Close…ExpositionWhat aspect of childlikeness is required for entry into the kingdom?ShareInformationReading ListMatthew 18:3–4 (ESV)3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.In shortWhat aspect of childlikeness is required to enter the kingdom of God?Jesus calls the disciples to accept a position of low status, like children.Jesus calls the disciples to display humility as children display it naturally.When Jesus calls the child he comes, and the disciples should mimic this behaviour.To understand Jesus’ point, we need to remember the low social status of children, especially in the ancient world. Since children are still developing, they cannot care for themselves or make sound decisions, so they are totally dependent on adults. In the ancient world, the term used for child was the same term used to refer to slaves. That’s because a child’s inability to fight, lead, or make a living meant that a child had a low social status. Thus, when Jesus places a child in the midst of the disciples and says they must be like a child to enter the kingdom of God, he means that they must accept their low status. Like children, the disciples could not make themselves great but had to accept the fact that they depend on the mercy of the Father.Some authors think that the childlikeness that Jesus has in mind is the fact that children are naturally humble. The idea is that as children grow into adults, they lose their humbleness and begin to think that they are more important than they really are. Jesus calls us to willfully reject our self-important attitude and become again like humble children.A problem with this view is that children do not seem to be naturally humble. In fact, children are often self-absorbed and mistake themselves to be the centre of attention. Of course, there is truth in the fact that a child’s self-importance is not always intentional and that children are not concerned over social status.Other author authors think that Jesus has in mind the behaviour of the particular child he uses for his example. Specifically, they have in mind the fact that when Jesus called the child into their midst, the child came. In the same way, in order to enter the kingdom, one must respond to Jesus’ call.The problem with this view is that it does not take into account the larger context. The disciples ask, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? and Jesus responds by saying that they must be like a child to enter. In other words, the disciples have self-importance and social status in mind. Thus, it is more likely that Jesus uses a child not because children respond when called but because children are not concerned with social status.The childlikeness that is required for entry into the kingdom is to accept one’s low status as one who is completely dependent on the mercy of the Father.ContentsInterpretation 1:Jesus calls the disciples to accept a position of low status, like children.Interpretation 2:Jesus calls the disciples to display humility as children display it naturally.Interpretation 3:When Jesus calls the child he comes, and the disciples should mimic this behaviour.Interpretation 1:Jesus calls the disciples to accept a position of low status, like children.Summary:In the ancient world, children were not considered particularly useful and had a low status in society. They could not fight or earn money, and because they had no rights they were at the mercy of adults. When the disciples ask, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says only those who are like a child will enter. In other words, only those who are willing to depend on the mercy of the Father and accept their low position will enter the kingdom.We have sinned against God and yet God forgives us through his son Jesus Christ. That God allows us to enter the kingdom through Jesus Christ is a sign of his mercy in the face of our arrogance and sin. God’s mercy should motivate us to humble ourselves before God, and accept that aside from his mercy, we would forever remain outside the kingdom. In other words, we have no grounds for boasting, except to boast in the Lord. Advocates:Ulrich LuzLeon MorrisDavid TurnerMinor differences:Our authors agree that when Jesus says one must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven, he has in mind the low social status of children in the ancient world. There are some minor differences between our authors. For David Turner, the low social status of children in the ancient world means that children are at the mercy of adults. Similarly, those who enter the kingdom ought to accept that they are at the mercy of the Father.1Ulrich Luz agrees that Jesus has the lowliness of children in mind but says lowliness is to reverse completely one’s previous standard of thought and action and to orient one’s life to a different order and to new standards.2 On the face of it, Luz’s definition of lowliness sounds more like a definition of repentance.Arguments1We should understand Jesus’ comment in light of children’s status in the ancient world.Explanation:When the disciples ask, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus says that unless one becomes like a child, one will not even enter the kingdom. To understand what it means to be like a child, we need to understand the social status of children in the ancient world. Children were incomplete beings who had to be trained in order to mature. In fact, the term παιδίον (child), which Jesus uses in