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In the two New Testament passages describing qualifications for πρεσβυτέρους (commonly 'elders'), each has a phrase relating to children:

1 Timothy 3:4

τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ

Children - having - in - submission

Titus 1:6

τέκνα ἔχων πιστά

Children - having - believing

Is there an emphasis here on recipients requiring children in order to be elders, or is it more a matter of any children they do have requiring these secondary attributes?

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  • 1
    1 Timothy 3:4 actually pertains to ἐπίσκοποι - "overseers" or (KJV) "bishops" (see v.1). The same holds true of Titus 1:6. Presbyters (πρεσβυτέροι) are the subject of, for example, 1 Timothy 5:17-19 and James 5:14.
    – user33515
    Jun 7, 2017 at 15:38
  • @user33515 - I tried to emphasise the Greek term in the question to try and avoid these sorts of tangents. As far as I'm concerned, the Jews didn't have overseers and bishops, and use the term πρεσβυτέρος repeatedly in reference to "elders" (e.g. Mt 15:2). Importing later English terms like 'bishop' won't help us interpret the text here - in my opinion.
    – Steve can help
    Jun 9, 2017 at 9:51
  • Steve - I was trying to focus on the Greek terms themselves, but I see now there is an ambiguity in Titus: 1:5 refers to πρεσβυτέροι, but 1:7 mentions ἐπίσκοποι. But 1 Timothy 3:4 uses the term ἐπίσκοποι only - the term πρεσβύτερος is not used at all. This was the source of my comment. Maybe you should rephrase your question, "... qualifications for ἐπίσκοποι and/or πρεσβυτέροι ..." or similar (In addition, you wrote "πρεσβυτέρους", which is the accusative case of πρεσβυτέροι - I think you meant to use the nominative here, no?)
    – user33515
    Jun 9, 2017 at 12:16
  • Also, Jews did, in fact, have ἐπίσκοποι. The term is found in the Septuagint and is rendered in the Brenton translation as "overseer", "captain", "steward", and "superintendent". Example: Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest is overseer (Numbers 4:16).
    – user33515
    Jun 9, 2017 at 12:23

5 Answers 5

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The answer to this is actually quite simple. Peter regarded himself as an elder of the church (as did presumably, all the other apostles):

1 Peter 5:1-4 - As a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and a partaker of the glory to be revealed, I appeal to the elders among you: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is among you, watching over them not out of compulsion, but because it is God’s will; not out of greed, but out of eagerness; not lording it 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 will never fade away.

There are several things to note about this passage:

  • The apostle Peter was regarded as an elder of the church (see also John 21:17)
  • the elders of the church were to fulfil the function of shepherds (see also Acts 20:17) in the same way, and in imitation of Jesus, the chief shepherd.
  • By comparing Titus 1:5, 7; Acts 20:17, 28, "elder" (presbyteros) and "overseer" (episkopos) were used synonymously
  • Paul was also, thus, an elder, leader and apostle of the church, who was unmarried and without children.

Thus, Paul's admonition in 1 Tim 3 concerning the qualifications of elders and their wives and children obviously applies only when such are associated with an elder.

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    1 Timothy 3:5 seems to be the key to this: "(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)". Having a family isn't a requirement, but having an uncontrollable family is a disqualification. (Perhaps compare with how obeying commandments doesn't earn salvation, but disobeying them … .) Sep 18, 2022 at 23:03
  • Good comment. Agreed.
    – Dottard
    Sep 18, 2022 at 23:55
  • Sorry... I'm a little slow. How did you get that Paul was an elder of a church?
    – Austin
    Oct 5, 2022 at 22:43
  • @Austin - Peter, being an apostle, was regarded as an elder of the church; therefore, Paul being an apostle was also presumably regarded as an elder of the church as explained above.
    – Dottard
    Oct 6, 2022 at 5:27
  • @Dottard For that to hold, wouldn't we have to establish Peter as an elder of the church due to, in your words, "being an apostle"? The passage doesn't say his apostleship is what made Peter an elder of the church. Being an apostle wasn't tied to a specific, local church, but being an elder was, as elders were appointed within each church (Acts 14:23). Thus, it would make just as much sense--if not, more, in my view--to argue Peter was an apostle and, separately, and elder of a specific congregation, likely Jerusalem. You'd have to disprove this for the logical chain to hold, right?
    – The Editor
    Oct 10, 2022 at 13:16
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Titus 1:6 New International Version (NIV)

An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

1 Timothy 3:4 New International Version (NIV)

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect

Many of Jesus apostles were not married and did not have children,obviously it is not necessary for an overseer to have children , however if they did have, their children had to be obedient and of full respect.

