Word of the Week
June 19, 2021
Paidagōgos: The Child-Leader
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.
We know what a school teacher does. College professors are familiar figures. We have watched soccer coaches and swimming instructors work with our children. We understand the role of a tutor.
All of these job titles are familiar. However, the New Testament talks about a job description that you’ve probably never encountered: the paidagōgos (pie-dah-goh-GAHS).
First century Romans regularly employed a paidagōgos to play a vital role in raising their kids, and it’s impossible to understand their educational system without understanding this unusual position.
Ancient education isn’t your specialty? We can still gain from learning about the job because the apostle Paul says that God used the Old Testament law to fulfill this role in His plan to bring us to salvation. Understand what a paidagōgos does and you can better grasp God’s plans for us.
What is a paidagōgos?
The title is built on two Greek words that mean “child” and “leader.” In a well-to-do Greek or Roman household, the parents would assign someone, usually a slave, to watch over their son. It was his responsibility to keep the boy safe – and keep him out of trouble. He would exercise discipline and teach him good manners.
The paidagōgos was not actually the teacher who provided formal, academic instruction. His job was to make sure little Festus showed up on time for class and paid attention during the lessons. He would accompany the lad home to ensure that there were no unscheduled detours.
The “child-leader” spent much time with the child, playing an important role. However, there were two other people who were even more important: the teacher and the father. It was always a mistake to let the paidagōgos overshadow the others.
The apostle Paul found it necessary to warn believers twice about the risk of overrating a “child-leader.”
Galatians 3:24-25 – The Law is God’s paidagōgos.
A faction in the churches of Galatia was pushing the idea that you had to observe the Old Testament law to be a Christian. Circumcision, kosher food, Sabbath observance – all were features of the Jewish lifestyle that had become intertwined with the gospel they presented.
It sounded plausible. After all, wasn’t God the one who installed the law in the first place? Surely He would still require us to obey it!
Paul, however, explained that the law was merely a paidagōgos, intended by God to bring us to Christ. Just as the slave made sure that the boy got to class, the law prepared mankind for the coming of Jesus to provide salvation. It taught the Jews God’s requirements of holiness, and made it clear that they could not live up to those requirements.
The authority of a paidagōgos only stayed in effect while the child was growing up. When the young man became an adult, he was no longer under those restrictions. In Galatians 3:25, Paul explains, “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a paidagōgos.”
The Old Testament served a vital purpose, but God purposely superseded it with the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:15 – Human leaders are God’s paidagōgos.
The Church in Corinth was split. They had broken into factions, each promoting their favorite leader and downplaying the others who had guided their congregations in the past. A number of them were complaining about Paul’s ministry, questioning his leadership and sniping at his teachings. It was a pitiful situation.
After writing three chapters to address these destructive attitudes, Paul made a personal appeal.
I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless paidagōgos, yet you would not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:14-15)
A “child-leader” was an employee, a slave assigned to take care of a boy. He might be dismissed at any time at the discretion of the father, and a new one might assigned. Similarly, God had sent various leaders to minister in Corinth. All of these served faithfully, and each played a valuable role in the development of the church. But Paul was the founding father of the church. He was the one who would never stop praying and working for their good. His love was deep and permanent, the love of a parent, not just a paidagōgos.
The lesson: Never get so attached to the good that you overlook the best!
This word occurs only three times in the New Testament, so we had to look elsewhere for information on it. Any good commentary or Bible dictionary will provide the basic information about this word. The trickiest part is the fact that no English word really fits the idea. Various versions render it as “instructor, teacher, guide, custodian, guardian.”
Q: Is the specific tense used for “was” in John 1:1-2 connected to his claim of eternal being when he called himself “I AM” in John 8:5? Is there another word that John would have used if he meant something different?
A: There is one main verb in Greek that means “to be” and that is what John uses when he says, “The Word was God.” Jesus used a different tense of the same verb in John 8:58, so there’s a possible connection. The only weakness in the argument is that this is an extremely common verb used for all sorts of things. It’s the word that would routinely be used in both of these statements, just based on the typical way of saying things.
One interesting note: Greek does have another verb, ginomai, that often means “become.” It is the normal verb you would use to say that something wasn’t originally true but it then became true. It is the word used in John 1:14 which says, “The Word became flesh.” He wasn’t always flesh, but He became flesh at a certain point. I think this is an implied contrast with John 1:1, which doesn’t say He became God. He just was God.
Ephesians says that we are God’s “workmanship.” Some have paraphrased this as “God’s masterpiece.” Next week we will look at the Greek word behind this idea to paint a picture of how God uses us to display His skill.
©Ezra Project 2021