Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 3, 1964
NUMBER 30, PAGE 2,11-12a

The Elder's Children (II.)

Jerry C. Ray

Every argument that I have seen favoring the one child position (other than the rejection of the text as essential) reduces itself to the following:

(I) Tekna has an abnormal meaning in some passages.

(2) The context of I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 PERMITS the abnormal meaning.

(3) Since tekna can have a singular application, and the context does not forbid such in I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6, then this is its meaning.

The position is assumed, not proven. It may be granted that tekna can, in some cases, mean child and it still must be proven to be so in the eldership qualifications. Proving that such is possible with the word "tekna" does not prove that such is so in I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6.

The same faulty reasoning could be used by a Holiness preacher concerning Holy Spirit baptism:

1) The word "baptize" can refer to Holy Spirit baptism, as it does in some passages.

(2) The context of Mark 16:16 PERMITS this meaning. And so one must receive Holy Spirit baptism to be saved.

Someone replies, "But there are other scriptures that prove the Holiness preacher's contention to be wrong, but where are the other scriptures to prove the one-child-elder position to be wrong?" It is true that there are other passages that prove the Holiness preacher is wrong, but that is not the point. Whether there were other passages disproving his position or not, his argument is still fallacious, involving an assertion without proof. It is easier for us to see the error because of our familiarity with these other passages. Since there are no other scriptures besides I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 dealing with the elder's children, for the sake of illustration, let's forget the passages that show the Holiness preacher's error on Mark 16:16. Is there anything in the context that would forbid his insertion of the idea of Holy Spirit baptism in Mark 16:16? Can you see the same faulty reasoning on Tit. 1:6?

Genesis 21:7 When Isaac was born Sarah said, "Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should give children suck? For I have borne him a son in his old age." The argument is that since Sarah had but one child, yet the plural "children" is used here, then "children" means "child" in Tit. 1:6.

Let it be granted that the argument on this passage is correct. It still does not prove such is so in Tit. 1:6, unless one maintains that everywhere the plural is found, the singular is meant. Otherwise it comes back to the rule: does context and/or another passage forbid the normal meaning in Tit. 1:6 and demand the abnormal meaning found in Gen. 21:7?

Stop and consider: how did anyone ever come to realize that "children" in Gen 21:7 has unusual meaning, except by the above-mentioned rule?

I'm not sure the argument made on Gen. 21:7 is correct. Here are three explanations of the passage besides the one above. I do not maintain that any one of the three is necessarily correct. I can grant the argument on Gen. 21:7 without affecting my basic argument. But these are presented to show that "children equals child" in this passage is not necessarily correct.

(A) In conversation with a Jewish rabbi in Dallas, Texas, I found that the word is plural in the Hebrew text (although the Septuagint, a greek translation of the Old Testament, has the singular). The rabbi consulted a commentary by Rashi (born 1040 A.D. in France) who introduced the problem in his notes. Rashi states that people would not believe that barren Sarah had borne a son in her old age. They would say that Abraham and Sarah were trying to pass off a foundling as their own child. Hence the people were invited to bring their infants that Sarah might give them suck, for no barren woman could suckle children.

(B) The rabbi further suggested what I had previously considered. Sarah, in bringing this child into the world, in accordance with the promise made to Abraham by God, was the mother of a great nation. As she nursed this child she was giving suck to many children — the descendants of Isaac. A similar thought is found in the Hebrew letter where Levi is said to have paid tithes to Melchizedec while Levi was still in the loins of Abram, Heb. 7:9-10.

(C) It was the custom of women in ancient times to suckle the children of others (Ex. 2:7-9), even their own grandchildren. The passage does not say that Sarah was giving suck to her own children. The passage states that she had borne a son; now she would be able to suckle children. A paraphrase embodying this idea would be:

"Who would have ever said to Abraham (since I am old and barren) that Sarah would ever be able to suckle children? And rightly so, they would never have suggested (or thought such) for I have not borne him a son until now, in my old age (when it has ceased to be with me after the manner of women, Gen. 18:11)."

In discussing this passage with a brother he rejected all three as out of the question. I pointed out that by his reasoning (whatever is not forbidden by context and/or another passage is permitted) any one of these three ideas would have to be accepted.

(2) English Usage And Phraseology

An argument is made on the English usage of "children." The sign in the hospital reads, "No Children Allowed," and the application form asks, "How many children do you have?"

Technically, the sign in the hospital should read, "No Child Allowed." That way a child or children would be excluded. There is a vast difference, however, in a sign directed to all children, and a qualification for the eldership that says, The bishop" (singular) is to have "children" (plural). The argument has been made that the qualifications are general, being addressed to all elders. Yes, but elder is singular.

Current usage does not prove a practice scriptural. Knowing what the questionnaire desired, I would accommodatively write "one" in the blank. This is not proof of the one-child-elder position, even if it should prove my inconsistency. It still must be proven that Paul used such idiomatic language in I Tim. 3:9 and Tit. 1:6.

The argument goes: "How do you know an elder is qualified who has only one child?" "I know because of a hospital sign." I heard someone justify speaking of the Lord's church as "my church" on the grounds that we sing "My country, tis of thee." Not very strong proof, is it?

