Verse 11 – When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

Paul now illustrates what he has been saying—that the present is not the fullness; the perfect is coming and, though we are not yet experiencing it, it will come and when it does it will utterly transform our present (even Spirit-given) experiences, understanding, and insight.

To illustrate, Paul goes back to a time “When I was a child” (ὅτε ἤμην νήπιος). The temporal adverb (“When”) marks “a period of time coextensive with another period of time.”[1] It thus might be translated “as long as” or “while.[2] The imperfect tense of the verb underscores the abiding and ongoing state. The noun (νήπιος, “child”) designates a very young child, probably to be considered an infant or a small baby.[3] It referred to a child who had not yet learned to speak.[4]

Three things were true of that time in Paul’s life. He presents them in telescoping fashion, moving outward from the simple (ἐλάλουν, “I spoke”) to the more foundational (ἐφρόνουν, “I thought”) and on to the root of it all (ἐλογιζόμην, “I reasoned”). The first verb (λαλέω) simply describes the human ability to emit sound—ranging from simple noises to actual speech.[5] The second verb (φρονέω) means simply “to think,” that is to say, have thoughts about something, form an opinion and hold a view of things.[6] The third verb (λογίζομαι) describes the more advanced ability to apply logic, reason, extrapolate one thing or a series of things into another. All three are in the imperfect tense, depicting the ongoing nature of a child’s speaking, thinking, and reasoning. The third verb it cast in the middle voice, indicating that the subject takes action upon itself. Thus, Paul underscores the inward, self-driven nature of the reasoning he sets in view.

A child speaks before it is able to embrace mature thought and the child thinks before his powers to reason are fully developed. Yet in each of these (notice the three-fold repetition) he did so “like a child” (ὡς νήπιος). With regard to speaking, he babbled and made “baby-talk.” With regard to thinking, he was fixated only on the moment and the person or item in front of him. With regard to his powers of reasoning, he as yet had no ability to connect concepts, string together ideas, and formulate logical, linear thought. The child cannot anticipate something that is not yet in existence and thus he cannot practice patience in the face of hope or the discipline of delayed gratification.

But Paul did not remain “a child.” He continues his illustration by taking up that time “when I became a man” (ὅτε γέγονα ἀνήρ). He employs again the same temporal conjunction (ὅτε, “When”; see comments above on this verse). The noun (ἀνήρ, “a man”) is most often used to distinguish an adult human male, but here in contrast to “a child” (νήπιος) it has emphasis upon the mature, fully-grown nature of the individual. The verb (γέγονα, “I became”) is in the perfect tense, emphasizing the completion of the action in the past and the ongoing state that results. This contrasts with the imperfect tenses of the three preceding verbs. There was a decisive break when Paul left behind the ways of a child and entered into a settled state of full maturity.

In that state of maturity, necessarily, he says, “I gave up childish ways” (κατήργηκα τὰ τοῦ νηπίου). More specifically, “childish ways” is “things of the child” (τὰ τοῦ νηπίου). These Paul can testify, “I gave up” (κατήργηκα). Here again is the thematic verb found also here in verses 8 (2x) and 10. In those verses it was rendered “pass away.” As noted in verse 8 the verb can range in meaning from to cause something to be unproductive, to cause something to lose its power or effectiveness, or, as here, to cause something to come to an end or to cease to exist.[7] In three previous usages (vv.8, 10) the verb was in the future tense, looking to a day yet to come. Here the perfect tense, like the verb just preceding the present one, pictures a decisive break with childhood and its ways. In the previous three usages it was in the passive voice, indicating someone or something acting to bring the partial (though divine) provisions of prophecies and knowledge to an end. Here the active voice pictures Paul’s own personal action in transitioning from childhood to adulthood. He “gave [them] up” of his own free volition, for that is what healthy, normal people do as they age and grow.

We should not read in Paul’s illustration him labeling as childish those gifted in prophecy, knowledge, or tongues. Nor should we read into their expression a comparison to childish gibberish. The comparison is with the child’s advance into mature manhood. The transition from “the partial” divine provision of gifts that we enjoy by His grace in this present world will give way to “the perfect” divine and final provision of eternal life in all its fullness as experienced in the presence of God in heaven.

[1] BDAG, 5412.2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] BDAG, 5087; Friberg, 18993.

[4] Liddell-Scott, 29569.

[5] BDAG, 4502.

[6] Ibid., 7819.

[7] Ibid., 4047.