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Daniel Neades
Isle of Man
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It sure is getting ugly out there.
Chris, Thank you for the irenic response :-) I took a quick look at Joel's blog, and he seems to be a nice guy who genuinely has a heart for the Lord, well aware of his own sinfulness and shortcomings. He's only 22, and undoubtedly has a lot still to learn. But, the latter is true of us all... Lenske (or is it Lenski? I couldn't immediately find any commentaries by the former) certainly offers some more food for thought, and the historical background is especially helpful. I had not actually read him before, so I shall have to see about adding him to my library. I would most definitely agree with him that Paul does not mean to imply in any way that a remarried widower (or even a widower who has not remarried) would be disqualified from eldership. But, I'm wondering, does Lenske address the "having children" aspects of our pericopes at all?
@Chris – I’m going to have to stick up a bit for Joel here, even if it is at the risk of earning your ire and perhaps exposing my own lack of understanding :-) In any case, I suppose I shouldn’t mind the latter, because that would be a step to my learning better to divide rightly the word of truth. Joel is clearly trying hard to be faithful and sensitive to the text in a way that I think is commendable. Even if he has drawn an erroneous conclusion, as a young lamb, might not a *gentle* word of correction be more edifying to him than such a harsh scolding, at least for a first admonition? Is he not merely stating what a plain reading of the ESV English translation you have quoted says – that "an overseer must be...the husband of one wife" (1 Tim 3:2)? And the same idea is repeated in the ESV translation of Titus 1:6. Now, you've read the Greek, "mias gunaikos andra" (lit. "one-woman man"), and probably at least as many commentaries and scholarly articles on this as I have. I suspect you will therefore be understanding this as I do, which is that the intended emphasis here is almost certainly upon the "mias" ("one"), rather than on the "gunaikos" ("woman"). That is, the intent of this phrase is not primarily that the elder has to be married, but rather that he should have an inherent character of sexual fidelity (i.e. that he should be “a one-woman kind of man”). Thus, your "sexually under control" interpretation is probably not a bad dynamic equivalent to the intent of the Greek. Myself, I'd have translated it simply as "one-woman man", which I think would have conveyed the likely meaning rather better than the more interpretive translation of "the husband of one wife". But then I like formal equivalence as a translation principle, even at the expense of slightly less readability. Of course, I'm but a novice with NT Greek, so what do I know? Thus, with regard to the marriage qualification, I agree with your point. At least, I would *if* "mias gunaikos andra" were the only phrase under consideration. However, it is not. There is also the question of the phrases translated in the ESV as "keeping his children submissive" (1 Tim 3:4) and "his children are believers" (Titus 1:6). Now, take these phrases in the NKJV: "having [his] children in submission" (1 Tim 3:4) and "having faithful children" (Titus 1:6). What does the Greek say? Well, "tekna echonta en hupotage..." ("having children in obedience") for 1 Tim 3:4, and "tekna echon pista" ("having believing children") for Titus 1:6. I'd say that the NKJV is spot-on in its translation, and the ESV has chosen to convey the same idea but with different grammar. Both are therefore reliable in this case (although I prefer the more formally equivalent NKJV). So, whether we are reading the English or the Greek, what is the qualification conveyed by a simple literal reading of the actual text of these phrases? It is that an elder is to have children, and that those children are to be submissively faithful. Now it might be that this is not the final interpretation, but we would have to do rather more work to get there. The immediate simple plain-text meaning is straightforward enough and, perhaps, should not be lightly dismissed without good cause. Now, I have read far and wide on this issue, and it is true that most (but certainly not all) commentators and scholars say that Paul means that *if* an elder has children, they are to be faithful. However, that is not what the text actually says (or am I mistaken?), and I have yet to find a treatment of the grammar and context of these passages that demonstrates *from the text* that it is legitimate for us to interpolate an "if he has children" clause into our understanding of the passage. What one nearly always finds in the commentaries is something that is effectively along the lines of "Paul says *this*, but he really means *that*", with just a dismissive wave of the hand rather than any attempt at justifying such a conclusion. I don't like that approach to Bible interpretation. The Holy Spirit could very easily have inspired Paul to write "and if an elder has children, they are to be faithful", but He did not choose to do so. Why is that? It certainly isn't because Paul expected all Christian men to get married and to have children, and so was only dealing with the common case (cf. 1 Cor. 7:8). Furthermore, it is interesting that Paul considers the case of "an elder" (singular) in 1 Tim. 3:2-7, but deals with "deacons" (plural) in 1 Tim. 3:8-12. He says that "Deacons", as a class, must "be the husbands of one wife, ruling [their] children and their own houses well" (v. 12, NKJV). [Note: The ESV mangles things a bit in 1 Tim 3:12 by adding an “each”, which obscures the point I am about to make. And don’t get me started on the NIV’s rendering of this verse. Go with the NKJV or the Greek.] Thus, there is certainly room within the *strict* plain meaning of the text for a particular *deacon* to be childless. But, the deacons as a whole must meet the requirements Paul gives. So, if a deacon happens to have a child, that child must be ruled well. In contrast, Paul says with regard to elders that “if anyone [singular] is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children…” and “an elder [singular] must be…one who rules his own house well, having children in submission”. The inference is that, unlike with deacons, each and every elder must meet the stated conditions. Given that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use plural language with respect to