Hebrew and Greek terms conveying a variety of helpful details are used to refer to human offspring. The common Hebrew term for a child is yeʹledh. (Ge 21:8) The related yal·dahʹ refers to a “female child,” a “young lady,” or a ‘girl.’ (Joe 3:3; Ge 34:4; Zec 8:5) Both words come from the root ya·ladhʹ, meaning “bring forth; give birth to; bear.” Two other Hebrew words for a child (ʽoh·lelʹ and ʽoh·lalʹ) come from the root verb ʽul, meaning “give suck.” (1Sa 22:19; Jer 6:11; Ge 33:13) The usual Hebrew term for a boy or young man is naʹʽar. (Ge 19:4; Jg 8:20) However, the term is also used with reference to infants like three-month-old Moses. (Ex 2:6; compare 2Sa 12:16.) Hebrew taph (little children; little ones) conveys the basic idea of ones walking “with tripping steps.” (Ge 43:8; 45:19; Isa 3:16) Among the Greek terms are teʹknon (child), te·kniʹon (little child), pai·diʹon (young child), and arʹsen (male child). (Mt 10:21; Joh 13:33; Mt 2:8; Re 12:13) The Greek neʹpi·os refers to a “babe” (1Co 13:11), and the Greek breʹphos refers to an “infant.” (Lu 1:41) At times the Hebrew and Greek words for “son” are rendered ‘child.’—Ge 3:16; Lu 20:34; see SON.
The Creator, Jehovah, arranged for the multiplication of the human race by the birth of children who, in turn, would become adults and, in time, become parents themselves. The procreation mandate is expressed at Genesis 1:28. It is a normal desire of people to have children. The ancient Israelites were especially concerned about bringing forth children because of God’s promise to make them a mighty nation and because through them would come the seed of Abraham by means of whom all the families of the earth would bless themselves. (Ge 28:14) Having many children was considered a blessing from God. (Ps 127:3-5; 128:3-6) Sterility was looked on as a reproach.—Ge 30:23.
In Bible times a boy’s birth was usually a happier occasion than a girl’s, although in the family circle a girl was loved by the parents just as much as the boy. The preference for a boy lay in the fact that it assured a continuance of the family line and name, and it assured the holding of family property. The priority of the male is also indicated by the fact that the purification period under the Law was twice as long for female births. (Le 12:2-5) The firstborn son belonged to Jehovah and was to be redeemed by an offering.—Ex 13:12, 13; Nu 18:15.
Anciently, at birth the infant was first washed with water, then rubbed with salt. (Eze 16:4) This was done to make the skin dry, tight, and firm. Swaddling clothes or cloth bands were tightly wrapped around the infant. (Job 38:9; Lu 2:12) The mother breast-fed it for two and a half or three years, or longer. Under exceptional circumstances, such as a mother’s dying or being unable to furnish milk, nurses were employed.
In earlier history names were given to children at birth, either by the father (Ge 5:29; 16:15; 21:3; 35:18) or by the mother (Ge 4:25; 29:32; 1Sa 1:20), but in later times in Israel names were given to the boys at the time of circumcision, which was on the eighth day. (Lu 1:59; 2:21) Sometimes the name of a boy was the same as that of his father, but usually the name had to do with circumstances preceding or accompanying the birth, or it was a name in connection with the name of Jehovah. As time elapsed, certain names became merely traditional and had nothing to do with the original meaning.
Mothers used various methods to transport their young children. At times the child was bundled on the back or carried on the shoulder. Jehovah through Isaiah alludes to mothers clutching their children to their bosom, hoisting them on their shoulders, or carrying them on the flank, just above the hip. (Isa 49:22; 66:12) Also, the words of Moses indicate that children were carried in the bosom.—Nu 11:12.
Boys were mainly cared for by the mother until about five years of age. Of course, the father had the primary responsibility of teaching the child the Scriptures from its infancy, and the mother assisted. (De 6:7; Pr 1:8; Eph 6:4; 2Ti 3:15) As children grew older they were given practical training by the father in agriculture, raising livestock, or a trade such as carpentry. Both Joseph and David were young shepherd lads.—Ge 37:2; 1Sa 16:11.
Girls were under the immediate care of the mother, subject, of course, to the father’s jurisdiction. While at home they were taught the domestic arts that would be of value in adult life. Rachel was a shepherdess. (Ge 29:6-9) Young women worked in the fields during the grain harvest (Ru 2:5-9), and the Shulammite girl says that her brothers made her keeper of the vineyards.—Ca 1:6.
But the well-trained Israelite youths remembered their Creator in the days of their young manhood, and some even served him as ministers. Samuel as a boy was used to minister to Jehovah at the tabernacle. (1Sa 2:11) Jesus was very concerned with the service of his Father when he was only 12 years of age, learning all that he could by talking to the teachers in the temple. (Lu 2:41-49) A little Hebrew girl, who had implicit faith in Jehovah and his prophet Elisha, was the one responsible for directing Naaman to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. (2Ki 5:2, 3) At Psalm 148:12, 13 both boys and girls are commanded to praise Jehovah. Because of their training in the Bible, boys were able to cry out when they saw Jesus at the temple, saying: “Save, we pray, the Son of David!” and Jesus commended them.—Mt 21:15, 16.
