Marcia J. Bunge, John Wall

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Scopus citations


The relation of Christianity to children and childhood is complex, diverse, and disputed. It is as old as the origins of Christianity itself in Jesus's own birth and childhood and in his relationship to children. Two thousand years of Christian history have produced multiple and even confl icting theological understandings of childhood and how actual children should be treated by adults and society. What is more, considerations of childhood have frequently shaped- And been shaped by-other fundamental Christian beliefs and practices. However, in part because of the actions and sayings of Jesus that are recorded in the gospels, Christians throughout almost their whole history have interpreted Christian faith and practice in one way or another in relation to "these little ones." This rich Christian history is all too often forgotten today, both in Christian communities and among Christian theologians and ethicists. Even within the Church, the interpretation of the meaning of children's lives is generally left to educators, psychologists, and social scientists. Recovering the history of Christian beliefs and practices regarding children can therefore help strengthen contemporary Christian theological and ethical refl ection on children as well as encourage Christians to be stronger advocates for children themselves. This history is also important for all those interested in world religions to better understand Christianity itself. This chapter aims to illustrate the long and varied tradition of Christian understandings of children and childhood. Since so much of this tradition is based on biblical texts, this chapter includes a range of passages from the New Testament. Selections in the rest of this chapter are drawn by and large from signifi cant fi gures within Christianity who continue to infl uence beliefs and practices today. Important passages regarding children from what Christians call the Old Testament can be found in the chapter on Judaism, and many of them are highlighted in this introduction as well as cited by authors in this chapter. So much has been written about and for children in the history of Christianity, and forms of Christianity worldwide are so multifaceted and varied, that these documents are far from exhaustive.1 This chapter includes primarily theological essays. It does not include other important and interesting sources, such as baptismal liturgies, fi rst communion and confi rmation rituals, catechisms, Sunday school materials, missionary tracts, parenting manuals, denominational social statements, encyclicals, church records, legal documents, Canon Law, biblical commentaries, fi ction, memoirs, diaries, biographies, novels, poetry, or material from Bibles, hymns, prayers, liturgies, art books, and sermons written directly for or, in some cases, by children. Furthermore, this chapter cannot address important historical questions such as how these texts were received and used, how children were actually treated, or what practices were actually carried out with and by children. Because most Christian theologians in history were male, there are few texts by women. Finally, none of the newly emerging writings on children in Christianity from the last thirty years are included.2 Trying to represent diverse contemporary theological trends, although they are discussed further below, is beyond the practical scope of the chiefl y historical focus of this chapter. Despite these and other limitations, the included selections do illustrate some of the important questions, theological understandings, and religious practices that Christians worldwide and in diverse cultural settings have pursued and continue to pursue concerning children and childhood. And many contemporary Christian thinkers and communities around the world are highly informed by and critically appropriate ideas represented in these classical sources. The selections also do include sources arising out of a variety of forms of Christianity. Above all, it is hoped that these selected texts can serve as a springboard for further exploration of children and childhood within past and present forms of Christianity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationChildren and Childhood in World Religions
Subtitle of host publicationPrimary Sources and Texts
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages67
ISBN (Print)9780813545172
StatePublished - 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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