Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 17, 1964
NUMBER 32, PAGE 7,11,13a

The Elder's Children

Jerry C. Ray

In Berry's Interliner Greek Testament the word in Mk. 12:19 is tekna — children. The King James translates "children" in this passage, but the American Standard Version has "child." From this some have concluded that plural form has been translated by a singular in the A. S. V. The interlinear uses the Textus Receptus t1550 A. D.) Greek text, which was probably used in the translation of the King James Version in 1604-1611 A. D.

Since that time several of the more valuable manuscripts have been discovered. Westhoff & Hort, the best greek text, has "teknos" (child) instead of 'tekna" (children) as the correct reading. It is evident that the A. S. V. translators did not translate a Greek plural with an English singular in this passage, but rather followed a revised Greek text.

(7) Compound Words A compound word is "made up of two or more distinct words, either in solid or hyphened form." There are three compounds in the New Testament involving the word "teknon" (child) that are relevant to the elder's qualification — specifically, I Tim. 2:15, I Tim. 5:10 and I Tim. 5:14.

In forming these compounds the singular "teknon" is added to some other word. The emphasis in such cases is not upon the plurality or the singularity of the offspring. For example, in I Tim. 2:15, "She shall be saved through childbearing (teknogonias)." The English word used to translate teknogonias is itself a compound, and illustrates the point. In the English "childbearing" there is no intimation as to the number of offspring. The emphasis is upon the action, not the singularity or plurality of offspring resulting from the childbearing. The word does not suggest plurality of offspring, nor does it restrict to singularity. This "neutral" word in English is likewise "neutral" in Greek. This is also true of the compound forms in I Tim. 5:10 and 5:14.

In I Tim. 5:19 Paul desires that the younger marry and bear children (telmogonein). It is the same type construction as found in I Tim. 2:15. There the form is a noun (genitive singular); here it is an infinitive. The reason for the plural "children" in translation (and change from an infinitive to a transitive verb) is evidently the awkwardness of a translation using the singular form. To have translated, "marry, be childbearers" would not have been a very smooth translation, hence the use of an idiomatic English expression, "bear children."

The same is true of I Tim. 5:10. The widow must have "brought up children (tekmotropheo)." The question is asked, if she had brought up only one child, would she be qualified? Yes, because the Greek term does not necessitate a plurality. The plural "children" again is evidently due to the desire for smoothness of translation. It would have been most awkward to have translated that she must have been a "child-bringer-upper" or a "child-raiser." Incidentally, Vincent states that "The children may have been her own or others." (Vincent, Word Studies' in the New Testament, W, p. 261).

These passages offer no support for the one-child-elder position, however. (1) These passages are not parallel to I Tim. 3:12 and Tit. 1:6. These are compounds; the elder's qualification passages are not. It is possible to emphasize plurality in compounds. Tit. 2:9 has "philoteknous" ("love their children"); teknous is the accusative plural. But the three passages under consideration do not have such emphasis, which is significant.

(2) These are cases of compound singulars being translated by English plurals. This "proves" child means children, just the opposite of what is needed to support the one-child position.

(3) These are examples of the problem of translation, not the meaning of Paul's language. When read in the original there would be no thought of Paul demanding that the widow must have reared a plurality of offspring, nor that the younger women must have a plurality of offspring.

Why Examine All These Passages?

Someone may think it foolish of me, or a sign of doubt on my part as the strength of my position that I have examined these several passages since I readily admit the only contention made regarding these passages: that there are examples of the "plural of class" in the Bible and that "tekna" (children) in some passages has a singular application.

The reasons for the examination of these passages is to show that (1) Many of the arguments made are weak, and are not necessarily examples of the plural of class. (2) Plurals of class are the exception. There are not nearly as many as one might think. Especially is this so regarding "teknon." (3) Some might be awed by the cumulative effect of these several passages cited.

(8) Contextual Argument

An argument is made on the context of I Tim. 3. The argument states that the emphasis is not on the number of children, but on How the elder rules the house that he has, whatever number of offspring he might have.

The argument is far from conclusive, being more subjective than objective. I have heard the same argument made to prove that an elder does not have to be a married man. The argument for an unmarried elder is that the only qualification for the eldership is that a man must be 'blameless." The emphasis of the passage is on this point (so the argument goes) and all the other phrases are simply illustrative, or elaboration upon the one qualification: if the elder has a wife, he must have only one; if he has a child or children, he must rule over them. One argument is a strong as the other as far as the context is concerned. Both are weak.

