A few years ago I posted the following Q&A entry on my website. Due to recent interest (see the Cripplegate blog), I have decided to repost it.
Q: I am working through the Titus 1:6 issue (children who believe or faithful children). What support is there in this passage or elsewhere in Scripture for one view over the other? Do you have any good sources you could recommend for my own research/study?
A: One of the issues in this verse is whether it applies to only those children still under the authority of the home or whether it equally applies to those adult children who are outside the home. You’ll note that John MacArthur (see the note on Titus 1:6 in the MacArthur Study Bible) distinguishes Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:4 by indicating that the former looks at older children while the latter focuses on young children in the home. It would seem preferable to see both passages identifying the same requisite rather than two different qualifications. If both are significant enough to include in the list of qualifications for elders, why is only one each listed in the two lists? The term translated “dissipation” in Titus 1:6 (NASB) certainly does appear to refer to older offspring, but that may be all that either passage intends. One could argue that “faithful” is a better translation because it is more logically the opposite of what is involved in “dissipation” than “believing” would be.
The wording of Titus 1:6 is unique in that it uses the verb echo (“have” or “possess”) in a phrase that is literally “children having faithfulness” or “children having faith.” To the English Christian ear the latter translation sounds most familiar, so one is tempted to go with the sense that the children are to be “believers.” However, the phraseology could equally well mean “keeping faith” or “staying loyal” or “maintaining obedience.” The key exegetical issue is the meaning of pistos. Does it mean “believing,” “faithful,” or “obedient”? From the lexicons it is quite clear that the latter two are frequent occurrences in the Pauline epistles. Just look at the 17 uses of this adjective in the pastoral epistles alone: “faithful” (1 Tim 1:12; 3:11; 2 Tim 2:2, 13; Titus 1:6 [although some argue for “believing”]), “credible/trustworthy” (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Titus 1:9; 3:8), and “believing” (1 Tim 4:3, 10, 12 [which could equally be “faithful”]; 5:16; 6:2 [2x–but, the second time could be “faithful”]). In my mind, however, the parallelism of 1 Timothy 3:4 is the strongest argument for “faithful” or “loyal” as the meaning of pistos in Titus 1:6.
The careful exegete must note, also, that when pistos modifies a noun like “children” (as in Titus 1:6) it is always “faithful” or “trustworthy/credible.” When it is independent (an adjective employed as a substantive) it means “believing one” or “believer.” Note this detail in 1 Timothy 4:3, 10, 12. Translating pistos as “faithful (to parents)” does not indicate whether the child is a believer. Obviously, a believing child is far better dispositioned to be obedient and submissive to parental authority than an unbelieving child, but salvation is no more in view than it is in 1 Timothy 3:4.
Let’s take another approach in attempting to understand Titus 1:6. Theologically (by which I mean the totality of the teachings of Scripture), parents do not have the ability to save their children or to guarantee their salvation. There is, it is true, a certain amount of accountability in how a child is raised (cf. Prov 22:6). However, nowhere does Scripture indicate that a father can determine the faith of his child. Each person is individually and personally responsible for his or her acceptance or rejection of the Gospel. Parents are not the Holy Spirit. Godly, obedient, consistently faithful pastors leading their homes with the highest spiritual wisdom, character, and deeds can experience a child who does not believe in the Gospel. Sometimes a child will not believe until much later in life. Is that man to be excluded from pastoring because of that? What about the pastor whose children make professions of faith and live their lives in submission to their parents in a model home, but one of those children later in life throws it away and becomes a profligate prodigal? Do we then strip that individual’s father of his eldership and pastorate in his fortieth year of faithful and consistent service in the Word of God? If we insist that Titus 1:6 specifies that an elder or pastor must have believing children to be in office or to retain his office, we will end up throwing a godly elder out of office. And what would be the real reason?–because he is not God and cannot guarantee the salvation of every one of his children.
Unfortunately, very few exegetical commentaries deal with the intricacies of Titus 1:6. Most just give their opinion without offering any technical support. The commentary with the fullest treatment of this verse is John MacArthur, Jr., Titus, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996). A commentary I would highly recommend on just about every verse except Titus 1:6 is Homer A. Kent, The Pastoral Epistles (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969; Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1982). This volume is one every pastor should have on his shelf.