“Children who Believe” in Titus 1:6 (Part 1)

Pastors who have a high view of God’s Word take seriously the elder qualifications set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Unfortunately, not all of these qualifications are easy to understand. For example, in Titus 1:6b, the apostle Paul writes that elders must have tekna pista, which means either “children who believe” (NASB) or “faithful children” (NKJV), depending on how it is translated.

The disagreement concerns the adjective pistos and whether it should be rendered “believing” or “faithful.” In the end, the bottom line is this: Is the requirement of Titus 1:6b that the children possess saving faith (“believing”) or that they are obedient to their father (“faithful”)?

  • View 1— Meaning: believing, trusting; Translation: “children who believe [in Christ]”
  • View 2— Meaning: faithful, trustworthy; Translation: “children who are faithful [to their father]”

When the adjective pistos is used in the New Testament to describe people rather than God, it means “believing” 12 times and “faithful” 36 times, so both possibilities are well attested. In addition, we find that Paul uses pistos in both ways in the Pastoral Epistles: it clearly means “believing” in 1 Timothy 6:2 and “faithful” in 2 Timothy 2:2. Therefore, either nuance of meaning is a distinct possibility in Titus 1:6. For this reason, we must look to the context to determine which nuance is more likely Paul’s intended meaning. In doing so, I would like to suggest five reasons why pistos should be translated “faithful” or “obedient” in Titus 1:6 rather than “believing” or “who believe.”

First, the qualifying phrase “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” in Titus 1:6 emphasizes behavior and seems to explain or expand on what it means for children to be pistos (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 289). In fact, there seems to be something of a pattern in Titus in which Paul states a generic, positive attribute, which is then followed by two or more specific, negative attributes which further explain the positive attribute by stating what it is not (Banker, A Semantic and Structural Analysis of Titus, 36). This pattern can be seen in Titus 1:13-14 and Titus 2:3.

In Titus 1:13-14, Paul refers to being “sound in faith” (the one generic, positive attribute), which he further explains as “not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men” (the two specific, negative attributes). In Titus 2:3, he refers to being “reverent in their behavior” (the one, generic positive attribute), which he further explains with the words “not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine” (the two specific, negative attributes). If Titus 1:6 follows this same pattern, the idea would be that an elder must have “children who are pistos” (the one, generic positive attribute) in that they are “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” (the two specific, negative attributes). Because the terms “dissipation” (wild living) and “rebellion” (disobedience) are more logically opposite of what it means to be “faithful” than what it means to be “believing,” it would seem that “faithful” is the better translation (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”).

Second, the parallel requirement in 1 Timothy 3:4 refers to an elder “keeping his children under control with all dignity.” As George Knight states, “In both cases the overseer is evaluated on the basis of his control of his children and their conduct” (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles, 290):

  • Titus 1:6b: “having children who are faithful, not accused of dissipation or rebellion”
  • 1 Timothy 3:4: “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity”

In other words, the emphasis in both passages is on the behavior of the children, not on whether or not they possess saving faith.

Look for part 2 on Wednesday.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Rod on February 28, 2007 at 3:54 am

    Thank you for this helpful post.

  2. Posted by Dr. Scott on April 12, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    Thanks Matt for your faithful work.

    Dr. Scott

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