Problems in Knowing the Qualifications of Elders – Jerry C. Brewer

Jerry C. Brewer

From whence do problems arise in knowing elders’ qualifications? Do such problems arise from God’s failure to make the subject plain? To claim that is blasphemous. God’s revelation is perfect (2 Tim. 3:16-17), objective (2 Pet. 1:20-21) and knowable (John 8:32). It must then follow that man’s “problem” in knowing the qualifications of elders is from his own failure—either through honest ignorance, or willful disregard of New Testament revelation.

Certain questions regarding elders seem to be eternal—questions which we have heard all of our lives. It is to those questions and our ability to know the answers that we now turn our attention.

Must an Elder Have More Than One Child?

One of the qualifications for an elder is that he have children (Tit. 1:6; 1 Tim. 3:4-5). A major question among brethren through the years has been whether this means an elder must have more than one child. The argument has revolved around the word children. In English usage, this word is often used to indicate a plurality of children, as distinguished from the word child which indicates less than a plurality. The word children is, however, used in other places in the Scriptures to indicate any number of offspring.

And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age (Gen. 21:5-7).

How many children did Sarah bear? The English word children in Genesis 21:7 derives from the Hebrew ben (pronounced bane). “From 1129 (banah [pronounced bawnaw]). To build; a son (as a builder of the family name); obtain children” (McClintock and Strong, Hebrew and Chaldee Dictionary, pp. 21, 22). Would Sarah have answered in the negative if she had been asked whether she had children, even though she had only one?

The word children as it relates to the qualifications of elders is teknon in the New Testament Greek.

From the base of tikto; a child (as produced:-child, daughter, son. tikto (The root from which teknon is derived) to produce (from seed, as a mother, a plant, the earth, etc.)…bear, be born, bring forth, be delivered, in be travail (McClintock and Strong, Greek Dictionary).

The basic meaning of these words, translated children is offspring without regard to the number. To hear some of our brethren on the subject, one would think God was primarily concerned with how many times an elder could reproduce himself. The children in connection with the eldership is explained in Paul’s statement to Timothy: “…one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Tim 3:4-5).

This qualification plainly concerns the elder’s ability to rule not reproduction. The answer is in the passage in verse 5. The parenthesis explains why the qualification is given. Whether a man has one child or a dozen, the point is that he must rule them well. A failure to have more than one child does not preclude a man serving as an elder, but a failure to rule well his own house does. It isn’t “having children” that qualifies a man for the eldership, but “having his children in subjection with all gravity.”

Does an Adult Child Who Becomes Unfaithful

Disqualify his Father From Continuing to Serve as an Elder?

This ploy, like the matter of an elder only having one child, is often used by those who are in rebellion against God’s authority. Like Miriam and Aaron (Num. 12), they use this as a subterfuge to hide their real intent—to usurp of God’s authority.

About 45 years ago a minority of a group in large church in western Oklahoma tried to remove two of its four elders. They wanted to remove their preacher because he stood between them and the institution of their liberal practices and the two elders stood between them and the preacher. In order to carry out their plans, they had to first remove the two elders. Their “excuse”? They claimed that one of the men’s adult son was no longer faithful to Christ and the other man had only one child. This is a classic example of twisting the Scriptures in order to have a mob’s way.

We have answered the objection to the elder who has only one child. But what about the man whose child becomes unfaithful after he has become an adult and no longer living under this father’s roof? Does that disqualify his father from continuing to serve as an elder? Can we understand the answer to this problem? We can, if we can understand a principle laid down throughout the Scriptures—the principle of individual responsibility before God.

  1. Adam and Eve—He blamed Eve, and she blamed the serpent. Neither faced their responsibility before God (Gen. 3:11-13).

  2. Cain denied personal responsibility to God (4:9-10).

  3. Saul blamed the people for his sin and refused to take his responsibility (1 Sam. 15).

That principle stated in clear terms:

And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:23-34).

When an adult child leaves father and mother, he is no longer under the rule of his father (Gen. 2:23-24). The principle is that he is no longer a minor when he leaves his father’s house and takes a wife.

Finally, God said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20).

The father is no longer accountable for the child’s behaviour. The soul that sinneth—it shall die. This principle is taught from Genesis to Revelation. Paul wrote,

But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God (Rom. 14:10-12).

Judgment is individual! God will not judge anyone in groups, but He will judge us as individuals. “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” My children will stand before God and give an account to each of them, and I will give an account for myself for God.

The idea that a man is no longer qualified to serve as an elder because his adult child—a creature of free will—becomes an apostate, borders on the Calvinistic doctrine of inherent depravity. Calvinism claims all men are guilty of Adam’s sin. The idea that an elder is guilty because of his adult child’s sin is simply reverse Calvinism.

What of the elder whose son fails to control his children? Will this disqualify the elder? Why not? His son’s failure would be the elder’s failure, according to the reasoning that unfaithful adult offspring disqualifies an elder. Being unscriptural it is unreasonable to hold an elder—or any man for that matter—accountable for another’s responibility for God. My obedience to God does not depend upon my children, nor does their obedience depend upon me.

The elder is no more responsible for his adult children’s behaviour than he is for the behaviour of members formerly under his charge. What if a member moves to another church and becomes sinful there? Should the elders of his former congregation resign? If that were the case, there would be no elders and God would have required an impossibility of man.


The qualifications are knowable and attainable. The problems with knowing them come from our own prejudices and a failure to study all of the subject of it.

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