An exercise in paying close attention to the text – should elders be married and have children?

I’m guessing that your church’s elders/pastors/shepherds/overseers/bishops – Biblically, all the same office – are not required to have children, right?

Given that opening question and the title of this article, you might be expecting me now to try and convince you that they should.

Nope, that’s not it.

I am going to make the argument that elders should have children. But not because I want to persuade you of this. No, rather because I hope my argument is wrong and I want you to show me why. I can’t see the flaw, but perhaps you can. And if so, please leave a comment and tell me what it is. I’d be very grateful, as I am rather uncomfortable with an interpretation that has been in the minority throughout much of church history. Think of this as a personal doctrinal loose-end that I’d like to tie up.

Why do I raise this now?

The topic came up in the comments on an article posted at www.extremetheology.com. A youngster called Joel (he’s 22) made the comment that he thought he met the Biblical qualifications for elders, except for not having a ‘wife and kids’. That brought a sharp rebuttal from Chris, the original author of the piece being discussed. Now, Chris is one of the genuine good-guys, and I respect his opinions greatly as a seasoned contender for the faith, even if I don’t always agree with absolutely everything he says. Chris questioned Joel’s ability to handle Scripture properly, on the grounds that the Biblical qualifications for eldership did not include marriage per se or, by implication, children.

‘Not so fast’, I thought. I then posted a somewhat lengthy comment, setting forth my own current tentative reading of Scripture on this matter. (I’m pleased to say that harmony has subsequently been restored between Chris and Joel.) It is that comment, somewhat reworked, that forms the basis for the remainder of this post.

I believe both in the reliability and authority of Scripture as the true word of God. I’m hoping you do too. So, whether or not elders have children is a question that should be settled based on what the Bible says. And nothing else. Not on our church constitutions. Not on our church traditions or confessions. And certainly not on our own opinions. This is what we in the Reformation traditions mean when we say that we believe in sola scriptura (‘by Scripture alone’). Scripture alone determines our doctrine, and that Scriptural doctrine should determine our practice. How do we properly interpret Scripture? We pay close attention to the text, its grammar, and its grammatical and historical context.

The topic under discussion at extremetheology.com was the qualifications required of small-group leaders within the church. Chris had quoted some relevant texts from the ESV Bible. I reproduce two of these here.

1 Tim. 3:1–7 (ESV):
1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Titus 1:5–9 (ESV):
…appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

It seemed to me that Joel had been trying hard to be faithful and sensitive to the text in a way that I think is commendable. Was he not merely stating what a plain reading of the ESV English translation quoted about says – that ‘an overseer must be…the husband of one wife’ (1 Tim. 3:2)? And the same idea is repeated in the ESV translation of Titus 1:6.

Now, I suspect that Chris, who has studied Biblical languages, was very aware of the Greek text of these phrases, mias gunaikos andra (lit. ‘one-woman man’), and probably has read at least as many commentaries and scholarly articles on this topic as I have. He was probably therefore understanding this as I do, which is that the intended emphasis here is almost certainly upon the mias (‘one’), rather than on the gunaikos (‘woman’). That is, the intent of this phrase is not primarily that the elder has to be married, but rather that he should have an inherent character of sexual fidelity (i.e. that he should be ‘a one-woman kind of man’).

Thus, Chris’s interpretation of this requirement as being that an elder should be ‘sexually under control’ is probably not a bad dynamic equivalent to the intent of the Greek. Myself, I’d have translated the Greek phrase simply as ‘one-woman man’, which I think would have conveyed the likely meaning rather better than the more interpretive translation of ‘the husband of one wife’ that is used by the ESV and several other translations. But then I like formal equivalence as a translation principle, even at the expense of slightly less readability. Of course, I’m but a novice with NT Greek, so what do I know? <grin>

Thus, with regard to the marriage qualification, I agree with Chris. At least, I would do if mias gunaikos andra were the only phrase under consideration. But it is not. There is also the question of the phrases translated in the ESV as ‘keeping his children submissive’ (1 Tim. 3:4) and ‘his children are believers’ (Titus 1:6).

Take the equivalent phrases in the NKJV, with some additional context (my italics):

an elder must be…one who rules his own house well, having children in submission’ (1 Tim. 3:4)

if anyone is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children…’ (Titus 1:6)

In the English, each passage is a list of independent qualification clauses, every one of which must be met by the subject of the sentence (i.e. ‘an elder’).

What does the Greek say? Well, tekna echonta en hupotage (‘having children in obedience’) for 1 Tim. 3:4, and tekna echon pista (‘having believing children’) for Titus 1:6. I’d say therefore that the NKJV is spot-on in its translation, and the ESV has chosen to convey the same idea but with different grammar. Both are therefore reliable in this case (although I prefer the more formally equivalent NKJV).

So, whether we are reading the English or the Greek, what is the qualification conveyed by a simple literal reading of the actual text of these phrases? It is that an elder is to have children, and that those children are to be submissively faithful. Now it might be that this is not the final interpretation, but we would have to do rather more work to get there. The immediate simple plain-text meaning is straightforward enough and, perhaps, should not be lightly dismissed.

Now, I have read far and wide on this issue, and it is true that most (but certainly not all) commentators and scholars say that Paul means that if an elder has children, they are to be faithful. However, that is not what the text actually says (or am I mistaken?), and I have yet to find a treatment of the grammar and context of these passages that demonstrates from the text that it is legitimate for us to interpolate an ‘if he has children’ clause into our understanding of the passages. What one nearly always finds in the commentaries is something that is effectively along the lines of ‘Paul says this, but he really means that’, with just a dismissive wave of the hand rather than any attempt at justifying such a conclusion. I don’t like that approach to Bible interpretation. The Holy Spirit could very easily have inspired Paul to write ‘and if an elder has children, they are to be faithful’, but He did not choose to do so. Why was that? It certainly wasn’t because Paul expected all Christian men to get married and to have children, and so was only dealing with the common situation (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8).

Furthermore, it is interesting, I think, that Paul considers the case of ‘an elder’ (singular) in 1 Tim. 3:2-7, but deals with ‘deacons’ (plural) in 1 Tim. 3:8-12. He says that ‘Deacons’, as a class, must ‘be the husbands of one wife, ruling [their] children and their own houses well’ (v. 12, NKJV). [Note: The ESV mangles things a bit in 1 Tim. 3:12 by adding an ‘each’, which obscures the point I am about to make. And don’t get me started on the NIV’s rendering of this verse. Go with the NKJV or the Greek.] Thus, there is certainly room within the strict plain meaning of the text for a particular deacon to be childless. This is because the statement ‘Deacons must be the husbands of one wife, ruling [their] children and their own houses well’ holds true of ‘Deacons’ as a group, even if a particular deacon happens not to have children. But, the deacons as a whole must meet the requirements Paul lists. So, if a deacon happens to have a child, that child must be ruled well. In contrast, Paul says with regard to elders that ‘if anyone [singular] is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children…’ and ‘an elder [singular] must be…one who rules his own house well, having children in submission’. The inference is that, unlike with deacons, each and every elder must meet the stated conditions.

Given that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use plural language with respect to deacons (treating them as a class) that would easily accommodate an individual deacon being childless, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why the Holy Spirit did not inspire similar syntax for the case of an elder? Why the difference, for what are essentially parallel lists of qualities? And if this grammatical detail is truly insignificant, what do we make of the fact that Paul chooses in Titus 1:5 to introduce his topic with the plural ‘elders’ (presbuterous), but then, quite pointedly, switches to the singular with ‘if anyone’ (ei tis) in Titus 1:6 immediately before making his list of qualities?

Now, it is important that we look at context. I certainly would agree that the general thrust of these passages is to deal with the overall character and qualities that an elder must possess. Thus, it is, I think, legitimate to argue that these lists are not so much an exhaustive check-list of qualifications, but rather an indication of the kinds of characteristics that an elder must possess. But we must be very careful not to use such arguments to dismiss the actual, specific, plain meaning of the text. That’s exactly the kind of thing that those who deny the authority of Scripture like to do.

So, considering the context and overall dynamic of the passages, what do we make of the apparent requirement for children? After some thought, might this not in fact be a very wise precaution for the protection of the church? After all, we know from experience that children, especially younger ones, tend to pick up and imitate the worst character traits of their parents. The children see their parents every day, behind closed doors. They reflect in public the true private character of the would-be elder, regardless of how fine a persona he might wear in public. If the children are turning out to be faithful and obedient, that public witness alone tells you much about the character of their parents in private. Furthermore, is it not excellent training for an elder to have to learn to manage and discipline his children, and to arbitrate sensitively between their competing needs and requests for attention? Elders are to be ‘examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 3:5). What better proof of their fitness for this office than the demonstration that they have been godly examples to their own children? Elders are to be, as 1 Tim. 3:2 tells us, didaktikon – skillful in teaching. What better sign of this capability than the evidence that they have brought up their own children in the ‘training and admonition of the Lord’ (Eph. 6:4)?

I suppose some might object that Paul was unmarried. But Paul held the office of Apostle in the Church, not Elder of a local congregation. Is there any example in the entire New Testament of an Elder who is expressly stated to be unmarried or without children? I haven’t found one, but if there is, I shall concede the entire point immediately. (I am aware that some try to prove that Paul was an elder by connecting 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6, but that is a rather desperate attempt and logically does not in any case prove the intended point.) Another objection might be that Paul commends singleness, because it enables one to devote one’s attention more fully upon the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35). Yet Paul includes women in his recommendation of singleness there, and so it is most doubtful that he has eldership specifically in mind (cf. 1 Tim. 2:12). Paul knows full well that there are many ways that we can serve our Christian brothers and sisters other than by being an elder. (The Lutheran view of what constitutes a good work is distinctly helpful in demonstrating this.)

One final objection might be that there are many fine overseers/elders/pastors/shepherds who are unmarried or without children. That is undeniable. But the fact that God in His boundless grace might use us despite our sinful conduct should not surprise us at all, for we are all sinners who sin daily, saved by grace through the death of our dear Lord on the cross. His righteous life is put to our account and it is that which has already given us God’s favour – we do not earn it by our own perfect living out of His commands. We should not therefore determine doctrine based upon our experience, but rather upon the written word of God.