The entire congregational arrangement, with its apostles, prophets, evangelizers, shepherds, and teachers, served to produce mature Christians, spiritual adults. (Eph 4:11-14; compare Col 1:28, 29; 4:12, 13.) Obviously, then, those serving as shepherds and teachers had to be spiritually mature persons, not babes. However, more than spiritual adulthood was required of one appointed as an overseer or a ministerial servant. (1Ti 3:1-9, 12, 13; Tit 1:5-9) For example, one of the requirements for an overseer was that he be “a man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness.” (1Ti 3:4) Thus, a man could be mature in certain respects from a spiritual viewpoint, and yet, if his children were rebellious and uncontrollable, he would not qualify for the position of overseer.

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  • Thanks Nicolas - I'm interested in your hermeneutical approach here. Based on your answer, you appear to assume that an Apostle, an Elder and an Overseer are all essentially the same thing. It would be good to add your basis for making this assumption into your answer, to help clarify your logic a bit. Apart from John I'm not aware of any of the Apostles being considered an "elder" or an "overseer" in the New Testament, and so I'm not sure it's valid to consider him as the rule rather than an exception, right?
    – Steve can help
    Aug 21, 2017 at 14:15
  • Steve thank you for you comment, from what I understand from the scriptures, the all do the same thing, that is look after the spirituality of the congregation. Paul I would consider him as an Overseer for he went from one congregation to another to appoint elders (NIV 1 Tim 3:1-7) where as the Elders were to look after their own particular congregation. (NKJV Acts 20:28 and Titus 1:5-9 Aug 22, 2017 at 16:13
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The Qualities are Indicative, not Restrictive

No, being married with children is not a prerequisite for being a Bishop/Pastor. The position of a Bishop or overseer is held by an elder. Elders are appointed as overseer, Titus 1:5-7. Hence, it is natural that you will find those recruits would be fathers.

Paul also taught that being single is even better, 1 Cor 7:8; and since an overseer is a slave of God, the rule applies to him as well. If an apostle can be unmarried, so can a pastor. There is no indication that he must not be an unmarried old man, as a rule. To think otherwise is to read between the lines. Some Winstons and Winston comments that "Prerequisites for holding church office are intended to be interpreted as indicative not restrictive". The instruction indicates the candidate is masculine & a father; only because it's a general language of general statements. The reason why we exclude females as overseers is only because we have explicit commands and the long history of scriptural tradition about it. In the same way we include the unmarried candidate because we have an explicit instruction that it is good to remain single, for the service of God, being celibate is the ideal, then why would he exclude them as pastors and deacons? We also know some men live as eunuchs or celibate for the Kingdom of God- Matt 19:12, and nothing can exclude them to from the leadership position.

I thought just the name of Paul would be sufficient to answer the question conclusively; if Paul can be a leader of the Church, then any unmarried man. The questioner really assumes there is some hidden characteristic difference in leadership for a missionary than that of a church leader; however the qualification instructions are not exclusive for the leader/overseer, but the same are listed for a servant, deacon; and Paul is way more than leader of just one church, he is a pastor of many, his letters are known as Pastoral letters. There has been a lot of confusion & controversy over this passage, and the hermeneutical insight to clarify it is essential.

In Men and Women in the Ministry for Christ: Hayk Hovhannisyan, 2014, we read,

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While I don't support everything from the egalitarian Western writers, which denies gender and gender roles, and reject the commands against women's being pastors, but those arguments are acceptable that explains that Paul's instructions are general statements. The examples of unmarried (church) leaders like John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul & Barnabas leaves no room for any wild myopic interpretation about the qualifications for the Church officials.

Bible org site writes, in this article Essential Qualities of Elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7):

Paul said that the elder must be “the husband of one wife.” There have been many interpretations of this throughout the centuries: Some think it means elders must be married; however, this would disqualify Paul, Timothy, and Jesus. Others believe this forbids the practice of polygamy. Others think it disqualifies a divorced and/or remarried man.

However, most likely, it has nothing to do with one’s marital status at all. It literally can be translated “a one-woman man.” It means, if he is married, he is faithful to his wife. If he is single, he doesn’t flirt with women. He is not a ladies’ man. David Guzik said, “This means that the Biblical leader is not a playboy, an adulterer, a flirt, and does not show romantic or sexual interest in other women, including the depictions or images of women in pornography.

