Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Monday, April 3, 2023

Do Elder’s Children Have to be Believers? (Titus 1:6)

This is one of the more difficult exegetical decisions in the Pastorals and one upon which I have changed my mind since writing the commentary. Do the children have to have faith in Christ, or do they have to be faithful kinds of people?

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“An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe (τέκνα ἔχων πιστά) and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient (NIV).” The footnote reads, “Or, children are trustworthy.” This option is followed by the ESV and NASB; the NRSV and NLT do not include a footnote. The CSB and NET translate “with faithful children,” with a footnote “Or believing.” Both options are viable translations of πιστά. “Children believe” views the adjective as substantival. “Faithful children” sees πιστά as adjectival.

In the commentary, I went with πιστά being substantival (see below). What made me rethink my position was a practical consideration. Paul and Titus had just finished a missionary journey to Crete, so the church was very young. It would have been hard enough to find qualified elders, but it is a stretch to think that there was a sufficient supply of elders whose children were also believers. But since that is not the basis for exegesis, I went back to the text.

1. The closest qualifier to πιστά is the second half of the verse: “are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.” This reads as if the second phrase is defining what Paul means by πιστά. This supports the adjectival option and the issue is one of the children’s character.

2. More importantly, when you look at the parallel passage in 1 Tim 3:4 Paul says an elder must, “[manag] his own household well, having submissive [ὑποταγῇ] children with all dignity [σεμνότητος].” Again, the issue is not the children’s faith but their character.

By the way, notice the requirement for the elder/father. He is to manage his family with dignity. Unfortunately, we probably know leaders in our church where this is not true. They manage in anger, yelling, and berating their children. Their behavior certainly violates Paul’s instruction in v 5; “For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?”

Paul’s overall concern for the elder is one of character, and this bleeds over to his children and wife. Which brings up another error in my commentary. I went along with the prevailing opinion that Paul’s requirements for leadership are very low, which is often taken as an indication of non-Pauline authorship. Having pastored for several years, I must strongly disagree. To find a person whose character matches Paul’s character requirements and, I would add, has the courage to do the right thing in the right way at the right time, is extremely rare.

For reference, here is what I wrote in my commentary. “Here is what I wrote in the commentary. “πιστός could mean (1) "faithful, loyal," although it does not supply the content of their faithfulness-faithful to God, faithful to the family, faithful to a child's responsibilities, faithful to the church, etc.-an omission that argues against this option. However, the next qualifier emphasizes the children's behavior (as opposed to status; see below), and πιστός can have the meaning "submissive," "obedient," "trustworthy" (Matt 24:45; 25:21, 23; 1 Cor 4:2; cf. R. Bultmann, TDNT 6:175; secular references in Knight, 290). (2) In view of the use of πιστός in the PE, it could also mean "believer," "faithful to God" (Ellicott; Spicq; Quinn; Oberlinner, who says that it includes both the idea of being a believer and that of living a godly life as an example; cf. Introduction, "Themes in the PE"). This requirement would go one step beyond those listed in 1 Tim 3, where the qualifications for being a well-managed family do not require that the children be Christians. In this case Paul cites two basic requirements of the elder's children: their status (i.e., Christians) and their behavior (v 6b). It can be objected that a father has no direct control over his children's salvation, favoring the more neutral translation "faithful." However, if Paul is saying that elders must have believing children, this does not necessarily require fathers to have some control over their salvation. It may simply mean that a Christian leader should have Christian children (Spicq, 2:602). This would be a requirement for eldership that stands outside of the father's direct control. A decision is not easy.”