In his response to my comment, Chris offered this quotation from the commentator Lenske (actually, I think it might be ‘Lenski’). This gives some helpful historical background, which lends credibility to the interpretation of the ‘husband of but one wife’ that both Chris and I hold:

Four personal qualities are then mentioned: “one wife’s husband—temperate—sober-minded—orderly.” The emphasis is on one wife’s husband, and the sense is that he have nothing to do with any other woman. He must be a man who cannot be taken hold of on the score of sexual promiscuity or laxity. It is plain that Paul does not say that none but married men may enter the ministry, that every pastor must be married. Since the days of Origen the question has been raised as to whether a widowed pastor is here forbidden to remarry. The fact that Origen stoutly affirms this is not strange when we remember that he castrated himself; his exegesis is dominated by his peculiar asceticism. Others conclude that remarriage is here forbidden because they think that “one husband’s wife” which occurs in 5:9 refers to a widow who had never had more than one husband. But the two passages are identical in wording, their sense is entirely the same so that we are able to get nothing out of the one that is not already contained in the other. We need not review the protracted discussion of this item, the non-exegetical arguments, the church legislation, etc.

Paul had a reason for beginning with “one wife’s husband.” In those days mature men were chosen for the eldership, who, as a rule, were married and had families; there were no seminary graduates who were awaiting calls. The bulk of the membership from which the elders had to be chosen had come from paganism. What this means as to sexual vices is written large in the New Testament and in the moral records of the day. Even the early apostolic conference in Jerusalem warns against “fornication” and uses this wide term to cover all the prevalent pagan sexual excesses (Acts 15:29). The epistles fairly din the word into their readers’ ears. There was the regular institution of the hierodouloi, pagan temple prostitutes; the common custom of having hetaerae (“companions,” see Liddell and Scott ἑταῖρος), girls from non-citizen families who were used by unmarried and by-married men; and thus, besides these standard practices, all the rest of the vileness that formed the soil from which these grew. Converts to the gospel did not at once step into perfect sexual purity. Hence this proviso regarding the “overseers”: to begin with, a man who is not strictly faithful to his one wife is debarred.

I most definitely agree with Lenske that Paul does not mean to imply in any way that a remarried widower (or even a widower who has not remarried) would be disqualified from eldership.

Observe however that, in this quotation, Lenske does not address the ‘having children’ requirement at all. It’s possible that Chris simply didn’t include that, so this might not be Lenske’s omission. Nevertheless, Lenske’s summary of the list of qualifications as ‘one wife’s husband—temperate—sober-minded—orderly’ suggests that he might be meaning to include all of the family-related qualifications under his discussion of ‘one wife’s husband’. If so, in the absence of a treatment of the ‘having children’ clauses, Lenske’s claim that ‘Paul does not say that none but married men may enter the ministry’ would be a typical example of my earlier complaint regarding commentators who make assertions without attempting to justifying their conclusions adequately from all the relevant text.

Now, it remains the case that to think that an elder should have children is a minority view (Lenske, I suspect, would not agree with the proposition). And I would be reticent to impose it upon others. I should like it to be in error. Yet it is not without historical precedent in the church. And this whole question is most certainly an interesting exercise in paying close attention to the text of Scripture! The subtlety of grammar matters, and Bible translations that do not seek to preserve the finer points as much as is possible are apt to mislead.

So, have I gone wrong anywhere in my treatment of the texts? It is certainly possible, likely even! Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

26 thoughts on “An exercise in paying close attention to the text – should elders be married and have children?”

  1. Paul is not here to explain what he meant some 2,000 years ago or whether he would have written the same if he were living today in our world and time. All the commentators you cited did was to give their opinion, and it is just that an opinion. And after 2,000 years there still is no agreement, just conjecture. Whether you may have gone wrong in your treatment of the texts is the wrong question. The real question should be whether it is a valuable use of time to continue such discussion, today?

    1. Bill, I think your post misses an important point here. It is that this blog is an Evangelical Christian forum, where we treat the bible as the Word of God. Therefore, the textual issues, and the opinions of the more rigorous textual commentators are of paramount importance in deciding what is still a relevant question of Evangelical church government.

      And certainly, to Evangelicals, whether a textual discussion is a better use of our time than many other things we could be doing, is a no-brainer.

    2. Bill, why on earth do we go to church, so that Paul can come and tell us what he meant 2000 years ago? NO, so that pastors and elders can exercise sound hermeneutics to tell us what the Scripture means.

      If it is not worthwhile to discuss this, then it is by the same token also not worthwhile to study the Bible at all.

  2. Daniel, I’ll try my hand at answering what this passage means.

    I think the best thing to do is to look at scripture as a whole when facing these requirements for an elder. What does the Bible say about marriage, divorce, etc.? Jesus plainly answered this by stating that in the beginning God meant for there to be one husband married to one wife and no divorce. This is said despite the fact that God chose people like Jacob and David, who were polygamists. So, husband of “one wife,” means that polygamists and divorcees should be disqualified.

    But what about the “husband” part? Peter, in the book of Acts, delineates between the work of elders and deacons in opening verses of Acts 6. The waiting of tables is assigned to the first deacons, so that the work of the elders (the ministry of the Word) could continue unhindered. This does not mean that all elders are Apostles, but that all Apostles are elders in the sense that they do the same things as far as ministry of the Word goes. To me 1 Peter 5:1 clinches this view. So if Apostles are elders, too, then it follows that being unmarried is not a disqualification since Paul wasn’t married. Being unmarried then, is an accepted exception to the rule.

    The real problem from these qualifications today, though, is the issue of divorce and remarriage. If we deprived all divorced and remarried pastors of their churches, we would have quite a shortage. This is a problem.

    My wife Valeria, who is one of your friends on facebook, told me about your blog. It looks pretty good. Keep up the good work.

    Sean

    1. Hi Sean, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Please give my regards to Valeria 🙂

      I follow the logic of your argument, but not the inference you draw from 1 Peter 5:1. That verse certainly indicates that Peter was an elder (as well as an Apostle), but doesn’t itself say anything about the elder/non-elder status of the other Apostles. And, obviously, we know that Peter had a wife (Matt. 8:14–15; Mark 1:30–31), so it would be quite likely that he also had children.

      With regard to the roles of Apostle and elder, the qualifications required for each are different, and the offices are listed separately in passages such as Eph. 4:11. The offices themselves also have different responsibilities. Although there’s nothing to exclude someone from being both an Apostle and an elder, I think a little more Scriptural legwork would need to be done to demonstrate that all Apostles were automatically elders.

      With regard to divorce and remarriage, you are, I suspect, correct in supposing that it would cause the church practical problems to exclude from eldership those who fall short in this respect. But then, the same would now be true in many denominations of excluding women from that office. Nonetheless, the church should so exclude both groups from eldership. First, because the church has no mandate from God to ignore passages of Scripture that it finds inconvenient. Second, because acting contrary to God’s revealed will is never a good idea. Third, because it is a terrible example to the flock and to the world for one who is a minister of the Word to be in open rebellion against that same Word. And fourth, because an elder who is disqualified from office by the plain requirements of Scripture demonstrates daily that the authority of Scripture is of little worth. Such an elder is therefore in a very weak position to argue for the supremacy of Scripture in other areas of our doctrine and practice, because the very same arguments that are used to ignore what it teaches concerning the office of elder can be applied to every other passage of Scripture as well.

      I know that probably sounds harsh, but I cling to the notion that God knows what is best for us and the church, and that all His instructions to us are for our own good 🙂 (cf. Deut. 10:13)

      Thanks again for the comments!

      1. hi Daniel, as requested via facebook i’m recording comments on Eldership here for you / others to comment on. Just briefly though and to address the point you made above to Sean of Peter being married and therefore ‘likely to have children’ i would humbly suggest that this particular comment you made seems to do something which we as Gods children are told exclusively NOT to do – add to scripture. To make a bibically unfounded, hyperthetical assertion to support the arguement you put forwards is, i’d suggest, perhaps counter productive and quite dangerous ground to stand upon. That sounded harsh I know (accept my humble apologies if it does.. 🙂 ), but it is important when we raise particular points never to stray from what the Bible says in black and white, never to put our own slant on things over and above what scripture actually says – after all, Gods Word is complete, and therefore anything we add to it which cannot be 100% verified cannot be accepted to support one’s viewpoint or argument. I understand why you made the comment as a conclusion you made to support the argument that all Elders must have children, however the Bible doesn’t state that Peter had children, therefore neither must we. Do not fret though, you’ll find out in glory whether he did, or did not have children..!
        Here below is a copy of my comments made via facebook for you as requested. Yours / anyone’s comments on the above & / or below are more than welcome.
        You assert that Elders must have children in order to ‘qualify’ for the position of an Elder. The most commonly held interpretation of the scripture you quote is that Elders ‘if they had’ children must keep his children submissive and rule his own household, not that Elders ‘must’ have children to qualify for the said position within the church. A reasonable point would be to say that some couples physically cannot have children. God being merciful and full of Grace would not make such a hard and fast rule to deny a man the office of Elder after being called to the office by the members of the church, simply because he cannot have children. Indeed, Spurgeon was an Elder of his flock before he was married. food for thought i’m sure 😉

  3. to follow on from previous comments…. Just an after thought in the form of a question on the qualifications on Eldership.
    If a man is called to the office of Elder and performs his duties faithfully, honouring God in his life and witness to the fellowship within the local church, his wife and children and indeed keeps his children submissive; if after some time his children are taken from him (ie: they die), should he then relinquish the office of Elder?

    1. James, I really do appreciate your taking the time to share your comments. Unfortunately, I think you have completely misunderstood my point regarding Peter the Apostle! You have thus levelled what could be seen as quite a serious accusation against me in a public forum, so you’ll understand if what I am about to say perhaps comes across as a little defensive…

      I was emphatically not building any doctrine at all upon the mere possibility that Peter might have had children.

      Precisely the opposite, in fact.

      Sean’s argument was basically as follows:

      1. Peter was an Apostle. (I agree.)

      2. Peter was also an elder, from 1 Peter 5:1. (I agree.)

      3. Therefore, all Apostles are elders, ‘at least in the sense that they do the same things as far as the ministry of the Word goes’. (I disagree; this conclusion does not logically follow from 1 & 2. All we have proven is that there is at least one Apostle, Peter, who was also an elder. We have not proven anything from Scripture about the other Apostles.)

