What's Your Question?

James P. Needham
Winter Park, Fla.


"Does the word 'children' in Titus 1:6 mean that an elder must have a plurality of children to qualify? How does the N. T. use the word children?" - Ga.


This is an age-old question, and I realize that my answer will not satisfy everyone. However, I am convinced that the scripture do not demand that an elder have a plurality of faithful children. There are three source of information which has created this conviction:

(1) The Rules of Greek Grammar:

(a) Winer: ". . . the Plural ... is used although the predicate refers primarily to one individual, when the writer wishes to keep the thought somewhat vague" (WINER'S GREEK GRAMMAR, p. 175). It is my conviction that Tit. 1:6 is such a case. The Holy Spirit was making provisions for the qualification of an individual with one more children, hence the wisdom of leaving indefinite.

(b) Hadley and Allen: "Even in concrete words, the poets sometimes use the plural for the singular, to give the expression a more general turn (generalizing plural) . . . (HADLEY AND ALLEN, GREEK GRAMMAR, p. 211). It is obvious that Titus 1:6 is a case of this "generalizing plural" which would not be violated by the singular.

(c) Robert Funk: "In a generalization, the plural can stand for one person: Matt. 2:20..." (A GREEK GRAMMAR OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, p. 77).

(d) Friederick Blass: "The plural is used with reference to a single person by a generalizing mode of expression in Matt 2:20 . . ." (GRAMMAR OF NEW TESTAMENT GREEK, p. 83).

The reference to Matt. 2:20 is quite interesting. It says take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life." We know that Herod (singular) is the antecedent of "they" (plural). It is Herod that sought the life of the infant Jesus, yet he is referred to as "they."

(2) The Use of the Word Child and Children in the Bible:

(a) Gen. 21:7, ". . . who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given CHILDREN suck? for I have born him a SON in his old age." This passage has reference to Isaac, the only child Abraham and, Sarah ever had, but even if, they had others, it is obvious that this passage refers to only one because it refers to the "SON" she bore Abraham in her old age. Here is a concrete case where the plural "children' definitely is used to refer to the singular.

(b) Gen. 11:30, "But Sarai was barren, she had no CHILD." But in referring to the same thing the Holy Spirit said in Gen. 16: 1, "Now Sarai, Abram's wife bare him no CHILDREN" Hence, the singular "CHILD" and the plural "CHILDREN" are used interchangeably in these two passages.

(c) Matt. 22:24 Moses said, If a man die, having no CHILDREN, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother." If we demand that the plural CHILDREN excludes the singular CHILD, then this verse says, that if this individual had only one child, he had no seed - he must have had more than one child to have seed. But Gal. 3:16 says, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to SEEDS, as of many; but as of one, and to thy SEED, which is CHRIST." Hence, one child constituted seed, yet the plural CHILDREN is used in Matt. 22:24.

(d) I Tim. 5. Verse 4 says, "But if any, widow have CHILDREN or nephews, let them learn first to show piety at home, and to requite their parents . . ." Does this mean that the widow must have a plurality of children before there is an obligation for them "to requite their parents"? If she had only one child, he would have no such obligation? Remember, the plural CHILDREN is used, and if it excludes the singular, then this conclusion is logical and undeniable.

In verse 10, Paul gives the qualifications of the widow that was to be "taken into the number." One such is that she must have "brought up children." Does this mean she could not be taken into the number if she had brought up only one?

(e) I Thess. 2:7, "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children." Does this mean that a nurse could not cherish a single child?

(f) I Thess. 2:11, "As ye know how we exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doeth his children." Does this mean that a father could not exhort, comfort and charge just one child?

(3) Other Examples of the Use of the Plural to Include the Singular:

(a) Rom. 16:16  The churches of Christ salute you." Denominationalists have frequently challenged us to find the term "church of Christ" in the New Testament. Who has not cited them to Rom. 16:16? Yet, they have retorted, "But that says 'churches (plural) of Christ,' not 'church (singular) of Christ.' "But we reply, "The plural includes the singular!" Is this a good argument? If it is sound in the case of Rom. 16:16, why not in Tit. 1: 6?


A number of seemingly plausible arguments are made favoring an elder's having a plurality of faithful children, such as, "A plurality of faithful children shows an elder's ability to rule over different kinds of people since no two children are alike, and elders have to rule over so many different kinds of people in the church." But this is a conclusion based upon two major assumptions: (1) that the scriptures require a plurality of faithful children which we have shown is not the case, and (2) that the reason for the requirement of a plurality of faithful children is to show his ability to rule over different kinds of people. The scriptures nowhere say this. The conclusion sounds good, but it is not found in the Bible. The elder is to have demonstrated his ability to rule his own house well (I Tim. 3:4, 5), and he can do this with one child or many.

We need to realize that if the Holy Spirit had said that an elder must have a faithful child, someone would argue that "it says child not children and those having in than one faithful child do not qualify." avoid this, He used the generalizing plural.

I plead with brethren of a differing view consider this material in an objective manner. No question can be settled on the basis what we have always believed or been taught. There is also nothing to be gained from age-old expression, "I just take the Bible what it says because it says what it means and means what it says." We all claim to that. This is a good expression and absolutely true once we determine what the Bible says. The danger is that we will assume that it something it does not say. I once took the "plurality position" but found myself unable to defend it in the light of such material as have here presented. I have no objection appointing men with a plurality of faithful children, if they are available, yet on the other hand, I cannot conscientiously prevent a church from being scripturally organize because men who are otherwise qualified do not have a plurality of faithful children.

NOTE: The reader will find excellent material on this question in the following works: OUTLINED LESSONS ON THE ELDERSHIP, by Wm. E. Wallace; SCRIPTURAL ELDERS AND DEACONS, H. E. Phillips (out of print).

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 5, pp. 6-8
December 3, 1970