our text, was the same term used to refer to a slave.3 The fact is, children were not important in the ancient world because they were not considered useful. They could not fight, lead, or acquire wealth. So when Jesus places a child in the midst of the disciples and says that they must become like him to enter the kingdom, he made a provocative point.4 If you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must give up your notions of status and usefulness and become like this child.Counterargument:The problem with this view is that Jesus does not hold the same view of children as his contemporaries. In other words, while Jesus’ contemporaries may have thought that children were not particularly useful, he corrects this thinking in Matthew 19:14. There the disciples rebuke the people for bringing their children to Jesus, but Jesus tells the disciples not to hinder the children from coming to him. Jesus understands that children are humans who are created in the image of God, so if adults are valuable, so are children. This argument asks us to hold that Jesus leveraged the diminished status of children, which he did not hold to himself, in order to make a point about entering the kingdom. It is unlikely that Jesus would let his audience think that he had a diminished view of children.Response to counterargument:Maybe we can soften this interpretation so that Jesus has in mind not the status of children in the ancient world but the status of children in general. If we concede that Jesus would not diminish the status of children in order to make his point, it is still the case that children are lowly and dependent. For example, children are not mature enough to make good decisions, and they depend on the guidance of adults.5 In other words, due to the immaturity and inexperience of children, their position in society is one of dependence. In order to enter the kingdom of heaven, one must understand that in terms of the kingdom, one is immature, inexperienced, and totally dependent on God’s care and mercy. Thus, Jesus has in mind the low social status of children, without inferring that children are useless or inferior to adults.2The term to humble has to do with lowliness.Explanation:Jesus says that one must become like a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). He then explains that whoever humbles [ταπεινώσει] himself” like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. So what does it mean to humble oneself like a child? The root of the verb ταπεινόω (to humble) is ταπεινός, which primarily has to do with low social status, being undistinguished, and of no account.6 This implies that the notion of humbling oneself like a child has to do with accepting the fact that one is not particularly distinguished, or of special account. In other words, Jesus has more than an inner attitude of humbleness in mind, but acceptance that according to external standards, aside from God’s mercy, one is not all that special.7 Thus, one does not enter the kingdom by competition but by accepting one’s lowly place.8Counterargument:The root ταπεινός can mean low social status, but it can also mean an attitude of humbleness.9 For example, in Matthew 11:29 Jesus says that he is gentle and humble in heart. We might take this to mean that Jesus is gentle with an inward attitude of humbleness. Similarly, when he says that whoever humbles himself like a child is greatest in the kingdom, he likely means that whoever has a humble attitude is greatest in the kingdom.Response to counterargument:Unfortunately, this counterargument does not capture the nuance of the term ταπεινός (humble). For even when Jesus refers to himself as gentle and humble of heart, we can take it to mean that he was humble and of lowly status. Jesus did not try to make a name for himself, or cry aloud in the streets (Matthew 12:19). Further, when we consider the context of Matthew 18:3–4, we have to keep in mind that Jesus responds to a question from the disciples. So to understand what it means that whoever humbles oneself as a child is greatest in the kingdom, we have to consider the question Jesus responds to. In Matthew 18:1 the disciples ask Jesus, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The question reveals that social status is high on the disciples’ minds, but Jesus quickly rebukes such thinking. For unless one becomes like a child, one will not even enter the kingdom (Matthew 18:3). In other words, the person who stops worrying about his social status and accepts that before God his standing is not greater than that of a dependent child, he will not enter the kingdom.Possible weaknesses:The only problem with this view is that it seems to condone a low view of children. This weakness can be rectified in that while we may mistake the dependency of children as something that makes them second-class, Jesus does not see children this way. Rather, even though children are dependent and subordinate, Jesus welcomes them and calls believers to be like them.Interpretation 2:Jesus calls the disciples to display humility as children display it naturally.Summary:While children are not innocent because they sin, they are naturally humble. So, when the disciples ask who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says that only those who are humble, as children are naturally humble, will enter the kingdom.Advocates:Donald CarsonJohn NollandArguments1Children are naturally humble.Explanation:What Jesus