      4. By inference, since it seems that there was at least one Apostle, Paul, who was unmarried (and therefore quite unlikely to have children), and it is asserted that all Apostles are elders, being married and having children cannot be a requirement of eldership. (Again, I disagree, because point 3 was not proven: we have not shown that all Apostles are elders, and the conclusion here depends for its validity upon the truth of that assertion. However, we have (on the face of it) a case that being married and having children might not have been a requirement of Apostleship. This is indeed compatible with the requirements for Apostleship that are set out in Scripture in 1 Cor. 15, etc.)

      Thus, my general contention was my disagreement with point 3 – that this point was, as yet at least, unproven from Scripture. In other words, I was making the case that it is invalid to argue from the particular case of one Apostle (Peter) to the general case of all Apostles concerning the qualification for eldership.

      Now, in order to head off the use of Peter (whom we know to be an elder), instead of Paul (whose status as an elder is unproven) to make point 4, I made a further specific observation concerning Peter.

      My specific sub-point regarding Peter and children, in that context, was that it would also be invalid to argue from the silence of Scripture concerning whether Peter had children to try to prove that elders are not required to be married and to have children.

      In other words, I was pointing out that one could not use Peter (instead of Paul) as an example to prove the inferred point 4. To do that, we would have to have a clear statement in Scripture that Peter (or any other Apostle who was also an elder) was childless. But Scripture doesn’t tell us that Peter did not have children. (It does, however, tell us that he was married.) So, one can’t use him as an example of elder definitely without children to disprove my tentative suggestion that Paul might simply mean exactly what he says when he asserts that an elder should be one ‘having children in submission’. Thus, far from being key to my argument, my comment concerning Peter possibly having children was merely an aside, just in case Sean were to try to come back and argue the case for point 4 with Peter instead of Paul. You therefore seem to be criticizing me for making the very same point that you are, which is that an argument from the silence of Scripture is invalid! I think it might be forgivable if I were to think that this seems just a little unfair…

      In any case, nowhere did I ‘add to Scripture’ by claiming that Peter did have children. I merely said that it was quite likely. The difference between those two statements is considerable. I stand by the latter assertion, particularly given that it is with respect to a first century Jew. To demonstrate my good intentions here, note that I did not even reference 1 Peter 5:13, where Peter talks about ‘Mark my son’. Although that might have been helpful to the minor side point that I was making, I did not mention it because I (and many commentators) think it quite likely that Peter is talking there about Mark as his spiritual, rather than physical, son. I therefore believe that I have handled Scriptures with integrity here, and that your rebuke (and you are right, it did sound harsh) is unwarranted.

      Now, to your other points…

      You say that I ‘assert that Elders must have children in order to ‘qualify’ for the position of an Elder.’ Again, no, you are not reading my words carefully enough. Like most people who write articles such as these, I generally take care in choosing my words so that I express myself precisely (or at least with a deliberate degree of ambiguity!). Yes, I do sometimes slip, but for anyone to comment meaningfully, it is important to read what is actually said, rather that what he or she might think has been said 🙂

      Rather than make the assertion that you claim, what I have done is to make an argument from the plain text of Scripture (one that I state is ‘my own current tentative reading of Scripture on this matter’) that perhaps Paul is making the assertion that elders should have children. And I invite my readers to show me where my argument goes wrong!

      Remember, I don’t like the idea that elders should have children. But the question is not whether I, or anyone else, likes an idea. The question is, what does Scripture actually teach? The only way to answer that is to read it carefully, paying attention to grammatical and historical context.

      You say:

      The most commonly held interpretation of the scripture you quote is that Elders ‘if they had’ children must keep his children submissive and rule his own household, not that Elders ‘must’ have children to qualify for the said position within the church.

      Yes, my article makes plain that this is the most common interpretation 🙂 I said this: ‘Now, I have read far and wide on this issue, and it is true that most (but certainly not all) commentators and scholars say that Paul means that if an elder has children, they are to be faithful.’

      But, I also go on to explain why, from the text, I am not yet satisfied that this explanation is a fair reflection of what the text actually says…

      You say:

      A reasonable point would be to say that some couples physically cannot have children. God being merciful and full of Grace would not make such a hard and fast rule to deny a man the office of Elder after being called to the office by the members of the church, simply because he cannot have children. Indeed, Spurgeon was an Elder of his flock before he was married.

      What is the basis for our doctrine? Our human intuition? Our reason? Sanctified logic? Or only the revealed word of God – the plain statements that we have of God’s will in Scripture, properly interpreted? We either hold to sola scriptura, or we do not.

      You say that ‘God being merciful and full of Grace would not…’ But, that is exactly the line of reasoning (and now I know I am going to offend you – forgive me, but this is a crucial point!) that others use to put aside the prohibitions against women teaching and having authority over men in the church, and even to justify same-sex relationships. No, the question is not what seems reasonable to you, me, or anyone else, but what the text of Scripture actually says when read carefully, giving attention to its grammatical and historical context.

      Now, what about Spurgeon? Let me ask you, does God’s blessing upon us depend upon our perfect obedience to His will? I am sure that you would say not, because we fall short continually in every area of our lives. The truth is that God blesses us despite our stumbling sinfulness, because Christ has reconciled us with the Father and earned His favour on our behalf. Because of the favour we have in Christ, therefore, we now enjoy God’s blessings. Let us never say that we earn God’s favour or blessing, for that would be to diminish the work of Christ and put ourselves in His place. Now, is it not therefore conceivable that God, in his grace, might also thus choose to bless the person and work of Spurgeon, a sinful man like ourselves, even if he didn’t have absolutely everything perfectly in line with Scripture? I dare say that a close examination of his life would turn up many flaws (a number of Christians at the time disliked his smoking, for example). Fewer flaws than such an examination of my life, I’m sure, but flaws nonetheless! But, despite his imperfections, that God used him marvellously in the proclamation of Law and Gospel is undeniable.

      The danger of making arguments from God’s blessing are many, for it is to hold up experience as an authority over and above God’s word. This is exactly what the purpose-driven mega churches do. They point to the numbers that attend as evidence that God is blessing their work, and that it must therefore be in accordance with His will. Yet, whether or not something is in accord with God’s will can never be determined from experience, nor by our own ideas of what constitutes God’s blessing, but only from the teaching of Scripture.

      Thus, if you want to persuade me that I am wrong on the ‘having children’ requirement (and, please do, I’d love for you to succeed in that!), the only arguments that will strike home are those that you make firmly founded upon the Scriptures. Sean tried to do that, to show me why I was wrong from Scripture, although I believe, for the reasons that I have already discussed, that his inference from 1 Peter 5:1 concerning all the Apostles being elders was mistaken.

      Finally, you say:

      If a man is called to the office of Elder and performs his duties faithfully, honouring God in his life and witness to the fellowship within the local church, his wife and children and indeed keeps his children submissive; if after some time his children are taken from him (ie: they die), should he then relinquish the office of Elder?

      My response to all such questions is, ‘What does Scripture say?’. If (and only if) Scripture is silent, then I believe we are at cautious liberty to draw inferences from the rest of what Scripture teaches that might have a bearing on such a matter. But, let’s get back to the text, what does ‘having children in submission’ mean?

  4. Daniel, thank you for such a long and detailed response.

    You say:-
    You have thus levelled what could be seen as quite a serious accusation against me in a public forum, so you’ll understand if what I am about to say perhaps comes across as a little defensive…

    Can I ask for you to please reconsider the first part of my post? I say that the comment you made (regarding Peter likely to have children) “seemed” to suggest etc…’ that you were adding to scripture, not that your comments “were” adding to scripture. There is a big difference between the two. My genuine concern was for your readers who may have also drawn a similar conclusion as myself when I know you Daniel would never purposefully add to scripture – I know that’s just not something you’d entertain in anyway, shape or form.

    You say:-
    You say that I ‘assert that Elders must have children in order to ‘qualify’ for the position of an Elder.’ Again, no, you are not reading my words carefully enough.

    Thank you for your insight, however I humbly respond by saying that I read your comments very carefully. The problem may be that I am in essense a simple person with perhaps basic understanding and linguistic skills – ( the Bible talks about the disciples being unlearned – so I guess I’m in good company there then..!)

    Oh for glory when all of God’s children will see and understand with perfect knowledge and understanding!! – until then let us agree that neither you, I nor our brothers and sisters in Christ will ever fully understand each line of scripture perfectly due to our sinful fallen nature.

    Let us resume our discussion about this in glory Daniel, when we will know even as we are known 🙂

    1. Hi James,

      I fully accept your clarification, thank you for that – I greatly appreciate it (more than you probably can realize).

      By way of explanation, I think I was responding less to the ‘seems to’ bit, and rather more to the ‘To make a bibically unfounded, hyperthetical assertion to support the arguement you put forwards is, i’d suggest, perhaps counter productive and quite dangerous ground to stand upon.’ 🙂

      But, now I understand what you were meaning, so harmony is restored! Thank you again for clearing up my misunderstanding.

      I certainly fully agree with your other comments about us lacking understanding of Scripture because of our fallen state. This is both a frustration and a continual source of joy. The latter, as we interact with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to achieve a better, more rounded understanding of difficult doctrines and passages. I have learnt so much from listening seriously to those in other traditions in an attempt to grasp their Scripturally-argued perspectives, and I know that I have much, much more still to learn.

      Finally, if I am not writing sufficiently clearly, forgive me. I try, but I obviously am not always succeeding.

  5. My comments above were off the top of my head and you see what happened! So I went and pulled a few commentaries off the shelf just to make sure I wasn’t off the mark. Here’s a summary – William Hendriksen says that it’s obvious marriage is not required and leaves it at that. John Calvin says that the section definitely prohibits polygamy and also has the added attraction of teaching the desirability of marriage in ministers, showing that the Papists are wrong. I looked at some others, but came up with more of the same.

    I believe that the main problem here is one of language and its interpretation. The general idea is that men will be married, so you go ahead and assume so. I believe this is brought out by the fact that there is no positive exclusion of single men in the ministry of the church. If Paul, an unmarried man, can exercise a ruling and teaching function in the church, then it is assumed that other single men can also – but the majority of men will always be married. And consider who is writing these requirements to Timothy and Titus – Paul, a man who is not married. This must carry some weight in any argument on this subject. Also, I feel that a requirement to be married and to have children is a bit legalistic, missing the point that a man who rules in the church should be one who is morally above reproach, whether married or not.

