Thursday, March 11, 2010

Church Elders and Their Children, Part 2

He is Translation's thief that addeth more,
As much as he that taketh from the store,
Of the first author.

--Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) in, "To Dr. Witty"
My last post included three main ideas:

1. The New Testament teaches that each congregation of the Lord's people should be "self-governing under Christ." This congregational form of church government is distinct from what is called the presbyterian form (where presbyters guide all the churches of a region). It is also different from the episcopal form (where an individual like the Pope has oversight of all the churches).

2. The New Testament also teaches that each congregation of the body of Christ should be led by two or more mature, Christlike men who have been ordained, formally appointed to their work. The Scriptures typically refer to these men as shepherds (as in 1 Peter 5:1-4), elders, or overseers.

3. In the New International Version, Titus 1:6 says, "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." In contemporary Churches of Christ it is commonly believed that this verse teaches that a prospective elder must have at least one son or daughter who has come of age and has become a believer in Christ. Someone might ask, "If that's the meaning of Titus 1:6, then why would a church settle for just one Christian son or daughter? According to this interpretation, wouldn't Titus 1:6 expect that all of the elder's children would be Christians?" Good question. However, at the end of the first post I said that there are some problems with this traditional understanding. That's what I want to take up next.

Pistos in the New Testament

In Titus 1:6, the expression "whose children believe" (the King James says "having faithful children") is translated from the Greek adjective pistos (pronounced piss-STOSS, with the emphasis on the second syllable). This word occurs 67 times in the Greek New Testament and is used in a variety of ways:

1. Sometimes pistos is used to describe God the Father. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, for example, Paul says, God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful" (pistos). Another example comes from 1 John 1:9. It says that if we Christians confess our sins, "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness."

2. In other parts of the New Testament, pistos describes people without necessarily referring to their identities as Christians. For example, Hebrews 3:5 says that "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house." In Matthew 25:21 and 23, two servants in Jesus' Parable of the Talents are commended as "good and faithful servants."

3. Pistos can also refer to something rather than someone. In Revelation 22:6, for example, an angel says to John, "These words are trustworthy and true."

Clearly, this word can be used in ways that include no hint of the believing character of the person or thing being described. In fact, only about 25% of the New Testament occurrences of the word (16 out of 67) fall into that category. However, when it comes to Titus 1:6, it's obvious that English Bible translators have thought that pistos means precisely that in this context. A few of their renderings:
  • "a man whose children believe" (NIV)
  • "his children are believers" (RSV)
  • "whose children hold the faith" (Ronald Knox)
  • "whose children are Christians" (20th Century New Testament)

I contend that these expressions are overstated, unwarranted mistranslations of the phrase in question. Next time, I'll say more about why I think so.

In the meantime, as always, I welcome your feedback. What do you think?


Note: For a good, short article on the Greek word pistos, scroll down to pages 97-98 of Volume 3 of the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. (Google Books includes a button for increasing the size of the text if it appears too small). For much more, consult the massive Theological Dictionary of the New Testament ("Kittel"), Volume 6, which contains an extensive article by Rudolf Bultmann, beginning on page 174.


Matthew said...

Good stuff, I look forward to the next section.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks, Matthew. More to come.

Kathryn said...

I'm studying this verse also (Titus 1:6) and trying to understand it... that word "pistos" objectively means "trustworthy" or subjectively "trustful".... it seems to me it would be children whose character, attitudes, ways of life are trustworthy, you could trust them, because they are of honest character. So, not necessarily a believer, but more pointing to the character of the child. The word "pistis" (4102 in Strongs) means more "reliance upon Christ for salvation." So a pastor's child could be a Mormon, but be very trusting and trustworthy... according to that verse. Any other thoughts?

Kathryn said...

In Titus 1:6, it also says a pastor cannot have children who are open to being "wild and disobedient"... The word "children" in that verse is the same word in Eph 1:6 - used to bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord... so it would indicate children in the home as they are being raised. But the "wild and disobedient" part seems to indicate carousing, drunkenness, etc. which would seem to indicate older children. Or would that mean children (teenagers) in the home who are in juvenile delinquent homes because of crime, or who are on drugs, or in jail for theft, etc? Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

Frank Bellizzi said...


I'm sorry I'm just now responding to your comments here. I think that your ideas about the practical significance of Titus 1:6 are on track. Going forward with this series of posts, my contention is that Paul is not demanding that an elder's children be Christians (as nice as that would be). Instead, the expression in Titus 1:6 points to the elder's ability to effectively guide his children.

The question is not, "Have his kids been baptized?" The question is, "Can he manage a household?"