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 Vol. 2, No. 12                                        Page 14                                              December, 2000

Children, How Many?

By Owen D. Olbricht

Does the Bible consistently use the term "children" to mean two or more or does it also use it to mean one or more? This is a question that arises in the selection of elders because of the statements, "having his children in submission" (1 Timothy 3:4, NKJV) and "having faithful children" (Titus 1:6).

Perhaps everyone would admit that having more than one child might help in determining whether or not a man can control his household. What might seem desirable might not prove to be biblical. Only by considering how "children" is used in the Bible can we determine if "children" means two or more or if it can mean one or more.

Children in the Old Testament

The statement is made, "But Sarai is barren; she had no child" (Genesis 11:30) and was "childless" (Genesis 15:2). Later it is recorded, "Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children" (Genesis 16:1). If she had given birth to one child would it be said she bore no children? Later, Sarai said to Abraham after the birth of Isaac, her one child, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age" (Genesis 21:7). Sarah considered she had children after having given birth to one son.

Concerning Rachel it is said, "She bore Jacob no children" (Genesis 30:1) and of Hannah she had "no children" (1 Samuel 1:2). If Rachel had one child, would it be proper to say she had no children? The same question could be asked concerning Hannah also. Having no children would surely means that each of them did not have one or more children.

Concerning Manoah it is stated, "His wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, 'Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son'" (Judges 13:2a, 3, NKJV). The word "children" is not in the Hebrew text, but seems implied. In which case "children," if correctly inserted, would mean one or more. "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son . . ." (Deuteronomy 24:5, NKJV; "child," KJV). This text has no bearing on the issue until compared with statements in the New Testament.

New Testament

The Sadducees approached Jesus and quoted from the Law of Moses the above statement: "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children" (Matthew 22:24, NASV). The Law did not say, "no children," but rather said, "no son" or "child," singular, not plural. Did they misquote Moses? Or does children mean one or more?

Notice how the other two gospels record the statement of the Saducees: "Teacher, Moses wrote for us a law that if a man's brother dies, and leaves behind a wife, and leaves no child" (Mark 12:19, NASV). "Teacher, Moses wrote us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife and he is childless" (Luke 20:28, NASV).

The New American Standard Version is quoted in the above three verses because it is faithful to the Greek in translating singular or plural in number. Matthew quoted the Sadducees as saying, "children" and Mark and Luke refer to the same statement by the Sadducees and write "no child" and "childless." The fact that Moses, Mark and Luke, being inspired, used "child" or "childless" while Matthew used "children" must mean that Matthew, being inspired, made no mistake but by "children" meant one or more.

Other passages in the New Testament seem to use children in this way. Jesus said that unless a man hate (love less than Jesus) his "children," he could not be his follower (Luke 14:26). Would this mean that if he had only one child he would not need to have such an attitude?

Does Paul mean that if a couple whose marriage was not sanctified by God had two or more children, they would be unclean but if they had only one child, he would be holy, legitimate (1 Corinthians 7:14)? "Unclean" in this passage means that if a marriage is not accepted by God, then the children would be considered illegitimate, "unclean."

Would a nurse cherish or a father exhort and comfort "children" only if they had more than one child (1 Thessalonians 1:7, 11)? If a widow had "children" and that meant more than one child, would having only one child mean her family would have no obligation to support her? If she had brought up "children" which meant more than one child, would her having only one child, disqualify her from being supported by the church (1 Timothy 5:4, 10)? Would a young widow be disobedient if she brought up only one child instead of two or more (1 Timothy 5:14)? Evidently, if an older widow had one or more children she should be supported by her one or more children and the church should not support her. A young widow would obey the command if she bore one or more children.

Elder With Children

An adequate number of passages appear in the Bible to draw the conclusion that if a man has one or more faithful children, he meets this qualification to be an elder. His having more than one would be desirable but such seemingly is not demanded. This study does not deal with the meaning of faithful children, one child faithful and others not faithful, the age of the children, whether or not if faithful applies to children out of the home or those out of the home after the father became a Christian. These are thorny topics to say the least.

The evidence seems to indicate that a man who has one or more children can qualify to be an elder if he meets all other qualifications. If a congregation would split over a man serving as an elder having only one child, the wise thing to do would be to appoint men who have two or more children.

Copyright 2000 Louis Rushmore. All Rights Reserved.
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