    I suppose if we were all Greek scholars, this might be a bit easier, but that’s about all I have. So my final opinion is that “husband of one wife” prohibits polygamists, women, and probably divorced/remarried men from the teaching/ruling/ordained ministry of the church, but does not prohibit those men who are unmarried or widowed/remarried.

    Incidentally, I found this a great exercise, since it made me think things over again and go climbing through my books and my Bible.

    1. Hi Sean. More great comments from you, thank you 🙂

      With regard to Paul being single, if he were an elder in a local church situation then I’d certainly agree with everything you’ve said. Now, you are obviously seeing his role as including the specific function of eldership, but being more than that. I think there is something in this line of reasoning, and I shall go away and think about further about this. I’m pretty sure that the same kind of thinking is in the minds of many of the commentators who agree with the position you take, even though they mostly don’t state why they have drawn the conclusions they do.

      I think my main hang-up over this position is that the protections and benefits for a local church that I see in the ‘having children’ requirement aren’t really necessary for one who has been personally commissioned by Christ to be the Apostle to Gentiles. Presumably, Christ chose well (and, more pertinently, He made well) and the church didn’t need to worry about whether Christ’s personally appointed Apostles had the right kind of character and ability/experience. Furthermore, an elder’s primary function is the pastoral oversight and feeding of a local church. Paul was certainly capable of doing that, but his primary role was to establish the church among the Gentiles. That’s not quite the same thing. Given those two considerations, I guess that it isn’t so obvious to me that I should make the connection between eldership and Apostleship as strongly as you. But, perhaps I am being obtuse. That certainly wouldn’t be unheard-of 🙂

      Anyway, I’m glad you found it a great exercise. I did, too. I never regret being made to think about Scripture a little more deeply 🙂 Thank you again for weighing-in on this conversation!

  6. I appreciate this discussion, as it is something I have pondered. I hope to bring a real life example into the mix, and let you guys discuss it as you will. There will necessarily be some opinion in here, but I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and focusing on posing some questions that will be good food for thought & discussion.

    As a Associate Pastor’s wife, and childless, I have often wondered if God desires me to have children. I believe there are some in our congregation who would see my husband as more qualified if we did have children. The grammatical reading of the text does seem to imply an assumption that Elders will have children. So, my first question is: Does this also apply to Pastors? Wasn’t Timothy was inducted as a Pastor before having (or perhaps never having) a family, in the church at Ephesus? I could be missing something there, I don’t know church history very well. If it does apply also to Pastors (and this can be proven by the text) there a few questions I will be forced to ask:

    1. If God has made it clear, whether by physical malady, or other situation, that having children would not be wise for a particular couple, is this a disqualification from service in ministry for either the husband or the wife or both?
    2. If my husband married me in full knowledge that I don’t desire children, and with no intent of going into Pastoral ministry, does that make his call to the Pastorate invalid / a deception?
    3. On the other hand, if my husband has been called to the Pastorate, does that make me required to have children, no matter what our situation is?
    4. If a Pastor (or a Missionary) has children, is there room to say that he may actually be less faithful to his calling than he otherwise would have been (i.e. divided interests)? We all know Pastors whose children feel (and are) neglected because of their father’s higher calling. We all know Missionaries who have multiple children and so require more support than they otherwise would. Is this good stewardship? Does this reflect wisdom?
    5. If a woman is to be her husband’s helper, and her husband is a Pastor, does she serve him / support him better as a mother or as a fellow minister? Is there room to suspect (as I do) that my diligent study of the Word of God, my prayers for the church & my concern for them and supplication of their needs supports my husband’s work (and knits me closer to him as one flesh) than even having children would do?

    My husband’s heart, and my heart, are entirely focused on our spiritual family – the church – and our free time is spent in concern for them and in studying and talking about the Lord. I can’t help but think that having children would hinder us in this ministry. I am willing to forfeit children if it means greater service to the Lord and His church. I am willing to have them if the Lord wills it. In either case, I can’t help but feel that if I were to have children, it would put an undue strain on my husband that would divide his interests, and mine too – I’ve seen my friends with kids. I know I would be completely absorbed, as a mother. I fear this. I fear being pulled away from what I truly love and feel called to do.

    One caveat: I understand that having children is a ministry in itself. I see good mothers in our church every day living out their service and love to God in the lives of their kids. I am not discounting motherhood. But you all started this discussion, so I thought I’d add my two cents. 🙂

    I want to be faithful to what the Word of God says – I really do. But I don’t want to have children because “it’s my duty”. Life seems too short for that kind of thinking, and it seems there are already too many people in the world who need spiritual guidance, and salvation, and teaching in the Word, without my adding to their number!

    Again, I’m sorry if there is too much opinion in this post, but it is honestly something I have had to deal with in real life. So, maybe some of you can help me answer the questions above for Pastors, and perhaps my thoughts will also add something to your discussion re: Elders.

    Thanks for letting me participate!

    TW

    1. Tiffany, those are wonderful questions, thank you so much for contributing them here, especially since they are so personal. I identify with very much of what you say – like you, my wife and I have no children.

      And I think that it is exactly the sorts of considerations that you raise that lead people to the conclusion that Paul couldn’t possibly have meant that an elder is required to have children. As always, our nice, tidy, pet doctrines are severely tested when they are confronted with messy real life…

      Let me start by answering your one easy question: ‘If elders are required to have children, then does this also apply to pastors?’

      In our common English translations of the Bible, the word ‘pastor’ generally appears just once, in Eph. 4:11. Pastor is a Latin word, and it just means ‘shepherd’. The Greek word translated ‘pastors’ in Eph. 4:11 is poimenas, and that just means ‘shepherds’, too. (Now, ‘shepherd’ is a perfectly good English word, and the same Greek word is translated as ‘shepherd’ elsewhere in our English translations of the NT, so it seems to be somewhat unhelpful for it to be translated using a Latin-derived word only in Eph. 4:11, particularly since ‘pastor’ often has so many unhelpful connotations given our church traditions!)

      Now, Biblically speaking, what is a pastor/shepherd? Well, take a look at Acts 20. Paul calls the ‘elders’ (Gk. presbuteros, from which we get ‘presbyters’) at Ephesus together. Then he tells them:

      ‘Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.’ (Acts 20:28, NKJV)

      So, Paul tells the ‘elders’ to take heed of the ‘flock’ (think sheep), tells them that the Holy Spirit has made them ‘overseers’ (Gk. episkopos, also sometimes translated as ‘bishop’), and tells them to ‘shepherd’ (Gk. poimainein) the church of God.

      From this passage, it is clear that the role of elder is one and the same as that of overseer/bishop, and that this is also the same as the role of shepherd over the flock. So, the Latin ‘pastor’ from Eph. 4:11 is simply ‘shepherd’, and this the same role as an elder.

      Peter makes the same connection, using the role of elder, overseer and shepherd interchangeably (my italics):

      ‘The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”’
      (1 Peter 5:1–5, NKJV)

      In conclusion, there’s no difference, Biblically speaking, between the role of overseer, shepherd/pastor, and elder. They’re terms that bring out different facets of the same role. (I could also observe that the NT picture is of elders plural overseeing the church, but that isn’t relevant to our discussion here.)

      So, a qualification for the Biblical role of elder is also a qualification for the Biblical role of pastor, and a qualification for the Biblical role of overseer – they are all the same Scriptural office.

      Of course, the role that a particular congregation or denomination chooses to call by the name of ‘pastor’ may or may not coincide with the Biblical definition of the role of elder/pastor/overseer.

      The answer to your question therefore depends on what is meant in a particular congregation by the role of ‘pastor’. In your congregation, is that the same thing as the New Testament office of shepherd/elder/overseer? If it is not, then the qualifications concerning eldership might well not apply to that local role.

      In the rest of my response, I shall use the terms pastor and elder interchangeably to refer to the New Testament office of elder/shepherd/overseer.

      Now, turning to your other questions. I hesitate to proceed, as I am perhaps at risk of treading where angels fear to tread!

      One of the dangers of airing one’s thoughts in public as I have done here is that it is very easy to inadvertently trouble tender consciences. If I have troubled your conscience over this matter, please forgive me (and may the Lord also forgive me), and please understand that I am merely asking questions on a topic about which I am unsure. I am not intending to assert anything, other than my not yet having been fully persuaded one way or the other on this issue.

      Now, with all such tough questions as you raise, the only consideration that is really worthwhile is this: ‘What does the Scripture say?’

      And that is precisely why I am in something of a quandary here, because I am not definitively sure what it is that Paul means (hence the reason for this article). It sure sounds to me like he means elders to have children. But I am no Greek scholar, and the weight of sound Christian scholarly opinion is against that conclusion.

      What I’d love is to read some commentator who is a Greek scholar give a convincing ruling on this – ‘The text doesn’t mean that an elder has to have children, because of these textual or grammatical considerations, and because of those Bible passages to the contrary.’

      But, I’ve not yet found such a thing, and that makes me a little nervous in going along with the prevailing opinion that ‘Paul obviously doesn’t mean that an elder has to have children; let’s move on’. And if I can’t go along with that in good faith, then I believe it would be sinful for me to do so (cf. Rom. 14:23; 14:5). Not that I would condemn anyone else for acting differently – how could I, when I am so unsure myself?

      I think I should even be content to sit under the authority of an elder who had no children, provided he could make a good case for why having children is not a requirement. After all, an elder is to be a skilful teacher (1 Tim. 3:2), and ought at the very least to be able to justify his qualification for his office! No, the crunch for me would come in the consideration of my qualification for the eldership. Even if I were to meet the other requirements for the office (and I am speaking purely hypothetically here!), my conscience would presently constrain me on this matter.

      What I am sure about is that God is exceedingly gracious. And He uses us for His glory not because we are perfectly righteous and have everything worked out, but despite our sinfulness and lack of understanding. And there are many, many fine elders throughout Church history that have been unmarried or childless. God most certainly used them for His glory. Was that despite their inadvertent sin? Or were they actually fully qualified for their office according to Scripture? I honestly don’t know and, in any case, my opinion on this does not matter, because they were responsible to their heavenly Master and not to me.

