Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 20, 1961
NUMBER 49, PAGE 3,10-11a

Must A Man Have A Plurality Of Children To Qualify As An Elder?

Lloyd Moyer, El Cerrito, California

This is being written because of the many requests received from brethren concerning the above question. I shall endeavor to set forth what I believe to be the truth on the subject. Then I shall consider some of the objections to my position along with the arguments made to try to sustain the position that a man is qualified to serve as an elder if he has only one child.

Realizing that most brethren do not know the Greek, I shall present my arguments without too much reference to the Greek. This is for the purpose of clarity and not because of any fear of going to the Greek. I believe the Greek strengthens my position, but I believe that one does not have to know Greek to learn the qualifications of elders.

There are three positions taken concerning the number of children elders should have: 1) Each elder must have a plurality of believing children (Christians). 2) An elder may be qualified if he has only one child who may or may not be a Christian. 3) A man may be qualified as an elder even though he has no children at all. I maintain that the first is true. Here are my reasons for so believing:

An Elder Must Have Demonstrated His Ability To Rule Well.

"One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (but if a man knoweth not how to rule his house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Tim. 3:4-5) "If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having children that believe, who are not accused of riot or unruly." (Tit. 1:6)

God has ordained that before a man can qualify as an elder, he must have proven that he is a good ruler. God states that this must be proven by the way he rules his own house. (This eliminates a man's proving that he can rule or guide people in the school-room or in the business world, etc. God says, "his own house." Away goes the "old bachelor elders.") God plainly says that his house is composed of "one wife" and "children that believe." To eliminate either one of these is to take from the word of God. You never hear a man who does not have a wife talking about "my wife." Neither do you hear a man who has only one child talking about "my children." Any man who would so talk would be considered plain silly.

The things listed in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 are things that prove that a man is qualified to do that which a man must do as an elder. He must rule, guide, and train the church of God. If the church of God, which the elder must care for, was composed of only one person, then a man with only one child would be qualified. But the church (congregation) which the elder must care for is composed of a plurality of children of God. The man who has never had the experience of dealing with a plurality of those in his "own house" to whom he is equally related, is wholly unprepared to do so in the church of God as an elder. Remember that God has legislated that he get this experience in ruling "his own house" — not any where else. God would be unfair to a man if He allowed him to be an elder if the man was wholly unprepared to do the work expected. That is why I say the word children in I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 demands the plural. No scholar will deny that the word is plural in these texts. Many will say that the word will permit the singular in these texts because the word does permit the singular in other passages. However, we must remember that the context and circumstances of a passage will determine what use of a word must be made; otherwise, we do violence to the word of God. Just because a word has a meaning in one passage does not mean that it has the same meaning in another passage, and to give it the same meaning in every passage would result in making God teach something that He never intended to teach. Here is an example: he word oikodomeo in 1 Cor. 8:1 means to "edify" or "to promote growth in Christian wisdom." (Thayer, p. 440) Now, the Baptists do exactly as some of my brethren — they place the same meaning on the word in Matt. 16:18 and thus make the Lord say that he will "edify" or "strengthen" his church. Thus they prove that the church was already established. But, the word in Matt. 16:18 does not mean what it does in 1 Cor. 8:1. It means, "to found." (Thayer, p. 440) However, the Baptists have as much right to place the same meaning on the word in Matt. 16:18 as my brethren have to say that the word "children" in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 means the same as it does in some other passages. I hasten to admit that the word children (tekna) in some passages does allow the singular. The question is shall we give it that meaning in every passage? I say no.

Here is an example. Thayer lists a number of passages where the word is used. Among them is 2 John 1. "The elder unto the elect lady (sing.) and her children (pl.)" Would it be a scriptural exegesis of this passage to say that this lady had only one child? Brethren who say that because the word children denotes or represents the singular in other passages must also denote or represent the singular in 1 Tim. 3 and Tit. I would be forced to say that one child would fit the explanation of 2 John 1. The same could be said of verse 4 and 13 of 2 John. What brother is ready to say that one child would be correct in these verses?

