Jesus made points by the tense of a word (Matt 22:32). Christ Himself presents the importance of a word in Scripture. Paul defended the teaching that Christ is Abraham’s singular seed upon the number of the word (Gal 3:16, 19). A conviction upon the number of a word in Scripture is neither frivolous nor word-wrangling by itself. Such can become word-wrangling and a matter that some may want to dispute over. Christians must avoid this (2 Tim 2:23; Titus 3:9). However, the study of whether elders having children includes one child is not frivolous. In fact, the Scriptures are revealing.
Does an elder “having children” include having one child (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:6–9)? The study of the qualifications of elders includes word-study. The study of “children” including or excluding a single child is important to the study of the qualifications of church elders (pastors) and deacons whom the Spirit appoints through Scripture. “[F]or if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Tim 3:5).
The Elder’s Qualification of Children
Is a man qualified to be an elder or deacon as having children by only having one child (1 Tim 3:4, 12; Titus 1:6)? Must a qualified man have a plurality of “faithful children” (Titus 1:6)? In a time when many believers have abandoned scriptural pastors as church elders, considering qualified elders to pastor congregations is an extremely important decision and one for the whole congregation and all Christians to handle God’s Word with diligence (2 Tim 2:15). The apostle Paul presented the qualification, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim 3:4–5).
Children: One Child or More than Two
In a word-study, the Greek word tekna that means “children” appears 91 times in the New Testament in the plural. This word for children includes little children, adolescent, and adult children. The word “children” included the singular child or the plurality of children in the Scriptures. If the word “children” always referred to a plural number of children, then there would be no reference to a single child by the plural “children,” and yet there are such occurrences in the New Testament.
Should a single child have to obey his parents since it is written that “children” are to obey their parents (Eph 6:1; Col 3:20)? Can a father provoke one child to wrath since he is instructed to not provoke his “children” to wrath (Eph 6:4; Col 3:21)? Do parents have responsibility toward their “children” except if that have only one child (2 Cor 12:14)? If “children” excluded a single “child,” then would one child not be responsible for caring for that child’s parents or grandparents (1 Tim 5:4)? By the way, if these children had only one parent or one widow, would they have to care for them since they are to provide for their “parents” and “widows.” which are also in the plural (1 Tim 5:16)?
Furthermore, if “children” excluded a single child, would the person who leaves “children” for Christ’s kingdom receive eternal life and not the person who left one child (Matt 19:29; Mark 10:29–30; Luke 18:29)? If “children” excluded one child, then would that one child not be sanctified while a plural number children would be sanctified by having a Christian parent in the home (1 Cor 7:14)?
Either the word “children” includes both the singular and plural or the word only refers to the plural, the Scriptures are clear that the regular use of the word “children” from tekna also includes a single child. Therefore,the specific use of the plurality of children to make a point must be determined by the context of Scripture.
There are some occurrences where “children” excludes the singular child determined by the antecedents and modifiers of “children” as plural in the context of Scripture (Matt 21:28; 23:37; John 11:52; 1 Cor 4:14; Gal 4:25–31; Eph 2:3; 1 Pet 3:6; Rev 2:23). Therefore, the modifiers of the context show the plural only use of “children,” and the context is essential. Again, the regular use of “children” cannot be distinguished by a plural or singular antecedent since the word regularly includes both, so this use cannot be determined by antecedents, and to require such is impossible and thus irrational and unfair.
The regular use of the word “children” includes a single child. The lists of qualifications for elders and deacons include these positions are to have “children” (1 Tim 3:4, 12; Titus 1:6). There are no modifiers within the phrase “having children” that exclude the single child. There is not one plural antecedent to specify only the plural meaning. There is not one principle in Scripture to require the plurality of children for elders. If there were such, then all Christians should be diligent to honestly consider these points and have more than one child.
Therefore, the only way to reason that “children” excludes a single “child” is to decide this by preconceived assumptions. Those who make such demands may be sincere and are seeking to diligently follow Scripture, but they are mistaken. May God bless them that they seriously and honestly reconsider their position, and realize how this doctrinal position can hinder a congregation to care for its own needs, hinder their growth, prevent qualified and good men from serving, and how such misinterpretations can effect one’s views on a number of Christ’s instructions.
The idea here is that an “elder” has shown himself experienced and capable of leading his own family, of leading a wife, of leading children in the walks of the Lord.
“Elder” is an older way of saying “older.” We use it today in more limited ways. The “pastor” is a leader of a flock. The “presbyter” (the same word as “priest”) leads in formal or communal worship. The “bishop” is an overseer of a group.
They are not titles to be worn but names of aspects of the same office.
The deacon is an assistant to the elders. He generally tends to the temporal matters of the church (local meeting of believers), seeing that the widows indeed are cared for, orphans cared for, invalids who are not taken care of by their own families are looked after. Yet Stephen, a deacon, was a powerful contender for the faith. Philip, another deacon, preached the gospel to the Ethiopian officer of the kandake, the queen of Ethiopia.
The roles of elder and deacon have no sharp distinction between the duties of the offices. Deacons are men younger in age and in the faith, ones who have young families not yet proved.
I agree you have definitely looked carefully into the scriptures for these conclusions. It is very great to find someone that will apply a scriptural message that goes against what many have taught in error. But, many times these kinds of presentations can be very harmful for the position you hold in the church. I sincerely hope that never happens to you.
I appreciate your thoroughness and your honesty. Your study and final application demonstrate an accurate handling of the scripture. You did not hide behind preconceived ideas or a consensus thought. Nor did you launch into some new and radical interpretation. Nor did you turn to man’s logic. You dealt with the verses in their context and applied their meanings accordingly.
Simple. Effective. Meaningful.
I look forward to reading more in the future.
I’ll strive to take more of this approach. Thanks for the encouragement. God bless.
Great points Scott. I’ve never seen anyone lay this issue out this way and I think you’ve done an excellent job.
I’ve always thought that a “safe” approach to this issue is to simply go with men who have more than one child – you certainly can’t be wrong that way. Another thing worth considering is that the more children a man has the more “management” he’s done in his home, making him better prepared to “manage” the congregation. I’m not disagreeing with your conclusions – just adding some thoughts.
I’d love to see you write a follow-up article on the meaning of “faithful” children since there is also disagreement over what that means (faithful to Christ or faithful to their father).
Honestly, I’ve felt the same way about the safe approach. This study has shown me otherwise. When the Bible is not specific, we have freedom.
I can see management principle with two or more children and I understand it, but it doesn’t appear to be an inspired one. So, how can I say (assume) that is underlying the word “children”? Also, I find it easier to manage my daughter with my son rather than my daughter alone. Someone managing one child may know more about managing only children and that style may well carry over into workers in the Church fellowship but also minister independently in an area.
“Faithful” is general and many have pointed to one or the other. Why not both? Yet, a man with 9 faithful children and 1 unfaithful child outside the home still has faithful children. Then, you have to consider these children having their own household. The principle is clear behind all of this is seeing that this man can manage his house. When they have left the house, how he can be judged by how he managed his house when one or two fall away? If God wanted us to have the specific details, He would have given them to us.
I’ll do some more study on “faithful”.