      Now, with regard to your situation. Again, my opinions are really of very little value. Rather, your are responsible to your husband, and he is in turn responsible to his head, Jesus Christ, who has called your husband to his office. I should think that at least he should be fully convinced in his own mind from Scripture of the rightness of his holding his office, and that he in turn ought to be able to reassure you that this is in good accord with Scripture.

      With all that in mind, I wonder whether I should even dare to respond to your specific points? (I am sure that in my present lack of understanding on this topic, it would be entirely inappropriate to offer definitive-sounding opinions!) Perhaps I should just finish here?

      But you raise such good questions, that it seems cowardly for me to do so. Well, let me then simply share some tentative thoughts.

      ‘1. If God has made it clear, whether by physical malady, or other situation, that having children would not be wise for a particular couple, is this a disqualification from service in ministry for either the husband or the wife or both?’

      In addressing this point, I think we should first clearly state that there are many areas of ministry other than the role of elder. Being unqualified for the eldership does not make one unfit for ministry. Quite the reverse! We are all members of one body, and different members have different parts to play. If someone is Biblically unqualified for a particular role, or if someone is simply not called to a particular role, God most certainly wishes to use them in a different way. Let us serve as we are called!

      Now, does the inability for a husband and wife to have children disqualify the man from the office of elder? This would, of course, depend entirely upon one’s understanding of Scripture. Does it teach that elders are required to have had children?

      If so, then the lack of such children would clearly be a bar to eldership (and only eldership) and perhaps service in some other area of ministry should be sought? Or, perhaps, adoption might be an alternative for a couple who wanted children but were unable to conceive.

      But, if Scripture does not teach that elders should have children, the circumstance you describe would be no disqualification at all.

      ‘2. If my husband married me in full knowledge that I don’t desire children, and with no intent of going into Pastoral ministry, does that make his call to the Pastorate invalid / a deception?’

      Again, the answer to this is going to depend upon one’s reading of the requirement for an elder to have children. (I realize that I’m not being very helpful here. I’m so sorry!) Since this statement is going to apply to just about every response I make to your points, I shall simply take it as read from here on!

      I would add this observation, however. God does call many people into full-time service. And I am aware of examples where people have automatically assumed that the call they are experiencing is to the office of elder, but where God is actually calling them into a different area of full-time service. For example, I know one man who trained for the pastoral ministry, but was actually called to be an evangelist and has been serving in that capacity for many years.

      So, even in the case where someone reads the requirements for eldership strictly as including children, maybe the call itself is genuine, but perhaps not quite in the direction that was first assumed?

      ‘3. On the other hand, if my husband has been called to the Pastorate, does that make me required to have children, no matter what our situation is?’

      Hmm…

      If a man (and I shall talk about a man in abstract, rather than deal specifically with your husband, whose circumstances I do not know) has been validly called to the office of elder, then he must be qualified Scripturally for that position. Or, if the call is with future effect (i.e. there is an intent to take up the office in the future), then the one called must become qualified Scripturally for the office before entering into it.

      I think that we would all agree that seeking to have children merely to become qualified for a particular office is an abhorrent idea, and I know you are not advocating this.

      ‘4. If a Pastor (or a Missionary) has children, is there room to say that he may actually be less faithful to his calling than he otherwise would have been (i.e. divided interests)? We all know Pastors whose children feel (and are) neglected because of their father’s higher calling. We all know Missionaries who have multiple children and so require more support than they otherwise would. Is this good stewardship? Does this reflect wisdom?’

      I have thought about this long and hard with regard to my and my wife’s own ambivalence towards having children. It certainly seems to me that I have much more time to spend on things such as writing this response than I would do if I were to have children!

      I would say that if an elder’s children are being neglected, then that in itself would be a (temporary, at least) disqualification from the office. An elder is to be ‘one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence’ (1 Tim. 3:4). Neglecting one’s own children in such circumstances might be understandable, but it is clearly not ruling one’s own household well.

      A father’s first ministry duty is to his wife:

      ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…’ (Eph. 5:25, NKJV)

      and children:

      ‘And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.’ (Eph. 6:4, NKJV)

      I can’t see how anyone could sustain the position from Scripture that it is acceptable for an elder to be neglecting his duties toward his wife and children. Elders are to be blameless, and ‘examples to the flock’ (1 Pet. 5:3). What kind of example is neglect?

      But, your question raises another. Is a missionary an elder?

      ‘5. If a woman is to be her husband’s helper, and her husband is a Pastor, does she serve him / support him better as a mother or as a fellow minister? Is there room to suspect (as I do) that my diligent study of the Word of God, my prayers for the church & my concern for them and supplication of their needs supports my husband’s work (and knits me closer to him as one flesh) than even having children would do?’

      In what way is an elder’s wife called to minister? Might she have her own calling to minister to the flock? Most certainly (e.g. Tit. 2:3 and so forth). But, her first ministry duty is to her husband (Eph. 5:22–23; 1 Pe. 3:1–6).

      If only all pastors’ wives would support their husbands as you do! What a joy and blessing you must be to him!

      You say: ‘My husband’s heart, and my heart, are entirely focused on our spiritual family – the church – and our free time is spent in concern for them and in studying and talking about the Lord. I can’t help but think that having children would hinder us in this ministry. I am willing to forfeit children if it means greater service to the Lord and His church. I am willing to have them if the Lord wills it. In either case, I can’t help but feel that if I were to have children, it would put an undue strain on my husband that would divide his interests, and mine too – I’ve seen my friends with kids. I know I would be completely absorbed, as a mother. I fear this. I fear being pulled away from what I truly love and feel called to do.’

      It sounds as if you have thought this through carefully and prayerfully, and are certain of your position on this. I could ask you to do nothing more.

      I would add just this one observation: children are never described (at least to my knowledge) as, or considered in the Bible to be, a hinderance to ministry. Yes, there are children who cause their parents grief (e.g. Eli’s sons). But, nevertheless, children are presented as a blessing and even a reward!

      ‘Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward.’ (Ps. 127:3, NKJV)

      (I am sure that you are familiar with the following two verses of that psalm, as they seem to be the ones regularly quoted by those who hold to a married-couples-must-have-children position.)

      I find Ps. 127 to be quite challenging given my own circumstances. It calls me to never think of children negatively, but as a sign of God’s favour and blessing.

      And remember that God’s words to Adam and Eve to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ were not a command, but a blessing (my italics):

      ‘So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”’
      (Gen. 1:27–28, NKJ)

      Incidentally, the most challenging passage of all to me is one that, ironically, I have never heard put forth by those like Al Mohler who argue (poorly, IMO) that married Christian couples should want and seek children. Here is Malachi giving a reason for why God unites a man and a woman (my italics):

      ‘But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth.’ (Mal. 2:15 ,NKJV)

      I’m still pondering that verse and how it should properly be applied. (The context is speaking against divorce, but this observation does stand out to me. Though, of course, it certainly shouldn’t be used to dismiss that Eve was created first and foremost to be a companion and helper for Adam.)

      How do I put this together with my practical observation that I would have less time for ministry things if I had children? I can only say that God says that children are a blessing and a reward, and if He gives them to me, He in His wisdom will make provision for me also to do the other good works that He has prepared for me to do.

      Perhaps having children would result in less ministry by me to the wider body of Christ? So be it. God is able to raise up other workers in my place to meet fully the needs of all His people.

      But, I speak to myself on this. Again, let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

      ‘One caveat: I understand that having children is a ministry in itself. I see good mothers in our church every day living out their service and love to God in the lives of their kids. I am not discounting motherhood. But you all started this discussion, so I thought I’d add my two cents.’

      I am very grateful for your contribution – you have made me think 🙂

      ‘I want to be faithful to what the Word of God says – I really do.’

      Amen.

    2. Oh, Tiffany, I forgot to respond to your question about Timothy. I think I’d simply say two things about that:

      1. We simply aren’t told whether Timothy was married or had children, so we can’t draw any conclusions here.

      2. Timothy wasn’t really an elder in the normal sense that we are considering, so again, it is probably not valid to draw conclusions from him concerning the qualifications for eldership. There’s a helpful little article here that I found:

      http://bible.org/question/was-timothy-pastor-or-evangelist

      Remember also that Paul also tells Timothy: ‘But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.’ (2 Ti. 4:5) So, ‘evangelist’ is certainly at least part of Timothy’s role as well.

      1. Daniel,

        It is obvious you took great care to be respectful and gentle with my thoughts and feelings on this topic. I hope that I can return the favor here. You have true insight and a gift for communicating things clearly and in an interesting way. Also, you seem to really love the English language, and I enjoy that. 🙂

        I appreciate your desire to ask “What does the Scripture say?” in an effort to answer my questions, and I sympathize with the challenge of doing so when the answers are based on a passage that is unclear to us both. Rest assured my conscience is not troubled, and I am very much enjoying this discussion.

        That said, you are sure to find some logical holes in my train of thought and I apologize for them beforehand. 🙂

        First, I must address an issue you brought up in your original post and referred to again in your last, regarding being used of God even though we are sinful. You said, in your original post:

        “One final objection might be that there are many fine overseers/elders/pastors/shepherds who are unmarried or without children. That is undeniable. But the fact that God in His boundless grace might use us despite our sinful conduct should not surprise us at all, for we are all sinners who sin daily, saved by grace through the death of our dear Lord on the cross. His righteous life is put to our account and it is that which has already given us God’s favour – we do not earn it by our own perfect living out of His commands.”

        Amen, so true. Yet, I do think it’s worth discussing the difference between misinterpreting the text (an example of a hidden fault, a symptom of our sinful state) and the willful state of disobedience that would occur if a person was convinced that Paul meant that Elders *must* have children, and YET, remaining as a shepherd, went on deciding NOT to have children. This would indicate a “practicing of sin” that has a problematic (to say the least) outcome. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9) I doubt that God would bless the ministry of a person in that state. This is all, of course, assuming that Paul did in fact mean that children are a necessary ingredient for requirement as a shepherd. More on that later.

        But first, a few other things:

        Thanks for the clarification on elders and pastors. That is something I have heard before and had forgotten about. My only remaining question is about Timothy – the article seems to imply that his ministry was indeed pastoral in nature. I am going to have to think more about that.

