singular, though in a generic sense (“when I was a child…”). He also seems to include himself with his readers in Gal 4.3 and Eph 4.14. That is the most natural way to take the ‘we’ in each place.6); his usage always implies immaturity, childishness, etc.8 it destroys the metaphor (“we became babes, as a nursing mother cherishes her children”). The wJ" clause in this instance is meaningless. Further, not only does it destroy the metaphor, but the logic of Paul’s argument vanishes, for if Paul and Silas had become babes, they would have been burdensome (though not in terms of authority, certainly in terms of upkeep—the very point that Paul is arguing against!).

(3) It is possible to repunctuate vv 7-8 so that a full stop concludes ajllaV ejgenhvqhmen nhvpioi ejn mevsw/ uJmw'n (thus, “we became little children in your midst”). Then, wJ" ejaVn trofov" begins a new sentence in which a comparison is made between a nursing mother (7b) and “we… gave to you our very lives” (v 8). (See the note on v 8 for more discussion of the punctuation and sense problem related to it.) This possibility gains ground when we recognize that wJ"...ou{tw" form a correlative pair in the NT frequently enough: ‘as…so [also].’ The construction occurs 14 times, the largest group of which are correlatives.10

wJ" ejavn—very rare in NT; is found. Though true, the adverb hjpivw" is found in 1 Clement 23.1 of God giving grace, and the noun hjpiovth" is found often enough, especially of God and Christ, in early patristic writers (cf. Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon, for references). The point is that though h[pio" is a biblical hapax legomenon, in the patristic period its cognates occur more frequently; scribes living in that era would not be unfamiliar with the word and may well have altered the text of 1 Thess 2.7 to conform to this notion.

6 Cf. Louw-Nida 9.43: “the Greek expression didavskalon nhpivwn, literally ‘teacher of little children,’ may be better understood in a sense of ‘teacher of the ignorant’ or ‘teacher of the unlearned.’”

8 Though Crawford takes it to function as a vocative (or, more technically correct, a nominative for vocative), thus, “We became, little children, like a nursing mother…” (Charles Crawford, “The ‘Tiny’ Problem of 1 Thessalonians 2,7: The Case of the Curious Vocative,” Bib 54 (1973) 69-72. A number of difficulties are present with this view: (a) The fact that the word immediately follows a copula (ejgenhvqhmen) suggests that it should be taken as a predicate nominative; (b) Paul’s normal vocative is ajdelfoiv (he could, of course, have followed a different practice in his earlier writings, however); (c) calling them ‘little children’ before he gets to the metaphor seems to be putting the cart before the horse: they would not have understood his meaning until they had read further; (d) calling them ‘little children’ now suggests their immaturity—yet, throughout this letter Paul constantly reminds them of how much they have grown (cf. 1 Cor 3.1; Eph 4.14); and (e) we would not at all expect the subjunctive qavlph/ if nhvpioi were a vocative: this would seem to be a rather unGreek expression (as well as unPauline), for the sense required of the wJ" clause would be “like a nursing mother cherishing her own children.” Instead, we should expect the participle qalpou'sa as an adjectival participle to the predicate nominative trovfo". (It is this final argument that is the weightiest against the vocative view.)

10 The TNIV, released this week, also follows this reading.

12 This is rare enough in the NT, but especially rare when the participle functions like an indicative.

13 The first translation treats dunavmenoi far more naturally, but makes the ajllav awkward; the second translation retains the need for ajllav but makes dunavmenoi an independent participle. Of these two options, I prefer the first.

Related Topics: Textual Criticism