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Colossians 3:21

October 24, 2010

Paul to the Colossians, chapter 3, verse 21

This is from the famous epistle about “wives be submissive…” This is equally Paul’s word, the word of the Spirit, but not so famous.

In my mind, the verse is, “Fathers, drive not your children to anger, lest they become disheartened.” This seems to be a personal meme, as I can’t find it anywhere. The Douay Rheims and King James are close, and the new International Version is similar:

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. That’s the King James

21 Fathers, provoke not your children to indignation, lest they be discouraged. That’s Douay Rheims

21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. That’s New International

Anger, indignation, bitterness… If the way you correct your children causes this sort of thing, then you need to look for another form of discipline. I would emphasize that children (and adults) normally have negative feelings about being corrected; the immediate feeling is not the problem. It’s the deep-seated fury that cannot be left to fester. Many adults remember the day they closed one parent or the other out of their hearts because of repeated insults to their dignity. They had to protect themselves, perhaps, but it did not make them wise.

So Paul has an interesting admonition here, one that gives parents a different perspective from the more commonly quoted, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” which seems to be bluntly pro-punishment. Instead, Paul is pointing out that if a child does not see the justice of a punishment, if his inner freedom is violated to the point that he cherishes anger more than the wisdom that is supposedly being offered, then that anger will prevent the proper development of his heart.

Courage is from the root word “Coeur” – which is French for heart. “Discouraged” means deprived of heart. Somehow it stuck in my mind as “disheartened” – diminished in the heart. It’s the very opposite of what Jesus came for – “that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” The development of the heart is precisely what is most important in the spiritual – which is to say human –  life.

So the needed perspective is that there is no rule of correction that is right in all cases; rather, you have to notice the actual effect of your correction. Some kids need a very firm hand. Others need a very gentle hand. Some kids need to understand why they are corrected, and if you don’t tell them, they will be resentful. Others obey quickly and move on to the next thing. Still others ask why, why, why, only to make you talk, talk, talk, until you are too tired to carry through. You have to cut them off. Tell them you’ll talk about it while they are drying the dishes. If that evaporates their curiosity, fair enough. But every child is different.

Just like people.

Oh, yeah! They are people, and all of them are different.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 2:09 am

    I see that I had the right verse and that you enjoyed the array of English versions.

  2. Ruth permalink
    November 10, 2010 6:21 pm

    The Vulgate has this: ” Patres, nolite ad indignationem provocare filios vestros ut non pusillo animo fiant.” The first part transliterates fairly clearly, as above, although “provocare” means, literally, “to call forth.” My Latin dictionary also lists these meanings: “challenge, invite, excite, stimulate, rouse.” And “indignatio,” in-dignatio, means, literally, un-honor, or un-dignity — the dismissal of someone else’s dignity as unimportant — which fits exactly with what you say about this verse.

    The second part of the verse is more interesting, to me: “lest the [his/their] soul/spirit/mind be made/become very small/very little/petty/insignificant/paltry” — “pusillus” is a comparative adjective, so it carries the extra emphasis of “very.” Also interesting — “animus” has a whole host of meanings, beginning with the “rational soul,” the consciousness, the self, and encompassing everything from intellect to imagination to passion to will.

    So you could translate the whole thing as this: “Fathers, do not excite unworthiness in your sons, lest their very selves become insignificant.”

    I don’t know Greek well enough to do much other than look up words in the dictionary, but it seems like the Latin has the meanings generally the same except for the word that is translated “discouraged.” That word is “athumosin,” which my dictionary has as meaning “disheartened.” “A-thumos” means “un-soul/spirit/mind/heart/etc.” — “thumos” has about as many meanings as “animus.” But “soul” usually translates the word “psuche”; “thumos ” means something more like spiritedness — the passionate part of the soul, where we feel dishonor, anger, etc. So maybe it means, in Greek, something like “lest you destroy his ability to feel honor.”

    Thank you for your wisdom!

  3. Mignon Thurow permalink
    November 11, 2010 1:08 am

    I’ve always felt that this verse has been overlooked too much by people who could really use its wisdom! For some reason, though, I had it in my head that it read, “do not exasperate your children……”—- although embitter makes sense, too. Thank you for this thoughtful analysis.

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