means when he says that unless you become like a child, you will not enter the kingdom, can be deduced by considering the character of a child. For unlike adults, children are by nature humble. In other words, children do not consider themselves important. Thus, Jesus calls the disciples to deliberately choose to be what children are naturally. That is, he calls them to deny their own importance, and take on a posture of subordination.10Counterargument:It is not clear that children are naturally humble. In fact, children are often self-absorbed and believe themselves to be the centre of attention. The fact is children often carry the seed form of the traits that Jesus argues against in Matthew 18:3–4.11 So given that children are not naturally humble, it is hard to see how Jesus could have in mind the natural humbleness of children.Response to counterargument:First, this counterargument has to do more to establish that the child Jesus uses as an example carries the seeds of the traits that Jesus argues against. The traits Jesus argues against are the notions of self-importance related to who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. To establish that the child that Jesus uses as an example carries the traits that Jesus argues against, one would have to identify what sort of trait that fighting over who will be the greatest in the kingdom is. Is it pride? Self-importance? Next, one would have to identify the age of the child that Jesus uses as an example and show that children of that age show the sort of prideful self-importance Jesus argues against. This view simply asserts that it’s the case that all children have whatever traits Jesus argues against, but it must do more than make assertions.Further, even if children are prideful and self-absorbed, they do not seem concerned with social standing. And social standing seems to be the trait that Jesus argues against.12Response to response to counterargument:The problem with this response is that it undermines itself. For it posits that because we don’t know the age of the child, we cannot say what sort of traits the example child has, and then it goes on to argue that the example child is not worried about social standing. How could we determine whether or not the child is worried about social standing unless we know the age of the child? Generally, children of any age are not concerned with social standing, and this seems to be Jesus’ main point.Possible weaknesses:The problem with this view is that it does not consider how ancient people viewed children. Ancients did not take into account the positive attributes of children, but saw children as people of low status as they grew in maturity. It’s likely the view that children are of low status that Jesus taps into in Matthew 18:3–4. Further, if this view ends up concluding that Jesus has in mind the low social status and not the humbleness of children, it collapses into Interpretation 1.Interpretation 3:When Jesus calls the child he comes, and the disciples should mimic this behaviour.Summary:The disciples want to know who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus answers their question by calling a child into their midst, and explaining that unless they become like a child, they will not enter the kingdom. Jesus’ point is that when Jesus called, the child obeyed. So only those who obey Jesus’ call will enter the kingdom.Advocate:Jakob van BruggenArguments1When Jesus calls the child, the child comes.Explanation:The disciples want to know who will be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus answers by calling a child to himself, and explaining that unless one becomes like a child, one will not enter the kingdom. So what is it about the child that Jesus says one must mimic? We know from the account that as soon as Jesus calls the child, the child comes. That the child comes when called must be the characteristic that Jesus has in mind.13 Jesus’ point is that children do not guide themselves, but are guided. In the same way, adults should let themsevles be guided into the kingdom as children are guided.14Counterargument:The problem with this view is that Jesus does not say in order to enter the kingdom you must do what this particular child did on this particular occasion. Instead, Jesus says that in order to enter the kingdom you must become like children. In other words, Jesus does not uphold the obedience of the particular child in their midst but upholds the general quality of all children. And what is the general quality of all children? It might include the fact that children come when they are called, but it also might include a child’s trustworthiness, and lowly status in society.15Further, we know that Jesus expands on the qualities of children that he has in mind when he says whoever humbles himself like this child. The verb for to humble has to do with a lowly stature. So Jesus is saying, whoever makes himself lowly in the way that a child is naturally lowly is the greatest in the kingdom of God.16Possible weaknesses:The weakness of this view is that it narrows the scope of Jesus’ analogy. Since Jesus does not specify that it’s the particular action of the particular child that he uses as an example, we are open to infer more from the example of a child than just that it responds when called. In other words, we can infer that to enter the kingdom one must respond when called, and one must be trusting, humble, of low stature, and so on.