Age and Worship

Christopher Hutson crhutson at
Thu Apr 6 15:02:19 EDT 2000

Kevin Smith asked:

> 1. Would anyone care to speculate concerning more or less what age to draw
> the line between older and younger men/women in Titus 2:2-6? The words I
> have in mind are PRESBUTAS and PRESUTIDAS for older people, NEAS and
> NEWTEROUS for younger.

and Prof. Adam responded:

> We had a fascinating thread a few years ago about the distinction of ages
> in Greek, but I can't recall the date or the ostensible topic. If you
> search the archives for messages from Christopher Hutson  "Re: meirakion,
> pais, ephebos" you should find some background--it doesn't seem to address
> your question precisely, but may be of some help.
> Grace and peace,
> A K M Adam

Since AKM Adam calls me out, let me respond to Kevin's question.  In fact, I
am ashamed of myself for not responding before now.

Here is a catalogue of age classifications for females, given by Aristotle
of Byzantium (c. 257-180, BC; librarian at Alexandria from c. 194).  His
catalogue of age classifications was copied and recopied by various writers
for the next several centuries, so I find it useful as a starting place for
sorting out age terms.  Here is my translation of the section on terms
specific to females, taken from Ar. Byz., _Nomina Aetata_ (fragmenta), p.
274-75 (Miller):

 As for the females, there are likewise the
infant (BREFOS) and the PAIDION;
 and after this PAIDISKARION and PAIDISKION,
and after this PAIS, and PARQENOS, and KORH.
Then again comes the time of marrying (hO TOU GAMEISQAI KAIROS), which would
be the fifth year after puberty, as Herodotus would deem  appropriate, when
she would also be called bride.
And after the marriage, woman and mother (GUNH KAI MHTHR); she might already
also be called a MEIRAC.
And after this, young woman (GUNH NEA);
then middle-aged (MESH);
then again like-wise advanced (PROBEBHKUIA), greying (PROPOLIOS);
then old woman (GRAUS) and elder (PRESBUTIS), the same thing;
then extremely old (ESXATOGHRWS).

The catalogue of age terms for males is even longer.  Of course, the
vocabulary of youth and old age is always very slippery.  These terms are
relative, and they are usually not used in any defined, technical sense.  So
you must pay close attention to context to see how any given writer is using
such terms in a specific passage.

In Aristotle's schema, a "young man/woman" (NEOS/ NEA) would be a
twenty-something who was probably married and, hence, a young adult.  An
"elder" (PRESBUS/ PRESBUTIS) would be someone past middle age but not
necessarily of advanced age.  Of course, what is "middle age," in a society
where life expectancy may less than 40 years?  Further, such terms as
"elder" often say more about a person's _gravitas_ than her/his age.

In short, I would say that Titus 2 presents the community in terms of two
groups, relatively older and relatively younger.  I'm not sure we can press
Titus 2 on precise ages, but if I were forced, I would say that the grey
area between "younger" and "older" would be a broad range in the thirties.

What's interesting to me is that Titus himself is associated most closely in
this text with the "younger men."

If you want to see all the boring details, you'll have to get my
dissertation from UMI or wait for me to turn it into a book.  Until then, a
good starting place would be Robert Garland, _The Greek Way of Life_
(Ithaca:  Cornell U. Press, 1990).  His focus is classical Athens, so you'll
have to allow for differences in the early Empire.

Here's to youth and good old age!


Christopher R. Hutson
    Hood Theological Seminary
    800 West Thomas Street
    Salisbury, NC  28144
crhutson at
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