105 Was Paul “a baby” or “gentle” among the Thessalonians?

105. Babes or gentle 1Thes. 2:7

In 1 Thessalonians 2:6 – 7 Paul stresses his and his fellow apostles’ position towards the congregation in the form of a couplet. In a couplet the second sentence accentuates the first. But in the first sentence we find a variation in the manuscripts caused a single letter. Some manuscripts read “…we were babies (nēpioi) among you.”, while others read “…we were gentle (ēpioi) among you.” Look at the following translations:

NIV and KJV: “…we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were GENTLE among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children. “

NLT: “…we were LIKE CHILDREN amongst you…”

Even the two main compiled Greek source texts differ. The Nestle Aland Text favours “gentle” (ēpioi), while the United Bible Societies text chooses “babies” (nēpioi).

1. External Criteria.
First we look at the manuscripts that have survived.

1 Thessalonians 2;7

Versions: Babes, nepioi: Gentle, epioi:
Source: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers: Greek: Translations: Church Fathers:
201-300 Papyrus 65 Origen*, Clement Sahidic Origen*, Clement
301-400 Sinaiticus, Vaticanus Vulgate, Bohairic Ambrosiaster, Ephraem Fayyumic Basil
401-500 Ephraemi, Bezae, Washington Pauline 1 Old Latin, Ethiopic Jerome, Augustine, Cyril Alexandrinus Syriac, Armenian Chrysostom*, Theodore (Latin), Euthalius, Theodoret
601-700 Syriac
701-800 At.- Laurae 3 Old Latin, John-Damascus
801-900 Boernerianus 5 Old Latin Mosquensis, Porphyrianus, Minuscule 33
901-1000 1 Old Latin
1001-1600 4 Minuscules 1 Old Latin 18 Minuscules, Byzantine Lectionary Theophylact

The oldest manuscript we have on the Pauline Epistles, Papyrus 65 (±225 A.D.) has “babes”. Yet an ancient translation a Sahidic (Old Egyptian) of that same period has “gentle”. An ancient translation proves that a Greek document with that version had been in use at that time and at that place. During the same period, Origen who left us a commentary on every sentence of the New Testament, quoted “gentle” thrice, but “babes” only once, while Clement has a score of two for each!
Worldwide biblical scholars accept the Alexandrian Text type as the superior. In this verse both the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus have “babes” while the Sahidic and the Fayyumic, both also Alexandrian, have “gentle”.
By the year 500 A.D. the Greek manuscripts overwhelmingly favour “babes” with six manuscripts against only one with “gentle”. The ancient Translations balance with four each while the Church Fathers give a little preference to “gentle” with Chrysostom who also left us with a commentary on the New Testament.
Judging on the manuscript evidence, “babes” should be favoured.
Though the UBS – Text favours “babes”, it rates its
own choice only as a “C”, meaning “…there is a considerable degree of doubt whether the text (babes) or the apparatus (gentle) contains the superior reading.”

2. Internal Criteria.
But how could this variation have originated?

1. A reading error. The preceding word ends on an “N” (egenēthemen). At that time Greek had been written in scriptio continua, leaving no spaces between words. A double “N” could easily be mistaken for a single, and visa versa.
2. But another reading error was as easily made. When the last word in a line ended on a “N”, that N sometimes was not written out but indicated by a horizontal line above the preceding letter. That could easily be missed.

3. A hearing error. In all languages a single or double “N” cannot audibly be discerned easily.

It is easy to explain how this variation could have originated, yet it could have gone in any direction. The internal evidence brings us no further to any certain decision. We need something else!

3. Intrinsic Criteria.
Let us look at the typical language, grammar and words Paul himself used, as well as the context in which this variation occurs.
1. The word “gentle” (ēpioi) is found in the New Testament only in 2 Timothy 2:24 where Paul mentions it as a requirement of the servant of God. Yet Paul himself uses “babes” (nēpioi) no less than twelve times. But in each instance “babes” refer to his converts, and never to himself.

2. Context. In verses 1-6 Paul gives clear evidence that he fearlessly proclaimed the gospel, even though it leads to suffering and bad treatment like in Philippi (1-4). He also was not concerned about human praise or flattery (5-6). Why would he now present himself as a helpless baby?
Bear in mind that he either presents himself as a “baby”, or he presents himself as “gentle” to the Thessalonians.
3. If Paul had in fact referred to himself as a babe, that would cause a problem with the second sentence of the couplet. “Like a mother cherishes her children” can accentuate “being gentle”, but not “being a baby”.

4. The context of verses seven b through twelve again stresses the fact that Paul could have demanded certain privileges, but he had been gentle and never a burden upon them. A baby would in fact demand everything!

The intrinsic criteria strongly plead for “gentle” to be preferred.

The manuscript criteria give a little favour to the choice of “babes” over “gentle”.
How the variation could have originated is easily explained, but that gives no indication of which could have been the original.
The intrinsic criteria have a much stronger appeal on “gentle” than “babes’. Both the way Paul uses the words as well as the direct and larger context almost demand “gentle” as the appropriate word.

Any and every variation calls for responsible examination and sound evaluation of all facts involved. The Bible Translator is accountable to God in the first place.

The Contemporary English Version has an unsatisfactory translation: “But as apostles, we could have demanded help from you. After all, Christ is the one who sent us. We chose to be LIKE CHILDREN OR LIKE A MOTHER nursing her baby.” The problem here is that it contrasts the two sentences of the couplet that do not stand in opposition.
Paul emphasized in this verse that he had been gentle in proclaiming the gospel, and in demanding sustenance from the Thessalonians. He would never yield like a baby to the demands of anybody or any situation.
But he indeed had been gentle in the way he did his work as apostle. He is accountable to God alone.

God bless,


Your comments are welcome at the bottom of this page, or to me at bibledifferences@gmail.com

About Herman of bibledifferences.net

The reasons for the differences between older Bibles like the King James Version and newer Bibles like the New International Version have fascinated me ever since my studies in Theology at the University of Pretoria in the seventies. I have great respect for scribes through the ages as well as Bible translators, so there must be good reasons for the differences. With more than 5600 Greek manuscripts and more than 19000 manuscripts of ancient translations to our disposal, the original autographs of the New Testament can be established without doubt. I investigate the reasons behind the differences and publish the facts in a post on my blogs www.bibledifferences.net (Afrikaans: www.bybelverskille.wordpress.com) to enable my readers to judge for themselves. Personally I love to make an informed decision based of facts. That is why I endeavor to provide that same privilege to the readers of my blogs. Since 1973 I am married to my dear wife and greatest friend, Leah Page, founder director of Act-Up Support (www.actup.co.za) a prayer ministry for families struggling with drug-, occult- and other dependencies. We are blessed with two daughters and two sons, four grand sons and two grand daughters. God is alive and omnipotent! Glory to His Name! Herman Grobler.
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