The are various Bible passages that compare learning to the phase of infancy to adulthood. I assume children and adults have a similar hermeneutic, in terms of logic, yet they do not see things the same way. I wonder how we can broaden our view of exegesis to account for different stages of spiritual maturity. Are there any common ways of looking at scriptures through the eyes of a child, compared to that of an adult?

Here are some samples:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.(1 Corinthians 13:11)

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 1 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God. (Hebrews 5:13)

  • @JonEricson - Should I move this to BH? – Mike Jun 24 '12 at 6:48
  • If you like. Note, however, that I didn't get the comment notification since I hadn't previously been a part of this question. I only found it because I happened to read the question (to see if it might not belong on BH!). Usually, contacting me in The Library or The Upper Room. That way other users can provide input as well. The best time to ask is before posting. ;-) – Jon Ericson Jun 25 '12 at 18:45
  • The phrase "spiritual maturity" leads me to believe this question belongs on this site, however. On BH, I would prefer if the question were slanted toward the meaning of one or all of the passages quoted or a slightly more philosophical question about hermeneutics itself. While there is a connection between Christian maturity and interpretations of the Bible, the connection is more appropriate to explore here, I'd say. – Jon Ericson Jun 25 '12 at 18:51

To answer the difference between the interpretation of the Bible from a child in Christ, compared to a man in Christ, we must first acknowledge that the Bible adheres to two forms of wisdom, heavenly and devilish. Both kinds of wisdom can come from studying scripture. The first comes from studying with faith and submission, the second comes from study not mixed with faith:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace- loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18)

From this we see that doctrine is not just intellectual but spiritual.  In fact the first thing to do to attain wisdom is not to go to Bible College (although that is good to do) but to pray for wisdom.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17)


If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)

Therefore, when we realize wisdom does not come primarily from study and learning but by God, through His Spirit, we can appreciate that faith is a kind of knowledge, and without it, the Scripture will become meaningless to its reader.

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

What this means to a believer is that obedience to faith in Christ will provide more wisdom than study.  In fact, a person may seek God through His word, obey Him for many years, and attain great wisdom in love and the fruits of the Spirit, then lose most of it through sin.  Just as Samson eventually lost His strength through constant neglect, so we can lose the knowledge we have. Yet Samson (was) renewed in strength again.

So how does this affect 'How we interpret the Bible?'  How does our level of spiritual growth, or strength, affect our interpretation? 

First, when we habitually sin, we lose sight of God's grace in Christ.  We no longer believe it the way we did, no matter what we say to ourselves.  Second, the basic things, the milk of God's Word becomes the only thing that remains sensible to us.  We think about what we have done, how we ought to live, How we have been faithful, how we have failed. We no longer have faith to rest our eyes upon God and what He has done. Our focus turns inward in weakness, rather than Godward in joy.

Therefore, the child looking at the Bible can only see the rules, what he can do, what he cannot do. The child worries about how he might be punished, and how to avoid it. The adult can only see Christ, what He has done, how glorious He is.  The adult will believe and give His life over to God for that great love, which has been made known to Him in Christ's dying love. The child will judge others, become puffed up through an appearance of wisdom, will argue motivated by jealousy. A child will be envious of the adults' freedom through their faith. 

From these different perspectives, the child will rarely see the same things from the Scripture that the adult sees.  Children are fascinated by novelties; the adult is absorbed in realities. The child will question if their parents in Christ understand anything. They will easily follow new theological trends and discount godly men from the past, as being irrelevant to our world today. Yet most children will eventually grow into adults and realize:

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.(Ecclesiastes 1:9)

The adult will see nothing but Christ in everything, and all else will be considered folly and shame. This will affect his interpretation of every Scripture, from every angle. This can't be explained under a technical theory of exegesis; it is spiritual. 

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit- taught words. 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)

| improve this answer | |
  • This equates Spiritual Maturity with Heavenly Wisdom. While I would agree that they are both very important things and that they certainly have some relationship, they still seem to be substantially different things. Just as the more mundane forms of wisdom and maturity are different things, though somewhat related. – RBarryYoung Jun 24 '12 at 22:10
  • 1
    FWIW, this answer fits way better on Christianity.SE than on Biblical Hermeneutics. That's a good sign the question should stay here. – Jon Ericson Jun 25 '12 at 18:54

Let's look at each passage you cited individually and see what they are talking about. (We shouldn't assume they are all linked in meaning via the word "child".)

1 Corinthians 13:11

In this passage Paul is making a point that the Spiritual gifts are nothing compared to love. He is explaining that the gifts will all pass away some day, but love will continue into eternity. He compares the life we live now to childishness, and the life we will live in Heaven to maturity. (This comparison is not unique to this passage; consider, for instance, Ephesians 4.)

The lesson here is to focus on eternal values (esp. love) - those values we will have when we are finally "mature".

1 Corinthians 3:2-3

In this passage Paul is rebuking the Corinthians and explaining that because they were so "fleshly" (in their thinking and behavior), they still needed "milk", and were unable to receive "meat" like a mature Christian could.

The obvious exhortation here is to put to death the deeds of the flesh and walk by the Spirit. As we grow in Christ we are able to handle more and more "meat"; that is, those teachings which mature Christians can handle.

Hebrews 5:13

This statement came in after discussing Melchizedek, which is not "light doctrine." Here is a more complete look at the passage:

Concerning him [i.e. Melchizedek] we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

Here we have a contrast being drawn:

  • In the same way that children need milk, the immature Corinthians needed someone to teach them the elementary principles all over again (outlined in the last sentence.)

  • In the same way that meat is for the mature, those doctrines (such as those about Melchizedek) which are "hard to explain" are for those who are "accustomed to the word of righteousness", and who "because of practice have their senses trained to discern".

The lesson here is that we should "press on to maturity" from a state of needing someone to continually explain the basics to us, to a state where we have trained our senses to discern good and evil, and are thus better able to process the more difficult teachings.

Effect on Hermeneutics

In light of this, how does spiritual maturity affect our hermeneutic?

  • One mark of Christian maturity is being more conformed into the image of Christ, which will of course enable you to better be led by His Spirit

  • As we grow in Christ, we become more "accustomed to the word", which enables us to be taught more of those doctrines which are "hard to explain"

  • Finally, as our maturity in Christ grows, our discernment grows, and this definitely helps us handle the "meatier" topics of Scripture more faithfully


As a humorous side-note, it is human nature to think of yourself as "above-average" in those things you value most, and I have witnessed this reality in Christianity as well. Older Christians consider themselves more mature due to their natural age. Experienced Christians consider themselves more mature due to their spiritual age. Younger Christians recognize that age is not directly tied to maturity, and find passages to justify viewing themselves as more mature than their elders. In reality, there is one way to Christian maturity, and that is the grace of God. How can we "tap into the font of grace"?

God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (source)

So if you want to be more mature, lower your self-image a bit and bow down before God, submit things to the Church, be willing to listen to the voice of the Lord - even through a younger Christian (or even a donkey) - and recognize that you have nothing other than what you've been given.

(Where it gets really funny, though, is when people begin to proclaim their own superior humility!)

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.