“Children who Believe” in Titus 1:6 (Part 3)

Fifth, according to Barrick, when the adjective pistos is used to modify a noun (as it does in Titus 1:6), it always carries the meaning “faithful” or “trustworthy/credible.” In contrast, when the adjective is independent and functions as a substantive, it means “believing one” or “believer” (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”). Therefore, the meaning “faithful” in Titus 1:6 would be more consistent with the use of the word elsewhere in the New Testament.

Against this view, it has been argued that every time pistos is translated “faithful” in the New Testament, it refers to believers who are faithful, and never unbelievers. Therefore, it is said, pistos must refer to children who believe regardless of the precise way it is translated. In response, the fact that pistos is not used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to unbelievers does not mean that the adjective cannot be used in reference to unbelievers (which is what this argument needs to show in order to be compelling). To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing inherent in the word itself that precludes it from being used to describe an unbeliever. Used in this way, it would describe an unbeliever who, though unregenerate, is faithful and obedient to the one in authority over him (e.g., the soldiers described in Matthew 8:9).

The view that pistos means “believing” raises some practical difficulties as well. For example, if a man has a two-year-old daughter who has not repented of her sins and believed in Christ, is that man unqualified to serve as an elder? Most interpreters who say that pistos means “believing” in Titus 1:6 would answer No, but on what basis? If pistos means “believing,” wouldn’t a child who has not exercised saving faith disqualify the father (since “believing” does mean “believing”)?

Some would respond by saying that only an unbelieving child who has reached the age of accountability would disqualify the father. Aside from the fact that Titus 1:6 says nothing about such an age, what exactly is that age? Many believers give testimony to having believed at a very young age—even as young as five—so is five the age of accountability? If not, why wouldn’t it be, since children seem capable of believing at such an early age? In addition, it seems possible that identifying an age as the cutoff might establish something of a high-pressured countdown for an elder whose unbelieving child is approaching that age (i.e., “If my child doesn’t profess Christ by this March, I’ll need to step down from serving as an elder!”).

These difficulties are only compounded by the fact that so many children profess faith but do not truly possess it. It is often difficult to know for certain whether or not a child—especially one raised in a Christian home—is truly regenerate. In many cases, elders would be deemed qualified because their children seem to be saved even though they are not regenerate. On the other hand, it is much easier to observe whether or not a child is obedient to his or her father. These kinds of practical considerations, of course, are secondary to the exegetical ones discussed above, but they are worthy of our consideration.

Overall, then, it seems to me that Paul’s intention in Titus 1:6 is to communicate not that an elder’s children must be saved for him to serve as an elder, but rather that his children must be faithful and obedient to their father, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. Indeed, as Barrick notes, a believing child is far better dispositioned to be obedient and submissive to the authority of his parents than an unbelieving child—and in this way the two views may end up overlapping to a great extent—but saving faith per se is no more in view in Titus 1:6 than it is in 1 Timothy 3:4 (Barrick, “Titus 1:6”).

17 responses to this post.

  1. “Indeed, as Barrick notes, a believing child is far better dispositioned to be obedient and submissive to the authority of his parents than an unbelieving child—and in this way the two views may end up overlapping to a great extent—but saving faith per se is no more in view in Titus 1:6…”

    Hello Matt!

    I especially enjoyed this series since I preached a sermon recently on that subject. I basically came through the context of the two passsages to the same conclusion in the paragraph above.

    I find it interesting that we are to evaluate not the parenting methods of the church leader but the results.

    I also find it interesting that the responsibility of a church elder is the same responsibility as that of an earthly father (Compare Titus 1: 9 with 1 Timothy 3:4-5). That is, after all, what this passage is about. For the elder it is the area of leadership and teaching of the faithful word. This teaching is done in several ways.

    Two methods are emphasized in Titus 1:9: exhortation, where you come alongside the (spiritual) child and help them and confrontation, where you rebuke those who deny the faith. It is expected that there will be from those two teaching methods a positive result in the lives of our children and in the lives of our church members, soundness of faith (Titus 1:13-14). It is expected that a church leader be able, that is, mighty in the sound doctrine of Christ, in the faithful word (Titus 1:9) to keep people sound in the faith. According to this passage, we can evaluate whether a church leader is capable of doing that by the way his children turn out or are turning out. This certainly implies that the child raised correctly will be believing.

