Until the 1960s, when educationalists (and others) began to discredit it, imitation had always been regarded as a valuable educational practice. This is also the Biblical position. In today’s epistle reading from Ephesians (4:25-5:2) Paul counsels his readers to “be imitators of God” (v 5:1). To ‘imitate’ is to observe the action of someone else and then to copy it closely enough to reproduce it. Paul has in mind role models. For Paul, Christ is the ultimate object of imitation, but this object can be reached, initially at least, indirectly by imitating those who are further advanced in the Christian life. In 1 Cor 4:16 Paul urges his readers to imitate him, adding, in 11:1, that he imitates Christ, (with the implication that through him they too will be imitating Christ). Thus the imitators become, in turn, the imitated, as in 1 Thess 1:7, where the Thessalonians, having imitated Paul, become an example to others. Related words for that which is imitated are ‘type’, ‘model’, ‘pattern’ or ‘example’, according to the translation used. Thus, for Paul, the Christian life is built up in a community by the observant imitation of proper patterns, models etc. The Greek word for ‘imitate’ is mimeomai, from which we derive our English words ‘mime’ and ‘mimic’.
A Word in Season