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Answering The Atheist
September 11, 2005 / Volume 5, Issue 37

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Is it a good thing to be childish? Some Bible texts say yes (Matthew 18:3; Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:15; Luke 18:17), but others say no (1 Corinthians 13:11; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14). Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
It is striking to me how some proposed Bible contradictions display the complete lack of integrity on the part of the Bible opponent. This is one of those cases.

Let us first address the 4 "affirmative" texts, and then afterward, the 3 "negative" texts.

Matthew 18:4 explains what Jesus means by saying, "...unless you are converted and become as little children..." He is not calling us to a lifestyle of childishness, He wants each of us to "...humble himself as this little child..." Shortly after this discourse, some little children were brought to Jesus, but the disciples rebuked them. Jesus declared, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." (19:14). Again, the Lord is not calling upon the Christian to become childish, but is drawing upon the characteristics which can be seen in children (ie. humility, trusting, lack of partiality, etc.). Mark 10:15 and Luke 18:17 are parallels to this text.

Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 13:11 in no way counters Jesus' requirement that we receive the kingdom of heaven with childlike trust and devotion. In context, the apostle is speaking about the miraculous gifts which God had distributed among the saints (ie. tongues, prophecy, knowledge), and their eventual end. He contrasts the word of God as given through these gifts (which is in part) with the complete revelation of God's word. The time would come when the gifts would no longer be needed, for we would have the perfect (complete) will of God revealed. Then, the gifts (identified as "childish things") would be put away; they would cease. The apostle is not inferring that the gifts are foolishness, but simply part of the process leading from partial revelation to complete revelation. Once the whole will of God was revealed, the need for the gifts ceased, just as when we grow up, we no longer need the tools and aids available for children.

It seems that the questioner didn't read 1 Corinthians 14:20 carefully, since it both encourages us to not be children, and to be children. When it comes to understanding, Paul admonishes "do not be children", but with regard to malice, he says "be babes". This has nothing to do with childishness, it has to do with being a mature Christian. The mature Christian has understanding, but does not act with malice. He is as a child in one regard, and not in the other.

In Ephesians 4:14, Paul encourages the Christian to not be "...tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine..." These words are preceded by "...we should no longer be children..." As much as children are humble and trusting, they are also naive. When it comes to God's word, we need to know what it says, and not be carried about with other doctrines. This admonition is much like the first part of 1 Corinthians 14:20.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible