- In our English language some of the tenderest, sweetest and most endearing, yet most elusive words are our diminutives. Webster's dictionary tells us that 'Charley' is the diminutive of 'Charles.' Her Majesty the Queen might call Prince Charles, 'Charley,' but we may not do so: it is too intimate, too endearing a name, for a stranger to use.
Nor is it only to children that we use diminutives. I had an uncle by name of Charles, and he was 'Uncle Charley' to his nieces and nephews as long as he lived: so a diminutive may lose the sense of size, by being overpowered by the sense of endearment; Yet not all diminutives have the sense of endearment, though many have. 'Rivulet' is the diminutive of 'river,' and has no other sense than the smallness of its size.
'Bairnie' is the diminutive of 'bairn' and really means 'a little bairn;' but a Scotch mother may say to her boys and girls, even after they are grown up: "My bairnie!" and they will understand that she does not refer to size, but affection: and if they are nice children, they will return that affection with a kiss.
We have various ways of forming our diminutives in English, as noted: rivulet, bairnie, lambkin, and so forth. In the Greek New Testament we also find diminutives, but they are formed by adding the letter "i." Thus, 'teknon' a child, becomes teknion in its diminutive. 'Thugater,' 'daughter,' has 'thugatrion' for its diminutive; but I know of no diminutive in English for 'daughter,' though a beloved friend tells me they have one in German.
We do not very often use diminutives in English; in a sense they are almost too sacred to be dragged into ordinary usage; and are reserved for occasions of special stress or feeling. The same, I think, is true in Greek. This makes them the more precious when they are used.
To me, one of the loveliest diminutives in the Greek New Testament is 'teknion', mentioned above. The Lord himself is speaking when we first hear it in the New Testament. It is on the same night in which he was betrayed; and He exclaims, 'Teknia!' (the plural of Teknion), "Teknia, Yet a little while I am with you!" That parting was before His soul, and well He knew what it would mean to His disciples; and so, with a heart full of love, He exclaims; "Teknia!" I know not how it can be translated.
Our Authorised version has, "Little children!" Mr. Darby has, "Children", Rotherham has "Dear Children." All, in a sense, are right; but none seem to me to even begin to translate what was in the Lord's heart, and what He expressed to His disciples that night, by that one little word, "Teknia." One excellent dictionary suggests that the best translation of 'teknon' is the Scottish word 'bairn.' Both come from a word meaning 'to be born.' Those who have had the privilege of a Scottish mother or wife will know exactly what was meant when she said to her children: "Bairnies!" That, I think, is what the Lord meant when He said, on that dark betrayal night 'Teknia!"
I wonder sometimes if we have lost the ability to express such tenderness, across age and gender gaps. How thrilling for a child to be given a gift which says, some day you will grow up and maybe you will study the Greek New Testament as I did, and teach the things that I teach. Such tenderness, to treat a child with this kind of respect.
We never know who we will touch with tenderness and endearments. How my heart turns to a translation like Rotherham's. Unenglish as it is, it is full of the expression of endearment, "Dear Children." Let's not lose the ability to address each other with tenderness.
John 13:33 τεκνια
Children - Darby, HCSB
Dear Children - Rotherham, NLT, Tyndale, Coverdale
Little Children - KJV, ESV, NASB, Bishops, Geneva
My Children - (T)NIV, CEV, GNB
Liebe Kindlein - Luther
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