    By the way, deacons also carry a responsibility that is reflective of fathers (1 Timothy 3:9,12-13). For the deacon it is the responsibility of service. These are areas where fathers have great responsibility and if they are not successful in their families in these areas, how can they be successful in a church family? When you look at this passage carefully, you see that their service is indicative of the affect that their faith has on their lives.

    1 Timothy 3:4-5 expands on this idea of faithfulness in the children by describing them as needing to be “in submission with all reverence.” Submission is a very active word and it means much more than obedience. Our children are to learn how to advance what is important to us. If serving God is important to you and not to your children, there is the question of whether they are really submissive or not. They may come to church every time you do but the question is really this, “Do they try to serve the Christ whom I serve?” This may partially answer the problem of children who are “believing” but in reality are not “believing”.

    Just as an elder is supposed to be free of accusation, so is also his children and by implication, his wife (Compare 1 Timothy 5:19 with Titus 1:5-7). They are to be blameless in the same way that the father is blameless but there are two specific problems that are mentioned in Titus 1:6: dissipation and insubordination.

    Dissipation is described for us in two places in the Bible: Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Peter 4:3-4. This is a way of living that is against everything for which God’s Word stands. Again, there is not to even be an accusation against a leader’s children.

    Insubordination is mentioned again in Titus 1. As we have already seen, what is expected of the church leader in his family is expected of him in the church also. Look at verses 9-11 again. The church leader is expected to be able to bring his earthly children into obedience to the truth and he is expected to be able to bring his church people into obedience to the truth also.

    I know this is long but I learned a lot preparing for that message and thought someone might want to think about these things as I have. That was a tough sermon to preach, both because of my congregation and because I have two children (ages 12 and 2).

  2. Good stuff, Robert. Thanks for your insights. And may the Lord bless you as you shepherd both the flock and your family!

  3. You may have alreayd answered this: why must elders have “children” (plural) and not simply a “child” (singular)?

  4. The NT does not say that elders “must” have children. Titus 1:6 is making a qualification for those who do have children.

  5. Good. And an elder doesn’t have to be married. Titus 1:6 is making a qualification for those who are married or are seriously dating. They must be with only one woman at any time. Is that right?

  6. Titus 1:6 is not giving credence to the idea that one can change spouses as often as one likes so long as he is “faithful” to the one he is with at the moment. I would be careful about reading divorce/remarriage passages into this one verse. The point is simple: The NT does not say that elders “must” have children. Titus 1:6 is making a qualification for those who do have children.

  7. Exactly, as I thought. Titus 1:6 isn’t specfically referencing divorce/remarriage. It’s making qualifications for those who are with one woman. Thanks!

  8. Not just “with one woman” like dating but is married to one woman with devout fidelity and their children (if they have any) are faithful to the leadership of their father who is an elder in the church.

  9. Paul is not limiting these ideal elder character traits simply to the married. If that had been his intention he would have said so with “married” or something like it. He intentionally left it open ended in order to include a much broader criterion that simply marriage. It includes prohibitions on adultery, bigamy, polygamy, cheating among engaged people, pre-marital fornication, not cheating on girl friends, and, of course, looking lustfully at women.

  10. I understand there is not a requirement that an elder must be married but the qualification regarding children of elders is for married elders only. I think you are emphasizing an issue that was not the point of this post.

  11. Sorry, but thanks for the insight.

  12. Posted by Alan Tabb on May 20, 2008 at 12:20 am

    Another interesting problem is that of election. If only sovereignly chosen believers are meant, then who can possibly qualify? If we cannot ascertain with certainty the chosen from those who are not, then how can a candidate for eldership ever be successfully admitted or continue to serve under this so-called disqualification? It seems better to understand within the context that obedience to the father is the issue at hand. In the immediate context the man in one who manages his household well… does it likewise require that he “manage” the election of his own children? Obviously not. Hence it seems likely that the intent of the passage is not to identify the elect children… but to identify the practices of a godly father and the resultant obedient and respectful child(ren).

