“Gentle” or “Babes”—Which?
AT 1 THESSALONIANS 2:7 the apostle Paul described himself and his companions as becoming “gentle in the midst of you, as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children.” Some translations (The Bible in Basic English; Today’s English Version) here read “gentle,” but other translations (Westminster Version; American Translation) use the word “babes” or “children.” Why this difference?
The translators follow one of the two different readings found in the Greek texts and manuscripts. Some Greek texts (Textus Receptus, Tischendorf, Merk) and manuscripts read eʹpi·oi, meaning “gentle,” but other Greek texts (Westcott and Hort, Nestle-Aland) and manuscripts read neʹpi·oi, meaning “babes.”
Regarding this, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Volume I, 1975, page 282) remarked: “There are two readings of 1 Thess. 2:7: (a) ēpioi (we were gentle in your company); (b) nēpioi (babes). The preceding word [in this verse] ends with n, and it seems likely that this n has been doubled by mistake in copying. Moreover the interpretation of the second reading leads to difficulties. For in v. 7b1 Thessalonians 2:7b it is not himself but the Thessalonians whom Paul likens to ‘children’; he and his colleagues were like a nurse (trophos).” Properly, then, many translations read here “gentle” rather than “babes.”
But why did Paul use the word “gentle” here? This was because of real love and out of concern not to injure the spiritual growth of those whom he and his fellow missionaries taught. (1 Thessalonians 2:8) W. E. Vine (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1962 reprint, Volume II, page 145) remarks that eʹpi·os “was frequently used by Greek writers as characterizing a nurse with trying children or a teacher with refractory scholars, or of parents toward their children. In 1 Thess. 2:7, the Apostle uses it of the conduct of himself and his fellow-missionaries towards the converts at Thessalonica.” When we teach people God’s Word, may we always have in mind the gentleness displayed by Paul and his companions and imitate their example.