        Regarding Malachi 2:15 – Yep, we have definitely wrestled with this passage. Currently, my stance on it is that, in context, and in the light of the rest of the OT, “godly offspring” seems to be referring to the mandate to avoid intermarriage with other nations, and so have offspring that are holy to God. My thought on that could be challenged, so feel free to do so. 🙂

        You say:

        How do I put this together with my practical observation that I would have less time for ministry things if I had children? I can only say that God says that children are a blessing and a reward, and if He gives them to me, He in His wisdom will make provision for me also to do the other good works that He has prepared for me to do.
        Perhaps having children would result in less ministry by me to the wider body of Christ? So be it. God is able to raise up other workers in my place to meet fully the needs of all His people. But, I speak to myself on this. Again, let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

        Definitely. One question I ask myself is whether my decision to avoid having children comes from a pure motive. What is the underlying reason / desire? Is it selfishness? Or am I doing it from faith? “Whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) And I’d encourage you and Cara to ask that same question as you wrestle through the issue.

        (One interesting side note: your statement about the horrifying prospect of having children to fulfill the requirements of an office, made me think of a discussion Tim and I were having about pragmatism, and that just as there are women who will marry simply for the purpose of children, there are churches who will create marketing plans and build larger buildings simply for the purpose of bringing people into the church. It seems to me the same kind of thinking. Love for your spouse is what produced children, naturally. Love for Christ is what should produce church growth, not pragmatic methods.)

        Regarding my comment about children being a hindrance: Hindrance holds such a negative connotation, and I didn’t really mean it to sound that way. I was simply being lazy with my words. I should have said that having children sets one on a different path – that everything changes with the arrival of children, and therefore (in a sense) “hinders” the path you were previously on. It’s a bit difficult to express, but I think you see my meaning.

        I see the benefit of having children. But I do not long for them as some women do. Still, I have my moments. For example, I read a passage in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, night before last, where Scrooge has traveled with the ghost of Christmas past into the sitting room of his ex-girlfriend (seems a strange word to use for that time and place, but I suppose that is what she was!) and he sees her daughter, and thinks it might have been his daughter, and Dickens goes on about Scrooge realizing a “similar creature” could have been a bloom of spring in the “haggard winter of his old age” and I won’t lie – it was very emotional for me. But the emotion was a strange feeling – it was not self-pity or regret or longing – it was more like a sudden realization of the price of sacrificing having a family to be dedicated to ministry. I had not thought about it before, quite in that way. The fact “came home to me” that whether a sacrifice comes with peace and contentment, or with tears and terrible sorrow, its meaning and necessity remain the same.

        The fact also remains that, as of now, I feel that I can serve my husband best, and therefore God best, by not having children. I have asked God to change my heart if He desires me to have children. And perhaps someday He will change my heart and change our circumstances and make everything different. Perhaps we will be moved to adopt. But for now, however, the answer is no children. And I am content with that. And I believe that if at some point I do have children, I will be content with that too, because at that point God will have changed my heart. So, it all works out. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” Jer. 17:7. Also Prov. 3:5-6.

        But the “should a shepherd first be a shepherd of his family according to Paul” question still lies there unanswered. If Paul’s meaning truly IS that elder-ship, or shepherd-ship, requires the experience that comes from having one’s own family, what I am seeing as a sacrifice might indeed simply be sin. It does not feel like sin – I have inherited a tendency to self-doubt (Norwegian ancestry) and my conscience is usually quite loud – but we all have our blind spots. 🙂

        I so appreciate your desire to cling to the Word, and take from it the path of life. That is so encouraging.

        There is one last verse I think might speak to us on this issue:

        “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” 1 Peter 1:3-4a

        If the common believer has all things that pertain to life and godliness because of the knowledge of Him who has called us to his own glory and excellence, does it stand to reason (not that man’s reason is anything, but rather, would Paul reason this way), that the overseers of the church would need any earthly addition (children) to make them qualified for service?

        Let me put it another way. We believe Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura for our life and salvation. Knowing this, when we desire to minister to the flock, does it follow that the bearing and rearing of children is also a necessity? Can it be argued that though the flock needs nothing but Christ for their life and ministry among the body to be complete, the overseer needs children to be competent for ministry in God’s sight?

        Come to think of it, another verse that pairs nicely with this idea is Tim. 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

        So I will leave you with a question: how do these verses about the knowledge of Christ and the Word the God making the man of God equipped for every good work speak to the necessity of children for qualification as an elder in the church of God?

        I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

        And thanks again.

        Tiffany

  7. Tiffany,

    I sometimes read long comments and my heart sinks, inwardly sighing ‘There’s so much wrong with this – it’s going to take me forever to respond sensibly.’

    And then there are comments like yours, where someone has clearly thought through the issues and formed a sensible Biblical perspective. For these, having appreciated the thoughtful insights, the task of responding is but a simple matter of expressing agreement and admiration for a case well put. And if there are one or two points that require a lengthier treatment? Even they are intelligent observations or questions, worthy of a response. Considerations that bring about a deeper understanding of Scripture as one attempts to answer them.

    I appreciate your desire to ask “What does the Scripture say?” in an effort to answer my questions, and I sympathize with the challenge of doing so when the answers are based on a passage that is unclear to us both. Rest assured my conscience is not troubled, and I am very much enjoying this discussion.

    I am relieved to hear that 🙂

    That said, you are sure to find some logical holes in my train of thought and I apologize for them beforehand.

    Well, let’s see how things go 🙂 And there is no need to apologize in any case – this back and forth is both stimulating and helpful.

    Yet, I do think it’s worth discussing the difference between misinterpreting the text (an example of a hidden fault, a symptom of our sinful state) and the willful state of disobedience that would occur if a person was convinced that Paul meant that Elders *must* have children, and YET, remaining as a shepherd, went on deciding NOT to have children. This would indicate a “practicing of sin” that has a problematic (to say the least) outcome. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9) I doubt that God would bless the ministry of a person in that state. This is all, of course, assuming that Paul did in fact mean that children are a necessary ingredient for requirement as a shepherd. More on that later.

    I agree completely.

    Thanks for the clarification on elders and pastors. That is something I have heard before and had forgotten about. My only remaining question is about Timothy – the article seems to imply that his ministry was indeed pastoral in nature. I am going to have to think more about that.

    It certainly had those elements, as indeed did Paul’s ministry. But does that make either Timothy or Paul ‘an elder’ in the sense that they should be bound by the qualifications given by Paul to Timothy and Titus concerning the role of local church elder? That it did was the essence of Sean’s posts previously. That case can be made, but I am as yet unconvinced. (Perhaps I am simply exceedingly stubborn!)

    Regarding Malachi 2:15 – Yep, we have definitely wrestled with this passage. Currently, my stance on it is that, in context, and in the light of the rest of the OT, “godly offspring” seems to be referring to the mandate to avoid intermarriage with other nations, and so have offspring that are holy to God. My thought on that could be challenged, so feel free to do so.

    Again, I agree. The context of that passage is that the men of Judah had divorced their Jewish wives to marry the ‘daughters of foreign gods’. Thus, one component of the horror of this behaviour was that, rather than having godly offspring, the men of Judah would now have offspring who would serve those false gods.

    The Lord’s rebuke to Judah is interesting:

    ‘And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the LORD with tears, With weeping and crying; So He does not regard the offering anymore, Nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, “For what reason?” Because the LORD has been witness Between you and the wife of your youth, With whom you have dealt treacherously; Yet she is your companion And your wife by covenant. “But did He not make them one, Having a remnant of the Spirit? And why one? He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit, And let none deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For the LORD God of Israel says That He hates divorce, For it covers one’s garment with violence, Says the LORD of hosts. Therefore take heed to your spirit, That you do not deal treacherously.”’
    (Mal. 2:13–16)

    1. The Lord has Himself been witness to the marriage.

    2. The men of Judah had each dealt treacherously…

    3. …with his companion and wife by covenant.

    4. The Lord made each man and woman one (flesh) in their marriage…

    5. …just as He had even breathed into Eve the remnant of the same Spirit that He had breathed into Adam.

    6. He made them one because He desires godly offspring.

    All of these things refer back directly to the Genesis account of the creation of man and woman, and the institution there of marriage. The men of Judah were attempting treacherously to break apart a covenant that God had instituted, witnessed, joined, and blessed (‘be fruitful and multiply’). Yes, there was a specific problem (divorce to marry the daughters of foreign gods), but the proof of the iniquity of this act is an appeal to the creation order and the institution of marriage in Genesis.

    Thus, although the specific circumstances do not apply to us, the principles that underly the Lord’s charge against the men of Judah are universal, and most certainly do apply. That’s why I am a little hesitant to dismiss this passage’s applicability to my own situation.

    None of this should undermine the fact that the account of the institution of marriage in Gen. 2 does not include the blessing to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. That comes from Gen. 1:28. Now, obviously, the blessing is to the Man and the Woman following the creation of Eve and their subsequent marriage. It is therefore legitimate to put these things together, as indeed God does through Micah here. However, it seems to me significant (although I cannot prove this significance) that the blessing to be fruitful is recorded separately from the Divine institution of the marriage covenant. The implication is that a marriage has Divine warrant independently of whether or not it produces children.

    In support of this, notice how the ‘godly offspring’ point is the last of the reasons for the iniquity of Judah’s actions. The first point is that they were breaking a covenant that God Himself had witnessed. What presumption! But the very next charge is that of dealing treacherously with a wife who is companion. This immediately brings us back to the primary reason why God created Eve: ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’

    Where does this leave us? Children are undoubtedly a blessing from the Lord, but they are not the primary purpose of marriage. That purpose is companionship and help. And if the marriage is blessed with children? Malachi tells us that God wishes them to be godly. Marrying an unbelieving wife is clearly not conducive to this end. (And divorcing a godly wife to marry an ungodly one should be unthinkable.)

    One question I ask myself is whether my decision to avoid having children comes from a pure motive. What is the underlying reason / desire? Is it selfishness? Or am I doing it from faith? “Whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) And I’d encourage you and Cara to ask that same question as you wrestle through the issue.

    Amen.

