Child-Parent Imagery in the Catholic Epistles -- By: Peter Balla

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: Child-Parent Imagery in the Catholic Epistles
Author: Peter Balla

Child-Parent Imagery in the Catholic Epistles

Peter Balla

Peter Balla is the Lecturer and Head of the New Testament Department of the Faculty of Theology of the Károli Gáspár Reformed University, Budapest, Hungary. He received his Master of Theology (1988) and Ph.D. (1994) from University of Edinburgh. His Habilitationsschrift was accepted by the Lutheran Theological Universit y in Budapest in October 2001. Dr. Balla’s doctoral dissertation, Challenges to New Testament Theology: An Attempt to Justify the Enterprise, has recently been published by Hendrickson.

In the Catholic Epistles the theme of the “real” child-parent relationship is not addressed. The figurative sense of the term “children” is often applied to the recipients in two ways: as the children of the writer and at the same time as God’s children. When discussing these texts we focus on two questions: “What kind of views on the child-parent relationship do they presuppose?,” and, “What do the authors want to achieve by using familial imagery?”


The Epistle of James does not address the child-parent relationship directly. Since the letter refers to two commandments from the second table of the Ten Commandments (2:11), and in 2:8 the author quotes from Leviticus 19:18 the commandment to love one’s neighbor, it may be surprising that the commandment to honor father and mother does not surface in the letter. However, we can argue the other way round as well: the social interest of the letter, and its appeal to the Ten Commandments may raise the possibility that honor toward parents may be presupposed in some passages.

Abraham appears together with his son in James 2:21; here he is not only the father of Isaac, but the author calls him “our father” (ho pater hemon). Franz Mussner argues that this expression was originally a claim made by Jewish people (cf. e.g., Isa 51:2; 4 Macc 16:20; Matt 3:9; John 8:39), but in early Christianity it included Gentile Christians as well (cf. Rom 4:12).1 Thus Mussner argues that James’s reference to Abraham as “our father” does not imply that only Jewish Christians are addressed by the letter.2

Abraham is called “our father” in James, but this must be understood in the sense of a “forefather” (cf.

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