Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Are Elder’s Children “Believers” or “Faithful”? (Titus 1:6)

Most of the requirements for church leadership are straight forward. Each person is to be above reproach, and among other things this means they are faithful in marriage, self-controlled, manage their household well, etc.

Perhaps the most difficult requirement to interpret is found in Titus 1:6, where Paul says that the children must be εχων πιστα, “having faithful.” πιστος can mean “faithful, reliable, trustworthy.”

As you can see, the Greek can’t come directly over into English. It is slightly idiomatic in the use of “having,” but the basic meaning is clear; the children must possess this quality. But what exactly is the quality?

1. Most of the translations accept the standard meaning of πιστος in the Pastorals and translate his “children are believers” (ESV, NRSV), “whose children believe” (NIV). The argument is that this is the most common use of the word in the Pastorals. The counter argument is that the spiritual state of one’s children, since it ultimately is their own choice, can’t be a requirement for leadership. The counter-counter argument is that at a practical level the leadership should epitomize the goals of spiritual growth. This is the position I take in my commentary, although not with any great assuredness.

2. Some translations go with the meaning “reliable” and suggest “faithful children” (NET, KJV). The problem here is, faithful to what? I guess it could mean they are a faithful type of person, a person know for his or her reliability; but to me the lack of an object is a forceful argument against this interpretation. However, it would provide a parallel to 1 Tim 3:4 that says the elder’s children should be submissive to his authority.

To make it more complicated — don’t you love translation and exegesis! — there is some question as to whether the following phrase describes the elder or the children (“his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious,” NLT).

I encourage every church to struggle through these issues, not in just identifying the qualities of true leaders but in coming to a mutual interpretation of those qualities and how they work out in reality. What constitutes “faithfulness in marriage”? “Self-control”? As I have recommended in the past, I strongly encourage every church to write an Elder Position Paper where these decisions can be made. My attempt at this task can be downloaded from my personal site.

The problem in church leadership is not understanding Paul’s requirements — this issue aside. The challenge is actually finding people who truly qualify. And yet the Word of God says that it is “necessary” for a church leader to be this type of person. To appoint unqualified people is to move in direct contradiction to God’s revealed truth. Of that there is no question, at least for those who desire to be biblical.


I tend to go with the explanation I have heard on 1 Timothy and Titus qualifications for elders and Deacons that in 1 Timothy Paul was probably referring to younger children and in Titus he had in mind children old enough to make a salvation decision.