The above proves my point that the circumstances and context determines whether the word children permits the singular or demands the plural. I say that 2 John 1, 4, 13; 1 Tim. 3:4, and Tit. 1:6 all demand the plural. To say otherwise would place God in the position of endorsing a man to be put in the position of ruling, guiding, teaching, training, settling differences between a plurality of people (the congregation composed of many) when that man had never had any experience in such work. God has demanded that a man must have demonstrated his ability to do these things by the experience he has had in "ruling his own house" which God says is composed of a wife and children that believe.

Must An Elder's Children Be Christians?

Again I must answer in the affirmative. A man can rule his children who are too young to "have a mind of their own," or who are too young to reason and think as an adult. The elder is not going to be dealing with people who cannot reason or think as an adult. Therefore, he must have demonstrated his ability to deal with people who think and reason as adults. God says that this is done by his "ruling his own house." But the man whose children are too young to be Christians has never had this experience in ruling his house. Too, many elders try to rule the church of God like they rule their seven, eight and ten-year-old children. That is why there is so much trouble in the church. God gave the qualifications of elders, and there is wisdom in each of the qualifications. If we can dispense with the qualifying experience of a man in dealing with a plurality of people to whom he is equally related — God says his believing children — then we can with equal ease discard any and all of the other qualifications of an elder.

There is a vast difference in dealing with children before the age of accountability and in dealing with children after that age. Any parent who has grown children can verify this fact. Since an elder must rule, guide, and train a plurality of adult people in the church of God, and since God says that he proves his ability to do such by the way he rules his own house, it follows that his children must have reached that age where the man will have demonstrated his ability to do all these things and yet hold the love and respect of those so ruled. This is impossible of the man whose children are not old enough to be Christians. If they are old enough to be Christians and have not obeyed the gospel, it would reflect upon the ability of the man to properly rule his house. This is why the statement is made, "having children that believe." (Tit. 1:6) The Greek bears out this argument. J. Henry Thayer on p 514 of the word believe says, "one who has become convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the author of salvation...." He lists a number of passages, which, upon examination show plainly the meaning. The term "believing children" in the qualifications of elders means that the man must have a plurality of children who are Christians.

That the reader may know that I am not alone in my position I quote C. R. Nichol in "A Preacher of Righteousness," p. 248: "Children — plural. A man may rule one child well, but when he has several children, he knows that each child is an individual, even though each child must abide by the same rule. The children differ in their temperaments, dispositions, etc. The test comes with the man: Can he rule a plurality of children? So, also in the church, there are many members to be dealt with. The elders must be able to get along with many different temperaments and dispositions. There is always wisdom in what God says. He said: 'children,' plural. He said: 'believing children'."

I did not quote brother Nichol to prove the point — he could be wrong as easily as I — but to show that there are scholars among us who take the same position as I. Some who are agitating the problem by insisting on one child have stated that, "Moyer could be wrong" and that the scholars agree that one child qualifies a man. I could quote other scholars. But, the matter is not settled by what scholars say about it, but by what the scriptures say. I think I have proven abundantly that the circumstances and context of the passages under consideration demand a plurality of "believing children."

Now, To Some Of The Objections To The Position I Advocate:

1) "Arguments show that children can be used to denote the singular."

Answer: I know of no one who denies this any more than I know of anyone who would deny that oikodomeo means to "edify" or "to promote growth in Christian wisdom," in 1 Cor. 8:1. But as I have already pointed out, who is ready to argue that it means the same in every passage where is appears? So, why argue that the word children means to denote or represent the singular everywhere it appears? I have already shown that this could not be true by citing 2 John 1, 4, 13. Any passage introduced where the context and circumstances would allow the singular, I would readily accept and endorse that use of the word. Examples: Gen. 21:7. Sarah spoke of giving children suck. Yet, she only gave suck to one child, Isaac. It is quite obvious that the singular is represented. Another example: Matt. 22:24 and Deut. 25:5-6. Here an Israelite was to leave children. If not, his brother should take his wife and raise up seed to him, "that his name not be put out of Israel." Again, it is obvious that the singular is permitted. The requirement would be met by one child. But, does this argue that everywhere the word appears it must permit the singular?