PS: The "must be"(dei) qualities pertains to his being perfect. The requirements for the pastor and deacon includes perfection (beyond criticism, blameless & of pure conscience 1Tim3:2, 9,10); so are we to conclude that those qualities are requirements only for the synagogue/church officials? In other words, are the laity permissible to be drunkard, violent, debauch, double tongued, adulterer, arrogant, slanderers, hot-tempered etc? Absolutely not, because perfection is a command for all believers, all those qualities are must for the whole church. The instructions only state that the officials should be the best among the congregation. The man should be at least relatively best and perfect, if not really mature and perfect in absolute sense. There is a possibility that a new church lacks an absolute perfect man, if the members are few. This proves that the qualifications are indicative rather than restrictive.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Steve can help
    Sep 26, 2022 at 13:31
  • (+1) Thanks for the edit, your argument is far clearer now. Curious that you read the text as requiring men to be elders but suggest that the criterion of having children is relative. Why is one relative and the other absolute?
    – Steve can help
    Sep 29, 2022 at 17:26
  • From the text alone it is not clear that only men must have those positions. I explained the reason we exclude women is bec of explicit commands about women in leadership positions. Maybe the wive of a deacon can be deacon, the "likewise" clause in Deacons. Whole Bible is written to men, but in generic lang 1 John 2:6: “he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked.” We use common sense to interpret. The rule against singles make no sense.
    – Michael16
    Sep 30, 2022 at 2:57
  • The same issue of controversy is about against divorce and second marriage due to twisting Jesus words into a rule. The "must" of Paul clause is concerning being faithful to wife, one woman's man, rather than being married. Use common sense.
    – Michael16
    Sep 30, 2022 at 3:01
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+50

Note that two different words are being used somewhat interchangeably: πρεσβύτερος (e.g. Titus 1:5) and ἐπίσκοπος (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7).

  • πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) is almost universally translated as elder.

  • ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) will sometimes be translated as bishop (e.g. KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV) and sometimes as overseer, especially in translations favored by "non-hierarchical" denominations.

The other office dating to the Apostles was that of διάκονος (diakonos), described further down in 1 Timothy 3:8, instituted in Acts 6:3.

During Paul's time, there seems to have been no distinction between presbyteros and episkopos, as we see in Titus. Not too much later the two would be considered as distinct offices. We see this, for example, in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who according to tradition was probably a disciple of John the Apostle. (Today in the Greek Orthodox Church - which inherited most of the New Testament churches still in existence - the offices of what get translated in English as "priest", "bishop" and "deacon" retain the terms presbyteros, episkopos and diakonos in Greek.

(The word "priest" in English appears to be no more than a corruption of the Greek presbyter. The same is true of the word "bishop": episkopos -> Old English "biscoep" and "biscop" -> modern "bishop".)


The passage in Titus does not imply that having children was a requirement for a presbyteros/episkopos. The emphasis in Titus in τέκνα ἔχων πιστά and in 1 Timothy in τέκνα ἔχων πιστά is not on the "having" (ἔχων - echōn) but rather on what qualities are expected in the leaders' children should they have them. This is explained by the commentary (in Greek) by the Greek John Chrysostom, here in English translation:

We should observe what care he bestows upon children. For he who cannot be the instructor of his own children, how should he be the Teacher of others? If he cannot keep in order those whom he has had with him from the beginning, whom he has brought up, and over whom he had power both by the laws, and by nature, how will he be able to benefit those without? For if the father had been incompetent, he would have allowed those to become bad whom from the first he had under his power.

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  • Thanks for this late answer, I especially appreciate the extra work around disambiguating early terms. It would be better if your final quote clearly captured an example of an early church father who was an elder with no children, as its natural inference (in English) does not clearly support your conclusion that they did not need to have children of their own.
    – Steve can help
    Sep 25, 2022 at 14:30
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The emphasis in both cases is on managing one's household in an orderly fashion not specifically having children. This becomes clear if we place the phrases in context.

He (the bishop) must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? (1 Tim. 3:4-5)

Children are presumed to be part of the household, but there is no implication that they are a requirement. They serve he as analogy of the church. A man who cannot manage his children and household well will not be able to manage the church well either.

In Titus, elders are likewise required to raise their children well, but there is no requirement that an elder must have children per se:

[you shall] appoint elders in every town as I directed you, if any man is blameless, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of being profligate or insubordinate. (Titus 1:5-6)

Authorship issue

A requirement to have children is certainly out of the question if Paul is the author of these letters, since it would be hypocrisy for him to require elders and bishops to hold to a standard he himself did not maintain. However, critics suggest this is not the case. In its Brief Introduction to the New Testament the Oxford University Press says "Most scholars agree that Paul did not write the Pastoral epistles." This complicates the question because it removes the issue of Paul's personal example contradicting his own teaching.

In conclusion it may indeed be the case that the churches in question, now more settled institutions, required their bishops and elders to be family men. However this is not stipulated in the texts, whether Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles or not.

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  • The twisted interpretation that see that as rule against unmarried leads to their conclusion to deny the authorship as they see direct contradiction.
    – Michael16
    Sep 30, 2022 at 3:07

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