deacons (treating them as a class) that would easily accommodate an individual deacon being childless, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why the Holy Spirit did not inspire similar syntax for the case of an elder? Why the difference, for what are essentially parallel lists of qualities? And if this grammatical detail is truly insignificant, what do we make of the fact that Paul chooses in Titus 1:5 to introduce his topic with the plural “elders” (“presbuterous”), but then, quite pointedly, switches to the singular with “if anyone” (“ei tis”) in Titus 1:6 immediately before making his list of qualities? Now, as you are constantly reminding us, it is important that we look at context. I certainly would agree that the general thrust of these passages is to deal with the overall character and qualities that an elder must have. Thus, it is, I think, legitimate to argue that these lists are not so much an exhaustive check-list of *qualifications*, but rather an indication of the kinds of characteristics that an elder must possess. But we must be very careful not to use such arguments to dismiss the actual, specific, plain meaning of the text. That’s exactly the kind of thing that the liberals like to do. So, considering the context and overall dynamic of the passages, what do we make of the requirement for children? After some thought, might this not in fact be a very wise precaution for the protection of the church? After all, we know from experience that children, especially younger ones, tend to pick up and imitate the worst character traits of their parents. The children see their parents every day, behind closed doors. They reflect in public the true private character of the would-be elder, regardless of how fine a persona he might put on in public. If the children are turning out to be faithful and obedient, that public witness alone tells you much about the character of their parents in private. Furthermore, is it not excellent training for an elder to have to learn to manage and discipline his children, and to arbitrate sensitively between their competing needs and requests for attention? Elders are to be “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 3:5). What greater proof of their fitness for this office than the demonstration that they have been godly examples to their own children? Elders are to be, as 1 Tim 3:2 tells us, “didaktikon” – skillful in teaching. What better sign of this capability than the evidence that they have brought up their own children in the “training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4)? I suppose some might object that Paul was unmarried. But Paul held the office of Apostle in the Church, not Elder of a local congregation. Is there any example in the entire NT of an elder who is expressly stated to be unmarried or without children? I haven’t found one, but if there is, I shall concede the entire point immediately. (I am aware that some try to prove that Paul was an elder by connecting 1 Tim. 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6, but that is a rather desperate attempt and logically does not in any case prove the intended point.) Another objection might be that Paul commends singleness, because it enables one to devote one’s attention more fully upon the Lord (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 32-35). Yet Paul includes women in his commendation of singleness there, and so it is most doubtful that he has eldership particularly in mind. Paul knows full well that there are many ways that we can serve our Christian brothers and sisters other than by being an elder. (The Lutheran view of what constitutes a good work is distinctly helpful in demonstrating this.) One final objection might be that there are many fine overseers/elders/pastors/shepherds who are unmarried or without children. That is undeniable. But the fact that God in His boundless grace might use us *despite* our sinful conduct should not surprise us at all, for we are all sinners who sin daily, saved by grace through faith in the death of our dear Lord on the cross and His resurrection. Christ's righteous life is put to our account – we do not depend upon our own perfect living out of His commands to receive God's favour. We should not therefore determine doctrine based upon our experience, but rather upon the written word of God. That an elder should both be married and have children is, to be sure, a minority view. And I would be reticent to impose it upon others. I should like it to be in error. Yet it is not without historical precedent in the church. Now, have I gone wrong anywhere in my treatment of the texts? It is certainly possible, likely even! And you can have absolutely no idea how grateful I'd be if you could clear up this matter for me in a way that proves, from Scripture (rather than mere human conjecture), that an elder is not required to have children. And, if you are able to do so, I shall most certainly take on board for myself your stern admonishment to Joel. For I am *sure* that I do not yet know fully how to handle the word of God, certainly not in all its nuance. I am a poor student, sitting humbly at the feet of the great saints and theologians who have gone before. But I wonder whether even the greatest of Bible scholars ever *fully* master the art of Biblical interpretation and reach a correct conclusion on every point? And if we have to attain to *that* bar before being permitted to teach, would not this condition be rather more stringent than that Biblically required of an elder, which is simply that he be “skillful in teaching”? After all, as C. F. W. Walther bids us mark, Dr. Luther himself said regarding that most fundamental issue of all: “There is not a man on earth who knows how properly to divide the Law from the Gospel. When we hear about it in a sermon, we imagine that we know how to do it, but we are greatly mistaken. I imagined I understood it because during so long a time I had written a great deal about it; but believe me, when I come to a pinch, I perceive that I have widely missed the mark. Accordingly, God the Holy Ghost alone must be regarded as Master of, and instructor in, this art.” Therefore, I wonder whether perhaps upon reflection, given the complexities of this particular issue, you might not think that you have been perhaps a little harsh on Joel, at least in tone, even if not in content? Your respectful and humble fellow servant in Christ Jesus, our great God and Saviour.
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Jan 8, 2010