    (One interesting side note: your statement about the horrifying prospect of having children to fulfill the requirements of an office, made me think of a discussion Tim and I were having about pragmatism, and that just as there are women who will marry simply for the purpose of children, there are churches who will create marketing plans and build larger buildings simply for the purpose of bringing people into the church. It seems to me the same kind of thinking. Love for your spouse is what produced children, naturally. Love for Christ is what should produce church growth, not pragmatic methods.)

    Yes, I like what you say here. I think there are parallels. The love between a man and a woman expressed in marriage has its natural fruit. The love of Christ through faith in Him also has its natural fruit.

    Regarding my comment about children being a hindrance: Hindrance holds such a negative connotation, and I didn’t really mean it to sound that way. I was simply being lazy with my words. I should have said that having children sets one on a different path – that everything changes with the arrival of children, and therefore (in a sense) “hinders” the path you were previously on. It’s a bit difficult to express, but I think you see my meaning.

    I do see your meaning, and I agree. Having children changes things, and this fact is undeniable.

    There’s perhaps a parallel here with 1 Cor. 7: the married man or woman has concerns that do not trouble the unmarried. Is it not also true that, likewise, parents have concerns that do not trouble those not blessed with children?

    I see the benefit of having children. But I do not long for them as some women do. Still, I have my moments. For example, I read a passage in Dickens’ Christmas Carol, night before last, where Scrooge has traveled with the ghost of Christmas past into the sitting room of his ex-girlfriend (seems a strange word to use for that time and place, but I suppose that is what she was!) and he sees her daughter, and thinks it might have been his daughter, and Dickens goes on about Scrooge realizing a “similar creature” could have been a bloom of spring in the “haggard winter of his old age” and I won’t lie – it was very emotional for me. But the emotion was a strange feeling – it was not self-pity or regret or longing – it was more like a sudden realization of the price of sacrificing having a family to be dedicated to ministry. I had not thought about it before, quite in that way. The fact “came home to me” that whether a sacrifice comes with peace and contentment, or with tears and terrible sorrow, its meaning and necessity remain the same.

    Cara and I understand this entirely. I’d even say that your motives in these things seem more honorable than ours – I don’t think we’ve ever really thought of our not having children as a sacrifice.

    The fact also remains that, as of now, I feel that I can serve my husband best, and therefore God best, by not having children. I have asked God to change my heart if He desires me to have children. And perhaps someday He will change my heart and change our circumstances and make everything different. Perhaps we will be moved to adopt. But for now, however, the answer is no children. And I am content with that. And I believe that if at some point I do have children, I will be content with that too, because at that point God will have changed my heart. So, it all works out. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” Jer. 17:7. Also Prov. 3:5-6.

    I think this is key. If we are genuinely seeking the Lord’s will, rather than our own, asking Him to conform our wills to His own, studying the Scriptures diligently, then we are open to being persuaded otherwise. And, having asked the Lord for wisdom in these matters, should we not trust and believe in Him without doubting (James 1:5–8) to give it to us as we apply ourselves humbly to His word?

    There is one last verse I think might speak to us on this issue: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises…” 1 Peter 1:3-4a

    If the common believer has all things that pertain to life and godliness because of the knowledge of Him who has called us to his own glory and excellence, does it stand to reason (not that man’s reason is anything, but rather, would Paul reason this way), that the overseers of the church would need any earthly addition (children) to make them qualified for service?

    Let me put it another way. We believe Sola Fide, Sola Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura for our life and salvation. Knowing this, when we desire to minister to the flock, does it follow that the bearing and rearing of children is also a necessity? Can it be argued that though the flock needs nothing but Christ for their life and ministry among the body to be complete, the overseer needs children to be competent for ministry in God’s sight?

    Question: What is it that 2 Peter 1:3-4a teaches we have through the knowledge of Christ? And what does Peter mean when he refers to ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’?

    Let’s give the passage a slightly wider context, and let me quote to you from the NKJV, rather than the ESV that you cite:

    2‘Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, 3as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, 4by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 5But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (2 Pe. 1:2–8, NKJV)

    1. In the Greek (NA27, Byzantine text form, and TR), there is a little connecting word, hos (‘as’, ‘even as’), at the beginning of verse 3, which the ESV translators omit. But that word is quite helpful (even if not essential) in correctly understanding the passage.

    Thus, verse 3 is not so much introducing a new, isolated thought as it is an explanation of how it is that ‘Grace and peace’ shall be ‘multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord’. Peter has therefore established a spiritual context of ‘grace and peace’ for understanding the meaning of ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’.

    2. Peter introduces the idea of the ‘glory and virtue’ of Christ, further establishing context.

    3. What follows on immediately from the section you cited is that we ‘may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust’.

    What is the divine nature of which we partake? Peter has already told us that it has the attributes of ‘glory and virtue’.

    Therefore, we understand that the ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ that are under discussion come to us by our being united with Christ, partaking of his glory and virtue, and thereby being separated from ‘the corruption that is in the world through lust’.

    4. What follows on immediately from that, is an explanation of what being united with Christ and separated from this world looks like: ‘But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.’

    Here, we see what it means to be abounding in ‘grace and peace’, and the consequence of having been given ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ through the knowledge of Christ.

    5. Peter finally concludes the thought he introduced with his blessing by bringing us back to the idea of the knowledge of Christ: ‘For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

    Thus, Peter teaches in this passage that the outworking of grace and peace in our lives through the knowledge of Christ is the exhibition of godly characteristics, summarized as faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. These things are all a gift that comes from God’s divine power, through the knowledge of Christ. (This fact should surely stir up all elders everywhere to teach the whole counsel of God, that the Church might know Christ more fully!) The sanctified state of which these characteristics are indicative is what Peter means by ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’.

    Now, having examined the passage in a bit more depth, let’s go back to the application that you are tentatively seeking to make of it. You ask what ‘earthly addition (children)’ to these things would the ‘overseers of the church’ need ‘to make them qualified for service’?

    That’s a very good question. In one sense, you have an excellent point: Peter has just described the sanctified life of a mature believer, and elders should be being examples of such a life. And, of course, the qualifications that Paul gives are to help Timothy and Titus identify in a practical way exactly this kind of maturity in potential candidates for the eldership.

    And yet, Paul does give other specific qualifications that are not within the scope of the general godly characteristics talked about by Peter. The elders must be men, for example. Does this mean that women partake any less in the ‘divine nature’ than men, or that they somehow are less able to exhibit the godly characteristics that Peter describes? May such a thought never be uttered! But, nevertheless, elders must be men.

    And elders must be, as a literal rendering of the Greek would have it, ‘skilful in teaching’ (1 Tim. 3:2). Does this mean that someone who isn’t a skilful teacher is somehow lacking in the ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ that Peter describes? Not at all! Yet an elder must be a skilful teacher.

    Thus, it is critical not to take a passage such as one 2 Peter 1:2–8 (which talks about universal characteristics of a holy life and how they come about) and use it to dismiss the clear teaching of other passages (which give specific instructions for particular circumstances). If we were to do that, we would inevitably appoint elders who were unqualified for their office.

    I understand that you were really countering my speculation as to the reasons for the qualifications that Paul gives to Timothy and Titus. But, even if my speculation were to be completely dismissed or disproved from other passages of Scripture, we would still have to face up to the question of what the text of 1 Timothy and Titus expressly teaches.

    Come to think of it, another verse that pairs nicely with this idea is Tim. 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

    Surely , a critical part of the thorough equipping ‘for every good work’ that the Scripture brings is guidance for how to deal with particular circumstances? Could it be correct to use the argument that ‘Scripture is sufficient’ to dismiss what that very same Scripture teaches?

    So I will leave you with a question: how do these verses about the knowledge of Christ and the Word the God making the man of God equipped for every good work speak to the necessity of children for qualification as an elder in the church of God?

    I have endeavoured to address this above – whether or not I have done so adequately, I shall leave for you and others to judge!

    Who is qualified to be an elder? I can only come back once more to this question: ‘What does the Scripture say?’. And it seems to me that the correct foundational passages on which we should base our answer to that question must surely be those that specifically address eldership.

    My sincere thanks to you for your perceptive and penetrating comments.

  8. Thank you for another excellent reply!

    I’m becoming slightly bogged down, so in order to clarify, I’m going to produce a list of things that I believe we agree on, based on the last few posts, so that moving forward will be easier for all.

    1. An elder and a pastor are essentially the same office, based on the Greek rendering of the two words.
    2. It is not likely that an elder or pastor who is continuing in willful disobedience to God’s Word will be blessed in ministry and used of God.
    3. It is possible that God would still see fit, in His Grace, to use a pastor or elder who is in disobedience because of misunderstanding.
    4. Eve was meant to be first and foremost a companion and helper to Adam.
    5. Children are a natural (though not spiritually mandatory) result of marriage.
    6. Children are a blessing
    7. It is up to each person to examine his / her motives, keeping a clear conscience, acting from faith, and asking “What does Scripture say?” in any point of confusion or conflict.
    8. Parenting, though a worthy endeavor, is time-consuming and absorbing, and changes one’s life.
    9. It is possible to draw a parallel between marriage and parenting based on 1 Cor. 7

    The following items are still on the table (because you or I or both are not yet totally clear on what we think):
    1. Malachi 2:15
    2. Whether or not Timothy was a pastor / elder / local pastor / missionary / evangelist
    3. Whether Paul’s requirements for an elder / pastor indeed include fatherhood

    And yet, Paul does give other specific qualifications that are not within the scope of the general godly characteristics talked about by Peter. The elders must be men, for example. Does this mean that women partake any less in the ‘divine nature’ than men, or that they somehow are less able to exhibit the godly characteristics that Peter describes? May such a thought never be uttered! But, nevertheless, elders must be men.

    And elders must be, as a literal rendering of the Greek would have it, ‘skilful in teaching’ (1 Tim. 3:2). Does this mean that someone who isn’t a skilful teacher is somehow lacking in the ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ that Peter describes? Not at all! Yet an elder must be a skilful teacher.

    Thus, it is critical not to take a passage such as one 2 Peter 1:2–8 (which talks about universal characteristics of a holy life and how they come about) and use it to dismiss the clear teaching of other passages (which give specific instructions for particular circumstances). If we were to do that, we would inevitably appoint elders who were unqualified for their office.

