Does the New Testament say that elders’ children must be believers?

While 1 Timothy 3:4 says that an elder must “manage his own household well…keeping his children submissive,” Titus 1:6 seems to go even further when it says that an elder’s children must be “pista and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” While some translations (like the King James Version) translate pista as “faithful,” most major English translations translate it as “believing.” Because of this, some people argue that the New Testament teaches that an elder’s children must be Christians.

There are several problems with this view.

  1. Considering how closely the two passages parallel one another it is reasonable to suppose that the phrase “having faithful/believing [pista] children” in Titus 1:6 means the same thing as “keeping his children submissive” in 1 Timothy 3:4. This would mean that the final part of Titus 1:6 (“not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination”) is an explanation of what pista means: faithful in their behavior, submitting to their parents, and not being unruly (1 Tim. 3:4). In other words, “pista” in Titus 1:6 probably means “faithful in behavior,” not “believing.”
  2. First Timothy 3:5 explicitly grounds an elder’s qualification on the man’s managerial ability as displayed in how he runs his household (1 Tim. 3:4). Yet saving faith cannot be produced by any amount of godly parenting. Obedience and submission, generally speaking, can. The man’s qualification as an elder rests on his ability to govern his home, of which his children’s behavior is a reliable measure, not his children’s salvation, which he cannot bring about.
  3. All of the requirements for eldership listed in these passages (being a one-woman man, being temperate, sensible, respectable, and so on) are matters of personal responsibility. To require that an elder’s children have genuine, saving faith is to hold one person responsible for the salvation of another, which is nowhere taught in Scripture. This would assign to humans a role in salvation that belongs only to God.

(This material has been adapted from Justin Taylor’s article, “Unbelief in an Elder’s Children — Exegesis”)