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Q. Must an Elder’s Children Be Believers?


Dear Friend,

Your question pertains to Paul’s words in Titus 1:6. Notice the different ways it is rendered by various translations:

NAU Titus 1:6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.

ESV Titus 1:6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.

CSB17 Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless: the husband of one wife, with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion.

NKJ Titus 1:6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.

NET Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion.

NIRV Titus 1:6 An elder must be without blame. He must be faithful to his wife. His children must be believers. They must not give anyone a reason to say that they are wild and don’t obey.

NIV Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

KJV Titus 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

So, let us begin with several observations:

First, these translations offer two different ways of viewing this verse and its requirements. Either Paul requires that an elder’s children must be professing believers, or he requires that an elder’s children must be faithful children, who are obedient to their father.

Second, the differences in these translations reflect two different possible meanings for the Greek word pistos. This difference is indicated in Friberg’s Lexicon:

21988 πιστός, , όν (1) active; (a) of persons trusting, believing, full of faith, confiding (JN 20.27); (b) absolutely, as an adjective believing (in Christ) (AC 16.1); as a substantive believer (2C 6.15); οἱ πιστοί literally the believers, i.e. Christians (1T 4.3); πιστή female believer, Christian woman (1T 5.16); (2) passive; (a) of persons trustworthy, faithful, dependable (CO 4.7), opposite ἄδικος (dishonest); (b) of God trustworthy, faithful (HE 10.23); (c) of things, especially of what one says sure, reliable, trustworthy (1T 1.15)

When you look at the way the Gospels use this term, it more often is employed in the passive sense of faithfulness or dependability:

“Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? (Matt. 24:45 NAU)

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. (Lk. 16:10 NAU)

Although the term is also used of believing faith:

Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” (Jn. 20:27 NAU)

Paul uses this term in his epistles to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12, 15; 3:1, 11; 4:3, 9, 10, 12; 5:16; 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2, 11, 13) and Titus (Titus 1:6, 9, 3:8). We can see that Paul used the term with both meanings:

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. (1 Tim. 1:15 NAU)

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. (1 Tim. 3:1 NAU)

Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. (1 Tim. 3:11 NAU)

men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. (1 Tim. 4:3 NAU)

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (1 Tim. 4:10 NAU)

This should bring us to the point where we recognize that the term pistos can mean either “dependable/faithful” or “believer”. So which of the two meanings is it in Titus 1:6? I believe several lines of evidence point us to the answer:

First, we have to look at the phrase Paul employed in the same verse to explain what he meant by the term pistos in our text:

namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. (Tit. 1:6 NAU)

It seems quite evident that Paul is saying that an elder’s children must be disciplined and obedient. This is something for which the father is responsible, and which is clearly stated elsewhere as an elder qualification:

He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (1 Tim. 3:4 NAU)

If the elder is to maintain discipline and order in the church, surely this should be evident in his own family (1 Timothy 3:5).

Second, to insist that an elder’s children (all of them) must be saved creates theological problems. A child’s salvation is not the choice of the father, although he should surely endeavor to lead his children to faith. But in the end, it is a decision which the child must make (and one which God must originate – John 6:37, 44, 65).

Third, to insist that all of the elder’s children must be saved creates serious practical problems. This requirement (were it legitimate) would put a lot of pressure on the parents, particularly the father, to press his children to make a premature profession of faith, one for which the child is not really ready or willing, a commitment that he or she does not really understand. Salvation is ultimately the work of the Spirit and the Word of God. Conviction of sin (John 16:8) and bringing one to faith is the Spirit’s task (John 3:5-8).

There is another problem as well. What happens if an existing elder’s wife bears a child? Does the elder step down until it is evident that this child has come to faith? And how long does one wait for this to happen?

Finally, let us consider the duration of this requirement. How responsible is the elder (the father) for the actions of his child after they have grown up and left the home? Well it should be clear that Paul’s requirements set forth in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (related to an elder’s children) should apply as long as the child lives under the parent’s roof, because they should live under the authority of the father.

My inclination is to say that the father is not nearly as accountable for the child’s life and lifestyle after they have grown up and left the parents’ home. It would be something like an elder’s responsibility to the conduct of a church member who has moved to a different place and is a member of another church (though Paul’s response to sin in Corinth – 1 Corinthians 5 – should not be ignored).

I should add that I had a friend (now with the Lord) who felt the role of an elder was so important that he needed to step down because of his daughter’s lifestyle choices, even though she was older and living far from home.

I hope this answers your question,

Bob Deffinbaugh

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership, Pastors

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