Thursday, June 02, 2011

Single or childless elders?

Just to cause a bit of a stir….

Take a look at the following passages (emphasis mine)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? (1 Timothy 3: 1-5)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. (Titus 1:5-6)
In both cases where Paul speaks of the qualities of an elder, he mentions being married and having children as integral to the definition.

So without any commentary or embellishment on my part, here is my question. Can a single man or a married man without children be recognized/appointed as an elder?

(Note: the author in both cases, Paul, was a) single and childless and b) not an elder)


Anonymous said...

Paul does not say that they must be husbands, but that they must be husbands of one wife. And he does not say they must have children, but that their children must be raised appropriately.

The point is that elders who are family men must be Christian family men, not that they must be family men.

If being married was central to being an elder then Paul would have explicitly said so. And Paul does mention that he is an elder in Philemon, so it would seem that the answer is obvious.

JRo said...

My perspective on this comes from my position as a single, never married, childless pastor.

In short I ask this: does Paul specifically call elders to marriage and children w/ that spouse? Or is he simply covering his bases in these passages seeing as how many men in elderships/pastorates are married?

Paul also mentions in Corinthians, "So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better."

Seems he may just be stating an "if" type statement for those who are. Otherwise I wld say men like me in the pastorate are unqualified.


Arthur Sido said...


I have read Philemon over a couple of times, maybe I am missing where Paul says he is an elder.

Arthur Sido said...


Thanks for the comment, I am going to let a few other people weigh in and then give my thoughts. I think this is an important conversation to have because it helps us frame what the Bible has to say about who/what elders are (and aren't)

Marshall Diakon said...

elder [presbutos] Paul, from Philemon 1:9.

While I Timothy 3 doesn't mention elders, Titus 1 is to the appointing/recognition of elders/olders as overseers [episkopos].

Though elders (older men) are on the scene among the brethren, there is nowhere found the appointment of anyone as an elder. (presbutos being defined by age.)

Knowing these things, what's wrong with this question?
Can a single man or a married man without children be recognized/appointed as an elder?

Arthur Sido said...


It is not rendered as elder in the ESV or any of the other translations I looked up:

yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—(Philemon 1:9 ESV)

yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— (NIV)

yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— (NASB)

Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. (KJV)

As for the rest of your comment, I am not understanding your point.

Don Litchfield said...

Thayers Greek-English Lexicon states that the word, presbuteis, means "old man or aged man: (Luke 1:18; Titus 2:2; Philemon 9 [here many regard teh word as a substitute for presbeuteis, ambassador]"
Titus 1:5 uses the same word but plural - Titus is to appoint "older men" in the position of leadership. The likelihood is greater of an older man being married and having children. How he handles his own home life is indication of how he will handle oversight in the church.
An interesting thought surrounding the phrase, "one woman man." Many have interpreted this to mean that a man could have had more than one wife, but one at a time - not polygamy. History tells us that polygamy was common in pagan society. But what do you do with Paul's statement of widows being an "one man woman"? Did she refrain from having a "harem"??? of men, therefore she could be a "widow indeed"?

Arthur Sido said...

Thanks for all of the comments. Here are my thoughts. Can a single man or a married man who is childless be an elder? I don't see a compelling reason he cannot. Now if he IS married or if he DOES have children, what does that mean? IF a man is married, he ought to be married to only one woman for life. IF a man has children he ought to demonstrate that he is managing his home well.

Those are my thoughts. Men who are recognized as elders in the church are likely to be married with children because that is the most common, normative state. That doesn't mean that men who are single cannot be elders, nor men who are widowers.

Arthur Sido said...


I have always interpreted the one woman man to cover not just monogamy but also divorce, esp remarriage after divorce.