A “Bastard” in a Fatherless Age … (part 2)

Yesterday afternoon, I introduced you to the world of the half-breed Timothy, bastard son of the Jewish disciple, Eunice, who herself was seen as a prostitute by the community around her.  It was an ugly world to be sure; and if you haven’t taken the time to read about it, I would highly suggest that you do so now before continuing forward with this discussion.

A “Bastard” in a Fatherless Age … (part 1)

Today, I want to continue forward in our exploration of the remarkable life of Timothy because I believe that there are staggeringly beautiful gems to mine down in the deep shafts of “incidental words.”  So why don’t we start by talking about the age of Timothy.  Read with me the words of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example to the believers in what you say, how you behave, in love, faith and holiness.”

The word I want to focus upon here is the word “young” (from the Greek word: neotes).  From the use of this word, we can rightfully conclude that Timothy, at the time of this letter, is somewhere between the age of 25 to 33.[1]  But there’s more to this puzzle.  Notice how Paul is advising Timothy not to allow anyone to look down upon him because of his youth.  Why is he doing that?  Well the answer is really rather simple.  In Jewish culture, men were not allowed to take leadership positions until the age of 30.[2]  So in all probability, Timothy is actually younger than 30 at the time of this writing, which explains Paul’s warning to him.

This is the Lytra Tell located in the modern state of Turkey.

Now the pieces are beginning to fall into place.  From history, we know that the First Epistle to Timothy was written sometime between 65 and 66 AD.  We also know, from history, that Paul’s second missionary journey (when he first found Timothy) began in 49 AD.  So if Timothy was under the age of 30 at the time when Paul advises him not to allow anyone to look down upon him for his youth, then we can rightfully conclude that Timothy was roughly 10 to 12 years old when Paul first encounters him in the small, out-of-the-way town known as Lystra.

Don’t gloss over that.  Timothy was 10-12 years old when Paul first looked at him and said: “In the Messiah, there is neither Greek nor Jew, Timothy.  Everyone is equal.  All the social layers and the hatred that this world constructs … it means nothing in Jesus, Tim.  Nothing!”

To me, this is utterly fascinating.  A few days ago, I walked you through the ages of the disciples chosen by Jesus and we concluded that all of them, with the exception of Peter, were under the age of 20.  Now, when it comes time for Paul to chose his disciples, he continues the tradition of his day and the tradition of Jesus; and he selects another “kid.”

Why is it that when it came time for the Kingdom of God to be announced throughout the ancient world, Jesus the Messiah and the Apostle Paul chose “children?”  And why is that much of our youth ministry is centered around keeping our “kids” safe and making sure that they are thoroughly entertained and not bored?

Somewhere along the way, there has been a radical disconnect between the potential that Jesus and Paul saw in “children” versus the immaturity that we see and foster through a prolonged adolescence that we currently extend into the late 20s.  Is it time for us to be begin to respect the capabilities of our “kids” by challenging them with deep, insightful teaching that actually equips them to become true disciples in this world?  Is it time for us to give them the best of our teachers as opposed to giving them the newly-minted seminary grads that are merely putting in time before they can become senior pastors themselves?  Is it time for a sea-change in how we do youth ministry?

[1] The Greek word neotes merely suggests youth.  But, the word is also used by Luke in his account of the “Rich Young Ruler.”  When we look at the parallel account of the “Rich Young Ruler” found in Matthew’s Gospel, we see that Matthew uses another word to describe the age of the ruler: neaniskos.  This word is a bit more specific, and it actually suggests a man anywhere from his mid-20s to his early 30s.

[2] The Code of Jewish Law (O.C. 581:1) instructs Jewish gatherings to look for certain qualities in those that would lead the services on the High Holidays.  Amongst these qualities is a minimum age of 30 because, as the Mishna Brura explains, a 30-year old is humble, soft-hearted, and capable of actually “praying from the heart.”

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5 Responses to A “Bastard” in a Fatherless Age … (part 2)

  1. Josh The Younger says:

    Considering that I am reading this blog after taking your class, I think we can assume you believe the answer is yes. And I agree with you, Mr. Bryant. There’s no point in sheltering teenagers from tough questions. They are going to be asked eventually. Even if it’s just for the sake of protecting us, teenagers should be given these questions while they have elders in the faith to guide them. If they get the questions slammed over their skulls after they head out into the world and don’t have anyone to guide them, it could yield disastrous results.

  2. Morning Josh … All I can say is this: wait ’til tomorrow’s post. Then you’ll have a really good sense of just how potent I really want our youth ministry to be!

  3. Scott, I assume you know how I would answer this, too. I believe the reason we have so many Peter Pans running around in the adult world demanding to have their appetites satisfied is because we train our young people to live this way. We actually disciple them to be self-absorbed by bringing ministry down to them rather than bringing them up toward the transcendent, the Almighty, whom alone can satisfy the God-given hunger we all have to connect with something outside ourselves. Rather we blunt that desire and turn it into something ugly.

    It’s interesting that you point out Timothy’s probable age when Paul first encountered him. Something so important is going on in the lives of 10-12 year olds. I have seen it happen over and over again. Let me give you a recent example:

    Our church made a decision to suspend Sunday School for the months of November and December so that we, as an entire congregation, could focus on extended fellowship and working on service projects together. Last Sunday, I witnessed several amazing things (which I intend to blog about at some point because I was moved to tears over some of them).

    At one table, there were 40 + year old women cutting out construction paper leaves upon which members are invited to write down the things for which they are the most thankful. We hang these on a beautifully painted 6 ft tall tree painted on a canvas. Every Sunday, we all gather around to see the newest additions and rejoice with one another about God’s goodness to His people. The next time I glanced over at the table, there was an assortment of toddlers, youths, teens who had joined the original group. The ladies where holding little ones on their laps helping them cut the leaves—and not worrying about how perfect they were. There was laughter as they all discussed what was going on in their lives and asking each other about what things they would write on a leaf.

    At another table, a very sad man sat with a few teenagers playing a game of chess. There was very little conversation at that table. The man, who suffers from psychological problems and whose world is falling apart, could barely manage to lift the pieces to move them. Our teen boys were sitting in dust and ashes with him, comfortable to say nothing, just being near him and engaging with him so that he would not feel alone.

    In an adjacent room, the ten year old girls had gathered—on their own initiative and without any adult assistance—to discuss how they were going to use their time during the hiatus from Sunday School. They wanted to have this meeting so that they would use these few weeks wisely! Grace was part of that group. When we got home, she showed me the minutes of their meeting. (Presyberian deliberation and documentation must be in their veins.) They are going to discuss the Psalms of Thanksgiving and take turns reading and leading discussion. Grace had been appointed “Academic Director” (okay this cracked me up) and she spent Sunday afternoon writing out their purpose statement and the next week’s lesson…along with the Psalms to be discussed in upcoming weeks. Here is the purpose statement: “The purpose of this group is to take leadership and to encourage each other to grow in thankfulness and faith.” 10 years-old! TEN!

    And so, I could not agree with you more. We sell our kids short belying our faith in the promises of God to be God to us and to our children after us. If we really believe that, why do we disrespect them by giving them twaddle when we have the Words of LIfe?

    Sorry, I guess I blogged on your blog.

    Keep it coming, brother!

  4. To add on to this conversation…Mr. Bryant, please become the President of the United States. That’s all.

  5. Diane Schiller says:

    Thanks for putting this into words. I hope and pray youth ministry begins to change.

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