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Titus 1:6—Are Elder's Children "Believers” or “Faithful”? (Monday with Mounce 66)

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Most of the requirements for church leadership are
straight forward.

Each person is to be above reproach, and among other things
this means they are faithful in marriage, self-controlled, manage their
household well, etc.

Perhaps the most difficult requirement to interpret is
found in Titus 1:6, where Paul says that the children must be εχων πιστα,
“having faithful.” πιστος can mean “faithful, reliable, trustworthy.”

As you can see, the Greek can’t come directly over into
English. It is slightly idiomatic in the use of “having,” but the basic meaning
is clear; the children must possess this quality. But what
exactly is the quality?

1. Most of the translations accept the standard meaning
of πιστος in the Pastorals and translate his “children are believers” (ESV,
NRSV), “whose children believe” (NIV). The argument is that this is the most
common use of the word in the Pastorals. The counter argument is that the
spiritual state of one’s children, since it ultimately is their own choice,
can’t be a requirement for leadership. The counter-counter argument is that at
a practical level the leadership should epitomize the goals of spiritual
growth. This is the position I take in my commentary, although not with any
great assuredness.

2. Some translations go with the meaning “reliable” and
suggest “faithful children” (NET, KJV). The problem here is, faithful to what?
I guess it could mean they are a faithful type of person, a person known for
his or her reliability; but to me the lack of an object is a forceful argument
against this interpretation. However, it would provide a parallel to 1 Tim 3:4
that says the elder’s children should be submissive to his authority.

To make it more complicated—don’t you love translation
and exegesis!—there is some question as to whether the following
phrase describes the elder or the children (“his children must be believers who
don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious,” NLT).

I encourage every church to struggle through these
issues, not in just identifying the qualities of true leaders but in coming to
a mutual interpretation of those qualities and how they work out in reality.
What constitutes “faithfulness in marriage”? “Self-control”? As I have
recommended in the past, I strongly encourage every church to write an Elder
Position Paper where these decisions can be made. My attempt at this task can
be downloaded
from my personal site.

The problem in church leadership is not understanding Paul’s
requirements — this issue aside. The challenge is actually finding people who
truly qualify. And yet the Word of God says that it is “necessary” for a church
leader to be this type of person. To appoint unqualified people is to move in
direct contradiction to God’s revealed truth. Of that there is no question, at
least for those who desire to be biblical. 


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greekand is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at


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