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In 1 Timothy 3:4, it is stipulated that an overseer’s children must “obey him with proper respect.” In Titus 1:6, the bar appears to be raised higher when it says that “[a]n elder must be . . . a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient” (NIV). The question, then, is this: Is it sufficient for an elder’s children to be generally obedient, whether or not they are born-again believers, or must they, as the NIV and many other translations have it, “believe,” that is, be Christians? If the latter, this would seem to rule out quite a few otherwise qualified candidates for church leadership.
The answer to the question hinges largely on the meaning of the Greek word pistos, which can mean either “faithful” or “believing.” While “believing” is the more common meaning of the two, there are instances in the Pastoral Epistles where pistos means “faithful” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:11; 2 Tim. 2:2, 13; see also the possible inclusion with Titus 1:9: “trustworthy message”). As always, therefore, context must be the determining factor. The context of Titus 1:6, in turn, includes both the larger context of the teaching of the Pastorals and the immediately following phrase “not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.”
(1) In the larger context of the teaching of the Pastoral Epistles, it would be unusual if the author had two separate standards, a more lenient one in 1 Timothy 3:4 (obedient) and a more stringent one in Titus 1:6 (believing). This creates a presumption of reading pistos in Titus 1:6 as conveying the sense “faithful” or “obedient” in keeping with the requirement stated in 1 Timothy 3:4. This would also create a contrast between the mention of “not open to the charge of being . . . disobedient” later in Titus 1:6.
(2) What does the meaning of the words “wild” and “disobedient” in the immediately following context contribute to a better understanding of the word pistos in Titus 1:6? Interestingly, the two other New Testament instances of “wild” in Ephesians 5:18 and 1 Peter 4:4 relate to orgies of drunkenness, and the two other instances of “disobedient” refer to outright rebellion (Titus 1:10; 1 Tim. 1:9). This suggests that what is in view is not occasional disobedience but deep-seated rebellion against parental authority.
The conclusion to be drawn from the above evidence is that, most likely, the word pistos in Titus 1:6 is to be understood as conveying the sense “faithful” or “obedient” but not “believing” in the sense that only men whose children are born-again believers are eligible to serve in positions of church leadership. Anyone chosen as an elder in the church, which entails the exercise of authority in the congregation (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4; 5:17; Heb. 13:17), must properly exercise authority at home, with his children responding in obedient and submission.
For further details on the subject, see my commentary, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12 (rev. ed.; Zondervan). See also Chapter 12 in God, Marriage, and Family (2d ed,; Crossway, 2010).