    Ah, it seems this is very true. I see my mistake. You sum it up by saying…

    Surely , a critical part of the thorough equipping ‘for every good work’ that the Scripture brings is guidance for how to deal with particular circumstances? Could it be correct to use the argument that ‘Scripture is sufficient’ to dismiss what that very same Scripture teaches?

    Of course, Scripture does not negate itself, I see that now. The thrust of my argument (not adding anything to the Scripture) is correct, I believe, however, as you pointed out, a list of requirements put forth by Scripture itself is also Scripture, and should be paid attention to. My argument is similar to the faulty argument that “we do not need to life a holy life because we are covered by Grace.” People back this view with Scripture all the time. But the whole of the Word of God they do not consider. In context, with the Scriptures all taken as one, we see that the Faith grace produces will result in a holy life because of the new nature we have been given by God. And when that is understood, even the book of James makes perfect sense. 🙂

    Regarding the issues still on the table, especially the one originally posed by you, I suspect that we are simply missing a few pieces of the puzzle. I propose we continue to seek them. 🙂

  9. Daniel – (and Chris, if he happens to show up)

    I think the young man Josh probably should not be qualified to be an elder due to him only being 22 years old. BUT not because of having no children at this point in his life.

    In 2004 our church council (against the wishes of our liberal minded pastor, though that was not made clear until afterward when he tromped all over us) convened a subcommittee to look into the formation of an elder board. Yes, this after the church had been in existence for about 10 – 11 years… sigh. In the process of looking at the various Scriptures this is what we came up with (off the top of my head).

    I’m not so sure that elders MUST have children. I would think they should not be opposed to having them, but if they for some reason are denied children, why should that be reason for disqualification? His children, if he has them, then, should be well behaved, etc etc… (and whose kids are always well behaved… it is a generalization). I tend to agree with the ‘If he has children, then they must be well behaved” interpretation you referenced above.

    Likewise suppose an elder is unmarried. I would think that should not disqualify him, as long as he is not opposed to marriage, and goes about it in a God honoring way. Or suppose an elder who is married loses his wife to death? Is he therefore now not qualified? Divorce is another question entirely and I do believe that should probably disqualify an elder.

    I do agree that ideally there should be some elders who have children and wives, so as to better minister to those in the congregation who also have them. These lists of qualifications do not seem to be the comprehensive sort, but generalizations. I think probably my husband would have a better exegesis of the passage however, he can open up Logos and pick it apart. 🙂

    1. Paula, thank you for the thoughts. I have strong sympathies with what you, Sean and Tiffany are saying. I’d love to hear Jason’s thoughts, should he managed to get Logos sorted out 🙂

      As I have understood it, the general argument that you are collectively advocating against a strict requirement for elders to have children is this:

      1. The qualification regarding children should be interpreted as a general indicative characterization of how someone suited to the role would oversee his children, should he have any.

      2. Some of the other qualifications in the same passage, meanwhile, are absolute. For example, the requirement that an elder should be ‘skilful in teaching’.

      3. The difference between the the general indicative and absolute requirements is this: the former relate to observing someone’s character and maturity in Christ; the latter relate to specific abilities and gifts that are absolutely required to discharge the office of elder. For example, since one of the purposes of being an elder is to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and to rebuke error, someone who is not a skilful teacher would simply be incapable of performing the duties required by the office.

      4. Furthermore, St. Paul, whilst he may not have strictly been a local elder of the church, can be shown to have performed all the duties Biblically required of an elder. Thus, it seems to be overly naïve to read the eldership qualification in such a way that would exclude him. (I don’t mention Timothy here, since we do not know whether he might have been married with children, and cannot therefore draw any conclusions from the silence of Scripture.)

      5. It is admitted that part of the reason for the eldership qualifications given by Paul is to protect the church from unsuitable candidates. But, in the case of the general indicative qualifications of character and maturity, a congregation or eldership board that knows the candidate well should be trusted to determine the suitability or otherwise of a particular candidate’s general character using the means at their disposal. Again, the relation of children to their father would be an example of one valid way to evaluate a candidate, but certainly not the only way.

      Have I missed anything out?

      I find this line of reasoning to be generally plausible, and I think that, if an elder at my church were to advocate it, I should be content with his qualification for his office, even if he did not have children.

      I am still pondering…if only we could have a better argument regarding the meaning of the text itself!

  10. btw I would suggest that (continuing my previous post) if an elder / pastor MUST have a wife and children, why would Paul have written in 1 Cor 7
    “1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. … 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. … 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—34 and his interests are divided. … 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

    1. Hi Paula. Good question 🙂

      I’d respond to this in a similar way as I did to Tiffany’s raising of 2 Peter 1:3–4a. It could be argued that 1 Cor. 7 is dealing with general truths concerning all believers. Such general teaching should not be used to undermine specific qualifications for a particular office that might possibly be clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.

  11. I must learn to start subscribing to comments, I missed some good stuff here.

    Points #4 and #5 above, Daniel, are a good. Things seem to be getting somewhat clearer. Still, this is a tricky issue. It seems that any time we work on a tough Scripture to try to understand it, there are two voices that pop up, one on each shoulder. The one says “Be true to the text!” and the other says “Don’t be a legalist!” and both of them appear to be angels of light. What to do? 🙂

    I had an interesting experience yesterday, which I will relay in order to make a point at the end: bear with me. I nearly fell into a very large spiritual trap yesterday as I was trying to think of ways to encourage others (friends, family, church) to emulate Christlikeness in their lives. Following Him is crucially important to being a Christian: 1 John 2:6 “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” But I find that this (walking as Christ did) is difficult to “see” for most people, and for myself. What does this look like? We don’t know how to do it, and we make tons of mistakes while trying.***

    In my zeal to help others and to be true to the Word in my life, I came up with a very foolish plan that would have involved exposing my own good deeds as a sort of example *cringe* of how to do it. As I read through the gospels, gathering fodder for my plan, I came across this verse, Matthew 6:1…”Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Hm.

    There was a moment where I said, “No, this is different. I’m trying to help people. It’s different. This verse doesn’t apply to me.” (Yikes.) And then our Oh so Gracious God urged me to pray, to just talk to Him about this thing I was considering before rashly rushing into it.

    So I said “Okay, Lord, am I missing something here? Think of all the people I could help if I did this!” And he gently responded, “Think of all the people you could lead astray if you do this.” Ah! I felt truly horrified at what I had almost done. It was like staring down into a pit. What a knife-edge we walk!

    It is especially frightening to wonder how many false teachers started out that way – how easy it would be, were He not preserving us, to take that one step away from God (such a tiny step) and wind up becoming the one people look to instead of Christ. There before the Grace of God go I. Romans 7:24-25, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

    The reason I bring confess this terrible thing is because I think, when we’ve come to a sticky spot on issues like this one about children, where, at least for me, the heart’s desires are often clearer than the conclusions my mind can come to, the only course of action is to pray, beg God for wisdom by the Spirit, and ask for peace in following the correct path. I know this works… James 1:5-6 has saved me from making terrible decisions numerous times.

    I’m not advocating staying ignorant of what the Bible says – by no means am I saying that. Neither am I saying that anyone here has *not* been asking for wisdom and prayerfully considering all these things. But, by way of encouragement, I say we must remember this beloved verse: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” Prov. 3:5-6

    After thinking through these things, it seems clear that the Holy Spirit leads us as we walk in Him, and that is how we learn to emulate Christ. We can’t “see” Him because we don’t read our Bibles! And it is not something another person can do for us anyway. We must rely on the Spirit and the Word and the supernatural nearness to Christ that they create. There is one mediator between Christ and man. Luther would say Amen to that.

    ***I realized after my adventure with sin that emulating Christ so that others can emulate you is bad motive. But asking others to emulate them as they emulated Christ is something that Paul and Peter both did (1 Pet. 5:3) and (I can’t find the place where Paul says the believers should look at his behavior as an example of how to act, but I know it’s there somewhere!) It seems to me that the difference (in addition to motive) is that these men were divinely appointed to the position of “example” and it is not something we can just decide to be. We must stay in the place we are put, and thrive there, until God (who is entirely able) calls us and places us somewhere new.

    I am encouraged by all of you. Thanks.

    Tiffany

    1. Tiffany, unusually for me, I have very little to add – you make a good point, well. I can help you with the passages concerning Paul’s example, though:

      Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. (Phil. 3:17)

      Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Cor. 11:1)

      And Paul even says to Timothy:

      Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Tim. 4:12)

      Oh, one more thing.

      It is interesting you raise this, because just yesterday a certain R. Warren tweeted this:

      Up at 4am 2 pray 4 worship leader, pastor,church planter &staff in my care in PD Global network. LOVE u all! Proud of YOU.

      I responded:

      @RickWarren It’s great that you pray for those in your care. But what Matt. 6:5–6?

      Cara and I then had a discussion over this. She asked me how I would teach on this. Would I use myself as an example? (Leaving aside the fact that I have never risen at 4 am to pray – I probably do have something to learn from Mr. Warren here!)

      And Cara raised a good question! I had to think for just a moment or so, before deciding that no, I would not use myself as an example. I would go first to Scripture (Ps. 55:17; Ps. 88:17 – the latter with the implication of early in the morning, etc.). And then, perhaps I would use the lives of one or two past saints, noted by others for their lives of prayer. But myself, no, not here. Somethings are supposed to be secret, between oneself and God.

      How to reconcile that with what Paul and Peter say? Some aspects of our conduct are secret, and let us not talk about those. Other aspects of our conduct are public, and observable to all whether we like it or not. People will see them and, after all, elders are supposed to be examples to the flock (the 1 Pe. 5:3 passage you mentioned). And in all things, we should strive to behave as if we were being an example, whether or not our actions are public.

      But, although the conduct of elders is to be an example to the flock, I am uncomfortable when anyone (and I am thinking of RW’s tweet here) then points to himself and says, ‘See, look at me, how righteous I am. Do thou likewise.’ After all, I am fallible. I might sin in this very area tomorrow. And then, of what value would my exhortation be? So it seems to me better to look to the Scriptures and the examples we have there, and perhaps also to the saints who have run their race and already obtained their imperishable crowns.

      It looks like I did have something to add, after all – I seem to have yet again used a great many words merely to agree with you. Oh well 🙂

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