Vol. 1 - No. 11 

November, 1982

"Suffer The Little Children"

by Elton Haley

In the study or discussion of any subject material, it is both advisable and desirable to determine, if possible, the context of the matter under consideration. This subject represents  no exception to this basic rule. Therefore, the place of this event was in Capernaum. (Matthew 17:24). The time: "in that hour." (Matthew 18:1). Shortly before, the disciples apparently as strangers, had been confronted by the publicans to pay the "temple tax." "An attic drachma, or the Jewish half shekel, about one third of a dollar" (Robertson). Jesus asked Peter upon his entrance into the house (vs. 25), "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of their children, or of strangers? Peter saith unto him, of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, then are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea" (Matthew 17:27). The term OFFEND as used in the passage is, "gr" skandalizo (to cause to stumble, Vines), "lest we cause them to stumble (kina me skandalisomen autous)." (Robertson). This is the same word used in the passage under consideration. (Matthew 18:1-6). In this passage Jesus used the term "offend" (K.J.V.), but "to stumble" (A.S.V.), and "—is an occasion for stumbling." (Berkeley Version).

The Term Stumbling or Stumble

This term is used metaphorically, with reference to the attitude of Israel toward Christ and his gospel. They "stumbled at that stumbling stone." "And David saith, let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense unto them." (Romans 11:9). Again, "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone; as it is written, behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." (Romans 9:31-33). From this passage we learn that, "To stumble" is to encounter "a rock of offense," in this case representing Christ and his gospel. Concluding these points, obviously, the term OFFEND, means to cause one to stumble, such as, the case of a brother that acts against his conscience or causes one to fail in the moral or spiritual stability of his faith in Christ. An applicable synonym would be the term, fall. And it is so used, intrinsically, in Romans 11:11: "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?"

In the passage before us (Matthew 18:1-6) some have drawn, what I believe to be, a wrong conclusion or concept of what Jesus meant to convey in the totality of the discourse. Some contend that Jesus spoke of little children, any "little one" even though untaught, that comes to be immersed could not or should not be discouraged to do so "lest we offend" and to refuse to baptize (immerse) even an untaught child would be an act of "offense" or "a cause to stumble." And, if such were the case, the "offender" should be and would be liable for judgment, or even better, "to have a millstone (turned by an ass) hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." This passage is used to foster the false doctrine of "hereditary total depravity" and the sprinkling of little infants, who, supposedly, are guilty of Adam's transgression. (Romans 5:12-14). They teach that "little ones" should be accepted and given entrance into the Kingdom, because Jesus said, "suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the Kingdom of God." This would only be true if the child is amenable, accountable, teachable and convictable. Otherwise, the child would not be an eligible candidate for baptism. The following verse sheds light on the issue for citizens in the Kingdom are as "little children." "Verily I say unto you, whoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God AS a little child, he shall not enter therein." Therefore, I emphatically reject the idea that Jesus is teaching or implying that untaught infants or children are to be considered citizens of the Kingdom through immersion in water or by sprinkling. Little children are safe.

What The Passage Evidently Teaches

To set forth the basic and prospective teaching of Christ on this occasion relative to "LITTLE ONES WHICH BELIEVE ON ME," consider the reason "Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst of them ...." (Matthew 19:2). "At the same time (in the house where discussion was was made with Peter over paying the 'temple tax') came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, 'who is the GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN'?", still expecting a literal Kingdom (Acts 1:6). Their question, Jesus answers, in the subsequent metaphorical passage. Jesus proceeds to teach them a lesson on HUMILITY "in the Kingdom," and uses a child to accomplish this. What better example than a child could have been chosen, to teach a lesson on humility, and at the same time answer their question, "who is the GREATEST in the Kingdom of Heaven?"

I take no exception with the fact that children should be handled discreetly. However, we should not dispense with discipline as required, for fear of "offending or causing to stumble," or employ "Spockism" for fear of warping their tender personality. In fact, most of our problems today, are caused by parental delinquency and not necessarily, juvenile delinquency. "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." (Proverbs 13:25). Neither should we fear to reject or object to immersing a child that is not taught and therefore, not qualified as a subject for baptism. And too, I take no exception with little children desiring to serve God. However, one must understand the basic requirements of the gospel before complying in obedience. "And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the LEAST to the greatest." (Hebrews 8:11). It should be recognized and acknowledged that every child should be considered on the basis of some elemental knowledge of the church, belief, repentance, confession of Christ, some understanding of the purpose of baptism, before the actual immersion takes place. A four year old grand-daughter of mine wanted to be baptized and could tell you why however, her state of innocence offered no justification for a burial in water. Therefore, her request was discreetly deferred. And properly so in my judgment.

Jesus took "a child" that was old enough to come to him and used this child metaphorically to personify the state of humility conductive to greatness in the Kingdom and/or church of Christ. In response to the question raised by the disciples (Matthew 18:1), Jesus replied, "Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven." Note carefully: in verse 6, "But whoso shall offend one of these little ones WHICH BELIEVE IN ME" New born babes in Christ are "little ones." The apostle John called them "little children." (see 1 John 2 through 5). These little children in the church of Kingdom, can be made to STUMBLE, FALL OR BE OFFENDED. (1 Corinthians 3:1; Hebrews 5:12-14). Jesus impressed upon the disciples whom he had chosen, that the Kingdom offered not its citizens partiality, preference, or preeminence. Therefore, to offend or cause an obedient believer in Christ's Kingdom to stumble or fall, would bring the severest of God's disapprobation and wrath. (read carefully Romans 14). 

I should think that any discouragement of one sincerely desiring to obey the gospel who is of an accountable age and properly taught, would likewise be grounds for Divine discipline. Jesus obviously was not saying that little children are LOST and should obey the gospel while still in a state of innocence. He was teaching that if one should refuse to humble himself “AS A LITTLE CHILD” he would be denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, and too, if any should “offend” (cause to stumble, fall) the offender would be held accountable. The lesson becomes even clearer if we note again the context. In the following or subsequent passage, (vs. 11), “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost. How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, (one of the 'little ones' of verse 14) doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these LITTLE ONES should perish “And too, Jesus referring to John the Baptist stated: “Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11).

Although I believe the lesson in Matthew 18:1-4 has a primary meaning in Jesus' response to the question: “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”, I do not believe that it negates the fact that no one should cause a little child to sin or be discouraged in accepting Christ Jesus when that child reaches the “age of accountability,” or so recognized by those responsible for their admonition and instruction. (Complementary passages on the subject are found in Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46; 22:24.)