Studies in Christianity and judaism

Honouring Age

The Social Dynamics of Age Structure in 1 Timothy
By Mona Tokarek Lafosse
January 2024

We all age. But how we understand age and aging depends on cultural context. The early followers of Jesus experienced growing up and growing old in a world where more than a third of children never reached adulthood, married women could expect to become widows, and, above all, elders were to be honoured. In the ancient Mediterranean, expectations associated with one’s age could be a source of social power, as well as a source of tension within families and communities, and between generations.

Honouring Age positions age as an essential aspect of communal identity and familial roles in the early Christian experience by examining one of the most contentious and perplexing texts in the New Testament: the first letter to Timothy. First Timothy reflects a one-sided conversation between an older Paul and a younger Timothy, in which the author hopes to influence both the old and young in fulfilling their traditional roles in the “household of God.” It was a time of tumult, and relations were fraught, with potential consequences for the reputation of the nascent Christian community: some children were neglecting their aging parents, which was culturally unacceptable behaviour; older women who should have been encouraging young widows to remarry were discouraging them, exposing them to ridicule; young men who should have been respectful to their elders were shamefully turning on them. In recognizing the responsibilities of young and old to each other, and the reputational damage they otherwise risked, this study demonstrates that age is integral to understanding the complexities of 1 Timothy.

Drawing on modern ethnographies corroborated by ancient evidence to interpret social aspects of 1 Timothy, Honouring Age shows convincingly that, in emerging Christian communities in the ancient Mediterranean world, age mattered.

Mona Tokarek LaFosse is assistant professor of New Testament and early Christian studies at Emmanuel College at Victoria University in the University of Toronto and president of the Canadian Society of Patristic Studies/Association Canadienne des Études Patristiques.

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