(3) Plurals Of Class

In several passages in the Bible the plural form is used when it very definitely has a singular application, as well as the plural. This is what Winer calls the "plural of class": "Conversely, the plural of class (masc. or fem.) is used although the predicate refers primarily to only one individual, when the writer wishes to keep the thought somewhat vague" (A Grammar of the Idiom of the New Testament, 7th edition, enlarged and improved by Dr. Gottlieb Lunemann, p. 175). (So also in the grammars of Friedrich Blass, p. 83; James Hope Moulton, III, p. 25; A. T. Robertson, p. 908).

Examples of plurals that evidently are singular in application are: world, Heb. 1:2; sanctuary, Heb. 8:2, 9:8, 12; door, Acts 5:19, John 20:19; sabbath, Mt. 12:1, Lk. 4:16.

Matt. 27:49 states that the two thieves crucified with Jesus railed upon him. Lk. 23:39-90 states that one cast reproach upon Christ, but the other rebuked him. Winer is wrong in affirming this as a plural of class arising out of a "different tradition." A. T. Robertson correctly states that both reproached Jesus at first, one had a change of heart (Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 409).

Several observations are in order concerning plurals of class. (1) Not all plurals are plurals of class. One brother writes that the plural is often given for the singular and cites Gen. 8:4; 21:7; 46:7; Acts 16:35-37; and Eph. 6:1-4. For his argument to be valid he must (a) affirm that such is so with every plural, hence true of Tit. 1:6; (b) affirm that such is so with every plural of "child," hence true of Tit. 1:6; or (c) give a workable rule whereby we can distinguish the two uses (which brings us back to the rule I introduced). Otherwise he must still prove that I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 are plurals of class.

(2) There are varying kinds of plurals of class. An absolute plural of class (terminology mine) is found in Mt. 2:20, "they are dead that sought the young child's life." I have found no adequate explanation of this passage, other than plural used for a singular.

There is the categorical, or distributive plural. In Eph. 6:1 Paul writes, "Children, obey your parents." All children (as a class) are commanded to obey their parents (another class). The command includes an only child, and the child who has only one parent. This is the distributive usage.

(3) A parallel breaks down immediately between I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 and categorical plurals of class. In the eldership qualification passages the subject is singular and the object is plural. ALL passages such as Eph. 6:1, with a plural subject and object cannot therefore be paralleled.

(4) Deacons' Qualifications

A distributive usage of the plural is found in I Tim. 3:12: "Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." Deacons (plural) must rule their children (plural), hence each deacon must have at least one, and may have more. The distributive plural sets forth a minimum (at least one each) and not a maximum (not more than one each) standard. This is evident from the other distributive plurals of class throughout the Bible.

Incidentally, it is asked sometimes how could Paul have indicated that an elder could be qualified with only one child, but might have more. This passage shows how — the same way as he authorized such with the deacons.

Why may deacons have more than one child, but not more than one house (family), since the passage mentions "houses" and "children"? Other scriptures forbid such. And this is the key to the passage: since a deacon can have only one house it is evident that "deacons" having 'houses" and "children" indicates a distributive usage.

Why is "wife" singular in connection with deacons (plural), children (plural) and houses (plural)? It must be for the purpose of emphasizing that a deacon must have one wife, but not more than one. This forbids polygamy and bigamy (legalized or otherwise).

In any case there is no parallel with the elder's qualifications, but the "elder" (singular) must have "children" (plural).

(5) Deut. 25:5-6; Mt. 22:24; Mk. 12:19 Lk. 20:28.31 In Mt. 22:29 the Sadducees refer to Dt. 25:5-6: "Teacher, Moses said, if a man die, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother." The question is raised, if the brother left one child, would his brother have to marry his wife? No, obviously. Then "having no children" means "having no child."

There are weaknesses in the argument. (1) Dt. 25:5 has the singular, not the plural. If someone replies that this only strengthens the point since the Sadducees thus use "children" where the text reads "child," I would point out that (a) they may have misquoted the passage through a lapse of memory. But if they changed the wording purposely (b) it's a poor argument that depends upon a change of the inspired text by uninspired men, and by the Sadducees at that. (c) The changed word was incidental to the matter. Suppose two men were discussing a matter and one referred to a passage, paraphrasing it. In doing so he used a plural for a singular, but it does not affect his argument, being incidental to the point, and the change is not noticed by his opponent. Later some one notes the change and attempts to make the change significant. Would you be impressed by such an argument?

A slight variation of the argument is made on Lk. 20:29-31 which says the six brothers left no children: if they left one child, did they perform their duty according to the Levirite law? But it reduces to the same point as in Matthew. Does Matthew and Luke's report of the incident with the inexact quotation indicate approval or even significance? The answer must be no.

Matthew and Luke, in writing of the event, do not vouch for the accuracy of the Sadducees language. They only report what they actually said, whether their words were correct or incorrect. Incidentally, the word "seed" in Mt. 22:24 is singular in form.

(2) Suppose this is proof that the Sadducees used the "plural of class." It still must be proven that such is the case in Titus 1:6. Just because it is so in Matt. 22 does not make it so in Titus 1:6!

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