Church,  New Testament,  Theology

Do a Pastor’s Children Need to be Believers? A Look at Titus 1:6

Photo of children who believe

According to the NASB, Titus 1:6 states that leaders in the church must have children who believe. In other words, a church leader who has children, must have children who believe (i.e., Christians).

Leadership certainly is a high calling. The significance of leadership is magnified within the Church because of the importance of the Church as a unified witness of God’s plan of redemption to the watching world. For this reason, Paul clearly lays out two lists of leadership qualifications which give the standard of character for the would-be leader in the Church (1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).

These lists are essentially the same, although a few differences exist. As noted above, the biggest difference is Titus 1:6, which seems to mandate that an elder have children who believe (i.e., Christian children). On the other hand, other translations choose the phrase “faithful children” instead of children who believe. A brief survey of translations may be helpful.

Translations of Titus 1:6

  • ESV | ‎Titus 1:6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.
  • ‎‎NASB95 | Titus 1:6 namely, if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion.
  • ‎‎NIV84 | ‎Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.
  • ‎‎NRSV | Titus 1:6 someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.
  • ‎‎HCSB | Titus 1:6 one who is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of wildness or rebellion.
  • ‎‎NET | Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion.
  • ‎‎KJV 1900 | Titus 1:6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
  • ‎‎NKJV | Titus 1:6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination.

The ESV, NASB, NIV, and NRSV all have a translation implying a leader must have children who believe. The issue revolves around how to translate the adjective πιστος (pistos). The Greek Lexicon gives both believing and faithful as potential options, and I believe the best translation is “faithful” for the following reasons.

When πιστος is used as a modifier, it most often carries with it the meaning of faithful/trustworthy.

When looking at the uses of πιστος, the NASB most often translates the word as “faithful” when it is used as an adjective (attributive or predicative), but when it is used as a substantive (i.e., when it does not modify a noun but stands as a noun) then it is often translated as “believing.” Here in Titus 1:6 it is best described as an attributive adjective modifying the children.

When modified by a prepositional phrase (e.g., “not accused of dissipation or rebellion”) πιστος carries the meaning of faithful/trustworthy.

Similar to the first point, when πιστος is used along with a prepositional phrase, then the adjective refers to faithfulness which is further described by the accompanying prepositional phrase. For example:

  • Matt 25:21, 23 – “You were faithful with a few things
  • Luke 16:10, 11 – “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much
  • Luke 19:17 – “You have been faithful in a very little thing
  • 1 Cor 4:17 – “who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord
  • Eph 1:1 – “who are faithful in Christ Jesus
  • Eph 6:21 – “the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord
  • 1 Tim 3:11 – “faithful in all things
  • Titus 1:9 – “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching
  • Cf. Acts 16:15; 1 Cor 7:25; Col 1:2; Col 1:7; Col 4:7.

In like fashion to these other examples, the prepositional phrase in Titus 1:6, “not accused of dissipation or rebellion” (which is a prepositional phrase, but doesn’t really look like it in English), modifies the faithfulness which the children are to exemplify.

The translation of faithful/trustworthy best agrees with 1 Tim 3:4.

In the list of elder qualifications that Paul gives in 1 Tim 3, he instructs that the elder must be, “keeping his children under control with all dignity” (1 Tim 3:4b). In the 1 Tim 3 list of qualifications it is clear that the main idea is the behavior of the children, not their spiritual condition. Although possible, it seems quite unlikely that Paul would remind the baby churches of Crete that elders need to have children who believe, but he would pass over that instruction to the seasoned church of Ephesus. It seems much more likely that Paul’s list of qualifications would both focus on the same issue – i.e., submission and obedience of the children to their father.

The translation of faithful/trustworthy best agrees with the theology of the qualifications list.

It is also worthwhile to note that if Titus 1:6 refers to having children who believe, then that would be a unique qualification which focuses on a qualification that the elder has no control over. Theologically it is clear from Scripture that human beings cannot contribute to their salvation, and thus cannot guarantee children who believe. God claims responsibility for opening a one’s eyes to eternal life. Thus, in a list of elder qualifications which focuses on the elder’s responsibility of character, it seems unlikely that there would be a qualification which is only possible through divine intervention.

Objection: In Scripture, even when emphasizing faithfulness/trustworthiness, πιστος is only used of believers.

This is a common objection to this position which states that even if the word is translated as “faithful/trustworthy” it still only refers to believers in Scripture so it would refer to believers here in Titus 1:6. This objection is unconvincing since the word is used in non-biblical texts to refer to general faithfulness, thus showing that the word is not obligated to be only used to refer to a Christian. In addition, many of Jesus’ parables which emphasize the faithfulness of servants would have been understood as an allegory which assumes faithfulness by common servants that the people were familiar with (Matt 24:45; 25:21,23; Luke 12:41; 16:10, 11, 12, etc.). This allegory is based on a real faithfulness of the everyday servant which provides the template for the believer to understand His need for faithfulness to His Lord. Thus, the word itself should not be assumed to be related to Christian belief.

Although it is possible Titus 1:6 is saying a leader in the church must have children who believe, I think that is not the most natural way of reading that statement. Grammatically and theologically, it makes more sense to read Titus 1:6 as a reminder that a church leader must have faithful children.

More on this Issue on The Bible Sojourner

Additional Readings

photo credit: A sunny day in Wales via photopin (license)

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs The Bible Sojourner podcast and Youtube channel.

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