If Paul had meant to put no emphasis upon the number of children, there are two ways he could have made such abundantly evident: (1) By a compound word, or (2) By the use of a distributive plural. It is a fact also that if he had meant to emphasize the plurality of children, the language of I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6 is exactly the way one could do this.

As far as determining the matter of the elder's children is concerned, the context is neutral. The context' helps neither position. The question must be determined upon some other basis than context. Context offers no help as to whether "tekna" is a plural of class. Context says only that the elder must have (A) A wife and (B) children, believing and in subjection. There is no contextual argument.

(9) "Biologic Ability

"We see no point in imposing a qualification based more upon biologic ability than spiritual quality."

(1) It is not based upon biologic ability, but upon rulership and leadership ability. The children may be adopted.

(2) Let's appoint elders without any children. It proves as much for one as it does for the other.

(3) Furthermore, let's appoint unmarried men. Here is a brother who is so ugly that he could never find a wife. I see no point in imposing a qualification based more on physical appearance than spiritual quality."

Here is a brother who never desired to marry. I see "no point in imposing a qualification based more on biologic urge than spiritual quality."

(10) Masculine And Feminine

An argument is made that the masculine and "he" includes the feminine part of the human race.

The word "he" in Mk. 16:16 is generic, including both male and female. It can easily be proven that women were saved in the first century (Acts 8:12). But what has this to do with the singular and plural of "children?" The argument seems to be (1) The masculine includes the feminine in Mk. 16:16, (2) Therefore, the plural has a singular application in I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6. I suppose by the same reasoning one could justify "she-elders." Change the "he" to "she" and the "husband of one wife" to the "wife of one husband" and it's 'fixed.

(11) The Burden Of Proof

"We are told that 'child' is always singular and 'children' is always plural — that when the Bible speaks of elders having children, it just cannot include the man with one child."

I would not make the above statement. Such is wrong. It is true that the word "child" is always singular and the word "children" is always plural as far as basic meaning is concerned, but I readily admit that in some places in the Bible "children" is used as a "plural of class."

I wouldn't say that "it cannot include the man with one child." I would simply wait for the proof that such is the case. The burden of proof is upon the person affirming the one-child-elder position. My admitting that such is possible because there are examples in other passages does not prove that it is so in I Tim. 3:4 and Tit. 1:6. Let's see the proof that Tit. 1:6 and I Tim. 3:4 are plurals of class. No grammar that I know of lists these two passages among the plurals of class.

(12) Prov. 3:11 — Heb. 12:5

Prov. 3:11 begins with "My son." Heb. 12:15 prefaces the quotation with "Ye have forgotten the exhortation which reasoneth with you as sons (children, A. S. V.)." From this it is concluded that son and sons are used interchangeably.

This is incorrect. What Prov. 3:11 addresses to the readers individually. Heb. 12:5 addresses to the readers collectively.

(13) Gal. 4:28

"Since we are the 'children' of God by regeneration, if only one person were saved or regenerated, would that disqualify God as the father of the regenerated one? We think not."

Anyone can form hypothetical situations and ask tricky questions. I can make the same kind of argument; when my arguments are answered, this one will be also, by the same reasoning:

(A) "Church" (ekklesia) is a collective noun and necessitates a plurality. If only one person is saved, would that disqualify Christ as the purchaser of the church by his own blood (Acts 20:28).

(B) Through the shedding of His blood, Christ is our Saviour. If no one is saved, does that disqualify Christ as our Saviour?

(14) "Riotous or Unruly"

"If this word 'children' must mean more than one in this passage and it takes two or more children to qualify for the eldership, then by the same reasoning a man would have to have two or more 'riotous or unruly' children in order to be disqualified! If not, why not?"

The answer is simple: context. If an elder has an unruly child, then he is not "without reproach," he is not "one that ruleth well in his own house," and he does not have "good testimony from them that are without."

"If one riotous or unruly' child would be sufficient to disqualify a man for the eldership, why would not one faithful child be sufficient to qualify a man for the eldership?"

There are many commandments to be obeyed in order to go to heaven. The failure to keep any one of these disqualifies a person for heaven, but the keeping of only this one commandment does not qualify him for heaven. In other words, among the commands of God is the requirement not to steal. If I steal, I forfeit salvation. However, the keeping of this commandment alone does not qualify me for heaven. Just so, it takes a plurality of offspring to qualify for the eldership, but one unruly or riotous child can disqualify a man.

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