The parents were the ones responsible for the education and training of their children, they themselves being the instructors and guides, both by word and by example. The educational program was as follows: (1) Fear of Jehovah was taught. (Ps 34:11; Pr 9:10) (2) The child was admonished to honor his father and mother. (Ex 20:12; Le 19:3; De 27:16) (3) Discipline or instruction in the Law, its commandments and teachings, and education in the activities and revealed truths of Jehovah were diligently inculcated in the impressionable minds of the young offspring. (De 4:5, 9; 6:7-21; Ps 78:5) (4) Respect for older persons was stressed. (Le 19:32) (5) The importance of obedience was indelibly stamped on the youngster’s mind. (Pr 4:1; 19:20; 23:22-25) (6) Stress was put on practical training for adult living, such as teaching girls to do things around the home, or teaching boys the trade of the father or some other trade. (7) Education in reading and writing was given.
After the Babylonian exile, synagogues existed in most cities, and in later times boys were instructed by teachers there. Additionally, religious instruction was given as the parents took their children with them when going to the assemblies that were held for the purpose of worshiping and praising Jehovah. (De 31:12, 13; Ne 12:43) Jesus’ parents had taken him up to Jerusalem for the Passover. When on the return trip, they missed him and found him in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them.”—Lu 2:41-50; see EDUCATION.
If an occasion arose where a son became absolutely rebellious and incorrigible after repeated warnings and the necessary discipline, a still sterner measure was taken. The son was brought before the older men of the city, and after testimony from the parents that he was an irreformable offender, the delinquent suffered capital punishment by stoning. Such arrangement evidently had reference to a son beyond the age of what is usually considered a young child, for this one the Scriptures describe as “a glutton and a drunkard.” (De 21:18-21) One striking his father or mother, or calling down evil upon his parents, was put to death. The reason for such strong measures was that the nation might clear away what was bad from their midst and so that “all Israel [would] hear and indeed become afraid.” Therefore, any tendency in the nation toward juvenile delinquency or disrespect of parental authority would be greatly retarded by the punishment inflicted upon such offenders.—Ex 21:15, 17; Mt 15:4; Mr 7:10.
Great disrespect was shown to God’s appointed prophet Elisha by a group of small boys who derided him, crying out: “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” They wanted Elisha, who was wearing Elijah’s familiar garment, either to go on his way up to Bethel or to get off the earth as Elijah was supposed to have done. (2Ki 2:11) They did not want him around. Elisha finally turned and called down evil upon them in the name of Jehovah. “Then two she-bears came out from the woods and went tearing to pieces forty-two children of their number.”—2Ki 2:23, 24.
Jesus prophesied that children would rise up against their parents and parents against their children because of the stand that they would take as followers of him. (Mt 10:21; Mr 13:12) The apostle Paul foretold that the major problems marking “the last days” would include children who would be disobedient to parents and an absence of natural affection.—2Ti 3:1-3.
In setting forth the qualifications for overseers and ministerial servants in the Christian congregation, the apostle Paul specified that men selected for these positions were to have “believing children that were not under a charge of debauchery nor unruly,” and that they must be in subjection with all seriousness; for, says Paul, “if indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?”—Tit 1:6; 1Ti 3:4, 5, 12.
Parental Authority. The authority of the parents, particularly the father in the family, was quite broad in scope. As long as the father was alive and able to manage the household, the sons were subject to him. However, if a son finally set up an independent home, then he became the head of his own household. Children could be sold into temporary bondage by a father for the payment of debts contracted. (Ex 21:7; 2Ki 4:1; Mt 18:25) The father’s authority over the daughter was such that he could annul a vow made by the daughter. However, his authority could not be used to forbid his daughter’s worship of Jehovah or cause failure to obey Jehovah’s commands, for the reason that the father as a member of the nation of Israel was dedicated to God and fully under God’s Law. (Nu 30:3-5, 16) Parental authority was also manifest in marriage inasmuch as the parents selected wives for their sons or made arrangements for the marriage. (Ge 21:21; Ex 21:8-11; Jg 14:1-3) A widow or a divorced woman could return to her father’s house and again become subject to him.—Ge 38:11.
The inheritance rights came through the father. At the birth of twins, great care was exercised to distinguish the child that came into the world first (Ge 38:28), since the firstborn son received two portions of his father’s inheritance, while the other son received only one portion. (De 21:17; Ge 25:1-6) Usually the older son assumed the responsibility of supporting the females in the family after his father had died. A son born through levirate marriage was raised up as the son of the dead man and inherited his property.—De 25:6; Ru 4:10, 17.
Figurative Uses. The words “child” and “children” as used in the Bible have considerable latitude in meaning. The descendants of Israel are referred to as “children in the flesh,” also as “children of transgression” by Isaiah because of their rebellious ways against Jehovah. (Ro 9:8; Isa 57:4) In the days of the apostles, wicked persons were classified as “accursed children” and “children of the Devil.” (2Pe 2:14; 1Jo 3:10) In contrast, persons exercising faith in Christ and becoming spirit-begotten ones are called “God’s children.” (Joh 1:12; Ro 8:16) Disciples are often called children.—Joh 13:33; Heb 2:13.
Individuals privileged to receive a resurrection from the dead are spoken of as “children of the resurrection” (Lu 20:36); also those who are joint heirs with Christ are “the children by the promise” (Ro 9:8) or children “of the free woman” (Ga 4:31). All those desiring to attain life in the Kingdom of heaven must display the childlike qualities of humility, receptiveness, and trust. (Mt 18:2-4) Men and women who strive to obey God by manifesting the light of truth in their lives are described as “obedient children” and as “children of light.”—1Pe 1:14; Eph 5:8.
Paul counseled the congregation at Corinth as he would children, to “widen out” in affection; prior to this he had encouraged them not to become children in powers of understanding.—2Co 6:13; 1Co 14:20.