2) It is argued that the purpose of the requirement in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 is to "demonstrate his ability to do that work through the proper leading, training, supervising of children in the singular or plural." We have already shown that this is impossible with one child. A man with one child would have demonstrated his ability to lead, train and supervise only one person. Since he must "lead, train and supervise a plurality of persons in the church of God," he has not demonstrated whether he can do this or not. Can you imagine an elder with only one child going about talking about his children? Silly, is it not? That would be about like a man with one wife talking about his wives.

3) Eph. 6:1. "Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right." It is argued that if there is only one child he would be exempt. It seems to me that one is hard pushed for an argument to use the above to try to get one child out of children in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1. It is plain that God means "all children of all parents" are to obey. I would like to know what the use of the word here has to do with the use of the word in 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6? There is a plurality of parents or houses under consideration. The same is true with Eph. 6:4 and 1 Tim. 5:4. In each case one child would be obligated to obey the command.

4) It is argued that a widow having had only one child would not qualify to be "enrolled in the manner" of 1 Tim. 5:10 if our argument on children be true in the case of 1 Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6. This is an invalid argument because we do not insist that the word children (tekna) means a plurality everywhere it appears. If I so contended, then their argument might be valid. It seems that these brethren simply cannot conceive of the word children allowing the singular in one place and in another place, because of the circumstances and context, demanding the plural. If these brethren used the same logic with sectarians they would have to give up their position of psallo (sing) in the New Testament and "will build" in Matt. 16:18. If they can see that these words, due to the context, have different meanings in different passages, why can't they see that the word children can represent the singular in some passages and demand the plural in others?

Thayer says the word in 1 Tim. 5:10 means "to bring up children." (p. 618) Bagster says it means to "rear a family." (p. 399) It seems to me that more than the care for a destitute widow is involved in this passage. If the passage teaches that the church is to care for the widow who is to be "enrolled in the number" only, then the destitute younger widow could not be cared for by the church. I believe that the church would be obligated to care for any destitute widow as a needy saint. In which case any widow would be among the number being cared for by the church. But in reference to the "widow indeed" who must have certain qualifications to be enrolled, there must be more than just care implied, or there would be many destitute widows that the church could not care for at all. Verse 11 says, "But the younger widows refuse...." Does this mean that the church is to refuse to care for a destitute young widow? I am convinced that the church, in addition to supporting the widow of verse 9 and 10, may enroll them in the number to be permanently provided for and used in certain works that could be done effectively only by a woman who meets the qualifications laid down in these verses. For an example of this work one might read Titus 2:3-5. If the above be true, I can understand why the widow to be enrolled should meet these qualifications. If care is the only consideration, I cannot understand why these qualifications are given, since the church would already be caring for any destitute widow regardless of her age or whether she had "reared a family" or not — as a needy saint. I can see that a woman who meets these qualifications could teach younger women the things that a young wife and mother should know. However, if the word children in this passage does permit, or allow, or represent the singular, it would have no bearing on the meaning in 1 Tim. 3:4; and Tit. 1:6.

As has been pointed out, an elder must deal with a plurality of temperaments, dispositions, and personalities in taking care of the church of God; therefore, he must have demonstrated his ability to do these things. God says he gets this experience in ruling his own house. And God says that his house is composed of "one wife" and "believing children." Why should I want to change God's plan? Why not be safe and follow God's word? A man with only one child would have demonstrated his ability to deal with only one person to whom he is equally related. Until I find a congregation with only one person in it for the elder to deal with, I must conclude that God demands that a man have a plurality of believing children to qualify as an elder of the church.