  13. Posted by Craig Bell on May 23, 2008 at 7:48 am

    I see that the position of elder/overseer comes with a high barrier of entry. I understand the greek word “pistis” to mean “believing” in the sense that the children are confessors of faith in Jesus AS WELL AS being well behaved. The behaviour is not defining the type of their faithfulness but adding extra conditions to their belief. Too many people negate Titus by interpreting it through the words of 1Timothy 3. Titus is able to stand by itself and is complemented by 1Timothy 3 NOT negated by.
    Also I am disturbed by the trend of people negating this qualification because salvation is “supernatural”. They say therefore the father cannot possibly be responsible for something that only God can do. You can say that about an individual’s faith. Because it too is “supernatural” we are not really responsible for our own faith – because only God can grant it. Rubbish. It should be both a natural thing and a supernatural thing to expect that an elder’s child believes in the God of his/her father.
    This whole issue is quite simple. People just want to justify unqualified men as elders. That’s much easier than plaining barring them from the role.

  14. Posted by Paul Lamey on May 23, 2008 at 8:14 am


    We try to maintain a degree of civility here at ET in our posts and comments. We don’t always succeed. However, I think your comment is unhelpful to the overall tone of this particular series. To say that the whole issue is “quite simple” is to ignore all that Matt labored to show in his posts.

    You made a number of false claims in your comment that need to be addressed. First, you stated that you believe that “pistis” means “believing” yet you made nothing but emotional arguments with no basis in exegesis. Secondly, Matt did not “negate” Titus through a reading of 1 Timothy but dealt with it in context. Thirdly, no one here has made the argument that unqualified elders should be justified based on the “faithful” interpretation of this passage.

    If you would like to comment on future posts then we recommend you actually read them and interact with the arguments made, not ones that you imagine on your own.


  15. Posted by Craig Bell on May 24, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    Do you have elders in your church that do not have believing children? Not young children. I mean children who have decided to that they don’t believe?

    PS Tone is a funny thing. I always wonder about the true tone that Jesus spoke his words. I’m sure they were actually delivered in a tempered, mild way – mostly. It is often very hard to tell from the written account.

  16. Craig,

    To my knowledge we do not have any grown children of elders(in my church) who are unbelievers but that is not what should determine a position on the issue. As Matt so carefully pointed out in his post, this issue must be settled through exegesis and then careful and loving application. In other words, how one choses to apply Titus 1:6 must be based on the text and not emotional argumentation.

    We have no issues with someone disagreeing with a post but it may be more edifying if you interact with the points that Matt made rather than making false statements against a position that no one here has argued for.


  17. Posted by Alan Tabb on June 1, 2008 at 6:26 am

    I don’t think the issue is trying to get unqualified leaders in the church. On the contrary, the issue is rather an exegetical one, the foundation of all decisions that are based upon biblical discernment necessarily are serious. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding whatever leader is selected, at issue is the process. That process must be biblical throughout and not just seem to be appropriate. Much like the “church-plants” that Titus faced, not all who qualified for the position of elder had any “history” or background of Christianity, and hence neither did their children. However, as (young) children, what could be reasonably observed was whether or not they followed the teaching of their parents (especially their father), both by submitting and by “believing” as well as they were able; determining who was elect was not a consideration. Besides, how could anyone know who was elect? Especially among children? The emphasis should properly be placed upon the context of the selection process and what qualified men to serve as elders.
    Whatever the higher barrier of entry means, the qualifications of elders are not reserved only for those specially chosen to lead the church! Instead, they are examples to the flock that they should emulate. While not all who are qualified as elders serve, all that do serve must qualify. I think this slight error in thinking has led to this concept of “super spiritual” elders and restricted only to those who have “chosen or elect” children. It’s admirable to seek a higher standard, but not for the wrong reason. A higher human standard is a standard to imitate, not an esoteric standard reserved only for the “best of the best”. One needs only to examine Scripture to find examples of leaders who continued to lead in spite of their (grown) children who did not appear to be elect (see Samuel and David for example).
    Nonetheless, I do think it is wise not to lower any standard set by the Word of God. If children show disregard for their father and don’t submit while under his roof they should in fact disqualify him for the eldership. So, in the long run, it is probably “safer” to select/approve only those whose children actually believe, but it is harder to determine such and consequently makes it more likely that man-made tests will inevitably be invoked to guarantee the sanctity of such selections. God doesn’t instruct us to do this, but rather leaves the matter as stated. The entire exercise that causes us to wrestle with this issue is a good thing for the church because as a body we must appreciate the concern it demands. And this is where the Church is strongest–just when it wrestles with issues in the light of Scripture.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: